Two days before polling, two Knesset candidates for the extreme right-wing Jewish Party Herut, which advocates the expulsion of Palestinians, tried to enter the northern Arab town of Umm Al-Fahm in what they termed an attempt to “examine up close illegal construction” — an inflammatory comment in the wake of the Sharon government’s populist decision to demolish several houses in Arab areas over the past few weeks. One of the candidates was Baruch Marzel, a former leader of the outlawed racist Kach movement. Before setting out on their visit, Marzel and Herut’s leader, Michael Kleiner, announced to the media that they would go armed. Large groups of local residents gathered in Umm Al-Fahm to block their entry to the town. But they needn’t have bothered.
It is a reflex question for Palestinians, always posed early in the Arab greeting ritual, to ask a stranger, even another Palestinian, “Where are you from?” before enquiring: “Where do you live?” Few Palestinians live where they feel they belong. Ziyad Awasie is no exception. He, like some 5 million other Palestinians, is a refugee, though not in the camps of Lebanon or Syria, or under military occupation in the West Bank or Gaza, or for that matter in the more pampered exile of Europe and the US. The 28-year-old physiotherapist is one of the million Palestinians who live today as citizens of Israel. To outsiders it is an assumption easily made that these Palestinians remained on their land – even if up to 800,000 others fled to neighbouring Arab states during the war that founded Israel in 1948. The assumption, however, is wrong.
Earlier this year the Israeli novelist A B Yehoshua wrote at length about Zionism, the Jewish nation- building ideology formulated by Theodor Herzl, explaining that at its core lay the concept of a border. Jewish identity in the diaspora, he observed, inherently lacked borders: “It wanders around the world, a traveller between hotels. A Jew can change countries and languages without losing his Jewishness.” The Jewish state, on the other hand, required territorial limits, it needed to define the extent of the sanctuary it provides to Jews. “Borders are like doors in a house which claim everything inside as the responsibility of the master. That is what Zionism means: realising Jewish sovereignty within defined borders.”