Last update - 10:17 10/07/2008
The ever-rising price
By Ze'ev Sternhell
The cost of the existence of the Jewish nation-state as an occupier is constantly on the rise. In an article published here two weeks ago, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken took the bull by the horns: Israel is on the way to apartheid.
Indeed, the "temporary" changes in the Citizenship Law from 2003, followed by attempts by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to remove the new legislation from judicial oversight, are another phase in the desperate search for ways to build a wall between people as a substitute for an international border. If such a border had existed between Israel and the state of Palestine, it is reasonable to assume that the number of marriages between Israeli citizens and foreigners would be very limited, and the idea of special legislation for Arab Israelis would not have even come up. This is only one more aspect of the damage caused by our inability to put an end to the occupation.
In fact, like other national movements, Zionism had a great deal of difficulty assimilating universal values except those like self-determination, which were in keeping with national claims. Zionist socialism was the first victim of national particularism. As long as the occupation of the land was ongoing, up to the victory in the War of Independence, the price may have been inevitable. However, it very quickly emerged that socialism had been dealt a mortal blow. The habits, concepts and principles that had been shaped during the days of the the pre-state Jewish community were too strong to change after the establishment of the state. Nevertheless, in other areas, especially at the beginning of the post-Ben-Gurion period, great progress was made, as attested among other things by the abrogation of the military government in 1965.
The Six Day War took Israel back an entire generation. It has now become clear that colonial rule encourages the mixture of populations, and occupation requires seeking destructive solutions in terms of human rights. We should not delude ourselves: A democracy of lords will not last long. If we consciously create second-class citizens, if we anchor discrimination in a law armed against the intervention of the Supreme Court - the only gatekeeper of our liberty - we necessarily undermine the foundations of democracy. Universal rights are the heart and soul of a democracy; the moment these are denied to some segments of the population, they will eventually wither away for everyone.
The worst thing of all is anchoring discrimination in law: then it becomes the norm, and society becomes accustomed to it. People will be able to sleep peacefully then, too. After all, the Knesset has spoken, and this is a country of law and the rule of law. Anyone who would turn to international courts would be considered a traitor, because after all, everyone persecutes the Jews. If the International Court in The Hague finds that the laws of the land do not conform to the rules of justice, and it notes that some norms, when trampled, call for those who trample them to be removed from the family of nations, its judges will be considered anti-Semites.
It should be noted that barbaric laws existed not only in the worst dictatorships known in the 20th century, but also in the democratic United States. Less than 50 years ago, cruel racial oppression prevailed in the southern United States. Thus it is not enough for a law to pass in the Knesset for it to be worthy of a free society: Its content must meet the test of universal norms.
No other people in the world should know this better than the Jews. Their expulsion and destruction were made possible because first of all it was declared that universal norms - thanks to whose victory in the French Revolution the Jews were liberated - endangered the nation. Subsequently special laws for various populations replaced them, and at the end of the process the Jews ceased being considered human beings. Special laws for Jews, known as race laws, were enacted in the 20th century in the three largest countries in Western Europe, which shows that everyone is capable of everything.
The Citizenship Law discriminates against a certain category of citizens and it is therefore illegitimate. In this case the practical, reasonable solution is an international border. Even then, not all the problems will be solved; far from it. But a conflict between countries is always less severe than a conflict between sects or ethnic groups.
Moreover, the more one looks at the reality emerging here, the deeper the awareness that if an end is not put to the occupation, the occupation will put an end to the Jewish state. If territories are not evacuated, it will be the settlements that at the end of the day will establish a common political framework for everyone living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, thus creating a multi-national, multi-cultural, androgynous entity, turning Zionism into a passing episode.