End Of Israel?
I am feeling optimistic about
I know it
sounds crazy. How can I use "optimistic" and "Palestine"
in the same sentence when conditions on the ground only seem to get
worse? Israeli settlements continue to expand on a daily basis, the
checkpoints and segregated road system are becoming more and more institutionalized,
more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners are being held in Israeli
jails, Gaza is under heavy attack and the borders are entirely controlled
by Israel, preventing people from getting their most basic human needs
We can never
forget these things and the daily suffering of the people, and yet I
dare to say that I am optimistic. Why? Ehud Olmert. Let me clarify.
Better yet, let's let him clarify:
day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South
African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens,
the state of Israel is finished."
the Prime Minister of Israel is currently trying to negotiate a "two-state
solution" specifically because he realizes that if he doesn't,
Palestinians might begin to demand, en masse, equal rights to Israelis.
Furthermore, he worries, the world might begin to see Israel as an apartheid
state. In actuality, most of the world already sees Israel this way,
but Olmert is worried that even Israel's most ardent supporters will
begin to catch up with the rest of the world.
Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be
the first to come out against us," he told Haaretz, "because
they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy
and equal voting rights for all its residents."
is giving American Jews too much credit here, but he does expose a basic
contradiction in the minds of most American people, Jewish and not:
most of us -- at least in theory -- support equal rights for all residents
of a country. Most of us do not support rights given on the basis of
ethnicity and religion, especially when the ethnicity/religion being
prioritized is one that excludes the vast majority of the country's
indigenous population. We cannot, of course, forget the history of ethnic
cleansing of indigenous people on the American continent. But we must
not use the existence of past atrocities to justify present ones.
I am optimistic
not because I think the process of ethnic cleansing and apartheid in
Israel/Palestine is going to end tomorrow, but because I can feel the
ideology behind these policies beginning to collapse. For years the
true meaning of political Zionism has been as ignored as its effects
on Palestinian daily life. And suddenly it is beginning to break open.
Olmert's comments last week are reminiscent of those of early Zionist
leaders who talked openly of transfer and ethnic cleansing in order
to create an artificial Jewish majority in historic Palestine.
We must expel
the Arabs and take their places and if we have to use force to guarantee
our own right to settle in those places -- then we have force at our
disposal. - David Ben-Gurion, Israel's "founding father" and
first prime minister, 1937
So this idea
of a "two-state solution" a la Olmert -- which I would argue
provides neither a "state" nor a "solution" for
the Palestinian people -- is the new transfer. It is no longer popular
in the world to openly discuss expulsion (though there are political
parties in Israel that advocate this), but Olmert hopes that by creating
a Palestinian "state" on a tiny portion of historic Palestine,
he can accomplish the same goal: maintaining an ethno-religious state
exclusively for the Jewish people in most of historic Palestine. His
plan, as all other plans Israeli leaders have tried to "negotiate,"
ignores the basic rights of the two-thirds of the Palestinian population
who are refugees. They, like all other refugees in the world, have the
internationally recognized right to return to their lands and receive
compensation for loss and damages. This should not be up for negotiation.
So why am
I optimistic? Why do I think Olmert will fail, if not in the short term,
at least in the long term? There are many signs.
and most important is that Palestinian people are holding on. Sometimes
by a thread, but holding on nonetheless. Despite the hope of many in
Israel, Palestinians will not disappear. They engage in daily acts of
nonviolent resistance, from demonstrations against the wall and land
confiscation, to simply remaining in their homes against all odds. Young
people are joining organizations designed to preserve their culture
and identity. Older Palestinians have said to me, "We lived through
the Ottoman Empire, we lived through the British Mandate, we lived through
Jordanian rule, and we will live through Israeli occupation." This
too shall pass.
it seems that within the traditional "Zionist left," Jewish
Israelis are beginning to have open conversations about the exclusivity
of Zionism as a political ideology, and are questioning it more and
In the US,
I have been traveling around speaking to groups about Palestine, and
they get it. Even those whose prior information has come only from US
mainstream media, when they hear what is actually happening, they get
it. When we explain the difference between being Jewish (a religion
or ethnicity), Israeli (a citizenship), and Zionist (an ideology), people
Israel have a right to exist?" people ask. What does that mean?
Do countries really have rights, or do people have rights? The Jewish
people have a right to exist, the Israeli people have a right to exist,
but what does "Israel" mean? Israel defines itself as the
state of the Jewish people. It is not a state of its citizens. It is
a state of many people who are not its citizens, like myself, and is
not the state of many people who are its citizens, like the 20 percent
of its population that is Palestinian. So if we ask a Palestinian person,
"Do you recognize the right for there to be a country on your historic
homeland that explicitly excludes you?" what kind of response should
So when Olmert
warns that we will "face a South African-style struggle for equal
voting rights" and that "the state of Israel [will be] finished,"
I get a little flutter of excitement. I think of the 171 Palestinian
organizations who have called on the international community to begin
campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until
Israel complies with international law. This is already a South African-style
struggle, and we outside of Palestine need to do our part. Especially
those of us who live in the US, the country that gives Israel more than
$10 million every single day, must take responsibility for the atrocities
committed in our name and with our money.
this is our role as Americans. It is to begin campaigns in our churches,
synagogues, mosques, universities, cities, unions, etc. It is not to
broker false negotiations between occupier and occupied, and it is not
to muse over solutions the way I have above. But one can dream. And
as a Jewish-American, I know that while it might be scary to some, while
it will require a lot of imagination, the end of Israel as a Jewish
state could mean the beginning of democracy, human rights, and some
semblance of justice in a land that has almost forgotten what that means.
Mermelstein is co-founder and co-director of Birthright
Unplugged, which takes mostly Jewish North American people
into the West Bank to meet with Palestinian people and to equip them
to return to their own communities and work for justice; and takes Palestinian
children from refugee camps to Jerusalem, the sea, and the villages
their grandparents fled in 1948, and supports them to document their
experiences and create photography exhibits to share with their communities
and with the world. Anna Baltzer helped contribute to this article.
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