The amusing term ‘coexistence’

By Hisham Nafa’
From Haaretz
Many people have expressed surprise at the recent violence in Acre. Particularly amusing was the mantra that rolled off the tongues of government officials, their eyes wide open: “How could such a thing happen in a city of coexistence?”  

There are two possible explanations for the bizarre logic behind this sentence: stupidity, or a cynicism that insults the public’s intelligence. It is of course difficult to attribute stupidity to the seasoned public servants with wit enough to climb to positions of power, close to the goodies. They also know how to numb the minds of the sheep while arousing their base instincts. Since the fear instinct in these parts is overly combustible, its manifestations appear immediately: arrogance and hatred toward all Arabs. And when all of these combine to form a near-chemical compound, it will be difficult to put out the fires they ignite simply by spraying them with slogans. 

In Acre, as in the rest of the Greater Land of Israel, there is no coexistence. In Acre, there is pain and bitterness, built up over decades. It began not on Yom Kippur of this year, but rather since the ships filled with refugees left the city’s shores; since the residents were placed in the handcuffs of military rule; since tens of thousands of their countrymen became victims of a violent, colonialist occupation; since a conscious, intentional policy of national suppression and racial hostility was instituted against them; and since they, living in their homes facing the city’s beaches and on their land, began to be described as a demographic threat. 


There are more details to this ugly picture: Acre has poor Jewish neighborhoods, where the ruling establishment sees to it that the building rage of the inhabitants is not turned against it. It is not a conspiracy in the classic sense, the kind found in fiction, but rather the product of all of the governmental interests. Because a thinking public is a public that is dangerous to its rulers. So where does this rage get channeled? To the usual suspect, the Arabs. Here is where racism takes on a very popular expression. The Jewish victims of the regime become a weapon against the ultimate victims of the same regime. There you have it: an explosive vicious circle. 

For years, Acre’s local government officials have been babbling, in the spirit of the times, about the need to Judaize the city. Groups of settlers and of young religious people, who have undergone right-wing nationalization, were brought to the city. And Acre’s Arabs ask themselves what this Judaization means, if not their actual and symbolic removal; have we been disinherited once again? 

In recent years, religious tendencies have grown among significant “non-white” segments of Israeli society. It turns out that the “opiate of the masses” effect has not skipped over the People of Israel. And in a state where hostility regarding matters of identity has spread to every part – social rifts, in sociological lingo – even Yom Kippur has become an opportunity to exercise hatred, in utter contradiction to its religious meaning. Instead of requests for divine forgiveness, there is an increase in violent rituals against anything that moves. Maybe some people need a Yom Kippur II, to ask forgiveness for their actions during Yom Kippur I. 

Acre, of course, is not alone. There is the “coexistence” model of Jaffa. In that city, greedy real-estate developers and pseudo-artists have infiltrated the Old City and live in walled fortresses, because it’s so much fun to live in such an exotic area. With regard to the adjacent areas of poverty, suffering and oppression, however, their eyes – and especially their conscience – have remained sealed. And there are those who are enchanted by the idea of implementing this model in the Old City of Acre, too. The Arab residents and their representatives speak of an accelerated assault in recent years of real estate acquisitions. They are convinced, justifiably, that it is a creeping takeover that will end with in their exclusion and even expulsion from their living space. It is not for nothing that the concept of Nakba appears in their reactions. 

So there is nothing surprising in what happened in Acre. I suggest to all the potentially surprised individuals to get ready for more “surprises” in other locales. Unless, of course, a a practical, sincere, strategic decision is taken to change Israeli policy concerning the “Arab question” – both at home and beyond.

In the meantime, the Arabs of Acre, like all Arab citizens of Israel, have no magic formula for coping. What is available to them is the lesson learned in the shadow of the Israeli regime: It’s called sumud [“steadfastness” in Arabic], holding on to the homeland and waging a stubborn struggle for full civil and national equality. 

Hisham Nafa’ is an author and a journalist.

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