“He Made me into a Spy”: Arab Jewish Identity and the Making of Palestine into Israel

By Shirly Bahar
Submitted to Session P4910 (Arab, Jewish, and Arab Jewish Critiques of Zionism, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Palestine;
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
A neighborhood in the south of Tel-Aviv today, Kfar-Shalem used to be the village of Salame in Jaffa until depopulated of its Arab-Palestinian residents and repopulated by Middle Eastern, mostly Arab Jewish residents, in 1948. A Jaffan Jew born in Salame, Margalit, had lived through these changes until evicted by the Tel-Aviv municipality that sold her Kfar-Shalem home to colonial gentrifying realtors in 2008. Foregrounding Margalit and her struggle to remain at home, Effi Banai’s documentary Longing (2009) serves as a constructive point of departure to excavating some of the effects of the ongoing spatialization of Palestine/Israel on the lives of Arab Jews. Specifically, it assists in exploring the physical, experiential, affective, and performative aspects of inhabiting a constantly shifting and shaken liminal and hyphenated identitarian terrain of Arab/Jewish and Palestine/Israel. To provide a glimpse into this contested and resistant terrain, this presentation embarks on a close reading of one of the key scenes of Longing. The scene portrays Margalit as she recounts and reenacts her encounter with Menahem Begin, then chief of the Zionist militant brigade, the “Irgun”, in 1947, as he tried to recruit her as a spy to facilitate the deportation of the Palestinian Arabs from Jaffa.

Having lived through the gradual attempt to remake and unmake of Palestine into Israel, Margalit is constantly burdened by the racializing mechanisms of the state of Israel. From a Palestinian Arab Jew and native speaker of Arabic and Hebrew, she was supposed to become an Oriental Jew and speaker of Modern Hebrew exclusively. Yet Margalit resists the Arab/Jewish, Hebrew/Arabic, Palestinian/Israeli divides, by retaining her presence and fluency in the linguistic, spoken space of Arabized Hebrew, and by performing her identity in her own accented dialect in front of the cameras. Margalit’s audio-visualized, cinematized, and performed reenactment of her encounter with Begin sheds essential light on how the Zionist attempts to racialize Arab Jews as Orientals look on their skins, and sounds in their voices. First, the scene discusses the Zionist eviction of non-Jewish Arab Palestinians and the resettling of Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants in these stolen homes at the new state’s frontiers. Furthermore, the scene demonstrates how Arab Jews embody, speak about and against, and resist, the Zionist attempts to eliminate and delegitimize Arab Jews’ usage of their native Arabic language in Palestine-turned-Israel.