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Rethinking Israel After 60 Years

Israeli Independence Day 2008, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the rise of the Jewish State, should be cause for sober reflection and reevaluation as well as celebration. Indeed, we Israeli Jews have much to celebrate. But something, it appears, is amiss. Israel’s 60 Year gala appeared exaggerated, the joy expressed through the blaring loudspeakers somewhat artificial and forced. The celebrations were certainly more militaristic and triumphalist than usual. Neither the Palestinians nor the Occupation were allowed to penetrate the close narrative encasing Independence Day, of course, but military themes and displays, plus  the presence of thousands of soldiers and police in every public place, conveyed an underlying disquiet. Something else was present, an unsettling but unspoken element. I call it the Palestinian poltergeist.

Perhaps our loud triumphalism had to do less with celebration than with the disturbing realization that the two-state solution, which even Olmert claims is Israel‘s only hope of remaining a Jewish state, is disappearing before our eyes. Anyone familiar with Israel’s massive settlements blocs, its fragmentation of the Palestinian territories and their irreversible incorporation into Israel proper through a maze of Israeli-only highways and other “facts on the ground,” anyone who has spent an hour in the West Bank, can plainly see that this is the case. The expansion of Israel’s Matrix of Control throughout the Occupied Territories, coupled with American protection from any international pressures for meaningfully withdrawal, have rendered a viable Palestinian state, and thus a genuine two-state solution, unattainable.

The transformation of the Occupation into a permanent political fact now shifts the question of co-existence, peace and reconciliation from the West Bank and Gaza to the entire country, to an indivisible Israel/Palestine. This is the true significance of the 60 Years. For if a viable Palestinian state cannot be detached from Israel, then the conflict becomes one which encompasses the entire country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. The focus on 1948 raises issues we’d rather leave untouched, events and policies we have suppressed these past six decades.

Did the Palestinians really flee or did we Israeli Jews drive them out? If almost half the inhabitants of that part of Palestine apportioned by the UN to the Jews in 1947 were Arabs, how could we have turned even that small bit of land into a “Jewish state”? Is Zionism, then, truly free of war crimes or did we in fact conduct a deliberate and cruel campaign of ethnic cleansing that went far beyond the borders of partition? In that context, was the occupation of the entire land of Palestine the result of Jordanian miscalculation or, from a perspective of forty years later, was in actually an inevitable “completion” of 1948, as Rabin and many others have said? How can we reconcile our professed desire for peace with a steady annexation of the Occupied Territories, including almost 250 settlements? Can we really expect to “win,” to frustrate Palestinian aspirations for freedom in their homeland forever, and if we do, what kind of society will we have, what will our children inherit? Indeed, while we presume to speak in the name of world Jewry, can we expect our Diaspora – fundamentally liberal and not tribal as is Judaism in Israel – to support war crimes that only undermine the moral basis of their community, convictions and faith?

And then comes the hardest question of all: If it was we who eliminated a viable two-state solution – the creation of a truncated Palestinian prison-state on 15% of historic Palestine a la South Africa’s Bantustans will not solve the conflict – then how will we end our century-old conflict? How will we deal with the bi-national entity that is Israel/Palestine, largely our own creation?

In order to avoid these questions, we have developed a number of mechanisms, delaying forever a political solution being only one of them. It is enough for us to merely assert our support for a two-state solution in order that we be considered peace-minded and reasonable. Two-state supporters require only the notion of a Palestinian state, a never-ending process towards it, to escape confronting the reality we created. As long as a Palestinian state can be held out as a possibility, the pressure’s off. Thus many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and others – including such searching and otherwise radical figures as Noam Chomsky and Uri Avnery, together with the Peace Now, Brit Tzedek, Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow and members of Rabbis for Human Rights – cling tenaciously to the two-state solution, all refusing to admit it is no longer viable.

The 40th anniversary of 1967 had to do with occupation. Had we dealt with that issue wisely and justly, Israel today could have been a Jewish state living at peace with its neighbors on 78% of the Land of Israel, a true cause for celebration. This year’s focus on 60 Years, on 1948, is a different matter entirely. If we want to salvage a national Jewish presence in Palestine/Israel, nothing remains but to courageously confront what we did in 1948 and the bi-national reality we have fostered since 1967.  No longer can we blame the Palestinians for our dilemmas; they accepted the two-state solution way back in 1988. No, it is us, the triumphant, those who believed (and still believe) that military power combined with Jewish victimhood can defeat a people’s will to freedom, who carry the burden of responsibility for this most anti-Zionist, yet wholly predicable, situation.

Only a reconciling of our celebration with Palestinian loss will we finally begin to deal with the presence “in our country” of another people with equal claims and rights, paving the way to a just peace, reconciliation and the securing of a Jewish national presence in the Land of Israel – whatever political form that might take. Difficult as it may be, such a reassessment may in fact allow us to achieve Zionism’s original and ultimate aspiration: a genuine homecoming of the Jewish nation to the hearth of its civilization. Our dybbuks and the Palestinian poltergeist will be finally put to rest. Now that will be cause for genuine, unfettered celebration.

JEFF HALPER is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at jeff@icahd.org.

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