‘That’s not who we are, we are better than this’

From Traces of Racial Exception: Racializing Israeli Settler Colonialism (Bloomsbury Academic 2018).

Preface



  • We stole the lands of another people, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We expelled 800,000 of the owners of the land, or made them flee; we renamed their villages and urban neighbourhoods and settled our own people in them, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We uprooted the trees planted by the owners of the land and planted European conifers to cover the ruins of their depopulated villages, which they are not allowed to settle in and many of which we have made our own, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We massacred the populations of whole villages, tortured their men, raped their women and beat and tortured their children, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We occupied and annexed those parts of the land we had conquered in our ‘war of independence’ that the owners of the land call their Nakba, or catastrophe, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We bombed their cities, demolished their homes, flattened their refugee camps, and since 2002 built a 700 kilometres long concrete wall, which we call the separation barrier and the owners of the land call the Apartheid wall, to cut the owners of the land off from each other, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We installed hundreds of checkpoints preventing the owners of the land from getting to work, visiting their families, or reaching hospital to receive medical treatment or give birth, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We started war after war outside the 1949 armistice borders of our state, making hundreds of thousands homeless, claiming self-defence, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We put the owners of the land under a military government regime, ruled them with emergency regulations inherited from the British colonizers, enlisted them as collaborators and informers, and controlled their freedom of movement and expression, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We operate a separate military court system to try the owners of the land, imprison thousands of them including women and children, and put hundreds in administrative detention without trial, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We build our settlements on their lands and allow our illegal settlers to prevent the owners of the land from herding their flocks, tilling their fields and picking their olives, but that’s not who we are we are better than this
  • We allow the settlers to take over the homes of the owners of the land and to beat their children on their way to school, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We transferred thousands of Bedouin citizens off their lands and left them in ‘unrecognized villages’ without electricity, water, roads and schools, and demolish these ‘unrecognized villages again and again, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We extra-judicially execute the owners of the land when we suspect that their resistance amounts to ‘terrorist’ acts even after they are ‘neutralized’ and are lying defenceless on the ground; we arrest their children in dawn raids, interrogate them without any adults present, and try them in military courts, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We lock up asylum seekers, who we call ‘infiltrators’, and most of whose cases we never process, in concentration camps away from our towns that they are not permitted to enter, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We deny the owners of the land the right to remember and commemorate their Nakba, and force them to study our writers and poets, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • You see, we are victims of persecution and Holocaust survivors, and their land had been promised to us by our god, and is thus legally ours, and anyone questioning our right to conquer, settle, expropriate, kill, imprison, shoot, bomb, torture, transfer and deport is antisemitic or a ‘self-hating Jew’. [1]

 

[1] This is an adaptation of Ghassan Hage’s elegiac and angry J’Accuse against settler colonial white Australia, posted on Facebook on 19 October 2016. With Ghassan Hage’s kind permission.

 

Book launch talk “Traces for Racial Exception”

Traces of Racial Exception: Racializing Israeli Settler Colonialism

By Ronit Lentin (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).

 

Book launch speech, 19 October 2018, Trinity College Dublin

Sponsored by the MPhil in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict, and Academics for Palestine, and launched by Professor Neve Gordon, School of Law, Queen Mary College London.

 

 

Much has changed since I finished the book, including the IDF wanton massacre of unarmed protesters in the Gaza Great March of Return as of March 2018, leading, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to murdering 209 unarmed protesters (including 41 children, 2 journalists and 3 paramedics) and injuring more than 22,500 (of whom over 5,500 with live ammunition); the threatened demolition of the unrecognised Bedouin village Khan al Akhmar; the arrest and subsequent release of the Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi; the imprisonment and subsequent release of the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour; the lynching of three Palestinian citizens on a beach in Israel; and above all, the passage of the racist 2018 Nation State Bill. However, you can never put a final full stop when writing about the Palestine present, as things are getting worse daily, just when you think that they cannot get any worse…

In this talk I outline briefly my choice to use the lens of race to analyse Israel’s permanent war against the Palestinians. I prefer not to use the hackneyed terms ‘Israel/Palestine’ or ‘Palestine/Israel’ – because such coupling masks unequal power. Nor do I call this war ’the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. This is not a conflict but rather colonization, and to analyse colonization you need to use the lens of race, as argued by the late theorist of settler colonialism Patrick Wolfe in his posthumous 2016 book Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race: “race is colonialism speaking, in idioms whose diversity reflects the variety of unequal relationships into which Europeans have co-opted conquered populations.”

*

In March 2016 IDF medic Elor Azaria shot to death Abdel al-Fattah al-Sharif, an unarmed Palestinian, minutes after soldiers shot, wounded and ‘neutralized’ him for attempting to stab an Israeli soldier, while he was lying on the ground unable to move. Azaria was charged with murder, later transmuted to manslaughter.

Al Sharif was one of 181 Palestinian ‘terror suspects’ extra-judicially executed between October 2015 and March 2016. The killing was supported by 65 per cent of Israeli Jews; 67 per cent supported pardoning Azaria, who was backed by Netanyahu, Lieberman, and other public figures, and by thousands of Israeli demonstrators shouting ‘death to the Arabs’. Azaria is far from unique: of 186 IDF criminal investigations in 2015, only four led to indictments. Azaria was tried only because he was filmed by the Palestinian cameraman ‘Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, who received many death threats after the video went viral.

Azaria was given a lenient jail sentence of 18 months, leading Palestinian Knesset member Jamal Zahalka to call Israel a ‘democracy of guns.’ Having served half of his sentence, Azaria is feted as a national hero … But as Neve Gordon writes, Azaria ‘is in no way an aberration of Israel’s colonial project, but rather a clear symptom of its very structure’.

The Azaria case illustrates the centrality of race to Israel’s permanent war against Palestine. First, the ease with which a Jewish Israeli soldier can extra-judicially execute an unarmed helpless Palestinian illustrates the racialization and dehumanization of Palestinians by Israeli Jews, whose white Jewish supremacy parallels their sense of victimhood. Second, Azaria being an Arab (Mizrahi) Jew demonstrates the racialization of Arab Jews in Israel’s complex racial reality. According to Israeli sociologist Yehouda Shenhav, Azaria’s trial would have gone differently had he been Ashkenazi: ‘The Mizrahi is not one of us – we are more moral, better. The trial expresses superiority disguised as morality’. Third, Azaria’s conviction heightened Israelis’ sense of victimhood, the other side of the settler colonial race coin – colonizers on the one hand, eternal victims on the other, a lethal cocktail.

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Writing is the Closing of Circles: Nava Semel

‘WRITING IS THE CLOSING OF CIRCLES’: NAVA SEMEL

From R. Lentin, Israel and the Daughters of the Shoah: Re-occupying the Territories of Silence, (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000)

Introduction

I met Nava Semel on November 25, 1992 in the apartment she shares with her husband Noam Semel, director of the Tel Aviv Cameri Theatre, and their three children, Iyar and twins Eal-Eal and Nimdor. Semel was born in 1954 in Tel Aviv. Her father, Itzhak Artzi, a former Knesset member and deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, was born in Bukovina and is not a concentration camp survivor. Her mother, Margalit (Mimi) Artzi (nee Liquornik), also born in Bukovina, is a survivor of several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Kleineshenau. The twins, born in the US while Noam Semel served with the Israeli consulate in New York, have American passports. ‘This too is part of my being a daughter of survivors,’ Semel explained, ‘at least when the helicopters come to rescue the survivors here, they would be saved.’ Semel’s brother, Shlomo Artzi, is a leading Israeli popular singer. Semel is small, short haired, and very intense. Her use of the Hebrew language is very precise. She had obviously done a lot of thinking about being a daughter of Shoah survivors and has written both fiction and journalism about it.

Nava Semel describes her childhood as an ‘ordinary Israeli childhood.’ She served in the army as a news producer with Galei Tsahal, the army radio channel. She began writing when she had her first child. Her collection of short stories, the first ‘second generation’ fiction collection published in Israel, Kova Zekhukhit (A Hat of Glass) (1985), met with a wall of silence when it first appeared, but has been written about extensively since then. The collection was re-issued in 1998 with an introduction by the literary critic Nurit Govrin. Several stories have been translated into English, German, Spanish, Turkish and French and appeared translations in Germany and Italy in 2000.

In all the stories there is a ‘child of’ persona and they are all based on the various stages of learning about and coming to terms with her parents’ survival as Semel explains in the following narrative. Indeed, in all her books, the reality is often viewed from a child’s point of view.

Her one-woman play Hayeled meAchorei Haeinayim (The Child Behind the Eyes) (1987), a monologue of a mother of a Down Syndrome child, had many showings in Israel and abroad and several radio broadcasts internationally. In 1996 it won the Austrian radio play of the year award. Her two novels for young people, Gershona Shona (Becoming Gershona) (1988/1990), and Maurice Havivel Melamed Lauf (Flying Lessons) (1991/1995) deal with young people living among Shoah survivors in search of an Israeli identity. Both were translated into English. In 1996 Flying Lessons was selected in Germany as one of the 30 best books of the year. The novel Rali Masa Matara (Night Games) (1993) is the story of a group of Israeli forty-something friends playing a treasure hunt on the 1987 Day of Independence, half a year before the Intifada broke out. The novel Isha al Neyar (Bride on Paper) (1996) tells of life in a pre-state Israeli moshava (collective settlement) in the 1930s. Semel also translates plays, mostly on Shoah-related themes.

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