By Omar Aziz
Palestine Deep Dive continues its UK event series, opening up space for Palestinians to be heard articulating their own discourse, this time hosting esteemed Palestinian author Dr. Ghada Karmi to celebrate the launch of her latest book with Pluto Press, One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel.
In April, PDD hosted Mohammed El-Kurd to explore the pressing need for a media landscape that no longer marginalizes and excludes Palestinians, but centers their voices, experiences, and agency,
This time Mark Seddon speaks with Ghada Karmi at the Frontline Club to learn more about her vision for Palestinian liberation, one of equal rights for all between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Karmi argues the ‘peace process’ that has favored the two-state solution for more than forty years has now been internationally exposed as masking the expansion of Israel’s apartheid regime. Seventy-five years ago, Ghada Karmi and her family in Jerusalem were among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were exiled during the Nakba. She has since become one of the most vocal proponents of a single democratic state in Palestine-Israel in which all inhabitants of the lands would have equal rights.
Forced from her home in 1948, Karmi came to the United Kingdom as a refugee and later trained as a Doctor of Medicine at Bristol University. She established the first British-Palestinian medical charity in 1972 and was an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Her previous books include the best-selling memoir In Search of Fatima (2002) and Return: A Palestinian memoir (2015).
Mark Seddon was the first UN Correspondent for Al Jazeera English and is a former editor of Tribune Magazine.
Opening up the conversation, Seddon asks Dr. Karmi what motivates her to keep pursuing justice and liberation for the Palestinians after all these years.
Dr Karmi responds:
Why do I keep going? Well, it’s very simple. There’s nothing difficult about it. I want to go home. I want to at least end whatever life is left to me in my own homeland. I deeply resent the fact that I can’t do that. That strikes me as being a very basic, fundamental injustice, not difficult to understand. That’s the thing that drives me all the time.
Mentioning how Mexico has recently recognized Palestine as a state, and that the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK would likely stress commitment to the two-state solution is a legal and moral imperative for the international community, Seddon asks why Dr. Karmi no longer considers it a serious proposition.
This is the crux, isn’t it? This is the heart of it. The two-state solution has been this mantra that people repeat over and over again. What it is in reality, when you examine it, what you realise, what it’s all about is preserving Israel. Albeit in slightly smaller geographical space. Preserving Israel is very important. But at the same time, being aware that the poor Palestinians have had a rough deal, so we’ll give them something. We’ll talk about a fifth of their original homeland. They can create their own state there so that everybody’s happy, and who is everybody?
First of all, the Israelis because they retain their state and their status. Secondly, the Western world, which created Israel and doesn’t want to see it come to an end. So that keeps them happy. Now, as for the Palestinians, well, they get something. So there you are, it’s not a bad idea.
Expanding upon why such a proposition should never have become the adopted consensus in the first place and exposing how the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees have been ignored as a result, Dr Karmi continues:
To me that kind of construct is totally to be rejected. If you think about it, it’s outrageous.
The settler state that created itself in the Palestinian homeland and was maintained by Western support is apparently entitled to 80% of the territory of the Palestinian homeland and the original inhabitants are given 20%. Now, what is omitted even in the best variation of the two-state solution are the refugees. I’m talking about the people sitting in camps, five to six million who’ve been in camps since 1948. Well where are they going? Not a mention of these people. How is it acceptable to leave them, nearly six million people, rotting in camps supported by the UN, with no end in sight, with no promise of a future. How is that acceptable?
Dr. Karmi also sees the drive for Western states to recognize Palestine as a state as counterproductive:
As people know, 138 member states of the UN, that’s a majority of member states have recognized this thing called Palestine. Well when you look into it, what is the Palestine they’ve recognized? They’ve recognized a state which is to be constructed, by the way, it doesn’t exist now on the 1967 territories, some of which we know, or a lot of which are already taken over by Israeli settlements.
Apparently, that is what is going to be the Palestinian state. So the question that has to be asked is, “What are these UN states thinking of?” What are they recognizing, really? Therefore, this constitutes a huge obstacle in the path of people who believe in what I believe because you are immediately up against a so-called international consensus that says you people deserve a state. Here we are recognizing your state and, as you said, Mexico just now. I know that attempts have been made to get the British government to recognize the Palestinian state. So what? It’s meaningless. What it does is effectively put a spanner in the works of people who really want a just solution. That’s the problem with it.
Dr. Karmi argues that with Israel already ruling over a one-state reality which includes the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the next step ought to be to focus on pressuring Israel into ending its apartheid system which systematically deprives Palestinians of the rights it affords to Israeli Jews within that space.
Israel’s trajectory is clear and anybody who can’t see that really needs to do a bit of reading. It’s to get the land without the people and they’re working hard at it all the time, it’s quite openly debated in Israel, that’s the Israeli position. Now, if you actually look at geography, what you see is that the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, one territory, ruled by Israel, is composed demographically of roughly half and half Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, never mind the refugees, that’s in actual historic Palestine.
It seems to be very clear that since we have a situation of one state already, there is one state, but the problem with that one state is it’s ruled by one apartheid regime, which deals with half the population in a manner that no civilised society can accept, they have no rights, they have no citizenship.
Honestly, what’s more logical than to look at setup like that, never mind all the stuff that’s written all the time, look at the setup. Clearly, the next move from that is to alter the regime that’s ruling this one territory, that’s clearly the case because if you do not have a system of government which discriminates between Jew and non-Jew to the detriment of non-Jews, if you don’t have that anymore, what you have is moving towards what I’m talking about, that you’re all together in one state and what government is going to rule?
Under no illusion that the idea of a single democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis to live side-by-side, under equal rights, is likely to be unpopular both among Palestinians and Israelis today, Dr. Karmi nevertheless considers it the only realistic solution for achieving justice.
Now, here I feel very strongly people have to face facts. It’s really the case that if you asked Palestinian Arabs today to say, we’re going to change the form of government. We’re going to have a government of equal rights. You become equal citizens with these Jews. I can bet you most Palestinians will say no thank you, because they don’t want to live with their usurpers, with the people who’ve treated them so badly. That’s on the Palestinian side.
If you go to Israeli Jews and you say how do you view the idea of equality, equal-citizenship with all these Arabs? They would be horrified, because for them, Arabs, first of all, there is a strong racist element in all this. They are a despised people, and the last thing they would want is equal citizenship with people they despise. Furthermore, they have loads of privileges at the moment, the privileges of a colonial society they don’t want to give up.
If you were to approach this question from how does this side feel and that side? You have to face facts. They don’t like it. They don’t want it. The Palestinians would say to you, our dearest wish is to turn the clock back to a time before 1948 when this was our homeland. If you go to the Israeli Jews and say to them, what about their dearest wishes for the Palestinians to disappear? That is the reality and that’s what we are dealing with. Where do we go from here?
Being frank in her pessimism that Western states are unlikely to support a one-state solution any time soon due to their unrelenting commitment to the State of Israel, in spite of its ongoing settler-colonialism and apartheid, Dr. Karmi says:
Let me just say a word or two about the West. These liberal Zionists you mentioned, the truth is, and it’s got to be faced, the West is fixated on the idea of Israel. They can’t give it up. I’ve often speculated that one of the reasons why the one-state idea, with all the sense that it makes, doesn’t get anywhere at an official level in Western circles. No institution, no Western government has supported it or adopted it. That a very basic reason for this, is the fact that they understand that if you have a one democratic state, that’s the end of Israel as you know it.
It’s not Israelis being killed. It’s that the state structure of Israel will end, it has to in a one democratic state, and they resist that. Now it’s an area I want to explore much more. Not now obviously, we haven’t time because it’s very important and very interesting, the Western adherence to the idea of Israel, which they can’t give up. It’s like an addict. They can’t give up on it. It makes it very difficult really to work with them.
Going deeper into the issue of Zionism, Dr Karmi explains why all forms of the ideology, even “soft” or “liberal” Zionism, must be totally rejected outright before organisations and individuals can claim to be genuinely advocating for Palestinian rights in a meaningful way.
She describes how an event organized earlier in the month to celebrate the launch of her book was canceled by UK-based charity, the Balfour Project, the night before because of a complaint made by another UK-based organization against the scheduled interviewer – musician and activist, Lowkey.
The reason was, the Balfour Project, people may or may not have heard of, but is this charity which interests itself in Palestine and also does have connections with what you might call liberal Zionist organisations and individuals. Now, what happened on this occasion and, as Mark said, this is the book launch that you were not allowed to hear, but you are allowed this evening.
The book launch was canceled because one of these liberal Zionist organisations objected to Lowkey. Lowkey, who is identified by some of them as ‘antisemitic.’ Now, that’s nonsense. He’s not at all antisemitic, and they were never able to produce any evidence that he was. Sadly, the organisers on behalf of the Balfour Project, pulled it in fear in case there was an offence caused to the liberal Zionists. Now, this happened on the night before the book launch was due, literally on the night before.
They threw me under the bus, and Lowkey was persona non grata. Just because these Zionists were upset. Now, this is exactly what, in a way, I’ve been talking about in a roundabout way. I can only put it to you this way, until people understand, really what Zionism has done to the Palestinians until they understand what it is actually, what Zionism is – soft, not soft, liberal, not liberal – it’s all Zionism. Until people understand that, they cannot claim to support Palestinians wholeheartedly. If you support Palestinians wholeheartedly, you must reject Zionism.
Bringing the conversation with Mark Seddon to a close, Dr. Karmi ends by defining what Zionism means in practice to Palestinians:
At its most basic, Zionism was a project, is an ongoing project, to create and maintain a state for Jews. In doing so it had to exclude right from the beginning non-Jews. Hence, I was expelled, and so many others were expelled because we were non-Jews. It’s very important to understand it’s on that basis that we were non-Jews that we’re expelled. That’s what Zionism continues to maintain and wants to expand, the territory of the state of the Jews in order to accommodate more Jews, and so you can see, in order to get more territory, you’ve got to clear the non-Jews out. Which is more Palestinians like me. Now that is Zionism, and it’s brutal and it’s been extremely cruel to us Palestinians. If you support us, how on earth can you show any sympathy towards a project like this?
Watch the book launch in full here or listen via all major podcast streaming platforms. Purchase One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel (Pluto Press).
(Palestine Deep Dive)