We’ve just uploaded the transcript of our conference call with Nadia Hijab last month – the Ta’anit Tzedek website now contains a recording as well as a full text of the call. I encourage you to read and/or listen to this amazing conversation. (Click here for the audio/transcript.)
Nadia covered a wide range of issues during the call, from the one state vs. two state, to human rights, to the Arab Spring, to the evolving Palestinian grassroots leadership. Listening to the conversation again, I was reminded of her impressively clear-headed, rights-based approach to the conflict – often challenging the conventional liberal American Jewish mindset in important ways.
When we ourselves challenged Nadia to state where she was on the one state vs. two state question, this was her eloquent response:
I believe the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination. I don’t care if that is exercised in one state or two states. I believe that whether it’s one state or two states, they should both be states that guarantee equality for all their citizens.
Now, separately from that, I do believe the Palestinians – and this is an individual right – have a right of return. (They) have a right to say if they would like to go back to what is now Israel and live as equal citizens in that state or if they would like to – we have the individual right to say if we’d like to stay in the countries where we’ve landed up and have rights there as citizens or if we’d like to go back to the new state of Palestine and be a citizen there, etc. Each Palestinian needs to be asked how each one wants to fulfill his or her right of return.
Another highlight from the call:
Rabbi Brian Walt: How do you, as a Palestinian, relate to Jews who feel quite attached to Israel or very attached to Israel and what it offers for Jews? And how do you feel about that sort of liberal Zionist argument that is perhaps portrayed best by J Street and other organizations like Americans for Peace now, that strongly support a two-state solution but don’t want to deal with the questions of 1947-48?
Nadia Hijab: Let me answer that in two parts. First, let me assume, just for the sake of argument that not a single Palestinian refugee returns to Israel. Let’s just assume that. There are 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and that is a challenge to Israel’s current attempt to present itself as a democratic state. It’s not. It is by law discriminatory to the Palestinians who are not even recognized as citizens. They have passports, they’re called Israelis, but they don’t actually have citizenship. And there are about twenty or thirty laws on the books, and more being added every day, to make sure that they are kept down and, hopefully some day, also out.
There’s a very racist discourse in Israel, a very openly racist discourse, that says: to the extent that we can maybe reshape the borders and get rid of some of these Palestinian Israelis, then we can keep Israel “pure,” ethnically “pure.” Well, in the 21st century that’s nonsense. And in fact, it’s been nonsense since 1948, because 1948 was not only the year that Israel was created but 1948 was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Humanity had been moving towards that after one horror after another during the World Wars and other wars. So humanity has been trying to define how people deal with each other and how they relate to each other, whether as individuals or as communities or as states.
And in this day and age, it’s no longer acceptable – it’s universally seen as immoral and illegal – to discriminate against people on the basis of their religion or their race or their color, and now growing (on the basis of) their sexuality. You know, discrimination is abhorrent.
And what Israel is doing, even if you don’t take into account any of what’s going on with the occupation…what Israel is doing within its country is abhorrent. So therefore, Israel as it’s currently defined: as a state for Jews, by Jews, of Jews – that’s not a modern state, nor is it, by the way, as many states define themselves in the Arab world, (i.e.) by Muslims, for Muslims.
People have to have equal rights, whether Muslim or Christian or Jewish or men or women. A state is simply a construct in this day and age. It’s a construct for how to manage resources in a way that is fair and equitable and guaranteeing the rights of its citizens. That is what a state is. So Israel faces that challenge irrespective of whether there’s a two-state solution or a one-state solution.
Then I wanted to touch on the other part of your question, which is very important, how Jews feel about Israel or how I feel about Jews and what they feel about Israel. I work a lot with Jews who uphold a human rights approach, no matter what. And these are people who are my friends and I work extremely closely with them. And they struggle for justice for Palestinians as well as human rights for everybody, whether they’re Israelis or Palestinians, in the same way that I do.
I respect the work of many, let’s say, American Jews or liberal Zionists or whatever who stand up for some freedoms and some rights. But then when it comes to a question of Israel’s security they are less clear about where their loyalties lie. That’s problematic for me.
But I recognize that there is now a Jewish attachment to Israel and I think that over time it will be okay, because Israel exists – it was created. It was created in a way that was immoral and unjust to the Palestinians, but it was created. And eventually the attachment and the sense of belonging will be a cultural one, a social one, and maybe of family ties.
And then those attachments can be built across the Arab world as well. They don’t have to be restricted to Israel. And Israel will become a state of all its citizens, in which Palestinians and Jews and Arabs and Muslims and Christians are all equal and just one of the many states of the region.