Transforming Israel

Transforming Israel

Now that Kosovo is the newest independent state to emerge out of the ruins of the former Yugoslavia parallels are being drawn between the Balkans and the Middle East. One response to this development came from Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who said that as she does not mind if the Palestinians follow the Kosovars and declare statehood; what worries her is that Palestinians will demand equal rights with Israelis.

Adding to Israeli fears of the impending demand for equal rights, in an article published recently in The Guardian, Ahmad Khalidi wrote that the state now being offered to the Palestinians is less attractive than ever and that Palestinians may just opt to “evoke Olmert”s worst nightmare” and call for a “genuine partnership of sharing the land.” Both Livni and Olmert have stated that the possibility of equality keeps them awake at night, and with good cause. Once the discourse moves from “self determination to that of freedom and democracy” as Ahmed Khalidi puts it, the Zionist brand of apartheid will have to fold and a secular democracy will have to emerge in its place.

Three things will be argued here regarding the issue of transforming the racially segregated state of Israel into a secular democratic state on all of historic Palestine/Israel:

1. In order to achieve a lasting resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israel”s domination over the land, the people and the discourse must be brought to an end, and the parties must negotiate as equals. At the same time, any effort to bring about such a solution needs to take into account that Israel will not permit such parity willingly and will use all of its power to maintain its domination.

2. As long as the main efforts to resolve the conflict focus on the partition of historic Palestine/Israel there will never be a resolution. The idea of partition has become bankrupt and promoting it allows Israel to dominate the discourse and to continue its brutal control over Palestinians and their land.

3. What is known as the one-state solution is no longer one option out of several, it has become a reality; the efforts and the discourse must now focus on transforming the racist, segregationist system in place today into a secular democratic system of government. The resolution of the conflict lies not in partition and more segregation but in severing the institutions of government from the single identity of either side. The state needs to serve and represent all Israelis and Palestinians who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In order to reach a sustainable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, parties representing the two sides need to be able to negotiate as equals and to decide together which solution would best serve the ten million inhabitants of Palestine/Israel. But Israel”s success in maintaining domination over the discourse has blocked any serious attempt at meaningful discussion. Israel refuses to allow any parity between itself and the Palestinians, and will not permit any serious discussion on the transformation of the racist segregation that exists today into a real democracy.

Israel has from its very founding worked relentlessly to trivialize everything that took place between the destruction of the Second Temple and the founding of the state of Israel. This effort is focused particularly on erasing the 1,400 years of Arab and Muslim presence in Palestine. As far as Israelis are concerned, that presence was nothing but an historical misfortune that was remedied upon the establishment of the Jewish state and the return of Eretz Israel to its rightful owners in 1948. This effort was hugely successful: Even with the existence of major Arab and Islamic monuments still standing, and a significant Palestinian presence, both Muslim and Christian, few Israelis know or care to know about the historical and cultural significance of the last two millennia. From an Israeli viewpoint the moral, historical and religious superiority of the Jewish claims to the land are absolute.

Since the notion of Israeli supremacy is deep rooted among Israelis and it is a major factor in Israel”s position vis-a-vis the Palestinians we can see why Israel has never agreed, and it is not likely that any Zionist government will ever agree, to negotiate with the Palestinians as equals. The following example demonstrates that irrespective of political party and even among the Israeli peace camp, parity is frowned upon. On the core issue of the use of force, Israel maintains that Palestinians must refrain and refuse to use what meager military means they posses in their struggle for their rights, and has succeeded in painting the Palestinian struggle for freedom as terrorism. (Hence the absurd question repeated often by people in Israel and the West: “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” hinting that the problem is the Palestinians predisposition to resort to violence). Since there is no parity, and Israel maintains that it holds the moral high ground, it has the right to use military force against Palestinian “terrorism.” Israelis who refuse to serve in the armed forces are not recognized by the state as conscientious objectors but treated like common criminals; and even the so-called “peace camp” does not recognize the right of those refusing to serve in the Israeli military (since Israel possesses the moral high ground there is no need for an Israeli Gandhi).

Israel”s approach towards any resolution of the conflict is based on the premise that Israel will determine the nature of the solution, and the Palestinians must be resigned to accept it or suffer the consequences. Israel will permit the Palestinians a level of independence that Israel will determine based on its own perception of Palestinian compliance with Israeli interests. The best Palestinians may expect is that Israel will at some point permit a limited autonomy on selected areas of historic Palestine, areas selected by Israel alone. The possibility that the two parties need to reach a solution as equal partners is, as was mentioned earlier, not acceptable. Why the Palestinians have thus far agreed to be led by Israeli interests and to be dominated by Israeli politics is beyond our scope here, but what is amply clear is that the best interests of the Palestinians count for nothing. Israel has no intention of willingly allowing for a solution that is good for both parties, and insists on pushing its own narrow and shortsighted interests to the limit.

The absurd situation where partition is regarded as the only viable solution to the conflict, and at the same time it is clearly not a viable solution, allows Israel to continue to impose its will on all ten million inhabitants under its rule, and it renders any struggle to end Zionist domination over Palestine useless. When the efforts to bring an end to the conflict focus on transforming the militant Zionist regime currently in place into a free and pluralistic democracy, it is likely to develop more impetus and eventually succeed, even in the face of Zionist resistance.

History has shown that as long as the effort to end Israeli domination over Palestine remains focused on the notion of partition, or the two-state solution, it is doomed to be ineffective. The two-state solution is a fig leaf that Israel uses to cover its policies of land confiscation and brutal oppression. Israel”s policies of segregation are firmly linked to the chauvinistic notion that Israel should remain in control of the land and its resources. We would do well to note that the notion of partition serves only the shortsighted Zionist policies of power and domination, but does not take in to consideration the long term interests of Israelis and Palestinians.

Since Israel claims security to be its top priority, it will always claim that for security reasons it cannot give up a certain hill or valley only to secure more land for its illegal settlements in Jerusalem or the West Bank. Israel also maintains the sole right to determine who will represent the Palestinians as Israel”s negotiating partner, using once again so-called “security” considerations. Israel has and in all likelihood will continue to delegitimize (not to say assassinate or at least arrest) anyone who is unwilling to accept its right to total domination of the land and the discourse. This is at the root of the why real, good faith negotiations are yet to take place.

The arguments against a single state may have their merit, but they fail to acknowledge one thing: that the single state is not one of several options to be considered in the future; the single state is already a reality. Even though the state of Israel denies it vehemently, all ten million people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are subjects of the Jewish state. Israeli insistence that a Palestinian state is in Israel”s own best interest and that Israel is committed to the creation of a Palestinian state is a poor smoke screen and in light of the facts on the ground this argument barely holds water. The different sets of laws and the travel restrictions that separate Palestinians from Israelis, allow Israel to create the illusion that there are two (or perhaps three, counting Gaza) political entities that govern the two people. Sadly, the reality is that different arms of the Israeli government, not separate independent governments, govern the two people. Palestinians are governed by the behemoth called the Israeli security system that Israel has created and maintains at high cost for the sole purpose of governing a population against its will. Israelis are governed by a radical, chauvinistic and racially discriminatory regime that pretends to be democratic.

In order to avert the possibility of losing its power, Israel has in effect placed a veto on any discussion of the transformation of the Jewish state into a secular democracy that would serve all of the people living within it. Furthermore, Israel will not engage in any discussion on the atrocities it committed during the war of 1948, nor will it engage in discussion on the reversal of the exile forced upon Palestinians in 1948. Israelis have been taught that even mentioning the refugees and the events of 1948 constitutes treason, and few are willing to discuss this, much less place the responsibility on Israel. The official line is that the “Arabs” rejected the UN partition and the “Arabs” convinced the Palestinians to leave their homes and their land and none of this has anything to do with Israel.

By ignoring the refugee issue, Israel has in fact deliberately shut the door on a solution that is both pragmatic and just. But it is hard to imagine that any resolution regarding Palestine can be reached and sustained unless the refugees are represented and unless they are part of the solution.

The oppressor-oppressed relationship between the two nations takes a heavy toll on both Israelis and Palestinians, albeit in different ways. Only once the two sides are freed from this burden will they be able to find a solution that is acceptable and has a chance to withstand the test of time. This is a tough challenge and to overcome it will require both people to defy the occupation and demand that the occupation apparatus, the Israeli “security system,” be dismantled. As things stand today, Israelis are either oblivious to Palestinian suffering or they condone it. The Palestinians for their part are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the brutal force used against them.

The nature of the solution must naturally be linked to the efforts to reach it. As things stand today, Israel makes sure that any efforts placed towards the resolution of the conflict are targeted towards the partition of Palestine, which in all likelihood will never occur. Even though these efforts yield no results the West stands behind Israel and mention of a secular democracy is deemed anti-Semitic. While the official stand of the two parties is in favor of this solution, in the case of Israel at least this stand is clearly disingenuous. While Israeli rhetoric claims to favor the partition of the land, Israeli governments have clearly acted in a way that negates the possibility of a Palestinian state to ever emerge, and has in fact sealed the fate of the two nations to live in one state, ruled by a single government.

Israel has acted quite deliberately to achieve this, and it has done so in two ways: education and infrastructure. If one takes a look at textbooks taught in Israeli schools, one will be hard pressed to see a map of Israel in which any Palestinian territory is delineated. Israeli students learn, and quite accurately so, that the whole of “Eretz Israel” is included in the state of Israel. Palestinian monuments and institutions are rarely marked and Palestinian towns, the ones that are found in these books, are described simply as “non-Jewish.” The Palestinians are portrayed as either refugees or as poor, backward people who are not modern and educated like the Israelis and the proof for their backwardness: they are unable to step out of their own dusty and congested villages into the modern world. Palestinian national aspirations are ridiculed and their identity as a nation is, so the official line claims, a new phenomenon that emerged only after the 1967 War.

Palestinians who are citizens of the state are referred to as “the Arabs of Israel,” a term that serves two purposes: to disassociate them from the Palestinians who live in the lands occupied in 1967, and from any national aspirations they may have. The second purpose is to portray the Palestinian citizens of Israel as people who have no unique national identity other than being Arabs whose existence in “our” country is coincidental. This lends itself to the claim that the “Arabs” have 22 states and Jews only one, therefore if they don”t like it they should leave and go live in some “Arab” country.

As for the infrastructure, just as Israel had done in the aftermath of the 1948 War, towns, neighborhoods and highways are being built for Jews only on Palestinian land. Having continued this policy of major expansion into the West Bank, Israel has blurred the lines that used to delineate between the West Bank, where a possible Palestinian state might have been established, and the rest of Israel. Towns with massive housing projects, and industrial complexes along with modern highways connecting them to each other and to Israel proper were built at a huge expense and represent a massive investment. Although the mainstream Israeli-left still holds that these may be removed one day when the illusive peace is achieved through partition, they give permanent status to the existence of the Jewish settlements on land occupied in 1967.

In order to avert any attempt to cut these areas off from Israel, Israel also invests in a massive defense apparatus on the one hand and public relations campaigns on the other. The two work in unison to protect, legitimize and as mentioned before give permanent status to this expansion. The Zionist education system and the massive investment combined have been a huge success, but now the Jewish state has to deal with a segregated, disenfranchised “minority” that makes up half of the population.

Accepting the transformation the Israel into a democratic state as the preferred solution to the conflict will allow for a more effective struggle to end the occupation, which is the de facto apartheid regime that Israel has in place. There is a need to move away from the default position of so many peace groups that claim the two-state solution is the ultimate solution. Even if at one point this was a realistic solution it is no longer the case; and even if it is, as many sincere peace activists claim, the preferred solution, because of Israel”s shortsighted expansionist policies it has become defunct. Peace activists would do well to recognize this and unite behind an anti-apartheid movement to transform Israel into a secular democracy.

One constantly hears talk of ending the impasse in the peace process, talk that is based on the myth of the existence of such a process, the end of which will be a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. But what is it about this seemingly perfect solution that makes it so elusive? From the 1947 UN resolution to Partition Palestine, to the more recent Road Map, every plan to separate the land into two political entities has not only failed but also fueled more bloodshed. As we look at the various proposals we see that each one has allowed for greater Israeli domination of the discourse and of the land at the expense of Palestinians while demanding Palestinian acceptance. In other words, every so-called “peace plan” has deepened the Zionist hold on the land and its resources. The 1947 partition plan was a poorly designed plan that had no chance of ever surviving forcing a solution that would give the majority of the land to what was then the Jewish minority. As though this was not folly enough, close to 400,000 Palestinians would have had to live within the boundaries of the state designated for the Jewish population. As it turned out, the Zionist leadership had a plan and at the first opportunity the Israeli militia began to force these people, who had no say in determining their future, out of their homes and away from their land.

The more recent proposals offer the Palestinians, who today comprise about 50 percent of the population somewhere between 10 percent to 15 percent of their historic homeland. The latest census published in Haaretz in February 2008 states that the total population of the West Bank and Gaza combined is now up to four million; the Palestinian population within the state of Israel proper is close to 1.5 million. The total population of Israel without the Palestinians citizens is around five million. Still the five million Jewish citizens are given domain over more than 90 percent of the land and resources, and if the Palestinians want “peace” they must settle for the rest. Besides all of this there are the Palestinian refugees whose voices and their rights have been silenced with brutal force over the years, but without whom no resolution can be achieved.

A mutual struggle for equality within a single state holds the promise of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians who they rule with brutal force, can be brought to an end through defiance of the Israeli security apparatus that is charged with enforcing the oppression. The defiance of the occupation through a joint struggle with a dedicated focus towards the transformation of Israel into a secular democracy holds the promise of a great future for both nations.

The idea of Israelis and Palestinians living in a single democracy is considered by many people to be naive, and perhaps it is. But one has to wonder: Does the current Zionist brand of apartheid, breeding as it does fear and suspicion, offer any future at all? The transformation of Israel into a democratic, pluralistic, secular state that will offer equal citizenship to all ten million people who reside within historic Palestine can provide a sound solution to the conflict. Furthermore, though morality is seldom mentioned as a political objective, it is morally right to turn Israel into a state that is a function of the will of the people rather than it being the enforcer of its own will on the people. It is morally right to bring the two nations to a place of equal opportunity and give them an equal voice in determining their shared future.

When Israelis and Palestinians work together for the benefit of their own future and the future of their children there will be no problem they cannot solve. Both people have proven that they are capable of great things, and one may expect that the democracy they create will serve them both well. Together the two nations will secure their mutual rights, their shared destiny and their rich heritage.

On a personal note I want to add the following thoughts: As an Israeli that was raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state, I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively “our own.” In my opinion there is something that is greater than that dream: living in peace and raising our children in our shared homeland; teaching children about the rich traditions of this land and the heritage left to them by their ancestors. Every church, mosque and synagogue across the country tells a story; ancient cities and citadels are everywhere, and every corner in the land bares the mark of great kings and philosophers. All of these make up the rich mosaic of our homeland, and I emphasize our homeland, whether we are Palestinian or Israeli, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian.

Miko Peled is an Israeli peace activist and writer living in the US. He is co-founder of the Elbanna Peled Foundation in memory of Smadar Elhanan and Abir Aramin. Peled is the son of the late Israeli General Matti Peled. Please direct all correspondence to mikopeled A T aol D O T com.