Sunday, December 23, 2007

The end of Israel?

The Electronic Intifada, 19 December 2007

Hannah Mermelstein,


Israeli border police run to to stop a demonstration of Palestinians upset by the controversial and ongoing Israeli excavations near the al-Aqsa mosque. (Anne Paq/MaanImages)


I am feeling optimistic about Palestine.

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 met.

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:

"The 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."

That's right, 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.

"The 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."

Perhaps Olmert 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.

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