The usual regulatory mechanisms of the mainstream U.S. media (aim: exclusion of troubling or potentially disruptive information, narcosis of population) processed the turmoil in the occupied territories and in Israel itself with some initial difficulty, as beleaguered news editors yearned for the sanctuary of phrases such as “uneasy calm prevails,” or the more severely tranquil “return to normalcy.”
This schizoid outlook was tellingly revealed in Newsweek’s story of January 4. The report read as though two hands had struggled for mastery. Hand Number One produced an unusually frank description of conditions in the occupied territories, where “Arabs have no political rights and no citizenship,” and in Israel itself, where Arabs
were granted citizenship and the vote but were subjected to heavy-handed military rule until 1966. Jews took more than half their land, and industrial development was steered away from Arab areas. Most young Arabs still are not allowed to serve in the Israeli Army, a major avenue to civilian jobs. The government gives Arab towns less than 30 percent of the per capita subsidies paid to Jewish communities. Arab towns are short of hospitals, sewers, paved roads and schoolrooms.
Hand Number One plunged on: “Like the inhabitants of a South African Bantustan, Arabs commute to work in the factories of upper Nazareth. When few of them tried to find homes in the Jewish town, however, they were chased out by local residents.”
Hand Number Two took a more meditative approach:
The restless Arab family presents a challenge to the 3.5 million Israeli and a to their The 2.2 million Israeli Jews, and a threat to their democracy. The 2.2 million Arabs who live in Israel and the occupied territories are an oppressed and alienated underclass. The Arabs have much higher birthrate than the Jews, and demographers calculate that by the middle of the next century, they will outnumber the Jews between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan, creating an Arab majority in an officially Jewish state.
Like the Seven Dwarfs in Snow White the words I have italicized bustle about their appointed tasks. “Restless,” but in what sense restless? the fecund motions of the Arab womb? or perhaps an inner spiritual agitation that, who knows, might prompt these Arab families voluntarily to wander across the Jordan and thus settle the problem. “Challenge” rings with the timbre of plucky defiance and, conversely, the morally exigent reality of a choice that cannot long be postponed. Those under challenge turn out to be custodians of “democracy,” whose beauty is only slightly marred by the monosyllable “their.”
The paragraph then hurries toward the unappetizing reality of demographic ratio. As in reporting in the late 1960s and early from Ulster, the fact that one ethnic or religious group may be procreating more rapidly than another can be made to carry an aroma of moral laxity and seditious concupiscence. Finally, there is the concept that such abandoned procreation amounts to a “time bomb,” a phrase without which no demographic alarum is complete. Newsweek complies in its headline “Israel’s Arab Time Bomb.”
What people do to time bombs—the people, that is, who do not want them to go off—is disarm them. But how? Newsweek sidled up to the issue: “It is an open question whether Israel will be able to meet the demographic challenge and preserve a democratic system.” In other words, Meir Kahane might turn out to be right after all. But now, with Kahanism (“They Must Go”) on the cusp between “extremist fantasy" and “conceivable option,” Newsweek quotes Yitzhak Shamir, who offers his own firm answer: “We have overcome such things in the past. There is no end to this war, and it is a war in which we must triumph, in each and every generation.” Not included in the story is any intimation that there might be another answer, such as a binational democratic secular state.