in service of the
Nakba, Gaza and Jerusalem
Today, 15th May, marks 70 years of the Nakba- catastrophe for the Palestinian people. Unlike most commemorations of historic events, this is different, the Nakba is an ongoing catastrophe with its suffering as real today as it was 70 years ago. Palestinians continue to live as refugees, they continue to have their land and livelihood confiscated, and they continue to be treated as if they are ‘non-people’ by those who fall over themselves to carry favour with Israel’s extreme right-wing government. In light of this, what does the world expect Palestinians to do?
In particular, what does the world expect Gazans to do? 1.84 million live on this tiny strip of land that is punitively blockaded. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure remains damaged or in ruins by Israeli airstrikes. Roughly half the population suffers from what the UN calls “food insecurity” and 90% of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption. Beaches are polluted with untreated sewerage and fishermen are shot for sailing too far from shore. Much of the arable land is in the buffer zone wherein Palestinians can be shot on sight.
On March 30, 30,000 Gazans established five protest camps on the edge of the buffer zone demanding a return to their homes in Israel. Wary of Israeli retaliation, they have confined their protest to a non-violent and mostly symbolic ‘March of Return’. Israel’s response has been to try and crush the demonstrations while keeping the death toll below a level that would provoke international condemnation. Although the UN reported last week that 2,017 protesters have been shot with live ammunition, only 47 had been killed to that point. Medics in Gaza reported an unusually high number of amputations caused by an “exploding bullet” that pulverises bone, tissue and arteries.
Yesterday, Israeli troops shot dead dozens of Palestinians on the Gaza border as the United States opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, a move that has fuelled Palestinian anger and drawn foreign criticism for undermining peace efforts. It was the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since the Gaza conflict in 2014.
Palestinian Health Ministry officials said at least 55 people were killed and more than 2,200 injured either by live gunfire, tear gas, or other means during protests on the border.
It is of course true that Palestinians have been badly let down by the infighting of their political leadership and worse, Hamas’ policy of firing rockets has been disastrously counter-productive. But it is also true that the policy of Israel has been to ensure that Palestine and Palestinian leadership remains dysfunctional by thwarting any real capacity to deliver meaningful services to their people. Hamas, the PA, the PL0, Fatah all scramble for legitimacy in a context of contrived disempowerment.
Added to this, and most crucially, Israel and its allies must accept the reality that the relentless colonisation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has virtually closed the door on any possibility of a two-state solution. For Australia to stay with a ‘two-state’ solution as its official policy and yet do absolutely nothing to achieve it through its conversations with Israel, or its voting at the UN, is political double speak of the worst kind. When in March Netanyahu announced that in no circumstance would Israel relinquish control of the land West of the Jordan, there was complete silence from the Australian government.
‘Facts on the ground’ demand that the whole international community insist on basic human rights for all in an area of land that for all intents and purposes is now, not only controlled by a single authority – Israel, but which it is determined will remain in its control in perpetuity. By moving its embassy to Jerusalem the US has endorsed that control. It is no good Trump saying he is open to a ‘peace’ process for Palestinians and Israelis, moving his embassy has made clear that Israel is, and from his perspective always will be, a sovereign state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.
The scandal of the US move is not the move itself, but that it has been made without seemingly to recognise the implications or own the consequences. Through the move the US is agreeing with Israel that it has control of all the territory which it has long since ceased to recognise as ‘occupied’ and has preferred to call ‘disputed’. If Israel is now, as Netanyahu claims, and apparently Trump agrees, ‘Greater Israel’, then the consequences are enormous. In these circumstances, unless Israel wants to abandon any legitimate claim to democracy and unless it wishes to avoid the opprobrium of being the only western aligned country that has intentionally established an apartheid regime; the consequences of moving the embassy must be to insist that Israel immediately grant equal and unrestricted rights not only to Israeli Arabs, but equal and unrestricted rights to all Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
By moving its embassy, the US has significantly changed the goal posts in terms of what it must mean for Israel to behave as a responsible sovereign state within the international community. Palestinians and Israelis can of course live in harmony with one another. The adversarial binary forms of identity that have become more and more entrenched since 1947 do not need to prevail, indeed they are the major stumbling block in a desire for peace and security for all.
It is true that some Palestinians teach and maintain hatred towards Jews, the fact that they have suffered so much does not justify this self-defeating stance. But it is more than equally true that many Jews teach and foster hatred towards Palestinians. This is not just a feature of the ideologically driven illegal settlements, but a casual walk through the Jewish quarter of the Old City will hardly be possible without verbal insults being hurled from Jewish children and adults alike. The move of the US embassy just adds to this false triumphalism “Trump makes Israel great again”. Israel will never be great in any enduring sense if its triumphalism is built upon, even dependent upon, the subjugation, humiliation and destruction of another people. Hatred of the other must be called out for what it is, xenophobia, and Israel will rightly remain despised if this xenophobia remains entrenched. It is entrenched as long as the Israeli army protects its perpetrators with Israeli citizenship, while locking up Palestinian children who throw stones out of their frustration.
For their part the Palestinians are not going away. The fact that despite everything they are still there is a triumph in itself.
Gazans cannot be kept caged for ever.
Palestinians on the West Bank will not go away
The US, in its eagerness to meet the expectations of its Republican power base and pay a dividend to its Zionist benefactors, will need to face the legitimate political consequences of its embassy move, or fall to the standard of Israel’s abandonment of democracy and its cavalier application of universal human rights under international law.