As increasing numbers of Arab citizens join the social justice protests, working cooperatively with Israeli Jews on common political goals, the principal of separation is slowly eroding in Israel.
To be clear before I begin: my personal desire is for a resolution between Israeli Jews and Palestinians such that two separate states are formed for two distinct peoples.
Strangely enough, though, many things that I stand firmly against, such as the occupation of the territories, is built upon this exact same principle: that of separation.
In Israel right now, despite the bombs and rockets falling everywhere, we're seeing a startling, stark reality: this principle of separation is slowly, unintentionally, falling away. The examples are endless as Palestinians have begun to weave themselves into the fabric of the protests. Not – as Dimi Reider of 972 Magazine notes – as an oppositional entity. Rather, they are joining cooperatively, championing the same economic and social demands that Israeli Jews are rallying and marching about. And they are doing so largely with open arms from Israeli Jews.
Reider, whose article first sparked my thinking on this matter, notes one of the most remarkable examples (emphasis mine):
[recently] residents of the Jewish poverty-stricken neighborhood of Hatikva, many of them dyed-in-the-wool Likud activists, signed a covenant of cooperation with the Palestinian and Jewish Jaffa protesters, many of them activists with Jewish-Palestinian Hadash and nationalist-Palestinian Balad. They agreed they had more in common with each other than with the middle class national leadership of the protest, and that while not wishing to break apart from the J14 movement, they thought their unique demands would be better heard if they act together. At the rally, they marched together, arguing bitterly at times but sticking to each other, eventually even chanting mixed Hebrew and Arabic renditions of slogans from Tahrir.
Michal Levertov has also written of the increasing participation of Arab citizens in Israel's protests as a way to advocate for rights within their country. She brings the example of an Arab encampment near Haifa and its rather seamless integration into the main protests:
Shahin Nassar, a 25-year-old student and journalist, founded an encampment in Wadi Nisnas, an Arab neighbourhood in the northern city of Haifa, on August 4 after participating in a rally in a Jewish neighbourhood where he was disappointed by the lack of any substantial Arab attendance.
“This protest is definitely mine too, and it is for me to determine its nature and its goals,” he said. “Any achievement, whether it is reducing housing costs or electricity prices, will benefit the Arab population just as much. Of course, we are in a unique position, and nobody denies it: we are an integral part of the Palestinian people. But just the same, we are an integral part of the state of Israel.”
Not only has there been immense cooperation between the Wadi Nisnas encampment and others in Jewish neighbourhoods of Haifa, but Nassar sees an opportunity to convince the Israelis who so heartily support the call for social justice to back the Arab struggle for equality.
“The only disputed topic are the [West Bank] settlements, which is not surprising as there are left-wingers and right-wingers among both the Jewish and the Arab protesters,” he said. “Other than that, we agree on all the demands of the protests. Moreover, while each city sends only one representative to the protesters’ national meetings, Haifa’s Jewish activists insisted that Haifa would send two: one from the Jewish encampments and one from ours. They wanted to make sure that we too will be a part of the central assembly [an ad-hoc coordination committee for the nationwide protests].
This increasing participation among Arabs in the social justice protests – and their increasing inclusion as speakers by protest leaders at rallies and demonstrations – is evidence that this separation principle has been eroded by the needs of the moment. But a moment is powerful, and the protests ongoing in Israel are seeing unprecedented (and growing) numbers of moments in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians are converging for a common cause not centered around the occupation (ironically).
We are reaching a geographic tipping point in the West Bank where, soon, there will not be land enough to create a contiguous Palestinian state. And while I don't think we've reached that point yet, there are those who have already proclaimed a two-state solution dead. Reza Aslan did so on NPR last year. As did Mya Guarnieri. As have a host of thinkers, pointing to the fact that, in essence, with nearly 500,000 Israeli Jews living in the territories under the auspices of Israel's government in Jerusalem, a single state has already been established to a large degree.
As Reider notes, "Israel-Palestine today is, for all intents and purposes, a single political entity, with a single de-facto sovereign – the government in Jerusalem." The problem, of course, is that those living within this political entity, Israel and the West Bank, don't share identical rights an opportunities, a fact due to the principal of separation that is at odds with the reality of the occupation itself (despite being driven precisely by it).
I do not think we have reached a point in which two states cannot be formed. However, if the status quo continues for another few years, with Palestinian lands slowly being subsumed by the settlements, there will no longer be a practical way to form Palestine from what's left.
A negotiated settlement, soon, is needed to save the chance for a two-state solution. A settlement that appears more and more unlikely as time goes by and we approach September 20, when the PA will try to attain statehood through the UN.
If that fails, which it likely will in the Security Council, and if no negotiated settlement is ever achieved over time, the only option will be, at some stage, one state. No other options will remain at that point.
The one bright spot: Israel's social justice protests have shown that such an end might not be as catastrophic as many have projected, myself included.
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Author's Note: This piece doesn't even touch Gaza. Don't ask. I don't know how the Strip fits into this, and it likely doesn't, as it's become an entity unto itself with regard to the topic of this diary.