Supporters of the “One Democratic State” in Haifa are holding a study session to analyze this program, its political dimensions and its implications on current struggles. I took on myself the preparation of the discussion about the role of democracy in this project…
I do not deny that I‘m biased and extremist in my support for democracy and I see it as the most important component of the ODS program. Why?
Democracy is the essence of the liberation project
In the text of the invitation for the discussion session, it is written that we will “attempt to decompose the slogan” – as if the slogan was a watch or a car built from screws and hinges, and we have to understand the role and importance of each of them…
I tried to decompose and separate “democracy” from the “one-state” – and found that the one-state is painfully and heavily present on all the land of Palestine. But this is the state of occupation and colonization which is the antithesis of the democratic state and not any of its components…
If we take the “state” by itself, it is, in the best of cases, a necessary evil. In many other cases it is an evil that should be resisted.
The “one” is conceived by many observers as the heart of the program, as we talk about the “one-state solution” versus “two-state solution”. This is a dangerous illusion, because the two-state solution does not exist. The main goal of the constant talk about it is to make us ignore the reality of the one non democratic state on the ground… and even if a democratic Palestinian state will be set up on part of this land – and this is not “a solution” – our main reason for objection will not be the division of the land, but the acceptance of the results of ethnic cleansing and the absence of democracy in most parts of the country.
Some come with the slogan “one secular democratic state” – dividing our aspirations from the future state between the two qualities – “democratic” and “secular”. In my opinion, this addition does not increase the clarity of the goal and could harm it. If we mean by “secular” the freedom of all religions, freedom from coercion in religion and equal rights for all – all of these qualities are basic to the definition of democracy. But over the times and even now, not far from here, we witness the suppression of democracy in the name of secularism – which contradicts our democratic message: everyone’s participation in dialogue, decision-making and shaping the future.
The only strong “competitor” to represent the essence of the program, except for “democracy”, is “Return”. Ethnic cleansing was, and remains, the most important and most dangerous quality of the Zionist colonization of Palestine. For this reason the return of the Palestinian refugees should be at the center of our liberation project. But, from a broader perspective, denying the right of the refugees to live in their homes and motherland is one of many forms of dispossession of the Palestinian people wherever they are, like military occupation, repression, apartheid, racism, land theft and much more… The restoration of the rights to their owners and the return of the Palestinian people to live free in their homeland – all this, in the most comprehensive way, means the establishment of democracy in the land of Palestine and for all the people of this land.
Democracy between form and content
If we decompose democracy itself we find that it is composed of “Demo” – the people – and “Kratia” – Power or Rule. Hence we find at the heart of democracy the concept of the people’s sovereignty: The legitimacy of the regime stemming from his role in serving the people; the people’s interests can only be determined by the people themselves; to determine their interests the people should be free and conscious.
Many activists wonder: is there any connection between this ideal of democracy – rule by the people – and the so-called democratic political systems that are controlled by a small group of capitalists?
The basic response to this criticism of “bourgeois democracy” is that the falsity of this democracy does not undermine the basic concept of democracy. We need more democracy than what we find in these models that are incomplete or distorted, not less.
Adding to this essential response, the power of democracy, as is the power of any great positive principle, is such that even its partial and distorted application has many positive effects… The available space for thought, expression, movement and organization under the rule of bourgeois democracy is an important achievement and could be used to work toward a real democracy. The extent of influence of the people over political decisions and the ability to change government (even if nominally) through elections, political action and direct action enabled the masses to achieve many social rights even under bourgeois regimes and the rule of capital.
Hence, our opposition to bourgeois democracy (if we oppose it) is opposition to the restrictions on democracy by the rule of capital. We have to develop the concept of democracy and not to diminish it.
Through the study of history and experiences of different peoples we can find many attempts to develop different types of democracy – from the rule of the People’s Councils till “participatory democracy”. I hope that we will be able to study these experiences and use them to develop a wider vision of democracy.
From here we start
The value of democracy – like the value of air and water – is known only to those deprived of it. The rule of colonialism and apartheid is a system depriving the indigenous inhabitants of the land of the most basic human rights, freedom and self-determination. In one word, it is the denial of democracy.
Our struggle in every area of life starts with the defense of basic rights, striving to retrieve usurped rights and to gain freedom. Those are manifestations of resistance to the lack of democracy, hence resisting the system that deprives us of democracy. The political dimension of all these struggles is the struggle for democracy.
We read history and learn that all the big revolutions were essentially revolutions for democracy – beginning from the French Revolution, passing through the Russian and Chinese revolutions, until the Arab Spring that shook the world order but did not win yet. This is just natural, because these are popular revolutions of peoples that have been deprived of their right to expression, organization and self-determination. They fought for their robbed freedom in order to take their destiny in their own hands. When it is possible for people to decide their fate, they can change the regime in a democratic way and are not obliged to resort revolutionary upheavals, which are dangerous and costly.
Behind any repressive regime there is a group or a class that benefits from the repression… On the other hand, the movement of the masses for democracy is not devoid of class, social, national, and others interests. However, in the absence of democracy, the oppressed and exploited masses can’t defend their interests other than through resisting tyranny and demanding their freedom.
In order to obtain democracy we should form as broad a front as possible from all the forces, movements and parties who have interest to resist the apartheid regime and struggle for the establishment of democracy. In order to form this Broad Front, the liberation movement should adopt pluralism, dialogue and understanding among all its components. In other words – it should be a profoundly democratic movement in order to achieve democracy.
From here we should begin.