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A free Palestine ‘from river to the sea’: Marc Lamont Hill’s call for justice has consequences

Media Analysis
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I confess I had never heard of Marc Lamont Hill until CNN fired him for his November 28 speech at the United Nations on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People before the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)   

If truth be told, I had not heard of CEIRPP either. It was established by UN Resolution 3376 in 1975 to formulate a program to enable the Palestinian people to exercise (1) their inalienable right to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty, and (2) the right of Palestine refugees to return. So the long knives must have been out for Professor Hill (his day job is at Temple University in Philadelphia) when he agreed to fly back from a trip to Palestine and address CEIRPP in the first place, since Israel and the American Jewish establishment must consider the very existence of CEIRPP and its raison d’être to be an existential challenge to the Jewish State.

When I went to the web for the speech, I saw a young black American who knew his stuff and did not shrink from a powerful articulation of the Palestinian plight and a passionate appeal for international solidarity on their behalf. The first third of the 21 minute speech summarized the myriad ways in which Israelis have oppressed Palestinians in the 70 years since the Nakba, including “the expulsion, murder, and the permanent dislocation of more than a million Palestinians,” in derogation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights – also 70 years old – which says that all people are “born free in dignity and rights.”  

There was nothing new in his survey of rights violations – the Nation-State law and the 60-some-odd earlier laws that privilege Jews and discriminate against Palestinians in housing, education and family reunification; the use and judicial acceptance of torture in violation of the UN Convention on Torture ratified by Israel in 1991; the killing and maiming of peaceful protesters; the view of all Palestinians as potential terrorists and arbitrary arrest and administrative detention for six months or more without charges; the home demolitions and more. As Hill himself noted, it has all been documented by human rights organizations inside and outside Israel-Palestine. The pervasive, systematic and relentless nature of the Israeli oppression is visible to anyone who goes to the West Bank (or Gaza) to see for themselves.

But what was remarkable, coming from a mainstream press commentator like Hill, was the framework which he said embodied this oppression: the American tax dollars contributing to it; and the colonial and imperialistic tendency of the powerful in the West to “exercise dominion” over the vulnerable peoples of color here in the United States, and around the world, in Palestine, South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere, where the struggle to resist state violence is “all of the same sort.” Because no American president has taken a principled stand against this occupation or in defense of Palestinian rights, Hill noted, Trump is not wildly out of step with historic and bipartisan American policy; rather than an exception, Trump is “a more transparent and aggressive iteration” of that policy – in moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, permanently reneging on our commitment to fund UNRWA, and pressuring the Palestinians to permit the U.S. to unilaterally resolve the final status of refugees to the Palestinians’ detriment.

Hill’s prescription for resistance to the oppression was an international solidarity movement, a union of resistance by vulnerable people the world over to the powerful who oppress them: African Americans protesting the St. Louis killing of Michael Brown making common cause with the Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence, turn towards rather than away from each other; a wholehearted embrace of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) call from Palestinian civil society, and a determination to “no longer allow our political leaders or parties to be silent on Palestine.”  

While committing to support only non-violent means of resistance like BDS, Hill pointed out that American slavery was not defeated by the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, but by a bloody civil war and slave revolts before that, and that international law permits an occupied people to resist such occupation by resort to force, if necessary. Accordingly, Hill said, we should not “shame Palestinians for resisting rather than doing nothing in the face of Israeli state violence and ethnic cleansing.” Justice, he said, “requires a free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

Hill’s provocative call for freedom for Palestinians in the whole of historic Palestine (or Greater Israel), in a single state guaranteeing rights for both peoples, did not mention Jews or Israelis, leaving him vulnerable to the false attack that he was advocating eliminating Jews from the Holy Land, not just a state which privileges Jews and oppresses Palestinians.  Accordingly, his “pro-Israel” critics fell on him like a ton of bricks, not just at CNN, but at Temple University where, thankfully, he has tenure and First Amendment protections against firing, demotion or other retaliation for his advocacy, since Temple is a public university.  

On the other hand, Sari Bashi, a human rights researcher at the Yale Law School who attended the CEIRPP proceedings as a representative of Israeli civil society, found Hill’s speech “powerful and refreshing” because the “vision of a single state is inherently more inclusive than partition along ethnic lines,” and “could end Israeli domination over Palestinians” while preserving the human rights of both peoples.

There is a fundamental difference between a Jewish homeland and a Jewish State.  A homeland guarantees the rights of Jews to enter and become citizens and enjoy equal rights.  It is compatible with a homeland and equal rights for Palestinians as well. A Jewish State – especially as it has developed in Israel– privileges Jews in rights and resources and therefore inherently disadvantages Palestinians, the other indigenous people of the Land. It is not compatible with a Palestinian homeland and equal rights. It is also not compatible with Jewish moral and religious values, a fatal flaw in a Jewish State, which constitutes the real existential challenge to the Jewish people.

As the consensus that the two-state solution is dead grows, the debate must increasingly turn to the set of principles and structures we – Palestinians and Jews working together – must agree upon in order to ultimately put in place a one-state solution.  

Robert Herbst

Robert Herbst is a civil rights lawyer. He was chapter coordinator for Westchester Jewish Voice for Peace from 2014-2017,

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7 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 4, 2018, 12:04 am

    Agreed, Mr. Herbst. Go BDS! Use social media to spread the word to all Americans their elected officials write a blank check for Israel’s rogue conduct and policies. Tell them Senator Rand Paul is fighting alone right now in the Senate to stop the latest $38 Billion give-away of our tax dollars to the tiny ethnocratic state with big nukes.

    • Misterioso on December 4, 2018, 10:08 am


      Brava Rashida Tlaib!!!! What a woman!!

      “Rejecting Israel Lobby’s Influence Over Congress, Rashida Tlaib Plans to Lead Delegation to Palestine” The Intercept, Dec. 3/18

      “Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic representative-elect from Michigan, belongs to a cohort of incoming members of Congress who’ve vowed to upend the status quo — even on third-rail issues in Washington like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end, Tlaib is planning to lead a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, she told The Intercept. Her planned trip is a swift rebuke of a decades-old tradition for newly elected members: a junket to Israel sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

      “The AIPAC trips are among the lesser-known traditions for freshman members of Congress. They’re typically scheduled during the first August recess in every legislative session and feature a weeklong tour of Israel and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government, and the military. Both critics and proponents of the AIPAC freshmen trip say the endeavor is incredibly influential, providing House members with a distinctly pro-Israel viewpoint on complex controversies in the region. In recent years, the Democratic tour has been led by incoming Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Incoming Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., traditionally leads the Republican trip.

      “Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress, hopes to draw on her roots in the region to offer her fellow incoming representatives an alternative introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She said her group will focus on issues like Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, education, access to clean water, and poverty. She may even take them to Beit Ur al-Foqa, the village where Tlaib’s grandmother lives, in the northern West Bank.

      “It is unclear who will join Tlaib on the trip. She is still working out the details of when it will take place and what advocacy organizations she will partner with to fund the delegation. But Tlaib is clear about one thing: She wants her delegation to humanize Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories, which Tlaib likens to what African-Americans in the United States endured in the Jim Crow era. She is not planning any meetings with the Palestinian Authority or with Israeli government officials, a mainstay of the AIPAC trips.

      “’I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,’ Tlaib said in an interview. ‘I don’t think AIPAC provides a real, fair lens into this issue. It’s one-sided. … [They] have these lavish trips to Israel, but they don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.’”

  2. Misterioso on December 4, 2018, 10:30 am

    Breaking news:

    The Guardian, Dec. 4/18
    “Israel begins operation to expose Hezbollah ‘attack tunnels’ on Lebanon border. Military calls the tunnels a ‘flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.’” **

    “Israel’s military says it has begun an operation to ‘expose and thwart’ cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon dug by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

    “An Israeli military spokesman, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, said it had detected tunnels crossing from Lebanon into northern Israel. He said the tunnel operation would be carried out inside Israel and would not cross the border.

    “Israel released video footage of digging and pile-driving equipment at work in unidentified locations with trees and bushes in the background, carrying out what it said were ‘tactical preparations to expose Hezbollah’s offensive cross-border tunnel project’. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

    “On Monday, Netanyahu met the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in Brussels. An Israeli government source said the purpose of the meeting was to update Pompeo about the tunnel operation.

    “The focus of operations was near the Israeli border town of Metulla, Conricus said, adding that some areas near the border fence had been closed off. An Israeli military source said the operation might take weeks to complete.

    “The military said the tunnels were not yet operational but posed ‘an imminent threat’ to Israeli civilians, and constituted ‘a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty’ ”. **

    **”‘… a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.'” Such blatant hypocrisy given the fact that the entity known as “Israel” is still illegally occupying Lebanon’s Shebba Farms/Kfarshuba Hills seized during the war it launched on 5 June 1967.

    • Citizen on December 6, 2018, 6:47 pm

      Those tunnels have been active for years, but now suddenly that’s a dire threat to Israel?

  3. echinococcus on December 5, 2018, 10:40 am

    There is a fundamental difference between a Jewish homeland and a Jewish State

    Well, “Jewish homeland” is whichever region a person adhering to the Jewish religion is from. And that is the only difference. Don’t try to sell us more.

    A homeland guarantees the rights of Jews to enter and become citizens and enjoy equal rights. It is compatible with a homeland and equal rights for Palestinians as well.

    That word, “equal”, is pure BS: “Jews” don’t have a right to enter Palestine. It’s up to the Palestinians as a collective to decide if to grant any rights of entry to total strangers, or to offspring of invaders by aggression.

    It might be “compatible with a homeland and equal rights for Palestinians”, perhaps, depending on your illicit use of “equal”, but that i neither here not there: before that, Palestinians have an absolute right to their own land and to keep it free from invaders and colonizers.

    Go back to what you wrote and read the UN Charter and the declaration of human rights.

    You “equal-rights” people never ever respond to this.
    You may be trying to obscure the rights situation out of misplaced humanitarian concerns. It may be in order to secure the continued colonization of Palestine. Let’s hear which.

  4. jack dresser on December 10, 2018, 1:48 pm

    And of course “homeland” is what the Balfour Declaration promised (however illegitimate the UK claim to decide). The Palestinians have generously agreed to let any Jewish carpetbaggers stay who are willing to live in equality with Arabs, for which they are owed bottomless thanks by the colonizers.

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