My Dad is a Zionist. Growing up in North London, race was never an issue for me in the way it was for him. My best friends at nursery were black, Jewish, white English and American, Filipino and Japanese; and the apartment block were I grew up drew in people from every race and ethnicity under the sun. This is where my Dad’s racial supremacy, and my own complex relationship with being Israeli, played out.

I have not been able to visit Israel for years because I am liable for military service. The free choice to join “the most moral army in the world” (along with other north Londoners who see conscription in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as some rugged gap yah in the Middle East) when nearby Palestinians aren’t even considered equal citizens, has always seemed absurd.

And so I’ve decided to take steps to renounce my Israeli citizenship.

“Lofty, divine and prosaic”

My father is an Orthodox Jewish Israeli citizen of mixed ethnicity, like huge swathes of the Israeli diaspora population who Balfour nudged into the Middle East. Their claim to Israel is a complex one; lofty, divine promise and prosaic lumping – under British direction - of a shattered and traumatized post-Holocaust population onto one of the few countries that would have them.

A religious group keen to establish themselves as a legitimate race in a heartland that would never try to annihilate them, Ashkenazi (white European) Jews migrating to Israel finally had – after centuries of persecution – a place to call their own.

The trouble was, theocracy aside, Israel wasn’t the indisputable property of these refugees but an already occupied land with a history of essentially peaceful and complimentary co-existence between Sephardi (Middle Eastern) Jews and Arabs. The introduction of this new element was a British idea from start to execution and one that, in many ways, set about a chain of events that was to destabilize Judeo-Arab relations and feed into today’s apartheid state.

Intifadas, wars and walls

I spent a lot of my youth travelling around Israel, a place I remember with a great deal of fondness and consequently, guilt. Moving between bourgeois Israeli dinner parties in Tel Aviv and Arab souks and villages in the West Bank seemed natural, and reflected my divorced parents’ bipolar interests and politics. Even at seven or eight, I remember Palestinians being discussed by Israelis with a lot of contempt and scorn but there was – something now impossible to imagine – a begrudging co-existence and, with Arafat and Barak in power, a niggling idea that peace might be viable.

But the Second Intifada, the Gaza War and perhaps most significantly, the construction of the Wall have made this a distant dream and what I see taking place in Israel today makes me deeply ashamed.

This week Hana Shalabi, a young Palestinian woman has just been deported to Gaza on conditional release after a 43-day hunger strike in protest against her “administrative detention” without trial or charge. In February, the Israeli human rights group B’T Selem reported that 309 Palestinians are currently being held without charge. Many are tortured, leading to paralysis and sometimes death, something that Shin Bet cursorily admitted in 2000, but has since done little to prevent. And just the other day – on Land Day, 31st March – 120 protesters were injured by tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets whilst marching at the West Bank’s Qualandiya checkpoint.

This is nothing new in Occupied Palestine, and therefore rarely newsworthy. It usually takes an atrocity like 2008’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, in which between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinians were killed (and 13 Israelis also lost their lives, 4 from friendly fire) to even warrant column space.

Israel’s recent action in Gaza – led by air strikes on a civilian population in Gaza – barely even made the news. Much of the Western press appears to have stopped counting the dead at 18. But alternative news sources, like the Occupied Palestine blog, tell a very different story.

The ongoing violence, degradation and confinement of the Palestinian people is a terrible humanitarian crime for which many Jews and Israelis continue to be unrepentant, whilst dissident voices have become increasingly marginalized. And all in the name of D-FENCE, the jingoistic American football chant of a state that sees fit to kidnap an entire democratically elected Palestinian parliament, reduce Gaza and many parts of the West Bank to an enormous open prison, and kill and displace thousands because they feel unsafe.

Big Brother & the IDF drones

Sometimes it can feel like you are the only Israeli that feels this way. That’s why the recent video featuring a scene from Israeli Big Brother, in a which a young left-winger challenges the patriotic fawning of a fellow contestant talking about how the Israeli army “moves me” and, breathlessly, makes her “feel faint,” restored my faith.

Watch the video here.

In the video, 27-year-old Saar Skezely, topless in trademark Israeli beach sunglasses and tribal necklace, calmly floors the army groupie: “[The IDF] is geared mostly toward maintaining military rule…and for taking away freedom, not defending it.” Another pro-IDF contestant langours on a sunbed, his balls only just obscured by subtitles.

In the searing heat of the Big Brother garden, (where Kinga might have violated a bottle or Anthony decimated Makosi’s nipples), the great issues of the Middle East are being debated, and with much success.

Saar’s criticisms of Israeli policy are extremely articulate and fluently delivered, whilst his fellow contestants responses vary from the botox-plumped Dana International totty who says she cries when people argue, to blind nationalism which casts Saar as a dangerous and unstable heretic. If you (can) ignore the background music – creepy cinematic electronica at home in Twin Peaks – that crescendos as Saar packs blow after blow, then his speech is a blistering, necessary and often-silenced critique of Israeli “murder” carried out in the name of defense.

Another IDF drone pops out of the swimming pool, offering: “They fought so that I could swim here now.” Swimming is, of course, a human right rather than a privilege.

Undeterred, Saar words are chilling: “Israel is on the brink of catastrophe, and your eyes are closed.” But for me they stand out against the status quo and reminded me that “outside the playground of governmental interests” there are a lot of Israelis that wish to see the end of the occupation.

Indeed, Saar Szekely has enjoyed huge popularity ratings on Big Brother, and has recently made it into the series finale. Apparently Keshet - the production company behind the show – often uses a wacky lefty to stir things up and be ridiculed. This time it played out of their hands.

Like each Big Brother series worldwide, wily TV producers and unforeseen social factors come together to create a funny and tragic microcosm of society.

A “true friend” of Israel?

Hearing people like Saar taking the courageous step of going against the surge of Israeli ‘victim’ propaganda reminds me that being an Israeli citizen does not have to mean arrogance, hypocrisy, collaboration, racism and murder but can, instead, be a fairly neutral fact which becomes politicized with your own individual attitude to Israeli policy, history and action. Being a left-wing Israeli can be a way of reminding both other Jews and Arabs that Israel’s current occupation does not, necessarily, represent the consensus and that, as Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy says, being a “true friend” of Israeli means criticizing its actions and injustices.

I would love to return to Israel in the future. Much like visiting somewhere like China, I believe that it’s possible to go to a country with a terrible human rights record without necessarily colluding in it. After the Second Intifada, my mother said she would not go on principle, something I used to agree with. But I want to see what Israel and Occupied Palestine has become for myself, something I have been prevented from doing since I became 18 and eligible for army service.

This is why I am currently in the process of revoking my Israeli citizenship. I am deeply ashamed of Israeli policy against Palestinians, but not, finally, of being Israeli. In a weird twist of fate, this means giving up my citizenship. Perhaps one day, if things ever improve and a two-state solution become possible, I’ll want it back.


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