I believe that it is important for progressive organizers to have a long-term vision of what kind of society, what kind of world, they are working towards. Having such a vision doesn’t mean you will see it fully realized during your lifetime; it is possible that it may seem further away when one’s death comes. But without a vision, to paraphrase the popular saying, one might as well be dead.
Jesus of Nazareth had a vision, that people should love their neighbor as they love themselves, that we should be as concerned for the well-being of others as we are about our own life.
Karl Marx also had a vision of a society that he called communism, where the guiding principle is “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” a society freed from the strait jacket of economic scarcity because of the development of industry and technology and culturally advanced so as to administer itself justly, thus giving everyone the opportunity to develop themselves in ways not possible under capitalism, feudalism, slavery and their predecessors.
Some who live in the land of historic Palestine have violently competing visions. Some Israelis have a vision of a “greater Israel” which would effectively destroy the Palestinian vision of a just and secure future in a land of their own. In reaction, some Palestinians, and some non-Palestinians who support them, have a vision of effectively destroying the majority-Jewish state of Israel, replacing it with a predominantly Palestinian, secular state that would, in theory, treat its minority of Jewish citizens fairly. This is the practical position of those who believe that the top priority when it comes to the Israel/Palestine issue is that of the right to return. The full implementation of the right to return would mean the physical return to Israel of up to four million Palestinians displaced by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 or the descendants of those displaced.
And the newly-elected, fundamentalist president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has a vision of, in his words,
“wip(ing) Israel off the map,” as he said at a rally in Tehran three days ago. Given his Islamic fundamentalist politics, however, his vision is certainly not that of a secular state to replace it.
For over three-quarters of a century, there has been a struggle, often violent, between Palestinian Arabs and Jews. This struggle began in the 1920’s and accelerated during the 1930’s and 1940’s as the rise of Nazism and the work of the World Zionist Organization nearly quadrupled the number of Jews in Palestine between 1931 and 1946 to approximately 600,000, about 1/3 of the total population at the time.
There is no question but that a great injustice was done when the United States, Western Europe, the Soviet Union and other countries, operating through the United Nations, partitioned Palestine into what was to have been a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. ¾ of a million or more Palestinians were forced to leave land their ancestors had lived in for many centuries.
Yet there is also no question but that the great sufferings of the Jewish people under Nazism leading to the Holocaust, combined with the overall refusal of the Christian West to receive large numbers of desperate Jewish refugees, created a determination to create a Jewish homeland. And it is clear that, almost 60 years later, Israel is as much a reality as the United States of America, a country similarly founded upon racism and violence toward non-European, non-white peoples.
Given this situation, I can conceive of no way that up to four million Palestinians will ever return to the land they or their parents or grandparents used to live in, with one exception. That would be if Islamic fundamentalism swept the Middle East, overturning governments in the region and leading to a cataclysmic war to implement Ahmedinejad’s vision of wiping Israel off the map through the use of weapons of mass destruction. The use of such weapons, of course, would also probably kill millions of Palestinians and Arabs and could plunge the world into a world war, but at the end of that war, whenever that might be, whatever Palestinians are left could do their best to make a living from the likely radioactive soil of their former land.
Am I missing something? How else could this demand be practically implemented in full?
On the other hand, I can see a campaign for a right to return which involved a more limited resettlement and substantial reparations, in the context of an overall negotiated agreement. Such an agreement would force Israel to stop building and to dismantle-or turn over to a Palestinian government– Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and/or give up land of commensurate value to a newly-created Palestinian state.
But this is not my personal vision of the best-case solution for Palestinians and Israelis, just as the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the cutting of the U.S. military budget, a clean energy revolution, practical steps toward racial and gender equality, etc. are not the ultimate vision of what I am working for in the U.S. Those are some of the major issues of the day, but I am doing all I can to build a movement that is about a very different society than the one we live in today.
Some people call that vision socialism, or communism. Others might call it a fully democratic society.
Religious people could say that they are working for heaven on earth. Whatever it is called, it is the complete opposite of today’s competitive, aggressive, selfish culture of domination and control.
I can see a time in the future, as our pro-justice movements grow stronger all around the world, as progressive Palestinians and progressive Israelis build their connections and cooperation, as we in the United States do our essential work here in the belly of the beast, when conditions are much more favorable for moving to a higher form of government in the land of Palestine. It is a tremendous vision. But it won’t come about militarily. It will come about only through a struggle for justice for all people, through human connections and the transcending of today’s widespread bitterness and hatred.
Those of us in the U.S. must continue to demand and work for an end to U.S. support of Israel’s occupation, the root of the problem, understanding that without justice, there can be no peace, no possibility of implementing a higher vision.