Mondoweiss

Israeli ‘chutzpah’ versus Palestinian ‘sumud’

Israeli soldier chokeholds young boy at gunpoint after clashes between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian protesters following Nabi Saleh march against illegal Jewish only settlement expansion on their village land. West Bank, Palestine August 28, 2015 (Photo: AFP/Getty )

In his book “The Joys of Yiddish” (1968), Leo Rosten writes that “the classic definition of chutzpa is, of course, this: Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. A chuzpanik may be defined as the man who shouts “Help! Help!” while beating you up.”

Chutzpah is a term in both Yiddish and Hebrew. Whilst in pre-Israel times it may have been a term mostly regarded with negativity, the Zionist settlement in Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish State with borders that became undefined and continuously expanding, came to give this term an aura of actual virtue in the eyes of many Israelis. Chutzpah, in Israeli national terms, would come to be known as a necessary ingredient to get by and grow. Israel’s second Prime Minister Moshe Sharett noted this aspect clearly: “I have learned that the state of Israel cannot be ruled in our generation without deceit and adventurism. These are historical facts that cannot be altered. . . In the end, history will justify both the stratagems and deceit and the acts of adventurism”. (In Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities and partially at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. )

Israel’s Chutzpah at the national level, shouting “help! Help!” whilst beating Palestinians up, could be seen in vivid colors last year, when a video from the weekly Friday protest at Nabi Saleh on 28th August 2015 went viral. In the video, a fully armed and masked Israeli soldier is seen picking out a boy of 12 (minute 2:00) who has a broken arm in a cast, grappling him and pressing him down on a rock, on his broken arm. The boy’s sister and mother come to his rescue and, unarmed of course, attempt to rescue the boy from the soldier’s hold. This situation was an iconic portrayal of the egregious balance of power, where the boy is inarguably a victim. But no – Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev was “shocked to see the video this morning of Palestinians hitting an IDF soldier,” adding that, “It cannot be that our soldiers will be sent on missions with their hands tied behind their backs. It’s simply a disgrace!…. We must immediately order that a soldier under attack be able to return fire. Period.”

So – the soldiers are the victims. Their hands are tied behind their backs. Help the soldiers! Whilst they beat up Palestinian children with already broken limbs. In addition – we must allow them to go further and shoot at unarmed civilians – family – who are trying to come to the rescue. If Leo Rosten’s definition of Chutzpah was correct, then Israel had established it as a policy on national level.

The Palestinians, as a subjugated and militarily-inferior occupied party, had to historically apply a mirror antidote to this Chutzpah. Against the policy of harassment and regular dispossession, they had to apply the attitude of steadfastness. This is the meaning of Sumud.

The term Sumud has become enshrined in the Palestinian nationalist awareness particularly since 1967. Palestinians had come to experience the Nakba, the Catastrophe of wide-scale ethnic cleansing in 1948, where many were violently dispossessed or fled due to fear of violence and were not allowed return. Whilst the typical Zionist myth says that ‘Arab leaders called upon them to flee and await the victory by Arab armies’, an IDF document found in 1985 in the archive of former Mapam member Aharon Cohen (died 1985) reveals the true main causes for this flight.

IDF Intelligence Service document is entitled “The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947 – 1/6/1948”, dated 30 June 1948. The document details 11 factors which caused the exodus, and lists them “in order of importance”:

1. Direct, hostile Jewish [ Haganah/IDF ] operations against Arab settlements.
2. The effect of our [Haganah/IDF] hostile operations against nearby [Arab] settlements… (… especially the fall of large neighbouring centers).
3. Operation of [Jewish] dissidents [ Irgun Tzvai Leumi and Lohamei Herut Yisrael]
4. Orders and decrees by Arab institutions and gangs [irregulars].
5. Jewish whispering operations [psychological warfare], aimed at frightening away Arab inhabitants.
6. Ultimate expulsion orders [by Jewish forces]
7. Fear of Jewish [retaliatory] response [following] major Arab attack on Jews.
8. The appearance of gangs [irregular Arab forces] and non-local fighters in the vicinity of a village.
9. Fear of Arab invasion and its consequences [mainly near the borders].
10. Isolated Arab villages in purely [predominantly] Jewish areas.
11. Various local factors and general fear of the future.

(The document is cited in Benny Morris, 1948 and After).

Thus we can see that the first and foremost amongst the causes for the flight of Palestinians in 1948, as also regarded by Israeli military intelligence sources, has been “direct hostile Jewish operations” (indeed also before the declaration of the State of Israel 14th May 1948 and before the invasion of allied Arab armies – for by that time, about a third of the to-be 750,000 Palestinian refugees were already dispossessed).

The Palestinians knew better than anyone else that there was a looming danger in the occupation. They did not need to wait for the declassification of archives and the slow process of recognition of Israel’s Chutzpah. In 1967, the new Israeli occupation which the Israeli generals widely regarded as “finishing the job of 1948” presented for them a situation which was a ‘second chance’, and maybe the last – to defend their very existence in historical Palestine. Failure to remain steadfast in the face of Israel’s new military occupation, would mean a new dispossession, and eventual erasure from the land.

This Sumud is not just a passive element. Whilst its prime symbol is the olive tree representing ancient connection to the land (hence the devastating symbolism in the many olive tree uprootings by Israeli occupation forces and settlers), it also has an active element – active resistance. Yasser Arafat noted in mid 1980’s that “the most important element in the Palestinian program is holding onto the land. Holding onto the land and not warfare alone. Warfare comes at a different level. If you only fight – that is a tragedy. If you fight and emigrate – that is a tragedy. The basis is that you hold on and fight. The important thing is that you hold onto the land and afterward – combat.” (From Schultz and Hammer, The Palestinian Diaspora).

The Palestinians have engaged in various forms of resistance, some involving no armed confrontation whatsoever. Perhaps the most non-physical means of protest that Palestinians have been able to apply in recent times is the BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. This is a democratic, nonviolent means of protest, which has track record of being successful in Apartheid South Africa. Noam Chomsky, in his most recent interview from two days ago on Democracy Now! says that “as to the tactics of boycott and divestment, they make perfect sense…. Boycott and sanctions make perfectly good sense when these tactics are properly applied, as they often are.”

But Israel has been investing many millions of dollars in an attempt to counter the BDS, and has been pushing forth anti-BDS legislation via its lobbies in other countries. . Recently, an anti-BDS conference hosted by the mainstream newspaper Yediot Aharonot, featured Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz saying that Israel should engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence, whilst BDS founder Omar Barghouti was mentioned several times in regards to the intent of the government to revoke his Israeli residency permit. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri noted, interestingly, that “The revoking of citizenship or residency is a tool that is hardly ever used because it constitutes a human rights violation”, and yet mooted that concern on the basis that Barghouti was morally reprehensible, as it were, saying: “he [Barghouti] was given rights similar to those of a citizen and he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world”.  . Deri said that he was “inclined to fulfill” a request he had received from a far-right Israeli member of parliament to revoke Barghouti’s permanent residency. Barghouti’s status is now “under consideration” and Israel has refused to renew his travel permit.

This is the fight that Palestinians are to endure with Sumud, if they are to remain. Israel may consider efforts to confront its subjugation as a Chutzpah in itself – how dare they resist? – whilst it engages in ever more inventive stratagems of deceit, to be able to continue its adventurism in the frontier of Greater Israel.

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Postscript:

One might predictably want to ask the question, “Why is the steadfastness only attributed to the Palestinians? Where’s the Israeli steadfastness? Why so one-sided?” Well, here’s my answer: in the comparison of the two, the balance of power is simply lopsided, to put it mildly. The Palestinians do not possess tanks, fighter jets, helicopter gunships or nuclear weapons. They simply do not pose an existential threat. Aye, Israeli leaders often seek to conflate the Palestinians with “nearby hostile Arab countries” and claim for that “existential danger”, but not only is that besides the point – it doesn’t hold either. Even Iran, a (non-Arab) regional giant, whilst being repeatedly accused by Netanyahu for being an existential danger, has been pointed out by Israel’s top security experts to simply not pose any real existential danger.

The same was in 1967 – whilst promoting the hysterical “2nd Holocaust” fear in the public, Israel’s leadership knew full well (and concurred with CIA on this, former Mossad chief Meir Amit notes), that it would win, against all regional enemies, and quickly so – they assessed it would take about 7-10 days (the lower figure assessed if Israel took out Egyptian air force first, which it did in starting the war). (See Tom Segev, 1967, and for the Amit assessment of ‘7 days’ see link. 
So regardless of the fact that Israel doesn’t face a regional existential threat for real, its power relationship vis-a-vis Palestinians is not even something to consider in this respect. For all practical purposes, the power relations between Israel and the Palestinians are resembled by that scene of the fully armed soldier holding down the boy with the broken arm.

It may be that regional players may seek to come to the rescue of that boy out of solidarity – and they may sometimes come armed – that was the situation in 1948 – but even then, Israel was by far superior in personnel, organisation and weaponry to what the Arab armies had mounted altogether. (See Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine).
In 1973, Egypt and Syria indeed managed to press Israel for a short while, due to the surprise element of a holiday (and probably some Israeli nonchalance). It was enough for a scare, Sadat didn’t apparently intend to get very far in Sinai to demonstrate force. It won him Sinai back – the language of force broke the Israeli intransigence.

But to return to the Palestinians – all other regional enmity can be traced back to this, and it is well known that the regional states are very willing to regulate relations with Israel in return for a solution for the Palestinians under international concensus guidelines (UN 242). But that is simply not Israel’s plan, and Israel’s schemes for the Greater Israel mean the Palestinians are in the way.

So in the larger scheme, in the larger political scheme, it is very much like Ben-Gurion noted already back in 1938: “When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves —- that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves. . . . But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.” That is why the Chutzpah is addressed rather one-sidedly to Israel, and Sumud to the Palestinians. It’s a certain generalisation, but in general, it is not Chutzpah to resist oppression. As Ghandi noted, it is not  considered violence, when a victim of rape fights against her rapist. She is resisting the act of violence. Her act is “in itself an act of non-violence”. It is the act of rape that is the actual violence. (See Norman Finkelstein, What Ghandi Says).