Nadia Hijab: Human Rights for Everybody

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.

8 thoughts on “Nadia Hijab: Human Rights for Everybody

  1. Nadia…please point out another Arab nation that gives more freedom to women, gays and ordinary citizens in freedom of religion speech assembly press et al…than Israel gives to its Arab citizens

    • Jack,

      It’s true that Israel grants many individual rights to its Palestinian citizens. I believe Nadia was commenting here on Israel’s definition of itself as a state “for Jews, by Jews, of Jews.” She also made what I think is an important point that Israel severely discriminates against its Arab citizens through 20-30 laws that privilege Jewish citizens but are patently anti-democratic toward Palestinians as a group.

  2. There’s just too much here.

    “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.”

    What’s an example of a democracy, then, if any discrimination renders a state undemocratic? Arab-Israelis are recognized as citizens. Period. They are also discriminated against. Those two are not mutually exclusive.

    Regarding land swaps, wouldn’t Palestinians living within the green line want to live in a Palestinian state? If not, doesn’t that make us question the whole issue of self-determination.

    • What’s an example of a democracy, then, if any discrimination renders a state undemocratic? Arab-Israelis are recognized as citizens. Period. They are also discriminated against. Those two are not mutually exclusive.

      Yes, all nations discriminate on some level, but there’s an important difference between de facto discrimination, and state-enforced discrimination. Nadia’s point, I believe, was that as a Jewish state “for Jews, by Jews, of Jews,” Israel structurally discriminates against its Palestinian citizens.

      Although there is a line in its Declaration of Independence that proclaims Israel’s intention to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” Israel has 20-30 laws that patently contradict this intention – and it has no Constitution that might ensure this “equality” can be protected by rule of law.

      Some might respond that the US originally had a Constitution that discriminated against women and black people. But the difference here is that the US has moved to progressively over time to amend these inequities, while Israel is going in the opposite direction – it is increasingly enacting more and more openly anti-democratic legislation. This draws into question the very issue of whether or not Palestinian citizens of Israel can ever really be considered true “citizens” of a Jewish state.

      Regarding land swaps, wouldn’t Palestinians living within the green line want to live in a Palestinian state? If not, doesn’t that make us question the whole issue of self-determination.

      I believe Nadia defines “self-determination” as a concept to be applied to Palestinians as individuals, not as a nation. In the case of a final negotiated settlement, some Palestinians might want to return to the homes in which they originally lived (which is their right under international law) – and some might want to remain where they are currently living. The concept of self-determination means that is their individual right to determine for themselves.

      • “Some might respond that the US originally had a Constitution that discriminated against women and black people. But the difference here is that the US has moved to progressively over time to amend these inequities, while Israel is going in the opposite direction – it is increasingly enacting more and more openly anti-democratic legislation.”

        That’s a tremendous oversimplification of history. It was not a smooth journey to equality in the US. There has been both regression and progression. Neither decided whether or not the US was undemocratic. Unless you want to say that the US was not founded as a democracy and became one in the 20th century.

        The “antidemocratic” laws you’re talking about in Israel are a red herring. Nadia fundamentally thinks that a Jewish state can never be democratic. In the most literal sense, she doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. As such, the constitutional promise could never be realized, even if Arabs and Jews (I hesitate to use these non-mutually exclusive categories) had all of the same rights, as long as the flag was still a Jewish star.

  3. (1) The Palestinians have NO right to return under “international law” as you claime, any more than the Germans of Pomerania, Silesia or the Sudentland have to return to their homes in Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic they were driven out of after World War II. Same with the Hindus forced out of Pakistan and the Muslims that fled India. Same with the Greek Cypriots who fled northern Cyprus in 1974. A European court recently ruled they have NO right of return and their flight was much more recently.

    (2) The Palestinians and all the other Arab states recognize Islam as the state religion and discriminate against all other religions. Why is Israel supposed to be better than the countries belonging to Nadia’s fellow Arabs?
    If you think Israel is “getting worse”, wait until the Muslim fundamentalists take over Egypt and Tunisia and Syria.

  4. Here is a group of recollections of the massive Farhud massacre of Jews in Baghdad before Shavuot in 1941. It explodes the myth that Jews were treated wonderfully in countries like Iraq before the establishment of the state of Israel. If the Muslims loved the Jews so much in the Middle East, as their apologists keep claiming, why did the Jews feel they had to leave…wouldn’t the Muslims have bent over backwards to show how nice they were so the Jews would feel more at home with them than in the new Jewish state? So much for myths…

    http://www.jpost.com/Features/InThespotlight/Article.aspx?id=223975

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