I have an idea. It’s perhaps a bit far-fetched. It may not be realistic for a thousand reasons. Not to mention that the Shabak may arrest anyone who proposes it seriously in Israel. But before I share the idea with you, let me preface it with this background information.
Jonathan Cook just published a terrific and frightening post at Electronic Intifada, Israel moves to outlaw Palestinian political parties in the Knesset. There is a certain amount of overkill in some anti-Zionist websites and at first I thought that headline might be guilty of it. But after I read it I not only agreed with Cook, it started me thinking about what should or could be a response to these ominous developments. More on that later in this post.
For those who understand Hebrew, here Zoabi, during her failed visit to the Temple Mount, lectured the Border Police on her rights as an Israeli citizen. She did so in a way that would make any Israeli blanche. It’s not surprise that she’s so hated. She doesn’t take shit from anyone (nor should she):
Cook starts from the current conflict between MK Haneen Zoabi, the Knesset, and Israeli police, which led to her six-month suspension from the elective body. It is the longest such suspension ever delivered by the inaptly named Ethics committee. Cook compares the severity of her punishment to a one-day punishment meted out to a radical Jewish MK who called for the death penalty against Ehud Olmert because of his willingness to barter what he saw as sovereign Israeli territory for peace. The Supreme Court refused to suspend the move and suggested she ask the full Knesset to rescind the Ethics committee ruling. Which is odd, because the Knesset already voted by a wide majority to approve it.
The Israeli state prosecutor will open a case against Zoabi for “criminal incitement” because the police provocatively assigned two Israeli Palestinian female officers to provoke her at one of her public appearances. The MK called them “collaborators,” which of course they were. A new Knesset bill proposed by the far-right Yisrael Beitenu would prohibit anyone “supporting terrorism” from running for Knesset. Another would strip Zoabi, specifically of citizenship.
The “proof” she supported terrorism is that in an interview:
Zoabi described an Israeli Air Force pilot as “no less a terrorist than a person who takes a knife and commits a beheading.” She added that “both are armies of murderers, they have no boundaries and no red lines.”
One of the many strange qualities of this rightist claim against Zoabi is that it confuses political speech with real terrorism. So for Lieberman and his cohorts the IDF may murder thousands of Palestinians and it is not terror. But when Zoabi makes a verbal statement that such an act is terror, then she becomes the terrorist. These rightist brutes deliberately conflate speech and act. It seems almost part of the diagnosis of the condition from which they suffer.
The Israeli state apparatus clearly appears to be preparing for Zoabi to meet the same fate as her mentor, former leader of the Balad Party, Azmi Bishara. The latter was hounded out of the country by the secret police, who accused him (not in court, where they never brought a case, but in the media) of being a Hezbollah spy and the group’s paymaster inside Israel. Facing the prospect of ten years in an Israeli prison, he chose exile. He has been welcomed to Dubai, where he’s leading a partnership developing a new Middle East media enterprise.
I predict, with a heavy heart, that the goons of the Shabak are preparing a similar fate for her. But they first want to warm the hot seat by buffeting her with this series of legal tsouris, that will keep her occupied personally, emotionally and legally for months, if not longer. Eventually, this smear campaign will set the stage for even more serious charges down the road.
Let’s also keep in mind that Zoabi’s persecution isn’t an anomaly. Almost all Palestinian MKs have been charged with crimes, arrested, or threatened with expulsion or punishment for the crime of representing their constituents in a so-called democracy. Jewish MKs never face such political persecution.
An equally damaging Knesset electoral proposal is to increase the threshold for entering the body from 2% to 3.5%. This would in effect disenfranchise Israeli Palestinian political parties, which now hold 11 seats (while they hold 20% of the population, as racism has increased Palestinian citizens have stayed away from the polls, which explains why they don’t have 20+ seats as their numbers would suggest). Raising the threshold would leave Palestinians with two unpalatable choices: either unite their disparate parties in a unified list; or face disenfranchisement. Cook points out that one of the key stumbling blocks to a single party list is Hadash. The Jewish-Arab party refuses to join the Palestinian parties because it claims it would disenfranchise the Jews who vote for it. The claim seems dubious and deliberately designed to sabotage any possibility of surmounting the Knesset ploy.
It should be said that Israeli extremists (who run the government and Knesset) often propose maximalist bills meant to throw red meat to their constituents. Often they back down. Sometimes Bibi calls them to their senses; other times the Supreme Court restrains some of the worst of the lunacy; and in a few rare instances the MKs themselves decide to take a step back from the precipice in the face of international opposition. So it’s possible that Lieberman and his goons will be stymied in some or all of these efforts. But liberal Zionists should take no comfort from that. The fact is that 85% of Israeli Jews favor robbing Zoabi of her seat. So though the proposals may appear off the wall to Americans or Europeans, this is the direction which the nation is taking.
Things will not get better. There is no white knight coming along to save the day for Israel. No DeGaulle. Not even a Sharon or Rabin. It can only get worse.
So I propose that Israeli Jews and Palestinians prepare for the worst. Let’s assume that Palestinians are massively deprived of the vote. The threshold is raised, the Israeli Palestinian parties can’t come to agreement, Zoabi is exiled.
Clearly, the Jewish nationalist majority wants not only to stifle the Palestinian political voice, they’d like to “disappear” the Palestinians physically and entirely. The latter should not expect significant help from the outside world. The U.S. will stand by expressing “disappointment” with rising fascist tendencies. The EU will come up a day late and dollar short as usual. There may even be a slight possibility they will all get off their asses and do something for a change. But we can’t expect this, since their record is so abysmal in past historical circumstances (Rwanda, Serbia, Cambodia).
What could the Palestinians (and Jewish allies) do themselves to take their own fate in their hands? I make the following suggestions realizing that they are tentative and perhaps even unrealistic. They demand a great cost from those who embrace them. But given the dire circumstances true democrats face in Israel, ideas that offer alternatives have some real value.
I suggest that all Palestinians, those who are Israeli citizens and those in the Territories should rid themselves of their past political structures and form a united political coalition. If there must be political parties from the outset, they should at least begin with the proposition that they are creating an alternative state which rejects the separatism and hate of the current system.
Israeli Jews who are prepared to turn away from the sham democracy offered by the current apartheid system should be recruited as well. Together, they should propose a new political system that incorporates a single state. They should prepare an election in all the territory incorporating Israel and Palestine. They should elect an alternative parliament with ministers and a prime minister. They should write a Declaration of Independence which promises to fulfill the broken promises in the original 1948 Declaration proposed by Ben Gurion. This alternative state should propose a non-theocratic system, in which no religion or its adherents hold superior power. It should draft a constitution guaranteeing rights and equality for all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.
This plan should not deny religion, because after all Israeli Jews and Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, are fervent believers, however they may express this belief. Religion plays an important role in both peoples. It can’t be denied or suppressed. This alternative state must embrace religion, but it must also constrain religion from dominating politics.
We can see why this is necessary from what Haaretz called the impending Jerusalem Intifada. Today, an Israeli settler-minister proposed destroying the Al Aqsa mosque so the Temple may replace it. With the nationalist government blocking Muslims from the third holiest shrine in Islam, widespread theft of East Jerusalem homes by Jewish settlers, and fanatics storming the Temple Mount to lay claim to it on behalf of the Third Temple, we can see where this ugliness may lead. Jihad on the Muslim side and milhemet kodesh (holy war) on the Jewish side.
That’s why it’s so important that this alternative model offer a clear choice. A new state in which religion will play a role, but where True Believers and fanatics will not rule as they do now.
The entire point of this exercise, which will certainly be hugely contentious in most circles in Israel and Palestine, is to show Israel for what it is: an ethnocratic state offering superior rights to Jews and almost no significant rights to Palestinians. The alternative state and its new institutions would hold a mirror up to what Israel really is. It would offer a juxtaposition that isn’t evident in the current system, in which Israel merely hides or crushes the Palestinian minority depending on circumstances.
Before skeptics begin attempting to tear apart this proposal, let me say that I recognize all the impediments: even the most progressive Israeli Jews and Palestinians will find it difficult to shed their previous allegiances and embrace a system so alien to them. Palestinians from the Territories like Fatah and even Hamas will prefer the suffering and misery they know to the unknown. The Shabak has also made clear that it would view such political agitation as subversion. It will be only too happy to harrass, arrest and jail anyone attempting to organize such a project. But when it does this, it will display the naked aggression of the State in the face of what it views as a challenge to its very existence. They the world would see to what lengths the Israeli state would go to preserve its interests and prerogatives.
So anyone attempting this would have to brave persecution and even jail in pursuit of a fleeting vision. But isn’t that what happens in many similar circumstances in the history of nations? The pioneers advance ideas that threaten the status quo. They are hated for it, jailed for it, even killed for it (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc.). But a hundred years later, often those same ideas have been absorbed into the mainstream. No one who didn’t live in that time would even know or remember the suffering and bloodshed the early visionaries faced.
Finally, some will read this plan as my endorsement of a one-state solution. If so, it is at best one and a-half cheers. It is an acceptance that the Israeli state as currently constituted is incapable of resolving this conflict. It is a realization that we must do something to break the logjam. We must, as has happened with BDS, force Israel to face the fact that if it refuses to make decisions, they will be made for it. Let Israel look into the future and see the prospect of dissolution of the supremacist Jewish state and its replacement by a democratic multi-religious state. One can hope the fright will jolt them to their senses.
If you (Israeli Jews) refuse an independent Palestinian state, then accept a single state of Israel-Palestine in which someday you will certainly be a minority. Israel needs a shock to the system. Not just a tiny shock, but a near-death experience to realize the severity of the situation. Indeed, it may already be too late for those who profess to endorse a two-state solution. If it is, then let’s go forward into the future with a vision of a different state that fully endorses democracy and renounces sectarianism, religious fanaticism, and mindless hatred. Let’s offer that shock, test the limits, and break them in pursuit of something better, new, and different.