Nelson Mandela Foundation

It matters to humanity that we keep struggling for justice, even if we fail. It matters to the soul of the world, anima mundi. In this realm of soul, all things are connected, all struggles, ultimately are one.”  – Verne Harris, Acting Chief Executive

As we continue to grapple with what a just future looks like, we must accept that justice has become a refrain symbolising nothing, the song the caged bird sings. In the face of unrelenting systemic inequity, the concept of justice itself has become more elusive, leaving us to question its existence. Verne Harris submits that the thing about justice and the thing about freedom is that society never “has” them.

For American philosopher and critical theorist Nancy Fraser, the attainment of justice in today’s world requires both recognition and redistribution. I am applying these two paradigms of justice to the context of Israel and Palestine. I believe that for real justice to be attained in this lifetime, for this war and instability to end, we require both recognition and redistribution.

What do I mean by recognition?

For Fraser, the struggle for recognition has become a paradigmatic form of political conflict. This demand for recognition of particularity and difference has been filed by the mobilisation of distinct groups under the banners of ethnicity, race, culture, nationality, and sexuality. For instance, I am a Pedi, Black woman living in South Africa. Those are specificities personal to me that make me unique and different. Therefore, this allows and promotes group identity, particularity, and identity, particularity, and differentiation. American political analyst Francis Fukuyama argues that forms of identity tend to increase and exacerbate divisions and fail to build forms of solidarity between collectives.

This is the case in the Israel-Palestine war. We need to understand this in the context of Israel fighting to expel Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. Israelis’ identify themselves as a Jewish nation and Palestinians view themselves as Arab people with a particular language and culture. There exists a need for recognition of each other’s identities and territorial integrity, to understand that the land holds for both parties' religious significance and historical importance. Since 1988 Palestinians have fought to be recognized as an independent state. Despite gaining recognition from entities and many countries around the world, their statehood remains questioned and disputed. Palestinians have remained in limbo deprived of self-determination, statehood and in essence Justice.

This paradigm can fix injustices that require a marginalised group to receive recognition. It is about acknowledging the history, identities, and rights of everyone, settler and native, as complicated and difficult as that can be. Within the context of Israel and Palestine it is crucial to afford and recognize Palestinian rights and identity. This includes their right to self-determination and their ancestral lands. This includes East Jerusalem, Gasa strip and West Bank as well as their right to return. The logic of recognition is to valorize group specificity and uniqueness. The separation between Palestine and Israel shows that there is a need for recognition, acknowledgement and respect of their differences, particularities, and historical narratives, while still managing to work towards peaceful resolution and reaffirm the aspirations and rights of all people.

What do I mean by redistribution?

Redistribution focuses on calling for the removal of economic arrangements that act as the foundation for group specificity. In contrast to recognition, they promote group differentiation. Redistribution moves away from particularities and takes a more universalist approach. It seeks to dismantle concepts such as gender and race, to focus more on a universalist concept of recognition and approach to injustice. Redistribution focuses on a more surface level of the reallocation of existing resources to a group of people that are present and existing, especially one that has been dispossessed. For instance, this can include allocation of resources to black people or women as a form of redress. Another example is the allocation of rights to the LGBTQI community. But this redistribution can lead to misrecognition of other groups within society. For Palestine and Israel, I believe the major focus should be land.

During periods of conflict Israel has enforced policies that ensure the continuing occupation of territories which has led to the confiscation of Palestinian land. They often build on land taken from Palestinians which has led to lack of land and has affected Palestinians’ ability to develop and expand infrastructure and this has impeded on their quality of life. Throughout the years we have seen Israel strengthen its control of resources which has impacted negatively on the livelihood of Palestinians and has created inequality where one group has more than the other. 

The Israel and Palestine conflict underscores the importance of applying recognition and redistribution paradigms of justice and peace. Justice serves as the cornerstone of lasting peace and stability, allowing for accountability and ensuring a pathway to healing and reconciliation. It affords marginalised groups agency, justice, self-determinism, and a voice. It ensures the protection of principles of dignity, equality, and respect.

Redistribution involves finding ways of addressing these systemic injustices and inequalities, this can be achieved only through the redistribution of power, resources, and opportunities. It involves finding ways of addressing land reform and equal distribution of resources. This includes agricultural land, water, sanitation, basic human rights, economic and social equality through redistribution efforts that aim to narrow down the existing economic gap between Palestinian communities and Israelis in education, employment, healthcare, and other sectors of life.

Affording certain marginalised groups recognition can lead to the reallocation of respect afforded to identities of certain groups. For redistribution, there is a need to call for a deeper restructuring of the resources of production. We need to move more towards finding approaches that reduce the conflict between recognition and redistribution and find approaches where both recognition and redistribution can be lenses of justice that allow us to see the resolution of immediate issues as well as allow for continued cooperation for long lasting peace and justice.

There is an existing grey area when we speak of Justice, and we have a responsibility to see what is acceptable and what is not. This can be accomplished through critical reflection and action, holding each other accountable and comprehending the importance of both recognition and redistribution in our societies.