must be built on full equality in every sense of this
word for all those living on this land. Yehudith Harel <email@example.com>
June 5, 2005
We are commemorating today, the 5th of June, 38 years of a cruel Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip and 57 years of the Palestinian Nakba and displacement in 1948. It is sad to realize that 57 years have passed since the Nakba of ‘48, when the state of Israel, my state, was established on the ruins of Palestinian society and at the expense of the uprooting and displacement of two thirds of her sons and daughters.
It is very painful to acknowledge that this has been the doing of Israel, my state, the place where I grew up and built my home and my life, and I have no other place to call home. It is very hard to stomach these facts, especially as even so many years after these catastrophes we are nowhere closer to a just solution to this tragic conflict, nor to the rehabilitation of the national, social, economic and cultural life of the Palestinian people. Israeli society too, although it is the hegemonic one in the present situation, is severely affected by the ongoing occupation and conflict and is a very problematic and unhealthy society because of it.
For myself, and I guess that for many others who belong to my generation – a whole lifetime was spent in the shadow of this conflict as a whole – not just the ‘67 occupation. I was 16 years old at the time of the ‘67 war – and now you can figure out how old I am. I have been active ever since in various Israeli-Left and peace organizations against the occupation, trying to the best of my ability to work for a solution that would bring about a better future for all of us. And excuse me for being quite frank – when I look at the results I am not at all pleased.
Commemoration days of the catastrophes that befell us provide the perfect opportunity for soul-searching. We must ask ourselves some important questions about where we’re coming from and where are we headed.
We, people who had a leading role in the struggle against the occupation within the various organizations we belong to – must ask ourselves: what happened to our struggle and what went wrong? Where did we err and what could and should be done from now on in order to bring an end to the occupation and to the catastrophic situation in which the Palestinian people live, a situation that cannot bring anything good for us either? As the time is too short to deal with the past and its lessons, allow me to address mainly the present situation.
I can speak only on my own behalf and I ask your permission to allow me to share with you some of my thoughts and my soul-searching.
I became active in the Israeli peace camp and more involved in the struggle against the ‘67 occupation with the establishment of Peace Now in the late seventies. Looking back at those days I want to commend and salute those brave and perceptive Israelis who from the first day of the occupation spoke out against it courageously. I mean first of all the great scholar and master, Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the teacher of a whole generation, and also radical activists like the Matzpen and the Israeli New Left ( SIACH ) people. It seems that they understood many things that it took me too long to understand.
The situation today is more difficult then ever before. We're probably facing the unilateral ‘disengagement’ scheme of Sharon, but I do not belong to those who look forward to it or expect any positive outcome of this scheme, when and if it takes place. However, Sharon who has yielded nothing yet, is already being internationally lauded for his ‘courage’ and resolve and is being celebrated like a Peace Prize laureate. This reality is just evidence of the bankruptcy of international politics, where a person of Sharon’s stature and bloody record can be lauded as a man of Peace…
The tragedy of our generation is that the result of our struggle is not at all satisfactory and that it is evident that we are in a pretty bad situation. 38 years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in ‘67 and 57 years after the Nakba of ‘48, Israel is oppressing the Palestinians in an unprecedented cruel manner, maybe as never before, and is continuously pushing them more and more off their land. Israel controls today de-facto about 70% of the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. 3.8 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are exposed 24 hours a day to continuous terror and fear, imposed by the army and the settlers. Their life conditions are impossible – more reminiscent of a big jail or concentration camp. In the more or less 200 illegal settlements and outposts there are about 450,000 settlers, of whom 200,000 live in East Jerusalem, which is becoming separated from the West Bank by the Apartheid Wall and the chain of settlements that expand in all directions. The West Bank is bisected by an elaborate system of bypass roads ‘only for Jews’, a system not even invented in South Africa under the Apartheid regime. These roads divide the West Bank into cantons in which the Palestinian villages and towns have become isolated ghettos. The Palestinian population is isolated and besieged and there have been no significant changes since the Sharem Al Sheikh Summit in February 2005. There are still more than 600 barriers of various kinds, formal checkpoints and unmanned barriers – not withstanding ‘flying checkpoints’; and the entrances to many villages are still blocked.
Many settlers, especially in some well-known illegal settlements and outposts located mainly in the Nablus and Hebron areas, are systematically harassing and torturing their Palestinian neighbors. We know too well about many cases of beatings – beating of old farmers, women and even children in the fields, burning fields and destroying crops, poisoning farm animals and water sources and vandalizing Palestinian homes and Palestinian property. In many cases if not in most of them, the army turns a blind eye to these criminal acts. Moreover, too often the army seems to be subservient to the settlers and obeys their illegal orders. The Army’s complicity with these hooligans is evident and indicative of the fact that their criminal acts are not sporadic but rather deliberate and premeditated, seemingly nothing but an orchestrated attempt to oppress the Palestinians, cause them despair and finally force them to leave their land of their “free will”, as often stated openly and brazenly by far right-wing people like Efi Eitam and Beni Elon, but many others may think likewise in private. It seems to me that these acts are part of another stage in the long term colonization efforts and ethnic cleansing that Israel has been conducting in the past 100 years. In the same context we must mention the recently open and unashamed campaigning against the “demographic danger” that the Arab citizens of Israel pose to state security, and the advocacy of “land swap” and “population transfer” by people like Liebermann, Arnon Sofer, Dan Schiftan and others, and the growing popularity of such ideas. The recent amendments to the citizenship law and their wide support are just another proof of this xenophobia prevailing in large sectors in Israel.
In addition, we have the Annexation wall that is being constructed and finalized. 620 km. of a frightful system of barbed wire, security roads and 8 meter (25ft) high concrete walls. I can hardly find a harsh enough expression to describe the atrocious consequences of this monster that is changing the landscape and the wildlife and affecting in a disastrous manner the lives of hundreds of thousand of Palestinians. Tens of thousands of dunams of the best agricultural land have been confiscated, thousands of olive and other trees have been uprooted, many houses have been demolished and their inhabitants have been displaced, disconnected from their lands and livelihood. Up to now 24,000 Palestinians find themselves in the ‘no man’s land’ between the barrier and the Green Line, completely isolated from the Palestinian lands and from the infrastructure that supplies their most basic needs for education, health, commerce etc. In general, the barrier destroys the normal life of hundreds of thousands of people, separating them from their livelihood, from their friends and families, separating children from their schools and patients from their doctors. This barrier which in many places is an 8 meter high concrete wall creates a reality that in many aspects is much worse than the late South African Apartheid. This is not a security device but an annexation device, with the sole purpose of disconnecting a large chunk of Palestinian lands from Palestine in order to annex it to Israel. And Sharon is making the unilateral disengagement – which is nothing but a military re-deployment around Gaza – rendering it another big prison – just in order to receive American and international acceptance of these schemes.
I can deduce, with a very heavy heart and conscience, that the situation on the ground has never ever been so difficult. I’m afraid that we’re going down a very slippery slope and that the prospects are not good. The present atmosphere in Israel is one of xenophobia, and the leading discourse is the one about demographic threat. People who talk and think about Palestinians in terms of a ‘demographic threat’ and want to establish a pure ‘Jewish State’, have no other choice but to opt for a continuous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from Israel and also from the Occupied Territories.
Consequently – as a political woman who wants to continue the struggle in a non-violent mode I owe it to myself and my audience to answer at least two cardinal questions:
To begin with the first question: the Two State Solution seems to me to have become obsolete. With all due respect – to the best of my judgment, the reality on the ground does not indicate that a Two State Solution in the ‘67 borders is anywhere near a realistic possibility that is attainable. I cannot see the present or possible future Israeli leadership willing or able to pull out 250,000 settlers from the West Bank – not to speak of East Jerusalem. I cannot see Israel willing to withdraw to anything near the ‘67 borders so as to allow the establishment of a truly viable and sovereign Palestinian State with its capital in Jerusalem. Nor can I see the effective international pressure in this direction. I came to the conclusion that the Israeli penetration of the Occupied Territories is irreversible and therefore we cannot continue to advocate a Two State Solution as if nothing has happened. To do so would mean telling a lie – advocating something that I no longer believe in and what is worse – it could create and illusion and derail the action needed from its track. The means of the struggle must be related to the end goal we pursue and if we do not define accurately our end goal how can we build a suitable action plan and a strategy to achieve it?
Therefore, based on my understanding and analysis of the situation I suggest addressing the solution of the conflict and the end of the occupation in the framework of a One State Solution.
Let me make another statement most clearly: for me the One State Solution is not just a ‘second best’ option because the ‘ideal’ – i.e. the Two State Solution does not seem feasible. When talking about ‘Two States for two peoples’ what two peoples are we actually talking about? One is the Palestinian people – that is clear – but who is the other people? Once I thought it to be the Israeli people – including all Israeli citizens – Jewish citizens, Palestinian citizens and those citizens who are neither Jewish nor Palestinian. However things have changed or maybe just became clearer. After the Israeli high court refused to recognize the Israeli nationality and refused to write in the IDs of all the Israeli citizens that their nationality is Israeli – I realized what a fiction this Israeli nationality is. Actually there is no such a thing. It became absolutely clear that those who advocate a Two State Solution mean to have a Jewish State, not an Israeli State. Consequently I understood that the implementation of the Two State Solution will create an enormous and effective pressure to consolidate and deepen the character of Israel as a Jewish State, in which the civil and national status of all non Jews, Palestinians and others, will be second and third grade. I cannot accept such a situation not only because it is not fair and not just and cannot be accepted by 20% of the Israeli citizens but also because it can never bring a real and long term solution to the conflict. There can be no real solution without granting complete and full equality in every sense of this word to all those living on this land and under the skies of Israel-Palestine. On this land we have first and foremost two national collectivities – apart from the foreign workers who have a miserable status and who will have to be dealt with equitably. These two national collectivities – the Palestinian and the Israeli-Jewish collectivities, have a clear national identity and deep, if somewhat different, relation to this land. A formula that aspires to provide a real, viable and long term solution to the ongoing bloody conflict between these two collectivities has to acknowledge their existence and be based on the full equality and equal rights of both the collectivities’ national rights and the individuals’ civil rights.
My opponents tell me – oh you are weak – you gave in to pessimism and pressure and abandoned the only one real solution that both people support, for one that may sound ideal but is not feasible at this stage – maybe at a later stage, maybe after the implementation of the Two State Solution.
My answer to this criticism is NO – and NO. In the first place, I tried to argue quite clearly why I do not regard the Two State Solution as an ideal one, and in the second place, why it does not seem feasible or likely to be attainable in the present political reality. Nevertheless, let me be clear: if there was a real possibility to end the ‘67 occupation and establish a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the ‘67 borders with its capital in Jerusalem; recognizing the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and assuming responsibility for the creation of this problem in the first place – I would have supported such a solution. But I don’t see this happening. On the contrary – what I see is the claws of the occupation penetrating deeper into the Palestinian flesh.
The claim that majorities in both societies support and prefer this solution seems to me a very weak argument because if this was the case indeed, than why haven’t we reached this solution till now? Second – no wonder that many people who want peace support the Two State Solution – as they have never really had the chance to be presented with a serious and convincing and challenging alternative.
Therefore it is our duty to present our peoples with an alternative solution that can work for us. I am of the opinion that the most suitable formula that can guarantee collectivities’ national rights and individuals’ civil rights, true equality for all, is a One State Solution. I cannot specify exactly what kind of ‘One State’ I propose, and what exactly will it look like, what kind of a constitution or legal system and what other institutions will it have. There are many possibilities and models and the specific details have to be worked out carefully. However, I believe that when the principle is clear and mutually agreed upon – it will not be a problem to devise a political framework capable of providing for the needs of both national collectivities, for guaranteeing their full national freedom of expression.
The second question I need to address concerns the protest and resistance activities that we must pursue right now:
First of all, we must do our best to disrupt the hidden agenda and interfere with the main purpose and objective of the occupation, which is to isolate and break the spirit of the Palestinian people and weaken them in order to persuade them to leave their land or accept a very unfair settlement.
Therefore, to disrupt the above-mentioned scheme, we need to be engaged in the following concrete activities:
1. First of all we must resist the ban on visiting the occupied territories. We must go there as an act of civil disobedience and connect with our Palestinian colleagues, defying their deliberate isolation. Then we can also carry the voice and tell the world about what is happening there.
2. Second: We must engage in all forms of solidarity activities with the besieged Palestinian society. We must be actively engaged in all non-violent protest activities against the Annexation Wall, against the checkpoints and the closures, and for the release of Palestinian prisoners, etc.
3. Third: We must find all suitable ways to produce and circulate information in our society and abroad in order to open the eyes of Israelis and international civilized society to what is really happening on the ground and what is the real intent of the Sharon Government.
4. Fourth: We must try to engage the International community and especially the civil society to exert pressure on Israel by boycotting Israeli institutions like the universities and other institutions that are complicit with the occupation. The boycott is definitely a legitimate non-violent means of opposition that can become effective, as happened in the case of South Africa.
5. Fifth: While engaging in the above we must rebuild the ties between Palestinians and Israelis and strengthen the joint struggle, which to my mind can make a very effective struggle and yield the best results.
6. Sixth: Last but not least – we must develop a new discourse and a new language that can promote the values we believe in – values of Justice and Equality, such as the ones reflected in the idea of bi-nationalism and which entails full national and personal equality between the two peoples. These are the only values that are capable of one day producing an equitable and viable solution that will end the occupation and bring us to real peace.
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