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A Vision Of Harmony In Palestine

By Gilad Atzmon

28 February, 2012

Gilad Atzmon outlines a vision of Palestinian-Jewish reconciliation in Palestine where Jews, freed of their Zionist state and its ideology of oppression, exclusiveness, exceptionalism, and racial supremacy and segregation, live side by side with Palestinians as citizens of one state with equal rights and responsibilities.

I was asked to talk to you about the on-going dispute within our ranks between those who support the one-state to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and those who advocate two states for the two people.

Interestingly enough, this is a topic I hardly comment on, and not because I am short of vision, opinion or ideas, but rather because I believe that the fate of the people in Palestine and Israel should be decided by the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. I, for instance, fail to see what qualifies a New York City Jewish academic or activist to determine how people should live in Palestine or anywhere else. Furthermore, I have never seen a Palestinian trying to advise Western solidarity activists how to run their lives. I argue then, that our “interventionist” enthusiasm to preach to others on how they should live is actually slightly pretentious.

But the subject is obviously deeper: in spite of the fact Israel is an organic sovereign state – it is already recognized as one state by the [other] nations, it has a single sewage system, one power grid, one pre-dial international code –many Western leaders insist that it should actually be divided into two. Don’t you think that it is pretty unusual for the “international community” to blindly follow the Zionist ideology and draw a racially-inspired line between the two people on the land?

Zionism – a failed enterprise

So, rather than enter an endless and futile debate here, I propose that we should begin from a point at which we all agree: I presume that we all accept that Israel is currently one state but is dominated politically and spiritually by an ethnocentric discriminatory political system.

Israel defines itself as “the Jewish state” and the practical meaning of this is quite devastating. It is racially driven. Israeli laws favour the Jewish population over the indigenous people of the land. Israel is impervious to universal and ethical thoughts. It is basically there to serve one tribe at the expense of the people of the land.

I would insist that in order to tackle the issue of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must first understand what is Israel is all about. We must ask what the Jewish nature of Israel entails. We should understand the relationship between Zionism and Jewishness.

Zionism presented itself initially as a utopian promise to bring to life a new “authentic, ethical and civilized Jew”; it promised to make Jews into “a people like all other people”. But the Israeli reality has proved to be the complete opposite of that aspiration. Zionism has totally failed. The Israelis have been proven to be the most unethical collective in the history of the Jews.

One may wonder why, where and when did it all go so wrong? Why did Zionism fail? If Zionism was a unique moment of Jewish reawakening and self-reflection, then why didn’t it live up to that promises?

I believe that the answer is devastating. Zionism was doomed from its very beginning, for in spite of its pseudo-secularist agenda, it was entangled with a quasi-religious ideology, and inevitably it transformed the Bible into a land registry and turned God into an estate agent. It was the Jewishness of the Jewish state, then, that prevailed over the early Zionist utopia. It is the Jewishness in Israel that has led to ethnic cleansing, segregation, isolation and, ultimately, the resurrection of the European ghetto walls.

In order to contemplate the prospect of a peaceful future, then, we must be able to understand the complicated relationship between Jews, Zionism, Israel and Jewishness, and we have to ask whether there is any lucid vision of peace within the Jewish ideological and cultural discourse.

But are we even allowed to ask these questions? I say certainly yes, we must. After all, Israel openly, consciously and even proudly defines itself as the Jewish state. Its aircraft drop bombs on densely populated Palestinian neighbourhoods while decorated with Jewish symbols. Surely, then, we are entitled to ask what Jewishness means and what is its role within the Jewish psyche and spirit.

Jewishness and the Jewish psyche

In my book The Wandering Who? I have attempted to untangle this knot. I have tried to understand what is Jewish identity politics all about. I have exposed the continuum between Zionism, Jewish anti-Zionism and some elements within the left. In the book I try to establish the meaning of Jewishness and how is it related to Jewish politics and Jewish political power?

In the last few pages of the book I elaborate on a fictitious peace scenario in which an imaginary Israeli prime minister who reaches the conclusion, pretty much out of the blue, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved with just a single statement.

In a news conference, the imaginary Israel prime minister announces to the world and his/her people that “Israel realizes its unique circumstances and its responsibility for world peace. Israel calls on the Palestinian people to return to their homes. The Jewish state is to become a state of its citizens, where all peoples enjoy full and equal rights.”

Though shocked by the sudden Israeli move, political analysts around the world are quick to realize that, considering Israel is the representative of world Jewry, such a simple Israeli peaceful initiative would not only resolve the conflict in the Middle East, but would also bring to an end to two millennia of mutual suspicion and resentfulness between Christians and Jews. Some right-wing Israeli academics, ideologists and politicians join the revolutionary initiative and declare that such a heroic unilateral Israeli act could be the one and only total and comprehensive fulfilment of the Zionist dream, for not only have Jews returned to their alleged historical home, but they have also managed, at last, to love their neighbours and be loved in return.

But don’t hold your breath: as thrilling as this idea is, we shouldn’t expect it to happen any time soon, for Israel is not an ordinary state and such a scenario doesn’t fit into its Jewish ethnocentric ideology that is driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination toward segregation.

The meaning of it is very concerning. For Israel and Israelis to fulfil the initial Zionist promise and become “a people like other people”, all traces of ideological superiority must be suppressed first. For the Jewish state to lead a peace initiative, Israel must be de-Zionized – it should first stop being the Jewish state. Similarly, in order for an imaginary Israeli prime minister to bring about peace, he or she must be de-Zionized first.

As things stand, the Jewish state is categorically unable to lead its people into reconciliation. It lacks the necessary ingredients needed to think in terms of harmony and reconciliation – at present, Israel can only think in terms of shalom, a term which, in reality, only means “peace and security for the Jews”.

World Jewry and Israel

But what about world Jewry: can they push their Israeli brothers towards reconciliation? I don’t actually think that they can.

I recently came across some devastating statistics gathered by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR). The poll studied “the attitudes of Jews in Britain towards Israel”. It revealed that “the vast majority of [British Jewish] respondents exhibit strong personal support for, and affinity with, Israel: 95 per cent have visited the country; 90 per cent see it as the “ancestral homeland” of the Jewish people and 86 per cent feel that Jews have a special responsibility for its survival”.

Though some “progressive” Jewish voices insist that diaspora Jews are drifting away from Israel and Zionism, the JPR report reveals the complete opposite: nine out of 10 British Jews feel close affinity to a criminal, ethnic cleansing, racist and discriminatory state.

But what about the one out of 10 Jews who openly opposes Israel? Is he or she going to speak out and help us to get the message of peace across? I am not so sure either. It is more likely that he or she are going to do whatever they can to prevent us from from talking about Jewishness and the fact that 90 per cent of their brothers identify with the Jewish state.

Ahead of my Toronto appearance, the organizers of tonight’s event were subjected to endless harassment by various Jewish “anti-Zionist” organizations and individuals. Like their Zionist brothers, most Jewish “anti-Zionists” are concerned largely with Jewish tribal matters – they will fight anti-Semitism, “Holocaust denial” or any attempt to understand Jewishness from a universal perspective. Yet, as the JPR poll reveals, they will achieve very little within their respective communities.

But the situation may not be totally grim. I am actually slightly optimistic. For more than a while I have been convinced that the only people who can bring peace about are actually the Palestinians, because Palestine, against all odds and in spite of the endless suffering, humiliation and oppression, is still an ethically-driven ecumenical society.

One or two states?

So what do we do for the time being: should we fight for one state or two states? I guess that you gather by now that I am a strong supporter of one state. I would love to see Israel being transformed into a state of its citizens. I would also openly admit that I do realize that this state won’t be a Jewish state. It will be Palestine. It is about time to say it openly: Israel belongs to the past. And yet, I contend that it is the facts on the ground that will determine the future of the region. And what we see on the ground is perhaps encouraging.

In spite of the pain, animosity and distrust between the two people, there is one principle both Israelis and Palestinian would agree upon, namely “Two peoples, one hummus”. It may sound frivolous, banal or trivial to say that, but it is actually far more profound than just a culinary suggestion. Israelis are gradually becoming the minority on the land. As I once heard the Palestinian ambassador to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, saying: “Israel has many lethal bombs, the Palestinians have only one bomb, the demographic one.”

Interestingly enough, when Israelis want to feel authentic, they do not speak in Yiddish or Aramaic; they actually swear in Arabic and eat hummus.

The meaning of it is simple: deep in their hearts the Israelis know that Palestine is the land and Israel is just a state. When Israelis want to bond with Zion they actually plagiarize the indigenous people of the land, for deep inside the Israeli knows that the sky, the sea, al-Quds, Mount Olive, the Sea of Galilee, the Wailing Wall, the Arabic language and the hummus belong to the land. They also grasp that oppression, exceptionalism, supremacy belong to the state – their own Jewish state.

“Two peoples, one hummus" is my image of peace and reconciliation. The land will stay forever; the failing Jewish state is already subject to historical research. The two people will dine together, and they won’t just share the hummus: they might even share the pita bread between them.

Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born musician, writer and anti-racism campaigner.

A version of this article was presented as a talk by Gilad Atzmon to the Islamic Society of York, Toronto, Canada, on 24 February 2012.


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