"This is the twenty-first century, how could this be happening now?" The words belong to a resident of the town of Jenin in the West Bank, reached by a radio station on his cellular phone in the spring of 2002 amid the slaughter wrought by the Israeli military Operation Defensive Shield. The statement summed up much of the underlying attitude of most Palestinians from that point on: hardships, suffering, and accumulated losses could all be tolerated so long as they were flavored with hints of possible progress and globally oriented futurity. But then, history ceased its optimistic march, the promises of peace and progress were withdrawn. We regressed to an earlier era of hopelessness and abandonment. All that had been built up with enormous investments of resources, labor, patience, care, and attachment was destroyed: lives, houses, orchards, connections, and all other aspects of civilized life. All indications pointed not to any reconstruction but to even more destruction to come.
In an age of globalization and reduced sovereignty, the time of nations and their states seems to be passing. Yet over Palestine today hovers a logic fully out of joint with its times. The old-fashioned colonialism that had devoured Palestine shows no signs of relenting. If anything, the opposite is happening. Today we witness a far more fanatic religious attachment to a greater "Eretz Yisrael" than had been the case half a century ago.
The tragedy of modern Palestine, beyond all the horrors and suffering associated with it, is doubly tragic in that it appears to have been caused not by any necessary logic of history but rather by countertimely events. First, on the eve of a global era of independence, Palestine became a settler colony. Second, at the outset of a global era whose common language seemed typified by secularism, science, future orientation, modernization, and progress, Palestine became the object of a moribund religious mythology.
Today we speak of postcolonialism, but Palestine is still deep in the throes of old-fashioned colonialism. The fact that the state of Israel marks 1948 as its year of "independence" illustrates the vicious nature of this particular colonialism. It seeks to erase its victim under the mark of its own liberty- an unmistakable piracy of anticolonial terminology by a colonizing power, which has always acted in collusion with previous colonial masters of the Middle East and their contemporary heirs. It seems that to use the words of the times would make it sufficient for one to enter those times, even if one is entering at the wrong time-that is, at the time when one ought to have been departing.
For Palestine, the modern era begins with colonization rather than decolonization, in contrast to almost all other Third World political experiences. Thus it would seem natural to argue that Palestine must be allowed to resume its rightful but long-postponed march along the path of decolonization and independence. Yet, in Palestine we confront the possibility that even this seemingly modest proposal may now be out of date.
It seems therefore that the situation here calls for something original. But whatever that is, it would invariably require as a first step unlearning the bad lessons of the colonial logic. All of them, that is, and not simply decolonizing the land or speaking one's native tongue, as Ngugi wa Thiong'o recommends. 1 It means also going beyond Jews and Arabs, as Ammiel Alcalay evocatively proposes. 2 This may seem completely unrealistic from today's point of view, but there will never be any other way. The logic of fanatic nationalism will only foster schemes of control, animosity, revenge, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. All these have already been acted upon, and will continue to be acted upon if the basic language of the conflict is not altered in a radical way. The deadly weight of our reality itself cries for a step beyond this immobilizing attentiveness to "realism."
In much of the West, but especially in the United States, it continues to be difficult to speak about Palestine for a number of reasons. There are well-known reasons, namely the propensity for critical commentary on Israel or Zionism to give rise to charges of anti-Semitism. But was there a more anti-Semitic act than removing the Jews from Europe into Palestine after the Holocaust-in effect completing the work of the Holocaust, and in the process creating another entangled regional crisis elsewhere in the world when the reparation for Jewish suffering ought to have taken place in Europe? This point must be stated because it is part of the tale of injustice done to both sides and now part of their common narrative. An agreement on a common narrative must be considered as an element of any possible resolution.
But there is another reason for the difficulty of speaking about Palestine, and this reason is now becoming weightier. There does not seem to be much more to say about this issue beyond what has already been said a thousand times by many commentators. For the past thirty-six years there has been only one solution, namely creating two states largely along the 1967 borders. That solution was fairly obvious: it has the backing of an international consensus, also of majorities among both Palestinians and Israelis. It was articulated again and again in countless peace proposals. Several wars from now and thousands more in casualties, it would still be hard to conceive of any other solution. Yet it seems impossible to get there. And it is this failure of the obvious, of realism, which should perhaps encourage us to think beyond its limits.
To go beyond the limits of "realism" begins with realism. That means as a first step dismantling the other countertimely constitutive logic of the conflict over Palestine, namely its deep grounding in religious myth. In Western imagination Palestine has rarely been imagined without religious reference points. Indeed, much of the conflict was packaged in religious terms in the West far more often than it was in its home territory. Yvonne Haddad noted upon the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 in Washington, D.C., that of the three speakers on that occasion-Arafat, Rabin, and Clinton-only Clinton used biblical reference points. In essence his speech consisted of little other than such reference, even to describe the modest initial designs of the accord for Jericho (whose ancient walls were mentioned even though they are no longer standing, but whose recent history and suffering-which were the point-were conveniently passed over).
This way of thinking may not seem so "countertimely" today, but even this observation confirms the propensity of one error, left uncorrected, to generate another. Allowing a mythico-religious logic to fester over the wound for so long, and to impose itself more by sheer violence than logical necessity, only proliferates that deadly logic into all quarters and increases its propensity to fanaticism. In 1948, few Palestinian expressed their cause in religious terms, but today a large minority among them are inclined to do so. Likewise, while in 1948 Zionism was still a largely secular movement even as it used biblical references for its purposes, now the entire Zionist enterprise is held hostage to religious parties whose acrimonious provocations have largely succeeded in undermining various attempted resolutions.
The historian Lawrence Davidson shows how around World War I the popular press in Britain was lavish in its Bible-inspired descriptions of the British Army's advance into Palestine, and how subsequent U.S. policy concerning Palestine likewise kept an open ear to biblically informed interpreters, including those who were not particularly religious but nonetheless had no other frame of reference for the issue.3 This is probably even more true today, given the fact that the American religious right sits in the cabinet directly for the first time in its history, and that the current administration is highly mindful of its effective role in generating votes, money, and publicity for its otherwise unsuccessful election campaigns. The role of biblical interpreters in informing U.S. policy toward Palestine, a role many sober commentators do not wish to believe, is further evident in the fact that meetings with prominent leaders of the religious right in the United States have been featured regularly on the Washington itinerary of visiting Israeli prime ministers.
This background is important to note as we survey the failure of diplomatic language, which in its effort to measure the limits of reality incorporates the mythical understandings of the powerful actors as if they were equal in weight to material grievances. Thus the diplomatic level could downplay the fact that much of the real conflict is obviously about resources: land, water, services, taxation, representation, material benefits, and so on. But it is impossible to get to these issues without dismantling the blinding religious mythology with which this concreteness of things is covered up so thoroughly. While many early and late settlers, as well as their Western supporters, have justified their enterprise through biblical language, most Palestinians have until recently expressed their cause in terms of concrete grievances.
Basic Considerations for a New Realism
A realism of a new kind is urgently needed. It would of course be the kind of realism that dismisses religious myth and focuses on concrete grievances, asserting that material needs come before spiritual or symbolic needs. And out of that we craft yet another level of realism, one that goes beyond the insignia of states and sovereignties, and joins larger logics of global life. The successful resolution of the Palestinian question has the potential to bring peace, justice, and freedom not just to the Israelis and Palestinians alike, but to the region as a whole and certainly to the world. The question of Palestine is not simply about Palestine.
The character of the current situation consists of endless violence, the absence of any workable peace plan, frightening levels of extremism, open public discussion of ethnic cleansing, complete hopelessness-generally, an environment so bleak that one no longer hears the comforting adage, "At least it cannot get any worse." It is clear that resolutions thus far attempted are at best unlikely to succeed, even in revised formats. At worst, such resolutions are themselves part of the problem. I suspect that they are the latter, for reasons I discuss later in this essay. But in so doing, I would suggest that Palestine has given us in the past half century of it being a "problem" opportunities to imagine a totally different framework of conflict resolution- one in tandem with the logic of our times, and in some respects even ahead of it. Perhaps it is good at this point to go altogether beyond the logic of decolonization, independence, sovereignty, statehood, and all such familiar terms, and imagine something superior, which, if not justified enough by its better approximation of the spirit of our times, at least it would be by the complete failure of all other attempts.
A new outlook would require three reorientations in the language of the conflict: (1) a reappraisal of the failure of the diplomatic language in general, and the inadequacy of state-level diplomacy; (2) a thorough demythologization of the conflict, on both religious as well as secular planes; (3) a radical departure from, or at least a realistic interpretation of, the hitherto unquestioned concept of "security." All three considerations are not only at odds with what peace processes attempted so far, whose record in any case is hardly impressive. They are also in perfect harmony with larger logics of globalization permeating the world at large. Experimenting with these in a place like Palestine would not only prove their contemporary worthiness, but furthermore reveal to the world at large the virtues of the more humane possibilities of common global processes, which we will not be able to escape in any case.
The Failures of Diplomatic Language and Diplomatic Imagination.
In 1954, John Foster Dulles suggested a simple solution to the conflict: "The Palestinian problem will be solved in time, only when a new generation of Palestinians grow up with no attachment to the land." This highly stunning proposal is informative of much, not the least of which is that lack of imagination is not the monopoly of current office-holders. Politicians bound too closely to immediate interests of states have little use for the foresight and critical imagination to propel interests more humane, larger than, or different from those of states. Thus bound in their action and imagination to state interests, the diplomatic level opts out of any nonstate-based human complexity, even when it is crucial for the victims of the process. Thus the governing logic of "motion" of early American diplomacy regarding Palestine was that since a solution appeared too complicated to sort out, simply entrust it to time.
The problem was that time failed in the task. This is hardly surprising, but so is Dulles's proposal. The proposal epitomizes, in fact, the nature of diplomacy when it concerns itself with human problems. The diplomatic level, or the level of state-to-state relations, tends when confronted with the unpalatable outcomes of its larger designs to follow the path of least resistance. That is, do nothing or as close to nothing as possible, until the crisis erupts again. At that point you rush to the scene with poorly articulated good intentions, and when calm is restored you proceed to do nothing or as next to nothing as possible. And so on.
The assertion that the diplomatic level cannot be trusted with will or imagination sufficient enough to resolve this particular conflict is borne out not by any political theory as much as by more than five-and-a-half decades of bitter experience. In the 1950s the diplomatic discourse preferred to forget Palestine and indeed wait until a generation has passed away, and along with it the problem. That was true also insofar as Arab governments were concerned, which while rhetorically adopting the Palestinian cause as their own, did so because of popular pressures; they never truly prepared for war against Israel (the 1967 war, precisely in being so lopsided, proves how much of the professed Arab state opposition to Israel took more the character of blustering rhetoric than material opposition).
Left to its devices, the diplomatic level will continue to do nothing other than follow the path of least resistance. Until the 1970s "Palestine" as such was not the object of any negotiations, and the crisis surrounding it was in diplomatic circles conceived of as a conflict between the existing states of the region. Palestinians registered only as "refugees," and the settlement of their issue was regarded as more of a humanitarian than political issue. Even when the Palestinians increasingly abandoned their reliance on Arab governments after 1967 and organized their own movements, it would still take a quarter of a century more before any serious discussion of a political solution occurred-that is, the creation of a very modest state for the Palestinians in their own historic land. Today, even that humble vision of independence seems remote.
The basic problem is that the language of diplomacy could only imagine solutions structured in terms of sovereignties and states, and those were always teeming with problems when it came to such a contested place as Palestine. The discovery of the Palestinians is indeed of a rather recent origin. It is entirely associated with their sustained rebellion-the late 1960s mass emergence of Palestinian resistance groups, crushed by the Jordanian government in 1970-71; the 1970s mass mobilization in Lebanon, disoriented by the Lebanese Civil War and aborted in a particularly savage war by General Sharon in 1982, culminating in massacres of refugees in the suburbs of Beirut; then the first intifada in the Occupied Territories from the late 1980s, which reached its terminus in the inconclusive Madrid Conference before being betrayed by the Oslo Accords; and then the bloodier second intifada, uneasily suspended in the face of an uncertain "road map" to peace.
The fact that Palestinians ever register on the political map, therefore, results only from their own efforts, and certainly not from the moral awakening of any state functionaries, the repentance of their enemies, or the self-serving efforts of Arab states. Each suppression was either more brutal or introduced more hopelessness than the preceding one. Consequently each stage of resistance included more shocking spectacles of resistance than were imaginable during the preceding one. Quantitatively and qualitatively, the violence of the intifada, indiscriminate and unapologetic as it may seem, still pales in comparison to the violence of the occupation, which had been indiscriminate and unapologetic for decades already. From the perspective of many Palestinians, history shows that the world pays attention only to outbursts that shock it, and not to ongoing and accumulating injustice. After each setback, the Palestinians disappeared again from the diplomatic language, until the following round of noisy mobilization, activism, and violence.
It is hard to dispute the central lesson of this history, as seen from a Palestinian perspective. Without generating constant noise, your problem will be immediately forgotten, because it is easier for governments in general not to do something about that which is not their business if the cost of anything other than "moral support" is high, as it has always been when it comes to Palestine. But as Ammiel Alcalay argues, even when an official recognition is extended to the Palestinians, the recognition is so structured as to actually undermine the Palestinian movement and take away all its potentials, rather than to address the grievances that generate it.
The experience with the Palestinian Authority under Arafat, and the whole range of imagination of the diplomatic language in which it is steeped, shows the dire limits of any solution premised on familiar state forms: "independence," sovereignty, clear borders, and all the symbols associated with them. What is frequently forgotten amid the current stalemate is that Arafat was reintroduced into the scene in Oslo precisely as he was on his way out as a Palestinian leader. The apparent calculation was that he, eager to reestablish his waning authority, would be more likely than other rising figures among the Palestinians to be controlled, or to agree to confine himself to the role of Israel's policeman in the territories. The fact that such a calculation failed is analytically less compelling than the fact that it was acted upon to begin with. The latter fact is consistent with the pattern of thinking of diplomacy.
Diplomacy has so far functioned by taking existing categories of social experience, in order to repackage them in ossified, lifeless forms. In this way a historically rich and polyvalent concept such as country becomes reduced to the globally standard concept of state. The concept of nation likewise is packed right into that same fossil, which is assumed to be its natural abode.
So much so that the nation appears in its state, and the state claims all significations of the idea of country. The diplomatic language has always worked within these basic categories, which simplify its task. But since the social world abhors simplicity in its structure, motives, and motions, it is easy to see how a language like diplomacy's, oriented as it is to efficiency, will only ever know the surface of its object or at best the outer appearances of its superstructure. Over time, the diplomatic language becomes the guardian of a stifling, undynamic world of formal structures.
These formal structures would still of course be an improvement over a condition of total war, as we have now. But what I think is becoming more obvious is that the road to peace itself may pass through an uncharted landscape of joint sovereignties, half-states, multiple citizenships, mixed identities, and open traffic. Fundamentally, the ultimate failure of the diplomatic consists of precisely this inability to consider such a vision of peace. It has always thought of peace as a state-to-state arrangement constructed by an acquiescence to the balance of power that obtains between them. Diplomatic peace, therefore, always possessed a formal appearance. It was understood as a state-level affair, a "process" negotiated by high officials and special envoys, culminating in an official treaty encoding its conditions.
Such an attitude leaves far too much to be desired. For example, the repertoire of diplomacy has over the past few decades produced a basic outline for a possible solution around a simple but problematic formula: "land for peace." Israel would give up land it had occupied in exchange for peace. This highly reductive way of looking at things essentially eliminated the core of the conflict from view. For it then appeared as a petty quarrel over land, rather than as over more profound issues, such as justice.
The alternative formula "justice for peace" is unlikely to be proposed by diplomats, but it does summarize the conflict much better. Durable peace is peace wedded to justice, and lack of justice will guarantee that there shall be no peace. Quarrels over justice, in the final analysis, are part of our social being, and the range of issues they cover includes but goes beyond the question of land. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the trials in Rwanda, that of Milosovic, and the whole regime of the International Criminal Court, all point in spite of limits to this evolving conception of the centrality of justice restoration to an inescapably diverse world, a world attempting to proceed beyond the apartheid model being proposed for Palestine.
To begin with, the fixation on territoriality as such, even if it leads to an independent Palestinian state, will only deliver a state that is already not fully sovereign. In many ways that would not be dissimilar from the fate of many of today's states that are embroiled in the logic of globalization. But in this case we have in addition the fact that such a state will immediately have to be tied to a grander regional consortium. The peace that will result from any peace process, as the overall vision proclaims, would be a regional peace. The Palestinian state would be small and poor, possibly demilitarized, economically but possibly also politically tied to and dependent on Israel and Jordan in the first place.
The humble vision of the Palestinian state, coupled such as it is with the difficulties of implementing it, has led some commentators recently (e.g., Edward Said, Lama Abu-Odeh) to resurrect an old idea of "one state" or "binational state."4 The idea here is that since the division of the land is too cumbersome and the result such a highly truncated entity, why not simply skip it and imagine instead a single country, with all citizens, Jews and Arabs, enjoying full and equal rights, as well as any protections and communal autonomies as might be necessary. The idea is to challenge failed "realism": when the need for justice cannot be served by current state form, state form itself must be determined by the need for justice. States themselves have no reason to survive or be created if they do not serve the cause of justice, and there is nothing natural or necessary about states. They may be imagined as epigraphs of justice, but it is justice that is the point, not the state.
If the solution is to be expressed in terms of state, in my own view a binational, single state would be a far superior notion than anything that is currently on the table (at the moment practically nothing). It would resolve without quarrel the issue of sovereignty, it would be in tandem with the transethnic logic of our times, it would normalize that whole state as a natural part of the Middle East region, Israel would cease to be a perpetual garrison settler-colonial state. Such a state may very well anticipate (in more controlled forms) links created by cultural diffusion, trade, and travel, which would result in any case from any peace.
But that is not the only way to proceed, and the practical complexities involved are enormous, even though all other potential solutions will invariably be complex. In any case, superior ethical visions do not need to keep us from considering the smaller ethics of something more workable. That is, even a modest, truncated Palestinian state would still be a momentous improvement on current conditions, a fully defensible "progress in the present order." Certainly the elimination of the Israeli occupation, one of the most brutal regimes in modern history, could only be welcomed. But the question of Palestine is deeper than the question of occupation, which is only one of the material manifestations of unsettled, older grievances.
From the perspective of the strong, peace is essentially a question of an acquiescence to a current balance of power and thus may seem to require no more than territorial haggling, but from the perspective of the weak, peace has no high value if it does not also involve a more ethical dimension, namely a demonstrated concern for rectifying historical injustice. This means much more than territoriality, and it may very well be the case that territoriality, states, and sovereignties would all become less of a central concern if we orient ourselves fully from the limited concern with land to the broader concern with justice.
Truth in Place of Myth
Anwar Sadat once said that 79 percent of the Arab-Israeli conflict was "psychological" in nature. For many who had lost relatives, friends, livelihood, or property, the statement seemed like an insult. A psychological condition is a misperception of reality treated with therapy. Sadat's preferred technique was shock therapy, which only resulted in a "cold peace." More to its detriment, it also failed to resolve the inner core of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Certainly psychological was a poor choice of word, myth-based would have been more appropriate. A myth-based conflict consists to a certain extent of a misperception of reality. But, more importantly, it is fueled by the drive to bring about a new reality inspired by ancient mythology, highly inadequate as it may be for contemporary times and places. As a pursuit of essentially contemporary problems into the fabric of deep time, a mythical outlook likewise universalizes the essentially local suffering out of which it emerges. Contemporary, local problems thus appear eternal and universal. Hints of the inadequacy of such an outlook are already evident in the composition of the movement speaking of those contemporary, local problems. The fact that Zionism is a modern movement should have certainly qualified notions of eternal persecution. The fact that all founding figures of Zionism were European Jews should have placed an adequate limit on the effort to universalize and homogenize the experiences of Jewish communities.
Further, historical realizations such as the fact that the Inquisition did not happen in Islamic Spain, that the Holocaust could scarcely be imagined without European-style nationalism, that Middle Eastern societies housed until 1948 large and thriving Jewish communities, could scarcely support a solution to the "Jewish problem" that is European-inspired and supported, highly nationalistic, and directed against the people among whom the Jews had historically the least problems! While this strange myopia may be explained by the blinding desire to create a uniquely safe haven for Jews, few expected history to have an irony waiting for us at the end of this thoughtless road: today precisely in Israel are Jews not safe.
In the US a different mythology surrounding Israel exists. It concerns the aforementioned biblical interpretation of the conflict. It is a different kind of myth than the one on which the Israeli state bases itself, its anti-Semitism is barely concealed, and it is centered on an apocalyptic vision of the future rather than a deliverance vision of the present. Yet these differences between the Christian right's myth of Israel and the Israeli state's own propagated myth of itself lead to the same outcome, to a grand civilizational conception of the conflict. Significantly, one of Roberta Combs's first acts as the new leader of the Christian Coalition in the US was to travel to Israel in order to meet Jewish settlers in the occupied territories and assure them of the coalition's full support of their religious quest.
Unfortunately, mythology employed by one side has the tendency to beget mythology by the other side. In this case, such a dynamic is apparent in the increased religiosity of the conflict, which was not there in 1948 or 1967. The mythologies surrounding this conflict now constitute enormous burdens, and there has rarely been a similar case in which the reality of things requires being completely and thoroughly reintroduced. This reintroduction requires two steps: first, a sole focus on concrete grievances, a focus from which all spiritual and cultural appendages are expunged. And second, a sense of "historical justice" based on a jointly elaborated historical narrative-a process for which something like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission may serve as a possible model.
The concrete is buried deep under a barrage of culturalism, religion, civilizational discourse, and identity. I remember a student I advised, who wanted to write a thesis demonstrating how analyzing the cultural dimension of the conflict may provide insights into its resolution. The problem with such an enterprise, which seemed originally worthwhile, was the propensity of "culture" to offer a convenient way out of having to discuss the concreteness of the struggle, which most street-level protagonists experience most directly. Culturalist mythology thus covers up the fact that the struggle has always been over concrete resources: land and water, primarily, but a host of other grievances that come with them, namely deprivation of political, civil, or human rights; economic destruction of communities; house demolitions; residence permit revocations; the making of peoples into refugees; collective punishment; and severe restrictions on movements, education, freedom of press, and every other aspect of civic life one has come to expect from living in the modern world. Today culture is often used to direct attention away from the fact that it is material existence and material grievances that create suffering and struggle. In this usage, the notion of culture is worse than useless.
Especially now, with the rise of extremism all around this conflict and its expression in grandiose "East-West" terms further concealing its concreteness, we need to maintain the sobriety of the concrete at all costs. The history of this conflict leads one to believe that the concrete substance of the conflict is concealed in myth and all the trappings of "culture" either when an injustice is about to be committed, or when there is no real desire to resolve the issue. Secular states, like the United States, so deft at obviating religious difference when seeking solutions to conflicts, suddenly throw up their hands at the bugaboo of "culture" in despair when they lack motivation. At no other time do we have a use for culture in negotiating a resolution, which means that a framework for a resolution should exclude all spiritual, religious, myth-laden reference points, while referencing the full range of the concrete grievances.
Listening to the Inaudible
Mohammed A. Bamyeh
To many this may appear obvious, and the diplomatic language has, to its credit, focused only on concrete issues, but far less than is minimally necessary to establish itself as a credible venue for justice, and only because of its propensity for uncontroversial minimalism rather than genuine inclination to resolve things. Far more is needed. Concrete sobriety will show us that even the seemingly most irrational acts, like suicide bombings, have their basis in concrete but ignored grievances. Citing a number of episodes in which suicide bombers left a note about their motives, Avishai Margalit notes that "it is in fact a common practice among the bombers to mention a very specific event or incident for which they take revenge," such as the Israeli military killing a specific family member or friend. 5
When the concrete is understood, even a frightening and apparently uncontrollable phenomenon like suicide bombing appears manageable. Simply denouncing the killing of civilians in suicide bombings has never been enough to deter them. Certainly no civilian population should suffer sudden outbreaks of irrationality, no innocent life, Israeli or Palestinian or otherwise, should be threatened by a walk to the market or a trip to work. But these principles in themselves resolve no distress: under different scenarios, if one lives under a state one believes to be ruled by justice, one is not as quickly persuaded by suicidal desperation as the proper response even to criminal assaults by authorities. If the system under which one lives or with which one is negotiating is considered to be capable of self-correction, or "justice," one always has other means at one's disposal to bring about grievances.
There is only one venue left out of this morass: it begins with a departure from myth, culture, and ideological posturing, and continues into the land of concrete grievances. Illusions about the self and the other are natural corollaries to any long-enduring, major conflict. But illusions may in the course of due time become indistinguishable ingredients in the fabric of reality. If I kill you because of my illusion, the murder itself confirms the reality of the illusion above that of a previous reality in which no murder had been committed. Out of this new and disheartening reality we have one of two pathways to follow: either accept the new reality as given, which means also accepting that derangements should be allowed to drive history, or embark on a "truth and reconciliation" process, which acknowledges the crime and establishes that derangements are amendable accidents, and not the logic of history or social life. Since the mythology we are dealing with has the weight of at least five-and-a-half decades behind it, it is imperative therefore that the demythologization process, inasmuch as it articulates a resolution on the basis of concrete grievances, also articulates a vision of history based on "truth and reconciliation," the humane process already experimented with in South Africa (whose own history has much to teach us here).
I am fully aware of the myriad philosophical, perspectivist, and relativist objections that many thoughtful people will make to any attempt at "truth." In this case, what I am addressing is a simpler form of truth-that is, truth insofar as it is connected to accountability for past wrongs and injustices, truth of a historical narrative devoid of all mythical elements, lies, and fabrications, and thus truth as a basis for reconciliation. That means declassified documents, war-crime tribunals, full accountability, and systemic apologies (namely, those that could be incorporated into public-sphere debates and education) for those past injustices that may not be amenable to outright rectification.
Processes of truth and reconciliation, already proven to work, would establish in this case two essential positive pointers to a necessarily common future, however unrealistic it may appear at present: (1) an alternative to the monopoly of diplomatic language over the parameters of conflict articulation and conflict resolution; and (2) a common narrative that serves as a pillar of that which we will never be able to escape in any case-common life and common society.
The truth and reconciliation model has been wholly absent from all frameworks of resolutions and negotiations attempted so far, and by all high-level partners, including the Palestinian leadership. This may appear especially surprising given that it would cost almost nothing in concrete price compared to other likely aspects of any resolution, such as dismantling the settlements, land exchange, doing something for the refugees, building a new state of Palestine, and the full range of assistance and aid regimes that will be necessary to stabilize the peace. On economic and logistical grounds alone, therefore, a truth and reconciliation process is by far the easiest to carry out and the most beneficial in terms of its "marginal returns." Further, it is imperative in any process whose aim is to uncover the many layers of myth surrounding the conflict, so that one's attention remains focused on the concrete.
Truth and reconciliation means unraveling all the mystification that has enveloped this conflict since its inception. Truth means not uncovering hidden secrets, but making audible (and thus part of the fabric of a common narrative) that which has been well-known for some time but could not be disclosed because of the restrictions imposed by the needs and inclinations of diplomatic language. It would bring into the realm of the common narrative, for example, the fact that far from intending to destroy Israel in 1948, King Abdullah of Jordan had already made a deal with the leaders of the state to divide up historic Palestine between them and his new but resourceless kingdom east of the Jordan River. Likewise truth would bring into the ethic of the common narrative the fact that ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was deliberately carried out. And in that same narrative we would include tales of the culpability, incompetence, and cynical manipulation of Arab governments in the aftermath of the 1948 war, which resulted in most of the urban centers of the Middle East losing their great historic Sephardic communities to Israel. Thus we would finally speak openly of the fact that, contrary to the official myth, Arab governments did not expect a war in 1967; that Sadat's intention in 1973 was to create conditions for a negotiable peace settlement and not to liberate the occupied territories.
The common narrative would also bring to the fore and clarify central belief systems that accompany this conflict but that have never been thought of as proper topics for the negotiation table. For example, the centrality of the experience of the Holocaust, especially in terms of the fact that it is an act of gross injustice "corrected" by another act of gross injustice. This simple and well-known point is a good place to start the entire truth and reconciliation process, because we would learn through it a pattern of overcoming mystification: you deny my suffering, so I respond by denying yours. The Holocaust did happen, but for most Palestinians, indeed most Arabs, it is irrelevant to the whole story. Truth and reconciliation means, among other things, making it relevant, since it happened and is obviously part of the larger dynamic of the conflict from its inception. But truth and reconciliation would also place the experience of the Holocaust in its proper dimension: the Palestinians are not responsible for it, even though the blood debt of Europe was settled with their account.
Truth and reconciliation, in other words, denies no one's experience but puts them back where they belong, outlines them in their proper context, allows us to finally mature beyond infancy-our own respective historical calamities-so that we may treat history as something to be overcome rather than as something to be repeated or lived perpetually. In other words, it allows us finally to bury the dead. But it will do far more. One aspect of any process of demystification is that it allows certain words, oft repeated as central categories of struggle, to finally refer to their actual meaning. A good example is the Palestinian slogan of 'Awda, or "return." The term circulates among the masses of refugees, whose predicament, we are told, was one of the issues responsible for the failure of the Barak-Arafat summit, which in turn led to the carnage that has followed.
Nothing illustrates the inadequacy of the diplomatic language more than its failure to truly appreciate what is exactly meant by "return," which in the world of diplomacy is understood to refer to an actual, physical return. The diplomatic paradigm does not think it its job to dissect levels of meaning, indeed, has no time for such exercises. But if we wish to consider what this slogan means, we need first to consider who is using it. To simplify, take three generations of Palestinians among whom the notion of return persists: the generation of pre-1948, which tends to use the concept of return to refer to the physical land, the houses, the orchards, and the street layout of their towns, which they teach their children in the diaspora. For that generation, return is a return to that which has already been experienced, and lost.
Then take the generation following that, born after Palestine was divided between Israel and Jordan (Gaza was administered by Egypt until 1967, but unlike the West Bank it was not annexed to Egypt). Large numbers of those were born as refugees in various Arab countries, and experienced thus two contradictory moments of consciousness: an awareness of a lost country and a belief in its imminent retrieval. For those, a return meant something less physical in nature, and was used more as a general code word for justice. The concept persisted among a subsequent generation, born altogether after all of historical Palestine had become inaccessible to diaspora Palestinians.
Each of these generations could be further divided in two: those who stayed, and those who continued on outside. Those who knew nothing but occupation, and those who knew nothing but the image of the country. Those who knew only part of it, and those who knew only another part. Those for whom Israel remained a strange abstraction, and those who absorbed its full ferocity firsthand. How could all those people speak of return, and how could return be the same return in each case? And of those, now the majority of diaspora population, who never saw Palestine, one may ask the question, How does one "return" to what one never experienced? In "After the Last Sky", Edward Said speaks to an "indefinitely postponed metaphysics of return," referring to this indeterminacy yet persistence of a feeling that justice must ultimately prevail, even though all material indications point to how far-fetched justice may be at the moment. 6
In an early novel entitled "Return to Haifa", the great Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani offers elements of a possible answer to this question. A Palestinian couple takes advantage of a temporary relaxation of border control following the 1967 war in order to visit their old home in Haifa and reminisce. They find the stones unchanged, and much of the space encourages them to continue to think of return in physical terms. But then, they meet actual people and actual experiences. The infant they had unintentionally left behind during the chaos and confusion of the city's evacuation some twenty years back is now a proud member of the Israeli border guard. He knows his origins, but that knowledge does not move him. For him, there is no natural order of belonging other than that shaped by the context of his upbringing and life experience.
Meanwhile, the couple's other son, born and raised outside of Palestine and after the Nakba, is ostensibly on his way to join the nascent movement of Palestinian fedayeen, over his parents' objections. On their way back from the shock of such a return, the parents conclude that they on the one hand, and their fedaye son on the other, are returning to different things. They are returning to the past, he is returning, as it were, to the future. So he is not returning at all, even when he is going to the old country with a gun in his hand.
Thus the concept of return is used by various generations of Palestinians not as a standard reference to a necessary physical eventuality, but more like a common heuristic or a candlelight, to summarize or shed light on common suffering. Return is the most efficient and unifying in the vocabulary of resistance. The common denominator between all the cleavages within the concept of return, therefore, concerns not its physical allusion as much as the investment in it of an undefined meaning of restoration. A return is a "restoration of justice," precisely in this general sense and no more precisely than that. Restoration of justice, in this sense, cannot be alleviated by a simple "compensation" lacking, as it is likely to be, of any admission of wrongdoing or culpability in causing injustice.
Return, in other words, means for various generations simply that justice in the final analysis is possible, and its possibility could only be verified by means of truth and reconciliation. A return, in other words, is truth and reconciliation: it is a settlement of an account and a correction of the story, so that even when one does not physically return, one could live with the contentment that justice has been reestablished, in the sense that truth is reintroduced to a history from which one had been disenfranchised.
"Security": The Impossibility of Machtpolitik.
Everything that has been said so far is scarcely imaginable without an outline of a realistic security framework. The question of security is explicitly connected to the current breakdown in all negotiations, has been there since the beginning of this process, and is latent in this conflict from its beginning-namely the program to establish a homeland for the Jews where they could be uniquely "secure." The latter project has manifestly failed, and the other corollaries and details have just likewise failed. Yet these failures do not in themselves invalidate the notion that peace and justice are associated with a certain level of security. It only calls for two modifications of the dictum of security: First, emphasizing security as the outcome of processes generating peace and justice, rather than as the prerequisite for such processes, as has been the case so far; and Second, defining a realistic rather than absolute (and hence impossible) expectation of security.
Under current circumstances, it is hard to see the prospect of any movement forward without more original approaches to the historical dilemma of security. What generates security? A certain reduction in the intensity of the conflict? A complete cessation of hostilities? An incorporation of all troublemakers into a common arrangement? An outgrowth of a more organic and popular quest rather than a diplomatic need? A commencement of mutual love? A forgetfulness of the past? A primary mutual interest? A treaty or a formal agreement? A division of the country? Or the continuation of the conflict as is but minus the bloodletting (which may very well have been the design behind Oslo)? Which of those meanings is exactly that of security, which should we aspire to attain?
As we try to answer this question, another immediately follows on its heals: What is the price for the kind of security that we define as appropriate? If we attempt to know, then we would immediately confront the possibility that we have reversed priorities, for perhaps we ought to have asked the question of price first, and then proceeded to ask how much security would it get us and settle at that. For if it turns out that a predefined level of security is attainable only by killing everyone, it would be prudent to ask first whether that kind of security is desirable. It is true that the most tranquil are the dead. But they do not constitute good negotiating partners. Machtpolitik has always led either to humanitarian horrors or to political dead-ends of the nonnegotiable sort, but never to security.
It seems, therefore, that two reorientations of thinking are warranted insofar as the paramount concept of security is concerned. The first is a retreat from the dogma of absolute security, unattainable with the vehicle usually used for that purpose, namely state violence. The second is a construction of a "hard" rather than "soft" peace process, namely a process structured so as to withstand sporadic outbreaks of insecurity, in a way that previous processes have not been.
A reappraisal of the concept of absolute security should have been warranted from the lessons of any episode of this conflict, had it not been for the fact that the Israeli concept of absolute security has always been seen as an inviolable dogma. For example, in 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon for expressed reasons, and the invasion culminated in a treaty signed on May 17, 1983 between Israel and Lebanon. In spite of the heavy price paid for it- the most destructive war Lebanon had ever seen and Israel's longest war to that point-the treaty was abrogated after a mass uprising in Beirut in the following February. The treaty declared the end of the "war" between the two countries, and was signed for the Lebanese side by an Israeli-imposed government. The price of the invasion leading up to the treaty, which was its expressed goal, was death to twenty thousand civilians, misery and homelessness to at least one hundred thousand more. That slaughter did not fail to declare its peaceful intentions from the start: the invasion was code-named "peace for Galilee."
The fact that such a horrific method for achieving security failed miserably did not apparently impress those who were committed to the principle of absolute security. The lessons of the failed Israeli occupation of south Lebanon warrant being raised in this context. In its characteristic emphasis on total security, the occupation authorities systematically destroyed all known old opponents, only to make room for a new and unexpected type of opponent (notably the ferocious Hizbullah) who may not have had as much of a chance to emerge without the removal of its competitors. Hizbullah had not existed when Israel invaded Lebanon in order to remove older enemies such as the PLO and the Lebanese leftists. Just as a sanitarium disinfected beyond common-sense necessity provides ample opportunity for the most virulent organisms, so did the fanatical Israeli obsession with security provide ample opportunity for a new type of opponent it could not overcome.
The Israeli emphasis on total security only predisposed the occupation authorities to practices that, in due time, resulted in multiplying the number of its more extreme enemies and in decreasing the influence of its more moderate opponents. In measures that continue to be practiced today in the Palestinian occupied territories, the Israeli authorities in south Lebanon followed a policy of disproportionate response, collective punishment, economic blockades, and the assassination of individual resistance leaders. This dynamic was set in place at a very early stage of the occupation; the minor early antioccupation tactics undertaken anonymously as of late 1982, such as planting homemade roadside bombs against Israeli patrols, provoked harsh retaliations aimed at entire villages.
Even when it tried to restrain itself from seeking to subdue the entire population through self-defeating acts of sacrilege (such as when an Israeli patrol inexplicably defiled the holy Shi'a festival of 'Ashura on October 16, 1982), the occupation authorities maintained the basic principle of collective punishment of civilian populations for individual or small-group acts of resistance against it. Tactics used involved the closure of the entire territory of the south or severely restricting access to it, a policy that served to choke off the economy of the south and created unbearable hardships. These collectively shared hardships, in turn, far from persuading the villagers and townspeople that they should blame for their suffering those individuals among them who resisted the occupation, only persuaded them of the opposite. They only saw that the occupation itself had imposed unnecessary suffering on them. They usually had no use for the extra rationalizing step that the authorities demanded of them.
It is not, therefore, simply noteworthy but astonishing that the Israeli occupation policies in the Palestinian occupied territories today simply repeat, almost to the letter, the same techniques of control that so patently failed in Lebanon. In fact, the replacement of Amal by Hizbullah in south Lebanon during the period of Israeli occupation seems to parallel closely the continuing rise of Hamas and its possible replacement of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. A radical movement could only be nourished by the dogma of its opponent.
In both cases, the more radical movement rises steadily and with deadly certainty out of the festering environment, where political immobility is virtually guaranteed by a twin dynamic: a dogmatic but impractical priority placed on total security on the part of an oppressive occupation authority, an authority with a substantial number of opponents and thus no realistic prospect of achieving total security. The policies produced by this logic only guarantee constant confrontation, and in due time help only in undermining the virtue of relative moderation as a guiding principle of resistance. The more established forces of "moderation," whether it is the secular Palestinian authority or secular Amal in Lebanon, find themselves compelled to embrace the radicalism of the underground movements, if only for cynical reasons and simply to safeguard their shrinking base of support. As the occupation habitually retaliates against all for an infraction by anyone, with time it becomes evident for all classes of the subjugated population that relative moderation and "legal" or diplomatic politics are ineffective in producing results quick or substantial enough to remedy their accumulated loss of economic and psychological resources and potentials.
We have here an authority that so obviously fails to learn from its mistakes, which suggests that we are dealing with dogma, in the sense of a basic worldview, which makes learning impossible to the extent that the world-view is basic to self-understanding. Dogma here indicates a commitment to a certain practice or worldview in the face of the fact that the practice or worldview manifestly replicates the same type of enemies every time they are exercised. Dogma here indicates a habitual avoidance of practical necessity, in this case the need for reflective thought on failed principles, due to the assumption that such reflection would threaten survival. If, for example, the principle asserts that survival could be assured only through "total security," a dogmatic outlook discourages reflection on the demonstrated fact that total security has never been possible, especially given the magnitude of the grievances in question.
A pragmatic interpretation, in contrast to the dogmatic, would consider both the principle and its record. Out of that reflection it would devise a new practical accommodation: if "zero tolerance" has proven to do more harm than good, then adopt a principle that accepts a more manageable level of insecurity. This kind of pragmatism, it should be clear, has as its prerequisite a rejection of dynamo principles. Dogma, by contrast, is fed by the assumption that one cannot afford to lose a single battle or allow the slightest infraction. But in this way the authority becomes consumed with tiny calculations and quickly loses strategic or holistic perspective. And as a result, it eventually loses the entire war. Such was the outcome of the war in south Lebanon.
Dogmatic thought can also be seen in one's continuing commitment to one's already failed modeling of the behavior or intellect of the adversary. For example, the obvious fallacy of the assumption that collective punishment would be understood by its victims as the fault of those who resist occupation has not prevented it from continuing to be a central technique of control everywhere there continues to be an Israeli occupation.
In Lebanon, this dynamic is clear. In 1983 the highest religious authority in Lebanon, Mehdi Shamseddin, responding to the outrage at 'Ashura, still called for no more than "civil disobedience" against the Israeli occupation. By 1992, with most of the civilian population in the south having been duly and repeatedly punished, the rising cleric Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah defected from the more tame Amal to Hizbullah and called for a jihad against the same occupation. If these two slogans could be drawn on a time scale, it would closely coincide with the increasing radicalization of the resistance over the same period. But more importantly, it would show how a phenomenon like Hizbullah, had been marginal for a number of years, became not only the voice of the oppressed but, perhaps more spectacularly, the voice of a radicalized established elite.
The lesson of this history seems clear: a dogmatic concept of security only undermines security. The vicious circle could be escaped only if dogmatic thought is escaped. And this, in turn, is possible only when less than total security is no longer associated with threat to survival. The fact that the experience of the Holocaust may be readily mentioned as a justification for a paranoid approach to security should no longer be persuasive. Not only do we have a horrible historical record to show the failure of such a conception of security, we also have the obvious fact that the Palestinians are continuing to suffer from an injustice of a historical proportion; and it is only natural that such a state of affairs will beget acts of resistance, whether individual or authorized by some group or another. There is nothing more natural than resistance to injustice, and to injustice that offers absolutely no hope of redress.
Even worse, the concept of security is bound to fail in this case due to its partiality. That is, if it is assumed that only one side is entitled to security, or that one side is more entitled to security than the other side, it is predictable that the result will be practices that, while increasing the security of the more powerful side will by their nature decrease the security of the weaker side. Currently, the Palestinians have no security, and yet the issue of security is still discussed as if it concerned only the Israelis. Entitlement to security is not considered to be subject to equal distribution, which presents us, under conditions of struggle, with a feeling of no security by any party. Thus at a great cost to themselves, the Palestinians transposed a hint of their own permanent insecurity into the heart of their enemy. It is impossible to see a way out of this deadly embrace, so long as the concept of security is approached as a dogmatic principle, so long as it is seen to apply more to one party than to the other, and, above all, so long as it precedes rather than flows from the concept of justice.
The final question is: What sort of process could overcome the multitude of difficulties and perspectivist problems enumerated in this essay? Combining realism and optimism requires an educated process of peace into which nondiplomatic- and nonstate-oriented interests are involved; requires a truth and reconciliation approach as a central moving vehicle, as central as the more tangible questions of borders, settlements, and so on; and requires a realistic reappraisal of the concept of security. The only possible process of peace we could have now is a "hard" rather than the "soft" process attempted so far. With one-sided security as its priority, the process we have now is a soft one. A soft process can be easily hijacked, derailed, or aborted outright by any dissent, even by minor players. Such a process could be easily shot down by any act of sabotage, any act against security, even one without much popular or institutional support. The more frequently the process fails under such assaults-natural and to be expected as they should be given the historical nature of this struggle-the more numerous become the ranks of those who had simply tolerated the process but suspected its potential.
Attempting to listen to the substance of that which is inaudible in the conflict has rarely been more justifiable. Seemingly theoretical or "utopian" enterprises gain great currency, after all, not so much due to the logical strength of their argument as to the collapse of so-called realism, its failure to do anything other than contribute to more suffering and greater body count. What I am suggesting is that we cannot just learn from this terrible history, which is by no means over. We can also transcend it if we are truly attuned to the logic of our times.
The argument that religious freedom ought to be respected, after all, should never have been allowed to morph into the insidious posture in which religious myth determines the image of politics. Jerusalem must be saved from its saviors, it must be returned to its status as a normal city and no more. A city of that nature, after all, should never be entrusted to the pitiless characters who are currently in charge of it, or to the apocalyptic souls who manipulate its image in the hope of bringing about the end of the world.
Above all, Palestine may very well provide, because of its great tragedy, the great laboratory for the vision of not merely "political" but human emancipation, borne out of a common narrative, of truth and reconciliation. The requirements and outlines for this process, difficult as they may seem, are not in the final analysis any more painful to discern than the unceasingly ascending mountains of death all around us. Those we must all be able to see by now, even at this great distance. A hard process is facilitated by this genuine but simple agreement that we all see this multitudinous death. For we do see death, all of it, and not simply the body count or the otherwise empirical death, but the death of all: the death of the those already dead as well as the death of the living. The former are no longer in our sight. It is the putrefaction of the latter that we still endure, in plain sight of civilization.
1. NgugiwaThiong'o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1986).
2 Ammiel Alcalay, After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
3 Lawrence Davidson, America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001).
4 See Lama Abu-Odeh, "The Case for Binationalism," The Boston Review (December 2001-January 2002); Edward Said, "The One-State Solution," New York Times Magazine, Janu-ary 10, 1999, 36-39.
5 Avishai Margalit, "The Suicide Bombers," New York Review of Books, January 16, 2003, 36-39.
6. Edward Said, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999 ).