In commemoration of Salman Natour – defending his political heritage
Salman Natour, a Palestinian writer and journalist from Daliat Al-Carmel near Haifa, was a well-known defender of the right of return and advocate of the establishment of one democratic state (ODS) in the whole of Palestine. He actively participated in the
In the spring of 2013, the Yaffa ODS group published a booklet with a collection of articles. We requested Salman Natour to participate, and he suggested that we reproduce some of the contents of his article published in Al-Adab in 2009. At that time we published the original Arabic text and a Hebrew translation.
On Monday, February 15, we heard with grief the news that Salman Natour died of a heart attack. We lost an extraordinary brave and honest comrade in the struggle for justice and humanity in Palestine.
In his literary work he was a pioneer in preserving the memory of the Palestinian Nakba straight from the mouths of people from all walks of life.
In commemoration of Salman Natour, recognizing the importance of his contribution to the struggle, I publish below an English translation of this article about the perspective of a secular democratic state in Palestine.
So that it will not to be just a dream: Ideas about the one state
By: Salman Natour
Excerpts from an article published in Arabic in Beirut, in “Al-Adab” Journal, No. 9-10 for 2009
To which agenda belongs the idea of “democratic secular state”? Or, to which agenda should it belong?
The truth is that this idea was not excluded from the perspective of the secular Arab democrats. It was not excluded from the perspective of the Arab left, which builds its political position on moral logic and historical dialectics.
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In order that the democratic secular state will not be just a dream, it should become a political project, its borders from the river to the sea and from Metula in the north to the Red Sea in the south. It doesn’t quarrel with anyone about these borders, and that in itself is an important component in the delineation of the project’s boundaries.
Concerning the stakeholders, there is no dispute that they are the residents of this state of all national and religious affiliations: it is the state of the Arabs and the Jews, accommodating also Armenians, Circassians and other nationalities and religions that should be an integral part of this state. This is because this state will be based on ethnic and cultural pluralism, and will shape its regime in accordance with this pluralism. It will guarantee full citizenship to all its citizens, without any privileges for certain categories and without discrimination against other groups. This state will be based on the separation of religion from the state, it will not be governed by any religious considerations, but it will guarantee freedom of worship and religion for every citizen and provide religious services to all religions, like all other civic services. It will promote a sense of citizenship and belonging in the hearts of all its citizens through the essence of citizenship and through symbols, such as the flag, the national anthem and other things.
* * *
Bibi Netanyahu, in his political cunning, waves a slogan in the face of the Palestinians: “You give – you receive!” As if the robber is the Palestinian and the Israeli is asking for his rights. He uses it to turn the logic of negotiations upside down. It should have been the slogan of the Palestinian confronting the Israeli, or rather the Palestinian slogan should have been: “You return what you took – you receive!”
What Israel took from the Palestinian people until now is clear: it has taken their homeland, with all its land and sky. The Palestinian has every right to restore what was taken from him. He is not required, morally, to give anything in return. He has the right to put his national demands on the table of any negotiations, and let the Israeli present whatever he wants.
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The solution of one secular state, as the optimal solution to the conflict in the Arab East, is the basic choice of democrats amongst the Palestinian Arabs and the Israelis. It can’t be imposed on any of the sides: First, because it is based on democratic thought, and, second, because it incorporates each individual, regardless of affiliation, in this state.
But this slogan may be a utopian dream if placed in isolation from the democratic process in the Arab East, particularly in the states surrounding Palestine. Will we be able to build a secular democratic state in Palestine between regimes that place as the first items in their constitutions religious and sectarian orientations? Regimes based on tribe and clan, which discriminate one ethnic and religious category against other categories, impose strict military censorship on books and imprison writers and poets because they wrote freely about their feelings and their thoughts?
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Much has been written about the idea of the one state. Day after day, the number of supporters of this idea is increasing. Several conferences were already held in the Arab world, Europe and America. These writings and conferences are important and vital. But the next stage should be crystallizing the foundations of this program, its objectives and the stages of its implementation; and most important of all is to draw this state in detail: from its name, flag and constitution arriving at its regime and the conditions for its existence.
In order that the project will not be utopian, only showing its beautiful face, one must study the obstacles and how to overcome them. These obstacles are many and require supreme courage, a high level of intellectual honesty, frankness and clarity of vision. It requires a principled willingness to initiate a radical change in the grim reality that we suffer in pain… but also with stupor or fatalism that is difficult to understand.
This can happen, in the stages of drafting, only through the formation of working groups of intellectuals, politicians and experts, Palestinians and Israelis, who will draw a better future for their existence in this region. Arabs from the countries in the region will join them to enrich the debate about the role of this state in the Arab democratic process. Together they will discuss the nature the presence of this state in the Arab East within the constellation of Arab states that should path a long way in the secular democratic experiment. Naturally, the participation of experts, intellectuals and politicians from other parts of the world will add a broader dimension to the initiative.
All of these must have on their agenda the idea of “the democratic secular state in Palestine from the river to the sea” in order to translate it into a viable and sustainable project.