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On nationalism and separatism

By Joseph Algazy 

(Defeatist Diary, 29 August 2011)

Original Hebrew: http://www.defeatist-diary.com/index.asp?p=articles_new10673

Translated from Hebrew by George Malent 


Security coordinators in Jewish communities in the Galilee have been advised by the Israel police and the Border Guard of the possibility of violent protest by Israeli Arabs next September against the background of the UN vote on a Palestinian state – this news item was published in more or less identical versions in the media in the middle of August (2011).

From my own inquiries I learned that senior officers of the police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA – Shin Bet) participated in the campaign of “explanation”, “warning” and “deterrence” in the Galilee, in the Triangle, both north and south and in the Negev, as well as in mixed cities like Jaffa, Lydda, Ramleh and Acre. Evidently the official Israeli Establishment, especially the security Establishment, has not freed itself from the “kontzeptzia” (conception) that sees Arab citizens in Israel, who constitute about a fifth of the population of the State, as a “security problem”, even 63 years after the founding of the State.

What are you going to do – I just have an associative way of thinking that I cannot overcome despite my advanced age – or maybe because of it. These reports reminded me of the events of 1 May 1958 (marking the State’s first ten years!) and the first Land Day, 30 March 1976. In both cases, even before Arab citizens, especially in the Galilee and the Triangle, set out to protest against the military government, against discrimination, the theft of lands and so on, the security branches launched a particularly violent campaign of repression that cost human life, with harsh violations of elementary human and civil rights, including the right to protest.   

Having learned from experience (“the ox knoweth his owner”, Isaiah 1:3), I prefer in late August 2011 to *recall* events that took place years ago rather than *review* them after the fact in September 2011.


The protest movement that began with a boycott over the high price of cottage cheese, followed by the tent protest movement that began on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and spread to many areas in Israel, was joined by groups of Arab citizens in various parts of the country. It was definitely a positive development that will have important implications for the fabric of relations between Arabs and Jews in the State of Israel, and I dare to add, with Arabs on the other side of the border as well. 

However, to my astonishment and great dismay, there were elements in the Arab local political scene who – to put it mildly – did not like the protest movement or the cooperation between Jews and Arabs that had developed within it. Those elements even called upon Arab citizens not to become captive to the movement. This, despite the resolution by the Secretariat of the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs in Israel on 28 July 2011 to the effect that: 1. The protest movement is an important one; 2. Its demands do not contradict the demands of the Arab population, indeed, in some cases they are consistent with them; 3. The problems of the Arab population are more serious because the latter suffer from racism, discrimination and the denial of basic rights due to the Israeli Establishment’s policies towards it; 4. There is a danger that accession to the demands of the protest movement in Israel could come at the expense of the Palestinian people. These concerns arose when it was proposed that the housing problem in the Jewish street be solved by building apartments in East Jerusalem and in settlements, and by giving [financial] relief only to those who have served in the army, a condition that was rejected by the protest movement.       

This formulation was received positively.

However, a few days later, voices of another kind were raised, which contradicted the content of the resolution of the Secretariat of the Arab Follow-up Committee and its spirit. I will give three examples:

None other than the Chairman of the Follow-Up Committee himself, Muhammad Zidan, formerly the Chairman of the local council of Kafr Manda, gave a series of interviews to the Arabic media in which he clearly contradicted the content and spirit of the resolution of the Secretariat of the Follow-Up Committee. Among other things, he declared: “The Arabs in Israel do not put their eggs in the basket of the Jewish demonstrators.” This declaration was quoted in an interview he gave to the Maan news agency that operates in the Occupied Territories, under the headline, “The Arabs of the Interior Do Not Want to Enter the Tents of the Jews” (link, in Arabic:

http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=412813 )

In another, more detailed interview, with the journalist Kifah Zabun of the Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, published in London, that was quoted on the Internet (14 August 2011), Zidan said among other things: “The Arab masses cannot join the Israeli popular movement against the Israeli government because of the way the Arab struggle differs from the Israeli one in form and objectives (…) Our problems are completely different; it is impossible to come to an agreement on the objectives and around a joint programme of action (…) Our interests are not consistent with their interests, the nature of our struggle is different, we are conducting a struggle that has lasted for decades now, whereas their struggle is temporary, superficial and limited, and it is possible that the government will give in to it in one day or that it will end due to any regional tensions (…) Our struggle is different,  there is a contradiction between the two struggles. The solution to the problem of housing that they suffer from will be achieved at the expense of Arab land, as is happening in Jerusalem and according to their plans in the Negev. All this requires an Arab struggle counter to the Israeli protest movement.”

Zidan added: “It is possible that Arabs may derive some benefit from the tent movement. Arabs visit the tents, but they do not sleep in them, and they participate in some of the demonstrations in a limited way.” Following this description, the newspaper pointed out that in a demonstration in Haifa the demonstrators had raised slogans such as “The people are against the high cost [of living]”, “Budgets for neighbourhoods, not for settlements”, “The people want social justice” and “We demand rights for workers, not for owners of capital”. Zidan replied to that by saying: “We have left our masses free to participate in the demonstrations but without inserting themselves in a big way (…) That does not prevent us from benefitting from them.”

The al-Sharq al-Awsat article said further on: “Another subject that causes Zidan to reject the idea of joining the Israelis’ demonstrations is that they will easily be broken without the hoped-for results being realized. ‘Among the demonstrators themselves, security is the main issue that concerns them. All Netanyahu has to do is heighten the tensions in the region, then you’ll see how they fold up the tents with their own hands and return to their homes.’” (link in Arabic:

http://www.aawsat.com/details.asp?section=48issueno=119478&article=6356 )

These have been a few of the pearls produced by Muhammad Zidan. We will revisit them after looking at the negative responses his words elicited in the Arab political street in Israel.

Another spokesman who was reticent about the Israeli protest movement is the deputy chairman of the Northern Islamic Movement, Kamal Khatib from Kafr Kanna. During a Ramadan iftar (evening meal to break the daily Ramadan fast) held by his movement he said: “There is no doubt that we here, the Palestinians from within, are affected by the problems of social injustice caused by racist policy. But who said that our problems are completely identical to those of Israeli society? By no means, because the solution to the problems of Israeli society will be reached at our expense. Since they are demanding housing and land, it will come at the expense of confiscating land from the residents of Rina, Mashhad, Rahat, al-‘Araqib, Deir Hanna, Deir al-Assad and Fureidis, or from our relatives in the West Bank (…) There are those who demand that we go to sleep in the tents in Tel Aviv together with the Jewish activists even though we all know that with any aggravation of the security situation they will join their military units to serve in the Reserves at the first call, and we will be left there.”     

Another voice of reticence was raised by MK Hanin Zoabi of Balad, in an address she gave at Majd al-Krum. “Our very existence is a stumbling-block in the eyes of this Establishment,” she said. “Let nobody ask us why we were not at the demonstrations in Tel Aviv, because we have borne the yoke of the land problem for 35 years now. Whoever claims that Tel Aviv’s struggle represents us reveals himself to be unable to bear the burden of his struggle and is not able to mobilize the masses in the tents that have been pitched by the Arab public. Every one of us knows that Tel Aviv is not does not represent us, but that does not mean that we cannot influence the Israeli street, that our voice cannot be heard in the ears of the leaders of the demonstrators in Tel Aviv, and that we should not send representatives from our tents to the leaders of the protest in Tel Aviv in order to make our voices heard.”  

It should be noted that Hadash was not drawn into this separatist line. Its members, both Arabs and Jews, are participating in the protest movement and its activities. Its spokespersons, such as MK Muhammad Barakeh and former MK ‘Issam Makhoul for example, have spoken out in favour of the protest movement. MK Ahmad Tibi from Ta’al has also expressed support for the protest movement.

“Despite nationalistic factionalism, the protest brings Jews and Arabs together” – wrote Makhoul in the Hebrew bulletin of the CPI Zo Haderekh (31 August 2011). Barakeh for his part said, in a discussion in the Knesset (16 August 2011): “The protest of the last month and a half is not a sectorial protest but a geographic one. It is not a narrow protest, with one particular demand or another; it is a profound expression of feelings of revulsion at the neo-liberal policies that are enslaving society to big capital and offer up for public sale the State’s responsibilities to its citizens.”  

In a speech he gave in Arrabeh (20 August 2011), MK Barakeh criticized those same political elements in the Arab local sector who are asking Hadash to dissociate itself from and not to participate in the protest movement. Those elements make their livings from insularity and isolation, he said, but that does not serve the Arab masses. He criticized the statements of Muhammad Zidan, who called on Arabs not to join the struggle in Tel Aviv. To Zidan he said: “Whoever is not able to defend the interests of the Arab masses cannot stand at their head. You have no place at the head of the Follow-Up Committee.” MK Barakeh’s strong words of criticism provoked an outcry in the Arab political street. On 28 August 2011, representatives of Balad, the Northern Islamic Movement, the Southern Islamic Movement, Abnaa’ al-Balad (“Sons of the Village”) and the Democratic Arab Party published an advertisement condemning Barakeh for the criticism that he had voiced against Zidan. However, the next day, Barakeh surprisingly backed away from his attack on Zidan. On this background Zidan in quick succession published two newspaper ads that contradicted each other to some extent. It appears that Barakeh and Zidan effected a kind of “sulha” (reconciliation) between the two of them, after which Barakeh published another ad against those who had condemned him for his attack against Zidan, characterizing them as “fishing in muddy waters.”        

In view of the criticism I have leveled at Hadash more than once, my praise for its positive position on the issue of the social protest will raise some eyebrows.

And as if that were not enough, I will add that a report that was printed in Zo Haderekh  (24 August 2011) stated: “‘The escalation crushes the interest of both peoples, the Israeli and the Palestinian,’ thus said Hadash chairman MK Muhammad Barakeh in an interview that will be published in the next issue of Zo Haderekh. The interview was conducted after the bloody attack near Eilat, in which eight Israelis lost their lives. Meanwhile the situation has escalated – bombing of Gaza and firing of missiles towards Beersheba, Ashkelon and elsewhere, which caused additional casualties. MK Barakeh was first asked about those who planned and executed the terrorist attack, and also about its implications. In his words, ‘harming innocent civilians is an unacceptable act that is reprehensible by every human and political standard. But the attack also ran completely counter to the interest of the Palestinian people. There are elements in the Gaza Strip who are trying to impose on the Palestinians an agenda that is different from the one that was developed by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority which strives for international recognition of a Palestinian state and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Those elements are trying to torpedo the talks of the Palestinian representatives in Cairo by giving Netanyahu a kind of ‘invitation’ to act militarily, so they can evade the demand for internal unity.’ And also ‘the timing of the attack is destructive in every aspect and is intended to serve an agenda that contradicts the interest of the popular struggle in Israel, as well as the Palestinian people’s struggle for independence. The attack has already served as a justification for the bombing of Gaza, which has cost lives. Netanyahu needs escalation in order to escape from his internal and external isolation.’”

And yet, when I read the next issue of Zo Haderekh (31 August 2011), I discovered that the promised full interview with MK Barakeh was not there. What happened? I searched and I dug and I found it in a revised internet version, dated 24 August 2011. Will subscribers to the hard-copy edition of Zo Haderekh Hebrew bulletin also receive the full version of the interview with Barakeh? 

Nevertheless, the correct critique that MK Barakeh voiced against the bloody attack near Eilat is firm and abiding, it is engraved in stone.