Relative Humanity: The Fundamental Obstacle to a One-State Solution in Historic Palestine (1/2)

Poverty in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, 2002. (Johannes Abeling)

‘[A] Conquest may be fraught with evil or with good for mankind, according to the comparative worth of the conquering and conquered peoples.’
— Theodore Roosevelt [1]

1. Introduction
From the scandalous Nusseibeh-Ayalon agreement to the irreparably flawed Geneva Accords, the last true Zionists — with the crucial help of acquiescent Palestinian officials — have tried their best to resuscitate the two-state solution with the declared intention of saving Zionism. But it is arguably too little, too late.

The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is really dead. Good riddance! But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution.

Blinded by the arrogance of power and the ephemeral comfort of impunity, Israel, against its strategic Zionist interests, failed to control its insatiable appetite for expansion, and went ahead with devouring the very last bit of land that was supposed to form the material foundation for an independent Palestinian state.

The current phase has all the emblematic properties of what may be considered the final chapter of the Zionist project. We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.

Going back to the two-state solution, besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with. In the best-case scenario, if UN resolution 242 were meticulously implemented, it would have addressed most of the legitimate rights of less than a third of the Palestinian people over less than a fifth of their ancestral land. More than two thirds of the Palestinians, refugees plus the Palestinian citizens of Israel, have been dubiously and shortsightedly expunged out of the definition of the Palestinians. Such exclusion can only guarantee the perpetuation of conflict.

2. Relative Humanity and the Conflict
From the onset, the two main pretences given by the Zionists to justify their colonization of Palestine were:

  1. Palestine was a land without a people, an uncivilized wasteland;
  2. Jews had a divine right to “redeem” Palestine, in accordance with a promise from no less an authority than God, and because, according to the Bible, the Israelites’ built their kingdoms all over the Land of Canaan a couple of thousand years ago, giving them historical rights to the place.

By now, both the political and the religious arguments have been shown to be no more than unfounded myths, thanks in no small part to the diligent work of Israeli historians and archaeologists.[2] Only brute colonial interests remains as the main logical motive and explanation for the dispossession and expulsion of most of the Palestinian people in 1948 to establish Israel in their stead.

At the very core of the rationalization of such an expulsion lies an entrenched colonial belief in the irrelevance, or comparative worthlessness, of the rights, the needs and aspirations of the native Palestinians. For instance, the author of the Balfour Declaration wrote:

The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.[3]

It is a classic case of what I call relative-humanization.

I define relative humanity as the belief, and relative-humanization as the practice based on that belief, that certain human beings, who share a specific common religious, ethnic, cultural or other similarly substantial identity attribute, lack one or more of the necessary attributes of being human, and are therefore human only in the relative sense, not absolutely, and not unequivocally. Accordingly, such relative humans are entitled to only a subset of the otherwise inalienable rights that are due to “full” humans.

Perceiving the Palestinians as relative humans has played a decisive role in inhibiting the evolution of a unitary state solution, as will be shown below.

3. Paths to “Solving” the Conflict
Given the impossibility of realizing a negotiated two-state solution that can give Palestinians their minimal inalienable rights, there are three logical paths that can be pursued:

  1. Maintaining the status quo, and managing the conflict, mainly by keeping some hope for the two-state solution alive, if only on paper;
  2. “Finishing the job” by implementing full ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians out of the entire Mandate Palestine;
  3. Launching new visionary, moral and practical decolonizing processes that can eventually lead to the establishment of a unitary democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Let us explore each of the three options:

3.1 Maintaining the Status Quo
Above everything else, the status quo is characterized by three attributes:

  1. Denial of the Palestinian refugees’ rights,
  2. Military Occupation and repression in the West Bank and Gaza, and
  3. Zionist version of apartheid in Israel proper.

3.1.A. Denial of Palestinian Refugees’ Rights
Far from admitting its guilt in creating the world’s oldest and largest refugee problem, and despite overwhelming incriminating evidence, Israel has systematically evaded any responsibility. The most peculiar dimension in the popular Israeli discourse about the “birth” of the state is the almost wall-to-wall denial of any wrongdoing. Israelis by and large regard as their “independence” the ruthless destruction of Palestinian society and the dispossession of the Palestinian people. Even committed “leftists” often grieve over the loss of Israel’s “moral superiority” after occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, as if prior to that Israel were as civil, legitimate and law-abiding as Finland! It is as if most of those Israelis who actively participated or bore witness to the Nakba were collectively infected by some chronic selective amnesia.

This denial has its roots in the Holocaust and in the unique circumstances created as a result of it, which allowed Israel to argue that, unlike any other state, it was obliged to deny Palestinian refugees their unequivocal right to return to their homes and lands, specifically to preserve the Jewish character of the state. This, the argument went, was the only way to maintain a safe haven for the world Jewry, the “super-victims,” who are unsafe among the Gentiles, and that goal is of course of much more import than the rights of the native Palestinians. No other country on Earth today can ever get away with a similarly overt, racist attitude about its right to ethnic purity.

Besides being morally indefensible, Israel’s denial of the right of return also betrays a level of moral inconsistency that is in many ways unique.

The Israeli law of return for Jews, for instance, is based on the principle that since they were expelled from Palestine over 2,000 years ago, they had a right to return to it. So by denying the rights of Palestinian refugees, whose 55-year-old exile is a much younger injustice, to say the least, Israel is essentially saying that Palestinians cannot have the same right because they are just not equally human.

Here are some more examples of this moral inconsistency:

  • Thousands of Israelis whose grandparents were German citizens have successfully applied for their right to return to Germany, to gain German citizenship and receive full compensation for pillaged property. The result was that the Jewish population of Germany jumped from 27,000 in the early 90’s to over 100,000 last year.[4]
  • Belgium has also passed a law ‘enabling properties that belonged to Jewish families to be returned to their owners.’ It also agreed to pay the local Jewish community 55 million euros in restitution for stolen property that ‘cannot be returned’ and for ‘unclaimed insurance policies belonging to Holocaust victims.’[5]
  • But the quintessence of moral hypocrisy is betrayed by the following example reported in Ha’aretz:
    More than five centuries after their ancestors were expelled from Spain, Jews of Spanish origin … called on the Spanish government and parliament to grant them Spanish nationality… Spain should pass a law ‘to recognize that the descendants of the expelled Jews belong to Spain and to rehabilitate them,’ said Nessim Gaon, president of the World Sephardic Federation. … Some Sephardic Jews have even preserved the keys to their forefathers’ houses in Spain…[6]

    Despite the above, one must not deny that the right of return of Palestinian refugees does contradict the requirements of a negotiated two-state solution. The latter requires Israel’s consent, which can never materialize. This makes the right of return the Achilles’ heel of any two-state deal, as the record has amply shown. This is precisely why the right of return cannot really be achieved except in a one-state solution, which would allow the Palestinians’ weakness to be turned into strength, especially if they decide to adopt a nonviolent path to establishing a secular democratic state, thereby gaining crucial international backing and transforming the conflict into a non-dichotomous struggle for freedom, democracy, equality and unmitigated justice. South Africa’s model has to be tapped into for inspiration in this regard.

    3.1.B. Military Occupation: War Crimes[7], Large and Small
    Much has been written about Israel’s crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. I shall therefore limit myself here to a few particularly disturbing reminders.

    Following a visit to the completely fenced Gaza Strip, Oona King, a Jewish member of the British parliament commented on the irony that Israeli Jews face today, saying: ‘…in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature — though not its extent — to the Warsaw ghetto.’[8]

    Israel’s Apartheid Wall[9], Palestinian Human Rights v. Israeli Animal & Plant Rights

    Although Israel is now trying to present the Wall as a security barrier to “fend off suicide bombers,” the truth is that the current path of the Wall is anything but new.[10] It has been recommended to Ariel Sharon by the infamous “prophet of the Arab demographic threat,” Israeli demographer, Arnon Sofer, who insists that the implemented map was all his. And unlike the slick Israeli politicians, Sofer unabashedly confesses that the Wall’s path was drawn with one specific goal in mind: maximizing the land to be annexed to Israel, while minimizing the number of “Arabs” that would have to come along.

    But Sofer may be taking too much credit for himself. Ron Nahman, the mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, has revealed to the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth that: ‘the map of the fence, the sketch of which you see here, is the same map I saw during every visit [Ariel Sharon] made here since 1978. He told me he has been thinking about it since 1973.’ There weren’t many “suicide bombings” going around then!

    Four years ago, well before the Intifada started, Ariel Sharon himself, it turned out, had evocatively called the Wall project the “Bantustan plan,” according to Ha’aretz.[11]

    Despite the Wall’s grave transgression against Palestinian livelihood, environment, and political rights, a “near total consensus”[12] exists amongst Israeli Jews in support of it. Several official and non-governmental bodies in Israel, however, are concerned about the adverse effects the Wall might have on animals and plants.

    The Israeli environment minister Yehudit Naot protested the wall, saying:

    The separation fence severs the continuity of open areas and is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks. The protective system will irreversibly affect the land resource and create enclaves of communities [of animals, of course] that are cut off from their surroundings. I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence, because it is essential and will save lives…. On the other hand, I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.[13]

    Her ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages for animals and enabled the continuation of the water flow in the creeks.

    Still, the spokesperson for the parks authority was not satisfied. He complained:

    The animals don’t know that there is now a border. They are used to a certain living space, and what we are concerned about is that their genetic diversity will be affected because different population groups will not be able to mate and reproduce. Isolating the populations on two sides of a fence definitely creates a genetic problem.[14]

    Even Thomas Friedman, has predicted — quite accurately, in my view — in the New York Times[15] that the wall will eventually “kill” the two-state solution, thereby becoming ‘the mother of all unintended consequences.’

    Hunting Children for Sport

    The veteran American journalist Chris Hedges exposed in Harpers magazine[16] how Israeli troops in Gaza had systematically curse and provoke Palestinian children playing in the dunes of southern Gaza. Then when the boys finally get irritated enough and start throwing stones, the soldiers premeditatedly respond with live ammunition from rifles fitted with silencers. ‘Later,’ writes Hedges, ‘in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.” He then concludes, “Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered, … but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.’

    Incidentally, relative-humanization of Palestinian children is not a recent phenomenon. The diaries of former Israeli prime minister, Levy Eshkol, contain an appaling testimony from a Jewish soldier who participated in the massacre of 80 to 100 Palestinians in the village of al-Dawayima in 1948. In apparent remorse, the soldier describes the hideous acts of his colleagues, saying:

    To kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one house without corpses. The men and women of the villages were pushed into houses without food or water. Then the saboteurs came to dynamite the houses. One commander ordered a soldier to bring two women into a house he was about to blow up… . Another soldier prided himself upon having raped an Arab woman before shooting her to death. Another Arab woman with her newborn baby was made to clean the place for a couple of days, and then they shot her and the baby. Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered “good guys”… became base murderers, and this not in the storm of battle, but as a method of expulsion and extermination. The fewer the Arabs who remain, the better.[17]

    Birth and Death at an Israeli Military Checkpoint

    Rula, a Palestinian woman, was in the last stages of labor. Her husband, Daoud, could not convince the soldiers at a typical military checkpoint to let them through to meet the ambulance that was held up by the same soldiers on the other side. After a long wait, Rula could no longer hold it. She started screaming in pain, to the total apathy of the soldiers. Daoud described the traumatic experience to Ha’aretz’s exceptionally conscientious reporter Gideon Levy, saying:

    Next to the barbed wire there was a rock … . My wife started to crawl toward the rock and she lay down on it. And I’m still talking with the soldiers. Only one of them paid any attention, the rest didn’t even look. She tried to hide behind the rock. She didn’t feel comfortable having them see her in her condition. She started to yell and yell. The soldiers said: `Pull her in our direction, don’t let her get too far away.’ And she was yelling more and more. It didn’t move him. Suddenly, she shouted: `I gave birth, Daoud! I gave birth!’ I started repeating what she said so the soldiers would hear. In Hebrew and Arabic. They heard.[18]

    Rula later shouted: ‘The girl died! The girl died!’ Daoud, distraught and fearing for his wife’s own life, was forced to cut the umbilical cord with a rock. Later, the doctor who examined the little corpse at the hospital revealed that the baby girl had died ‘from a serious blunt force injury received when she shot out of the birth canal.’

    Commenting on the similar death of another Palestinian newborn at another Israeli checkpoint, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights said:

    We don’t know how many have died like this because many people don’t even bother to set out for hospital, knowing the soldiers will stop them. … These people offer no threat to Israel. Those who do, like the suicide bombers, of course never go through roadblocks, which exist only to control, subjugate and humiliate ordinary people. It is like a routine terrorism.[19]

    Patients & the Siege

    Reporting on a particularly appalling incident, Gideon Levy writes in Ha’aretz:

    The soldiers made Bassam Jarar, a double amputee with kidney disease, and Mohammed Asasa, who is blind in both eyes, get out of the ambulance. Both men had come from dialysis treatment. About half an hour passed, and then blood started to drip from the tube that is permanently inserted in Jarar’s lower abdomen.

    “I told the soldier on the tank that I was bleeding. He told me to sit there and that they’d take me to a doctor. We sat there in the sun for almost an hour.” … The bleeding increased. After about an hour, two soldiers came and lifted up Jarar and placed him on the floor of their jeep. “I told them that I couldn’t travel in a jeep. They said that’s all there was and that they were going to take me to a doctor. The guy drove like a maniac and I was bouncing up and down and my whole body hurt. I told them that it hurt. They said, `Don’t be afraid, you’re not going to die.’

    There were four soldiers in the jeep and I was on the floor. He wouldn’t slow down. And the soldiers were laughing and not looking at me at all.[20]

    Sexual Assault

    In another crime, two Israeli Border Police officers coerced a Palestinian shepherd to wear on his back the saddle of his donkey and walk back and forth before them; and then, at gunpoint, one of the two forced him to have sex with his donkey for half an hour, as documented by B’Tselem.

    Little wonder, then, someone as morally consistent as Shulamit Aloni, the former member of Knesset, finds it necessary to say: ‘We do not have gas chambers and crematoria, but there is no one fixed method for genocide.’[22]

    Do Israelis Know?

    In my view, the British journalist, Jonathan Cook, hit the nail on on the head when he wrote:

    [Israelis] know exactly what happens: their Zionist training simply blinds them to its significance. As long as the enemy is Arab, as long as the catch-all excuse of security can be invoked, and as long as they believe anti-Semitism lurks everywhere, then the Israeli public can sleep easy as another [Palestinian] child is shot riding his bike, another family’s house is bulldozed, another woman miscarries at a checkpoint. … It seems that a people raised to believe that anything can be done in its name — as long as it serves the interests of Jews and their state — has no need of ignorance. It can commit atrocities with eyes wide open.[23]

    And this is not new, either. Zionist thinker, Ahad Ha’am, described the anti-Arab attitude of the Jewish settlers that came to Palestine to escape repression in Europe, long before Israel was created, as follows:

    Serfs they were in the lands of the Diaspora, and suddenly they find themselves in freedom [in Palestine]; and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.[24]

    But if that’s the case, then two possible explanations — not necessarily mutually exclusive — may be put forth to explain the Israelis’ acceptance of, and often fervent support for, this systematic violation of basic human rights:

    (1) Widespread belief that their demographic “war” against the Palestinians could be won by implementing the suggestion of cabinet minister, Benny Elon, who called for intensifying the siege and repression in order to: ‘make their life so bitter that they will transfer themselves willingly.’[25]

    (2) Secular or not, the root of the entrenched Israeli perception of the Palestinians as less human is nourished by a racist colonial tradition and rising Jewish fundamentalism.

    It is commonplace to read about Islamic fundamentalism and its militancy, anachronism and intrinsic hate of “the other.” Jewish fundamentalism, on the contrary, is a taboo issue that virtually never gets mentioned at all in the west for reasons that are beyond the scope of this essay. But, since Jewish fundamentalism is increasingly gaining ground in Israel, making the state, as the veteran British journalist, David Hirst, describes it: ‘not only extremist by temperament, racist in practice, [but also] increasingly fundamentalist in the ideology that drives it,’[26] it is incumbent to examine some of its most consequential aspects to better contextualize the relative-humanization of the Palestinians.

    The late human rights advocate and scholar, Israel Shahak, traces the roots of Israeli public justification for such murder of Arabs to the tenets of Jewish Law, or Halacha. As a case study, he examines the 1953 massacre of Qibya,[27] where innocent children, women and elderly were butchered in cold blood. Qibya, it must be noted, was carried out by an elite Israeli military unit led by the current prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Citing Jewish law, Rabbi Shaul Israeli, one of the highest rabbinic authorities of the National Religious Party and of the religious Zionism in general, justified the massacre, saying:

    We have established that there exists a special term of ‘war of revenge’ and this is a war against those who hate the Jews and [there are] special laws applying to such war. … In such a war there is absolutely no obligation to take precautions during warlike acts in order that non-combatants would not be hurt, because during a war both the righteous and wicked are killed. … the war of revenge is based on the example of the war against the Midianites in which small children were also executed, and we might wonder about this, for how they had sinned? But we have already found in the sayings of our Sages, of blessed memory, that little children have to die because of the sin of their parents.[28]

    More recently, Rabbi Ginsburg, a prominent and outspoken leader of the powerful Lubavitch Hassidic sect, defended the 1994 massacre of Palestinian Muslim worshippers in Al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron by a Jewish fundamentalist, saying:

    Legally, if a Jew does kill a non-Jew, he’s not called a murderer. He didn’t transgress the Sixth Commandment …There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.[29]

    Moreover, in an interview with Ha’aretz, Ginsburg explains his position, derived from Jewish law, rhetorically asking: ‘If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of [an] innocent non-Jew passing by to save him?’ To which he responds: ‘The Torah would probably permit that. … There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.’ When Ha’aretz approached Orthodox rabbis to oppose Ginsburg’s view, none of them did, writes Shahak.[30]

    3.1.C. Israel’s System of Racial Discrimination: Intelligent, Nuanced — but still Apartheid
    US academic Edward Herman writes:

    If Jews in France were required to carry identification cards designating them Jews (even though French citizens), could not acquire land or buy or rent homes in most of the country, were not eligible for service in the armed forces, and French law banned any political party or legislation calling for equal rights for Jews, would France be widely praised in the United States as a “symbol of human decency” (New York Times) and paragon of democracy? Would there be a huge protest if France, in consequence of such laws and practices, was declared by a UN majority to be a racist state?[31]

    Advocating comprehensive and unequivocal equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel has become tantamount to sedition, if not treason. An Israeli High Court justice has recently stated on record that: ‘it is necessary to prevent a Jew or Arab who calls for equality of rights for Arabs from sitting in the Knesset or being elected to it.’[32]

    In every vital area of life, including marriage laws, urban development and education, Israel has perfected a comprehensive apparatus of racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens that is unparalleled anywhere today.