June 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
I am in the land of stories. Every decision, argument, perception depends on which ones you believe.
Israel’s official creation story – “a land without people for a people without land.” The Palestinians’ Nakba – the catastrophe of their displacement from their ancestral homes and their ongoing status as refugees, a stateless people. The narrative of Israel’s newcomers making the land bloom and blossom, turning the desert green. The history – and visible remains – of the 531 Palestinian villages that were bulldozed to piles of rubble and planted over with fast-growing evergreen pines to prevent their inhabitants returning to them after they fled in 1948. The memory of the Holocaust, and the millions who were murdered or rendered homeless. The thousands of Jewish refugees who arrived in Palestine looking for safety. The initial welcome, that inbuilt Middle Eastern hospitality, that gave way to fear as the numbers of immigrants swelled. The role of the British government in all of this.
The story of occupation. Israel’s claim to have liberated the Jewish homeland from centuries of foreign occupation. The ongoing, visible repression of the descendants of those they claim were the last occupiers. The irony that those people – the Palestinians of ’48 – were themselves probably descendants of Palestinian Jews. The story of a chosen people and a blessed land.
And today. The paranoia of a whole country that believes it is surrounded only by enemies, but fails to understand that it’s actions are in any way responsible. The constant drip of restrictions and limitations that leads to the kind of frustration that drives a young person to resist in any way they can. The cry of “security” and “terrorism” that justifies the subjugation of an entire people. The lumping together of “the enemy” so that when one young man stabs an armed soldier, all the residents of his village have their permits to travel the few miles to Jerusalem revoked. Everywhere, the fear, the fear, the fear. The idea of a right of return. For Israel, the birthright of all Jews to “return” to live in Israel – and the political facilitation of this perceived right. For Palestinians, the right to return to the homes that they or their parents or grandparents fled in war. That desire held in the old door keys, probably of no practical use now, passed from parents to children as a symbol of that determination to return home.
The assertion of your identity through the denial of another’s. The renaming of a street, an area, a community. Arabs, not Palestinians. Judea and Samaria, not the West Bank. After Israel declared its independence, displaced Palestinians became infiltrators when they tried to return home, a designation that allowed them to be shot on sight. Today, a teenager becomes a soldier, armed with a gun and intense fear of his perceived enemy. Glasses and a cropped hair cut. Sandals with your army fatigues, if you’re a girl. On the other side, a teenager becomes a prisoner, indefinitely, on a dubious charge, or no charge at all. Another story – the perception of what freedom means and what you have to do to keep/achieve it.
The narrative of a nation state, a people’s “right” to a homeland, of the necessity of borders and categorising people. The Israeli (and US-European) perception of an ongoing war against a generically hostile enemy, a nameless terrorist whose face is brown, Arab, Muslim. The Arab and Muslim world’s appropriation of the Palestinian story for political gain, while Palestinian refugees languish in camps, 67 years after their expulsion from their homes, trapped in a cycle of political wrangling in which they are merely pawns. The fact that the only Israelis many Palestinians have ever seen are soldiers with guns.
Finally, the story – or, perhaps more accurately, the myth – of the possibility of a solution in two states for two peoples. Two states when there is no contiguous piece of land that can ever become a Palestinian state. Two peoples whose definition of themselves has come to depend heavily on the existence of the other. Both survivors, both victims.
I am in the land of stories. Yet, like the founding tales of all nations, families, communities, these are so much more than “just” stories. They are narratives imbued with such intensity of meaning that to argue with them is often to deny someone their identity. They are filled with the heaviness of memory passed down through generations, made fat with myth and religion, turned hard and inflexible with the residue and renewal of fear and anger and that confused sense of both loss and entitlement. There is a desperation there to continue to believe, because if you stop, you have to redefine, completely, who you are.
How can you contend with that power? How, here, can people begin to accept that everyone has the right to their own narrative of identity? What would be the consequences? What if Palestinians could freely commemorate their memories of dispossession and displacement as publicly as Israel celebrates its independence day? What if Israel acknowledged the crimes committed during its founding? What if a right of return was at least acknowledged for everyone who wished to return? What if Palestinians and Israelis weren’t ghettoised behind walls and checkpoints (regardless of the fact that one ghetto is prettier and better taken care of than the other), if they weren’t prohibited by threats and restrictions on movement from meeting on a day-to-day basis in a normal context?
What might happen then?