Our Mission: One Secular Democratic State in Palestine/Israel with Equal Rights for All

“Where the Struggle Has to Go” 

Acknowledging that all human beings are created equal, we consider Israel’s policies of discrimination against non-Jews in Israel, hafrada, apartheid, occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and military siege of Gaza to be a violation of our shared moral values. We support the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society and the 2009 call by Kairos Palestine for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and companies that profit from the Israeli occupation until Israel ends its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, lifts its siege of Gaza, upholds full equality for Palestinians in Israel, upholds the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees as recognized in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, and complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

At the invitation of Palestine solidarity groups, churches, mosques, synagogues and community, youth or student organizations, Common Ground hosts Palestinian and Jewish Israeli activists to discuss all Palestinians’ “adamant rejection” of Israel’s 2014 demand to be recognized as a “Jewish state,” stipulated in the 2020 U.S./Trump plan (‘Jewish state’ recognition adds new Israeli-Palestinian trip wire / Why ‘Jewish state’ demand is a non-starter / Why Palestinians Can’t Recognize a ‘Jewish state’), to invite Palestine solidarity groups to endorse/defend the unanimous Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” like the Arab League endorsed the Palestinian refusal and like solidarity groups endorse the Palestinian call for BDS, and to discuss why achieving justice and lasting peace in Palestine/Israel calls for repeal of Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law “that constitutionally enshrines Jewish supremacy” — as petitioned by Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset — and the creation of one secular democratic, multicultural, nonsectarian state or federation with equal rights for all and protection of minority rights throughout historic Palestine — a state of all its citizens — as proposed by Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset.

In the 2016 article In the Jewish state, equality for Arabs is impossible by definition, Palestinian-Israeli Umar al-Ghubari (Zochrot Staff) writes: “Because of these deeply-rooted conceptions which stem from the very definition of the state as the state of the Jewish people, there is no chance of achieving equality in the State of Israel…. To eliminate discrimination and change the power relations between Jews and Arabs toward real equality, it is necessary to give up on the ideology that produces inequality. Those who carry the banner of the struggle need to change direction and demand the establishment of a truly democratic political framework — one that will not give preference to one race over another. This will pave the way for a struggle that has a chance of implementing the principle of equality…. Equality without reservations, which eliminates the equation of rulers and ruled, occupiers and occupied, expellers and expelled. That is where the struggle has to go.”

In the 2018 article Jewish Nation State Law Sets Legal Parameters for Complete Takeover of Historic Palestine, Nadia Ben-Youssef offers a silver lining of hope: “Codifying the myth of human hierarchy is deadly – when states elevate one group of people as more valuable, others are dehumanized and their very lives are threatened. At the same time… when the root of the problem is understood, so too is the solution. The alternative to this colonial, supremacist present is a decolonized future of equal rights for all. While settler-colonialism is a zero-sum game, decolonization is not. Supremacy insists that only one group of people deserve freedom; equality means we all do.”

Toward “conflict transformation,” not merely “conflict resolution,” and a one-democratic-state end-game in Palestine/Israel 

Common Ground Exec. Dir. ********** highlights the need for a political end-game to establish lasting peace through “conflict transformation,” not merely “conflict resolution,” enabling the creation of one secular constitutional democracy — Israel currently has no constitution — for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews with equal rights for all and protection of minority rights.

Common Ground shares the view of Israeli peace activist Dr. Jeff Halper, Co-founder of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), expressed in his 2013 article What Comes Next: Towards a bi-national end-game in Palestine/Israel: “In our struggle for a just peace in Palestine/Israel, we find ourselves at a precarious crossroads. It is clear that the two-state solution is dead and gone, the victim of deliberate Israeli policies of settlement, territorial confiscation and Israel’s refusal to relinquish control over Palestinians’ lives. Yet the Palestinians, whose lead we must follow, have only just begun formulating alternatives, mainly around the notion of a single democratic state. Finding ourselves locked in a political struggle with no end-game for which to advocate is dangerous and self-defeating; it only invites other forces to step into the breach and impose their own agendas.”

Dr. Halper observes that while the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is an essential strategic and tactical tool in the struggle for Palestinian equal rights — the three goals of BDS frame the demands of equality — nevertheless, neither the Boycott National Committee (BNC), the Palestinian Authority nor any other group has proposed a political framework for implementing equal rights to be considered and approved by Palestinians and Israeli Jews, therefore BDS alone cannot provide a solution to the conflict. “BDS is a valuable tactic for keeping the issue alive,” Halper states, “but it cannot replace an end-game and an effective strategy for achieving it.” (Towards An End-Game In Palestine/Israel While Imagining The Future)

Acknowledging the need for “an end-game and an effective strategy for achieving it,” Common Ground hosts Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli activists to discuss why all Palestinians reject Israel’s 2014 demand to be recognized as a “Jewish state” and why international allies should endorse/defend the Palestinian refusal and support Palestinians and Israelis promoting one secular democratic state with equal rights for “all its citizens,” like in the U.S.A. and South Africa. Palestinians and Israelis must decide what political framework will bring lasting peace and Israelis “must follow” the “lead” of Palestinians, as Dr. Halper acknowledges, yet if “the notion of a single democratic state” is to gain viability and become established, the international community has a key role to play in inviting open discussion of the merits of this framework, as advocated by the Movement for One Democratic State/Principles of Activism:

“This Movement does not replace existing groups or organizations or diminish the role played by activist individuals. It supports such groups and individuals to debate and adopt the Declaration of ODS as an integral part of their mission and to unite behind this vision…. Palestinian-Arabs… Israeli-Jews… and (international) groups need separate debates about one democratic state as well as mixed (debates). Each group has different perspectives, fears, hopes and concerns regarding a democratic state solution, so sometimes separate conversations are needed…. Consensus only among the Palestinians, or only among Israeli Jewish communities, will not enable progress toward one democratic state. All must agree that one democratic state is the best hope for a stable peace in order for all to be confident about its prospects and allow its peaceful creation. Allowing internal and mixed discussions will help thrash out these issues…. Many people who are neither Palestinians, Israelis, Muslims, Jews nor Arabs are affected by this conflict, care about the conflict, and want to be part of the solution…. Just as the Movement bases its mission on universal values, it should be universally inclusive. Anyone is welcome to join, be active, and take leading roles in the Movement as long as they sign the Declaration and respect its principles.”

To encourage Israeli and American Jewish support for one secular democratic state in Palestine/Israel, Common Ground recognizes the compatibility of “cultural” (not “political”) Zionism and Palestinian self-determination as discussed by Dr. Leila Farsakh, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts/Boston, in her 2007 article Time for a bi-national state. Dr. Farsakh writes:

“The idea of a single, bi-national state is not new. Its appeal lies in its attempt to provide an equitable and inclusive solution to the struggle of two peoples for the same piece of land. It was first suggested in the 1920s by the Zionist left-wing intellectuals led by Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Haim Kalvarisky…. Underlying their Zionism was a quest for a Jewish renaissance, both cultural and spiritual, with a determination to avoid injustice in its achievement. It was essential to found a new nation, although not necessarily a separate Jewish state and certainly not at the expense of the existing population. Magnes argued that the Jewish people did not ‘need a Jewish state to maintain its very existence’…. In 1969… Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement (called) for the creation of a ‘secular and democratic state’ in Palestine. The new state was based on the right of return — while accepting a Jewish presence in Palestine — and it was to end the injustices stemming from the creation of Israel and the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian villagers. Although it called for the destruction of Israel as a colonial entity, it upheld the principle of a single state for all, Muslim, Christian or Jew.”

In 2009, CBS correspondent Bob Simon was asked what chance there was for a viable two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, and Simon replied: “History has passed it by” (Remembering Bob Simon). Given this reality, Palestinians are shifting their struggle for self-determination from advocacy for a Palestinian state to advocacy for equal rights, as recognized in Frank Barat’s 2013 interview with Dr. Leila Farsakh and Noura Erakat Esq.

Dr. Farsakh states: “Today if you talk to the youth in Palestine, they don’t care about a state. They are very clear about their identity. They care about rights. They don’t give a damn if the next door neighbors are Israeli or not as long as they have the same access to education, health and freedom of movement as they do. This is different from thirty years ago when (Palestinians) wanted to create a state. This has changed.” (What Comes Next: The struggle we are fighting for is the right to assert what our life will look like).

In his 2015 article What Palestinians Really Want, Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, cites polling data that show a majority of Palestinians no longer support a two-state solution. Munayyer advises that “the focus of Palestinian national strategy should not be statehood but rather on reclaiming rights. This means officially declaring the two-state solution dead…. Palestinian leaders should support coexistence over nationalism, integration over exclusion and equality over separatism.”

Discussing his 2012 book After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine (co-authored with Antony Loewenstein), Ahmed Moor recommends federalism as a viable political framework for Palestine/Israel: “What is paramount is the preservation both of culture and individual rights. Palestinians do not want to lose sense of what it is to be Palestinian, I am confident that Jewish Israelis do want to preserve something about their culture. As individuals, however, we need to focus on civil liberties for everyone in the country. Federalism, in my mind, provides a good framework as to how to do that.”

The failure of the Oslo Accords and the two-state paradigm is acknowledged in mainstream media and support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel is growing worldwide, nevertheless Palestine solidarity groups have largely failed to discuss and fully consider alternatives to the defunct two-state solution, as urged by the Movement for One Democratic State. Recognizing this omission as “dangerous and self-defeating,” Dr. Jeff Halper asks: What is our end-game? What are we BDSing about? We know what we’re fighting against, but what are we fighting for? Halper suggests an answer: BDS for BDS! Boycott, divestment and sanctions for a “culturally” binational, democratic state.

In the 2018 Ha’aretz op-ed The ‘Two-State Solution’ Only Ever Meant a Big Israel Ruling Over a Palestinian Bantustan. Let it Go, Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, invites Israeli and international Jews to view “cultural,” not “political,” Zionism as a starting point for Jews to join in equal partnership with Palestinians to build one democratic state: “We want a way out of political Zionism’s dead end, and a return to the cultural Zionism of Ben-Yehuda, Henrietta Szold, Ahad Ha-am, Judah Magnes and Martin Buber that envisioned a Hebrew people living together with their Palestinian neighbors. This is a challenge that will truly liberate both peoples, a positive project of a new generation of cultural Zionists. We need a state which offers equal rights to all of its citizens – one citizenship, one vote, one parliament – but which constitutionally ensures the right of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to their identities, narratives and institutions…. This is the challenge the ‘hard’ left must work to bring to reality.”

In One Democratic State: an ongoing debate (2018), Naji El Khatib and Ofra Yeshua-Lyth (a Palestinian refugee and an Israeli Jew) agree with Halper (fellow member of the One State Foundation) that “we need a state which offers equal rights to all of its citizens” but reject the idea of a politically “multicultural” or “bi-national” state. Asserting that a shared country should be founded on the “separation of church and state,” El Khatib and Yeshua-Lyth declare: “In our view, true democracy can only be achieved, or even aspired to, through the complete separation between religious institutions (mosque, synagogue, ‎church) and the state. This is the single best regulation of relations between central government and civil society. It is precisely the so-called ‘Jewishness’ of the State of Israel that has never allowed it to become a true democracy. Replacing it with potentially Muslim, Christian or Jewish ‘communities’ would be equally disastrous.” To avoid this danger, El Khatib and Yeshua-Lyth advise: “Citizenship is an entirely different concept than that of belonging to a community and the two must be distinguished legally in the clearest possible terms…. Only a secular state provides lasting protection and guarantees fundamental freedoms for the individual.”

Encouraging discussion of the one-state paradigm, Ronnie Barkan, Co-founder of the Israeli anti-Zionist group Boycott from Within, declares: “We want democracy, not demography…. The one-state discourse is important because it challenges the type of thinking that surrounds demography, and because we are actually offering something for the future, so we are sowing the seeds for a brighter future!” (UN-CUT FOR PALESTINE)

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized the “State of Israel” in 1988 and 1993, nevertheless all Palestinians reject Israel’s 2014 demand to be recognized as an ethno-nationalist “Jewish state” because doing so would deny Palestinian history and indigenous identity and, in effect, condone the 1948 Naqba in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland. In ‘Jewish state’ recognition adds new Israeli-Palestinian trip wire, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO, declares: “This is like telling the Palestinians they did not exist all these hundreds and thousands of years, that this historically has been a Jewish land. Palestine historically has been diverse. There have been many tribes here. Our history is not going to be something we can deny.” In 2016, Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat stated: “I will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state…. No force on earth will make me change my narrative…. I am speaking for 11 million Palestinians.”

In his 2012 blog Coexistence/Rav Shalom, Rabbi Brant Rosen of JVP Rabbinical Council admonished American Jews that Israel cannot be both a “democratic” and a “Jewish” state, therefore US Jews must “choose between” the two: “Once we accept that a division into two states is no longer realistically possible, the calculus is sobering, to put it mildly:  We will be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic apartheid Jewish state, in which a minority rules over a majority or a civil democracy in which all citizens have equal rights under the law. For many liberal Zionists, this unbearably painful decision will represent a profound moment of truth. If forced to choose, which will it be? A Jewish state that parcels out its citizens’ rights according to their ethnicity – or a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens?”

In Affirming a Judaism and Jewish identity without Zionism (2012), Rabbi Brian Walt of JVP Rabbinical Council declared: “I finally had to admit to myself what I had known for a long time but was too scared to acknowledge: political Zionism, at its core, is a discriminatory ethno-nationalism that privileges the rights of Jews over non-Jews. As such political Zionism violates everything I believe about Judaism. While there was desperate need in the 1940′s to provide a safe haven for Jews, and this need won over most of the Jewish world and the Western world to support the Zionist movement, the Holocaust can in in no way justify or excuse the systemic racism that was and remains an integral part of Zionism…. As a Jew I believe in the inherent dignity of every human being. As a Jew I believe that justice is the core commandment of our tradition. As a Jew I believe that we are commanded to be advocates for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. Zionism and the daily reality in Israel violated each of these core values. And, I could no longer be a Zionist…. I came to understand that the democratic Jewish state is an illusion. There is no democratic Jewish state nor will there ever be. Israel will either be a Jewish state or a democratic state. A Jewish state by definition privileges Jews and cannot be democratic.”

In a March, 2015 lecture at The Palestine Center in Washington D.C. following Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection, Dr. Nadia Hijab, Executive Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, declared: “The very idea of Israel, the notion, the concept that you can have a Jewish state that privileges some of its people at the expense of other people, which is racist and which has been at the core of the Zionist enterprise and Israel’s foundation, and which has been hidden from Western eyes for decades, is now on full view. This concept is simply not acceptable in the 21st Century.” (The Challenges Posed by the Vacuum in Palestinian Political Leadership)

Common Ground affirms that “the concept… of a state that privileges some of its people at the expense of other people… is… not acceptable,” because in any politically ethnic state “equality… is impossible by definition,” therefore we support the peaceful evolution of Palestine/Israel to become one secular democratic state with equal rights for all and protection of minority rights — a republic of all its citizens!

Dr. Jeff Halper, Co-Founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Dr. Sa'ed Atshan, Postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Studies at Brown Univ., and S. Rainsford Rouner, MSW, Co-Founder and President of Common Ground, discuss building one secular, democratic, binational state in Israel/Palestine, Harvard University, February 2015 [LINK]
(photos by Pat Westwater-Jong)

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, President Emeritus of Rabbis for Human Rights, arrested by Israeli soldiers and police for protesting Israel's occupation of the West Bank, blockade of Gaza and policy of denying building permits to Palestinian families and demolishing Palestinian homes, 2008

A Palestinian woman weeps amid the debris of her destroyed home and neighborhood devastated by Israel's war on Gaza -- Shuja'iyya, 2014

"Merry Christmas World, from Bethlehem Ghetto" -- a message from Palestinian children written on the Israeli Separation Wall that divides the town of Bethlehem, which, in 2004, the International Criminal Court decreed to be illegal due to its theft of Palestinian land -- West Bank, 2010