This short personal account will try to illustrate that ‘identity’ problems can arise within Israel not only for the indigenous Arab population, but also for Jews who have come from a culture other than the proto-type Western one.
Having spent my childhood in a country where Jews were not considered to be equivalent citizens (I use the term ‘equivalent’ rather than the term ‘equal’, as being a Jew in this particular country conferred privileges, not extended to the ordinary citizen, as well as disadvantages not suffered by them), I developed strong needs to identify with a national entity.
This need was also imposed on me. Being a Jewess, I was taught to scorn those chance occasions when I was taken to be an equal, or of belonging to the indigenous population. Thus from a very early age, the psychology that you are rather special, i.e. one of the “chosen people”, was well inculcated into me.
Superiority as well as inferiority are problems which prey on the mind of the adolescent, and so the only logical solution was to agitate, with my parents, to be allowed to emigrate to the land of all promise, where one would be free to devote mental and emotional effort to things other than differential identity.
I emigrated to Palestine at the age of thirteen. I went straight to a kibbutz. The ‘bastion of justice’, ‘idealism’ and ‘pioneering spirit’. A myth that persists to this day. Even in the early stages of my stay in the kibbutz and in the following twelve years spent in it, I learnt that all nations are equal but some more equal than others, that all human beings have a right to be treated equally, provided they had come from ‘desirable’ countries, and that moral justice is of paramount importance – so long as that morality favours you, either as an individual or as a nation. I very much think that the view often expressed, that two nations are fighting for the same bit of land and both have equal rights to it, is an outcome of the above notion of morality and justice.
My graduation from a non-equivalent citizen to a second-class citizen was not always painful, as myths saw to it that from time to time I got drawn into a ‘whole’ called ‘the Yishuv’ (meaning Jewish settlers), a ‘whole’ which was being threatened from the outside and which I, as ‘part’ of it, was given the privilege of defending with my life. I was also given an outlet for my hostile, frustrated feelings: There were now some other people whom I could actually dislike, rather than question the place to which I was assigned by this other ‘part’ of the ‘Yishuv’.
I was given the opportunity to learn that the only desirable culture was a European one, I was even persuaded at times to feel a first-class citizen, by being sent to lecture to other second-class citizens on their great fortune in helping to entrench the position of the establishment, and in creating a third-class citizenry from among the Arabs living in the country.
This state of affairs did not improve with the great influx of Oriental Jews after 1948. On the contrary, most sociological studies show that the gap which existed between the Oriental and European Jews has widened among the second generation.1 The refusal to accept that Israel is a Middle Eastern country – rather than a European one – with the ensuing disregard for the existence of an Oriental culture, has created conflicts in children of Oriental immigrants. Just imagine the problem of ‘identity’ for those children and adolescents born in Israel to Oriental parents, when they give a description of a typical ‘Sabra’ (Israeli born) as being tall, blond and blue-eyed. The real ‘Herren Volk’.2
It is for these reasons that I once more graduated to a different level in this ‘identity crisis’. I understood for the first time that the only aim worth fighting for and identifying with is that of Humanity as embodied in the oppressed classes of the world as a whole, and of Israel in particular. That no matter how sweet the carrot dangled before one’s eyes, the capitalist system would not solve the problem of identity under any guise.
It is for this reason too that the ‘Black Panthers’ movement in Israel is gradually coming to resent the fact that they should accept a position of inferiority so that Zionists in the United States and elsewhere can afford the luxury of having a ‘Jewish Identity’. The ‘Black Panthers’ movement in Israel will understand that their struggle will be effective only when it embraces the struggle of the other oppressed people in the region, including Arab working and peasant classes.