By C. Hazakyah Hardy-Dia – Haifa, Israel
What a country Israel is! The fact that any reputable person anywhere could come to sincerely believe that they have enough evidence to publicly compare Israel, the so called ‘Middle East’s only democracy’, with anything related to Apartheid South Africa, should be enough of an indictment to spark some serious introspection here in Israel, given the fact that we call where we live: ‘The Holy Land’. South Africa like or not, one thing is certain: Israel is one of the most problematic national entities in the entire history of nations. Any conversation about the future of Israel should begin with a clear picture of what the present looks like.
In full view of everyone, the government, the Rabbinate, the business sector, the media, the security services, the mayors of the cities, the settlers, the religious, the secular, you, me. In full view of all of us, and with the cooperation and silence of too many, the Israel I live in today is a country where at least half the population is cut off from full-participation in society because of an impenetrable wall of racism and religious discrimination; where political, white-collar, and all other forms of corruption have become the day-to-day national norm; where front-line educators have ceded defeat when it comes to reforming a national education system that can, at best, only predictably produce unquestioning and willing soldiers; and where all citizens (except maybe those with viable plans to leave or new immigrants who are getting off a plane even as I write) have all dug in, and resigned themselves to living in a country adamantly committed to perpetual war with its neighbors.
What I have written so far is just a glimpse of present-day Israel. A more unvarnished look at the country would have to include the nation’s other shameful and indefensible day-to-day issues such as the country’s thriving industries in: organized crime, pornography, human trafficking, drug trafficking and abuse, and more; along with widespread and entrenched poverty, Holocaust survivor neglect (I live right next door to several), well-organized state censorship and repression of dissent and dissenters, and more still here as well.
On top of all of this, add in world-renown espionage, subterfuge, state-sponsored assassination, and covert arms dealing and you will get a somewhat clearer picture of what this self-designated “Jewish” state looks like today. This is the Israel I surprisingly found myself living in when I made Aliyah (immigrated) almost seven years ago.
Israel is indeed “The Holy Land”. This is exactly what inspired me to write this. We should all be ashamed of what this country is today. One quiet evening spent on Google can get anyone updated on any of these matters. All the killing being done in our name; to secure our borders while half the population inside our borders live with insecurity everyday, completely cut off from full participation in society. And if you live here you know it and see it everyday.
And then there is the racism. Racism is alive and well in all aspects of Israeli society. I learned about it by showing up “Black” everywhere I went and by watching the news. It all plays out in the light of day. No secret here. But don’t ask anyone about it. When I bring the subject up it’s like I might have put a snake on the table. Everyone jumps back. Not me. Not me. But the crushing racist machine that Israel is keeps turning.
For marginalized Israelis (Palestinians, Bedouins, anyone “Black”, the countless poor and un/under employed, et. al.), watching “Israel” play out in the media, is like having season tickets and balcony seats to quintessential theatre of the absurd and then being compelled to attend the daily matinee, the evening show and all the rehearsals: Likud vs. Kadima, Shas vs. anything, 67 borders or something else, Jerusalem, stalled peace talks, “a spokesman for the government said…”, Gaza, Hamas, settlements, “Israel denied any involvement…”, settlers, terrorism, “Israeli troops shot several suspected terrorist today…”, etc. Those of us who live here should be familiar with the script.
The primary issue that needs to be put on the table when discussing Israel is not “the peace process”, rather this: Why do so many Jewish Israelis cooperate with — or turn a blind eye to — how our government conducts its business? Peace and just relations with our neighbors will not precede peace and just relations within our borders. A signed “peace” treaty or the cessation of combat should not be misconstrued with peace itself. Modern Israel, as a nation, has never known peace.
As the government goes about the smoke and mirrors process of “seeking to revive the peace talks”, in well-secured buildings and offices all over Israel, official plans are being made and approved as to the next very-frightening-and-often-deadly-middle-of the-night house raid in the West Bank, as to the updating of bomb targets in Gaza, as to updating the official assassination list, as to where the next “fence” will be put up, as to which Palestinian or Bedouin home is scheduled to be bulldozed, as to where the next checkpoint will be set up, as to how many more fighter jets and tanks are needed, and of course, as to which Israeli citizen needs to be taught a lesson or two about the consequences of not towing the official line.
As the dead and maimed Palestinian bodies continue to stack up under the headline: “Israel retaliates…”, and world leaders farcically debate the prospects and plans for peace, millions of systemically marginalized Israelis sit in their back row balcony seats and watch re-run after re-run of the same show. Only the actors change from time to time. Everything else: the producer, the director, the underwriters and the audience, stay the same. Nothing to applaud here!
Where is the inspiration, guidance, support and protection of the religious leaders of Israel? Are Jewish religious leaders spiritually bankrupt and unable or unwilling to organize and lead a campaign for rudimentary social change within Israel? What about the promise Democracy is suppose to deliver on: freedom, justice, equal rights…? The future is bleak because the present is bleak. It seems wise that we would do something now, in the present, so we can guarantee the peaceful and prosperous future we all say we want.
By choice, I’m not proposing here any scenarios of what an ideal Israel would look like. I have chosen first to focus on trying to map out some of the many problems that beg to be addressed. But I’m confident some viable ideas could be gathered from the ranks of the millions of Israelis whose faces are officially unrecognized (except maybe in a wanted poster) and voices officially ignored (except that one might complain too loudly).
Admittedly, it might be is easier for me to speak out then many of my Israeli sisters and brothers, because as an African-American Jew, I don’t benefit, as enough people obviously do, from Israel’s well-choreographed dysfunction. Maybe if I did, I would be as uncomfortably silent as many of my fellow citizens. However, Israel’s national policies and practices, thankfully, all but guarantee that I will never get the chance to find out.
Personally, I can’t say what South African style apartheid was like. I didn’t experience it. What I did experience was Detroit (USA) style apartheid: “a social policy or racial segregation involving political and economic and legal discrimination against people who are not Whites”. Such a policy, unwritten as it may have been, was as equally ugly and hurtful to non-whites as it was unsustainable. The practice (remember the policy didn’t exist on paper anywhere), eventually led to the notorious 1967 popular uprising in Detroit, one of the deadliest and most destructive “riots” in American history. The federal government was only able to put down the uprising by calling in some of its best regular army troops. I grew up in the midst of all of that. When the smoke cleared there was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.
The Israel I live in today is eerily reminiscent of pre-riot Detroit in so many ways. However, Israel’s geopolitical realities dictate that the end point of where the country is headed won’t be a riot (like a kettle boiling over, small-scale riots happen all the time in Israel). Without an immediate and radical change of course, this country is headed for the trash heap of nations, period.
My belief in the basic goodness of mankind won’t allow me to embrace the idea that there might be a single Jew on the planet who would try to defend any of these things. However, my submission to reality keeps me conscious of the fact that enough Jews will deny all of it. And the strength of their denial, you can be sure, will be commensurate with the denier’s level of investment in and rewards received from any dysfunction I have mentioned. How else could things continue as they somehow manage to do?
An indictment such as this, being brought against such a powerful state, would probably get more traction if it were brought by someone less vulnerable to personal attack than myself. My only comfort in all of this is that mine is not a lone voice. A less than healthy amount of commentators and activists are — and have been — sounding the alarm; putting out a call for action. My hope is that none of my readers allow themselves to be sidetracked by the age old and highly effective diversion: busy dissecting the messenger, the message goes unattended.
Either we walk through the double-hinged door that leads to change and fashion something of our own making, or change will soon burst through the door from the other side and then we will have to cope with whatever it imposes. Global realities — Israel’s geopolitical reality in particular — dictate that our impending date with change will not be put off for much longer.
– C. Hazakyah Hardy-Dia, a Jewish Israeli with African-American roots, is a veteran educator, accomplished performing and recording artist, and former journalist whose news articles were a prominent feature in the US “Black press” in the 1980s. Raised Catholic, he converted to Judaism in 1987, and immigrated to Israel in October 2004. He currently resides in the port city of Haifa, where he teaches English and regularly performs as a guitarist on the famed Masada Street. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: [email protected].