The number of victims in Gaza continues to grow, several days ago Israel and its Egyptian allies offered „ceasefire“ that’s as laughable and insulting as it is insincere, pretty much all of the mainstream media reported how Hamas rejected another chance for peace, just like they’ve reported about the terrorist attacks on Israel and Palestinian violence as the main reason for the recent turmoil.
Now, this is an ideal chance to stop, think, rewind. We’ve seen this before. It is just like Robert Fisk wrote in his latest piece for The Independent: „Once, we used to keep clippings, a wad of newspaper cuttings on whatever we were writing about: Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Gaza. Occasionally, we even read books. Maybe it’s because of the internet, but in most of our reports, it seems that history only started yesterday, or last week.“ He continues to say: „I’m afraid it’s about context, this memory-wipe. It’s about the way that armies and governments want us to believe – or forget – what they are doing, it’s about a historical coverage, and it’s about – and here I quote the wonderful Israeli journalist Amira Haas – ‘monitoring the centres of power’.“
image © Paolo Pellegrin
So what do the centres of power want us to forget, what does Israeli government want us to leave out? Well, there are a lot of things, a lot of truths we must speak off and keep on going back to. The recent turmoil is not about the boys that were killed, and it is not about Hamas and its rockets. It is about decades of injustice and decades of oppression, decades of colonialism and its insatiable appetite, decades of wrong leaders and bad judgements and – decades of ignorance and status quo.
Escalations are due to happen. Occupation itself is an escalation, and these are some of the reasons why.
Peace talks that offered no peace
Oslo, or as Edward Said called it „The Palestinian Versailles“ was a bad deal for the Palestinians, and time proves it – day by day. As Simona Sharoni and Mohammed Abu-Nimer write in Understanding the Contemporary Middle East (second edition): „At the end of the 1990s, Palestinians had full autonomy in 27% of the Occuppied Territories. In the West Bank, this translated into 3% of the total surface area, whereas in Gaza the PNA controlled 60% of the territory. In the West Bank villages, however, the PNA had only civil and police powers, Israel remained responsible for ‘internal security’, the meaning of which was open to interpretation. Furthermore, because the towns and villages are mostly noncontiguogus and Israel remained in command of the road network connecting them, all movement of goods and persons into and out of these encalves as well as between them could be interdirected at will.“ Things got worse after the 1996 elections, won by Netanyahu and Likud Party. The 1999 Likud charter emphasized the right of settlement: “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.“ Likud’s policies were based on settlement expansion and „judaization“ of East Jerusalem, among other things. Israel continued to build new settlements even during the recent peace negotiations, often claiming it is an imperative. All the “offers” so far have ignored most of the realities Palestinians endured for decades, their desires and basic human rights, and that is why they never lived outside the sheets of paper and conference halls. One sad fact is that in the world of big politics (and big money and resources) you have to be able to offer something in order to get something in return. There is no moral and no justice anywhere on the top charts of international relations, it is not anywhere in the scope of their interests. That is what Palestinians are paying the price for – the truth is – they have nothing to offer to the other side. Israel has everything. Well, almost everything. The rest they cannot get because – and that is the only thing Palestinians have as an „advantage“ – Palestinians exist and they do not plan on going anywhere. Another aspect of the peace talks is all the pressure put on Palestinians to be the ones to initiate it and adjust to all conditions, but, as Edward Said often asked: „Since when are the illegally militarily occupied people responsible for creating a peace movement?“
Two different nationalisms
There is a lot of talk about nationalism and its connotations on both sides. However, there is little talk when it comes to distinguishing Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms. There is a difference between the Israeli, institutionalized state nationalism and Palestinian nationalism, which is the nationalism of a liberation movement. While Israel justifies everything it does on the premises of national security, Palestinians focus on national liberation. Sharoni and Abu-Nimer describe how: „As a result of the primary emphases on national security and national liberation, different social and ecnomic problems within both communities have been put on the back burners until the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is resolved. Nevertheless, the differences between Israeli – Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms, which are often overlooked are far greater than similiarites. They involve fundamental differences in the history and social context of the two national movements and, most particularly, striking disparities of power and privilege between the two communites.“ We must never forget to mention the power relations and the fact that Israeli – Palestinian conflict is an asymmetric war. When talking about Israeli national security and Palestinian national liberation, there is an impression, and it is being deepened by the political leaders for such a long time, that the two cannot be achieved at the same time – ever. However, the great paradox here is that Israel puts national security as a pre-condition for peace, not seeing how it will never be secure until Palestinians fulfill their national aspirations through a political solution they want.
The disputed „right to return“
Big part of peace negotitations was always the question of Palestinian refugees. It is not just about people returning to their homeland, it is also about finally acknowledging that they actually had to leave and that Israel is responsible for that. There would finally be a much needed recongition. There is another great paradox – Palestinians should acknowledge Israeli – Jewish „organic“ connection to the land Israel occupies, while Palestinians, the indigenous people, are denied that same connection, and all the rights emerging from it. It is also ridicilous to deny the rights of the Palestinians born in exile, claiming „they’ve never even seen Jerusalem“, while at the same time Jews from all over the world, with no connection to Israel, have the „right to return“, and they are entitled to it by the Law of Return.
Bad leadership, on both sides
Israeli government has done its fair share of crimes over the decades, there is no doubt about that. However, the Palestinian side – from Arafat to Abbas – did nothing to properly fight all the Israeli wrongdoings. Palestinian leadership was and is mainly corrupted, with no real strategy, most of the time serving as marionettes and a mockery. While people in Palestine were starving, Arafat’s big political move was to give Bill and Hillary Clinton gold and diamond necklaces, bracelets and earrings – worth $12,000. In addition, Arafat gave former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright jewelry worth $17,400. That’s just one example of his international relations strategies. On the other hand – just couple of days ago, Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Egyptian ceasefire intiative, saying he appreciated the Egyptian role and efforts to protect the Palestinian people. The intiative is a big nothing for Palestinian people, but there is no surprise Abbas welcomes it.
The key role of the United States
Edward Said dedicated his life to Israeli – Palestinian debates in the American society. It was crucial, he always thought, beacuse USA is where the Zionist headquarters are. That is where the money comes from, and money moves mountains. Just last November, The American Friends of the IDF organization (FIDF) branch in Los Angeles held its annual fundraiser in the Beverly Hilton hotel and raised a record number of $20 million for IDF soldiers’ welfare. Some 1,200 guests attended the event (among them Simon Cowell), the host was a billionaire Power Rangers creator Haim Saban and the guests were entertained by Lionel Richie. It is just one of numerous fundraisers for Israel and its army. That is why the rare media in the United States providing fair debates on Israeli – Palestinian conflict, like Democracy Now and Vice, are almost priceless. However, until there is not enough pressure from the political leadership and the society in general, it is hard to imagine big changes happening in relations to Israel and the occupation.
Arab is not a one thing, and Arab nations are not a one
If these last couple of days have proved anything – it is that Arab nations, Arab countries and Arab people – are not one. There is no support for the Palestinians from the leaders of other Arab countries, Egypt was waiting for days to open the Rafah border crossing and now initiated a shameful idea of „ceasefire“ that is not even close to a ceasefire. Other Arab countries, the money lands of Gulf and others – stand still, in silence. No surprise there, it is not the first time. In this disheartening fact we could find something positive – this is a lesson, a chance to learn for the western mainstream media. It is time for them to realize that Arabs are not one group, all the same, and Arab countries are not united and we can never speak of them as such. From this lack of support for Palestine, once again, we can learn (beside the fact that economical and geopolitical interests always come first, and moral and justice are laughable terms) to finally stop addressing Arabs as one, and acknowledge the political, economical, cultural and human differences that exist among them. Just like other people – they are not the same, and they are for sure not united – except in doing nothing, just like in this case.
Slowly dying is also dying
While in today’s world everything revolves around numbers, and they have to big and shocking in order to get attention, even when there are no „huge events“ in Gaza and West Bank, there is still a lot of violence, oppression and – slow death. It is the occupation, to some a very subtle thing, but still obvious on every level – the unemployment, the endless waiting, the curfews, the checkpoints, all that despair and uncertainty. A February 2013 publication from UNICEF shows that: „In the past 10 years, an estimated 7,000 children have been detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system — an average of two children each day. The analysis of the cases monitored by UNICEF identified examples of practices that amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture.“ Briefing on Children in Gaza by Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights notes that Israel’s blockade of Gaza, a gruesome form of systemic violence, “puts children’s right to health at a grave risk as access to health services and care inside Gaza is hampered by lack of equipment, expertise, and medicines, while access to care outside of Gaza is largely restricted.” And these are only children we are talking about. So, even when Gaza and West Bank are not in the news like the last couple of days, there are a lot of reasons for them to be.