Op-Ed: It's a Good Thing She is in the Knesset
Translated from the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper.
"I pledge my allegiance,". Arab MK Hanin Zoabi scornfully spit out the words at the Knesset inauguration ceremony last week, gathered her belongings and demonstratively exited the plenum.
At that moment, I was reminded of another 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-ish Israeli woman, from the "white tribe", the Isareli equivalent of WASPS. She looked like she had just come to the hospital from an ivory tower.
I watched from my corner of the room. 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. The other patients did not even merit a glance from her. All of her kindness was focused on the Arab woman.
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. I do not know if she recognized me or not. But one thing is clear: 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 to fill out forms in your language?"
The educated white woman is intelligent and very moral. She is bursting with guilt feelings. The Arab doesn't have to say a thing. The white woman already knows. She is meek. She understands. She 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, this group of Jews were enchanted by a foolish idea and came here 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. That Diaspora Jew fled here – 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.
Now this woman is stuck here with a family and children and a career and she can't run away. So she tries to rectify the mistake; maybe the Arab woman will forgive her. But the Arab hates her even more and the white woman is sure that it is because of the "occupation" and the settlers. She is convinced that if only we would give the Arab her cup of water and what we "stole" from her in 1967, she would forgive us for what we "stole" in 1948.
It took time for the Zoabis to understand that they held a diamond in their pockets; complete immunity from the law and the last remnants of Israeli pride. When the Prime Minister of Israel shook the hand of the head of the Organization for the Liberation of the Land of Israel from the Jews (the PLO); when we adopted the justice of their cause, we brought the Zoabis into the world. For if this is not our Land, it is their Land. There is no such thing as betrothing a woman to oneself and to one's neighbor.
The new Jew needs the Arab to adopt the Israeli identity that he invented. For if only a Jew can be an Israeli – then we have accomplished nothing at all and 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 intimated 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 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, the Israelis are hostages of their guests. It all depends, of course, upon whom this Land belongs to. Those who feel like guests live on borrowed time; they always have to please their hosts.
The Zoabis are not the only ones who understood this. The Bedouins in the Negev understood it as well. Begin (the son) wants to give them 62% of their demands, to annul existing court decisions and to turn the rule of law into a laughingstock. And the Bedouins, just like the Arab woman in the hospital, refuse to say thank you. They demand 100% and like Zoabi – they will get it.
What did we think? That in exchange for a Knesset seat Zoabi would surrender her identity and solve our identity crisis?
It's a good thing that Hanin Zoabi is in the Knesset. Her colleagues still suffer from a limited 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 Hanin isn't playing around. She doesn't allow us to flee ourselves.
She holds an intelligent, scathing and vital mirror to our faces. A mirror that constantly reminds us that we cannot exist here for long without our Jewish identity.