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Where to now with the €9 travel ticket?

It provided brief opportunities, but we need more fundamental change to protect the environment and provide better services for the poor


31/08/2022

If you’re on English-speaking social media, you probably know the meme. It had a large picture of an ICE train and says “Germany is slashing public transit fares by 90% to encourage people to ditch their cars and save energy amid high gas prices.” It was very compelling. Even Tariq Ali shared it. It was also complete bullshit.

Here’s what really happened. In September 2021, Germany voted in a “traffic light” (SPD-Green-Liberal) coalition. This coalition became very unpopular very quickly, not least because one of its first acts was to double the military budget. Inflation was also rising to worrying levels, and Russia’s war with Ukraine had led to an increase in petrol prices.

This is not what is supposed to happen to new governments, which often start with a few reforms before disappointing their voters after a couple of years. The German government needed a populist policy. Enter the €9 ticket.

For three months, from June till August, people in Germany could buy a one-off travel ticket for €9, which entitled them to free transport throughout the country. It wasn’t eligible for all transport – the rich were still able to travel on their ICE and IC trains without being bothered by plebs who could not afford the posh trains. But it was still a real benefit for those of us for whom rail travel was becoming prohibitively expensive.

Writing in the Guardian in July, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett called the introduction of the €9 ticket a “bold and decisive” response to the Covid pandemic and climate change. They went on to argue that “after just one month, the success of the scheme appears to make a compelling case for other countries to follow suit.”

In this article, I want to argue two main points. Firstly, the €9 ticket has been a huge benefit, if not to the environment, then at least to transport users. If introduced properly, it could make a significant contribution to the reduction of car travel, and the pollution that comes with it. And yet, the ticket was never intended to bring long term change, and therefore we must demand much more than what is currently on offer.

What benefits did the €9 ticket bring?

I believe that the €9 ticket was issued in bad faith, and was not a serious attempt to deal with the catastrophic threat to the environment. Nonetheless, it has brought real changes, at the very least in the short term. In just the first month of June, over 30 million tickets were sold. Car usage in city centres dropped dramatically, leading to fewer traffic jams. 23 of 26 examined cities reported a decrease in congestion – up to 14% in cities like Hamburg and Wiesbaden.

The number of flights taken inside Germany sank by 31% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Researchers at the University of Potsdam recorded a 6% to 7% decrease in air pollution levels across Germany. In a poll by Civey, 55% of those asked called for the ticket to be continued. Only 34% were against.

And yet, all of these benefits are likely to disappear in September, when the ticket runs out and travellers return to their cars.

Not just environmental benefits

In its application as a temporary measure, the €9 ticket’s effectiveness in protecting the environment was only ever going to be limited. But, it was still of great benefit to the poor – people who usually can’t afford to leave the city by car or train. As such, it played a small part in redistributing wealth towards those who need the money the most.

Don’t believe the moaners in Ex-Pat chat groups (most of whom never use the cheap trains anyway). When they talk of overcrowded trains and people sitting in the aisles, they’re not entirely wrong, but even on the busiest Saturday, the conditions in German trains have been considerably better than those I’ve experienced on an average day travelling in the UK.

Besides which, to complain that too many people are using trains is a little perverse. This is something which can be solved with a little extra investment – by scheduling more trains, or adding extra carriages. Such investment could also be used to guarantee rail workers a decent wage, and to overcome reservations of the trade unions to fully support the ticket.

Even under the current limitations, the €9 ticket has enabled people in Germany to do all sorts of things that they previously couldn’t afford. The LINKE Berlin Internationals, a group of non-German Berlin activists, of which I am the speaker, organised a series of five separate day trips to visit parts of Germany which many people have not seen before.

In June, July and August, we visited Eisenhüttenstadt, the DDR’s first planned city, Dessau, home of the Bauhaus art movement, the Brecht-Weigel Haus in Buckow, the DDR art archive in Beeskow, and the former concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. These trips provided the ability not just to expand our experiences, but also to discuss important parts of Germany’s political and cultural history.

There were more fundamental savings. To travel around in Berlin, you need a Monatskarte, a monthly travel pass. A Monatskarte currently costs between €86 and €107. And yet in June, July and August, you could travel within Berlin for just €9 for the whole month. On top of this, you could travel outside the city boundaries whenever you want, a benefit not contained in the Monatskarte.

What the €9 ticket did not change

Today, 31st August, 2022, is the last day for which the tickets are valid. After that, we are going back to the old prices for rail travel. There are even reports that tickets will cost more than before.

This means that suggestions that the tickets would encourage car drivers to start using public transport are largely fanciful. You don’t sell your car if you know that in 3 months’ time, train tickets will cost more than ever. What is required is a well-funded public transport system, and increased investment, with the full cooperation of affected trade unions.

This investment is just not happening in Germany. In Berlin, the transport minister Regine Günther (Green Party) has been trying to privatise the S-Bahn (local train line). This would mean diverting money that could be used to make the transport system cheaper and more environmentally friendly into the pockets of shareholders.

In recent months, rail workers in Hessen have organised 5 warning strikes demanding more pay, fair conditions of employment, and that their demands be taken seriously. Other trade unions have been reluctant to support the €9 tickets, reporting that “elevators are broken, toilets on trains no longer work, everything is simply put under a lot of strain.” Claus Weselsky from the GdL union blamed this on “years of broken savings.”

As long ago as 2019, Politico reported that “Germany’s railways are creaking from years of underinvestment.” The article quotes Markus Sievers from Allianz Pro Schiene (alliance for rail) as saying that “Germany even lags behind Italy on investment per head”. In 2017, €66 per German citizen was invested in track infrastructure, compared to €165 in Britain, €128 in the Netherlands and €362 in Switzerland.

Complaints made about the €9 ticket were really about more systemic problems in the under-financed German transport system. We need a fundamental increase in the level of government investment. This requires working with trade unions, not using benefits for passengers to attack pay and working conditions. We also need more public transport in rural areas, where people were least likely to buy the €9 ticket.

What are the demands?

The €9 ticket was seriously popular, so naturally campaigns for its retention have sprung up. The civil movement campact has launched the campaign 9-Euro-Ticket retten! (save the €9 ticket) with the following demands:

  • Extend the €9 ticket until the end of the year and provide a permanent solution: a climate ticket which costs a maximum of €1 per day.

  • Invest in the expansion of the rail and regional transport offers, particularly in the countryside, so that public transport will be more attractive.

  • Finance this by reducing subsidies which damage the climate, such as tax advantages for company cars.

Similarly, a petition launched by the broad-based campaign 9 Euro Ticket weiterfahren (continue with the €9 ticket) has already received 14,000 signatories. This petition makes the following demands:

  • We want to permanently retain the €9 ticket, for public transport in the whole country.

  • We want the government to massively invest in bus and rail, and in more workers with good conditions.

  • We want to restructure the budget: finance mobility for all, instead of encouraging car traffic.

The campaign says the following: “the €9 Ticket costs €12 billion a year. The environmentally harmful subsidies and tax concessions from the Federal government amount to €65 billion every year. Both inexpensive tickets and the expansion of buses and trains are financeable, if the political will is there.”

Build political power

Germany’s neoliberal finance minister Christian Lindner has refused to consider continuing the ticket, arguing that it is “not fair”. Lindner also suggested that the €9 ticket was suspect because it was “supported by Antifa”. Although Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called the €9 ticket a “great success”, Lindner is an important coalition partner for him. The pressure for change must come from outside parliament.

The rail strikes in Britain have shown that the fight for public transport can inspire public support. 58% of Britons say that rail strikes are justified. Even the Church Times is reporting that rail union leader Mick Lynch is “suddenly popular”, while over half of people polled consistently believe that Labour leader Keir Starmer is doing badly in his job. A campaign for the €9 ticket which involves rail unions could be both popular and effective.

In a recent paper for the rosa luxemburg stiftung, Mario Candeias argued: “an expansion of public transport would ensure more social justice because it is precisely the poorer sections of the population that are most dependent on public transport, as they cannot afford cars.” An extension of the €9 ticket, combined with increased investment in transport infrastructure would benefit both the environment and the everyday lives of people who are not super-rich.

What now?

Despite all of this, there is still no offer of extending the ticket. There are rumours of some variation of an extension, from a €365 yearly ticket to a €69 monthly ticket, both significantly more expensive than what has been on offer for the last 3 months.

In Berlin, there has been speculation of even more on a local level. SPD mayor Franziska Giffey is considering continuing the ticket within Berlin’s AB zones, although she has not committed herself to a price. DGB (trade union confederation) leader Katja Karger has gone further, suggesting a ticket which covers both Berlin and Brandenburg. But still nothing concrete is on the table.

How likely is a solution? On the national level, things don’t look hopeful. The SPD and Greens are happy to claim credit for the scheme while blaming the FDP for Lindner’s opposition. That way they gain the political benefits without having to pay anything.

On a local level, the chance of change is higher. Giffey recently experienced a turbulent party conference, where she was re-elected as SPD leader, but only with 59% of the vote, despite there being no challenger. This is an incredibly low vote, and she needs to offer something to restore her popularity. Together with growing discontent, and talk of a “hot Autumn” of protests, she may just be forced to deliver.

Jean Luc Mélenchon and the France Insoumise

Where is the French New Left going?


30/08/2022

Around five thousand people attended the radical left summer school of the France Insoumise (FI), held at the end of August at Valence in the South of France. Three days of discussion and education ended with a rousing call for immediate action against Macron, and for far higher taxes on excessive profits.

On the summer school programme were debates and lectures about all the key political questions of today: Green planning, sexism in politics, Palestine, how to defend our hospitals, racism, strikes, public health, Ukraine, Marxism, secularism, feminism, homophobia, the French revolution, neofascism, housing, animal welfare, the Yellow Vest revolt, education policy, police violence, France in Africa, and the South American Left, to name about half the subjects discussed. There were one hundred and ten meetings in all. Films about working class resistance and about the Algerian war, and a handful of concerts, completed the event. Intellectuals, trade unionists and campaigners were invited to speak, and there were even three (very stormy) debates with ministers of Macron’s government. Four hundred and fifty activists under 25 had attended a three day youth camp just before, and the younger generation of activists was very much visible at the summer school. Many of the meetings were recorded and are available on the YouTube channel of the France Insoumise.

Of course it is always more enjoyable to attend a summer school of a movement on the rise! Since last year, the FI has moved from 17 MPs to 75, obtained 7.7 million votes at the presidential elections, and built an electoral alliance on a radical programme which now represents the only visible left opposition to Macron. 

The rise of the France Insoumise as a confident and radical mass left-wing force was made possible by twenty years of mass struggle during which millions of class-conscious workers on the streets opposed the slashing of pensions, the tearing up of labour protection laws and cuts in public services. This combativity needed a political representation, and the team around Jean-Luc Mélenchon, realizing that even the left wing of the Socialist Party would never break fully with neoliberalism, built the France Insoumise to fill this need. They now call for a “citizens’ revolution”, a new constitution ( “the sixth republic”) and “spectacular change”.

Useful 

How effective is this new force and what future does it have? It is certainly useful to have a few dozen radical Left MPs who are ready to fight. The France Insoumise MPs were the only ones, along with some Communists, to vote against the recent extension of NATO to Sweden and Finland and to point out that NATO does not defend freedom. FI MPs condemned Israeli apartheid this summer (and were promptly accused of antisemitism by a government minister). A parliamentary fight to impose price freezes on basic foods is underway, and a bill to make all school meals free is in the offing. Indeed, the usefulness of the FI MPs to the working class has been highlighted recently by a series of predictable smear campaigns against three of its best-known leaders.

A huge fight outside parliament is on the cards. Macron, re-elected this year, is determined to spread misery and pain. His plan to make people retire later and on less money was defeated two years ago by mass strikes and millions on the streets. This plan is back on the table. New measures to reduce unemployment benefits will come into effect this Autumn.

Government islamophobia is ever more vicious. Last month there were attempts to expel Muslim Imams from the country without a trial, on the vague excuse that they “do not adhere to French values”. This is despite the fact that the Imams have lived in France all their lives.

Although the main meeting of the weekend was entitled “For a citizens’ revolution!”, and though it is common to hear speakers here talk of “a people’s revolution like 1789”, of “breaking with capitalism” and of “class struggle”, the France Insoumise must be considered a left reformist force. This is not an insult – it simply indicates that the central strategy is to win governmental power through elections and use the State to serve the interests of the people. If one looks carefully, it is clear that this also means using the French police and the French army differently at home and abroad, to defend “the interests of France” in a new way. It is not unreasonable to be sceptical about such possibilities.

Structure

A series of key discussions are underway about how to win. One is on the question of structuring the movement. The France Insoumise is not a political party. There are no membership cards, no subs (supporters give donations), no traditional conference with motions, factions and leadership elections. The idea was to allow people different levels of involvement, to include hundreds of members of other parties, and to avoid the heavy traditions of faction fighting on the radical left in France. It was also thought that traditional party meetings, committees and structures were less important in the digital age where information can be circulated, and even votes held, in other ways.

This loose method of organization has advantages for revolutionaries inside the FI. You can sell your own paper and have Marxist meetings without it becoming a problem of party discipline. A couple of hundred Marxists do this, but most Marxist groupings have stayed outside the FI, stood candidates against it, and often followed a “red professor” sectarian line, simply giving the FI marks out of ten at the end of each term.

Is this loose structure going to change now the FI is stronger and has a permanent presence? Some of the leaders would like it to. Manuel Bompard insisted that what is needed is “an organized political force which can fight the battle of ideas, which can support the different struggles going on in society, which can push forward people’s self-organization and educate the activists of the future”.

Some activists are pushing for “more democracy” in the movement: elected committees and delegate conferences in a more traditional party mould. These include many who believe this would ensure a leadership more responsive to grassroots opinions, and allow more discussion on tactics and communication between the different local groups. It would also, insists MP Clementine Autain, help train many hundreds of local leaders and reduce the domination of MPs in the decision making processes. These voices for structural change in the organization are joined by some who are simply nostalgic for the faction fighting of their swiftly disappearing youth. Some changes are probable, but the more important question is “democracy in order to do what?”

Struggles

FI activists want Macron out soon. For this, the question of the links with extra-parliamentary struggle is crucial. The vocal support of FI for the Yellow Vests and for the fight to defend pensions, as well as its key role in the occasional mass mobilizations against racism and the far right have been very useful. Aurélie Trouvé , previously chair of Attac and newly elected FI MP, declared that we need “unity from below with all those who are resisting, in whatever sphere: in trade unions, in culture or science, or in various campaigns. We needed to bring people together, and not only party activists.”

Nevertheless the general priority of the France Insoumise is winning elections, and the main thrust of much of the summer school was “What new laws are needed?” and “What kind of new constitution is needed in France?”  The FI leadership insists that supporting strikes and struggles is important, but the practical work of supporting struggles is generally left to local FI groups, and many of these do little in that area.

There are no more elections for some time, and Macron wants to move quickly. In his latest speech he insisted arrogantly that “the time of abundance is over”. Meanwhile use of food banks has risen by 12% in a year, and the very richest have seen their fortunes rocket.

This summer has already seen a number of strikes in local transport and refuse collection. Macron’s attacks, and the effects of inflation on family budgets, mean that mass resistance could easily spark up this autumn. A trade union day of action is set for 29th  September. Meanwhile, Jean-Luc Mélenchon announced at the summer school that the main Autumn campaign will be around the demand to tax the excessive profits of big companies. This will involve mass petitioning, “people’s assemblies” in every town, and a monster demonstration mid-October, in cooperation with the main trade unions.

Combativity is definitely in fashion in FI. It is important to note in passing the tremendous progress made in FI on a key question and historical weakness of the French Left – that of Islamophobia. Four years ago, the FI summer school invited well-known “left” Islamophobe Henri Peña Ruiz, who declared “I have the right to be Islamophobic”. Now, after several years in which Mélenchon has repeatedly and vocally defended Muslims against prejudice, the atmosphere is different: a number of invited speakers and FI MPs spoke of the importance of fighting Islamophobia. More progress is needed, certainly: most FI MPs, like the rest of the Left, said little concerning recent Islamophobic expulsions.

In conclusion, the France Insoumise is by far the most exciting place to be on the French Left. It is still on the rise, and the wave of struggles emerging will be a chance for it to show its worth. Marxist activists should work inside this “movement for spectacular change”, building the organization, and at the same time spreading Marxist understandings of how to move forward.

The Internationalist Position on the war in Ukraine

A reply to Ali Khan’s analysis of the war in Ukraine


29/08/2022

The war in Ukraine poses a unique challenge for the left and the working class. As comrade Ali rightly points out, the international character of the conflict cannot be disputed. It has disrupted essential food networks around the globe; amplifed its horror beyond the immediate shock of mutilated bodies; and displaced people. However, I disagree that the left ought to take the measures that the comrade prescribes in favour of maintaining an internationalist approach. Specifically, I contest that we ought to support the Ukranian state in bringing about a swift end to the war.

More than a century ago, the Second International was faced with a pivotal crisis regarding the split between those who supported their respective country’s entry into war and those which opposed it. Between the theoretical and pragmatic failures abound during this pandemonium, the subsequent crisis led to a destruction of leftism across Europe, enabling counter-revolution. This is felt in the Soviet Union’s degeneration into Stalinism, and in the seeds of Nazism at the hands of Ebert and Freikorps thugs.

Every subsequent war reignites and illuminates the failures of radicals past. When we begin to examine the struggles of labour among parties involved in the war in Ukraine, we see exactly what the fervour of Russian imperialism and its bourgeois opposition has wrought. Once again it has unleashed the beast of reaction and has forced workers into the corner.

Already across Eastern Europe we are starting to see what powers are granted to the bourgeoisie under the premise of war. In Ukraine, as comrade Ali pointed out, the bourgeoisie are on the offensive, pushing aggressive pro-capitalist legislation. However, the analysis offered by Peter Korotaev demands a closer examination of what the liberalisation of labour laws spells for Ukrainian workers.

Vitaly Dudin shows that the force majeure exception caused by the Russian invasion, enables a very wide attack on the legal rights of the working class. These involve: exempting employers from liability for late payment of wages; moratoriums on labour inspections; as well as exclusions from wartime stipends for workers not located directly in a war-zone. Even as the Ukranian economy is liquidated by Russian fire.

In addition, Law No. 2136 enables the transfer of employees without their consent to another job (Article 3); dismissal while on sick leave, paid and unpaid leave, as well as without the consent of trade unions (Article 5); the increase of the maximum duration of the working week to 60 hours (Article 6); suspension of legislation and collective agreements, which provided for deductions to trade unions for physical culture and mass work (Article 14).

The Ukranian state is therefore waging two wars – one against Russian imperialism, and a second against its working class. Furthermore, it is unlikely that this second conflict would cease upon the termination of the first conflict. The post-war reconstruction is imagined by Ukranian prime minister Denis Shmyhal as an international investment project, champing at the bit to welcome Western conglomerates. The end of the war on the terms of the Ukranian government – without an eye on class struggle – leaves us to be outmaneuvered for the crackdowns to come.

Further to the north, we see how warfare spreads bourgeois crackdowns among Ukranian allies. The Lithuanian chemical plant ‘Achema’, a sizeable producer of nitrogen-based fertiliser, saw a strike organised by more than 100 workers on February 8th . That saw wide support from unions in and outside of the country. It was the first strike of its kind in a private enterprise since the country’s withdrawal from the Soviet Union, and at its peak was considered to set a precedent for strikes in other industries such as Lithuanian Rail.

The terms of the strike concerned a plethora of grievances – from demands to increase stagnant wages; proper compensation for overtime (which became more frequent and worse from the pressure of shortages caused by the pandemic); to the formalisation of existing contracts. Chief among them was a demand for a collective agreement between the workers and the owners of the plant, which the general director dismisses as ‘a little piece of paper’.

However, the strike was suddenly terminated by the anti-labour wartime measures imposed following the Russian invasion. Specifically, it was through the “Emergency Situation” decree, which grants the federal government extensive powers. It is intentionally legislated to be anti-labour, with one provision involving a ban on all strikes in the country, as specified in the Lithuanian labour codex. It has seen extensive use in the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the recent Belarus border refugee crisis.

Unsurprisingly, the suspension of the ‘Achema’ strike extinguished the momentum of the movement. With the termination of the strike came the forced expulsion of the trade union from the plant’s grounds, a common tactic to separate representatives from workers. In addition, in the past few weeks, the plant has announced mass layoffs, blamed in part on the increased costs for natural gas required to produce fertilizer.

However, the owners of the parent company still boast having one of the richest women in the country at the helm. The disguise of increased production costs creates a two-pronged attack on local workers – who are kept captive by a shortage of labour opportunities in the nearby town. This allows management to fire workers with impunity while they are at their most vulnerable, and to write it off because of war.

The consequence of the Emergency Situation decree also halted another famous strike waged by the Public Transport of Vilnius (VVT) trade union. The strike was spurred on in part by ‘Achema’ strikers, giving transport workers greater courage to act. It primarily concerned a failure of the municipal government to uphold the collective agreement reached in 2018.

However, the VVT union has been at the forefront of long-standing disputes for close to a decade. Despite the flourishing Vilnius economy, drivers were often left to foot the bill of municipal mismanagement and neo-liberal city planning. The militancy of the union was a thorn in the municipality’s backside for a while. Now the Emergency Situation decree strips them of their most effective means of enforcing demands.

Between ‘Achema’ and the VVT dispute – the Lithuanian bourgeoisie, just like the Ukranian bourgeoisie – are exploiting the wartime opportunity to assault the working class. Regardless of whether workers are blown to bits by bombs or starved out by soaring inflation and energy costs, the bourgeoisie retain their solidarity in brutalising the dominated class.

On the other side of the conflict, Russia has been seeing labour crackdowns as well. The Ural Compressor Plant in Yekaterinburg has been experiencing growing worker discontent since the outbreak of the war. Workers have not received their wages for neither April nor May. It is safe to assume that wages will likely be postponed for the subsequent months as well.

In June, the figure for the unpaid salaries of 300 workers was estimated to be more than 20 million rubles. In response, 50 of the 370 workers at the factory initiated a strike, to which the general director of the plant, Denis Tasakov responded by invoking the spirit of Stalinism, claiming that ‘no one went on strike during the Great Patriotic War (WWII)’.

Closer to the frontlines, in the Russian-occupied Donbas, 430 miners in the town of Dovzhanska have been conscripted to fill the front lines. Serhyi Haidai, the governor of Luhansk proudly deployed the same chauvinist rhetoric in announcing this initiative. Even behind the information blockade and language barrier, it is clear that the Russian bourgeoisie are in international solidarity with their western foes – boasting wartime spirit whilst collecting a dragon’s horde of surplus value at the end of legislation.

The picture is clear. Workers are sent to the front line to massacre other workers. Those that are put to work back home lose their basic rights and are re-moulded to make up for lost profits. The war in Ukraine sets the precedent for a generalised conflict, with imperialism as the sign of global carnage yet to come.

What is required is support for the working class as a whole. This means recognising the class conflict brewing in capitalism generally, and especially its character under warfare. As leftists, we owe our focus not to the assurance of arming the Ukrainian state, but to the strength of the working class. Nowhere is this best exemplified than in the railway sabotage by Belarus rail workers. Shortly after the strikes and attacks were conducted, the Russian offensive was crippled, and the front lines began to shift. This was done without coordination by NATO and without weapons shipments to Ukraine.

Just as the Petrograd sailor’s mutiny put the brakes on the Eastern Front and on Czarism, and the Kiel revolt launched Germany into revolution, so too can an organised working class banish the specter of imperialism. Only through class solidarity can we truly ever contest eternal wars, and we must do this by supporting workers directly.

Documenta Racism Crisis

Interview with Documenta15 artist Hamja Ahsan on racism in Germany, the meaning of #HandsOffDocumenta and the class implications of fried chicken


28/08/2022

Hi Hamja, thanks for talking to us. Could you start by saying who you are and what you’re doing in Berlin?

My name is Hamja Ahsan. I’m an artist who was born and raised in London. I was selected by the Documenta15 exhibition as one of the few solo artists coming from Britain. I made a new series of works about Halal fried chicken chains, which are ubiquitous in London. I’m now in Berlin to research Halal fried chicken, and more broadly the place of Muslim diasporas within Berlin.

I’m also generally interested in fried chicken, and its relation to class and race. In London, fried chicken means working class black and brown people. It’s often used by politicians to gain credibility. So, when the Tory politician Rory Stewart was trying to become mayor of London, he got himself filmed eating fried chicken.

Pictures from Hamja’s exhibition (photos Ala Uddin)

How have you found Germany?

Being in Documenta15 has really awakened me to how bad racism, right wing politics and Nazi revivalism are here. I believed that Germany was a more civilized place than Britain, simply because a lot of white-art-world hipsters go and live in Berlin and Leipzig and say how life is so much better there.
I’ve now realised that if you’re Palestinian or Muslim or don’t belong to the Nazi blood family, Germany is actually quite a repressive place. I feel shocked about some of the things that have happened here, especially in relation to Documenta. The fact that the Chancellor interfered in the exhibition is astounding. I was speaking to some Turkish friends living here and they said Erdogan is authoritarian but would never interfere in the Istanbul biennial.

What I find weird about the German art world is how party politics is tied to it. The mayor of Kassel is an ex-cop from the SPD who twinned the city with an ethnically cleansed part of 1948 Palestine. He doesn’t know anything about art and even the staff members make fun of him. Yet he interferes with what artists can say.

I thought Germany was a place of artistic freedom and the opposite is true. It’s the only place I’ve been stalked, abused, and called a terrorist by members of the SPD. It’s the only place where a literal family member of Adolf Hitler’s cabinet – Beatrix von Storch from the AfD – rather richly described us as extremists. This is very shocking and frightening to me.

Documenta is like the Olympics or Mecca of art and should have been the best experience of my life. But it’s turned into the most terrifying, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian. The bureaucracy and the way no one takes responsibility is very deeply embedded in German society where many nice people with a bit of blond hair and blue eyes actually have a Nazi grandfather.

I’ve shown my art all around the world. I’ve spent a lot of time in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Slovenia. I’ve been to Trump’s America a few times. But I feel like my civil and constitutional freedom is better protected in these places than Germany.

In the US, I can go to an Ivy league university and openly speak about Palestine. Whereas when I came home from Documenta, I was abused and harassed nearly every single day. People called me a terrorist, and that’s never happened before. I was never even a big Palestine activist. It wasn’t that high on my cause list.

The media around Documenta seems totally divorced from any form of reality. The exhibition is extremely diverse – it’s fantastic. Everyone should go and visit it. It shows everything from childcare to neurodiversity and ecology. And a small part of it is concerned with the politics of the MENA region.

I was very shocked to listen to the parliamentary debate, which seemed almost deranged. The AfD were saying in parliament that they don’t like Documenta because it’s got too many Muslims. I was shocked that this is what people say in Parliament. I was also shocked about just how big the AfD are.

Germany’s got a good soft image abroad. But while everyone knows of George Floyd, everyone knows of the Christchurch massacre, no one in the Anglophone world knows about the NSU murders or Hanau. No-one knows about the assassination of the CDU politician Walter Lübcke.

What’s most disturbing is the complicity of the state and the media. I didn’t know what the Axel Springer press was – but it’s not just the Springer press: DW, the German equivalent of the BBC, also has a history of bullying their Arab Muslim brown staff.

Recently, DW sacked 7 Palestinian journalists, who are successfully challenging the sacking in court.

Yes, so it isn’t just the far right. I learned about the Anti-Deutsche and how they had infiltrated the staff network of Documenta. Some of them had been spying on me for things I’d said three years ago, and news stories from the Arab news media that I’d shared.

In Germany, I get accused of being in the Taliban, which is a Sunni organisation, as well as being part of a Marxist guerrilla group, the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], which is secular and atheist, and of supporting the Shia militia and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq. I’ve not visited any of these countries. I’ve only been to Bangladesh.

There’s a think tank in Vienna called MENA Watch, which has an interview with this guy from the Alliance Against Antisemitism in Kassel. The alliance seems to be one lonely obsessive guy with a blog and 13 Twitter followers. He’s listed the names of artists who are pro-Palestinian, who he sees as antisemitic. The German media take this lonely, weird guy as some sort of authority although he has no journalistic or academic integrity.

The German media have produced a picture that has nothing to do with reality. You go to Documenta expecting to see 1930s Germany, a second Holocaust, and all these very weird things. But the exhibition is actually getting tens of thousands of visitors a day. It’s a very joyous occasion.

The AfD have tried to derail and shut down Documenta. They didn’t like Documenta14 last time because it was too pro-refugee. They attacked the Nigerian artist Olu Oguibe and his monument for refugees, which contains a line from the Bible about welcoming strangers in four different languages.

Now they’ve come to attack Documenta again and to try to shut it down. But this time, everyone seems to have been fooled and the AfD have recruited pro-Israelis. It was strange to see the grandchild of Hitler’s finance minister calling us extremists.

She’s against abortion and same-sex relationships. For a white European, that’s incredibly archaic. She’s so extremist that she describes Le Pen as too socialist or too left wing, which shows how deranged and extreme she is.

Then she visits our exhibition and posts about it – mainly about Black Lives Matter – and describes that as extremism. To me, that’s more about her and the state of Germany. The fact that she can just walk in there and no one bats an eyelid is disturbing and shows the complicity of Germany, and the indifference and lack of partisanship towards actual, real Nazis and fascists.

For people who haven’t been following the Documenta controversy, it started with works shown by the Indonesian collective ruangrupa.

It actually started much before then. There had already been several attempts to derail and disrupt Documenta. The AfD had nakedly said that there were too many Muslim names. I’m probably the most pious Muslim in the whole festival. ruangrupa are not devout Muslims. They sell their own gin and a beer brand at the festival. They might say salaam and stuff, but they’re not very Muslim.

What happened first was that an Islamophobic artist projected this thing called #Documenta1933 onto all the public buildings around Kassel. He put pictures of them as Nazis and homophobes. But there are many queer collectives in the exhibition from around the world, so that’s just nonsense. He’s just doing this because he’s prejudiced against people from Muslim countries. In fact, Beatrix von Storch is much more anti-queer. She’s friends with Bolsonaro, who is also vehemently anti-tolerance and diversity.

That was the first attempt, but it was a bit of a flop. While this guy has a lot of Twitter and Instagram followers, you discover that a lot of them must be fake because some of his posts were retweeted only twice.

There’s been a lot of stuff about West Papua and Indonesia in Taring Padi’s work, but the artwork contained the slogan “West Papuan Lives Matter”; they’re supporting the West Papuan movement. Except that this was demolished by the German police when they took down the so-called “antisemitism” mural.

After that, there were loads of attempts to derail Documenta, like tweets about Documenta being Hitler’s favourite exhibition. But these would only get one retweet or something. There were attempts to discredit the exhibition before it started.

The first major incident, I guess, was when the exhibition space WH22 was broken into and vandalized with neo-Nazi graffiti. The name of the Spanish neo-Nazi youth leader Peralta, who’s known for Islamophobic incitement against Arab migrants, was graffitied all around my exhibition space.

After the bombings of Gaza last year, there was a new wave of cultural awareness of BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions]. Suddenly a lot of cultural figures were so disgusted about the inhumane mass murder and destruction of civilian life, that even Premier League footballers like Sadio Mane would start waving Palestinian flags.

This created a new overground mainstream. Even Dua Lipa, the singer from London, was posting about Gaza. All the artists who were shortlisted for the Turner Prize made a collective statement saying they were appalled at the brutal attacks on Palestine. As a response, the Israeli embassy is attempting to push back against this mainstream cultural wave.

This made Documenta probably the most important battleground for anti-racism and solidarity towards oppressed people in the arts. We should not let this go. We should show the utmost solidarity, firstly for artistic and creative freedom, without interference by the SPD or German foreign policy. It is also our civil and constitutional right to show solidarity with people who have been dehumanized and brutalized.

What was remarkable about the discussion around Documenta is how it quickly moved away from a discussion about the Indonesian works, where arguably a couple of them were potentially problematic. But within a couple of days, it wasn’t about them at all. It was about BDS and artists who support Palestine.

It started with BDS, but it didn’t get very far. There was quite an orchestrated media operation where they took two little details from a 20-year-old painting about the Indonesian genocide of left-wing people in the world’s largest Muslim country, which was under the Suharto dictatorship.

Taring Padi was a collective formed after that dictatorship. They created a ginormous mural, which looks a bit like a Hieronymus Bosch or Where’s Wally? Painting. And in this Where’s Wally? painting, they picked out two figures. One was a figure of a Mossad agent as a pig. This was alongside other intelligence agencies, such as MI5, the CIA, who were all portrayed as animals.

The pig in their work is the same as that used by the Black Panther artist Emory Douglas depicting police. It’s about imperialists and capitalists. These are people who they say they care about class politics and class struggle, not race.

So, it wasn’t antisemitic whatsoever. In fact, both West Germany and Britain were complicit in this genocide and much worse. The West was complicit in the mass murder of between half a million and a million Leftists, and never paid reparations. Germany has never said sorry.

The other little figure is a caricature of an SS soldier. But then, the SS were also complicit in that genocide. I think of artists like Harold Offeh and Barbara Walker who also have what you’d call racist caricatures, but it is within the context of their work. It has layers of irony. There’s no hatred.

If you look at Taring Padi’s work, they always propagate multi-faith alliances. They always use the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim symbols together. It’s very clear from their work that they’re an anti-Nazi party. The way they’ve been portrayed in the media as if they’re Nazi propagandists is a total falsehood.

Beyond that, they were actually naive. As a British person, I’d gone through two general election campaigns with Jeremy Corbyn, so I know the playbook. It felt like Taring Padi was Jeremy Corbyn. Like Corbyn, they tried to appease their critics.

What this did was to open the floodgate towards persecution and oppression of the other artists, including me. So, the next day I would get a message saying you are next on our list with a picture of a dog. I got very threatening messages from Germany.

The next big media scare was around an Algerian women’s collective of scholars who had a digital archive of illustrations about children being abused by Israeli occupation soldiers. They also included an image by Naji al-Ali, the Palestinian artist who created Handala. There’s now an attempt to withdraw that from the exhibition.

The artists from Documenta have these very big zoom meetings which stand for artistic freedom, solidarity with the oppressed, a lot of them are Global South artists. They’ve been through colonialism, occupation, imperialism, Fascist coup governments, etc.

I am clearly against antisemitism. I think every arts institution should adopt the Jerusalem declaration on antisemitism. But it seems to me is that they’re not even talking about antisemitism. What they’re talking about is allegiance and loyalty to German foreign policy.

And the idea that our artists, whom you’ve invited as a guest, should have to be in line with your foreign policy, seems to be a very fascist way of doing art. It’s a level of executive control that I’ve never encountered before anywhere I’ve been.

The narrative in the German press was first, “Look, here’s a postcolonial exhibition. We are letting people from the Global South exhibit”. The minute that the people from the Global South started saying things which weren’t according to the set rules, the press began attacking the artists.

Germany takes a lot of pride in Documenta, but actually, when you look deep into the history, the first few Documentas were curated by literal Nazis. And then Documenta10, which was curated by a French woman, Catherine David, created a bit of a controversy. Even the obsessive guy who runs the antisemitism blog in Kassel says she’s antisemitic.

But after Documenta11 in 2002, the game changed. Black and brown people were allowed more of a centre stage. And that inspired me. I dreamed of being in Documenta since then.

In the last 20 years, as Documenta has become more progressive, more internationalist, more black and brown faces in control, German society has becoming more regressive, right wing fascistic. Pegida started, the AfD became such a huge movement. There were all these Nazi mass murders. Today in Germany, far right violence is at a 20-year high.

So, it seemed German society was going one way and the art world was going another, which was going to create a fault line. And that’s what we’re seeing today.

Added to this, antisemitic incidents are rising, and the reaction of the political centre and part of the Left is to try to exclude any artist who is associated with BDS.

Yeah. I was very much wary of Germany because Kamila Shamsie, the British Pakistani novelist had an award taken away from her. My friend, the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour, is very bleak about the state of Germany with attacks against Mohammed Al-Kurd and Achilles Mbembe, the brilliant black philosopher.

All of us see ourselves as being punished as part of this wider war against cultural workers who want solidarity with the oppressed.

How would you respond to someone in Germany saying, “Yes but BDS is the same as the Nazis saying, ‘Don’t buy from Jews?’”

Clearly that’s rubbish, and they should take a closer look. In Britain, every progressive person, whether liberal or left, supports BDS. Most trade unions support BDS.

Let’s look at house demolitions. A British company, Caterpillar, is used to bulldoze people’s houses. I don’t think that any human being alive would say that bulldozing somebody’s house is an acceptable way for a State to behave. This is why we boycott Caterpillar. There’s also the question of international law. Settlements are illegal. It’s modelled on the South African movement, which was effective.

Some of my best teachers are Israeli Jews. Tanya Reinhart wrote the first book I read about Israel/Palestine. There’s Gideon Levy. Even within Israel, there’s a movement called Boycott From Within. There are Israeli Jews living in Berlin who support BDS. When you see a house bulldozed, there’s people who think that is unacceptable, who are for BDS. And there are people who think it is acceptable, and they’re the anti-BDS.

I have this example in Documenta. I meet the staff and they’re very lovely young people interested in art. They come across as very nice. Then as soon as you say that Israel’s an apartheid state, they’ll suddenly be a bit tetchy and weird. They can’t swallow something that three human rights organisations – Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and Human Rights Watch – have affirmed. I find that white Germany just needs to be a bit more honest with itself.

The other horrible tendency is that while there is a horrible rise in antisemitic attacks, it is Nazis, Fascists and White Supremacists who are responsible, but Muslim minorities are scapegoated for this. Germany just needs to look in the mirror.

What happens next for Documenta and for you?

Everyone in Documenta has a guillotine hanging over their heads. Many are traumatized, many are depressed. It’s a mental health crisis. When I came back home, I couldn’t function; I didn’t know what had been written about me in the press. People were stalking me and slandering me. There was neo-Nazi graffiti.

It was crazy. Some of my work still isn’t properly installed yet. They derailed and disrupted their proudest cultural export to maintain an alliance with an illegal occupation by an Apartheid regime. I still don’t know what’s going to be said about me next week. Each day, a new shocking and disturbing thing happens.

Some of us have been physically attacked. Women in Algeria who are the most brilliant African female scholars are being witch-hunted, abused, and slandered. People think of Germany as such a welcoming place, and I’m finding the opposite. But I’m not going to let the racists win. That’s why I’m back in Germany.

I can walk down the street in London with a Palestine T-shirt and everyone wants to high-five me. When I do that in Kassel, I hear that they say “Here comes the Documenta artist. Let’s burn them alive. Documenta should be for German artists.” This makes me glad that I don’t speak or understand German.

I really admire the resilience of the Arab diaspora within Berlin, and I hope that one day Germany and colonised people can work together for a decolonial future.

Hamja is on Instagram @shyradicals and Twitter @hamjaahsan.

Hamja Ahsan (photo: Florian Cramer)

Why the Two State Solution for Palestine is Impossible

Only a Single Democratic Secular State can guarantee equality for everyone living in Israel/Palestine


27/08/2022

A significant number of the German Left believes that Two States is the only possible solution for Israel/Palestine. So, for example, on 13 May, 2021, leaders of die LINKE, Susanne Hennig-Wellsow und Janine Wissler, issued a statement saying that we “further believe that only a Two State Solution between Israel and Palestine will bring a life in safety for the Israeli and Palestinian people.”

A briefing paper of the parliamentary fraction of die LINKE proudly states that: “all parties represented in the Bundestag stand for a Two State settlement”.

Many liberal international forces also make the same demands.

For example, President Obama said in 2011: “the ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”

Earlier this year, new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Jerusalem and called for a Two State Solution, saying: “people on both sides have the right to live in safety and dignity”.

Donald Trump also called for a “realistic Two State Solution for the middle East” in 2020. Admittedly, Trump’s opinion on Palestine remains unclear, and follows the same incoherent, contradictory pattern he exercised on most topics throughout his presidency.

In Palestine

Just as many western perspectives collectively promote the Two State Solution, a large part of the political leadership in Palestine make the same demands.

As far back as 1947, the Palestinian Communist Party accepted the partition that took place in 1948, which then led to the Nakba.

Following the 1967 war, Nayif Hawatmeh, leader of the Marxist-Leninist DFLP called for a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories.

In 1988, PLO and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat accepted UNO Resolution 242 and UNGA Resolution 181, otherwise known as the Partition Plan. He attempted to implement this partition in the Oslo Accords of 1993 and afterwards.

In 2000, Abu Ali Mustafa, der the new leader of the left wing PFLP implicitly supported the Fatah model. This led to a split in the Palestinian Left and in 2010, the PFLP called on the PLO to break off negotiations with Israel, to enable a One State Solution.

And in 2017, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal also accepted a Palestinian state inside the 1967 borders. In the same year, a representative of the PLO dismissed any alternative to a Two State Solution as “painful bloodshed”.

With such resounding support for the Two-State Solution from what appears to be all sides, what’s left to discuss? I believe that there are many issues with the Two-State Solution that are often glossed over, which fosters misinformation and hinders progress for a realistic solution.

What’s it all about?

In order to approach the Two-State Solution, I want to put forward 3 main arguments:

  1. The Two State Solution was never a solution for ordinary Palestinians.

  2. Even if the Two State Solution was once possible, the extensive building of settlements in the last two decades means that it is no longer an option.

  3. Even if a Two State Solution was the only possible solution, it is not the job of the white German Left to tell the Palestinian resistance what form their resistance must take.

I would also like to address three of the most common arguments used in favour of a Two State Solution:

  • Argument 1: A state with a Jewish majority is necessary to protect Jewish people from antisemitism.

  • Argument 2: Two States is the only realistic solution. Everything else is utopian.

  • Argument 3: Two States may not solve everything, but something is better than nothing, and Two States offers an interim solution for the beleaguered Palestinians.

Once I’ve tried to address these arguments, I would like to make my contribution towards the discussion about how the problem should be solved.

Argument 1: A state with a Jewish majority is necessary to protect Jewish people from antisemitism

The Two State Solution concerns itself predominately with the need for a Jewish State. After the Holocaust, pogroms [the organised massacre of Jews, particularly in pre-Soviet Russia] and other known cases of antisemitism, a Jewish State is the only way in which Jewish people can live in safety. So goes the argument.

Let’s examine the reality of this logic. Is it really so, that Jews who live in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem are safer than those in New York or Berlin?

Despite the alarming rise of antisemitism in the US and Europe, Jewish people in these countries can still coexist in relative peace with others. In contrast, the State of Israel also continues in its present form by encouraging its inhabitants to live in a state of permanent fear.

Jewish people in Israel are treated as occupiers. The relationship between Jews and non-Jews in an occupied country means that Jews in Israel can never feel safe. There will always be some people who live on stolen land and others who want their land and property back.

Is Israel a democratic State?

The basic laws of Israel state that Israel is “a Jewish and democratic state”. Similarly, in the 1970s, the Israeli High Court ruled that “there is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation”. [White, pp.12-13]

But can a state be Jewish and democratic? If Israel’s claims of democracy are true, then how can this democracy function if Jews inherently carry special rights?

Israeli politicians have clearly stated how they understand a “democratic” Jewish State to function. Former president Netanyahu made his position clear when he spoke out against migrants and refugees from Africa because they threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Interior minister Eli Yishai offered an even clearer position, stating in 2012 thatMuslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, the white man.

Many Israeli right wingers express concerns regarding the “demographic time bomb” – pointing to the statistical fact that poorer populations tend to have more children. This could result in Palestinians being a majority in Israel.

The former Israeli President Golda Meir, for example verified this fear, expressing: her sleep was often disturbed at the thought of how many Arab babies had been born in the night.“[Hirst, p369]

Where does such state racism lead? Here just one example from Ali Abunimah:

There are also credible allegations that Israel may have engaged in the most noxious methods of non-racial population control. In 2012, a number of Ethiopian women said that they had been forced to take the long-acting injectable birth-control Depo-Provera before they were allowed to emigrate to Israel. The matter came to light when an Israeli journalist began to investigate an astonishing 50-percent drop in births among Ethiopian women over a mere 10 year period.“
[Abunimah, p34]

How are Palestinians excluded?

In the State of Israel, a distinction is made between citizenship and nationality. Civil and political rights are issued determined to nationality. Possible Nationalities are, for example, Jewish, Arab and Druze, and the nationality with the most privileges is Jewish.

Let’s examine some statistics from the Equality Index of Jewish and Arab Citizens in Israel. Just in Israel – that is the area which does not include the West Bank and Gaza – Jews live on average 4 years longer.

Child mortality is 7.7 per 1000 for Palestinians, around 3 per 1000 for Jews. In 2009, 17% of Israeli Jews lived in poverty, against 54% of Arabs. The poverty level for Palestinian children is 63%.

From 2014-2021, 77 percent of all indictments for incitement claims of violence and racism were filed against Palestinians, despite Palestinians accounting for only 20% of the entire population. 99% of the Palestinians facing convictions faced jail service, in stark contrast to only 46% of Israelis facing jail time.

Additionally, examples of systematic discrimination are peppered into Israel’s legal system.

In 2003, Israel introduced “temporary” laws, which deny residency or citizenship to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza who marry Israeli citizens. By 2007, this law was extended to include people from Iraq, Syria or Lebanon. [White, pp. 12-13]

In 2008, Israeli medical schools raised the age of accepting new students from 18 to 20. That posed no problems for Israelis who must serve 2 years military service after leaving school. The decision disadvantaged Palestinian students who were forced either to move to a different country or to choose a different career. [Pappé, 2011, p166]

These are just a few of the many micro-aggressions which demonstrate that Palestinians are not welcome in their own country.

Jewish National Fund

Let’s now explore the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a non-profit organization which provides funding for land purchase and development in Palestine.

A Human Rights Watch report Discrimination in Land Allocation and Access declares the following: “Unlike most industrialized countries, which have widespread private land ownership and a free real estate market, in Israel the state controls 93 percent of the land. This land is owned either directly by the state or by quasi-governmental bodies that the state has authorized to develop the land, such as the Development Authority and the Jewish National Fund.”

A free real estate market may not be our first demand, but this imbalanced distribution portrays the qualities of a racist state. JNF housing and land are exclusively rented to Jews. This systematic discrimination leaves denies Arabs access to 80% of all public land.

Many of the houses and land which the JNF has expropriated once belonged to Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes and land during the Nakba. In other words, the JNF is an instrument facilitated by the State of Israel to acquire stolen Palestinian land and sell it to Israelis.

Bedouins, indigenous people which originate from the Negev desert are particularly affected by the rigid land ownership laws. Their indigenous land represents a quarter of the population in the Negev desert, yet Bedouin municipalities of jurisdiction of only 1.9% of the land in the region.

Why are these arguments important?

It is critical to showcase the depth and breadth of areas which reflect the true nature of the undemocratic Jewish state. The lifeblood of the State of Israel is the persistent exclusion of Palestinians and the robbery and reclaiming of property.

A Two State Solution does nothing to challenge these inhumane inequalities. It simply states that the inequality should continue to persist within different borders. If we believe that the State of Israel discriminates systematically against Palestinians, forming a Palestinian state next to Israel is no counterweight against this discrimination.

Argument 2: Two States is the only realistic solution. Everything else is utopian

Some liberal Zionists argue that one state could be nice in theory, but it would be impossible to implement such a solution in reality.

For example, Zach Beauchamp says: “As far away as it may seem, the two-state solution is still the best possible option available for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s in large part because the alternatives are even less plausible.”

But let us look at exactly how plausible Two States are in 2022. As said, I believe that Two States was never a sustainable solution, but if you propose a Two State Solution, you must explain how this would be possible under the current conditions, including the settlement of the West Bank.

The Settlements

According to Ilan Pappe:large parts of the West Bank are already settled. It is physically impossible to set up a state there”.

The One Democratic State Campaign explains why:

“Israel governments going back to 1967 have rejected the notion of a viable, genuinely sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, together with the very fact of occupation. Instead, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, has moved 700,000 settlers into the territory that would have been a Palestinian state, and confined 95% of the Palestinians to the tiny islands of Areas A and B in the West Bank, and a besieged Gaza.”

“In January 2020,Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel would annex the Jordan Valley “and all the settlements,” in accord with Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” Nor is there any will on the part of the international community to sanction Israel or force it to withdraw from the Occupied Territory.”

The liberal Zionist Peter Beinart noted that the proposal from Trump and Netanyahu required the annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank. As a reparation, the Palestinians were offered half as much land in Israel – and most of this was uninhabitable desert land.

As a reminder, the West Bank and Gaza only account for 22% of historic Palestine. What is being offered here is around 15%, and this is before we talk about the land which has been gobbled up by the Apartheid wall and the excessive barriers surrounding it.

According to an Amnesty report“more than 80 per cent of the fence/wall is located on occupied Palestinian land inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank. The route of the fence/wall has been planned in such a way that it prevents access by Palestinian to areas of the West Bank which include some of the best access to water, notably the Western Aquifer.”

Additionally, there is land claimed for usage as the so-called “bypass roads” which only settlers are allowed to use, and the barracks for the soldiers who protect the settlers. Until now, no-one has suggested that these remnants of Apartheid should be eliminated under the Two State Solution.

That means that even less land is available for Palestinians.

Tanya Reinhart makes the following estimation: “if the settlements stay, of course, the Israeli army will stay as well to protect them, and thus the situation will remain as it is now – namely the Palestinian ‘state’ will consist of 42 per cent of the West Bank.”

In other words, this means just 10% of historic Palestine will be left for the Palestinians.

Access to Water

This brings us to the next problem for a viable Palestinian state. It is common knowledge that Israelis enjoy all of the luxuries of access to plentiful amounts of water such as swimming pools and lawn care, while Palestinians cannot drink or cook with their tap water.

Israelis consume at least four times as much water as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians in the West Bank use 80 litres of water per person per day, an amount which falls below the WHO recommendation of 100 litres of daily consumption.

Israelis reap major economic benefits with subsidies by US tax money. But the fact that they also control access to the most critical water sources means that even without these massive subsidies, they have material advantages over the Palestinians.

This is not just because the Israeli economy is subsidised by US tax money, making Israeli citizens better off. Israel also controls access to water sources.

According to a 2009 Amnesty report, 180,000-200,000 Palestinians in rural communities in the West Bank have no access to running water. Israel has deliberately destroyed water tanks.

Although the West Bank and Gaza formally have their own governments, Israel passed monumental Military Orders in 1967 and 1968 which granted the Israeli army full authority over “all water-related issues” in both region.

Palestinians are prohibited from building any new water installations or drill wells without permission from the Israeli army.

In Gaza conditions are even worse than in the West Bank, even though Israel formally withdrew from the area in 2005. The Israeli blockade of Gaza means that people have little access to water or electricity. Over 90% of water extracted from the one aquifer in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

In 2009, the UNRWA reported that: “Watery diarrhoea as well as acute bloody diarrhoea remain the major causes of morbidity among reportable infectious diseases in the refugee population of the Gaza Strip”

The only reliable source of clean water for people in Gaza is for them to buy it from Israel. But Israel’s protracted war with the people of Gaza means that it is not always prepared to even sell the water that is necessary to avoid such dangers to people’s health.

Argument 3: Two States may not solve everything, but something is better than nothing, and Two States offers an interim solution for the beleaguered Palestinians

There is still the argument that the current situation in the West Bank is so hopeless that the Palestinians can’t afford to wait for a utopian One State Solution. Something must be done now.

To see exactly how bad things are, let’s look at an Amnesty report, which says the following:

Israel’s military rule disrupts every aspect of daily life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It continues to affect whether, when and how Palestinians can travel to work or school, go abroad, visit their relatives, earn a living, attend a protest, access their farmland, or even access electricity or a clean water supply. It means daily humiliation, fear and oppression. People’s entire lives are effectively held hostage by Israel.”

Things are similar in Gaza. A recent report says that “since 2007, nearly 850 patients in Gaza have died after their permits to access hospitals in the West Bank and Israel were denied or delayed.”

There is a strong argument that Palestinians need more control in order to save lives. This argument does not say that Two States will necessary solve all problems, but will at least avoid the worst. And something is better than nothing.

The most convincing version of this argument comes from Tanya Reinhart, a historian and supporter of the Palestinians who I rate very highly. In 2002, Reinhart called for 2 States as an interim solution as follows:

I believe it would be a great oversight to give up the concrete chance to get back much of the Palestinian lands now, in the hope that in the future one could get more. Whatever solution the two peoples arrive at in the future, it must be based on the Palestinians having land, resources, and the freedom to develop anyway. So the process of acquiring these basics should start now, regardless of the final vision.” [Reinhart, pp 228-9]

But will a Palestinian State really solve these problems?

The Amnesty report referenced above details the daily weight of occupation for Palestinians who can’t go abroad and have no access to electricity or clean water supplies.

But this is an exact description of the current situation in Gaza. And this situation will not significantly change if Gaza becomes an independent state. Ultimately Israel will continue to control the borders and access to clean water.

Haider Eid sees it as follows: What we have ended up with in the Gaza Strip is an open-air, maximum security prison separated from the other prison in the West Bank. These two prisons cannot make a “sovereign, independent state”, unless one calls ‘la la land’ a state, or what the late revolutionary intellectual and freedom fighter Amilcar Cabral derided as ‘flag independence.’”

Edward Said has the following to say about such ‘flag independence’: “Israel and the United States are at bottom delighted to give us symbols of sovereignty, such as a flag, while withholding real sovereignty, the right of return for all refugees, economic self-sufficiency, and relative independence. I have always felt that the meaning of Palestine is something more substantial than that.” [Said, page xx]

Said notes that the Palestinian National Council also declared an independent state in 1988, although this declaration did not provide any meaningful change for the daily lives of Palestinians.

Bantustans?

Gaza could be immediately declared as a State, but this would not change the facts on the ground. A Gazan State under the current conditions would be equivalent to a Bantustan in Apartheid South Africa.

Black South Africans, born in Johannesburg or Pretoria, were suddenly informed that they were citizens of Tranket or Ciskei – artificial states, which had never been visited by many of their citizens. The Apartheid government even attempted to gain UN recognition for these “independent states”.

Bantustans had their own elections and parliaments. But Human rights, including safety, natural resources and control, were left out of the equation.

After the Oslo Accords, Tanya Reinhart noted: “To solve the water shortage in Gaza, the Palestinians will be allowed to buy water from Israel. Hence, the starting point for Gaza is worse than a Bantustan: neither water nor land.” [Reinhart, p238]

Before Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, he stated his vision for a future Palestine as “an entity less than a state”. Rabin is now feted as being one of Israel’s most progressive leaders. The current government is offering even less.

Right of Return – What will happen to the Refugees?

Ilan Pappe says: “The Two State Solution reduces Palestine to 22 per cent of historic Palestine, and the Palestinians to only those who live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As long as not all Palestinians and the whole of historic Palestine are included in a future solution, there is no chance for a viable and real reconciliation”.

We have already seen that the Two State Solution which has been offered so far actually reduces Palestine to 10% of historic Palestine, and says very little about the refugees who had to flee Israel in 1948 and after.

There are now at least 7 Million Palestinian refugees. Many live in refugee camps in Israel’s neighbours like Jordan and Lebanon. This includes grandchildren and great grandchildren of people who fled their homes during the Nakba in 1948 – nearly 75 years ago.

UN Resolution 194 states that: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.”

You might say that this is just a worthless paper resolution, but if UN resolutions can be ignored, who seriously believes that the Israelis will accept other solutions?

The refugees must go somewhere. But, based on the facts given earlier in this article, it is apparent that a future Palestinians state is barely viable even under the Two State Solution.

Additionally, many of the refugees are from 1948 Palestine, not from the West Bank or Gaza. Will these people will really be allowed to return to their homes?

What will happen to the Palestinians who live in “Israel”?

This brings us to the question of the 1.9 Million Palestinians who currently live in “Israel”. Will they be allowed to stay? And if so, with which rights?

There is a large danger that Two States will lead to a partition like in India in 1947-8. This was when 15 million people had to leave their homes, and travel either from India to the new state of Pakistan, or in the other direction. In the ensuing massacres, between 1 and 2 million people were murdered.

Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal called partition the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” She went on: “A defining moment that has neither beginning nor end, Partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”

Jerusalem

And what will happen to the Palestinians who currently live in East Jerusalem? Many versions of the Two State Solution envisage East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. But the devil is in the detail.

If you’ve ever been to Jerusalem, you will know East Jerusalem, also known as Al-Quds, as the liveliest part of town, the part with the old city and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Al-Aqsa is considered to be the third-holiest site in Islam.

The Website Islam ist describes Al-Quds as follows: “before Mecca became Muslim, the first direction of prayer was in no less than Jerusalem. This, and other important reasons, make Jerusalem an outstanding place for Muslims until today.”

But If we look at any discussions of a possible Two State Solution by either the Israeli or US government, if they mention East Jerusalem at all, they are not referring to Al-Quds. Instead, they propose taking the village of Abu Dis and renaming this as East Jerusalem.

Abu Dis lies outside the city limits of Jerusalem, and was described by Reuters Journalist Stephen Farrell as: “a relatively featureless urban sprawl on the old road to Jericho, it has little of the religious or cultural resonance of the historic city centre, which contains sites sacred to the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

The offer of Abu Dis instead of Al-Quds was already clear in the Camp David agreement of 2000. According to Phyllis Bennis: “the Palestinians would be offered some modicum of authority over the villages, one of which, Abu Dis, would be declared the “capital” of a Palestinian statelet. Palestinians would be “allowed” to call the dusty hillside village “Jerusalem.” Only problem is, everyone knows that Abu Dis is not Jerusalem. Redrawing municipal borders doesn’t make it so.”

In decades of negotiations, the Israelis mentioned Abu Dis as one possibility among others. Trump and Netanyahu’s “Deal of the Century” went even further. Al-Jazeera reports: “Trump has formalized the question of Abu Dis as the only possible PA capital in the future. Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was meant to remove any hope for the reopening of negotiations on this question.”

One important question is rarely addressed. What will happen to the 372,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem – one quarter of the West Bank? Will they also be expelled – to a village without infrastructure, without resources, without industry?“

 

So, what is the solution?

What will a democratic state look like?

Unfortunately, I can say very little to this question. The decisions about what a democratic state should look like should be made exclusively by the people who will live there.

Nevertheless, I can share some thoughts of Ilan Pappé. In an Interview with the German newspaper neues deutschland, Pappe spoke of: “a democratic state which accepts the Palestinian refugees who want to return, with equal rights for all, without discrimination based on religion, nationality, race, ethnicity or gender. One which distributes the country’s wealth according to the principles of social justices, compensation and equal opportunities for everyone. One which respects collective identity, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic conditions of “live and let live”, without any group using the state to enforce any supremacist ideologies.”

That’s not a bad start.

Comparison with South Africa

South Africa provides us with 2 examples – one positive, one negative, which show us what a joint state could look like.

Positively, there is the successful fight of a movement, which according to Haider Eid “mobilised international civil society around the idea of one person, one vote and the establishment of a secular democratic, non-racial, non-sectarian state.”

Eid sees the ANC’s fight in South Africa as something quite different, and much better, to the endless compromises of the PLO in negotiations with Israel.

The ANC’s victory was unexpected by many. In 1989, South Africa’s President de Klerk said that the ANC’s demands for equality were “unjust”. de Klerk “unequivocally rejected” the possibility of majority rule. Nonetheless, by the beginning of 1990, Nelson Mandela was free, and the negotiations for the end of Apartheid had already begun.

Those who say that a state for Palestine would be impossible because of settlers prepared to use violence, should think of Apartheid South Africa and the armed paramilitaries of the fascist AWB. The AWB was no fringe organisation. In 1986 alone their membership trebled to 100,000 people [Abunimah, p51]

And yet, when push came to shove, and white South Africans saw no alternative to peaceful coexistence, they accepted the inevitable.

The negative example of South Africa is the fact that Apartheid was overcome, but exploitation, oppression and capitalism remain. This year sees the tenth anniversary of the Marikana massacre when police controlled by the ANC massacred striking miners.

There is no space in this article to carry on this debate, but it does raise one important question: One State is the necessary solution, but is it sufficient?

Will Israelis and Palestinians accept a One State Solution?

One argument against a One State Solution is that Israelis would not accept it. For example, Zach Beauchamp argues that “The Israeli commitment to Zionism creates an insuperable political problem for a one-state solution.”

My first answer is “so what?” Apartheid was overcome in South Africa despite the commitment of white South Africans to racism, colonialism was beaten in India and Algeria against the will of the Britons and French occupiers.

It is much more important to ask whether Palestinians would oppose the idea. As I have already argued, it is not the job of the European Left to dictate to Palestinians how they should liberate themselves. This is true for Europeans who will only support Palestinians who support the Two State “Solution” but it also applies to us. Ultimately, this is not our decision.

There is an argument that says that after so many years of oppression and exclusion, the Palestinians will inevitably seek revenge. The example of South Africa demonstrates that this is not necessarily the case.

It is also true, that for a long time, the majority of Palestinians supported the Two State Solution, at the very least as an interim solution. I remember conversations in 2014 during the bombardment of Gaza with many Palestinians who had illusions – or let’s say hope” in Two States.

But the figures are changing. Gala Golan reports that Palestinian support for 2 States dropped from 71% in 2010 to 43% in December 2018. The reason was: “frustration and failures of Fatah’s preference for negotiations and compromise, under both Arafat and Abbas.”

Tanya Reinhart’s statistic are not identical – she says that at the high point, Palestinian support for Two States was 80%. [Reinhart, p53]. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that a majority of Palestinians are no longer convinced in the Two State Solution, not even as an interim solution.

Peter Beinart, who calls himself a liberal Zionist, and has advocated a Two State Solution for a long time, now says that it’s Two States which is an illusion. He goes on: The right question is not which vision is more fanciful at this moment, but which can generate a movement powerful enough to bring fundamental change … A struggle for equality could elevate Palestinian leaders who possess the moral authority that Abbas and Hamas lack.

So it is not just that One State is more practical. It is a demand which is more likely to raise a fighting opposition to the “same old same old”.

Who has the power to enforce change?

The last question is probably the most important, as if you wrongly identify the motor of change, you look for changes which are either impossible or unwanted.

The starting point for too many people – both Left and Right – is to ask what the Israelis (either the State or the people) are prepared to accept. Some push the question further by making their proposals dependent on what US Imperialism is prepared to allow.

Our starting point should be different. We want to build a mass movement in the whole region that overcomes the system of colonialism and exploitation. That means that what the settlers want, or what they are prepared to accept are irrelevant to us.

The USA and the EU are part of the problem. We should not appeal to them for justice. This March, the US House of Representatives approved a further $1 million for Israeli “defence aid”. This is on top of the $3.8 Million, which the USA donates Israel every year. This money financed the last bombing of Gaza – either directly or indirectly.

If the US government – any US government – were serious about peace in the Middle East, they could withdraw all financial support for Israel until Israel at least agreed to accept existing UN resolutions.

Israel – and the Israelis – are also part of the problem. Because of the tremendous amount of US financial support, there are material reasons for Israelis to support the occupation. Just as under Apartheid South Africa, individual occupiers may support decolonisation, but any effective movement for change must come from the Palestinians themselves.

A movement under Palestinian leadership which fights against all colonialism and imperialism does not have to stay with a solution which allows an unviable state next door to a state with much more wealth and resources, where the old exploitation continues.

If we want to build a movement that is strong enough to confront Israel and US Imperialism, why should we accept the crumbs of Two States, when we can take over the whole bakery?

 

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