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Sayed Kashua at U of W
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Palestinian Writer Sayed Kashua (Who was at U of W's 2016 Middle East Peace Week )-Tira, the Nakba, One State or Two ?

by Rhonda Spivak, June 19, 2016

I've had quite some time to reflect on  novelist  Sayed Kashua's lecture at the University of Winnipeg who spoke here  as part of 2016 Middle East Peace Week and wanted to take this opportunity to provide some historical background about Kashua's town of birth Tira, which is part of the Triangle region in central Israel, along the narrow coast not far from Netanya.

Kashua spoke about his grandmother in Tira who during the 1948 war, "the "Nakba", lost her lands, and how his grandfather lost his life in the battle over Tira. (Note for The Hanagannah the villages of the Triangle were strategic since they could snipe at traffic on the road from Tel-Aviv to Haifa). There is no question that Kashua's grandmother, who was illiterate but a very intelligent woman, suffered greatly as a result fo the war, and she was the one who told Kashau stories about this time. 


What wasn't mentioned in Kashua's lecture was that Tira and Taybe and other Arab villages in the Triangle were supposed to be part of an Arab state according to the UN partition plan of 1947. David Ben-Gurion and the Yishuv leadership, albeit they were not altogether enamoured with the partition plan, accepted it, but the Palestinians under the  leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem , Haj Amin Al Huseini opposed the plan, as did the surrounding Arab states. As a result of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 partition plan, war broke out, and the result was that after the war was over Sayed Kashua's village of Tira and  the other Arab villages of the Triangle were incorporated into Israel, the victor of the war, as per the 1949 Armistice Lines. I would have liked to have asked Kashua if there were any villagers in Tira who thought at the time that the Palestinians ought to have accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan.


Therefore, Kashua's grandmother  and Kashua himself would have been part of an Arab state under the 1947 Partition plan, and  would not have lost any of their lands at all  had the Palestinian Arab leadership and the Arab states accepted the Partition Plan of 1947. I  wonder whether  Kashua recognizes that it was a historical mistake for the Palestinians to have refused to have accepted the 1947 partition plan , which would have meant sharing the land. At no point in his lecture or his discussion about his village Tira, did he indicate that  the Palestinians must take some responsibility in having taken rejectionist positions, the result of which has been that they do not have the state that they could have had certainly as early as 1947.
As an aside, there was no context given for what happened to the land that was Kashua's grandmother's such that I can not comment upon this. Tira is relatively near the border with what would then have then been Jordan, an enemy  country that attacked Israel in 1948, and I have wondered whether farmland from Tira could have been taken over by the Israeli State since it would have been near the border or needed for a no-mans land with Jordan. But alas, I do not know if there were any security or other related reasons for the loss of Kashua's grandmother's land. Kashua simply said when she went to her lands- her orchards- she was told by an Israeli soldier she couldn't go there anymore. 
Again, I can certainly understand and recognize how on a personal level Kashua's grandmother , and many other Palestinians like her, suffered greatly from the 1948 war. However, there was no inner reflection by Kashua which enabled him to say at the lecture that the "Nakba" was the result of  the fact that Palestinian and Arab leadership rejected the  UN resolution calling for the establishment of both a Jewish state and a [ Palestinian] Arab state.
As Irwin Cotler has written, "“The Jewish leadership accepted the resolution, but the Palestinian and Arab leadership did not, which they had a right to do. What they did not have a right to do was attack the nascent Jewish state with the objective – as they acknowledged at the time – of initiating a "‘war of extermination.’"  We can only wonder what would have happened to the Jews in 1948 had they lost the war ? The Jews certainly believed that they would have been collectively slaughtered ( Note that historian Benny Morris has concluded more recently that the 1948 war as a "jihad" as well as a territorial and political war).
Leaving aside 1948,  of course, it seems clear that  Palestinian Arabs made a mistake in rejecting the Peel Commission plan in 1938 which was more generous to the Paelstinians than the 1947 Partition Plan. In this regard, research by Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has shown that from 1917 to 1948 prior to the State of Israel being established ,  about 20% of Palestinians were willing to accept the Peel Commission plan for the partition of Palestine in 1937 , which called for a Jewish state. They were represented by Raghib al-Nashashibi, who became Mayor of Jerusalem in 1920, and who was willing to accept the Peel Commission plan, and secretly favoured  a union with Transjordan. The Nashashibi clan opposed the extremism of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin  Husseini. However, as Cohen relates, the extremists of the Palestinians  had the upper hand and terrorized the moderates. A month before the Peel commission report, there was a bomb thrown at the Nashashibis's most prominent field activist in Jerusalem. Two weeks later there was an attempt to kill the nephew of Mayer Nashashibi , and then assailants arrived for a second time at the home of a moderate Bethlehem mayor  opening fire. "Cohen writes, "The message was clear: anyone who leaned towards compromise or disputed Hajj Amin's leadership was a traitor whose life was forfeit."

Had the Palestinians chosen to  support the  moderate position of  the Nashishibi clan over the rejectionist  Husseini clan, they could have had the borders the Peel commission offered. 

In order  to make progress in bringing the conflict to an end , one day the majority of Palestinians will need to come to terms with Israel's existence  and agree to live side by side with  a sovereign Jewish state.In other words they will finally have to  adopt 'the Nashishibi position over the Mufti's position. 

In the lecture Kashua said he and other Palestinian citizens of Israel think there to be could be "a one state or a two state or any kind of solution  that the Palestinain Authority and the Palestinian refugees agreed to." When he said this, I was struck by the fact that he said a one state solution first, before he said a two state solution. In my view, a one state (a bi-national state-in which ultimately Palestinians will become a majority) is  a complete non-starter, since Israel is not going to commit national suicide. Kashua knows Israeli society well enough to know that Jewish Israelis are not ever going to agree to a bi-national one state. In mentioning this first, I wonder whether Kashua was letting his imagination run wild, engaging in a bit of  fantasy, or fiction, over reality.That is a great exercise for a novelist, and Kashua is an excellent novelist. But I believe that he must know that  a bi-national one state is an illusion, and in fact is a prescription for war (i.e. the only way Jewish Israelis will dismantle the state of Israel is if they lose it in a war).

It was disappointing to see that Kashua in the lecture didn't  clearly advocate for a bringing about a two state solution, a Palestinian state living in peace live side by side with the Jewish state of Israel. Kashua's village of  Tira , by the way, in such a scenario, could potentially be the subject of a land swap. In 2014, Israeli Media Ma'ariv reported that Israel has suggested to the United States a plan to transfer to the Palestinian Authority (PA) the area known as the Triangle in east-central Israel, including the cities of Tayibe and Tira, in which about 300,000 Arabs live. In return for this, Israel would  get to keep settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, helping to maintain Israel's Jewish character.

(I would have liked to have asked Kashua if the villagers of Tira would prefer to have   be transferred to  citizens of a Palestinian state or  remain as citizens of Israel, if this "land swap" was ever to occur. It would have been interesting to hear his answer, although I presume he would say that most of the villagers would prefer to be in a Palestinian state. Note however, when Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman suggested that  Um  Al Fachum , a large Arab town inside Israel bordering the West Bank be transferred to a future Palestinian state, many Israeli Arab residents of Um Al Fachum indicated they wanted to remain in Israel.)

Kashua, by the way, has criticized Palestinian society for its intolerance of free speech although he did not do so in the lecture.

Kashua's hometown Tira is mentioned in this recent article in Bloomberg this week, and there is no question that the Israeli government must invest more in the Israeli Arab sector economically in order to address the gaps in education and enable Israeli Arabs to have the tools to suceed economically."The government realizes it needs to change its approach to the Arab community if it wants to better integrate them," said Michal Tzuk, deputy direcotor-general at the Ministy of the Economy."We understand that getting minorities to work will not only boost the economy but address social problems."

I have just finished reading Kashua's book, Second Person Singular (2010), which won the Bernstein Prize, and explores Arab and Jewish identities. It really is an amazing read, and I couldn't put it down . I  would recommend reading it, and I wouldn't hesitate reading more of his books.

After hearing Kashua speak at the University of Winnipeg, I was however not surprised to read  that Kashua has said that he doesn't want to write in Hebrew anymore or for Ha'aretz (he is a weekly columnist there).  My sense from hearing his lecture was that Kashua  has been shedding  all of his identity as a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He is  like  a character in the novel  that I read who has begun shedding his former identity. Now that he is out of Israel and living in the  United States, Hebrew is not a desirable language, and is not needed. "It's their language, the language of occupation..the language of discrimination" Kashua say in the Mondo Weiss article above, referring to the Hebrew language .  Yet although Kashua said he no longer wants to write for Ha'aretz, in March 2016, he is still writing his column. Maybe that is for economic reasons, even if his heart is no longer really in it.

How would I define Kashua ? I think he would say he is  a Palestinian citizen of Israel, not an Israeli Arab ("We are not the Arabs of Israel, we are the Arabs in Israel"). But overall from his lecture my sense is that in his heart of hearts Kashua would like to see Israel become a bi-national one state. Alternatively, even if Kashua is willing to accept a two state solution, he is not going to be the one to tell others in the Palestinian community that a "one state solution" is  a fantasy, and that they ought to come to terms with Israel's existence and negotiate a two state solution, and an end to the conflict.






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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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