Blotting out the Other: Israeli – Palestinian Mutual Exclusion

Blotting out the Other: Israeli – Palestinian Mutual Exclusion

Blotting out the Other: Israeli – Palestinian Mutual Exclusion, by Dr. Bernard Sabella

At a time when some still hope for better days to come in the process of peace making between Israelis and Palestinians, the realities on the ground take a different shape. Israel has constructed the separation wall and put up checkpoints all over the West Bank. Gaza Strip remains blockaded for more than four years now. On the Palestinian side, what appears at first instance accommodation to Israeli control measures necessitates a closer look. A majority of Palestinians adopt a style of life that would minimize their contacts with Israelis, except for the most necessary like crossing a checkpoint or exiting from Jericho to Jordan or official transactions that necessitate contact. The same way that the Israelis have concretely separated themselves from the Palestinians, the Palestinians by their turn have developed psychological and practical mechanisms to separate themselves from the Israelis. These may appear on the surface as accommodation to the control mechanisms imposed by the Israelis. The primary motives for Palestinians to separate stem from the fact that they need to economize on time as much as possible and to go on with their daily lives. Crossing a checkpoint, the Israeli guard that stands on duty becomes a number exactly as the Palestinian to him/her is treated as a number. It is rare to personalize the relationship. The practice of passing a checkpoint is how to get through it as quickly as possible. Israeli guards are aware of this fact and hence, often on purpose, take their time in checking people through in order to assert that they are in control. The moment a Palestinian passes the checkpoint, the border or the separation wall, he/she leaves the Israelis behind, in effect blotting them out of his being. This enables one to go on with life as if there were no Israeli occupation checkpoints and no Israeli guards.

The essence of the blotting out mechanisms, on the Palestinian side, is to contain the effects of Israeli control mechanisms. Thus the Palestinians live in two cognitive worlds: the one that needs to deal and improvise when in contact with Israelis, particularly those responsible for control measures and the second is the one that is free of Israel and the Israelis. Avoiding the Israelis is motivated not out of fear but out of the economic and practical utility that allows Palestinians to avail themselves of time and space needed to go on with daily living relatively unhindered. For Palestinians who are forcibly confronted by the Jewish settlers who wish to expand their illegal settlements on account of Palestinian properties, the situation involves direct confrontation often provoked by the actions of the settlers. These Palestinians, including those in Bil’in and Ni’lin villages threatened by the construction of the Separation Wall and those in East Jerusalem threatened by home demolitions and evictions, develop confrontation mechanisms that seek to affirm their rights and to put into question the measures adopted by settler groups and by the Israeli military, municipality and other official agencies. The Palestinians in the middle of confrontation go on with the various chores of daily living: picking olives, attending school, going to work, upholding religious obligations, undertaking social visits and the other prerequisites for maintaining community. The burden on these ‘front line’ communities is that they cannot, like the majority of Palestinians, adopt liberally the blotting out mechanisms as they have to deal with physical presence of Israelis and Jewish settlers. And yet in their own ways as they strive to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their daily undertakings they too have developed blotting out mechanisms.

Palestinians and Israelis are on parting ways. The realities today on the ground affirm the need for the establishment of two states as natural conclusion to the mutual exclusivity experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis. The ongoing expansion and building in the illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank could torpedo the prospect of the two-state model and could in effect increase the likelihood of a de facto one state for both Palestinians and Israelis. The priority for Palestinians remains ending Israeli occupation. But as this is not a plausible prospect for the time being, the blotting out mechanisms ensure not simply mutual exclusivity but Palestinian self and communal preservation in the face of most difficult odds.

Dr. Sabella is the Executive Director of the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees, a unit of the Middle East Council of Churches, a partner of Global Ministries.