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Relative Humanity The Essential Obstacle to a Just Peace in Palestine
Relative Humanity, the Essential Obstacle to a Just Peace in Palestine
by OMAR BARGHOUTI

‘[A] Conquest may be fraught with evil or with good for mankind, according to the comparative worth of the conquering and conquered peoples.’

Theodore Roosevelt

Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution.

Blinded by the arrogance of power and the ephemeral comfort of impunity, Israel, against its strategic Zionist interests, failed to control its insatiable appetite for expansion, and went ahead with devouring the very last bit of land that was supposed to form the material foundation for an independent Palestinian state.

Since the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada Israel has entered a new critical phase where its military repression against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza has reached new lows, and its flouting of UN resolutions new heights, where its incessant land grab has led it to erect a wall around Palestinian population centers, separating Palestinians from their lands — thus dispossessing them yet again — and where moral corruption and racial discrimination have more lucidly eroded the internal coherence of Israeli society as well as its marketed image as a "democracy." As a result, Israel’s standing in world public opinion has nose-dived, bringing it closer to the status of a pariah state.

This phase has all the emblematic properties of what may be considered the final chapter of the Zionist project. We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself.

Going back to the two-state solution, besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with. In the best-case scenario, if UN resolution 242 were meticulously implemented, it would have addressed most of the legitimate rights of less than a third of the Palestinian people over less than a fifth of their ancestral land. More than two thirds of the Palestinians, refugees plus the Palestinian citizens of Israel, have been dubiously and shortsightedly expunged out of the definition of the Palestinians. Such exclusion can only guarantee the perpetuation of conflict.

But who is offering the "best-case" scenario to start with? No one, as a matter of fact. The best offer so far falls significantly short of even 242 — not to mention the basic principles of morality. After decades of trying to convince the Palestinians to give up their rights to the properties they had lost during the Nakba (1948 catastrophe of dispossession and exile) in return for a sovereign, fully independent state on all the lands that were occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, Israel has shown that it really never had any intention to return all those illegally acquired lands. From Camp David II to Taba to Geneva, the most "generous" Israeli offer was always well below the minimal requirements of successive UN resolutions and the basic tenets of justice. Admitting that justice is not fully served by his government’s offer at Camp David, for instance, former Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami gave the Palestinian a choice between "justice or peace."

Peace decoupled from justice, though, is not only morally reprehensible but pragmatically unwise as well. It may survive for a while, but only after it has been stripped of its essence, becoming a mere stabilization of an oppressive order, or what I call the master-slave peace, where the slave has no power and/or will to resist and therefore submits to the dictates of the master, passively, obediently, without a semblance of human dignity. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote:

The strongest man is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into duty. … Force is a physical power; I do not see how its effects could produce morality. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will; it is at best an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a moral duty?

Well, the Palestinians’ "prudence" is running out. The yielding of their official leadership to force merely led to more colonization, and promises for yet more to come.


2. Relative Humanity and the Conflict

From the onset, the two main pretences given by the Zionists to justify their colonization of Palestine were:

A) Palestine was a land without a people, an uncivilized wasteland;

B) Jews had a divine right to "redeem" Palestine, in accordance with a promise from no less an authority than God, and because, according to the Bible, the Israelites’ built their kingdoms all over the Land of Canaan a couple of thousand years ago, giving them historical rights to the place. Thus, any dispossession of the natives of Palestine, if they existed, was an acceptable collateral damage to the implementation of God’s will. If this sounds too close to Bush’s jargon, it is mere coincidence.

By now, both the political and the religious arguments were shown to be no more than unfounded myths, thanks in no small part to the diligent work of Israeli historians and archaeologists .

Doing away with both political fabrication and Biblical mythology, Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department in 1940, explained the truth about how this "redemption" was to be carried out:

Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries–all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.

At the very core of the rationalization of such an expulsion lies an entrenched colonial belief in the irrelevance, or comparative worthlessness, of the rights, the needs and aspirations of the native Palestinians. For instance, the author of the Balfour Declaration wrote:

The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

It is a classic case of what I call relative-humanization.

I define Relative humanity as the belief, and the practice based on that belief, that certain human beings, to the extent that they share a common religious, ethnic, cultural or other similarly substantial identity attribute, lack one or more of the necessary attributes of being human, and are therefore human only in the relative sense, not absolutely, and not unequivocally. Accordingly, such relative humans are entitled to only a subset of the otherwise inalienable rights that are due to "full" humans.

Perceiving the Palestinians as relative humans can explain why Israel — supported by the US and in many cases by Europe too — has got away with a taken-for-granted attitude towards the Palestinians that assumes that they cannot, indeed ought not, have equal needs, aspirations or rights to Israeli Jews. This factor has played a fundamental role in inhibiting the evolution of a unitary state solution, as will be shown below.

Besides relative-humanization, there are many impediments on the way to that morally superior solution. Given the current level of violence, mutual distrust and hate between the two sides, for example, how can such a solution ever come true? Besides, with the power gap between Israel and the Palestinians being so immense, why would Israeli Jews accept this unitary state, where, by definition, Jews will be a minority? Is Israeli consent really necessary as a first step, or can it be eventually achieved through a combination of intensive pressure and lack of viable alternatives, just as in the South African case?

These concerns are indeed valid and crucial to address, but rather than delving into each one of them, I shall limit myself to showing how the alternatives to the one-state solution are less likely to solve the conflict, partially because the principle of equal human worth, which is the fundamental ingredient in any lasting and just peace, is conspicuously ignored, breached or repressed in each of them. This in itself may not logically prove that the one-state solution is the only way out of the current abyss, but it should at least show that the it certainly deserves serious consideration as a real alternative.

3. Paths to Ending the Conflict

At the time, and given the impossibility of achieving a negotiated two-state solution that can give Palestinians their minimal inalienable rights, there are three logical paths that can be pursued:

(1) Maintaining the status quo, keeping some form of the two-state solution alive, if only on paper;

(2) "Finishing the job," or reaching the logical end of Zionism, by implementing full ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians out of the entire Mandate Palestine. Since genocide of the scale committed to rid America or Australia of their respective natives is not politically viable nowadays, ethnic cleansing is the closest approximation;

(3) Launch new visionary and practical processes that will lead to the establishment of a unitary democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Let us explore each of the three options:

3.1 Maintaining the Status Quo

Above everything else, the status quo is characterized by three attributes:

A. Denial of the Palestinian Refugee’ Rights,
B. Military Occupation and repression in the West Bank and Gaza, and
C. Zionist version of apartheid in Israel proper.

3.1.A. Denial of Palestinian Refugees’ Rights

Far from admitting its guilt in creating the world’s oldest and largest refugee problem, and despite overwhelming incriminating evidence, Israel has systematically evaded any responsibility. The most peculiar dimension in the popular Israeli discourse about the "birth" of the state is the almost wall-to-wall denial of any wrongdoing. Israelis by and large regard as their "independence" the ruthless destruction of Palestinian society and the dispossession of the Palestinian people. Even committed "leftists" often grieve over the loss of Israel’s "moral superiority" after occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, as if prior to that Israel were as civil, legitimate and law-abiding as Finland!

In a classic self-fulfilling prophecy, Israelis have always yearned for being a normal state to the extent that they actually started believing that it was. It is as if most of those Israelis who actively participated or bore witness to the Nakba were collectively infected by some chronic selective amnesia.

This denial has its roots in the Holocaust and in the unique circumstances created as a result of it, which allowed Israel to argue that, unlike any other state, it was obliged to deny Palestinian refugees their unequivocal right to return to their homes and lands. Preserving the Jewish character of the state, the argument went, was the only way to maintain a safe haven for the world Jewry, the "super-victims," who are unsafe among the Gentiles, and that of course was of much more import than the mere rights of the Palestinians. Even if we ignore the compelling comparison between the safety of Jews in Israel vs. in France, Morocco, Spain, the United States, or, for that matter, Germany, we cannot overlook the fact that no other country on Earth today can ever get away with a similarly overt, racist attitude about its right to ethnic purity.

Besides being morally indefensible, Israel’s denial of the right of return also betrays a level of moral inconsistency that is in many ways unique.

The Israeli law of return for Jews, for instance, is based on the principle that since they were expelled from Palestine over 2,000 years ago, they had a right to return to it. So by denying the rights of Palestinian refugees, whose 55-year-old exile is a much younger injustice, to say the least, Israel is essentially saying that Palestinians cannot have the same right because they are just not equally human.

Here are some more examples of this moral inconsistency:

- Thousands of Israelis whose grandparents were German citizens have successfully applied for their right to return to Germany, to gain German citizenship and receive full compensation for pillaged property. The result was that the Jewish population of Germany jumped from 27,000 in the early 90’s to over 100,000 last year.

- Belgium has also passed a law ‘enabling properties that belonged to Jewish families to be returned to their owners.’ It also agreed to pay the local Jewish community 55 million euros in restitution for stolen property that ‘cannot be returned’ and for ‘unclaimed insurance policies belonging to Holocaust victims.’

But the quintessence of moral hypocrisy is betrayed by the following example reported in Ha’aretz:

More than five centuries after their ancestors were expelled from Spain, Jews of Spanish origin called on the Spanish government and parliament to grant them Spanish nationality… Spain should pass a law ‘to recognize that the descendants of the expelled Jews belong to Spain and to rehabilitate them,’ said Nessim Gaon, president of the World Sephardic Federation. Some Sephardic Jews have even preserved the keys to their forefathers’ houses in Spain.

Since supporting the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes is, in my view, the litmus test of morality for anyone suggesting a just and enduring solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many, including Bill Clinton, and the entire spectrum of the official Left in Israel, have flunked the test.

Left and right are relative terms everywhere, but in Israel the distinction can be totally blurred at times. On the issues of ethnic purity, demography and chauvinism, Israeli politicians and intellectuals on the left, even those self-proclaimed as "the left," have made the far-right parties of Europe sound as humane as Mother Teresa. The crucial difference, however, is that in the case of Israel, the immorality is aggravated by the fact that, unlike the foreign immigrants to Europe, the other is in fact the natives of the land.

Despite the above, one must not deny that the right of return of Palestinian refugees does contradict the requirements of a negotiated two-state solution. Israel simply will never accept it, making it the Achilles’ heel of any negotiated two-state solution, as the record has amply shown. It has nothing to do with the merits or skills of the Palestinian negotiators, as lacking as they may have been, but rather with a staggering imbalance of power that allows an ethnocentric and colonial state to safeguard its exclusivist nature by dictating conditions on a pathetically weaker interlocutor. This is precisely why the right of return cannot really be achieved except in a one-state solution. That would allow the Palestinian weakness to be turned into strength, if they decide to adopt a non-violent path to establishing a secular democratic state, thereby gaining crucial international backing and transforming the conflict into a non-dichotomous struggle for freedom, democracy, equality and unmitigated justice. Again, South Africa’s model has to be tapped into for inspiration in this regard.

3.1.B. Military Occupation: War Crimes , Large and Small

Following a visit to the completely fenced Gaza Strip, Oona King, a Jewish member of the British parliament commented on the irony that Israeli Jews face today, saying: ‘in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature–though not its extent–to the Warsaw ghetto.’

Any human being with conscience who has recently visited the occupied territories cannot but agree with King. Faced with the Palestinians’ seemingly inextinguishable aspiration for justice and emancipation, Israel has resumed for the last three years a campaign of wanton destruction, indiscriminate atrocities and medieval-like sieges with the clear intention of collectively punishing the Palestinians, potentially forcing them to abandon their lands en masse. The rest are mere details, painful and tormenting as they may be.

Israel’s Apartheid Wall, Palestinian Human Rights v. Israeli Animal & Plant Rights:

Although Israel is now trying to present the Wall as a security barrier to "fend off suicide bombers," the truth is that the current path of the Wall is anything but new. It has been recommended to Ariel Sharon by the infamous "prophet of the Arab demographic threat," Israeli demographer, Arnon Sofer, who insists that the implemented map was all his. And unlike the slick Israeli politicians, Sofer unabashedly confesses that the Wall’s path was drawn with one specific goal in mind: maximizing the land to be annexed to Israel, while minimizing the number of "Arabs" that would have to come along.

But Sofer may be taking too much credit for himself. Ron Nahman, the mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, has revealed to the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth that: ‘the map of the fence, the sketch of which you see here, is the same map I saw during every visit [Ariel Sharon] made here since 1978. He told me he has been thinking about it since 1973.’ There weren’t many "suicide bombings" going around then!

Four years ago, well before the intifada started, Ariel Sharon himself, it turned out, had evocatively called the Wall project the "Bantustan plan," according to Ha’aretz.

Despite the Wall’s grave transgression against Palestinian livelihood, environment, and political rights, a "near total consensus" exists amongst Israeli Jews in supporting it. Several official and non-governmental bodies in Israel, however, are concerned about the adverse effects the Wall might have on animals and plants.

The Israeli environment minister Yehudit Naot protested the wall, saying:

The separation fence severs the continuity of open areas and is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks. The protective system will irreversibly affect the land resource and create enclaves of communities [of animals, of course] that are cut off from their surroundings. I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence, because it is essential and will save lives…. On the other hand, I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.

Her ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages for animals and enabled the continuation of the water flow in the creeks.

Still, the spokesperson for the parks authority was not satisfied. He complained:

The animals don’t know that there is now a border. They are used to a certain living space, and what we are concerned about is that their genetic diversity will be affected because different population groups will not be able to mate and reproduce. Isolating the populations on two sides of a fence definitely creates a genetic problem.

Even Thomas Friedman, has predicted — quite accurately, in my view — in the New York Times that the wall will eventually "kill" the two-state solution, thereby becoming ‘the mother of all unintended consequences.’

Smaller Crimes of the Occupation:

Not all the crimes of the Israeli military occupation are as overbearing as the Wall. I shall address below only four examples of smaller, yet rampant, war crimes:

i- Birth and Death at an Israeli Military Checkpoint:

Rula, a Palestinian woman, was in the last stages of labor. Her husband, Daoud, could not convince the soldiers at a typical military checkpoint to let them through to meet the ambulance that was held up by the same soldiers on the other side. After a long wait, Rula could no longer hold it. She started screaming in pain, to the total apathy of the soldiers. Daoud described the traumatic experience to Ha’aretz’s exceptionally conscientious reporter Gideon Levy, saying:

Next to the barbed wire there was a rock. My wife started to crawl toward the rock and she lay down on it. And I’m still talking with the soldiers. Only one of them paid any attention, the rest didn’t even look. She tried to hide behind the rock. She didn’t feel comfortable having them see her in her condition. She started to yell and yell. The soldiers said: `Pull her in our direction, don’t let her get too far away.’ And she was yelling more and more. It didn’t move him. Suddenly, she shouted: `I gave birth, Daoud! I gave birth!’ I started repeating what she said so the soldiers would hear. In Hebrew and Arabic. They heard.

Rula later shouted: ‘The girl died! The girl died!’ Daoud, distraught and fearing for his wife’s own life, was forced to cut the umbilical cord with a rock. Later, the doctor who examined the little corpse at the hospital revealed that the baby girl had died ‘from a serious blunt force injury received when she shot out of the birth canal.’

Commenting on the similar death of another Palestinian newborn at another Israeli checkpoint, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights said:

We don’t know how many have died like this because many people don’t even bother to set out for hospital, knowing the soldiers will stop them. These people offer no threat to Israel. Those who do, like the suicide bombers, of course never go through roadblocks, which exist only to control, subjugate and humiliate ordinary people. It is like a routine terrorism.

ii- Hunting Children for Sport:

The veteran American journalist Chris Hedges exposed in Harper’s Magazine how Israeli troops in Gaza had systematically curse and provoke Palestinian children playing in the dunes of southern Gaza. Then when the boys finally get irritated enough and start throwing stones, the soldiers premeditatedly respond with live ammunition from rifles fitted with silencers.

‘Later,’ writes Hedges, ‘in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos." He then concludes, "Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered, but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.’

iii- Patients & the Siege:

Reporting on a particularly appalling incident, Gideon Levy writes in Ha’aretz:

The soldiers made Bassam Jarar, a double amputee with kidney disease, and Mohammed Asasa, who is blind in both eyes, get out of the ambulance. Both men had come from dialysis treatment. About half an hour passed, and then blood started to drip from the tube that is permanently inserted in Jarar’s lower abdomen.

"I told the soldier on the tank that I was bleeding. He told me to sit there and that they’d take me to a doctor. We sat there in the sun for almost an hour." The bleeding increased. After about an hour, two soldiers came and lifted up Jarar and placed him on the floor of their jeep. "I told them that I couldn’t travel in a jeep. They said that’s all there was and that they were going to take me to a doctor. The guy drove like a maniac and I was bouncing up and down and my whole body hurt. I told them that it hurt. They said, `Don’t be afraid, you’re not going to die.’ There were four soldiers in the jeep and I was on the floor. He wouldn’t slow down. And the soldiers were laughing and not looking at me at all.

iv- Sexual Assault:

In another crime, two Israeli Border Police officers coerced a Palestinian shepherd to wear on his back the saddle of his donkey and walk back and forth before them; and then, at gunpoint, one of the two forced him to have sex with his donkey for half an hour, as documented by B’Tselem.

Based on this culture of relative-humanization of "the other," Nathan Lewin, a potential candidate for a federal judgeship in Washington, and former president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists writes:

If executing some suicide-bomber families saves the lives of even an equal number of potential civilian victims, the exchange is, I believe, ethically permissible. It is a policy born of necessity–the need to find a true deterrent when capital punishment is demonstrably ineffective.

Diplomacy aside, "civilian" here stands for "Jewish" only, of course.

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has likewise advised Israel to entirely level any Palestinian village that harbors a suicide bomber.

Little wonder, then, someone as morally consistent as Shulamit Aloni, the former member of Knesset, finds it necessary to say: ‘We do not have gas chambers and crematoria, but there is no one fixed method for genocide.’

Do Israelis Know?

In my view, the British journalist Jonathan Cook hit it right on when he wrote:

[Israelis] know exactly what happens: their Zionist training simply blinds them to its significance. As long as the enemy is Arab, as long as the catch-all excuse of security can be invoked, and as long as they believe anti-Semitism lurks everywhere, then the Israeli public can sleep easy as another [Palestinian] child is shot riding his bike, another family’s house is bulldozed, another woman miscarries at a checkpoint. It seems that a people raised to believe that anything can be done in its name — as long as it serves the interests of Jews and their state — has no need of ignorance. It can commit atrocities with eyes wide open.

And this is not new. Zionist thinker, Ahad Ha’am, described the anti-Arab attitude of the Jewish settlers that came to Palestine to escape repression in Europe, long before Israel was created, as follows:

Serfs they were in the lands of the Diaspora, and suddenly they find themselves in freedom [in Palestine]; and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.

But if that’s the case, then two possible explanations — not necessarily mutually exclusive — may be put forth to explain the Israelis’ acceptance of, and sometimes fervent support for, this systematic violation of basic human rights:

(1) Widespread belief that their demographic war against the Palestinians could be won by implementing the suggestion of cabinet minister, Benny Elon, who called for intensifying the siege and repression in order to: ‘make their life so bitter that they will transfer themselves willingly.’

(2) Secular or not, the root of the entrenched Israeli perception of the Palestinians as less human is nourished by a racist colonial tradition and rising Jewish fundamentalism.

I’ll expand a bit on this last point.

It is commonplace to read about Islamic fundamentalism and its militancy, anachronism and intrinsic hate of "the other." Jewish fundamentalism, on the contrary, is a taboo issue that virtually never gets mentioned at all in the west for reasons that are beyond the scope of this essay. But, since Jewish fundamentalism is increasingly gaining ground in Israel, making the state, as the veteran British journalist David Hirst describes it: ‘not only extremist by temperament, racist in practice, [but also] increasingly fundamentalist in the ideology that drives it.’

For example, referring to Jewish Law, or Halacha, Rabbi Ginsburg, the leader of a powerful Hassidic sect, defended the 1994 massacre of Muslim worshippers in a mosque in Hebron, saying:

Legally, if a Jew does kill a non-Jew, he’s not called a murderer. He didn’t transgress the Sixth Commandment There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.

Rabbi Shaul Israeli, one of the highest rabbinic authorities of the National Religious Party and of the religious Zionism in general, justified the 1953 Qibya massacre, perpetrated by an Israeli army unit led by Ariel Sharon, by also citing Jewish law. He wrote:

We have established that there exists a special term of ‘war of revenge’ and this is a war against those who hate the Jews and [there are] special laws applying to such war. In such a war there is absolutely no obligation to take precautions during warlike acts in order that non-combatants would not be hurt, because during a war both the righteous and wicked are killed. the war of revenge is based on the example of the war against the Midianites in which small children were also executed, and we might wonder about this, for how they had sinned? But we have already found in the sayings of our Sages, of blessed memory, that little children have to die because of the sin of their parents.

3.1.C. Israel’s System of Racial Discrimination: Intelligent, Nuanced but still Apartheid

US academic Edward Herman writes:

If Jews in France were required to carry identification cards designating them Jews (even though French citizens), could not acquire land or buy or rent homes in most of the country, were not eligible for service in the armed forces, and French law banned any political party or legislation calling for equal rights for Jews, would France be widely praised in the United States as a "symbol of human decency" (New York Times) and paragon of democracy? Would there be a huge protest if France, in consequence of such laws and practices, was declared by a UN majority to be a racist state?

Advocating comprehensive and unequivocal equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel has become tantamount to sedition, if not treason. An Israeli High Court justice has recently stated on record that: ‘it is necessary to prevent a Jew or Arab who calls for equality of rights for Arabs from sitting in the Knesset or being elected to it.’

A recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) reveals that 53% of Israeli Jews oppose full equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a staggering 57% believe they should be ‘encouraged to emigrate.’ One main finding was that when Israeli Jews say "we" or "us" they hardly ever include the Palestinian citizens of the state.

In land ownership rights, the inequality is categorical. ‘It is forbidden to sell apartments in the Land of Israel to Gentiles,’ said Israel’s Chief Rabbi in 1986, commenting on an attempt by a Palestinian to buy an apartment owned by the Jewish National Fund in East Jerusalem.

In other vital areas of life, including marriage laws, urban development and education, Israel has perfected a comprehensive apparatus of racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens that is unparalleled anywhere today.

From all the above described dimensions of the military occupation, the status quo is untenable, if not because of Palestinian resistance, then due to rising international condemnation.

4. Ethnic Cleansing: Israel’s Final Solution to the Palestinian Demographic Threat

Israeli politicians, intellectuals and mass media outlets often passionately debate how best to face the country’s demographic "war" with the Palestinians. Few Israelis dissent from the belief that such a war exists or ought to exist. The popular call to subordinate democracy to demography, however, has entailed the the adoption of reminiscent population control mechanisms to keep the number of Palestinians in check.

In a stark example of such mechanisms, the Israel Council for Demography was reconvened last year to ‘encourage the Jewish women of Israel — and only them — to increase their child bearing; a project which, if we judge from the activity of the previous council, will also attempt to stop abortions,’ as reported in Ha’aretz. This prestigious body, which comprises top Israeli gynecologists, public figures, lawyers, scientists and physicians, mainly focuses on how to increase the ratio of Jews to Palestinians in Israel, by employing ‘methods to increase the Jewish fertility rate and prevent abortions.’

Besides demographic engineering, this all-out "war" on Palestinian population growth has always involved enticing non-Arabs, Jewish or not, from around the world — preferably, but not necessarily, the white part of it — to come to Israel, and be eventually Israelized. Israeli scholar Boaz Evron writes:

Fear of the "demographic threat" has haunted Zionism from the very beginning. In its name Ethiopians were turned into Jews over the objections of rabbis. In its name hundreds of thousands of Slavs came here wearing the Law of Return as a fig leaf. In its name emissaries have gone out across the world seeking out more and more Jews.

With the support of the Israeli government, for example, one Zionist organization, Amatzia, has organized the adoption of foreign children to Jewish families that have fertility problems, insisting only on the condition of converting all the children to Judaism upon arrival in Israel. Romania, Russia, Guatemala, Ukraine and the Philippines were the main sources of children; but now, after they’ve "dried up," India has become the source of choice, mainly for the relative ease of acquiring the "goods" there. Amatzia’s director, Shulamit Wallfish, has sought children from the northern parts of India in particular, ‘where the children’s skin is lighter, which would better suit Israeli families,’ according to her.

More concerned about the imminent rise of an Arab majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean than with the oft invoked and sanctified "Jewish purity," Ariel Sharon has indeed called on religious leaders to smooth the progress of the immigration and absorption of non-Arabs, even if they weren’t Jewish, in order to provide Israel with ‘a buffer to the burgeoning Arab population,’ reports the Guardian. The Israeli government’s view is that ‘while the first generation of each wave of immigration may have difficulty embracing Israel and Jewishness, their sons and daughters frequently become enthusiastic Zionists. In the present climate, they are also often very rightwing.’

Albeit vastly popular, such a policy is not endorsed across the board. Eli Yishai, the leader of the largest Sephardic Jewish party Shas, for example, who is particularly alarmed at the influx of gentiles, hysterically forewarns:

By the end of the year 2010 the state of Israel will lose its Jewish identity. A secular state will bring … hundreds of thousands of goyim who will build hundreds of churches and will open more stores that sell pork. In every city we will see Christmas trees.

The Israeli far-right minister, Effi Eitam, prescribes yet another alternative: ‘If you don’t give the Arabs the right to vote, the demographic problem solves itself.’

One conscientious Israeli who is revolted by all this reminiscent language of demographic control is Dr. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin of Ben-Gurion University. He writes: ‘It’s frightening when Jews talk about demography.’

Also dissenting from the mainstream Israeli view, Boaz Evron argues that:

When we give up defining our national essence by religious criteria, and forcing conversion on people who are good Israeli citizens, and give up the effectively illegal preferences afforded to Jews, it will suddenly become apparent there is no need to worry about the ‘demographic threat’.

But, by far, the all-time favourite mechanism has always been ethnic cleansing.

Incessantly practiced, forever popular, but persistently denied by the Zionists, ethnic cleansing has in the last few years been resurrected from the gutters of Zionism to occupy its very throne.

The famous historian, Benny Morris, has recently argued that completely emptying Palestine of its indigenous Arab inhabitants in 1948 might have led to peace in the Middle East.

In response, Baruch Kimmerling, professor at Hebrew University, wrote:

Let me extend Benny Morris’s logic . If the Nazi programme for the final solution of the Jewish problem had been complete, for sure there would be peace today in Palestine.

Then why doesn’t Israel act upon its desire now, one may ask? Prof. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University has a convincing answer:

‘The constraints on Israeli behaviour are not moral or ethical, but technical. How much can be done without turning Israel into a pariah state? Without inciting European sanctions, or making life too difficult for the Americans?’

Offering a diametrically opposing explanation, Martin Van Creveld, Israel’s most prominent military historian, who supports ethnic cleansing, arrogantly shrugs off any concern about world opinion, issuing the following formidable warning:

We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force. Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: ‘Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.’ Our armed forces are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen, before Israel goes under.

That should amply explain why Europeans have lately ranked Israel first among the countries that are considered a threat to world peace.

Yet a third explanation, which concurs with Pappe’s, is that Israel currently enjoys the best of both worlds: it is implementing — on the ground — an elaborate mesh of policies that are making the Palestinians’ lives progressively more intolerable, and therefore creating an environment conducive to gradual ethnic cleansing, while at the same time not making any dramatic — Kosovo-like — scene that would alarm the world, inviting condemnation and possible sanctions.

5. Israel–The Untenable Essential Contradictions

Israel’s inherent racial exclusivity, as demonstrated above, have convinced many Palestinian citizens of the state that they are not just on the margins, but altogether unwanted. Ameer Makhoul, the General Director of Ittijah, the umbrella organization of Palestinian NGO’s in Israel, writes:

The state of Israel has become the most significant source of danger for the million Palestinians who are citizens of the state that was forced upon them in 1948; a state that was erected on the ruins of the Palestinian people . The Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot defend themselves by relying on the legal system and the Knesset. This public has no trust in the state and its institutions, because the Israeli rules of the game enable only discrimination, racism and repression of collective aspirations.

Besides what Palestinians think or want, the question should be posed: can a state that insists on ethnic purity ever qualify as a democracy, without depriving this concept of its essence? Even Israel’s loyal friends have started losing faith in its ability to reconcile the fundamentally irreconcilable: modern liberal democracy and outdated ethnocentricity. Writing in the New York Review of Books, New York University professor Tony Judt affirms that:

In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry, where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed, where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel constrained if we had to answer to just one, in such a world, Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism, but a dysfunctional one. In today’s "clash of cultures" between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.

Avraham Burg, a devoted Zionist leader reached a similar conclusion . Attacking the Israeli leadership as an ‘amoral clique,’ Burg asserts that Israel, which ‘rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice,’ must ‘shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy.’

6. Secular Democratic State: New Horizons

No matter what our hypocrites, Uncle Toms or "false prophets" may say, Israel, as an exclusivist and settler-colonial state , has no hope of ever being accepted or forgiven by its victims — and as it should know, those are the only ones whose forgiveness really matters.

Despite the pain, the loss and the anger which relative-humanization undoubtedly engenders in them, Palestinians have an obligation to differentiate between justice and revenge, for one entails an essentially moral decolonization, whereas the other descends into a vicious cycle of immorality and hopelessness. As the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire writes:

Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. [The] Struggle [for humanization] is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

Rejecting relative humanity from any side, and insisting on ethical consistency, I believe that the most moral means of achieving a just and enduring peace in the ancient land of Palestine is to establish a secular democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, anchored in equal humanity and, accordingly, equal rights. The one-state solution, whether bi-national — a notion which is largely based on a false premise that the second nation in question is defined — or secular-democratic, offers a true chance for decolonization of Palestine without turning the Palestinians into oppressors of their former oppressors. The vicious cycle launched by the Holocaust must come to an end altogether.

This new Palestine should:

(1) First and foremost allow and facilitate the return of and compensation for all the Palestinian refugees, as the only ethical restitution acceptable for the injustice they’ve endured for decades. Such a process, however, must uphold at all times the moral imperative of avoiding the infliction of any unnecessary or unjust suffering on the Jewish community in Palestine;
(2) Grant full, equal and unequivocal citizenship rights to all the citizens, Jews or Arabs;
(3) Recognize, legitimize and even nourish the cultural, religious and ethnic particularities and traditions of each respective community.

As a general rule, I subscribe to what Prof. Marcelo Dascal of Tel Aviv University insightfully proposes

"the majority has an obligation to avoid as much as possible the identification of the state’s framework with traits that preclude the possibility of the minority’s commitment to it."

Israelis should recognize this moral Palestinian challenge to their colonial existence not as an existential threat to them but rather as an magnanimous invitation to dismantle the colonial character of the state, to allow the Jews in Palestine finally to enjoy normalcy, as equal humans and equal citizens of a secular democratic state — a truly promising land, rather than a false Promised Land.

That would certainly confirm that Roosevelt is not only dead but is also DEAD WRONG!

OMAR BARGHOUTI is a Palestinian political analyst. His article "9.11 Putting the Moment on Human Terms" was chosen among the "Best of 2002" by the Guardian. His articles have appeared in the Hartford Courant and Al-Ahram Weekly, among others. He can be reached at: jenna@palnet.com