The Arty Semite

Filming the One-State Solution

By Mira Sucharov

  • Print
  • Share Share

With the two-state solution increasingly invoked as either tragically out of reach or altogether unjust, a new film seeks to examine another possibility for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the one-state solution.

More in the tradition of didactic documentary films than storytelling ones, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon’s “A People Without a Land,” which recently premiered at the Manhattan Film Festival, winning a “Film Heals” award, features the most prominent voices of the one-state movement. There’s Ali Abunimah, founder of The Electronic Intifada, Omar Barghouti, an organizer of the BDS movement, and anti-Zionist activist Jeff Halper. There’s also Neta Golan, a trilingual Israeli-Jewish Ramallah-based activist for Palestinian solidarity, and Eitan Bronstein, director of Zochrot, an Israeli NGO that seeks to raise awareness of the Nakba. Rabbi Asher Lopatin, a U.S.-based Orthodox rabbi, provides a slightly different twist on the one-state idea, and Saeb Erakat and Hanan Ashrawi make brief appearances.

Perhaps most importantly, the film admits modesty in its aims, something that is both its strength and its weakness. Through the words of the interviewees, the film stresses the desirability — rather than practicability — of the one-state option. “First tell me whether it’s a good idea,” one of the interviewees suggests, “then we’ll talk about what is possible.” A more ambitious project might have attempted to tackle the equally pressing question of whether and how the one-state option could be brought to fruition given the historical propensity for the two-state option on each side. And despite recent polling revealing that the two-state solution is losing adherents, the one-state solution is even less appealing (with only 10% of Palestinians favoring it).

The film presents the case for the one-state idea as three-fold: : First, the occupation of the West Bank is morally corrupt; second, Palestinian citizens of Israel are second-class citizens; and third, if Israel wants to call itself a democracy, it cannot deny Palestinian refugee return.

On the point about the ills of occupation, two-staters are in agreement, so the argument rests on the other two points.

We know that casual racism is prevalent in Israel, and that there is regrettable inequality when it comes to funding for Jewish schools and municipalities versus Arab ones. But these are issues that can be remedied within the two-state model as well. If Palestinian citizens are fundamentally treated as second-class citizens in a way that cannot be reconciled with Israel’s core identity, we need to be shown how and where.

Second, the film attempts to paint a picture of basic injustice between the Israeli “law of return” for Jews, and Israel’s denial of the Palestinian refugee “right of return.” But countries are allowed to set their own immigration policies and still be considered democratic. The question lies with what obligation Israel has to admit these millions of refugees. On this, a wider discussion with refugee experts beyond the Israeli-Palestinian dispute might have helped provide context. We know, for instance, that the UN resolution demanding refugee return “at the earliest practicable date” was issued by the General Assembly, not the Security Council; hence it is non-binding.

As to whether a one-state solution would result in a bloodbath after all these decades of conflict, the film lets the viewer decide. Abunimah — more soft-spoken than his blogosphere persona would suggest — stresses that Jews, especially those who are persecuted for being Jews, should be able to immigrate freely. And Barghouti attempts to assure viewers that revenge is not on the agenda. Arnon Soffer, an Israeli geographer, is disdainfully doubtful.

Perhaps most important is the question of culture and politics. It’s one thing to say that the one-state should be “secular and democratic,” as these advocates suggest. Indeed, among the pragmatic international set, no one wants a theocracy. But what about the preservation of the Hebrew language, and the symbols and tropes of Jewish-Israeli cultural life? The predominant music used in the film is eerily in Yiddish, making me wonder whether would this be a post-Hebraic state, a harkening back to European cultural life in an attempt to erase Zionism from the cultural imagination. Jeff Halper says he indeed would want to see Israeli culture maintained: the Hebrew University should stay, he says.

Watching the film with an open mind, one might be convinced that the time has come to think more broadly. The lack of progress on the two-state agenda — capped by the current war-torn landscape of Israel and Palestine — should give anyone pause. And perhaps the solution will lie in a one-state arrangement, after all. But if it shall be, it must rest on the realization that not only do Jewish individuals populate the land, but that the State of Israel represents a deep and meaningful experiment in collective Jewish national belonging.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Film, A People Without Land, Documentaries, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.