On February 6, 2014, the Washington Free Beacon reported that a bill was introduced into the US House of Representatives that would cut off federal funding to any academic institution that boycotts the State of Israel. Ironically, the bill’s language begins with the words, “Israel is a vital American ally and a fellow democracy that fosters free speech….” The legislation (and similar legislation in some US statehouses) continues by demanding that federal funds (or state funding in the statehouse bills) be withdrawn from universities and organizations “significantly funded by the university” that adopts a policy or issues a statement supporting a boycott of Israeli “academic institutions or scholars.”
In other words, this bill would use the notion of free speech to deny federal funding to any organization in Michigan’s university system that utilizes its free speech to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. For example, if an official student group issued a statement opposing university sponsorship of a speaker whose research supported or condoned the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, that group would lose its funding. Indeed, if this bill passes, the entire university would lose its federal funding; all because Israel supports free speech.
Marching in lockstep to the war drums, checkpoints pass system, and ongoing repression of the Israeli occupation of Palestine is what the United States and much of the European Union have been doing for much of the last fifty years (at least.) Rarely have any of the nations involved veered from this support. When they have, it has not been for long nor has it been very convincing. As time has passed, this dynamic between Israel and the governments supporting it has been one of history’s few constants.
Ali Abunimah is a Palestinian rights advocate and opponent of neoliberal capitalism. He is an editor for Electronic Intifada, the online journal covering Palestine and its people. He is also the author of the just-released The Battle for Justice in Palestine. This book rejects the two-state solution as being one more detour in the road to justice for Palestinians. Instead of the two-state solution championed by virtually every commentator, politician and official not completely opposed to any type of Palestinian state, even a pretend one, Abunimah is a champion of a single secular state of Palestine. His newest book is an argument for just such a nation.
It is also much more. The Battle for Justice in Palestine examines the role of the Palestinian Authority in the continuing colonization of Palestine, the real meaning of Bibi Netanyahu’s economic peace, and the nature of the opposition to the increasingly successful Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement (BDS.) As an activist whose prominence has caused him to be attacked, banned and otherwise subject to attempts to silence him, Abunimah is no stranger to the latter. His discussion of the forces behind Israel’s desire to stifle the BDS movement is well-researched, reasonably argued and exposes its opponents for the hypocrites they are when it comes to human rights and freedom of speech.
Abunimah’s essential argument in support of a single state is simple. The founders of Israel, its western supporters and their governments, and its successive leaders are all dedicated to Israel’s continued existence as a sectarian Jewish state. To this end, there are those among these groups who consider the expansion of Israel into territories populated by other peoples to be Israel’s right, with Palestine being foremost among those lands. Those supporters of Israel who do not express outright support for the expansion justify it as self-defense when Israel proceeds without international permission (via settlements, military incursions and peace negotiations.) Given that this is Israel’s mindset, it only follows that its negotiators would not negotiate anything that would prevent Israel from its intentions. Therefore, the two state solution is but one more step towards Israel’s final dream of a Greater Israel. It is also one step closer to the destruction of Palestine as a geographic entity. That leaves only the idea of Palestine.
In something of a turnabout of the traditional metaphor for Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians, Abunimah evokes South Africa. He does so not to compare the Israeli situation to the apartheid state but to look at its reinvention as a singular entity encompassing all its citizens after apartheid was defeated. Abunimah continues his argument, making the case that a single, secular and democratic state that ensured equal rights in all walks of life for Palestinian and Israeli citizens no matter what their religion and culture could be created. After all, South Africa under apartheid was a divided nation. There were the Boers, the Afrikaners, the Blacks and the Coloreds. Before the final dissolution of apartheid near the end of the twentieth century very few people were convinced the disparate elements of the nation would ever co-exist. The fact that they do today (while continuing to work for a more just society) provides hope that Israelis and Palestinians could also share such a future.
Since the end of World War I, the right of peoples and nations to self-determination has become part of international law and diplomacy. Implicit in this right is that “they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” In today’s Israel, too many of its citizens seem to think their right to self-determination gives them the right to oppress another people with the same right. To this end, they have built settlements, implemented drastic pass laws, destroyed infrastructure, closed schools, denied worship and otherwise violated the rights of Palestinians inside Israel’s borders and in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Battle for Justice in Palestine is a crucial book appearing in a crucial time. Secretary of State John Kerry is reviving the ongoing charade of the peace agreement negotiations. Settlements are being built at a rapid pace (and existing ones violently defended) as Tel Aviv works to steal as much of the Palestinian lands before their two-state “solution” is imposed. The BDS movement grows in strength and its understanding of the Palestinian situation more accepted; Israel and its supporters intensify their attacks on those who would call apartheid, “apartheid.” Abuminah presents an intelligent and informed discussion of the multiple elements of Israeli occupation, utilizing documented facts and realities to make his point. Beginning with the premise that “The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it since 1948, regardless of religion, ethnicity, national origin or current citizenship status,” Abunimah strips away Israel’s justifications for its occupation and makes a vital contribution to real justice in Palestine.