A free Palestine ‘from river to the sea’: Marc Lamont Hill’s call for justice has consequences

Robert Herbst – December 3, 2018
I confess I had never heard of Marc Lamont Hill until CNN fired him for his November 28 speech at the United Nations on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People before the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)

If truth be told, I had not heard of CEIRPP either. It was established by UN Resolution 3376 in 1975 to formulate a program to enable the Palestinian people to exercise (1) their inalienable right to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty, and (2) the right of Palestine refugees to return. So the long knives must have been out for Professor Hill (his day job is at Temple University in Philadelphia) when he agreed to fly back from a trip to Palestine and address CEIRPP in the first place, since Israel and the American Jewish establishment must consider the very existence of CEIRPP and its raison d’être to be an existential challenge to the Jewish State.
When I went to the web for the speech, I saw a young black American who knew his stuff and did not shrink from a powerful articulation of the Palestinian plight and a passionate appeal for international solidarity on their behalf. The first third of the 21 minute speech summarized the myriad ways in which Israelis have oppressed Palestinians in the 70 years since the Nakba, including “the expulsion, murder, and the permanent dislocation of more than a million Palestinians,” in derogation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights – also 70 years old – which says that all people are “born free in dignity and rights.”
There was nothing new in his survey of rights violations – the Nation-State law and the 60-some-odd earlier laws that privilege Jews and discriminate against Palestinians in housing, education and family reunification; the use and judicial acceptance of torture in violation of the UN Convention on Torture ratified by Israel in 1991; the killing and maiming of peaceful protesters; the view of all Palestinians as potential terrorists and arbitrary arrest and administrative detention for six months or more without charges; the home demolitions and more. As Hill himself noted, it has all been documented by human rights organizations inside and outside Israel-Palestine. The pervasive, systematic and relentless nature of the Israeli oppression is visible to anyone who goes to the West Bank (or Gaza) to see for themselves.
But what was remarkable, coming from a mainstream press commentator like Hill, was the framework which he said embodied this oppression: the American tax dollars contributing to it; and the colonial and imperialistic tendency of the powerful in the West to “exercise dominion” over the vulnerable peoples of color here in the United States, and around the world, in Palestine, South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere, where the struggle to resist state violence is “all of the same sort.” Because no American president has taken a principled stand against this occupation or in defense of Palestinian rights, Hill noted, Trump is not wildly out of step with historic and bipartisan American policy; rather than an exception, Trump is “a more transparent and aggressive iteration” of that policy – in moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, permanently reneging on our commitment to fund UNRWA, and pressuring the Palestinians to permit the U.S. to unilaterally resolve the final status of refugees to the Palestinians’ detriment.
Hill’s prescription for resistance to the oppression was an international solidarity movement, a union of resistance by vulnerable people the world over to the powerful who oppress them: African Americans protesting the St. Louis killing of Michael Brown making common cause with the Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence, turn towards rather than away from each other; a wholehearted embrace of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) call from Palestinian civil society, and a determination to “no longer allow our political leaders or parties to be silent on Palestine.” 
While committing to support only non-violent means of resistance like BDS, Hill pointed out that American slavery was not defeated by the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, but by a bloody civil war and slave revolts before that, and that international law permits an occupied people to resist such occupation by resort to force, if necessary. Accordingly, Hill said, we should not “shame Palestinians for resisting rather than doing nothing in the face of Israeli state violence and ethnic cleansing.” Justice, he said, “requires a free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
Hill’s provocative call for freedom for Palestinians in the whole of historic Palestine (or Greater Israel), in a single state guaranteeing rights for both peoples, did not mention Jews or Israelis, leaving him vulnerable to the false attack that he was advocating eliminating Jews from the Holy Land, not just a state which privileges Jews and oppresses Palestinians. Accordingly, his “pro-Israel” critics fell on him like a ton of bricks, not just at CNN, but at Temple University where, thankfully, he has tenure and First Amendment protections against firing, demotion or other retaliation for his advocacy, since Temple is a public university. 
On the other hand, Sari Bashi, a human rights researcher at the Yale Law School who attended the CEIRPP proceedings as a representative of Israeli civil society, found Hill’s speech “powerful and refreshing” because the “vision of a single state is inherently more inclusive than partition along ethnic lines,” and “could end Israeli domination over Palestinians” while preserving the human rights of both peoples.
There is a fundamental difference between a Jewish homeland and a Jewish State. A homeland guarantees the rights of Jews to enter and become citizens and enjoy equal rights. It is compatible with a homeland and equal rights for Palestinians as well. A Jewish State – especially as it has developed in Israel– privileges Jews in rights and resources and therefore inherently disadvantages Palestinians, the other indigenous people of the Land. It is not compatible with a Palestinian homeland and equal rights. It is also not compatible with Jewish moral and religious values, a fatal flaw in a Jewish State, which constitutes the real existential challenge to the Jewish people.
As the consensus that the two-state solution is dead grows, the debate must increasingly turn to the set of principles and structures we – Palestinians and Jews working together – must agree upon in order to ultimately put in place a one-state solution.