Free Palestine/Free Israel

“Genocide”: … any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2 (The Convention was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, on the 9th of December 1948, during the third session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951.)

As Israeli state violence washes over Gaza, in the daily genocidal murder of Palestinians, and as Palestinians are chased out of their homes, hounded and hunted by Israeli soldiers and armed settlers in the West Bank, the call to free Palestine from Israeli colonial rule and racial segregation cannot but resonate among those for whom colonialism is simply unacceptable.

And Israel is a colonial state, a child of the British mandate over Palestine (1920-1948), to be then “legally” recognised by the United Nations in a partition of the territory that secured the greater part of the land for a Jewish minority. In tensions and conflicts leading up to and after the partition, some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs would be expelled from the new state. And so the Nakba [catastrophe] begins and continues to the present; over 75 years of war, ethnic cleansing, colonisation and apartheid.

Our task here however is not to narrate anew the history of Israel in Palestine – there are those who have already carried out this labour and with far greater competence than we would ever be able to muster –, but to try to see beyond the current barbarism.

The “vacuum” – to employ the much chided UN Secretary’s use of the word (The Guardian)– must be filled by that history (and more) if Hamas’ barbarism of October 7 is to be understood. Otherwise, we fall into moral caricatures, with each side accusing the other of “radical evil”, when both state actors – Israel and Hamas – are all too tragically human.

Nor is our concern to proffer geo-political analyses of the conflict, which are little more than morally bankrupt fig leaves for state centred domination and violence.

To free Palestine, then, is to free it from Israel’s settler colonial sovereignty; to free Palestine is, or so it would seem, to offer the Palestinians the possibility of political self-determination; to free Palestine is to provide the conditions for the possibility of a Palestinian state.

What form that state may or should take becomes then a matter of dispute: a Palestinian state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean; two states, “side by side”, ethnically defined; a single, non-ethnic state, where both Jews and Arabs live together.

The first option would in all likelihood involve the ethnic cleansing of most of the Jewish population of Palestine – another “nakba”, this time directed at the Jews –, which could announce a new colonialism under a different flag. The so-called “two state solution” is, with the current demographic distribution of the two ethnically defined populations (and the ever expanding population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the confinement of the Arab population to ever smaller territories), literally impossible, except without massive and inevitably violent population transfers, and the very likely perpetuation of a violence of revenge. For a few seemingly lonely voices in the wilderness, there remains then the third possibility of a single state for both populations[1], under whatever political arrangement might be agreed upon.

The last alternative however is deemed “unrealistic”. But whatever this last term might mean, it is bandied about as little more than an insult or, perhaps at best, as pointing to the apparent fact that these two populations simply have no desire to live with each other, because their supposed identities depend – for their very survival – on their separation.

There is a madness though that haunts this last idea: the madness of “cultural/ethnic” purity, of “social-cultural” uniformity, of the state as the necessary (and necessarily violent) instrument for “cultural preservation”, of mutual and eternal hatred for the other. And with the current imbalance of power, the acceptance and playing out of this hatred can only lead to the final and complete conquest by Israel of the territory of Palestine and the ethnocide of the Palestinians.

If this is “realistic”, then it is a realism of violence. The only ethically realistic position, by contrast, that is, the only position that is just, the only just political position for all of the people of Palestine-Israel, would be one in which ethnicity gives way to equality and freedom.

Anarchists have often been criticised for their blindness, in their anti-statism, to the desires for “national liberation” against colonial rule. And we have not held back in making similar comments. But neither can we celebrate statements such as the following (among so many others that we could cite): “The historic victories against colonialism in Ireland, Vietnam, Algeria or against apartheid in South Africa were obtained by the insurgents on their lands.” (Appel Internationaliste à une assemblée pour la Palestine) And we cannot embrace such statements precisely because the newly created states born of these anti-colonial struggles, of these “historic victories”, have been, in many instances, equally oppressive; once oppressed by the colonial state, the formerly colonised are now oppressed by “their own” state.

If state-forms can be instruments of anti-colonial struggle or post-colonial reconstitution, they are also extremely dangerous instruments (we are tempted to say “fatal”). And if we do not dismiss them out of hand (e.g., the anarchists in Catalonia and Aragon, during the Spanish Civil War/Revolution, organised the region into a state-form), to free Palestine – and to free Israel – would be possible only if both communities, in all of their respective complexities and pluralities, freed themselves from any identification with ethnic-national state forms.

What this post-sovereign political form might look like, we confess not to know. But we do maintain that it is the only manner to free Palestinians and Israelis from their mutual self-destruction as free people.

  Coexistence does not mean everyone closed in their own ghetto, cultivating their essentialist identity, in a shallow multiculturalism. Such worlds must be able to affect each other, infect each other, and sensitize each other. Sometimes, new peoples and other ways of populating the planet can even be born from this.

Peter Pál Pelbart, “Ser judeu no Brasil” [“To be a Jew in Brazil”], A terra é redonda (19/10/2023)

[1] The term “population” is used expressly here to point to how problematic these sometimes official discussions around the political options for Palestine-Israel are, because the Jews and Palestinian Arabs are not single and monolithic blocs. These are communities of peoples shot through with multiple and changing differences and tensions which cannot be simply summarised as “Jews” versus “Arabs”, except for political ambitions. And if we hold fast to this idea, then a single political entity – some kind of “state” – becomes imaginable.

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