Why a Palestinian civil rights movement is key to Israel’s peace

I recently saw a moving documentary called “Seeds of Peace” (part of the Conscientious Projector series in Old Town Pasadena). It followed the course of a 3-week summer camp in Maine that brings teenagers together (for succesive years) from opposing sides of a conflict zone (like Israelis and Palestinians).  One scene that proved particularly revelatory was when the camp counselors (after several weeks of intense, face-to-face and polarzing debates) had the group line up on one end of the cabin if they believed in Israel’s side of the story and the other end if they believed in Palestine.  Guess who was left in the middle? The Israeli Arabs.  (Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship make up 20% of Israel’s population, a percentage that will keep increasing.)

Why could these particular Palestinians empathize to some degree with Israel’s interests/needs (as versus the Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank or Gaza)?  Because they had some basic civil rights and protections under the umbrella of the Zionist state (albeit a second-class citizenship, replete with the usual,deep-seated discrminations that minorities face even in democracies).  They had personally enjoyed some benefits of Israel’s democracy and economy and, logically, did not want to see it destroyed (it was their country, too, kind of!) They had been included, even if back-handedly and grudgingly.  (The fact is, like the US economy and Mexicans, Israel is ultimately dependent on the labor of Palestinians if it wants to be a middle-class nation.)

What do I learn from this?  If Israel was actually serious about giving civil rights to the 5-6 million or so Palestinians who have lived (and died) under its (dehumanizing and debilitating) thumb for the last 40 years in the Occuppied Territories, they would (slowly but surely) have a kind of peace with their Arab neighbors that will forever elude them if they continue on the self-destructive path they have pursued especially since 1967. 

This is what the Afrikaaners in South Africa finally came to accept (or at least key and wise leaders, which Israel seems to be singularly lacking in currently).  They realized they had to give at least second-class civil rights to the black, indigeneous majority in their country, or they would be continually under threat and their economy would never be viable.  Perhaps not incidentally, they also realized the other path of continually oppressing their neighbors would sicken and destroy their souls, a living (and dying) hell.  What whites in South Africa have discovered is, they still have more than enough power, privilege, and property to live “the good life” in the new, more just, South Africa, even if they get out-voted in elections and our a (elite) minority.  Israel faces the same, inescapable choice.

What prevents such a seemingly sensible/inevitable political solution in Israel?  Many things, of course, but primary among them is a Zionist (racist?) insistence on maintaining a demographic majority of Jews within an officially Zionist state (the kind of “blood and soil” politics that really went out of style by the end of the 20th century).  

I believe, ultimately, only a federated or one state/one economy solution–with civil rights of some kind for everyone, and, inevitably, a Palestinian majority population–is possible in the region.  The smart Palestinians in the past (and in the future) will put down their guns and wage an MLK-style civil rights campaign, essentially saying, “you win with your European colonial state; now you have to include us in it.”  However, given the level of disintergration and degradation experienced by Palestinians vis-a-vis Israel, they may very well require a transitional period of two states, so that Palestinians finally have the dignity of sovereignity that has been denied them for so long.  The Palestinians are one of the world’s most politically educated/savvy people (much more so than Americans; they’ve been figting for their civil rights for decades), and are quite capable of governing themselves, if not actively and constantly undermined by their Israeli Big Brother (who is currently quite unabashed about its intention to destroy the elected government of the Palestinians and imprisoning the whole of their civil society within a series of discontiguous and encircled reservations, with no exits).    

Peace in Christ,



2 Responses to “Why a Palestinian civil rights movement is key to Israel’s peace”

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