Proselytes are hard for Ishmael

Associating part of the muezzin's call with Arabs is a Zionist invention intended to demonize all Arabs.

Salman Masalha | Proselytes are hard for Ishmael

The people who gathered among the "pictures of medal-bedecked Russian heroes" at the community center in Lod were waiting for MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu ), who has presented a bill to silence the muezzins. One of those present termed the muezzin's call a "tool of terror," and said that muezzins use the words itbakh al-Yahud ["kill the Jews"] (as reported by Roy Arad in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz on December 20 ). We will return below to the source of the call to "kill the Jews."

Zionism, as its early leaders attested, was not interested in all Jews everywhere. It sought to create a new Jew here, and therefore sought Jews of a different type. David Ben-Gurion expressed this attitude very clearly: "Zionism is not a philanthropic venture," he said in the 1930s to the British high commissioner, and added: "We need here a superior type of Jew who will develop the Jewish homeland."

When there is a dearth of "superior types" of authentic Jews, they bring converts to Judaism. As the Hebrew newspaper Hashkafa reported in 1903, "in a region of Astrakhan are many proselytes...they also leave the Russian language and call themselves exiles in Egypt and they call Russia Assyria and long for the coming of the redeemer who will restore the Jews." (The quote is from Prof. Yuval Dror's "Russian Converts in the Galilee at the Beginning of the 20th Century," Cathedra, 1979. ) The Zionist Movement pounced on this find, because it wanted to increase the number of "Jews" in Palestine and also to bring people to this country who were skilled farmers.

Meir Dizengoff and Dr. Hillel Yaffe, who were members of the early Zionist group Hovevei Zion, helped bring these "converts" to the country, and they were sent to Hadera and colonies in the Galilee. Ben-Gurion himself got to know the converts, Russian farmers who were Subbotniks (Judaizing Christians ), during his time in Sejera. Despite tensions between the Jews and the converts, the Russian farmers proved a great help to Jewish settlement. There was another reason to bring them to the country. It involved improving Jewish blood. "It will not at all hurt Jewish blood, which has become weakened through generations of marriage (among Jews ) to mix somewhat with Christian blood," Yaffe said (also quoted in Cathedra ).

Many of those that "we needed" for the "development of the Jewish homeland" and the betterment of Jewish blood came to Israel with the fall of the Soviet Union. Many of them vote for Michaeli's party, Yisrael Beiteinu. That party took the name "Israel" and appropriated it as a "home" for itself; that is, if party followers claim "Russia is Assyria." But they might also claim they are "exiles in Egypt" and may even pray to the one "who brought us out of Egypt" or "who wrought miracles for our forefathers."

One of the converts, one Yaakov Nitchev, lived in Sejera. He allegedly took to drink after a family tragedy. It is also said that one day a year, on Simhat Torah, he permitted himself to get "as drunk as a goy." When he was drunk, he would revert to being a Russian farmer of the old days, and as with every drunken Russian farmer, the vodka would shout from his throat, bei zhidov ("kill the Jews" ).

That, it seems, is how the call was born here, at the beginning of the 20th century, in Palestinian Hebrew - itbakh al-Yahud. The Russian bei zhidov, which comes from the Russian pogroms, underwent a transformation here due to circumstances. It was translated literally-nationalistically by converts and lovers of Zion and was attached to the Arabs. Associating the call with Arabs is a Zionist invention intended to demonize all Arabs. Therefore, let the ancient sages be comforted: As it turns out, proselytes are not hard on Israel, they are actually hard for Ishmael.
Published: Opinions-Haaretz, Dec. 28, 2011

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That's how the Zionists are

A short history of Arab feelings toward Zionism:
A new Arabic monthly, Lughat al-Arab ('the Arabic language'), that began publication in Baghdad 100 years ago, published an investigative report by the editor called 'The Founder of Zionism' in its September 1911 issue.

Salman Masalha | That's how the Zionists are

The Arab attempt since the start of the 20th century to understand the Zionist movement has long produced mixed feelings. A new Arabic monthly, Lughat al-Arab ("the Arabic language"), began publication in Baghdad 100 years ago. The third issue, from September 1911, contains an investigative report by the editor called "The Founder of Zionism."

"Many talk about Zionism nowadays, but most of the people don't know what it's about," he wrote. To enlighten his readers the editor quoted an article published three months earlier in a French newspaper, by a writer from Istanbul: "Before the group came to be known as 'Zionists' the Turks called them Donmeh [Turkish crypto-Jews] ... "
Arab Spring

The article in the Baghdad journal connected Zionism to the Sabbateans and divulged for its readers details from the life of their leader, Shabbetai Zvi, who claimed he was the Messiah and that all twelve tribes of Israel would soon return to Palestine. In Cairo, the author relates, Shabbetai Zvi met a beautiful Jewess who acted oddly and purported to be the "Queen designated for the Messiah."

They married and traveled throughout the Orient; Shabbetai Zvi continued to spread his message until his imprisonment and conversion to Islam. His followers, emulating him, also converted. Shabbetai Zvi was exiled to Albania, where he died in 1676, because he continued to engage in mysticism. After the death of the "scoundrel," the article said, his followers continued in his path and their descendants now "live in Salonika and Edirne."

"Those are the Zionists and their roots. Heads of state and officials fear them as men fear lions. That is because the Zionists are serious, industrious people, cunning and alert, and they exert considerable influence on their surroundings," the article explained. It isn't hard to guess what was considered the source of the influence. The writer elaborated: "Because of the gold they hold in their hands ... Thus, in meetings with delegates, some fawn over them, while fearing machinations. For these reasons, honest state officials talk about the 'Zionist danger.'"

In fact, officials from far-flung areas in the region warned of this danger. They reported an increased Jewish presence in Iraq and in parts of Greater Syria. They alluded to the proliferation of agricultural and industrial machines and facilities, and even talked about the "routines and organization on their colonies." The official in Jerusalem wrote, "80,000 Jews live in the city, while the number of Muslims does not exceed 9,000." A Syrian official confirmed this estimate, adding, "The activities undertaken by these people are those of a nation; during holidays they wave a blue flag that has 'Zion' written on it."

On one hand, the writer tried to reassure his readers: "Whatever happens with this Zionist issue, there's no reason to worry that the Zionists will ever turn into a nation." On the other hand, he did not attempt to conceal his concerns: "You have to bear in mind that these foreigners compete with natives of the land, and so struggles and disputes about the land erupt." The Baghdad journal found reason to underscore the tight bonds that unite Jews, and referred to the "ethos of solidarity among them, which has reached the highest level."

This report projected anxieties about the unknown, alongside admiration. In conclusion, the author suggested there was something to be learned from the Zionists: "They should serve as exemplary models to others," he wrote. One hundred years have passed. It seems that nothing has changed since then, and life in the East continues as always.
Published: Opinions-Haaretz, 20 December 2011

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Neither Arab nor Spring

The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the 'Arab Spring' are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism.

Salman Masalha ||

Neither Arab nor Spring

The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the "Arab Spring" are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism. We must remember that the intifadas that brought the masses to the streets took place in countries that have been ruled by governments considered to be nationalist. They passed over the monarchies, and there is a simple reason for that.

From the first days of Islam, through to the disintegration of the Ottoman empire, the Arab world has been ruled by monarchies in the form of various caliphs. The first caliphs were Arabs who conquered land and established empires. In Arab lands, the legitimacy conferred on rulers was fundamentally tribal, and resembled monarchy. Over time, Arab rule weakened. The caliphates remained Islamic, but the caliphs were no longer of Arab descent.

Nationalism was a new idea. The founding of Arab nationalism had two phases: First there was traditional Bedouin nationalism, while urban nationalism developed later. Traditional nationalism was encouraged by Britain, the colonial power that sought to secure hold of the important areas by taking them over from the Ottomans. Lord Horatio Kitchener, who served as the British secretary of state for war during World War I, actively pursued this goal, working to restore the Arab caliphates.

We know about this from a letter sent in August 1915 from Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, to Hussein bin Ali, the sharif of Mecca: "We rejoice, moreover, that your Highness and your people are of one opinion - that Arab interests are English interests and English Arab. To this intent we confirm to you the terms of Lord Kitchener's message, which reached you by the hand of Ali Effendi, and in which was stated clearly our desire for the independence of Arabia and its inhabitants, together with our approval of the Arab Khalifate when it should be proclaimed. We declare once more that His Majesty's Government would welcome the resumption of the Khalifate by an Arab of true race."

The region was ultimately left without either an Ottoman caliphate or an Arab one. It was divided between Britain and France, and the Arabs got the condolence prize: the Arab League.

The second phase of Arab nationalism developed in the context of the colonial powers' withdrawal from the region and the Cold War. The Arab world, which was divided into "autonomous" entities, continued to be ruled by puppets controlled from afar. Then a new player - the Soviet Union - entered the fray, and the new nationalism fell into the net of the Soviet bloc. This nationalism was created in an unnatural process. Junior officers had brutally raped their people and their lands, and a new kind of regime was born of this assault: a political bastard in the Arab world, neither a monarchy nor a republic.

These governments promised the world, and national pride, but their existence was essentially dependent on empty slogans. All their energy went into maintaining their hold on the reins of power, at any price. And that's how the Arab world got where it is today. One can say that Arab nationalism, in both its empty forms, flunked the reality test.

There is an Arabic phrase that tells us the drowning man hangs by ropes made of air. These days, the ropes of air are being held out to the Arab world by the modern-day successors of Kitchener and McMahon. This time, it is being done through assistance to Sunni Arab Islam and with prominent Turkish-Ottoman support, in the hope that the new regimes will counter the increasingly strong Shi'ite Islam at Iran's helm. But this is just another golem that is liable to turn on its maker.
Published: Opinion-Haaretz, 5 Dec. 2011

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With yearning soul

Jewish fundamentalism, which seeks to restore the Jewish and nationalist crown to its former glory, had already planted its roots in the settlements and in Israeli society during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Salman Masalha | With yearning soul

When Yigal Amir shot Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the back on November 4, 1995, he was only the messenger. The sender resided in words set down long before, in May 1948.

It is true that in its Declaration of Independence, Israel promised to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex," but these words were intended only to satisfy foreign ears. The document places greatest emphasis on "the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael," on "the Jewish people," and on this people's "spiritual [and] religious identity" and its "ancient homeland."

Such expressions could not exist outside of a religious context: "Ancient homeland" is connected to Judaism, an ancient religion. Therefore, the link between Zionism and the Jewish religion has never been severed.

It is no accident that the name "Israel" does not appear in the national anthem. The words of "Hatikva" recall a Jewish prayer carried from a distance both geographic and chronological: "A Jewish soul yearns ... The hope of two thousand years ... The land of Zion and Jerusalem." By adopting such formulations, the Zionist leaders turned the State of Israel into a state of halakha, or Jewish religious law, from the very first day.

The Zionism that aspired to establish a "Jewish home" in the Jews' "ancient homeland" did not take into consideration the fact that the land was not empty. It thus adopted the principle of population transfer, based on the same ancient biblical tradition. We know this from what was on David Ben-Gurion's desk: "At the end of the conversation, I saw on his desk a passage from the Book of Exodus: 'I will not drive them out from before thee in one year ... By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.'" That is what the writer Haim Gouri said in a lecture at the National Security College (according to the journal "Ma'arachot," issue 359 ).

At the time, Ben-Gurion staunchly opposed conquering all of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel ), but for tactical and demographic reasons only: "In early spring of 1949, I asked Ben-Gurion why he hadn't conquered all of Eretz Yisrael," Gouri related. Ben-Gurion's reply: "Getting entangled in a hostile Arab expanse would have forced us to make a choice we could not bear - either expelling hundreds of thousands of Arabs or absorbing them. They would have destroyed the young state from within."

Ben-Gurion left the conquest of the remaining territory for later. "We have liberated a very large territory, much more than we expected," he said in 1949. "Now we shall have to work for two or three generations. As for the rest, we shall see later."

And indeed, history didn't end there: The Six-Day War broke out two decades later. It not only brought about the conquest of the mountain ridge running through the West Bank and the broadening of Israel's "narrow waist," but also nurtured the seeds of calamity: that "historic and traditional attachment" cited in the Declaration of Independence to the soil of "the ancient homeland," so rich with biblical myths.

Rabin, who was chief of staff during that war, awakened much too late to the implications of the choice "we could not bear." Jewish fundamentalism, which seeks to restore the Jewish and nationalist crown to its former glory, had already planted its roots in the settlements and throughout Israeli society.

The main complaint about the moves Rabin initiated was that he didn't have a Jewish majority, since he relied on the support of Knesset members from outside the Jewish tribe. Rabin tried to rescue "the Jewish state" from the above-mentioned choice by adopting an "Israeliness" that included Israel's Arab inhabitants. But his actions came much too late. The "Jewish genie" was already out of the bottle.

And so the fundamentalist Jewish golem, with yearning soul, turned on its Zionist creator. And so Rabin, too, was murdered, an "honor killing" to avenge the "dishonor" he caused his family, known in Israel as "the Jewish state."

Published: Opinion-Haaretz, November 9, 2011
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The Arab world's quagmire

Only a society that can engage in introspection and self-examination can emerge from its dark past and march confidently to a different future. Otherwise, it will continue to sink into the same marshy swamp.

Salman Masalha ||

The Arab world's quagmire


The right's herds of goats

Netanyahu wants to herd the Palestinians out

It seems that the prime minister, who was educated at the knees of land-stealing Zionist farmers, has grown up and become a certified goat herder.

Salman Masalha

The right's herds of goats

We often hear the claim among politicians in Israel that in order for peace to last, it has to be made between nations rather than between rulers. The use of the term, "rulers," comes up when Israel finds itself in a corner and is required by those "rulers" to pay the price of peace. As long as those "rulers" sit quietly and behave in accordance with Israeli expectations, they are not called "rulers," of course; they are "responsible leaders."

If they were to be voiced by the man in the street who really and truly aspires to live in peace with himself and his surroundings, these words could be accepted with full understanding, and even quite a bit of empathy. But when this claim is raised by the leaders of the Israeli right, who see only the continuation of the occupation and the theft of Palestinian lands before their eyes, they sound like the most ridiculous of claims.

Throughout human history, peace agreements have never been signed between nations. Nations don't stand opposite one another in a row, shake hands and pat each other on the back. Agreements of any type, all the more so when they are peace agreements between countries, are always made and signed between the representatives of nations.

There are some nations that live under one type of regime and other nations that live under another; and this will apparently be the situation in the foreseeable future. The Arab world will continue, for now, to live under regimes that are undemocratic, to say the least. Therefore, those who raise the claim about the need for peace between nations - a claim that is popular with the Israeli right - are, in the final analysis, concealing their true intentions.

Even if truly democratic elections are held in the Palestinian Authority, and even if all the Palestinians sign a declaration that they want an end to the 1967 occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel within those borders, and even if they all declare that that will bring an end to the conflict, the same Israeli right, in all its variations, will find new excuses not to believe the Arabs.

The Zionists after all are experts at pushing herds of goats into the Palestinian home, and even putting up pens for them inside the home itself - and all in order to later remove a goat here and a checkpoint there, thereby giving the Palestinian some sense of relief, so that he can walk through the living room and reach the window in his own home. The Arab proverb says: Anyone who grows up on something in the home of his mother and father is destined to grow old with it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows a thing or two about gathering herds of goats and moving them out. All the Bar-Ilan speeches cannot change his ideological stripes. These stripes are etched deep in his worldview. He has neither the desire nor the courage to erase this past and to embark on a new path.

I tend to believe things that a son says to his father in private. To this end, we should go back to 2009, to the words revealed by the father, Benzion Netanyahu, regarding the conduct of his son, Benjamin. With the consent of his son, the prime minister, the father gave an interview to Amit Segal on Channel 2 News, and this is what he said about the Bar-Ilan speech advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state: "He [the prime minister] doesn't support it. He supports it under conditions that they [the Arabs] will never accept. That's what I heard from him, not from myself. He proposed the conditions. They will never accept those conditions, not one of them," said Netanyahu Sr.

It seems that the prime minister, who was educated at the knees of land-stealing Zionist farmers, has grown up and become a certified goat herder.

Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 19 Sep. 2011
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Which people, what justice?

Who doesn't want "social justice"? Or "peace" or "equality"? But underneath these pretty slogans, things look different. We frequently come up against examples that reveal the lie behind the words.

Salman Masalha

Which people, what justice?

Even if the slogan uttered by tens of thousands in the streets of Israel of late is pleasant to hear, it is the greatest of lies. Were its users asked to explain which "people," demand what "justice" for which "society," the slogan would crumble.

The state and all its institutions have never acknowledged the existence of an "Israeli people." It is doubtful that the demonstrators recognize its existence. Therefore their lofty cry of a people demanding "social justice" cannot be put into practice, in light of the absence of the existence of said "people."

There is no shortage of nice-sounding slogans. Who doesn't want "social justice"? Or "peace" or "equality"? Who doesn't long for "coexistence"? But underneath these pretty slogans, things look different. We frequently come up against examples that reveal the lie behind the words.

Take, for example, this example of someone who was certainly raised on the principles of "social justice" and Zionist "equality" - Modi Bracha, a resident of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael and deputy head of the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council. As he explained last month in a Haaretz story about opposition to expanding Jisr al-Zarqa, "No one needs to teach me about socialism, but if a farmer received land then why should he relinquish the asset that is supposed to provide him a living?"

To spell it out to the champions of "social justice," Jisr al-Zarqa is the only Arab community that "socialist" Zionism left along the coast. The community is trapped between the sea and the coastal road, between Caesarea and Ma'agan Michael. Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics can surely add to the explication: The population density in the village is catastrophic, 7,730 people per square kilometer, compared to an average density of 321 per kilometer for the whole country.

In order to ease the overcrowding, the Haifa District Planning and Building Committee seeks to to implement a plan under which land from the neighboring communities of Ma'agan Michael, Beit Hanania and Caesarea would be expropriated to Jisr al-Zarqa and the coastal highway would be diverted to the east. It turns out that residents of the three communities are fiercely opposed to the "social justice" reflected in the plan.

They are, of course, in favor of lovely slogans about coexistence and the like: "We are in favor of coexistence and peace. Despite the differences in mentality, we are doing a lot in this regard," said Beit Hanania Councilman Arieh Freedman in the same article. "We are not opposed [to the scheme] because they are Arabs; they are good neighbors and we have no beef with them," Freedman emphasized.

Later on his worldview was revealed in all its glory: "... but from a national perspective, too, I am opposed to the idea of taking land from a Jew to give to an Arab ..." He even warns the authorities: "If the plan is approved, there will be a mass departure: People will sell their homes and the existence of the community will be threatened."

Freedman and his ilk, who are "in favor of coexistence and peace," in favor of "social justice" and the like, must be told that European Zionism searched for a place in the Middle East, and there are many Arabs who live there. One must cope with this fact of life.

So it's nice to wave the flag of the social justice that the people demand, but it seems that first of all the people must demand a clear definition of justice, and of a people.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 5 Sep. 2011

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Right of return revisited

The debate on the term return to 'an ancient homeland,' whether on the Zionist definition of the land or on the Palestinian definition, exposes an abyss between the two national movements fighting over the country.

Salman Masalha

Right of return revisited

A political tsunami is expected in September, the politicians keep warning us. Obviously the recognition of Palestinian statehood, if adopted, is expected to yank the rug from under the feet of the refugees who were raised on the dream of returning to the fig tree, the spring and the village that no longer exist.

Don't forget, the Palestinians who broke through the fence in the Golan and those who demonstrated near the Lebanese border on Nakba Day were not demonstrating only against Israel. They were demonstrating first and foremost against the Palestinian Authority. That's because all the PA's recent efforts have been focused on a United Nations debate on the request to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

The change in the Palestinian leadership's approach to the "right of return" is reflected in Mahmoud Abbas' statement at an education and culture forum that gathered in Ramallah in May. Abbas announced "the Palestinian leadership will never give up the right of return. The return to the homeland is our final destination to end the life of dispersal as refugees."

To avoid any vagueness he said "the return is in practice, not a slogan."

"Palestine is ours, and whoever comes from the north, the center or the south and lives anywhere in it is in fact living in the homeland."

Abbas gave an example from his own life. "When I return to Ramallah or Nablus I have my foot in the homeland," he said.

His words were not mentioned for some reason in the Hebrew-language media. Apart from a brief report, the Arab media didn't mention them either.

Only Dr. Faiz Abu Shamala of Gaza commented that Abbas' statement was "a political Palestinian eclipse." Shamala said he was astonished "such dangerous declarations are evoking no reaction from the Palestinian factions" and wondered "is the right of return, on Nakba Day, diminished to the return to Gaza and the West Bank?"

He mocked Abbas, saying "if the return to Palestine meant return to Gaza and the West Bank, UNRWA's work should have been stopped, as millions of refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank are thus implementing their dream of return."

Shamala took the trouble to explain to Abbas the real meaning of return. "The right of return, as every Palestinian Arab understands it, is Abbas' return to Safed and Yasser Abed Rabbo's return to Jaffa. That is the right that must continue nestling in the soul, even if the current political circumstances require an agreement on a Palestinian state in the 1948 cease-fire borders."

In this case, the debate on the term return to "an ancient homeland," whether on the Zionist definition of the land or on the Palestinian definition, exposes an abyss between the two national movements fighting over the bleeding country. The collision is between two completely different national approaches and two completely different worlds.

So even if a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Gaza, there is no chance the refugees will implement the "right of return" in it. Because unlike the Zionist "homeland" perception, the Palestinian refugees will not see the Palestinian state as a "homeland" but as another stop on the voyage of the refugees.

It is fortunate for the Palestinians that the Israeli government is rightist and recalcitrant. Because if Israel had an "analytical" government it would certainly have prepared a surprise for the world and voted in favor of Palestinian statehood in the UN in September. This would have turned the entire dispute on its head.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 25 August 2011

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Israel sinking into religious-fundamentalist swamp

Israel sinking
into religious-fundamentalist swamp
The intention of the proposed new Basic Law that would define Israel as 'the national home for the Jewish people' is to deny the natural rights of Israel's Arab citizens....

Salman Masalha

The demographic problem

MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) sponsored, along with 40 other MKs from various parties, a mew Basic Law that defines Israel as "the national home for the Jewish people." The proposed law includes a number of sections that, in the vernacular, piss me off.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that this Knesset, all of it, is the most populist in nationalistic terms, and the least fundamentalist in religious terms. Now they want to exchange the impossible mantra "Jewish-democratic" with something new.

It is clear that the intention of Dichter's proposed law is to deny the natural rights of Arab citizens in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well to explain the matter in a speech he gave in December 2003 at the Herzliya Conference: "We have a demographic problem. But it is not centered on the Palestinian Arabs in the territories, but on Israeli Arabs."

Even blunter words came from former Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima ): "We have Arab citizens in the State of Israel. This is our greatest problem. Finish with Gaza, finish with Judea and Samaria, and the biggest problem remains."

Support for this approach comes in the section of the new bill that revokes the official status of the Arabic language, the language of 20% of Israeli citizens.

It is well known that Israeli politicians very much love to take after Europe. So it would be appropriate to let you know how Europe behaves. Finland is a European country and quite advanced by all opinions. There is a Swedish minority in Finland which is 5% of the population. In this Finland, which was once part of the Kingdom of Sweden, no one can be a public servant if they don't speak Swedish.

Similarly, it seems the "greatest danger" has pushed the legislators to introduce another racist section into their proposed law, which allows religious and national separation to enable the existence of "separate community settlement," and it also has pushed lawmakers to sink further and further into the religious-fundamentalist swamp.

Israel is fitting into the region more and more. The proposed law adds us to the club of enlightened nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The law intends to make Knesset legislation and civil judges subject to Jewish jurisprudence and "Jewish tradition," in an attempt to establish Israel as a state based on unenlightened Jewish law - based on a Basic Law. In the term "Jewish tradition" is hiding a religious tradition of Jewish law.

Jewish tradition, like all other monotheistic traditions, includes a number of laws that can be described as moral abominations that completely oppose the universal declaration on human rights.

The frequent treatment of such questions does not testify to strength, but the opposite. The source of this weakness is the occupation of 1967. On one hand, this occupation has deepened via the "Zionist theft enterprise" called the settlements. On the other hand, the demographics between the sea and the Jordan River have not remained frozen.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the law was formulated in cooperation and at the initiative of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. This is to teach us that the Zionist mind continues to invent new ideas.

With a lack of foreseeable prospects for a national solution in Israel, the situation will reverse itself. The day is not far away that we will begin using the infamous Zionist language, but this time in reverse. This time we will start to speak of the "Jewish camp" or the minorities - the Jews of course. I will even go so far and introduce the phrase "honorable Jews." You have been warned.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 10 August 2011
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Gideon Spiro | They call that a Left?

"There is no need to prefer benighted regimes in order to express opposition to the Israeli Occupation. As a citizen who has been asked to vote for Hadash, I feel insulted by this style. I expect leaders of the party, Jews and Arabs alike, to dissociate themselves from those words..."...

Gideon Spiro | They call that a Left?

Dr. Salman Masalha is a poet and translator who has a column in the newspaper Haaretz. Salman has gifts that are rare in Israel. He is totally immersed in Jewish and Arab culture. He has native-speaker mastery of both languages.

In his latest column (26 July 2011), under the headline above (“There is no Arab left-wing in Israel”, in the English version), he reports to his readers about words written by Muhammad Nafaa, the Secretary of the Communist Party, on the party’s website in Arabic. The Communist Party, the dominant component of the Hadash parliamentary list, takes pride in being both Jewish and Arab. I very much admire that fact. And this is what he wrote: “The Syrian dictatorship, the North Korean and the Iranian, are dozens of times preferable to the American, Israeli and NATO occupiers and all their Arab collaborators, especially in the Gulf states.”

This is a style that takes us decades back, to the Stalinist era, when the slogan was, “better to be wrong with the Soviet Union than to be right without it.”

No one can accuse me of being soft on the Israeli Occupation or the American ones (in Iraq, in Vietnam); but to prefer the North Korean dictatorship that is starving its people, the Iranian one where homosexuality is a crime and opponents are hanged in public squares, or the Syrian one that is slaughtering its citizens, over the Israeli or American occupations, is a very non-Left position. There is no need to prefer benighted regimes in order to express opposition to the Israeli Occupation. As a citizen who has been asked to vote for Hadash, I feel insulted by this style. I expect leaders of the party, Jews and Arabs alike, to dissociate themselves from those words.
28 July 2011

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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Haim Baram | There is a Jewish-Arab left

In response to "You call this a left?":

Haim Baram

There is a Jewish-Arab left

I am sure that Salman Masalha's article ("You call this a left?," July 27 ) was flattering to Jewish readers and affirmed their prejudice, already pervasive, that most Arab citizens are nationalistic and that the affliction has even spread to Hadash and the Israeli Communist Party (Maki ). There is nothing more convenient for an oppressor than to receive assurances of his righteousness against the oppressed. My friend Masalha produced, as is his wont, a cogent article in which few could discern the barren moral and ideological landscape.

Masalha claims that "the left is supposed to bridge the gap and the national tension by positing a civic agenda..." From a few remarks of Maki's secretary general Mohammed Nafa, he concludes that such a left wing "does not exist."

Nafa was mistaken when he appeared to be supportive of the murderous tyrannical regime in Syria, but he was right when he said: "We will never surrender to the Israeli prostitution that is trying to portray Israel as a victim."

Nafa's priorities are certainly logical. Arab citizens cannot change the situation in North Korea, Iran or even in Syria. Their task is to fight here to free their people in Palestine and for full equal rights in Israel. Since the government of Israel and the United States have been collaborating for more than 40 years to preserve the oppression, Nafa sees the struggle against then as the most important thing of all.

The task of the left is not to bridge gaps by means of a civic agenda. That is the traditional task of the conservative-liberal bourgeousie. The left is supposed to fight for justice and equality, against oppression and the hegemony of force in the international arena. The national struggle of an oppressed people is the raison d'etre of the left; the nationalism of the fundamentalists in the United States and Israel, whose purpose is to perpetuate discrimination and repression, is unacceptable.

The Cuban revolutionaries believed that national emotions in Latin America were fuel for the anti-imperialist struggle. That was true then and it is true now.

There is therefore no symmetry between the nationalism of a settler in Kedumim and that of a resident of Gaza. Terror against civilians is unacceptable, but the intent of national unity in Gaza is to liberate the Palestinians from occupation and siege; the intent of national unity in the name of "Zionism" is to perpetuate the occupation and create an apartheid state here.

The uniqueness of Hadash is in the fact that the Arab citizens who support the movement identify with the national aspirations of their people; however, they reject not only terror but also the negation of the rights of the Jews here. Masalha also knows, and concedes halfheartedly, that Hadash educates toward Jewish-Arab brotherhood not only in Bat Yam or Tel Aviv, but in Sakhnin, Nazareth and Taibeh.

Nafa, as quoted by Masalha, does not say that he supports the evil regimes in Syria, Iran or Korea (and they are evil, make no mistake ). He only asserts that the Jewish-Arab left in Hadash must "be more involved" in the struggle against the Israeli and the American occupation. That is the opinion of everyone who is part of the socialist left.

North Korea is an abomination, but it must not serve good Israeli radicals as an excuse to vote for Meretz - which comes out against all wars after they are over - instead of Hadash, which blends a social and a political line that should engender widespread support.

Nafa must see to it that his positions are not perceived as supporting Syria and the wicked regime there. But when Masalha ignores the role of Israel and the United States in the regional and global arena, it helps the enemies of the left and the enemies of peace.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 1 August 2011

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There is no Arab left-wing in Israel

You call this a left?
The left is supposed to bridge the gap and the national tension by positing a civic agenda that crosses ethnic boundaries. The question is whether there is such a leftist agenda among the Arabs in Israel.

Salman Masalha

There is no
Arab left-wing
in Israel

There's no left without Arabs, states Oudeh Basharat (Haaretz, July 19 ), adding: "Had the 11 MKs of the Hadash faction and the Arab factions evaporated during the vote on the Boycott Law, the difference in favor of supporters of the law would have increased from nine to 20 votes."

It's true, there's no left without Arabs; but this slogan is only a half truth. The left is supposed to bridge the gap and the national tension by positing a civic agenda that crosses ethnic boundaries. The question is whether there is such a leftist agenda among the Arabs in Israel. Because in order for there to be a genuine left in Israel, there also has to be some kind of Arab left. And it seems that such a left does not exist.

Basharat did well to try to distinguish between his party, Hadash, and the other Arab factions - because Hadash is, in essence, a Jewish-Arab party, centered around the Israeli Communist Party (Maki ). However, Basharat cannot deny that Hadash has long since lost its unique character on the Israeli political landscape, and its leaders, especially on its Arab side, are not preoccupied with an ideological, social and political discussion, but rather with slogans and a chauvinistic, populist competition with the other groups in the Arab sector.

Blatant evidence of this can be found in the words of Mohammed Nafa, the secretary general of Maki, which were published in Arabic on the Hadash Web site. You have to read his words in order to understand the deterioration of the party that in the past presumed to be Jewish-Arabic, with a progressive civic and social agenda. The secretary-general of the party unashamedly comes to the defense of the murderous and tyrannical Syrian regime: "We will never surrender to the Israeli prostitution that is trying to portray Israel as a victim," he writes to his readers in Arabic, adding: "We must be more involved in the struggle against the Israeli and American occupation rather than in attacking the Syrian regime. The Syrian, North Korean and Iranian dictatorships are far preferable to the American, Israeli and NATO occupiers and all their Arab collaborators, especially in the Gulf states."

So the party that is supposed to fly the flag of the left aligns itself with the benighted ayatollahs of Iran, with the North Korean dictatorship - one of the darkest regimes on earth - and with the murderous tribal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad that for months has been massacring Syrian citizens and cutting the throats of those who desire and are pursuing freedom.

Can the "pearls of wisdom" of the secretary-general of the Israeli Communist Party be a part of any leftist agenda? I doubt it. It seems that aside from the blind hatred for the United States and Israel that in the past decades has become a kind of populist Arab religion, he has nothing to offer, certainly not an agenda that a genuine left is supposed to present to Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Basharat comes to the correct conclusion in his article: "Only an alliance between the Arabs and the sane forces among the Jews can stop the slide into fascism. The rank and file Arab citizen must be given the sense that he has a good reason to go out and vote - that he has allies."

It's true, an alliance of the sane, Arabs and Jews, could serve as a dam to block the fascism that is suddenly sweeping the country. But it would seem that the words of the secretary-general of Maki, which we have cited here, not only fail to attest to sanity, but leave no reason for a rank and file Arab or Jewish citizen to vote for a party whose spiritual leader is a person who espouses such views.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 26 July 2011

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Rabbi Lior's racism is not his fault

Rabbi Dov Lior did not invent the wheel. He only hung the monotheistic dirty laundry out in public.

Salman Masalha

It's not Rabbi Lior's fault

First, let me say this: As a descendant of one of the Sons of Noah who has violated all manners of prohibitions, I am doomed to any number of odd and sundry deaths. The choice offered to those of my ilk is one of the following three: death by sword, death by stoning or death by strangulation. In his "Law of Kings," Moses Maimonides (the Rambam ) specifies that for violating the Noahide laws I am sentenced to death by the sword, unless I have sex with a Jewish maiden who is engaged to be married, in which case I shall be stoned to death; alternatively, if she is already married, then I am to be strangled to death.

I am addressing this matter in light of the tempest over the detention for police questioning of the recalcitrant Rabbi Dov Lior, who did not report for an interview despite repeated supplications from law enforcement authorities.

I don't understand what all the fuss is about. None of the racist things attributed to one rabbi or another, or one Muslim sheikh or another, are new. Anyone who looks at the laws of the monotheistic religions can easily determine the root of the problem. Monotheists not only like to enter the bedrooms of others; they not only stuff themselves into other's guts in an endless search for something that made its way there without permission; they not only put veils, burkas or headscarves on their pious women, who pray for children - monotheists from all their religions and all their sects love to spill blood, lots of blood. This must be said. The naked truth must be told.

There are some good-intentioned, if entirely naive, souls who are quick to quote verses such as "Love your neighbor as yourself." They seek to coat the bitter pill by presenting some positive side of religion. But they forget that "your neighbor" refers solely to another Jew. The verse (Leviticus 19:18 ) commands: "Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In his explication of the verse Rambam specifies that this applies to all members of the House of Israel who follow the Torah and its commandments, and that it is a mitzvah to hate anyone who does not accept the Torah.

Not to mention "Haviv adam shenivra b'tzelem" ("Beloved is man who is created in the image" ), which is cited incessantly as supposed proof of humanity of any kind in humanism in general and in Judaism in particular. Here, too, the reference is to Jews only. According to the sages, only Israel, Jews, are called "adam," "and not the nations of the world." Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook ("Haro'eh ), providing a persuasive explanation to his flock: "The difference between the Israeli soul, its independence, its inner yearning, its aspiration, its characteristics and disposition, and the soul of all the other nations, is greater and deeper than the difference between the soul of a human being and the soul of a beast." What could we possibly add to these warm sentiments?

All the greatest experts in halakha (Jewish law ) follow this concept. For the sake of example, here's the explanation of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (the Maharal ): "The perfection of creation, which relates to the human in particular, applies to Israel and not to the nations." He added that the gradation of Israel in comparison to the other nations is comparable to the gradation of the human being in comparison to non-speaking animals.

If this is the situation, then why are so many politicians and self-declared defenders of the law picking on the respected rabbi of the national religious movement? The "enlightened" rabbi did not invent the wheel, after all. He only hung the monotheistic dirty laundry out in public. The populist politicians show off their dirty clothes in their media-blanketed appearances at every available opportunity (see under: Jewish democracy ), and in their eyes the rabbi is guilty of slander.

It must be said, clearly and unequivocally: The moral impurity resides in the benighted teachings of monotheism. Until everyone with the pretense of being cultured recognizes this, in this region and throughout the world, there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, July 4, 2011

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On Artistic Freedom in the Nationalist Era

Salman Masalha

On Artistic Freedom
in the Nationalist Era

As I am not a state, I have
no secure borders nor an army
guarding its soldiers’ lives night and day and there is no
colored line drawn by a dusty general in the margins
of his victory. As I am not a legislative
council, a dubious
parliament wrongly called a house
of representatives, as I am not a son
of the chosen people, nor am I
an Arab mukhtar, no one will falsely accuse me of being
a fatherless anarchist who spits
into the well round which the people
feast on their holidays, rejoicing
at their patriarchs’ tombs. As I am not a fatalist or member
of an underground, building churches,
mosques and synagogues in the hearts of children
who will no doubt die for the sake of the
Holy Name in Heaven,
as I am not an excavation contractor
or earth merchant, nor a sculptor
of tombstones polishing memorials
for the greater glory of the dead,
as I have no government, with
or without a premier, and there is no
chairman sitting on my head, I can
under such extenuating circumstances
sometimes allow myself to be human,
to be a bit free.
Translated by Vivian Eden

Published: Books-Haaretz, July 2011
Most recently, this poem, from the volume “Ehad Mikan” (“In Place,” Am Oved ), was chosen by the rock band Batsir 76 as the single for their new album, “Folk Yisraeli” (Israeli Folk ), which they will launch on July 9, 2011 at Tmuna theater in Tel Aviv.
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The Nakba no one's talking about

When many Arabs flee an Arab country because they fear an Arab regime with pretensions to waving the flag of Arab nationalism, then this so-called nationalism becomes dubious and ought to raise questions.
Salman Masalha

Syria exodus is the Nakba
no one's talking about

For some reason, recent days have reminded of the events of Black September that took place in Jordan in 1970. At that time, the Jordanian military was exerting so much pressure on Palestinian militants that some of them actually chose to turn themselves in to Israel Defense Forces troops in the Jordan Valley.

This is coming to mind now because of what is happening in Syria, where another Arab Nakba is taking place before our eyes. This Nakba is the lot of the Syrian people. But this time, those behind the Nakba are not Zionists. They aren't Jews or French or godless British or Americans. Neither the Little Zionist Satan nor the Great American Satan is behind this Nakba. This time, the Satan is Arab, flesh of our flesh.

When thousands of Arab citizens - men, women and children - are massacred, when many others flee an Arab country because they fear an Arab regime with pretensions to waving the flag of Arab nationalism, then this so-called nationalism becomes dubious and ought to raise questions.

This is all the more the case when non-Arab Turkey is the country to which people are fleeing. Yes, the same Turkey that is regularly mentioned in Arab national discourse as the height of defilement and the source of all Arab ills. And all because of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over the Arabs for hundreds of years and to which Arab nationalists have long attributed all the falterings of the Arab world.

Several years ago, when I asked a Turkish friend about this Arab complaint, he burst out laughing. I asked him to explain why he was laughing and he told me that the Turks had a similar complaint, in reverse: There are some who argue that Turkey was left to falter because it had ruled over the Arabs.

Let's set aside the nationalists on either side for a moment, since salvation is not going to come from them. On the contrary, nationalism is a sick evil, and nationalists love to either join together or chafe against one another. They feed off each other and create new nationalist mutations that are more dangerous than their predecessors and more resistant to remedies.

And so the tribal, ethnic, Syrian Ba'ath regime, which is massacring Syrian Arab citizens just because they are seeking freedom, makes a joke out of all the Arab nationalist ideological slogans that Syrian and similar governments have been promoting for many years.

These governments have never been nationalist and have never attempted to build a nation-state worthy of its name. The nationalist slogans served as opiates for the uneducated masses, the foolish advocates of nationalism. Military, tribal and ethnic Mafias lurked beneath the sugar coating of these slogans.

Recently, Lebanese novelist and playwright Elias Khoury, one of those foolish advocates of Arab nationalism, got angry at Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun, who said at a conference at a Beirut university that there was no such thing as the Arab world.

Ben Jelloun should be cautious about those kinds of statements, wrote Khoury, adding that the things you say in a cafe should be different to the things you say from a university podium. In other words, Khoury wants Ben Jelloun to be a hypocrite, to feel one thing in his heart - as expressed in private or in cafes - but say something else before the public at large.

This "deviant" Moroccan author is thus intended to serve some kind of fictitious nationalist concept that is supposed to rule Arab discourse. He is being called on to be a populist trumpet for this concept, irrespective of whether it has any foundation in reality.

And so it seems that our Nakba is also a cultural Nakba. As long as the Arab discourse seeks to cautiously stay away from the sensitive nerves of the Arab experience, as one stays away from fire, no remedy is in sight for the sickly situation. Indeed, it will remain uncorrected.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, June 20, 2011

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Obama as an Arab reformer

As the American President has said, the mass demonstrations all over the Arab world do in fact indicate more than anything else "a longing of freedom" that has been building up for years.
Salman Masalha

Obama as an Arab reformer

If we ignore the reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, U.S. President Barack Obama's most recent speech to the Arab world was the speech of an Arab reformer. The words should have been said by an Arab leader who is worthy of the title "leader."

"The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not," Obama said. In other words, all these declarations of independence after the retreat of colonialism were nothing more than a deception. Because, as the president said, "In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of the few."
Tahrir Square

Many years of Arab "independence" did not bring prosperity. They brought neither work nor social welfare, neither freedom nor creativity. Corrupt and oppressive rulers lined their pockets and handed over these corrupt and oppressive governments to their successors, whether through palace coups or by bequeathing control of the country to sons or cronies.

The mass demonstrations all over the Arab world do in fact indicate more than anything else "a longing of freedom" that has been building up for years, as Obama said. This yearning for freedom is an essential part of human nature everywhere. Thanks to globalization and to the technological developments that have made it possible for information to reach every corner of the planet, the gates of the modern world have opened. Young Arabs in Tunis, Cairo, Damascus or anywhere else in the Arab world compared their lives with those of young people in other parts of the world, and they too began to yearn for freedom and for lives as free people, like the young people of London, Paris, Tokyo and New York.

On the other hand, there has been a steady unplanned increase in the population of the Arab world over the years, and education has stagnated and sunk into the world of yesterday, longing for an imaginary past. The rulers and their cronies continued to oppress the people and become rich at their expense. Failing universities sent millions of degree holders out to the labor market, without any possibility that they would get productive jobs. As international reports have noted for years, there is not a single Arab university to be found among the 500 best universities in the world.

So it is no surprise that even though the Arab world has a population of hundreds of millions, its exports are equal to those of a small country like Switzerland. The rulers of the Arab world rested on their laurels - or rather, on their countries' deposits of oil and natural gas. And the momentum of economic development in these countries is deceptive, since those who stand behind it - oil companies, scientists, engineers and even the construction workers who build the skyscrapers and the artificial islands, are generally not Arab.

Populism has reigned in Arab discourse. It was not only the rulers who betrayed their people. The intelligentsia cooperated with the rulers, in return for crumbs. There is a well-known Arabic saying about such people: If you see a cleric knocking often at the ruler's door, be aware that he is a thief. And in fact, it was clerics as well as political leaders who attributed the ills of the Arab world to colonialism and the West, and even to Israel, to the point where "antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression," as Obama put it.

It should also be noted that one of the main reasons for the chronic ills of the Arab world is the attitude toward women. The tribal, patriarchal Arab society has blocked the path for women, and by doing so has silenced half of society. "History shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are empowered," Obama said, correctly.

Had any Arab leader delivered the speech in Arabic and addressed an Arab audience, Arabs would probably be saying: Behold, an Arab king has arisen. But for the time being, although there are kings, presidents, sultans and princes in abundance, there has yet to be a king like Martin Luther.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 25 May 2011

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Vivian Eden


We watch Egypt on television
just one country away.
Off the screen, down the side streets
behind closed windows and doors
many people wait.

The television tells them truth and lies.
They watch the footage shot on high:
Tops of men’s heads all look the same,
like lentils for sorting on a plate.
Where is my husband, my father, my son?
Girls and women wait.

Amina opens her math book, but dreams.
She will write a novel about these days.
There will be a tall, blond newsman,
British, French, perhaps a Dane.
The heroine, Amina, will save his life.
She will, of course, become his wife.
Young girls dream and wait.

Ali is five. His father says: No,
You can’t go to the square with me.
Ali pouts: But I am big. I’ll take a stick.
Dad insists: Big boys stay home.
They must take care of Mom and Sis.
Ali thinks: When I am six

I’ll make the revolution too.
Big boys hate to wait.

In a kitchen Bushra makes the tea.
A son – whose is he? –
climbs a tank, smiles his thanks
to someone’s brother,
the soldier who lends him a hand.
Under whose command?
Where does he stand?
People keep pouring down the streets.
We watch and wait.

For Hebrew, press here


Alexander Yakobson | Who's afraid of equality?

Alexander Yakobson

Who's afraid of equality?

Why won't writer Emile Habibi, an Israeli Prize laureate, appear on one of the banknotes bearing the likenesses of writers, asked Salman Masalha ("Shekels as tools of the regime," April 24 ). He was immediately attacked by belligerent commenters, sending him off to Gaza and swearing in the name of the Jewish state.

But there's nothing wrong with that proposal, nor does it contradict the Jewish nature of the state. The system of official Israeli symbols, including the portraits on the banknotes, should faithfully reflect the fact that Israel is a country that grants national independence to the Jewish people. But who said that that is the only thing it should reflect? In principle there is no reason why it shouldn't also reflect the existence and the culture of the country's Arab minority, among other things.

The symbol of the state is a menorah surrounded by two olive branches, based on the verse in Zechariah: "A gold candelabrum with two olives trees." The olive is one of the symbols of the country, and it's an important symbol of Israeli Arabs. The two branches could be turned into two olive trees to the right and left of the menorah. That's still a menorah "with two olive trees." If this step is accompanied by a clear statement that its purpose is to give the Arab public a part in the system of official symbols, which is supposed to represent it - such a modest change is likely to be of positive significance; not in the eyes of Arab chauvinists, who won't be placated by anything, but in the eyes of those who really want to feel that the state is theirs too.

And why doesn't such a proposal have a chance of being accepted in the foreseeable future? Partly because of those same commenters who are ready to send to Gaza an Arab citizen who wants to feel at home in the State of Israel of all places - and the politicians who represent them. But no less because of the leadership of the Arab public and most of its spokesmen in the Israeli media, whose main cause has become the rejection of the Jewish people's right to a state. In such an atmosphere, a change of the type suggested here will be regarded by the Jewish public not as a step toward justice for the Arabs, but as a step towards injustice for the Jews. There is no chance that this community, or any community in the world in similar circumstances, will agree to that.

Salman Masalha, in his fascinating articles, often belittles Jewish nationalism. In his favor, it should be noted that he belittles Arab nationalism equally. I do not share this attitude, but I greatly admire his courage and his consistency. Although I disagree with him, he believes that he is fighting for equality.

But what we hear from the Arab leadership and elite in such documents as "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" is a very different voice. This voice is saying to the Jewish public: Yes, there are two nations in this country; our nation has a right to a state, whereas your nation has no such right. We are by no means trying to turn the Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel into the members of one civic nation - an Israeli nation. Our Arab-Palestinian nationality is very important to us; we have our nation and you have yours, and your nation has no right to a state. That is why we reject the Jewish state in Israel and favor an Arab state alongside Israel.

This discourse of the Arab leadership - not necessarily of the Arab public, whose viewpoint, according to the surveys, is far more complex and more moderate - is trampling on equality in the guise of defending it. This makes no positive contribution to the relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Published: Haaretz, May 4, 2011


A Feeble Middle East

The rise of Shi’ite Islam under Iran’s leadership necessitated encouragement to Sunni Islam, to step into the breach versus Iran. The conclusion was simple: From the Arab world – which is mostly Sunni – no salvation will come either for the Arab world or for the Western world.

Salman Masalha

A Feeble Middle East

The king of terror is dead. He has many heirs in this region. They will crop up on the backdrop of the Arab world’s continuing failure to cope with modernity. This is a world that has been raised on the recitation of tales from a glorious past, but when it looks around it is astonished to find it is now somewhere near the lowest rung of the ladder. The point of contact between the imagined past and the degenerate present is the bottomless source of terror.

When the dust of battle has settled, everything will get rolling in the region again. Something interesting is happening here. On the one hand, NATO aircraft are killing Gadhafi’s son and some of his grandchildren. They have come to the aid of the Libyan people – that is what they all say. On the other side of the Mediterranean the “enlightened” world is not lifting a finger in light of the slaughter Bashar Assad is perpetrating among his people.

What does Gadhafi have that Assad doesn’t have? Why is he getting pressured personal treatment and the deployment of crushing force? Is this because Libya is Europe’s backyard and has lots of oil, whereas Syria has hardly any black gold? Is this the way of the hypocritical “enlightened” world?

Gadhafi is not a worse dictator than Assad. The difference between the two is like the difference between bubonic plague and cholera. Compared to those two Arab tyrants, Hosni Mubarak, the deposed Egyptian president, will be considered a pussycat and a pacifist.
And maybe there is something else here. In the Western world they’ve learned a thing or two during the past decade about the ways of life in the Arab world. This world, with all its types of regimes, has utterly failed the test of creating a nation state worthy of the name. The failure is seen on every screen. The revolts do not testify to a new Middle East at the gates but rather to a feeble Middle East. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there are only three strong nation states in the Middle East: Iran, Turkey an Israel. The common denominator shared by the three is that they are not Arab.

The West learned on its own flesh that this region conducts itself by other codes. Iran has continued to entrench its standing by means of its religious ideology. The toppling of Saddam Hussein shattered the illusion of the existence of a unifying “Iraqi identity” and gave an encouraging shot in the arm to Iran, which is forging ahead.

Thus in the West they realized it was necessary to rethink the region and act accordingly. The rise of Shi’ite Islam under Iran’s leadership necessitated encouragement to Sunni Islam, to step into the breach versus Iran. The conclusion was simple: From the Arab world – which is mostly Sunni – no salvation will come either for the Arab world or for the Western world.

Thus the way was paved for the rise of Turkish Sunni Islam. This was accomplished by weakening the power of the Turkish army, the guardian of Ataturk’s secular constitution and by Europe turning its back and posing obstacles to Turkey’s entry into the European Union.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party were glad of the role that became incumbent on them to fill. This is because the Turkish Islamists dream of the restoration of Ottoman glory. The slogan of concern for the Palestinians has always served as opium for the oppressed Arab masses. The Turks learned this method. The Turkish flotilla that set out for Gaza and the one that is planned are means for improving Turkey’s stature in the eyes of the Sunni Arab masses. And all this is in order to position Turkey as a counterweight to Iranian influence.

In this way it is possible to understand why United States President Barack Obama decided to address the Arab world through Turkey in his first speech. These days he is making a point of contacting Erdogan and expressing his concern about what is happening in Syria.

At the end of March a secret meeting took place in Ankara between the head of the Central Intelligence Agency and his Turkish counterpart. The two discussed the future of the Syrian regime, the situation in Libya, the relations between Israel and Turkey, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters of mutual interest. The head of the Turkish intelligence agency met with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Erdogan, too, went on a visit to Iraq and discussed the status of the Sunnis there. He met with the Shi’ite leader ‘Ali Sistani and discussed the uprising in Bahrain.

It appears the world has come to the conclusion that there is nothing new in the Arab world. This is a weak and irremediable world. Only an Arab reckoning of conscience will distance the region from the danger.

published: Haaretz, May 6, 2011


Shekels as tools of the regime

Salman Masalha

Shekels as tools of the regime

The issuance of new bills with pictures of writers is a chance for the government to show its concern for Arab citizens - writer Emile Habibi for instance.
Let’s talk about money and power. More precisely, the subject is the set of symbols that can be found in any wallet. The media reported recently that the Bank of Israel will be issuing new banknotes. Instead of portraits of political leaders, the bills are supposed to carry likenesses of writers and poets.

Banknotes move from one person to another, and as they circulate they represent a way for the regime to inculcate its messages. Bills have glorified the ruler and memorialized key events during his reign. It’s very important to read the fine print, we’re told. And it’s true, you have to read what’s printed on the notes, not just the amount of money they represent. You can grasp the essence of a government by perusing the bills it prints.

So let’s say a few words about Israeli banknotes. They have more than financial value; they have added political value. The paper money in Israel apparently serves as an organ of Zionist propaganda. Anyone killing time in a queue can stop and scrutinize lines attributed to former President Zalman Shazar on the NIS 200 bill and consider where his tax money is headed: “And despite the darkness of the dispersions, each community had to engage teachers of children at the expense of all its inhabitants. The wealthy and indigent, those with many children and those without, single and married people − all had to bear the burden of Torah study.”

Someone else on line can study words attributed to another former president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, on the NIS 100 note: “Our goal is to cultivate, as much as we can, the process of uniting hearts among all tribes of Israel that are returning to the homeland.” And also: “I believe that only a single, consolidated, united force will be able to fulfill this people’s exalted historic destiny; only such a force will be able to defeat any assailant and enemy.”

Nor are the holy city and the Temple neglected in people’s pockets. The city is depicted on the NIS 50 bill in the following words, written by novelist S.Y. Agnon: “All the time I felt as though I had been born in Jerusalem. In my dreams I saw myself standing with the Levites at the Temple, singing hymns to King David − harmony that has not soothed any ear since our city was destroyed and its people dispersed.”

Former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett declares on the NIS 20 bill that finally Jewish soldiers and a Jewish army have arisen as a wall of defense for all Jews: “In every generation, Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel to offset those who immigrated to it. This time, thousands left the country not as victims of weakness but as exponents of strength. For the first time since our exile, soldiers from a Jewish army went to the front as members of a people rooted in its land, and possessors of its own culture.”

Indeed, all citizens, particularly Arab citizens, should read the fine print on every shekel to understand their place. Using symbols, the regime fosters Arab citizens’ alienation from the state. The most conspicuous example is the lack of Arab writing on police cars, vehicles that symbolize the rule of law in a state that is supposed to be the state of Arab citizens as well.

The issuance of new bills with pictures of writers is a chance for the government to show its concern for Arab citizens. For instance, the writer Emile Habibi ‏(1922-1996‏), an Israel Prize winner, could have been added to this list of currency-honored figures. Yet once again, the government has failed a test. It appears that an Arab citizen in the State of Israel isn’t even worth a shekel.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, April 24, 2011

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Tal Nitzan | Maimed Lullaby

Tal Nitzan

Maimed Lullaby

To Tal Ashraf Abu Khattab, born in Gaza on May 1, 2010

The baby who bears my name is a month and two days old.
Unaware she has been born into hell, she wrinkles her tiny nose
and balls her hands into fists like babies everywhere.

Her four kilos and the cake her grandpa didn’t bake
weigh on my heart.
If I send her a teddy bear, it will sink like a stone.

The sharp fin traces its circles. I climb up,
my foot on the deck, shame and alarm on my face.
My baby has been left behind.

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For Arabic, press here


If I were an Assad

From the hard disk:
An article in Haaretz Magazine, April 19, 1996

How I conducted Syrian policy and gave ideas to Huntington?

Salman Masalha

If I were an Assad

Possibly some kind of imposed solution will put an end to the election fray now making headlines in Lebanon. However, when the warriors of the Apache tribe return to their bases, after the grapes* are harvested, they will be leaving a lot of wrath behind. This wrath can be suppressed for a while but it and the rest of the cards in the game remain in Syria’s hands – that is to say, in my hands.

Will I hurry to sign a peace agreement with Israel? I know that at this time the power is in the hands of the Western world – the United States and Europe. I know that in the global conflict in this region there is no chance the Western world will be on the side of the Arab-Muslim world against Israel. This is because in Western eyes Israel is the site of Christianity’s cultural roots. Ultimately the war is a culture war.

I ask myself: Assad, should getting the Golan back divert me from the path of achieving the goals of the Arab nations, the way I and the Ba’ath Party believe in them? No. The Golan Heights are important but the goals of the Arab world – which I and the Ba’ath Party carry on our shoulders – are even more important.

Since ancient times the Arab world has been split into a number of blocs that have always competed with one another for hegemony: the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa. The Arabian Peninsula and North Africa are on the margins of the Arab national myths, and there they will remain. Iraq has been paralyzed since the Gulf War. All the Egyptians like to do is talk. We are all that remains. Syria is destined to take over the reins in the conflict between Arab nationalism and the West, of which Israel is the spearhead.

In this conflict I have already chalked up a considerable number of successes. Lebanon is under my protection and this has been given a seal of approval. The West, including Israel, is accepting this as a fact. I do not go to visit “the president of Lebanon” in Beirut. He comes to Damascus to consult with me on every matter concerning Lebanon. There is no Syrian embassy in Beirut because Syria and Lebanon are one and the same.

Palestine, too, is a province of Greater Syria. I, Assad, leader of the Ba’ath Party, the standard-bearer of Arab nationalism, cannot send an ambassador to Tel Aviv. The Lebanese and the rest of the Arabs would say: Now Syria is appointing an ambassador to the Zionist entity but he is not appointing an ambassador to Lebanon, which is a member of the Arab League.

Israel and Yasser Arafat are amusing themselves with agreements they have signed. But I know they don’t stand a chance. The agreement Arafat has made with Israel is an unfunny joke. Arafat has become the head of the Palestinian council of mayors, a flying mukhtar. For every step he and the members of his ridiculous council take, permission from Israel is needed. And therefore, an even fiercer intifada will happen in the future.

And when that happens, will the regime in Jordan, when the majority of the inhabitants are Palestinian, still stand? I doubt it. And when there is an earthquake in Jordan, whom will they ask to restore order in that province of Syria? A rhetorical question. Jordan will follow in Lebanon’s footsteps, with Arab agreement and Western silence. This is because the West, including Israel, will have to choose between two alternatives: Either Jordan will be controlled by the fundamentalists or it will be controlled by a secularist like myself who knows how to deal properly with Islamic fanatics.

Then, at that stage, I will be willing to accept the Golan Heights, without giving up a single centimeter, and in exchange of for that you will get peace, i.e. a quiet border and nothing more. Where is it written that peace means open borders and an exchange of ambassadors? Peace is a sulha, a dispute resolution between tribes, and it doesn’t mean you need to marry a girl from the rival tribe.

If the West does not accept my conditions and does not take into account the interests of the great Arab nation (and of Islam, if I so decide), I can make a lot of trouble for it. Many options are open to me. I can join up with Iran, I can also join up with Iraq, I can make Jordan implode. Above all: I can go back to making Israel’s life a misery in Lebanon. I am holding a lot of cards and I am not rushing anywhere. I have all the time in the world.

*The Grapes of Wrath was a military operation carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in southern Lebanon from April 11 to April 27, 1996, after Hezbollah Katyusha fire on Israel.
For Hebrew, press here

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מיון החומרים


Selected Topics

  • Martin Niemöller

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialist
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Read More

  • Salman Masalha

    Beyond my door which faces west
    Lives a woman who'll never rest.

    She likes to tease my nomad soul
    With words she keeps for gloomy fall.
  • Balkrishna Sama

    He who loves flowers, has a tender heart.
    he who cannot pluck their blooms,
    has a heart that's noble.

    Read more