First of all, I spoke too soon in my last Blog entry about Palestinians leaving the Iraqi border and entering Syria. Apparently, according to my sources here, only 182 Palestinians were allowed in; the other 225 were left in another No Man’s Land camp in between the Syrian and Iraqi border. And now there are new groups of Palestinians trying to go directly to Syria and winding up in No Man’s Land in this new camp.
And that is not the only bad news, although there is some good news, too, at least in terms of editorials. Many articles in the press this week demonstrate what’s important to remember about the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and its continuing impact on Palestinians today. Here is a sampling of what people should be talking about and what I’m not hearing enough of in Jordan.
One of Israel’s founding Ministers of Education and Culture, Professor Ben-Zion Dinur (1954), said it most sharply; “In our country there is room only for the Jews. We shall say to the Arabs: Get out! If they don’t agree, if they resist, we shall drive them out by force” (History of the Haganah). With this theme as the explicit backdrop of a newly established State, it is no wonder that Israel, 58 years later, has had little chance of being a normal member of the state of nations.
Growing up in Britain, I got no sympathy but rather kept being told about the need to give Jews a state they could feel safe in. But at whose expense was this generosity? We Palestinians had no hand in the Holocaust, nor in persecuting Jews. But we were transformed from a peaceable agrarian people into a nation of beggars under occupation, refugees, exiles and second-class citizens of Israel. Worse still, we are now labelled terrorists, suicide bombers or Islamic extremists. Our crime? We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for that we have been repeatedly punished, most recently for electing the “wrong” government, headed by a party the west, not Palestinians, labels as terrorist.
In honor of this disasterous historical anniversary, Israel upheld yet another racist law, which prohibits Palestinians living inside 1948 Palestine borders from allowing them to live with their spouses and children. A dissenting judge explains the obvious hypocrisy of this law, as quoted in thisHa’aretz editorial:
In the minority opinion, Barak wrote things that the Knesset and the majority justices chose to forget: “Democracy does not impose a sweeping ban, thereby cutting off its citizens from their partners and not allowing them to live a family life … It does not give its citizens the option of living in it without their partners or leaving the country … Democracy cedes a certain amount of security in order to obtain an immeasurably greater amount of family life and equality.”
Although this law is specifically affecting Palestinian families in general, it also affects mixed marriages of Palestinians and Israelis such as the one profiled in
a Yahoo News article. The problem with this scenario is that if it goes to court so that the wife (the Israeli Jew) gets to live in Ramallah legally with her husband (Palestinian Muslim) she would set a precedent for Israelis to live in the West Bank, which is not a legal precedent that should be encouraged.
Not only has Israel been busy passing laws this week it has also taken to planning to unilaterally re-draw its borders in a way that would further create a Bantustan system that could never be a viable state. President Jimmy Carter has been speaking out about this and hopefully his words are not falling on deaf ears:
The Olmert plan would leave the remnant of the Palestinian West Bank with the same unacceptable characteristics. Deep intrusions would effectively divide it into three portions. The prime minister has also announced that Israeli soldiers will likely remain in the Palestinian territory, which will be completely encapsulated by Israel’s control of its eastern border in the Jordan River valley.
It is inconceivable that any Palestinian, Arab leader, or any objective member of the international community could accept this illegal action as a permanent solution to the continuing altercation in the Middle East. This confiscation of land is to be carried out without resorting to peace talks with the Palestinians, and in direct contravention of the “road map for peace,” which President Bush helped to initiate and has strongly supported.
One bit of good news is that Haifa Mayor Yona Yaha has stated publicly his support for al awda (Palestinians right of return as stated in UN Resolution 194).
In an interview to Israeli-Arab newspaper Kul al-Arab, Yahav was asked whether he accepts, “theoretically and in principle,” the return to the town of tens of thousands of Palestinians that emigrated from Haifa in 1948.
“Basically,” Yahav replied, “I don’t see any reason why some of the Palestinian residents should not go back to Haifa in the framework of deal that would be accepted and signed by the Israeli government, and that would put an end to the conflict with the Palestinian people.”
Yahav added that he sympathized with the Palestinian exiles’ pain. “I’ll tell you frankly that I feel deeply for the refugees and their suffering and hope that their problem is solved, as my father has also tasted the bitter taste of loss and exile after he fled Germany,” he explained.
Indeed. I am always getting attacked when making analogies to the situation of Palestinians and those of others who have suffered from holocausts, genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing. While there may be historical specifics that cause each situation to happen the bottom line is that all of these things are morally reprehensible. What would have been the best way to honor the victims of al nakba would be to have the international community join together in sanctioning the state of Israel the same way they did with apartheid South Africa. Ronnie Kasrils and Victoria Brittain argue precisely this point about sanctioning Israel in their Guardian article:
The Palestinians are having sanctions imposed on them for their political choice. But it is Israel, creating new facts on the ground to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, that should be facing UN sanctions. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, should use his last months in office to call for sanctions to bring about the implementation of the ICJ ruling on the Israeli wall, the closure of West Bank settlements and the release of Palestinian political prisoners. And those who care for freedom, peace and justice must build a global Palestine solidarity movement to match the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s.
One film reviewer in South Africa discussed these connections between apartheid South Africa as evidenced in Mohammed Alatar’s brilliant new documentary film, The Iron Wall. The reviewer brings home the necessity of why it is important for more people to see these connections. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have been able to make these connections; when will the world be able to see the same reality?
Instead, we have AIPAC’s lobbying bullying congress members such as Representative Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, who was hassled last week for not voting the way that AIPAC wanted her to on the horrific H.R. 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which would make the lives of Palestinians even more intolerable if that is possible. In a public letter to AIPAC she stated:
During my nineteen years serving in elected office, including the past five years as a Member of Congress, never has my name and reputation been maligned or smeared as it was last week by a representative of AIPAC. Last Friday, during a call with my chief of staff, an AIPAC representative from Minnesota who has frequently lobbied me on behalf of your organization stated, “on behalf of herself, the Jewish community, AIPAC, and the voters of the Fourth District, Congresswoman McCollum’s support for terrorists will not be tolerated.” Ironically, this individual, who does not even live in my congressional district, feels free to speak for my constituents.
Apparently, one only has to vote to treat Palestinians humanely by voting against this immoral bill to be called a terrorist.
But perhaps my favorite piece this week was by Nora Barrows-Friedman who, through the voice of her child, shows us precisely the connections that Americans need to (but don’t want to) make in order to understand what’s happening to Palestinians:
And here, as I sit in a quiet Berkeley café, I know I don’t have to travel 10,000 miles to see the effects of a Nakba. It is all around us, this wrinkled, drunken beast of ethnic cleansing, its atomic particles buzzing in our ears and whispering the names of Ohlone, Miwok, Pomo, Kashaya, Yuki, Wintun. The Nakba in 1492 that spread like cancer from the far corners of the northern “American” continent is ongoing and entrenched. “Where did the Indians go?” my daughter asked me recently. When I explained that they were killed or moved to other areas of the country so that this building, or that street, or those houses could be built for the gun-carrying white settlers (I put it in more delicate terms), she turned and without skipping a beat, said “oh, just like in Palestine.”
Are we willing to let Palestinians continue to suffer for hundreds of years in refugee camps just as Native Americans continue to live in reservations? Really, someone please tell me what is the difference?