A Vision for PalestineBy Elias Davidson, composer, Iceland, April 1998
A. An untapped potential: The quest for democracy
Democratic opposition to Zionism stems from a specific vision of humanity which treats every human being as inherently equal and deserving equal rights. This vision is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This vision inspires practically all human rights conventions that UN member states have signed as well as international humanitarian law. The principles come close to what legal scholars would term jus cogens, norms of international law from which no derogation is permitted. This vision is the antithesis of racism, apartheid and Zionism.
Although it appears that most Israeli Jews support Zionism, this does not help our analysis. Israeli Jews operate within an imposed agenda of public discourse and within the confines of established politics. They are hardly ever presented with fundamental questions or contradictions. If presented with a stark choices between living in a ghetto-state and democracy and the implications such choices would have for their daily lives, the majority of the Israeli and Palestinian population would most probably opt for democracy, as the term is generally understood. Democracy, can at its basic conceptual level, be the cement which can bridge these two constituencies facing now each other in enmity. It represents an untapped opportunity for progressing towards a lasting peace.
B. The bankruptcy of the Palestinian liberation strategy
The Palestinian resistance movement was established by the direct victims of Zionism in order to liberate Palestine from its Zionist colonisers and usurpers. But the aim was not attained. After years of bitter struggle and the innumerable unnecessary deaths, the Palestinian-Arab people are still dispersed in many countries with a minority living in Israeli-controlled reservations.
After some hesitations and toying with the idea of a secular and democratic state, the Palestinian resistance movement took one step after the other in order to accommodate the Palestinian masses, first with the existence of the Zionist state and finally with its alleged legitimacy.
It is certainly not necessary here to elaborate on the dismal outcome of more than 50 years of Palestinian struggle. This should be obvious to any decent person, Palestinian or otherwise. The Palestinian leadership has led the people to a historical dead-end. Those who wish Palestine to become a blooming and modern country in the 21st Century have no interest in lamenting the past but in understanding what caused the dismal failure of such persistent and just struggle, in order to lay the ground for a brighter future. This is the purpose of this paper.
C. Liberation from Zionism vs. the liberation of Palestine
In its quest to liberate Palestine, the Palestinian resistance resorted to armed attacks against Israel as the physical embodiment of Zionism. There was no serious attempt to co-opt significant segments of the Israeli-Jewish population and involve it in the struggle for liberation. This was a fatal strategic mistake. By doing so, the Palestinian resistance movement, notwithstanding its claim that it was not fighting the "Jews", only the "Zionists", factually acted as if the entire Israeli population were enemies to be defeated. It did not present itself as an alternative to Israelis who opposed Zionism or the oppression of Palestinian Arabs and might have joined the struggle against the Zionist entity. Under such circumstances most Israelis viewed Palestinian attacks on Israel as an existential threat for themselves. They were not asked to join the struggle. The Palestinian resistance movement rarely considered any role for common Israelis other than as enemies to be defeated. With such failings the Palestinian resistance movement could not rally any significant support for its goals within Israeli society. It thus defined the terms of the conflict as one between two mutually excluding national movements. This strategic mistake has led to the current impasse.
This was not, as is sometimes claimed, the only option open to the Palestinian resistance movement. It could have declared itself the de jure representative of all inhabitants of Palestine, including all Jewish inhabitants, claim sole jurisdiction over all of Palestine and grant all Jewish inhabitants of the State of Israel automatic Palestinian citizenship and membership in the ranks of the Palestinian national movement, thus challenging the Zionist state at the level of international law and giving Israeli Jews a viable option to war. Simultaneously it would have sought the participation of all democratic and anti-Zionist Israeli Jews, on equal footing, as participants in the liberation of Palestine from Zionism. This strategy has led the African National Congress to the defeat of apartheid.
To be fair, most Palestinian organisations have attempted to distinguish between Jews and Zionists. But these attempts were mainly rhetoric in nature. There were no systematic efforts by the Palestinian resistance to tap the democratic and anti-Zionist potential among Jews and Israelis in order to develop a joint struggle for the abolishment of the Zionist state.
Jews were certainly allowed to participate, as individuals, in the Palestinian resistance movement, when such requests were made, but this was only incidental to the Palestinian struggle and practically irrelevant.
Only a handful of individuals of Jewish descent availed themselves of this possibility. The PLO remained an organization committed to the national rights of the Palestinian Arab people, which in view of the circumstances in Palestine was a blueprint for defeat. When the PLO issued Palestinian identity cards, these showed a mosque and a church, thus defining the Palestinian constituency as not including Jews. This was not necessarily a racist policy. It was however a clear statement whom the Palestine Liberation Organization considered its future constituency and whom not.
D. The long-term solution: One democratic state in Palestine
The struggle for a just peace in Palestine is as important as ever. The current situation appears desperate but it is not. It all depends on how one defines the conflict we are witnessing in Palestine. If this conflict is defined in territorial and national terms, we are facing a zero-sum game, namely an equation in which gains by one side are reflected in losses by the other. This form of conflict can lead at best to a temporary accommodation, not to a lasting peace, because each side continues to attempt to change the terms of the game in his own benefit. If the conflict is however defined in the terms of democracy versus apartheid, the conflict becomes that of an overwhelming majority of peaceful populations against racist leaders, namely a joint popular struggle against forces of evil.
It is therefore incumbent to redefine the terms of the struggle, both as regards parties to the conflict and the aim to be reached. The parties to the conflict have hitherto been defined as national groups and fostered national identities linked to reified territories. The current goal of both parties to the conflict is to obtain as much as possible of land and control for themselves (in terms of national identity). When they become the Constituency for Democracy versus the Constituency for Apartheid, the goal of one party to the conflict will be the establishment of a modern democratic state for the entire population living in Palestine and the Palestinian refugees in exile prevented from return. The opposite constituency would, in the name of an ideology which is defined by international law as criminal (apartheid), attempt to prevent the emergence of such a state. The result of such a struggle can be gauged in advance.
The establishment of a democratic state in Palestine that would replace the Zionist state, would allow finally the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees, comply with long flouted norms of international law (regarding self-determination), with international norms of human rights and possessing the required elements for economic viability. It is therefore the best solution that can ensure a lasting peace. No other solution possesses these crucial ingredients necessary for peace.
To reach this aim there is a need for a self-conscious and determined movement for a democratic Palestine, which will invite every Palestinian and every citizen of the State of Israel, regardless of his or her current residence, to participate as full member in this constructive endeavour.
This movement would lead the struggle for the establishment of a democratic, non sectarian, state in all of Palestine, replacing the two defect entities existing today, the apartheid State of Israel and its Arab dependencies in Gaza and the Western Bank. The operating languages of this political movement would be Arabic, Hebrew and English. The movement will neither recognise the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Zionist Jewish state nor that of the PNA, as defined by the 'Oslo' accords and subsequent agreements. The movement for a democratic Palestine would properly claim the sole jurisdiction, de jure and later de facto over the whole area of Mandatory Palestine, and seek international recognition as the sole representative of the peoples of Palestine. The movement will seek the support of democratic movements in the region and will participate in the worldwide movement for increased democracy and human rights. There is every reason to believe that a movement defining its constituencies in the above terms and aiming at establishing a true democracy in Palestine, will be victorious before too long.
A personal testimony by Elias Davidsson, one of the individuals submitting the above paper
Though I don't live any more in Palestine since my childhood, I cannot hide my passion for this tormented and divided country. Born in Palestine in 1941 — my parents having been Jewish refugees from Germany — I owe my very existence to this country, refuge for my parents. It is in Palestine that my mother and me were almost killed by angry Arabs in 1947 but eventually saved by other Arabs. It is a country, the scars of which fill me with great sadness.
I lived my first years in a suburb of Jerusalem (Baq'aa), were Jews and Arabs lived side by side in convivial relations. We had very good Arab friends in our neighbourhood. My mother, the only one in her family, learned Arabic. I carry within me the images, sounds, smells and sensations from these times, like a treasure from which I had at numerous times sought inspiration and vital energy.
Life has brought me as far as Iceland. But today, distance plays less and less a role. Justice for Palestine does not only concern those directly affected but all those who are committed to global peace.
As most 'Israeli' children, I was subjected to a systematic Zionist indoctrination. Because of family reasons, I spent my teenage years in France, where I joined a Zionist youth organisation, Hashomer Hatza'ir. I liked its activities, the excursions, lectures, and its egalitarian spirit. Slowly we were introduced to the principles of Zionism, as prelude for preparing us for "aliya", settling in Zion (Palestine). The teachers, sent especially from Israel to preach to us, did not tire from emphasising that non-Jewish people (Goyim) were hopelessly anti-Semitic, either knowingly or unconsciously. Their anti-Semitism was based on the existence of Jews among them. The solution was 'separation' (apartheid). It was, we were told, hopeless to fight against racism and anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish prejudices were so to speak immanent features of a non-Jewish mind. Having posited this perverted myth as a fact, the Zionist envoys proceeded to demonstrate that only a "Jewish" national state was capable in ensuring the personal safety of Jews and ensure the "emancipation" of Jews from their apparently "parasitic" position in society. With hindsight we are now able to perceive how related this argumentation is to the anti-Semitic view of Jews as "parasites" who should be removed from the body of nations.
At this juncture I began to doubt about Zionism. I found it outrageous to claim that non-Jews were collectively and virtually racist. I found this allegation moreover contrary to my personal experience. I found that it was futile to argue with the Zionist envoys and ended by leaving this organisation.
At that time I did not know anything about "real" Zionism, as practised by the "socialist" kibbutzim against Arabs, about the organic and unavoidable collusion between Zionism and imperialism, about the apartheid legislation in Israel or about the Naqba, the Palestine catastrophe of 1948.
It is only much later, and only slowly, that I learned about the extent of the mystification I had been subjected to. It required many years to get rid of the various myths Zionism had impregnated me with. It was only after reading the writings of people such as Uri Davis and Palestinian martyrs Said Hammami and Na'im Khader, that I discovered the humanist potential inherent in the apparently violent rhetoric of Palestinian resistance.