Sayed Kashua has a column in Haaretz’s weekend magazine, where he ostensibly writes about domestic dramas, as his counterparts in the western weekend supplements do. But Kashua invariably also says profound things about the state of life for “Israel’s Arabs”, or rather its fifth-class Palestinian citizens.
Here he is writing about the impending municipal elections, which are designed to give Palestinians in Israel the illusion that they have some kind of democratic say in their future.
Since its founding, Israel has not created a single new Palestinian community, and state-enforced segregation policies mean almost all Israeli Jewish communities are off-limits to the Palestinian minority.
The result is that Palestinian citizens are forced to live in the same ghetto-communities in which they were born, usually living in crowded conditions next to their parents because of severe land shortages. Aside from leaving Israel to live abroad, the only realistic escape, and a pretty miserable one at that, is to live in the oppressive atmosphere of East Jerusalem, as Kashua has chosen to do.
Kashua on the consequences of this apartheid-like policy:
Great sadness comes over me when I think about my brothers who live in Tira. A deep pang hits me when I think about how they believe that with the right candidate, or the right vote, they can really influence the fate of the village, or ensure a better future for their children.
Evidently, I had to leave the village in order to really understand what a dire state it’s in. Forgive me, people of Tira, for what I’m about to write here. I swear that my birthplace, the home of my family, is most dear to me. And it would thus be reasonable to assume that Tira’s future is also my future − but “There is no future in Tira” would actually be the most suitable election slogan. I would vote for a candidate who really grasped this fact and declared in his campaign platform that “there is no future for children in Tira,” certainly not in its present incarnation.
Another election slogan I’d adopt, contrary to my brothers’ belief, and contrary to basic liberal logic, is: “Vote for the candidate you’re related to” − because really, one has no other choice.
Since 1948, this Arab village has steadily grown, but its structure hasn’t changed. The same families that populated the village of less than 2,000 souls in ‘48 are the same ones that make up the village/city of nearly 25,000 today. There is no way to breach the clan-family structure in the absence of migration from the village to the city. And when the Palestinian city is lost, and the Israeli cities are inaccessible, the Arab is compelled to return to his village, and once again become affiliated, even if reluctantly, with the family unit.
“There is no future for the children in Tira,” this candidate would declare, and I would vote for him. I would vote for the candidate who would get up and tell the truth to his voters: that Tira is a mutation, not quite a village or a town.
Arab villages are a distortion of reality, an illusion of a homeland. I would vote for the candidate who would say that there is no future for Tira without Taibe, Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth. That there is no chance to save the future of the Tira’s children without breaking down the family structure, without the ability to be freed from the ghetto, and without a firm demand to be a citizen of the state, who can choose where to live, where to build his house and where to raise his children.
“For the sake of our children’s education!” the candidates will shout, as they pledge to assertively demand budgets for all kinds of government services. But begging the Israeli government for handouts cannot be the solution for the entire Arab population and will do nothing to alter the current dire predicament. As long as in this country there is a Jewish locality and an Arab locality, as long as there are Jewish neighborhoods and Arab neighborhoods − there can be no good future for the Arab children. As long as Tira residents are absolutely convinced that their children must live in the same village in which they were born, because they have no other option − there will be no better future for Tira. On the contrary, it will become ever bleaker.
So, in the meantime, as long as the Arab is compelled to go on living in the village in which he was born, and there is no escape from clannishness, go on voting for your relative. He may be able to help you find some job at the municipality, he maybe be able to help you with building some access road, and maybe get you a discount on your property tax. In the meantime, until further notice, let’s keep consoling ourselves with the illusion that we really can have some real influence, and let’s delude ourselves with the thought that we live in a democracy.