The Guardian November 1, 2000


No, we are not who you thought we are

by Dr Musa Budeiri*

In democracies, soldiers are not usually reincarnated as political leaders. 
This is another area in which Israel does not conform to the dominant West 
European model. Perhaps this explains the ease with which the state opens 
fire on and kills its own citizens, and the near total consensus of its 
citizens with regard to the righteousness of such actions. What is even 
more puzzling is the inability of Israel's political leaders, whether they 
are embarking on murder missions or on negotiated settlements, to 
comprehend the Palestinian "other". 

After more than a century of Zionist emigration to a land without a people, 
there seems to be a sense of shock and betrayal pervading all shades of 
[Israel's] political spectrum in light of the discovery that over the past 
seven years, the erstwhile enemy hesitantly transformed into a "peace 
partner," is very unlike the partner it was perceived to be. The shock is 
real, the wound is deep!

Barak and the rest of the Zionist "peace camp" are indeed correct. The 
Palestinians are not who they thought they were.

Some 50 years after the expulsion from Palestine and its dismemberment; 33 
years after the onset of the occupation and the colonial regime instituted 
by the Jewish state; 18 years after the siege and bombardment of Beirut; 
and eight years since the beginning of the Oslo process, which appeared to 
be the only practical alternative to Gaza refusing to "sink into the sea," 
the Palestinians are still the same.

Whether in Jerusalem, Nablus, Acre, Damascus, Nazareth, Beirut or Amman, 
and whether traditional or modern, religious or secular, faithful or 
adulterous, left or right, apathetic or political, middle of the road or 
lunatic fringe, pragmatists or seekers of paradise, straight or gay, they 
have not become Zionists nor have they acquiesced in their own 
dispossession and dehumanisation.

Their grudging support for the peace process, initiated at Madrid and Oslo, 
was their acceptance of a historic compromise to partition Palestine and to 
afford Israel and Israelis the opportunity to integrate themselves into the 
neighbourhood.

Israelis are well advised to remember that they were not invited guests, 
but arrived here on the tailcoats of British bayonets.

The nature of the Central and Eastern European neighbourhood from where 
their parents originated was the very reason that forced them to leave that 
particular neighbourhood in the first place.

To be sure, most went to "the new Jerusalem", [the US-Editor] but some made 
their way to Palestine, embarking on a colonial, nation-building project 
under the banner of a secular religion, Zionism, which was meant to 
liberate them from the shtetl* and its medieval shackles.

The perception of the Palestinians' current "betrayal" and consequent 
disqualification as "peace partners" says more about the substance of the 
"peace process" Israel wishes to impose both on the Palestinians and the 
region than all the proposals and agreements that have been circulating 
since a short-sighted and opportunistic Palestinian leadership acquiesced 
to Israeli dictates at Oslo.

Israeli politicians of all hues, buttressed by an ideological media do not 
tire of repeating, parrot-style, the Barak/Ben-Ami line about the 
generosity of Israel's "for a limited time only" offer at Camp David.

This has been handed to the Palestinians in the form of an ultimatum, with 
the implied, and often stated, rider that this is more than they justly 
deserve.

What is on offer is Sharon's plan of autonomy  no sovereignty, no 
territorial contiguity, the permanence of settlements, window-dressing in 
Jerusalem and, in effect, the establishment of a Palestine with a free 
option for the Palestinians to call it a state or even an empire if they so 
choose.

Israel, variously characterized as "the only democracy in the Middle East," 
an ethnic democracy and a  garrison democracy  among other laudatory 
titles  is openly transforming itself into an apartheid state.

This is clearly evident in its treatment of its own Palestinian minority, a 
million strong, who for 50 years were "tolerated" by a secular Zionist 
mindset, only to be redefined as "a cancer" and "a fifth column" the moment 
they dared express their identity as a Palestinian national minority in a 
state in which the intellectual elite are celebrating the arrival of multi-
culturalism and post-Zionism.

The Palestinians are not who you thought they are. Surprising or even 
shocking as it may appear, their perceptions of a peace settlement do not 
stem from the needs and requirements of Israeli security or the ever-
lasting debate over the Jewish character of the state.

Perhaps foolishly, they view themselves as victims, initially of superpower 
rivalries and European conflicts. Since 1948, they alone were deemed to be 
non-deserving.

Having arrived at Oslo, still foolish, they assumed that their acceptance 
of a two-state solution and their making do with less than a quarter of the 
territory of historic Palestine, would satisfy Israeli demands for 
recognition and legitimation.

This was the historic compromise, the "peace of the brave" that would 
satisfy Israel and enable them to begin the reconstruction of their 
national life, shattered since 1948.

What transpired in the seven years since has made Palestinians realise that 
the Israelis are not who they thought they were. The Israeli search for a 
peace partner was confined to candidates within the Israeli political 
spectrum.

From an Israeli perspective, the task was not to end the occupation of the 
territories conquered in June 1967, but to reach a set-up that would 
enhance Israel's security by getting rid of the maximum number of 
Palestinian Arabs while retaining the maximum amount of Palestinian 
territory.

Authority over the Palestinians would be handed to Palestinians who would 
be entrusted with the task of safeguarding Israel's security, without being 
hampered by democratic niceties, contradictory as this may seem.

Israel is probably the only country in the world which has legally 
sanctioned the use of torture and where assassination squads operate 
openly.

The sense of betrayal felt in the light of the Palestinians' refusal to 
continue with the charade of a peace process, the guiding light of which is 
the preponderance of military might and the use of force to pound the 
"peace partner" into submission, would be laughable, were it not for the 
tragedy it portends for all the inhabitants of the region.

Israelis could do worse than re-read Hannah Arendt's trenchant critique, 
written as far back as 1945: "It will not be easy either to save the Jews 
or to save Palestine in the twentieth century. That it can be done with 
categories and methods of the nineteenth century seems, at the very least, 
highly improbable."

* * *
*(Dr Budeiri lives in Jerusalem and teaches political science at Bir Zeit University. The above (abridged) article appeared in the Hebrew daily newspaper Haaretz. * Shtetls were the small villages where Jews were forced to live in eastern Europe under the czars.*

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