“Why aren’t the Palestinian leaders building a country like my parents, survivors of the Holocaust and millions like them, did with Israel, instead of building tunnels, shooting missiles and subjecting their people to untold horrors?”
I gasped when I read this question sent to me by a well-educated, university professor in Israel. It was a serious question, deserving a serious response.
Where to begin?
To dissuade my friend of any notion that Palestinians might be incapable of building a country, I’ll remind him of the cities, industry, agriculture, schools and civic life that flourished in Palestine before my friend’s parents and other Zionists arrived. Please watch this 10 minute video.
When I returned from Gaza two years ago, I wrote my layman’s version of the history of Palestine here and here. Israel’s 67 years of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and occupation of Palestine — as well as current events, including the Palestinian resistance and Israel’s successive military operations in the West Bank and Gaza — can only be understood in the context of the Nakba. I believe my Israeli friend’s question is sincere because either he doesn’t know about the Nakba (past and present) نكبة or he has decided to ignore and minimize the ongoing impacts of the Nakba.
In the late 1980s, a group of Israeli historians, including Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris, began to challenge the commonly accepted version of Israeli history based on newly declassified Israeli government documents. Morris called them the New Historians. They went head-to-head with the traditional historians who cast Israel as the peace-seeking victim in a hostile Arab world, the David-and-Goliath narrative. The New Historians shared a more nuanced history of the exodus of the Palestinians and the reasons for the persistent political deadlock with the Arab states in the region.
Professor Ilan Pappe’s book “Ethnic Cleansing” was my education about the Nakba. I hope my friend will read it. In this video, Pappe describes in great detail about the Zionists who committed the Nakba crimes. He urges us to know the names of the perpetrators, the victims, the places and events of the Nakba. Pappe also speaks about the “conspiracy of silence” by the international community in 1948. Please watch.
So . . . . . why can’t the Palestinian leaders do what the Zionists have done (are still doing) in creating the State of Israel?
- If the Zionists had fled to Argentina from Europe after the Holocaust and built their new State of Israel in South America, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today. Herzl seriously thought about that alternative for his Zionist project.
- If my friend’s parents and other Zionists had decided to live peacefully side-by-side with the indigenous population when they arrived in Palestine, as Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived for many years, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today. The footage in this short clip shows a time when Palestinians of all faiths lived and worked side by side in harmony.
- If the indigenous population had a great benefactor, like the Zionists had in Foreign Secretary Balfour in 1917, and the League of Nations in 1922, and later the United Nations in 1947 and the United States, then we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today. However, in September 2015, Palestinians find widespread support among the community of nations, the Vatican, the United Nations and there is hope that change is coming.
- If the Israeli government had not used laws to normalize the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians from their lands, homes and businesses, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today.
- If the Zionists were not stealing (usurping) natural resources and depriving Palestinians of basic necessities of state-building (water, land, electricity, fuel, etc.), we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today.
- If the Zionists were not building Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (aka stealing land) which are clearly recognized as illegal under international law, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today.
- If the Zionist leaders were not curbing economic development in the West Bank and Gaza — what some refer to as de-development, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today.
- If the Zionists believed in a democracy that values plurality rather than an apartheid regime that values Jews over non-Jews, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today. Saree Makdisi explains apartheid very well here and in his book “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”
“Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).
- If Israel had not waged three military campaigns in Gaza over the past six years, Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) which I witnessed first hand from the ground in Gaza, and the most recent Operation Protective Edge (2014), and if Israel lifted the multi-year siege and blockade of Gaza, and if Israel allowed Palestinians in Gaza to travel freely to pursue educational opportunities, visit family, accept jobs, seek medical attention, etc., — if none of these inhumane actions had occurred and were still occurring — we certainly would be witnessing a vibrant economy in Gaza with the next generation of Palestinians living in hope, not despair. Instead, the U.N. is predicting that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Some of my blog posts from Operation Pillar of Defense are here, here and here.
I can hear your retort now, my friend. It sounds something like this. (I hope you are not offended, but I’ve heard the same words spoken seriously by many, many Jews.)
So long as the Zionists maintain the brutal occupation and dehumanization of the Palestinians, as they have for decades, resistance will continue. Resistance in the form of political resistance at the United Nations, resistance at the International Criminal Court, cultural resistance such as teaching the next generation the Palestinian traditions, economic resistance, non-violent resistance in Budrus, resistance with the pen, and violent resistance.
I’ll conclude with Noura Erakat’s well-reasoned explanation of why Israel’s occupation is illegal. As an attorney yourself, I hope you will give Ms. Erakat the time and respect she deserves by reading her paper.
I appreciate your question which initiated this blog post, and I hope we will continue this discussion. Even more, I hope the occupation and dispossession of Palestinians from their land, which your parents and other Zionists started so many years ago, will come to an end very soon.