A Stone’s Throw

In the center of Tel Aviv there is an embarrassing fountain, designed by the wellknown Israeli artist Ya’akov Agam, who lives in Paris. Its formal opening was attended by the then prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, and some other officials. They all surrounded the miracle with admiring Norman Rockwell faces: to the sounds of Ravel’s Bolero, the fountain spouted patterns of fire and water. But why should anyone be astonished at the sight of fire and water mixing with each other, one may ask. After all, the State of Israel has been living with kitsch for forty years now. That’s why Israel believes that a Jewish state could be “democratic,” that occupation could be “benign,” that weapons could be “immaculate.” Forty years, after all, cannot be proven wrong.

You see a similar face these agonized days, the face of the average Israeli after the uprising in the occupied territories. The average Israeli, of course, would call it “riots in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” or, better still, “riots in Judea and Samaria,” among other places. Then he would launch the wide-eyed question often asked by Israelis: “How can they do this to us, after twenty years of a prosperous, benign occupation, maintained by immaculate weapons? How can the Israeli Arabs, our fellow residents inside the old Green Line, express solidarity with these terrorist West Bankers? How can the Arabs of Jerusalem, who for twenty years have been living in coexistence with us—how can they throw stones at our houses?”

But the really bad news is that there are no Israelis in Israel, in the sense that there are Americans in the US, and that the State of Israel has not been established yet. The Israeli Declaration of Independence (May 14, 1948), which so far has had a semiconstitutional status in Israel, did not open with the sentence: “We, the People of Israel,” but rather declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” The Jewish state, in a whimsically ardent moment, promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex.” And to cap it all, it promised them a constitution “not later than the Ist October, 1948.”

Forty years later there are still no Israelis in the nonconstitutional Israel. The rubric of “nationality” (in Hebrew, Leom) on Israeli identity cards reads either “Jew” or “Arab.” The two words “Israeli nationality” do not exist in any official document of the State of Israel; like the Soviet Union, it is a country where nationality does not coincide with citizenship. You can be an Arab citizen of the state (otherwise referred to as a Green Liner) and carry an Israeli passport that says “Israeli citizenship” on its front page; but you are not defined as an Israeli by nationality (neither are your fellow Jewish citizens; but they, of course, monopolistically call themselves “Israelis”). So when the Israeli Arabs went …

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Letters

Jews & Arabs July 21, 1988