Israel, a state with Israeli citizens? Error. Israel is a state with Jewish citizens. For Israel to become a democracy dominated by universal humanism – where all minorities are protected, including the Jewish one – current policies must be uprooted.
This is the starting pit the German-Jewish philosopher and author Omri Boehm throws us into with the book Israel – a utopia?. There we find, for example, a historical headache called the Holocaust. Germany is particularly tight in the squeese here. For example, Jürgen Habermas commented on Israeli policy in an interview at a conference in Jerusalem in 2012 with the words: "The current situation and the basic attitude of the Israeli government require a political assessment, but this is hardly the task of a German individual of my generation."
A federal, binational republic
The evasiveness of German and other intellectuals towards Israel is one problem the Middle East crisis is struggling with. Another is the deadlock in the wake of what Boehm calls "a black hole" – the stranded Oslo agreement. The Israeli "occupation" of Palestinian territory actually consists of an established society with extensive infrastructure, highways, factories, banks, schools and universities. A large dose of wishful thinking is needed to believe that all this can be reversed. The two-state solution, Boehm states, is dead. So why is it not finally buried? Because – and this is something everyone can witness for himself – a radical alternative is missing.
So why is this option missing? The author basically points to a short circuit in the reasoning. For Israel to become a respected democracy, it must stop insisting sovereigntyin relation to the other population groups within the country's borders. They should stop favoring the Jews at the expense of the Palestinians and the Arab Israelis.
Boehm wants us to put the Nakba, the violent expulsion of around 700 000 Palestinians, on a par with the Holocaust, which provided the basis for the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
All the citizens of the state deserve equal treatment, the author maintains, and thus we come to his solution: a federal, binational republic, where Jews and Palestinians have the same status and the same rights, as Israeli citizens. On paper, it looks logical. But what about security? Here it gets harder. Trust is not a human right; it is rather a gift – as it is to give and to receive. Today, approx. ten percent of Israel's Jewish population lives in occupied settlements. They are surrounded by almost three million Palestinians, who have suffered under the country's aggressive military regime for over fifty years. In addition, there is President Trump's "deal of the century", which accepts Israel's annexation of all settlements and proposes the relocation of Israel's Arab citizens – in order to reduce the number of Palestinians in an enlarged Jewish state. Clear speech comes from chairman Bezalel Smotrich of the religious-Zionist party Tkuma: "In my opinion, people on the Gaza Strip may just rot away. Let them die of hunger, thirst and malaria. "
Palestinians must buy their own water.
With smoldering ethnic conflicts of this kind, Boehm's solution plan can easily be perceived as utopian. Therefore, he also goes into the historical course and demonstrates that both Israel's founder David Ben Gurion and later Prime Minister Menachem Begin both strived for Jewish self-determination (nota sovereign Jewish state) within a binational republic. Now, of course, the situation was different forty to fifty years ago. At that time, total happiness for the Jews was to be able to settle in a state of their own. Today, to maintain the status quo – where the Palestinians are kept down under apartheid–like conditions, means to prepare for continuous escalating violence.
Water shortage in the West Bank
Another problem is well known: the disadvantage of elementary social goods. During a visit to Palestine in 2012, I myself had the matter clearly demonstrated: At a conference in Jericho, where for once both Israelis and Palestinians participated, a towering man with sparkling black eyes took the podium. The head of the Palestinian Water Directorate. He thundered at a lady in the front row, a member of the Israeli parliament: “You do not know us. For 19 years we have lived in a house without water. It's like living in a house without doors and windows. We are prisoners. We do not receive any permits from the authorities for our water projects. These authorities are Israelis, who deny us access to water. We live with war around us. With Israeli settlements and barriers. You, madam, are returning to Tel Aviv. Tell your colleagues that you have met a decision-maker who has nothing to decide. "
Both Israel's founder David Ben Gurion and later Prime Minister Menachem Begin strived for Jewish self-determination – not a sovereign Jewish state – within a binational republic.
Outside, I did not have to go more than a few steps to encounter barbed wire fences and the Israeli military. They made sure that no Palestinians were allowed to fetch as much as a drop of water from the Jordan River. The water in the West Bank is administered by Israelis. Palestinians buy it expensively from Mekorot, the Israeli Water Authority. The water they buy, Mekorot takes from the West Bank – and sells it back to the Palestinians. In other words, they have to buy their own water. The water comes by truck to remote areas, if it comes at all. Lack of water is a gigantic headache throughout the Jordan Valley. Fair distribution is "a very complicated affair", according to Israeli authorities. Do they refer to their own low water costs, of the extraction of sea and river water – without control?
The visit to the village of Al-Auja, ten kilometers northeast of Jericho, was also instructive. Until 1967, the place flourished thanks to a well that provided the basis for agriculture. But for several years now the well has been dry. Friends of the Earth Middle East informed: Wastewater treatment plants do not exist. Sewage only flows into holes in the soil – and poisons the groundwater. In Al-Auja alone, they have 700 sewer holes. Infectious diseases abound. Israel only helps its own territories.
To "forget" the Holocaust
Boehm's recipe for the binational "Republic of Haifa" contains many points – each of which contains conflicting material. The first commandment will naturally be a precondition: "The military occupation of the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip will end." The other points describe a common constitution, open borders, equal rights to settlement and work, the right to vote in the Knesset for all, Arabic and Hebrew as common languages. Point nr 10 is possibly to be regarded as a Gordian knot: “The capital of Israel will be West Jerusalem. The capital of Palestine will be East Jerusalem. "
The German-Israeli author with a past in Israeli secret services does not hide the difficulties associated with his project. At the same time, he maintains that the prevailing lack of alternatives is even more difficult – and more dangerous. That explains why he recommends "forgetting" the Holocaust. Here he draws support from Yehuda Elkana, an Auschwitz survivor and a prominent professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University: “The mere existence of democracy is endangered when the thoughts of the victims of the past constitute an active function in the democratic process. Inserting past suffering as a political instrument is like letting the dead take part in the democratic decisions of the living today. "