Anthem for the Tribe of Israel

Salman Masalha


Yitzhak Rabin was murdered on the tense border between the Jewish and the Israeli. He was murdered by the emissaries of the Jewish tribe because he had the courage to try to expand the grazing lands of the Israeli tribe at the expense of the Jewish tribe. Thus the Golem took revenge on its creator.

It is not by chance that in the national anthem there is no hint of “Israeli-ness.” On the contrary, the emphasis in “Hatikva” (The Hope) is on the deepest religious facet connected to time (history) and place (the Land of Zion): “The Jewish soul yearning ... the eye gazing towards Zion ... the Land of Zion, Jerusalem." The combination of the two, the soul and the place, cannot but be mytho-religious. The Israeli national anthem is a Jewish religious prayer – and not Israeli. Therefore Israel is a religious Jewish legal entity and not a secular state. And when the leaders of the state were not wise enough, or were unable to, or perhaps did not want to break this link between religion and state, they sinned the primal sin of Zionism. Two decades later came the June, 1967 war and brought the Jewish tribe into physical contact with the places that are so laden with mythological times and values. The noose grew tighter.

To the primal sin was added another sin. In every nuance, it has never succeeded in adopting a value discourse that has self-confidence facing the religious discourse. On the contrary, Israeli secularism has been taken over by feelings of inferiority facing fundamentalist religious discourse. For this reason Israeli secularism has not attributed importance to written words and to words spoken in the public arena. The right, of all hues, religious and non-religious, has known how to exploit to the fullest the words that are laden with sanctity. And this is the great breaking-point.

Thus, again and again mythological figures have cropped up from the past – Amalek, Pharoah, Haman and even figures from the recent past like Hitler. The right, which is nurtured on religious texts and claims family and tribal values, has eyes in the back of its head like someone in the clutches of constant paranoia. It also sees the future with magic spectacles that is always showing it pictures from the monstrous past. The right tries to infect everyone with this paranoia. And it does not grow up in a vacuum. Its source is in part in the fact that deep down the right is aware that it has done a terrible injustice to the other, and the other in this case is the Palestinian.

The right, in its very essence, is imprisoned in this trap. Part of the left, not all of it, is trying to get out of it with as few casualties as possible.

Yitzhak Rabin did understand the grave danger that lies in this trap. He was aware that he has Chief of General Staff had got Israel into it. When he saw how things were, he had the courage to begin to seek ways to get out. But, being a general, he wanted the retreat to take place with the minimum of casualties. This is also the reason for his hesitancy and suspicion.

To get out of the trap Rabin was prepared to take great steps forward. He was prepared to tip the balance in favor Israeli tribalism rather than Jewish tribalism. The right’s reaction was to come to him with the racist demand for “a Jewish majority.” This demand even managed to seep into his own party. In a desperate attempt he tired to unravel the tangle and began to talk in different language. terms like racism and apartheid, of which he accused the right, came out of his mouth in despairing tones, and this is how they were described by the government broadcasting channel just a few days before the assassination.

The mourning that swept through the Arabs of Israel after the assassination was genuine and true, it sprang from the deepest source, from that border that divides biological parents from adoptive parents. This is the mourning of a child who was abandoned in 1948 by his biological parents, and after Oslo understood finally where he stood and in what family he had grown up. He had even begun to love the adoptive family and was not afraid of expressing his feelings in public. Rabin gave this child a spark of hope of adoption by the new state of Israel and of becoming an integral part of the Israeli family. However, this was also the reason for the assassination. Therefore, the public debate following the murder tried to avoid the mourning and fate of this child, who constitutes 20 percent of the citizens of Israel (50 percent of those who participated in the rally on the night of the murder, according to the assassin).

This poison potion of tribalism and religion is the place where the ideology grows that sprouts not weeds but base murderers, even if the victim is a Jewish prime minister. The shock and astonishment expressed by many people at the fact that “a Jew had done this” is indicative of hypocrisy and stupidity. This is the battle between human law and the law of the tribe and God, who know only vengeance. Yhis is also, in part, the reason for the rejoicing that was heard among small parts of the Jewish public here and abroad. I venture to predict that the next struggle will not be over the question of who is a Jew. It will be a struggle over the question of who is an Israeli. And participating in this struggle will be all the citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs.

Jerusalem, November 1995

Translated by Vivian Eden

From the Memorial Book for Yitzhak Rabin:
Asher Ahavta et Yitzhak (Yitzhak, Whom You Love), ed. Zisi Stavi, Aliza Zeigler, Miskal - Publishing & Distribution, Tel-Aviv 1995

For Hebrew, press here.

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