(And I fear I’m becoming radicalized in some bizarre direction.)
I got into an argument this morning. I can’t really explain what it was about, more how it made me feel and how it exemplifies so many of the rhetorical and semantic and ideological problems surrounding this debate.
It started because we were discussing our style guide, which we use for editing and has handy references for terminology and transliteration. We must always use Palestinian citizens of Israel, not Arab Israelis. If someone writes “Palestinians left”, we must change it to “Palestinians left under war circumstances.” Technically, when you’re talking about the Nakba, this is true.
I said something about how I find it a little bizarre how so much political rhetoric finds its way into academic writing (we are, after all, a research center). Of course there must be some bias, all writing has, but when phrases like “Zionist Jewish colonizing state of Israel” are the norm, it seems a little over the top. You could choose one of those adjectives and you still have an effective phrase. I was chided by my opponent for this. “Of course it has an opinion, it has to… It is the Zionist Jewish state of Israel… ” No matter that Zionism has changed, the original Zionist project has been lost, Zionism means different things for different people. What about all the non-Jewish citizens? Never mind that throughout daily conversation and “academic” publications, the villain is the Jews. She didn’t seem to see the problem with that. “But it is the Jews. When in Arabic they say yehudiin, they mean the Jewish citizens of Israel.” So say that. Don’t say the Jews. This is English, not Arabic. And further, you can’t generalize like that. I know plenty of Jewish citizens of Israel who staunchly disagree with what happens here.
I said something about how discourse on the Nakba should not overshadow current political issues. She took the standard position by arguing that the Nakba is still happening “every day…when you see the village you used to live in from across the Green Line but you can’t go there. It’s still happening. It’s not over. It’s about the right of return.” (Tell me something I don’t already know.) Yes. That is true. And it was horrible. And so was the Holocaust, not to pull the predictable card. But they still happened and if the only things we can talk about are things that happened seventy years ago, we will never make it to seventy years from now.
Plus, this view ignores the fact that the situation in the Territories is far worse than the situation here. Here, we’re talking about Palestinian citizens of Israel, unquestionably an apartheid state but all in all not a terrible standard of living. For them, the Nakba is over in the sense that it happened, in the sense that the Holocaust is over but it happened. You have to remember it, you have to learn from it, but on some level, life goes on. Too soon? We’re not talking about the Territories. The Territories, yes, the psychological trauma is ongoing and needs to stop but that wasn’t the conversation I was trying to have. Besides, no one is going to listen to you if all you can talk about is 1948. Talk about things that are happening right now and you become relevant. Talk about 1948 and you become just another old guy talking about “when I was a boy…” Of course they’re interrelated but this is a semantic argument anyway and if you’re talking about history, you’re talking about history. Acknowledge history but change today’s reality. You can’t change what’s already happened.
I suppose what bothers me is two things; this constant battle I have here to have people accept that I can be both Jewish and believe in human rights for not-just-Jews. The second is less concrete, and I haven’t quite figured it out. It’s becoming this sense of being ignored. I am “on the left” as far as Jewish opinion goes, but I am always wrong to those who are staunchly and radically “pro-Palestinian” simply because I want people to stop talking about the ’40s, to stop making this about religion, to stop vilifying an entire multi-cultural group of self-identifying individuals (that would be the Jews), to talk about one state that acknowledges the PRESENT right of all people here to stay where they are (or go wherever they want) and to be EQUAL citizens under the law. I get no credibility from anyone. (Am I that much on another planet, or am I that much of an idealist? I’d rather think I’m a brilliant renegade thinker, far before her time.)
The Nakba was horrible, but it happened. Past tense. Now, today, we have to talk about the situation on the ground in 2010, not the situation on the ground in 1947. These are very different situations. If I had let her, the girl I was arguing with would have said all the Jews should leave Israel. The pensive look came over her face and she vaguely admitted that “yes, I suppose if you’re here already you should be able to stay…” Really? This is what the argument has come down to? You can hardly admit that people who live here right now cannot stay? What do you suggest they do? Go back to Germany, Poland, Hungary and say, “hey, I lived here in 1936, let me in my house”? Go back to Morocco, or Ethiopia, and say hey, the place I chose to come to, that I wanted to come to, will no longer let me stay? Forcible deportation?You’re talking about creating millions of refugees.
It’s been 7 and a half decades since the Nuremberg Laws, it’s been 6 and a half since the British left Palestine. The rest of the world has moved on. This place needs to, too.
(The most absurd part of this is that this argument was with a white college student from the UK.)