When I was growing up in the Zionist youth movement in the 1970s as a young leader, we were taught with pride the importance of Jewish labor. We read with passion the texts of Aaron David Gordon and others who both believed in socialism as the best way of creating equality for Jews in their new homeland. They preached the principles of Jewish labor in order to create “the new Jew” – a person connected to their land – “a normal people.”
As we embraced the ideology of the second and third aliyot (1905-1914 waves of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel) with the kibbutz at its center and their noble values that shaped our own identities, we did not stop for a moment to think about the impact of “Jewish labor” on the local Palestinian population, which was being pushed out of economic development and opportunities in the name of these noble Zionist values. The socialist Zionist response to the labor policies of the first aliyah, which employed cheap Arab labor to increase profits, was to remove Arab labor from the Jewish farms and to only employ Jews who would be working the land.
This led to Arab demonstrations and violence that strengthened the resolve of the “new Jews” not to hire Arab laborers as the first walls of fear and alienation were erected between Jews and Arabs throughout the land.
In the context of our present reality, when I see Jewish companies in Israel today that boast that they employ only Jewish labor, I look at them with contempt, as fostering racist discrimination in what is supposed to be a democratic country. In Israel, this is considered legitimate.
Even from the Left side of the political map in Israel, I remember meetings of the leadership of Peace Now in the 1980s. I felt out of place and deeply disturbed when proposals of including “Israeli Arabs” in demonstrations organized by the movement were rejected outright because it would drive away the support of moderate Jews within Israeli society.
This is the same reality that we saw during the three election campaigns in Israel over the last year. There was a rejection of any form of inclusion, even support from outside the coalition, from the Joint List representing more than 90% of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. How would we respond if these same examples occurred abroad, in Europe or in the US, only instead of Arabs being the target, it was Jews?
When I began supporting the two-states solution for two peoples way back in 1975, I envisaged two states living side-by-side with deep cooperation across the borders and with a shared capital in Jerusalem. That is the vision that I embraced for more than 40 years, and did everything that I could think of to develop that cross-boundary cooperation. That is the only way that I believe that real peace could develop.
Walls and fences based on separation paradigms, or divorce as some call it (even though I believe a marriage never occurred) is not the recipe for peace, nor is it a vision that inspires mass support.
In my pursuit of a new vision, principles that can inspire, bring hope and provide us with a map towards a better future, I have been presented with a lot of very positive ideas. I have been surprised, in fact, by the range of proposals and the deep thinking shared by people, in both societies, Israel and Palestine, from the Right and from the Left.
I do not yet fully adopt any one clear vision, but I would like to share some of the thinking.
I have said over the past several years that one of things that give me hope is young Palestinian women. Many of these women are struggling to create a new place for themselves within their own society.
There is a deep process of self-empowerment taking place, and I am quite convinced that this process will eventually have a huge impact on Palestinian political culture. While I cannot say that I support this model, I think that it is inspiring.
I received the following text several days ago from a young Palestinian woman who comes from a refugee family living in the diaspora:
“Declaration of a Vision for Palestinians and Israelis Sharing One Land
We, the undersigned, are Palestinians from present-day Israel, east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora, who want to present a clear and achievable vision for a just, inclusive, progressive and egalitarian shared society for Palestinians and Israelis sharing the single land of pre-1948 Palestine.
Rather than a demand for statehood, which has been the focus of our own official leadership for decades, we demand human and civil rights, justice and dignity, within a shared future in which both peoples can live together in safety, freedom, and prosperity.
Our vision is based on humanist values and seeks nothing less than the full implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for every person in historic Palestine.
We call for a multicultural and multi-religious society with a secular and democratic state and reject any religious and political ideology that opposes these basic values.
We declare, as the foundational principles of our vision:
• That we understand the historical, cultural and religious affinities of Jewish people around the world to the land, but also recognize that these do not exclude our own. We have a negative shared history on this land but we can have a positive shared future.
• That historical persecution of the Jewish people and their right to seek a safe refuge should be acknowledged, but also recognize that such a right cannot come at the expense of compromising the expense of another group; we believe in a society that guarantees the dignity, safety and security of everyone living in our society, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
• That a just society should uphold the rule of law, full equality of all its citizens, and the freedom of every human being regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
• That democracy is the best way to achieve effective representation of all members of society, provided that the democratic representation be completely devoid of myopic and tribal interests.
• That true progress can only be achieved through dialogue, and that this vision will lay the groundwork for the guaranteeing of freedom of expression.
• That hate speech in any form should not be tolerated.
• That science can only prosper under the auspices of a secular state.
• That violence begets violence, and that the possession and use of arms should be controlled to ensure the safety of everyone.
• That accountability and transparency must exist within the state system.
• That effective education is paramount for the implementation of this vision, and that all educational efforts within this vision should strive for the elimination of fear and hatred towards other groups, which has been entrenched over the past decades on both sides.”
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.