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The Stuttgart ODS Conference Concludes with Great Hopes

During the lunch break, after my presentation on Saturday’s morning session, one of the sound technicians interrupted me in the hallway… He was moved and concerned. He heard so much along the day about Palestinian suffering, but is there any hope? He didn’t know much English and didn’t seem to know much about the Middle East, so I had to stick to basics. Yes, I said. The entire Arab world was ruled by tyrannies. The voice of the Arab people was not heard. Now 300 million Arab people are awakening and asking for democracy. They can’t be ignored any more. We just ask that democracy will be implemented also in Palestine. We hope the force of the mass movement and the demand for justice will make this change possible.

The concern of the sound technician was one small example how the conference’s strong voice against oppression reached beyond the (more than 300) registered audience and dozens of organizers, speakers and journalists that attended. It was also broadcasted live on “Aljazeera Mubasher” and friends from Palestine reassured me on Facebook that they were following. It will also echo all over the world, and especially in the German speaking area, as delegates will take the message with them home, discuss it in all different locations and social milieus and initiate activities.

A Long Saturday

I didn’t really believe that people will show up for the morning session, which was set for as early as 9:00 am in what is for us a wintery rainy day. In fact, if I wasn’t assigned to speak in this cold corner, I would probably be late myself. But the hall was almost full. I didn’t really hear my colleague Haneen Naamneh, which spoke about the on-going ethnic cleansing against tens of thousands of Arab Bedouin in the Naqab desert in the south of Palestine. But I hope my neglect will not prevent you from following up on this issue – it is an acute Human-made Humanitarian crisis, as the conditions of the Naqab population are disgracing anyway and are made much worse by the current government onslaught. It also exposes the myth that Israel is a democracy and the entire problem is with the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rania Madi from Badil spoke about the plight of the Palestinian refugees, and I spoke about the perspective for ODS – you can read about it all around Free Haifa.

The second morning session brought the heavyweights: Historian and peace activist Ilan Pappe and Jaber Wishah, ex Freedom Fighter and POW and currently Human Rights activist from Gaza.

Jaber told the moving story about his refugee family in Al Bureij camp in the Gaza Strip, How he decided to join the military resistance and how he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the struggle for Human Rights. At the center of this story was the long period spent in Israeli occupation prisons – a period full of suffering and struggle.

Ilan dedicated his lecture to analyzing three of the many obstacles that are confronting the ODS movement and an attempt to outline a way forward. The obstacles he choose to analyze were (1) the wall of official and unofficial actors that are wedded to the two state solution, (2) Media fatigue of the Palestinian suffering and struggle and its marginalization by the dramatic events of the Arab Spring and (3) the illusion that the two state solution is just over the corner and is the only game in town.

The solutions that he suggested were mostly based on the struggle to set narrative of the international discussion by carefully selecting and formulating our propositions. After he played a big role in bringing the issue of ethnic cleansing to the center of the discussion about Palestine, he suggested now to stress the character of Zionism as an ongoing colonialist project in a period that people find it hard to believe that colonialism still exists.

He proposed to combat the media fatigue by learning history and casting each violation of Palestinian rights and current popular struggle in view of the century long historic epoch, giving added value to the significance of each event.

He stressed the importance of being present on the ground with the proposition of ODS so that people in Palestine will know that there is an alternative. Even small experiment on the ground may be significant for this purpose. Historically big changes in the world arena may make ODS possible, just as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war enabled imperialism to withdraw its support – of course under the pressure of local and international struggle – from Apartheid South Africa.

One likely scenario is that current Zionist extremism will lead to some major catastrophe, and there are several possible such scenarios, and then, in face of the collapse of the current system, the availability of clear alternative may suddenly become essential.

The first afternoon session brought Ghada Karmi, a well-known writer and promoter of the ODS solution, and Salah Salah, member of the PLO’s Central Council in Lebanon and head of the Refugees Committee in the Palestinian National Council.

Ghada was looking for ways to break the stalemate that seems to paralyze the Palestinian struggle by raising new ideas. She raised the possibility that the Palestinian Authority will be dissolved and all the responsibility to the future of all the people in Palestine will be returned to the Israeli occupying forces.  The Palestinians may then ask for Israeli citizenship and struggle for equal rights. She was conscious that the idea is hard to hear as Palestinians will feel humiliated even to ask for Israeli citizenship, and said she was only raising the issue for discussion. I’m not sure how relevant it is for this discussion to note that Israel will refuse to give any Palestinians Israeli citizenship anyway – as you can see from the Israeli citizenship law that prevents Palestinians which marry Israeli citizens from even applying to get citizenship.

Salah Salah, as a symbol of the connection between the current struggle and the long history of Palestinian heroism, stressed that the democratic secular Palestine was the historic program of the Palestinian struggle before the 1948 Nakba and at the heights of the revolution. This is the only program that offers a solution for the 7 million Palestinian refugees. It is also the only solution that may offer Jews in Palestine a way to live in peace that Israel will never be able to provide them. He offered to follow this conference by a concentrated effort by Palestinian activists to meet and design a detailed plan for promotion of this program at the center of renovation of Palestinian struggle in current circumstances.

The last Saturday session was probably the most actual, most interesting and most controversial. Mohammad Krichen, a Tunisian journalist working for Al-Jazeera, and As’ad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese-American professor of political science and the “Angry Arab” blogger, were discussing the Arab Spring and its influence on the Palestinian cause. It deserves at least a special post and there is no way to convey anything significant about it here.

While the public was invited to enjoy experimental Arab-German cultural evening, still live on Aljazeera, some enthusiastic ODS organizers, veterans of the Munich conference and people we newly met in Stuttgart, were convening privately in the venue, plotting the next steps for ODS.

Short & Strong Sunday

It started with Attia Rajab, on behalf of the organizing Stuttgart Palestine Committee, that gave a short presentation about the current activities and the perspective of the solidarity movement in Germany.

Hermann Dierkes, from the Left Party but speaking on personal capacity, gave a detailed presentation about the perspective for struggle for Palestinian rights in German political arena.

Economist Shir Hever from the Alternative Information center presented a brilliant and learnt analysis about the interplay of commercial and military considerations in the management of the Israeli military-industrial complex and in the career of the Israeli officers that have a second career as arms exporters. As Adam Smith explained that the baker will prepare bread for you not because he care for your hunger but because he wants to make money from it, it seems Israeli general will wage a war not necessarily because of “security” considerations but also in order to test and promote the sales of their arms and “security services”. He noticed that Israel is not only one of the 10 biggest arms exporters worldwide (since 2000), which makes the death industry a very big part of its relatively small economy, but also that it specializes in “niche markets” like surveillance and home security, as well as it is the safest supplier for pariah nasty dictators and death squads, where its experience in the oppression of the Palestinian people is most highly regarded.

In the concluding session, under the magic hand of Krichen, a whole orchestra of 11 of the previous speakers were requested to summarize in 5 minutes each a perspective and practical suggestions for continuation of the struggle for ODS. I hope that this session will be soon on the internet, not only for you to watch but also for me – and for all the people that should now be working to convert these suggestions into a practical plan of action.

What I didn’t say in the concluding session?

As I ran out of time and Krichen cut me at 5 minutes, there was a very important thing that I missed the opportunity to say.

In the Haifa 2010 conference, we had a concrete plan to build an international movement for ODS. For this purpose we designated a special small session of activists and representatives of different groups and organizations that met on the 3rd day of the conference. In these meeting it became clear that we can make a coalition of all the participants under the slogan of “One Democratic State” – but there was no consensus about the slogan of “Secular Democratic State” that was the title of the conference and of the document of the preparatory committee. The supporters of secularism couldn’t make up their mind whether they are ready to give priority to the creation of a wider coalition by adopting the more general ODS headline. As a consequence the building of the international coalition was frozen, until it started again in Munich in 2012.

In building the Jaffa ODS group we had a lot of deliberations until we found what we felt was the best of all worlds. The common position of the group expresses a wide consensus, while each member or group can promote his or her own vision of the future democratic state.

While relations between Islamist and Secularists are at the center of the crisis of the Arab Spring, Palestine is the place where it is most urgent and clear that we should all unite under a democratic program in the face of Apartheid Israel. Here working for democracy is not only about political rights, not even only about social justice, but about the very right to own your land and live in your house. Uniting secularists and Islamist under a democratic program in Palestine may be our contribution to the democratic change in the Arab world, a change that is creating the conditions for bringing return, freedom and democracy to Palestine.

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