CounterPunch / July 16, 2020
The timer is now ticking on Israel. While Israel historically put Palestinians on the slow burner, gnawing at their lands and livelihoods, time was in Israel’s favor as the world turned a blind eye. Those days are over.
Israel must now choose, allow the state of Palestine to emerge, or have it imposed upon them. The traditional options of two-states vs. one state of Israel without equality for all its citizens have passed long ago. Israel can accept Palestine in all the occupied territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, or ultimately be forced to accept Palestine from the river to the sea.
For us Palestinians, like any normal human beings on this earth, it is natural for us to expect to be viewed as a people worthy of our rights, freedom, and independence. The days when this can be ignored are over too.
Today, all have been exposed to the naked eye. Thanks to decades of denial by Jewish Israeli citizens and the Jewish diaspora, US President Trump and his messianic entourage of Jared Kushner and David M. Friedman, Israel’s state-sanctioned settlement enterprise, financier Sheldon Adelson’s fanaticism, Christian Evangelicals bent on personally witnessing the Armageddon, and none other than Israel’s own extremist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation frenzy, a frenzy on steroids attempting to divert his path to jail on three corruption charges.
To force the timer to tick even faster, outgoing Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, in an interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC Hardtalk program, proudly proclaimed, “I represent not only the people of Israel, I represented [sic] the Jewish people in the U.N.”. He went on, “We [Jews] do have biblical rights to the land. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, or Jew — you read the Bible, you read the stories of the Bible — it’s all there.” It got worse. He went on to say, “This is our deed to the land. That’s biblical.” This from Israel’s top international diplomat! Regardless of how one views the Bible, it’s a religious text, not a document that can be submitted in a case of international law.
The further back Israel goes in time, the faster today’s timer is ticking. Below I will touch on three momentous developments lubricating the timer.
Peter Beinart, Zionism, and the ‘Jewish State’
Enter Peter Beinart. A prominent and outspoken observant Jewish American columnist, journalist, political commentator, and professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his parents were Jewish immigrants from South Africa. He is a self-defined Zionist, albeit from the flavour that most Israeli Jews would dismiss.
Earlier this month, Beinart penned a long-read essay titled, Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine, and then followed it up with a New York Times opinion piece titled, I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State. He makes a monumental shift from supporting a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine side by side, to arguing that Zionism does not require a ‘Jewish State’ at all and calls for his fellow Jews to come to this understanding.
It is interesting to note that Palestinians have always made the point that they have nothing against Judaism, rather they view Zionism as having hijacked this noble religion to the detriment of Israelis and Palestinians alike. To be clear, the only version of Zionism Palestinians have experienced is the one that is a political ideology based on supremacy. This Zionism has held conferences starting in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, and has left behind an incriminating and bloody paper trail.
Peter is my friend. We have interlocked as editor and writer, spoke on the same panel at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and he has attended many of the talks I have given to Jewish American audiences when they visited Bethlehem. He has universal values and does not discriminate when applying them. He knows how to actively listen, ask probing questions, and analyse in relation to reality rather than blindly forcing reality to fit a set of Israeli state talking points. Most importantly, he has opened the Pandora’s box of global Jewry. For this, he will go down in history next to notable early Zionist thinkers such as Ahad Ha’am, Martin Buber, and Judah Magnes, among others.
There is much to discuss about Peter’s new revelation, but that’s for another day. For now, he will have his hands full within his Jewish communal circles. It’s a shame that Israeli Jews are, for the most part, missing out on this conversation. Israeli media has chosen to pretend that the call for equal rights in one state does not exist.
Yesh Din, Israel, and Apartheid
At the same time that Peter took to the global stage, another storm was brewing closer to Jerusalem. The renowned Israeli human rights organization, Yesh Din (There is a Law), released a landmark legal opinion titled, The Occupation of the West Bank and the Crime of Apartheid: Legal Opinion. This was written by Adv. Michael Sfard, one of Israel’s leading legal minds specializing in international human rights law and the laws of war. The opinion is damning for Israel.
“The conclusion of this legal opinion is that the crime against humanity of apartheid is being committed in the West Bank. The perpetrators are Israelis, and the victims are Palestinians.” The report further states that this is the case with or without another round of Israeli annexation, or as Benjamin Netanyahu, Benjamin Gantz, and Ambassador Danon like to call it, “applying sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria”. Call it what you may because it is all illegal.
But that’s not all. Annexation does play a role; the opinion notes that “Continued creeping legal annexation, let alone official annexation of a particular part of the West Bank through legislation that would apply Israeli law and administration there, is an amalgamation of the regimes. This could mean strengthening the argument, which already is being heard, that the crime of Apartheid is not committed only in the West Bank. That the Israeli regime in its entirety is an apartheid regime. That Israel is an Apartheid state.”
You read that correctly. Israel has gone from attacking former US President Jimmy Carter for using the “A” word in the title of his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, to having to deal with an Israeli organization making the legal case that the entire state may be an Apartheid state.
Israelis should take note. Yesh Din is not a newcomer to this issue. Neither are the many other Israeli human rights organizations that have been exposing reality for what it is for years. Organizations such as B’Tselem, Gisha, HaMoked (Center for the Defence of the Individual), Physicians for Human Rights (Israel), Rabbis for Human Rights, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), Who Profits?, and Yesh Gvul (There is a Limit), among many others.
The timer ticks faster and faster.
The above-broken taboos have awakened many Jews around the world. But anyone who missed out on the last three decades of facts being made on the ground, by gunships and bulldozers displaying the “Star of David,” would have found a summary of what was to come in a report released at the end of last year. Read on.
UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
One of the most important organs of the UN is The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). This entity is comprised of a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its State parties. In short, this body gives the pulse of today’s rules-based world order, country by country.
Israel, being a “State party,” is obliged to submit reports to this Committee and they comply. Also, ever since November 29, 2012, when Palestine became a “non-member observer State,” Palestine also submits reports to this Committee.
In its December 2019 Concluding Observations on Israel, the Committee determined that Israeli policies and practices comprise of racial segregation and apartheid over the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line. This was earth-shaking. Palestinian, regional, and international human rights organizations worked hard to bring the facts of the matter to the deliberations. Interestingly, even while Israel’s premiership bad mouths the UN at every opportunity possible, Israel engaged the committee, but to no avail.
However, the Committee’s Concluding Observations report did make an interesting catch. It noted that “While acknowledging the willingness of the State [Israel] party delegation to discuss questions relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Committee regrets that the report did not contain any information concerning the population living in these territories.”
So while the Israeli, and now the American, leaderships claim there is no military occupation to speak of, in the chambers of international law that matter for Israel to remain a member of the community of nations, Israel is actively engaging on issues related to the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” even if they do so blind to the Palestinians they oppress.
Tick, tick, tick. One can hear the timer racing forward in their sleep.
Israel still has a choice
This is not about Peter, Yesh Din, or the UN. It is about Israel finally having to look in the mirror and reckon with itself.
For us Palestinians, our case is crystal clear. We demand our rights, freedom, and independence.
It took US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Senator from Vermont who, in November 2019 drew sustained applause from the crowd at the MSNBC/Washington Post Democratic primary debate in Atlanta, to declare, “It is no longer good enough for us to be pro-Israel, I am pro-Israel, but we must treat the Palestinians with the dignity they deserve.” The audience’s applause was rightly due because Sanders inserted the issue of Palestinians being human into the debate. That is an extremely low bar.
Sanders doubled down at the next Democratic debate in South Carolina in February of this year when he “labelled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” and said he’d consider reversing President Donald Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
The Israeli Foreign Minister at the time, Israel Katz, slammed Sanders in what he said was a ‘Horrifying Comment’ while proclaiming that Israel does not “intervene in the internal American electoral process…” The latter comment, for anyone even faintly familiar with the pro-Israeli lobby in the US, would be hilarious if the situation were not so dire.
Remember in 2015 when Netanyahu barged into Congress without White House approval which was met by objections from many supporters of Israel including prominent American Jewish leaders? This Bibi blunder sparked a letter from the Washington-based Israeli-American lobby group J-Street where they noted, “Our Congress should not be used as a prop in another nation’s election. One of the central elements that underpins the alliance between our two nations is our common commitment to democracy and elections. That means that both nations stay out of the other’s democratic process.” So much for not intervening in US politics.
Nevertheless, many Jewish Americans and Israelis remain blind to the clear shifts that have already taken place in the Democratic party.
But Palestinians do not need anyone’s affirmation that they are human. If what drives you is solely your love of Israel, even if it is blind love, then common sense is making a clarion call—now is the time to act to save Israel from itself.
Israel can end its 53-year-old military occupation and allow a real Palestinian state to emerge or end up with all the land it wants from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, along with a citizenry of 7 million Palestinians and 7 million Jewish Israelis. Either way, 5 million Palestinian refugees will still be demanding to return home.
Otherwise, Israel, and Jews everywhere, must forever hold their peace (and hasbara) because history is about to be made, again, based on the facts that successive Israeli governments have imposed on the reality between the river and the sea with their ‘might is right’ policies over 73 years.
Soon, the choice will no longer be Israel’s to make. Tick, tick, tick.
Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy