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The Palestinians and Israel: Fifty Years of Suffering in Silence

by Mazin Qumsiyeh


A quick pop-quiz:

Which country in the Middle East has nuclear weapons, refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, invaded and occupied other nations' territories, created hundreds of thousands of refugees and refuses to let them return, engages in ethnic cleansing, legalized torture and mass punishment on civilians, routinely violates nearby countries' international borders, sends assassins into other countries, is in violation of over 70 UN Security Council resolutions, engages in spying on the US, and attacked a US naval ship in international waters?

Hint 1: it is the same country that has the largest share of our foreign aid money and the second largest US lobby.

Hint 2: it starts with an "I," but is not Iraq, and is the same country for which Governor Jim Hunt spent precious state resources to establish close ties and "celebrate" its birthday.

The month of May this year marks the 50 year anniversary of a dual event. For the Israeli government it is the anniversary of independence and the "creation" of the great Eretz Israel ("Greater Israel"). For the 8 million Palestinians, it is the anniversary of what they call in Arabic An-Nakba ("the catastrophe").

It is to them the defining event of their misery, dispossession, and death of dreams. This is not an abstract event of 50 years ago. This creation of a nation was intended to produce an "Eretz Israel, without Arabs," in the words of Joseph Weitz, a previous director of the Jewish National Fund—the organization which gained ownership of most land confiscated from Palestinians. He continued that there is "no room for compromise on this point ... we must not leave a single village, not a single tribe."

Well, the problem is that this population called the Palestinians whom Golda Meir — a former Prime Minister much applauded by Western leaders — said "does not exist," refuses to go away. While almost two thirds of the Palestinians are already in Diaspora, one third (3 million) are still in this land of their ancestors. Thus, the policies that have been so effective at getting rid of the majority are continuing to this day.

Thus, as "we" celebrate the birth of Israel, houses are being demolished, Palestinians are losing their residency rights, lands are still being confiscated, and the leverage of economic poverty and collapse is used to force as many Palestinians to emigrate as possible.

Some 418 Palestinian villages were razed by Israel during and immediately after 1948. Almost 5 million Palestinians now live in Diaspora and over half in squalid refugee camps due to the actions of Israel during the past 50 years.

Israel continues its policies of mass punishment, house demolitions, land confiscation, settlement activities and other policies against the will of the international community. These tactics contradict the Geneva convention on human rights and are attested to by Israeli peace groups.

Being realistic, the Israeli government has also decided rather recently that since there will always "natives" left that the best way is to isolate them in bantustans [what the South African apartheid regime called its divided, scattered zones in which to imprison the Africans there] which are easily controlled from outside. The Israeli government calculates that the apartheid model which failed in South Africa will work in Israel because of the differences in political power.

LAW—the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment—issued a lengthy report last month and basically summarized as follows:

"Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 [signed in Oslo, Sweden, thus popularly known as "the Oslo Accords"], hundreds of people have been killed and injured, over 500 families have had their homes destroyed by Israeli occupying forces, over 1,000 people have had their rights to live in Jerusalem taken away, thousands have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned, five per cent of land has been added to the 65% already confiscated to place colonies (settlements) on Palestinian land; and thousands of people have found themselves jobless, homeless, destitute and hopeless. Israel has perpetrated these acts during the period of the peace negotiations. Each act is a serious violation of the peace agreements, a violation of Israel's international obligations under human rights law and the Fourth Geneva Convention."

Israel is in violation of no less than 80 UN Security Council resolutions and countless General Assembly resolutions. This is not counting over 40 UN Security Council resolutions vetoed by the US. The US government also gives Israel the lion's share of foreign aid, to the tune of 3.5 to 5 billion dollars per year—of your tax money.

The "peace process" is not working, at least not for the Palestinians, and the reason it is not working can be summed up in the goals that the Israeli government had set for peace process: that Palestinian refugees relinquish their right to return to their homeland, that Jerusalem be declared Israel's capital and that it cannot be shared with the Palestinian Christian and Muslims (nor serve as their religious, social and cultural capital), that settlements in the occupied areas—and especially occupied East Jerusalem—must remain for "security" reasons, that water, "external security," and foreign relations (including leverage on all economic import and export) must remain in the hands of the Jewish state.

The Oslo agreements were a clever way to put issues like settlements (which are basically colonizations of Palestinian lands) on the back burner in the wish by the Israeli government that maybe the Palestinian "problem" will go away and, on the Palestinian side, that maybe Israelis will have a change of heart on these issues on their own (without political or any other pressure).

Just two quotes will illustrate the origin of the problem.

(1) The removal of Arabs bodily from Palestine has always been among the plans of those following the original 'Zionists,' those aiming to colonize an area on which to construct their vision of a new Israel, to "spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly." (Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry).

(2) "Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. .... There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population." (Moshe Dayan, Address to the Technion, Haifa, as quoted in the Hebrew language Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, 4 April 1969).

Justice must prevail. We should not hide the fact that Israel is not a just society for its citizens (or what remains of them after the exodus).

For example, the Israeil scholar Israel Shahak wrote that "the legal system of the State of Israel can be described as a weird mixture of advanced democracy and retrogressive discrimination, combined with clumsy attempts to hide the discriminatory reality.

"For example, in all Israeli laws except one, the Law of Return, the word 'Jew' does not appear. The term employed when the law gives discriminatory privileges to Jews is that those privileges are granted to 'persons who would have benefited from the Law of Return had they been outside the borders of Israel.' The Law of Return specifies that its benefits can be given only to Jews. However, Israeli propagandists calculate, correctly in my view, that a great majority of the opponents of discrimination would not dare to criticize this law." [Editors' emphasis.]

Israel wants peace (or is it a 'piece-meal process'?) without justice for the Palestinians; a peace that keeps the officially Jewish state in control of all the land of Palestine as the eternal "Erez Israel" with Bantustan enclaves of remnants Palestinians (completely controlled in their movements and actions).

There is still an opportunity for a just peace in the Middle East, with a two equal state solution and justice to displaced Palestinians.

More relevant and informative to the reader would be books by leading Israeli authors such as Uri Avnery (e.g. Israel without Zionism), Israel Shahak, and Uri Davis. Facts are documented by human rights and peace groups in Israel such as Peace Now, Gush Shalom, B'Tselem, and the Israeli League of Human Rights. See also books by Edward Said (esp.The Question of Palestine).

A concert and pre-concert events were planned at the North Carolina Museum of Art on May 2 in celebration of Israel's 50th anniversary. Given Israel's history, the structure and intent of this program is unprecedented and undesirable. And using state resources (museum facilities etc.) to celebrate another country's birthday is unprecedented.

The mainstream media chose to ignore these facts let alone investigate them. North Carolina peace activists need to be aware and informed. We held a peace vigil in Chapel Hill on April 21 and plan another May 2 as well as a media campaign. For information about other activities call (919) 419-0851.

  Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, Media and Community Relations Director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, NC writing on behalf of the Carolinas Middle East Association .  

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