Oct 07, 2008
This year, just as the solemn fasts of Ramadan ended and Islam rejoiced in its renewed connection with God by celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the Jewish people celebrated Rosh Hashana --the Jewish New Year-- and entered into the 10 Days of Awe and Returning to that same God. These 10 Days culminate with the holiest day of the Jewish year - the Yom Kippur fast (Oct. 9). That Jews and Muslims worldwide were concurrently celebrating their holiest days with prayers and acts of forgiveness gives us a ray of hope.
For many centuries in our history, we have lived together, sharing knowledge and resources and mutually influencing each other's culture and religion. Since the founding of the State of Israel, however, our relationships have been embittered and poisoned.
But why? Why has the State of Israel viewed the Palestinians' different religions as a reason to treat them as strangers and enemies? Why are we using another community's religion to justify dispossession and discrimination instead of learning to coexist together in a neutral political framework?
In the face of repeated failures to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with talks aimed at creating a "two-state" outcome, we need a paradigm shift. Indeed, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians are going back to the drawing board, questioning the justification and feasibility of partitioning the land into two separate, discriminatory, religion-based states. Instead, they are discussing the details of a "one-democratic-state" solution - a plan to establish a single, democratic and secular state, which will grant equal rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion, while providing religious autonomy to Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.
The concept of coexistence in a binational or unitary, secular and democratic state is not new. In the early days of the Zionist movement, it was promoted by Albert Einstein, philosopher Martin Buber, and Rabbi Judah Leib Magnes who argued that an exclusive "Jewish state" would be so harmful and injurious to the indigenous Palestinians that it could never become a truly safe haven for Jews. Sadly, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- up to this day -- proves their predictions were true.
In a world that is globally interconnected and interdependent, it is increasingly clear that the economic prosperity, health, and security of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Moreover, since both Palestinians and Israelis view the entire land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River as their homeland, they will never live in peace and security unless both learn to accept the other people's attachment to the entire land, and figure out how to share its economic and natural resources together.
Certainly, formidable barriers will need to be overcome. Considering the decades of oppression, colonization, and violence against civilians, it will take a heroic effort to educate both societies to respect each other's human and civil rights. Recent polls show the majority of Israelis and Palestinians understand that the concept of separation of state from religion - that cornerstone of American democracy - is the key to peaceful coexistence. Just as it has guaranteed domestic peace in the United States despite the existence of mutually exclusive religious communities which have been bitter historical enemies, it holds the power for Israeli and Palestinian societies to successfully coexist in the same land.
Many Israeli politicians argue that a single, democratic state means the "elimination of Israel." However, establishing a shared homeland for Israelis and Palestinians based on equality and civil rights does not mean "the elimination of Israel" anymore than similar transformations in South Africa meant the elimination of South Africa.
Indeed, it will transform Israel, but this will be a positive transformation eliminating truly destructive aspects of present-day Israel and producing a new and better country. Today's Israel has failed to uphold the best of Jewish values and has in fact perverted them by making Judaism an adjunct of a discriminatory and brutal state ideology. It is a strange but manifestly true irony that for Judaism and Israel to become really compatible, Israel must become a democratic, equalitarian, and tolerant place.
In 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, the international community proclaimed the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all human beings by adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This human rights instrument outlines the fundamental freedoms that are currently being trampled upon in Israel/Palestine but which must be guaranteed in a one-state Israel/Palestine. We need to transform this Declaration into a binding document on both societies, and what better way than to adopt it as the constitution of an Israeli-Palestinian homeland.
The concurrence of Jewish and Muslim holy days of fasting, prayer and repentance should serve as an urgent reminder to both societies that a viable solution to the conflict necessitates a secular framework in which both societies are free to cherish their own traditions while respecting the rights and freedoms of all people. Shana Tova! (Jewish greeting for the New Year) and Eid Mubarak! (Muslim greeting for the holidays) can and should coexist as equals in the homeland of both people.
Rather than convening futile peace conferences that regurgitate the same old, failed proposals that ignore human rights obligations, politicians would do well to get us, Israelis and Palestinians, to engage each other and draft the constitution of a shared, democratic homeland. That is the real road-map to a durable and just peace.
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