Why we can be hopeful on Palestine

Peter F. Cohen – October 9, 2018
Even as the village of Khan Al-Ahmar was finally cleared for destruction this week, its defense was a reminder that the face of the Palestinian Struggle has increasingly become a non-violent one in which Palestinians are joined in solidarity by internationals – including many Jewish internationals – and even Israelis.

At the same time, Ahed Tamimi, the 18-year-old Palestinian activist recently released from Israeli prison, was in Madrid being honored by Real Madrid.
The Great Return March, which began on March 30th, was an attempt across a broad spectrum of Gazan society to mount a peaceful action that world could not help but recognize as such. After 6 months, the March has largely dropped from the headlines, even though the death toll continues to climb. But the March has nevertheless continued and some of the seeds it has planted are already bearing fruit.
On August 6th, 19-year-old Hillel Garmi refused to serve in the Israeli military. In his Declaration of Refusal, Garmi wrote: “This year, during the wave of unarmed demonstrations which took place near the Gaza Strip fence, I read what Ahmed Abu Artema, who organized the demonstrations, wrote, and I was impressed to discover people who take on the situation between the sea and the Jordan without using a gun.”
On September 19th, Artema responded, in an open letter to Garmi in +972 Magazine, in which he thanked him for giving Palestinians hope and wrote: “Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens.”
On October 2nd, Garmi responded to Artema in his own open letter in +972 Magazine, accepting and echoing Artema’s friendly challenge: “We all live under one undemocratic system, so we must struggle together.”
These two men are coming from different worlds – Garmi in prison for a few months on his own volition, Artema trapped in a prison his entire adult life, born a stateless refugee, deprived of regular access to things like water and electricity, and subject to repeated devastating bombings – and the gulf in their understanding is wide. But, after years of exchanges of fire across the “Separation Barrier,” this friendly exchange of letters is an act of defiance against a system designed to keep them apart.
“Hafrada” (“separation,” “segregation,” “apartness”) is the Israeli name for the complex and brutal regime of ethnic separation that reigns in Israeli-controlled Israel-Palestine: a deliberate policy of forced separation, officially justified by Israel as necessary for its security, that makes it virtually impossible for these two men to physically meet – unless through the barrel of a sniper’s rifle. By refusing the rifle and instead choosing to take up the pen, Garmi has now found himself face-to-face with the closest thing to the living personification of the Great Return March. Refusing to kill is a first step. agreeing to engage in an honest, respectful dialogue is a second. Only time will tell whether this can lead to the definition of a common vision that these two men can work towards and which can in turn inspire others, but at least the promise is there.
At the same time, calls are also growing for a single democratic state for all from the River to the Sea. Several major joint Israel-Palestinian in initiatives are emerging to unveil the One State agenda. The One State Foundation launched in March and the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC) in April. The idea is gaining ground among Palestinians and Ahmed Abu Artema himself embraced just this in an August 17th piece in Mondoweiss.
The combination of Palestinian popular action, a firm commitment to non-violence even in the face of brutal Israeli oppression, and a clearly-defined goal of equal rights within one state is a powerful one that has the potential to become an unstoppable force. If the traditional framing of the Palestinian struggle as a conflict between peoples for control of the land is replaced by that of a struggle of people for equality and basic human and civil rights, it will be a vision that will be difficult indeed to oppose.