Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter, a professor of political science at University of Princeton, mentioned her experience growing up in Virginia in the 1960s briefly at a speech here. “That was not a democracy,” she said. “But, look at it now, and look at how far this country has come.” Her statement boldly compared Israel’s current situation, or at least the direction in which it is going, to that of America right before the civil rights movement. American came far. Israel must come far.
I appreciate her comment because I have told people that my observations at a Palestinian organization, living in Palestinian neighborhoods in Haifa, and witnessing my Palestinian friends’ experiences, paint a picture of what I imagine aspects of 1960s US to have been like. The structural and political racism against 20% of Israeli citizens is obvious. It manifests in unequal funding for schools, for transportation, for health facilities and for utilities in Arab communities. We see this when we look at the Israeli education system and the blatant absence of the Palestinian narrative. It is demonstrated by the fact fact that when my Palestinian friends come home to Israel, they are treated like security threats. We see this in the paucity of Palestinian MKs in Knesset, and the fact that their capacity is hampered by how easily they can be accused of being traitors for representing their community.
On a personal level, I think of when I ran into an old acquaintance from childhood- my age, from a wealthy, well educated Jewish Israeli family- looking for houses in Haifa. I told her to look into the “German colony” neighborhood for an apartment. She shook her head and told me, “there are Arabs there.” I think about when Israeli friend asked what organization I was working for and I told her about the Mossawa Center, and she asked, at 24 years old, if there was a problem with racism in Israel. I think about two going away parties: one in Haifa where only my Palestinian friends attended, and one in Tel Aviv where most of them felt uncomfortable coming to because of their discomfort in a city inhospitable to their Arabic and dark skin.
Israeli Jews in Tel Aviv, or Haifa or Ranana or Beer Sheva can be part of a system of occupation and ignore it completely. The occupation’s impact on Palestinian lives in the West Bank does not touch them unless they choose to be touched by it, and so this ignorance is one that can be more easily understood.
But I struggle to comprehend how the discriminatory policies towards Palestinian citizens in Israel have been so complacently permitted. This is not the suffering of people across a giant wall. This is the suffering of neighbors, co-workers, doctors, and friends. This is a struggle that can be seen and heard every day.
The reality facing Palestinians citizens in Israel illustrates the hold that the occupation has on the Israeli mentality. We talk about how not ending the occupation will lead to moral sacrifices from the Jewish people. We talk about how we will have a state that does not hold democratic values. But that moral flexibility and loose democracy justified by security is a symptom that is already full blown inside Israel’s own borders.
I agree with Aziz Abu Sarah when he that the panel he was moderating: Palestinian and Arab Israelis- The Peace Process and the Two State Solution- was the most important panel. It is a crucial topic that has never had a space before at J Street. And it was pretty wonderful to be at.
I think this panel helped attendees at J Street to understand the conversation around a one state vs. two state solution more clearly. Ghaida Rinadi Zuabi, the director of Injaz: The Center for Arab Local Governance in Israel, and Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer, both took time to outline the different schools of thought within the Palestinian Israeli community. Zuabi described the idea of a “one state solution” as a dream. In this dream, Palestinian Israelis can keep living in their homes, have a connection to their greater community and so can Jews. This is not the “one state” threat that other speakers at J Street referenced. Those that support it are often pragmatic- willing to stand behind a two state solution but also completely aware of the growing settlements and rightfully distrustful of the current Israeli government.
Dr. Abu Nimer described the relationship that Palestinian Israelis have with the state eloquently and humorously joking, profoundly, that “Living as a Palestinian in Israel is like being Jewish in the US if Christmas was 365 days a year.” This is a detached citizenship- they are part of Israel but are not made to feel welcome. They are nationally connected to other Palestinians but do not live with them. They know more about Judaism and speak far better Hebrew than I do, and simultaneously preserve a strong ethnic and national identity in their homes and communities.
Abu Nimer did not gloss over the fact that supporting the two state solution is a significant compromise for Palestinian citizens in Israel. If it were to happen in a way that would guarantee the protection of minority rights and address a history of oppression and discrimination, then it could work. That is the two state solution idea most of old colleagues in Israel stand behind, but they are well aware that it is a long time in coming. Abu Nimer stated,” Saying we accept you and your nationality is not really two state solution.” I agree that a real solution will require both sides to acknowledge all parts of their shared narrative and begin to address structural oppression at its roots – inside of Israel’s borders just as much as outside of them.
There is a lot of fear associated with talk of a “one state solution.” However, my formulation as an activist occurred at a Palestinian Israeli organization, and I know that the development of the idea, particularly from this community, is no threat- it is simply another proposed solution born from experiencing the reality on the ground. We talk a lot about being creative at J Street and as a community that knows what it is like to build relationships with your enemies while preserving your own vibrant culture, Palestinian citizens in Israel and their organizations should be an integral part of this process and dialogue- regardless of what the final outcome will be. I have been and continued to be inspired by their perseverance, innovation and grace.