A Palestinian leader challenges J Street over ‘Jewish state’ language in ‘2 state’ bill that perpetuates discrimination

Jafar Farah, the leader of Mossawa Center in Haifa, which demands equal rights for Palestinians inside Israel, is in the U.S. this week. Last Saturday, he called on progressive Congresspeople and the liberal Zionist group J Street to end their support for a new bill that promotes a two-state solution because its repeated description of Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people” undermines Palestinian status.

Such language enables discrimination against Palestinians, Farah said– such as Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to build a university in Nazareth for the last 40 years — and will only prolong conflict.

The legislation to which Farah refers has been promoted by J Street and introduced by Andy Levin of Michigan and co-sponsored by many progressive Democrats, including Jan Schakowsky, Ro Khanna, Earl Blumenauer, Jamie Raskin, Steve Cohen, and Jim McGovern.

Farah’s comments– and his offer to congresspeople and media and liberal Zionists to meet with him in Washington later this week– were a highlight of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee conference in Anaheim on Saturday.

Here is his speech; I have condensed his remarks for clarity.

Jafar Farah:

I came with my wife from Haifa. We still suffer from the effect of last May, with 2500 people arrested by the secret service. My son was one of them. Of course I was investigated. In 2018 I was arrested and my leg was broken in the police station, and we are still fighting against police violence in legal procedures.

We came here and it was not an easy flight for 24 hours with a broken leg but we need you to bring the voice of the Palestinians in an institutional way, like and better than what AIPAC is doing.

The case of my arrest was mentioned in the U.S. human rights reports in 2019. But always in the Lantos committee in the Congress they debate human rights reports of each country– and the only lucky country that nobody talks about human rights violations and the discussion is not mentioned in the Lantos committee in Congress is the case of Israel.

Our struggle is in two directions. One, to protect ourselves, of course.

But the second is a vision to end the occupation and to build a better future for all of us. This is something that for years nobody expected from Palestinians especially inside the Green Line, to be game changers and peace builders. This became clearer to us after the failure of Oslo, that the implementation of the two state solution will have huge impact on us, and in October 2000 and the breakdown of the second intifada– part of the reason why, because Oslo’s implications on us would be a disaster.

We have been one nation and now we are five. No, we are one nation at the end of the day.

But it’s clear today that we will not be the ones to say that we are not interested in the two station solution. It’s Bennett and Netanyahu that is telling everyone in the international community, we don’t want two state solution.

And it’s about time we tell the Jewish people, what you want guys? Let them decide what they want, how they they want to live with us. Because we will not disappear.

You know, some people start to talk about us like we have been there just yesterday. No no no. Tawfiq Zayyad was before us and [writers] Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim and– you know why they were very famous? You know why every Palestinian talks about Mahmoud Darwish and Emile Habibi? Because the daily meeting of us with the Jewish majority challenges us.

Everybody in the Arab region and the Israeli government since 1948 has tried to isolate us. Some people start this whole mood of normalization, and we became the only strangers in the region, that we say, There will be no normalization with the people of the Middle East without ending the nd the tragedy of the Palestinians.

We sit inside Israel and we are telling the Jewish majority every day. You can talk to anybody you want, but at the end of the day. We are the ones to negotiate the future of the region. This we can say in Hebrew and Arabic and English.

So this whole meeting between the leaders of the Palestinian community inside the Green Line and the Jewish majority created everything. When I was the head of the Arab Student Union at the University, usually I used to be arrested every half a year. They used to bring me to the police station in Haifa, and there was a police officer there that used to investigated me. We would talk about everything except the issue I was arrested. Politics, family.

Suddenly last week she wrote me on the messenger, ‘We used to spend many hours together.’

I said, “Who’s that?” I looked at her picture, I understood that the police officer who used to investigate me when I was a student, now she is 70 years old. She wrote me, “Let’s talk.”

That’s the power of us. Even when we are arrested– that’s our power that we can communicate as equals. Even with all the laws that have been discriminating against us since 1948.

The Jewish American community is not our enemy. But the people who are promoting the occupation if they are Jews or Christians, they are our enemy and we have to fight against these people that are implementing occupation over our people and justifying discrimination against our people.

That’s why we are here. We are here to tell our story. We are also here because we want to give you the message. We need you to be much  more effective and active as Arab Americans to build coalitions with progressive communities and we need you to give us the stage.

We want your contacts to the Congress and decision makers, to the media. Use the fact that we from the ground are here, help us to communicate with any progressive organization in any community in the U.S. because we are acting locally but we know that any American decision has an impact on the ground.

We are also unfortunately at the Mossawa Center representing the families that lost their children as a result of police violence. So guys we need you to help with us to outreach to the African American community here that has been struggling against police violence.

When we go to Berlin and Brussels, always Palestinians are very polite but not practical. We need ADC to be strong, we need Arab American organizations to be strong, to be partners for Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street on an equal basis.

That’s very important that when any organization promotes the two state solution act, and there is a resolution in Congress– that even people that think they are progressive, and they promote two state solution, and an end to occupation– they will not include in this resolution in three different paragraphs, Jewish State. Because it will not mean peace for us in ’48.

If there will be two-state solution and Israel will be declared by the U.S. and E.U. a Jwish state, it has implications for us the Palestinians inside ’48. That’s exactly what the Nation State Law [of 2018], a Basic Law which says, Israel is a Jewish state. This uniqueness– I know that there are some friends like Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders, and we met him two years ago, and we told him, this piece of legislation that has been promoted even in the Obama administration on the two state solution– take out the Jewish state. Because it has implications for the Palestinian community.

Its not easy for us to work on this double life. Different groups all over try to tell us, you are Israelis. We are citizens, we are Palestinians, we are Arabs, and we are your partners. Some people think that we have an identity crisis. We don’t have an identity crisis. Because we have the identity of the land.

Send your friends and sons and daughters to come and to know our homeland. Send your students if you teach in universities– to Haifa. Or in the Naqab. Or in Jenin. Or Tulkarem. Send them to know our homeland. To be able to be partners and to know, How to liberate our people and liberate the Jewish people from the occupation and isolation mentality that have been implemented for 70 years.

I always tell Jews in my talks with them, Hey guys you have memories of 3000 years. Next year in Jerusalem, you keep telling yourself. So we are only 70 years and if it will be 80 years or 90 years, we have the right to be one nation and to build a better future. And we can do that without throwing anybody into the sea– but not to be in the desert. It’s not our program. Our program is to build peace based on equality, based on respect, and there is enough space in Palestine for everyone.

It took us almost 40 years to convince the international community to adopt the language of self determination of the Palestinians and to start to talk about a two state solution.

We are not the ones that should give Bennett and Netanyahu the opportunity to say the Palestinians don’t want the two state solution. They are not interested in the two state solution, they are building settlements everywhere.

I tell this member of Congress, let me see if you can implement the self-determination. I will give you two years, three years. Let’s make a timetable.

Since 93, I will tell you a secret, the ones that started to promote the two state solution were the Palestinians inside the Green Line. That’s historical– they started to talk about the two state solution before anybody else, self determination. After Oslo, after 93, we saw the implementation. We saw the results. And in the breakdown of 2000 and the second intifada of 2000 it was a message of the Palestinians inside the Green line that it did not work and it will not work.

Today the only group that has implemented the one state solution are the Palestinians inside the Green Line. You know, when 15 years ago the people in Zababdi came to me to tell me, we will build a university in Zababdi [near Jenin in occupied West Bank]. We couldn’t build a university in Nazareth and we still can’t build a university in Nazareth, a city with a history of 2000 years.

Tawfiq Zayyad giving a fiery speech following the sinking of the Sol Phryne in 1988 (likely by the Jewish Defense League) as it attempted to ferry Palestinian deportees back to their homes. (Photo courtesy of Naila Zayyad)

When you talk about laws– they prevent us from building a university. In ’81 Tawfiq Zayyad asked the Israeli government as the mayor of Nazareth to build a university. And till now we can’t.

But in Jenin [Zababdi] there is a new university and 10,000 students– 5000 of them Palestinians inside from Israel. We actually practice the one state solution more than the settlers.

But I ask you as a Palestinian: Let Netanyahu and Bennett come to everybody in the international community and let them take responsibility for the failure of the international commitment. That’s a very important message — because it’s always you the Palestinians don’t want the two state solution. It’s not us. The international community is looking for reasons not to take responsibility to end the occupation. They can pay to have the occupation. Destroy Gaza– and we rebuild Gaza. Destroy Gaza– and we rebuild Gaza.

Until when we will play this with them?

We should hold the international community responsible for self determination and ending the occupation and two state solution. And let them come back to us and say the Israelis don’t want it.

Let them take responsibility. Don’t give them the exit please. Let’s be smarter than them. Hold them responsible for the failure of the two state solution.

[Amani Barakat of Al-Awda asked Farah how he could justify partnering with J Street, because it opposes BDS.]

I refer to progressive forces. I think it’s very important to look for progressive voices.

Part of our challenge is to talk to J Street and tell J Street, We saw the piece of legislation that was being promoted by J Street and members of Congress. We said, three places– “the Jewish state.” It undermines the status of Palestinians, and it’s not accepted by us. And this dialogue very  important to raise it with any organization that is active here. There is a dialogue we can do with different actors. But to expect that J Street will replace ADC– we don’t expect that.

It’s first our responsibility to build our institutions and to come as partners to any other organization in equal basis and to put our language on this cooperation with any organization. Our dialogue when it comes to even organizations like J Street, when they promote peace, they have to understand that peace with “Jewish state” is not something that we will accept it. It’s very important with any dialogue with any actor including media media that we put our language and to say what is our limits when we talk about what it means to be progressive.

Our voice is not heard enough and it’s not organized enough. When I look at JVP and ADC and J Street and AIPAC too I think we need to do much more. Because we are too weak when it comes to decisionmaking in the U.S.

We are open to debate our future and to put our truth on the table with anybody that wants to listen.

So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

Mondoweiss covers the full picture of the struggle for justice in Palestine, a stark contrast to the propaganda that passes for news in mainstream and legacy media.

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