Sunday, May 23, 2004

Introducing Israel to Democracy

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

A question that keeps popping up in my conversations with Americans and Jews is: What is your stand on Israel? Do you believe in its existence? Do you advocate the return of the four million Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes in the last fifty years? Do you support the two-state solution?
The last conversation I had regarding these issues was with a rabbi. We were in Athens a week ago attending an international conference to improve dialogue between the world religions and civilizations. I told him I liked his speech about how even if we can’t love our neighbors we should at least pretend that we do.
It was inevitable he would ask me the “usual” questions and I answered as usual: Yes, Yes and no.
Yes to Israel’s existence. I might not love it, but in normal circumstances, I will deal with my neighbors as if I loved them, just like you preached this morning. How do I define those circumstances?
In short: Just and comprehensive settlement to our differences, according to international laws and mutual agreements.
And yes, I advocate the return of Arab refugees to their homes. If twelve million Jews can claim the right of return to lands they left four thousands years ago, it makes more sense for four million Palestinians to claim the same right to homes and farms that still exist, land they left over the last five decades.
But no, I don’t support the two-state solution. The place is too small and integrated to be sliced into two entities. Instead, I would call for a united, democratic and secular country.
It shouldn’t be Jewish, Muslim or Christian, but a multi-cultural state, where all are given equal rights and responsibility — just like the United States of America.
In fact, I would choose the American Constitution, as is, for the new state, where democracy rules, there’s freedom for everyone, the law is above all, and secularism is sacred.
My new friend didn’t like my answers. He said Israel must stay a Jewish nation, where Jews are the only citizens who enjoy all its benefits and rights. The others, Christians and Muslims, shouldn’t have equal rights, and must be under different regulations.
No returnees should be accepted because this will fatally change the demography of the state and end the Jewish dreamland.
We agreed to disagree but decided to keep in touch. Maybe one day we can reach more agreement on these issues. In the meanwhile, I would like to put my idea to a referendum.
Just imagine: No more peace negotiations; no more give and take; no more walls and fights. All it takes is for Israel to adopt the American Constitution and we all live happy ever after. Who says: Yes?

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