This is the second of several posts based on journal entries from the author’s recent family visit to Israel-Palestine. Part 1 is here.
“The kidnapped Yemenite children”
Arriving at the Hadera train station not far from where most of my family lives, I noticed for the first time that the street which the train station is located is called “the kidnapped Yemenite children” – phonetically translated to English – “Yaldey Teman Hachatufim” (you wouldn’t know it if you don’t speak Hebrew).
This is a reference to the saga of the disappearance of hundreds of non-European babies, mostly Yemenite, in the 1950’s Israel. Many stories follow a similar pattern: the parents, new immigrants who were regarded as primitive by the Zionist-est ablishment European Askenazi Jews, were told that their baby had died in the hospital and they could not see the body, or the baby was already buried. The white-supremacist attitude was expressed in terms such as, “They have many children, they won’t mind.”
Some babies were sold by middle-men for about $5,000 to American Jewish couples, who were told their money would go to the funding of the nascent state.
This episode in the Zionist colonialist venture is still subject to massive societal denial, despite the recent opening of many archives on this. The official claim is that this was not an institutional policy. But there’s a tell-tale sign right there, on the street, in front of the train station.
Amos Oz, in one of his last lectures, lightly and vaguely referred to what was done to the Mizrahi immigrants, and said that it was “not from malice”, but from a “juvenile urge to create a new man”:
They were wronged, egregiously. Not from malice, but (and this I say in parentheses) because of the juvenile urge, which came from the 19th century, to create a new man. A new Jew, a new man – it is wrong to create a new man, don’t ever try it. Anyone who tries to mold humans in order to create a new man or new Jew – it ends up very badly. In the good case – in our case – it ends with an insult to several generations. ‘Excellent human potential, we’ll make them into a new man’. In the bad case, it ends with rivers, streams of blood.
So Oz thought that this was “the good case”. I think that “insult to several generations” doesn’t quite cover it.
In the heart of Tel Aviv
Here I am standing in front of the Israeli military central command and control center, known as the “Kirya,” in the very heart of Tel Aviv, right next to the bustling upscale “Sarona” shopping center.
Israel typically chides Hamas for hiding its military institutions among a civilian population, as justification for its seasonal massacres, in which it regularly obliterates entire families on the pretext of a Hamas member residing there. So it’s a “Hamas command and control center”. This becomes the basis for the general Israeli claim that Hamas uses the Gazan population as “human shields”.
By this logic, anyone targeting the Kirya, should be forgiven for the collateral that might be involved.
Haaretz journalist Amira Hass made this comparison two years ago:
The onslaughts on Gaza have introduced to our world three terms that have no right to exist: proportionate killing, collateral damage and target bank. These terms have become axiomatic beyond question or reflection. How would these axioms work if we sketched out the target bank in the opposite direction? Every home where there’s an Israeli soldier or reservist would be a legitimate target for bombing; the civilians harmed would be collateral damage. Every bank in Israel would be a target because Israeli ministers and generals have accounts there. The neighbors of the police station on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street ought to move because Shin Bet security service officers operate there regularly and the missile might miss and hit a nearby school. Military bases and Shin Bet centers in the heart of civilian neighborhoods – at the Kirya in Tel Aviv, in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and Neveh Yaakov, or at the Binyamin Division headquarters near the settlement of Beit El – condemn the neighbors to a proportionate death.
But who is thinking about this in the bustling, modern, and liberal Tel Aviv? Move on, the uninhabitable Gaza is light years away, and the liberal opposition Benny Gantz helped send it to the stone age.
Reflections from the Western Wall
I went with the family to visit the Old City of Jerusalem – al-Quds, the city that Israel calls its ‘united capital’. We went to the Western Wall amongst other religious sites. The photo here is from the women’s side of the plaza. You are seeing an area that allocates about 1/4 of the wall length to women, men get the rest.
It was notable to see the women peeping over the separation wall – as if envying the men’s part which is so big.
I went with my sons (aged 19 and 10) towards the men’s area. My younger son had heard that people put notes of prayer in the wall, so he had a little piece of paper and a pencil with him.
We passed by a military installation with lots of soldiers smack at the center of the plaza. They were preparing for some ceremony a few hours later, a regular feature there.
When we got closer to the wall (about 50 meters) we were stopped by a man who said we had to wear kippas. There was a transparent-plastic box with lots of white kippas marked with inscription of some religious society that provides them. I reached in to get some – but Aske already said he didn’t want to go. Ben didn’t know what it was about. I said that you have to wear this if you want to go in. He felt uncomfortable. He said it was embarrassing. I said that it’s the only way we can go there. Ben thought about his note, paused, and said “It’s OK, I can just draw Donald Duck on it, we don’t have to go”.
So we didn’t go to that wall.
And I tell you, that wall for me, is in many ways a wall of shame. By the way, before the advent of Zionism, the Wall was not considered a proper place for communal Jewish worship. Michael Lesher quotes Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: “The Kotel was never a synagogue; nor should it ever become one.”
That plaza is a flattened Palestinian neighborhood – the al-Magharibah (Moroccan) quarter. It was ethnically cleansed and flattened over two days in the immediate wake of the 1967 war by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Central Command Uzi Narkis, Military Governor of East Jerusalem Shlomo Lahat (later Tel Aviv Mayor), Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, soldiers and a bunch of private contractors.
It has become a center of Jewish militant chauvinism, as well as a bastion of orthodox gender segregation and discrimination.
We are in Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the whole point of this huge installation is to make you forget that. It’s supposedly all “Jewish”. It has become a place of constant communal prayer – and it is no synagogue, but it has somehow been made into a kind of open-air synagogue on the ruins of a Palestinian neighborhood.
And that’s why there was no reason we should have kippas. My son was right, even if it was just instinctive. This wall is not about religion really. It’s about politics.
Day’s end reflection on the bizarre experience of Palestinians being invisible in Israel
It’s hard to describe. You’re on a family visit, you’re in a place where a massive colonization of Palestine has taken place and continues to take place, and you hardly notice Palestinians or Palestine. You have to struggle for it, like I did even trying to reach Lifta at the outskirts of Jerusalem – al Quds.
It’s not that they’re not there. Just like Lifta is there with its buildings, trees and spring, they are there, but marginalized by Israeli society, so that they do not feature in anything but a peripheral zone. Thus, the Zionist Israeli Jewish society has basically managed to create for itself an illusion of Palestinian non-existence, while allowing Palestinians to exist in isolated ‘pockets’ which allow most Israeli Jews to ignore them.
This construct also means that those who seek to feel liberal, the ‘liberal-Zionists’, can claim an alibi: ‘See – some are still here – we co-exist!’. Those who actively seek to be ‘peaceniks’ can even visit them and meet with them, under the comfort of knowing that they will not endanger the Zionist hegemony, indeed, maybe in order to soothe one’s fear of that ever happening.
But in the everyday life of the Zionist Jewish Israeli, they hardly feature. They are basically concentrated into all kinds of Bantustans: encircled areas in the West Bank; concentration camps like Gaza; villages in ‘Israel proper’. Meanwhile, the Zionist Israeli Jews arrange themselves in localities where they are the vast majority if not exclusively Jewish, and this is especially so in villages, where the village committee can exclude people for being ‘socially unsuitable’, and Palestinians know that they basically always are.
So it’s a virtual reality, and you have to struggle to remember that it’s only virtual. Then you think back on your childhood, and you get that you were brought up with this Golda Meir notion: Palestinians don’t exist. Which leads to the reflection: How easy it is to never move away from this Zionist brainwash. You realise how successful it has been in eradicating Palestinian existence from the Zionist mind, even if Palestinians are still there.
This is a massive venture of dehumanization. And as we know, people who are dehumanized are easier to eradicate completely. But most Israelis think that’s just radical talk. They don’t see the genocidal aspect here. And that’s why being in Israel and seeing it, is a lonely experience.