Since the founding ideology of Israel is based upon the surreal notion of an Old Testament promised land, therefore, its clash with the real world is inevitable. In order to keep that dream alive, a lot of real-life, present-day human beings need to be brushed off the face of the earth – most of the time, literally.
Loathing the indigenous Palestinians to the point of a religious belief, which had never topped the pecking order a generation ago, is the pivotal prerequisite for one’s patriotism in Israel of today and hence the cornerstone of loyalty to the nation-state.
Like most of us in Pakistan were brought up and fed on an ideology based on hatred for India and the conniving Hindu (gladly adding religious and ethnic minorities like Christians, Ahmadis, and Shias to the list along the way) which has been a prerequisite for one’s patriotism, Israel’s ideological over-emphasis on the promised land unwittingly turns it into a hating nation rather than an inclusive society with right-wing politics being the only viable option leaving little room for liberal and progressive thought.
It is a sad reality of the 21st century that strong democracies like India, based on secularism and with modern constitutions that guarantee equality and dignity of their subjects, have also succumbed to the temptation of cleansing their countries of “unwanted” minorities.
Although frequent use of the veto in the UNSC by the US has been Israel’s biggest shield to legitimize its illegal settlements in the occupied territories, stinging criticism in the US, Europe, and across the world in those days meant Israelis, including those studying at universities around the world, didn’t have the confidence to express the Israeli ideology of a Biblical promised land to the exclusion and indeed elimination of others openly. Not anymore.
Every time there were casual discussions about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians the hardening up of attitudes amongst Israelis was palpable but not to the point of barely concealed hatred which is the norm nowadays. It was as if to say, we act like normal and civilized human beings to the world who believe in the equality of man except the Palestinians with whom we have a domestic dispute over real estate, a bit similar to legal heirs skirmishing in legal and actual feuds over inherited property.
Harmless but at times tense repartee would ensue at the mention of Jewish settlements, some hinting that Israel would have to adopt the strong-arm tactics like those employed by most Middles Eastern dictatorships. “What exactly is Israeli cuisine?” I remember asking students—half mockingly, half inquisitively—at the Israeli stall selling hummus sandwiches in pita bread stuffed with lettuce leaves during a world food festival held at the university campus. My next rhetorical question: “You have usurped Arab food like their land too!”, only to be met with reddened faces and sheepish smiles.
“Meet Eli, he has just been enrolled in the first year”, Mordechai Shamir introduced me to a freshman one day whose parents had Iraqi roots. “And it’s the Jewish Eli, not the Arab Ali”, he said derisively implying thereby that the state of Israel had given them a sense of protection and the confidence to have Jewish names in a safe environment where they did not have to give their children Arab names in order to mingle in a predominantly Muslim and, by definition, a hostile society.
“He is our answer to Saddam Khussain”, he says in his Hebrew-accented English with a mischievous smile on his face alluding to--although in no way comparable to anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe and Nazi concentration camps in their scale and severity—persecution of Jews in Iraq after the creation of Israel which culminated in a few public hangings in Baghdad on charges of espionage prompting almost the whole of the Iraqi Jewish community to emigrate to Israel.
The typical state of mind of a Zionist is quite a curious mix of someone carrying genuinely scarred memories of heart-wrenching pogroms in Jewish ghettos during the darkest days of European history culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, and present-day Israel ready, willing and comfortable in perpetrating the same inhuman treatment to the Palestinians once Israel is a reality.
Equally inexplicably, the perplexing reality is that it is the American Jewish diaspora that has been at the forefront of the efforts to advance Theodore Herzl’s Zionist movement which, as we all know, started from Europe.
It is interesting to note that due to its stringent policy which was not welcoming for Jewish refugees, only a small number of Holocaust survivors could manage to land on the American shores and enter the country at the end of World War II.
According to Stephen Brook who some time back wrote a fascinating book, The Club: the Jews of Modern Britain, apart from settling in the British Mandate of Palestine, most Jewish refugees were absorbed by Britain where a substantial community already existed, settled in the 19th and early 20th century on account of persecution faced in the Czarist Russia amongst other reasons. Most Israeli students that I encountered at university belonged to the European Ashkenazim which dominated the national discourse back home in Israel.
While happy to stir up the American Jewish diaspora -- on whose collective memory the Holocaust is not a story of every household told by a surviving uncle or grandfather from Nazi concentration camps--through conservative and right-wing organizations like AIPAC to lobby for funding and support, the ruling elite of Israel with mostly European roots has traditionally created narratives which, paradoxically, preach survival at the expense of Palestinian exclusion on the one hand, and Nazi racism and being attacked by almost all Arab countries in 1967 and 1973 making up its moral and legal justification on the other.
Upon being questioned by me, strangely and quite shockingly, apart from pathetically paying inadequate lip service, no remorse was shown for forcing out the legal owners and occupants from their properties in 1948 from cities like Haifa and Jerusalem.
Needless to mention, that heartless policy--conveniently couched in self-serving legality and gladly embraced and upheld by Israeli courts--continues unabated even today.
A conversation with a Palestinian family comes to mind which is worthy of a mention here. The man in his forties, an engineer working in Abu Dhabi, told me the story of his parents and grandparents who used to live in Haifa before 1948. “My mother still has the keys to our large house there,” he said while looking visibly disturbed.
While his family and I listened to his story in stunned silence on a flight from Istanbul, all I could manage to do was ask an inane question. “So did your family live in a house in Haifa in 1948?” I asked.
“Yes, where do you think they lived, on the road?” was his brusque, reprimand-like answer.
Compare the above-mentioned anguished cry of a second-generation Palestinian refugee with the belligerent statement made in the past by Naftali Bennett, the then newly elected Israeli Prime Minister: “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life and there is no problem with that”.
Let that sink in.