By Atef Alshaer
Before 1948, there was no country, nation-state, in historic Palestine called Israel. Israel founded itself by the conquest and exclusion of others, the Palestinians, the rightful owners of Palestine. This is the most basic fact that is often forgotten or ignored altogether among the supporters of Israel. Palestine as a name and reality that encompassed diverse ethnic populations living with each other is what that piece of land had been known for and always represented in terms of its Palestinian Mediterranean identity, not a western-supported colony, as Israel certainly is in origin. The extraordinary concoction of the idea of ancient Israel as an effort to provide a reference point for Zionism and Israel’s establishment is so misconstrued and deliberately deceptive. Whitelam puts the record straight in his book, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestine History, when he contends that, “viewed from the longer perspective, the history of ancient Israel is a moment in the vast expanse of Palestinian history”.
The establishment of Israel is therefore an anomaly, an exceptionally unfair one at that. Israel and its supporters, however, tend to make Israel so natural and normal a state as if it has had existed for thousands of years, and as if its present Jewish population is the direct ancestors of those who trod the same territory more than two thousand years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is so trampled upon and bypassed by Israeli supporters is the fact that that land is Palestinian by virtue of historical continuity, legal basis and social cohesion and ethical precedence and indeed geographical and aesthetic integrity. Palestine has been inhabited by an Arab Palestinian population that saw many small powers and empires fall and assume other political realities. This is while Palestine in the identity of its people continued until the Zionism of Israel, born and bred in Europe, drove its population away and imposed upon the land and its topographical milestones and features other names and appellations than the ones by which the country was known for amongst its native Arab Palestinian inhabitants. Zionism as a program of power and conquest settled on peddling unethical narratives that fabricated and exercised precedence for the Jews worldwide in Palestine over the Palestinians who have had known no other land as a homeland other than Palestine, the territory over which Israel founded its colonial and unashamedly expansionist state.
Many supporters of Israel conceal or pay no attention whatsoever to this most basic of historical facts sketched briefly above, conjuring up myths and exhibiting political bravados at the expense of human and political rights. Their narrow streak of nationalism, which does not see in the Palestinians legitimate inheritors of their own land, makes them so overzealous over Israel, no matter its horrendous violations of human rights and norms on a daily basis. Such violations include further expansion of illegal settlements, besieging and starving Palestinians in Gaza, restricting Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to small Bantustans while taking away their land and limited resources, intruding and desecrating religious sites of immeasurable spiritual significance like those in Jerusalem, confining thousands of Palestinian prisoners in squalid conditions in Israeli prisons that lack basic elements of human survival and dignity, discriminating against Palestinian Arabs inside Israel in blatant and fascistic ways as well as attempting with intransigent insensitivity to block the Palestinian narrative from being heard in international forums and arenas.
Israel and its supporters are deeply stuck in hurting the Palestinians and frustrating their aspirations towards self-determination and rectifying major historical injustices in meaningful ways that include the right of return for the Palestinians who were forcibly evicted from their homes in 1948 and who continue to suffer untold woes in refugee camps, particularly in war-disgraced Syria, vulnerable Lebanon and elsewhere.
Yet, despite the blatant fact that Israel is an apartheid state not only against the Palestinians but also exclusively privileging western Jews in particular, the insatiable narrative of Israel for security and recognition is embraced by powerful western lobbies and figures, particularly by officials at the helm of American power where Israel is treated with crazed respect. In particular, American officials seem to cower before criminal Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu, applauding him and nursing his penchant for wars.
In addition, many Israeli intellectuals and others do not see Israel as an apartheid state and resist this increasingly used description (see e.g. Benjamin Pogrund in the Guardian, 22sd May 2015). They focus on aspects where Arabs and Israelis are perceived to be treated as equal and see this equality as better than what persisted under apartheid South Africa. What is so missing from this manipulated account is the on-going historical, political and human injustices at a myriad of levels whereby Israel practices active discrimination against all Palestinian Arabs, whether they are in Israel or in the occupied Palestinian territories; and that Israel’s raison d’être as it exists is discriminatory in essence. This discrimination is underlined by Israel’s vision of itself as an exclusive territory for the Jews and its position that this exclusivity should be guarded at all costs. In the application of such exclusivity, apartheid is what Israel has achieved for itself: it does not accept Palestinians as potentially legitimate and rightful owners of Palestine and institutes a range of practices that unabatedly shuts the Palestinians out from enjoying full human and political rights in their own land. Without equal political and human rights for all the inhabitants of historic Palestine, Israel will continue to be identified by many as an apartheid state.
Yet, Israel is internalized and taken to be a haven of safety and democracy for Jews, whose terrible blight in the Second World War added momentum to the originally and indeed ever uncaring and single-mindedly colonialist Zionism. Indeed, the Holocaust against the Jews constituted a crime against humanity of the first order; and no decent, thinking human being could not sympathize with the Jewish population subjected to annihilation by such an endlessly absolutist and destructive ideology as that of Nazi Germany. Yet, no rational or decent being could accept that this colossal tragedy should be solved and covered at the expense of another population of the Palestinians whose agonies have been enormous and unbearable because of Zionism and its relentless viciousness. In addition to the litany of crimes, massacres and woes it has committed against the Palestinians since its founding, Israel continues to subject Gaza to cruel siege that leaves hundreds of thousands of people destitute and psychologically maltreated to extremes. While the supporters of Israel blame the Palestinian Hamas and its resistance for Israel’s brutal siege, they seem to forget or are uninterested altogether in the fact that Gaza was miserable before Hamas was in charge; and that Hamas is an outcome of the countless miseries that Israel has unleashed on Gaza not only in the period between its formal annexation in 1967 and alleged withdrawal in 2005 that would mark yet another siege of the area; but since 1948 when it waged criminal raids and attacks against its overcrowded population in order to obliterate its resistance to the colonizers and the robbers of the land.
Israel has consistently failed all the offers of peace from the Palestinian side, including from Hamas, resorting instead to tactics of merciless pressure and destruction, expecting the Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere to bow down before its perverted exercise of power. The Palestinians, including Hamas and other factions, are entitled to resist the Israeli occupation for the liberation of their land and the restoration of their rights that have been belittled and disregarded. Indeed, there is no other choice for the Palestinians except resistance, even though it is the view of this writer that this resistance must undertake the utmost care in avoiding civilian targets and civilians in general. Resistance must take human rights and ethics seriously, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is the principal instigator of violations for these rights in Palestine in the first place. But Israel must come to understand that Palestinian liberation is non-negotiable; and that the tragedies it has had inflicted on the Palestinians obstruct any chances for peace and coexistence, which is what the region urgently needs.
Needless to say that much has had happened since 1948; but the original source of the conflict, Israeli colonialism, remains the hurdle of all hurdles for peace and normality in Palestine. Israel is established and its people are there. Because of the apparent solidity of Israel with some western media behind it giving it the veneer of normality which it certainly does not deserve as a colonial state, Israel seems like an ancient stone preserved in the most well-guarded museums. It appears unaffected by the goings-on around it. The Arab world, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and other areas, is wildly tearing itself apart. So many utterly inhumane practices take place in these Arab places of conflict and tragedy that Israel seems immune from it all. Israel uses this bleak picture of the present Arab world, one featuring mass violence, backwardness, corruption, rampant patriarchal practices and human deprivation to a very disturbing level, to entrench its abuses against Palestine and its people. But the persistent reality remains that Israel is an occupying power, presiding over an awful, criminal occupation in its seventh decade, and increasingly remorseless in its theft of land and aggression against the Palestinian people.
As we Palestinians live through and commemorate the tragic memory of the 67 years of eviction, occupation and destruction of our homeland since Israel was established in 1948, we see the world through the blood, sweat and tears of our grandparents and our present brothers and sisters who continue to struggle and reclaim Palestine from occupation, a Palestine that we should will to accommodate of all its citizens on a humane, inclusive and democratic basis. The great insights of the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said (1935-2003), who wrote as far back as 1979 in his important book The Question of Palestine, still aptly holds: “My belief is that both Palestinians and Jews in Palestine have much to gain — and obviously something to lose — from a human rights view of their common situation, as opposed to a strictly national perspective on it”.
Israeli supporters should pause to think hard about supporting a country that is mired in historical injustices which it repeats every day. No one benefits from supporting inhumanity, not even Israel itself in its descent towards further expansionism and cruelty against the Palestinians. Not least, the terrible reality of Palestinian prisoners, some held for decades now, in degrading Israeli prisons testifies to how unrepentant Israel is on robbing Palestine of its leaders, youth and socio-political sustainability. According to the latest report from the Palestinian committee for prisoners, Israel has imprisoned more than a million Palestinian since 1948, some of them perished unnoticed by the relevant humanitarian or political bodies. Nonetheless, the Palestinian memory and will cannot be bullied to irrelevance by people oblivious to human and political rights. The virtual world might have provided some uneducated, misinformed or badly-intentioned people to wade into every discussion, and to respond and play with every piece of writing that does not concur with their narrow exclusivist views of Zionism, wishing the Palestinians to vanish in silence. But the reality of the Palestinian people remains one of resistance and steadfastness against one of the most brutal and deceitful occupations in history. Many people of good will and understanding in the world have already come to see what Zionism stands for — aggression, expansionism and denial.
The increasing activities of solidarity with Palestine as led by movements such the B.D.S. movement (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) which targets Israeli academic institutions complicit in the sustenance of the Israeli occupation represents an important step in the right direction. Indeed, no amount of normalization or excuses in favor of that occupation could conceal the fact that Israel is an occupying power, exercising vicious domination over a civilian population in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, a population struggling to maintain its survival and regain its abrogated rights against seemingly insurmountable Israeli pressures. It is fair that the Israelis should live in peace and security like other people; but it is neither realistic nor fair to think that this could happen with Israel’s denial of the Palestinians’ claims to their history while attempting to suppress their precious memories of their homeland.
Peace cannot happen without Israel accepting and recognizing Palestine as a dignified place and people under the sun yearning to be liberated from its dark colonial yoke.
- Atef Alshaer is a Lecturer in Arabic Language and Culture at the University of Westminster. He has several publications on the Arab world in the field of literature, language and Politics. He was educated at Birzeit University in Palestine and SOAS, University of London, where he obtained his PhD and taught for a number of years. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.