The conversation about self-determination, peace, and justice is essential as we work for a better world, not just in the abstract overarching sense, but in specific regions and with unique peoples. It is vital for us to understand that the liberation of any nation is dependent on the liberation of all nations. Fighting the occupation of the Palestinian people is fundamental to my life as a human and a Jew. What follows is a brief explanation of how Jewish liberation and Palestinian liberation are intertwined, not only circumstantially, but as a human truth. I wrote this over the course of this afternoon and it does not deeply explore solutions, and does not attempt to cover every base. For the most part, it is meant to serve as an introduction. A number of other pieces on this site explore these issues through various lenses.
The Jewish people are a people.
As far as I can tell there are 3 types of Jews and a person can be one, two, or three of these types at the same time, which are (in no particular order): religious or a member of the Jewish faith, ethnic or hereditary, and cultural.
This means that Jewish is not exactly comparable as an identity type to say, Arab, American, or Christian. Jewish is a different type of identity. This can confuse the issue of whether a Jewish state need inherently be a theocracy or not. The answer is no, it need not be. The main idea of Zionism before 1948 was to center the Jewish people on national (as opposed to religious) collective identity in our collective birthplace. In reality, Israel has some theocratic characteristics (for example its marriage laws), but these kinds of laws, norms, and symbols are not necessary for a state with entrenched Jewish culture to exist.
The Jews who live in Israel come from all over the world. Almost as many Jews flowed out of North Africa and East of the Jordan River to Israel during and after 1948 as did Palestinians from Palestine. Many Jews have lived there since long before the common era. And many came from Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. The Europeans are usually the face we see of Israel because, just like in America, white people have privilege (though the intersections of race and class in Israel are slightly different than they are in America racism is clear and present).
A large number of Jews (mainly from Europe) moved to Palestine in the first half of the 20th century, to join the Jews who were there already. Many of those who founded Israel by and large are settlers of the land (bought in some cases, other times stolen during and after 1948), but to say that it is a colonialist movement is to miss much of that movement’s history and core ideas.
Some like the early 20th century Right wing writer and organizer Jabotinsky used colonialist ideals, tactics, and justifications for Zionism, but he was wrong in that and, in my opinion, not interested in Jewish self-determination at all. The flourishing of Jewish (and any) culture in its birthplace depends on justice inclusivity, and the will to grow. Also, colonialism requires a place from where to colonize. The Jews didn’t have that. The Jews, after all, have been oppressed, murdered, and transferred for most of the last 20 centuries in Europe. Still, there has been internalization of colonialist thinking in state structures and systems in Israel. The Jewish settler movement that began after 1967 is, on the other hand, a colonialist movement (it has all the elements).
The Jewish people have the right to self-determination (determine our own collective fate). All peoples have that right. Not simply to stay safe, but to have space and time for the flourishing of positive culture. That’s true liberation. The Jewish people and the Palestinian people share one birthplace, which makes it more complicated. The word ‘Zionism’ actually meant ‘Jewish National Liberation’. That definition has largely been left to scholars and ideologues. These days the more prevalent use of the word makes it interchangeable with Israeli patriot.
Perhaps the word is no longer useful for scholars and ideologues, but I still use it when referring to the Socialist-Zionist movement, which is a minority today but was a major force in the Zionist movement in the early years of the movement and worked toward a a bi-national state through cooperative, connected relationship to the land and people. I’m stubborn about the word, but I get that most people think of Zionists the way one might think of an American patriot (uncritical, often right-wing, sometimes fascist…). Actually, many people who identify as Zionists do fit that description, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with Jewish liberation.
There is no material or ideological reason for Jewish self-determination and Palestinian self-determination (in one, two, or zero states) to be at odds. Still, those two movements seem to be incompatible in the present reality. There have been, historically and currently, many a writer and leader who have called for the death or transfer of the other people. This is true because Zionism and Palestinian nationalism both exist in a world ruled by capitalism and racism. That’s why we are struggling together for a world based on liberation, equity, and justice.
At the end of the day the guiding principles that we must adopt are those of equality for all peoples one way or another; citizenship and self-determination in a shared space or divided spaces. Calling for the end of the occupation is imperative. Calling for non-violent action such as boycotting products can be a powerful tool in the international struggle for the freedom of the Palestinian people (and the Jewish people), but calling for the end of Jewish self-determination is not okay. The only solution that is workable for everyone is a federation of two states or provinces within a union… a bi-national state. There is enough space for self-determination for the peoples who call that place homeland. I think that is best facilitated by forming two states for two peoples as the non-reformist reform on the way to bi-nationalism. Both peoples come from there. Both peoples have the right to self-determine.
Of course, if you are still not convinced of the ideological reasons you can surely agree that both peoples are physically there and deserve freedom.