In Michael Mitchell’s recent piece for Forward Thinking “Israel’s Moral Army?” (July 18, 2014), Mitchell impressively deconstructs the Israel Defense Force’s conduct during its current military operation in Gaza. Using a variety of pedagogical criteria (international law, Jewish tradition, ethical theory) he ultimately challenges Israel’s claim to being a “moral army” (or to use an title often wielded by its politicians and supporters, “the most moral army in the world.”)
Mitchell notes that while there is “evidence that Israel is taking significant measures to minimize civilian deaths,” it is also “quite possible that innocent people have been killed by IDF decisions to strike a target when it knew that doing so could put civilians at risk.”
He thus concludes:
If the IDF aspires to be a “moral army,” especially one that affirms both the universal dignity of each human life and the respect for the human embodiment of the divine image particular to the Jewish ethical tradition, it is in these instances that its conduct falls from regrettable to wrong.
Given the overwhelming support for “Operation Protective Edge” throughout Israel, the American political world and the American Jewish establishment, it is courageous indeed for Mitchell, a Tel Aviv resident, to openly label the IDF’s actions in Gaza as “ethically wrong.” But beyond his relatively narrow analysis of the ethics of warfare, there are larger issues he leaves crucially unexamined.
Most notably, while Mitchell invokes the principles of self-defense in wartime, he ignores the broader question of whether or not this war itself is, as Israel claims, an actual war of self-defense. Indeed, while Israeli and American politicians – and Israel-supporters the world over – have been defending Israel’s actions in Gaza by invoking Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket fire, the timeline of events leading up to Israel’s military assault on Gaza suggests otherwise.
According to the terms of the last cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, signed back in November 2012, Hamas agreed to cease its rocket attacks against Israel, while Israel agreed to “stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.” Since that time, as Forward Editor-in-Chief JJ Goldberg recently pointed out, “Hamas hadn’t fired a single rocket …and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups.” By comparison, Israel continuously violated the terms of the cease-fire during those two years with repeated military incursions and targeted assassinations into Gaza. Israel also failed to “facilitate the freedom of movement and transfer of goods within Gaza” as the terms of the cease-fire had stipulated.
This past April, Israel stepped up its rhetoric against Hamas following the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah. Then in June, Netanyahu publicly blamed Hamas for the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli teenagers – even though he provided no evidence to support his claims and Hamas repeatedly denied any responsibility. It is now known that Israeli politicians and military leaders knew full well that the teens had been murdered shortly after their abduction – using the pretense of their kidnapping to brutally crack down on Hamas members in the West Bank and to re-arrest former security prisoners who had been released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap.
As Israeli public pressure to find the teens reached a fever pitch, right-wing Israeli politicians began to pressure Netanyahu to launch a military operation against Gaza. As Goldberg noted:
In Gaza, leaders went underground. Rocket enforcement squads stopped functioning and jihadi rocket firing spiked. Terror squads began preparing to counterattack Israel through tunnels. One tunnel exploded on June 19 in an apparent work accident, killing five Hamas gunmen, convincing some in Gaza that the Israeli assault had begun while reinforcing Israeli fears that Hamas was plotting terror all along.
On June 29, an Israeli air attack on a rocket squad killed a Hamas operative. Hamas protested. The next day it unleashed a rocket barrage, its first since 2012. The cease-fire was over.
In other words, we cannot view the IDF’s actions during Operation Protective Edge in a vacuum. While Mitchell’s effectively analyzes Israel’s behavior vis a vis the ethics of wartime self-defense, he fails to reckon with the hard fact that Israel’s latest military adventure in Gaza was clearly a war of choice, initiated with cynically political designs.
If we factor in this larger perspective, the ethical categories invoked by Mitchell may well have deeper and more profound implications. For instance, Mitchell cites the Torah’s verse, “Justice, justice shalt thou follow” (Deuteronomy 16:20) together with Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh (“saving a life”) to make the point that “we must be just not only because it’s right, but because by doing so we ourselves may live.” But while he applies this concept to the context of an army’s actions during wartime, it might be more appropriately invoked in regards to the sacred imperative to work for a just peace to the tragic crisis in Gaza.
If Israel was truly interested in following the course of justice in order to preserve life, it could have dropped its abject refusal to deal with Hamas following the November 2012 cease-fire and pursued further negotiations aimed at ending its crushing siege. It could have sought the course of diplomatic engagement – a truly just attempt at peace rather than merely a lull between its now regular military assaults into Gaza.
Moreover, when Hamas and Fatah announced its reconciliation agreement, Israel’s leaders could have seen this as an opportunity to enter into dialogue with a more unified and representative Palestinian leadership rather than reject another chance to engage in a truly authentic peace process. Instead, they opted for yet another brutally violent onslaught on Gaza that has, as of this writing, killed 370 Palestinians, including 228 civilians, 77 children and 56 women, as well as 18 Israelis.
While the public criticism and upheaval over BDS continues apace, this movement is slowly and inexorably tallying victory after victory. Last week, the Gates Foundation announced that it was fully divesting from G4S – a British/Danish security firm that has been severely criticized for its operations in the occupied Palestinian territories and in prisons and detention centers in Israel, including those housing children and “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial.
Now just this week, we’ve learned that the United Methodist Church – the largest mainline Protestant church in the United States – will be pulling all its investments from G4S as well. This news is huge – and a dramatic precursor to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which will be convening in Detroit next week. I can’t help but think the BDS tide is turning significantly, particularly in the arena of church divestment campaigns.
I’ve long participated with colleagues in Protestant church groups who have been actively involved in promoting the principled and targeted divestment of their denominations’ funds from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal and oppressive occupation of Palestinians. I was, in fact, an active supporter of the divestment “overture” brought to the last Presbyterian GA two years ago and wrote extensively about these efforts.
This is what I wrote at the time:
I support this resolution without reservation and urge other Jewish leaders and community members to do so as well. I am deeply dismayed that along every step of this process, Jewish community organizations (among them, the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs) that purport to speak for the consensus of a diverse constituency have been intimidating and emotionally blackmailing the Presbyterian Church as they attempt to forge their ethical investment strategy in good faith.
It is extremely important to be clear about what is at stake here. First of all, this is not a resolution that seeks to boycott or single out Israel. Divestment does not target countries – it targets companies. In this regard speaking, the PC (USA)’s ethical investment process seeks to divest from specific “military-related companies” it deems are engaged in “non-peaceful” pursuits.
We’d be hard-pressed indeed to make the case that the Israeli government is engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem. I won’t go into detail here because I’ve been writing about this tragic issue for many years: the increasing of illegal Jewish settlements with impunity, the forced evictions and home demolitions, the uprooting of Palestinian orchards, the separation wall that chokes off Palestinians from their lands, the arbitrary administrative detentions, the brutal crushing of non-violent protest, etc, etc.
All Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – have cause for deep moral concern over these issues. Moreover, we have cause for dismay that own government tacitly supports these actions. At the very least, we certainly have the right to make sure that our own investments do not support companies that profit from what we believe to be immoral acts committed in furtherance of Israel’s occupation.
As the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, I am proud that JVP has initiated its own divestment campaign which targets the TIAA-CREF pension fund, urging it to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation. Among these are two of the three companies currently under consideration by PC (USA): Motorola and Caterpillar.
Why the concern over these specific companies? Because they are indisputably and directing aiding and profiting the oppression of Palestinians on the ground. Caterpillar profits from the destruction of Palestinian homes and the uprooting of Palestinian orchards by supplying the armor-plated and weaponized bulldozers that are used for such demolition work. Motorola profits from Israel’s control of the Palestinian population by providing surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank, as well as communication systems to the Israeli army and West Bank settlers.
And why is Hewlett-Packard under consideration for divestment by the PC (USA)? HP owns Electronic Data Systems, which heads a consortium providing monitoring of checkpoints, including several built inside the West Bank in violation of international law. The Israeli Navy, which regularly attacks Gaza’s fishermen within Gaza’s own territorial waters and has often shelled civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, has chosen HP Israel to implement the outsourcing of its IT infrastructure. In addition, Hewlett Packard subsidiary HP Invent outsources IT services to a company called Matrix, which employs settlers in the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit to do much of its IT work at low wages.
I repeat: by seeking to divest from these companies the PC (USA) is not singling out Israel as a nation. The Presbyterian Church has every right to – and in fact does – divest its funds from any number of companies that enable non-peaceful pursuits around the world. In this case specifically, the PC (USA) has reasonably determined that these particular “pursuits” aid a highly militarized, brutal and oppressive occupation – and it simply does not want to be complicit in supporting companies that enable it.
I encourage you to read the entire post, which also includes a detailed history of the process undertaken by the Presbyterian Church (USA). The current overture, like the one two years ago, seeks divestment from the same three companies: Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar.
And inevitably, like before, the overture’s sponsors and their supporters have been subjected to an unrelenting barrage of criticisms and accusations from certain quarters of the Jewish establishment. I am particularly dismayed to learn that J St. – ostensibly an anti-occupation organization – is once again joining forces with those who hope to quash this principled, good faith proposal.
On this point, I’m in full agreement with Israeli journalist Larry Derfner, who recently wrote:
J Street was instrumental in beating back the same motion in 2012, when it failed before the church’s General Assembly by a vote of 333–331. But that was then. Then it was possible to argue (although I’d already stopped) that there was still hope that the United States would pressure Israel into making peace. Then it was still at least reasonable for J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami to tell the Presbyterian Church, “Reject divestment, and embrace full-on pursuit of the diplomatic efforts necessary to create genuine and lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinian people.”
But now? What argument can an anti-occupation movement make to the Presbyterian Church in June 2014 about why it should not divest from Caterpillar’s bulldozers, Hewlett-Packard’s ID system for Palestinians and Motorola’s surveillance machines? Because it would interfere with U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East? Because it would harden the Netanyahu government’s stance in the peace talks?
From an anti-occupation perspective, what is there to lose by a Presbyterian Church vote for divestment? Nothing. But what is there to gain? A blow against injustice, the kind that has been scaring the Netanyahu government and Israel lobby like nothing else — certainly not the Obama administration — which is a very good sign that the BDS campaign is on to something.
With the failure of the peace process and Israel’s recent announcement of 1,500 new settlements, it is clear that political pressure has been utterly ineffective in bringing a just solution to this unjust occupation. Why then, must we block attempts at the popular, nonviolent pressure tactics such divestment – particularly when such efforts have been demonstrably effective in other parts of the world?
I will be posting much more about the divestment overture at Presbyterian GA in the coming week. Stay tuned.
We learned yesterday that Netanyahu and his senior ministers are all astir by remarks made by John Kerry at a recent security conference in Germany. Echoing similar warnings he’s made in the past, Kerry noted that the failure of talks would only increase Israel’s isolation in the international community:
Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary … You see for Israel, there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.
Responding quickly, Netanyahu criticized the remarks during a subsequent cabinet meeting. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, told Israel Radio on Sunday that Mr. Kerry’s comments were “hurtful,” “unfair” and “intolerable” and added, “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head.” Not to be outdone, Knesset member Motti Yogev, of the Bayit Hayehudi party said Kerry’s “obsessive pressure” had “anti-Semitic overtones.”
There’s much to be said about the escalation of a war of words between Israeli politicians and the US Secretary of State. For my part, however, I’m less interested in a diplomatic pissing match over a moribund peace process than the way the issue of boycott has now firmly become entrenched in official discourse. Can their be any surer sign that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has become a force to be reckoned with?
In this regard, I couldn’t help but be struck by Netanyahu’s comments in response:
Attempts to impose a boycott on the state of Israel are immoral and unjust. Moreover, they will not achieve their goal.
Of course, Kerry made no such claim that boycotts were “moral” or “just” (as a defensive State Department spokesperson hastened to point out). He was simply noting their very existence. And Netanyahu’s apoplectic reaction over this harmless comment makes it clear that he takes their existence very, very seriously indeed.
As well he should. With the recent American Studies Association announcement that it is honoring the academic boycott of Israeli universities – and the even more recent attention over Scarlett Johansson’s ill-fated agreement to shill for SodaStream – BDS is increasingly moving into the mainstream media spotlight. And more importantly, it is increasingly gaining adherents.
Anecdotally speaking I can attest to the growth of this movement by the growing number of conversations/debates I’ve been having on the issue of BDS. Generally they retread over the same territory: “Is BDS anti-semitic?” “Is BDS a double-standard?” “Is BDS effective?” “Will BDS lead to the destruction of Israel?”
I’m not interested in addressing these questions here – I’ve explored them at length in numerous blog posts dating back to 2009. Besides, it seems to me that right now the most important thing we can say about the BDS movement is that it is here to stay – and as long as Israel’s intolerable treatment of Palestinians continues, it promises to be chalking up even greater successes in the near future.
That’s why Kerry’s comments – candid though they were – smacked to me of a very real disingenuousness. After all, what is the real “delegimization campaign” here: the BDS movement or Israel’s oppressive policies toward Palestinians? If our government is unable or unwilling to hold Israel to account, we should not be surprised by the growth of a popular movement that does.
As the we wait in vain for a “breakthrough” in the current incarnation of “peace process,” I’d like to recommend some essential reading: “Acting the Landlord: Israel’s policy in Area C, the West Bank” – a report released this month by B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. It will go a long way in explaining to you how Israel has effectively closed the door on a viable two-state solution.
As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided up into three administrative regions: Areas A, B and C. According to these interim accords, the Palestinian Authority was given full civil and security control over Area A, which today accounts for 18% of the West Bank. In Area B, which takes up 21% of the West Bank, the PA was given civil control while Israeli maintains security control.
Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank and contains all the major Jewish “settlement blocs,” is under full Israeli civil and security control. In the map on the right, Area C is marked in red, Area B in the lined sections, and Area A in white. You can clearly how Areas A and B are scattered like an archipelago in the ocean of Area C, cut off from each other and essentially under the ultimate control of the Israel Defense Forces.
Slowly but surely, Israel has been moving Palestinians into these disconnected islands while strengthening its settlement regime over Area C. It is also rapidly blurring the distinction between Area C and Israel proper. Israeli-only highways now lead from Israel into the heart of the West Bank, connecting the Jewish settlements to each other while bypassing Palestinian communities. Jewish communities are also connected through their common use of electrical and water resources that are denied non-Jewish communities. Israel is literally investing billions of shekels in Area C while deliberately preventing the development of Palestinian infrastructure there. The new B’tselem report now offers a detailed and devastating picture of the sophisticated bureaucratic process by which Israel has been able to create these facts on the ground.
From the report summary:
Israel prohibits Palestinian construction and development on some 70 percent of Area C territory by designated certain areas as “state lands” or “firing zones.” Meanwhile, Israel refuses to recognize most of the villages in the area or draw up plans for them, prevents the expansion and development of Palestinian communities, demolishes homes and does not allow the communities to hook up to infrastructure. Thousands of inhabitants live under the constant threat of expulsion for living in alleged firing zones or “illegal” communities.
In addition, Israel has taken over most of the water sources in Area C and has restricted Palestinian access to them. In theory, Israel retains full control in the West Bank only of Area C. In practice, Israel’s control of Area C adversely affects all Palestinian West Bank residents. Scattered throughout the vast expanses of Area C are 165 “islands” of Area A- and B-land that are home to the major concentrations of population in the West Bank. The land reserves that surround the built-up sections of West Bank towns and villages are often designated as Area C, and Israel does not allow construction or development on these reserves. Israel thereby stifles many Area A and B communities, denying them the opportunity to develop.
This is one of the contributing factors to the difficulty in obtaining lots for construction, the steep price hike in the cost of the few available plots, the dearth of open areas, and the total lack of suitable sites for infrastructure and industrial zones. If, for want of an alternative, residents of these areas build homes without permits on nearby land – owned by them but classified “Area C” – they live under the constant shadow of the threat of demolition.
This report presents Israel’s policy as implemented in Area C, primarily by the Civil Administration, and explores the policy’s implications for the population of the West Bank as a whole. The report focuses on several specific locations in Area C where the policy has considerable impact on the lives of the residents:
- There are dozens of Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills that the Civil Administration refuses to recognize and for which it does not prepare master plans. Over 1,000 people, residents of eight of these villages, currently live under the perpetual threat of expulsion on the grounds of residing in a designated “firing zone”.
- The Civil Administration plans to uproot at least two thousand Bedouins from land near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and transfer them to so-called “permanent communities” in order to expand nearby Israeli settlements and achieve a contiguous built-up bloc linking the settlements to the city of Jerusalem. Previously, hundreds of Bedouins from this area had been displaced for the establishment and then the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim.
- Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are subject to frequent house demolitions. They are occasionally evacuated for the benefit of military exercises and must deal with the confiscation of water cisterns that are the source of drinking water for them and their livestock.
- Al-Khader, Yatma and Qibyah are examples of Palestinian communities most of whose built-up area is located in Area B. Yet most of these communities’ lands available for construction of homes, infrastructure and public services are located in Area C, where the Civil Administration does not allow construction and development. Palestinians in these communities who, for the want of any other options, built homes on their community’s lands in Area C, face the constant threat of demolition.
Some Area C residents, harmed by Israel’s planning and building policy, have applied to Israel’s High Court of Justice for redress. However, of the dozens of petitions submitted, the court deemed not a single case worthy of its intervention with Civil Administration considerations. The court thus enabled the restrictive, harmful and discriminatory policy to carry on.
At the same time, and counter to international law, Israel encourages its own nationals to settle in the West Bank. Israel allocates vast tracts of land and generous water supplies to these settlements, draws up detailed plans that take into account both current requirements and future expansion, and turns a blind eye to violations of planning and construction laws in settlements.
Israel’s policy in Area C is anchored in a perception of the area as meant above all to serve Israeli needs. Consequently, Israel consistently takes actions that strengthen its hold on Area C, displace Palestinian presence, exploit the area’s resources to benefit Israelis, and bring about a permanent situation in which Israeli settlements thrive and Palestinian presence is negligible. Israel’s actions have brought about a de facto annexation of Area C and have created circumstances that will influence the final status of the area.
Israel’s policy in Area C violates the essential obligations of international humanitarian law, namely: to safeguard occupied territory on a temporary basis; to refrain from altering the area or exploiting its resources to benefit the occupying power; and, most importantly, to undertake to fulfill the needs of the local residents and respect their rights. Instead, through the Civil Administration, Israel pursues a policy designed to achieve precisely the opposite: the Civil Administration refuses to prepare master plans for the Area C communities and draws on the absence of these plans to justify the prohibition of virtually all Area C construction and infrastructure hook-ups. In cases where, having no alternative, residents carry out construction despite the prohibition, the Civil Administration demolishes their homes. Israel utterly ignores the reality that residents cannot build their homes legally. Israel conducts itself as though this situation were not in fact a direct result of its own policy.
One of the most important sentences in the report above:
Israel’s actions have brought about a de facto annexation of Area C and have created circumstances that will influence the final status of the area.
Increasingly, we are hearing educated observers say out loud what many of us have long suspected: Israel has successfully annexed most of the territory long considered to be the heart of an eventual Palestinian state.
Please read this report and share it widely.
Here’s a great quality video of my entire speaking appearance at University Friend’s Meeting in Seattle this past Monday night. I attended series of wonderful – and at times inspiring – events during my short stay in the Northwest and will be reporting on them in due course. In the meantime here’s a taste:
Every time a new new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is unveiled, diplomats and analysts will invariably urge the various players to summon the political courage to seize this latest “window of opportunity.” And sure enough – as I was reading an article on the latest revamping of the Arab Peace Plan, one Israeli leftist pundit was quoted tweeting:””Historic opportunity for Israel. Will our government have the guts to seize it?”
As for me, I’m asking a different question: “Since Israel has all but annexed 60% of the West Bank through home demolitions, forced evictions, revocation of residency rights and unchecked construction of Jewish settlements, how could anyone think this government is even remotely interested in a viable two-state solution?”
How much longer does this have to continue until we are ready to admit the patently obvious intentions of Israel’s governments? Given the facts on the ground, the discussion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank is beyond absurd. Israel has been inexorably settling Area C and East Jerusalem while simultaneously depopulating those regions of Palestinian residents for decades. By this point, this process has become nigh well complete. Now Israel’s newest government coalition includes a major party whose official platform calls to annex Area C. One prominent Israeli settler leader calls the current government “a wet dream.” Are we really, truly going to continue to talk about a two-state peace process with a straight face?
According to a 2011 EU research report, in 1967, between 200,000 and 320,000 Palestinians lived in what is today called Area C. But since that time, home demolitions and Israel’s prevention of new building has caused that number drop to 56,000. In a similar period, the Jewish population in Area C has grown from 1,200 to 310,000.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass has convincingly argued that the creation of “Palestinian ghettos” in Areas A and B “were always the plan” even well before the 1993 Oslo peace process that created these zones. According to Hass, when new coalition party member Naftali Bennett calls for annexing Area C, he is only “following the logic of every single Israeli government: maximize the territory, minimize the Arabs:”
According to Bennett, about 60 percent of the West Bank – a.k.a. Area C – is annexable. What’s important about Area C is not whether 50,000 Palestinians live there, as democratic, benevolent Bennett claims, while suggesting to naturalize them and grant them Israeli citizenship, or whether the number is around 150,000 (as my colleague Chaim Levinson reminded us earlier this week).
Don’t worry. Even if there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C and all of them agree to become citizens, the Israeli bureaucracy will find ways to embitter their lives (the way it does the lives of the Bedouin in the Negev), revoke their citizenship (the way it does the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem) and leave them without the little share of their land they still have (the way it did to the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the 1948 borders).
This is why Bennett can allow himself to be munificent. The true story behind area C is that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living there today; the villages have not expanded in accordance with their natural population growth; the number of residents has not grown; the herders can no longer graze their flocks freely; many of the inhabitants lack access to water, electricity, school and medical clinics; Israel has not been taken to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for destroying the cisterns; there are no paved roads in and between villages…
As I have said a million times and will say another million times: Area C is a tremendous success of Israeli policy and its implementers, the army and the Civil Administration. It is part of a farsighted, well-executed, perfectly thought-out policy that has succeeded precisely in that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living in the area. Bennett is probably decent/honest enough to acknowledge the debt he owes to the previous generations of Israeli politicians and military officials who warmed the country up for his annexation plan, ensuring its acceptance would be as effortless as a knife cutting butter in the sun.
The long and short of it? If the international community is really interested in a just peace, it should stop trying to breathe life into a corpse of a peace process and hold Israel accountable for its ethnic cleansing/annexation of Area C. And at the same time, it would behoove us all to start exploring creative new solutions that would extend full civil and human rights to all who live on the land.
In this regard, I highly recommend this recent piece by journalist/blogger Mitchell Plitnick. Mitchell has long represented an important progressive voice on Israel/Palestine: consistently smart, well-informed and always underscored by an abiding political realism. Like so many of us, he has long clung to the paradigm of a two-state solution – but over the past year he has been openly exploring the compelling reasons why he believes that the door to this solution has now become irrevocably closed. In this recent article, he dares to explore out loud what a new one-state solution might possibly look like:
…In the end, Israelis will realize that the status quo can’t hold and they will have to find a way to give Palestinians their freedom and their rights. That can be done without losing the most basic elements of a Jewish homeland. But it will require abandoning the ethnocratic concept of the Jewish state that has characterized Israel since before it was Israel.
The state can still be a Jewish home, with a constitution that guarantees that any Jew fleeing anti-Semitism anywhere in the world can find a haven in Israel. It can be a state where Hebrew is still a national language and one that has a culture that draws heavily from Jewish roots, European, Middle Eastern and Iberian. It just can’t do these things exclusively. They will also have to apply equally to Palestinians.
It’s not such a leap. Palestinians would also be able to come to this reformed state to flee persecution. Arabic would also be a national language, as it officially is now. The culture of the state would reflect the Palestinian heritage as well as the Jewish one. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, would still be there, but there might also be memorials to the Palestinian villages that were destroyed. Palestinian refugees who wish to would have an opportunity to return gradually, through some bureaucratic process that both peoples would agree upon. Yes, that means the Jews will not be a majority, but a constitution would protect not only Jewish and Arab rights equally, but would ensure that the character of the state reflected both cultures.
That is important, and it is also the place where the vision of a secular, democratic state falls short. The biggest problem with that vision is that it ignores the strong sense of nationalism that exists among both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. As someone who has no use or liking for nationalism, I wish that were not the case, but wishing does not make it so. The future state cannot be a melting pot, a mere civic society, in the manner the United States strives to be. It must be a national home. Whatever the political formation may be, it must be reflective of the nations that have been created by Zionism among Jews and Palestinian nationalism among the Arabs of Palestine.
Obviously, this is a future that is not on the horizon. And it is clear that many people, probably most, would not be able to conceive that such a future is even possible. But the alternative for Israeli Jews will be the eventual total loss of any homeland in Eretz Yisrael. A state with democratic structures like Israel which deprives millions of people of human and civil rights is an inherent contradiction. A state with one set of laws for some people and another set for another group of people all under one sovereign is an apartheid state, and it is a thing the world no longer tolerates. Only Israel’s unique place as the state of the Jews, in the wake of the Holocaust has allowed that state of affairs to last this long.
Mitchell is certainly correct when he says that this future is not on the horizon as of yet. Soon enough, however, the world will see the patently apartheid nature of a state the privileges its Jewish citizens while warehousing Palestinians inside a “security” regime of walls and checkpoints. As this oppression become more undeniable, we’ll surely be hearing and reading similar visions to Mitchell’s. At present these ideas exist largely in the domain of academia, journalism and the activist community; might we dare to imagine that events on the ground will eventually cause them to be considered by the political elites?
As far as I’m concerned, that time cannot come soon enough.
Click here to listen to a podcast interview I did with Just World Books last February.
In this podcast, Rabbi Brant Rosen, author of ‘Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity,’ shared his reflections on his book and how it has impacted his understanding of “what to do” with his beliefs and convictions as well as provided his insights about the effects of Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza flotilla incident, and other Israeli actions on both the views of young American Jews and the Arab Spring. He also offers his opinion on what President Obama should do in his second term about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I’ve been pointing out for some time now that Israel has been increasingly building settlements in Area C of the West Bank, while evicting Palestinians from their homes there and moving them to far reaching sections of Areas A and B. The intention? To eventually annex Area C to Israel and warehouse the Palestinian population of the West Bank in disconnected, isolated, bantustans.
Now it’s come to this: Israeli coalition leaders are unabashedly bandying about this plan in public:
Israeli annexation of the West Bank’s Area C – where all settlements are located – received public support from two high-ranking Likud politicians on Tuesday evening, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein and MK Ze’ev Elkin.
“Lack of Israeli sovereignty over Area C means the continuation of the status quo,” said Edelstein, as he spoke about an area of the country that is now under Israeli military control. “It strengthens the international community’s demand for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.”
But Edelstein and Elkin cautioned that annexation was a process that should happen slowly, not immediately.
Together with the Netanyahu government’s stated intention to build in the critical West Bank territory of E-1, it is clearer than ever that the conventional liberal Zionist notion of a two-state solution is a dead anachronism. It’s even worse, actually: as long as we cling to a two-state paradigm, Israel will be given free reign to entrench this injustice in perpetuity.
I’ve also come to believe that its high time for those who are interested in a truly just peace between Israelis and Palestinians to come forth with some new creative thinking that might provide alternatives to an obsolete two-state model. In this regard, I was happy to learn that “Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay” by the great Israeli academic Yehouda Shenhav, has finally been published in English. Shenhav has long been providing precisely the kind of innovative thinking that I believe is so very lacking in political circles – and I’m delighted his work on this subject will now find a wider audience.
Using post-colonial political and critical theory, Shenhav challenges many of the fundamental paradigms and assumptions that have delineated the Israeli political “left” and “right,” while suggesting new and exciting models that might well help us to envision a better future for Palestinians and Jews in the land.
Here’s an excerpt, from his Introduction:
I am deeply concerned with the violation of the political rights of the Palestinians, but no less so with the future political rights of the Jews themselves. I believe that the combination of a persistent foundational state of emergency and blatantly racist legislation – which grows restrictive and bare-faced day by day – poses a threat not only to Palestinians, but to Jews in the Middle East. For this reason, I wish to unpack the Jewish-Israeli discourse on the conflict, to highlight the dangerous political zones within which it roams, and offer an alternative political vision in which the rights of both Jews and Palestinians are intertwined and co-determined…
In particular, I argue that the so-called “two-state solution” in the form proposed by the Israeli liberal left no only is unrealistic but in essence is based on false assumptions that sustain and reinforce the non-democratic Israeli regime and mask the essence of the conflict. Instead, I offer a different vision for political thought, which is not based on state terror or Jewish supremacy.
Shenhav is a well known thinker in Israel, but less familiar to American audiences. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, I hope you will at least be open to this sort of new thinking. I personally find it liberating – I do believe that these kinds of outside the box ideas serve to provide us with a ray of hope along what is otherwise a very dark road…
Two spot on responses to the recent NY Times article, “Church Appeal on Israel Angers Jewish Groups:”
The first comes from the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan:
It seems to me that aid of all kinds should have basic human rights strings attached to it. I would have suspended all aid to Israel when it refused to stop its settlement policy on the West Bank, but that’s a little like being in favor of an immediate space station on Mars, given the Greater Israel lobby’s grip on Congress.
So let me just reiterate something that has no chance of ever happening, but I might as well put on the record: we should treat Israel as any other recipient of US aid. If a country is occupying and settling land conquered through war, if it’s treating a minority population with inhumanity, the US should stand up for Western values. It should not single Israel out; but we have to stop treating Israel as the exception to every other US foreign policy rule.
Rev. Jim C. Wall (Contributing Editor of the “Christian Century”) in an unflinchingly honest blog post:
To begin with, the 15 church leaders are heavyweights, top officials for their denominations. They include the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, not including the Catholic Council of Bishops.
These are not just leaders of a few religious groups, which a Protestant version of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs could corral into an interfaith dialogue meeting. These are the major-domos of American Protestantism, which raises the question of what exactly gives the JCPA and its scattered letter signers, these “outraged Jewish groups” as the Times calls them, the right to claim religious standing in this conversation. Many of these Jewish groups are secular and function as part of the Israel Lobby, a collection of lobbying organizations that have Israel, not Judaism as their primary client…
The JCPA and its letter signers have no dogs in this hunt. They can be as outraged as they want. This is still a free country. But the 15 church leaders have made the right religious, not political, move. They are speaking the language of “moral responsibility” in a letter directed to the U.S. Congress on the matter of U.S. funds used by Israel to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.
Interfaith dialogue has always been nothing more than a device used by American Jewish groups to intimidate the American churches into keeping the ecumenical deal. By this intimidation, these groups have followed the example set by the government of Israel which has long used the so-called “peace process” to sustain its occupation and expand its borders, always to the detriment of the Palestinian people.
It is the right time for the leaders of the American churches to make their moral demand to the Congress. With their letter, they have done so, courageously, considering the political climate of our time. Interfaith dialogue can wait.
As things stand now, the Jewish groups have called for a “summit” for the top leaders of Christian churches to “discuss” the situation with them – and they are reportedly considering it. I hope the Christian leaders will stand firm. It is not the role of these Jewish organizations to dictate how Christian religious leaders can live out their conscience or their values. These Jewish leaders have chosen to walk away from the table – they are in no position to demand the terms by which “dialogue” may resume.
We can only hope this sad turn of events will lead to a more honest interfaith conversation about Israel-Palestine – one based on honesty, respect and justice rather than emotional blackmail.
Check out my wide-ranging and freewheeling conversation with Truthout’s Mark Karlin, which focuses on my book, but also touches on subjects such as Zionism, BDS, the two-state solution and Palestinian solidarity, among others.
Here’s a taste, below. Click here for the full interview.
Mark Karlin: Stereotyping any group of people is dangerous. In polls during peaceful periods, most Palestinians and Israelis appear to support peace. A lot of what Netanyahu appears to do is stir up the pot so that there will never be a long enough period to negotiate a peace. That’s not to excuse those in Hamas and Hezbollah who have their own motives in heating up the conflict now and then, along with other parties who have vested interests in stalling peace. When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?
Brant Rosen: At the end of my book I addressed this issue directly:
As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.
For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.
In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.
I’ve come to believe that solidarity should ultimately be driven by values, not tribal allegiances. It should be motivated by the prophetic vision that demands that we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful. Of course, in the case of Israel, this form of solidarity presents a very painful challenge to many Jews. I understand that. But at the very least, shouldn’t we be talking about this challenge and what it represents for us?
Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.