Yet another massacre is unfolding in Gaza, the largest prison in the world.* We are surrounded by familiar chatter: ‘Israel’s right to defend itself’; ‘Palestinians’ legitimate resistance to (the 1967) occupation’; ‘who started it this time?’ Most insidious, however, is the stale refrain, sung by a chorus which includes President Obama, that the violence is disastrous for the ‘peace process’ aimed at a ‘two-state solution’.
While it has been noted that one motivation for the Israeli government, in the run-up to elections in January, is to unite voters behind a ‘no choice’ rhetoric, there is a deeper motivation at stake here — to restrict the horizons of political debate, to control what should be regarded as a litmus test for ‘realistic’, ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ voices.
War is useful because the passion it arouses prevents people from asking two basic questions that must be addressed if the core of silencing and violence that we are witnessing is to be grasped and, in turn, if progress is ever to be made towards justice and enduring peace. First, what kind of state is Israel? Second, who are the Palestinians that this state is in conflict with?
Israel was established to be a Jewish state. Its institutions have always been shaped and constrained so as to ensure the continued existence of a Jewish majority and character. Passing a test of Jewishness entitles someone to Israeli citizenship regardless of where in the world she lives. Furthermore, her citizenship comes with a bundle of political, social and economic rights which are preferential to that of citizens who do not qualify as Jewish. This inbuilt discriminatory premise highlights the apartheid nature of the state. But apartheid is not an accidental feature of Israel. Its very creation involved immense injustice and suffering. Shielding and rationalizing this inbuilt premise prevents the address of past injustices and ensures their continuity into the future. It is a premise that, in matters of constitutional interpretation, takes precedence over, and thus involves the imposition of ‘reasonable’ limitations on, equality of citizenship.
The Palestinians, we are told, are a people who live in the West Bank and Gaza. The impression forced on us is that the conflict concerns a compromise to be made regarding the correct border between Israel and a Palestinian state. We are led to believe that a partition into two states would satisfy both genuine and realistic aspirations for justice and peace. In this view, the violence in Gaza is just an unreasonable aberration from an otherwise noble peace process.
But Palestinians actually comprise three groups. First, those whose families originate in the territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967 (Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem). Second, the descendants of the approximately 750,000 non-Jews who were ethnically cleansed in 1947–9 in order to ensure a Jewish majority in the new Jewish state. This group is dispersed around the world, mostly in refugee camps in the territories occupied in 1967 and the neighbouring states. Israel has persistently denied them their internationally recognized legal right to return. The majority in Gaza consists of refugees from villages which are now buried under Israeli towns and cities that were created explicitly for Jewish citizens, places which include Ashkelon and Tel Aviv that were hit by rockets in the current conflict. The third group of Palestinians, which Israel insists on calling by the euphemism ‘Israeli Arabs’, are the non-Jews who managed to evade ethnic cleansing in 1947-49 and who now live as second-class citizens of Israel, the state which likes to claim that it is ‘Jewish and democratic’.
Until 1948, the territory of Palestine stretched from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean. The violence that has afflicted the area ever since is the direct result of an event whose true nature our society seems determined to deny. Violence keeps erupting because of the silencing and marginalization of a simple truth surrounding any partition policy: that the injustice that afflicts Palestine cannot be partitioned. It is because of the desire to preserve a Jewish state that first, the legal dualism that exists in the 1967 Occupied Territories as well as the horror at the ‘Separation Wall’ have become the dominant political discourses of apartheid; second, the refugees have remained dispossessed; and thirdly, both actual and potential non-Jew Arab citizens do, and would, suffer discrimination. The two-state vision means that the inbuilt apartheid within Israel, and in turn the injustice to two groups of Palestinians, never becomes the central political problem.
The range of reactions to the current carnage shows just how successful violence has been in sustaining the legitimacy of Israel by entrenching the political focus merely on its actions rather than on its nature. These reactions keep the discourse that calls for criticizing Israel rather than for replacing it with an egalitarian polity over the whole of historical Palestine.
Israel desires to be hated by Palestinians. By provoking violence Israel has not merely managed to divert the limelight from its apartheid nature. It has also managed to convince that, as Joseph Massad of Columbia University once captured, it has the right to occupy, to dispossess and to discriminate, namely the claim that the apartheid premise which founds it should be put up with and rationalized as reasonable. Would anybody allow such a right-claim to hold sway in apartheid South Africa? How come that the anti-apartheid and egalitarian calls for the non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist are being marginalized as extreme and unrealizable? What kind of existential fetters cause the world to exhibit such blindness and a drop of compassion? Is there no unfolding tragedy that anticipates violence against Jews precisely because past violence against them in Europe is being allowed to serve as a rationalizing device of an apartheid state?
Israel has already created a de facto single state between the river and the sea, albeit one which suffers from several apartheid systems, one within Israel and another in the occupied territories. We must not let Israeli aggression prevent us from treating as moderate and realistic proposals to turn this single state into one where all would have equal rights.
Oren Ben-Dor grew up in the State of Israel. He is Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Southampton, UK. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This article was written before the ceasefire agreement. However, its argument that unless the core injustice is touched upon resistance to apartheid will continue. Thus, any ceasefire is in effect just another lease of life bestowed upon the politically insignificant discourse of two-states and thus a mere postponement of further violence. The association of ceasefire with hope of ‘peace process’ towards two-state solution is a sham. [O. Ben-Dor, 26 November 2012].
Republished here with permission from Counterpunch.
Is this situation sustainable for Israel? Also, how do you think the new announcement to build settlements in E1 zone will affect the two state solution. There was an interesting opinion piece in the NY times that suggests a one-state solution in increasingly becoming the only viable option but it obviously challenges the ‘Jewishness’ of the Israeli state. Here is the link to NYTimes piece http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/opinion/global/if-not-two-states-then-one.html
What difference does it make to focus on the nature and the existence of a nation? If rheotoric and discourse went down this route, would the preponderance of literature and consenses to the lack of sovereignity of the alleged nation force the nation to concede its lands? This route in itself taints the alleged nations right to self-determination. Lets cut out ‘power ridden’ notions such as ‘self determination’ that supports entities that hold the power. The alleged nation concedes to its accusers. Nothing would change, perhaps a reversal of roles, the newly ‘haves’ against the now ‘have-nots’, and whole lot more of blood. That is why the non-recognition of Israel’s right exist is marginalised.
On basal level, the real question is reciprocity – violence begets violence, ultimatums begets ultimatums. Extrapolating from operant conditioning, this serves as a positive punishment and over time aggresion will stop. Primitive? Unsophiticated? Uncultured? Inhumane? Yes, but that is the course of things on a micro and macro level. The focus of reciprocity and positive punishment is mere attempt at description of the conflict and possible course. It is not a fatalistic diagnosis and prognosis of the situation. It is a humble response to the description of apartheid. This is prima facie war not apartheid.
The real question is: Why do Palestinians love to hate Israel?
Oren- could you please tell me who the painting is by? email@example.com
Please place your cursor over the picture and leave for a couple of seconds. All shall be revealed.
Palestinians Alleged Right to Political Self Determination
In 1920 at San Remo the Jewish People were recognized by the Principal Allied War Powers in WWI as owning the political rights to Palestine; the competing Arab claims also submitted at the Paris Peace talks were implicitly denied in Palestine but recognized in the rest of the Middle East, i.e. Syria & Mesopotamia and, indirectly later in Transjordan. The Allies had conquered this area from the Ottoman Empire in a defensive war. Their ruling was based on the historic association of the Jewish People with Palestine in which there had been a continuous uninterrupted Jewish presence for 3,700 years. In 1922 this political right was recognized by 52 nations but limited to Palestine west of the Jordan River. The rights were required to be placed in trust until the Jewish People attained a majority of population in the area in which they were to exercise sovereignty and were capable of exercising sovereignty in that area.
In 1948 the trustee abandoned its legal dominion over the political rights that were in trust and the Jewish People had established unified control over Palestine west of the Jordan River with some exceptions. Just after it had declared independence in that year, the Jewish People’s State of Israel was invaded. Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem were invaded by the Arab Legion supplied and led by the British; they became illegally occupied by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip was similarly invaded and illegally occupied by Egypt. By 1950 the Jews had also attained a Jewish majority population in the remaining area. With both a majority population in the area governed and the ability to exercise sovereignty, the political rights to that area vested in the Jews so they had legal dominion over them and the Jews were then sovereign in that area. Following 1967 the Jewish People had annexed East Jerusalem; in 1967 it also liberated the other areas that had been illegally occupied. Later, in 2005 the Jews withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
It follows that now the Jewish People have sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem as well as the territory within the Green Line because they own and have legal dominion over the political rights to these areas and have established unified control over them even though they have not as yet asserted that sovereignty except for East Jerusalem.
International Law does recognize the right of political self-determination in the case of colonies external to the areas from which they are ruled. This is referred to as “decolonization”. International Law supports decolonization. The quest for the right of political-self determination of a group of people in an area internal to the boundaries of a state that has sovereignty is referred to as “secession”. A secession would violate the territorial integrity of a sovereign state.
Effective as of 1976, International Law recognized the right of a “people” to political self- determination but it did not provide any indication of where that rule would be applied. In any event, the so-called “Palestinians” do not meet the test of a legitimate “people” but are, in fact, an undifferentiated part of the Arab people residing in Palestine who were invented as a separate “people” by the Soviet dezinformatsiya in 1964.
In a decolonization, International Law gives preference to self-determination over territorial integrity. International Law regarding secession of an area internal to a state is a wholly different matter. The right to secede is not a general right of political self-determination for all peoples or nations. It is limited by the territorial integrity of a sovereign state. The unilateral right to secede, i.e. the right to secede without consent from a sovereign state, if it is to be recognized, say most commentators on International Law, should be understood as a remedial right only, a last resort response to serious injustices. In addition, those wanting to secede must show they have the capability of exercising sovereignty.
There is no evidence of serious injustice to support such a remedial right for the Arabs residing in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem although they have long complained of perpetual victimhood. Nor do they have the capability to exercise sovereignty such as unified control over the area they wish to have designated as an independent state.
It follows that the so called “Palestinians” have no right to political self determination under International Law.
See also, Roots of Israel’s Sovereignty and Boundaries under International Law http://www.think.Israel.org/brand.allegedoccupation.html