Israel – Palestine
Diasporated from Yesterday – Diasporated from Today
Plural Memories and New Identities
Three Study Days Dedicated to the Refugees
The IOPA (International Observatory for Palestinian Affairs), in collaboration with NGOs and individuals from “civil” societies, representing Palestinian refugees (Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Europe and the Americas), as well as outstanding public figures from Israel and Palestine, is organizing a three-day symposium in Geneva on 14, 15 and 16th May 2009.
The study days will mainly be dedicated to the question of the refugees, but this issue will be closely addressed with the roots of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Our initiative may be condemned, considered as utopian, or even mocked at. Nevertheless, we believe in the necessity of such enterprise, because, for the time being, the Israeli-Palestinian question comes only after the interests or great and medium powers and after their cynicism. Therefore, it becomes crucial to give voice to those who daily live this great discord, in order to propose a free discussion in the respect of everyone's position.
We hope that the conference will be an opportunity to open a 'citizen debate' in the perspective to create new analysing tools for the future. Tools that will enable to transcend nationalist, militant, essentialist, nihilist and chauvinist usual deadlocks.
The would-be solutions proposed so far by globe-trotter diplomats, outstanding jurists, the world's most powerful politicians and activists, the G8, the Quartet, the Vatican etc. have all failed, without exception. And the consequences of their inanity are bloody and painful. The outline of a possible answer to today's disaster could be conceived starting from a new space which authorizes alternative approaches.
We think that one of the positive aspects from globalisation is to render de facto obsolete the concept of nation State. We believe that the people today strive to consider themselves as citizens of the world, fully committed in living together, leaded by ethic concerns. About this last aspect, we totally agree with the criticisms written by Yeshayabou Leibowitz in 1994: « I really do not understand what notions like “Jewish morality” or “enlightened” peoples (…). There is moral difference only at the individual level, between a man and another (…). If we talk about moral consciousness, everything happens purely at the individual level. » And in a same spirit, he adds: « A “Jewish” State? But, since the 19th Century, the concept of Judaism has no more content, at the level of values, which is accepted by all. » In that perspective, extricating oneself from the logic of the State and espousing a logic of the citizen – with all the requirements implied at the ethic, mnesic and existential levels – becomes again a fruitful and sensible alternative.
Apartheid is over. Calling, today, Israel in terms of “Jewish” State abolishes its ethnic and confessional plurality of. The conflict caused by the division of Palestine will find no end if this qualifier (term), which generates segregation, is kept. Once again, one need to make distinctions to avoid the usual mental confusion, which characterizes both the lack of thought and emotional reactions: one need to stop binding the term “Jewish” to a State which claim to be modern and not to always mix up the criticism of Zionism (which is a political position) and anti-Semitism (which is a form of racism).
The point is not to deny “Memory”, but to refuse understanding it only from the narrow horizon of suffering as an identity (Prof. Esther Benbassa). Palestinians today (be they from Muslim, Jewish, or Christian cultures) such as Jews yesterday seem to adhere to an old idea which served as ideological justification: “I suffer therefore I am”. In a situation of occupation and denial of the law, is it foreseeable to overcome this victimary logic to give oneself a little more freedom in the perspective of living together?
Memory has to be revisited, bearing in mind that it is not something heading towards an irreversibly lost past, but that it is, on the contrary, what enables to build the future. Therefore, one should rethink the question of the refugees starting with the first Zionist Congress of Basel in 1897. Memory is memory of places, memory of a grand-father, to whom one may want to pay homage, the memory of one's home which may incite to see what it has become, memory of the earth with sometimes the desire to walk on it again. Why should this idea be absurd in the case of Palestinian refugees? It is not a question of revenge, but rereading the law and its updating. The Jewish “citizens” of Israel who wish it, have the right to return to the places of their childhood (Berlin, Rïga, Paris, Fez, Algiers, Casablanca, Tunis, etc.). Why this right is not granted to Palestinians? Can we talk about “right” when it applies only to a minority according to its religious belonging? Otherwise, it means to admit that the Palestinians are the new wandering Jews of the Middle East, the diasporated for the eternity?
In this context, we think that it becomes conceivable that Israelis and Palestinian refugees could have contacts between them, just as in the past contacts were existing between Jews, Muslims and Christians on this very land of Palestine. Re-visiting this collective memory for the ones and the others should not be limited to retell the Shoah or the Naqba, because it may bring back to the fore the victim identity, which is precisely what we need to leave aside to build a future for our children. The principle of 'right of return' here is not a solution to revenge but a new sacredotal vocation.
It is necessary to break with ideologies which essentializes and sacralises the conflict. One need to reconsider, for example, the process or the debate of the control of the holy places in order to show that the perimeters of secrecy, the Wailing Wall, the church of Saint Sepulchre and the al-Aqsa Mosque have become irreducible and non negotiable requirements of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith. Freedom of movement or settlement has to be bound with citizenship and not with religious and cultural belongings.
Binding the fate of men with the fate of a State, the conception of the Israeli State has fundamentally changed since 1967. Once again, there is a need to break with the post-Zionist consensus which essentializes and sacralises the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while maintaining it in a conventional political and military dimension.
As far as what concerns us, we want to rebind with the position of Frantz Fanon, who refused that solidarity towards a past of slavery should dictate his behavior and the way he is, and which made him « the slave of slavery which dehumanize his fathers ». Fanon « refused to chant the past at the expense of his future » and refused to « fix the man while essentializing the negro », as today we try to fix the Jew while essentializing the Israeli.
The above ideas are suggestions for a new way of thinking, which explores the “unthought” of the issue. This in order to create a new, long lasting and positive dynamic in the region. To reach this goal, we are inviting all the persons involved in the problematic to come up with their own ideas and their concrete proposals.
Consequently, we, as a group of initiators of Palestinian, Israeli and European origins, wish to contribute to unblock the conflict, and in particular, to open up the debate on the question of the right of return on the land of Palestine and of the statute of a political space which forms have to be decided by the future citizens in their diversity and equality. We want to get out of the culture of emergency, dictated by a situation of permanent war, as well as by emotional answers forcibly generated by such situation. In short, we want to avoid escalation to work on the long term.
The conference will focus on civil society, a civil society which maybe still has to be created in a near or far future, it is not up to our will. A society where human rights, and above all, the freedom to believe or not to believe are protected. A secular society where the believers are not superior to the non believers. A society where the loss of faith in religious values is no longer considered as a spiritual, political or social crime. In other words, a society which considers that each one of its members has an equal value and inalienable rights.
We want to rethink, newly and in a critical perspective, convictions related to ethnicity and religiosity, and to debunk identities rooted in an exacerbated patriotic or nationalist feeling. We want to understand the events confronting us while loosen the suffocating grip of History in its totalitarian dimension.
The planned three study days in May 2009, in Geneva, will be a sort of a great symposium where artistic and literary contributions on the subject of the refugees (movies, photography, theatre plays, books, music, plastic arts, …) will be shown. Our symposium will offer the opportunity to show and comment important works such as the movie Exodus or the book of Walid Khalidi, Before their Diaspora, as well as recent movies like The Bubble, Lemon Tree, La visite de la fanfare, Citizen Bishara, Palestine Histoire d'une Terre, Paradise Now, or Le Sel de la Mer. The contributions will include what the refugees have to tell us about their current status and how they see their future. In addition, through our forum, refugees could, if they wish so, call for pacific and symbolic marchs towards the borders, to remind that the right of return cannot be reduced to a vague UN resolution or a wishful thinking.
We will request from TV networks to cover not only the conference but, in an interactive approach, to also display accounts from Palestinian refugees living in the camps as well as in the main cities in Israel, Palestine, Beirut, Amman and Damascus.
Persons who are concerned with the matter – academics, artists, representatives of the refugees, NGOs and delegates of different States – are invited to send their contribution, which will be published online, before and during the study days. In order that the right to speak be given to everyone equally and without hierarchy, written contributions have to fit in between 10 to 15 pages maximum. During the conference, four languages will be proposed: French, English, Arabic and Hebrew. Professional interpreters will ensure the exchanges.
We ask for moral and financial supports to carry on our project. The budget is estimated at 200'000 Euros; a financial report will be given to all participants. The executive committee will be in charge of the finances as well as of the logistic organization of the conference. All contributions, even modest, are welcome. Possible benefits made from the sale of art works or possible budget surplus will be transferred in a project that will be collectively discussed at the end of the conference.