Discussion in Jerusalem: We are now in a period of unknown change

There was a “book discussion” Thursday evening at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem.

The book is almost unimportant, by comparison with the discussion.

In addition to the author [a young German], there were two panelists: Dr. Mahdi Abdel Hadi [PASSIA] and Amira Hass [journalist for Haaretz].

Abdel Hadi said, at the end of a description of four eras in Palestinian political life [we are now in the fourth, which is “change, led by the people”] that: “There is a madness in the changes occurring in Israel today, and there is fear among Palestinians… Anything can happen now, anything”.

Amira Hass was emotional, and strong. She spoke last, and said that what she missed in the discussion “is a small reminder that we are dealing with a subjugator people and a subjugated people. The word occupation is overused and worn out”.

She exclaimed — really exclaimed! — that “A people — us — have become expert in subjugation! We, of all the peoples in the world! The more I live here, and the more I see, the less I can write about this — there are so many sophisticated, sly, malicious details about this subjugation … What has been developed here for the past 63 years needs new vocabularies, if only for the simple fact that it’s us Jews, of all people, scheming in so many ways, so many incredible ways, to subjugate this indigenous people”.

She said: “I see [in the audience] many Westerners and diplomats in front of me, and I’m angry with you! What are you doing? Don’t you see this is going to a disaster? Why are you standing idle?

She then gave an example of Abu Dis, where she said she was coming from, just before the book presentation, an Area B where PA police are present, “but not allowed to operate, not even to catch drug dealers”, and certainly not to stop people from taking extortion money from shops or running check-forging operations. “There is a mafia phenomena in Area B places, which have become havens for escaping criminals from the West Bank, and the Israeli police couldn’t care less. Of course, the Israeli police would care if they found a single Hamas man with a gun, but Abu Dis is flooded with arms that nobody touches. People were telling me that there are more arms in Abu Dis than in all other PA areas”… She said, with sarcasm, that visiting Abu Dis gave her a brand new appreciation for the “Ramallah bubble”.

And, she said, getting weary from her exclamations, “with every Palestinian you meet, there is a train of injustices, from the Nakba [the Palestinian dispossession from 1947-1949] ’till today…”

With Oslo, she said, it is very important to realize that “Palestinians gave Israel a very generous gift. They said, you stole our land, you take our water, you give us no rights…but, we’re willing to live with you. There was an acknowledgement that Israel is not only a colonialist entity” [but also something more].

[Here, she digressed, adding that “it is connected to the German-European industry of murder. This is not something we can dismiss; it’s included in the history of the place. The majority of Jews in Warsaw never thought of emigrating to Palestine, they were struggling to live in a multicultural society. If other places — America, or England — had been open to Jews, many would have emigrated there, and not to Palestine. But, that choice was not there. I have no use for this jargon you hear, ‘Jews are not a people’. We can, we are allowed to say we are a people. We don’t have to have others’ approval to say it. But the diaspora kicked us out”. Abdul Hadi chirped up: “And we took you in”. {This is not, strictly speaking, true. The Palestinians organized plenty of demonstrations against Jewish immigration, during the British Mandate of Palestine.} But Amira chose not to take issue with this, and instead decided to agree, nodding yes and confirming his words: “You took us in”.]

Then, she went back to her Oslo theme: “So, Oslo was a very generous act. In Israel had a golden opportunity to cut loose with its colonialist trends. We had a chance to change.
But we didn’t”.

She explained that from 1967 to 1987, “Palestinians had a chance to live under one border, which allowed them to build up their life as a people, and gave them empowerment and hope”. This was behind the [first] Intifada, she said. “Until 1991, it was possible to drive in one day from Gaza to Tiberia to have lunch, then to Haifa to see someone, then to visit the sister in Nablus, then the ex-school teacher in Bir Zeit, and after the day to come back to Gaza”.

But, it then became clear, from Israeli policies on the ground, she said, that Israel knew that it had been a “mistake” to give Palestinians too much freedom, too much… and that things had to be changed. That’s when Israel started the pass/permit system, she said, from 1991.

She then said that without the evacuation of all settlers, there is no chance — not just for a two-state solution, but also for a one-state solution. Actually, she said, “it is now a one-state apartheid situation, where one group thrives on its privilege. Though it doesn’t yet have the biological racism, but it’s close”…

Among the Palestinians, she said, “people are convinced that Hamas knows Israel better than Fatah does” [and she is no fan of Hamas].

She said that she goes sometimes “just to have some emotional relief” to the Sheikh Jarrah demostration of Israeli activists. But, a friend from the north {Israeli Arab} said to Amira that she found it funny to hear the activists shouting “Thieves, thieves, leave the place!”. This friend then said, “Don’t they realize they are all thieves?!” And, Amira said, “living with Palestinians, I know that this approach is growing, because since 1993, we did not accept the generous present from the Palestinians”.

In response to one questioner, Amira said: “The system of settlements is a system of apartheid. The belief is Jews deserve more water, better housing, more space. All this has to be changed. But the people who profit from this obscene system will resist. It’s become so deep-rooted, this idea that we are superior is so deeply-rooted in Israeli Jewish society”.

She said more than once that she really wanted to refrain from this talk about solutions. But, she said, “This present is intolerable. You were right to correct me — the diplomats don’t sit idle. They are collaborating, and they do not sit idle … I really do not see a future for us Israeli Jews if we continue to behave as colonialists and crusaders”…

Abdel Hadi said, in response to a question from an Israeli woman who argued that things would be different if the Palestinians voted in the Jerusalem Municipal elections and if the Palestinians in Israel voted in the national elections for the Knesset: ” Look, we are today 250,000 Palestinians. We are not Israelis. We are occupied. We need our Arab municipality. We need our own institutions. If we voted in municipal elections, we would gain 9 out of 31 seats, which would not change anything We need our own zoning and planning. It might be OK to have a joint umbrella, but we want back our own municipality, our own independence”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *