On another galaxy…far away

On what seemed another galaxy, a long way from the White House lawn’s parody of past American conventions of normal Republicans (8/27) a ZOOM -formatted panel discussion on the prospects of Peter Beinart’s “one-state” solution to resolve the endless Israeli occupation of the West Bank was streamed. It is has been recorded on YouTu.be.

Those unfamiliar with the subject should check out the Jewish Currents article which Peter authored. He is regarded by many as an important voice of reason in thinking through the options facing American Jews who wish to be on the “right side of Jewish history” with deference to Torah values, the Zionist history pre- and post-Holocaust as well as the more recent recognition that oppressing a neighboring People, the Palestinians does not match the basic liberal Zionist vision of what Israel was supposed to be like.

Joining the discussion was Professor Shaul Magid, an esteemed scholar in the history of Judaism, both in its more modern dimensions manifesting politically, and in the evolution of Hasidic religious perceptions, subjects of the books he has authored.

On the Arab side, Lana Tatour has been a widely heralded Palestinian voice, who has developed the thesis (working at the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University) that acceptance of their lives/citizenship in Israel by Palestinians is a result of  Jewish Colonialism to which they have acceded. She refers to their status as: “ambivalent racism” and the reality “imposed” on them as “Settler Colonialism.” (Note: I have summed up a complex thesis in a few words and truly believe I have not misrepresented her.)

Before subjecting you, the reader, to my ever-omniscient personal opinions, let me begin with Dr. Tatour. Here are key elements of her negotiating framework for a “one-state” all inclusive Arab-Jewish co-existence:

1. A complete termination of any separatist communal Jewish property zone exclusive to Jews.

2. A legal recognition that the Palestinian diaspora (worldwide) comprises “refugees” who by definition have the right to come back to the Palestine heartland (today’s Israel) from which they were forced to seek refuge. 

3. A different definition would apply to Jews in the diaspora: The concept of any legitimate right of return to “Palestine” (as she calls it),  is to be regarded as “manufactured.” In other words, there is no basis for Jews who are not Israelis to claim any legal bond, much less right of return, to “Palestine.”

4. “Political Language”: The term “Zionism,” is to be deleted from all representations by Israeli Jews as a basis for their legitimacy in the land. “Zionism” as a word, she is adamant, is the essence of the racist imperative which sought and accomplished the subjugation and displacement of the Arabs from their rightful land of Palestine.

Into this conversational maelstrom, Shaul Magid pronounced his verdict that all should agree the two-state solution was dead. He appeared impatient with any contemplation there might subsist an option for reversal toward an end to settlements which he observed were expanding every day.

Further, Shaul has observed that the one-state solution is actually what the electorate of Israel has been voting for every time they prolong a Likud/right wing scenario empowering an ethno-Zionist-state perception of Israel’s right to occupy, control and ultimately annex the West Bank. So (my take) if the wheel of history slowly grinds down the Palestinian ethos, sooner or later they will become the gris of a lower class Israeli blue-collared keffiyeh, blended according to whatever level accommodates Jewish needs and taste. Shaul, I believe, sees compromise as possible in the development of an evolving, single, bi-national state, probably taking decades to form.

Shaul’s sense of how a single state, described as “bi-national” would likely develop, is, in my opinion, partially what invigorates the position of Dr. Tatour. Were there to be a spiritually deprived, even culturally deformed populace of Muslims forced to relinquish the practice of their heritage freely expressed in all its ritual and religious forms without restraint, communally as we Jews do, she perceived that unfolding future circumstance of their lives in “one bi-national state” as “Colonialized racism.” 

Of even more profound consequence to Dr. Tatour (not addressed by Shaul) was the issue of the land itself, which in her estimation was a historic theft of another People’s country. To Dr. Tatour the land of Israel (“Palestine”) should never have fallen under the rule of an occupying racist regime of Jews. 

As far as I could tell, as the discussion gained momentum, given Netanyahu’s craven reign, no one on the panel could dispute Israel had committed racist travesties exemplified by its very oppression of Palestinians on the West Bank. This was a reality (I believe) which hovered over the entire discussion like a dark cloud.

Turning to Peter and his reaction to Dr. Tatour. 

His words were colored by genuine sadness as he listened to her. He said he had been speaking to Israeli intellectual Palestinians and reading their writings and was struck by their (my paraphrase) ameliorative inclinations; their desire to share in the future of Israel as a state comprising cultural equality for Arabs and Jews. 

As Dr. Tatour continued to clarify her position, that all Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza and as citizens of Israel, were suffering the same plight, the gauntlet had been thrown down in an unexpectedly aggressive manner. Suddenly the panel was not talking only about a West Bank inclusion in “one state”–but about the “State of Israel,” which she elaborated was by definition from its birth, a colonial power occupying Palestine in the name of a racist movement called “Zionism.”

Peter was almost without a starting point for his side of the  conversation.

Here were the only two responses he made which were “lines in the sand” he wished Dr. Tatour to understand were non-negotiable:

1. Whatever future lay in store, the State Israel would always have regions Jews might experience and practice their culture and heritage as a community without people of other backgrounds in their midst. These regions would be substantial in size and include schools, shopping areas, residences, and hospitals as well as cultural centers and synagogues. The homeland of the Jewish People would be a geographical fact on the ground in eretz yisrael, eternally perpetuated by law and guaranteed in the formation of the State of Israel as a two-homeland state with communal cultural regions both for Muslims and Jews defined and agreed. 

2. The diaspora Jews would be regarded by the Arabs as having a legitimate right to call Israel their ancestral home and to return to her any time they or their descendants chose to do so. Dr. Tatour’s use of the word, “manufactured” to describe the relationship of diaspora Jews to Israel, was expressly denounced by Peter. “Zionism,” he and Shaul both urged her to appreciate, had gone through major conceptual changes, and to many American Jews was now facing the reality it had become vestigial in purpose only to be exploited as a relic of the fearful past, a time when  Jews faced threats of extermination, now re-awakened by an oppressive right-wing Israeli government cajoling supporters with ghosts of an Arab Holocaust. (My paraphrase, “vestigial Zionism,” is rendered in the panel discussion, “liberal Zionism.”)

Finally, my own two prutot. (Those who have not read my blog, “Me and Peter…” which appeared in an earlier edition may wish to acquaint themselves with its more lengthy comments.)

First, I admit I am an optimist. I do not believe that makes me unrealistic. Yes, I absolutely believe the West Bank can and will become a Palestinian state. Both Shaul and Peter are reaching deeply within their formidable array of historical precedents which have paved the way to our current state of affairs. And they both do so with a guiding principle that Israel must find a path which justifies her claim to the spiritually idealistic homeland of Jews, inclusive of others who likewise are bonded to the land by tradition and history as equals–the descendants of Ishmael, covenanted in the Torah, our Arab cousins.

My response to both Shaul and Peter is based on one main point:

When modern-day Israel (pre-1967, plus Jerusalem’s Old City and the Golan Heights) lives up to the spirit of its own Declaration of Independence and becomes the State of Two Homelands, a genuinely bi-national state, Dr. Tatour’s revilement shall become a faint echo. Every requirement Peter specified as a virtual precondition to his one-state concept (see #1. above), would be an integral aspect of the bi-national architecture of the Arab cultural/religious Israeli homeland. 

What about the more central issue of general integration? Excepting the culturally separated “zones” for those Jews and Muslims who might desire only to be among those of their own religion, the land must have an open-housing policy, encouraging Arab-Jewish schools and shared use of  parks, beaches, roads, with arranged  archeological joint field trips, joint academic internships, etc. 

There is precedent. When the Moroccan Jews migrated to Israel in vast numbers in the early 1950’s, they were outcasts. Ashkenazi Jews would not integrate with them. So villages were constructed in the shape of pies with their centers having hospitals, schools and shopping areas.

They mixed. They got to know each other.  And yes, they married.

Descendants of Ishmael (our Muslim neighbors) and Jews are permitted by Torah law to marry. (Of course, not everybody believes you should marry a cousin.)

But, permit me to temper my optimism: Unfulfilled shall remain the bi-national character of Israel until we hear the words from our next generation: “Israel is both a Jewish state and an Arab state–a democratic state forever sworn to nurture and protect their cultures, religious freedom and right to live and work together, equal before the law forever.” Bi-national equals the right to equality, and the requirement to participate fully in civil and military affairs of the state.

Lastly, to my fellow Jewish activists, our formulations concerning the West Bank Palestinians’ best chance of an independent national destiny, even well-intended, I submit, has an element of arrogance at its heart. Who are we to be adjudicating their right of having THEIR land (talking about the West Bank). We stole it. It’s not for us, the thieves to be discussing the righteousness of giving it back or having it subsumed into a “greater Israel.”  The West Bank Arabs (despite a poll reflecting, I assert, only the prospective option of one unified state borne of hopeless despair), have a deep, heart-felt religious dream, much like our early Zionist dream, to have their own independent state, not one confederated with pre-1967 Israel.

For now they are faced with the prospect of being boxed in by a ghettoized labyrinthine roadwork accommodating Israeli Settlements. But that may change. Who ever would have dreamed we would return to eretz yisrael?

About the Author
Abram Epstein, a New Yorker, has served as Director of Education for several synagogues and actively participated in the Manhattan Educators’ Council. His graduate studies at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center focused on ancient Near Eastern religion and Biblical Judaism. He is a recipient of the university’s prestigious Founders’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and has a screen credit as Historical Consultant for "The Seventh Sign" starring Demi Moore. His other books include, "The Historical Haggadah," "The Matthias Scroll," "A Documented Biography of Jesus Before Christianity," and most recently, "The Matthias Scroll–Select Second Edition." Abram invites communication on his FB page: "Abram Epstein" or "Abram's Historical Writing."
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