Posted: May 8, 2015
from Redline, by Daphna Whitmore
For over two decades Israeli correspondent Amira Hass has reported from inside Israel’s occupied territories. She has lived in the West Bank, writing for Haaretz since 1997, and before that in Gaza. She is one of the best-known critics of the Israeli state. She has just been on a speaking tour of New Zealand and I went along to hear her speak on Israeli-Jewish dissidence.
She began by saying she’s thinking of writing a column titled ‘A Guide for a Perplexed Alien’. An alien arriving in Israel would struggle to tell who is an Israeli and who is a Palestinian, they both look alike, she said. If you want to know who is who: “Wherever it is green” it is Israel. “Wherever it is grey it is Palestinian. Wherever there is [space for] strolling it is Israel, wherever it is densely populated it is Palestinian. It is an urban topography that has a philosophy”.
While the apartheid label angers Israelis, says Hass, there is “separate and unequal development of two people in the same land under the same government.” Israel certainly uses the term separation and it has different sets of laws, different sets of rights for people, and the infrastructure is different. Unlike apartheid South Africa there is no biological racism, for instance, the hospitals have Jews and Palestinians side by side. You never see signs “Jews Only”. But separate and unequal development exists.
She calls it Bantustanisation. In the West Bank 62 percent of the land is under Israeli control and Palestinians are not allowed to build or live there.
Bantustanisation took place over the past two decades in parallel with the “peace process”. Before that all of the West Bank was Palestinian with some enclaves of ‘crazy settlers’. Now it is an Israeli expanse with Palestinian enclaves.
In the south of the West Bank is an ancient village called Susiya where the people were driven out decades ago so they moved to their nearby agricultural lands. They have not been allowed to build on their privately owned land and now in the last two weeks a judge (who is a religious settler) has ruled that the state may remove their buildings even while they await a hearing in court.
The trip from Jenin in the north of the West Bank to Hebron in the south should take one and a half hours. With all the checkpoints it takes many hours and it feels that they are far apart. Hass talked of how she as an Israeli can travel from Ramallah to East Jerusalem in 30 minutes but Palestinians are not permitted to go there. “For Palestinians Jerusalem is as far as the moon” says Hass. The Palestinians reply “Yes, but at least we can see the moon; we cannot see Jerusalem”.
There is anger and despair.
She believes Israel lost a marvellous opportunity to be accepted in the region and to lose its colonialist characteristics.
Historically European Jews in the diaspora had options other than Zionism. They joined socialist, communist and anarchist groups to oppose anti-Semitism. Nazism changed all that and they became Zionists and colonialists. In the 1990s she maintains they could have proven they were not just colonialists.
Bantustanisation is an Israeli sort of compromise. Israel cannot expel millions of Palestinians so they hold them in enclaves, with Gaza being the biggest enclave.
There is a young Palestinian generation that only knows Israelis as settlers and soldiers. These days she frequently hears the youth – she lives among them on the West Bank – say that every Israeli Jew is a settler and that the solution is all the Jews should leave.
Many Israeli dissidents do leave, but most cannot. “At a certain moment settlers become natives. We have also become natives”.
Palestinians have not been decimated; almost half the population is Palestinian, and in 2020 they will be more than half. Jews are a minority in the region. Israel should have been more attentive says Hass. She thinks Israel’s policies are suicidal. Palestinians ask “don’t Israeli’s think about their grandchildren”. This shows a very compassionate side, that they accept an arrangement of a life together. Israelis have rejected it in a greedy seizure to hold on to the privileges of a hegemonic people, says Hass.
Israeli dissidents who don’t want to leave are left to use their privileges to fight the regime of privilege. There are several Israeli groups doing work, which she outlined. They face off settler terror and fight legal and land causes.
Settlers are the messengers and the representatives of the state. The state allows the settlers to terrorise the Palestinians. The state doesn’t want to stop them.
There is not solidarity between the Israeli working class and the Palestinian. The main trade union in Israel is very negative. As a bulk all Israelis benefit from the occupation and this is why the working classes support the system. The withering of the welfare state was also instrumental. The settlements that have succeeded the most moved for economic reasons, not ideological.
As for the new government, it is really bad news; the Jewish Home party is the most racist of them all and now it has the Ministry of Education, Justice and Civil Administration (the military office in West Bank and Gaza).
For the future she believes “The fight has to continue, the contradictions in Israeli society maybe can deepen the cracks, but it seems more difficult than before.”