A pessoptimistic view of the Israeli elections

Israel/Palestine
on 13 Comments

The buildup to the 2015 re-election of prime minister Netanyahu to a fourth term in office saw the most openly racist discourse in Israel’s history, from incitement to physical violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel to the prime minister’s panicked call to his followers to come out and counter the Arabs who were voting “in droves”. This SOS message encapsulates for the world the contradiction embedded in Israel’s claim to being both Jewish and democratic. The notion that a leader of a country would be complaining that part of its population is voting is extraordinary. It’s not just an election issue. Not only that our state has constantly ignored our potential role in meaningful peace efforts. It is the pain of the Palestinian citizens’ existence in Israel. It affects every aspect of our lives.

In the hype of most Zionist parties’ election rhetoric, the image of the Arab voter in Israel has morphed imperceptibly into a part of the current and expanded axis of evil of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS … and the list is endless when you are paranoid enough. Even Isaac Hertzog, the leader of the centrist Zionist Camp party, was praised in his campaign ads as someone who “understands the Arab mentality…including through the crosshairs [of a sniper].”

In a release entitled “In Israel’s elections, racism is the winning ballot,” (PDF) Adalah, the Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, states:

“In the midst of this racist atmosphere, came Election Day. Sagi Kaisler, the director of the Samaria Residents’ Committee, which represents the settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, organized 1,500 settlers to participate as volunteers at voting stations in Arab towns and villages. Kaisler said: “Wherever there are Arab villages, there is fraud. This is the way they work. They do this in their local elections, they are not doing this against the state, it is in their nature…the Joint List united in order to pass the electoral threshold, but primarily because they are evil parties that want to overthrow the right- wing government…We are in a battle for the future of our state, against Arabs, against Europeans, and against some American forces.” To protect the settlers, an armed group carrying [live] ammunition, tear gas, sticks, electric strikes, and other weapons accompanied the volunteers to the voting stations. According to reports from TV Channel 2, these activities were conducted under the direct orders of Likud MK Yariv Levin, who is currently a leading candidate for the position of the Minister of Justice.”

It took Netanyahu less than a week to apologize to a group of traditionally dressed Bedouin supporters about his anti-Arab message of alarm. He meant no harm he said reassuring them that he was their prime minister as well. So there! No need to fuss now! It should be a straight forward assignment for any serious investigative reporter to track down members of this select delegation and to ascertain the housing situation of the tribe of each of them and what promises Netanyahu’s aids made to them about lifting the threat of house demolition from them and for how long in exchange for attending the apology ceremony. And he walked back from his campaign promise of no Palestinian state on his watch as well. Shir Hever, the Real News Network analyst, made fun of the promise and its retraction predicting that since Netanyahu never told the truth in his entire political career, there is now reason for optimism that we will see the creation of a Palestinian state.

My own optimism comes from a different quarter: In Emil Habibi’s novel, The Pessoptimist, one of the characters is noted for her habit of seeing the positive even in the most calamitous of events. With that in mind I strive to discover a kernel of hope in the election process if not in its outcome: For the first time since Israel’s creation factional issues didn’t keep Palestinian voters in Israel focused on internal quibbling. Their leaders, especially Ayman Odeh, tried to reach across the racial divide. On a televised panel discussion of heads of the various political parties Lieberman gave him the chance to show his metal: a self-controlled, mature and sophisticated politician responding in the best Hebrew idiom to the former bar bouncer’s racist baiting. Lieberman tried and failed to drag him into name-calling and racist discourse. Instead Ayman stayed the course with peace and human rights discourse. The advantage was not lost on some of Tel Aviv’s youth who declared their support of the Joint List. For a brief period Odeh was the sweetheart of the Israeli media. Another candidate on the same list, MK Ahmad Tibi, is a familiar figure on many evening Hebrew TV entertainment programs. And the Palestinian novelist and Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashau has a regular following both in print and on the screen where his seasonal serial “Arab Labor” has a Jewish mass following. I take these media exceptions as good omen.

It is my belief that the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel has a mission it cannot shirk: forcing true democracy on the Jewish majority that continues to slide down the slippery slope of racism to where such terms as ‘fascism’ and ‘apartheid’ are no longer considered inappropriate, even by Israel’s friends, in describing its behavior towards its Palestinian citizens, not to mention the 4.5 million Palestinians under Israeli occupation. It is our ordained destiny, it seems, to save Israel from its the-whole-world-is-against-us paranoia. It is our role to coax Israel back from its Masada Complex stand. We have little choice but to fulfill this impossible mission; the alternative is too bleak to contemplate. It would mean suffering genocide at the hands of the rising stars of Israeli ultranationalist racism, from regular soccer fans chanting “death to Arabs” to Lieberman announcing “we need to pick an axe and cut off his head.” What makes the threats of Lieberman and Netanyahu, not to mention other ultra-racist settler leaders, more frightening to us is the rhetoric of their foreign supporters. Bill Maher for example looks from a safe distance and declares: “Round them up.”

The prospect of being rounded up by Maher’s followers and an axe put to our collective neck by Lieberman’s makes it urgent for us, the Palestinian Citizens of Israel, to demand another spare country as a safe haven. But the example of Israel serves as a warning to us. Founded under the guise of providing a secure and safe haven for the Jews, it has proven to be the most dangerous country for them (and for Palestinians.) We have to seek an alternative model. I believe we have found that, thanks to the fertile imagination of a group of Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals and activists: a unitary secular and democratic state for all of the population residing west of the Jordan River based on full equality and respect of the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian refugees. Badil, the Palestinian organization for the right of return, has joined Zochrot, the Israeli Jewish-Arab organization advocating for peace and reconciliation, in tackling the many thorny issues involved in imagining such a just end to the near seven-decade status quo. That is where I place my money before the next Intifada devalues it. What makes the dream more than a mere wishful thought is the mounting success of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement initiated in 2005 by the Palestinian civil society using the successful model of the South African anti-apartheid struggle. The BDS movement is catching on at a much faster rate than its South African role model ever did. Its spread among the American and European public is at the verge of snowballing to the stage of irreversibility in the foreseeable future. When the Israeli leadership feels the economic heat it will return to its senses from the current high of colonialist euphoria.

A month ago, on February 24, the Center for Palestine Studies at the University of Columbia hosted the launch of Chief Complaint, a book of short stories from my medical practice in my home village of Arrabeh in Northern Israel. Hearing my account of the suffering of the Palestinian citizens in Israel, a member of the audience raised the question of the incidence of psychosis among them. To her surprise I had to admit that my impression was that such afflictions were not outstandingly high and neither were psychosomatic diseases or suicide. Then I was challenged to explain the apparent contradiction.  I reverted to historical stipulation: Palestine was at the crossroads of the ancient world. Every megalomaniac in history who aspired to conquer the world, from the leaders of the Hyksos to those of the Hebrews, the Persians, the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Moghuls, the Crusaders, the Turks and the British, led their armies across Palestine, subdued its populace and imposed their dogma on its defeated masses. Over time, such victorious marauders faded into the local Palestinian substrate to add one layer after another of humanity that further colored the cumulative genetic mix of “the locals.” That is a cookbook recipe for hardiness and resilience. Gravity works to the advantage of those rooted in the ground. No wonder Palestinians don’t crack up all that easily, I explained.

As our late national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, famously wrote: “I come from there … and remember.” On the eve of the Land Day commemoration I can’t but recall the events I witnessed first hand 39 years ago. The two Israeli leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, sent their top crack troops in tanks to our villages, all to stop us from striking for one day in protest against a new wave of confiscation of our best agricultural land. The Joint List plans a march on Jerusalem in a few days. What if Netanyahu, Lieberman and their ilk decide to stop the six-day march? Will we be able to bear their wrath?

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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13 Responses

  1. just
    March 26, 2015, 11:05 am

    “To her surprise I had to admit that my impression was that such afflictions were not outstandingly high and neither were psychosomatic diseases or suicide………. Over time, such victorious marauders faded into the local Palestinian substrate to add one layer after another of humanity that further colored the cumulative genetic mix of “the locals.” That is a cookbook recipe for hardiness and resilience. Gravity works to the advantage of those rooted in the ground. No wonder Palestinians don’t crack up all that easily, I explained.”

    So right, Dr. Hatim! It’s Palestinian sumud~ I love that you about gravity and being rooted in the ground.

    Any psychosis is on the other side of the Green Line and in the minds of Israel- firsters the world over.

    “What if Netanyahu, Lieberman and their ilk decide to stop the six-day march? Will we be able to bear their wrath?”

    I don’t think that the millions of us “out here” will stay silent. Then again, I am a “Pessoptimist”.

  2. JLewisDickerson
    March 26, 2015, 9:39 pm

    RE: What makes the threats of Lieberman and Netanyahu, not to mention other ultra-racist settler leaders, more frightening to us is the rhetoric of their foreign supporters. Bill Maher for example looks from a safe distance and declares: “Round them up.” ~ Hatim Kanaaneh

    MY COMMENT: Not to mention ‘barking mad’ pro-Israel Americans like Jon Voight* and Chuck Norris!

    * SEE: “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie wedding: Actress’s father Jon Voight was ‘not invited’ to the private nuptials in France”, by Jenn Selby, Independent.co.uk, 29 August 2014

    [EXCERPTS] Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s wedding was probably one of the most eagerly anticipated high profile nuptials since those that cared about the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.

    Yet somehow, they managed to keep the whole event, held at the $60million (£36million) Chateau Miraval in the south of France the couple purchased in 2008, so under wraps, no-one realised it had even taken place until some days afterwards.

    Jolie’s father, Jon Voight, found out about it around about the same time that everyone else did. And by everyone else, we mean the rest of the world, because the veteran actor wasn’t actually invited.

    Questioned about the nuptials on Thursday morning (28 August), Voight apparently told TMZ that he first read about them via an online news site.

    Asked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards anyway, having been nominated for a prize for his portrayal of the character Mickey Donovan in TV series Ray Donovan.

    Jolie and Voight have endured a turbulent relationship in the past. Back in 2001, Voight told Access Hollywood that Jolie had been suffering from “serious mental problems” and said that he had urged her to seek professional help.

    Following his comments, the then 26-year-old fired back by telling reporters she did not consider it “healthy” for her to be in his company.

    They eventually reconciled in 2011, sometime after the incident and after Jolie had amassed a total of six children. . .

    . . . Earlier this month, Voight stirred controversy when he accused Penelopé Cruz and her husband Javier Bardem of ‘inciting anti-Semitism’ after they signed an open letter condemning the Israeli government’s Palestinian ‘genocide’. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/angelina-jolie-and-brad-pitt-wedding-actresss-proisrael-father-jon-voight-was-not-invited-to-the-private-nuptials-in-france-9698790.html

    • JLewisDickerson
      March 26, 2015, 10:15 pm

      P.S. ALSO SEE: “Stars of David: Jon Voight”, by Rabbi Shraga Simmons, Aaish.com, September 13, 2014
      The clear-thinking, Academy Award-winning defender of Israel shares his thoughts with Aish.com.

      . . . For decades, Voight has been one of the most outspoken voices defending Israel and the Jewish people. “My connection to Israel is a result of everything Judaism has given the human race,” he says. “I’ve always been in awe of the Jewish people. They are the conscience of the world.”

      Voight was raised a religious Christian, and as an avid reader of the Bible – he calls the Torah “the greatest gift to humanity” – has always respected the Jewish people. “God told Abraham: ‘Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed.’ That’s exactly what we’ve seen over the past 4,000 years,” says Voight. . .

      . . . Voight is sensitive to the professional risks, but is determined to push on. “My agent says, ‘Jon, maybe for the sake of your career it’s better not to be talking about this stuff.’ But I’m getting older and thinking more about the future, of what world we are leaving for our grandchildren. If I’m going to make a difference, the time is now.”

      Voight sees Israel’s battle as a microcosm of the larger battle against evil. “Israel is a moral beacon, the vanguard of our values of liberty and justice. If Israel is demonized in its fight against terrorists and religious extremists, then we are all at risk. History has proven that these battles start with the Jews, but do not end with them. If Israel falls, we all fall.

      As for his willingness to speak out, Voight told Aish.com: “There is evil afoot and if my voice can be heard, it is my obligation to do so. I think that all sane people should have a passion for Israel at this time. The stakes are very high and we can no longer get away with being ignorant.”

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.aish.com/j/sod/Stars-of-David-Jon-Voight.html

      • JLewisDickerson
        March 26, 2015, 10:39 pm

      • JLewisDickerson
        March 26, 2015, 10:41 pm

      • Doubtom
        April 4, 2015, 1:11 am

        Voight, Stick to your grade “B” movies, you know little but propaganda.

        “History has proven that these battles start with the Jews but do not end with them” What history are you talking about? And what “battles” while you’re at it? If there’s any ‘ignorance’ concerning this Palestinian/Israeli issue, it is on your part.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 4, 2015, 2:30 am

        john, your first video has under 700 views. voight is a has been. he could have had a decent legacy as an actor, he made some good movies. but he’s squandered it all on this obsession w/defending a criminal state. so, he’s popular with this extremist faction for his advocacy. but hardly anyone remembers him anymore for his contributions to cinema, for good reason. threw it all away, and for what? he’s a fanatic.

  3. ritzl
    March 26, 2015, 11:36 pm

    Wow! Really great article, Dr. Kanaaneh.

    Wearily reflective yet resiliently forward looking, exactly as the title promised.

    Long road ahead. I hope the discussion you’ve outlined and seeded here gets taken up several million times over. Inter-ethnically, parochially, everywhere affected by this conflict.

    Thanks.

  4. Kay24
    March 26, 2015, 11:55 pm

    Last year saw the most killings of Palestinians by their brutal neighbor:

    “UN report: 2014 saw the most Palestinians killed by Israel’s military since ‘67
    Israeli security forces killed 2,312 Palestinians, most in the Gaza war over the summer. Roughly two-thirds were civilians.” Haaretz

    Bill Maher, you proud of your people?

  5. Ghadban
    March 27, 2015, 4:08 am

    Maybe he should rather apologize to the people of Gaza for the massacre of the innocent women and children, during their fasting in ramadan and their Eid holliday.

  6. NickJOCW
    March 27, 2015, 11:29 am

    Pessoptimism, indeed! Voltaire must be turning in his grave.

    The treatment of Palestinian Israelis, and the illegal occupation of land that is not legally Israel are two quite separate issues and, except that they may derive in some way from the same Israeli mindset, they have no other connection. Any effort to try to combine them obscures their distinction as if the main problem with the occupation is that occupied Palestinians live in an apartheid situation. It is, of course, nothing of the kind, it is the flagrant disregard for international law that matters first. It is not necessary to have any particular affection or even sympathy for the inhabitants of Gaza to want to see international law respected. BDS may have made some Israelis consider the direction their society is headed but that is Israel’s business whereas ending the occupation is an international matter of dispassionate law. I don’t imagine much of the world cares what kind of society the majority of Israelis make for themselves so long as it’s not so outrageous as grossly to offend humanitarian norms in the manner of South Africa. What is not acceptable is to pick and choose which bits of international law they are prepared to accept, they do not have that right; it would make for a hideously dangerous precedent. They can defy the law, which is what they do, but they cannot change it to suit themselves, and its progress can be inexorable as they should know from the persisting pursuit and prosecution of WWII criminals.

    We come back of course to the US role in all this and that is where the first real weakness will appear: This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. The Europeans have increasingly had enough of Israel’s behaviour; it offends ordinary people and also arouses genuine compassion. It is becoming a serious political embarrassment to European leaders. Furthermore Europeans increasingly question other unconnected US actions; the sanctions on Russia which have decimated areas of southern European agriculture and disrupted important northern European commercial interests. No one I know gives two figs if the Crimean people want to join Russia, or some of the Eastern Ukrainians either for that matter. Then we have sanctions on Iran for it’s totally unproven pursuit of nuclear weapons, sanctions which have seen massive losses in European trade more than counterbalanced by increasing Iranian trade with the Far East. What is the point of that many are asking. Now, to add insult to injury, we are expected to accept the policy dictates of a renegade bunch of ignorant US legislators. Shortly we are likely to see a resumption of European trade with Russia willy nilly, and a swarm of European CEOs descending on Tehran in their private jets. When that happens, serious sanctions agin Israel will be appear on the agenda,

  7. David Doppler
    March 27, 2015, 3:07 pm

    Mondoweiss is dropping the ball on coalition-negotiation reporting. Here’s Jason Ditz at Antiwar once again giving the clear scoop: Kahlon cancels coalition-building meetings as progress on allocation of ministries appears not to be to the kingmaker’s liking. http://news.antiwar.com/2015/03/26/kahlon-cancels-israel-coalition-meetings-as-disputes-grow/

  8. Annie Robbins
    April 4, 2015, 2:52 am

    thank you hatim. i have now read this at least 5 or 6 times. it’s very moving, brilliant and encapsulates so much in so few words. i love your writing, your thinking. there were so many worthy quotes. here is my favorite:

    Palestine was at the crossroads of the ancient world. Every megalomaniac in history who aspired to conquer the world, from the leaders of the Hyksos to those of the Hebrews, the Persians, the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Moghuls, the Crusaders, the Turks and the British, led their armies across Palestine, subdued its populace and imposed their dogma on its defeated masses. Over time, such victorious marauders faded into the local Palestinian substrate to add one layer after another of humanity that further colored the cumulative genetic mix of “the locals.” That is a cookbook recipe for hardiness and resilience. Gravity works to the advantage of those rooted in the ground. No wonder Palestinians don’t crack up all that easily, I explained. –

    viva la palestina

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