The first obligation of statehhod

By RUTH GAVISON
October 22, 2011 09:27
3 minute read.
Muslim woman shouting in protest in Jaffa.

Muslim woman shouting 311. (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)

 
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Israel is now in the midst of an international campaign for the recognition of a Palestinian state alongside it. But in fact, the campaign also concerns Israel’s right to continue to exist as the nation state of the Jews.

A growing number of people now argue that Israel should become “the state of all its citizens.” Or in other words that there should be one state between the sea and the Jordan River, in which both Jews and Palestinians live together as equal citizens.

Others, who oppose this view and wish to retain at least the general contours of the two-state solution, argue that the deep differences and hostilities that exist between Jews and Palestinians will make such coexistence impossible, and that such a state would probably deteriorate into permanent civil war. Even if this does not happen, the argument goes, such a state might ultimately end up with an Arab majority, making it impossible to defend Jews physically and culturally.

But this argument for Jewish statehood depends on the ability of the Jewish state to protect its minorities, physically and culturally. And not only minorities, but also all Jewish groups within it, including those who stage protests against other factions of the Jewish population, unpopular as they may be. So long as Israel controls part of the occupied territories, its obligation of statehood applies to them as well.

I hope that those who burnt the mosque in the Galilee, as well as those responsible for all “price tag” activities wherever they take place, are found, indicted and punished severely. We must send the clearest possible message that this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The same should apply to those responsible for the organized violence in Anatot last Friday.

This is the responsibility of the state and law enforcement agencies. However, we know well enough that such activities are not the doing of individuals working on their own initiative. They are part and parcel of social groups that support them and legitimate them and discourage law enforcement from taking action. This is as true for Israeli society as it is true for the Palestinians. It follows that the responsibility is both on the state and its law enforcement arms, and also on the political, religious and spiritual leaders of the groups in whose name these activities are performed.

THIS IS not just a matter of political morality, important as that is. This is a critical matter of the minimal cohesion and solidarity Israeli society requires if it is to survive.



We have lived with deep controversies, and will probably have to live with them for some time to come. We can only sustain our shared political existence here and justify it, however, if this does not translate into hatred and violence. Stressing the emotional basis of distrust and hate is critical here. One cannot separate between emotions and actions. It may well be true, and desirable, that criminal liability should be limited to acts of violence or which are clearly illegal. However, hate mongering and all the mechanisms that facilitate violence because they erode our common humanity must also be dealt with. This can only be achieved through education and through responsible and courageous leadership.

This is a matter of great urgency. I am therefore willing to adopt a forward-looking approach: all parties concerned must explicitly and unequivocally declare that the fiercest controversies will be channeled, by all, to modes of civic action.

Thinking hard of ways to promote one’s goals through means that are less likely to deteriorate into violence is also part of responsible leadership.

I expect the government to demand that all relevant groups go through these processes of rethinking their tactics and strategies. They should make their guidelines public and provide for credible internal enforcement. We need to see the end of “winking” and “turning the other way.”

The leaders of the various groups need to accept the obligations that go along with their status, just as the state must.

If we don’t or can’t do this, it may well be the beginning of the end.

The writer is the Haim H. Cohn Professor of Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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