On the occasion of the publication of an international appeal for "A single secular democratic state in Palestine: A Republic of all its citizens!" we questioned Professor Haïm Bresheeth, who is the originator of this appeal.

Short web-interview with Prof. Haim Bresheeth, of the One State in Palestine group


You were very young when you first arrived in Israel, shortly after its foundation. Could you explain to us how you came to your conviction for engaging in activism for the one-state solution?

What is your feeling concerning the evolution of Israeli society, especially after last summer's social movement, in which most of the objectors refused any comment on the fate of the Palestinian people, as though it were possible to dissociate the two situations? According to you, how can the one-state solution be supported and implemented in the Israeli society of today ? Is it possible on a broad scale and in which conditions? What are your perspectives with this appeal?

Haim Bresheeth

I have been born in Italy, in a DP camp near Rome, in 1946, to two refugees of the death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, who found their way to Italy after the end of WW2. We arrived in Israel in June 1948, on the first boat which entered Israel after its independence and in May 1948.

On our arrival, my father was forced to fight at Latroun, despite his avowed pacifism and refusal to carry arms, and was deployed as a medic. My mother and I stayed in the refugee centre in Atlith, until the end of the fighting, when we were all re-housed in a flat at Jebaliya (later to be renamed as Giva’at Aliya…) to the South of Jaffa, which was of course the former home of a Palestinian family, expelled with thousands of others when the Irgun has conquered Jaffa and forcibly got rid of its indigenous population, most of whome boarded fishing vessels trying to reach Gaza or Lebanon. Many were lost at sea.

The neighbourhood was most unusual in the Israeli context – the newly-housed survivors of the camps who made the majority of the population, shared the lovely town with few Palestinian families who have stayed behind, making some of the poorest population of the new state. Jews have shared a school with the Palestinian Arab children, and Arabic was taught as well as Hebrew. None of this could happen today. This background, I believe, made me able to understand and sympathize with the Palestinians as I grew up, despite the marked racism of the Jewish Israeli society in which I was brought up. Typically, the Palestinian children who came from the same background have not made it to university, or to a middle class occupation – they have remained on the margins of Israeli society, severely limited by its inbuilt racism towards the Palestinians.

If we think of the so called ‘tents protest’ last summer, in the context of the great upheaval in the Arab world, the Israeli protest is seen in its proper proportions – a middle class protest with nationalist and populist agenda, excluding the Palestinians and their occupation, which was evident by its total suppression by the protest leader. Ironically, it was the only protest movement in the Middle East which was not brutalized by the state police forces, not a single protester was hurt; it seems to have been the easiest to defeat by the regime in power, as the commitment of the protesters to change the system was somewhat limited in comparison to the societies around it. Now, almost a year after it started, it seems clear that it achieved nothing, and its leadership was co-opted by the Israeli regime – both the main leaders of the ‘movement’ were sent by the Israeli government of speaking tours of European capitals, making the case against BDS… The protesters who were not prepared to rethink their racism and colonial role, ended up with nothing, after the most impressive marches in Israel. This is nota movement which will end racism, or the occupation. This is nota movement for real social change, but a volkish populist movement, which cannot defeat the populist fascist, Netanyahu. In short – if any of us was hopeful about a change from within, the Tents Protest has proven how impossible this is in Israel, even more impossible than change in most Arab countries.

So if racism cannot be defeated by popular forces in Israel, if such protest that exists chooses to totally deny the main issue on the Israeli political agenda – the occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people – then opposition to Zionism is not likely to come from this quarter; on the contrary – the leaders are happy to serve as a tool of the regime they are supposedly against. To my mind, this means that the end of racist and unjust, brutal practices and policies of Zionism will not come from within, and that without an end to this colonial project, there can be no just peace for anyone, and no just resolution of the Palestinian question, created by Zionism and its western allies in crime. As long as the Zionist state stays intact, we have a situation reminiscent of South Africa under apartheid – there can be no resolution unless this corrosive, toxic system is replaced, as was apartheid in South Africa, by a fully democratic system in the whole of Palestine. The country, so unjustly divided by the UN in 1947, leading to the brutal expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from their homes, almost 80% of the whole nation, by the IDF, and by the Israeli government refusing their return, has been torn and mutilated ever since. This neo-colonial enterprise, serving the aims of western capitalism, has not only caused the Palestine continued Nakba, but has also poisoned middle-Eastern politics with anti-Arab, Islamophobic attitudes and positions which have fed the right in Europe, North America and elsewhere. To Israelis, it has brought no peace, but a long series of destructive wars: to Palestinians and other Arabs, it has brought destruction beyond belief, racism, and xenophobia, and continued oppression and loss. This has got to come to an end, like it did in South Africa.

Only a state based on total equality of all citizens within Palestine – a secular democratic state of all its citizens, can offer Jews and Arabs some hope. Once citizenship is not based on racial and racist definition, but on equality for all, can offer peace, justice and the rule of law in a country which has seen more suffering than most. To achieve this, historical injustices must be reversed, as much as is humanly possible – Palestinians who were expelled, and their families, must be allowed to return to their country, as well as to be properly compensated for their lost land and property. Such a state in the whole of the country will not allow racist treatment of any kind, and will not offer unjust privileges to ethnic groups of any kind.

The large group of Palestinian and Israeli academics and activists who have worked on the One State in Palestine declaration and its detailed principles, has tried, for the first time, to confront the deep divisions and inequalities which were forced by Zionism, not just on Palestinians, but also on Mizrahi Jews, in order to offer a just foundation for the future of life together of both communities, so as to allow them to build a commonality across the national and ethnic dividers, a commonality of civic and democratic nature, leading to more hopeful and peaceful future to all the people of Palestine, Israelis and Palestinians. This foundation needs further elaboration, detailing and development, which our group is working towards. We see our limited effort as an icon and symbol of the future cooperation which the democratic Republic of Palestine shall be based upon.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )