The End Of Israel?
feeling optimistic about Palestine.
I know it
sounds crazy. How can I use "optimistic" and "Palestine" in the same
sentence when conditions on the ground only seem to get worse? Israeli
settlements continue to expand on a daily basis, the checkpoints and
segregated road system are becoming more and more institutionalized,
more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners are being held in
Israeli jails, Gaza is under heavy attack and the borders are entirely
controlled by Israel, preventing people from getting their most basic
human needs met.
We can never
forget these things and the daily suffering of the people, and yet I
dare to say that I am optimistic. Why? Ehud Olmert. Let me clarify.
Better yet, let's let him clarify:
"The day will
come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South
African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens,
the state of Israel is finished."
the Prime Minister of Israel is currently trying to negotiate a
"two-state solution" specifically because he realizes that if he
doesn't, Palestinians might begin to demand, en masse, equal rights to
Israelis. Furthermore, he worries, the world might begin to see Israel
as an apartheid state. In actuality, most of the world already sees
Israel this way, but Olmert is worried that even Israel's most ardent
supporters will begin to catch up with the rest of the world.
organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first
to come out against us," he told Haaretz, "because they will say they
cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting
rights for all its residents."
Olmert is giving American Jews too much credit here, but he does expose
a basic contradiction in the minds of most American people, Jewish and
not: most of us -- at least in theory -- support equal rights for all
residents of a country. Most of us do not support rights given on the
basis of ethnicity and religion, especially when the ethnicity/religion
being prioritized is one that excludes the vast majority of the
country's indigenous population. We cannot, of course, forget the
history of ethnic cleansing of indigenous people on the American
continent. But we must not use the existence of past atrocities to
justify present ones.
optimistic not because I think the process of ethnic cleansing and
apartheid in Israel/Palestine is going to end tomorrow, but because I
can feel the ideology behind these policies beginning to collapse. For
years the true meaning of political Zionism has been as ignored as its
effects on Palestinian daily life. And suddenly it is beginning to break
open. Olmert's comments last week are reminiscent of those of early
Zionist leaders who talked openly of transfer and ethnic cleansing in
order to create an artificial Jewish majority in historic
We must expel
the Arabs and take their places and if we have to use force to guarantee
our own right to settle in those places -- then we have force at our
disposal. - David Ben-Gurion, Israel's "founding father" and first prime
So this idea
of a "two-state solution" a la Olmert -- which I would argue provides
neither a "state" nor a "solution" for the Palestinian people -- is the
new transfer. It is no longer popular in the world to openly discuss
expulsion (though there are political parties in Israel that advocate
this), but Olmert hopes that by creating a Palestinian "state" on a tiny
portion of historic Palestine, he can accomplish the same goal:
maintaining an ethno-religious state exclusively for the Jewish people
in most of historic Palestine. His plan, as all other plans Israeli
leaders have tried to "negotiate," ignores the basic rights of the
two-thirds of the Palestinian population who are refugees. They, like
all other refugees in the world, have the internationally recognized
right to return to their lands and receive compensation for loss and
damages. This should not be up for negotiation.
So why am I
optimistic? Why do I think Olmert will fail, if not in the short term,
at least in the long term? There are many signs.
The first and
most important is that Palestinian people are holding on. Sometimes by a
thread, but holding on nonetheless. Despite the hope of many in Israel,
Palestinians will not disappear. They engage in daily acts of nonviolent
resistance, from demonstrations against the wall and land confiscation,
to simply remaining in their homes against all odds. Young people are
joining organizations designed to preserve their culture and identity.
Older Palestinians have said to me, "We lived through the Ottoman
Empire, we lived through the British Mandate, we lived through Jordanian
rule, and we will live through Israeli occupation." This too shall
In Israel, it
seems that within the traditional "Zionist left," Jewish Israelis are
beginning to have open conversations about the exclusivity of Zionism as
a political ideology, and are questioning it more and more.
In the US, I
have been traveling around speaking to groups about Palestine, and they
get it. Even those whose prior information has come only from US
mainstream media, when they hear what is actually happening, they get
it. When we explain the difference between being Jewish (a religion or
ethnicity), Israeli (a citizenship), and Zionist (an ideology), people
have a right to exist?" people ask. What does that mean? Do countries
really have rights, or do people have rights? The Jewish people have a
right to exist, the Israeli people have a right to exist, but what does
"Israel" mean? Israel defines itself as the state of the Jewish people.
It is not a state of its citizens. It is a state of many people who are
not its citizens, like myself, and is not the state of many people who
are its citizens, like the 20 percent of its population that is
Palestinian. So if we ask a Palestinian person, "Do you recognize the
right for there to be a country on your historic homeland that
explicitly excludes you?" what kind of response should we
Olmert warns that we will "face a South African-style struggle for equal
voting rights" and that "the state of Israel [will be] finished," I get
a little flutter of excitement. I think of the 171 Palestinian
organizations who have called on the international community to begin
campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until
Israel complies with international law. This is already a South
African-style struggle, and we outside of Palestine need to do our part.
Especially those of us who live in the US, the country that gives Israel
more than $10 million every single day, must take responsibility for the
atrocities committed in our name and with our money.
this is our role as Americans. It is to begin campaigns in our churches,
synagogues, mosques, universities, cities, unions, etc. It is not to
broker false negotiations between occupier and occupied, and it is not
to muse over solutions the way I have above. But one can dream. And as a
Jewish-American, I know that while it might be scary to some, while it
will require a lot of imagination, the end of Israel as a Jewish state
could mean the beginning of democracy, human rights, and some semblance
of justice in a land that has almost forgotten what that
is co-founder and co-director of Birthright
Unplugged, which takes mostly Jewish North American people
into the West Bank to meet with Palestinian people and to equip them to
return to their own communities and work for justice; and takes
Palestinian children from refugee camps to Jerusalem, the sea, and the
villages their grandparents fled in 1948, and supports them to document
their experiences and create photography exhibits to share with their
communities and with the world. Anna Baltzer helped contribute to this
Share Your Insights
it! And spread the word!
Here is a
unique chance to help this article to be read by thousands of people
more. You just Digg it, and it will appear in the home page of Digg.com
and thousands more will read it. Digg is nothing but an vote, the
article with most votes will go to the top of the page. So, as you read
just give a digg and help thousands more to read this