'I am a Jewish Arab. Israel is Responsible for My Family's Dispossession.'
June 03 2021

I am a Jewish Arab. There exist bad faith actors who have weaponized me and my relationship to my homelands of Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and the Arab peoples to continue the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people. They claim that because my family were victims in the 1940s, it is perfectly acceptable to inflict  violence and apartheid on Palestinians struggling for life and freedom.

Without giving a platform to proponents of genocide, I will lay out the logical fallacies of their argument about who and what I am.

The only truth in what they say is that my ancestors became stateless in the lead up to and the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba. But from there, proponents of  Zionism have attempted to use the erstwhile dispossession and statelessness of Jewish Arabs as a whataboutist counterargument to Palestinian assertions of dispossession and refugee status today. I discussed some of this phenomenon recently on a powerful new platform called The Palestine Pod.

First, and most evidently, it is a logical fallacy that what happened to my family around 1948 excuses either the initial or the ongoing Nakba in Occupied Palestine. Despite the Zionist belief that Palestine is indistinguishable from other Arab states, it is absurd to assume that the Palestinian people should be made to pay en masse today for the crimes of non-Palestinian Arab individuals and government officials. Even if the Arab world were unified in that way, such that the crime of one human incriminated another, it is my sincere wish that the world has progressed to a degree where we can accept the kindergarten truism that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Beyond that, people should know — and I deal with this at length in my book, co-authored with my grandmother Daida, a Tunisian of Jewish faith who raised me -  Israel is responsible for my family’s dispossession.

Parts of my family — it is important to note, since the experience of Jewish Arab societies around 1948 differed as greatly as one would expect of Arab nations at once connected and so frequently dissimilar — were indeed dispossessed by the events surrounding 1948. There were indeed anti-Jewish actors who made some of us feel unsafe in our homelands, and later, there were government policies that dispossessed us. Zionist operatives perpetrated attacks and conducted a series of operations in our home cities. Those actions aimed at once to destroy our Arab world, to call into question our loyalties to our homelands by painting Jewish Arab communities as Zionist operatives, and ultimately to funnel us away from our homelands to increase Jewish settler demographics in Occupied Palestine.

While our treatment by former governments is inexcusable, Israel provoked our Arab homelands’ collective punishment by casting doubt on our allegiances, raising concerns that our continued presence in our homes was a national security threat.

It pains me greatly that the Arab governments of that time — although not immediately after 1948 — engaged in collective punishment. But the world is still struggling to understand why collective punishment is wrong. In the U.S., Muslim American communities were routinely subjected to Islamophobic policies in the aftermath of 9/11. Israel is no stranger to collective punishment when it bombards what it has turned into the world’s largest open-air prison — Gaza.

Zionists would like you to blame the Arab world for attacks on our homelands perpetrated by its own European expansionist project that resulted in the Zionist occupation and resulted in the collective punishment of Jewish Arabs that drove us from our homelands. And it wants you to believe all of this while it collectively punishes Gazans for calling for freedom and an end to torturous living conditions. The reality is that I would never have had to write When We Were Arabs if Europeans had not intervened to extricate us from our homelands with violent terrorist attacks in the first place. I often imagine what my life and my homelands would look like if European people had not decided for us that our safety and stability and all we had known were negligible collateral damage in the name of occupying Palestine.

If anyone should be held accountable  for my family’s dispossession and be called upon to repay Jewish Arabs for the loss of their property, the violence that ensued, and the trauma of statelessness — it is by all logic the perpetrator of 1948, Israel.

Finally, and a most important logical fallacy to dispel is the blind notion — one that empowers anti-Jewishness beyond measure — that anti-Jewish actors in the Arab world are powerful enough to disprove my Arabness, be they individuals or autocrats. Like all colonial projects, the Zionist project has sought to slice and dice our societies through both the law and through manipulations of history that segregate us in our individual experiences, for the purpose of preventing us from finding common cause with each other. Unlike the Zionist historians more often empowered to tell our histories, I do not accept that Jews were singular and constant targets for oppression in Arab societies. My family never intended to leave the Arab world until it had to. To be Arab is to have struggled against violent autocracy since time immemorial. Every one of our vast Arab religious, social, political, gender, sexual, and other groups has fought for government accountability. To struggle in that way is Arab.

We in the United States and people in the context of Occupied Palestine are also struggling with government accountability and the same genocidal violence that Israel appears to hope will preclude me from Arabness (that is, unless our Arabness can help to solidify newly forged ties with the Gulf). The unthinkable events of the 2018 Pittsburgh attack perpetrated amid the Trump administration’s frequent incitements to bigotry did not extricate Jewish Americans from their Americanness. The unthinkable events of the 2015 Kosher Supermarket attack in Paris did not make Jewish French less French (or the Jewish Tunisian killed in that attack, whose death prompted a large vigil of mostly non-Jewish Tunisians in Tunis, less Tunisian). The same is true of the Jewish Arabs. The fact that we don’t — in Western society — apply the same logic to our Jewish Arab place in Arab societies is at once anti-Arab and anti-Jewish. What’s worse, it so blatantly hungers for our victimization to be reason enough to continue to harm Palestinians.

It is my belief, as the child of a woman who abhorred what was cheap and viral about society, that despite the omnipresence  of non-traditional and news media, the revolution will be neither tweeted nor televised. I do on occasion tweet to bad faith actors — both in the theoretical and Hollywood senses — to poke at blatant holes at their disingenuous utilization of my Jewish Arab legacy to continue the genocide against Palestinians, to imprison Palestinian children throwing stones at tanks, to dispossess people of a civilization that has existed since time immemorial. Still, it is my sincere hope that you and I will conceive of more meaningful ways of decolonizing Palestine and ourselves. Rallies are one such method.

My mother and I live on the edge of maps, far from our homelands — we do intend to return, but Zionism continues to make it difficult for us. It’s just us in Los Angeles, at the precipice of our family’s life. And shortly after my mom’s recent heart surgery, still not having fully recovered, we briefly attended a Palestine rally at the Los Angeles Federal Building. There, we  realized that our family is actually quite large, when you consider the vastness of the diverse and inherently pluralistic Arab peoples. It is in those kinds of “IRL” (In Real Life) actions — feet on the ground — and real-life conversations on the very clear objectives and methods of BDS that I have faith.

About The Author: 

Massoud Hayoun is a journalist based in Los Angeles. He wrote a decolonial memoir of his grandparents and political theory of Arabness emanating from their lives called When We Were Arabs  (The New Press 2019). It won an Arab American Book Award and was an NPR best book of the year.

Read more