Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Dove of Peace? Or Rather the Hammer of Justice and the Bell of Freedom? On the Thirtieth Anniversary of Peace Now
In Jewish law, a woman whose husband refuses to divorce her, or who disappears without a trace, is called an "agunah", a woman "chained" or "anchored" to her husband. She cannot remarry, and any child she has with another man is a bastard. By engaging in the discourse of peace, the Israeli left, whose flagship organization is Peace Now, has left the Palestinian people agunot to an unattainable peace for over sixty years. I don't mean to begrudge praise to Peace Now, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Two cheers for the group that managed noisily, if unsuccessfully, to mobilize against the Occupation. More effective organizations followed in its wake. But Peace Now, and the entire Zionist left, chained the fate of the Palestinian people to something called "peace" or the "peace process". "We should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza for the sake of peace." "We should give peace a chance." By framing the withdrawal in terms of "peace", the movement could appeal to the basic human desire for peace, i.e. peace and quiet. But, as the rightwingers cogently argued, if the key issue was peace, then why was there a State of Israel to begin with? In order for the Jews to have peace? If that was the justification, then Israel is a collosal failure. For Israel is the least safe place for Jews today and from the founding of the Jewish state. Certainly it is more likely that a Jew will be killed for being Jewish in Israel than anywhere else. No, the purpose of the Jewish state was to allow the Jewish people to determine its own destiny, to free itself of the yoke of the gentiles. The point was not peace but freedom. The "Jewish national anthem" Hatikvah doesn't speak of peace but of freedom, "to be a free people in our land." The Israeli left was much influenced by the anti-Vietnam war movement of the 60s, which wanted to "give peace a chance." Better they should have listened to the Pete Seeger song used in the Civil Rights movement, "If I Had a Hammer." They would have sung of the "hammer of justice" and the "bell of freedom," not the chance of peace. For the justice of Palestinian self-determination is no more dependant on a final peace agreement with Israel than is the justice of Israeli self-determination. David Ben-Gurion did not condition the establishment of the state of Israel on a peace agreement with the Palestinians, much less their acceptance of Zionism. Justice, freedom, dignity -- those concepts should have been the core concepts of the Zionist left. Even the American progressive Brit Tzedek ve-Shalom, though I appreciate the addition of "tzedek" (Justice), are too quick to tie the inalienable rights of the Palestinians to a just peace. The philosopher Joseph Levine has pointed out that an incontrovertible fact about the birth of Israel is that an ideological group of mostly secular European settlers came to Palestine, displaced a large group of natives, and founded an ethno-nationalist state that excluded (from the nation) the remaining natives. Zionists strongly justified their actions with a variety of considerations; opponents did not. But given this fact, and the fact that the nationalist Palestinian aspirations were recognized by the same countries that recognized Jewish nationalist aspirations in the 1947 partition plan (rejected, with justification, by many Arabs and Jews on the left and on the right), the best goal the Jewish state could ever hope to justify was that of "parity" between the two peoples -- one neither dominating nor being dominated by the other, in the words of the pre-State Zionist left. So one would expect the Israeli Zionist left to agitate for the establishment of a Palestinian state, equal to that of Israel, regardless of the question of peace -- unless it took the principled opposition to the establishment of either state until peace and security had been achieved for both peoples. But the Israeli left (and I include its progressive Zionist supporters outside of Israel) have always taken the existence of the State of Israel for granted, at the same time as it has conditioned the existence of the State of Palestine on peace and Israeli security. It will argue that peace advances Israeli security since it will focus always on the interest of the Jews. That is why the Israeli left collapsed after the failure of the Oslo process. Without peace, there could only be the peace process. And without the peace process, there could only be pain, frustration and postponed dreams. So the interminable arguments over whether or not there was a partner for peace missed the real issue -- how best to advance the legitimate self-determination of both peoples. I don't deny the power of peace, although I am not on the level of, say, Judah Magnes, who was a principled pacifist. But the central issue here is not peace. It is justice. The time has come not to put away the bullets but to bite them, to say that the Palestinians deserve *at least* as much as the Israelis deserve, regardless of how that affects Israel. Agreeing to that involves a collosal concession on the point of the Palestinians, one which they may rightly choose not to make. I am not saying that security is not an important issue. Surely no people will willingly commit national suicide because of a moral argument. But my point is that the concern for Israeli security is not a sufficient reason to allow the abominable situation to continue, where one side has everything and the other has nothing. When the discourse of justice, of self-determination is adopted, then the options are either two strong and equal states for both peoples, or no exclusive state for either. Either option entails reducing Israeli power for the sake of Palestinian power, a tzimzum (contraction) for the sake of promoting an equitable solution. This is not altruism. This is ordinary justice.