A few comments on the Israeli body

Nakba Law in German
Nakba Law in German

Quite a bit has been written about the physical becoming of "Israelis." I would like to devote a few posts to share my personal experiences on this subject. I realize the title "Israeli body" generalizes countless varieties of bodies of Israelis. Still, I believe my experiences represent in one way or another experiences that many Israelis share.
The questions that guide me here include: how does the individual's body become Israeli? What is written on the Israeli body? What are we, Israelis, writing on the bodies of our children? What does the Israeli body not know? What's not to know? What terrifies the Israeli body? What makes it shiver? How does the Israeli body detect an enemy? What are the enemy languages of the Israeli body?

I was in Berlin this past May at a workshop on memory and human rights. Of course, we discussed the memory of the Nazi regime. We were introduced to an exciting project called "Places of Remembrance" in the Bavarian Quarter in Berlin by Renate Stih and Frieder Shnock. Dozens of signs were posted in various places and each sign had two sides. On one was an image of, for instance, a dog or a loaf of bread. On the other a short sentence taken from one of the racist laws enacted by the Nazi regime at its beginning. Many of these laws directly relate to Jews and denied them rights. One thing that caught my eye was the image of a cat on one of the signs where on the other side it's written "Jews are no longer allowed to have household pets."

My horizon, through which I got involved with this memorial project, is the learning of the Nakba and my effort to construct it as Israeli history too. On the days I was in Berlin the Knesset approved the "Nakba Law," aimed at preventing learning and commemorating the Nakba in Israel by creating an atmosphere of terror against anyone who engages in it. These Nazi laws in Berlin, from the beginning of the racist regime in Germany, reminded me immediately of the Israeli racist regime. The Nakba Law is one of a series of racist laws that makes Israel even less democratic and accentuates its Jewishness. This is another law that exposes the lie called "Jewish and democratic state."
In Germany the racist laws enacted by the Nazis were not the Holocaust. They were the legal foundation upon which horror itself later occurred, when millions of people were exterminated by people who considered themselves chosen and special and terrible war victims that occurred in Europe some years before. This legal foundation did not necessarily lead to genocide of European Jewry but it is certainly made it possible, and in retrospect one cannot understand the Holocaust without understanding the racist regime that started it.

Here in Israel, the government initiated legislation bears the stamp of Lieberman, the most effective politician who rose here since Ben-Gurion. With all the justified rage against Lieberman and his various loyalty laws one have to admit that these laws are deeply intertwined with the Zionist logic. If Israel is the state of the "Jewish people," (also called "Jewish State") the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of the natives for its establishment - was absolutely necessary. In such a Jewish state, even if it has democratic aspects, the laws are likely to reflect the Zionist spirit and block any significant threat to its foundations. It goes without saying that learning the Nakba undermines the Zionist narrative. In this sense, Tzipi Livni was right when she claimed that if the Palestinians want peace they should give up the memory of the Nakba. She's more honest than many of the Zionist leftists who argue that it's possible to remember and acknowledge the Nakba in depth in the framework of the Jewish state.

The Nakba law is, thus, the legal and updated manifestation of the fear to engage with the Nakba. But this law was written on the Israeli body a long time ago. As soon as the dust from the convoys of Palestinian refugees had settled, the Israeli propaganda machine started to explain and justify this human tragedy. What followed was an almost complete denial the Nakba until about the fiftieth anniversary of Israel when it became no longer possible to ignore the growing activity by Palestinians on the issue, even within the boundaries of the Jewish state. And since more and more Israelis – Kosher Jews, Sabra and kibbutzniks, soldiers in the IDF - are interested in the Nakba and understanding its importance as Israeli history—their own history—the government could no longer ignore it and passed a law that seeks to continue the deletion of this past of history.

So, what was written on Israeli body about the Nakba? The body does not know it; it had never happened and if it did, then it was their (the Palestinians) fault alone; not only the fault of the Palestinians but also that of all the Arab countries that started the war; After the Holocaust there was no choice but to establish a Jewish state in Israel; the world voted for the Jewish state and the Arabs opposed it and wanted to throw us into the sea. Recently, we have seen our Prime Minister claim that the Arabs started the violence in 1948. It was a little embarrassing (although perhaps encouraging!) that the head of the 63 year old state is required to justify its existence.

How was it (the Nakba) written for Israelis on the body?
The memory project I mentioned earlier in this text deals with the beginning of the Nazi regime. Naturally, the Holocaust jumps to the Israeli mind although this project does not deal with it. In the Israeli collective memory any mention of German history raises up what our bodies are burned with in very national ways. The Israeli body is entirely drafted for a sole purpose: to strengthen Israeli nationalism; Zionism. Its interest in the horror of European Jews remains instrumental to Zionist militarism and chauvinism. Our body is trained on it from about the age three. All Israelis are commanded to stand still in the same day and at the same moment for these purposes.
When Gal, my second son, was four, he returned from the kindergarten on the Holocaust Memorial Day and I was very concerned for his mood. He confirmed my apprehension and was sad and angry. "They made me to be sad," he told me, "I did not want to be sad." He told me how the teacher has trained them to stand at attention during the siren, reminding me of what my body remembers so well. "You should lower your head so chin almost touches the chest and lower the gaze down. You should not laugh of course." Which Israeli does not know these physical operating instructions? With children, the learning of these physical gestures gets some twists, but apparently no new ones, as Naom, my seven and a half years old son, told me after this past Holocaust Memorial Day, saying "one child was tricking with all of us, even the teacher (!) When he created a sound of siren and made us all stand attention, a few minutes before the real siren. He laughed and we all did but the teacher did not like it. Later, at the ceremony the school principal said again and again that we all should grow as Zionists in Israel. At the end we sang the national anthem, Hatikvah"

"How is the Israeli anthem associated with the Holocaust?" I asked angrily without following the parent guides' instructions not to involve children with their own troubles. He was silent and didn't know what to say. Indeed, how can one answer this question? The only answer is that of the Zionist: Israel as a Jewish state is the response to the Holocaust and we'll do anything to preserve it intact, including wars forever. The school headmaster, as usual in Israel, does not make any distinction between Jews and Israelis or Zionists. Israeli children grow up without the ability to distinguish between the terms Jews and Israelis. Teachers adopt well the Israeli propaganda according to which opposition to the policy of Israel is a new form of anti-Semitism. They teach our children that the Holocaust was against us, the Israelis.

The Holocaust functions as the ultimate victimizer for Israelis who embody the answer to the Holocaust. It justifies any Israeli atrocity inflicted on the Palestinians. It is also not comparable to any other human atrocity. So, any mention of it in Israel, not in the "right" context that justifies the continued oppression of the Palestinians, immediately leads to an emotional and self-righteous response that prevents rational discussion. If someone offers a comparison between something done in Israel to something done to the Jews in Germany (even when it comes to the mindsets, or laws, rather than physical destruction itself) the usual body reaction is a noisy protest, abandonment, and profanity.

This happened when I dared to suggest, at that seminar in Berlin, putting up a sign in Tel Aviv on Israeli Independence Day, where on one side it would have citation from the Nakba Law in German stating that: it's not allowed to mourn at the state founding day. Israel 2011. Like the German memorial project signs, the other side of the sign would be an iconic image of the Nakba, for example, a Palestinian refugee holding his house key.

Before I could even finish writing the sentence on the board in German, an Israeli participant, who reads German, erupted in angry protest. "How dare you compare the Holocaust to the Nakba Law?" She snapped. "It's not comparing the Holocaust to anything, but the laws of the Nazi regime at the beginning to the Nakba Law" I tried to defend the idea, but it was hard for me to hide my embarrassment.

"You are promoting your political agenda and you have no right to do so. I expect you as Israeli to represent Israel well." "And representing Israel is not a political agenda?" I asked. "Well, yes ..." She honestly admitted.

How can we discuss this memory without politics? The right question is rather what politics are embodied in the act of remembering? What does the memory dictate on our bodies? What does it make us do? And, what does it forbid us from doing?

The answer depends on the ideology that guides the act of remembering. Ideology is written on our bodies as citizens and in a sense “run” them. Parents are important ideology agents as they imprint ideology on their offspring's body. From the moment of birth parents in Israel tend to cut off part of the son's body and soak their children in their ideology. Also, those who reject this crop (referred to as circumcision) embed their sons' bodies with ideology, by rejecting it. So, the question is not whether we, as parents, drown our children in an ideology, but what is this ideology? What does it mean?
I wanted to demonstrate, as father, the imprinting of my ideology on my children’s bodies by actually writing on their bodies. Three of them refused to do it, thus demarcating the limits of my sovereignty on their bodies. Only the elder agreed. Why did he agree while his brother and sister refused? Norma Musih, my friend, offers an interesting explanation. He had learned the language of resistance and expressed it by his own refusal to serve in the Israeli army and therefore felt more confident. Or, maybe he's just more forgiving to his father's weird ideas.
The sentence is almost an exact quote from the Nakba Law passed at the Knesset: It is not allowed to mourn at the state founding day. Israel 2011.

The prohibition to learn about the Nakba in Israel is ingrained in our body from infancy. Nakba is not taught in almost any context in Israel. So, Jewish Israelis are detached from their own and very recent past, the one that established the Jewish state.

This law also ingrained in our body in German as it is the language of an enemy for many Israelis. Although many in Israel were brought up within an environment of the German language and the Yiddish, which is very close to it, it's perceived as a constant threat. That's why a caption in German of an Israeli racist law inflames Israelis so much.

Arabic is also the language of the enemy in Israel, and, like German, for many Israelis Arabic is mother tongue. It's interesting to compare the attitudes of Israeli toward German and Arabic. It seems that more Israelis return to Germany and see it as desired destination. Only few Israelis see the Arab Region and language as home. The Israeli attitude toward the Arab Region is essentially colonial, requiring an obedient body, ready to combat and sacrifice himself.


English editing: Lubna A. Hammad


buy testosterone wrote 1 year 36 weeks ago

מאמר זה נותן את האור שבו אנו יכולים לראות את המציאות.

Patch wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Kudos to you! I hadn't tohught of that!

Valentina wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

Shiver me tmbires, them's some great information.

Tom wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

that one day her grandparent have onpeed the front door and have found his relative cut into pieces and packed into plastic bags, after which they run to Jord Wait a minute!Plastic bags? In 1948?With all due respect it's not possible.So it's either girl is misinformed and is not credible or lying intentionally and is not credible as well, which makes one very interesting question how many of these survivors have told genuine stories?

Riza wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

I agree with clenchner that this is an inportamt project. As an Israeli I can empathize with the Palestinian's desire to tell their story and to pass it on to the next generation.A couple of corrections:-By the time of operation Danny , the Hagana had ceased to exist, the IDF had been established.-Moshav Beit Meir, built on the ruins of Beit Mahsir, is not named for Golda Meir, but for Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan.

Inoka wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

these remind me of the viedos holocaust remembrance groups collected. they filmed my grandmother's story (polish jewish). they are both tragic episodes. of course there is no EQUATING the two events, but there are very clear similarities . violence and ethnic cleansing and racism the key similarities.we all know how even the free expression of commemorating the nakba in israel is illegal for state affiliated institutions, and met with repression among others. imagine if the jews were ever told they could not mark the tragedy of the holocaust. sick. at the same time, i witnessed marches of right wing groups in jaffa, with some calling for death to the arabs (just months ago). if they want to crack down on expressions which threaten the peace the israeli state can start with these racist events. they have no excuse to stop nakba commemorations by citizens. although it will upset the (many) israelis who are callous and do not know the full history so what? israelis, the average one, can take such upsetting protests, and not move to violence. i cannot say how i would feel as an arab when armed right wingers marched through jaffa stating that the arabs will be gone . THAT is scary. THAT is something you MIGHT want to consider repressing but i even support their right to be racist, as long as the state prevents violence, and the kind israelis stage counter-protests (they do, but not enough go).the world needs to wake up. i had never seen such a high level of hypocrisy and projection as i did in israel. almost every charge leveled at palestinians, often unsubstantiated or hyperbolic, can usually (more accurately) be leveled at the israeli state/violent settlers.1) they are violent [just live near a violent settlement]2) they do not want us to exist [just listen to major politicians, or read the texts of previous PMs. many deny the concept of a palestinian, and further, ANY sovereign palestinian state.... what then shall they do with all the unwanted humans... or perhaps they are of the camp that dehumanized them]3) they teach their kids to hate [the hate is more palpable with israelis, and i lived with family in israel, and in the west bank; also see the maps some israelis are brought up with]4) they celebrate violent acts [some have shrines to baruch goldstein, and fringe groups advocate violence and memorialize the extremists. ben gurion was a terrorist, and he clearly has some memorials. many viewed the attack on gaza from lawn chairs while having a BBQ... BBQ being appropriate considering the white phosphorus display they were able to take in]5) they venerate terrorists [see 4, also sharon was a terrorist and terror facilitator, found ~'personally responsible' by the high court for sabra and shatila]6) they do not want peace [read the palestine papers, or just know the history since 1948, not the hasbara]7) the list would be very long, i'll stop myself here the reasons zionists like to say there is no truth, and only narratives? they are in a position of relative power, zionism was built on lies and thus feeds off them currently, and further:the truth, when they realize it exits, tells a very very very sad story.

Elmira wrote 3 years 11 weeks ago

What a joy to find soemnoe else who thinks this way.

Ligia wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

What a joy to find smoenoe else who thinks this way.

Wednesday wrote 3 years 1 week ago

I can't bevliee you're not playing with me--that was so helpful.

Sandrine wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

A slideshow tlinleg (in short words) the story of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. Selected pictures, documented statistics, Naji Al-Ali cartoons and heart-felt music. Thank you for listening. Emad Sinan.عرض لوقائع نكبة فلسطين 1948 من خلال صور مختارة، احصائيات موثقة، رسوم للشهيد ناجي العلي و موسيقى عالمية مؤثرة. شكرا على حسن الاستماع. عماد سنان

Hiroyuki wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

is misinformed and is not cribedle Yeah, because the thing upon which the credibility of this story from the Nakba depends is the irrelevant trivial detail of whether the bag was plastic or canvas. Put another way: Elie Wiesel has been of being somewhat creative and less-than-completely accurate in certain passages of Night. If he got a trivial detail wrong, are we to then conclude that the Shoah never happened or question the stories of the survivors??

Vipin wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Vicky: Prior to 1948, such events were rare and sptiaally limited; they didn’t sweep the country .Really? You are just another revisionist historian. Here, read this:. Arab violence against Jews is often alleged to have begun with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 or as a result of Israel's capture in 1967 of territories occupied by Jordan. But even before the Mandate for Palestine was assigned to Great Britain by the Allies at the San Remo Conference (April 1920) and endorsed by the League of Nations (July 1922), Palestinian Arabs were carrying out organized attacks against Jewish communities in Palestine. Systematic violence began in early 1920 with murderous assaults by groups of local Arabs against settlements in the north and by Muslim pilgrims against Jerusalem's Jews. Again in 1921, Arab rioters attacked Jews in Jaffa and its environs. The primary agitator behind these attacks was Haj Amin al Husseini, who marshalled Arab discontent over Jewish immigration into violent riots..In 1929, Husseini and his associates fomented a violent jihad as they called upon Muslims to defend their holy places from the Jews. As a result, pogroms were carried out across Palestine. Arab villagers sympathetic to Jews were often targets of murderous attacks by their Arab brethren as well. British forces were sharply criticized for not policing the territory adequately, for sympathizing with the Arabs, and for standing by and allowing havoc to be wreaked upon Jewish communities in Palestine..In 1936, the Arab Higher Committee, led by Grand Mufti Husseini, launched a campaign of anti-Jewish violence across Palestine. Accompanied by a six-month-long strike, the campaign became known as The Arab Revolt. As the British increasingly became targets of Arab violence, they used massive force to suppress the aggression. The revolt was finally quashed in 1939. The resulting White Paper of 1939 reversed British commitment to a Jewish State (the raison d'etre of the Mandate) and drastically limited Jewish immigration into Palestine

Loryn wrote 3 years 13 weeks ago

At last, someone comes up with the "right" aswenr!

Moriba wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

Allan MacFadyen grandson of Angus MacFadyen 5th son of Ian MacFadyen born in New Zealand now linvig in Australia and hoping one day to visit. will be keeping an eye on this site to learn more about my heritage.

eytan wrote 3 years 15 weeks ago

Thank you so much Magdalena for the very interesting comment. I'd love to read more specific experiences from your Ulpan and other ways to embody you as Israeli.

Darrence wrote 2 years 48 weeks ago

Cheers pal. I do appreciate the wrtinig.

wullan wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

It's great to find soemnoe so on the ball

Joyce wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

wordpress tema…Wow, mlroeavus blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content!… Also, I am really stupid!

Jose wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Stellar work there everonye. I'll keep on reading.

Indra wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

WOW! 3 million. Thats innsae and so fun.:)Your blog was the first blog I found outside Norway.I have spendt hours peeking in here. Your blog is simply stunning. Thank you very much!Nice dinnerware. Fits perfectly into your home.I have a give away right now that have prizes I think yoy will like:)Stop by and join:)Lineca from Norway

Lova wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

This could not possibly have been more hfeplul!

yarithaa wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

WOW! 3 million. Thats isnane and so fun.:)Your blog was the first blog I found outside Norway.I have spendt hours peeking in here. Your blog is simply stunning. Thank you very much!Nice dinnerware. Fits perfectly into your home.I have a give away right now that have prizes I think yoy will like:)Stop by and join:)Lineca from Norway

Kairii wrote 3 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks for sharing. What a pelausre to read!

Mike wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

That's not even 10 miutnes well spent!

Nitesh wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

I like to party, not look atrciles up online. You made it happen.

Gulabha wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

That's what we've all been wiatnig for! Great posting!

Magdalena wrote 3 years 15 weeks ago

Becoming Israeli
Reading this post connected me with my own sense of being a new immigrant in the context of the Israeli society. Having arrived to Israel three years ago was one of the most challenging identity processes that I had went though, and still continue to face.
Evermore, social inscription in the body or the "embodying" of cultural values is a phenomenon that takes place even before birth. From the perspective of gender studies men and women are raise to become something in particular. In this case is about the distinction of the biological bodies and its proper fitting with the social gender identity distinguished as female/male. Furthermore, our bodies are marked and labeled by society in order to lead us to be someone in particular, to become a specific someone.
When it comes about immigration, body inscription is not less important. The state of Israel has developed several policies, institutions, and vocabulary to address these issues. It is well known that the state of Israel's agenda its concern about facilitating the arrival of Diaspora Jew's in the country, and latter on with their appropriate adaptation. An example of this affair is the "law of return", also the creation of Hebrew teaching centers for adults known as Ulpan which provides new Jewish immigrants the opportunity to learn the language with no cost what so ever; not to mention financial support and free access to higher education as some of the many strategies to assimilate newly arrived Jewish immigrants into the country.
Within this context, immigrant's bodies too face a new inscription to their souls. What is being taught and spread in the newcomers bodies' is the expectation of becoming Israeli, or so to say to conform the "Israeliness" (as I like to call it). As well as children who are being taught how to feel or behave on the Holocaust Memorial Day or the celebration of the Independence Day, at the Ulpan or the Absorption housing centers the marking process of becoming Israeli occurs as well. In this sense, if the curriculum and social practices in the Ulpan socializes the Israeli ethos, newcomers are request to interiorized values and behaviors in order to adapt themselves and being able to develop an Israeli Jewish personally throughout performing the Israeliness.
Considering that the Israeli establishment has separated the Israeli identity form any connection to the Palestine people some questions remain silenced, and therefore, Jewish newcomers are prevented from any association to the Palestine identity or its existence.   
 As a new immigrant who acknowledges the consequences of the Nakba and the social danger of hiding it, I must say that my sense of belonging to the Israeliness is never complete. I guess that understanding our identity as something dynamic and socially constructed is a good start in order to comprehend that in this circumstances we have become to be a body whose identity has plenty dark faces to uncover.    

Leorex wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

I read Ms Weir in Counterpunch a day or so ago, and referenced her arictle in a comment here at the time I think she is really great, one of the great courageous voices who's been on top of nearly everything regarding the I-P conflict and its relation to our domestic politics for years. Her web site, If Americans Knew, is a font of needed information always. I've never been able to get the Christian fundies I have email contact with to actually read it they either simply are not interested because Jews, and therefore, Israel are the chosen we must support always, or, in the case of one Jews For Jesus (who's not a Jew) member; she turned to her own hasbara sources and they told her Weir's site is anti-semitic. That was enough not to skim it at least once. Otherwise, nobody I know is interested in what Weir has to say, nor re MW either. They are interested in saving dogs, or the sports news.

Juan wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Your's is the itnelligent approach to this issue.

Mamdoh wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Bill But I’m happy to see that Zionism has finally rehaced its absurd conclusion after all these years of pretending to be a haven, a refuge, the ONLY democracy in the middle east Why are you so happy Dr Bill? Is it Schadenfreude? Well then, don't count your chickens before they are hatched. Israel is here to stay as the state for the Jewish people but which will also look after it's minorities.Is Israel a perfect democracy? Of course not. Is there no discrimination in Israel? Of course there is. But there is also a 100 year old war going on. So, yes Israel is an imperfect democracy. It is not the black and white cartoon state that you and your ilk pretend it to be.But then again, show me a perfect democracy anywhere where discrimination does not exist. Many western countries tolerate exclusive golf clubs where Jews and other minorities will never be allowed to be members and unlike Israel, those countries are not at war. Yet I would still describe those Western countries as democracies, albeit imperfect ones.You might say that what we are talking about here is state sponsored discrimination. It is arguable either way whether what is proposed is discriminatory or not. But let's say that it is. Even then, it doesn't mean the end of democracy in Israel. It just means that some politicians momentarily have their way while they are in power. And when they will get out of power, the other side of politics has the chance to undo bad or stupid laws. That's how democracy works. One step backwards and two steps forward (sometimes the other way around).Now Dr Bill, please show me a country that has perfect democracy with no discrimination and I will show you a liar or a deluded person.

Tracen wrote 2 years 48 weeks ago

You got to push it-this essetnial info that is!

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