Upon encountering Israeli Jews in Dubai: “I’m a Zionist, but I don’t hate”

Rima Najjar

Caption: The logo on my t-shirt on the left says, “Anti-Zionist Vibes Only”; on the right, the Arabic on top of the map of Palestine says, “Inch by Inch”

In preparing for a trip to Dubai with my brothers earlier this month, I was full of apprehension. As Palestinians, we are furious about the now-open complicity of the government of Dubai with the Zionist project and feel betrayed by the diplomacy between Dubai, where many young Palestinians find good work opportunities and raise families, and the apartheid, colonial regime in occupied Palestine.

To add to our anxiety, we had been hearing stories circulating on social media about Palestinians accosted by Israeli tourists who were offended by the looks and remarks thrown their way by Palestinian or other Arab residents and were blamed for incitement, rather than aided, by mall security. Such stories may not have been true, but could have been deliberately circulated as a deterrent and to invite self-censorship.

In a post on Facebook, Ilan Pappé recently wrote, “it is so difficult to understand the self-censorship on Palestine exercised by progressive, reasonable, well educated, knowledgeable people. I am talking about those who cannot be touched, those that nothing whatsoever is going to happen to them if they say what they believe in when it comes to Palestine, and yet again and again this immune people are afraid, of what precisely is not very clear!”

But I do understand the pressure on anti-Zionists to be careful with their words, both on Meta and in Dubai. What exactly was I anxious about in preparing for my trip to Dubai? I had the same feeling about Dubai as I had during my years of working and teaching in the West Bank. I wanted to be able to express what I believed in about occupied Palestine — to the border police, to the soldiers at the many checkpoints where I often was detained for speaking up against the rude and rough treatment of Palestinians I witnessed, to the “settlers” dancing on Palestinian hilltops and draining their sewage on us in the valleys below. I simply wanted to speak out.

In going to Dubai, I felt compelled to find a way to express my beliefs and hit on the idea of wearing my t-shirts with pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist slogans while there. Like many Palestinians I own, not only a kaffiyeh and a thobe, but also several t-shirts with slogans in both Arabic and English. I did so with a little trepidation and succeeded in expressing my views visually to a number of Israeli tourists who passed by me and my t-shirts. I also had the following conversation, as I posted it on Facebook, with an Israeli couple:

So, I met an Israeli couple in #dubai, in the lift of the Frame, and here is the conversation we had.I was wearing my black t-shirt with the logo that says, “Anti-Zionist Vibes Only” and the silver necklace of Palestine. The woman was right next to me and began by saying hi, I noticed the logo because we are from Israel. The man pointed to the necklace and I said:- I am Palestinian: to me, it’s Palestine.The woman expressed discomfort with the logo, and I said, this may not be addressed to you if you are a Jewish Israeli but not a Zionist. She said:- I am a Zionist but I don’t hate.She wished for peace and extended her hand for me to shake and I took it.Then I asked them where they were living and explained about my family. I asked where they came from and the woman said, because of the Holocaust they had nobody, no connections elsewhere. She said her name was Miriam Offer, a Ph.D. in history and teaches the history of the Holocaust at Western Galilee College in Akko. I said, Akka? My maternal grandmother comes from there and I am a Ph.D. too, in English literature and I taught at Al-Quds University. She said half her students learning about the Holocaust were “Arabs.” She asked how I liked Dubai in a tone of voice full of admiration and wonder. I said not much. By that time we were in the viewing room at the top. The man (who was born in Tel Aviv and studied in Haifa) took the following picture of us. He asked, where do you live now? I said the US and he nodded.

Najjar and Offer

Caption: Rima Najjar (left) and Miriam Offer

My account on Facebook is restricted (see why in the link), but I managed to reach a few friends who enriched the post above with insightful comments worth a wider readership:

  • Benay Blend: I’m searching for the right words. You were very generous in the conversation but as always stood your ground. How can you be a Zionist and not hate? It automatically consigns another group of people as inferior.
  • Rima Najjar: Benay, what I felt during the conversation was absolutely no empathy and only entitlement on her part, probably because of the Holocaust, because she mentioned that right off the bat, as though that were the clincher of any argument.
  • Benay Blend: Well, yes, not to make light of the Holocaust. I sometimes mention my relatives with numbers on their arms to establish some sort of credibility. Like I’m really Jewish, and I have a right not to want the occupation to be done in my name. But she did that to establish her right to be a Zionist, though the two have nothing to do with each other.
  • Rima Najjar: “She did that to establish her right to be a Zionist, though the two have nothing to do with each other.” Exactly, Benay.
  • Ian Wellens: Precisely. The whole point of it is discrimination. So is she saying: “look, I think your group should forever be discriminated against and be permanently kept out of power, but hey — I’m a nice person! I don’t hate anybody!” Actually, I’m sure that IS what she’s saying. This is liberal zionism all over, isn’t it?
  • Dee Ní Thaidgh: Locv, Rima Najjar.
  • Rima Najjar: Dee Ní Thaidgh, “Loss of Connectivity Verification”? I had to look it up. Very apt and clever.
  • Lena Bloch: It is an interesting statement “I am a Zionist but I don’t hate”. Zionism is hatred in action, not hatred in feelings. They feel they are doing Palestine a favor, “civilizing” and “democratizing” it — but in fact they are enacting hate and destruction of what has been built there for many hundreds of years, if not thousands. Something that seeks to destroy what is already there, is always hate.
  • Abed Amra: She did not admit that she is Jewish, she is zionist and she knows what she means, but I did not believe when she said I am zionist but I do not hate. Zionism means hidden and clear hatred for Palestine and Palestinians. Their actions are more honest than their feeling and words. We are not naive or idiot to believe her speech. The experience that we passed through in our life makes us to be enough mature not to believe their allegations or the image that they want draw in our mind. Nothing will erase their indelible criminal deeds from our memories.
  • Déborah B. Santana: Reminds me of Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca:
    Lorre: you hate me.
    Bogart: if I thought about you, I would.
  • Noor Aelia: I don’t trust anyone who says they’re still Zionists after 7 decades of occupation.
  • Zeina Akka: Saying Akko is hate. It is Akka.
  • Ali Sublaban: Zeina Akka, Akko is also its name, and it’s a كنعاني name.
  • Ian Wellens: ‘We took your land … but we don’t hate you.’ Is that meant to make it ok?
  • Iyas AlQasem: “I am a Zionist but I don’t hate”. I support a system for forcefully taking land and lives from others, but I don’t hate them. That is most generous of her!

Reader Sivan Tal made a perceptive comment after reading this blog post. I am now including most of it below for better visibility. Tal wrote:

I’m wondering what the “but” in that sentence [“I am a Zionist but I don’t hate”] referred to. One way to look at it is admission that Zionism involves hatred. Like, even though I’m Zionist, and Zionists are generally haters, I don’t hate — I’m not a typical Zionist.
The other (and more likely) meaning is that Zionists don’t hate Palestinians, in contrary to Palestinians who always hate Zionist. We Zionists come in peace and with open heart, but Palestinians always hate us (some say because we are Jewish).
In any case, the fact that an offender doesn’t hate their victim doesn’t make the offence right. It’s like the Euro-Americans that didn’t hate the native Americans, they just has to fight to get them out of the land they needed to use for their aspirations. Or Euro-Australians that didn’t hate the natives but nevertheless expelled them and killed them…
“I don’t hate” is a typical Zionist cynical slogan. It’s empty propagandist message just like “Israel has the right to defend itself”. But I’ll let Dr. Offer benefit from the doubt and assume she meant the first option.

najjar Masar Badil
Caption: Rima Najjar in Dubai wearing a t-shirt with a logo commemorating the Alternative Palestinian Path (Masar Badil) Conference, held in Beirut, Madrid and Sao Paulo, between 30 October and 2 November, 2021

I am waiting for the day when Professor Miriam Offer would acquire a multidisciplinary perspective and teach the Nakba to her “Arab” students in Palestine and join me in the march for Return and Liberation taking place in Brussels, Belgium, on 29 October 2022 (From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free). And to quote Professor Pappé again: “What a conundrum it is that Palestine can be exempted from a reasonable, basic, humanist discussion by people who should know, and they know, better.”

Note: First published on Medium here.

 Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.


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