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Hawida Araf
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Howard Davidson
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Daniel Thau Eleff, Howard Davidson
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Hawida Araf says Palestinian Right of Return is Inalienable-- No To Jewish State

Report and Comment by Rhonda Spivak, March 16, 2011

About 35 people, including a handful of supporters of Israel and two University of Manitoba staff attended the talk at the U of M given by Hawida Araf, an organizer of the now infamous “Flotilla to Gaza” last May, and a co- founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Araf, a Palestinian with Israeli and American citizenship was the keynote speaker for Israel Apartheid Week. She also spoke at the University of Winnipeg where she drew a crowd of  80 supporters.
Like every other IAW speaker I have heard, her opening presentation at the  U of M  criticized Israel  in depth, and at length. However, Araf, who is an able communicator, did not in her opening presentations spell out what  it is that she wants  to see happen in the area that is  currently Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. This wasn’t surprising to me, because I have rarely seen an IAW supporter outline their proposed solution in their opening remarks.
Why is this the case? Is it because supporters of a one state solution (which means the destruction of Israel as a state in the region) want to be able to attract less radical students who may support a two state solution, and as such the IAW presenters try to appear to be more moderate?
Araf is married to Adam Shapiro, who became famous for visiting Yassar Arafat in his Mukatta(government palace) in Ramallah, which was besieged in March 2002 by the IDF. Shapiro has said he doesn’t regard himself as Jewish. 
I asked Araf, what if Israel agreed to go back to the 1967 borders, giving Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as their capital, but   Palestinian refugees and their descendents (which number 7 million approximately) could not return to Israel. Rather, they could  return to the new Palestinian state. Would she accept that? In other words, would she accept the most favourable two state solution possible?
Her answer at first was that “I don’t care if it’s two states or one state or no states,” but then she contradicted that and got to the nub of the issue. She said that “A Jewish state and a Palestinian state does not guarantee the right of return for all the Palestinian refugees. The right of return is an inalienable right…” She further clarified that the right of return is an “ individual right,” and “even if I was willing to give it up I could not speak on behalf of others.”
In other words, it became clear that she is advancing the proposition that each family of Palestinian refugees and their descendents (totaling 7 million people) could decide what they wanted to do, meaning that Israel could be over-run by Palestinians such that there would be no state in the region with a majority of Jews in it (the destruction of Israel).
Araf said she could “not accept” having a Jewish state “forever”. She said that that would mean having “a Jewish majority.” She couldn’t accept a Jewish state as that state [Israel] would always want to take steps to ensure its “Jewish majority.”
She said, “I want a one secular state” and in conversation after the event she said that “most of the Palestinians” she knows think the same way. That rings true to me as in virtually all of the interviews I have done with Palestinians in the last several years, they have all said “one state.”
I tried to explain that Israeli Jews would always want one place in the world where they were not a minority—where they had self-determination, where they had the ability to allow in Jewish people from around the world who wanted to live there, either to express themselves as Jews (and celebrate their holidays as national holidays etc) or to escape anti-Semitism or persecution. But this is not something Araf can accept.  She does not see a state in the region with a Jewish majority that could preserve itself. Her stance is rejectionist and advances maximalist claims. She wants 62 years of the clock or more turned back. At one point he said
“Israel was imposed there [as a state]. I can’t accept that ”[emphasis added].
To her, Jews are foreigners who never had a right to a state in the first place.
She said that she believes in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions strategy because Israelis will begin to see how they are treated as pariahs, and she wanted the Israeli Left “‘to rise up.” Unfortunately, I told her that I thought rejection of the two state solution will only further decimate the Israeli Left. I don’t think it is very likely that the Israeli Left is going to fill Rabin square in Tel-Aviv demanding the right of return for Palestinians and their descendents to their 1948 homes and villages.
After speaking to Araf I emerge more pessimistic than ever. She is someone that says “I do not support Fatah or Hamas,” but the gulf between her position and one that Israelis could ever accept seems unbridgeable.
Araf says that the she and the ISM are preparing another flotilla that will be much bigger which will sail to Gaza in May 2011 . She hopes there “will be a boat of Canadians.” I wonder what Israel will do—will it try to stop this next flotilla or let it through? Neither option is terribly appealing.  I can’t figure out how Israel will insure that no weapons are being smuggled into Gaza, without checking the boats?
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre  in Israel has just completed a study on the ISM which mentions Araf ,has some valuable background information on the ISM. It indicates that the ISM indirectly supports terrorism.
The last flotilla which Araf organized, which was led by pro-Hamas Turkish IHH ended in violent confrontation between IHH operatives and IDF soldiers.
Araf was not on the boat the IDF landed on, but on a smaller boat. She maintained that as “someone who was part of the inner steering committee” we “were firm that we can’t respond violently.” However, she did say “we wanted to defend our boats, by “slicking the decks.” She also said the IHH were “firmly against anything remotely violent.”
But does this stand up to scrutiny given the footage showing the IHH supporters clubbing the IDF soldiers who stormed the ship? Araf said that the people on the Mavi Marmara “say there were shots from a helicopter first” and “I can’t blame the people for attacking” the IDF soldiers. She also spoke about there being kitchen knives and axes on the boats as required equipment.
At the end of our discussion after the event, I told Araf that if she gets to Gaza again by sea, maybe she could do one thing that I think would ultimately accomplish more than anything else for the people of Gaza –bring Gilad Shalit home.
There were about 15 people at the opening session of IAW, with many empty chairs, (although a CTV camera was there filming). Of those present, 2-3 were University Of Manitoba staff there to monitor the event, including Jackie Gruber, the Human Rights and Equality Advisor. Brian Letour, a student organizer of IAW was included in the 15 people as was Alan Yusim, Director Mid West Region for Bnai Brith.
Since the turnout was very poor I would say that IAW at U of M started out with a whimper, not a bang.
Daniel Eleff Thau and Howard Davidson, whose session was entitled Israel Apartheid “101” made their presentations outlining how in their view Israel is an apartheid state.
[As an aside, the day they spoke the military in Saudia Arabia was entering Bahrain to help prop up the regime there, which protesters termed as an “occupation” of their country.]
Neither Eleff Thau nor Davidson in their opening presentations said whether they supported a two state solution or a one state solution, or something else.
After the session was over, I asked Howard Davidson what his preferred vision was for the future of   Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. He first answered that he was not in favour of “nation states.”
After Davidson told me he did not believe in “ nation states,” I asked him to clarify further what he meant, and then he said he supports a “one state solution” that would be “a socialist democratic state” where “Arab and Jewish workers” would unite  (presumably against the capitalist rulers). O.K.  That’s his opinion. He believes in stripping the Jewish people of their right to self determination. I disagree with it but at least I know where he is trying to go with all of this.
If he had said this in his opening presentation, at least others would be able to consider the questions that arise from his opinion, such as : is it realistic or delusional to think that Israel will ever negotiate its own suicide and agree to a one state solution? If not, then how will this solution be arrived at ? After a war in  which Israel is the loser?
Another curious aspect of Davidson’s speech was that he spent a significant amount of time complaining about David Matas, Senior Counsel for B’na Brith Canada who takes the position that IAW ought not to be allowed at all on University. Yet this is not a position the Universities have adopted, and Matas was not there. Why focus on Matas rather than put forth the “ solution” Davidson advocates?
In the question period (when he wasn’t reading from prepared notes), Davidson spoke about the issue of boycotting Israeli academic institutions which he favours. He told the audience that Bar Ilan University was in the West Bank. When I challenged him on that point, saying it was not in the West Bank (it in fact is in Ramat Gan, near Tel-Aviv) and suggested maybe he was thinking of Ariel University (which is in the West Bank), he didn’t concede the point.
Maybe in the Israeli Apartheid "100" class Bar Ilan University isn't in the West Bank.  
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.