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Change cannot happen just by switching political leaders, we need to change the system

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When Donald Trump was elected US president, I tried to look for the silver lining, and declared this catastrophe acceptable, because at least now “the world will know the truth” about US racism, the rise of white nationalism, the collusion of the government with racist law enforcement, and of course, the fact that the US was never an “honest broker” in the Middle East. I, like many others, was trying to make lemonade out of lemons.   “What Trump has achieved,” I wrote in December 2017, “is the formal recognition that the US has never been a fair mediator, a neutral broker, but rather that it has always supported Israeli settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.  Democrats have been more hypocritical about it, consistently increasing their financial aid to Israel even as they criticized the settlements as an obstacle to peace.  Trump lacks any and all diplomacy, and if there is anything he is good at, it is his unabashed embrace of various oppressive systems.  His national base is white supremacists, his global base is Zionism, another form of ethnic supremacy.”

With Trump, I explained, “the mask has come off.”  Similarly, Noura Erakat, also expressed relief at Trump’s removal of the emperor’s clothes, as she explained (also in December 2017) that: “Trump has finally ended the United States’ double-speak and should have ended any faith that the United States will deliver Palestinian independence or that Israel is interested in giving up its territorial holdings captured in war.”

But the truth is, the world already knew.  No one who is in any way genuinely interested in politics, rather than hearsay, is unaware of, say, Barack Obama’s love of drone warfare, or Bill Clinton’s disastrous sponsorship of the Oslo Accords, which precipitated the collapse of any Palestinian authority.  What exactly did Trump do, that previous US presidents had not done? Children in cages? Mass deportations? Environmental devastation? Profit before people? Banks before homeowners? These social and political ills had all been done before, Trump only escalated them, (as indeed other presidents had done before him), rather than innovated. And anyone who is in any way genuinely interested in politics already knew, long before Trump’s presidency, that the US was no honest broker in the Middle East, and that Israel had no intention of ever granting Palestinians their human rights.  We did not need Trump to help us figure that out.

We are seeing a similar attempt at making lemonade out of lemons with Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection as Israel’s prime minister.  Apparently, now the world is finally going to know that the Israeli people vote for a proud racist with expansionist ideas of a single Jewish-supremacist state, from the river to the sea.  Netanyahu’s main opponent, Benny Gantz, would have been just as detrimental to Palestinian rights. However, by not claiming that he wants one state throughout historic Palestine, Gantz would have extended the shelf-life of the otherwise toxic two-state illusion.

Seriously?  As if we didn’t know the two-state solution was never viable?  Let me ask, again: did anyone who is in any way genuinely interested in politics, rather than hearsay, still believe up till Netanyahu’s fifth reelection, that the two-state solution is a valid option that simply requires the right Israeli prime minister?

Apparently, American liberals do.  And apparently, American liberals hold such political sway that their awakening to reality is beneficial to all.

I disagree. “Liberals” are not the visionary leaders who could empower any oppressed community, and our liberation could never come through them.  Liberals are the Democratic “colleagues” who attacked Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for speaking truth to power. If Netanyahu’s reelection—another lemon–will remove their blinders, they will scurry to make more lemonade, because ultimately, their vision was never emancipatory.  They value civility over civil, and for that matter, human, rights. “Liberals” are those Zionists who think the Nakba was necessary, redemptive even, and only the Naksa is a problem. Our initial dispossession, our permanent refugee status, (as those displaced in 1948 would not be allowed to return), the creation of two apartheid states where now there is only one, does not trouble their liberal dreams.  I speak of two apartheid states not because Palestinians aspire to such a country, nor because I believe in the possibility, but because, in the (severely myopic) liberal vision, there is a Jewish Israel, and a Muslim Palestine, in defiance of the multiethnic, multi-confessional history of that country. And liberals would be satisfied with that.

Change cannot happen within the existing paradigms, with a switch from Republican to Democrat, conservative to liberal, Likud to Labor, or the other way around, since these are all part of the overarching structure that created, and maintains, the systems of oppression.

We can only thrive through a revolutionary imagination that breaks free from the multiple versions of solutions, accords, deals and negotiations we have suffered through for the past century, every single one of which was doomed to fail.  We need to look beyond formulations of a nation-state, towards indigenous sovereignty, a respect for the tormented land and the culture it has historically fostered. No more lemonade, no more “tweaks” to the various political proposals made over the past century, every single one of them coming from an imperial mindset.

We need to abolish the settler-colonial mindset, which is at the root of the problem, indeed, its very cause. Just as revolutionary visionaries advocate prison abolition, rather than prison reform, we need to advocate indigenous liberation, not setter-colonial “reform.”  To elaborate on the comparison, “prison reform” assumes that the institution of incarcerating criminals is not essentially flawed, and can be improved upon.  In the settler-colonial context, “reformers” assume that the US and Israel are not fundamentally and violently racist, they can become “multiethnic democracies.” On the other hand, prison abolitionists want a world without prisons, because incarceration itself, not just the way it is currently practiced, is wrong.  They argue that incarceration is never the solution, and can only have a detrimental effect on the incarcerated and society at large. Settler-colonial abolitionists, then, would seek an abolition, rather than a “reform” of the US and Israel, whose very existence hinges on indigenous genocide, so as to respect indigenous sovereignty.

We need to stop attempting to “reform” the US and Israel into kinder, gentler settler-colonial entities.  People are now speaking of “Trump’s America,” and “Netanyahu’s Israel,” as if there were an “America” and an “Israel” that are not fundamentally racist.  We must understand that “Trump’s America” is everyone’s America, and “Netanyahu’s Israel” is everyone’s Israel. Those two countries would not exist without settler-colonialism, and settler-colonialism cannot be harmless.  Only when we grasp that truth can the real work of revolutionary imagination thrive, away from illusions that, with a different leader, the US and Israel will not be the intrinsically racist, violent countries that they are.   Yes, it is an ambitious vision, but the alternative is not viable. And the transformation has already begun, with movements, activists, organizers, coming together across the continents, from Palestine to Turtle Island, united by a vision of justice, and survival.  From BlackLivesMatter to the Palestine Youth Movement, to the Indigenous elders who insisted, at Standing Rock, that “water is life,” these movements, and their visionary members, are our hope for a better future.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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10 Responses

  1. wondering jew on April 25, 2019, 11:48 am

    Defining liberal Zionists is not a job for an anti Zionist. The liberal Zionist (in 2019) confesses the clash between democracy and Zionism and seeks to minimize the clash, to avoid friction and thus we were opposed to the settler enterprise. Now the settler enterprise has in effect won. Avoidance of friction was not state policy, merely an ideal in some Zionist minds. But the predominant movement has been the settler movement. The next logical step is annexation. This annexation will at first avoid granting citizenship to the “residents” of the West Bank. As practical people we now accept the logic of annexation, but as democratic people we must insist that citizenship for the residents must be included.

    • eljay on April 25, 2019, 12:05 pm

      || wondering jew: Defining liberal Zionists is not a job for an anti Zionist. … ||

      It’s no job at all: A “liberal Zionist” is simply a “kinder, gentler” Zionist.

      || … The liberal Zionist (in 2019) confesses the clash between democracy and Zionism and seeks to minimize the clash … ||

      …but not to eliminate it because at the end of the day the “liberal Zionist” – like the hard-core Zionist – believes in and wants to maintain Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of (geographic) Palestine.

    • Misterioso on April 26, 2019, 10:54 am

      @wondering Jew

      “but as democratic people…”

      Bull crap. As your record west of the green line attests, Zionist Jews like you are not “democratic” and never have been.

      Hendrik Verwoerd, then prime minister of South Africa and the architect of South Africa’s apartheid policies, 1961: “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” (Rand Daily Mail, November 23, 1961)

      Jacobus Johannes Fouché, South African Minister of Defence during the apartheid era, compared the two states and said that Israel also practiced apartheid. (Gideon Shimoni (1980). Jews and Zionism: The South African Experience 1910-1967. Cape Town: Oxford UP. pp. 310–336. ISBN 0195701798.

      “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons. ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”
      EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in ISRAEL [my emphasis] and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.” (Times of Israel, February 21, 2013)

      Video: Israeli TV Host Implores Israelis: Wake Up and Smell the Apartheid

      In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.” (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

      “Construction, Not Destruction”
      “While Israeli Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population, Arab communities’ jurisdictions occupy just 2.5 percent of the state’s land area, and the process of approving new construction in Arab towns takes decades.” (Haaretz Editorial, April 4, 2017)

      One example of apartheid within Israel:
      “Jewish town won’t let Arab build home on his own land ”
      Excerpt: “Aadel Suad first came to the planning and construction committee of the Misgav Local Council in 1997. Suad, an educator, was seeking a construction permit to build a home on a plot of land he owns in the community of Mitzpeh Kamon. The reply he got, from a senior official on the committee, was a memorable one. ‘Don’t waste your time,’ he reportedly told Suad. ‘We’ll keep you waiting for 30 years.’” (Haaretz, 14 December 2009)

      Adi Ophir, professor of philosophy, Tel Aviv University: “…the adoption of the political forms of an ethnocentric and racist nation-state in general, are turning Israel into the most dangerous place in the world for the humanity and morality of the Jewish community, for the continuity of Jewish cultures and perhaps for Jewish existence itself.” (1998 issue of “Theory and Criticism,” published in Israel)

      Ilan Pappe, while professor of political science at Haifa University: “[Israel’s] political system [is] exclusionary, a pro forma democracy – going through the motions of democratic rule but essentially being akin to apartheid or Herenvolk (‘master race’) democracy.” (“Jerusalem Report,” Feb. 14/2000)

      Ronnie Kasrils, a key player in the struggle against the former South African apartheid regime, minister for intelligence and a devout Jew: “The Palestinian minority in Israel has for decades been denied basic equality in health, education, housing and land possession, solely because it is not Jewish. The fact that this minority is allowed to vote hardly redresses the rampant injustice in all other basic human rights. They are excluded from the very definition of the ‘Jewish state’, and have virtually no influence on the laws, or political, social and economic policies. Hence, their similarity to the black South Africans [under apartheid].” (The Guardian, 25 May 2005)

      Shlomo Gazit, retired IDF Major General: “[Israel’s] legal system that enforces the law in a discriminatory way on the basis of national identity, is actually maintaining an apartheid regime.” (Haaretz, July 19, 2011)

      Israel is the only country in the world that differentiates between citizenship and nationality, i.e., “Israeli” nationality does not exist, only Jews and non-Jews, and each citizen carries an appropriate identity card. While the implications of this absurdity for discrimination and racism against non-Jews are obvious, it has been upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court.

      The effect of Israel’s blatantly racist “Citizenship Law” and more than fifty other restrictions Arab citizens have to endure is well expressed by writer and Knesset member, Ahmed Tibi, “…dutifully defining the state [of Israel] as ‘Jewish and democratic,’ ignores the fact that in practice ‘democratic’ refers to Jews, and the Arabs are nothing more than citizens without citizenship.” (Ma’ariv, 1.6.2005)


      • eljay on April 26, 2019, 12:30 pm

        || Misterioso: @wondering Jew

        “but as democratic people…”

        Bull crap. As your record west of the green line attests, Zionist Jews like you are not “democratic” and never have been. … ||

        I love how his comment (” … as democratic people we must insist that citizenship for the residents must be included … “):
        – makes him, an American, out to be an Israeli;
        – underscores his (and other Zionists’) supremacism; and, as expected of a Zionist,
        – anti-Semitically conflates Israel and Zionism with all Jews and all Jews with Israel and Zionism.

  2. oldgeezer on April 25, 2019, 12:28 pm


    “As practical people we now accept the logic of annexation, ”

    lol you poor long suffering zionists. Of course you must. Because you benefit from it! Because it’s good for you no matter how illegal or how many victims you create and how badly you abuse them.

    The rational humanitarian lol! Turns my stomach but it does go to show that liberal zionists are every bit as criminal as the right wing variety. Actually they are far far worse.

  3. Ossinev on April 25, 2019, 1:12 pm

    “No the settler enterprise has won”.

    Your comment presupposes that the “settlers” or “settler movement” or “settler enterprise” were orchestrating the 2SS scam is IMHO simply a distraction from the reality of what successive Israeli governments have been doing.

    The 2 state solution has been an ongoing elaborate Zionist status quo con trick for over 25 years conceived and delivered by successive Israeli Leaders with the oversight and approval of the US (aka the American Zionist $ Lobby).

    BTW You refer to Palestinians in the West Bank as “residents”. This is simple organic Zionist propaganda to avoid the truth – the truth being that the Palestinians are the native people as opposed to the weird cocktail of American and European colonists who have invaded and stolen their native land.

    Jewish Israelis with the exception of an honourable minority have never been a ” democratic ” people because they have consistently avoided looking in the mirror and acknowledging the the fact that they are non native colonisers.

    As for the”we must insist” who are the “we”. Certainly not the current generation of Israelis who have been brainwashed from birth into seeing the native Palestinians as “alien untermenschen” who have illegally “settled” in and”stolen” the land granted by God to the Jews ( be that Brooklyn,Florida,Golders Green or Kiev Jews).

    You talk of ” logical” and “practical” “people” without realising how grotesque and condescending that sounds.

  4. Citizen on April 25, 2019, 2:48 pm

    Ms. Elia, re your analogy “…prison abolitionists want a world without prisons, because incarceration itself, not just the way it is currently practiced, is wrong. They argue that incarceration is never the solution, and can only have a detrimental effect on the incarcerated and society at large. ”

    Please tell us, re this analogy, what prison abolitionists recommend as the solution. Let’s see how well this analogy fits settler colonialist POV.

  5. RoHa on April 25, 2019, 9:59 pm

    “we need to advocate indigenous liberation”

    What is that, and how will it bring justice to the Palestinians?

  6. Keith on April 26, 2019, 4:40 pm

    In regards to the title of this article about changing the system, I include a couple of quotes from John Pilger and Daniel Ellsberg about our Grand Jury system which I was unaware of, and which puts both the assumed indictment of Julian Assange and the jailing of Chelsea Manning for refusing to testify in a new light. In my opinion, both Julian and Chelsea are heroes.

    “This injustice goes back to an archaic relic of the twelfth century, when the first grand jury was implemented by King Henry II in England. He used it for enforcing what he called “the king’s peace.” It persisted in common law jurisdiction throughout the world but was abandoned as something out-of-date. In Britain it was abandoned in 1948. The only two countries that kept it were the United States and Liberia. It is not at all like the common conception of a jury trial. When the US government wants to prosecute politically, it uses a grand jury in the eastern district of Virginia, a dormitory town for the national security establishment of the United States: the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon. All living side by side in suburban bliss. That’s who make up these grand juries. They have star chamber powers. For one thing, you give up your right to silence, the very basis of justice.” (John Pilger)

    “She (Chelsea Manning) objects to grand juries in general, as unconstitutional and undemocratic in their secret proceedings. That is the same attitude my co-defendant in the Pentagon Papers trial, Anthony Russo, took forty-eight years ago. He refused to testify secretly to a grand jury. In fact, he offered to testify if they would give him a transcript that would show him exactly what he said and hadn’t said. They wouldn’t accept that and he spent over a month in jail before they decided instead to indict him. Chelsea is taking the same position now and showing the kind of moral courage that she has shown all along.” (Daniel Ellsberg)

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