A Cry into the Diplomatic and Political Darkness
By Amal Jamal | 11/02/2010
The Jewish majority cannot afford to ignore the ethical basis of the vision documents and the existential claims they contain. Ignoring or dismissing them reflects the defensiveness of an immature society. Dr. Amal Jamal, Head of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, demands that Jewish society in Israel act maturely and enter into a dialogue with the writers of the documents, rather than respond with paranoid reactions leading to developments that spiral out of control.
The 1963 speech of the Afro-American American leader Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream," has continued to resonate in the sound box of humanity for over forty years. King, who spoke in 1963 on the National Mall in Washington before a crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands, set forth a political vision based on equality and on changing the face of American society.
King's vision never came to pass in its entirety. But dreams, by nature, exit reality and float above it, challenging and placing it before a mirror which exposes its inner workings and its weaknesses. Such visions draw their strength alternately from their objections to existing reality and their imagined impressions of reality. Therefore, they will always address the pathologies of existing reality in order to provide a remedy. The power of the visions is in the extent to which they penetrate the depths of reality's power structure and the depths of its culture, and in their ability to reflect it by inversion. Futuristic visions are more an ethical statement that reflects the consciousness and awareness of their authors, rather than a concrete political program. They are meant to hover above reality without disconnecting from it. They are supposed to expose the intensity of the ethical statement as an alternative to the drudgery of reality.
Therefore, before one attempts to point out the weaknesses of future visions, it is probably necessary to ask: on what planes does existing reality fail to meet the expectations of the visions' authors. Visions are usually composed by lone reformers who challenge reality and seek to reshape it. The ultimate representative of the authors of futuristic visions is Plato, who wrote "The Republic," in order to place a mirror before Athenian society of his time and cause it to change. Plato also failed to change the face of Athens and save it from demise. Lacking military power, the authors of the visions are likely to find themselves imprisoned in dark jail cells or relegated to the margins of society as criminals. At the same time, their very weakness and non-aggressiveness can grant them tremendous power to bring about historical changes. Visionary documents can take on the image of a wonderful literary work, similar to the works of Plato, Augustine, al-Farabi, and Dante. Even if they do not succeed in bringing about the longed for change, they are valuable as political and philosophical documents, which succeed in transcending the dreary reality and to embody visionary creation in which treasures of knowledge and vibrant thought are hidden. It is tempting to analyze future visions from an historical, philosophical and literary viewpoint. My treatment of the matter in what follows does not yield to this temptation. Rather, it deals with future visions that were brought out to air in recent months by various groups of Arab intellectuals and politicians, addressing the contemporary socio-political plane, in the hope that I would be granted the opportunity to act differently in the not-so-distant future. The choice of a remaining confined to a contemporary analysis stems from a number of reasons, most prominently the fact that the documents are confined to their immediate political and social context, and it is too early to determine their historical, political and cultural value.
Therapy for Trauma
The vision documents are not the fruit of one person's imagination or the work of one man's pen. They were written by a mix of academics on one hand, and politicians on the other, each pulling in a different direction, which is reflected in the large number of documents and in the tension that arises between their respective content. And then there are the heads of the civil society organizations, which banded together in groups in order to sketch out possible future political parameters to will address the difficulties of Arab-Palestinian society in Israel. The vision documents, which differ from one another in language, style and objectives, are the product of existential distress. They therefore oscillated between being taking the form of "practical vision" and "concrete political program." They represent a general statement of the social and political elite, which is fed up with playing the role of the "foreigner" who waits idly at one of the historical stations for a different future to come along. Their focus on the troubles of Arab-Palestinian society as a downtrodden minority reflects a decision to get behind the wheel in order to lead a maneuver whose final objective is unknown, but whose path is pre-conceived. While the specificity of vision documents is most likely to be to their disadvantage, they testify to an important change in the political consciousness of Arab-Palestinian society in Israel, and in the ways it is dealing with its social environment. They reflect the dual consciousness of this society, which does not ignore the complexity of its environment, but is also unwilling to continue as an historical object. The vision documents aspire to turn the Arab-Palestinian population in Israel into an historical subject that does not merely respond to the provocations of reality, but also initiates maneuvers, in the hope that these maneuvers will improve its standing.
The production of the documents is a kind of a scream into the diplomatic and political darkness that characterizes contemporary Israeli reality. While this darkness is the result of the cumulative developments that began in 1948, they can be seen as a kind of halting in the darkness, along the mountain slope, in order to scream and not make do with exclamations of "oy gevald." This is a collective scream that may arouse terror. But that is the manner of screams – they are always terrifying, because of their deep echoing into the surrounding silence. The deeper the darkness and sharper the silence, the more the scream resounds. Screams into the darkness are likely to reach the depths of the soul of anyone who hears them, and to undermine his self-confidence, particularly if he faces up to the internal quality of the terror. The more self-absorbed the listener, the more terrified he will be. There is no doubt that Jewish-Israeli society is undergoing deep processes of increased self-focus. Although a majority society, it is still a paranoid society whose terror from everything that fails its expectations arouses an uncontrolled response. This is the reasons that the vision documents of Arab society in Israel are being defined as a "declaration of war." Despite this and the terror notwithstanding, only the scream of Arab citizens can shake up Jewish-Israeli society and prevent it from sinking into its deep fears. This is trauma therapy, based on the belief that Jewish society must not be allowed to take refuge behind its anxieties and fears. It must not be allowed to suppress and ignore, even it does not agree. The vision statements and the ensuing activities, strive to cause Jewish society in Israel to truly and sincerely grapple with the social and political distortions that it has created over the years. The authors of the documents cannot force their will on Jewish society; at the very most, they will be able to shame it.
Ethical Intensity of the Documents
In light of the ongoing exclusion of Arab-Palestinian citizens from Israeli public life, the surprise of the Jewish public at the very publication of the documents and the link that they make between the Palestinian minority and its homeland, as well as the very discussion of its basic rights as an original-indigenous minority, is astounding – and its anger, agitating. And yet, at the same time, the Zionist narrative, in its myriad forms, pumped up daily through the various ideological state mechanisms and relentlessly sounded by Jewish politicians and intellectuals in conferences and in the media, explicitly discusses the exclusive connection of the Jewish people to the land. We are constantly being informed of the need to Judaize various parts of the country as a sacred goal, which inherently negates and erases the basic fact of Arab existence in this space. The documents, composed by a group of Arab intellectuals and politicians, in response to this negating discourse, call on all Jews in Israel, without exception, as partners in a political process that signifies normalization of our shared existence in a single political-national framework or another. Moreover, in proposing different political formulations that may be complementary, such as a "democratic state," "consensus democracy," or "multi-cultural and bi-lingual state," the documents take the State of Israel as a legitimate political entity as a starting point, and lend expression to the right of self-definition of the Jewish majority within the 1967 borders. The source of authority and sovereignty, according to these documents, is the Israeli public. The very treatment of the subject invites negotiations from within the existing reality, even if the process is not pre-committed to the political structure of the State of Israel, as it is defined today. The documents seek to render the Arab public part of the Israeli sovereign entity. They address the Israeli public as a legitimate public, in contrast to the way in which this public ignores even the basic rights of this minority and tramples it daily in various manners. This is a conscious decision that does not arise from fear. A reading of the documents illustrates that it flows from the ethical position the authors assumed, their main goal being to propose formulae that might prevent bloodshed or use of violence.
Despite the differences between them, which point to internal debates that are probably legitimate, the "vision" [[בעברית פתאום מופיעות מרכאות סביב המילה... לאחד? documents are based on ethical claims of justice and fairness, and not on political or power-based claims. The authors are aware of their meager political power, but at the same time, they are also alert to their ethical intensity. They know that the state can erase the documents and de-legitimize them. They know that the Jewish majority is likely to ignore them, and view them as a "strategic danger." Therefore, at this stage at least, these documents can be seen as a kind of tactic as in the saying "cast your bread upon the waters." At the same time, the authors are aware of their ethical force among some Jewish sub-groups, and mainly, internationally. In light of this, the Jewish community cannot allow itself to ignore the ethical basis of the documents and the existential claims they contain. Ignoring or devaluing them is a kind of defensiveness on the part of an immature society. Jewish society in Israel is required to exhibit maturity rather than a paranoia that leads to an uncontrolled development.
No minority can wait until the majority allows it to express its needs and interests, and to struggle for the realization of its basic rights. Minorities use the structure of the available opportunities in order to advance their goals and to protect their rights. Citizenship is a significant structure that offers the opportunity and possibility of harnessing the legitimate political rules of the game in order to advance the goals of excluded minorities. The Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel have waited for a long time for the Jewish majority to come around from its anxieties and fulfill its promise for full civic equality. The Jewish minority indulged for years in the inebriation of its military victories, and neglected the ethical dimensions of the political reality on which it fed for many years. The Jewish minority became addicted to a one-sided imposed reality that countered healthy historical logic. Rather than realizing its culture in the political space that it succeeded in obtaining in 1948, it was dragged into the mud in a journey of territorial envy, and with every attempt to extricate itself, it just sank deeper. The Arab citizens of Israel got sick of this journey. They despised the ethnicity of the state and the exclusivity of Jewish society, with its resources and institutions. The journeys into the Judaization of time, space and culture were perceived as completely opposed to Arab existence in the state. This is the source of the scream.
The Voice of the Differentiated and Unique Collective "I"
Even if I may disagree with some of the formulations, the vision documents are an expression of the power of historical memory of the Arab citizens of Israel, which cannot be erased, and particularly in light of the fact that the Nakba of 1948 continues to take place before their eyes. These documents are not emotional effusions, but are the fruit of pre-contemplation. They were planned and sketched out over lengthy periods. They are therefore complex and cannot be negated with a simple flick of the wrist. They represent an open view of history, which can be reformed and reorganized. These authors of these documents do not demurely accept fate, but challenge and the workings of time and restore to it even a small part of the consciousness of the Palestinian people as the majority group that has ownership of the place, an ownership that is no less than Jewish society which keeps the exclusiveness for itself. The documents cast the memory of the past in terms of the present, in order to shape a different future. They reflect a timing that expresses maturity, despite the constant attrition and protracted attempts at discipline forced on Arab society since 1948. The documents are not vengeful, but are based on generosity and broad-spiritedness, reflecting a recognition of the "other" and accepting him as legitimate. They reject the desire of the "other" to impose its superiority, even if this may enrage it and intensify its vengefulness.
Despite the differences between them, which indeed arouse speculations regarding the inability to reach a consensus, the "vision" documents reflect important positions and processes in Arab-Palestinian society in Israel. The voice of the authors is one of a differentiated and unique collective that emphasizes its integral membership in the Palestinian people, but recognizes its political and national uniqueness. This is an "I" with unique sources of identity, stemming on the one hand from the ramifications of the Palestinian Nakba and its implications, but also on the unique Israeli experience of the Arab citizens, but also including structural, institutionalized discrimination and forced discipline. The "I", whose voice booms forth from the document, indeed suffers from deep existential scars that shape its consciousness, but at the same time these scares feed it with optimistic caution. This is the "I" that is aware of the dual residency in the Palestinian and Israeli experiences, and aspires to turn this fact from a trap that causes its marginalization, to an opportunity in which lies tremendous power. This is part of these documents' strength, and yet, it is also detrimental to their visions.
The documents reflect development of a unique collective recognition that strives to speak on its own behalf and to express its needs. This political recognition, although it is inextricably bound to the Palestinian nationality past and heritage, is aware of its being a sign, even if only for the short term, of an individuated political society. It is a political recognition that feeds from the differences between it and the rest of the Palestinian people and which manages its struggle for equal rights through tools that are different from what is accepted in the Palestinian national movement. Therefore, the "vision" documents place themselves outside the framework of the "Palestinian National Covenant," even its post-Oslo version. At the same time, they also place themselves outside of the boundaries of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. This is perhaps the secret of their power, which radiates tremendous political strength, as in the ancient Arab saying: "A right cannot disappear, as long as someone demands it." At the functional level, this is the role that these documents fill. With great focus, they demand that which many Arab leaders have already expressed variously in different frameworks. Their innovation is in their intensified focus.
In light of these things, one might say that the documents symbolize maturity and the cohesion of a strong, knowledgeable political elite, which is succeeding in composing its own founding documents. Therefore, the "vision" should not be seen as a pining for the past, but rather an attempt to create a new reality. This ambition contains within it the coming-into-being of a new political collective. Despite the differences in the language of the various documents, and although they speak the language of an indigenous minority and collective rights, their futuristic focus is towards the potential creation of a new collective. If, following the lead of Aristotle, we judge things based on their potential, this is the birth of a political actor who makes his peace with some of the changes that have occurred in the area over recent decades, while creating modifications and reforms suitable to the ethical world view and the perception of restorative justice that guides it. It is a political actor that expresses its many years of suffering, and understands that the time has arrived when it is worthwhile and even legitimate from its viewpoint to aspire to maximize its "earnings" in the context of the existing political and diplomatic data. Therefore, it suggests political programs, sewn to measure.
One of the fundamental symbols of the documents is that they reflect political ripeness and recognition of the legitimacy of internal difference in Arab society. Despite the competition between the authors, they recognize the legitimacy of the various projects in their mutual contributions. They view these contributions as complementary and as engaging in a kind of discourse. The claim is that the documents complement one another, even if there was no real coordination between their writers. There is some truth to this claim: a significantly large number of people participated in composing the documents, and they used informal means to coordinate between them to ensure that diverse expressions would be presented as complementary mutuality rather than as struggle. In addition, the fact that the documents accept the rules of the democratic game of political struggle within the framework of Israeli citizenship confirms this.
One might say, therefore, that the "vision" documents are characterized in not being based in turning their back to the state or its Jewish majority. They declare the opening of communication channels that may not be simple, but are serious. These channels of communication must be rational and disconnected from the existing power relations. They demand that the Jewish majority abandon the language of unilateral coercion and violence. They challenge the power relations through rational and ethical language, and warn against ignoring them. In so doing, the documents invite the Jewish majority to stand up to the challenge of true dialogue that is not bound from the outset to the framework of ethical conditions, as expressed in the history of Israeli constitutional legislation. The documents rely on an awareness that it is not simple to convince a hegemonic majority to relinquish its advantage, particularly if the majority is paranoid. Therefore, they do not demand revolution, but rather, dialogue. The objectives of the documents, which do not imply the acceptance of particular content, can be obtained only through serious and in-depth discussion between the parties in conflict. Arab-Palestinian society in Israel views itself as a legitimate partner to dialogue, even if this is a sensitive topic in the view of the remainder of the Palestinian people. These intentions can be seen in the not-so-subtle implications of the "vision" documents, each in its own way, towards accepting the political framework of two states and finding an agreed solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
The documents reflect the principles of the struggle of Arab society: rejection of the state's exclusive ethnic identity; striving for full essential equality between Arabs and Jews, as individuals and as collectives; and striving for restorative justice that will bring about acceptable reckoning with the ramifications of the Palestinian Nakba. In this framework, one can speak of the "vision" documents as reflecting a number of important processes in contemporary Arab politics in Israel, as follows: a. binding together the demands for civil and national equality as complementing one another; b. binding together the demand for a politics of distribution of material resources and a politics of national and cultural recognition; c. combination of the discourse of liberal and collective rights in the framework of a legal-constitutional discourse based on international human rights law; d. emphasis of indigenousness and the Palestinians in Israel as an indigenous minority as a source of rights, even prior to the rights accruing to them as Israeli citizens; e. a demand to grant a kind of autonomy to Arabs in Israel, and autonomous control of various aspects of their collective lives; f. intensifying extra-parliamentary civil activity in parallel to institutionalized politics, to take place in the framework of formal government institutions as an empowering political pathway.
These processes did not begin with the composition of "vision" documents and will not cease after the documents are gone. They are part of a broader dynamic, of which composition of the documents is a stage. How they influence this dynamic, and to what direction they tend is difficult to ascertain at present. There is no doubt that publication of the documents will have two long-term results. The first arises from the language of the documents as a civic and secular language. This is a discourse that will influence the inter-Arab differentiation, particularly in light of the rupture between the secular political camp and the religious political camp, and in light of the fact that the documents were composed by secular intellectuals with no participation by recognized religious political forces. This fact is significant in a number of ways in terms of the weight of the documents in the various sectors of Arab society, which tend towards religiosity and conservativism. Indeed, the documents were not really adopted by the various manifestations of the Islamic Movement. In light of the fact that the Islamic Movement's ethical power in Arab society is great, and given that its political discourse is based on a religious world view and transcendent source of power, it is difficult to see how the authors of the documents can enlist Arab society to join them. The second result is that the Jewish majority can no longer ignore the developments in Arab politics, and will have to formulate suitable responses that speak to the heart of the matter. Although the Jewish majority cannot be held accountable for all future developments, because it possesses most of the power in the political equation in the state, its ethical responsibility to relate to challenges that the Arab minority society sets before it is particularly weighty. If this majority allows its paranoia to take control and chooses to respond in the context of "the strategic threat," we are likely to find ourselves on a collision course. In contrast, if the Jewish majority wakes up, and rather than an initial panicked response it chooses the language of dialogue, we are likely to find ourselves in a future that is at least more stable, if not better, in the coming years.
Dr. Amal Jamal is Head of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University