“I pledge my allegiance,” Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) scornfully spit out at the Knesset inauguration ceremony. She gathered her belongings and demonstratively exited the plenum.
At that moment, I was reminded of a different Arab woman. That woman sat next to me, not in the Knesset but in the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikva. I sat in the hospital room, next to my unconscious son. She entered at night, in traditional dress; perhaps she was from Gaza. She was accompanied by a fifty-something Israeli woman. She looked like she had just come to the hospital from an ivory tower.
The Israeli woman ran to and fro for the Arab, serving her as best she could. She filled out forms, made sure she was comfortable, brought her a chair, a cup of water. This went on and on, into the night. Not once did I hear the Arab say “thank you” or anything similar. On the contrary, she projected hostility. The more the Israeli served her, the more the Arab hated her.
In the morning, I concluded that she was right.
“What do you think?” the Arab woman accuses the Israeli in her heart. “That you can steal my land and afterwards bring me a cup of water and everything will be fine? You are on my land, Mrs. Wealthy. This is my land, this is my place, this is my hospital. You occupied me and now you expect me to thank you for helping me fill out forms in your language?”
The educated Israeli woman is intelligent and very moral. She is bursting with guilt feelings. The Arab doesn’t have to say a thing. The Israeli woman already knows that she is nothing more than a guest here, that the salt of the earth, the bedrock foundation of this land, is the Arab. She tries to appease her, to merit just a drop of legitimacy from the owner of the stolen house.
Somebody made a mistake one or two generations ago. Instead of assimilating into Europe, they were enchanted by a foolish idea and came to Israel for a complicated adventure of identity exchange. They came to find a place for the Jews under the sun in the land of their forefathers – under a new identity. The exile Jew fled to Israel – justifiably – from the religion of the exile. He tried to establish a new nation instead of the Jewish nation. He attempted to establish the Zionist nation, Israeli instead of Jewish.
The new Jew needs the Arab to adopt the Israeli identity that he invented. For if only a Jew can be an Israeli, we have accomplished nothing at all and will still remain alone with our Jewish identity. We have not found a place among the nations, but a place separated from the nations – precisely the exile condition from which we attempted to flee. Zoabi understood that the Israeli needs the Arab to help him forget that he is a Jew. “True, I broke the law,” Zoabi once insinuated at the High Court. “Let’s see you stop me from running for the Knesset. My entire party will drop out of the race and we won’t be there to hide your Jewish identity for you.”
I thought of Jonathan Pollard, whose life is slipping away from him in an American prison. I thought of him and his Jewish judges. I thought of the American Jews who bent over backwards to prove their loyalty to America. There, the Jews are hostages of their hosts. Here, in Israel, the Israelis are hostages of their guests. Of course it all depends upon to whom this land belongs. Those who feel like guests live on borrowed time; they always have to please the hosts.
It’s a good thing that Haneen Zoabi is in the Knesset. Her colleagues still suffer from a type of correctness toward the occupiers. They wait for the national anthem to be sung before leaving the plenum. As if all we have to do is let them skip the anthem and bring them a cup of water and the problem will be solved. But Zoabi isn’t playing around. She doesn’t allow us to flee from ourselves. She holds an intelligent, scathing and vital mirror to our faces. It is a mirror that constantly reminds us that we cannot exist in Israel for long without our Jewish identity.