Richard Falk in London: Palestine now has the high moral ground
Speaking in London a month after reporting on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the UN General Assembly:
The Palestinian issue, Dr. Falk told his audience, has risen to the status of the pre-eminent moral struggle of our time. And for the first time, the Palestinians have the high moral ground and are now seen around the world as the victims.
And the locus of the struggle has shifted from the UN and governments to the people of the world. This is an extraordinary change, that the action of people is now the main source of hope for the Palestinians, in contrast to the process advertised so misleadingly as a peace process, the attempt to impose an inadequate, unsustainable solution which at best would be a ceasefire, not a real peace.
The central role of the settlements in creeping annexation and ethnic cleansing has implications far beyond their illegality per se, and needs to be spelled out. The law on occupation never envisioned a prolonged occupation and permanent, lifelong refugee status: these are crimes not yet codified, and which he has proposed should be declared crimes in their own right.
The Gaza operation was reminiscent of old colonial actions in the technological disparity of their one-sided warfare, exemplified in the casualty figures. And beyond that, the whole population was traumatised. He calls it the generalisation of torture, on a mass scale, in that the victim population is so totally vulnerable.
The two state consensus is either hypocritical or it’s internally incoherent. On every issue, international law would support the Palestinians: borders, refugees, Jerusalem. But Israel has managed to exclude international law from the negotiating process. Any attempt to invoke these issues is said to be a disruption of the peace process. So what the diplomacy is about is translating disparities of hard power into stable, permanent relationships. It means stabilising structures of injustice and legalising criminal practices and policies.
The Israel/Palestine situation is the last remnant of colonialism, and the big-power diplomacy and the UN is not going to redress it because they are too influenced by the big imperial powers.
We’ve reached a point where the only realistic outcomes are either a democratic secular unified state that respects the rights of all people living within its borders, or an extension and intensification of the existing apartheid state. There are no other alternatives but some variant of a one state solution.
It looks impossible to achieve this goal, just as it looked impossible to end apartheid in South Africa without a bloody war. What the solidarity movement needs to understand is that in history the impossible happens. The academic mind especially is better at retrospect than prospect.
The future of the Palestinian struggle is much bound up with two developments: the first is a tactical shift from hard-power instruments to non-violent coercion, especially BDS which is so historically critical and relevant because it’s the way to mobilise consciousness and change the climate so that what now seems impossible becomes a real policy alternative. The other aspect is to recognise that it’s no longer a territorial conflict. The symbolic battlefield is global.
And he quoted Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish: “This is forgetfulness, that you remember the past and not remember tomorrow in the story. … Perhaps my imagination is more lucid than my reality.”
We have to trust our moral and political imaginations if we are to engage meaningfully and in an effective way in this struggle. In the 21st century it’s really very hard to have a state that is labelled a Jewish state or an ethnically specific or religiously specific state without at the same time subjugating the minorities in that state to a permanent condition of second class citizenship which is incompatible with human rights, with notions of equality of persons.
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