I met a guy tonight who, when I told him my organization researches “Palestinian citizens in Israel”, pushed me really hard to define the Palestinian citizens part. We settled on that it was the “Arabs 48”, meaning those who didn’t leave. He then tried to make me call them Arab Israelis, because they don’t all identify as Palestinians. So now I apparently have to call them Palestinian Arab Israeli citizens who didn’t leave their homes in 1948. I think I’ll call them bros. Anyway, we got into a heated discussion with him because he is an Arab who considers himself Arab Israeli and employs the standard defensive tactics and strategies to “get along” in Israel without being hassled.
He doesn’t talk about his political opinion in public because he is afraid he might be fired from his job or pitied for his situation. I told him that that is in and of itself a problem – in a democracy, dissent and opposition is necessary. He agreed that this was indeed a problem, but apparently not HIS problem. He is happy just to perform laser eye surgery in Tel Aviv. Good for him.
He asked us why so many foreigners come to work for Arab causes – the Arabs don’t care, he said. He was decently shocked when we said we were basically the only foreigners at our respective organizations. Some Arabs care. Just not him. Or maybe it’s a matter of courage, conviction?
On the subject of Ameer Makhoul, he insisted he committed crimes and gave information to the enemies. (The best part of this: according to him, Ameer Makhoul told Hezbollah where the oil refinery is. It’s on the road between Haifa and Akka and thousands of commuters pass it each day. You can probably Google it. I said this. He said, “But Hezbollah doesn’t know where it is.” I replied, “Hezbollah has Google.”) That is all well and good if you believe everything the government spoonfeeds you, but he also could not understand our argument. It is not about the crimes that may or may not have been committed, it is about the fact that Ameer Makhoul was held for two weeks without meeting a lawyer, that he confessed under torture, that his arrest sent a clear message to other Palestinian activists and NGOs to keep their heads down and their noses clean. This is not a democracy.
He asked if I was Arab (because we were speaking mixed Arabic/English), and I said no, I’m American, my parents are American. “They are Christian?” “My Dad is Jewish, my Mom is Christian.” “So you are half and half!” (Secretly it made me really happy that he said that, since usually I get the “oh you’re not really Jewish” response, or the “oh my gosh intermarriage how horrid” look of pity and scorn.)
He said it was clear I was on the left end of the political spectrum, since I work in an organization that calls Arabs Palestinians. “I suppose I am.” “How does your dad feel about that?” (Daddy? Any input?) I told him I think my dad was also on the left end of the political spectrum, and my mother even more so. I told him my parents aren’t for discrimination. I told him they are for human rights, civil rights, and democracy, which is what I am for. I am not for Jews or for Arabs. I am for equality, and so are my parents. He was convinced that my dad, as an American Jew, MUST be pro-Israel and pro-Jewish (whatever that means) and, like all other American Jews, think Israel’s non-democratic practices are a-okay. I told him this isn’t how all American Jews see it. I told him we like democracy, especially my dad. I think I told him the truth.
I remember a quote, Daddy, that you always say: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will support to the death your right to say it.” I don’t think this guy can even imagine a world in which this is the reality, his reality is so self-preserving and self-deprecating. Sad.