By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
I’ve been a frequent visitor to Rawabi and tried to keep track of developments there. Rawabi always seemed like a path-breaking unique idea to do something Palestinians that would be forward looking. Instead of more murals of “martyrs” who stabbed some Israeli woman, instead of more chanting about “right of return”, here was something concrete. Since most of the Palestinian nationalism and extremist and sloganeering has done so little to realize the dream of a Palestinian state, perhaps at least building a shining city on he hill would accomplish what others hadn’t. I wrote as much in two articles in 2015 and in 2013.
But in the Middle East, where religious and ignorant fanaticism seems to get more support than pragmatism, it seems any idea of building facts on the ground is met with attempts to sabotage it by Israel and the Palestinians. For Israeli authorities the concept of Rawabi is incredibly frightening because it means rather than being seen as terrorists, Palestinians might be seen as economically prosperous. It is harder to justify aspects of the occupation and Israel’s policies when Palestinians are living a middle class life that looks similar to Tel Aviv. Palestinian extremism has always been the excuse Israel uses to not have peace. Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog recently said that now is not the time for a Palestinian state and two state solution. This is evidence that the entire Israeli political spectrum opposes a Palestinian state, either in fact or in practice.
Israelis are joined in their opposition to Rawabi by Palestinians “patriots” who oppose it on “normalization” grounds. One man who bought an apartment in the development was berated by colleagues. “Friends have asked why he was going to live in an Israeli town and charged that the development is an Israeli government project.”
What happens in Palestinian society is that although many wealthy Palestinians even make money off working with Israelis, it is in their interest to keep the Palestinian population as poor and dependent as possible. Thus anything that might look like independence and economic success if “Israeli” and “normalization.” The same Palestinians who work hand in glove with Israelis castigate their countrymen as “collaborators” if it means their compatriots have a decent life. Thus Palestinians who might get an optometry degree at an Israeli institution and work with Israelis is called a “collaborator”, but if you are a member of a different Palestinian family selling all sorts of Israeli products, that’s ok. A Palestinian middle class is the greatest threat to the fake “nationalists” in Palestine, because it threatens their power.
Refugee camps are considered patriotic. Poverty stricken kids going to throw stones and get shot in the leg are “patriots.” A Palestinian living in Rawabi and making money for his family is a “traitor.” The more poverty, the more resistance. The irony is that from the point of view of some portions of Palestinian society, it would be better if Rawabi became a large Jewish town, because then they could point at it and complain about Israel’s occupation. Building new Palestinian cities is not on the menu of resistance. Keeping Palestinians from education, keeping them from decent work, keeping them in prison, keeping them suffering, is the goal of “patriotism.” A great martyr is a 15 year old who stabs an Israeli pregnant woman and dies in gunfire. That kid is considered a great hero and his family will line up next to his dead body and say they wish more of their children will have such “honor” become more “martyrs.” Getting a college degree is not heroic. Why would that be heroic? The concept is to attack Jewish civilians, increase the excuse to crack down on Palestinian towns, ruin the lives of Palestinians, keep them from school, keep them throwing stones, and then the great “resistance” is seen as “struggling”, even as it weakens Palestinians, even as Israelis increase their control and keep building.
If Palestinian society had built 100 Rawabis and colonized the landscape and built a functioning state, they would have made it harder for Israel to take over the West Bank. If they had created a large middle class, they would have been more economically successful, and out spent Israelis and out-built them. Instead the concept is to keep people in refugee camps, keep people as poor as possible, keep them suffering, keep them reliant on Israel, dependent on Israel for health care and working menial labor in Tel Aviv. Because secretly the greatest friend of Israel’s occupation, the greatest allies, are the Palestinian false “patriots” who want their society broken and dependent, poor and wretched, because they think this suffering “sells” well, and because they can keep people ignorant and uneducated and thus slavishly devoted to the “cause” and keep sending 15 year old to stab people, rather than to dream of a PhD.
It is no surprise the founding generation of Palestinian nationalism was a well educated and cosmopolitan generation. Those like Edward Said or Rashid Khalidi represented that kind of education and erudite views. That generation of student activists in the 1960s, and also of course those involved in the “armed struggle”, was the one that helped put Palestinians on the world map and brought them a measure of autonomy.
But the concept since then has been to keep the people in a cage, and break them and make them ignorant and poor and uneducated. Instead of admiring and building on the cosmopolitan ideas of the generation that built universities like Al-Quds University, the idea has been to forsake this intellectualism. The hatred of Rawabi is a symbol of that.