I have been looking for years, and I cannot, for the life of me, locate the Republic of South Africa on any map of the world. The name should be a very helpful indicator: Africa is a very large continent, South Africa, then, must be at the southern tip. Yet I keep looking, and South Africa isn’t there. It just disappeared, one fine, fine morning in 1994. On April 28, 1994, to be very specific, when the people of South Africa voted to end apartheid, the system of institutionalized discrimination that privileged one race over others. With the end of apartheid, celebrated in all corners of the world, South Africa must have simply disappeared.
And I worry, is this going to be the fate of Israel? Once we finally overthrow apartheid there will it completely disappear off the map, just as South Africa did? Because I keep hearing that if Palestinians achieve their rights, then Israel will disappear. As Norman Finkelstein put it in the now famous infamous interview in February, 2012: If BDS accomplishes its goals, “there is no Israel.” You know, like there is no South Africa, since the indigenous people of that land finally overthrew apartheid there.
Now that I think of it, what kind of person would view the abolition of institutionalized racism as a loss, a disappearance, rather than a global victory? What kind of person actually believes South Africa was finished, after the end of white supremacy there? Because that is the kind of person who would believe Israel would be destroyed, rather than improved upon, by justice.
Which leads me to the more serious discussion: we need new terminology, we need the freedom to discuss the major change we hope to see happening in Israel, without it being described in mainstream discourse as overwhelmingly negative, the “end” of Israel, its “destruction.” Because I cannot fathom how someone would claim that “there is no South Africa” after apartheid, and I doubt that many rational beings would describe the end of apartheid there as the destruction of that country. Why then describe the end of a Jewish supremacist state as destruction?
And we need to redefine sovereignty. Israel will not disappear off the map. The majority of the Israelis living there today will not return to the countries their parents and grandparents came from, even though I do suspect that some will try to desert the sinking ship of unearned prerogatives. After all, if they are to suddenly become equal with the Palestinians, no longer living in “Jewish-only” luxury gated communities, some will decide that they are better off living in Europe or the US. But these will be the minority. Millions of Israelis will continue to live in the country they love, for many, the only country they know. They just won’t be legally privileged, as much as they will be privileged as all hereditary benefactors of oppressive systems are. You know, like being white in the US after the abolition of slavery, or white in South Africa, after the end of apartheid. They will be Jewish in Israel, after the official end of Jewish supremacy.
And the Palestinians will return, after decades of languishing in refugee camps, in hostile countries, or even just miles from their ancestral village. Impoverished, traumatized, rightfully bitter at their unfair cruel treatment for close to a century, they will finally enjoy equal rights in a country transformed by decades of Jewish supremacy. They will be a free people again, free to learn and teach and take pride in their culture and history, and they will have much to learn, for so much will have been erased, has already been erased. How do we redefine sovereignty, so that the Palestinian people are sovereign in their homeland, as Israel ceases to be a Jewish supremacist apartheid state, but is not “destroyed,” only improved upon?
I do not believe any solution can take the shape of “two states,” for that would simply be replacing one apartheid state, and some occupied fragments, with two apartheid states. I believe the solution can only be in one single entity: historic Palestine, which is today’s “greater” (apartheid) Israel. If Palestine is to be free, it can only be from the river to the sea.
In The Wretched of the Earth, his manifesto of anti-colonial struggle, Frantz Fanon urged “If we want humanity to advance a step farther, we must invent, and we must make discoveries…. We must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”
This too will be an imperative in Palestine/Israel, to invent, to create a new vocabulary, to redefine nationhood and sovereignty. I’m ready. I am so ready to shift gears, to switch from resistance to creativity. But for that to happen, we need to end apartheid. Some would say we are out to “destroy Israel,” but you and I know better.