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Israel, the Palestinians, and the Single State Solution: Promise and Problems

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Message Sylvia Schwarz

After immersing myself in all things Israel/Palestine for the past few years, and working hard for some modicum of justice to be dealt to Palestinians who have suffered so much only to be denied even recognition of their suffering, I have tried to imagine what post-apartheid Israel will look like.  

First the good news: the willful ignorance of people refusing to see the oppression against Palestinians is eroding.   Zionists are working overtime to make the oppression appear to be a kinder and more tolerable injustice, which I believe accounts for the gaining influence of organizations like J-Street. But those organizations' insistence on holding on to the main core tenet of the oppression, an ethnically pure state, means that people will sooner or later see through the bankrupt philosophy.  

The plight of Palestinians and historical facts, rather than myths, are making their way into main stream discussion.   From high school classes, to churches and grocery stores, in media, film, poetry, and literature, the Palestinian side of the story is finally being told.

An example of this reversal from myth to historical fact is found in the work of Waziyatawin, a Dakota scholar and activist. In an earlier book, What does justice look like 1 she uses Herzl's Jewish state as a model for how justice can be brought to indigenous Americans: just as Jews returned to the land from which they were expelled, so should the Native Americans return to their lands.   She has since renounced that model after learning about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and she participated in a Women of Color delegation to Palestine.   I consider someone with such impeccable anti-colonialist credentials who had been deceived by the Zionist myths as an example of the former success of those Zionist myth-makers.   But their successes are becoming fewer.

It is no longer heresy to talk about any other solution than the (what has always been considered "reasonable") two-state solution.   The one-state solution, a secular democratic state of all its citizens, each with equal rights and responsibilities, is no longer such a wild and crazy idea.   In large part, the acceptance of this democratic idea into the discussion is due to international solidarity activism, mainly the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (and I must give a shout out to an organization in which I am involved, Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign).

I believe that it is a matter of time, and not a long time, that the regime in Israel will fall and there will be a government of all the people in Palestine.   What an idea: universal suffrage, a constitution guaranteeing equal rights, representation in parliament, a new national anthem"

At the end of apartheid, international Palestinian solidarity activists will have to bow out.   We're not asked to do more than to use economic and moral pressure to help bring about the end of this oppressive regime. I have no skills that could be useful to a new government or state.   My past involvement in this issue gives me no credibility.   My work is done.

So what will this new state look like? Does post-apartheid Israel mean a just society with equal rights for all the people of Palestine?   A society which respects the human rights of all people?   Where racism isn't tolerated, criminals are brought to justice, and reparations for past injustices are made?   What does justice look like?

Post-colonial models

My optimism ends at the certainty that there will be a post-apartheid Israel.   After that, the optimism fades as I search for post-colonial models.   Apartheid in Israel is often compared to that of the former South Africa, but post-apartheid South Africa has a dubious record.

Less than 10 years after the adoption of the new South African Constitution, the democratic government of South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, was confidently declared a success.2 The 1996 Constitution took precedence over parliament (i.e. the legislators were sworn to uphold the Constitution, not their offices), federal and provincial/local governance was worked out, individual rights were given precedence over nationalities' rights, and systems of working with traditional group leadership were identified.

But by 2008, Johann Rossouw described the increasing xenophobic and racist violence in South Africa as occurring in a country which was "not yet post-colonial."3 The "romantic image of post-apartheid South Africa"was an illusion," said Rossouw.   In many ways there are analogies to be drawn between South Africa and Israel, including the fact that in both countries fiercely nationalistic movements replaced British colonial systems. When the Afrikaners took the reins of government in the early 20th century, they instituted severe oppressive policies against non-Afrikaners, including the apartheid system which began in 1948.   This system was not only a method of controlling the colonial subjects, but it also worked to separate those colonial subjects from each other, preventing them from forming alliances which could have helped to overthrow the regime years before its final demise.

The post-Mandela South African government has shown characteristics of many post-colonial African governments: corruption, censorship of the press4, government cronies amassing immense wealth at the expense of the majority of the poverty stricken population, neglecting to provide services and infrastructure for those people.   Much of this anti-democratic governance may be attributed to economic policies forced upon the new country by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)5, a new colonialism.   This leads to statements by impoverished and unemployed residents of slums, that things were better under apartheid when, for some, at least there were jobs6.

The South Africa experience is an imperfect analogy, as all analogies are.   South Africa is a country with vast mineral wealth. The victims of apartheid make up about 80 percent of the population and had been exploited for their labor.   Israel has few natural resources and the apartheid system there was never for labor exploitation. The very western economic system in Israel may insulate it from falling into the trap of indebtedness to institutions like the IMF, and therefore if there is to be exploitation in post-apartheid Israel, it will come from within the country. This brings me to the second model, and one that seems to me even more apt: post-slavery United States.

Michelle Alexander's extremely disturbing book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 7, describes systems of race-based control in the United States.   Following the end of slavery, when it was clear that no "40 acres8 and a mule" would be forthcoming to most former slaves, many newly freed slaves had to resort to returning to indentured servitude to earn enough to feed themselves and their families.   Shortly after Reconstruction the system we have come to know as Jim Crow was instituted, stripping African Americans of their recently acquired right to vote and hold elected office and instituting an oppressive system of total control, which rivaled the system of race-based slavery.   That system came to an end in the 1960s with the Civil Rights era, but has been replaced by an equally oppressive system of control called the War on Drugs.   Cloaked in non-racial terms, drug laws target primarily people of color, meaning huge populations are imprisoned, disenfranchised, impoverished, and left permanently in an under-caste.

Because this system appears to target only law-breakers, rather than people of a certain race, most people in the U.S. are disinterested in its real effects.   People can point to successes in civil rights, like the election of an African American president, to prove that we have overcome racism in this country.   We don't have to examine the statistics showing the enormous disparity in numbers of people (mainly men) of color compared to whites who are incarcerated.   People who have been convicted of a felony (and drug crimes are for the most part non-violent offenses) face a lifetime of unemployment, racism, homelessness and often disenfranchisement, and all of this is legal and accepted, because they are perceived to be "bad guys" who deserve what they got.

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I am an American Jew who began to question Zionism in 1982 after the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon and came to the conclusion that Zionism is a colonial settler project meant to settle white European Jews in Israel and ethnically cleanse (more...)
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