Upon asking people what superpower they would most like to possess, one of the most popular answers is the ability to become invisible.
In Israel, 20.7% of the population is invisible; we are the Israeli-Palestinians: Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent, living within the 1967 borders. In that case, invisibility is not what makes us omnipotent, but rather it is our kryptonite.
Let me share with you an experience of what it means to be an invisible Palestinian in Israel. Since this is my last year of studies, my friends and I decided to take part in the annual International Festival celebrated on our campus. It came naturally for me to enlist “Palestine” as my representing culture. However, it was entirely rejected by the organizers as well as the leadership of the institution. What we were encouraged to do was to put up an “Israeli Arab” corner, as part of the Israeli booth. Makes sense, right?
The claims against the representation of Palestine were three: (a) None of us were born in Palestine, (b) There is no such country as Palestine, and © It will only bring trouble. Let me explain to you why none of the above should apply to our case.
The first two claims are based on the assumption that we wanted to represent the Palestinian State. This is a prevailing assumption also amongst many of my Israeli friends. Whenever I introduce myself as “Israeli-Palestinian”, they turn on their defensive mode of thinking immediately; I can see it in their faces. Their expression warns me: wrong answer, Henriette. In some cases they are even offended by it, telling me that if I insist on referring to myself as Palestinian, then I should go and live in Palestine.
What they expect me to say is that I am “Israeli Arab”, just as I was expected to erect an “Israeli Arab” booth. So why do I still insist on calling myself “Israeli Palestinian”? Why am I not pragmatic about it, simply taking on the majority’s label?
This is because my identity as an “Israeli Arab” is invented. It is a concept created by the Jewish Israeli authorities during the establishment of the State of Israel, with the purpose of erasing Palestinian affiliation amongst its “’48 Palestinians.” Indeed, it proved to be a powerful political tool, since most Palestinian citizens of Israel today refer to themselves as “Israeli Arabs”. Socially, however, it’s devoid of any cultural weight. The language I speak indeed is Arabic, but it belongs to the Palestinian dialect. The traditions I follow might be Arab, but specifically they are Palestinian. Besides, aren’t Jewish Israelis from Arab countries also “Israeli Arabs”? In that case, my emphasis on “Palestinian” is similar to any other case of Israelis claiming they are “Iraqi Jews” or “Lebanese Jews”.
By asserting the Palestinian component of my identity, I do not deny my Israeliness. Whether I want it or not, there is something Israeli about who I am, and how I am socialized. However, as a member of a minority in Israel, my heritage cannot fully be represented by the definition of “Israeli Arab”. The fact that my identity is hyphenated does not mean I am contradicting myself. And the fact that the two national components of my identity are in conflict does not mean that I am betraying either one of them. In fact, they enrich each other. In order for me to be a better Israeli citizen, I must have room to express my Palestinian self. If not politically, because of the excuse of “security threat”, then at least culturally. At least.
Regarding the third claim, that any Palestinian mention would bring trouble, I say: disallowing us to choose our label of identification is no less of an abuse of tolerance and an assault on our identity. This attitude is what stands between reality and our vision for Israel. Until an Israeli identity is consolidated to encompass all citizens, regardless of their faith or ethnicity, Israelis, including its Palestinian citizens, will continue to find it important to emphasize the fractions of who they are. Until we feel that our heritage is welcomed with tolerance, and not marginalized by ignorance, we will continue to flag our differences. We do not do this to be provocative; we do it in order to shed our invisibility. So have the courage to allow us step out of our latency. Dare explore our presence, as Palestinians, in the Israeli public sphere.
YaLa Young Leaders