On the Future of Palestine: Letter to My Liberal Friends


Léopold Lambert – Paris on December 30, 2016
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My dear liberal friends,

I know; the term “liberal” probably worries you already, as it is generally used by people who think that your political positions (or the lack thereof) are either too “politically correct” (understand, respectful of others) or not “radical” enough. This tension from two sides is probably from where you proudly think of yourselves as the “balanced ones.” Balance as the eternal middle-point, always depending on the two so-called “extreme” tropes, regardless of what the center of this tension may stand for. But I’m not here to attack you here, I “come in peace.” Peace: a notion that is particularly dear to your heart, as we’ll talk further. I am writing to you as it is my conviction that, for better of for worse, an important part of the future of Palestine will depend on you in the next decade or two. Of course, the actual “future of Palestine” belongs to Palestinians themselves (including the Palestinian Jews we currently call “Israelis”), but the conditions in which they’d be able to seize it depend partially on the extents of what you will be able to imagine, since you are indubitably one of the main actors in the construction of the collective imaginary of our societies.

Your vision of the situation in Palestine — oh yes, by the way, Palestine is not solely the West Bank and Gaza, it is the entire historical region bearing this name, which includes Israel itself — has been driven by decades of symmetrical descriptions of it, opposing two homogeneous and equal camps. You have been reading the New York Times, Le Monde, Die Welt, or Haaretz for years and these newspapers provided a narrative that fit well with your desire for balance. It acknowledged the violence of the Israeli colonization of Gaza (before 2005), the West Bank, and sometimes in Jerusalem, but also recognizes to Israel “the right to defend itself” against the very handy notion of “terrorism,” which creates a pseudo-legal framework in which all massacres are permitted. It made you dislike the word “Zionism,” but it also made you wonder, as it has been ‘suggested’ to you, whether anti-Zionism and antisemitism are indistinct ideologies. But, let’s not make a caricature of yourself my dear liberal friends; you may very well have seen by yourself the colonial apparatuses at work in Palestine, or you might even live there if you are Israeli, and you might even call yourself “pro-Palestinian” (as if what was involved was a football game in which one has to choose a team to support) in conversations or on social media. In this case, your favorite drawing consists of the four successive maps that show the drastic reduction of Palestinian land since the 1947 designed-to-fail UN partition plan and the 1948 creation of the Israeli state, to the few ‘islands’ left to the Palestinians after the 1993 Oslo Accords. One date in particular founds your indignation: 1967, when the Israeli army invaded the West Bank, East-Jerusalem, Gaza (as well as the Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights). This army invasion relates to many others for you and the subsequent civil colonization that followed it is also simple for you to uncompromisingly condemn. This is why, a few days ago, you were happy to hear that the United Nations Security Council had voted Resolution 2334, condemning the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem despite the attempts of the US President-Elect to avoid this vote, originally proposed by Egypt. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy too; such a condemnation was the result of decades of Palestinian activism in general, and of the BDS campaign in particular these recent years. It was also a courageous act of defiance against diplomatic bullying from the governments of New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal, which sponsored the resolution after the Sisi government withdrew it.

However, it is my conviction (as well as many others’, of course) that we should also refuse one aspect of the narrative reinforced by this resolution: the crystallization of the “1967 borders” (i.e. the borders between Israel and Jordan-and-Egypt-administered Palestinian territories from 1949 until the 1967 invasion) and the subsequent so-called “two-state solution” that emerges from their fetichization. Despite their role in the establishment of Zionism and the massive land expropriation from Palestinians farmers that they constitute, the settlements paradoxically might be the most useful obstacle to the creation of a skimpy Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Their condemnation (and the potential eviction that could virtually follow) by many governments, in particular Western ones, should therefore be interpreted as one of the necessary steps towards the creation of such a state, which would constitute for them the achievement of what they call “the peace process.” This notion of “peace” pleases you, dear liberal friends and, quite frankly, there is no absolute reason to blame you for it, but its invocation may blind you from the fact that there is no war in Palestine, ‘simply’ the administrative and military establishment of a racial hierarchy that we call apartheid. This apartheid is not merely segregating two essential groups that we call “Israelis” and “Palestinians” (or sometimes, even more erroneously, Jews and Muslims), since 1.7 million (20%) of Israeli passport holders are Palestinians, that the statuses of a Palestinian Jerusalemite or a member of the Palestinian Authority in, say Ramallah, is hardly comparable to the status of a permitless resident of Hebron’s old city, and even less so with a Palestinian refugee who lived all their life in a camp in Gaza or in Lebanon, and that the Jewish part of the Israeli society itself is divided in religious groups and, at a less official level, also experiences forms of structural racism — against the 700,000 Mizrahi or the 150,000 Ethiopian Israeli citizens for instance. This complexity, proper to any form of coloniality that always categorizes and hierarchizes bodies, is one of the main reason for a Palestinian state (as the so-called “two-state solution” envisions it) to bring nothing but the crystallization and relative retroactive legitimization of the violence of the Nakba in 1948, in particular when it comes to the denial of return for the 5 millions of Palestinian refugees of Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Furthermore, the accession for Palestinians to any state-like institutions has never prevented the Israeli army from mobilizing its arsenal against them whether in Gaza or in the West Bank — we can recall the siege on the Mukataa in Ramallah in 2002 for instance — but, on the contrary, allowed to establish a self-centered political and economic Palestinian elite that is keen to see itself ruling this small state rather than facing its responsibilities after the end of the apartheid.

In conclusion, dear liberal friends, I am inviting you to refrain from your usual “you’re dreaming!” or “it will never happen” that usually characterize your response to this vision when we describe it to you. On the contrary, see how simple it would be for the apartheid to end from a technical standpoint since it would replace the complex colonial categorization and hierarchization of bodies by the absolute equality of their rights — including in the right to return, about which the State of Israel proves everyday its simplicity by attributing the citizenship to all Jewish person who would like to ask for it. Not to give you too much importance dear liberal friends, but it seems that the realization of this simple vision depends on whether you’ll choose to believe in it or not.

Map above: fragment of one of the “Excavated Objects from a Post-Apartheid Palestine,” Léopold Lambert (2015-2016).