Although the Galilee is not immune to the growing messianic Jewish-supremacist trend in the country, many of us here have felt removed from its reality. Given all the Meretz, Hadash-Ta’al, Yesh Atid, Ra’am, and לך (telling Bibi to GO) signs I saw hanging in my area, I was surprised at the election results. And while Palestinian and Jewish residents do not live without conflict, and we, too, live with too much segregation, there is a general multicultural feeling about the Galilee many of us living here embrace.
But now, with the encouragement of this current right-wing government, with its ministers and Knesset members unabashedly spouting and supporting Jewish-supremacist ideologies, this trend is making its way here. A celebration of the plan to “Judaize of the Galilee” took place this past week in which ministers and Knesset members were to participate, including Itamar Ben Gvir, Simchah Rothman, and my neighbor Amichai Chikli.
The celebration was held on the grounds of an illegal Jewish encampment, “Ramat Arbel,” next to the tents of a Bedouin man who was born and raised there, as was his father. The Jewish settlers came a year ago with trailers to put facts on the ground, and the government, without the necessary permits from the relevant governmental planning committees, has now given the go-ahead to build a Jewish village there, stating “a national need,” despite the plan’s previous cancellation due to environmental concerns. The event was to celebrate that development.
I came to protest the event, along with at least a few thousand others — more protestors than participants — and some of the governmental representatives who were invited did not end up coming; the police told them to stay away because of the large demonstration.
Others, like Ben Gvir (known for his provocative hate speech, terrorist leanings – Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein is his hero — and Jewish-supremacist ideology), did show up, but with all the noise we were making, he could not speak. He did dance with those celebrating, though — a disturbing sight. But he left quickly, especially since one demonstrator dropped something to light up the area. A dramatic statement in protest of his presence.
We met at the junction one must drive through to reach the encampment, and protested as cars drove by to reach the celebration. Then we marched down to the event itself, chanting with our signs and flags. After a few hours of peaceful protesting (from 5:30pm to 9pm), once Ben Gvir left, we were told by the police to leave.
I was there with my spouse, Jacob, who was wearing a kippah, and by then we had put down our flags — mine a pink heart flag and Jacob’s an Israeli flag — and our “This land is all of our home” signs, so the police left us alone. We stayed to speak with some of those celebrating and hear what would be said from the podium.
One young woman handed me a flyer explaining the stance of the settlers (see the photos below). The blatant intention to “Judaize the Galilee”, to create a Jewish majority in the Galilee in the face of the “threat” of a growing Arab population here, made my stomach turn.
They refer to the Bedouin man they have been living aside for the past year as “the Bedouin” and do not even spell the word correctly. (I feel ashamed not knowing his name even though I was only on the site for a couple of hours and did not have a chance to meet him personally.)
I did see him from afar, however, serving coffee to other protestors and showing them his family albums. Someone from their encampment tweeted the next day a photo of some of the protestors having coffee with their Bedouin host, calling them “the leftists and the Bedouin”.
They screened this video (also in Hebrew) at the event. It clearly states the group’s goal – to create a Jewish majority in the Galilee. Why? Because this group sees the Palestinian-Israeli population here – citizens of this country! — as the enemy, as a threat in wartime. That, to me, says it all. Speakers expressed the same ideology from the podium.
Their vision for the Galilee reflects the government’s vision for this country – and that is certainly not a democracy where all citizens are equal. One protestor’s sign called it racism veiled as patriotism. I call it unabashed Jewish supremacism mixed with bigotry and a show of an attempt to appease Muslim and Christian Arab residents of the Galilee by expressing “no will to harm them” — reminding me of the line from the film The Frisco Kid when Gene Wilder says to the chicken he is trying to catch and slaughter “I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to eat you!”
There is a hint in the flyers handed out that the “Judaize the Galilee” movement will not stop at simply trying to build new Jewish villages but will even try to infiltrate Arab ones. It states: “The Galilee is in its essence Jewish and part of the Zionist mission is to return to it in the same way that we returned to all the territory in this land. Many villages here are named after families of priests who established them. Tombs of sages are dispersed here, some of them in the very heart of the Arab villages.”
But what was even more deplorable was how one woman participating in the event (I don’t know if she is one of the women living in the encampment or one of their supporters) attacked my friend Tahani, both verbally and physically. She wears a hijab so is visibly Muslim Arab, and on that basis alone, this other woman called her a murderer, despite her attempt to calm and befriend her.
I reminded Tahani not all Jews feel this way. She is my friend and I will defend her against Jews who see her as the enemy. If there is an “us” against “them”, I told her, it is not me against her, or Jews against Arabs, rather those who believe they are superior because of their nationality and religion — that God is more on their side than on anyone else’s – against people like us who believe all humans are created in God’s image.
I am glad we were there to say we Jews and Arabs who want to live together in partnership and peace here in the Galilee, and love the diversity here, will not let these people take this away from us. Or at least not without a fight.
After the demonstration, there was a group WhatsApp discussion about whether some of the slogans were directed too much at the settlers of Ramat Arbel instead of at the ministers. “We all need to live here together after this is all over,” one of the demonstration organizers said. It seems some of the organizers did not intend the protest to be against the Jewish settlers, only the ministers who had been invited.
But there is a reason these particular ministers had been invited. Event participants said this was because these ministers helped push the plan through. Ben Gvir is their natural ally, which was painfully clear from seeing how they lifted him in a chair and danced around him when he arrived.
I am not against Jews living in the Galilee. I myself am a Jew who lives in the Galilee, and my kibbutz, Hannaton, is surrounded by Arab villages. But I feel no need to be a majority here. I do feel a need to call out bigotry and Jewish supremacy when I see it. It would be nice if we could all get along. But not when that “all” does not include the Palestinian citizens of this place – even if some Jews wish they would disappear.
We must beware. The government’s pushing through the Ramat Arbel plan is just one example of what is happening all around us with the new government. Many government ministers and Knesset members live in the occupied territories and are eager to bring their settler mentality to the Galilee, and, ultimately, to the entire country. In fact, they already are.
Those of us who want true democracy here must do our best to ensure they do not succeed, and then make our vision of a country where all citizens – not just Orthodox Jewish men – are truly equal, a reality.