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15 CHAPTER 2 The Literature of Palestinian Citizens of Israel: Literature of Boundaries The right of return is the right to narrate, and the narrative that unfolds here in the Hebrew translation gives the right to tell back to its holders. And the holders, who were driven off the map, out of the homeland, and out of history , are returning now to realize their right to speak in memory, through the very language that has expropriated their voice and erased their map.1 Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian historian and novelist, depicts the tragedy of Palestinian-Israelis as follows: The contemporary history of the Palestinians turns on a key date: 1948. That year, a country and its people disappeared from maps and dictionaries . . . “The Palestinian people does not exist,” said the new masters, and henceforth the Palestinians would be referred to by general, conveniently vague terms, as either “refugees” or, in the case of a small minority that had managed to escape the generalized expulsion, “Israeli Arabs.” A long absence was beginning.2 Al-Nakba (in Arabic: “the catastrophe”) of 1948, resulting in the establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of many Palestinians, was one of the most important events in the process of the creation and consolidation of the modern national Palestinian identity, which began roughly at the turn of the twentieth century. The Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948 consider it to be the starting point of their inner struggle for identity. Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 war, but remained within what became Israel, lost their villages, houses, lands, and property to the State’s Custodian of Absentee Property. They were termed “present absentees.” In many ways the phrase “present absentee” can serve as a metaphor for the lost identity of the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens.3 In Israel, the Palestinians became “present 16 CHAPTER 2 absentees”: since Israel is their home, but is primarily defined as a Jewish state. Hence they cannot fully identify with its symbols, be it the flag, the national anthem , or the menorah. Sanbar claims that Palestinian citizens of Israel were, and still are, defined in vague terms, such as “refugees” or “Israeli Arabs.” The term “Israeli Arabs” creates a link to a certain community and history (as in “American Arabs” or “American Jews”). This term is meant to blur the nationality of the Palestinians who threaten the legitimacy of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People (“Am Israel”). Contrary to the term “Israeli Arabs,” the hyphenated term “Palestinian-Israelis,” which I will use here, is problematic because it emphasizes the conflict between the two nationalities and stands almost as an oxymoron. During an interview, Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Balad political party in Israel, confessed that while she was studying at the Hebrew University and chose to define herself as a Palestinian she was criticized by her fellow Jewish students who basically said “You are not a Palestinian, you are an Israeli-Arab. If you define yourself as a Palestinian, it means you are not loyal to Israel.” To which she responded that Israel is not loyal to her, since it is a Jewish country, with Jewish values and symbols.4 In fact, since “Israeli” and “Palestinian” are both nationalities, there is a logical contradiction in defining someone as a Palestinian-Israeli. There is thus an unresolved tension between being Palestinian by nationality, and being Israeli by citizenship. How does this split, polarized identity of the Palestinian citizens of Israel find expression in their literature? And how is that literature received in Israeli society? These are the questions explored in this chapter. After a short review of the literature of Palestinian-Israelis, presenting several pivotal authors, the chapter focuses on a number of major issues, and historical and cultural events that shed light on the relationships between the literature of Palestinian-Israelis and the Israeli cultural and literary arena. First, I discuss the phenomenon of Palestinian-Israelis who opted to write in Hebrew. Second, I examine three stories of acceptance: the awarding of the Israel Prize to Emile Habibi; the debate over the inclusion of poems by Mahmoud Darwish in the literature curriculum of Jewish-Israeli schools; and the form of acceptance of the Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani in Israeli society, as a case study that questions the boundaries of Palestinian-Israeli literature. Finally, I present a literary analysis of the metaphor of the Identity Card...


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