Amira Hass was on Law & Disorder radio this week to comment on the Israeli election. It’s a great, thoughtful interview, listen at the link, in particular her commentary on the “two historiographies of Israel.” Here are some key excerpts.
On predictions of Netanyahu’s defeat:
For me it wasn’t a surprise…. Everybody seemed convinced that… Zionist Camp would get more seats… I kept saying the right, right wing bloc is very strong it won’t change, maybe something of the configuration within the bloc would change a bit. There wouldn’t be a real shift not even into the center. The Zionist Camp is not leftwing. Netanyahu keeps saying, the left wing, the left wing, and he means the Zionist camp or Labor. Let’s make it clear, it’s at best center-right!
On Labor’s responsibility for the occupation:
It’s the Labor Party which paved the road for where we are today. Not only because the Labor Party are the real experts in the colonial enterprise, and they have been so since the 1930s… The Palestinians gave us and gave Labor a golden opportunity in 1993 when they signed the Oslo Accords…. [Labor] misled so many people, Palestinians included. They did not draft… a deal which says our goal is to reach the two-state solution gradually. They had the gradual without the goal… This was not the invention of Likud, it was the invention of Labor… All these figures that are embraced as peacemakers– Peres, Rabin, Beilin– arranged a situation that leads nowhere, a status quo in favor of colonialism… The status quo keeps changing in favor of the colonialist Israel. The number of settlers almost doubled since 1992.
This is fascinating. Hass speaks of the promise in Oslo to resolve the difference between the Palestinian history of the conflict and the Israeli one:
[At the time of Oslo, the Palestinians] knew Israelis, they met them either at work or in prison . . . and they accepted the Israeli society. They saw it, they knew it exists. It is there, you cannot make it disappear. So in a way they accepted a more nuanced historiography of the state of Israel… not only as a product of colonialist times, and the colonialist movement… but connected to that part of European history that made it possible.
Without the 12 years of Nazi rule, most of the Jews would not have chosen to move, to emigrate to Palestine. And if Canada, South America had not resisted the emigration of Jews, many Jews would have preferred to emigrate to America not to Palestine. Within the Oslo Accords, from the Palestinian side there was a potential of including these two historiographies which make the state of Israel: the historiography of the colonialist movement… and on the other hand the historiography of a refuge for people kicked out from the Diaspora against its will, and more or less the only place that they found and felt secure at that time was Palestine, on the backs of the Palestinians. The enormity of this chapter of history should not be overlooked.
Michael Smith analogizes Palestinians to Native Americans. Hass responds:
You cannot compare. Palestinians are not vanishing, Palestinians are not a minority in the region. Indigenous Americans were made a minority very quickly with whites’ immigration. But the Palestinians are not a minority, Palestinians are a majority in the region…
Also, the Israeli policies, we have to be very strict about this, are not genocidal policies. Yes Gaza there was a lot of killing or murder by airplanes in Gaza. But the essence of Israeli oppression and colonialism is not about elimination of a people, thankfully. It’s almost 70 years since the state of Israel, and the Palestinians as a people, they grow. They were about 2-3 millions, and now they are about 13. So, we’re not talking about genocide, genocidal policies, as the policies of the United States.
On the continuity of the West Bank colonies with earlier periods of Zionist colonization:
The essence of Israeli policies– you can see… an internal Israeli compromise between the DNA urge to expel all Palestinians from the country and the realization that it was impossible. So what does this compromise do? This compromise concentrates Palestinians in bantustans… What Israel did very very artfully and this is again to the credit of the main colonialist philosophy of the Labor Party, it concentrated Palestinians into their areas… You look at the map and you see the Palestinian enclaves. Before Oslo, the map that everybody had in his or her mind – the map of the West Bank was Israeli settlements scattered like spots in the entire West Bank, which was considered Palestinian.
So there were all kinds of Palestinian villages, and Palestinians had the freedom of movement, and Israeli colonies were scattered all around… [Then] the dots of the settlers became the bulk, became the ocean, and the Palestinian villages and towns became the spots, the dots, the enclaves, encircled by Israeli territory. This is the real process of the last 20 years..
When you look at the geography of Palestinians in Israel, it’s the same geography, they are encircled in enclaves. They are deprived of their land. Most of their land has been taken by Jews to settle, even though they are Israeli citizens… They are all packed and cramped in houses without spaces to breathe, without agricultural lands…
The political geography of the Israeli state is very similar on both sides of the Green Line.
On the hope of the Joint List in the last election, of Arab parties:
The good thing that these elections brought us is the Joint List of the Arab parties…. For a group of Israeli activists it was the natural list to vote for… Let’s hope [the Joint List] will be more successful than Matzpen [an anti-Zionist party inside Israel that had its heyday in the 60s and 70s]… I’m a journalist. I’m a leftist first, it’s not a secret.
There was something refreshing about [the Joint List]. The turnout was somewhat disappointing…. but they feel that they can do something to change some of the rules of the game, that they’re not just the passive recipient of their oppression…
I hope this will be a sign also to Palestinians inside the West Bank and Gaza [to overcome] the terrible rift between Hamas and Fatah…
On the rise of Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List:
He… is a novelty. What’s good about him– maybe he’s not been angered too long. So confronting all that racist, poisonous language, in a very soft way. Very convincing. He doesn’t fall into the trap of shouting or cursing, or whatever.
On the Israeli public’s willing support for the occupation:
Look, in the short run Israelis do profit from the occupation. Because a two state solution– the way we saw it– would have had a dynamics, which slowly, slowly erodes Jewish privileges in the country… You cannot have the pretext of security, you don’t need the army, you cannot explain by security the discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel, and the water of course. Don’t underestimate [the issue of privilege]…. So Israeli Jews vote in general for those who perpetuate the situation of profiteering…
When will they understand that this in the long run might act against us? We have been warning about it for the past 40 years, nearly 50 years. So maybe we are wrong! Their thinking and understanding is as short as their lifespan, and since their lifespan has shown that they profit from the occupation, let’s continue.
I know it’s wrong, but I’m a bit cautious in saying that Israelis don’t understand what’s good for them. They understand what is good for them right now as nationalists with promises from God… So they interpret that this is good for them. We have land deeds from God. Every chapter in the Bible has a land deed for us.
Hass concluded with a question asked by two Palestinians of her in the same week many years ago. First from Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator following a useless session with Israeli negotiators, and then by a farmer attacked by settlers.
Tell me Amira, don’t Israelis think about their grandchildren?