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


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

4. Ethnic Cleansing: Israel’s Final Solution to the Palestinian “Demographic Threat”
Israeli politicians, intellectuals and media often passionately debate how best to face the country’s demographic “war” with the Palestinians. Few Israelis dissent from the belief that such a war exists or ought to exist. The popular call to subordinate democracy to demography,[33] however, has entailed the adoption of reminiscent population control mechanisms to keep the number of Palestinians in check.

In a stark example of such mechanisms, the Israel Council for Demography was reconvened last year to ‘encourage the Jewish women of Israel — and only them — to increase their child bearing; a project which, if we judge from the activity of the previous council, will also attempt to stop abortions,’ as reported in Ha’aretz. This prestigious body, which comprises top Israeli gynecologists, public figures, lawyers, scientists and physicians, mainly focuses on how to increase the ratio of Jews to Palestinians in Israel, by employing ‘methods to increase the Jewish fertility rate and prevent abortions.’[34]

More concerned about the imminent rise of an Arab majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean than with the oft invoked and sanctified “Jewish purity,” Ariel Sharon has indeed called on religious leaders to smooth the progress of the immigration and absorption of non-Arabs, even if they weren’t Jewish, in order to provide Israel with ‘a buffer to the burgeoning Arab population,’ reports the Guardian.[35] The Israeli government’s view is that ‘while the first generation of each wave of immigration may have difficulty embracing Israel and Jewishness, their sons and daughters frequently become enthusiastic Zionists. In the present climate, they are also often very rightwing.’

The Israeli far-right minister, Effi Eitam, prescribes yet another alternative: ‘If you don’t give the Arabs the right to vote, the demographic problem solves itself.’[36]

But, by far, the all-time favourite mechanism has always been ethnic cleansing.

Incessantly practiced, forever popular, but persistently denied by the Zionists, ethnic cleansing has in the last few years been resurrected from the gutters of Zionism to occupy its very throne.

The famous historian, Benny Morris, has recently argued that completely emptying Palestine of its indigenous Arab inhabitants in 1948 might have led to peace in the Middle East.[37]

In response, Baruch Kimmerling, professor at Hebrew University, wrote:

Let me extend Benny Morris’s logic …. If the Nazi programme for the final solution of the Jewish problem had been complete, for sure there would be peace today in Palestine.[38]

Then why doesn’t Israel act upon its desire now, one may ask? Prof. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University has a convincing answer:

‘The constraints on Israeli behaviour are not moral or ethical, but technical. How much can be done without turning Israel into a pariah state? Without inciting European sanctions, or making life too difficult for the Americans?’[39]

Offering a diametrically opposing view, Martin Van Creveld, Israel’s most prominent military historian, who supports ethnic cleansing, arrogantly shrugs off any concern about world opinion, issuing the following formidable warning:

We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force… Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: ‘Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.’ … Our armed forces are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen, before Israel goes under.[40]

That should amply explain why Europeans have lately ranked Israel first among the countries that are considered a threat to world peace.[41]

Yet a third explanation, which concurs with Pappe’s, is that Israel currently enjoys the best of both worlds: it is implementing — on the ground — an elaborate mesh of policies that are making the Palestinians’ lives progressively more intolerable, and therefore creating an environment conducive to gradual ethnic cleansing, while at the same time not making any dramatic — Kosovo-like — scene that would alarm the world, inviting condemnation and possible sanctions.[42]

5. Israel - The Untenable Contradictions
Putting aside its colonial nature for the moment, can a state that insists on ethnic purity and institutionalized suppression of minority rights ever qualify as a democracy, without depriving this concept of its essence? Even Israel’s loyal friends have started losing faith in its ability to reconcile the fundamentally irreconcilable: modern liberal democracy and outdated ethnocentricity. Writing in the New York Review of Books, New York University professor Tony Judt affirms that:

In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry, where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed, where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel constrained if we had to answer to just one, in such a world, Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism, but a dysfunctional one. In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.[43]

Avraham Burg, a devoted Zionist leader reached a similar conclusion. Attacking the Israeli leadership as an ‘amoral clique,’ Burg asserts that Israel, which ‘rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice,’ must ‘shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy.’[44]

6. Secular Democratic State: New Horizons
No matter what our hypocrites, Uncle Toms or “false prophets” may say, Israel, as an exclusivist and settler-colonial state[45], has no hope of ever being accepted or forgiven by its victims — and as it should know, those are the only ones whose forgiveness really matters.

Despite the pain, the loss and the anger which relative-humanization undoubtedly engenders in them, Palestinians have an obligation to differentiate between justice and revenge, for one entails an essentially moral decolonization, whereas the other descends into a vicious cycle of immorality and hopelessness. As the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire writes:

Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. … [The] Struggle [for humanization] is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed. … In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.[46]

Rejecting relative humanity from any side, and insisting on ethical consistency, I believe that the most moral means of achieving a just and enduring peace in the ancient land of Palestine is to establish a secular democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, anchored in equal humanity and, accordingly, equal rights. The one-state solution, whether bi-national — a notion which is largely based on a false premise that the second nation in question is defined[47] — or secular-democratic, offers a true chance for decolonization of Palestine without turning the Palestinians into oppressors of their former oppressors. The vicious cycle launched by the Holocaust must come to an end altogether.

This new Palestine should:

  1. First and foremost allow and facilitate the return of and compensation for all the Palestinian refugees, as the only ethical restitution acceptable for the injustice they’ve endured for decades. Such a process, however, must uphold at all times the moral imperative of avoiding the infliction of any unnecessary or unjust suffering on the Jewish community in Palestine;
  2. Grant full, equal and unequivocal citizenship rights to all the citizens, Jews or Arabs;
  3. Recognize, legitimize and even nourish the cultural, religious and ethnic particularities and traditions of each respective community. As a general rule, I subscribe to what Prof. Marcelo Dascal of Tel Aviv University insightfully proposes[48]:
    “the majority has an obligation to avoid as much as possible the identification of the state’s framework with traits that preclude the possibility of the minority’s commitment to it.”[49]

Israelis should recognize this moral Palestinian challenge to their colonial existence not as an existential threat to them but rather as an magnanimous invitation to dismantle the colonial character of the state, to allow the Jews in Palestine finally to enjoy normalcy, as equal humans and equal citizens of a secular democratic state — a truly promising land, rather than a false Promised Land. That would certainly confirm that Roosevelt is not only dead but is also dead wrong!

Omar Barghouti is a political analyst, whose articles have appeared in the Hartford Courant, Al-Adab (Beirut), Al-Ahram (Cairo), Z Magazine and Counterpunch, among others. His article “9.11 Putting the Moment on Human Terms” was chosen among the “Best of 2002” by the Guardian. He is also a dance choreographer with El-Funoun dance ensemble in Palestine. He holds a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University, NY, and is currently a doctoral student of philosophy (ethics) at Tel Aviv University. He contributed to the recently published book, “The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid” (Verso Books, 2001).

Endnotes & References
1. Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, reproduced in: Norman Finkelstein, History’s Verdict: The Cherokee Case, Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume XXIV, Number 4, Summer 1995, University of California Press.

2. Several archaeological studies have shown that most of the stories in the Bible used by Zionists to buttress their claim to Palestine were indeed not supported by the region’s history, which is ‘based on direct evidence from archaeology and historical geography and is supported by analogies that are primarily drawn from anthropology, sociology and linguistics,’ as archaeologist Thomas L. Thompson has written. His findings are supported by the extensive, painstaking and authoritative research of distinguished Israeli archaeologists, including Ze’ev Herzog and Israel Finkelstein (see Aviva Lori, Grounds for Disbelief, Ha’aretz, May 10, 2003).

3. The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem, UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

4. Reuters, Germany: Growing Number of Israelis Seeking Citizenship, Ha’aretz, Monday, June 17, 2002.

5. Yair Sheleg, Belgian Prime Minister Apologizes for his Country’s Actions During Holocaust, Ha’aretz, October 07, 2002.

6. DPA, Sephardi Jews Demand Recognition from Spanish Government, Ha’aretz, October 15, 2002.

7. Amnesty International’s examination of Israel’s conduct during the current Intifada led it to conclude that: ‘There is a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes.’

8. Oona King, Israel Can Halt This Now, The Guardian, June 12, 2003.

9. The dubbed ‘Separation Barrier’ has been shown by many researchers to be in effect separating Palestinians from their lands, and isolating them in restrictive Bantustans, fully under the control of the Israeli military. As such, the only proper and accurate name that can be applied to this mammoth barrier is: Apartheid Wall, as many have begun to call it. For details on the Wall, refer to the Amnesty International report, which considers the wall a form of collective punishment, and therefore illegal, the Human Rights Watch report, the B’Tselem detailed position paper at:, or the UNGA resolution condemning the wall

10. Meron Rappaport, A Wall in their Heart, Yedioth Ahronot, May 23, 2003.

11. Ibid.

12. Ha’aretz Editorial, A Fence Along the Settlers’ Lines, October 3, 2003.

13. Mazal Mualem, Old Habitats Die Hard, Ha’aretz, June 20, 2003.

14. Ibid.

15. Thomas Friedman, One Wall, One Man, One Vote, New York Times, September 14, 2003.

16. Chris Hedges, A Gaza Diary, Harper’s Magazine, October 2001.

17. Davar, June 9, 1979; cited in: Livia Rokach, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, (AAUG Press Association, Belmont, MA, 1986).

18. Gideon Levy, Birth and Death at the Checkpoint, Ha’aretz, September 12, 2003.

19. John Pilger, Israel’s Routine Terrorism, The Mirror, September 16, 2002.

20. Gideon Levy, Wanted Men, Ha’aretz Friday Magazine, November 8, 2002.

21 B’Tselem, Sexual Assault in Zeita, June 2003.

22. Shulamit Aloni, Murder of a Population under Cover of Righteousness, Ha’aretz, March 6, 2003. [Translated from Hebrew by Zvi Havkin].

23. Jonathan Cook, Eyes Wide Open, Al-Ahram Weekly Online, August 21-27, 2003.

24. Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest, (New York, Olive Branch Press, 1991).

25. Shulamit Aloni, ibid.

26. David Hirst, The War Game, The Observer, September 21, 2003.

27. For more information on the Qibya massacre, refer to:

28. Israel Shahak,

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Edward S. Herman, Israeli Apartheid And Terrorism, Z-Magazine, 29 April 2002.

32. Ibid.

33. Lily Galili, A Jewish demographic state, Ha’aretz, Monday, July 01, 2002.

34. Gideon Levy, Wombs in the Service of the State, Ha’aretz, September 9, 2002.

35. Chris McGreal, Sharon Takes on Rabbis Over Jewish Identity, The Guardian, December 31, 2002.

36. Yuli Tamir, Divide the Land or Divide Democracy, Ha’aretz, April 14, 2002.

37. Benny Morris, A new exodus for the Middle East, The Guardian, October 3, 2002.

38. Baruch Kimmerling, False logic, The Guardian, October 5, 2002.

39. Geraldine Bedell, Set in Stone, The Observer, June 15, 2003.

40. Ferry Biedermann, Interview with the Israeli Military Historian Dr Martin van Creveld, January, 2003.

41. Thomas Fuller, European Poll Calls Israel a Big Threat to World Peace, International Herald Tribune, October 31, 2003.

42. Peace activists Gadi Algazi and Azmi Bdeir explain: Transfer isn’t necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people are expelled and flee their towns or villages. It is not necessarily a planned and well-organized move with buses and trucks loaded with people… Transfer is a deeper process, a creeping process that is hidden from view… The main component of the process is the gradual undermining of the infrastructure of the civilian Palestinian population’s lives in the territories: its continuing strangulation under closures and sieges that prevent people from getting to work or school, from receiving medical services, and from allowing the passage of water trucks and ambulances, which sends the Palestinians back to the age of donkey and cart. Taken together, these measures undermine the hold of the Palestinian population on its land.’ Ran HaCohen, Ethnic Cleansing: Past, Present, and Future,, December 30, 2002.

43. Tony Judt, Israel: The Alternative, New York Review of Books, Vol. 50, #16, October 23, 2003.

44. Avraham Burg, The End of Zionism, The Guardian, September 15, 2003. Reprinted with permission of The Forward, which translated and adapted this essay from an article that originally appeared in Yediot Aharonot.

45. Even the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, says: “in the past two years I reached the conclusion that we are dealing with a conflict between a society of immigrants and a society of natives. If so, we are talking about an entirely different type of conflict. … Because the basic story here is not one of two national movements that are confronting each other; the basic story is that of natives and settlers. It’s the story of natives who feel that people who came from across the sea infiltrated their natural habitat and dispossessed them.” Ari Shavit, Cry, the Beloved Two-State Solution, Ha’aretz, August 10, 2003.

46. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (Herder & Herder, NY, 1972). P. 28.

47. Bi-nationalism makes two problematic assumptions: that Jews are a nation, and that such a nation has a right to exist as such in Palestine. Clearly bi-nationalism cannot work between Palestinians on the one hand and the world Jewry on the other. But will Israeli Jews define themselves as a nation? Most probably not, since that would contradict the fundamental premise of Zionism. Then do Israelis regard themselves as a nation? Certainly not, since aside from parting with Zionism, that would include the 20% Palestinian minority within it.

48. Dascal proposes this as a current principle that Israel and its Palestinian citizens ought to uphold as a means of alleviating the conflict between the two identities in opposition. This same principle, however, can be quite useful if applied to the future of a unitary state.

49. Marcelo Dascal, Identities in flux: Arabs and Jews in Israel. In G. Weiss and R. Wodak (eds.), Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity. (Houndmills, Basignstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.) Pages 150-166.