Occupied Palestine: From BDS To ODS

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We spent the last week in Occupied Palestinian Territory, commonly referred to as Israel, where we traveled around the country to visit communities in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Bethlehem, the West Bank, the Nagab, and more.

We call Israel Occupied Palestine because it is not just the West Bank and Gaza that are occupied, but all of historic Palestine, the entire Palestinian nation. Palestinian people do not have equal rights and their communities are constantly encroached upon by settlers pushing them into small, crowded areas. The mistreatment of Palestinians happens right before the eyes of the Israeli Jews. If they do not see it, it is either because they do not want to see it or because they are encouraged not to see it. Just as Jim Crow racism was evident to all in the southern states of the US, apartheid in Palestine is obvious.

This visit deepened our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement because we saw modern apartheid, Jim Crow-segregation laws, ongoing land theft, and ethnic cleansing. For example, we were in Jerusalem when a squadron of fighter jets flew over our heads to bomb the open-air prison of Gaza killing more than 30 people. The Israeli people, media and politicians applauded that, displaying a sickness that runs deep in this colonized land founded on theft, terrorism, and violence.

To end the colonization, there is great hope of developing a movement for the creation of One Democratic State (ODS). This is being organized by a large group of Palestinians and Jews as the formation of two separate states is impossible. ODS envisions a universally equal and democratic nation where minority communities are protected and every person can vote. ODS is the first step to the decolonization and healing of Palestine.

Aida Refugee Camp, photo by Margaret Flowers.

Correcting The Record

Palestinians are disenfranchised:  Occupied Palestine is called a liberal democracy. In reality, while Palestinians are the majority, most of them can’t vote. Out of a total population of twelve million people, five million Jews can vote and five million Palestinians can’t. The remaining two million Palestinians who live in “The 48,” the land between the West Bank and Gaza, can vote but often boycott elections in protest. The dominant parties all support anti-Palestinian policies.

Sign entering Area A, Israeli Citizens Forbidden.

Palestine has hyper-segregation: Palestine can only be described as a modern apartheid state with updated Jim Crow laws. We drove on Jewish-only roads where the color of a person’s license plate determines if they can use the road. There are military checkpoints along these roads. Palestinians are often forced to take long detours to get around the segregated roads and walls. Many Jews never meet a Palestinian because their lives are so segregated.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Occupied Palestine was divided into Areas A, B and C. We visited Bethlehem, classified as Area A, where a sign upon entry warns it is against the law for Israeli-citizens to enter. In Area A, the Palestinian Authority (PA) serves as police and can arrest Israeli-Jews and turn them over to Israeli-police. In Area B, both the PA and Israeli-police have power. And, in Area C, the majority of the country, only the Israeli-police have authority.

Land Theft Against Palestinians Continues: People are often told that no one lived here before 1948 when the occupation of the area by Jewish settlers began. This massive land theft continues today. Although the German Holocaust is used to justify this, the Zionist project began well before then.

Jaffa, above as depicted by Gutman and below as the crowded Arab city that actually existed. Photo by Margaret Flowers.

This false picture is depicted by the well-known Zionist artist Nahum Gutman. His famous painting of the major Arab city of Jaffa showed only sand dunes and a few buildings where hundreds of houses stood.  Today Sir Charles Clore Park covers the remains of this section of the city. Similar tactics have hidden thousands of Palestinian villages that existed before “The Nakba” in 1948.

Forests planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), founded in 1901, are still being used to hide the sites of Palestinian villages. We visited the village of Al-Araqib, which has been destroyed 167 times. All that remains is a cemetery built in 1914 and a few residents who hold space under a tree near the cemetery in fear of losing access to it. In Canada, there is a campaign to end the non-profit status of the JNF.

Jaffa was an important Arab port city with a population of 90,000 before 1948 that served as an entry point into Jerusalem and beyond. The first Jewish neighborhoods were built there in the late 19th Century. Tel Aviv, the first Jewish-governed city, began in the early 20th century as a suburb of Jaffa. More than ninety-five percent of the population of Jaffa was expelled by Zionist militias in 1948 and beyond. The remaining residents were confined to an area under guard and forced to operate the port. Between 1947 and 1949, the Nakba terrorized Palestinians and forced 800,000 to flee their homes. The Absentee Property Law was used to seize the homes of those who fled.

Zionist settlers continue encroaching on land in Palestinian neighborhoods. In the historic walled city of Old Jerusalem, they come up from underground tunnels to seize homes in the Palestinian quadrant and put them under armed guards. In Palestinian East Jerusalem, Zionists continue to confiscate houses and land, pushing Palestinians to the other side of the segregation wall where they are crowded into areas without city services. Similar forced urbanization and crowding is occurring throughout Palestine. Gaza is perhaps the most severe example of this. Over the last 50 years, the Israeli government has transferred between 600,000 and 750,000 settlers to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in at least 160 settlements and outposts.

In the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, this land annexation has made a two-state solution physically impossible. The combination of hundreds of thousands of settlers, Jewish-only roads plus the Expansion (or Annexation) Wall that divides Palestinian communities, and more than 200 checkpoints have severely restricted movement for Palestinians and seized 78% of their country.

A banner hanging in Mea Shearim, a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Judaism is not ZionismIn the 1880s, Palestinian Jews amounted to three percent of the total population. They were apolitical and did not aspire to build a Jewish state. We met with Rabbi Meir Hirsch in the Mea Sharim neighborhood of Jerusalem. This tightly-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood has signs posted on the walls that say: ‘A Jew Not a Zionist,’ ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good.’

Hirsch’s family came to Palestine 150 years ago from Russia. His people came to better worship God, not to take land from Palestinians. Hirsch told us about Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutch-Jew who worked to prevent the 1917 Balfour Declaration and almost succeeded. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British government, announced support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. De Haan was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah for his anti-Zionist political activities. His murder led to the Neturei Karta movement, which resists Zionism to this day.

Hirsch views Zionism as contradictory to the Jewish religion. His community believes the Torah does not allow Jewish sovereignty of any kind over the Holy Land and those who want to live there must have the approval of the native Palestinian people. Hirsch says that ultra-Orthodox Jews “want to see the end of the Zionist tragedy and the restoration of peace to the Middle East.” His views counter those who claim criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic as, he says, “Judaism and Zionism are as foreign to each other as day and night, good and evil.” 

Graffiti made by the graffiti artist Banksy is seen on Israel’s Separation Wall in Abu Dis on August 6, 2005. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

One Democratic State

There is a positive path to resolving the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. The path comes from the movement for One Democratic State, which envisions a genuinely just and workable political agreement developed by Palestinians and Jews together.

There has been a marked decline in support for a two-state solution. A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research from September 11-14, 2019 found only 42% of Palestinians now support the two-state solution. When President Netanyahu entered office a decade ago, that figure was 70%. Similarly, fewer than half of the Jews now support a two-state solution. Further, 63% of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of the settlements and 83% support the local and international boycott (BDS) movement against Israel. 

We met separately with two leaders of this campaign, Awad Abdelfattah, a founder of the Arab Balad Party, and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian. Along with many others in the ODS campaign, they seek a multicultural and constitutional democracy in which all people enjoy a common citizenship, a common parliament, and equal civil rights, with constitutional protection granted to national, ethnic and religious views. ODS means equal rights for Palestinians and protection of the rights of Jews. 

Their vision includes making the Palestinian ‘right of return’ a reality. Palestinian homes and communities were demolished years ago. According to the Palestinian geographer Salman Abu-Sitta, 85% of Palestinian lands taken in 1948 are still available for resettlement. While more than 530 villages, towns, and urban areas were systematically demolished, their agricultural lands still exist. Other lands lie under public parks and forests. Refugees could actually return, if not to their former homes, at least to the parts of the country where they originated. Palestinian planners could design modern communities for refugees and their descendants in the areas they left with new communities and economic infrastructure that is integrated with other segments of the society. Land redistribution, financial compensation, and equal access to education, training and the economy would enable refugees, like other Palestinians, to achieve economic parity with Jews within a fairly short time.

For Jews, their security will increase by providing constitutional protection of their collective rights. While structures of privilege and domination would be dismantled, the “collective rights” of groups to maintain their community in the framework of a multi-cultural democracy (e.g., communities of ethnic Russians, African asylum-seekers, foreign workers, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, and others) give Jews the collective security they need.

ODS views the establishment of a just and working state as requiring: decolonization, restoration, and reconciliation. Decolonization includes ending economic, cultural, political, and legal domination. This means building an egalitarian, inclusive and sustainable society that restores the rights, properties (actual or through compensation), identities and social position of those expelled, excluded and oppressed. This is followed by reconciliation to confront the still-open wounds of the Nakba and the Occupation, and the suffering they have caused.

While the view may sound Utopian to some, in fact, it is the practical path out of the current disaster of Occupied Palestine. Palestine is already one nation. The issue is whether it will be a democratic state with equal rights for all citizens that dismantles the apartheid system or whether it will remain an undemocratic and unequal settler-colonial nation.

We titled this article “BDS to ODS” because while this solution must come from the Palestinian people, along with Jews, people in the United States and throughout the world who support peace and justice have an important role to play through the growing BDS campaign to pressure Israel into accepting ODS. This struggle will be won through solidarity between popular movements inside and outside Occupied Palestine.

We encourage you to visit Occupied Palestine to see and learn for yourself. If you visit Jerusalem, be sure to take the tour offered by Grassroots Jerusalem. They also offer a guide to Palestinian places to stay, shop and eat. Zochrot is an organization that also offers tours and resources about the Nakba. If you are interested in direct service, you can volunteer to assist with the olive harvest or volunteer in places such as the Aida Refugee Camp. They need all sorts of volunteers, especially those who can provide instruction to children in music and arts. Visit Volunteer Palestine to see the many opportunities available.

  • Kerry McNamara

    Thank you Margaret and Kevin!

  • Red Robbo

    ‘This visit deepened our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement because we saw modern apartheid,’

    BDS is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, yet South Africa today is the most unequal society in the world – economic apartheid persists for millions. ‘More than two decades after South Africa ousted a racist apartheid system that trapped the vast majority of South Africans in poverty, more than half the country still lives below the national poverty line and most of the nation’s wealth remains in the hands of a small elite’ (NPR, 2 April, 2018).

    The first three post-apartheid Presidents supported the dictator Mugabe. Mbeki is responsible for the premature deaths of up to 365,000 AIDS victims. Winnie Mandela to her credit “.. said to president Mbeki: ‘Why are ARVs not toxic for the members in Parliament who are taking them but toxic for the poor?’” Some have called for Mbeki to be tried for crimes against humanity. King Zuma has his palace and shares responsibility for the Marikana massacre with Ramaphosa. Anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of the ANC:: ‘They stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves.’ He went on describe the Zuma administration as ‘worse than the apartheid government’ and that he would ‘pray for the downfall of the ANC.’

    Edward Said wrote: “There is always the possibility of another social model.”
    Norman Finkelstein put it best in 2014: ‘If you ask my personal preference, I would say that I don’t believe in two states; I don’t believe in one state; I happen not to believe in any states.

  • I wish the ODS movement well. Having spent several months in Israel myself – many years ago – mingling, observing, and listening to Palestinians and Israelis. I visited many cities and witnessed the disparity in fortunes. I had eye-opening experiences where I saw Palestinians with knives, rocks, and molotov cocktails trying to combat Israelis with grenades and machine guns. I need not say who came out on top in these skirmishes – you can easily guess. I was fool enough to align myself with the Palestinian plight and serve as escort into parts of the city where they lived and faced political arrest if not ‘protected’ by a foreigner who, if harmed, could cause an international incident. I say I was a fool to do so because bullets did fly around me – I was not hit and neither were members in my company; but even though the Israelis were schooled to avoid harming foreigners belonging to allied nations, it did not preclude that from happening. I and my friends were mostly just lucky. I also say I was a fool because this was not my fight – I just happened to be present and was incensed by the injustice and wrongness of the situation.

    Perhaps the global chaos soup we now are dangling our toes in but will soon be swimming in afford the conditions the ODS movement needs to bring about the realization of their vision. I wish them well and will do what I can from my own country to support them in that endeavor.

    I will close with this thought…
    At this time, citizens of countries need to focus the vast majority of their efforts on effecting system transformation at home. We need to get our own houses in order; when we accomplish this, then we can direct more effort toward helping others if they wish us to. Not now – Now we need to turn inward and get the job done that needs doing at Home. We can support our neighbors by sharing lessons learned from our own actions and any other ways that may be of help but not to the extent that the support offered detracts or diminishes our efforts at fixing our own Home.

  • Harriet Heywood

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I wish for successful ODS movement.

  • Alan MacDonald

    The NY”Times” reporting that Emperor Trump is giving the ‘green light’ to Israeli occupying West Bank Palestine, just as Emperor Trump ‘green lighted the Turks launching attacks into Syria to oppress the Kurds, proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Emperor Trump not only clearly believes that he is an Imperialist President and Emperor of America — but he is so insane that he thinks he’s the “Emperor of the World”, who can tell all countries what they must or must not do.

    As my only demonstration, march, and protest sign since 2017 simply says on one side:


    and, more importantly, on the other side:

    “We can’t be an EMPIRE”

    It is now far past time to put Emperor Trump away in a safely padded area where he can’t hurt himself or others, and where he can’t even be quoted as an American President because of the impact that it could have on others.

    [My commentary to this NYT reporting today:
    “In Shift, U.S. Says Israeli Settlements in West Bank Do Not Violate International Law”]

    Emperor Trump — ‘Emperor of the World’ — says to Israel, “Yea, Bibi, just go in there and ‘Grab it’, you know, when you’re famous you can just grab anything”!

  • It’s not just emperor Trump, he’s simply the symptom of a nation where government has merged with the corporate world.

    The US is exceptional just like those that upvote their own comment have to suffering from a delusion they they’re special and better than others.

  • Shlomo Orr

    Just a comment:
    My understanding is that Gutman’s drawing is not of Jaffa, but rather Tel-Aviv in the making, while Jaffa is seen far in the horizon, to the south. Nobody really claimed Jaffa is an empty city. Unrelated historical fact: when Napoleon’s forces captured Jaffa about 130 years earlier, they massacred all the Jews in the city.

  • Alan MacDonald

    Southern, thank you for turning on the turbo-charger of my “analogy-thinking” 70 year old brain, by your mention of “government that has merged with the corporate world” as you noted.

    However, your description of “a (single) nation where government has merged with the corporate world” dramatically under-shoots this unique and epochal situation which, while occurring in our 21st century, has never occurred on earth before.

    As Arthur Clark’s prescient film, “2001” alludes to in its ‘time/space’ star-hole sequence, we are now in uncharted territory where the creation of the world’s first effectively Disguised, truly Global, corrupted Crony, Capitalist fueled, EMPIRE has occurred to the self-serving advantage of the UHNWI ‘Ruling-Elite’ — but this totally unique, global, and potentially Existential Crisis [William Robinson] can be fully, accurately, quickly diagnosed and ‘exposed’ to the people of the world based on a striking “parallelism” which is fast becoming highly visible, one might say “behind the curtain” —- such that this entirely unique Disguised Global Crony Capitalist EMPIRE will have its essential ‘Disguise’ ripped away by ‘we the citizens of OUR world’:

    “The U.S. state is a key point of condensation for pressures from dominant
    groups around the world to resolve problems of global capitalism and to
    secure the legitimacy of the system overall. In this regard, “U.S.”
    imperialism refers to the use by transnational elites of the U.S. state
    apparatus (hard & soft powers) to continue to attempt to expand,
    defend, and stabilize the global capitalist system. We are witness less
    to a “U.S.” imperialism per se than to a global capitalist imperialism.
    We face an EMPIRE OF GLOBAL CAPITAL, headquartered, for evident
    historical reasons, in Washington.”
    [Caps added]

    Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, 2014 Robinson, William
    Cambridge University Press.

  • Alan MacDonald

    Great that Bernie has the courage to call–out support for “the Palestinian people with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

    And the real benefit is that if Bernie is the only one courageous enough to
    support the Palestinians — he is also the only one with the brains
    and courage to call-out Emperor Trump as an EMPEROR (similar to Emperor
    Netanyahu) — which means that Bernie will not only ‘expose’ this damn
    Disguised Global Crony Capitalist EMPIRE — but to also be the only new
    democracy party candidate to fire a; loud, public, sustained,
    ‘in-the-streets’, but totally non-violent “SHOUT (not shot) heard round
    the world” in our own ‘citizens of the world’ ignition of a completely
    ANTI-EMPIRE and Global “Revolution Against Empire”, in order to
    peacefully bring about global democracy instead of dying from this effin
    Disguised Global Crony Capitalist EMPIRE! ——— and it has already
    started, “boomers”!

    As Tom said, it’s only “Common Sense” —- and as Pat would have shouted-out in his Rallying Cry, if Tom had
    taken the Paine to edit it, “Give Us Liberty over EMPIRE, or Give Us Death!”

  • Comrade Macdonald.

    It’s not the first time that a nation has merged with that of the corporate world.

    Take a leap back in time to the second world war when – Russia as the grand prize – US corporations were profiting from dealing with the enemy in a myriad of different ways – Germany didn’t exactly have the funds to pay their suppliers in the end the spoils of war were used and Prescott Bush played a role in that and was duly convicted of trading with the enemy and even continued to do so till 1952!

    These times are no different and Russia and all her resources is still regarded as the grand prize – However and here’s the thing – Fascism didn’t end at the Nuremberg trials – and they might as well have been show trials since only a couple hundred of war criminals went through the process – While another lot were allowed to emigrate to the US and even had a hand in setting up what became the most well known insecurity agency. [If interested more about that in ‘From Nazi’s to Neocons’ – 21 Century]

    The recent batch of trade agreements is totally related to the lie based wars of terror,definitely served to merge government and the corporate world.

  • Alan MacDonald

    Nice try, Comrade, but there’s never been anything like this Disguised GLOBAL Crony Capitalist Empire — there are no longer any separate nation-states nonprofit what used to be called ‘countries’.

  • This is not about nice tries comrade Macdonald.

    My point here is that yes it’s always been corrupt – The lie based war of terror has been used to implement the final phase of globalisation.

    The lie based war of terror has been used to rein in all of the WEST or Washington’s Economic Submissive Territories.

    All of whom negotiated their local trade agreements with the US in total secrecy before signing the last remnants of their sovereignty away in what is none other than the final merger of government and the corporate world.

    For example – Consider that If the merger had already been completed – Then there would be absolutely no need to conduct yet more negotiations in total secrecy?

    However they did – They held those negotiations away from public scrutiny behind closed doors for a number of years running – Yet Now at last I’ve noticed how the frightful aspects of those negotiations are being implemented by stealth – privatisations and wars for corporate profits are the order of the day – Political coups are happening all over the place and it ain’t a pretty sight comrade.

    – Camarade, veuillez vous abstenir de voter pour vos propres commentaires – (^^,)

  • Jon

    Good contribution, Southern. Right fascism was not defeated, just the major regimes a the time. it migrated and mutated–went not only to USA (United States), USA (Union of South Africa) and a good many Latin American and East Asian countries.

  • Jon

    Good thoughts, Kelly. However, remember the late sixties attempt to sink the USS Liberty? (“even though the Israelis were schooled to avoid harming foreigners belonging to allied nations.”)

  • Fascism wasn’t defeated – it was already there.

  • I had to refresh my memory on the USS Liberty. Having done so, I’m not sure that I understand where this reference is attempting to lead me. Clarification?

  • Shlomo Orr

    Just to clarify, Although Gutman’s painting aimed at the vacant area, (a) the extended Tel-Aviv was established on the ruins of an Arab (Palestinian) village, Sheik Munis; (b) During the Nakba (or 1948 Independence war) many of Jaffa’s Arab residents escaped, deported, and replaced by immigrants Jews. So, the main theme of this article is correct.

  • Shlomo Orr

    Just to clarify, re Nahum Gutman’s depiction of the settlement which later became Tel Aviv was painted around 1920 (about 30 years before the Nakba). Although Gutman’s painting depicted the sandy hills north of Jaffa (wild/empty area at the time), what became later Tel-Aviv had extended after 1948 on the ruins of an Arab/Palestinian village called Sheik Munis, while during the Nakba (in 1948, or the Independence War) many of Jaffa’s Arab residents escaped, deported, and replaced by immigrants Jews. [so, the main theme of this article is still valid.]

  • Margaret Flowers

    When we were in Jaffa, our guide from Zochrot showed us photos of Jaffa during the time the painting was done and they were not empty hills, there was a dense town there. He said Jaffa was the most important city at that time – a major center of finance and trade. He said the painting was done to make people believe there was nothing there. In the photo you see the same mosque, Mahmoudiya Mosque, https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/798e74ca67db4a2ac1069512291f380b0061fae48759ae97138cb9487a965fcd.jpg in the distance that you see in the painting.

  • kevinzeese

    Typical of the Zionist narrative of ‘vacant areas’ where thousands of people lived. But to Zionists, Palestinians are not people which is why they can steal their land, terrorize them and have been conducting ethnic cleansing since before Israel was created.

  • Margaret Flowers

    I don’t think our guide was confused. He is Palestinian and he seemed very well informed. This is what Zochrot does – they educate people about the reality that has been erased that many people don’t know. I recommend checking Zochrot out.

  • Shlomo Orr

    For some reason, I don’t see my responses here (edited this morning). I would just like to make sure you understand – Zionism more than 100 years ago (when Gutman drew his painting) was very different from Zionism today, although one could argue that
    something was wrong already back then (another conversation). The pioneers in the beginning of the 20’s century settled wherever was possible then, definitely with no power to displace anybody (much like the first European settling on America’s East Coast). This is why Gutman’s painting has nothing to do with what happened 30 years later, and definitely nothing like the current (horrible) situation.

  • Shlomo Orr

    Furthermore, until 1940’s, the Arabs/Palestinians were much stronger (and murderous) than the pioneering Jews, and had killed many innocent people, particularly after the Balfour Declaration (in 1917). The pogroms and killings during these years (including the murder of the genius writer Joseph Haim Brenner and his friends in 1920) are well documented (as Brenner said a close to that time, “They kill the best of us” – ironically true, because, had they not been killed, those “best of us” would have built a completely different society over there). A hint about this era you can find in Kafka’s short story ‘Jackals and Arabs’ (published in 1917, when he contemplated immigration to Palestine). This, of course, does not justify the criminal treatment of Palestinians ever since 1948.