The son of Palestinian parents who fled the country in 1948, Ali Abunimah is an author, journalist and co-founder of the information resource Electronic Intifada. His is a leading academic voice on issues affecting the Middle East and Arab-American affairs. He recently sat down with The Final Call’s Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad to share some of his thoughts regarding the conflict in the Occupied Territories, as well as solutions offered in his book “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.”
The Final Call (FC): What was the catalyst that led to the creation of the Electronic Intifada?
Ali Abunimah (AA): Very simply, the mainstream media in this country does not fairly represent the viewpoints and experiences of Palestinians, either in this country or in Palestine. It provides a very distorted picture, so the Electronic Intifada was an attempt to create our own media, where we were the editors. Where Palestinians and those who support human rights for Palestinians could have a forum to debate, discuss and to report. We do a lot of the original reporting from the ground in Palestine, that is not subject to the mainstream media censorship.
FC: You’ve discussed the growing awareness and parallels between South Africa and apartheid, Jim Crow here in the United States and the occupation and Zionism that exist right now in the occupied territories. There are some subtleties there and then there are also some very obvious parallels when viewing what is going on there on the ground.
AA: Well the parallel is one that is being noted by many people including Palestinians, Israelis and many prominent South Africans who really engaged heroically in the struggle against apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is perhaps one of the most famous in the world, but there are many. Basically, the thing that ties these things together, there are a couple. One is the notion that a minority of settlers and a community that has come from overseas and settled in this country has an inherent God-given right to rule over others because they are different in some ways–their skin is a different color, they are a different religion, and they do not belong to the group that has established its rule by force of arms. Entire ideologies get built around preserving, maintaining and justifying these differences in power. So in South Africa and in Israel, as well as in the United States, you see a discourse that talks about, on the one hand, civilization, and on the other hand, barbarism. Whereas those in power, are always the ones who define themselves as civilized and those who they exercise power over, they define them as being barbarians who need to be controlled; to be civilized. They say if we let them get control then all hell will break loose. So you see a very similar ideological premise for maintaining the privileged rule of one group.
On the other hand, you see the methods used to maintain that control of violence–state violence–which is often rendered invisible. Violence is so ingrained in the system, that defines the Palestinians living on his or her own land as being illegal, as being illegally present; or the laws in Israel which prohibits a Palestinian who is in Israel (there are some Palestinians in Israel) from marrying a Palestinian and bringing that Palestinian to come and live in the country. So those laws, Palestinian civil rights organizations compare them to the laws that prevented Blacks and Whites from marrying in this country. There are legal barriers to Palestinians marrying Israeli citizens, to living in certain parts of the country and so on. An entire system of racial and ethnic discrimination and that is really the basis of why people have compared it.
FC: You advocate the one state solution to solve the Israeli/Palestinian land question. What are the reasons some oppose the one state solution? Is it motivated by the fear of the demographic changes that could occur? I know that it is complex and there are many different layers to the different arguments of one state versus two states. Talk to us about the differences.
AA: In the-two state solution, the basic premise is that Palestine should be divided between the indigenous people and the settlers. That division is inherently unjust and unfair, because it is based on the notion that Israel was established through the ethnic cleansing of three-fourths (75 percent) of the Palestinian population and the two-state solution says that we just forget about that. We establish a Jewish state on three-fourths of Palestine and a Palestinian state on less then a quarter of the territory. And all those Palestinians who were expelled or want to return, they just have to disappear. It is inherently unjust and the reason for it is that the Israelis want to maintain their power and privilege, understandably. Many people who have power and privilege do not want to give it up. Now in ending this situation there is the fear factor that Israelis say, “Well if we give up our absolute control, then what is to stop those who we have victimized, from victimizing us?” They will often argue that Palestinians are inherently less civilized or inherently less well behaved and therefore they cannot be trusted. “The moment that they get the opportunity, they will slaughter us in our beds.” These are the same arguments that were made against ending apartheid in South Africa, “Well you may not like apartheid, but the moment it ends those savage Africans are going to slaughter us.” In other words “It’s easy for you Europeans and Americans to argue against apartheid, but you don’t live here with these people.” And exactly the same arguments are made today to defend Israel.
What I argue in my book is that I believe that all human beings are equal and that in conditions of justice they can live together. What does justice mean? Justice means that you have to restore the rights and property to those who have been denied them. It does not mean that you just end the situation. You do not just say now, okay, everyone is equal and that is it. You have to actually make reparations and restore those who have been denied their rights to where they were, and their children, who have lost so many opportunities because of the generations of injustice, have to be given a proper chance in life and have to be made whole. That is a process that goes beyond simply writing a constitution in which everyone is declared equal. The equality has to have real roots in the ground and that means you have to shift the balance of wealth and power from those who have monopolized it, to those who have been denied it.
That, I think, is also what makes this a universal challenge, because that is the same challenge that we still face in these United States; where that process has barely started. Where after 100 years of slavery and genocide against the native people, all of a sudden those in power say “okay, everyone is equal now.” That does not work. It was just a few days ago, we passed the landmark of one percent of this country’s population in prison. Who are those one percent? You can be sure that they are not drawn equally from all segments of the population. So the challenge in Palestine is tied to those broader struggles I think in that way, and we have to see it that way. The danger is that we all see ourselves as being part of little tribes that are struggling for our own patch and miss the universal significance of what we are fighting for.
FC: Thank you.
(For more information visit www.electronicintifada.net)