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Why we can be hopeful on Palestine

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Even as the village of Khan Al-Ahmar was finally cleared for destruction this week, its defense was a reminder that the face of the Palestinian Struggle has increasingly become a non-violent one in which Palestinians are joined in solidarity by internationals – including many Jewish internationals – and even Israelis.

At the same time, Ahed Tamimi, the 18-year-old Palestinian activist recently released from Israeli prison, was in Madrid being honored by Real Madrid.

The Great Return March, which began on March 30th, was an attempt across a broad spectrum of Gazan society to mount a peaceful action that world could not help but recognize as such. After 6 months, the March has largely dropped from the headlines, even though the death toll continues to climb. But the March has nevertheless continued and some of the seeds it has planted are already bearing fruit.

On August 6th, 19-year-old Hillel Garmi refused to serve in the Israeli military. In his Declaration of Refusal, Garmi wrote: “This year, during the wave of unarmed demonstrations which took place near the Gaza Strip fence, I read what Ahmed Abu Artema, who organized the demonstrations, wrote, and I was impressed to discover people who take on the situation between the sea and the Jordan without using a gun.”

On September 19th, Artema responded, in an open letter to Garmi in +972 Magazine, in which he thanked him for giving Palestinians hope and wrote: “Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens.”

On October 2nd, Garmi responded to Artema in his own open letter in +972 Magazine, accepting and echoing Artema’s friendly challenge: “We all live under one undemocratic system, so we must struggle together.”

These two men are coming from different worlds – Garmi in prison for a few months on his own volition, Artema trapped in a prison his entire adult life, born a stateless refugee, deprived of regular access to things like water and electricity, and subject to repeated devastating bombings – and the gulf in their understanding is wide. But, after years of exchanges of fire across the “Separation Barrier,” this friendly exchange of letters is an act of defiance against a system designed to keep them apart.

“Hafrada” (“separation,” “segregation,” “apartness”) is the Israeli name for the complex and brutal regime of ethnic separation that reigns in Israeli-controlled Israel-Palestine: a deliberate policy of forced separation, officially justified by Israel as necessary for its security, that makes it virtually impossible for these two men to physically meet – unless through the barrel of a sniper’s rifle. By refusing the rifle and instead choosing to take up the pen, Garmi has now found himself face-to-face with the closest thing to the living personification of the Great Return March. Refusing to kill is a first step. agreeing to engage in an honest, respectful dialogue is a second. Only time will tell whether this can lead to the definition of a common vision that these two men can work towards and which can in turn inspire others, but at least the promise is there.

At the same time, calls are also growing for a single democratic state for all from the River to the Sea. Several major joint Israel-Palestinian in initiatives are emerging to unveil the One State agenda. The One State Foundation launched in March and the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC) in April. The idea is gaining ground among Palestinians and Ahmed Abu Artema himself embraced just this in an August 17th piece in Mondoweiss.

The combination of Palestinian popular action, a firm commitment to non-violence even in the face of brutal Israeli oppression, and a clearly-defined goal of equal rights within one state is a powerful one that has the potential to become an unstoppable force. If the traditional framing of the Palestinian struggle as a conflict between peoples for control of the land is replaced by that of a struggle of people for equality and basic human and civil rights, it will be a vision that will be difficult indeed to oppose.

Peter F. Cohen

Peter F. Cohen holds a Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology from Columbia University. He has taught, lectured, authored several publications and worked in International Development on four continents. During the 2014 Operation Protective Edge attack on Gaza, he started the organization Humanity for Palestine from his Facebook Page. A US Citizen, he currently lives in Brazil.

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4 Responses

  1. CHUCKMAN on October 9, 2018, 2:42 pm

    The single state solution is an idea that has been around a long time.

    If I’m not mistaken, the late Edward Said embraced it many years ago.

    It’s perfectly rational, but that is part of the reason that the bitter, brutal men running Israel will never accept it.

    They are ideologues, embracing a dark fantasy, the re-creation of an ancient land based on religious texts 2500 years, or more, old.

    They do not even come from the same people as the Biblical Hebrews, but they do practice the same religion.

    It’s a preposterous and meaningless idea because Jews in fact flourish in a number of places in far better situations than they do in Israel.

    And if Zionists had taken Einstein’s advice, embracing the native people and living among them without iron walls, there could have been something harmonious and peaceful and constructive for everyone over the last 70 years.

    But they did not embrace that vision. They embraced a bitter and hostile vision of iron walls and racial segregation. And militarism and police and security forces everywhere.

    Israel is the most heavily subsidized entity on earth, counting both government and private subsidies.

    It sustains an embattled situation, making life far more difficult for most there than in Canada or the US or France or many other places.

    Their abuse causes them to be greatly disliked in the world, too, and I don’t really think most people enjoy being disliked.

    The place is an armed camp, a crusader fortress. The level of military and security services make it in many ways like the old USSR.

    The cost of living is very high, houses are hard to buy, and career opportunities are limited.

    People only voluntarily live that way when a fantasy dominates rational thinking.

    I wouldn’t care if they wanted to indulge their fantasies, but only if it meant they weren’t hurting and abusing millions.

    But they are hurting and abusing millions.

    You know, it is impossible to look at images of Gaza and not immediately think of a giant concentration camp. It is Israel’s doing alone. And when peaceful, desperate people protest for rights, Israel can only think of lining up firing squads to shoot into the crowd. Where in God’s name does such behavior take you? It is a one-way ride to nowhere.

    The idea of a mixed state is abhorrent to a great many. It violates the confused dream that dominates their thinking.

    And since in general Arab birth rates are higher than Israeli ones, how long would it be before Jews became a minority? I know their leadership is keenly aware of this reality and fear it.

    Also, Israel has little prospect for healthy future migration of Jews. It’s a relatively small group in the world, and not many would trade their prosperity and opportunity for the unpleasant realities of Israel.

    The Russians were the last remaining source for a big immigration, and now that’s used up.

    Prospects are for population decline and only more of the same grief and violence.

    It’s a bleak long-term outlook.

    But accept Palestinians? Whew, that’s like telling devout, old-fashioned Catholics they should accept abortion and married priests and stop reciting the Rosary.

    Modern Israel, by all objective evidence, is in fact a pretty racist society, too.

    I just do not see it.

    But I don’t see anything else either.

    It really was a hopeless enterprise from the beginning, creating a nation based on ancient myths and mumbo-jumbo texts.

    There can be no repeat of the Holocaust. It was a unique event, not to be repeated.

    Living your whole life as though it might be itself represents a mindset that is not completely rational.

  2. eljay on October 9, 2018, 3:09 pm

    … “Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens.” …

    To the rational mind, that tiny sentence expresses a truly beautiful sentiment.

    To the Zionist mind, that tiny sentence is overflowing with anti-Semitism and “Jew hatred”.

  3. Mayhem on October 9, 2018, 10:00 pm

    To say there has been “a firm commitment to non-violence” demonstrates the bias and lack of credibility of this author. Another one for the dustbin.

  4. spritzler on October 10, 2018, 10:14 am

    Three cheers for the Great March of Return. Why? Not because it was nonviolent but because it succeeded in forcing at least some of the Western mass media to acknowledge–for the first time–that the actual grievance of the Palestinians is the denial of their Right of Return.

    Regarding nonviolence, that is merely a tactical decision (a good one in the case of the Great March of Return), not a moral or strategic decision. Praising oppressed people for being nonviolent implies (wrongly!!) that it is wrong–immoral–for oppressed people to use violence in self-defense. This is absurd and it only helps the oppressor. Would anybody DARE to criticize the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt for using violence against the Nazis trying to kill them? The philosophy of nonviolence is wrongheaded, as I discuss here: .

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