One Democratic Secular State for all its citizens in Israel and Palestine


Posted August 19, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Q:  How is unity possible when they don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist?

“Israel’s right to exist” is a much abused phrase. In many people’s minds this means the right of Israel’s Jews to continue living there safely and not be driven out or slaughtered. Zionists play on the driving-out image to conjure up Tsarist Russian pogroms, Nazi genocide, and older expulsions which cleared Jews out of whole countries in Europe, including England and Spain.

This, and “existential threat to Israel” is often spoken in the same breath as “encircling Arab armies”, and misleading translations of Arab states’ demagogic rhetoric about burying the Zionist state or wiping it off the map or off the page of history (which in any case usually mean changing the regime, not clearing out the people).

Yet Palestinians and their sympathisers are more likely to couple the words “driven out” with images of Palestinians driven out, en masse in 1948 and 1967, and since then driven from homes demolished and lands destroyed.

That is because recognition, as now defined by Israel, is of  “Israel as a Jewish state”. And its core issue is that this is a state which defines itself in ethnic terms and was created and maintained to exclude Palestinians from full citizenship by demographic gerrymandering, segregation and expulsion. Recognition of this State by Palestinians would amount to approval of their own ethnic cleansing and subjugation.

Not only are all the injustices and violence and drivings out done in order to maintain a Jewish majority state, but that very state itself, with its laws and its prisons and armed bodies and its media and its diplomats has been the instrument of continued ethnic cleansing, with region after region earmarked for “Judaising”: the Gallil, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Negev. The Jewish Majority State of Israel is a weapon against a defenceless people. If a single democratic unified state sweeps Israel off the map or off the page of history, that is to be celebrated. It is not genocide but an essential step in the prevention of genocide and in making a new start with no “driving out” on anyone’s agenda.

By a neat conjuring trick which has turned reality on its head, the combining of “right to exist as a state” with “right of Jews to live there” has enabled all Israel’s actions to be presented not as expulsion, driving out, oppression etc but as legitimate and necessary security measures aimed at keeping the enemy at bay, and keeping down the enemy within. So quite bizarrely, the slaughter of 1400 civilians in Gaza was a “defence against genocide” purely on the grounds that Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s “right to exist”. And an unarmed goods shipment crewed by human rights activists posed “an existential threat to Israel” by challenging its blockade and siege of Gaza.

By this same verbal trick, it’s assumed that without the “right of the Jewish State to exist”, Jews will no longer have the right to live there; that the Jewish State is the only defence against expulsion; and that anyone who wishes to challenge or weaken or deligitimise the State is placing five million Jews in danger of a new holocaust.

The people best placed to know the difference between “right to exist as a Jewish state” and “right to live there” are the Palestinians, for whom Israel as a Jewish State has meant the end of their right to live there. Up against the fourth most powerful army in the world and forbidden so much as to throw a stone, they see their land shrinking every day and their means of livelihood sabotaged and vandalised. The “encircling Arab armies” never did them any good, and they can see through the politicians’ boastful rhetoric. Their own promised state is coming out of the occupation minced into little pieces. On both sides of the wall or the green line, their own “right to live there” is at the mercy of the arbitrary military decisions, Judaising campaigns and pseudo laws designed to keep “Israel as a Jewish State”.

This state is both the cause, the result and the means of this oppression. In any democratic sense it is structurally flawed and riddled with built-in ethnic prejudice and inequality.

A single unified state for all its citizens would indeed be the existential end of the one-sided, violent and unjust Jewish State. It would in no way herald a driving out of anyone, but rather, it would guarantee everyone’s basic rights including the right to live there and not be driven out. And it would expect recognition not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of its values and the standard of its rights and laws.

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