Disengagement and the Politics of Post-National Realism

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Mohammad Abed | Znet Magazine | 17 August 2005

I The Meaning of Disengagement
Maintaining or intensifying oppressive policies requires the manufacture of a diversion, a ‘smokescreen’ that buys time and accumulates political capital. One reliable way of accumulating political capital is to make changes that incur minimal political and human costs while creating an illusion of reasonableness, compromise, and goodwill towards one’s enemies.
Israel’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip later this summer is a clear example of this well-worn political strategy. Several factors combined to make the colonization project in Gaza untenable. The Strip is territorially insignificant, and in contrast to the West Bank, it has little religious, cultural, or economic value for Israel. Since it has a very high demographic concentration of Palestinians, the creation of a Jewish ethnic majority in the strip faced virtually insurmountable obstacles. To protect the few Israeli-Jews who settled in the area, Israel had to expend enormous human and material resources.
In the last few years, Israel has also faced stubborn Palestinian resistance and growing international pressure for progress in the ‘peace process,’ – particularly after the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Gaza disengagement is a cost-free means of quenching the international communities thirst for at least the appearance of movement towards the realization of the ‘two-state’ solution and to create the political basis for intensified colonization of more significant territories in the West Bank.
Despite the volatile nature of the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa uprising, opportunities to engage in outright ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians have been elusive. As a result, the Sharon government has had to moderate its goals; instead of ethnic cleansing, Israeli apartheid in the West Bank would have to be territorially solidified and endowed with de-facto legitimacy. While the world’s attention is diverted towards the Gaza withdrawal and its long political aftermath, Israel will continue to build the apartheid wall in the West Bank. It will also continue to expand the settlements and the ethnically exclusive infrastructure that supports them. The end result will be a collection of Palestinian ‘homelands,’ all of them under Israel’s control, one in Gaza, some existing on 40 percent of the West Bank, and the rest situated inside Israel where a wide range of racist policies keep the Palestinian minority separate but unequal. In these ‘homelands,’ the Palestinians will continue to live without the most basic of liberties, without self-determination, and without any kind of control over their future. As Dov Weisglass – Sharon’s bureau chief – remarked in 2004, the disengagement plan represents [in reality] the ‘freezing of the peace process.’ The substantive issues that underlie the conflict will be shelved until the Palestinians ‘turn into Finns.’ The disengagement plan is therefore a prelude to cultural death under apartheid or, if the opportunity presents itself, a repeat of the ethnic cleansing that led to the founding of Israel.
II The End of the Two-State Solution
For various political and historical reasons, the international community has been slow to recognize that under the present conditions, the ‘consensus’ behind the two-state program for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a consensus behind the idea that Palestinians will be self-determined living in the disconnected ‘homelands’ the political and territorial consolidation of which will be the central outcome of the Gaza disengagement. In apartheid era South Africa, the ‘homelands’ program was meant to create the illusion that Black South Africans were being granted self-determination over well-defined territories when in reality they were being denied the political agency to safeguard their individual rights or to shape any aspect of their future as a people. To understand the sense in which continued support for the two-state program will contribute to realizing a similar fate for the Palestinians, it’s necessary to unpack the notion of ‘present conditions’ into its political, social, economic, territorial, and demographic components. On the other hand, it’s perhaps more important to recognize that the shortcomings of the two-state program are not merely matters of historical contingency.
A widely held belief is that the two-state solution would realize self-determination for the Palestinians. This belief is only true on the assumption that national self-determination is solely a matter of civic participation in democratic processes and governance. However, there’s more to self-determination than the rights traditionally included under this conception of public life. To fully realize self-determination, a political framework must also allow for the meaningful flourishing of a nation’s culture and identity. The culture of some groups is ‘territorially bounded’ in the sense that the practices, rituals, and traditions of the group are – to a lesser or greater degree – developed relative to a specific landscape. Sustaining the trans-generational projects and activities associated with the culture and social ethos of a national group depends on whether that group is guaranteed equal access to the territory they have historically inhabited and identified as their homeland. To deny them this is to deny them the ability to practice and preserve their cultural heritage and traditions. Without being able to pass their norms and rituals on to subsequent generations in any meaningful way, insufferable harm is done to both existing members of the group /and /their successors.
For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, the territory of their homeland encompasses all the areas that fell under the British Mandate. The West Bank and Gaza became part of the Palestinian consciousness and lexicon as a result of war not because of their unique cultural and historical significance. The two-state solution has always been based on the assumption that Israel must remain an exclusively Jewish state and as a result it denies the Palestinians political guarantees of access to 78% or more of their historic homeland. In the absence of realizing the right of return, it will become increasingly difficult for the Palestinians to sustain a life in common, that is, to flourish as a nation.
These observations about self-determination suggest that the right of return is less about the right of [individual] ownership over property and more about the right of /possession /where this is defined as the right of a nation to exercise sovereignty or autonomy over a territory, that is, the right to make and enforce the laws of its land, including laws about property, education, and cultural affairs. Conceiving of the right of return in this way does two important things. It gives us a framework for reconciling Palestinian national self-determination – including the return of the refugees – with the basic rights of Israelis, both as a nation and as individuals. Thinking about the conflict in these terms reflects the fact that individuals suffer far greater harms when they are denied a homeland, a space for the expression of culture and identity, than when they are denied property. Since Israel is a predominantly urban society, individual property can in most cases be restored to its rightful owners and destroyed villages can be rebuilt. However, in some cases this can’t happen, and thinking about the right of return as a right of ownership doesn’t give you the mechanisms to adjudicate cases where individual rights conflict. Conceiving of the right of return as a right of possession does, and it makes sense of the moral intuition that a house in Amman will not compensate you for the house you lost in Jaffa.
The two-state solution also inherits problems endemic to the very concept of a nation-state and its ethno-national variants. Hannah Arendt repeatedly argued that making state power into a ‘blunt instrument’ of the nation was the first stage in the development of totalitarian systems of government. The process starts with the steady transformation of the state into a tool of one national or ethnic group living within its borders and ends with ‘those totalitarian forms of nationalism in which all laws and the legal institutions of the state as such are interpreted as a means for the welfare of the nation. It is therefore quite erroneous to see the evil of our times in a deification of the state. It is the nation which has usurped the traditional place of God and religion.'[1]
Nationalism is an ideology, and ideologies are distortions of political reality. The nation-state prioritizes policies that foster the wellbeing of the ‘nation’ at the expense of citizens who belong to other national groups inhabiting its territory. It assumes uniformity of national identity where there is none. Eventually, nationalism invalidates the concept of citizenship, rendering it meaningless and therefore denying whole categories of people basic legal rights and protections. When the nationalism in question is based on the deification of an ‘ethnic’ rather than a civic oriented national identity,[2] <#_ftn2> the slide into racist and totalitarian forms of government is more rapid. Since ethnicity is a matter of belonging to a group from birth rather than acquiring membership through constant engagement with the group’s norms and culture, deification of an ethnic identity by the state creates an impermeable barrier between ‘acceptable’ citizens and the ‘other.’ The standard formulation of the two-state program sanctions the idea that Israel must remain a state that distributes rights, benefits and burdens according to ethnic origin rather than more inclusive non-national criteria, and this has and can only continue to result in intensified racism and discrimination against persons of non-Jewish origin. By continuing to support the two-state program, the international community is adding fuel to the fire of ethnic chauvinism and injustice rather than contributing to a humane and stable resolution of the conflict in historical Palestine.
Ethnic nationalism is not only a theory about whose interests the state ought to prioritize and reflect in the laws of the land. It also implies that the ‘good life’ can only come about when people of different ethnic origin are /physically/ separated. In a world where the population of almost every historically established territory is ethnically and religiously mixed, separation in theory inevitably mandates ethnic separation in practice. The practice of ethnic separation usually ends up affecting populations without regard to their geographical location and irrespective of the rights they previously held or the guarantees of their security embodied in treaties. If members of an ethnic group inhabit areas that fall outside the proposed borders of the state, ethnic nationalism rationalizes state expansion for the sake of incorporating these populations and maintaining ‘national unity.’ Every peace initiative since the United Nations partition plan of 1947 has given an official mandate to the idea that ethnic separation is a prerequisite for conflict resolution. International sanction for this idea has made the implementation of ethnic separation (cleansing) more likely. Although the United Nations made it explicit that the partition of Palestine in 1947 did not negate the rights of non-Jewish inhabitants of the Jewish state and non-Arab inhabitants of the Arab state, it did make a marriage of state power and ethnic identity a forgone conclusion and therefore initiated the processes that eventually led Israeli forces to uproot 800,000 Palestinians from the areas that became the state of Israel. Ironically, subsequent attempts to resolve the conflict have worked with the very same faulty assumptions.
The ‘Peace Process’ initiated at Oslo in 1993 once again relied on ethnic separation as a political framework for resolution and therefore did very little to respond to the core interests underlying Palestinian and Israeli claims. The Palestinians viewed the territorial division that Oslo embodied as a program to augment and formalize their exclusion from their historic homeland rather than as an equitable separation from Israelis. By creating the illusion that political and territorial concessions were being made by both parties, Oslo allowed Israel to placate the international concern over the plight of the Palestinians that was generated by the first Intifada (1987-1993). The nature and duration of the peace ‘process’ also enabled Israel to accumulate political capital, buy time, and divert the world’s attention away from the intensified territorial exclusion and encapsulation it was practicing in the occupied territories. Discussion of fundamental issues such as the right of return, the right to self-determination over well-defined contiguous territories, and access to Jerusalem was postponed while the ‘process’ mandated meaningless re-deployments and other measures meant to facilitate physical separation of the two ethnic groups. As these processes wore on, the military occupation of all but the main Palestinian urban centers gained an air of legitimacy that it never had before the Oslo process.
Rather than creating the political and practical conditions obstructing the two-state program, the Oslo process intensified processes of territorial expansion, expulsion, and apartheid that were intrinsic to the Zionist project in Palestine. Territorially, the outcome of this project has become abundantly clear: Israeli state expansion – particularly since 1993 – has undermined the division of land on which the Oslo accords and subsequent attempts at conflict resolution were based. The territorial contiguity of the areas allocated for a Palestinian nation-state no longer exists, and a Palestinian state is the alleged upshot of the separation between the two peoples. The extension of Israel’s apartheid wall into the West Bank has made these conditions significantly worse. Once Israel disengages from Gaza and the wall is complete, the Palestinians will have homelands – not a homeland – and this will be a concrete reality that no one can ignore or conceal with utopian discussions about the ‘two-state’ solution to the conflict. As well as being territorially unworkable, Sharon’s political struggle with the settlers over the Gaza disengagement has clearly demonstrated that the dynamics of Israeli politics will make meaningful withdrawal from the West Bank difficult to achieve at best, and meaningful withdrawal is a basic requirement for viable Palestinian statehood. Denial of Palestinian individual and group rights is a basic plank of Zionist politics, and this is reflected not only in the stiff domestic resistance to Sharon’s disengagement plan but also in the current attitudes that mainstream Israeli society has towards resolution of the conflict. The maximum that even the Israeli ‘peace camp’ is willing to concede in negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians falls well short of the minimum that Palestinians are willing to accept, and the minimum Palestinians are willing to accept is an enormous concession on what they can legitimately claim. The standard Palestinian parameters for the two-state solution are a contiguous sovereign state in the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, the removal of all the settlements, a shared capitol in Jerusalem, equal access to water resources, the right to have a defense force, and serious consideration of the right of return. To understand how significant a concession this is, we only need note that in 1947, the Palestinians had legitimate claim to over 93% of the land area of mandate Palestine. Accepting a state in the West Bank and Gaza entails legally conceding 71% of the mandate territories, and yet this would still not be enough to satisfy the demands of either the Israeli mainstream or the ‘peace’ camp. The latest manifestation of the ‘left Zionist’ or ‘peace camp’ position on settling the conflict is the ‘Geneva Accords,’ an agreement that ignores the international laws and United Nations resolutions that constitute the basis of the minimal Palestinian demands.
The Geneva Accords call for a demilitarized Palestinian state ultimately controlled by Israel and housing millions of Palestinians with claims that extend beyond its borders. This is a recipe for instability and further conflict rather than a viable program for resolution. The moral and political adequacy of the agreement can be further called into question: in the absence of implementing the right of return to areas inside the ‘green line,’ even the West Bank and Gaza in their entirety would not have the economic or demographic capacity necessary for viable statehood. The architects and supporters of the Geneva Accords and similar agreements have failed to recognize that Jewish ethnic nationalism – like Arab ethnic nationalism or any other variant of ethnic nationalism – necessitates continued discrimination against the ‘other,’ and widespread discrimination generates resistance and further conflict. This is true of Israel’s relations with Palestinians who are citizens of the state and Palestinians who are not. The reality is that Israel is not a Jewish State; 20% of its citizens are Palestinian Arabs. Since the Palestinian minority has much higher rates of demographic growth, maintaining the Jewish character of the state will require ever more pervasive and severe discrimination and oppression. More generally, the landscape of historical Palestine is neither Jewish nor Arab but ethnically heterogeneous. In so far as it fails to take account of these basic realities, the two-state solution will generate rather than neutralize violence and it will continue to be a source rather than a panacea for ethnic tension and conflict.
III: Activism without Nationalism
The peace process born in Oslo operated with the assumption that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the exiled population have given up their claims to lands inside Israel and that their exclusion from their homeland has become an accepted fact. Although the majority of Palestinians in the occupied areas may support the establishment of a Palestinian state, their support is not based on accepting their exclusion from their homeland. The absence of well-articulated alternatives to the establishment of ?two nation-states in historic Palestine and the support enjoyed within the current power structures for the two-state solution is a more likely explanation of the current Palestinian attitudes to resolution. Along with popular support for a two-state solution, there exists near universal popular support amongst Palestinians for the right of return, which is impracticable within a two-state framework that normalizes the current ethno-national construction of Israel. From this it can be inferred that Palestinian support for a two-state solution is instrumental in nature, and it signals that a majority of Palestinians refuse to concede their historical and cultural connections to the homeland they were expelled from in 1948.
As solidarity activists it is inappropriate to prioritize the concerns of Israelis over those of Palestinians for the simple reason that both peoples are essential components of the same landscape. Recognizing this reality is the key to making meaningful progress towards peace. The international Palestine Solidarity campaign should aim to create conditions that facilitate mutual recognition and bi-lateral agreement over the nature of the political arrangements that formalize Palestinian and Israeli rooted ness in the same space. A campaign that aims to realize these ends will be based on a principled stance in support of Palestinian and Israeli rights /in their totality/, including the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Just as the anti-apartheid movement prioritized political action consistent with the will of the oppressed people of South Africa, the Palestine solidarity movement ought to act in concert with the political will of the Palestinian people. A solidarity movement is not justified in determining which Palestinians have more valid concerns or in prioritizing the concerns of the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians over Palestinians in Israel or Palestinians in exile or Palestinians in refugee camps. Despite their geographical dispersion and political isolation, the Palestinians are a people united by their cultural and historical connections to their homeland, and this basic datum should be the foundation of political action their behalf. The military conquest and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel in 1967 gave birth to the ‘land for peace’ formula for ending the conflict. The new political status quo had a negative impact on the struggle for justice in Palestine for three reasons. First of all, it created the impression that the occupation is both the origin and sustaining cause of the conflict. Second, the ‘land for peace’ formula further entrenched the idea that the conflict is an interstate struggle over territory rather than a clash between a colonial state and the indigenous people it colonized and expelled from their own lands. Third, ‘land for peace’ initiated a political dynamic that made ending the occupation of the West bank and Gaza synonymous with the two-state program for resolving the conflict. It’s important to engage in critical discussion of how activists in the international Palestine solidarity campaign have reacted to these trends, where those responses have gone wrong, and how the solidarity movement can become more effective at advocating for justice in Palestine.
After 1967, the consensus amongst activists became that grassroots resistance to the occupation ought to be prioritized. The reasons for this emphasis were clear: the violence and egregiousness of the occupation make it visible. The more visible an injustice is, the more potential it has to transform the consciousness of ordinary citizens who can then use the democratic process to influence powerful states into actively resisting that injustice. Of this and all the other reasons cited as support for prioritizing social action against the occupation, almost all referenced prudential rather than moral facts.
From the beginning, the main problem with this course of action has been that resistance to occupation does not make occupation politically burdensome for the occupier. Representing the conflict as an interstate struggle over ‘disputed’ lands allowed Israel to justify maintaining an armed presence in the occupied areas to ensure its security until such time as the neighboring states were prepared to sign comprehensive peace treaties that normalized its presence in the region. From this specious rationale was borne the illusion that Israel was ‘forced’ into occupying millions of Palestinians for the sake of peace and regional stability. Just as Oslo and the disengagement plan facilitate the implementation of Israel’s destructive colonial agenda, the ‘land for peace’ paradigm allowed Israel to accumulate political capital, buy time, and divert the world’s attention away from the real nature of the conflict while it began the project of colonizing Palestinian land in the occupied areas. Throughout history, many colonial states and empires have attempted to legitimize their conquests in this way.
Had there been a concerted international effort to call for equal citizenship for the Palestinians immediately after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, retaining the occupied areas would have been far more of a political liability; occupation would have become politically burdensome for the occupier. Instead, activists quickly prioritized grassroots resistance to occupation. When this resistance crystallized into a consensus, Israel replied that it too wanted to end the occupation but could only do so when it received absolute guarantees of its security from the neighboring Arab states. And then the Arab states replied that withdrawal must come first. From this was born the famous Israeli argument that since the English language version of UNSC 242 did not place the definite article ‘the’ in front of the word ‘territories,’ it had complied with the provisions of UNSC 242 by withdrawing from the Sinai peninsula! While this impasse continued to soak up the attention of the international community, Israel intensified its efforts to expel Palestinians and colonize their lands. Despite being the victims, the people suffering the brunt of the Israeli onslaught, the Palestinians became invisible until they engaged in armed resistance. While it could refuse to end the occupation, Israel would have found it very difficult to resist an international demand – backed by a comprehensive boycott and divestment campaign – to decolonize, end all forms of racist oppression and grant every non-Jew living within the borders of historical Palestine equal citizenship in a Bi-National or unitary democratic state. Israel’s normalization and security in the region depends on whether or not its inter-ethnic relations with the Palestinians are equitable and just. A democratic non-national political arrangement would achieve equity and justice and would therefore address concerns about Israel’s acceptance and future in the region.
As the occupation wore on, more and more land was colonized and Palestinians continued to be expelled. Meanwhile, activists continued to argue that the ‘facts on the ground’ establish Israel’s culpability and delineate the extent of its moral obligations towards the Palestinians. However, the very same discourse used to establish the scope of what Israel owes the Palestinians was (and is) used by Israel to legitimize intensified colonization and expropriation of land. In an environment where there are no effective trans-national mechanisms for the implementation of international law and where Israel has unconditional U.S. support for its illegal intrusion into the occupied territories, it can unilaterally re-define the facts on the ground and therefore the extent of the concessions it must make to the Palestinians in the context of a settlement of the conflict. Territorial marginalization of one ethnic group is no longer significant when there is an international consensus that ethnic separation is a direct corollary of peace.
There are several examples of how this dynamic has evolved. The territorial division of the West Bank and Gaza into areas ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ during the Oslo years gave Israel’s control over areas ‘B’ and ‘C’ a new sense of political legitimacy and permanence, and this facilitated Israeli settlement expansion in these areas. By the late 90’s, the number of settlers in the occupied areas had doubled as a result. With the help of a pliant media in the U.S. and Europe, Israel successfully re-defined ‘ending occupation’ to mean ‘withdrawing from the main Palestinian urban centers (area ‘A’).’ When the Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out, ‘withdrawing to the lines ?held in September 2000’ was deemed to be a historical concession precisely because those lines had gained an air of legitimacy during Oslo. Activists failed to adapt to these conditions and continued to call for an end to occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state. However, what nation-states require more than anything else is ethnic homogeneity in a given territory, and this is consistent with Israel retaining the largest settlement blocks, building a wall to further consolidate ethnic separation, and then ending direct military occupation of the Palestinian ‘nation-state’ that emerges. 2005 is a critical juncture for the human rights struggle in Palestine because unless there is a significant change in the direction of a non-nationalist political orientation, the Sharon-Bush plan for the Palestinians will soon become a concrete reality.
An important method of opposing these processes is for activists to first of all disengage from the discourse in which they are framed and then to engage a political calculus and language that offers more effective resistance. Meaningful change can only come about if a non-nationalist political orientation is backed by a new anti-apartheid campaign that implements a comprehensive boycott of Israel and maintains that boycott until Israel allows for the return of the Palestinian refugees and exiles, ensures that Jews and Palestinian Arabs are equal under the law of the land, and gives full political expression to the Bi-National reality that exists in historical Palestine.
The psychological and social effects of the boycott against apartheid pushed white South Africans to reconsider the very nature of the system from which they derived their privileged status. Although the international community acted without any specific political agenda in mind, it was made clear through the character of the boycott that any political resolution would have to be consistent with basic and uncontroversial political values and principles. These values and principles became components of a well-articulated and hopeful vision of a joint future for blacks and whites as equal citizens in a new South Africa. Communicating the concept of an alternate future that promised a better and more secure life for members of the perpetrator society was an important component of the social and psychological transformation that led to the fall of the apartheid regime. It augmented the effects of the boycott by demonstrating the even-handedness with which the international community considered the concerns and aspirations of both ethnic groups in South Africa. In the absence of such a vision, the anti-apartheid campaign would have seemed punitive and incoherent in nature and may have been met with greater intransigence as a result.
These considerations ought to guide the boycott of Israel. A change to a non-nationalist political orientation is not synonymous with the adoption of a specific political program, whether it be the idea of a ‘Bi-National’ or ‘unitary democratic state.’ It would be both divisive and inappropriate for a solidarity movement to take a position on this issue. However, a solidarity movement can and should change the political conditions in such a way as to facilitate bi-lateral negotiations and eventual resolution of the conflict on the basis of universal standards of human rights and principles of justice, and this approach requires the outright rejection of the ethnic nationalism on which the two-state solution is based.
Non-nationalism is a framework for activism that puts the spotlight back on people and the suffering they endure as a result of the political thoughtlessness and abstraction cultivated by nationalism and its concrete realization in the nation-state. As Bertrand Russell once said, ‘It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict.’ The rights of the refugees have been systematically ignored since their expulsion in 1948 because the refugee is the new vanguard of the forces of justice that stand opposed to the oppression and exclusion embodied in the nation-state. The refugee and the nation-state are opposing forces in a dialectical process that will eventually result either in further dissolution of the concept of humanity itself or the destruction of the idea that political power is the sole prerogative of ‘nations’ or ‘ethnic’ groups. This is the /political /dimension of the struggle for the rights of the refugees. To succeed in this struggle, the language and political calculus of the nation-state must be rejected and other more egalitarian and inclusive forms of political organization discussed and promoted.
Nationalism and the nation-state are divisive political forces for more than the obvious reasons. The prevailing view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States and around the world is of an intractable ethnic and religious struggle between two nations with equally legitimate claims to the same territory. This narrow parochial conception of the conflict has prevented U.S. citizens and the wider international community from understanding that Palestinians are struggling for basic rights and racial equality in Palestine. In the absence of a more accurate view of the conflict, international civil society is unlikely to see the commonalities between the plight of the Palestinians and other more familiar histories of oppression.
For example, across many dimensions of comparison, Israel is an apartheid state. It is true that since the beginning of the second wave of Jewish settlement in 1905, Israel worked to become a ‘pure settler colony’ that eschewed reliance on cheap indigenous labor and aimed to build an exclusively Jewish economy whereas white South African economic privilege was always dependent on the exploitation of black labor. It’s also true that Israel is an ‘apartheid-plus’ state in the sense that it is actively opposed to the presence of indigenous populations on the land it covets and aims at their total expulsion. However, these differences do very little to undermine the comparison. Apartheid is racial segregation without equality, and Israel is a perfect exemplification of this political trend. Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are territorially segregated and their communities purposefully de-developed. 93% of Israel is defined as state land held in perpetuity for the sole benefit of the Jewish people rather than Israel’s citizens. The administration of these lands is undertaken by quasi-governmental agencies that ensure no citizen of Palestinian Arab descent can buy, lease, or work in these areas. While non-Jewish citizens are denied these resources, their lands and homes are expropriated and destroyed by the state through a variety of bureaucratic means. The de-development of their communities is furthered by the denial of other socially meaningful goods such as state funding for education and basic municipal services. The result is that year after year, Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent score lower than Israeli-Jews on all the important socio-economic indicators. The isolation of the Palestinian community in Israel is augmented by other brazenly racist measures. The main highways in Israel do not have exits to Arab towns and localities. Discrimination even extends to laws about residency, citizenship, and marriage. A Palestinian from the West Bank and Gaza who marries an Israeli citizen is legally prohibited from settling in Israel and acquiring residency and eventually citizenship. This law only applies to Palestinian Arabs. Finally, Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin can be killed with utter impunity by border police or the army as they were on land day and in October of 2000.
Once the comparison between Israel and Apartheid South Africa is shown to have a rational basis, the same revulsion and disdain that the international community felt for the apartheid regime will be directed towards the Zionist regime in Israel. If this negative perception of the regime is backed by a positive vision of the future for the Israeli people, a rift between the two may develop and Israelis may begin to reconsider their support for the Zionist project.
There are other comparison’s that have the potential of transforming people’s consciousness of the conflict. Israel’s ‘Law of Return’ resembles the ‘White Australia Policy,’ elements of which survived until the mid-1970’s.[3] In a similar spirit of comparison, activists might discuss the similarities between Israel’s treatment of the indigenous Bedouin populations of the Negev desert and the treatment of American Indians by the government of the United States. The nature of the regime in Israel should also prompt a comparison with the segregationist polices that led to the rise of the American civil rights movement. The aim of this policy was to increase the proportion of whites in the Australian population by using a variety of methods to encourage immigration, including expedited citizenship and settlement subsidies. Non-whites were excluded from these benefits, just as the ‘law of return’ excludes Palestinians from the goods and benefits it entails. One difference between the two cases is that the former group was not expelled en masse from the country that now discriminates against them.
IV: Conclusion
I have argued that a fundamental change in the political orientation of the Palestine solidarity campaign is required if the Palestinian people are to stand any chance of a meaningful and humane existence in their historic homeland. Rather than being a concession, Sharon’s disengagement plan is means to consolidating Israel’s grip on the West Bank. With the wall complete, the Palestinians will be condemned to live in territorially disconnected Bantustans on less than 40% of the 22% of Palestine that Israel failed to conquer in the 1948 war. In its ideal form, the two-state solution to the conflict is immoral and impractical. Continuing to advocate for it under the present conditions is nothing short of political suicide and moral abdication. To stem the tide of Israeli colonialism and apartheid, the international solidarity campaign must adopt a non-prescriptive post-nationalist politics of resistance that directs the attention of the international community back to the victims of the conflict and articulates a hopeful vision of the future for both the oppressed and the oppressor. Ideas need to be backed by concerted and effective social action. A comprehensive grassroots boycott of Israel will apply the cultural, social, and political pressure necessary for Israeli society to give due consideration to the political demands of post-nationalism. At this stage, this is the only viable alternative to either the cultural death of the Palestinian people or a repeat of the catastrophe that befell them in the war of 1948.
[1] Hannah Arendt. ‘The Nation.’ /The Review of Politics/ [January 1946] p.139).
[2] Examples of the former would include Israel and Japan and of the latter the United States, France and the United Kingdom.
[3] Thanks to Matt Horton for suggesting this analogy