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Last Updated: 10/24/2005The Mizrahi-Palestinian Connection, Part III
Scholarly analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has depicted it as a conflict between two homogenous entities, namely Israel and the Palestinians. However, scholars largely ignore the impact of the "inner-Israeli" conflict between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim on the "external" conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Not only are the Mizrahim excluded from the peace process itself, but academics also fail to research the role they play in the conflict, while their occasional public role is that of extremely right-wing "Arab-haters" who prevent the Ashkenazi-dominated "liberal peace camp" from reaching a solution– hence they are portrayed as an obstacle to peace.
The Case of Tali Fahima
The struggle of Tali Fahima went public when Tali was interviewed in two newspapers in February 2004. In the interviews Tali told her life story:
"I was educated that Arabs are something that shouldn't be here. One day I understood that I have many gaps in my knowledge, things that are absent in the media. I realized that it [the occupation] concerns human beings, and that we are responsible for what their lives look like. That was the day I stopped watching TV"(1) .
Tali's consciousness about the occupation had arisen through surfing Arab websites: "I saw pictures from thee 'Palestine news,' things that are not shown in Israel, and I have learned what lies behind the words "assassination attempts." Gradually Tali began chatting with people from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and others. "At first I got many curses, but later amazing relationships were forged." From the Internet she learned about the head of Al-Aqsa Martyrs in the Jenin refugee camp, Zakaria Zubeida, who was wanted by the Israeli security forces(2) . She decided to meet him, and went to Jenin on her own. Fahima revealed: "It was the first time I saw a checkpoint with open eyes." Zubeida and Fahima soon developed close friendship. Fahima - anticipating the reactions she might get - emphasized that the relationship was not romantic. Later, after finding out he survived another assassination attempt, she decided to go public in order to help Zubeida and to initiate a discourse about the assassination policy. In the interview she declared her intent to be a human shield for Zubeida if the Israeli army continues to hunt him.
From then on the events rolled like a snowball. In August 2004 the Chief of Staff told the media that Fahima was involved in planning a terror attack in Israel with arms that were allegedly procured from the Palestinian territories. The General Security Service (GSS) maintained that "Fahima is determined to undertake a terror attack" and that she was allegedly connected to an explosion at the Kalandia checkpoint(3) . The state's attorney stated that according to "top secret information" Fahima poses a severe threat to human lives, but since there was not enough evidence for regular criminal prosecution she should be arrested in a procedure of administrative detention. Thus Fahima was put in solitary confinement. Ironically, at that point Zubeida himself was off the wanted list. It took 3 months of solitary confinement before the prosecution submitted the indictment(4) . The indictment, however, did not include any of the alleged offences. Fahima was charged for aiding an enemy in time of war; giving information to the enemy; having contact with a foreign agent; holding a gun without permission; and supporting a terror organization(5) .
When interviewed while in detention Fahima was asked: "Don't you regret the whole story?" Her reply was:
"No, and the GSS will not change the truth. We are living for the truth. When I find out my freedom is at the expense of the Palestinians in Jenin- I don't accept it. I don't want freedom at the expense of somebody else".
Fahima is currently still in a solitary confinement and awaits her trial.
The Discourse Surrounding Tali Fahima
The struggle of Tali Fahima is unique in several respects. Her ethnicity and gender, as well as the facts that she acted individually and not as a part of an organization and was friends with "a Palestinian terrorist," challenged taboos both within both Israeli society and the state's institutions. I would like to stress that I have no intention of passing moral or legal judgment on Fahima's activity. I am interested in examining the discourse around the struggle. In order to do this discourse analysis I am using publications in the internet and 'net surfers' feedbacks to those articles(6) . I found the internet a particularly useful tool(7) . Not only are there hundreds of comments, but more than that the anonymity of the internet gives space to the most genuine comments. In the words of one of the surfers: "Tali is actually a mirror on which everyone implies his inner world, views and outlooks. More than learning, about Tali, we learn about the 'net surfing public." However, the same anonymity precludes reaching proven conclusions about the identity of individuals and groups. Thus, someone that identifies as a Mizrahi could well be an Ashkenazi; a Jew could be an Arab etc. Yet, the very identification with a specific name, ethnicity, religion and place of birth implies the meaningfulness of those diverse identities.
I will analyze the discourse surrounding Fahima's struggle using three components of the new Mizrahi discourse: counter-hegemonic criticism, assertion of a collective identity, and deconstruction of left-right dichotomies.
State Reactions and Counter-State Contentions
In his research on social movements, Tarrow suggests the term "collective confrontational action" to describe the actions of people with neither power nor access to the establishment who present non-conventional claims and whose behavior challenges the institutions they refer to. Confrontational actions vary in their intensity and level of use of violence. It ranges from violent activities - such as raids - to civil disobedience, to provocative statements in the media(8) . Using a paraphrase on Tarrow - I propose that Fahima's action was an "individual confrontational action," using the media:
"I felt that as a good friend of Zubeida, I must do something. So I said to the media that I'm willing to be his human shield. Since I am naïve, I believed that the IDF (the Israeli Defense Force) wouldn't agree to kill me in order to kill him, and only then did I realize that it is not exactly as democratic a state as I had thought(9). "
The reaction of the state to Fahima's confrontational action is very similar to other struggles involving a Mizrahi-Palestinian connection. Here, like in the case of the Black Panthers, the state responded extremely aggressively, taking extreme judicial procedures and demonizing Fahima by alleging that she had cooperated with Palestinian terrorists in the planning of a terror attack.
Like in the case of the Black Panthers, most of the media echoed the state's reactions (especially during the first few months of Fahima's arrest, when the allegations about her activity where based on speculations and leaks from the state's security services). The media gave voice to the speculations and largely participated in the demonization of Fahima. One headline read: "Fahima threatens to kill if she doesn't get her cigarette lighted" and the article continues: "It isn't the first time Fahima has provoked a raid…she ran riot and cursed while refusing to undergo a routine search…later…she calmed down(10)" . In an article titled "Fahima- a woman with no brakes" a state representative in a court hearing said: "Fahima is an extremely dangerous woman; she has neither limits nor brakes(11)" .
Many Israelis supported imprisonment and even the death penalty for Fahima, but Fahima's struggle also gave rise to counter-hegemonic reactions and harsh criticism on the way the state is managed. Indeed, Fahima's struggle caused the waving of both the "social" and the "security" flags: the critics focused on 'internal' issues, such as the law system, poverty, inequality, corruption and the collapse of the welfare state, and at the same time criticized the occupation and the alleged inability to reach peace with the Palestinians. Words that signify disillusionment about state-indoctrination and challenging the leadership recur often. Interestingly, the leadership becomes "they" and the Israeli people become "we" (sometimes the Palestinians are included in the "we").
Here are some examples to references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the socio-economic situation in Israel, as well as the correlation between the two:
There are also calls for a joint class-based social struggle - another element of the new Mizrahi discourse:
"Dear comrade Tali! The Israel authorities most of all are afraid of the unity of Jewish and Arab workers in the class struggle, in the defense of their rights. The Executive Committee of Regional Party of Communists (Leningrad - St-Petersburg) joins to the demands: the freedom to Tali Fahima!"
Much of the public discourse surrounds the legitimacy of the state's response and the nature of democracy. Fahima's case creates a divide between people who believe in the appropriateness of the state's measures, and others that take them as a failure of democracy's sanctity, the judiciary system. Phrases that signify disillusionment with the values we have grown up with and the nature of Israeli democracy recur often. Here are a few examples of this theme(14) :
But those voices did not come from the hegemony at first. Only after the state's attorney submitted the indictment did more voices joined those views.
"The indictment is so untenable, so bizarre, so deprived of any reason, that there is no escape but to posit that at the basis of this infinite ill-treatment of Fahima lies psychological matters(16) ".
Similarly, only pursuant to the indictment, the elitist Ha'aretz newspaper published an op-ed that referred to Fahima's case as an example of the increasing violation of basic law, 'Human dignity and freedom', and stated that putting her under administrative detention is not justified, since "one doesn't need to be a high-court judge in order to understand that the danger Fahima poses on the state is negligible" and that the judge's decision is "unreasonable and disproportionate(17)" .
In this regard it is important to acknowledge the significant role Fahima's gender plays both in the state's attitude and within the discourse surrounding Fahima in the form of tremendously hostile comments. Countless of those refer to her gender. Fahima is often termed "a whore that fucks Arabs," people refer to her looks and delegate her ideological struggle to sex and romance-based relationship with Zubeida. Indeed, a woman affiliating with the "enemy" is usually seen as a threat to the nation(18) .
Collective Identity as a Resource Mobilization Tool
Stürmer and Simon examined the role that collective identity plays in social movement participation and found that collective identification processes add up to cost-benefit calculations to motivate people for a collective action(19) . They suggest that collective identity is key to the strategic creation of "collective action frames" by activists in order to recruit participants(20) . The "frames" that activists construct are composed of a few components, among those: providing interpretations and explanations of social inequalities as injustices and thereby strengthening the collective feeling of relative deprivation (which is a staple of participation in collective action(21) ), and accentuating in-group/out-group distinctions(22) . The role of the collective identity here is to facilitate the collective action frame: "'my' and 'your' unique experiences of injustice and unfair treatment are transformed into 'our' experiences of collective grievance and discrimination(23)" . In addition, when an in-group member appeals to the people they tend to be more accepting and motivated(24) .
Fahima's struggle provided the political opportunity for new-Mizrahi activists to revive a struggle of a much broader scope than Fahima's intended scope, using her identity to reinforce the Mizrahi collective identity as leverage for social mobilization. Indeed, Fahima's struggle gains support and sympathy from prominent Mizrahi publicists, intellectuals, scholars and others(25) . All the new Mizrahi activism websites deal with Fahima's struggle, and new Mizrahim write articles about Fahima in the newspapers and participate actively in forums(26) . Thus, even though Fahima herself does not see her Mizrahiness as an issue, the new Mizrahim celebrate her Mizrahiness, reconstructing and awakening the Mizrahi identity. The new Mizrahi discourse has been doing identity work for the last two decades. It enabled sustaining “abeyance structures” in times of dormant struggle(27) . Fahima presented an opportunity to bring the Mizrahi identity back to the fore.
The Mizrahiness of Fahima is used by the new Mizrahim in various ways. First, her Mizrahiness is presented as the missing factor that explains that "why?????" her sister asked. In other words, it provides explanation and interpretation as to the real motives behind the "ill-treatment" of Fahima as discrimination related inextricably to her ethnicity, explanation that forms part of the "collective action frames(28)" . Second, the new Mizrahim use the Mizrahi identity and the social status of Fahima to appeal to the Mizrahim by making the correlation between the individual injustice that is exerted on Fahima and the collective injustices and oppression of Mizrahim in general – transforming "her" to "our". Those contentions are phrased in "us" vs. "them" terms, defining clearly the antagonists as the (Zionist) Ashkenazi hegemony. Hence the recurrence of "Mizrahim" vs. "Ashkenazim," and the symbolic use of places and names such as "Tel Aviv" vs. "Kiryat Gat(30)."
Lastly, the Mizrahi identity is used to exemplify what happens when the constructed walls between the Mizrahim and the Palestinians are broken and to highlight the Zionist-Ashkenazi oppression of both the Mizrahim and Palestinians.
Here are a few citations that illustrate the various uses of the Mizrahi identity:
Some reactions overtly call people to launch a social struggle: "If a good girl from Kiryat Gat and a Likud supporter thinks the occupation is a catastrophe, who knows, maybe some more people will wake up from the coma and find out we are all being screwed up? What if tomorrow some more Tali Fahimas wake up and start thinking independently? Women? Mizrahim? Screwed? And what if some people start getting annoyed by the budget?(35)" . "Happy birthday between the walls to the "enbackwarded" Kiryat-Gat that wins head lines about Tali Fahima and goes back to the unemployed routine(36)" . "The state keeps screwing the Arab-Jews." "My brethren from the East, wake up!"
Some evidence suggests that Fahima's Mizrahiness indeed intimidated the state: the investigators "did everything to take apart my character…to tell me that the inhabitants of Kiryat Gat are inferior(37)" . But most telling is the answer of the investigator of the General Security Service (GSS) when Fahima asked him what they want from her: "We want you to be a good Jew(38)." Where Ashkenazi peace activists do not need to assert their Jewishness, Fahima's hybrid identity is a threat to the ethno-cultural wall between the people.
Fahima Deconstructs Right-Left Binarism
The existence of the Mizrahim on the seam between the Israelis and the Palestinians, included and excluded at the same time, is well projected on the discourse surrounding Fahima. As I have illustrated earlier and as expressed in comments in the previous section, in order to belong to the Israeli-Jewish collective, the Mizrahim have presented enthusiastic nationalist views and devotion. Fahima crossed the forbidden red lines. By sympathizing with a Palestinian fighter, she defied the equation Mizrahi = right wing. Therefore, on the one hand, Mizrahim cannot accept it and perceive it as a deviance. On the other hand, ironically, the left-wing camp also does not want to be affiliated with Fahima(39). Thus, right and left, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, wash their hands of Fahima. One way to do it is to de-connect her from "us" - defined as the Israeli-Jewish collective and re-connect her to "them" - defined as the Palestinians, or the Arabs. A second way is trying to affiliate Fahima with the adversary political camp. I will further explore these two elements.
Pushing Fahima out of the Jewish-Israeli collective
Left-wing people in Israel are often labeled "anti-Semite" and "self-haters," but it is apparent that Fahima evokes particularly hostile reactions. Her activity is seen as insane. Words like garbage, scam, psychopath, cold-blooded murderer, mutation, monster, terrorist, she should be hanged – are all examples of extreme de-humanization of Fahima which is repeated in hundreds of feedbacks. Many of the comments imply de-connecting Fahima from the Jewish collective:
A fascinating rivalry between Fahima's opponents and supporters has evolved, whereby they compete on who belongs more to the Jewish collective, by using symbols from the national milieu such as: the military service, the Jewish tradition and the ultimate Jewish symbol– the Holocaust(42) :
And even a Palestinian surfer says:
"The Palestinian people…suffer like the Jewish people suffered in Germany…Fahima fights like many Germans who fought the Nazi regime to liberate the Jewish people".
Affiliating Fahima with the adversary camp
Many comments from the right wing and Mizrahim indicate that they find Fahima's deed inconceivable. Fahima threatens their consistent attempts at proving their loyalty to the state. Therefore, they either deny her right-wing past or reject her belonging to the Mizrahi collective by referring to her place of birth:
Fahima's Mizrahiness makes it difficult for the Ashkenazim to accept Fahima in "their" elitist camp. Their comments demonstrate what the new Mizrahi discourse alludes to as the hypocrisy of the Ashkenazi dominated left. In the words of a new Mizrahi scholar:
"The people of Meretz and Yahad (Zionist left parties) disassociate themselves categorically…from Fahima. After all, Fahima appeals against their logic too – a logic that sees the separation and the wall as a basis for a peace agreement(45)" .
A collection of feedback demonstrates this:
The newspaper Ha'aretz also followed the same line. In the words of a new Mizrahi activist:
"Today Ha'aretz promulgated an ugly lie…that Fahima had an affair with Zubeida. The same paper that supports peace could not conceive of Fahima as a person that has crossed the separation lines in order to realize the humanity of the Palestinian side…but as a woman with insatiable sexual impulses…yesterday too [Ha'aretz published] a tiny partial news item about the abuses that Tali Fahima goes through(48)" .
Concomitant to the rejection of the Palestinians goes patronization and elitism towards the right-wing, and thus the Mizrahim that are affiliated with it. These are two sides of the same Ashkenazi-Eurocentric coin.
And the Likudniks reply:
"To the leftists who complain about hatred from the right…who names who stupid, dumb, ignorant? Indeed, the leftists name the rightists…you act in a patronizing and arrogant way".
Their Arab culture and past and their Jewish religion have located the Mizrahim in between the Jewish nation and the Arab world. In the past, it has never been a contradiction, yet as a result of the violent encounter with Euro-Zionist nationalism, it has become one. They have been forced to erase a substantial part of their identity, in order to make Israel a homogenous and Western nation. The Mizrahim consequently have interiorized the oppression, often choosing the path of nationalism, as a natural reaction of wanting to ally with the dominant group and to be part of the in-group. It has been manifested in voting patterns, among other things. In addition, the state has used manipulatively their attempts at dissociating themselves from their Arab past, by confronting them with the Palestinians and impeding attempts at dialogue between Mizrahim and Palestinians. Furthermore, the Ashkenazi-dominated peace camp in Israel has accused the Mizrahim for the continuous conflict.
Re-reading of the hegemonic history sheds light on the complexity of the Mizrahi-Palestinian connection, as embedded in the very oppression of the Mizrahim by the Ashkenazi elites. It also awakens forgotten and unforgotten histories and cases of cooperation. Moreover, it explains partly why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved, given the attitude of the Ashkenazi decision makers towards the Palestinians and their projection of fear of a second holocaust in an entirely different context.
Fahima’s struggle is yet another case of cooperation between a Mizrahi woman and Palestinians. The state’s harsh reaction, as well as the non-supportive reactions by the vast majority of the public, demonstrate how difficult it is for a Mizrahi to step against the taboos of the Israeli society.
Nevertheless, Fahima’s struggle suggests that there is a growing public in Israel that is willing to “cross the border”. The new Mizrahim offer an option wherein a strengthening and acknowledging of their own Arab affiliations, necessarily leads to acceptance of the Palestinians and sincere willingness to engage in peace based on integration of Israel in the Middle East rather than separation and rejection. Those individuals, together with the radical left in Israel, see in Fahima a charismatic leader, “a lighthouse in the storm of occupation(49)” and a political miracle.
Time will tell whether Fahima will be leverage for a social struggle that will necessarily change the face of politics in Israel, as well as regarding the relations with the Palestinians.
(1) All quotation by Tali Fahima are retrieved from Keinan and from Hoberman.
(2) Zubeida survived 5 assassination attempts. Fahima recounted that his life story touched her. His mother, a peace activist, and his sister, have been killed by the Israeli army during an operation in Jenin.
(4) Shohat Orit, "Angry about Tali Fahima", January 24, 2005.
(5)Tel Aviv – Yaffo District Court Protocol. in the protocol Fahima's loyer points out that the state had evidence for three of the charges already before the administrative detention.
(6)I have been looking at feedbacks from the following sources: http://www.freetalifahima.org Accessed 1 March, 2005 http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//584286. Accessed 1 march, 2005 http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART/844/701.html. Accessed 1 march, 2005 http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//659993
(7)It is important to point out that the struggle is on its outset and there is no research done so far, therefore the media is the sole source available for the analysis.
(8) Chetrit 2004, p. 16.
(10) Ben Zur.
(12) Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's Finance Minister.
(13) Here and in all the following quotes, the emphasis is mine.
(14) There are many reactions that justify the state's response, however since I am interested in the elements that relate to the Mizrahi struggle, countering state hegemony being one of them, I chose not to focus on those examples.
(15) The writer alludes to the settlers in the Occupied Territories who oppose the disengagement.
(16) B. Michael.
(17) "A legislative revolution on the paper ", Ha'aretz 25 January 2005.
(18) The role that gender plays deserves an extended discussion. However, I cannot further develop the discussion about gender within the scope of this paper. See reference to this issue in: Aderet; Kanofova and Levi.
(19) Stürmer and Simon, p. 89. The research examined the role that collective identity, as suggested by the social identity approach, play in each of the 4 steps for social movement participation as suggested by Klandermans model, which emphasizes cost-benefit calculations.
(20) See discussion about frames also in Polletta and Jasper , p. 291
(21) Tajfel, cited in Stürmer and Simon, p. 62.
(22) A third component of frames is maintaining that changing social conditions is feasible and offering an effective "agency" to bring about this desired social change. See Stürmer and Simon, p. 69. This component is absent in the discourse surrounding Fahima.
(23) Stürmer and Simon, p. 69
(24) Stürmer and Simon, Ibid.
(25) By "Mizrahi" here I mean Mizrahi in identity or in awareness to the oppression of the Mizrahim.
(26) Similarly to social movements, the new Mizrahim capitalize on the internet as a "free space" in which they "develop counterhegemonic ideas and oppositional identities", being a space that is beyond the control of those in power and that can reach many people. See a discussion on "free space" in Polletta and Jasper, p. 288.
(27) Polletta and Jasper , p. 297.
(28) Some of the feedbacks, of course, are not aware attempts at mobilization, but mere expressions of awareness to the oppression. I assume many of the people that reacted do not know of the existence of the new Mizrahi discourse, since it is a marginalized discourse that goes on between a few dozens of people that defined themselves as "new Mizrahim". I have selected citations that show different levels of Mizrahi awareness, and range from using terminology directly related to the new Mizrahi discourse to comments that imply non-awareness to its existence.
(29) Polletta and Jasper suggest that specifying the enemy as human decision makers rather than impersonal forces is typical of creating collective identity. See Polletta and Jasper p. 291
(30) Kiryat Gat is the birth town of Tali Fahima. It is a poor town, populated mostly by Mizrahim.
(31) An Ashkenazi man, head of "Gush Shalom" radical left group who defended with his body Arafat while he stayed in his stronghold in the Mukataa.
(33) Mordechai Vanunu nuclear technician that has been recently released after 18 years in prison. The comparison here implies to the shared Mizrahi identity of both Fahima and Vanunu.
(34) Chetrit, Sami Shalom, "Tali Fahima Breaks Walls" June 13, 2004.
(36) Jester Symon, from a Poem to Tali Fahima.
(37) http://www.freetalifahima.org/ynet.php??? Name of article
(38) http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART/859/047.html??? Name of article.
(39) In fact, Fahima herself is still deterred by the word "Left". See Keinan.
(40) Fahima's sister answers: "My sister is Jewish and there is no reason for her to convert to Islam. The fact that she believes they also have the right to exist does not make her Islamized".
(41) Interestingly, her Mizrahi look and family name makes it easier to connect her to Arabness .Reactions like these mirror the success of the de-Arabizaion of the Mizrahim, in that their Arabness is seen as a deviant, surprising fact.
(42) For example, some comments use phrases from the Jewish religious textbooks.
(43) People who rescued Jews during the holocaust.
(44) Amira Hess- a far left-wing journalist who writes critically about the occupation. Shenkin- a street in Tel Aviv which symbolizes Ashkenazi hedonism.
(46) A curse in Arabic.
(47) There is a need to stress: some of the reactions could be seen as defensive attempts of leftists who are often accused of treason in the state, and Fahima's help to a Palestinian "terrorist" justify these accusations. However, when Ashkenazi people have done the same, the reactions have been far from these levels of hostility. Furthermore, the same comments have been expressed also after the persecution pressed the minor charges against Fahima, which refuted her alleged terror activity.
(48) See Los. As mentioned above, only after the indictment Ha'aretz published an op-ed that criticized the judge's decision to put Fahima in a solitary confinement.
(49) Chetrit, Sami Shalom, "Tali Fahima Breaks Walls" June 13, 2004.
Sharon Komash holds a Master's degree in International Peace Studies from the University of Peace.