The following is an excerpt from What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Specters, by Udi Aloni with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. We have also posted the book’s epilogue in its entirety.
A specter haunts the Middle East, the daunting specter of Palestinian-Jewish binationalism. All the world’s powers have joined hands to conduct a holy war to the bitter end, until that specter is defeated. One can read the entire modern history of the region as the history of a violent lasting conflict instigated to deny and expel that specter.
Now, after one hundred years of conflict, with no solution in sight, the time has come to present binationalism in all its glory.
We are already a decade into the twenty-first century, and still the only visible change in the Middle East is deterioration. The everyday relation between the Jewish and Palestinian nations, the two nations living in this shared land, is a clear and deteriorating relationship of occupier to occupied, dominance to weakness, manifesting exploitation, racism, humiliation, landgrab, and violence. It is true that on the symbolic level relations are much more complex, but the bottom line is that the Jewish nation is sovereign inside territorial contiguity, enjoying democratic, economic, and cultural freedom.
In contrast, the Palestinian nation is divided between five different physical, economic, and cultural provinces that are hermetically separated in a way that does not allow the existence of a political community. The silence of the Western world, and its massive support for Israel, perpetuate this flagrantly illegal situation. The West is better off letting the Jewish nation guard, in an immoral manner, the immoral wall in the immoral frontier state so as to keep the conflict away from the heart of the empire, where there is still a semblance of the rule of law. Leaders in the Arab world (or the Muslim world, depending on one’s point of view) are better off placing the Palestinian people as a human bulwark against the West, while they are free to both conduct commercial relations with the West and maintain an apparent ideological arena through which they criticize the West in the symbolic realm.
In the symbolic realm relations are much more complex: they are not about the balance of power, financial profit, or control of land, water, and natural resources. In this realm one also has to consider overt and covert theological structures. It is about relations of longing, jealousy, and passion, the simultaneous desire for sameness and separateness. Thus, this small piece of land containing the names Israel and Palestine has become an intense critical mass containing all the tensions between East and West, between North and South, between religions, and between religions and secular thought. The Middle East has become the place where the world brings together all the ideological oppositions, like a testing ground for various ideological explosions. Therefore, one moment before this ancient mythology-infested place implodes into a black hole powerful enough to swallow the whole world, we propose binationalism as the only living alternative.
Binationalism is perhaps the only possibility for a new place, a new beginning and a new language, the only possibility for Israel-Palestine, for the Middle East, and maybe for the entire world.
Aloni concludes by writing:
The long journey of the binational specter into its realization as a living, breathing Mediterranean body is a bold odyssey through numerous hazards. And, like Odysseus, who had the wisdom to descend into the underworld, in order to seek the guidance of Tiresias, the blind prophet, so shall we lend our ears to the spirits of our guides and teachers Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Mahmoud Darwish, and Edward Said. Before he passed away, Edward Said discussed Freud and the Non-European.Through the reading of Freud, Said demonstrated that an independent identity without other identities contained within it is an impossibility. At the end of his book, he writes: “The questions Freud therefore leaves us with are: can so utterly indecisive and so deeply undetermined a history ever be written? In what language, and with what sort of vocabulary? . . . Can it aspire to the conditions of a politics of Diaspora life? Can it ever become the not-so-precarious foundation in the land of Jews and Palestinians of a bi-national state in which Israel and Palestine are parts, rather than antagonists of each other’s history and underlying reality? I myself believe so.” We too believe so, and therefore we shall seek the language and the vocabulary. We shall do our best to come up with this vocabulary, striving for it to create, with the help of our acts and our beliefs, a new place, which will bring together, as a wonderful warp and woof, our joint and separate pasts. We shall act out of the belief in and loyalty to the values of equality and solidarity in order to create a multigendered place with many identities, constantly and dynamically evolving toward an open, invisible future.
What is binationalism if not our insistence on being able to gaze out over this beautiful country and see it as it really is, so rich in cultures, identities, and shades of identity? This is the only way we can avoid being held captive by the vile forces of secular and religious nationalism that have flourished in this country. After all, their insistence on ethnic solidarity—on ethnic purity—only serves to remind us of the dark days of the not too distant past.
Only when we reconsider our conceptions of the state, its laws and institutions, its culture and symbols, and adopt this new approach can we truly rid ourselves of ideas and ideologies whose time has long since passed. And in any act, as revolutionary as it is, we shall not forget for a moment our intimate acquaintance with the precariousness of life. Only then will we be able to thrust open the door of all this, our common home, to a new era, to life.