Meretz Symposium Day 3: Ramallah

This morning, Ha’aretz published an especially scary news article by Gideon Levy. A recent poll shows that the majority of Israeli society support the separation of Arabs and Jews, which is, by nature, an apartheid system. This fact did not shock any of today’s speakers, nor myself.

We carried this deeply disturbing fact in our minds as we passed through the checkpoints and into Ramallah to meet with PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Yasser Abd Rabbo, head of the PLO Cultural and Media Department Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, PLO Prime Minister Salam Fayaad, and American Palestinian entrepreneur Sam Bahhour.

Wall of separation

The separation wall from the outside.

Today, my main goal was to understand the sentiment among Palestinian leadership regarding BDS. What I got repeatedly was the following: it comes from the right place, but it is ineffective, and in some cases detrimental. Message received. Time to move on. Who wants to brainstorm effective non-violent strategies to pressure the Israeli government and society to end the occupation?

The best speaker of the day, and perhaps the whole trip thus far, was Dr. Ashrawi. She was so good, in fact, that we accidentally delayed our meeting with the Prime Minister. The most important thing that Dr. Ashrawi helped me understand has to do with the anxiety most Zionist Jews feel in regards to Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish nature of Israel.

Separation wall from the inside

Separation wall from the inside of Ramallah.

Why should we demand that the Palestinians suddenly become Zionists? Never mind the fact that the current state is doing absolutely everything in its power to delegitimize its own cause. To this question, Dr. Ashrawi had a very simple answer. “Israel must be the most insecure nation if they need our approval.”

Essentially, asking Palestinians to accept the Jewishness of Israel is putting the burden of freedom on the victim. As Dr. Ashrawi wrote in an article published in Ha’aretz shortly before our meeting today, “The idea that we are supposed to get permission from our oppressor to obtain our freedom is simply absurd.”

Dr. Ashrawi and Meretz USA

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi speaks to the Meretz USA delegation.

On another note, when it comes down to it, saying that Israel needs to be a Jewish state is kind-of actually an immigration policy, and asking another nation to accept its immigration policies is preposterous.

Dr. Ashrawi also reaffirmed an idea I’ve already been coming to on my own. The only way to achieve a one-state solution is first to play as equal partners, as two states. Or, as Mr. Bahhour described it, in order to negotiate, Israel needs to “get the boot off of [Palestine’s] neck.” Palestinians will not be able to negotiate on equal terms with Israelis without statehood of their own.

More importantly, using the threat of a one-state solution as a scare tactic is racist and sexist because it turns the bodies of all women into wombs, in the demographics race. And in fact, there is already one state: an apartheid state that is doing everything it possibly can to push the Palestinians out of their homeland.

Whew. I said it.

Back in Tel Aviv, we met with the first speaker that I couldn’t take seriously because if I did, I’d crawl into a hole and die. However, Dani Dayan, Chairman of the Yesha Council (umbrella organization of illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian land), said something very important that I want to dissect more closely later. He said, “Zionism is my religion.” In an extremely essentialist world, I believe that nationalism has become the new religion. And if we were living in such a world, then there would be no way that I’d call myself a Zionist.

PLO Prime Minister Salam Fayaad

PLO Prime Minister Salam Fayaad speaks to Meretz USA delegation.

I guess my question of the whole conference, and maybe even my life’s work, will be the following: Is it more useful to reclaim Zionism as a means of achieving a Palestinian state, or to reject it? My project, thus far, has been to reclaim it, because nobody in the American Jewish community will listen to a word you have to say about Israel unless you pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag.

Maybe that’s something that should be renegotiated, especially since I’m not sure that I believe in the goodness of flags and nation-states altogether. It would not be honest to claim that I’m a Zionist merely as a tool to change consciousness, and not because I actually support the cause. Or perhaps, according to Jewish tradition, it’s a contradiction to embrace.

One Comment on “Meretz Symposium Day 3: Ramallah”

  1. mattinindo says:

    The Israeli flag… today is Veteran’s Day in the US. People are mourning and honoring lives lost in the name of a greater cause: the nation-state, *their* United States.

    My knowledge on the topic may be scarce, but I’d like to see a a measurement of patriotism within Israel. How deeply do Israeli Jews buy into Israel? What does the flag mean for other Israeli citizens or even minority Jews?

    Imagining a nation becomes perhaps too easy when the intention is to deliver everything short of salvation. Whose job is it to remind people that we’re living in reality?

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