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


Posted December 20, 2014 at 12:47 am

N E W    P A L E S T I N E   
N E W S L E T T E R  No.9

2014: A Watershed Year

When we look back at 2014, the year that another “last chance” Two State effort bit the dust, that Gaza was pulverised and that fascist gangs rampaged in Israel, will we recognise any signs that re-directed history, diverting it into a different orbit? (See Newsblog for analysis of how to make the most of the new Knesset elections opportunity.)

The change is still incremental, but on many fronts both the Palestine solidarity movement and the One Democratic State prospects are nearing tipping points. The events of the year for Palestine are well known. But many of the long-term effects are less obvious or publicised, or are still playing out. The stories below are indicative of change.

1. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

The shunning of Israel is now inevitable: it is only a matter of time before BDS is an accepted major factor in isolating Israel and, in Israel’s own words, delegitimising it. In the heartland of the heartland of its international support, 12% of American Jews now support BDS and Jewish Voice for Peace now has 60 branches around America.

♦ 300+ Political parties, campaign groups and trade unions in 19 EU countries are gunning for the Israel-EU Association Agreement which gives Israel trading preference in its biggest international market. Since the European parliament’s vote for Palestine recognition, this groundwork could produce the biggest blow to Israel’s trade since 2000.
♦ Trade unionists on America’s West Coast refused to unload Israeli container ships
♦ Companies targeted, including SodaStream (which is based in the settlements), and Elbit Systems, Veolia, G4S and Hewlett Packard (involved in Israel’s occupation prisons, surveillance and weaponry), have been forced onto the defensive or lost contracts, with shareholders becoming anxious about their investments. Many companies today have an “ethical trading policy” which gives useful leverage and a benchmark to measure Israel’s practices.
♦ Churches, trade unions, colleges, banks, pension funds and other major institutions are likewise divesting from financial institutions and companies associated with Israel’s warmongering and colonisation.
♦ Since the Gaza bloodbath, the arms trade with Israel has come under intense scrutiny. Any such sanctions would pave the way and set a precedent for cancellation of other trading relationships.
♦ In South Africa, activists jammed the tills at Woolworths with trollies full of abandoned shopping. An international campaign against Coca Cola, for its Israel links, created a Twitter storm #NotInMyFridge.
♦ The British government has issued advice that trading with settlement-related Israeli companies can involve “reputational damage” to a company.
♦ An excellent new BDS video explains the whole “Middle East Conflict” in just 4 minutes.

2. “Diplomatic Terrorism”: Palestine’s diplomacy and appeal to international law

Israel’s almost cast-iron immunity from the reach of international law has been significantly breached as country after country (and now the European Parliament) has indicated its support for recognising Palestinian statehood. Already some of the benefits are starting to be seen:

 International Criminal Court: After much dithering under pressure and threats from Israel’s sponsors in Washington, the PA has taken the first step towards membership of the International Criminal Court, where Israel’s rapidly mounting charge-sheet of war crimes can be heard. Now the threats of economic retaliation are looking increasingly hollow, Israel has had to respond by holding its own inquest  into some of the war crimes charges in an attempt to pre-empt independent investigations.

♦ EU court of Justice in Luxemburg ruled on Hamas as terrorist organisation: How often have we heard from Israel and its trolls that “Hamas is a terror organisation”, on the “terror organisations list” and running “terror tunnels”? Well, it now turns out that this “Guilty” verdict, which underpins much of the rationale for the siege and for denying Gaza basic necessities, funds for social projects or trade, was based on evidence that would be thrown out in any court of law trying an individual criminal case. The EU has now ruled that no evidence of facts or actions was used to arrive at this verdict, merely reportage, hearsay and online accusations that were not open to normal standards of proof.


♦ Palestine Authority collaboration with the Occupation: this cornerstone of the past 20 years, with the PA acting as Israel’s partners in policing and surveillance of West Bank towns and cities, is under huge pressure from the grassroots movement. With the killing of popular PA Minister Ziad Abu Ein* as he led an olive-tree planting protest, Abbas yet again repeated the threat to withdraw from “security cooperation”: one day soon he will not be able to back-track and may actually have to carry out the threat.

Geneva Convention invoked: Switzerland, unusually, called a conference of the 196 parties to the Geneva Convention, reminding the world that it was legally binding on all nations that had signed up to it, and in particular of the prohibition on colonising occupied land. 126 countries attended, and agreed that Israel’s settlements were a serious violation of international law and that those responsible should be brought to justice. Israel denounced the conference as a political move “whose sole aim is to utilize the important stage of the Geneva Conventions for the sake of denigrating Israel”. By the same token, any criminal trial could be denounced as utilising a courtroom for the sole purpose of convicting the accused.

3. Racism and anti-racism

The year’s big events have been driven and paralleled by racism in Israel dominating the domestic scene, with scenes that could have played in America’s Jim-Crow South before and during the Civil Rights struggle. Little wonder that the events in Ferguson and Manhattan highlighting the continuing cheapness of black lives in America’s cities found such resonance among Palestinians.

Earlier in the year Amnesty International condemned the “trigger-happy” occupation troops and border police who could have been a model for the Ferguson cops. Even before the big killing spree against Gaza took off, there were weekly deaths in the West Bank and Gaza. The chain of events that led to the war on Gaza can be traced to the shooting, caught on CCTV, of a teenager as he was walking away from a Nakba Day protest.

The Jim-Crow style lynching of young Muhammed Khdeir, burned alive in Jerusalem, which should have been shocking enough to bring a recoil in horror, turned into just the most graphic instance of a country-wide assault within Israel, leading to a climate of fear among the 20% Arab population. The culprits were not even members of an organised vigilante gang: just three ordinary lads who thought they would “do something” in the wake of the kidnapping of three settler teenagers near Hebron.

And then there are the organised gangs. Black-shirted, Nazi-saluting demonstrators protested at a mixed wedding. A Palestinian bus driver tortured and hanged in his bus was said to have killed himself. With public transport a target for the racists, 100 or so Arab bus drivers have left the job in fear, and trains run half-empty because Arabs dare not ride them. A bilingual, integrationist “Hand-in-Hand” school was torched.

Yes, there have also been attacks against Jews: cars driven into bus queues; the axe-murder of Jews in their neighbourhood synagogue. But in these cases the assailants were dealt instant, summary death, not excused from justice. Those murdered were properly mourned by the media and the community, not accused of suicide or maligned as terrorists, or simply ignored.

If anything is terrorism, it is the motivation and ideology behind the wave of right wing attacks on Palestinians, intended to terrify them into submission, make their lives within Israel untenable and drive them to leave. The specific attacks by Lehava, the organisation dedicated to stamping out any integration or coexistence, are also an act of terrorist intimidation.

Lehava leaders have actually been rounded up by police, but there is no shortage of ultra-right politicians who will carry on their work of incitement to acts of race hate: Netanyahu’s No.2, Avigdor Lieberman (and he is far from the worst) came up with a plan that Palestinians remaining in the coastal towns be paid to leave, an idea calculated to encourage vigilantes to do their stuff.

In Australia after the Sydney siege, people are declaring “I’ll ride with you” to counter Islamophobia and help Muslims to feel secure on public transport. Maybe Israelis of conscience might pick up the idea and do likewise.

On the bright side, let’s celebrate the gestures made by Israel’s new President, Rubi Rivlin, who has consciously set out to show a different example. He launched an anti-racism campaign with a YouTube video, visited Kafr Kassem to apologise for the State’s massacre of dozens of villagers in 1957, and attended the funeral of the Druze policeman who died defending the Jerusalem synagogue. These are important messages that could help to galvanise a fightback against the thugs, instead of excusing them at best, or cheering them on at worst.

4. One Democratic State progress in 2014

The end of the year sees a desperate last push by the international community to re-open the door to the Two States plan after the Kerry initiative failed in April; and an equally urgent push by Israel’s powerful expansionists to complete the Greater Israel settlement plan and make it irreversible. The Two-Staters will be pinning their hopes on a political re-alignment emerging from the Knesset elections in March which may be more responsive to international pressure and diplomacy and might even try to work with it.

Meanwhile, One Democratic State has emerged into the mainstream of everyday discourse. It is still not led or organised, but all over the place, closet one-staters are coming out into the open, and others are acting like it was always obvious to them.

♦ Amazing Poll figures

An American  poll published by the prestige Brookings Institute in December found that “Of the 1,008 American respondents, 71% said that if a two-state solution fails, they favor a bi-national democratic state over a Jewish state which deprives Palestinians of citizenship. Only 24% of respondents said they “favor the Jewishness of Israel more than its democracy.” And fully 34% wanted “Washington to advocate a single bi-national state with equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs” without waiting for the 2SS to fail. 63% opposed West Bank settlement construction, and 28% wanted economic sanctions to be levied against Israel.

♦ Norman Finkelstein on Al Jazeera: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

In AJ’s Head to Head series fronted by Mehdi Hasan at the Oxford Union, Norman Finkelstein, who poses as a brave, major and outspoken thinker for justice in Palestine, was challenged for his adherence to Two States and for his recent attacks on the BDS movement as a “cult”.

Defending his position, he said he supports boycotting Israel, but not the aims of the BDS movement, in particular its promotion of Right of Return, which he claims puts the whole BDS campaign wide of “world opinion”. This, he made clear, was because Palestinian Return would jeopardise Israel as a Jewish state. With this argument he stood alongside the most extreme of the Zionist demographers and baby-counters who fear being “swamped” by  the Palestinian hordes.

Three main things were clear:  

i) Finkelstein, despite his radical pose, will not countenance any policy that threatens a regime-change for Israel, to change it from guaranteed Jewish rule to being a fully democratic country.

ii) He invokes international law in a selective and ignorant manner, distorting its meaning to support his main premise of Israel’s supposed “right to Self determination”.

He claims this right is not only supported by international law but that its practice and continuation to the end of time is essential if international law is to be respected.  So he views Right of Return (which is underwritten by dozens of international laws and UN resolutions) as “contrary to international law” because it might threaten the built-in ethnic majority in the Jewish State.

He similarly stands with international opinion only as long as it accords with his own opinion. After justifying the Two State solution as the longstanding PLO policy which it would be wrong and immoral to question, he shifted gear and fell back on his right to independent thinking when everyone insisted that the Two State policy no longer had popular support among Palestinians. When Mehdi Hasan asks: if millions of Palestinians stand up and demand One Person One Vote, would that not resonate with the world, Finkelstein replies that they might as well hold up a sign demanding to dismantle the Israeli state, and reserves his right, and that of the planet, to ignore them.

iii) Whereas Finkelstein stuck with the claim that “one state is not part of the (public) debate”, the AJ programme took as its premise that the 2SS was no longer possible and that it was up to its supporters to prove otherwise.

How refreshing to hear a TV presenter ask “in what fantasy world is the 2SS ever going to happen?” quoting Rashid Khalidi’s quip that its supporters “need to have their heads examined”! He further quotes polls among Palestinians showing support for one democratic state “going up year after year after year”, especially among the young. 

From the panel, Palestinian lawyer Selma Karmi-Ayyoub insisted that regardless of the official policy, the reality that Palestinians most want is one democratic state, and “if you presented them with a strategy to achieve it they would absolutely support it”. If you spend any time on the ground among Palestinians, she said, “this is obvious”.

From the audience, Yussef al Helou,  who champions internet “citizen journalism” and is in close touch with young reporters in Gaza, asked Finkelstein why he was causing divisions by not respecting “what Palestinians are demanding, a one state solution”, and wondered whether he was working for Palestinians or for Israel.

Finkelstein, and an invited Jewish Chronicle staffer, were the only ones at the event who stood with the 2SS. Should we thank NF for occasioning such a strong display of One State on Al Jazeera, and for the feebleness and self-contradiction of his arguments against it.  Or should we say he is not welcome to pose as a friend of truth and justice while promoting the continuance of the apartheid state of Israel and attacking the most effective weapon now in Palestine’s armoury: BDS.

6.  The Death in Action of Ziyad Abu Ein

Mazin Qumsiyeh’s Tribute, 11 December 2014

I was scheduled to meet with PA Minister Ziyad Abu Ein a few days later but he was killed yesterday by the Israeli colonization forces while he and over 100 Palestinians were trying to plant trees on private Palestinian land threatened by illegal Jewish colonies. One of his subordinates, another decent man who also belongs to Fatah told me I should meet with him because he is “different from other Palestinian Authority men”. He explained that Abu Ein is one of actions not speeches. My sister remembers him as a friend of her husband Hazem who was also a member of Fatah revolutionary council. I am ashamed to say that while I agreed to the meeting, privately I remained skeptical. Now that meeting will not happen unless it is in the afterlife. My Fatah friend and my sister were proven right about the decency of the man and Minister Ziyad joins tens of thousands who lost their lives while ACTING in the resistance to the colonial settler state of Israel. Others sitting comfortably in fancy PA offices will claim he is “the comrade” and will make speeches. I am certain Mr. Abu Ein would not want that, he would want to be honored by actions not words.

One can only hope that this tragic loss will not go in vain, that it would help awaken the decent people within Fatah so that they now remove the main block to our liberation: the Oslo accords and the security coordination that springs from it. My late friend Edward Said labeled these agreements as “the second Nakba”.  If change does not happen then the words of a “leadership” that does not participate in demonstrations will remain as hollow as their words after the massacres in Gaza, or after the assassination of Yasser Arafat. I have a dream that Mr. Mahmoud Abbas will wake up one morning and gather 500 of his staff and assistants (easy to do) and go to remove the illegal apartheid wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I am sure he will be joined by thousands (me included) and that Israeli occupation forces will not be able to stop us.

It is not true to say that the PA is under different constraints or that they know things we don’t (including potential retaliation by the US/Israel). There must be freedom to discuss and reshape our future by ourselves without the attempts to silence the truth. At an environmental education conference, only one speaker tried to explain (correctly) that the Oslo accords gave a Palestinian cover to the Israeli theft of our natural resources like water and for the Israeli freedom to “develop” area C including industrial polluting settlements etc. This speaker was attacked mercilessly by some PA figures and by many subsequent speaker who had to distance themselves from him to carry favor with the PA. Privately though, many PA figures (including loyal Fatah members) are disturbed by the direction we are traveling. One even told me privately at the same meeting that we do not want to become known as the Vichy government of Palestine.

Some of those are clearly speaking out in private to Mr. Abbas because he occasionally complains of dissension within Fatah. There is clearly a struggle within the PA and we hope that the murder of minister Ziyad Abu Ein will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that it will tip things towards those decent Fatah people who realize that salaries and cars are not a substitute for a free Palestine (let alone for a conscience). That way the blood of martyrs like Abu Ein will not go in vain. After all, freedom is not freely given and there must be sacrifices.

7. In Rojava, it’s “No Virgins for ISIL”

“If a Muslim man is killed by the hand of a woman he doesn’t go to heaven and certainly doesn’t get any virgins”, says one of Rojava’s women fighters gleefully. She herself had evidently dispatched a good few pious ISIL followers.

Rojava is the Kurdish mini-state in three enclaves in northern Syria around Kobane.  Recently featured in a BBC documentary, it was described as “an unprecedented political experiment”. They number two million people and have a strict secular and democratic code involving bottom-up, grassroots decision making and mandatory inclusion of more than one religious persuasion (including atheists) and at least one woman in any governing body.

The Kurdish nation, straddling three countries (Turkey, Iraq and Syria) carved out by the winning imperialists after the First World War, is approaching its first century as an occupied, stateless people.  And now they are on the front line fighting for their lives and freedom against ISIL, and they claim that Turkey, their long-time oppressor, is backing the murderous black flagged ISIL fanatics against them.

But here’s a conundrum: search Rojava on You Tube and it brings up several videos making a connection between it and . . . Israel!

If Israel offers to get arms to the Kurdish forces they may have little choice but to take them. But it will certainly be in pursuance of its own interests, and could cost them dearly in loss of political credibility. And if Israel dares to liken Kurdish national aspirations in their homeland to its own establishment as a “Jewish state”, please ask when it intends to adopt Rojava’s secular constitution and equal inclusion of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic and religious labels.

And ask them too, what is so different between the Kurds they say they support and the equally stateless Palestinians they look down on and want to be rid of?


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