Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Yitzhak Laor: And what will they call Barbunya?

19 July 2009

Yitzhak Laor, Haaretz – 19 July 2009

Yitzhak Laor

Yitzhak Laor

The proposal by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to redo all signs so that even names written in Arabic will be transliterations of Hebrew (for example, the city known as Jaffa in English will now be written as Yafo on signs in Arabic, not Yaffa), was received like all other injuries to Arabs: easily – like Arab high-schoolers’ matriculation results or Arab infants’ high mortality rates. Israelis, with the rudeness of landlords toward their foreign-worker tenants, believe that what is “forbidden” in the territories is permitted within the Green Line. Sometimes they even conduct a kind of negotiation with themselves: There “they” can have a (demilitarized) state, but here, in the (non-demilitarized) state, “they” have no rights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Bar-Ilan speech” gave us the code words: “This is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged.” Putting aside the nonsense of “our identity was forged,” we must nevertheless ask: Where? In Nablus? During the “2,000 years of exile”?

But the main thing is the following statement. The speed with which the speech has become part of the “national consensus” demonstrates the extent to which Israelis are willing to unite around violence: “In the heart of our Jewish homeland a large community of Palestinians lives today.” A community? Five million Palestinians (in Israel and the territories) is a “community”? “Today”? 1,300 years is “today”? That is the context of the completely understandable Palestinian objection to Netanyahu’s “condition” that they recognize Israel as the Jewish state, and that is the context of Katz’s media gimmick.

This is a never-ending process. Anyone who was watching Channel 33, which is more or less intended for the Arab minority (which is not eligible for a TV channel of its own), saw the full opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games, the Jewish Olympics, which does not include Arabs. Anyone reviewing the history or literature curricula of Arab-Israeli schools will see that the state does not consider its Arab residents a cultural entity.

In November 1952 Alexander Dotan, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official, wrote to the foreign minister and proposed a way to assimilate the Arabs in Israel in the event that they are granted “cultural autonomy” by outside powers. Among other things, he wrote: “An important tool for us is accelerated reconstruction of ancient geographical names and Hebraicization [shi’abur] of Arabic toponyms. In this respect the most important task is to disseminate the practical use of the new names, a process that has run into difficulties among Jews too. In Jaffa the name ‘Jibaliyya’ is still current, although ‘Giv’at Aliya’ is gradually disinheriting it. By contrast, a Hebrew name has not been found yet for ‘Ajami,’ and some new immigrants still incorrectly call the Arab neighborhood within it the ‘Ghetto’ or ‘Arab Ghetto.’ It is possible, by being strictly formal and with adequate indoctrination, to make the Arab inhabitants of ‘Rami’ [in the Galilee] get used to calling their village, in speech and writing, ‘Ha-Rama’ [Ramat Naftali], or to make the inhabitants of ‘Majd al-Krum’ [also in the Galilee] become used to calling their village ‘Beit ha-Kerem.’ From the inhabitants of what the Arabs called ‘Shafa’amer’ [near Haifa], I have already heard the [Hebraicized] name ‘Shefar’am.'”

Only part of the above recommendations succeeded. Shafa’amer, although it has no Jewish residents, is Shfaram (for now, only formally and on Hebrew signs). But everyone reaches Lake Kinneret via Wadi Ara and not the Iron River. The Agriculture Ministry, for its part, attempted to Hebraicize fish names, but we still eat (in addition to gefilte fish) farida, lokus and barbunya.

Nevertheless, unless we understand that denial is close to cultural extinction, at the very least, we will not have any chance of living here like human beings, but rather only like Shai Dromi, frightened or not frightened. And we have not yet addressed international intervention regarding basic human rights.

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