“Who Determines ‘Recognition’ in the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict?”

March 8, 2008

by MPT Member Sheri Wander

Commenting on a recent post, Israeli Threats of Genocide, Erin asked “Do you think that Israel is an illegal state – a colonial creation on Palestinian homeland?” And later, “Do you believe Israel is an illegal state?

It’s the same question I often get asked when giving talks about my (and other MPT members) experiences in Palestine and Israel. “Does Israel have the right to exist?”

I always hesitate, not because I don’t want to answer it, but because I see it as an oversimplified question and ultimately, (whether it was meant this way or not) it is such a loaded question.

No matter how I answer it, there seems to be some who cannot hear beyond a “yes” or a “no”….

If I say “yes, Israel has the right to exist” some will only hear that as a justification of the occupation, and of denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. Some will only see it as defending racism or a theocracy.

If I say “no, I don’t believe Israel has a right to exist”, or “I don’t believe Israel has the right to exist as it currently does.”  There are some who can only hear that Israelis have not right to exist. There will always be some who will hear “push them into the sea” or only see it as a defense of racism and antisemitism.

First, I have to say that it seems in some way odd language to be arguing. I don’t know that I recognize the right of ANY state to exist. Maybe it’s the anarchist in me, but the thing is I tend to recognize the rights of people – not of states or corporations. I recognize that states exist… that the state of Israel exists.

The other question that I ask myself is “What Israel?” “What borders?” The Israel recommended for a Jewish State by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The percentage of historic Palestine occupied in 1948? The Israel post the 1967 six day war? Is the “green line” the border? Or the border created by the separation barrier that reaches over 10 miles into the West Bank in some areas- effectively annexing (by some estimates) nearly 50% of the West Bank.  Israel as it is or with the return of Palestinian refugees?

The other question I wrestle with here is the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as an Islamic state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as a Christian state.  I worry when there is no separation of church and state.  When I’ve mentioned this to friends they have commented that it is not Judaism as a religion, but as an ethnic identity. Yet this too is problematic. It brings too quickly to mind things like Rwanda, Bosnia and Hitler’s quest for an “Aryan nation.”

But, for me the question at the heart of the matter is what does it mean to recognize Israel’s right to exist? It seems to me that recognizing Israel’s right to exist seems to inherently recognize the rightness of its creation at the expense of those living there. It seems to therefore recognize the right of Al Nakba (”the catastrophe”) — the expulsion of such a huge number of Palestinians from their homeland between’ 47-’49.

That said,  I certainly DO recognize that Israel exists. And I have no hesitation to say that I recognize the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.  

I think it is different to “recognize Israel,” (This is an act of diplomacy… one nation state recognizes another) or to “recognize Israel’s existence,” (I recognize that Israel exists and that is the framework in which we live.) or to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”  (This seems to be recognizing its rightness to exist at the expense of at those who lived there historically.)

So, what does all that mean?  It means I recognize Israel’s existence.  It means I recognize the right of all people in what is now considered to be Palestine and what is now considered to be Israel to exist in peace and security. It means I recognize the right of all people in the region to self determination.  I recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return.  And I guess that if all that is true, then it follows that I cannot recognize Israel’s right to exist as it currently does. 



  1. The four main sections in the Hamas Charter seem to be in direct opposition to all international humanitarian principles.

    They are:

    1: Islamic supremacy over the world
    2: Destruction of Israel
    3: Demonization and extermination of Jews
    4: Promoting terror, suicide terror, and violence

    What is the MPT official reaction to the Hamas Charter?

  2. Dear Erin,
    Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. It’s nice to have someone read the position statement closely enough to ask such questions.

    First, to clarify, the original post to which you are responding was written by Sheri, a member of MPT who has served as a nonviolence trainer here in the US and in Palestine. Sheri has been a long time trainer, and is a Core Community member of MPT. She has both served on and organized several international & domestic peace teams and so we posted her piece on the blog – which is supposed to be about opinions, editorials and conversation. This response might sound a bit different than her original post, and she might answer your question differently – what we attempt to put forth here is simply MPT’s views as an organization.

    For MPT, as a Third Party Nonviolent Intervention (TPNI) organization, we don’t take a position on “a resolution”… or perhaps more accurately, we do not have a stance on what a resolution should look like. We see our job as being “to create the space” for Israelis and Palestinians to determine what the resolution should be. In any situation (be it Israel, Palestine, Chiapas, Mexico, or in our communities during hate group rallies or whatever),we do this by applying proven nonviolent tools and tactics to prevent violence (in the best case scenario) or if nothing else, at least reducing it.

    For example, in Palestine we have accompanied Palestinian farmers and their families to their fields during harvest. The presence of International human rights witnesses has been proven to decrease the likelihood and severity of settler attacks. We have joined with Israeli and other international human rights monitors in providing “check point watch” – literally watching at checkpoints and documenting any human rights abuses we observe so that Isreaeli human rights groups have the documentaion they need to hold their soldiers accountable– and at times physically interpositioning ourselves between a soldier who was abusing someone and the person being abused. And – if given the opportunity – we would join our friends and partners, Christian Peacemaker Teams in actions like the times they publicly announced they would ride on the Israeli buses targeted by suicide bombers, continuing to do so until the attacks on that bus line stopped.

    So – that is what we do to “create the space”. But what does that mean to your question?

    In practical terms, it means that we don’t actively advocate for Israel to exist as a country alongside Palestine, i.e, we don’t advocate for a 2 state solution – – or a 20 state solution, for that matter.

    We also don’t advocate for Israel to be abolished as a Jewish state and/or that there be the creation of a secular state, or any one state solution with what is now Israel and Palestine.

    Bottom line: We simply don’t advocate for any one specific solution.

    We believe strongly that Palestinians and Israelis need to be able to work together on EQUAL footing to determine what the best solution for THEM is.

    We also realize that for that to happen, the Occupation of what is now considered “the West Bank” and what is now considered “Gaza” must end (in other words, the occupation of Palestine along the “green line”), that checkpoints and roadblocks need to be dismantled, that the building of settlements within the West Bank must be abandoned, and that construction of the separation barrier needs to be stopped.

    Further, we know that Israelis and Palestinians — many of whom are working tirelessly for justice and peace for ALL the inhabitants of the region – MUST be able to meet, to talk, and to work together without the current structural barriers that stop them from coming together.

  3. So you don’t advocate for Israel to exist while at the same time you do not advocate for Israel to be abolished. This sounds very “Peoples front of Judea,” to use a Monty Python term.

    But of course you DO say that the checkpoints must be removed and the settlements must be dismantled. Must be? Who are the be-rs of this must?

    Wait. I know. It’s Israel. Right?

    Yes, in using this passive sentence structure you are saying that Israel must take this action.

    Where is your demand for an end to Palestinian militant actions as well?

    Sigh. So sad.

    Oh well. I gave you guys a chance. Have fun creating that saintly biased space.

    I’m sticking with the Red Cross.

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