James North & Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss / November 4, 2021
Last week The New York Times published an important article about Israel, a ten-day travelogue by Patrick Kingsley that showed how deeply corrupted the society is by apartheid. The article, titled “Whose Promised Land? A Journey through a Divided Israel,” begins with an 86-year-old kibbutznik saying Israel isn’t “the child we prayed for” and pointing out the site of an Arab village that was wiped out by the creation of Israel. Kingsley then moves south through Israel, and he listens to unsettling testimony of discrimination and unease.
In a subtle reportorial manner, Kingsley shows that apartheid has seeped into every corner of Israeli society: “We found a country still wrestling with contradictions left unresolved at its birth, and with the consequences of its occupation . . .” There is not a fullth-roated pro-Israel voice in the entire article, which is accompanied by moody portraits by Laetitia Vancon.
The article is important because it violates two prohibitions.
First, like other mainstream U.S. media, The New York Times has done all it can to bury the “apartheid” charge leveled against Israel by leading human rights groups earlier this year. Kingsley knows the truth, and although he only uses the a-word once, he is smuggling that reality to his readers as a travel story.
Second, Israel and its lobby maintain that the Palestinian issue is “shrinking,” especially with the normalization deals that Israel has signed with Arab monarchies. Israeli politicians did not debate the Palestinian issue in the recent series of elections.
This article makes clear that the issue is existential; Kingsley has revealed a country that is disfigured by apartheid, with anxieties sinking into every level of society.
Not surprisingly, the pro-Israel lobby group CAMERA has responded angrily, with an insipid Twitter campaign insisting that Israelis are happy people, not the “sad” Israelis it says Kingsley is reporting on. And the Jerusalem Post is also desperately pushing the Happy Israel story.
The article is not about “sad” Israelis. It is a masterful portrait of how discrimination has burrowed into the everyday life of Israel. It’s everywhere, and seems to be damaging the society.
The ill-feelings are not just due to anti-Palestinian discrimination. One of Kingsley’s interviewees speaks with feeling about how some Ashkenazim, or Jews of European ancestry, look down on Jews whose ancestors are from the Middle East, or Mizrahim. “Everyone treats us like garbage,” says a Mizrahi woman whose son killed himself 30 years ago, Kingsley writes, “after the father of his Ashkenazi girlfriend forbade her from dating a Mizrahi boy.”
Kingsley stops in the coastal city of Haifa, often cited as an example of Jewish-Palestinian coexistence, and finds it “remains as occupied as the West Bank.” He takes “roads built on the ruins of an Arab neighborhood demolished after the 1948 war” to meet Palestinian poet Asmaa Azaiezeh:
Every time she drives into the city, the office blocks built on the destroyed Arab neighborhood underscore her sense of alienation, reminding her that most Arab residents fled the city in 1948. ‘They tell me to my face,’ she said, ‘that this is not yours.’
Only once Israeli Jews acknowledge that her city is occupied, she said, can a meaningful discussion begin about the future. She hopes that future will bring a single state for Israelis and Palestinians, with equal rights for all — an idea that most Israeli Jews reject because it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
Kingsley then visits an Israeli settler novelist in Tekoa, in the occupied West Bank, and lets us know how hard it is for Palestinians to travel.
Palestinians can spend hours at checkpoints in the West Bank — but with our Israeli plates, we barely noticed when we entered the territory.
The novelist, Daniella Levy, is uneasy about the occupation, but tells Kingsley it’s time for Palestinians to “move on.” He obviously finds that advice to be absurd:
To the Palestinians on the other side of the valley, some of whom we also met that day, the settlement itself is an obstacle to trust, and an example of a two-tier legal system that they liken to apartheid. Tekoa was built in the 1970s and 1980s after Israel turned the site into a closed military zone, blocking access to Palestinians, who, although lacking formal title to the land, had farmed it for generations.
The many settlements challenge “any possibility of creating a contiguous Palestinian state,” he notes, another truth The New York Times has spent years obfuscating.
Kingsley also meets an Ethiopian rapper who “has been detained [by police] more times than he can remember,” and visits the Negev/Naqab village of Arakib in time to see buildings being demolished for the 192d time. He is describing “ethnic cleansing” without saying the words:
The al-Turi family is descended from Bedouin Arab nomads who crisscrossed the region for centuries, and later settled in the Negev before Israel was founded.
Israel says that most of the Bedouins have no right to the land. . .
The pro-Israel lobby group CAMERA is extraordinarily defensive about Kingsley’s long report. It insists that the article is about Israeli “sadness,” and that Kingsley got it wrong. From a CAMERA staffer: “First person you encountered is someone disillusioned with the state. Second person, alienated. Third person, thinks it shouldn’t exist. Fourth person, resentful. In a country consistently ranking high on the World Happiness indices. What are the odds?”
The lobby doesn’t want to see the truth. The Nakba was the original sin of the Jewish state that it has never come to terms with. Kingsley knows this, and on this occasion anyway, sees it as his job to tell Americans.
P.S. The Times are a changing. We still haven’t gotten to this Sunday magazine article, “The Unraveling of American Zionism,” by Marc Tracy, which focuses on that rabbinical letter by 93 students last May during the Israeli onslaught on Gaza that condemned Israel as an apartheid state.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006