A panel on binationalism in Israel and Palestine prompted lively discussion Monday evening and ultimately ended on a hopeful note. The panel, titled “Theory, Art and Action: Jewish and Palestinian voices toward binationalism,” featured American-Israeli artist Udi Aloni, English professor Hilton Obenzinger Ph.D. ’97 and Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) visiting scholar Miriam Abu Sharkh.
The discussion was moderated by Omar Shakir ’07, J.D. ’13, co-president of Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER).
Shakir stressed the relevance of the panel to recent developments in the region, including the Arab Spring and Palestine’s bid to be admitted as a member state to the United Nations.
“Especially now with the increasing breakdown of the peace process… There’s been a lot of dialogue… but what’s really missing is, ‘What is the role of nationalism?’” Shakir said. “What are the Jewish and the Palestinian national perspectives that go into informing a binational state?”
Aloni kicked off the panel, voicing his reasons for exploring questions of Jewish identity in his most recent book, “What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters,” published in September of this year.
Aloni emphasized the inseparability of theory, art and action in advocating for change. He moved from the discussion of the framework of change to specifically address the question of a binational state in the “place called” Israel and the “place called” Palestine.
“The issue is that language is very tricky,” he said. “Each one of us creates this politically correct stuff. Two-state solution has become the language of how you keep apartheid forever… The apartheid is that the Palestinian cannot be a Palestinian in Israel.”
“I want to learn how to become a Palestinian Jew… to learn the possibility of how to be a brother, not to be an other,” he added, deeming the use of the word “other” as language of separation.
Binationalism, he held, will come only with this understanding.
“Only when the Palestinian is ready to say, ‘I’m home, I’m ready’ – to say ‘I’m home in this land,’” he said. “Until then, I am in exile.”
Abu Sharkh followed Aloni’s talk and presented a personal story of Gaza, referencing her experience growing up there as the daughter of a Palestinian refugee. Her father was trapped in Gaza as a result of the 2006 blockade.
“The issue is Palestinians not being at home in their own home,” Abu Sharkh said. “Gaza is a strange strip in the modern world. Not part of any nation. Not occupied, yet not free.”
Obenzinger spoke last, mentioning a campaign in the West Bank modeled after the American civil rights movement’s Freedom Riders.
“I began to understand the connection between the experience in the U.S. as a settler society and then as a segregated society, and that that there were parallels in terms of Israel’s development,” Obenzinger said.
Obenzinger also criticized the limited scope of debate on Israeli policies.
“If you’re Jewish, you’ll be accused of being a self-hating Jew,” he said. “If you’re not Jewish, you’re anti-Semitic. We’ve got to get way past that and start talking about what’s going on.”
“I don’t feel very doctrinaire about how this is going to turn out. What I do feel strongly about is that people have a right to live and a right to be who they are,” he added.
Members of the audience posed questions to the panel on issues ranging from how a binational solution might be more effective than a two-state approach to the preservation of a Jewish state, the idealism of a binational approach and avenues of action. Attendees broke up into smaller discussions, raising issues such as practicality of the binational solution, the language of critique and historical causality.
Many said they appreciated the opportunity to consider a novel approach to the situation.
“You don’t often hear the binational perspective, since it has been historically marginalized since 1948,” said Rachel Antonsen ’12. “I thought it was cool that it was being examined through art.”
The panel was co-sponsored by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, the Department of Comparative literature, the Program in Modern Thought and Literature and the Department of History and the Division of International Comparative and Area Studies.