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Hebrew University
[Hebrew University, Education] Rabah Halabi: "The Oppressed Meeting the Oppressor"

Article follows bio


Dr. Rabah Halabi is a lecturer in the department of education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he completed his PhD. 


Dr. Rabah Halabi is a guest editor for Mada Al-Carmel: Arab Center for Applied Social Science Research.  According to NGO Monitor, the Mada Al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research also co-authored the Haifa Declaration, which calls for a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state” and accuses Israel of “exploiting the Holocaust at the expense of the Palestinian people.”   Mada Al Carmel organized an academic conference in July 2009 where several participants advocated for a one-state solution, and at another Mada Al Carmel conference in January 2010, one participant stated “Israel is a racist state, and a racist state cannot guarantee or create a culture of justice.   It creates a racist and aggressive culture.”             


During a workshop for students from Rupin College, Dr. Rabah Halabi, while discussing Jewish-Arab relations within Israel made it quite clear that he and most of the Arab Israeli community believe that group identity is very important and “identify with Palestinians living under occupation.”  In 2008, Dr. Rabah Halabi opened a conference entitled “The Roles of Palestinian Intellectuals in Israel and the Occupied Territories,” which was sponsored by the anti-Israel non-governmental organization, the Alternative Information Center.   That same year, Dr. Rabah Halabi also gave a lecture on post-colonial theory to a group of academics seeking to undermine Israel under the guise of human rights.   In 2007, Dr. Rabah Halabi gave a lecture entitled “Situating Nationalist Discourse: Indexical Aspects of Zionist Colonial Arguments” at a conference entitled “Dialogue under Occupation” that was sponsored by Northeastern Illinois University.          





Jadal  1                     Mada al-Carmel

Issue No.9, January, 2011 www.mada-research.org


The Oppressed Meeting the Oppressor: A Futile Action that Perpetuates the Existing Reality

Rabah Halabi*

The Nakba of 1948 forced a new reality on Palestinians who remained in Israel. 
From then until 1967, these Palestinians lived under a military government.  This
reality created problematic and complex relations between them and the Jewish
occupier, which the writer Emile Habibi brilliantly described in his book The
Opsimist. Already from the beginning, the Zionist establishment sought to uproot
the Palestinians and sever them from their historical roots and from their
connection with their people, and, by doing so, create the Arab-Israeli.  This
difficult period created a sense of trauma and loss among the Palestinians who, in
most instances, submitted to the “strong, unbeatable Jew.” Relations between
Jews and Palestinians during that period were those of master-servant. Most
Palestinians submitted to and obeyed the Jewish “master,” generally due to a lack
of awareness and self-contempt.  Primarily, though, it was the wish to live and
survive that determined Palestinian submission.  By temporarily yielding their
honor, the Palestinians were able to live and survive. 
Following the 1967 war, the coming together of Palestinians from the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip with the Palestinians in Israel breathed life into Palestinians in
Israel, enabling them to regain their spirit and rediscover their identity.  Over the
years, Palestinians in Israel reestablished and consolidated their Palestinian
identity. As a result, the ruling Mapai (Workers') Party establishment in Israel
attempted to revert to the previous situation through the newly-minted process of
Israelization. This project consisted of a few crumbs being thrown at some
members of the new Palestinian elite that had developed during that period.  The
aim was to create the illusion of integration, to block the Palestinians’ solidarity
with their brothers and sisters, and to maliciously eliminate any thought of active
support for them. 
One expression of this strategy was “Jewish-Arab coexistence," a project that
began in the early 1970s and continues to the present day.  Those who developed
this project imported the idea and the methodology from the United States. 
Newly founded organizations set up meetings between Jews and Arabs, whose
goal was to maintain the existing situation and prevent any change.  Initially, these
meetings were limited to Jews and Palestinians from Israel, but since the Oslo
Accords they have been expanded to include Palestinians from the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip. These meetings seek to develop understanding and bring the
participants closer together, the ultimate objective being that the oppressed
understand the fears of the oppressor.  The goal, then, has been to normalize and
preserve the existing situation.  This is no surprise if we consider that the
“coexistence” scheme was created to meet a Jewish need, funded primarily by
Jews, and the persons who established and managed all the “coexistence”
organizations were Jews.  When Palestinians rose and demanded equality and real
partnership in these organizations, the discord escalated so much that it led to
disbanding of the organizations or replacement of the protesting Palestinians with
other Palestinians, then others, and then others.
At the beginning, the organizations conducting these meetings adopted the
psychological technique that focuses on interpersonal relations and on human
relations, while removing the controversies at the heart of the conflict between the
two peoples from the “coexistence” agenda. They took this approach because, in
their mind, the essence was understanding – the need for the Jew to show
empathy for the oppressed Palestinians, and for the Palestinian to empathize with
the fears of the oppressor Jews – which would bring stability for Israel. With the
passing of years and the growing consciousness among Palestinians engaged in
these organizations, who were insistent and firm, a few changes were made in the
nature of the meetings.  Radical organizations went so far as to turn the events
into dialogues between identities by placing all the geographical, historical, and
political components of the Palestinian-Jewish conflict at center stage.
However, it should be emphasized that these meetings, whatever form they take,
have no real effect on the reality in which we live.  They might even have a
negative effect because they create a false sense of ongoing desire to solve the
conflict.  Even worse, these meetings offer a magical way to cleanse the conscience
of the Jews taking part.  If the meetings have any positive effect, it is, I believe, the
consolidation of the Palestinians’ identity and the raising of the Palestinian
participants’ consciousness of the Jewish racism that gets expressed as a result of a
face-to-face meeting.
In the framework of my activity in this field for more than two decades, from my
observation of the relations between the teams I worked with on the one hand,
and on the conduct of the participants in groups that I directed on  the other hand,
and relying on field research studies I conducted, two phenomena became very
clear to me.
The first phenomenon is that the Zionist movement is essentially a colonialist
movement, with a colonialist system dictating relations between Jews and
Palestinians. As the late Edward Said wrote in Culture and Imperialism, although the
principal problem is occupation of the land, control of the discourse justifying and
maintaining the occupation is almost as serious a problem.  The Jews conquered
the land, but also sought, and continue to seek, to conquer the Palestinian
consciousness and to control the discourse to convince themselves and others that
they own the land and the rights to it. Furthermore, the Jews relate to themselves
as the saviors who came here to build the land and to bring light into the darkness
in which the residents lived.
However, the conflict is not only over the land; it is a conflict between cultures. 
The Jews view themselves as cultured, as persons holding noble values and a
conscience; meanwhile, they perceive us, the Palestinians, as bloodsuckers, without
morals or a conscience. Therefore, in their eyes, if we must live together, they must
hold control, otherwise their fate is to be thrown into the sea. By this logic, the
Jews involved in “coexistence” organizations cannot bear the presence of a
Palestinian director in the full meaning of the term. They are generally willing to
accept the Palestinian director as an ornament, but a Palestinian director
attempting to carry out his responsibilities is a situation that cannot be tolerated. 
Jews are willing to accept us only when we forgo our identity and become like
them, in the way that Franz Fanon describes in Black Skin, White Masks. In this
regard, I have had bitter experiences with “leftists” living in Neve Shalom. I should
mention that this phenomenon – of conceit, arrogance, and a sense of superiority,
even racism – is more common among Ashkenazim, especially those who refer to
themselves as leftists. This phenomenon is almost non-existent among the Arab
Jews (Mizrahim) who are, for the most part, on the political right (for
socioeconomic reasons that do not warrant discussion in the context of this
The second phenomenon, a product of the first phenomenon, is important in its
own right. When there is a change, even of the slightest magnitude, in the balance
of power (for example, when the Palestinian participants at a meeting  speak out
and demand their rights in an aggressive and firm tone), the Jewish participants
sense that the Palestinians have reversed the situation and taken control. The Jews
feel their existence and identity are threatened for no reason other than that the
Palestinians try to change the balance of power and demand equality. 
I believe that is exactly what happened in October 2000 when the Palestinian street
demonstrations seeking to achieve their rights instilled panic in the minds of the
Jews, as the media showed. Some Israelis even believed that the state was facing a
real existential threat. This reaction clearly indicates that the identity of the Jews,
and consequently the identity of the Jewish State, is based primarily on the control
they maintain over the Palestinians, over the Arabs, even over the entire Middle
East. When this control and hegemony are at risk, the Jews feel that their identity
and existence are threatened, as if their identity and the state entity do not exist
without control over its other people and without hegemony over the whole
One can, therefore, understand the Jews’ opposition to and their obsession with
the construction of the Iranian nuclear reactor.  A nuclear reactor of this kind
would limit Israel’s absolute control of the region and create, I believe, a balance of
power which might lead to stability and force the desired peace and equality in the
region. However, such a balance (or a situation close to a balance) is perceived by
Israelis as a ruinous situation, one so great that it will lead to destruction and the
end of the Israeli-Zionist entity. 
From my experience in this field and based on my observation of dozens of
meetings between Jews and Palestinians in these “coexistence” organizations, I
noticed a recurring process. In the initial stage, the participants survey the other
side cautiously, with expectations in mind.  In the second stage, the strength of the
Palestinian group grows, with the Palestinians speaking in sharper and clearer
terms. Their demand for equality becomes comprehensive and substantial, and
includes ethnic-national rights along with civil rights.  In the third stage, the Jewish
group refuses to accept the new strengthened Palestinians and seeks to turn them
back into “Arab Israelis.” In the fourth stage, the Palestinian group refuses to
retreat, relations between the two groups explode, and the conflict between them
escalates. In the fifth and last stage, a real dialogue develops around the future
relations between the two sides once the Jewish group accepts the Palestinian
group with its new identity and all that this new identity entails.
This process, in my opinion, also characterizes the system of relations that the
Palestinians who remained in the homeland have had with the Jews and the
Jewish State since it was founded. The period from the Nakba, in 1948, until 1966
(that is, the end of the military government) was traumatic, one of reciprocal
waiting and examination.  Since 1967, following the removal of the military
government, and due to the renewed connection between Palestinians in Israel
and their families in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, a new Palestinian
identity began to be built. 
In this stage, we Palestinians in Israel sought to restore our lost dignity and prepare
for a clash with the regime, the monster that had terrorized us for so long and
made us afraid to look it in the eye. In 1976, Land Day was proclaimed for the first
time. In 1987, the first intifada erupted, which excited Palestinians in Israel and
lifted our morale, since we are members of the same people and what happens to
our brothers and sisters in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip affects us, good or
We were then witness to the heroic acts of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2000, which
forced the "undefeated" Israeli army to flee for its life in the middle of the night. 
All of these events affected the events of October 2000, during which thirteen
Palestinians fell during the hysteric and criminal reaction by the Israeli government
and police.  The brutal response and the incitement accompanying it show that we
are now in the third stage – the phase in which the Jews seek to turn us back into
“good Arabs.” As we have already seen in the planned meetings, these
government attempts will fail, and we shall enter an intricate and difficult period,
one of more serious and more extensive skirmishes than those we have
experienced so far.  After that, the salvation shall come.
The relations between the Jews and the Jewish State, on the one side, and the
Palestinians in Israel, on the other side, symbolize the relations between Jews and
Palestinians in general, as well as the relations between the Jews and the Arab
surroundings in which they live.  For this reason, I do not believe that, in the near
future, there is hope for real peace and tranquility between the two peoples.  An
emasculated Palestinian State on less than twenty percent of historical Palestine
might be established; however, the founding of this state will not offer a genuine
solution to the prolonged bloody conflict. 
The solution to the conflict will only come if the following occurs: the mentality of
the Jews (more precisely, the mentality of the western, Ashkenazi Jews) changes;
the Jews forgo their arrogance and sense of superiority and their colonialist
attitude, and make an honest and genuine attempt to acclimate to the cultural,
political, economic, and traditional surroundings in which they live; and the Jews
give up their ongoing attempt to control the region. Only when these changes are
made, and in no other situation, will we be able to accept them among us and will
it be possible to build a fair and egalitarian system of relations between the two
peoples. In this scenario, if it becomes reality, which now appears impossible, the
most important role is reserved for the Arab-Jews (Mizrahim).


*Dr. Rabah Halabi is a lecturer in the Education Department of the Hebrew University,
Jerusalem, and one of the founders of the non-profit organization al-Sawwat. 

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