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The One-State Condition: Guided Imagination

Imagine a Middle Eastern democracy not based on negation of the Middle East; one which embraces the Mizrahi Jew, woman and the Arab, the Muslim and the Christian, granting Judaism a truly safe haven, a living space in which the memory of annihilation does not become a concrete, imminent threat.

An excerpt from The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine.

By Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir

Imagine a state whose residents have learned to speak to one another in civilian. Imagine a regime which does not classify populations according to ethnicity, religion, and nationality. Imagine a regime that has neutralized the lethal meaning of categories such as “refugees,” “stateless,” “illegal aliens,” “migrant (or foreign) workers,” and strives to uproot them from its political lexicon. Imagine a regime which regards the speedy naturalization of people whose bodies were nailed by such categories as a condition for preservation of the political sphere and a key to its existence as a space shared by and open to all governed subjects. Imagine a state where male and female “citizens” do not regard their citizenship as a mere resource and a privilege granted them by the regime which acknowledges them as such, so that they may defend themselves from the long arms of the government. Imagine a state whose inhabitants regard citizenship as a form of belonging and partnership, and as a resource which may spawn a decent as well as meaningful coexistence whose outlines are being constantly redrawn.

In order to envision such a regime, one must overcome three major characteristics typical of the heritage of modern democracy: the conception of the state as a closed, given entity which dictates the boundaries of the political system and sustains relations with similarly closed entities in the international arena; a national-political sovereignty judged by its military might and compelled to produce military force and use it from time to time to ensure its survival; the generation and maintenance of “a backyard” for anyone whose citizenship is denied or flawed, a backyard in which various excluded and disempowered populations are governed via warped ad hoc solutions for differential management of the population, and incitement of these differentiated group against one another. Once this heritage is discarded, one may imagine the state as a given product for changing relationships and struggles, rather than as their a priori frame. One may also acknowledge the necessity of the use of force and the regime’s obligation to regulate this use without introducing sovereignty as a possible purpose of military force. In short, imagine a regime that adopts the rudiments of Arendt’s philosophy, and in every sense belongs to all the governed, operating for and never against them; a regime whose organizing principle for the existence of the political space is a concern for the common universe of all the governed. Imagine a regime where the foremost question is: Who are all the governed? Who are those entitled to benefit from the government and liable to be hurt by it; a regime where the answer to this question is never presumed a priori, but rather examined each time anew, and continuously.

In such a regime, nationality is distinguished from the state, as religion was, in a manner which prevents nationality from corrupting or from becoming a power-minded instrument, an engine for nonredeemable acts of state. In such a regime, nationality serves as a resource and as a space for moral, civilian human culture. It furnishes interested individuals with a depth of heritage and tradition, and a basis for family relations, yet ones which do not force themselves, nor form a pillory for human ties and a muzzle for the political imagination. Imagine a regime which enables religions to flourish and different nationalities to thrive for anyone desiring them; a regime which sponsors and safeguards all forms of partial partnerships and all human groupings within its bounds as long as they do not threaten the universal co-existence of all which it promotes. In such a regime the authorities grant equal treatment, on principle, to all religions and nationalities, to all classes and associations, as long as they do not demand a monopoly for themselves over the shared state apparatuses entrusted with guaranteeing plurality. Imagine a situation in which civilian solidarity restrains the market forces, not only the forces of nationalism and fundamentalism, and grants the impoverished and disempowered a safety net which guarantees their dignified existence and provides them with opportunities to deliver themselves from the inferior position to which they have chanced. Imagine a state in which people are not poor, nor abandoned, and are not crime-prone due to their ethnic origin or the locality from which they hail, but only due to circumstances which even the state’s fair support cannot prevent.

Imagine a state in which individuals other than white males no longer have to fight for their status, and their achievements in the struggle for equality are no longer questioned or denied them repeatedly. Imagine a regime in which the injustices inflicted upon these individuals in the course of history have been uprooted from the common sphere, and are now placed in showcases as museum exhibits for perusal and study. Imagine a state in which the school curricula are written by the previously oppressed, and the past is retold and re-classified according to the urgency in providing a voice to those silenced before. Imagine a place in which people rediscover their shared past in order to imagine a future for themselves which will disallow the return to the regime that had rendered them enemies.

Imagine a Middle Eastern democracy not based on negation of the Middle East; one which embraces the Mizrahi Jew, woman and the Arab, the Muslim and the Christian, granting Judaism a truly safe haven, without nuclear weapons and nationalistic aggression, chemical warheads and mobilization orders, a living space in which the memory of annihilation does not become a concrete, imminent threat. Imagine a regime which seeks partners to its own disarmament, and is determined to spread the message that military force between enemies is a recipe for disaster, whereas disarmament among partners is a recipe for political and cultural prosperity. Imagine a regime in which the equal partnership in government is a common denominator dictating the manner in which all other differences are preserved and respected. Imagine a regime which works to guarantee its subjects’ worthy subsistence and leisure so that they may participate in and shape public life; a regime that feels threatened when the governed become alienated to their partnership in government and do not take part in the decisions pertaining to their coexistence and the regime’s future. Imagine a regime whose citizens do not regard state power only as a necessary evil, but also, always, as a medium ensuring life, partnership, creation, and an uncompromising struggle against the forces of evil.

Ariella Azoulay is a lecturer at Brown University, a curator and a documentary filmmaker. Adi Ophir teaches Philosophy and Political Theory at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, and is the Director of Research at the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University. The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine (Stanford University Press) will be out later this month.

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    1. Kolumn9

      Imagine a state where unicorns, hobbits, zombies, vampires and Michael Jackson live together in peace and harmony on a cloud in the skies of the planet Mars.

      First start by imagining such a liberal democratic state in the Middle East outside of the context of Israel and then explain why it doesn’t exist. That might go a long way in explaining why you will be imagining this fairyland of yours for a long time. At some point you can come back to earth and propose something that might actually work.

      You sound like Lebanese Maronite liberals circa 1965 who too imagined utopia and found hell or exile.

      Reply to Comment
      • daniel


        Reply to Comment
      • Michael Karadjis

        Imagine any sane person referring to a racist, terroristic, apartheid regime like the one in Tel Aviv as “liberal democratic”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Imagine a sane person visiting Tel Aviv not calling it liberal democratic.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      Imagine civil war.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Philos

      Not in our lifetimes… We’d need aliens to show up to debunk religion or for God to show up and tell us which one was right. Although, keep on dreaming 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron Gross

      I think it’s almost obscene to invoke Hannah Arendt’s name here. She definitely would have endorsed some of the things here – she’d certainly agree on the anti-sovereignty aspect and the separation of state and nationality. But some of the things we’re told here to imagine, in that patronizing imperative voice, go totally against Arendt’s political views.

      Arendt believed of course that equality was essential in the political sphere, but she was strongly against imposing equality in the social sphere. To write stuff like “no longer have to fight for their status, and their achievements in the struggle for [social] equality…” and to invoke Arendt’s name, is an insult to a great political theorist.

      Similarly with your imagined intrusion on the private sphere: “a state in which the school curricula are written by the previously oppressed, and the past is retold and re-classified….” Arendt hated the Jacobin idea of education as political indoctrination. For her, education is firmly in the private sphere, and children are protected from the political. They are taught the world as it is, not as it should be. If you’ve got an ideology to sell, you persuade adults in the political realm; you don’t indoctrinate their children.

      Maybe your article wasn’t all meant as “Arendt’s philosophy”; it’s not clear taken out of context. But Arendt was the only name mentioned here, and even if you’re not trying to pin it all on her, it’s instructive to note how absolutely contrary much of this is to her political theory.

      Reply to Comment
    5. The Trespasser

      Such a pity that authors haven’t heard about Sir Thomans More’s Uthopia.

      Lack of academic education is it?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Noam W.

      John Lennon wrote it before, and with rhymes.
      Can we land back on earth now?

      Reply to Comment
    7. An idea may be said not for now but for later. One State is at present no solution but projected outcome, based on the present policy of the Israeli government. Upon such outcome, a solution will have to be made.

      To those who say do not imagine, I say look at the progress of the world, based on so many, often near isolate, who refused your order to stop thinking.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Niz

      I only wish that the wall remains as it is. I would also wish for some form of economic integration in the region, of which Israel is left behind. Then, the walls are inverted, and the Israelis can taste some of their own medicine. This would be only just and ironic, and it would be a lesson for centuries. Keep up the good work guys and keep building this wall. No body will be trapped except you…this is the course of history, it’s ironic in a hegelian fashion.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Regional economic integration. Hahahahahahaha.

        Reply to Comment
      • Shaun

        Funny how justice for Palestine is now confused with revenge. Or is this done on purpose?

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        You are bound to stay yet another disappointed judophobe.

        Marvelous company.

        Reply to Comment
    9. If you liked this article, you will also like No More Enemies, which is being serialized now as a blog on Jewish Current online (in their “Blog-Shmog” section). Check it out! No More Enemies…

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Are you seriously expecting brain undamaged people to pay $15 for… what? 1/2 of paper?

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          1/2 pounds of paper of course.

          Reply to Comment
    10. Anass

      I’m arab, and I could imagine a baasist regime with an arab-jewish minority, I could imagine an islamic state with jewish dhimmis.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Nino Pagliccia

      I don’t know where I would catalogue this book; under fiction or science fiction. It is good to imagine an ideal world but the assumptions have to be realistic. I ask myself the basic question: Will the Zionists accept those assumptions? No, based on history.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Laurent Szyster

      George Orwell – “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

      Reply to Comment
    13. Daniel Asheyec

      Ok, let me get this right – all we have to do is imagine a state radically different in every way than any state in the history of the world, superimpose it on a bitter ethnic conflict, and all will be well?

      Reply to Comment
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