By Nasser Rego
The fiftieth anniversary of the death of revolutionary, writer and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon was commemorated this past December. In late February, the not-so-revolutionary judge Asher Grunis was elected President of the Israeli Supreme Court.
The fanfare that accompanied Grunis’ inauguration was an opportunity to extol Israeli democracy by playing out the ritualized Supreme Court induction ceremony. Yet, there was a disquieting stink about the celebration. Mum among the lot of Hatikva-singing judges was Justice Salim Jubran, the Arab. His refusal to join the chorus likely stemmed from not identifying with the lyrics, "as long as in the heart, within, a Jewish soul still yearns…" His silence, however, prompted loud condemnation from the public and Israeli Knesset members, leading some to propose legislation that would impeach Jubran and effectively bar Arabs from serving on the bench.
This article reads Fanon’s death anniversary and Grunis’ appointment and inauguration ceremony against one another, as an opportunity to recycle Fanon’s ideas to better situate the place of Palestinians, as a colonized people, within the imagination of Israeli law today. In particular, the article traces the outlines of Fanon’s historico-racial schema in Israel/Palestine, emphasizing the legal experience of Palestinians from the Beersheba region, or the Naqab.
Look Mama, an Arab!
Fanon’s historico-racial schema builds on Merleau-Ponty’s (1964) corporeal schema, which is the body’s agency in relating to itself and its historical world (surrounding environment) wherein there is a communication between the two through a perpetual contribution to and reordering of one another. Therefore, as the world contributes to how the body sees itself, the body is an agent that continually transforms and disrupts the historical world, their mutual constructions always being altered and differentiated. For Fanon, the colonial context describes a historico-racial schema rather than a corporeal one. The colonized self does not contribute to this schema as a full sovereign (i.e., citizen) because in an encounter with whiteness, the black body constructs a self-image that is deficient, owing to signifiers by a white mythos that weaves the black body from "a thousand details, anecdotes and stories" (Weate 2001, Fanon 1967: 89-119). This article shows how Israeli law functions as a powerful element of a similar white mythos, weaving the ”Bedouin, Palestinian” subject out of anecdotes of comparable mythical proportion. As a result, the possibilities are similarly thin for Naqab Palestinians to effect free agency and participate fully in the schematization of the historical world they inhabit.
The legal status of Palestinians in other locales in Israel/Palestine also reveals how Israeli law is in fact, vis-à-vis Palestinians, not only illiberal and undemocratic, contrary to the claims of certain enthusiasts, but even more harmful. After the Arab Supreme Court Justice stood out like the reluctant elephant in a room full of Hatikva-singing comrades, the liberal and democratic court could be forced to ask very existential questions. Why were the Court’s most touted values denied to one of its own members by the larger society, including the legal community? Why was a Supreme Court judge, who happened to be Arab, not allowed the liberal privilege of being “tolerated” for his silence? And why was he condemned for exercising his democratic right to non-participation and silent expression?
The heterogeneous strands of Fanon’s works can be applied in the Israeli/Palestinian context to speak about the need for an episteme of colonialism to inform the power-knowledge system of Palestinians’ habitation, to highlight the shortcomings of national consciousness, and to probe the psychiatric treatment of political prisoners in a colonial context. Edward Sa’id (1989) also mobilized Fanon to criticize fixed ideas of identity as a mark of colonial thought.
To discover how the Fanonian white mythos is propagated by Israeli courts, we look at the discursive effects of a few cases over the past two decades. Law is a major propagator of the white mythos, though the media (see Kabha), education and the medical establishment are also contributing factors (Fanon 1963: 249-310).
Legal rules, decisions, settings, negotiations, confrontations, affidavits, minutes, appeals, orders nisi and other temporary remedies, press releases, news reports and analyses recycle the facts of the case and the ways in which Palestinians are mythified. As each textual form peters down to the lived conditions of those who are immersed in but unequal before the law, or all Palestinians, it leaves an imprint on how the senses see the self and the historical world they inhabit.
The dominant legal framing of Palestinians from the Naqab is within the strictures of criminality by a homogenous mass, even in cases that achieve legal victories for the community. Other characteristics that the courts contrive are those of violent, irresponsible Palestinians, and those who deserve “a minimal right to life in dignity,” or in layman’s terms, the right to be ”the living dead.”
"The native…a sort of quintessence of evil… invisible to ethics… the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him" (Fanon 1963: 41).
The first case we will examine is the 1984 “landmark” el-Hawasheleh decision (CA 218/74). This decision set the precedent for future courts to undermine Bedouin settlement and pastoral lifestyle, thereby classifying their lands as mawat (dead), thus providing the basis to conclude that Bedouin had no historical rights to the land. In reaching this conclusion, the court cited the work of the nineteenth-century British explorer E.H. Palmer, who "found a wasteland, ruins of antiquities, Bedouin vagabonds, who did not work the land in any particular manner.” Later in the same text Palmer wrote that “the Bedaw