I have always tried my best to differentiate between Jews and Israelis. It bothers me when Palestinians use these two terms interchangeably.
Every time I cross the Jordan River, I overhear people talk on their cell phones, saying how they just got into the Jewish side, left the Jewish side, or were waiting to go through the Jewish side. Such comments can be heard as people approach or leave an Israeli checkpoint or have any other dealings with Israelis.
Religious preachers use the terms interchangeably when referring to negative actions of the Israelis or the lack of trust in Jewish negotiators, etc.
When I used to cover the Intifada and travel through the occupied territories, I had a similar concern. People would be telling me that Jews came from a certain side, Jewish soldiers beat up someone’s son, Jews shot from behind some trees, statements that referred to the actions of the occupying Israeli forces.
When I would go with foreign journalists, I would have to interpret and I would find myself in a bind, wondering whether I should literally translate words or just refer to the adjective used for the soldiers as Israeli.
Using the word Jew for Israeli is not restricted to Palestinians from certain geographic areas or those from a particular economic background. I would hear it and get upset whenever a university professor or a person from my own family would use the term Jewish referring to Israelis, because I would think of a number of American Jewish friends that I know and who would have nothing to do with the occupiers and the state of Israel, or would be anti-Zionist and share with Palestinians their aspiration to be ?id of the Israeli occupation.
I thought of these terms a lot in recent weeks as we have been inundated with continuous demands by Israel’s leaders that Palestinians not only recognise the state of Israel but its Jewishness as well. These demands also included a set of new laws that the Israeli government has approved, demanding others to refer to the Jewishness of the state and paying little attention to the 20 per cent of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel.
What bothered me was what seems to be a muted reaction from the world’s Jewish population. I can understand the diaspora Jews having special feelings towards the state of Israel for ethnic and religious reasons. But I always thought that those Jews insisted on their local nationality (American, British or Hungarian), while stressing their unique Jewish faith and culture.
Regarding the subject of Jews in the diaspora, I feel that it is problematic to erase differences between Israeli and Jew. The attempts to blur these differences certainly play into the hands of those trying to describe every anti-Israeli action or statement as anti-Semitic.
Palestinians have rejected, and will continue to do so, equating the two terms, for a variety of reasons. Palestinian nationalists insist that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a political national struggle and not a religious one. And although Palestinians have recognised Israelis within the 1967 borders, they totally refuse the concept that Jews have a biblical right to the land of historic Palestine or beyond.
Furthermore, Palestinian leaders will not give up on their brethren who are Palestinian citizens of Israel and whose status would be further hurt by such an attempt that cancels the concept that Israel is the state for its citizens irrespective of their religion.
Right-wing Israeli leaders led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman might think that they have found a winning strategy to obstruct Palestinian demands for an end to their military occupation. Palestinians and most level-headed persons around the world will accept the Palestinian position that Israel can call itself whatever it wants. But by ramming the Jewishness of Israel down the throat of Palestinians, the Israeli leadership is harming the attempts by Jews around the world to distance themselves from the political state of Israel even if they support it ethnically, culturally and emotionally. This will have a much longer negative effects on world Jewry than on Palestinians. I hope they will realise this dangerous move and will act to stop it before it is too late.