April 9, 2014 marks the 66th anniversary of the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948, in which members of the Irgun and the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (Stern Gang) killed an estimated 125-250 Palestinian Arab civilians within the area set aside by the United Nations for the territory of Jerusalem/al-Quds, a territory to have its own “special international regime.”This violation of the peace of Jerusalem/al-Quds continues today, as only one of the human horrors and ethical disasters of al-Nakba, the “Catastrophe” to the Palestinian Arabs, and also morally to Israeli and other Jews who have made the program of ethnic cleansing their own, for over 65 years.
In this unholy drama, the residents of Deir Yassin were innocent victims, who in fact had notably maintained friendly relations with nearby Zionist Jews. However, terrorism is not choosy about its victims: truck bombs in crowded places, for example, were a tool of the trade for various groups and factions in what became the civil and international armed conflict of 1947-1949.
My purpose in reflecting on Deir Yassin is not to assess historical responsibility, as important a task as that may be, but to point to the need for an alliance of people of goodwill, including Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews in all parts of post-1967 Israel, and also Palestinian Arabs and Jewish people in the Diasporas, to unite for the purpose of “Peace Through Democracy and Equal Citizenship” in Israel, a name synonymous also with Palestine. What we are addressing is the future of two peoples in one land, with the Peace of Jerusalem/al-Quds as a fitting centerpiece for this liberating design.
Recognizing post-1967 Israel, which may keep that name while also being understood more fully as Israel/Palestine, as a “Land of Two Peoples” each with human, civil, and national rights, is the beginning of truth and reconciliation. The question then becomes how to negotiate a fair, stable, and viable constitutional arrangement for power-sharing in a framework which does not depend upon, and in fact rules out, the methods of ethnic cleansing, exclusion, and disenfrancisement.
That is a true “peace process” worthy of name, which involves neither “bashing Israel” nor “defending” the less democratic side of its current arrangements, but democratizing Israel from the River Jordan to the Sea in a way that includes the previously excluded. These excluded especially include “the poorest of the poor,” the refugees of 1948 and their descendants in places such as Gaza and Lebanon.
Only when those of these refugees who so choose are able to make their “freedom rides” back to their ancestral homes within Israel’s 1949-1967 borders will Israeli Jews truly be free. That is the bottom line of peace.
Sadly, the official “peace process” over the last four decades and more has been mainly an attempt to avoid confronting the main reality: a land of two peoples where peace through equality and democracy, not “peace through separation,” is the ever-urgent priority.
Military rule, with its tragic daily humiliations and indignities for Palestinian Arabs as well as its seductive and corrupting moral quagmire for Israel Jews involved in administering it, did not start in 1967. It thrived through the period of 1948-1966 within the predominantly Palestinian Arab areas within Israel (as then demarcated by the Green Line), with only a brief hiatus from the end of 1966, when the “Emergency” powers were not abrogated but transferred from military to civilian authorities, to the June 1967 war with its new worlds opened for military rule to conquer.
Indeed, properly understood, the slogan “End the Occupation” means “End Military Rule — and the oppression of Palestinian Arabs in all parts of Israel/Palestine — with the rule of democracy and equal citizenship!”
The alternative to military rule is a land of two peoples without restrictive covenants of the kind that were used exclude and oppress Jews in the U.S.A. at the very same time that the massacre of Deir Yassin was occurring in 1948. This means that any Israeli Jew or Palestinian Arab will be free to live in any part of post-1967 Israel, with a guarantee of nondiscrimination.
Such a guarantee will permit current Israeli Jewish residents of the West Bank to remain while continuing to enjoy all the benefits of Israeli citizenship — with the condition that they must recognize that their Palestinian Arab neighbors enjoy these same rights.
A commitment to a land of two peoples is not the end of a peace process, but only the beginning. What this commitment does is to take the first vital steps which the “peace process” has preferred to leave for “final status” issues: to affirm inclusion of both peoples, equal citizenship, and the Right of Return for refugees as the foundations of the constitutional negotiations that must follow.
A peace movement which clearly identifies a land of two peoples as its starting point for a just solution will be involved in “bashing” neither side, but in subjecting all sides to the critique of human rights and equal citizenship. Extrajudicial killings by the State of Israel, and also legal executions by Palestinian authorities, must be opposed as policies perpetuating both physical and institutional violence.
After 66 years, the massacre of Deir Yassin reminds us that the peace of Jerusalem/al-Quds yet remains shattered. Inclusion and equal citizenship are the way to restore peace with justice.
Photo by מכון ז’בוטינסקי בישראל released under a Creative Commons license.