By Ilyas Khuri
It seems today as if there is no solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The so-called peace process has been in a state of clinical death since the outbreak of the Palestinians’ second – Al-Aqsa – Intifada (uprising) in 2000. All the hopes placed in the US administration and President Obama have already evaporated almost to oblivion. There is no hope waiting just over the horizon, because there is no horizon in the first place: Gaza is besieged by land, air and sea and faces the spectre of starvation; creeping colonial settlement is shattering the West Bank into disconnected enclaves; the escalating Judaisation of Jerusalem is relentless; and the apartheid wall keeps getting bigger and higher as a permanent reminder of the supremacy of the “logic” of hatred and colonial domination.
A few short weeks ago, the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall notwithstanding the apartheid wall currently being constructed by Israel in Palestine and slicing apart Palestinian life and land. As if the ‘banality of evil’ pointed out by Hannah Erendt has become our fate; as if the Jewish victims agreed to be entered in the “banality of evil’ when they accepted the logic which turns today’s Palestinians into the Jews of the Jews!
The Nakba process that started with the destruction of villages and the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 – often at gunpoint – has been completed by an attempt to expunge Palestinian place names on the one hand and the confiscation of the whole narrative on the other, silencing the Palestinian victims on the way.
1948 saw Palestine wiped off the map along with Palestinian place names and, indeed, the very places themselves; whole Palestinian towns and villages – more than 500 of them – have been completely destroyed by the Israelis since that fateful year. Israel gave the Palestinians who remained in their own country the name “Israeli Arabs”. In other words, Israel hid their real name deliberately and tried to cover its tracks with another name, just like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) built forests and parks on the lands of those long-gone Palestinian villages.
If Israeli historiography had to wait for the birth of the “new historians” and the publication of Ilan Pappe’s book on the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine to acknowledge the crime, Israeli literature managed through its unique voices – and I am referring here to the novel Khirbet Khizeh by the Israeli writer S.Yizhar – to re-write the narrative, albeit in a devious way.
Israel’s Palestinians underwent an uprooting and identity crisis. They were (and still are) refugees in their homeland. The overwhelming Zionist ideology considers Israel to be the homeland of the Jews, and in the process denies one-fifth of the population the right to enjoy fully the benefits of their citizenship.
- Nonetheless, a new Palestinian literature sprang up in the early sixties and the cry for an identity that Palestine’s poet Mahmud Darwish yelled in his collection of poems entitled A Lover From Palestine heralded a rebirth for the Palestinian name.
As for the narrative itself, it had a strange destiny. The world turned its back on the Palestinian victims’ cries for help. Post-world war two Europe carried the burden of Nazism’s despicable legacy and saw the establishment of the Zionist state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland as a means of atonement for the spilling of Jewish blood in the Nazi Holocaust.
The world refused to recognize that the Palestinians, the victims of the victims – as Edward Said put it so eloquently – have their own stories to tell in their own words. Indeed, we witnessed a deliberate link created between the noble and humanitarian discourse that destroyed savage Nazi racism and a classic colonial discourse propagated by the founders of Zionism and embraced readily by Europe and the USA. So much so, in fact that their colonial state has become the front-line of colonialism far ahead of all similar projects in the Middle east and beyond.
The irony lies in the fact that one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel, and its first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion and his students embraced the ideas of Vladimir Jabotinsky, who used to boast of his admiration for Adolf Hitler in the first stages of the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany.
Israel possesses a large nuclear arsenal and occupies increasing amounts of Palestinian land so it can no longer hide its expansionist aims or its continuous defiance of international laws and conventions. It occupied what remained of Palestine during the 1967 war, and continues to settle its colonists thereon to this day; what more proof does the world need that Israel does not really want peace? It prefers occupation and the expansion of its colonies to the establishment of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state.
Journalists and politicians seek to deceive us by talking about the “two-state solution”, ignoring very conveniently the fact that there has been an Israeli state since 1948 and that the would-be Palestinian state is the one that is missing from the equation. At a stroke, the world puts the oppressor and the oppressed on an equal footing, making it easier for us to accept the loss of the victims’ right to exist.
The Oslo Accords and the establishment of the PA in 1993 were the last missed opportunity to correct this enormous wrongdoing. Regardless of the legitimate and rightful criticism of an agreement that was born filled with ambiguity, the chance that the Palestinians’ general acquiescence gave to Israel in Oslo, and the fate of the agreement as a whole thereafter, tell us a devastating truth: the victorious side refuses to accept the surrender of the defeated.
We are not discussing here the difference between peace and surrender. Rather, the essence of the Palestinian abandonment of 78% of historic Palestine can be called nothing other than surrender. Yet, despite the PLO’s success in bringing about a Palestinian “national” agreement that accepted this kind of “peace”, the Israelis answered with a blatant rejection of the Oslo logic.
What does this mean?
The answer to this question is found in the continuous Nakba (catastrophe) project that has been ongoing for sixty-one years. And when the Nakba becomes a course or a process and not an ephemeral event, the Palestinian people are faced with political genocide. In other words, the occupation state, Israel, seeks – as it has always sought – to weaken the whole Palestinian political infrastructure as a step towards the imposition of what they call a temporary Palestinian state with provisional boundaries, a euphemism for the institutionalization of an Israeli apartheid system that seeks to surpass the discredited South African system which took 150 years of struggle to consign to the dustbin of history.
This is why Palestinian political infighting seems to be a bitter reflection of the deterioration of Palestinian political awareness, played out in the vacuum created by the absence of genuine leadership and in the shadow of a pan-Arab system that is being eaten away by helplessness and decadence, and what Al-Turk calls the “hereditary republics.”
The Nakba continues and is manifested in virtually all spheres of Palestinian life: farms are being confiscated, homes are being demolished and olive trees are being destroyed. White phosphorous bombs are fired into Palestinian towns and cities, and refugee camps, even UN schools; the apartheid wall is devouring ever more land and Jerusalem is dying. And when the Goldstone Report is published and accuses Israel of war crimes, the state machinery and its apologists rush to accuse the South African Jewish judge (who does not hide his Zionist sympathies) of anti-Semitism!
The Nakba continues in the refugee camps. Look no further than the miserable life of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s crumbling camps, for example, to discover that they are deprived of fundamental civil and political rights, including the right to work and the right to own property. In short, Palestinian refugees are treated like eternal aliens.
The Nakba is fast becoming become the 21st century’s biggest moral question. It is a test for international law and questions the sincerity of the call for peace from Israel and its patron, the USA. It represents a great intellectual and cultural challenge. It is now time to see the orientalist and colonial discourses for what they are, and for the world to understand that there is neither justice nor logic in killing the idea of Palestine.
The people who had their name stolen have taken it back by words, deeds and sacrifices. And if Israel continues to insist on its rejection of Palestinian independence, this merely confirms that the Zionist state wants to establish an apartheid system, the fate of which will be no better than that of its South African counterpart.
Perhaps the occupiers’ collective stupidity lies in their insistence on ignoring history. This, however, does not and cannot justify the victims committing the very same mistake, for by succeeding in liberating themselves from injustice and despotism, the oppressed people give the oppressors the chance to liberate themselves from enslavement to the arrogance of power. The bitter truth is that, unfortunately, we can only see a future that is full of tears and pain.
This statement was delivered at the ESCWA headquarters in Beirut on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People organized by the UN on 2 December 2009.
Translated by Monjia Abdallah Abidi
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.