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The pit and the pendulum


Archieve (2001):
In those days, we did not drink four goblets of wine, because everything that gladdens the human heart is not a part of our custom.


Salman Masalha ||
The pit and the pendulum

Memory isn’t made of metal and therefore it does not rust. To put it mildly, this might sound strange. However, for us, the second generation of the Nakba, the Festival of Freedom, Passover, is the symbol of the liberation from that round lump of dough baked with a pit or pocket in the middle. No one ever bothered to explain the meaning of that pit and with time I simply accepted that it would remain a gap in my education.

In those days, when there was nothing to spread in the pit, parents would hoodwink their children with a common Arab trick, They would spread some oil in the pit and sprinkle sugar on it to sweeten our daily bread, which would come to be known in our language that has no “p” in it as “bita.”

When matza appeared in the village, we gave thanks that it saved us from the pit in the pita. Matza came to us as a savior, first of all for the simple reason that it is fragile and refuses to be folded and secondly, but just as importantly, it does not have a pocket in it. On the contrary, it is made up of tiny holes, rows and rows of pinpricks. The traditional trick was no longer available to our ancestors and thus we became aware of the existence of various spreads that had made the pilgrimage to our dreams from the cold lands of the north.

In those days, we did not drink four goblets of wine, because everything that gladdens the human heart is not a part of our custom. Moreover, we did not have goblets, never mind gladness. However, we knew very well how to bless freedom, indeed we did: For I have expelled, I have exiled, I have robbed, I have exploited, I have redeemed, I have taken, I have murdered and I have inherited. Not just words, but a dictionary of freedoms was engraved in our minds rather than the four goblets; the wars and any trouble that could land on our heads.

Nevertheless, how is this night different from all other nights? Now – as Ariel Sharon stands at the top of the pyramid and Shimon Peres is continuing to upholster our region with dreams of the world to come and I for some time have been a free man – there is reason to talk about another pit.

It has been nearly three decades since I tried to persuade Ariel Sharon of the existence of the Palestinian people in its homeland. In the 1970s, Sharon stood in a Hebrew University auditorium and claimed, as a disciple of Golda & Co., that they don’t exist – neither a Palestinian people nor a Palestinian entity. I, as a disciple of freedom and liberty, challenged him then: The Palestinian people c’est moi and now would he please be so kind as to prove to the audience in the auditorium that I do not exist.

I did not get an answer from him then, of course. The answer came that same night when “Jerusalem’s finest” knocked on my door with a search warrant signed by a judge, as proper in a land of law and order. The report listed the “dangerous items” found in my apartment: four pamphlets issued by Matzpen, “The Socialist Organization in Israel.” The Palestinian people in it entirety – c’est moi – spent the night in the police lockup in the Russian Compound. The pit that gaped in the relations between me and matza spread rather than healed.

Memory is not made of metal, and therefore it does not rust. Nights went by and the days were the days of Yitzhak Rabin’s first government, and Shimon Peres as minister of defense, and the days were the days of Land Day, and the days were the days of the month of Nissan when Passover falls and the days were the days of hurt and bruising and shemura matza, watched over by eagle-eyed yeshiva scholars from the moment of milling the wheat to the moment of baking lest the slightest trace of leavening action contaminate it.

Behind bars, my opinion of matza had undergone a pendulum swing. Suddenly, the pit in the “bita” looked to me like the axis around which my national experience revolved. Though it was just a pit, it became clear to me that it was my pit and only mine. Sitting in a different pit, where the dough closing in on me felt like it was made of concrete, I penned a letter to Shimon the defense minister at that time and at this time the foreign minister.

No, I wasn’t thinking then about the pit in the pita or the hole in the ozone layer but rather about freedom and the right to oppose the occupation. To date I have not received an answer from Peres either but I have reason to believe that the letter did reach high places. Several years later a friend who had been summoned for questioning told me that my letter had been read out to him and he was questioned about the relationship between us. To reassure me, my friend told me he had denied any connection between us, on the grounds that it was a superficial acquaintance since we happen to be “from the same village.”

About three decades have passed since then and we have not yet lost hope, as the Israeli national anthem declares. Maybe when the foreign minister retires (if such a thing is even conceivable to him), he will yet find time to answer my letter. If he finds the afikomen, the matza hidden to keep children awake and interested at the Passover table, he is promised a prize: At long last I will send him an emotional letter declaring my support for his idea of the new Middle East. And if he does not, I will write a poem denouncing him as practicing coitus interruptus in his capacity of sanitation worker in the garbage dump of Sharon’s policies.
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Published: ”Yidiot Ahronot“, April 6, 2001

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The lie about rights and duties


The injustice that is being done to the Druze is an in-built Zionist matter.


Salman Masalha || The lie about rights and duties

We are not going to discuss how to get the desert to bloom here but rather how the public discourse in Israel is made devoid of content. Many people with bad intentions take part in the attempt to cover our eyes and block our ears. Because after all, there is no greater lie than that sold by populist politicians, the cynical and "engaged" media, and those who tell all kinds of stories. Anyone who draws a link between granting civil rights and fulfilling duties will no doubt be surprised to read what will follow here.

We are not talking about the ultra-Orthodox who evade the draft but rather about citizens who fulfill their duties of loyalty to the state. These are citizens who serve in the army, pay with the blood of their sons, and who have been doing so for many decades, but it does not seem that any kind of social justice is knocking on their doors.

All the claims of rights that will be given to citizens in return for duties will be refuted when we examine what has happened to the Druze citizens. Because the injustice that is being done to the Druze is an in-built Zionist matter. The lack of social justice is obvious to all - you just have to stretch out your hand to touch it.

It is the central government that is responsible for this, through its arbitrary allocation of municipal areas of jurisdiction. Its aim is to exclude the Arab citizens and separate them from the areas and the lands that belong to them. By giving widescale areas of jurisdiction to the Jewish regional councils, they prevent any possibility of future development in the Arab communities, and this of course includes the Druze villages. But there is more to this. As we all know, a considerable percentage of the local councils' income is derived from the "arnona," or local property tax, that is paid by industrial areas, factories, government offices and institutions, army bases, prisons, and so forth. But lo and behold - when a large industrial area like the Tefen industrial zone, for example, is established in the vicinity of Druze villages, (Jatt, Kisra, and Kfar Sami'a ) the Jewish brain finds an ingenious way to ensure that the "arnona" will not be paid to them. This is how the industrial regional council was born.

And here is yet another example. This time it is the Merom Hagalil regional council. This local council has control of very large areas, starting at the border with Lebanon in the north and extending to Tiberias in the south, and stretching from Safed in the east to Carmiel in the west. Some 11,000 citizens live there, the vast majority of whom are Jewish. However what is most upsetting to see is that the areas of jurisdiction of this council cover some 200,000 dunams. By contrast, in the Druze town of Maghar in Lower Galilee, there are 20,000 residents. The town is located in the third cluster of the socio-economic scale which means that it is at the bottom of the scale. And even though the number of residents in Maghar is double the number of the residents living in the Merom Hagalil regional council, its area of jurisdiction is a mere 20,000 dunams in total. That is to say, it is only ten percent of the area of the Merom Hagalil council. And as if that were not enough, part of the lands belonging to the residents of Maghar have been added so to speak, to the area under the jurisdiction of the Merom Hagalil council. But there is still more to the story. A military base was set up on the lands of Maghar, and in recent years, the large complex of the Hermon and Tzalmon prisons was also built there. These institutions almost touch the homes in the town but for some strange reason, the "arnona" payments of these institutions do not go into the coffers of Maghar.

Indeed, these facts in the field cry out for all to hear. All the governments in Israel, from the very start, have taken pains to try and restrict the development of the Arab local councils and the injustice that has been done to the Druze community whose sons pay for their civic duties with their blood, is a conspicuous example of that. So don't let them tell you stories about rights that depend on fulfilling duties.

Published: Opinions-Haaretz, 18 July 2012

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For Hebrew, press here

A pinprick in the “equal burden” balloon


Sometimes the use of the oriental imagination is needed like air to breathe. I have often argued that attributing oriental imagination to the Arabs is tantamount to slander...

Salman Masalha

A pinprick in the “equal burden” balloon

One fine day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu awoke from a bad coalition dream and discovered the incredible. He scratched his brain until he saw the light at the end of the government tunnel. Suddenly he remembered that there are Ishmaelite parliamentarians serving in the Israeli Knesset, sent there by a large Arab public to swear loyalty to the state of Israel. For nearly seven decades now they have been sent there time after time and time after time they swear their loyalty.

Netanyahu, who has also been roaming the Knesset corridors for many years, is certainly aware that there are elected legislators in the Knesset who are not among the voters for the Zionist parties. However, for some reason he has never taken these Knesset members into his calculations. The truth is that not only he but also all his predecessors, both from the left and from the right, never counted the Arab voters of the sort who vote in their clan ballot boxes of their Zionist parties.

And now, all of a sudden, when the Zionist quandary – religion or state? – has once again become visible to everyone the scheming prime minister has recalled the same tricks that have always served him well. Everyone has to share in the burden, including the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, he declared, and he also picked up the phone and spoke personally with some of them, as has been reported.

But to paraphrase a comment made by Netanyahu in another context – is it possible that the prime minister has forgotten what it means to be a Zionist? No, he has not forgotten. As his late father testified about him in an interview to Channel 2: “Benjamin does not support a Palestinian state, except on conditions the Arabs will never accept. I heard this from him.”Now too, in the context of “equal sharing of the burden,” it is clear that all the talk about conscripting Arabs, in one way or another, is empty talk no one intends to implement. After all, this issue didn’t just crop up today for the first time. It has been accompanying the state since its first steps.

Things happened in the past and they are engraved in the chronicles of the Knesset. As is well known, the Israeli Communist Party welcomed the founding of the state of Israel and even saw it as “a victory for all the forces of freedom and democracy in the Middle East,” in the words of Knesset Member Tawfik Toubi in a speech in the Knesset in 1949. And not only that. Back in 1950, MK Meir Wilner of the Israeli Communist Party, in a speech in the Knesset complained of the delay in the conscription of Arabs under the Defense Forces Law.

His Arab party comrade Toubi also expressed his anger at that time and attacked the non-implementation of the law, calling the non-conscription of Arabs a manifestation of discrimination: “Why is the government excluding the Arab citizens of conscription age from military service, even though many of them have evinced willingness to fulfill their obligation as citizens demanding to benefit from all rights? There is no doubt this is one of the most blatant phenomena of the racial discrimination in the government’s policy, which is inimical to every effort to gain the friendship of the Arab masses.”

Sometimes the use of the oriental imagination is needed like air to breathe. I have often argued that attributing oriental imagination to the Arabs is tantamount to slander, for if the elected representatives of Israel’s Arab citizens were blessed with even only a tiny bit of oriental imagination, they would be able with the stroke of a single declaration to take the populist wind out of the Zionist sails. They would declare that they are adopting MK Tawfik Toubi’s 1950 speech in the Knesset.

It would take only one declaration, one small pinprick, to expose the Zionist lie that inflates from time to time. When that happens, we shall see what the champions of “equal sharing of the burden” have to say when the fraudulent Zionist balloon busts in their faces.

Published: Opinions-Haaretz, July 8, 2012

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For Hebrew, press here