Palestinian predicaments: Jewish immigration and refugee repatriation

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The relationship between Palestinians and the Israeli state was shaped firstly through the trauma of the Nakba and the subsequent threat of another expulsion. The events of the Nakba engendered revolutionary changes in the demography, geography, and the architecture of Palestinian physical space, and turned the Palestinians in Israel into a national minority. Yet Palestinian discourse in Israel, much like the general Palestinian discourse, did not collectively raise the issue of the Nakba in the public sphere until recently. It was only in 1998 that the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced Refugees organized the first Nakba march. Since then parades to the destroyed villages take place every year on Israeli Independence Day and different groups organize memorials to the Nakba. Up until then, those who had been displaced would more privately visit their villages on this day to mourn and relive the memories of their expulsion from their villages. Sanbar points out that "paradoxical though it may seem, as long as their exile remained absolute the Palestinians said practically nothing about their exodus-only about its consequences. It is as if the trauma they experienced had made them mute" (Sanbar, 2001: 93). This truncated discourse suggests a notion of split colonial consciousness. This chapter presents the voices of Palestinian political leaders on issues regarded as taboo in Israeli discourse; they offer their perception of historical justice in relation to Jewish immigration and the repatriation of Palestinian refugees. It locates and theorizes a principal source of tension in the majority-minority relations in the State of Israel by giving voice to the subordinated Palestinians on the Israeli state's policies of immigration. This is to overcome an oversight in existing studies, which refer to Israeli policies of immigration and Israeli demographic practices, but do not delve deeply into the multiple layers of Palestinian discourse about them. The findings of this research are, however, specific to the Palestinian political leadership. Further research is required to explore whether generalizations can be made to the larger Palestinian society in Israel. Though they all came from parties that criticized the exclusionary Zionist foundation of the state, the interviewees expressed a variety of opinions on the Israeli Law of Return and the Palestinian right of return. Using Bhabha, I argue that under Israeli internal colonialism the discourses of the colonized are rife with contradictory logics, conflicting desires, and bewildering anomalies of the double silence on hegemonic perspectives related to Jewish immigration and refugee repatriation. I found a strong divide at the core of the interviews. Previous seminal work in postcolonial literature focused on a dichotomous colonizer-colonized relationship. Franz Fanon, for example, focused chiefly on the consciousness of the colonized whereas Edward Said's earlier work generally analyzed the colonizers' consciousness (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 116; Fanon, 1990; Said, 1978). Bhabha (1994) on the other hand, offers a model that links the two and examines the "forms of multiple and contradictory beliefs" among both the colonizer and colonized (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 116). He highlights the tensions, disturbances, and fractures within colonized discourses (Bhabha, 1994: 116). Similarly, Spivak's skepticism regarding the ability of the subaltern to speak (Spivak, 1994) suggests that when we speak about the voices of colonial subjects we, to some extent, romanticize their resistance to colonial violence. Palestinians on the one hand resist the Jewish state, and on the other, want to participate in its developed economy. Colonial subjects live simultaneously in several political spaces and develop a multifaceted, sometimes contradictory, consciousness because of their compound living circumstances and political exigencies. In this vein, Raef Zreik (2003a, 2003b) describes two dominant alternating drives prevailing in Palestinian politics since 1948: the "Pole of Justice" and the "Pole of Power." According to the "Pole of Justice," Palestinians sense profound feelings of injustice that resulted from the trauma of 1948 and from discrimination against them produced by the establishment of a Jewish state. The "Pole of Power" results from the sense of powerlessness and inability to affect the existing reality. This strategy is founded on a "pragmatic" evaluation of the limitations on the Palestinian minority's abilities in comparison to the power of the state. Following Memmi (1991), a sense of weakness influences Palestinian perceptions of the existing political reality, as is the case in every colonial system. Thus, Palestinians manifest a colonized consciousness, split in this case between justice politics and everyday existence. I found both poles reflected in the interviews, sometimes invoked by the same person. Different processes may be at work simultaneously, including self-censorship, denial, fear, or the dictation of economic interests. All these processes work together, and none can serve as the sole explanation. Foucault (1995) emphasizes that subjugation in the modern era involves constant subordination, control, and monitoring of subjects of the state. I contend that the oppressive practices that the State of Israel has used against Palestinians over the years-starting with the Nakba and followed by the military government and its transformation to less-visible forms of control-created fear among Palestinians with a prolonged deterrent effect. While not irreversible, this effect lowered the threshold of demands made by the Palestinian minority for many years. Self-censorship operated even when the oppressive Nakba practices were not actually implemented. The very fact that Palestinians thought that such practices could be expected was enough to forgo opposition to issues considered taboo in mainstream Israeli discourse. As a result of the collective trauma experienced, the Palestinians repressed dealing with its collective ramifications and consequences, including Jewish immigration and the Palestinian refugee issue. They tried to survive and resist the state's oppressive daily practices and discrimination and maintain their presence in the homeland, while fearing further transfer. Fear alone cannot explain the entire phenomenon of the absence of a discourse on the repatriation of refugees. Otherwise, the gradually intensifying discourse on the right of return since 2000 cannot be accounted for. In the historical conditions and political circumstances of the late 1980s, the prevailing political movements at the time did not articulate the question of the return of refugees. Although the state employed tremendous power, it failed to achieve its aim of capitulation on the issue of the right of return. Most Palestinians still hold the view that the refugees should return to their homeland regardless of the prevailing power structures between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationDisplaced at Home
Subtitle of host publicationEthnicity and Gender among Palestinians in Israel
EditorsRhoda Ann Kanaaneh , Isis Nusair.
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)1-4416-8697-5
ISBN (Print)9781438432694
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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