At the end of a successful week of demonstrating peacefully, spreading awareness and listening to some of the most esteemed professors in Los Angeles speak, Students for Justice in Palestine held its keynote seminar on Thursday on the inequality and injustice taking place in Israel.
UCLA professor of English Saree Makdisi was the event’s keynote speaker. His presentation’s title, “Beyond Two States,” implored the audience to move past the imaginary possibility of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
Makdisi appropriately referred to his presentation as a series of “snapshots” in order to convey the inherent out-of-sight, out-of-mind limitations of those not living in the occupied Palestinian territory. The snapshots, a series of personal accounts, took us from our seats in the auditorium to a land of oppression and injustice.
We walked side-by-side with Mohammad Jalud on his daily one-hour trek from his home to his cucumber farm; a distance that could have been crossed in a mere 10 minutes had it not been for the wall built between his home and farm.
We sat down next to Samira Aliyan in the East Jerusalem office of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior when she was told, “You do not belong here” as her identity card was being confiscated. Why? Because she could not “prove” that living in Jerusalem had been central to her entire life, despite the fact that it was her home since birth.
We stood at the edge of New Ayn Hawd, one of the 39-45 “unrecognized villages” in Israel literally cut off from running water, electricity and other basic services citizens would expect from their government to provide.
Yet, no matter how clearly Makdisi tried to paint a realistic picture of Palestine, I do not believe that the audience could ever truly live out these abominable experiences as if they were their own.
Makdisi incorporated cold, hard facts into the presentation as well. For example, non-Jews in Israel can apply for citizenship but are never afforded nationality. In other words, “the principle of Jewishness has priority over the principle of equality in Israel.” Israel groups people into communities based on ethnicity, making it easier for the state to discriminate between citizens and nationals. Also, it is prohibited in Israel for a Jewish man or woman to marry a Palestinian man or woman. These inarguable empirical facts strengthened his argument against a two-state solution, highlighting Israel’s human rights violations. The legalized racial discrimination in Israel brings to his memory Apartheid in South Africa and the Jim Crow Laws in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement.
If these facts do not hit home with students in the United States, perhaps Makdisi’s emphasis on discrimination might be more resonant with students, specifically, the numerical evidence of discrimination within Israel’s education system. There are 1,600 day-care centers in Israel; only 25 exist in Palestinian towns. There is a 3:1 ratio for the amount spent on education for Jewish Nationals in respect to the amount spent on Palestinians. In 2007, 553 Israeli communities were granted the highest priority status for education; only four were granted to Palestinian communities. Only 10 percent of undergraduates, 3 percent of doctoral students and 1 percent of university lecturers in Israel are Palestinian.
What most people might find shocking is Makdisi’s departure from the popularly glorified two-state solution. While the two-state argument appears to be the obvious choice in order to reach a peaceful solution, Makdisi reassures his audience of its physical impossibility and spatial inability to offer any real solution to the bigger problem of human rights violations. He believes in the future of a one-state solution, an experiment that transcends nationalism, “a single state composed of a more complex political and social identity.” I believe it was somewhere after this statement that the cracks and discriminative qualities of all nationalisms began to show.
I salute Makdisi’s rationale because of its ambitious attempt to challenge human boundaries between ethnicity and solidarity, also because of its rational display of facts as to why a two-state solution could only result in catastrophe. At the very least, this enlightening presentation that, in my opinion, sought to establish a humanitarian paradigm rather than a political decision, forced me to question the role borders and states really play in protecting and serving mankind.
Makdisi advises that Israel ends its project of a Jewish state under the guise of fabricated democracy, and instead, create a new state that treats all its citizens equally and justly. Ending on an inspirational note, Makdisi encouraged students to read, write and speak. For without conscious action we render ourselves helpless to the faculties that seek to govern our lives. The presentation will be posted on the SJP UCLA Facebook page.