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Speechlessness, In Search of Language to Resist the Israeli “Thing Without a Name”

Speechlessness, In Search of Language to Resist the Israeli “Thing Without a Name”

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Speechlessness: In Search of Language to Resistthe Israeli
Thing Without a Name
Lev Luis Grinberg
Published online: 21 March 2009
#
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
Abstract
This paper criticizes the words used to critique Israeli repression of Palestinians asineffective for political struggle and not critical enough. It argues that there is no single wordable to comprehend the phenomenon of constant dispossession, violent repression, andrighteous blaming of Palestinian resistance as terror. Unable to suggest one comprehensiveconcept that can at once describe, analyze, and criticize the phenomenon, scholars useinappropriate existing terms
 — 
like occupation, Apartheid, colonialism, and Zionism
 — 
or invent newwordslike ethnocracy,politiciside,Bantustine,spaciocide, sociocide, orsymbolicgenocide. All the concepts are discussed in the paper; it is argued that they are partiallycorrect, but not totally comprehensive. The paper aims to uncover the sophisticated regimethat can co-opt every critical word, and present always Israel as a democratic and enlightenedregime, a victim of Palestinian violence. It claims that the incapacity to create a criticallanguage is one of the obstacles to develop effective resistance to the regime.
Keywords
Zionism.Israelioccupation.Palestinianresistance.Israeli-Palestinian conflict In August 1967, 2 months after Israel expanded its borders during the 1967 Arab
 – 
Israeli war,leaders of the ruling Labor party had an interesting discussion about future control of the newlyconquered territories then referred to as
the administered territories.
Prime Minister LeviEshkoltoldForeignMinisterGoldaMeirthatheunderstoodthat 
sheispleasedwiththedowry, but not with the bride.
The lusted after dowry was the land, the
territories.
The undesired bridewasthehumancomponentoftherecentconquest:thePalestinians.
That 
strulythecase,
Meir responded,
 but have you ever seen anyone receive a dowry without a bride?
Int J Polit Cult Soc (2009) 22:105
 – 
116DOI 10.1007/s10767-009-9043-2These ideas were first presented at a conference on
Colonialism and Post-Colonialism in Israel
held at theVan Leer Institute in Jerusalem on 20
 – 
21 March 2005. A previous version was first published in Hebrewunder the title
The Rejected Bride: the Word Poverty of the Resistance to the Occupation
in
Theory and Criticism
27 (2005) 187
 – 
196. The Hebrew original version was written in the context of Israel
sdisengagement from Gaza, but in light of the recent Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip I decided to make thenecessary updates and to publish it here in English.L. L. Grinberg (
*
)Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben Gurion University in the Negev, PoB. 653,Beer Sheva 84105, Israele-mail: lev@bgu.ac.il
 
 Nonetheless,that 
swhatweallwant.Iwouldlikenothingmorethantoreceivethedowryandtohave someone else receive the bride
But the two things go hand in hand
(Beilin1985, 46).This is how Israel dealswith the Palestinians; it triesto separate thebridefromher dowry, toforce a relationship on the bride, and to illegally appropriate her dowry out of wedlock. Theillegality of Israel
s actions is structured by the state
s relationship with the Palestinians. Therehasbeennowedding,andtherearenoplanstogetmarried.Thisisthethingwithoutaname:thecontinuous process of stealing the dowry out of wedlock and hiding the illegal action by portraying it as temporary. During this process, the bride is stripped of her dowry, hemovements are restricted, she is imprisoned to prevent her from interfering, and her resistanceagainst the actions of her abusive husband is publicly portrayed as aggression.
1
What can wecall this process? In the absence of more suitable terminology, I will refer to it as the ThingWithout a Name. The fact that we have no words to define the relationship between Israel andPalestine is the main political problem facing opponents of Israel
s oppression of thePalestinians. The absence of words indicates that there is no consensus regarding neither themeaning of the process nor the struggle against it. How is it possible to oppose somethingthat does not even have a name? How is it possible to understand it and change it?Critical language needs to be able to assign meaning, determine responsibility, andrectify injustice. However, every subversive word that exposes and condemns the intentionand meaning of Israel
s actions in the Palestinian context is sterilized, taken out of politicalcontext, and stripped of its true meaning the moment it emerges. The words we use disguisethe ongoing process of dowry theft, the silencing and humiliation of the bride, and thedestruction of her future. The bride
s desire to keep her property is not considered as a given, and her protests are portrayed as aggressive and unjust. We have no words todescribe this complex, unconscious, and sophisticated process. All our words becomecomplicit to the concealment, and this, in turn, makes
us
complicit to the concealment. TheThing Without a Name co-opts the Israeli opposition. Every act of political resistance becomes an expression of the
enlightened Israeli democracy,
and these very efforts of resistance ultimately help legitimize the Thing Without a Name.We have no words to critique this process of humiliation and theft, in which Israel portrays itself as the victim and the bride as the violent, uncivilized, and irrationalaggressor. Israel describes itself as an enlightened democracy
 —“
the only democracy in theMiddle East 
”— 
and regards
them
as having a tyrannical, corrupt, and violent regimeaimed at harming the Jews and casting them into the sea for no reason. According to thisgeographical dichotomy,
here
there is democracy and
there
there is military rule.However in reality, the imagined line between the two is crossed again and again.
2
On bothsides of the border, Jews have privileges and Palestinians are denied equal rights. The state,however, distinguishes between the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel and thePalestinians in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip (since 2005), and those living as refugeesin areas outside of Israeli control (since 1948). These divisions and classifications enableIsrael to deconstruct the Palestinian people, and to present itself as having no partner for dialogue in order to stem the violence and negotiate a political solution. Jews on the
democratic
side of the border gain from the Palestinian dispossession and are called upon by the same democracy to serve in the armed forces outside of Israel
s borders in order to
defend
the occupation. The illusion of the border maintains the illusion of Israel as a 
1
 Neve Gordon (2007) also employed Eshkol
s metaphor to refer to the Palestinians
separation from their lands as a mean of military control.
2
Grinberg(2008,2009). 106 Grinberg
 
democratic state. This, however, is an
imagined democracy.
3
After all, if it were not for the border, no one would ever dream of claiming that the regime governing the area under Israeli control is democratic.
Disengagement
from
Occupied
Gaza
The Thing Without a Name is not exactly
apartheid,
but it is also not 
occupation.
Thesetwo terms are broadly employed in efforts to condemn Israeli control and racialdiscrimination, but neither successfully comprehends, describes, or analyzes the phenom-enon in its full meaning. For this reason, the terms fail to delineate a path for strugglingagainst it. It is not apartheid, in which one particular group is marked, separated, andstripped of its collective rights. In such cases, the political goal is clear and agreed upon:one man
 – 
one vote, namely the dismantling of the racist regime and the provision of equalrights and democracy. But the Thing Without a Name distinguishes between differengroups of Palestinians, some of which live in conditions that are more favorable thanapartheid. These are the Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose limited civil and political rightsenable them to advance democratic demands for full equality. Each of the other Palestiniangroups has different demands stemming from its unique conditions: those living outside the borders of Israeli control demand the right of return; those living under military ruledemand independent statehood; and those imprisoned within the Gaza Strip demand controlover their borders. This division of the Palestinian people into subgroups keeps them fromwaging a united national struggle for independence. It also deprives Jewish citizens of Israel of the ability to support their struggle, as did many whites citizens of South Africa.The Thing Without a Name is not exactly an occupation, that is, according to the acceptablemeaning of the term. An occupation regime is the result of war and under international law isdefined as temporary. If it were clear that this was a case of belligerent occupation, theinternationalcommunitywouldbeobligatedtoputtheIsraeligovernmentleadershipontrial,asmost of its actions are prohibited under international law. This is true of the establishment of settlements; collective punishment; house demolitions; restrictions on movement; theconstruction of the separation barrier; and the killing of civilians and political leaders.
4
If either international or Israeli public opinion viewed Israeli control in
the territories
as anoccupation, then acts of Palestinian resistance would need to be considered legitimate, and not acts of 
terrorism.
The Thing Without a Name, and that is neither apartheid nor occupation, paralyzes and frustrates all strategies of resistance
 — 
Israeli strategies, Palestinian strategies,and most of all joint bi-national strategies.
5
The absence of a political strategy of resistance isreflected in our inability to Name the Thing that is being resisted. The opposite is also true:the absence of a name makes it more difficult to develop a political strategy of resistance.Since 1967, the Thing Without a Name refers to itself as a 
Jewish and DemocraticState.
6
Within the framework of this state, the bride is not only unwanted but is alsodangerous: after all, she is now pregnant and presents a 
demographic threat.
It is striking,however, that those Jewish Israelis who regard themselves as in the
the peace camp
speak in terms of a demographic threat as well, thereby adopting the language of Levy Eshkol and
3
Grinberg (1999).
4
For a discussion of the illegality of Israel
s actions, see: Kretzmer (2002); Negbi (2004); Hajjar (2005).
5
On the lack of political strategy for the bi-national idea, see: Raz-Karkotzkin (2007).
6
See Smooha (1993).Speechlessness: In Search of Language to Resist the Israeli
107

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