The Arab World Geographer
Forum on Current Crisis in Palestine/Israel
The Struggle for Control, the End of a Paradigm

Jeff Halper
Department of Behavioral Sciences
Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel 84105.

It doesn't happen often that one stands in a truly historic moment, a pivotal time in which things as they were will never be the same again.  I felt that watching the last act of 1989—the Yugoslavian people storming the stronghold of Milosevic, the Parliament building, and I feel that tonight, 8 October, as we wait for Barak's 48 hour ultimatum to expire.  It’s surrealistic sitting at home in quiet West Jerusalem; we hear on the news of street battles raging between the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shuafat and the north Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, with the army providing armed support for the Pisgat Ze'ev rioters. But it’s Yom Kippur night, so no Israeli TV; we have to rely on CNN or BBC to provide coverage of what is happening a mile or two away.  We are also receiving reports of attacks of mobs of Israeli Jews from Upper Nazareth on the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Nazareth proper—with the police intervening on the side of the Jews (one dead so far), as well as attacks on Arab villages (like Kifl Harith, Dir Istiya, Salfit, Bidiya, and other villages, and near Ariel, and at al-Azariya near Ma'aleh Adumim) by settlers.  What makes attacks by settlers especially deadly is that they occur in Area C of the West Bank, where the settlers have been heavily armed by the army (for their "protection"), where the Palestinians are completely unarmed and have no recourse to aid from the Palestinian Authority, and where the army wades in on the side of the settlers.

I have the feeling that whatever happens tomorrow night (Wednesday) or the next day —whether Israel opens an all-out assault on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or whether international pressure forestalls it—all the old frameworks, ideologies, and relationships have been demolished. Both the Oslo peace process and the myth of a state that is both Jewish and democratic are gone.  I don't know what's going to replace them, and the struggle and bloodshed is far from over, but the old frameworks are shattered and can never be put together again. Although I fear for the loss of life looming before us, I take hope that the uprising on both sides of the Green Line will in the end give birth to new possibilities for a just and viable peace between Israel and the emerging Palestinian State, as well as a new overall post-Zionist framework—perhaps the eventual emergence of a bi-national state in all of Palestine/Israel.  Many forces played a role in sparking the uprising: religious sentiments aroused by Sharon's provocation on the Temple Mount/Haram, the feeling that only a Lebanon-style armed resistance will lead to true independence, the Johnny-come-lately entry of the Palestinian Authority, the pressures exerted on Arafat to accept an imposed settlement before the end of Clinton's term of office, and overwhelming feelings of frustration, anger, deprivation, and humiliation directed at the suffocating Israeli Occupation. The great underlying force, however, was and is, in my opinion, the popular rejection by the Palestinian "street" of the Oslo process, and in particular the Camp David solution that would have led to a bantustan-type state, truncated with large Israeli settlements, disconnected from Jerusalem, and without meaningful sovereignty.

Some of the same forces prompted the popular uprising of Palestinian citizens of Israel ("Israeli Arabs," as they are called, their very Palestinian identity denied them in the Israeli civil framework). While liberal commentators ascribe the protests that turned violent after lethal police intervention as due to "frustrations" generated by long-standing economic and social "deprivation," the fact is that despite their Israeli citizenship, Palestinians in Israel live under a kind of occupation.  The vast majority of their lands have been taken for Jewish kibbutzim, towns, cities, "outposts," and even parks and forests.  Because 92% of the land in Israel is reserved by law exclusively for Jewish use, Israeli-Palestinians live in crowded conditions without adequate infrastructures, some in dozens of "unrecognized villages" receiving no urban services whatsoever. They constitute the high majority of the unemployed, suffer from sub-standard education, and, as "non-Jews," are excluded from virtually all work places that offer some kind of upward mobility.  And they have been effectively locked out of Israeli society.  The Israeli flag and national anthem contain only Jewish symbols; official Israel policy is to "Judaize" parts of the country with heavy Arab populations; and in a poll taken after the confrontations of the past week 74% of Jewish Israelis consider Israeli Arabs as "traitors"— a figure reaching way beyond the usual "right wing" sectors of society.

I fear much greater levels of violence in the coming weeks and months. Israeli Jews have never allowed themselves even to consider alternatives to an exclusively Jewish state, including a large West Bank settlement and a Jerusalem under effective Israeli sovereignty.  As Barak's ultimatum indicates, and the widening pogroms against Palestinians both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories portend, Israeli Jews are liable to react like the Serbs when their reality changes abruptly.  I fear a resurgence of an Israeli Jewish tribalism that will lash out violently at any attempt to tamper with the status quo.  This explains why Israel's response to the uprising been so ferocious. Why has it employed much greater firepower on a largely unarmed (or lightly armed) civilian population—helicopter gunships, tanks, anti-tank missiles, high-velocity arms, laser projectiles, snipers, an especially damaging form of tear gas and more—than it did during the Intifada? The fact that the Palestinians had greater firepower themselves and had clear targets (Netzarim settlement in Gaza, Joseph's Tomb in Nablus and many others) explains this to a certain degree. But a deeper answer has to do more with asserting control than with putting down an uprising. The Intifada demonstrated that outright occupation (or "administration" in Israeli terms) was untenable, but it did not actually threaten that control.  The current uprising constitutes a much more serious threat.  It rejects control completely and insists on genuine sovereignty and viability.  As such it challenges Israeli domination (or, as Barak would say, Israeli "security"), and therefore has to be put down decisively.  Already in June the Israeli Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, was publicly threatening the use of tanks and assault helicopters against Palestinians if they dared an uprising or unilaterally declared a state.  Demands that Arafat end the fighting and "return to the negotiating table" thus have less to do with putting down the violence (which Israel can do handily) and more to do with reasserting the Oslo framework of control.

The events of the past ten days have irrevocably altered the status quo. It falls to Israeli intellectuals to help formulate alternatives to traditional Zionism, occupation, and domination so as to offer alternatives to the Israeli Jewish public.  As an Israeli I do not fear alternatives such as a bi-national state, something that will permit everyone to live wherever he or she wants in the entire Land of Israel/Palestine.  Israeli society, culture, and economy are strong enough to survive and even thrive as an integral part of a larger political entity.  One of Israel's visionaries, Aryeh Lova Eliav, even gave a name to this promising new entity: ISFALUR (Israel-Syria-Falastin-Arabia-Lebanon-URdan/Jordan).  We have a long way to go in the process of paradigm-change, political negotiations, the construction of interim political frameworks, and reconciliation.  Violence will only delay this necessary process and make it all that more difficult.  In these harrowing hours before Barak's ultimatum expires, as Oslo lies in rubble and new negotiating frameworks have still to emerge, I allow myself to be cautiously optimistic.

(Submitted 9 October 2000)

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Forum / Editorial / Nolte / Khashan / Mustafa / McColl / Newman / Halper / Schechla / Khamaisi / Taylor

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