Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

One should hope that Serbs and Albanians will not end up in a spiral of violence like Jews and Palestinians. Except for violence, there are no other similarities between (past and present) relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo and (past and present) relations between Jews and Palestinians on the territory of (today’s) Israel. And yet, from the 1990s onwards, there is a strong tradition in our country of drawing an analogy between (past and present) Serbs, on the one hand, and (past and present) Jews, on the other. If we’re talking about (unsustainable) analogies – there are more similarities between (today’s) position of the Serbs in the north of Kosovo and the position of the Palestinians in Israel and in “their” territories in West Bank and Gaza Strip (and East Jerusalem, for that matter). (Quotation marks and brackets do not help here, the language we use is not enough to describe the real situation: whatever is written sounds like a provocation and is controversial, depending on who is writing it and who is reading it.)

But let’s not dwell on reckless analogies. The world is rightly appalled by the images of violence happening in Israel since Saturday. The heinous killing and abduction of civilians in the south of Israel, along the “border” with the Gaza Strip (quotation marks here to emphasize that the Gaza Strip, like the West Bank, is not, despite the agreements, part of sovereign Palestine, because there is no sovereign Palestine), cannot be seen as part of any righteous struggle. Just as the retaliation that Israel is about to (indiscriminately) inflict on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip cannot be seen as a legitimate response to – let us not mince words, because this is what it is – the terror of Hamas.

To say that the bloody and ruthless action of Hamas is only a reflection of the same actions of Israel towards the Palestinians and to justify it as some kind of justice doesn’t make sense. It just means that we see violence as a legitimate way to a solution. But by saying this, paradoxically, we justify the systematic state violence of Israel. If we don’t criticize the actions of Hamas, then we lose the right to criticize the brutal Israeli response that is being prepared. Hamas and the State of Israel go hand in hand: both with their violent actions are part of the problem and do not allow the conflict to be resolved, ever.

That is why I find it strange to read the comments emphasizing that Hamas has surprised Israel, that it caught the Jewish state in its sleep. Expecting Israel to keep the Palestinians under complete control through constant violence is simply unrealistic. Outpourings of unbridled anger and violence are bound to come from the other side at some point. However, I must emphasize here that we can’t equate Hamas to the Palestinians. It would be difficult to claim that Hamas legitimately represents the majority of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. But there is no doubt that all Palestinians will pay for the violence of Hamas. So, exposed to constant violence and surveillance by Israel, Hamas has learned how to behave under such conditions.

Here we have another paradox – more violence and surveillance does not mean stronger control. On the contrary, Israel’s pressure directly caused such unpredictable behavior from Hamas. That’s no surprise. Edward Said wrote convincingly about it a long time ago. Said was – let’s put it this way – deeply disappointed with the Oslo Agreement of 1993. With that agreement, the Palestinians gained autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Autonomy was supposed to be a prelude to the formation of a Palestinian state. The state was to be formed, as the political representatives of Israel and the Palestinians agreed, when an agreement is reached on Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and on East Jerusalem.

Except these questions, the way they were asked (what belongs to whom?), cannot be resolved. That’s what Said wrote. He saw the agreement as the Palestinians’ consent to defeat. He criticized the very idea of two (neighboring) states of Israel and Palestine as impossible and as a constant source of continuous war. Both Jews and Palestinians claim the same territory and cannot divide it. Behind the idea of a Palestinian state and a Jewish state is the belief that these states can exist and be stable only if there is no other collective claimant to the same territory. In other words, a guaranteed eternal war of extermination. (The very concept of one territory exclusively for one nation is disastrous, everywhere, not only in the Middle East.)

Instead of Palestine and Israel as neighbors, Said proposed one state – a Palestinian-Israeli binational political community. So, two nations on the same territory. Said was deeply convinced: if and only if the Jews recognize the right of the Palestinians to the territory of Palestine/Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jews to the same territory, only their common state has a chance to survive. Without it, the Palestinians will forever try to reclaim the land from the Jews, while Israel will forever fear destruction in a war of extermination by neighboring Arab states. Two nations – one state, Said tirelessly proposed and explained.

His proposal may seem strange to us. (This is because we accept as ‘natural’ the idea of one territory for only one nation. But there is nothing natural about that.) It may also seem impossible to us after this latest violence and the response to it (we don’t even have to look back at the long prior history of violence on that territory). But it must be admitted that Said was right when he predicted how things would develop after the Oslo Accords. The idea of two states accepts and implements exclusive founding/state-building narratives from both sides. Those narratives only lead to violence, because they do not recognize and acknowledge the other side. It’s not a question of whether anyone was surprised by the violence of Hamas. The point is that we should not be surprised by all the new violence that will inevitably occur either.

From that perspective – Said’s vision seems much more meaningful and realistic, doesn’t it?

Am I now saying that, in Said’s footsteps, a similar solution could be sought for Kosovo – one state, two nations? It is unimaginable, violence that cannot be overcome has already happened. And peace, from these positions in which Kosovo Albanians and Serbs are today – is it imaginable?

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 18.10.2023.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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