REPORT OF THE ZÜRICH ODS CONFERENCE 17/18 MAY 2014
The conference for One Democratic State (ODS) in historic Palestine at Zürich’s Volkshaus on 17/18 May 2014 achieved its twin goals of reaching a broader German-speaking audience and building an international movement for ODS. 180 people attended speeches and discussions on the Saturday, while on the Sunday 65 activists from ten countries elected a follow-up ODS Co-ordinating Committee with 23 members. It will recruit a secretariat for organisational and networking tasks and will itself take care of reach-out, media and research tasks. We are now publicly visible as the Zürich conference and Co-ordinating Committee.
A dozen ODS conferences preceded this one, starting in 2007 and held in London, Haifa, Southampton, Stuttgart, Boston, Dallas, and Ramallah. but especially on Munich conference in July 2012 which adopted the Munich Declaration, a one-page description of a future state in historic Palestine to which all ODS supporters adhere. It offers full civil equality for all citizens, namely for all current Israeli citizens and all other Palestinians wherever they live. ODS unequivocally upholds the Right of Return to their homes and property of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The Committee will co-ordinate the activities of existing ODS chapters in Texas, Yaffa/Haifa, Ramallah, and England.
Swiss Member of Parliament and President of the Association Switzerland-Palestine Daniel Vischer welcomed the audience with the observation that the Oslo process is dead and a reminder that the PLO in the late 1960s and early 1970s also held a one-democratic-state position. The conference’s closing act was the unanimous adoption of a resolution in support of all Palestinian political prisoners, especially those on hunger strike.
Saturday morning’s speakers were Dr Ilan Pappé and Dr Ghada Karmi, two authors who have elucidated the Nakba and continuing ethnic cleansing and see ODS as the only just solution. Saturday afternoon’s speakers were long-time exponent Dr Samir Abed-Rabbo of Jerusalem and the ODS movement in Texas, Ofra Yeshua-Lyth and Khaled Jabarin of the Yaffa group, Dr Radi Jarai and Ghassan Olayan of the Popular Movement for ODS in Ramallah, Yoav Bar, Aya Mana’a and Muhannad Abu Ghosh of Haifa, Swiss BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activist Saba Sabhai, and Rania Madi of Jerusalem and Geneva, an RoR expert working for BADIL.
Themes included the ‘ongoing Nakba’ or ‘sophisticated ethnic cleansing’ that has largely replaced the direct murders and expulsions of pre-television or pre-social-media days; the undesirability as well as the impracticality of two states; rejection of the Oslo ‘peace process’ charade and the Palestinian Authority’s role in it; the diminishing international immunity of Israel in committing its crimes; obstacles to the realisation of ODS; and strategies for its implementation including education, BDS, local popular resistance, and, controversially, perhaps the deliberate dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, thereby presenting the whole of historic Palestine as a single racist, apartheid state for which Israel is directly responsible.
It was further maintained that the Palestinian struggle is part of the wider Arab struggle for democracy; that ODS must both better understand attitudes behind Zionism and build bridges to the Jewish community; that a draft by ODS of a human-rights based constitution might defuse Jewish fears; that daily resistance battles should be integrated with the ODS vision; that we should remember the decades-long history of the marginal ODS idea; that BDS is now feared by Israel; that ODS consists both of the citizens of the future state and supporters from other countries; and that ODS has two pillars, namely its concept and its organisation, and involves two struggles, one from the inside and one from the outside.
At a next conference within one year the Co-ordinating Committee will present its work to the grassroots, roots which we hope by then will extend to known supporters in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Gaza. Anyone supporting this idea of a standard human-rights-based democracy in Palestine, or merely seeking more information, should write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Zürich conference was organised and sponsored by the Association Switzerland-Palestine, Café Palestine Zürich, BDS Switzerland, www.onedemocraticstate.org with assistance from the English support group ODS in Palestine Ltd. After Shirine Dajani’s welcoming and Dani Vischer’s well-wishing greetings historian Ilan Pappé analysed Palestinian-Israeli history with the ODS vision in mind. This vision’s exact opposite is the settler-colonialist project of an ethnically cleansed historic Palestine whose completion was prevented both by the activity of the PLO and by emergent constraints of international public opinion and law. Zionism has had to move from the brutal, direct and large-scale ethnic cleansings of 1948 and 1967 to ‘sophisticated’ ethnic cleansing – namely smaller-scale murders and expulsions, freezing the size of Palestinian living-areas, demolishing houses, daily humiliation, and economic policies intended to make life in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank unbearable. At one level of intensity or another, Israel has employed ‘laws’ of military rule to stifle Palestinian life.
The core Zionist vision of a purely Jewish country – part of Israel’s DNA – has been hidden and ignored by the mis-named peace process and so-called negotiations since the early 1990s. Even before 1948 the Zionist elite attempted to make Palestine as much like central Europe as possible, planting pine forests on the ruins of Palestinian villages and building in European architectural styles; but a Zionism that cares about aesthetics, local history and landscape - much less equal rights - is an oxymoron. Zionism has not yet finally solved its twin problems of geographical and demographical control. Two-state or one-apartheid-state solutions are not only bad for Palestinians but increasingly not viable and bad for Israeli Jews.
ODS’s chances are further improved by erosion of the immunity with which the international community has for decades greeted Israel’s crimes – a case of double-standards requiring its own separate and difficult analysis. The Zionist machine has broken down, partly due to today’s open media and communications systems. The racist and apartheid nature of the state has become visible, opening political space for the paradigm of One Democratic State.
Next, physician and political analyst Ghada Karmi listed eight obstacles to the achievement of ODS:
(1) The idea or concept of the Jewish state still has large international support.
(2) Many Palestinians wish for their own state, no matter how small, if it has sovereignty.
(3) The unrepresentative PA leadership, propped up by Israel, Europe and the US, might after all sign up to some disastrous two-state solution.
(4) This so-called leadership has vested and financial interest in the status quo.
(5) Likewise for the ‘peace industry’, the thousands of people making their living out of the problem – including many well-meaning pro-Palestinian NGOs.
(6) Forces for ODS are thus all from the bottom up, still without support from any government or international institution.
(7) Palestinians themselves are divided on what the best realistic solution is.
(8) Time is short in the face of the continuing colonisation of the West Bank.
She then proposed several strategies to futher the cause of ODS, remaining ever-aware of the above problems:
(1) Deal with the PA’s role in the Zionist scheme, for instance its attempts for UN recognition of ‘Palestine’ within 1967 borders.
(2) Build the grassroots international movement as the Zürich conference is doing.
(3) Carrying on with education about the ODS solution both inside and outside of Palestine.
(4) Build bridges to the Israeli Jewish community.
(5) Support BDS, although the Palestinian situation is not identical to that in former South Africa because there is neither a clear leadership parallel to the ANC nor a clear goal parallel to ‘one person, one vote’.
(6) ‘Understandably controversial’, she proposed the perhaps ‘not pretty’ but in her view ‘effective’ strategy of accepting that Palestine is in effect already one state, then consciously returning responsibility for the lives and rights of Palestinians to their de facto Israeli rulers. Such a dismantling of the PA, together with a simultaneous demand for equal rights, would be honest. It would also unite residents of the West Bank and Gaza with Palestinians in ‘Israel 48’ holding Israeli passports. It would acknowledge once and for all that Israel will never give the Palestinians a separate state in 'Judea and Samaria', thus removing the world’s lingering doubts as to the true racist and apartheid nature of the existing single state. Israel would moreover be presented with enormous security costs, the Palestinians would cease running after UN recognition, and the fight would be couched in simple anti-apartheid terms.
This path enables shifting attention and efforts to the Right of Return and away from the issue of the ‘occupation’; it dissolves the divide-and-rule distinction between Palestinians in the diaspora, those in WB/Gaza and those in Israel 48. Karmi recognises that this strategy is a huge ask for Palestinians. It means giving up the dream of an Arab state and – temporarily – accepting status as second-class citizens. But it would ‘explode the myth’ of two equal parties and end the ‘charade’ of the two-state paradigm.
She added that a missing tool for the ODS community is a single citizens’ registry of all Palestinians and that an ODS political party should be taken into consideration.
She was followed by two speakers who have advocated and worked for ODS for decades. First, Samir Abed-Rabbo from Jerusalem and Dallas presented in detail the ten points of the Munich Declaration in detail, emphasising that the state would treat all ethnic groups and religions equally, but itself have no ethnic or religious identity. He successfully urged the Zürich conference to move on and accept the one-page Munich Declaration, which distills and is consistent with all previous one-state declarations, as its basic concept. See www.onedemocraticstate.org
Yoav Haifawi (Bar), long-time member of Abna el Balad, then depicted ODS as part of the wider Arab struggle for democracy and human and political rights, the centre of which is the Palestinian fight for freedom and democracy. The ODS program contributes to it by uniting all Palestinians, wherever they live, for a common goal. Most important, ODS places the right of return for all Palestinian refugees to all of Palestine at the centre of the struggle.
The Arab spring aroused high hopes, but as the struggle for democracy in the region experienced severe setbacks, the prospect for change in Palestine came to appear more remote, leading activists on the ground naturally to respond by concentrating on practical daily struggles, resisting apartheid and ethnic cleansing case by case. He described some of the ongoing struggles in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners and against ethnic cleansing and Judaisation in the Galilee (Ramiya/Karmiel, Akka) and the Naqab. Raising the ODS flag in these struggles keeps alive the perspective that we are not only resisting oppression but are here to win freedom and justice.
Jewish Israelis should note that while ODS would put an end to the Israeli racist regime, it is the best option also for the Jewish people. Yoav reminded those who want a socialist Palestine as the minimum program that breaking the chains of oppression is the first demand and most urgent task for the poor masses of Palestine, and that freedom and democracy will create much better conditions for the achievement of social justice.
300 million Arab people can't be kept forever under the yoke of tyranny and imperialist hegemony. Sooner or later democracy will come in Palestine as part of a democratic Middle East. The biggest danger is that Palestinians give up, and ODS offers a clear and motivating vision not to give up. See www.freihaifa.wordpress.com
Radi Jarai, a member of Fatah from Ramallah who spent over 12 years in Israel prisons and who until ten years ago reluctantly supported the two-state solution as a bad compromise, emphasised that that ‘solution’ leaves at least three problems unsolved: the refugees, Jerusalem, and the use of natural resources. The ODS solution not only solves these, but is based on the universal values of justice, liberty, equal rights and democracy. Thus the fixation on ‘our own state’ must be overcome. He depicted ODS with two pillars, its concept and its organisation, and involving two struggles – from the inside and from the outside. Constitutional proposals should be developed in order to defuse Jewish fears. Last summer Radi and co-activists formally established the Popular Movement for One Democratic State in historic Palestine, working in the West Bank but with connections to supporters in Gaza, the surrounding Arab countries and to the groups in Haifa and Yaffa. The Palestinians inside the areas occupied in 1948, inside the areas occupied in 1967 and in the diaspora are a single people, and any approach to a solution must regard them as such.
After reminding the audience that in the ODS vision no Jew would have to leave Palestine, activist and local historian Khaled Jabarin of Yaffa said that while the future single state would have no religious or ethnic identity, each community should decide for itself its religious or national identity. In this spirit Palestinians have tried to deal with Jewish Israelis as they see themselves. He reiterated that the three 'framework conditions' for ODS are the Right of Return for the refugees, the geopolitical unity of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and from the southern Negev and the northern Galilee, and that this state should be an integral part of a large region from Mali to Afghanistan. He closed by quoting from Mahmoud Darwish's ‘It Was Called Palestine’.
Former Maariv journalist Ofra Yeshua-Lyth of Yaffa, long active in a small group in Tel Aviv, Yaffa and Jerusalem for a secular democratic state, then used the example of beautiful Arab houses in Tel Aviv that were destroyed and intentionally wiped from the collective memory to show that we should be under no illusions that the Israeli so-called ‘left’ is not fully committed to preserve the Zionist narrative - and certainly does not support ODS. It, too, ignores past large-scale building destruction and ethnic cleansing, a process going back to 1947 when houses were marked by Zionists as ‘Jewish’ or ‘Arab’ to indicate which should be emptied and/or razed. The 1950 Absentee Property Law ‘legitimised’ this process while today Avigdor Lieberman unabashedly advocates 'population swap', which for instance means declaring the Palestinians in the 'little triangle' to be residents of a so-called sovereign Palestinian polity, turning them from second-class Israeli citizens into fourth-class residents of the territories occupied in 1967.
What is needed is a constitutional assembly including all future citizens, as defined by the Munich Declaration, which would confront the widespread perceived need amongst Israeli Jews to be a ‘people apart’: the ‘Jewish democratic state’ is an oxymoron, the more so as the judicial as well as the legislative and executive branches of the Israeli state, not the individual person, determines its residents’ ethnic and religious and ‘national identity’. New initiatives for anti-democratic 'Jewish Nationality' legislation should be a wake-up call for human rights activists who have so far not been ready to dissociate themselves from Zionist ideology. See www.yafaods.org
Aya Mana’a from the Galilee, who has worked for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the Mossawa centre and the Coalition of Women for Peace, documented the fact that the Israeli state is very afraid of BDS. For instance, according to a new law fortunately still under challenge at the High Court, organisations and individuals advocating boycott can be fined up to NIS 30,000 by any entity claiming damages from the boycott. She illustrated the mixture of politics and economics with the fact that Israel used Operation ‘Cast Lead’ in 2008-09 to sell its defensive ‘Iron Dome’ system to governments all over the world.
Activist Muhannad Abu Ghosh of Jerusalem and Haifa, who spent several years in both Israeli and PA prisons, openly identified Mahmoud Abbas as a ‘collaborator’, not as ‘Mr Abbas’. He opened the audience’s eyes by contrasting the calm atmosphere in European Zürich with the emotional situation in Palestine, where daily confrontation with ethnic cleansing, Judaisation, imprisonment and murder requires one to scream as well as talk. Supporters of ODS on the outside will hopefully keep in mind the criminality of the regime in daily life in Palestine.
Iranian-Swiss BDS activist Saba Sahbai outlined activities in Switzerland, where there are growing boycott activities, both material and cultural. He specifically mentioned some of the many activities of the Zürich BDS group such as flash mobs, leafletting actions and regular radio shows on the alternative radio station Radio LORA. He frankly admitted that there have as yet been no government sanctions nor divestment initiatives, with much work for BDS Switzerland to do. He raised the question whether the BDS campaign has been called for with a one-state or a two-state solution in mind, answering that to the extent that it relies on international agreements it implies support for two states. The three conditions of the 2005 Call - end of the occupation, return of the refugees and the end of discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship - are however very close to the ODS vision.
Ghassan Olayan, author and culture activist from the West Bank and participant in regular ODS meetings in Bethlehem, briefly portrayed the attempt to have the village of Battir, with its terraces and Roman-age irrigation system, made a World Heritage site, a status which would perhaps prevent the Apartheid Wall’s being built through it – a physical incarnation of the exact opposite of ODS.
Rania Madi, who works in Geneva for the UN and for BADIL, the centre for return and other refugee rights, delved into some of the history of the ‘ongoing Nakba’ – a concept almost identical to first speaker Ilan Pappe’s of ‘sophisticated’ ethnic cleansing. Expulsions portrayed by Israel to the expelled as temporary were always meant to be permanent. Even most residents of the West Bank and Gaza are refugees or their descendants; moreover refugees have been among the worst victims of the conflicts in Lebanon and Syria. She also recalled some of the history of the vision of sharing the land between Jews and indigenous Arabs – for instance Edward Said’s and Rashid Khalidi’s proposals in the 1990s, the 5th Palestine National Council of 1969, or even Judah Magnes’ bi-national proposals of the 1930s and 1940s. She calls for a ‘transformation’ of Israel, now ruling all of historic Palestine, on the model of the civil-rights changes in South Africa and using the tools of BDS. ODS is the only and unique solution for ending the suffering of the Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons.
Since 2007 there have been 8 academic, informative conferences about ODS. The Zürich conference is only the second, after Munich in 2012 (attended by 35 activists), that has focussed on the achievement of the vision given the facts on the ground. Ten activists came from historic Palestine to present their viewpoint from the inside. Three more activists had received Swiss visas but were denied exit from Gaza to Egypt. Finally, an ODS supporter from the Galilee was hindered due to the recent arrest and injury of his son.
We did receive video messages from Mazin Qumsiyeh from Beit Sahour, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QebrZzZ5h6Y&feature=youtu.be and from Antoine Raffoul from London, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGxDji-Afts, both of whom could not come.
On the conference Sunday a majority of the 65 activists decided the time is not yet ripe to structure the growing ODS movement into an organisation with a membership and a smaller executive body answering to the membership. A broader basis and contact with other ODS supporters is first needed. For now the most we can do is activate a Co-ordinating Committee, for which 23 of those present volunteered and for which a list of 18 organisational and educational tasks was agreed upon.
The discussions over structure and legitimacy on the Sunday were of necessity quite heated, with great emphasis placed on democratic and transparent processes amongst ODS activists. However, since the ODS idea is sound these difficult decision-making processes and the delay in establishing a formal internatinal structure in addition to the existing regional ones will likely prove to be mere teething problems.
Organisers Jasmine Schmid, Kurt Häusermann and Shirine Dajani were warmly thanked in a spirit of unity for their efficient, indeed Herculean, work. Because convening in historic Palestine or even a neighbouring country is politically or logistically impractical, and in spite of higher travel costs for participating Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, the next conference, within one year, will be in Geneva, Vienna or London. To indicate support for the Munich Declaration and/or interest in becoming active in ODS, write to us.