‘Not a single person in this room would accept living as Palestinians do, generation after generation’

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Boteach and Beinart

Beinart, right, with Shmuley Boteach after debate last week at Columbia

Last week’s debate over Israel at Columbia University included two statements I’ve been meaning to quote from the two-staters on the panel, liberal Zionist writer Peter Beinart and Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force for Palestine.

Beinart said that his motivation for much of what he writes is that he fears Palestinians under occupation getting the vote. (I mentioned this last week.) Here’s the quote, in response to a questioner:

You cannot permanently hold people without a passport, without the right to vote for the government that controls their lives, and the right to live under the same legal system as their neighbors who are of a different religion or ethnic group. Israel either solves that problem, by giving Palestinians a state of their own which you and I both want or– or– Israel will ultimately have to give citizenship and voting rights to Palestinians on the West Bank in the state of Israel, which will mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel.

And it is because of my fear of that that I write much of what I do on this very subject.

The evening also included an inspired statement by Hussein Ibish, describing the political conditions of Israeli rule as a unique form of ethnic discrimination globally and challenging Americans to consider what they would do if their lives were controlled to the same extent:

The de facto state of Israel, which involves all of the areas that have come under Israel’s control since 1967, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza strip, operates a settlement project that is in total violation of black-letter international law and that is strenuously objected to by the international community. It already has more Arabs than Jews in it, and therefore the de facto state of Israel is not Jewish in any meaningful sense…

It is highly undemocratic in that it completely disenfranchises at least 4.5 million people living under its jurisdiction, the Palestinians in the occupied territories… millions of people who live under intolerable conditions of disenfranchisement and discrimination. There is nothing like Israel’s occupation, particularly in terms of the discrimination it imposes on Palestinians in the West Bank, that I can think of anywhere else in the world today. It’s quite unique.

Everything you can do in the occupied territories depends on whether the Israeli government classifies you as a Jewish settler or an occupied Palestinian. Every single aspect of daily life is determined by this inevitably ethnic distinction. Where you may live, what roads you can drive on, whether you can be armed for self defense or not, how much water and other basic necessities you get per capita, what type of education your children will have, whether you can travel freely around your own country or leave it with the normal confidence of being allowed to return, or whether you need the permission of foreign soldiers, many of them just out of high school, to go from one village to another, whether you may be subjected to midnight house raids, what laws you live under, etc.

I could go on till midnight, I really could.

Does this arrangement sound like the basis for a reasonable security policy to you? I mean, really? Because that’s how it’s conceptualized– as forward bases in enemy territory. “This is Israel’s strategic depth.” We hear that all the time from people, except Israeli security professionals, who don’t see it that way.

The bottom line is that in the occupied territories, Palestinians, who are citizens of no state, live under one set of laws and conditions, and… Israeli settlers even standing next to each other live under another. Settlers are Israeli citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that. The Palestinians have neither.

Millions of people have been living like this for almost 50 years, the vast majority of the history of the modern Israeli state. Now I want to put it to you, There’s not a single person in this room, not one of you– not one of you– who would accept to live like that, generation after generation, decade after decade, with no end in sight. You would resist, in an intelligent manner hopefully. And you would not put up with it. And if you think you would put up with it, you’re lying to yourselves.

Protip. Don’t put anybody else in that situation either.

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