(Another version of this report appeared in Mondoweiss)
The first half of 2018 was very busy for the ODS Campaign (ODSC) – the new initiative that took on itself to revive the perspective for a positive solution to the century long suffering and struggle of the Palestinian people under Zionist colonialism. Open and close consultations were held, through which more than a hundred activists and academics participated in the formulation and the adoption of the campaign’s political program.
But then came the local elections in October 2018, followed by the Knesset elections of April 2019. The initiative is, till now, mostly based in the Palestinian population in the areas held by Israel since 1948, and local elections are a major event in local Palestinian society, where people feel they can really influence the daily management of their municipalities. Many of the campaign’s activists and supporters were deeply involved in the elections and some were elected as council members.
The Knesset elections was not only a “distraction” for the campaign, but also posed a profound political dilemma. The Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship are divided to almost equal parts between those who vote in the elections and those who prefer not to participate or actively boycott it. The perspective for One Democratic State is based on the recognition that Israel is not a democratic state and that the Zionist-Jewish majority in the Knesset is the result of ethnic cleansing and holding millions of Palestinians under Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza deprived of the most basic human and political rights. So, the most natural position for the campaign was to join the boycott of the Knesset and to pose a real democratic alternative.
But the politics of the campaign led it in a different direction. It doesn’t regard itself as a new political force that aspires to sideline the current parties and movement, but an initiative to promote a political perspective that is aimed to reach not only the general public but also sections of the current Palestinian political leadership. As the campaign includes supporters of the Palestinian parties in the Knesset, it didn’t want to force them to choose between their support to the campaign and their loyalty to their parties. In a more general way, it chose not to alienate any part of the divided Palestinian public and decided to avoid publishing any position regarding participating or boycott. This decision came with the cost of agreeing to be sidelined at a time of heated political debate.
After the Knesset elections the ODSC activists were meeting again to resume the campaign. The result of the elections demonstrated, once again, how Israeli politics is trapped in a spiral of racist hatred and militarist war mongering, with not even a ray of hope for peace or a turn toward more democracy and equality. The main Zionist opposition parties attacked the ultra-right government for not being harsh enough against the Palestinians. The Arab parties that tried to build a perspective for “influence through participation” faced the frustration of being rejected again as legitimate partners in Israeli politics. And the growing camp of boycotters was facing the constant question by its supporters and critics alike: “What is the alternative?”
The campaign is intended to unite Palestinians from all locations, overcoming walls, borders and political traditions to form a movement that will bring together people from all over Palestine as well as from the diaspora. It also aims to encourage active participation in the struggle against Zionism from within the Jewish society in Palestine. But, to regain momentum, the first natural move was to re-connect with the established support base within the 1948 Palestinians. For this purpose, we decided to hold a study day in Haifa on June 28.
In the past, in 2008 and 2010, two big conferences for the Right of Return and One Democratic State in Palestine were held in Haifa in the Midan Theatre (at the initiative of the Abnaa alBalad movement). Since then the Midan, which used to be the most prominent Palestinian theatre in the area, became a target of government and municipal attack (mostly due to its artistic program) and is not free now to rent its halls to any gathering with political coloring. But Palestinian cultural activist in Haifa created an alternative, opening the “Khashabi Theatre”, with the overt intention of not seeking any support from the establishment and keeping full independence for its artistic repertoire as well as its right to host and encourage free speech. It was the natural choice for hosting the ODSC study day.
Solid program can influence reality
On Friday afternoon, June 28, the small hall of the Khashabi Theatre was full (about 70 people). Activist Aya Mana, which opened the first session, noted that we started at only 10 minutes after the declared time, a significant testimony to the serious attitude of the participants. The attendance was diverse, including veteran of the struggle as well as youth activists, academics, members of different movements, parties and NGOS. Mana welcomed all of them and invited everyone to take part not only by supporting the campaign and its program but also by critical discussion of the program and looking together for the most effective ways to build an influential movement toward the most essential goals of achieving justice, freedom and democracy.
Historian Ilan Pappe, one of the initiators of the campaign, was the first speaker. If I’m not wrong, it was his first public lecture in Arabic, and he passed the test very well, conveying a very clear message about the historical background of the old-renewed perspective for ODS.
Pappe analyzed the origins of the Zionist movement as part of the world-wide phenomenon of European colonialism, and, more specifically, as an example of “settler colonialism”, which aspires not only to occupy and exploit the local population but to replace them by settlers. This scheme of settler colonialism easily leads to the logic of genocide, which was successfully accomplished against the native population in the United States and other colonies. He explained how settler colonialism is building a distorted national myth according to which the settler population is described as “natives” and the original native population is vilified as “threatening aliens”. Another, complementing, myth says that the homeland was “empty” until the settlers came – ignoring and denying the existence of the native population.
In this context it is clear why in Israeli politics there is no real discussion how to reach a real solution that will restore the rights of Arab Palestinians and let them live in freedom and equality. The proposition of “a two-state solution” in its Israeli context is just another variant of the same search for ways to get rid of the native population.
Pappe dedicated an important part of his presentation to the current international context of the struggle. He emphasized the importance of a growing recognition of Palestinian rights in the international civil society, and the readiness of many sectors of the solidarity movement to hear and adopt the only solution based on human rights and democracy – ODS. On the other hand, he explained that the strong support of Israel and its racist policies from reactionary forces, like Trump and many European nationalists, is not an accident. Their very base of support is an attempt to revive the colonialist-era white supremacy and incite against the people of the third world. This change of the international map concerning the Palestinian struggle opens many opportunities and demands a more active and well-targeted approach from us. As there is no more Western consensus around the support to Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is at the center of the political struggle about the future of the world, it is important that Palestinian themselves will return to the basic nature of their liberation movement as a struggle for freedom and human rights for all.
Pappe elaborated about the importance of having a clear political vision and using the correct terminology to describe the current reality. For example, speaking about Israel’s Apartheid regime is different than just complaining about “discrimination”. Speaking about decolonization is different from speaking about “solving the conflict”.
Finally, in response to a question from the public, Pappe corrected a common mis-reading of history. Many speak about a dichotomy between the “Algerian way”, where the settler population was expelled, and the “South African approach” where whites were integrated as full citizens after the dismantling of Apartheid. The historical truth is that the Algerian liberation movement proposed on the French settlers the option to stay as citizens of the newly liberated Algeria, but the vast majority preferred to return to France. And many of the whites in South Africa emigrated after the dismantling of Apartheid there. The program of one democratic state is just the natural alternative to colonialism, it will return Palestine to its local and regional identities. It will abolish the privilege of the settler population and give them the option to integrate on the basis of civil equality.
The second speaker in the first session was Awad Abdelfattah, the main coordinator of the campaign, who previously served for a long period as the general secretary of the National Democratic Alliance party (NDA, AKA Balad). He started his talk with an optimist report about the widening influence and connections of the campaign, especially among Palestinians in other regions. Even though the campaign itself is only at its very first stages, activist from the popular resistance in the West Bank and Gaza are showing interest in the campaign’s message and liberation agenda. Some of them are explaining that they never gave up this dream and want to revive it as a perspective for a revival of the Palestinian movement. There was special interest in Abdelfattah’s report about an evolving discussion with Palestinian activists in the occupation’s prisons, including the general secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Sa’adat. The news about the interest of the prisoners’ movement in studying the ODS program made its way to the headlines of Arab-48 site the next day.
Abdelfattah described the crisis of the Palestinian national liberation movement, getting ever more acute as it becomes clear to all that the perspective of two-state solution and the Oslo accord only led to perpetuation of the occupation. Among the most catastrophic results of the Oslo accord is the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, when the West Bank is separated from Gaza, millions of refugees are stuck out of their homeland with no perspective for returning, and Palestinians inside the 48 territories suffer from systematic discrimination but are not even regarded part of the Palestinian national cause. Another consequence was the devastation of the PLO, which has served until Oslo as a revolutionary vehicle, but was sidelined without achieving its goal of liberating the occupied land. In an ironic way you can say, he added, that the Oslo accord united all Palestinians in a sense of helplessness.
Against this background, Abdelfattah stressed the importance of uniting the Palestinians around a new vision that can give new hope to the young generations by retaining the basic tenets of the liberation struggle, while adjusting the perspective and the means of struggle to current reality and to the fast-developing technology, society and world scene. The new initiative is basically a path to a different life, and new and modern political reality, where all Palestinians as well Israeli Jews can struggle together to build a new democratic political entity on the ruins of colonialism, apartheid and racist separation. The future state is based on the principles of justice and full equal citizenship.
‘’While we are conscious to the fact that there is a long struggle ahead of us, we can start today by rebuilding our understanding of the reality and reorganizing along new lines.” He expressed his hope that “the campaign will gradually develop into a mass movement of popular resistance against the occupation.”
Abdelfattah mentioned several challenges that are facing the ODS campaign, relating to questions which are often raised by people from different political backgrounds. He explained that some issues may better be left to the dynamics of life, as the people involved in the struggle will have to cope with challenges in an innovative way.
Among the questions he was keen to relate to is the claim that the idea is utopian, given the current political reality, as the balance of forces is in favor of the colonizer which is supported by the most powerful state in the world, the USA. Another side of this claim is that no major force among the Palestinians has embraced the one state solution, and no major or small Israeli party is willing to give up the principle of “a Jewish state”.
He summed up the response to this claim by saying: First we should emphasis that we base our approach on the principle of restoring justice for all Palestinians, for those who were expelled and dispossessed and those who survived the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the the Zionist movement and its embodiment Israel. Second, the two-state solution has been dead for a long time and the two populations have become inextricably linked, as a result of the continued systematic policy of land theft and settler colonization. As a result, all of Palestine has become one geographic and demographic unit under an overt apartheid and colonial regime. We should dispel the illusion that Israel would accept an independent Palestinian state and to unite all the Palestinian people, the world civil society and anti Zionist Jews around the struggle to defeat this regime. By the way, utopia is not always a fantasy idea. Many ideas that looked as such became a reality through clear vision, wise planning and strong resolve. South Africa is a stark example, which is our inspiration.
Legal and cultural point of view
The second session, facilitated by activist Majd Nasralla, was designed to answer some of the practical questions that confront us when coming to build a movement based on the ODS perspective. One basic issue that we were asked about many times is the position of the ODS perspective in view of the international law. Some people hesitate to openly support ODS under the impression that there is some legal guarantee of Palestinian rights in the framework of the right of self determination in a Palestinian state as part as a two-state solution. They are afraid that adopting ODS, as a solution that has no international recognition, may weaken the legal basis of the Palestinian claims.
Dr. Munir Nusseibeh gave a learned view of the support of ODS from the point of view of the international law. He explained that there is no principle that demands that there will be division to states that is parallel to the division to national identities, and that the right of self determination is basically the right not to be subject to external oppression. He explained the gradual development of the international law toward the concept of the generality of human rights and the need to guarantee them to all people.
Much of Nusseibeh’s lecture concentrated around the concept of “transitional justice”, of which he made a thorough research. He criticized Zionist legal experts and some of their western apologists that try to use this concept to dilute the Israeli responsibility to war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against the Palestinian people. He emphasized that at the hear of the concept of “transitional justice” stands the assumption of a real “transition”.
It means that a regime that is based on the denial of basic human rights should be dismantled and substituted by another regime that guarantees and end to the injustice. It also means that the new regime takes full responsibility to the consequences of past injustices and the restitution of the rights of the victims. Only then comes the part of transitional justice that handles the perpetrators of crimes, including indictment and punishment, that can take into account the conditions and the necessity to rebuild society after a trauma. But, first of all, we should guarantee the full transformation of the legal base of the regime – which is possible only in the framework of ODS.
The last speaker was Majd Kayal, a writer and one of the central activists of the youth movements that played a major role in the Palestinian protests in the 48-territories over the last years. He spoke about the role of culture and tried to draw a view of the types of cultural activity that may help the Palestinian society liberate itself from Zionist hegemony. He said that while raising political slogans is a natural part of life and of culture, it is not the essence of what is required. In some context raising political slogans about Palestinian nationality or even waiving Palestinian flags can contribute to consolidation of the current distorted relationship of power – if it is done within a framework designated by the Zionist establishment. What is required is creating and developing an independent framework for cultural creativity that is outside the influence of the establishment and which handles all the aspects of life – from fearless criticism of the political situation to confronting deep social problems in the society and even handling purely aesthetic and artistic subjects.
Preparing the next steps
After the two full sessions, both of which included interventions and questions from the public, all were requested to divide into two workshops. The first workshop discussed the political program of the campaign, for people that are new to the idea and for those who wanted to suggest improvement to the program. The second workshop handled the required next steps toward building the campaign: political strategy and usage of the media.
After the conclusion of the discussion in the workshops, and as a consequence of the discussion in the second of them, the organizers announced the establishment of two permanent working groups to farther the building of the campaign. One working group will work on expanding the campaign among the general public and reach out to movement and political parties. The other working group will work on publishing new materials and raising the media profile of the campaign. Both working groups are open for new activist to join.