Equal Justice for Every Human Being by Israel Shahak

Equal Justice for Every Human Being

written by

Israel Shahak


Arabs and Jews: Possibility of Concord

Published by the
Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc.
North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, January 1974
Information Papers No. 11

I want to argue a thesis which may appear most paradoxical and improbable: that it is possible to establish a lasting concord between Jews and Palestinians, between the Jewish community and Arab communities of the Middle East. And I am convinced that the way to establish such a concord is really quite simple. I believe that the principle of equal justice for every human being, if taken seriously and not merely declaimed, can form the basis of such a concord.

I must distinguish between a slogan and a principle. A slogan is shouted at demonstrations, or perhaps is repeated to journalists, but it is not adopted as a doctrine. People who have shouted slogans return home and act in many ways contrary to what they shouted. They never criticize their friends and allies, their leaders, or themselves in the name of the slogan they shouted, but only their enemies. A principle is different. People reform their own lives and their traditional opinions in support of a certain principle; they argue with their friends about it; in short, they are true to it. At present, only very small minority groups in the Middle East believe in equal justice for every human being as a principle.

Therefore, my first task is one of ruthless criticism. A principle, if it is a principle and not a slogan, must serve as a yardstick for everyone's behavior, and for the behavior of friends and potential friends first of all. I see such criticism as my most important duty; and only after such criticism does a lasting concord based on agreement to a commonly held principle become possible and, indeed, probable.

However, in criticizing, I do not pretend to be "symmetrical." I distinguish very sharply indeed between the conqueror and the conquered, between the power that denies freedom, and the people who struggle for freedom. And because I am not "symmetrical," I am going to be ruthless in criticizing both sides. Those who want to abolish oppression must adopt the way of principle; experience has shown that with muddled thinking nothing can be achieved. I want to examine three particular problems in light of the principle of equal justice for every human being: the problem of terror, the problem of conditions for any "political solution," and the problem of possible allies of any movement that believes in this principle.

When speaking of "terror" I am referring to any indiscriminate act of power, on behalf of a state, a group, or a movement, which causes death to civilians. It does not matter whether the act is carried out by people in or out of uniform. I am quite conscious, as an Israeli citizen, that the Israeli government is responsible for the greater part of deaths caused by terror in the Middle East. I condemn such acts of terror--for example, the Beirut raids of April, 1973--as war crimes, and it is my hope that those responsible will yet be brought to trial as war criminals. Not in the interest of any "symmetry," but in the interest of honesty and truth, I condemn also, on the same terms, any and every act of indiscriminate terror carried out by Palestinian organizations.

When Israeli forces have committed an act of terror against a Palestinian or an Arab population, the usual excuse has been that "Arabs understand only the language of force." But no group of human beings submits for a long time to force. The bombing of London by the Nazis and the bombing of the Vietnamese by the United States are only two cases in which the use of indiscriminate terror has only hardened the will of the population to resist, has only united the people behind the government. And the same is true for the other side. To suppose that bombs in the cinemas of Israel will persuade Jews not to support the oppression of Palestinians is absurd. Any movement which accepts the principle of equal justice for every human being, which looks on the people of the Middle East, whoever they may be, as human beings, must dissociate itself completely from acts of indiscriminate terror, and must support instead the common political struggle of Jews and Arabs alike on behalf of this principle.

The second problem concerns the conditions for a political solution. All parties involved spend much effort advocating various "solutions," various "states," present or future, and little if any effort deciding what the lot of human beings in such states is or will be. This is, for me, the most important question; and I will examine both the existing and the proposed structures in the light of my principle. Any state or states which are just, and which will lead to a lasting concord, must belong only to their citizens, with no restrictions placed on any race, religion, or nationality. On that principle I condemn the whole idea of the so-called Jewish state as unjust, as leading necessarily to subjection, oppression, and unlimited war. I especially condemn the infamous Law of Return, which, with other similar laws, causes the greatest discord between Jews and Palestinians. As long as such unjust and inhuman laws exist--as long as a Palestinian born, let us say, in Haifa is prohibited from returning to his home town, while a recently converted Mexican Jew is readily admitted to that city--there is, in my opinion, no possibility for a just and lasting solution.

But I must add that I am not fighting to replace one injustice with another. I oppose the Law of Return. And, by the same token, I oppose the notorious Paragraph Six of the 1968 Palestinian Covenant, which states that only Jews who arrived in Palestine "before the beginning of the Zionist aggression" will be offered Palestinian citizenship. Just as I am against a "Jewish state," I am against an Arab state as well. Any movement committed to equal justice for all human beings must repudiate this paragraph, just as it must repudiate the Law of Return and similar laws. And I tell you that in Jerusalem and Nazareth, in Tel Aviv and Haifa, there do exist various groups, integrated groups of Palestinians and Jews who, however they differ in ideology, apply the same standards of justice to every human being, and that these groups oppose both the Law of Return of the state of Israel and Paragraph Six of the 1968 Palestinian Covenant. I differ from them in many points, but I do not differ in this: I can entertain many possible political solutions, and I can and will take my place in any common struggle, but the struggle must be common in humanity, common in principle, common in equality. Only such a way is possible.

The last problem I want to discuss is the problem of possible allies of any movement based on the principle of equal justice for every human being. One thing must be made clear: principles are not to be given up for the sake of any alliance, no matter how profitable that alliance may be in terms of money or other material help. The experience of the Jewish community has shown time and again that any alliance with Zionists, any tolerance of racism, leads straight to disaster, and the "profits," in terms of long-range objectives, turn out to be imaginary. A Zionist party cannot be part of a positive movement; a kibbutz has to be criticized for the anti-Arab, racist organization that it is; and those who support the Israeli government support all the crimes of Dayan.

I trust that it is axiomatic in this forum that women are human beings, entitled to equal justice. Every movement which believes in this as a principle, and not as a slogan, should act on it. Declarations like that of President Kaddafi about the "biological inequality of women" should not be overlooked. Moreover, any movement devoted to human rights for men and women must fight for women's rights as an inherent part of its struggle. Women must participate fully in demonstrations, in elections, in all activities. In short, no consideration of money or other help should prevent any movement based on this principle from fighting for equal rights for women, or from resolutely and openly opposing all those who deny this principle.

Another factor that sometimes leads to the pardoning of unworthy allies is to rely on the past, and to entertain foolish ideas of bringing back some imaginary "golden era." The principle of equal justice for all human beings is not found in the Jewish past; nor is it found in the Arab past. The roots of this principle do not go further back than the American and the French revolutions. I am devoted to many aspects of the Jewish past and culture, but political theory is not one of them. King David and King Solomon may have been poets and prophets, but they were also tyrants; and all who idealize them politically are dangerous as political allies. I admire many aspects of the Arab heritage, but I do not accept the rule of Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, or that of any other caliph, as a model to be followed. We all are the children of modern times; our beginnings are in "liberty, equality, fraternity ," and "government of the people, for the people, and by the people." Allies who are devoted exclusively to the past are dangerous and must be repudiated.

Many other problems can be discussed in the light of this principle, but I think that the way I propose has been made clear. It is a hard way, one that demands that we all--Jews, Palestinians, Israelis, and Arabs--fight against the mores of our own societies and our own peoples, and that we carry out this fight first of all in our own minds and in our own hearts. I think that this way, which perhaps seems to you long, will turn out to be long but short. Let me conclude by telling you my favorite Talmudic story. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Hananya used to tell how once, as he was walking on his way, he came to a crossroad where a small boy was sitting. He asked the boy, "Which is the best way to town?" The boy answered, "One way is short but long, and the other is long but short." The rabbi took the short but long way and found that close to the town the road got lost among the orchards. He returned and rebuked the boy, but the boy answered, "Did I not tell you that that way is short but long? You should have taken the long but short way!" And, indeed, when the rabbi took this advice, he arrived safely in town.

I offer you the advice of this small boy. The way of the principle of equal justice for every human being, of being true to it in all its consequences, may be the hard way, may be the long way, but it is the long but short way and will lead us to our common aim: to lasting concord between Palestinians and Jews, to lasting cooperation between the Jewish community and the Arabs in the Middle East.

Israel Shahak

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