For Palestinians, the arc of justice has moved at a comatose snail’s pace. Even when outrageous events such as Israel’s cyclical “mowing the lawn” massacres propel us forward, towards further exposing Israel’s reality, because they are sufficiently horrific to shake many out of their slumber, it feels like inertia keeps pulling us back. The storm subsides, and the average American forgets the grotesquely asymmetrical power balance and casualty rates, and goes back to the unquestioning, default position, of viewing Israel as a democracy, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” having to defend itself against the hordes of anti-Semitic Palestinians, whose grievance stems from their unbridled hatred, rather than the injustice done to them.
Or so it has felt for way too long.
Nevertheless, over the past few Decembers, when it generally comes time to look back at the developments of the past 12 months, many have noted a gradually more traveled path, towards the mainstreaming of criticism of Israel, and the shedding of the knee-jerk accusation of anti-semitism when one is critical of Israeli actions. Among the significant discursive changes that have occurred over the past few years, one stands out today, namely, that Israel does not only violate the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza but indeed throughout historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, as most recently observed by Temple University Professor and BlackLivesMatter activist Dr. Marc Lamont Hill. Today, seventy years into the ongoing Nakba, Israel is still aggressively pursuing its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people throughout historic Palestine, even as it enshrines an official system of apartheid, from the river to the sea, which posits Palestinians as second class citizens in Israel, and subjects them to a genocidal siege in the Gaza Strip, and military rule in the West Bank, where a growing number of settlers are above the law, protected by “the Jewish state.”
Other discursive changes include the fact that progressives no longer speak of “ending the occupation.” This is reflected, for example, in the name change of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, the largest national umbrella organization of over 400 Palestine-justice groups, which had been known until 2016 as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. That name had long irritated groups who understood that the oppressor, the system denying Palestinians their rights, is Zionism, not “the occupation,” which is merely an extension of Zionism.
“Zionism” as a concept is also coming under extreme scrutiny amongst liberals. Most progressives had long argued that Zionism was problematic since it is a political ideology hinging on the privileging of members of a perceived ethnic group through the dispossession and disenfranchisement of an indigenous people. But for many liberals, Zionism was a redemptive, restorative movement, atoning for centuries of European anti-semitism. In keeping with centuries of Eurocentric tunnel vision that fails to recognize the humanity of non-Europeans, a la “Columbus discovered America,” those liberals refused to acknowledge the impact of Zionism on the Palestinian people. Yet the belief in the “morality” of present-day Israel is eroding by the day, as the world witnesses, if only from the distance of a computer screen, irrefutable proof of the massacres its military engages in. Zionism is settler-colonialism, and settler-colonialism is always violent, always racist.
Finally, the fantasy of the two-state solution is dead. As people across the political spectrum from the right to the left agree that Israel controls historic Palestine in its entirety, the question now seems to be whether the one de facto state, from the river to the sea, will be Jewish, or democratic. There is no possibility of a Jewish democratic state in a land where mere Palestinian existence is viewed as a “demographic threat” to an ethno-nationalist state that posits the supremacy of one group over another.
These changes in popular opinion are all reflected in the “groundbreaking poll” of 2,352 Americans over the age of 18 published earlier this week, which shows almost equal support for the one state solution as for the two-state delusion, as well as for the imposition of sanctions on Israel. As Adam Horowitz notes, in his detailed analysis of the poll: overall, 35 percent support a single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens; 36 percent support Israeli and Palestinian states side by side. However, “among 18-and-34-year-olds support for one state climbs to 42 percent.”
Beyond the “discursive change” we are right to celebrate, we are seeing concrete actions happening at all levels, from the disenchanted disaffected individual, to members of Congress. Again, the poll shows that 40% of respondents support sanctions on Israel, with 46% of registered Democrats in favor of such sanctions.
And as I wrote recently, individuals are taking action spontaneously to enact their disapproval of Israel. Faculty are refusing to write letters of recommendation for students wishing to study in Israel, student bodies are voting to end their school’s Study Abroad in Israel programs, citizens are asking to end exchange programs between American and Israeli law enforcement officers, and participation in Birthright, the free trip to Israel offered Diaspora Jews under the age of 26, is at an all-time low.
Change is rising from the grassroots to the top, and we now have an incoming Congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, who has announced that she will skip the seemingly obligatory AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel that all first-year members of Congress are treated to, and lead a Palestine-centered delegation herself. Tlaib and another new Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, have endorsed BDS. And Congresswoman Betty McCollum had already introduced, in 2017, a bill calling upon Israel to respect Palestinian children’s human rights.
This is not to say the official efforts at shutting down all support for justice in Palestine are waning. The recent Al-Jazeera documentary, The Lobby, reveals only some of the organizations against us. Beyond these organizations are powerful individual stakeholders who are eager to clamp down hard on any act of solidarity with the Palestinian people. The case of Marc Lamont Hill, more specifically the fact that the Temple University Board of Trustees has exceeded their responsibilities, generally limited to fiduciary oversight, in order to condemn him, is a testament to the corrosive power of Zionist stakeholders to stifle academic speech.
There is still much work to be done. But the case of Marc Lamont Hill also shows that the movement is fighting back, and growing stronger with every battle, no matter what scars we acquire. To quote Palestine Legal founder Dima Khalidi, people are coming together, motivated by a decades-long yearning for justice, to struggle together against Zionism, against white supremacy, against state-sanctioned violence, “from every river to every sea.” So as this year ends, and a new one dawns, I for one will sing, with Sam Cooke, “it’s been a long time coming, but I know, a change’s gonna come.”
Hopefully, 2019 will prove to be the year of the giant leap forward, the sprint towards the finish line.