Saturday, March 10, 2012


One state for Palestinians and Israelis?

A conference at the Harvard Kennedy school last weekend considered a “one state solution” for the Israeli Palestinian stalemate. The idea is to have Israelis and Palestinians live in one state.
The conference, and the issue it examined, has provoked sharp criticism from some traditional Jewish organizations and individuals. The one state solution, they say, would spell the end of the Jewish state.
But what is a Jewish state? Originally described as “a homeland for all Jews” it suggested a place where Jews could find refuge from persecution they experience in many places around the globe. A Jewish state is often also described as a state where Judaism is the official religion. But for Jews like myself, whose family has been secular for a century or more, a religious Jewish state would not be a homeland because I would not be welcome there. Clearly a Jewish state cannot be characterized by any specific official religion.
A Jewish state is then often described as a nation state but one where Jews are in the majority. There is an American state, a German state, a French state and so on. In each, significant portions of the population are second-class citizens. America, even after the election of President Obama, is not very hospitable to persons of color, whether they be Black, Hispanic, or Arab. In Germany, until very recently, the German born children of Turkish or Greek immigrants were not German citizens. Similar discrimination against immigrants from North Africa exist in France.
Nation states, in theory, embrace different ethnic groups, but in practice few manage to avoid giving preferred status to some groups over others. Israel as a Jewish state is not even in theory hospitable to all the people living in Israel, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs. In the Jewish state of Israel only Jews are full citizens, and, in fact, not even all Jews. Traditionally, the European Jews have had more power and status than, say, the Jews from North Africa, let alone those from Ethiopia.
Nations states do not make good homelands. Nation states provide homelands for some by making others homeless.
What is a homeland? The Jewish tradition talks frequently about welcoming strangers into your house and treating them as equals. A homeland is a place where you are civil and caring to people who are different. It is a place of trust, not of paranoia. It is a place where strangers are treated as equals and are welcomed. It is a place where an ethic of trust and welcoming of difference prevails. People living in a homeland follow a way of life not often observed by citizens of a national state. National states are violent and so are its citizens. By their distrust and paranoia, by their need to hate and to have enemies, they destroy their own nation as a homeland. Feeling always the threat from, mostly imaginary, enemies they cannot rest in their home, they cannot be at peace, they must root out their enemies.
In American terms: a homeland is a melting pot--a real melting pot--where everyone is accepted to make their contribution. It is not a place where we invent enemies, where we are filled with hate and fear. America is still wrestling with the question of what sort of homeland it is going to be. So, obviously is Israel.
So yes, let’s have a homeland for Jews. But let’s also have a homeland for Palestinians. They have, after all, lived in the same part of the world for a long time. A real homeland for Jews and Palestinians. A place of peace and mutual respect. Nothing less will do.