The day after Zionism

As we trudge through the terraced land, ducking under branches of olive trees and trying to avoid prickly bushes, I think about landscape, consciousness, and memory. We are walking through the land because Israeli soldiers are blocking the road ahead. They are blocking the road ahead so as not to allow people to arrive in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. We are going to Bil’in in order to protest the confiscation of the village’s land for settlement and wall construction. At Bil’in’s demonstration a week earlier, 36-year-old Jawaher Abu Rahme inhaled a lethal dose of tear gas. Her brother Bassem was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at a protest in the village just under two years ago.

So we traipse through the olive groves, only slightly out of view of the soldiers on the road, and a line by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish comes to mind: “If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.” Bil’in has become a battleground, the surrounding landscape a stage for a risky game of cat and mouse. What kind of consciousness does the land have? What would it say if it could? The wall is often described as a scar through Palestine, but right now it is more of a fresh wound. When the wall falls, will the scar left be permanent?

Two days before this protest, our group wakes up at the Yafa Cultural Center in Balata refugee camp, Nablus. We eat breakfast, thank our hosts, and get in a bus with the right color license plate, driven by a driver with the right color ID card, and head towards the city of Yafa. The Yafa Cultural Center is thus named because the vast majority of people living in Balata refugee camp come originally from Yafa and the surrounding area. Most of these people have never seen their original villages, or have not been back since their displacement in 1948. I am hesitant to tell our hosts where we are going, knowing that my visit to Yafa – and their inability to join us – is emblematic of the injustice I try so hard to fight.

On the way, we encounter another fresh wound / scar-to-be. We have split into two vehicles, and I am driving a small rental car with two Palestinian women from the West Bank, and two of our whiter and blonder American group members. When we see the checkpoint ahead, we take a deep breath, but we have no reason to believe this will be any different than the many other times I have used my undeserved privilege to “smuggle” Palestinians into parts of their own country that they are not allowed to visit. But this time is different. A soldier or security guard (it’s hard to tell the difference these days) signals for us to stop, and my trick of waving and continuing to drive is thwarted by a new metal bar that the soldiers operate. It looks like a toll booth, only the highway employees are armed and the context much more insidious. When she asks for our passports, we stumble a bit before saying we left them in a hotel in Tel Aviv. We say we are five American tourists. She is skeptical.

We are ordered to pull over and get out of the car. It continues from there: questioning, searching, rapid fire questions to the two Palestinian women about their names, their parents’ names, where they are from, whether they speak any languages other than English. It is maddening and terrifying, and I am standing there wishing we had prepared better, wishing my privilege-driven arrogance – which is often what helps me get through checkpoints – had been mitigated at least enough for us to have had a plan, a story, a mindset that might help us get through this. We tell the guard we had been in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, visiting a friend. I am making it up as I go along. She wants my friend’s name and phone number. I quickly call an old Israeli friend who doesn’t even know I’m in the country. He is surprised and happy to hear from me and asks, “When did you get here?” “There’s a security guard here who wants to talk to you about our visit to your house in Ariel,” I say. “I don’t live in Ariel,” he says, confused. “We’re at the checkpoint on our way from your place to Tel Aviv,” I respond. He catches on.

At this point I’m only trying to get us out of here, not even to get through, but with every question from the guards/soldiers, our story has more and more holes. Finally we talk our way out of the situation and are allowed to “return” to Ariel (where we have not been). Hearts are pounding. I am feeling guilty for my arrogance, and my Palestinian friends are feeling humiliated. They are not entirely surprised by the way they have been treated, but are deeply upset at the degree to which it has affected them.

We drive south, towards another checkpoint that is easier to get through, and I think about how much pain and injustice a people and a place can hold. None of us share exactly what we are feeling – probably none of us are able – but we make a tentative plan for the next checkpoint. We drive through without stopping, and have a small celebration in the car. But we feel uneasy. We are still nervous about being caught. My friend who would at this point usually take off her hat and put back on her head scarf does not do so quite yet. We feel the occupation in our bodies, in our minds. I am not experiencing anything close to what my Palestinian friends are, yet my visceral reaction offers a fragment of understanding of how this system is able to function.

We arrive in Yafa and go first to the sea. One friend has not seen it since she was a child – except as a reminder from the hills of Nablus on a clear day – and her eyes immediately fill with tears. She thanks me. I am speechless. The last thing I want at that moment is to be thanked for bringing a friend to her own land.

As we walk around Yafa and Tel Aviv, I am struck by a sense of permanence. Although I know that the Jewish presence in this city is only a hundred years in the making, while the Palestinian presence is thousands of years deep, it is hard now to imagine the undoing or even the transformation of this place. There are other parts of the country in which it is hard to imagine the continuation of an exclusively Jewish state, but in Tel Aviv, I often feel an overwhelming sense of the opposite.

A couple days ago I was talking with an Israeli friend who works with Zochrot. The organization raises awareness about the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) of 1948. They visit destroyed villages and place signs there with the villages’ original names; organize art exhibits and lectures; facilitate workshops for school children; and engage in other activities to affect the Israeli collective memory. My friend was telling me that he will soon start to focus even more on outreach to the Israeli public. A few minutes later the topic turned to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He excitedly told me that he has hope in this movement, that it’s clear from his perspective that the international movement is growing, and that only pressure from the outside can change the reality on the ground. “Then why do you want to focus more on the Israeli public?” I asked. He thought for a minute, and then responded: “My work is not going to have an immediate effect on the political situation here. What I’m doing is preparing for the day after Zionism.”

May we all be strong enough and imaginative enough to envision justice: to see roads without checkpoints, to remember when Bil’in was a village and not a battleground, and indeed, to work together to bring about the day after Zionism.

Hannah Mermelstein is a Palestine solidarity activist and aspiring radical librarian based in Brooklyn. Since 2003, she has spent more than two years living and working in Palestine, and is co-creator of Birthright Unplugged and Students Boycott Apartheid. In New York Hannah works primarily with Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 38 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Philip Weiss says:

    Thanks Hannah, beautiful piece. I was there with you and your friends. So much vision here… and positive feeling.

  2. Thanks for the story. I differ with the dream.

    I dream for the maturation of Zionism, not the ending of it.

    • Citizen says:

      Dream on, little boy–even as your body ages.

    • in your dream, what does mature zionism look like?

      • Green line border, equal rights for all, right of return for Jews to Israel, right to due process for all historical land claims, right for anyone born in Israel to be Israeli citizen.

        Multiple moderate non-Zionist (civilist) parties, good inter-personal and inter-national relations between Israel and Palestine including right to travel and easy access to work visas.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Green line border

          But you’ve said earlier that Israel must be allowed to keep some settlements, as well as the entirety of Jerusalem. Have those opinions changed then?

          equal rights for all, right of return for Jews to Israel, right to due process for all historical land claims

          ♫ One of these things is not like the other… one of these things does not belong… ♫

          right for anyone born in Israel to be Israeli citizen

          Once all the elderly Palestinian refugees are dead, huh? (Ahem.)

        • Chaos,
          Actually, I’ve never stated that Israel “must be allowed to keep some settlements”.

          Please be accurate.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          You’ve said it would be a “crime” to force Israel to withdraw any settlements to within the Green Line. Even though that’s what international law demands. You insist that Palestinians must negotiate for the “privilege” of Israel moving its illegal settlers back to Israel.

        • I said that forced removal of civilians would be a second wrong, especially for those for whom the land is their personal original home.

          They are civilians, not puppets.

        • pjdude says:

          so in other words you still demand the right for people who have zero connection to move into occupied palestine while those whose families lived their for close to a millenia do not get to. seems to me mature zionism is still a childish selfhish idieology for people who can’t act like adults.

        • pjdude says:

          So forced removal of palestinians for jews good forced removal of Israelis so the owners can return bad. sicking just sickening.

          and whitty those Israelis you mindlessly defend have no legal right to the property. they didn’t purchase from a legal owner so as far as the law is concerned ( and I don’t consider the decrees of the thug entity of ISrael to be valid law) they are squatters. and before you praddle on like you always do. the notions you says come into play here don’t they are only for good faith purchases which Israel ownership is not.

    • Colin Murray says:

      What we are witnessing is the maturation of Zionism. Whatever social or religious versions might have preceded it, contemporary politically relevant Zionism is fundamentally about racial supremacist ethnic cleansing and colonization carried out by murder, torture, rape, and intimidation.

      Your dream is just that; it’s a fantasy of Zionism without corporeal influence. Zionist violence is going to get far, far, far worse in the coming decades. Unless diaspora Jews can dissociate themselves from it, thanks to the efforts of Zionist extremists who assiduously try to link Judaism with Israeli state policies before the eyes of gentiles, they will reasonably be assumed by many to support it.

      • Colin Murray says:

        Richard, read the writing on the wall. Which side will you be standing?

        Israel’s Orthodox Rabbis: ‘Palestinians to the Ovens!’

        • I’m not on the side of “Palestinians to the ovens”.

          You’re at either/or already. War?

        • syvanen says:

          Richard I take it that you, on the other hand is not

          You’re at either/or already..

          So it sounds like you support discussion, humanization, negotiation, persuasion, or whatever nice sounding terms you use to engage these genocidal rabbis. Do you really think they will listen to you? And if so, what is there to negotiate with them?

        • Colin Murray says:

          I’m not on the side of “Palestinians to the ovens”.

          I didn’t think that you were, or more specifically, that you want to be. I like the way Richard Silverstein put it in a comment to Rachel on his blog:

          I think Zionism, at least in its earlier stages could’ve taken a number of forks in the road & it chose the one it pursues today, which is one of violence, hate & oppression. It might’ve gone differently (though it didn’t).

          You are still standing at one of the forks not taken 30 years ago. Corporeal reality has long since passed by. You are trying to cast a write-in vote in an election already rigged by the establishment candidates. The only difference between the Bibi Netanyahu’s and Ovadia Josef’s of Israel is preferred timing on the next regional war and second Nakba with its inevitable blowback on American lives and prosperity. It will happen, and I won’t be above telling you “I told you so.”

          You’re at either/or already. War?

          I didn’t choose the teams. I’m just pointing out the roster and noting that liberal Zionists stay on the benches unless they toe the extremist line. I’m not saying that there isn’t more than one kind of Zionism. I’m saying that there is at the present time only one politically relevant kind of Zionism. You have no control over what its leadership does, but you do control whether you blind yourself to the full extent of their intentions and actions.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          You’re at either/or already. War?

          You supported Operation Cast Lead. You’re already at war with the Palestinians. And against international law.

        • I think the “force” that the US and EU can be brought to bear might be effective at changing hearts and minds to accept a basically green line Palestinian state.

          That is the most “force” that I would endorse.

          That would be “force” to get to live and let live, not “we live, you leave”, from anyone’s perspective.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          You were for Operation Cast Lead. We know painfully well how much force against Palestinians you are willing to field.

        • I was for stopping renegade rocket attacks on civilians, and militarily. I was not for what Cast Lead became.

          You know that. Why misrepresent?

        • pjdude says:

          so you demand for peace the palestinians lose their legal rights.

        • Donald says:

          “I was for stopping renegade rocket attacks on civilians, and militarily. ”

          The key word there is “militarily”. Israel could have ended the blockade as they should have in exchange for a renewed ceasefire. They chose to kill Palestinians instead.

    • Shingo says:

      I dream for the maturation of Zionism, not the ending of it.

      Yes Witty, because we are clearly seeing evidence of where Zionism is going as it matures.

  3. bijou says:

    Jordan’s Foreign Minister:

    Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Wednesday that Israel’s refusal of the two-state solution would expose it to the world as an “apartheid” country.

    “His Majesty the king (Abdullah II) has made it clear that if we fail to achieve the two-state solution, then the alternative will be that the world will have eventually to view Israel as a state that practices racial policies,” Judeh said…..

    Judeh said that the recent recognition of the Palestinian state by Latin American countries “will put pressure on Israel and remind it that the world will not accept its unilateral actions” in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

    He expected “more states” to follow in the steps of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay in recognizing a Palestinian state…..

    • Walid says:

      bijou, the Jordanians’ comments are smoke and mirrors; they are mostly worried about their own oversaturated Palestinian demographics and having to eventually become the recipients of the dispossessed WB Palestinians. Anything you hear from them about Palestinians spins back to that sensitive point and any badmouthing of Israel by Jordan has to be taken with a grain of salt.

  4. RoHa says:

    “the day after Zionism”

    If/when it comes …

    PARTAAAYYY !!!!

  5. annie says:

    thanks hannah, for all that you do and sharing it with us. the day after zionism..that has a very nice ring to it.

  6. clenchner says:

    The day after Zionism, as a phrase, matches ‘the day after apartheid.’ That is, the replacement of one legal framework with another. But Zionism is in people’s hearts much more than in the legal framework of the state of Israel. I’m so interested in political change, that I’d prefer to let Zionists be Zionists if that’s what makes them happy. Ditto for Palestinian nationalists who think that Jews should not be living in Palestine. It’s never good when a political conflict degenerates into a fight over what people are allowed to feel.

  7. yourstruly says:

    “the day after zionism”

    like the day WW II ended

    except tjis time most of the celebrating’takes place in Palestine and the rest of the Arab/Islamic world

    who would’ve thought

    after so many years

    heartbreak after heartbreak

    the incredulity of it all

    no more worrying when the doorbell rings

    please, may it not be for me

    a next of kin

    not for me

    not for anyone else

    instead

    the chance to dream about what sort of world

    everyone having a say

    no have nots nor left outs

    only this time

    for real

  8. optimax says:

    Hannah,
    I like the universal voice you wrap deep feelings around.
    Keep up the good life.

  9. Potsherd2 says:

    Hannah who? Did she write something?

    Isn’t this another thread about Richard Witty?