The second day of the One State for Palestine/Israel: A Country for All Its Citizens? conference had a much more ominous tone than Day 1. It focused on the long road to building a one state solution – from the obstacles of the current moment to the challenges of building the movement to get us there.
One of the reoccurring themes of the day was the incredible amount of violence that the speakers expect Israel to use to maintain the status quo. The day started with Phyllis Bennis reminding the audience that just because the two-state solution is dead doesn't mean that one state is assured. Rather she expects that a two state "solution" will be imposed on Israel/Palestine that keeps the current inequalities in place.
As'ad Ghanem spoke next. Ghanem is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a preeminent Palestinian academic who has been at the forefront of calls from the Palestinian
community in Israel for equality and national rights. He began his talk with the joke "here is the session with the bad news." Then he continued:
The bad news is that if Israeli is ready to conduct a mass killing in the West Bank and Gaza, and the starvation policies for 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, if the danger comes from Haifa . . . if I'm sitting in the Israeli cabinet with Avigdor Lieberman and Barak and Netanyahu, I mean just imagine they are more than ready to conduct another ethnic cleaning than in '48. Israel is ready to conduct another ethnic cleansing.
This idea was repeated throughout the day – the war in Gaza was just the latest chapter in a historical process that began over 60 years ago where Israel has appropriated Palestinian land through force. Although much attention is given to the incredible ethnic cleansing that took place in 1947-49 with the founding of the state, many speakers expect it could happen again and think the incoming government is capable of doing it.
In addition, as Ghanem's quote above demonstrates, the speakers did not expect the violence to be isolated to the occupied territories. Ilan Pappe referred to the recent riots in Umm al-Fahm as a practice run at for increased military control of Palestinian communities inside Israel. He also warned that the violence in Gaza was "just a preamble." For all the visionary thinking of an egalitarian future, Nadia Hijab summarized the current focus as simply trying to stay on the land that Palestinians currently have in the face of Israel's ongoing efforts to force them into smaller and smaller areas. All in all, a pretty sobering day.
One of the most important points of this discussion to me was the point that this violence is not an arbitrary decision, but the inevitable outcome of maintaining a system of such inequality. Ali Abunimah said this best:
Even to maintain the status quo, Israel would have to carry out escalating Gaza-style massacres on a regular basis in an attempt to terrorize and subdue the Palestinian population. In 2009, if you support Israel's claim to be a Jewish state, you must also in practice support its massacres, because those are the price of maintaining it.
This is an electrifying statement, and one that I think is true. The violence that both Palestinians and Israelis face are tied to maintaining a system where Jews are given special and exclusive rights over others. While Jewish Israelis do face the threat of violence, Palestinians face the threat of wholesale massacres like we saw in Gaza. And the speakers though it will only get worse.
I defer to them in their reading of the situation, the speakers at this conference certainly knew a lot more than I did. It is a terrifying and humbling thought and I think this is part of what gave this conference such energy and urgency. The movement for equality and justice in Israel/Palestine is not just a
movement to "do the right thing", but a movement for survival.