“Where are you from?” I asked the cab driver with salt-and pepper hair and a warm smile.
“I’m Palestinian,” he replied. “From Ramallah. You’ve heard of it?”
“Indeed,” I said, adding that I’ve not yet visited this Palestinian city, but that I’ve traveled to Israel many times.
My kids often joke that by the time I exit a cab I have the driver’s entire life story. It’s true. I’ve chatted with cabbies who hail from points all over the globe. Why stare down at my phone if the human driving the cab comes from a faraway place and will tell me about it?
This cab driver was eager to chat. He had been in the US more than 20 years and spoke superb English. We talked about the best way to prepare mejadra (a Palestinian rice and lentil dish). He told me about his family in the US, Ramallah, and Jordan.
“Do you have any relatives living in Israel?” I asked. Silence.
“Do you mean 1948 Palestine?” he said.
Now I was silent.
Israel has been an independent state for almost 70 years. But the Palestinian-American man in the front seat could not bring himself to refer to Israel by its name. Instead, he used a term that makes it clear that all of Israel is “occupied territory,” not just the land captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
He continued. “No. No family there.”
Moments later we had reached my destination. I was not interested in a debate or an argument with this man. I just wanted to learn a bit more from him. So I politely asked one more question. “What do your friends and family call Israel?”
He paused. “Well, some call it ‘1948 Palestine’, others say ‘Israel’. It depends on your politics, I guess.”
I thanked the man for the lively conversation, bid him a safe evening, and exited the cab.
I replayed the conversation in my mind a few times. I have heard such things before.
I also have Palestinian-American friends who hold other views. Living far from the zone of conflict and with the freedom to investigate multiple narratives, they have developed a more nuanced understanding. It’s not an easy thing for them, but they accept that Israel is the Jewish homeland and that it is here to stay.
It was a bit surprising that a Palestinian man in the US over two decades would still call Israel ‘1948 Palestine’. But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Not 10 minutes after exiting the cab I saw this article, A Guide to the Palestinian Lexicon, by award-winning Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.
It was as though he had been sitting right there in the cab with me.
Abu Toameh cites the Orwellian language that Palestinians use to talk about Israel. Upon signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, the term “Zionist entity” fell out of official use, but the difficulty of calling Israel by her rightful name remained.
More than two decades later, Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Palestinian Authority (PA) still find it difficult to mention the name Israel.
Since its creation in 1994, the Palestinian Authority’s official policy (in Arabic) has been to refer to Israel as “the Other Side.” These were the instructions handed down to PA civil servants and security personnel, and they remain in effect today.
Abu Toameh lists the derogatory terms that Palestinian media (in Arabic) employ to refer to the State of Israel (State of Occupation), Government of Israel (Government of Occupation), Prime Minister (Prime Minister of Occupation), and Defense Minister (Minister of War). Arab citizens of Israel are often referred to as ‘the Arabs living inside the 1948 Occupied Territories’.
The heart of the matter, according to Abu Toameh is this: “Many Palestinians remain opposed to the use of the name Israel because they simply do not recognize its right to exist.”
Yet, the vision that Palestinians should have a state of their own next to Israel — if such a vision could be safely realized –– remains an article of faith for most Israeli and American Jews.
In our great yearning to reach peace — and it should be a great yearning — we cannot ignore hard truths. According to a survey conducted in June 2015 by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion in the West Bank and Gaza:
…Palestinian attitudes are clearly maximalist. In the West Bank, 81 percent say that all of historic Palestine “is Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to the land.” In Gaza, that proportion is even higher: 88 percent.
If the Palestinians begin tomorrow, it will probably take a generation to change this mentality.
As long as friendly Palestinian cab drivers 7,000 miles and 25 years removed from the Middle East still refer to Israel as ‘1948 Palestine’ I will temper my yearning for peace with a hard dose of reality.