Moving Beyond Two States
By Miko Peled
United States envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, kicked off a visit to Israel restating the US commitment to the Road Map and the Two State Solution. However, both of these options have become irrelevant and it is time for the administration to seriously study the possibility of the two nations living together within a single democratic state. This is an option that moderate parties on both sides have discussed for decades, only to be silenced by more militant forces that see this as a zero sum game.
The one state option speaks of a single secular democracy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea within which Israelis and Palestinians would live as equal citizens. This would elevate the rights of Palestinians to those of Israelis it will finally allow the two nations to stop bleeding and begin building. It is an ambitious proposition that Israel and its supporters will surely resist at first. However, judging by the facts on the ground, this may well be the only option available for the two nations.
In preparation for renewed US involvement in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israel’s newly elected Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced his opposition to establishing a Palestinian state. Israel’s newly appointed foreign minister went even further and announced that there will be no more peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Adopting a tactic clearly designed to give them room to negotiate, the two are positioning themselves as far to the right as possible in expectation of American demands for concessions to the Palestinians. Judging by the size and the political makeup of Israel’s new cabinet, it is safe to assume that no amount of American pressure will convince them to allow Palestinian independence or to halt settlement expansions in the West Bank.
When Jimmy Carter published his book “Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid” he insisted that the apartheid did not apply to Israel, only to the occupied territories. But now the West Bank is inseparable from Israel. Because of the large settlement blocks and highways that Israel built over the years, the West Bank can no longer be separated from the rest of the country. So regardless of what solution the US supports, the geography and the demographics no longer allow for the creation of a separate political entity in the West Bank, or anywhere else in historic Palestine/Israel.
Try as we may to pretend that Israel is a Western style democracy, it is simply not the case. The government of Israel controls the lives of five and a half million Jews who enjoy the freedoms of a democracy, 1.4 million Palestinians who live as second-class citizens within Israel but with severely limited civil rights and 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are deprived of all civil and human rights.
Of the estimated ten million people living in historic Israel/Palestine today half are Israelis and half Palestinians. To bring a just and lasting end to the conflict the state must be divorced from religious or ethnic identity and provide all citizens equal rights. in other words, a secular, constitutional democracy that will protect the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis but will be the sole proprietorship of neither one. Equality, as history has shown us in this country, in South Africa and in other multi national, multi ethnic states, can only be guaranteed through laws that protect the rights of every citizen, regardless of race, religion or gender.
The Two State Solution and the Road Map are the latest in a series of failed attempts to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict through partition and segregation. The best one can expect from pursuing these options is a dangerously volatile status quo. But the good news is that Israelis and Palestinians discuss the possibility of a single state openly at academic and political forums. Now that the President has announced that he will visit Israel this summer, it is time for the US to join this conversation.
The shooting of US citizen and peace activist Tristan Anderson by Israeli soldiers occurred just days after the 6th anniversary of the killing by Israeli forces of another American peace activist, Rachel Corey. In both cases the killing was unprovoked and intentional but no official condemnation of Israel has been made by the US. It is safe to assume that had Palestinians, Iranians or Syrians killed these Americans, the President would have made a statement by now condemning the shooting and possible scenarios for sanctions if not retaliation would have been contemplated.
What we do hear these days from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is that the US would not support a Palestinian government unless it recognizes the state of Israel and vows to end the violence. While the US promises millions of dollars to rebuild Gaza after the latest destruction inflicted by Israel, these dollars are contingent upon Palestinian recognition of Israel and a unilateral Palestinian commitment to end the violence. But who will guarantee to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli attacks?
As Fatah and Hammas negotiate for Palestinian unity we are informed that they disagree on the issue of recognizing Israel. So let us explore what recognition of Israel means to Palestinians. Recognition means to forgive that in 1948 close to 500 Palestinian cities, towns and villages, were destroyed; to forgive that businesses and factories, mosques and schools were leveled and that Palestinians were forced into an exile that continues to this day. It means to forgive that in 1968, when Israel completed its conquest of Palestine it once again forced thousands of Palestinians into exile while taking over more land. It means to overlook the fact that for over 60 years Israel built towns and cities and farms for Jews only on Palestinian land and it continues to do so to this day in the West Bank.
Israel speaks of creating a Palestinian state but it enacts policies that make the establishment of such a state impossible. Palestinian sociologist Jamil Hilal puts it this way: “Israel’s policy has amounted to a systemic negation of the basic conditions necessary for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.” Palestinians are pushed out of their homes and their land and into small, unlivable enclaves that can barely sustain themselves, much less be considered viable for statehood.
As we see in places like Na’alin, where Tristan Anderson was shot, Israeli response to Palestinian resistance is violent regardless of whether the resistance is violent or not. Israel holds an estimated ten thousand Palestinian political prisoners for belonging to the resistance, regardless of whether they actually participated in acts of violent resistance or not.
So it realistic to expect that Palestinian recognition of Israel will be forthcoming? Juxtaposing the reality in Gaza and the West Bank with US rhetoric one may conclude that the US wants the fate of Palestinian to be similar to that of Native Americans, i.e., complete surrender of their country and their rights. Palestinians are asked, or more accurately, it is demanded of Palestinians that they recognize the total domination of a country that has taken everything away from them and continues to attack them viciously and without discrimination. Again, one is forced to ask: Who is prepared to provide protection for the lives of innocent Palestinians? Sadly, on this issue one hears absolutely nothing from the US or Israel.
The first time Israel took over Gaza was during the Eisenhower administration. In those days Israel was receiving very little money or weapons from the US, but when the American President gave the word, my father, Matti Peled, who was the Israeli military governor of Gaza had 2 weeks to get out. He did it in two days. Today, Israel receives an estimated ten million dollars per day from the US. One would expect that in return Israel would protect the lives of US citizens and respect the human and civil rights of Palestinian civilians.
The common wisdom regarding Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza suggests that Israel is defending itself against a vicious enemy and that all means justify the cause of security for the citizens of Israeli cities. Common wisdom dictates that the US must support the Israeli Jewish population in their effort to gain recognition and acceptance, not to say security for their fledgling democracy. But here common wisdom stand stands in stark contrast to the dictates of reality because Israel is fighting a war it cannot possibly win.
For more than sixty years Palestinians have been living as refugees in the Gaza strip as well as other areas in and around what used to be Palestine. Those who live in the refugee camps have for three generations suffered unimaginable hardships that began with homelessness, poverty and deprivation and went on to include incursions by Israeli commandos, shelling by Israeli artillery and air assaults by the Israeli air force. In Gaza close to 900,000 people are refugees who were forced off of their land in 1948. They and their descendants have suffered more than their fair share of hardships.
The accepted position on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is that it began in 1967, but for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere the Israeli occupation of Palestine began in 1948 and was only completed in 1967. Many Israelis feel this way too. So to expect that a solution that deals only with lands occupied in 1967 will hold for any length of time is naïve at best, and the ashes of the peace process of the 1990’s lay as testament to that.
Most of the refugees in the Gaza Strip today came from the southern towns and villages of Palestine. According to UN sources, in 1948 some 200,000 refugees were concentrated in and around Gaza City whose original inhabitants numbered only 80,000. This severely burdened this narrow strip of land, an area of only 140 square miles. Today over three-quarters of 1.4 million people in the Gaza strip are registered refugees.
The Gaza strip includes the city of Gaza which is approximately 48 miles southwest of Jerusalem, with a population of 410,000, as well as the cities of Beit Hanoun , Beit Lahia, Deir el-Balah (at the end of 1170, Saladin’s army had arrived in Palestine entering through Darum, which is now known as Deir al-Balah) Jabalia, Khan Yunis and Rafah.
The majority of the refuges live in eight refugee camps that include: Jabalia, Rafah, Beach, Nuseirat, Khan Younis, Bureij, Maghazi and Deir el-Balah.
According to the United Nations the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip have one of the highest population densities in the world. For example, over 80,688 refugees live in Beach camp whose area is less than one square kilometer. This high population density is reflected in the overcrowded schools and classrooms. Even with poverty and over population, Gaza maintains one of the highest literacy rates in the world, 92%.
Today these refuges and their descendents, who live just a short drive from their original homes who now house Jewish Israelis, are being told by the world that they must accept their fate and live as refugees with no law to protect them, no human rights and no civil rights. They are also told quite clearly that any resistance on their part, violent or otherwise will not be tolerated. Israel, the country responsible for their present condition will never allow them to return to their homes, to resist or to become part of a larger Israel/Palestine.
Whether one agrees that Palestinians deserve the same rights as all other people or not, one has to recognize why resistance to Israel has developed in the refugee camps in Gaza. It is a vicious cycle, not unknown in the history of other nations. Since the early 1950’s refugees from Gaza tried to enter the newly establish Israel, seeking to reclaim houses, possessions, or crops. Eventually guerrilla fighters began to enter Israel and to engage in violent acts against Israeli citizens. It wasn’t long before Israel developed a policy of no tolerance whereby infiltrators were shot on sight and retaliatory strikes in response to guerrilla attacks ensued.
In 1953 Ariel Sharon, then a young officer was sent at the head of the famous Unit 101 into Gaza to cleanse it of terrorists and to stop Palestinian “infiltrators” from penetrating Israeli borders. Sharon stated: “If we don’t act against the refugee camps, they would become a murderers’ nest.” Or in other words, centers for resistance against Israel. Israeli attacks on Gaza continued throughout the 1950’s, 60’s 70’s and they continue to this very day. It is hard not to see that this is an ongoing campaign against a nation that is unwilling to give up the struggle for freedom and justice.
Gaza has a history of being tough to subdue. It is said the Alexander The Great had to fight a bitter battle to conquer it, as did the British during the First World War. While violence may quell the resistance for a short time, all it takes is one child who decides to take up the fight and as we know this is a battle that no conquering power has ever one.
Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and peace activist living in San Diego. His father was the later Israeli General, Matti Peled who was also the first Israeli military Governor of Gaza. For comments or contact information please go to mikopeled.wordpress.com
This piece by Gideon Levi speaks volumes. The attacks on Gaza are great for the Israeli army – the air-force doesn’t have to deal with anti aircraft systems; the tanks don’t have to fear anti tank missiles, and really the soldiers have little to fear because Gaza has no army.
The fighting in Gaza is “war deluxe.” Compared with previous wars, it is child’s play – pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organization that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight. All this must be said openly, before we begin exulting in our heroism and victory.
This war is also child’s play because of its victims. About a third of those killed in Gaza have been children – 311, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 270 according to the B’Tselem human rights group – out of the 1,000 total killed as of Wednesday. Around 1,550 of the 4,500 wounded have also been children according to figures from the UN, which says the number of children killed has tripled since the ground operation began.
This is too large a proportion by any humanitarian or ethical standard.
It is enough to look at the pictures coming from Shifa Hospital to see how many burned, bleeding and dying children now lie there. History has seen innumerable brutal wars take countless lives.
But the horrifying proportion of this war, a third of the dead being children, has not been seen in recent memory.
God does not show mercy on the children at Gaza’s nursery schools, and neither does the Israel Defense Forces. That’s how it goes when war is waged in such a densely populated area with a population so blessed with children. About half of Gaza’s residents are under 15.
No pilot or soldier went to war to kill children. Not one among them intended to kill children, but it also seems neither did they intend not to kill them. They went to war after the IDF had already killed 952 Palestinian children and adolescents since May 2000.
The public’s shocking indifference to these figures is incomprehensible. A thousand propagandists and apologists cannot excuse this criminal killing. One can blame Hamas for the death of children, but no reasonable person in the world will buy these ludicrous, flawed propagandistic goods in light of the pictures and statistics coming from Gaza.
One can say Hamas hides among the civilian population, as if the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population, as if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population. One can also claim that Hamas uses children as human shields, as if in the past our own organizations fighting to establish a country did not recruit children.
A significant majority of the children killed in Gaza did not die because they were used as human shields or because they worked for Hamas. They were killed because the IDF bombed, shelled or fired at them, their families or their apartment buildings. That is why the blood of Gaza’s children is on our hands, not on Hamas’ hands, and we will never be able to escape that responsibility.
The children of Gaza who survive this war will remember it. It is enough to watch Nazareth-born Juliano Mer Khamis’ wonderful movie “Arna’s Children” to understand what thrives amid the blood and ruin we are leaving behind. The film shows the children of Jenin – who have seen less horror than those of Gaza – growing up to be fighters and suicide bombers.
A child who has seen his house destroyed, his brother killed and his father humiliated will not forgive.
The last time I was allowed to visit Gaza, in November 2006, I went to the Indira Gandhi nursery school in Beit Lahia. The schoolchildren drew what they had seen the previous day: an IDF missile striking their school bus, killing their teacher, Najwa Halif, in front of their eyes. They were in shock. It is possible some of them have now been killed or wounded themselves.
With Israeli elections scheduled for February, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is hoping to once again become Prime Minister, has once again unleashed the Israeli military on the civilian population of Gaza. Barak who has earned the dubious distinction of being Israel’s most decorated soldier, is guaranteeing that Israelis and Palestinians will see more violence and more loss of innocent lives. With columns of tanks, and brigades of infantry ready to attack the already destroyed Gaza, Barak hopes to prove that he is a candidate that can deliver. But unlike the biblical story, there is no one willing to stand up to General Barak and argue for the lives of fifty righteous men, not to mention, eight hundred thousand children.
The 800,000 thousand children of Gaza were the reason that Nader Elbanna and I in our capacity as co chairs of the Elbanna-Peled Foundation, decided to travel to Gaza to deliver essential medical equipment to Ahli hospital in Gaza city. We flew from SD in mid November, passing through Europe, Israel and Jordan to Cairo; then traveling overland we crossed the Suez Canal, stopping at endless Egyptian security checkpoints along the way to reach the gates of Gaza at Rafah. It was there that we were told that the border to Gaza is closed. We spent three days trying to get in, with Nader arguing, negotiating passionately setting aside the excruciating pain from his ear and throat infection. In the end, standing merely 50 yards form our destination the truth came out of the mouth of one intelligence officer at the Rafah crossing who exclaimed: “but we can’t let you cross, the Israelis are watching.”
We knew that an Israeli-Egyptian-American agreement was keeping the people of Gaza imprisoned, impoverished and malnourished but we hoped that with support and assistance we secured from Rotary in Egypt and other connections we could outsmart the system. The help we received was tremendous, but we had underestimated the system. Interestingly, the toughest part for us was not being denied entry, but rather it was calling Dr. Suheila Tarazi, of the Ahli hospital in Gaza and telling her that we would not be able to enter and deliver the equipment to the hospital. Dr. Tarazi thanked us for our efforts, described the intolerable conditions in Gaza and told us that with God’s help we will all have peace one day. But the optimism and good wishes could not mask the grim reality evident in her voice. If the problems a doctor or a hospital administrator in Gaza had to face were insurmountable until a few days ago, now they are pure hell. As Israel shut off the electricity and shut down the supply of fuel, there is no refrigeration and medicines go bad and have to be discarded. Machines that need power to help people breath; dialysis and other life support machines stop working. Now with hundreds of casualties and little equipment or medicine one cannot imagine what it must be like for Dr. Tarazi and others who are entrusted with the lives of the sick and the injured.
The Elbanna-Peled Foundation, was founded in memory of two little girls who were victims of the Palestinian-Israel war: Smadar Elhanan, killed 1997 at the age of 13 when two Palestinians blew themselves up in Jerusalem, and Abir Aramin, killed at the age of 10 by an Israeli sniper in January 2007. The Gaza project was a third of its kind initiated by Nader Elbanna and I. Having met in a living room dialogue group in San Diego in the year 2001, our work together is done in an effort to demonstrate two points: Palestinians and Israelis are bound together by their ties to a mutual homeland and this bond can bring them together as allies; the second point is that an Israeli Palestinian alliance is a powerful tool that can transform the region and stop the bloodshed.
The question has been raised of whether or not the Israeli attack on Gaza is disproportionate to the threat that Gaza presents to Israel. The answer to that lies not in numbers, not in comparing how many rockets were fired or how many of the dead are actually Hammas people and how many were bystanders. The answer lies in the biblical Abrahams admonition towards God in Genesis 18: “Far be it from thee to slay the righteous with the wicked.”
Looking beyond the grim reality of today, I remember something that was written by another doctor from Gaza, Dr. Mona El Farra. In a piece published in the US about a year ago she wrote: “This may seem an unlikely time to discuss the prospect of one state with equal rights for all, but the fighting in Gaza makes clear that a cordoned-off Gaza Bantustan is no solution.” In response to this is wrote the following: The question that Dr. El Farra raises it monumental: Why is it right to speak of equal rights everywhere except for Israel and Palestine? Indeed, it may be an unlikely time but it is never the less the right time to discuss the establishment of a secular, democratic state in Israel/Palestine in which human and civil rights are guaranteed to all its citizens.
The racist discourse in America is alarming and often people don’t even notice when it takes place. When the lady at the town hall meeting asked John McCain if Barak Obama was an Arab he replied: “No, no he is a decent family man.” Where is the contradiction here? Does Arab mean he is not a decent family man? Well, pardon me but I am Jewish and I am over sensitive and easily offended by these things.
To the claim that Obama is an Arab, the appropriate response is: “So what.” To the question is Barak Obama a Moslem the reply ought to be: “I don’t know but who cares.” contrary to what many people say, the holocaust was not the worst thing that happened to Jewish people, and it is not the recurrence of the holocaust that we need to fear the most. The holocaust was the inevitable outcome of centuries of European Christian indoctrination that Jewish people are less than human. What took place in the holocaust was the natural outcome of centuries where Christians taught hate. It is the recurrence of that trend we need to prevent so that another holocaust will never take place.
America is poised for a tremendous opportunity this November. It is far greater than landing a man on the moon, or building this or that space gadget or discovering this or that microbe. It is to show America that to be American you don’t have to be called Jim or George or Bob; that you don’t have to look like those white old guys who have their portraits all over the place. No, you can be an African, or an Arab or an Asian and still be an American because the truth is that it has been this way for more than two centuries.
But this is a formidable task. Making the next eight years the best in America’s history will require strength and courage that are yet to be asked of Americans on Election Day. On Election Day most of us like to go stick to our old comforts and loyalties, to find the person who looks and speaks like us or in a way that makes us feel comfortable. We want “our guy” or the guy from “our team” to win. We are all human and that is how humans act. This is ok under normal circumstances
But this year the opportunity is so great that we must look beyond our usual loyalties and comforts. This year we need to look at what America can really be like in eight years and that is a hard thing to do. We are drawn into despair by news of an economic crisis, by fears of impending attacks by terrorists and by the possibility that our earth is on the brink of a major natural disaster. It is only natural then, that we all cling to what we know to be true that we cling to what we believe to be right and that we cover our eyes and our ears to anything that might rattle our comfort.
America has done things that no other country has done, and this includes acts of magnanimity as well as acts of great stupidity and cruelty. This is the nature of great nations – that they have the capacity to do great things and they have the power to make colossal mistakes. This election year presents this nation with an opportunity to show its greatness, to show its magnanimity and to show its true strength.
No one needs proof of America’s military or economic might. Just take one look at the talented men and women who make up the armed services. People who like me live in Coronado see these men and women daily. I have the privilege of working with many families who have loved ones in the navy: The are the best and the brightest and they are the most dedicated people and parents one can hope to meet. We also know that America has brilliant minds in the fields of economy and science and quite possibly every other field known to man.
Every powerful nation has good leaders and bad leaders. Every powerful nation in the history of the world has shown greatness and has stooped down to pettiness; every powerful nation has had its time of glory and its times of shame. The last eight years have brought this country to an unprecedented low. It is up to us this year to determine what the next eight years be like for America.
No one knows how long it will take to build the destruction that America caused to Iraq, or how long it would take for the Iraqis to forgive America for its intervention. From my knowledge of the people of the Middle East I would venture to say that for the most part they are magnanimous and forgiving. Iraqis will undoubtedly rebuild their country, but the sooner America leaves the better things will be for Iraq and for the Middle East as a whole.
The questions that Americans need to ask is how do we make sure we are not drugged and mislead into another war as we with Iraq. If the surge did or did not work is immaterial because there would have not been a need for a surge had America not destroyed the order that was there to begin with. And the issue is not what the generals recommend that the government should or should not do, it is for the government to tell the generals what they should be doing and when.
There are many issues the next President will need to tackle, more so than most Presidents and we would do well to make sure that the next President is the guy with the audacity to hope. It is time for America to look beyond the color to look beyond the fear; to trust that its ok to have a first family that does not look like any first family before it.
So I say once again, pardon me, but I am Jewish. I see no contradiction between being an Arab and being a decent family man. This is one issue about which America needs to be very clear.