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Looking Beyond the Gaza War

Israel's wars are usually a time of reflection for me. Other than follow what's going on in the news, via Twitter and news sites, there isn't a lot I feel I can do. I've given up trying to influence public opinion. I share stories and comments that disturb me or I find interesting. But that's more a matter of keeping a log - as is is this post.

I'm a permanent resident in Israel; not a citizen. If I have a sense of belonging, it is more towards the binational Jewish - Palestinian community in which I live, than towards nation. Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom expresses my wishes for Israel. I would like the whole country to embrace its differences and become a place where all of the people living here can feel at home. As a non-Jew I do not feel that I belong to the "Jewish and Democratic" state of Israel. Millions of Palestinians feel the same, and there are a few thousand like me who will always be marginalized in an ethnocratic state.

All modern states are multicultural, with varying degrees of success and inclusivity. A democratic state worthy of the name has to embrace its minorities and include them as full members. But the minorities of most states, it is true, also have to contend with varying degrees of racism and exclusion. Sometimes when I think of leaving Israel, the thought strikes me that injustice is everywhere. The European nations appear comparatively enlightened, but much of their wealth depends upon the relative poverty of other parts of the world. I think that wealth and exploitation are always linked; part of the same continuum. So then I shrug my shoulders and say, "Where is there to go. It might be embarrassing to live in a state that is today's scapegoat for the injustices of the world - but are things really any better elsewhere? Or are the inequity and iniquity just a little more hidden?"

In the context of the current war I realized the difference. All nations have their problems. But they are not themselves the problem. Few would challenge the right of France, of England or the USA to exist. Anarchists can challenge the desirability of nation-states. I'm a little bit of an anarchist too. But all things are relative. Though there are serious problems with the nation state formula, it's the basis of the current world order. And within that order, the internal problems of Germany, the Ukraine or China, such as they are, do not add up to a need to abolish those nations, but rather to make reforms - perhaps amend constitutions or make political changes.

Yet there are nations whose internal problems are so grave that a more fundamental change is required. The old South Africa, based as it was on an apartheid system, required a deep regime change. The State of Israel is a similar, possibly worse case. It is an affluent modern state of almost 8 million people of whom 80% are Jews. But it controls and continues to settle its citizens illegally upon territories it has occupied by force. Because it is by now unlikely to surrender control of these territories, it is becoming ridiculous to refer to to this policy as "occupation", as that usually refers to a condition that is temporary.  And meanwhile, the millions of Palestinians who live there cannot somehow suspend their lives while diplomats pursue imaginary goals.

It is time to look at what our eyes see: in the territory of what until 1948 was Mandatory Palestine there is a regime that exercises differential degrees of rulership and sovereignty.  That regime must either surrender full control over the territories it occupies (i.e., the West Bank and Gaza) or offer the citizens who live there full democratic rights under the State of Israel.

Without resolving the status of the millions of Palestinians living under its sovereignty, and addressing the issue of admittance or compensation for millions more Palestinians that Israel has forcefully ejected, Israel, loses its legitimacy as a member of the community of nations.  Unless and until it addresses these issues, the continued existence of Israel will result in ever more violent wars and untold suffering, both for Palestinians and its own citizens. Just as in South Africa, a deep change was required, the same is true here.

Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation of their lands by every means possible, including resort to violence. However, decades of violence have earned them nothing except further suffering. I do not think that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can be solved by violence: not by guerrilla tactics and terrorism, not by massive bombing runs, or administrative detention of leaders, etc. It requires a struggle on many levels - local and international. Under current conditions, Israel will not willingly cede control. Jewish Israelis, traumatized by centuries of antisemitism, unsurprisingly react violently when threatened with violence. But when they do not feel any kind of pressure, they prefer to maintain the status quo. Because the status quo itself is only illusory (due to demographic changes, continued settlement activity and a changing political reality), it is unsustainable.

So, to summarize my current understanding, my reflections in the current period lead me to the following conclusions:

1. Israel's internal difficulties go beyond those of other nations. A fundamental regime change is required, towards establishing a state that will include all of the citizens and refugees of historical Palestine.

2. Such a state will need to be multicultural, democratic and inclusive.

3. The process towards a "two state solution" is leading nowhere, whereas the "status quo" is unsustainable.

4. In order to achieve change, based on the realization that the only acceptable solution is a single democratic state for all of the peoples living in the land, a struggle at many levels is required, both locally and internationally.

My prognosis is that this will be a long and painful struggle. Outbreaks of violence will make it longer still. The more violence, the more unlikely that it will be possible to attain a reconciliation between the peoples. The struggle is already complicated by hardline and uncompromising positions, by religious factors, by cultural differences, etc.

Peace is never a final destination, but must be part and parcel with the methodology of conflict resolution. Even when conflicts are resolved and "peace" has apparantly been achieved, the outcome is not a static situation: constant attention is still required in order to "keep the peace".