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September 2004 • Vol 4, No. 8•

Israeli Activists and Intellectuals Recognize the Right of Return

Document submitted “For Truth and Reconciliation”:

Signatories include Prof. Anat Biletzki, Andre Draznin, Haim Hanegbi, Yehudith Harel, Michel Warschawski and Oren Medicks.

Israel, 2004, is a state on the road to nowhere. Fifty-six years after its establishment—notwithstanding its many achievements in agriculture, science and technology, and albeit a great regional military power, armed with doomsday weapons—many of its citizens are heartsick with existential worry and fear for their future.

Since its foundation Israel has lived by its sword. An incessant succession of “retaliations,” military operations and wars has become the life-support drug of Israel’s Jews. And now, almost four years after the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada, Israel is up to its neck in the mire of occupation and oppression, while it goes on extending the settlements and multiplying the outposts, repeating to itself ad nauseam that “we have no partner for peace.”

Ten years after the Oslo Accords, we are living in a benighted colonial reality—in the heart of darkness. Thirty-seven years after Israel conquered the last of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, over three and a half million Palestinians under its rule are penned up in their towns and villages. The term “Palestinian State”—which for years embodied the peace option—is being used by many Israeli politicians as a mirage phrase, a spin on the reality of occupation: “In the future,” they whisper with a knowing wink, “the Palestinian entity in the Territories may be called a ‘state.’” And meanwhile Israel is amplifying the devastation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as if determined to pulverize the Palestinian people to dust.

In the face of the large Israeli camp of supporters of the separation walls—those, both right and left, who are terrified by the demons of demography, constantly counting the populace to find out how many Jews and Arabs are born and die every week, how many Jews and Arabs live in the entire country and in each of its districts every month—it is vital to pose an alternative outlook, based on the following principles:

Coexistence of the peoples of this country, based on mutual recognition, equal partnership and implementation of historical justice.

We are united in a critique of Zionism, based as it is on refusal to acknowledge the indigenous people of this country and on denial of their rights, on dispossession of their lands, and on adoption of separation as a fundamental principle and way of life. Adding insult to injury, Israel persists in its refusal to bear any responsibility for its deeds, from the expulsion of the majority of Palestinians from their homeland more than half a century ago, to the present erection of ghetto walls around the remaining Palestinians in the towns and villages of the West Bank. Thus, wherever Jew and Arab stand together or face each other, a boundary is drawn between them, to separate and distinguish between the blessed and the cursed.

We are united in the recognition that this country belongs to all its sons and daughters—citizens and residents, both present and absentees (the uprooted Palestinian citizens of Israel in 1948)—with no discrimination on personal or communal grounds, irrespective of citizenship or nationality, religion, culture, ethnicity or gender. Thus we demand the immediate annulment of all laws, regulations and practices that discriminate between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, and the dissolution of all institutions, organizations and authorities based on such laws, regulations and practices.

We are united in the belief that peace and reconciliation are contingent on Israel’s recognition of its responsibility for the injustices done to the indigenous people, the Palestinians, and on willingness to redress them. Recognition of the right of return follows from our principles. Redressing the continued injustice inflicted on the Palestinian refugees, generation after generation, is a necessary condition both for reconciliation with the Palestinian people, and for the spiritual healing of ourselves, Israeli Jews. Only thus shall we stop being plagued by the past’s demons and damnations and make ourselves at home in our common homeland. For many years now, Israeli leaders have been exerting themselves to depict the Palestinians as sub-human; and their exertions have been seconded and assisted by members of the cultural elite, media barons, vain functionaries and light-scribblers, right and left. We reject this racist arrogance with disgust, knowing that the Palestinians, as all other people, are neither devils nor angels, but just like us, are humans, created equal.

We are convinced that if we approach peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians with an open mind and a willing spirit, we shall find in them what we bring with us: an open mind and a willing spirit. For we are brothers and sisters, not eternal enemies as the well-poisoners profess.

It is pointless, now, to guess the material future form of the vision of life together (two states or one? perhaps a confederation? or maybe a federation? and what about cantons?). In any case, the primary condition for advancing the vision of living together is self-evident, both as a supreme moral imperative and as a practical matter of the here and now: an immediate end to the state of occupation.

Only in this way will the Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip be rid of the yoke of settlements, the nightmare of apartheid, the burden of humiliation and the demons of destruction employed by Israel unremittingly, day and night, for 37 years. Only when they are totally free will the Palestinians be able to discuss and decide their future.

We believe that adoption of the principles stated above will lay the foundations on which the people of this country can set up the proper common frameworks for life together. We are not talking of fantasies or of a miracle move that would lead us from our living hell to a heavenly paradise.

We are talking of a road that has not been tried hitherto: being honest with ourselves, with our neighbors and particularly with the Palestinian people—our enemies who are our brothers and sisters.

If we muster within ourselves the appropriate honesty and requisite courage, we will be able to take the first step in the long journey that can extricate us from the tangle of denial, repression, distortion of reality, loss of direction and forsaking of conscience, in which the people of Israel have been trapped for generations.

Whoever has eyes to see and ears to hear knows that the choice is between another “hundred years of conflict” ending in annihilation, and a partnership among all the inhabitants of this land. Only such a partnership is capable of turning us, the Jews of Israel, from foreigners in their country to its real inhabitants.

We do not intend to start another movement against the occupation, or another party (platform, institutions, leaders). We seek to start off a genuine public discussion about the Israeli blind alley in which we live and the profound changes needed in order to break out of it. Every Israeli knows that this is not a matter of political trifles, but concerns the fate of the peoples of this country.

The Daily Star (Lebanon), July 29, 2004





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