J: Well, thank you for joining us Uri Davis. It's nice to have you on the line. I wonder if I could begin by way of brief introduction. Your autobiography is subtitled "Anti-Zionist Palestinian Jew" as a description for you. I wonder if by way of introduction you could explain that distinction.
UD: Well, that particular designation is informed by a committment to a rather conventional principle. I very much adhere to the principle or the normative direction of separation of religion from the state. I think it is a hugely important contribution of the American and French revolutions, and a great advance towards humanism worldwide. And I attempt to subscribe to this principle, possibly even expand it further and suggest that it would be well-applied in that not only religion - not only synagogues, churches and mosques ought to be separated completely from the state - but also one's ethnic identity should be separated from the state; one's national identity; one's private identities should remain strictly in the private sphere, very much like one's sexual orientation. The state ought not intervene into people's choices between the sheets. The state should not intervene in people's choice of ethnicity, nationality, religion or tribal affiliation. That applies universally to my mind, including to the situation in Palestine and Israel.
The idea of a Jewish state in this context is not to my mind such a brilliant or positive idea, because rather than separate religion, ethnicity, nationality or tribal affiliation from the state, it weds all of these to the state. The consequence of that, of course, is the prostitution of the state - the prostitution [SHOULD THIS BE PROSECUTION? 3:00] of the democratic state - and the prostitution of national, ethnic, tribal or other identities. The two domains should be kept strictly separate, and in the state of Israel, they are joined together. As you know, the question of who is a Jew in the Jewish state is not a matter of individual choice or preference, but is a matter of law.
JE: Maybe you can describe that, and you often articulate that notion through the idea of citizenship. I wonder if you can describe how those notions play into the idea of citizenship.
UD: Citizenship, again, in a democratic context, is a legal relationship between the individual and the state. A citizen in any given state is in a situation where the state recognizes fundamental rights and undertakes to guarantee equal access for the individual to the civil resources of the state, to the political resources, economic and welfare resources, and material resources. So, by way of civil resources, the citizen in a democratic state would have equal standing in the course of law; would have equal access to the political process - for instance, eligible to vote and being elected.
Equal access to welfare supports, education and other forms of welfare support. And of course access to the material resources of the state, and fundamentally these are land and resources of the subsoil - water. In a democratic state, all citizens have access to these on an equal footing. Where democratic values are compromised in a serious way, there isn't univeral citizenship equitable to all, but second [not right word?? 5:00] citizenship. A quintissential illustration of that is Apartheid South Africa, where citizenship for whites was privileged, and for instance access to the material resources of the state - in the first instance land and water - these are the life-supporting and life-sustaining necessities for any other activity. In South Africa, 87% of the territory of South Africa was reserved in law for the white citizens only, and denied from non-white citizens. I fear that the situation in Israel is comparable, and I'm not talking about popular xenophobia, but I'm talking about a situation regulated by an act of parliament. 93% of the territory of the state of Israel - and I refer to pre-67 Israel, I don't refer to the post-67 occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 93% of the territory is reserved in law for Jewish citizens only. If the Apartheid distinction in South Africa was between white and non-white, the Apartheid distinction in Israel is between Jew and non-Jew.
So, one cannot talk of Israeli citizenship in the same sense that one would talk of Canadian citizenship, because - racist practices and popular xenophobia in Canada notwithstanding - in law, all citizens are equal before the law. Not so in Israel - Jewish citizens are citizens of class A, and non-Jewish citizens - in the first instance Arab citizens of Israel are second, third and fourth class citizens.
JE: A classic Apartheid construction, I guess, separation of the two ehnicities. I wonder if ...
UD: A classic Apartheid construction when it refers to the essential attributes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is essentially a conflict between a settler-colonial state and an indigenous population dispossessed by the colonial project. And these conflicts are typically conflicts about control of land and water resources. The situation in Israel is significantly different if compared to South Africa in one or more important senses. The one I would refer to first in this interview is the following: Visitors to South Africa would have Apartheid hit them in the face immediately upon disembarkment from the vessel or the landing of the aircraft in South Africa. Once one steps into South Africa, Apartheid is visible immediately - benches for whites, benches for non-whites; toilets for whites, toilets for non-whites; parks for whites, parks for non-whites; transport for whites and transport for non-whites. That has been the case for many decades in Apartheid South Africa until the structure was happily dismantled with the release of Nelson Mandela from political imprisonment - 30 years almost of political imprisonment - in 1990.
When one arrives in Israel, this fundamental Apartheid structure does not hit one immediately in the face. Israeli Apartheid does not have a correlate of petty [Right word? 8:52] Apartheid. There are no buses for Jews, buses for non-Jews, parks for Jews and parks for non-Jews, beaches for Jews and beaches for non-Jews. The first impression of Israel to a lay-visitor would possibly be the impression of a standard liberal Western democracy. Core Apartheid is veiled, and the Jewish National Fund plays an important part in the construction of this veil. The Jewish National Fund, including the Jewish National Fund of Canada, projects itself as an environmentally friendly organization concerned with ecology and sustainable development. It plants forests and establishes recreation facilities open to all. Well, it is the case that JNF forests and facilities are open to all, but it is equally the case that that most - almost without exception all - of these forests are planted on the ruins of destroyed Palestinian Arab villages ethnically cleansed in the 1948-49 war.
To ethnically cleanse indigenous localities and reduce their population into the misery of statelessness and refugee existence is a war crime. It is not charitable, it is a war crime activity.
The forests of the Jewish National Fund are there to veil this criminality and, to my reading, the Jewish National Fund forestation activity is an accomplice to the coverup of war crimes.
JE: You mentioned that somebody is not immediately presented with the Apartheid situation when arriving in Israel, but perhaps you can describe to our listeners when that Apartheid process comes out, namely in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the process of closure and checkpoints
UD: Well, if you would allow me, that Apartheid process comes up much earlier within Israel proper. It comes up much earlier when one recognizes that the majority of the indigenous people - the Palestinian Arab people - were forcibly expelled of some 400 urban and rural localities from Israel proper, but these localities have been deliberately destroyed and razed to the ground in order to put a barrier between the refugees and their right to return.
The Apartheid is revealed when one visits Canada Park and realizes that Canada Park is planted over the ruins of three Palestinian-Arab localities - Amwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba. When one realizes that the cemetary of Amwas is desecrated by Jewish National Fund activity, and the trees are planted among the surviving tomb stones, whereas the refugees are not allowed to bury their relatives and dead in their ancestral cemetary.
That is where Apartheid comes to the fore immediately in the first instance, and is accentuated in what happens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with the post-67 illegal settlements in those occupied territories. But what happens today in the post-67 territories happened 50 years ago inside Israel proper, and if anybody believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved without addressing the 1948 refugee problem in humanitarian and politically-relevant terms, they are seriously misguided.
JE: It was in the news the other day that Israeli police raided the offices of the Palestinian election commission in East Jerusalem, seized the entire voter registration list and arrested even the election officials, because Jerusalem is seen as the undivided capital of Israel. So, we can see these processes happening even within Jerusalem.
UD: That is true, and again it highlights the asymmetry of the conflict, and anybody concerned with the conflict and committed to be informed would recognize a double-bind and a serious difficulty with official Israeli and political Zionist narratives. For instance, let's take the case of Jerusalem. The claim for the legitimacy of the establishment of the Jewish state is anchored in UN resolution 181, recommending the partition of the country of Palestine into two states - a Jewish state and an Arab state, with Jerusalem as an international city, and the three components bound together by an economic union.
UN resolution 181 does not just recommend the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. It deliniates the boundaries for these two respective states; outlines the skeleton of a democratic constitution and it's the same constitution in both states; and has important stipulations regarding citizenship. It stipulates that all persons ordinarily residents in the territories designated for the Jewish state have the right for Jewish state citizenship, and all persons ordinarily resident in the territories designated for the Arab state have the right for Arabic state citizenship. It doesn't stipulate anything like a license for ethnic cleansing. It doesn't stipulate anything like an endorsement of mass expulsion of all non-Jews from the territories of the Jewish state. It says all people ordinarily resident in these territories have the right for Jewish state citizenship. So, the issue is not in any way the right of existence of the Jewish state or otherwise - that has been enshrined in that resolution. The issue is what are the terms of this existence and whether the state of Israel complies with the stipulations of the resolution which is claimed to be the constitutive document for the existence of the state. And it doesn't. It violates them right, left and center. It violates them fundamentally because it denies the rights of the 1948 Palestine refugees to Israeli citizenship, which is theirs by force of the stipulation of the resolution, and it occupies Jerusalem and claims Jerusalem to be Israel's eternal capital, whereas Jerusalem ought not to be a capital of any state, but an international zone governed by UN administration.
One cannot hold a stick at both ends, and one cannot claim that all parties should adhere to UN security council resolutions and respect the general assembly resolutions and by the same token and in the same breath fundamentally violate these resolutions. It is quite the responsibility of the international community to enforce respect for UN resolutions, and if necessary impose international sanctions against the rogue government of the state of Israel in the same manner that international sanctions were applied to the rogue Apartheid government of South Africa.
JE: I wonder if we could call on your unique perspective of having lived in Israel for a number of years and watching the state develop...
UD: I haven't just lived here for a number of years. I was born in the country of Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel. I was born in Jerusalem in 1943, and I was raised and educated in the Israeli system throughout until my Master's degree. So, it's not just being there for a number of years.
JE: Right. Well, I was wondering if you could describe how you've seen the state of Israel as we know it come about, and whether you have seen the historical roots of Apartheid right from the beginning; whether it is inherent in Zionism, or if it's something that has taken on an uglier face in recent years, or how you see the trajectory of the state of Israel.
UD: I would like to point out that Zionism is not an undifferentiated block of concrete, and should not be considered in rarified terms. There are important distinctions in the Zionist organization. There is a rainbow of political zionist parties of almost every shape and colour. There is Labour Zionism and Likud Zionism and Religious Zionism, and Liberal Zionism. There are political parties representing many ideological differences within the zionist frame, and the Zionist movement has a specific and identifiable history beginning with the first Zionist Congress convened by the father of political zionism, Theodore Herzl in Basel [Switzerland] in 1897, so it has a rather substantial history of over a hundred years. The formative conflict inside the Zionist movement was between political zionism - aiming to establish a sovereign Jewish state in the country of Palestine - and the opposing school of spiritual Zionism that was led by Akhad Ha-Am and advocated establishing a spiritual center for the Jewish people in Palestine, and was adamently opposed to the political program of establishing a Jewish state. The Apartheid structures of the State of Israel have their origin in the prevailing dominance of political Zionism. Spiritual zionism was marginalized, and the mainstream is political zionism. But even within this mainstream, as I suggested earlier, there are important differences.
There is, however, a thread I think, that underpins all divisions within the Zionist federation, and if I were to formulate the common value, it would go something like the following: that a person or an organization that adheres to a political zionist perspective submits a normative claim to the effect that it is a liberating idea, a progressive idea, an enlightening idea, a positive idea, to establish in the country of Palestine a sovereign entity - a Jewish state, the state of Israel - and that it is right for this sovereign entity to attempt to secure and guarantee in law and in practice a demographic majority of ethnic Jews.
Now, the divisions within the Zionist frame would be the extent of the territory to which this sovereign body should exercise or apply its legislation, whether the territory of the Jewish state should extend between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, or between the Mediterranean Sea and the Green Line, or somewhere between the Green Line and the Jordan river. These are all important differences. But if we even take a notional, a minimalist, political zionist party that would be satisfied with a Jewish state encompassing just Tel aviv and its suburban environment, it would be political Zionist in the sense that it would claim the right to enforce in law, and attempt to secure in law and in practice a demographic majority of ethnic Jews.
Now, that is a quintissentially Apartheid formulation. Anyone who claims this is a positive or a liberating idea is fundamentally misguided. The consequences of this idea in Palestine are as horrendous as they were in South Africa. One sees the consequences of this political philosophy daily in the practices of the Israeli occupation army in the West Bank and Gaza, and one witnesses the consequences of this philosophy whenever one accesses the recreational facilities of the Jewish National Fund, or their parks, as represented in the ruins of destroyed Arab villages and desecrated cemetaries. So, that particular idea should be discussed critically and rejected and replaced with constitutional democratic values. In Israel, it is as urgently needed as it was needed and successfully achieved in South Africa.
JE: Well, maybe we can chart it through the rise of the Wall that is being built - the separation wall, the security barrier, the Apartheid wall, whichever you want to call it - because to create a Jewish state in a land with a Jewish minority, which historically Palestine has had, involves one of two processes: either Apartheid or expulsion, and the expulsion option has been tried and presumably has failed, leaving only the Apartheid option, and making the wall make a little more sense. Could you maybe discuss the historical roots of the wall? Many people in North America believe that the Wall sort of sprung out of a crisis in Israeli society of trying to protect school children on buses and such, and very rarely are the historical roots of the wall examined. Could you maybe discuss that?
UD: I would want to discuss that, but first I want to express some disagreement with the dichotomy you suggested: Expulsion is not an alternative route to Apartheid. Expulsion is an extreme form of Apartheid, and a particularly venemous criminal and illegal form of Apartheid. The adjacent forms of Apartheid involving Bantustanization should in no way be considered as a slightly better alternative to expulsion. These are expressions of criminality that should not in any way be condoned. What the wall today represents is an attempt by the state of Israel, by the government of the state of Israel is to cap [right word???? 25:05] the expulsion perpetrated - the ethnic cleansing perpetrated in the course of the 1948-49 war - with a Bantustan solution for the rest of the country. They believe they have succeeded. They are totally misguided in sealing the fate of the 1948 refugees. The palestine refugees - the 4 or 5 million 1948 refugees - quite rightly organize and lobby in defence of their right to return and the right to the titles to their properties inside Israel. The attempts to Bantustanize the West Bank and Gaza Strip occupied in 1967 will fail in Palestine just as it has failed in South Africa.
One simply mourns the bloodshed that this entails and the suffering in the first instance inflicted against the indigenous people. The question of terrorism and the casualties inflicted by terrorism on an innocent civilian population is a very serious question, but the wall is not there to alleviate this crisis of terrorism - the wall is there in the first instance as an attempt to Bantustanize Palestine and to isolate the indigenous population in what are effectively huge concentration areas. Terrorism and targeting civilian population is a serious crisis, but anyone approaching the crisis in decent terms ought to recognize that the first terrorist actor in this aweful equation is not the Palestinian suicide bomber, but the Israeli army and the government of the state of Israel, and any statement of condemnation of terrorism in the region should encompass condemnation of all terrorist actors. I personally would refuse to sign any statement of condemnation of terrorism that doesn't list Prime Minister Sharon and Defence minister Mofaz as first on a long list, and a Palestinian suicide bomber as last.
JE: Well, I want to bring up that notion in a moment, but I want to ask you if you believe that the wall creating the concentration camps as you described has effectively killed the notion of the two-state solution, and does that then give an opportunity - or political space - to the notion of the one democratic state in Palestine.
UD: I wish I were able to join you in that observation. There is a difficulty which democratic actors and democratic formations - political parties and non-governmental organizations - face in Palestine which the African National Congress and other democratic initiatives in South Africa were spared in the years of Apartheid. Whereas the international community refused to recognize the claim of the Apartheid government in South Africa that Bantustans represent a legitimate expression of the right to self-determination of the non-white peoples of South Africa - that claim was wholly rejected almost without exception by all member states of the United Nations organization - I fear that if and when the Bantustan patches of West Bank and Gaza strip are introduced to the United Nations as a legitimate expression of the right of the Palestinian people for national self-determination, the United Nations will give a seal of approval and legitimacy to this claim, which represents a complicated situation and a difficulty that has to be negotiated in responsible terms.
You are right that in this context, the question of one democratic state comes progressively to the center of the debate on Palestine, but again people have to attend to this development in sensitive terms in the following sense: I'll speak for myself now. I belong to those who have consistently argued that an important defence of Palestinian rights are all UN resolutions on the question of Palestine. The emphasis - the underline - is on the term "all", not just resolution 181 recommending the partition of Palestine into two states with Jerusalem as an international zone and all bound together by economic union. Not only resolution 194 underpinning the rights of 1948 Palestinian refugees to return and be entitled to their property. Not only Security Council resolutions nullifying and condemning the illegal annexation of Jerusalem to Israel, but all UN resolutions bound together. Again, in the case of Palestine, there is a situation that is significantly different than in the case of Apartheid South Africa, because there isn't on the books a UN resolution recommending the partition of South Africa between a white state and a non-white state. So, people who claim that international law and the evolution of international law is on balance a very positive development for human kind must cultivate and educate to respect the international law, and cannot pick and choose between these parts of the resolutions for which they are sympathetic and such parts which they find inappropriate. One has to submit to the entire body of international law.
Having said that, I would further argue that if indeed there is respect for all UN resolutions, then applications of all UN resolutions, for instance the application of UN resolution 181 together with 194 - the partition of Palestine into two states with Jerusalem as an international city, and the right of return of alrefugees Palestinian refugees to all parts of Palestine, including the territories designated for the Jewish state - would indeed result in a one-state solution, possibly similar to the process informing the development of the European union, and I would further argue that I would view such developments with huge satisfaction, and hope that my work academically and otherwise represents a small contribution to such a development.
JE: One of the subtitles of a recent work of yours is "The possibilities for the struggle within". I want to ask you about the peace movement within Israel. We've noticed just the other day that there was a massive demonstration - tens of thousands of right wing Israelis demonstrating against the so-called unilateral disengagement. Why have we not seen demonstrations like that against the Apartheid situation in the Occupied Territories and within Israel itself, and what are the possibilities for struggle within Israel?
UD: The important divide inside Israel and beyond is between the political Zionist camp and the organizations and NGOs that are not Zionist. When I refer to the distinction between Zionist and not Zionist or Zionist and anti-Zionist, I refer to the definition I introduced earlier, namely political Zionists believe that the idea of establishing in the country of
Palestine a sovereign body that would attempt to secure, in law, for example the absentee property law of 1950, the Jewish Fund law, the World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency Status Law, attempt to secure in law and in practice, for instance, the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of Palestine in 1948-49 attempt to secure in practice a demographic majority of Jews. Zionists who believe that that is a positive - a worthwhile- idea if not for implementation in the entire country of Palestine, then for implementation in part of the country of Palestine. They belong to a part of the peace camp that cannot seriously and consistently mobilize against Israeli Apartheid, and I will explain in a moment why. Formations that are not Zionist, or are anti-Zionist believe that this idea is a negative idea, and it is there that hope for anti-Apartheid in Palestine is anchored.
The reason why the Zionist peace movement, such as Peace Now or a party known as Meree (???) cannot mobilize against Apartheid is because in a fundamental way, they share the value of an Apartheid Jewish state, and have a discussion with the mainstream with reference to the extent of the territory of this Apartheid state.
So, the argument is held on a so-called pragmatic narrative. They say it is not practical to extend Israeli Apartheid sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967. It is actually dangerous. If we want to secure the long-term existence of a Jewish state in the Apartheid sense, then we have to limit the territorial boundaries of this state to the green line. Over the years, a substantial body of settlers has now settled in the post-67 occupied territories, and they claim they have the same right to live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the peace movement have the right to live in Kibbutzim built over destroyed Palestinian Arab villages inside Israel. In this debate, the settlers have the normative upper hand, and therefore the better mobilizing capacity relative to the Zionist peace camp. But there is, inside Israel, the principle and consistant consituency in the peace camp that opposes discrimination and Apartheid discrimination in principle.
It cannot, at present, mobilize massive protests counted in hundreds of thousands, but it can mobilize thousands and tens of thousands of people. Its popular base is at this stage in the Palestinian-Arab community inside Israel, representing some one million people, and significant inroads into the Jewish community are being developed. There is hope in Palestine, as in Israel, as there has been and continues to be both in South Africa - you would be aware and our listeners would be aware that throughout the years of Apartheid in South Africa, there was only a rather small constituency inside the White community in South Africa that was anti-Apartheid. That constituency, however, played a very important educational and political role in the struggle for democracy in South Africa, and made significant contributions to the victory of the democratic forces in South Africa. The same constituency - a parallel constituency - exists in the Jewish community in Israel, and I personally very much believe that what was achieved in South Africa, and the Anti-Apartheid victory in South Africa can be repeated in my own country in Palestine.
JE: Let me ask you about the Palestinian movement in resistance to Apartheid. Many in North America really wish that the Palestinians would engage in what would be easily seen as a non-violent struggle. Of course that is within a framework of not understanding the daily reality that the Palestinians are living under. Namely, in the North American media, this previous six months without a suicide bombing up to the Beer Sheva bombings a couple of weeks ago, there were some 500 Palestinians killed, yet in our media we call that "relative calm". I wonder if you could discuss the possibilities of a Palestinian non-violent movement in the face of the overwhelming military superiority and concentration of the Israeli forces.
UD: I don't feel that I am able to discuss the question responsibly, and I wonder if you would be satisfied with this rather lame response.
JE [stunned]: Absolutely. I mean it's difficult... Your speaking on the Israeli point of view is, of course, umm, much more valuable given the fact that... uuh.. you have...
UD [mercifully saving JE]: It is also a feeling that, how shall I put it? I am not at the receiving end of the equation. I am classified as a Jew in the state of Israel. It is absolutely correct to suggest that I have spent the better part of my adult life involved in the defence of human and civil rights in Israel as a dissident - I refused to serve in the Israeli army. But still, in an Apartheid state, if the distinction is white vs. non-white, and one is registered as white, then by force of that registration, one is guaranteed privilege and protection that is denied from the non-white residents, and in Israel, if one is classified as a Jew, a similar privilege is accrued which is denied to non-Jews.
Being a consistent dissident or, otherwise notwithstanding, I am not in the frying pan and I'm not in the fire in the sense that I haven't been sentenced to life imprisonment for membership in an illegal organization. I haven't had tanks under my windows terrorizing my children. I haven't seen a relative suffering from cancer die because he was denied access to hospital treatment, or a birth aborted at a checkpost because a pregnant mother was not allowed to cross the checkpost into a clinic. I therefore hesitate to express an opinion about violent or non-violent struggle. I am not a part of the Palestinian decision-making framework or authority. What I would say, however, would echo previous comments regarding international law. International law legitimizes and allows quite properly an occupied and dispossessed people resistance to occupation and colonization, including armed resistance. The choice between the armed route and the unarmed route is a sensitive and complex strategic decision which I hesitate to express a firm opinion from the outside.
I would, however, express a firm opinion with reference to the illegal and immoral targetting of a civilian population. That is not legal. That is criminal, whichever way one looks at it and however it is applied, whether applied by an occupied party or by the occupying party, and regarding the condemnation of targetting a civilian population, I already expressed a view earlier in this interview.
JE: Well, Dr. Davis, I very appreciate you acknowledging that privilege, and I think that answer speaks volumes, so we appreciate that tact. We look forward to having you in Canada. You have numerous dates in southern Ontario and western Ontario, and we appreciate you making the voyage, and thank you for speaking with us.
UD: Thank you for initiating this interview, and good day to you sir.
JE: Thank you very much. Bye for now.