Mark Naison: A Plea for New Leadership-And Non Violent Solutions-In the Middle East

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mark Naison is Professor of African American Studies and History, Fordham University.]

The carnage in Gaza produced by Israeli bombs and mortars, has left many people around the world, including this writer, thoroughly disillusioned with Israel and its leaders. The disproportionate infliction of suffering on the residents of Gaza, relative to the victims of Hamas rocket attacks in Israeli towns and cities, suggests that there are no limits to the violence Israel will use to protect its security interests.

What makes the violence worse is the moral immunity that Israel and its supporters demand that Israel be granted because of the historic suffering of the Jewish people. In a era when genocide and ethnic cleansing have become worldwide issues, affecting people from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, to Eastern and Central Africa, Israeli arguments about the unique vulnerability of Jews to persecution and assault lack the credibility they once had in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

To ask that Israel be given carte blanche to ride roughshod over the rights of Palestinians, whether inside Israel or in adjoining states, or inflict limitless damage on Israel's international enemies, because the world owes the Jewish people special consideration for their near extermination at the hands of the Nazis,
has started to wear thin even among those who admire some of Israel's accomplishments

The global community of nations cannot long survive if it grants individual states immunity from
international law and commonly accepted standards of civilized behavior because of their citizens history of persecution.

That being said, it is hard to find a liberation movement less effective in exposing the moral and ideological weaknesses of its enemies than Hamas.

At a time when the Arab minority within Israel is growing in size, confidence, and visibility, and the problematic features of a Jewish state which gives special legal status to one religious group over all others are becoming more and more striking, Hamas has built a resistance movement based on Islamic principles and Islamic law, and embraced violence as its major tactic for overthrowing the Jewish state.

This puts secular progressives in Israel, and around the world, in something of a quandry. While Hamas tactics assure that the cause of the Palestinian people remains visible to the world and that Israelis pay a price for their persecution of Palestians, it simply proposes replacing one ethnocentric, religious state with another.

This vision of the future has several strikingly negative consequences.

First, it unites even the most progressive Jewish citizens of Israel in support of a state they are profoundly critical of because there is no place for them in the society Hamas envisions.

Second, it undermines any emerging alliance between Israeli Arabs and progressive Israeli Jews for the transformation of Israel into a secular democratic state where no group has special priviliges.

Third, it turns the conflict in the region into a competition between two ethnocentric, theocratic movements each of which rejects the claims of the others, assuring that the outcome of the conflict will be determined by military force, leaving little or no role for the international community other than arming one or the other side.

There is no way out of this spiral of violence without embracing an entirely new vision of what the region
should look like, and a new array of tactics which can bring that vision to fruition.

The centerpiece of that vision is a secular democratic state, or states, in historic Palestine, in which all citizens, irrespective of their religion have equal rights and equal status, and no religious group has a special status. Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists would all be welcome in such a federation of states. Claims for compensation for land seizures during the creation of Israel or during the construction of Israelia settlements would be settled by international courts. Israel, as currently constituted, would cease to exist, but the nearly six million Jewish residents of region would remain with their rights protected, but their special status no longer defended by a unitary national state.

The struggle to create such a state, or federation of states, would be primarily achieved through non violent direct action on the part of both Jews and Arabs who do not want to be ruled by a theocratic state, whether Jewish or Muslim. The model for such a movement would be the Civil Rights struggle in the
United States and the struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Such a movement would expose the moral bankruptcy of both Hamas and the Israeli government, and if it worked, would significantly reduce violence in the region and the threat of global war.

And impossible dream? Yes. But think of the alternative. Current politicies, taken to their logical extreme, lead to genocide, ethnic cleansing, and a possible nuclear war involving Israel, Iran and the United States.

If the residents of Israel/Palestine don't learn to embrace non violence, they will blow themselves up
and take the rest of us with them.

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