Fear, the African refugees and the cost of maintaining Israel as a Jewish state

Israel/Palestine
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mobfire
An Israeli mob setting garbage on fire and singing “The people wants the Africans to be burned” after a protest against African refugees and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood on May 23, 2012. (Photo: Activestills)

I am a Jewish Israeli woman who was born in Tel Aviv and has been living in Ramallah and Nablus in the occupied Palestinian territories for the last 12 years. When Israelis, or people who have spent a lot of time with Israelis, hear where I live they often ask me “aren’t you scared?” And I tell them the truth. Yes, I am sometimes scared of Israeli soldiers and even more of Israeli settlers. But other than that I feel more at home than I do anywhere else in the world.

But this was not always the case. When I first started visiting the occupied Palestinian Territories I was, like most Israelis, terrified of Arabs. It took me years to chip my way through this fear. Years in which again and again my heart would race, and I would think that the Arabs around me, want to kill me, only to discover time after time, that people had other things on their minds rather than me. And that if they did interact with me it was in a way that was more open and honoring than what I was used to.

It is for this reason that I was shocked, but not surprised, by the images of an angry Tel Aviv mob attacking African immigrants. The vehement racism was very familiar it was only it’s target thats shifted. For example a slogan on a woman’s t-shirt read: “Death to the Sudanese”, an obvious rehash of the well worn “Death to the Arabs”. Ilan Tsion chairman of the Israeli advocacy group “Fence For Life” said in a panel in Ramlah that, “The migration from Africa and the Palestinain Authority and Arab countries is about to sentence every single one of us to death”. Tsion explained:

“I have figures here prepared by demographic experts showing that if the present situation continues then by the year 2030 there will be a drastic reduction in the percentage of Jews in the population of Israel …we are a country surrounded by twenty enemy countries that want to annihilate us. They are just waiting for a moment that our army will grow weak. For the moment that foreigners take control of the army so they can overcome us and murder us.”

You can watch the whole speech here:

“Fence for life,” which has advocated for the creation of Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank and for preventing family reunification of Palestinian families both In Israel and in the occupied territories, is now advocating for the expulsion of African immigrants from Israel. Their argument for all these issues are identical. They maintain that the existence of non-Jews in and around Israel is a mortal danger. This so called logic is something the vast majority of Israelis can relate to, at least on an emotional level. Most Israelis agree with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak’s statement they are living in “a villa in the jungle”.

I often wondered where all this fear came from? In my case, while it was true that I was exposed to the Israeli media that only presents Arabs as terrorists, was fed similar propaganda at school, and thus saw the world through a Holocaust paradigm, all these things could not explain the scope and depth of my fears. Eventually, I realized that despite the fact that no one talked about the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 while I was growing up, my fear came from knowing that I was living on someone else’s land. It came from knowing that the people who’s houses and graves and trees and cactus plants I see everywhere around me are not allowed to be in this land but I am. I realized that this fear is not different than the fears that any colonialist or beneficiary of a racist system must develop towards the colonized or oppressed people in order to keep his peace of mind. The fact that this process happens unconsciously only makes it stronger.

My Israeli friend David lives with his family on a house surrounded by 5-6 dunams of land in Pardes Hanna near Haifa. David is exceptionally aware of his motivations. He told me that when he considers being engaged or opposed to what Israel was doing to the Palestinians, he asks himself, “Would I be willing to share what I have with a Palestinian refugee?” and since the answer is, “no”, he does nothing. I think that it is essential to understand that it is greed, the desire to possess another’s land and resources, and not fear that lies at the root of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The fear comes later, to justify having and not sharing what belongs to someone else.

But I no longer feel this way. I feel blessed that choices that I have made in my life have allowed me to remain in the country of my birth without feeling like I am stealing or taking the place of another people. This has allowed me to let go of the fear of the people around me and to enjoy and become a part of the Arab world in which I live.

A two-state solution that does not include the right of return of the Palestinian refugees is not only an unjust solution that would leave Palestinians with a non-viable, non-contiguous, so called state but it would leave Israelis trapped in their ethnocracy. As long as Israel wants to be a Jewish state, every non-Jewish ethnic minority is a threat to the “Jewishness” of the state, non Jewish Wombs are perceived as ticking bombs, babies as weapons in a never-ending demographic war.

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