Peace from River to Sea - Australian Fabians
23 February, 2024

Peace from River to Sea: A choice of two paths by Tony Webb




Supporters of Israel, Jews and gentiles, face a stark choice — challenging for all, galling and initially appearing unacceptable to many. Either there is a genuine two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinian citizens living with mutual respect in some form of peaceful co-existence or there will be a de-facto one-state similar in form to that condemned in South Africa as ‘apartheid’, the long-term consequences of which will see the end of Israel as a state run by and predominantly for people who identify as Jews. Whether it takes five, ten, twenty or fifty years this end will come because the rest of the world cannot and will not accept the violation of civil, human rights and dignity embodied in the status-quo that all people have a right to expect — be they Israelis or Palestinians, or professing faiths as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, any other faith or none. 

Criticism is not antisemitism

Before I continue, I have observed and experienced the condemnation of any who show any degree of support for the Palestinian cause. Anything less than wholehearted support for the Israeli government position, however unpalatable it may be and has been over time, gets attacked and labelled as antisemitic. This is a convenient and all too often blatantly dishonest tactic to dismiss not just the dissent but dissenters themselves. In my case any such accusation won’t stick. My personal history and record on a wide range of human rights and social justice issues includes close personal relationships that have provided deep insight into the history of and sense of discrimination and ongoing fears felt by Jewish people. The relationships include two significant mentors in social change work, Richard and Hephzibah Hauser, with whom I worked at the Centre for Human Rights and Responsibilities in London in the 1970s. 

Richard is an Austrian Jewish refugee from the Nazis and father of Australian social justice activist Eva Cox. Hephzibah is the sister of renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin and a concert pianist in her own right. Our Jesuit colleague at the Centre, Ray Helmick, went on to work as a Vatican emissary to the Middle East and was involved in the negotiations that saw PLO leader Arafat concede the right of Israel to exist as part of the efforts towards creating a ‘two-state’ solution to the conflict. Three of my more significant relationships have been with women who were and openly identified as Jews: Dina, a film-maker with a history of documenting the plight of non-European Jews; Elizabeth, an executive member of the Democratic Socialists of America who worked for both the California-based Mother Jones Magazine Foundation for National Progress and the Chicago-based In These Times weekly journal; and Leah, a health-education activist and academic in Australia. Each of these human rights and social justice activists has been critical of much that was undertaken in the name of the culture of Judaism by the state of Israel. The extent to which the state could do no wrong in the eyes of some was driven home by contact with Leah’s father for whom any discussions on the subject were unwelcome. 

These personal and shared experiences in Synagogue and Sadr give me at least a basic understanding of the strength of the culture and some of its history of oppression. It is a shame that, given this experience of humiliation, ethnic cleansing and outright genocide so many Jews are unable to muster a sense of empathy for what the Palestinian community must feel to be on the receiving end of oh-so-similar violation of human rights at the hands of the state they identify with. 


Asymmetrical conflicts

Let me also address the other challenge to this situation as it is today — the labelling of much of the active resistance to it as ‘terrorism’. I abhor acts of violence in any form in any situation — and where such acts against people identified as part of the opposing community are used to create fear/terror in that wider community the charge of terrorism is appropriate and needs to be condemned. But let us also appreciate that the struggle for liberation, where the capacity for use of violence by state actors far outweighs that available to the resistance, has all too often resulted in violent actions the state actors label as ‘terrorist’. The French resistance to the Nazis, the Algerian resistance to the French, indeed anti-colonial struggles almost anywhere, the militant wing of the African National Congress opposing Apartheid in South Africa, elements of the Viet Cong struggle in Vietnam, to name but a few. Also not to be forgotten, the murderous actions of the Irgun, Stern Gang and other Jewish ‘terrorist’ groups in wresting power from the British forces exercising the UN mandate over Palestine in the late 1940s — and the extension of this reign of terror through the Nakba that resulted in some 700,000 Palestinians fleeing for their lives and several generations of these families living as refugees in neighbouring states denied the right of return to their homes in the Jewish state of Israel. 

Yes, the Jews in Palestine had to fight to establish their right to a state with relatively ‘secure’ borders and have needed to maintain armed forces, including conscription of their young men and women and massive overseas financial aid and arms shipments to sustain this security. And had to fight another war in 1967 in defense of this Jewish ‘homeland’ state. And it has endured a series of ‘intifada’ — uprisings from within the Palestinian communities on lands they conquered and have occupied since that time. Particularly harrowing has been the suicide-bomb attacks — hard to prevent when the bombers have nothing to lose, their lives under oppression having so little value that martyrdom in the cause of freedom is seen as a noble (and religion-sanctioned) option. 


The current ‘war’ against Hamas

The current conflict is resulting from horrendous, indiscriminate killing of some 1400 Israelis — made possible it seems as a result of lax security on the highly militarised Gaza-Israel borders that had maintained an effective blockade of this tiny territory despite the Hamas militant’s attempted incursion. The Israeli retaliatory measures now threaten to unravel into a level of killing of Palestinian civilians that dwarfs the earlier inhumane death and destruction. It also dwarfs the cumulative death and destruction experienced throughout the Palestinian territories over the past 50-70 years. 

The current demand that nearly half the 2.5 million population of already overcrowded Gaza Strip ‘evacuate’ to the south of the territory — as a thin pretext for avoiding war crimes charges that might result from civilian deaths from sustained bombardment and a ground invasion to ‘eliminate’ the armed Hamas militants — and then to continue bombing the south is as absurd as it is inhumane. 

To block aid; food, medicine and other humanitarian relief supplies; to destroy essential infrastructure, water, power, communications, and render ineffective hospital services while causing wide-scale death and injury… sorry, the words fail me here. No matter the degree of humiliation and grief caused by the failure to maintain secure borders and loss of Israeli life, and no matter the degree of humiliation and grief on the Palestinian side that might explain but never justify the Hamas violence, in the name of the God you both sides claim to believe in — please stop and stop now! 

The politics of governing multicultural societies where both the established influence of the Pro-Israel Jewish lobby and the emergent popular electoral-demographic imperative of recognizing the concerns of the Palestinian community and its supporters require a delicate balancing act that isn’t easy — but the humanitarian concerns above require more than token words — what is needed is a total ceasefire — not a brief, temporary one to allow humanitarian relief, hostage negotiations, some degree of breathing space before the war of attrition (possibly elimination) of Hamas as a fighting force and Gaza-governing body continues in the name of Israeli ‘defense’. 


Beyond the current conflict?

Step back a moment. The basis, the fundamental emotional-rationale for Hamas and much of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on both sides, is not found in the organisations be they Hamas, the PLO, Likud, Jewish Labor or some of the other extreme religious groups that currently wield political power. These are the formal representations of what is a breakdown of relationships at the human level — at the level of community where people live their lives. You may be able to kill leaders and destroy organisations but you can’t kill ideas — particularly not ideas whose time has come and particularly when they are based on a profound sense of injustice. 

I’m conscious in writing this that much will unfold before it gets into print. Even more will unfold later and render some of it ‘out of date’ in some future time. But against this longer time frame what the current conflict suggests is that, and perhaps this was in the minds of the Hamas leaders who planned the attack, the world emerging on the other side of this immediate conflict, however it ends, will not be the same. 

There is no going back to the status quo that existed earlier. Several things have changed. The world is now more polarised around the Palestinian question and — regrettably for some, hopefully for others, the veil is being lifted on some of what has been evolving under the occupation — effectively creating a single state of Israel ‘from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea’ — and as a result international support for Israel is, if not yet weakened, at least being more openly questioned. 


A two-state solution?

Following the 1967 conflict, land between the then recognised Israel border and the West Bank of the Jordan river was captured from the state of Jordan, which argued for it to be the base for a Palestinian state — one where displaced Palestinians might find a homeland much as Jews regarded Israel. Various UN resolutions have supported this — particularly Resolution 242 requiring recognition of the pre-1967 borders. 

This ‘de-jure’ position has been the basis for protracted and frequently aborted discussions around the idea of a ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The hopes raised after the Camp David meetings under the US Clinton administration have since been dashed, many times. Reading Ray Helmick’s book (see ref 1) that documents many of these breakdowns I was left with the distinct impression that, despite faults on both sides, many foundered on reluctance of Israel to accept the Internationally sanctioned position, and its systematic use of events and activities calculated to arouse the sense of humiliation among the Palestinians and hereby provoke a violent response which could be used to justify the breakdown in negotiations. 

The reasons behind this reluctance to embrace the changes needed for an effective land-for-peace solution to come into being are many. The reality is that a two-state solution would require significant concessions by Israel among which are included: 

retreat to pre-existing borders, leaving some Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, and relinquishing geographically strategic border territory, e.g. the Golan Heights to Syria; 

the ending of Israeli military occupation and control in the Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza. Again, removing military support for militant settler activity that has been systematically displacing Palestinian communities; 

the right of return for Palestinian refugee families displaced by the Nakba and Israeli settler activity since 1948;

and the vexed question of the status of Jerusalem, divided since the earlier wars that established Israel, with East Jerusalem occupied since 1967, with the city claimed as their ‘capital’ by both sides, and with conflicts over access to religious sites common to Jews Muslims and Christians. 

Accepting each or any of these conditions as ‘pre-requisites’ for a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict is a big ask for Israelis, indeed for many of their supporters outside the country. But in-principle acceptance is necessary as each reflects recognition of human rights of the Palestinian people and their need for a viable state. In return for which there would need to be the right of Israeli Jews to live in peace within secure borders of an essentially Jewish state. 

In practice, once established in principle, there could be room for negotiations that recognise on-ground realities like existing settlements close to the agreed borders that could be ceded to Israel in return for equivalent land elsewhere ceded to Palestine — particularly important in providing viable geographic contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza strip. On right of return, again some negotiation of what this would mean in practice might be previously owned property in Israel (which some refugees might not wish for anyway), perhaps to equivalent quality land ceded by Israel to the newly created Palestine with appropriate compensatory measures that create modern, livable conditions. And on Jerusalem what seems the most viable solution would be the creation of an international city — owned by neither state but (perhaps under a UN mandate) available as the site for capitals and administrations of both and with open access to holy sites for adherents of all three monotheistic religions. Not easy — but possible if, and perhaps only if, the legal and human rights preconditions established in the longstanding UN resolutions are accepted as the basis for such a two-state peace agreement.


An Apartheid State?

The alternative, based on the existing occupation and control by the Jewish-Israeli state is, in the long term, even less acceptable — perhaps as much, and even more so, to Jews than it is to the rest of the international community. The current situation based on Israeli military power and control, humiliation and the gradual displacement of Palestinians by Israeli settlers will not merely prolong the incipient conflicts. As with most asymmetrical power struggles it will inevitably lead to further acts of violent resistance that targets civilian settlers alongside the occupying military personnel and includes ongoing violent incursions affecting Israeli citizens. 

It will also prolong and entrench what is objectively and increasingly recognised internationally as a single ‘apartheid’ state — one where one dominant cultural group exercises power and control to the detriment of civil and human rights of another. History teaches that, as with similar oppressive regimes world-wide, any such state’s days are numbered. It may take years, even decades or more, but a single apartheid state of Israel will eventually fail — and with it the hopes and aspirations of the millions of Jews world-wide for a ‘homeland’ state as refuge from their legacy of fear from centuries of antisemitism. 


Time to Face the Choice?

This is the stark choice facing not just Jewish citizens of Israel but their many supporters, jews and gentiles, around the globe. A genuine two-state solution where some hard concessions are needed to secure a lasting peace or an apartheid-like extension of control over Palestinians inside what is effectively a single theocratic state — destined to fail in the eyes of a world which has progressively embedded in consciousness the concept of human rights. 

And a final word. I’ve avoided so far to use the term Zionism out of respect for the aspirations of those within the Jewish community who have sought and fought for a Jewish homeland as refuge from Pogrom, Holocaust and Shoah. But the pattern of defense of Israel ‘no matter what’, the labelling of any criticism as ‘antisemitic’, the creation of an ‘us versus them’ culture requiring, and to an extent provoking, an external enemy as defense against dealing with internal contradictions, and other features, places this very close to what we understand as behaviour characteristic of a ‘cult’. Time, perhaps now more than ever, for Jews and allies to abandon the cult of Zionism and return to work for a more inclusive sense of community within a human race. 

Showing 2 thoughts

Please check your email for a link to activate your account.

We use cookies on our websites. You are free to manage this via your browser setting at any time. OK