Anecdote: It's an Arab parable, and as any good Arab parable it's bound to fit all occasions. That's why I quote and use it quite a lot, as my students — old and new — would testify. So please feel free to recycle it. It's about a dying sheik who orders his property be divided, after his death, between his three sons, as follows: the first gets half, the second — two thirds of the rest, the third — what's left. Problem was, the sheik owned seventeen camels. So you can imagine the family feuds that ensued upon his departure, because nobody could figure out a safe way of dividing seventeen camels into two equal halves.

    One day a famous qadi, a judge, was passing through that region, and the three brothers decided to ask for his advice. "Well," he said, "you can take my camel and add him to the seventeen that you already have, and then see what happens." So they did, and now that they had eighteen camels, it was very simple: the first brother gets nine camels, the second — six camels, the third — three. Rejoicing over the happy ending, the three brothers threw a wild hafleh, a party, for their fellow tribesmen, on the South Lawn of their tent, in the middle of which the qadi, quietly, took his camel and left.

    I was reminded of this tale in September of 1993, when the "Declaration of Principles" between the Israeli government and the PLO was signed in Washington, with that by-now-almost-mythological hand-shake on the South Lawn of the White House. Decoding: the three brothers could stand for the Israelis, the Arab states and the Palestinians, respectively; the eighteenth, vanishing camel is all that the Palestinian Israelis are likely to get on the morning after.

    And now for something totally different

    There are different discourses that one could utilize when talking about

    the Palestinians of Israel, an ethnic minority in an ethnic state. One could tackle the issue from a nationalistic point of view, namely fall within the range of what we have been calling for decades, inside and outside academia — "the Arab-Israeli conflict," and not "the Zionist-Palestinian conflict." Under this discourse, "the Arab-Israeli conflict," which was encouraged since 1948 not only by Israel but, worse still, by the Arab states themselves, there's no separate Palestinian-Israeli question; and since the Palestinian citizens of the Jewish state of Israel are part of the Palestinian people as they claim, their problem, subsequently, is part of the larger map, and will be solved when the conflict as a whole is solved (within the next, well... two-three hundred years or so).

    Personally, I find this discourse totally outdated, and not only because the problem of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is put on the back national burner 'til eternity or 'til the middle of the next century, whichever comes first. This particular discourse usually plays nicely and smoothly into the hands of those inside the Zionist paradigm who believe that all Palestinians are actually a part of the Arab nation, therefore an Arab solution is required for their problem, not a Palestinian one. In practical political terms this means that, given the political map of the Middle East, there's no space left, no room, not even a tent, for the establishing of a Palestinian state.

    Another way of talking about the question of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is to accept the status quo as a point of departure; namely, to assume that within the present set-up of the state of Israel, Palestinian citizens can fight for, and eventually even get, equal rights (without, mind you, getting into the question of what sort of rights exactly are we talking about). This view is shared by all parties on the left, liberal Zionist side of the Israeli political map. And with some caution one could say that even Palestinians like Abdel Wahab Darawsheh, and all those who graduated from the Labor Party, or from Mapam, can live with this view very comfortably and silently accept it (even though Yitshaq Rabin has said repeatedly, as you may recall, after the elections of June 1992, that he would never ever form a coalition with an Arab party, meaning Darawsheh's Democratic Arab Party. Imagine what would have happened if the French president declared that he wouldn't include Jews in his government).

    Yet another way would be the other side of the above; namely, that within the present set-up, Palestinian citizens could fight for, and get, an autonomy of sorts, whose boundaries and content are open to further discussions and illuminations down the line. This rather probematic view has been propagated during the last seven years or so, in different shades and colors, by Palestinian intellectuals like Dr. Azmi Bisharah and Dr. Said Zeidani — two Israeli citizens who have been teaching philosophy at Birzeit University since the early 80s. It's problematic, among other reasons, because I think it might have worked in the 50s, but now that the land is gone, I think it's too late for autonomies.

    In my own journalistic writings since the early 80s, especially in the Hebrew press, I have been examining what I think of — and I might be dead wrong — as the best of possible discourses on the matter.[1] I have been examining, from within and from without, the limits and the elasticity of that very controversial term, "Israeli nationality." I think that given the internal political map of the Jewish state of Israel, and the external political map of the Middle East in general, there's only one way out for the Palestinians of Israel, a way out from the ethno-political ghetto they have been squeezed into since 1948: to challenge from within the very definition of the state of Israel as a Jewish state which is an ethnic democracy that presents itself to the outside world, in an ingenious PR hoax, as a nation state and "the only democracy in the Middle East."[2] In other, more blunt words, this would mean to un-Jew the state of Israel, to de- Judaicize it, and make it the state of its citizens, instead of "the state of the Jewish people," as it defines itself.

    This discourse could be best described as a legal discourse which attempts to challenge the legal foundations of the state, its terms of reference, and the way the state defines itself by law. This means that once the Israeli-Palestinian question is settled, via the two-state solution (which I ardently support), and once there is a Palestinian state beside Israel, on the morning after — the hard core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not have been solved yet. And that hard core, that Gordian knot, is: What's to be done with the 800,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose problem was kept on hold for five decades? Hence the ticking quality of the "you ain't seen nothin' yet" in my subtitle; hence the subversive quality, I hope, of the following remarks.

    Two last introductory remarks, though, before we go subversive.

    First, you have to bear in mind that the subject of the Palestinian Israelis has never been defined, despite all the books and articles written about them[3] (some of which are excellent), simply because they have never been the subject. The Palestinian Israelis have always been defined by the hegemonic discourse, by those who have the power to keep them confined within the limits of being an ethnic minority within a neatly camouflaged ethnic state; the limits of being the passive, static element within the state, over whose heads the impenetrable glass ceiling has been notched up or down, according to the whims of the ruling establishment, which has been promising them, from time to time, some limbs of that eighteenth, vanishing camel, just to keep them quiet. (Someone should block this camel-metaphor, though, before it's too late.)

    Second, you have to bear in mind that in May of 1948 David Ben Gurion opted for a "Jewish State," instead of the Herzlean "State for the Jews." A Jewish state meant then, as it means now, a state which is ethnically cleansed of non-Jews. The fact that 156,000 Palestinians remained, for some outlandish reason, within the "borders" of the "Jewish state" in 1948 (forming some 18 percent of the total population, even then), was totally ignored by Zionism, and their presence was best defined by the official Israeli term "present absentees."[4]That a "Jewish state" cannot be defined as such as long as there is even one non-Jewish citizen left inside its borders (let alone 18 percent of its population), is a fact that does not seem to bother Zionism at all.

    As you probably know, I'm a Palestinian citizen of the state of Israel, and not a national of that state, i.e., I'm not an Israeli, simply because there are no Israelis in Israel, the way there are French people in France, Italians in Italy, Canadians in Canada, or Americans in the U.S.A. So even if I were a Jewish citizen of Israel I'd still be called a Jew insofar as my nationality is concerned. Nationality in Israel, or le'om in Hebrew, insofar as the state is concerned, strictly means "ethnic affiliation." So if you happen to be a citizen of Israel, the rubric of "le'om" in your identity card, issued by the Ministry of the Interior, would say Jew, Arab or Druze (Israel is the only country in the world where being a Druze does not necessarily mean being an Arab). The compound "Israeli Nationality" is not mentioned in any official document of the state of Israel. The Israeli passport and Israeli ID, which I carry, use the compound "Israeli Citizenship." And just to remind you: your American passport has a line that says: "Nationality: U.S.A.."

    Incidentally, those of you who come from, or are familiar with, the Arab world, probably know that this whole notion of nationality, in the Western sense, is not clearly cut at all within the political maps of the Middle East. As a matter of fact, like Hebrew, the Arabic political language does not have an exact equivalent word for "nationality." Words like jinsiyyah, qawmiyyah, kiyaniyyah, wataniyyah and muwatanah have different meanings in the respective Arab states. Being a Misri (Egyptian) is not equivalent to being, say, an Urduni (Jordanian), or Iraqi. And since the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, and the formation of what could be very, very loosely called nation states in the Middle East, until the present, all these categories have never been accurately defined. In this sense, Israel and the Arab states share one of the most tragic results of the fusion of religion and the nation state or, rather, very particular interpretations of both religion and the nation state.

    So, ultimately, we are dealing with the question of identity: the identity which is given to us by those who have the power to do so, and the identity which we inherit, construct, invent, or imagine. The question of identity, which also interests me immensely as a would be fiction-writer, is usually dealt with in these post-colonial days as a by-product of the nation-state, that vicious, European invention. That's why you hardly hear about "problems of identity" if you happen to be a national of the First World, unless of course you belong to an oppressed minority within that world, say, an African American whose very notion of identity is derived from the terms of reference set forth by the state of the majority. That's why one would hear, from time to time, impatient voices, coming from the center of the majority discourse, telling one to let go of that identity thing, since there are so many other, more important and pressing issues that we should all be involved in.

    This, also, is part of the identity question, and we, the wretched minorities of the earth, as we endearingly call ourselves, should learn how to live with it.

    Last November, I traveled with my family to Israel/Palestine, to visit with our families and friends in Haifa. That's when my identity as a Palestinian citizen of Israel became a paper-work problem, and a nasty one at that. I say "Israel/Palestine" for a couple of reasons. First, I think that these two dragons should always be kept in the same cave, until they puff their fiery way out of the conflict. Second, I think the word "Palestine" should be always kept in mind as a nagging memory that won't let go until there is a state called Palestine. Three, because my Palestinian friends, in general, still raise a brow or two when I tell them that I'm planning a trip to Israel, and not to `li-Blad as we endearingly refer to our homeland. Four, because Haifa was in Palestine, and now it is in Israel and there's nothing to be done about it but accept the geographic fact.

    The paper work problem which I've just mentioned has to do with the fact that shortly before the plane starts descending toward Ben- Gurion Airport, or "matar al-Lyd" as Palestinians say, passengers are requested to fill either one of two forms. Those traveling with Israeli passports, are supposed to fill the "Registration of Returning Resident," and those traveling on non-Israeli passports — "Registration of Entry." Paper work can be very informative sometimes, especially paper work that has to be taken care of some thirty thousand feet high up in the friendly skies, where identities become dubiously pressurized cockpits, invented by the creative minds of bureaucrats of different persuasions, who have put their souls into inventing the perfect form.

    The "Registration of Returning Resident" form looks quite blue-eyed, and doesn't refer to the resident's ethnic affiliation, or affiliations. But then you bump over the line that asks you to fill in your army serial-number. This is the trick question which would tell the clerk at the passport counter that I am a non-Jew, and would always remind me that at that particular moment, when the clerk lifts her eyes to pose the question, that anything could happen, including a rough interrogation; but luckily enough, so far I've been saved. Some of my friends are not that lucky, and they are usually accompanied to a special room where they go through some — to say the least — unpleasant interrogation and frisking, which could take hours.

    The form that our two kids have to fill with our parental help has, among other rubrics, one that asks about the country of birth, and another — about the country of citizenship. The word "nationality" is not even mentioned. Our two kids were born in this country, so they are American nationals, and unlike their parents who have no protection which they know of, they are fully protected by the American constitution, for better or for worse. Now, being the children of Israeli citizens, on the other hand, they are automatically entitled to Israeli passports. But we have chosen, on their behalf, not to do so, simply to evade the luxury of filling some more ambiguous forms which would add more ambiguity to their already over- ambiguous identities: their father is a Palestinian Israeli and their mother is a Jewish Israeli, so who needs one more form?

    That's what I had been expecting before we left, based on our annual visits, as late as the summer of '93. On the plane, when the flight attendant gave us two forms only for the kids, and didn't know what I was talking about when I asked her for the re-entry forms, a friend of ours, an Israeli journalist who happened to sit behind us, told us that the form had been canceled almost a year before. "Do you know why?" I asked, almost disappointed. "Who needs paper forms," he said, "when you have computers?"

    This meant that the form had not actually been canceled but, rather, that the policy behind it was just getting more efficient. In other words, the tangible evidence had just been transposed into a more secretive realm, which is harder to challenge and impossible to fight.

    I happen to believe that what's referred to in the mainstream Israeli discourse as "the problem of the Israeli Arabs," including all its overt and covert manifestations, is deeply rooted in the total confusion that has existed in Israel since the day it was established regarding these two terms, "citizenship" and "nationality."[5] Subsequently, most of the discussions about the status of the "Israeli Arabs" are, in effect, discussions that have to do, on a good day, with the relative height of the glass ceiling, without questioning the validity of this ceiling itself, or raising the fundamental question: why should it be there in the first place?

    The truth is that this seems to be an act of mutual deception, accepted, for different reasons and to a different degree, by both parties on either side of the glass ceiling: the downstairs people are not at all enthusiastic about, and probably tired of, questioning the very existence of the ceiling, as long as the political dimension of their ethnic affiliation has not been clearly defined; and the upstairs people are delighted to find out about that, and more delighted to perpetuate the status quo indefinitely.

    If you were to take a trip to France (which is always an excellent idea), you'd find out that non-French passengers are requested, shortly before landing to fill the French Disembarkation Card. Luckily, its a bilingual French/English form, so the possibilities of committing an error, one should imagine, are, or should be, very slim. Until you hit the fourth line, that is, where you are asked to fill in your "Nationalité/Nationality."

    My nationality according to the Israeli Ministry of the Interior is "Arab"; and my Israeli passport, the very document that allows me entry to France, doesn't specify my nationality at all. Instead, it states on its front page that I'm an Israeli citizen. But the French are not asking about that, they are making it very clear that they, for their own arcane reasons, are interested in knowing what's my "Nationalité." If I wrote "Arab" under "Nationalité" in the French form, I would be telling the truth according to the state that had issued my identity card and my passport, but then it may complicate things a great deal with the French authorities. On the other hand, writing "Israeli" under "Nationalité" is worse still, because in that case I would be telling a lie: my passport doesn't say that at all, and neither does my ID.

    I, of course, am obliged, eventually, to lie to the French authorities and pretend that I, a Palestinian citizen of the Jewish state of Israel, am actually a national of that state, which I'm not, and no one is, for that matter.

    Speaking of France, let me quote a famous line from a famous ruling of the Supreme Court of Israel, which in 1988 dismissed the appeal of "Kach," Meir Kahane's party, after the Central Election Committee had decided to disqualify the list on two grounds: that it denied the democratic nature of the state and incited to racism. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the committee's decision, and categorically rejected the argument raised by Meir Kahane (with whom — much to my chagrin — I find myself in total agreement over this specific matter) that there's an inherent contradiction between the definition of the state as the state of the Jewish people and its definition as democratic, and that a list which wishes to promote the Jewishness of the state may therefore not be disqualified as being anti- democratic. The president of the Supreme court, Justice Shamgar, ruled that: [t]he existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people does not deny its democratic nature, just as the Frenchness of France does not deny its democratic nature.[6]

    What bothers me about the above quoted sentence is not the fact that the analogy that it makes is totally imbalanced, to say the least, but the fact that it's been postulated by the highest legal authority in Israel. It's hard to believe that a sharp mind like Shamgar's fails to realize that the analogy should be made between the Frenchness of France and the Israeliness of Israel, not the Jewishness of Israel.

    The legal background for the appeal and the ruling is a worse legal disaster, at least from the viewpoint of the Palestinians of Israel. I'm referring to the famous amendment to section 7A of the Basic Law the Knesset passed in the summer of 1985, "so as to provide for disqualification of certain lists from participation in the Knesset elections."[7] This section now stated: A list of candidates shall not participate in the elections for the Knesset if its aims or actions, expressly or by implication, point to one of the following:

    • 1. denial of the existence of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
    • 2. denial of the democratic nature of the state;
    • 3. incitement to racism.

    Ironically enough, Meir Kahane himself, against whose list this amendment was passed in the first place, voted in favor and, later, challenged the interpretation of this section in an appeal to the Supreme Court which I've just mentioned.

    The amendment, which was in a way the coup de grace against the Arab citizens of Israel, met with some fierce, but totally ineffective, parliamentary opposition. M.K. Tawfiq Toubi, of the Israeli communist party, said the following: To say today in the law that the state of Israel is the state of the Jewish people, means saying to 16 percent [now, some 18 percent] of the citizens of the state of Israel that they have no state and that they are stateless; that the state of Israel is the state of only its Jewish inhabitants, and that the Arab citizens who live in it reside and live in it on sufferance and without rights equal to those of its Jewish citizens... Don't the people who drew up this version realize that by this definition they tarnish the state of Israel as an apartheid state, as a racist state?[8]

    M.K. Toubi proposed that instead of the above version the law refer merely to "denial of the existence of the state of Israel." The late MK Matti Peled, of the PLP at the time, suggested that the law refer to Israel as "the state of the Jewish people and its Arab citizens." Both proposals were rejected. The amendment was bitterly refuted two years later by Judge Benjamin Cohen, previously the president of Tel-Aviv District Court, who argued that the parliament "had confused the issues, since what can be deduced [from the law] is that a state of the Jewish people coincides with a democratic state which is the state of its citizens." Judge Cohen concluded: "a state cannot belong to a people but, rather, to its citizens."

    What this amendment did, in effect, was to turn the paradox that had existed in the Israeli Declaration of Independence into a law. The Declaration, it should be noted, promised complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex, after declaring the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. In reality, though, there has never been an Arab minister, nor even a chair of a ministerial department; all Arab affairs, up and down the civil service, are put in the hands of Jewish functionaries, most of whom have no knowledge of the Arabic language. However, one could have lived with that paradox of the Declaration, but the law turned that luxury into a subversive act, especially after the final, irrevocable interpretation it received from the Supreme Court. In Israel these days to contend that the state should belong to its citizens, as I believe, is actually against the law.

    This amendment is of course a draw on the famous Law of Return which is still considered by the vast majority of Jewish Israelis to be the backbone of the Jewish state, and which grants any American Jew the automatic right to become an Israeli citizen, overnight, if s/he wishes to "make aliyah" to Israel, and — to cap it all — the almost immediate right to run for the Knesset. This means, among other things, that the State of Israel cannot choose its citizens according to a certain immigration law, as is the case in democratic countries of the West but, rather, the citizen (meaning: strictly the Jewish citizen) is the one who makes the choice.[9]

    The reason I am making such a fuss about this issue is because I think that's where the dividing line between the image of the state of Israel as "the only democracy in the Middle East" and the fact that this slogan is just a PR hoax, is most tangible. The citizens of Israel, Jews and Palestinians alike, have been living inside this lie since the establishment of the state in 1948: that a state that defines itself, by law, as a Jewish state, in other words, an ethnic state, can also "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex," as the Declaration of Independence deceitfully states.

    To my mind, in the morning after the establishment of a Palestinian state, this is the paradox out of which the state of Israel will have to work its way, and, at the same time, this is where the Palestinians of Israel will have to face the music and sort out their options: will Israel remain the state of the Jewish people, as it is now, according to its Basic Laws, or will it rather become the state of its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, like any other democratic, secular, Western state?

    The answer to this question, fateful as it is for the very nature and future of the state of Israel, will determine whether or not the Palestinians of Israel eventually get their appropriate political representation and equality within the state or, rather, become the victim of an apartheid system which would, in the long run, try to push them out of the state's boundaries. Both parties will have to make painful decisions, but anything short of that will be a yet another way of postponing the defusing of the ticking time bomb, and we are, to the best of my judgment, dealing with yet another Mideastern time bomb.

    Now it's time for an aside:

    I've been living in this country for the last eight years or so, perhaps the most fateful years in the recent history of the Middle East. And since the day I arrived, I keep wondering why is it that everywhere you turn the Israeli discourse is always the privileged one, the one that has the upper hand; why is it that whenever there is an attempt to illuminate the Mideastern conflicts, the Israeli point of view is always heard first, asserting itself as a point of discursive departure, and as the only point of reference, so the Palestinian point of view is forever given as a response, losing a great deal of validity, urgency and relevance right on the outset? (Being your guest, I have no personal complaints in that department, but I think you have got my drift.)

    What I'm trying to raise is an issue that reflects, ever so precisely, the prevalent Western attitudes toward the Middle East. Nations who have a state, can have a claim to a language, a voice, a discourse. They can effectively impose their point of view and make it the most audible one around; and the most audible point of view, we the media- products know, is the right point of view. On the other hand, stateless nations cannot have a claim to a language, but have to make do with a dialect, that has no voice, has no discourse. And what turns a dialect, Palestinian or otherwise, into a language — to quote a famous aphorism — is an army, an air-force, and a navy. Short of that, a dialect, in this waning age of nation-states, is doomed to remain a noise, a pseudo- nationalistic gibberish. The Palestinians of Israel will never have an army, let alone an air-force or a navy. For better or for worse, the solution for their problems has to be found within the very frame that has been responsible for the creation of their problems in the first place.

    I have been using the term "the Palestinians of Israel" quite matter-of-factly throughout these remarks. The truth is that to this very day there are still Jewish Israelis who believe that the mere introduction of the word Palestine in order to refer to an "internal Israeli problem," so to speak, is highly subversive. The truth is that there are still "Israeli Arabs," to use the official terminology, who are very reluctant and afraid to define themselves as Palestinians. This goes back, of course, to the days when the Palestinians, as a people, did not even exist, as the late Golda Meir informed us at the time.

    It was not before the beginning of the 70s that "the Arabs of Israel" began, almost illicitly, to refer to themselves, in one way or another, as Israeli citizens who belong to the Palestinian people. To the best of my knowledge, the first Israeli official, and a high ranking one at that, to define them as Palestinians was Mosheh Arens, the then-chairman of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, and later of course the Defense Minister of the Likkud Administration. This was in a talk he gave at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, in January of 1981.[10]

    Naming, as you know, is a powerful thing, a privilege given to those who have the power. And what Arens seemed to have inadvertently done, was to admit, on the highest official level, that the "Arabs of Israel" are, in effect, a part of the "Palestinian Problem," or the "Palestinian Question," and that every future settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should take this fact into full consideration. But judging from the Oslo agreement it seems that everybody was wrong: the "Arabs of Israel" are not a part of any solution; on the contrary, the absence of any reference to them in all the political negotiations that have been going on in recent years, between Israel and the PLO, shows that they are, still, a part of the problem, and not the solution.

    The Palestinians of Israel are a part of the problem because their problem will not be solved by the establishment of a Palestinian state. If anything, the establishment of that state, I believe, will create the false belief that their national grievances have been dealt with and that their complaints about inequality on all levels have been addressed. Unless, of course, they opt for the intifada way.

    I have believed for a long time that the only guarantee for the well-being of Israel's Palestinian minority does not lie in the way they are treated by the state but, rather, in the enlightenment, or the absence thereof, of the Jewish Israeli society. And enlightenment, I'm afraid, has been on the wane. A decade ago or so, a group of scholars in the School of Law at Tel-Aviv University, came up with a proposal for a constitution for the state of Israel. The draft of that proposal, which is still live and kicking and in circulation, could serve as an indicator of the social and political enlightenment which I have in mind. As you know, Israel does not have a constitution, for various reasons that are not of interest to us right now. But bear in mind that the Israeli Declaration of Independence promised a constitution no later than October first, 1948. Many Octobers, since that one, have elapsed.

    The first sentence in the Tel-Aviv proposal states that "[t]he State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people" (the Hebrew original, unlike the authorized English translation of the proposal, adds: "for eternity," to be on the safe side). Then the drafters go on, ten lines down, to declare that "The State of Israel is a democratic state." Which is exactly what the Declaration of Independence had done in 1948; which means that we are back to square one: no state can be a democratic state if it is not the state of its citizens. Incidentally, that is exactly the same grave mistake that the Palestinians made in their own Declaration of Independence, in 1988: "The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they are," the Palestinian Declaration stated; and this was not the only lethal plagiarism in that text. As time goes by, it's very evident that the Palestinians are going to emulate all the mistakes of Zionism: ethnic state, Law of Return, and all the rest of it.

    Let me wrap up, as I began, with another anecdote, a modern one, though, which I'm very fond of telling, so it might sound familiar to some of you:

    In the watchfire-lighting ceremony that opened the celebrations of Independence Day in Israel in 1990 (on the eve of April 30), somebody came up with an ingenious idea for a sign to fit the occasion. 1990, in Israel, marked the first centennial of the revival of the Hebrew language. To celebrate the revival of the tongue and the establishment of the state, and with no apparent intentions of tongue-in- cheek, the tomb of Herzl, the site where the central Independence Ceremony is held annually, was flanked by a two-part sign, each part carrying two Hebrew words from a famous biblical verse: "And the whole earth was of one language." However, insofar as the Hebrew word for "earth" (haaretz), being more humble, implies land, what the sign meant was that Israel speaks Hebrew; insinuating, but not saying it overtly, that Arabic is deterritorialized and its connections to the "haaretz," the land, are severed.

    I saw the picture later in the daily haaretz (pun not intended), and as an amateur but devout reader of Biblical narratives, I immediately recognized the verse, as most of you would: Genesis 11:1, the Tower of Babel story. And indeed, the caption read: "In the Bible it did not end well." It ended, of course, with the confusion of the tongues and the scattering of the people "upon the face of all the earth."


    A citizen of Israel, Anton Shammas is a Palestinian author who writes in Hebrew and English. He has been affiliated with the University of Michigan since 1987, and is currently the International Institute's Visiting Literary Translator. This article is based on a talk he gave in April, 1995.

      1. Some of the ideas expressed below were presented in the following, earlier pieces: "At Half Mast," in New Perspectives on Israeli History, ed. by Laurence Silberstein (New York University Press, 1991), pp. 216-24; "Arafat's Types of Ambiguity," Harper's, March 1989; "The Morning After," The New York Review of Books, September 29, 1988; "A Stone's Throw," The New York Review of Books, March 31, 1988; "Kitsch 22," Tikkun, September-October 1987; "Diary," in Every Sixth Israeli, ed. by Alouph Hareven (Jerusalem: The Van Leer Foundation, 1983), pp. 29-44. That Israel is a "Jewish nation" and a "Jewish state," by law, does not seem to be "conjured up" in this context, or in any other; and if it were, it would be immediately met with allegations of anti-Semitism. return to text

      2. This is true especially in the U.S.. On April 4, 1995, The New York Times ran the following report on its front page: return to text

      3. A select bibliography would include the following books: Sabri Jiryis, ha-Aravim be-Yisrael (Haifa, 1966; in Hebrew), and The Arabs in Israel, tr. from the Arabic [revised version of the Hebrew original] by lnea Bushnaq (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976); Elia T. Zureik, The Palestinians in Israel (London: Routledge Keegan Paul, 1979); David Kretzmer, The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990); Uzi Benziman and Atallah Mansour, Dayyarei Mishneh (Subtenants, Hebrew, Jerusalem, 1992); David Grossman, Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel, tr. by Haim Watzman (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993). And see also the following articles: Aziz Heidar and Ella Zureik, "The Palestinians Seen Through the Israeli Cultural Paradigm," Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. XVI, no. 3 (63), Spring 1987; Nadim Rouhana, "The Political Transformation of the Palestinians in Israel: From Acquiescence to Challenge," Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. XVIIl, no. 3 (71), Spring 1989, pp. 38-59; and "The Intifada and the Palestinians of Israel: Resurrecting the Green Line," Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. XlX, no. 3 (75), Spring 1990, pp. 58-75. On the boundaries of the Israeli national identity, see Boas Evron, Jewish State or lsraeli Nation? (Indiana University Press, 1995). return to text

      4. This is the Hebrew title of David Grossman's book, Sleeping on a Wire (Nokheheem Nitkadeem, Tel-Aviv, 1992). On "present absentees" see also Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 163, 174, 256. return to text

      5. One of the most strikingly surprising examples that I've come across, in the literature, is David Kretzmer's otherwise excellent book, The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel (see supra, note 3). Professor Kretzmer fails to make the distinction between "nationality" and "citizenship." On page 196, the Index of his book reads: "Nationality. See Citizenship." The "Citizenship Law" of 1952 (Hok ha-Ezrahut), is translated as "Nationality Law" throughout the book (see especially p. 18). The Third chapter of the book has a section entitled "Nationality Law: The Law of Return and Citizenship" (p. 36); the second paragraph of this section states: "The connection between the Law of Return and the acquiring of Israeli nationality or citizenship has been briefly discussed above. Section 2 of the Nationality Law provides that all olim under the Law of return are entitled to Israeli citizenship by way of return." Professor Kretzmer teaches Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Indeed, very few Jewish- Israelis seem to be aware of the distinction. In a lengthy debate which I had with the Israeli writer and essayist Avraham B. Yehoshua in the mid- 80s, and then in January of 1992, as outlined in David Grossman's Sleeping on a Wire (Chapter 15, pp. 249-277; see supra, note 3), I was amazed to find out how impossible it was to explain to Mr. Yehoshua the difference between the two terms. It took him a couple of phone calls to European embassies in Tel-Aviv (p. 276) to learn about the difference. Mr. Yehoshua teaches Comparative Literature at Haifa University. return to text

      6. Quoted in Kretzmer, pp. 29- 30. return to text

      7. Ibid., p. 28. return to text

      8. Quoted in ibid., loc. cit. return to text

      9. Koteret Rashit, January 1987 (Hebrew). return to text

      10. See Alouph Hareven, ed., Is There a Solution to the Palestinian Problem? (Jerusalem: The Van Leer Foundation, 1982; in Hebrew), pp. 199-205. Incidentally, I've had a chance at one point in my brief career as a journalist to conduct a lengthy interview with Arens, who was at the time, in the mid-1980s, the Minister of Arab Affairs in the Likkud administration, and I found him to be a genuine believer in democracy, something which I find hard to say about any member of the Labor party. return to text