Spotlight On the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict ~ ضوء على الصراع الفلسطيني الإسرائيلي

غادة زيد نعمان ماهر

في هذا المقال تسلّط الكاتبة الضوء على مأساة الشعب الفلسطيني كما يراها جيلها من النشطاء الأمريكان الشباب اليافعين: نتاجاً مباشراً لدعم الغرب وفي مقدمته الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية لدولة اسرائيل ونظامها العنصري. هذه المأساة المستمرة منذ أكثر من سبعين عاماً على مرأى العالم ومسمعه تجد اليوم في الجيل الأمريكي الجديد من النشطاء اهتماماً يتميز عن اهتمام من سبقهم بتحميل حكومات الولايات المتحدة المسؤولية عن ما تسميه غادة ماهر وأقرانها الإرهاب الممنهج الذي تمارسه سلطات الاحتلال الإسرائيلي المتعاقبة ضد شعب فلسطين. وهي تقارنه بإرهاب نظام الفصل العنصري السابق في جنوب أفريقيا وحملات الإبادة الجماعية التي مارسها المهاجرون البيض ضد السكان الأصليين في أمريكا الشمالية. يستند هذا المقال إلى أفكار وقناعات الكاتبة وعينة من النشطاء الشباب الذين حاورتهم ونقلت آراءهم للقارئ في هذا المقال.

An Opinion piece (With Interviews)

Ghada Numan Mahir

In every tragedy there is room for hope, and the Israel-Palestine conflict is no exception. The hope of the people of Palestine has survived for decades through challenges beginning with the British occupation, which would be followed by the long Israeli occupation of Palestine. However, it amounts to nothing if the rest of the world continues to ignore the struggle of the Palestinians.

For millennia, the land had been known as Palestine. Records going as far back as twelvth century BCE name the land–now recognised as “Israel” by many countries–some variation of the word “Palestine”: dubbed “Philistia, the land of the Philistines” by the ancient Greeks, “Syria Palaestina” by the Romans, and so on. Countless historical evidence from many sources all offer the same perspective: The area of land along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea is Palestine, and it has been home to the Palestinian people for millennia.

Then, around 100 years ago, the Israel and Palestine conflict began. Britain was assigned the job of creating a national home for Jewish people, and in 1948 Israel was established as a state against the will of the Palestinians. The Arab people who reside in Palestine had inhabited that land long before the British rule of the area, let alone Israeli rule of the area. However, when Arabs demand that the land should belong to them, their demand is seen as an exclusionary act, even anti-Semitic. After 70+ years and many wars, the issue is no longer one of wrongful settlement only, but of human rights violations too.

On the 27th of December, 2008, a 22-day Israeli assault known as “Operation Cast Lead” was launched against civilians in the Gaza strip. During those 22 days of horror, Israel committed war crimes that would be broadcasted to the world by independent media. By the end of January of 2009, roughly 1,400 Palestinians had been murdered in the Operation. 82% of them were innocent civilians. But Israel never faced any repercussions.

November 10th of 2012 is the date on which Israel killed four Palestinian teenagers while they were innocently playing football (soccer). Four days later, the State of Israel attacked multiple targets along the Gaza strip, including several residential areas. The attack, called “Operation Pillar of Defense,” lasted for eight days. 174 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more were injured. One of the murdered innocents was an 11-month-old baby. Many other victims were also children.

In 2014, the Gaza “War” killed 2,256 Palestinians and 85 Israelis. Ironically, Israel called the war “Operation Protective Edge,” an operation that clearly did not do as much protection as murder.

At the end of March of 2018, tens of thousands of Palestinians protested peacefully at the border wall. The protest is known as the “Great March of Return,” and it resulted in a great number of casualties. At least 15 Palestinians were killed on the first day alone. Many journalists were shot and wounded throughout the march, and one wounded member of the press was even denied entry into the Occupied Land for medical treatment. The protest went on for almost 18 months. Although it was intended as a peaceful march by the protestors, by the end of the march, hundreds of Palestinians had been killed by the Israel soldiers; thousands more injured.

In May of 2021 Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest and most treasured places in Islam, wounding 20 Palestinians. Then, airstrikes rained down on Gaza and neighbouring locations, leaving more than 200 Palestinian civilians dead. Over a quarter of them were children.

These are only a few examples of the atrocities Israel has been committing for decades. They are not isolated events, but an organised massacre of the Palestinian people.

The most common excuse for Israel’s disgusting disregard for the life of the Palestinian people is that Israel is at war with Arabs, and these things are simply a part of war. However, when the people Israel is killing have no army, no navy, and no air force, it is difficult, if not impossible, to even call the conflict a war. The recorded Palestinian death toll from 2008 to 2020 comes up to 5,590, while the Israeli death toll is about 250. This is not a war; it is a genocide. Furthermore, every country that supports Israel is actively contributing to this genocide.

What we see in Palestine is a familiar story of colonisation and terror: Natives of a land treated as “lesser people than” their colonisers. We have seen it time and time again, notably with the South African apartheid and Native American genocide.

The use of the word “apartheid” to describe the situation in Palestine is controversial, but it really should not be. Apartheid is not only a descriptive word; it is a crime against humanity punishable by law. The extremely different treatment of an Israeli Jew versus that of a Palestinian Arab by the Israeli government is quite literally racist, and it is a marvel that the said government has gotten away with it for so long. As Yousuf El-Jayyousi, one of my interviewees says, “The use of apartheid as a descriptor of the Israeli occupation [of Palestine] is the bare minimum… It does not come near describing the crimes against humanity that Palestinians have endured over the last 70+ years.”

In 2019, construction of the infamous “apartheid highway” in Occupied Palestine was complete. With two separate traffic routes, one for Palestinians and one for Israelis, it is easily one of the most obvious examples of the racist and discriminatory nature of the ruling regime. The highway is an unnecessary separation made for the sake of segregation, an act of discrimination ignored by world powers including western countries.

The segregated highway is divided by the notorious separation wall. Ever since its construction began in 2002, the wall that separates the Israeli and Palestinian territories has been heavily condemned by a growing number of world organizations and U.N. member states representing a wide swath of the International community. Not only does the wall go well into Palestinian territories, it serves no purpose but to segregate. Israel claims that it is a necessary precaution against terrorism, but in reality it is most likely a part of a larger plan to annex more land into the State of Israel. The wall helps Israel gain more control over the region, too. As a result, the oppressive state can control the flow of Palestinian people, the transportation of goods, and even press and media. This means that the health and safety of Palestinians are fully in the hands of the Israeli government; this is a problem that can have serious consequences to the general well-being of the oppressed people.

In such a context, it should be easy to see how a global pandemic such as Covid-19 can become an opportunity to further discriminate against the oppressed by the oppressor, especially in the way the Israeli government handles the vaccination process. Currently, 57% of the Israeli population is fully vaccinated, while only 6.3% of the Palestinian population is. Israel leads the world in vaccination records, yet only Palestinians that work in close contact with Israelis are receiving vaccines from Israel. The Israeli government is dedicated to sending vaccines across the world to their ally countries, but it does not seem to be willing to share vaccines with the Palestinian people. Segregation and discrimination are present in the State of Israel, and it is foolish to pretend they are not. Segregation and discrimination are the instruments of apartheid.

A large part of ending the Apartheid in South Africa was global intervention, which started with protesting and boycotting on a universal scale. Countries refused to work with the state of South Africa; international companies refused to buy products from South Africa, until the Apartheid came to an end. That is definitely a possible way for people living across the globe to try and help with the fight against Israel’s violations of human rights in Palestine.

Another comparison that can be made here is between Israel’s killing of Palestinians and the genocide of the Native peoples of the Americas. One needs only to look at the foundational claims made by Israeli settlers in the 20th century and American settlers centuries ago to see the point. The Israeli claim that the land is rightfully theirs, despite the fact that native Palestinians have already been living there, is not unlike the “Manifest Destiny” claim made by American settlers earlier. A close examination of the two claims can reveal stunning similarities between the two colonisers.

It is reassuring to see that a growing number of world peoples including Americans condemn the Native American genocide; one step further than that is to condemn the genocide we have been witnessing in Palestine. Unfortunately, it seems as though no matter how many times the world watches these events, some world governments choose to turn a blind eye. The International Community and world legal experts alike generally agree that Israel’s tactics against Palestinians are unlawful. The international Court of Justice has ruled Israel’s acts as immoral and illegal, but no action has ever been taken by the International Community to bring Israeli governments to justice.

So what has stopped the superpowers of the world from supporting Palestine? Even the United States, which persists in claiming that it represents freedom and human rights, is feeding money into the mouth of the oppressor. What happened to “American Values”?

Kaylen Howard, another one of my interviewees, says: “I am inclined to think that governments like the United States have sanctioned the violations. The mutually advantageous political and economic exchange between Israel and the U.S. surely plays a role.”

Israel strongly relies on the support–financial and otherwise–it receives from the U.S. government, and if the U.S. stance on the conflict were to change, everything else would, too. Such a change is possible only if the American people play a major role in making it happen: exercising political pressure on the U.S. government. In a sense, then, the hope of the Palestinian people majorly relies on the help of the American people.

The truth is, there is no way to be certain what it would take for the United States to revoke its support for Israel, let alone what it might take for the global superpower to support Palestine. I have heard many ideas from people in my generation about what it might take, and these ideas greatly vary.

18-year-old Celena Schmolzi, who is double majoring in Cultural Anthropology and Media & Cultural Studies at Macalester College, Twin Cities, has the following to say: “I believe what is needed for the US government to revoke its support for Israel and in turn support Palestine is a widespread call to action from constituents. A huge part of the US pro-Israel platform relies on voter support because support for Israel is popular among voters and has been since the Cold War. We must change the status quo and let our lawmakers know that we cannot stand for Israel’s atrocities and we do not want to be associated with them, even if they are the ‘lone democracy of the Middle East’ as is often said to undermine legitimate critiques of Israeli government. Israel has for too long been viewed as a country with shared values, and the American people must let their lawmakers know that illegal occupation, human rights violations, and genocide are not our American values.”

Another 18-year-old, Kaylen Howard, with Black and mixed-ambiguous European and African ethnic backgrounds, who hopes to major in English, Black Studies, and/or Sociology, has the following to say: “I imagine the U.S. government would revoke its support of Israel if popular support of Palestinian liberation became immensely economically and politically disruptive. I also think revocation of support would occur if other Western governments directly called the U.S. out for sanctioning human rights violations. The U.S. would support Palestine if it was more economically and politically favourable, or if it meant subtle maintenance of the international settler colonialism status quo.”

21-year-old Palestinian Yousef El-Jayyousi, a senior student majoring in Biomedical Engineering, University of Missouri, has a seemingly hard-line opinion informed by his perceptions of oppression and injustice: “As a settler-colonial state itself, the United States would need to reckon with its own existence in order to yield any criticism of the Israeli Occupation. U.S. support for Palestinians can only come with the liberation of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. The only way for the U.S. to end its support of settler colonialism is for the U.S. empire to fall. This may sound radically revolutionary to some, but it is not. There is nothing radical about establishing justice. Nothing radical about the rejection of white supremacy. Nothing radical about the restoration of land to its rightful inhabitants. It is time for us to stop accepting western settler states as legitimate or rightful simply because they have existed for long periods of time.”

Understandably, opinions on this topic range from democratic to revolutionary, and it may be hard to form one definitive opinion. But I think that as a starting point, the U.S. government should acknowledge its part in the problem: its tendency to turn a blind eye to Israel’s genocidal acts for so long, thus proving that as a system, it is broken beyond repair. America doesn’t fight for freedom anymore, if it ever did. In fact, the crisis in Palestine has revealed the truth of every global superpower, not only America: They are all greedy and indifferent to tragedy.

There is no way to be certain how the conflict in Palestine will be resolved, only time will tell. But it is certain that it has been allowed to continue by the leaders of the world for far too long. With this new age of activism and easy-to-access information, hopefully the truth will find its way to the surface and the people of Palestine will be liberated.

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

1. Why do you think the human rights violations in Palestine have been allowed to exist for so many decades without any outside interference?

“I think this is an excellent but difficult question because to precisely identify the passive and active roles of the international community in the perpetuation of these violations is to begin to move toward a solution. Actually, I am inclined to think that governments like the United States have sanctioned the violations. The mutually advantageous political and economic exchange between Israel and the U.S. surely plays a role.”  (Kaylen Howard)

“I believe the crisis in Palestine has been swept under the rug for decades because it was convenient for America and other privileged and powerful countries to ignore Palestinians. Being pro-Israel has been the status quo since the Cold War, through Bush, Clinton, Obama, and our most recent administrations. America has created the very selfish image of the Middle East’s moderator and objective third party. However, we have abused this power to disproportionately siphon money and means into Israel, and these resources are used to kill innocent Palestinians, making America directly responsible for their deaths. It’s not okay for America to follow the status quo just because it is easy, or because it is tradition, or because it benefits our wallet. We must put Palestine first.”   (Celena Schmolzi)

“We live in a world that is quite literally governed and controlled by Western settler-colonial states, and the Zionist project is merely an extension of Western settler colonialism. Given this, how can we expect one settler-colonial state to hold another one accountable? For such states to do so much as criticise the Israeli occupation of Palestine would require them to reckon with their own existence and imperialism. The destabilization of the Southwest Asia North Africa (SWANA) region is a direct result of Western imperialism. It is not that such conditions exist without outside interference, it is that they exist due to outside interference from the West.”   (Yousef El-Jayyousi)

2. How do you feel about the use of the word ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians?

“I feel the use of ‘apartheid’ is historically, if not also legally, appropriate, and the gravity of its application to the Israeli oppression of Palestinians should not be disregarded. The language is important because it signifies the following consequential ideas. 1) The subjugation of Palestinians is systemic, as opposed to simply interpersonal, and therefore requires a functionally radical, systemic solution. 2) Israel is damaging Palestinian human rights through racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination and violence, such that the international community has a moral obligation to divest its economic and political support from Israel until Palestine is liberated. 3) The Palestinian struggle and resistance are fundamentally parallel to the ongoing anti-imperialist movement in South Africa and throughout the world. Palestine is not merely occupied; it is colonised and facing apartheid, an intercontinental phenomenon.”   (Kaylen Howard)

“In regards to the use of ‘apartheid’ when referring to Israeli actions in the West Bank: When one considers the intention behind division tactics such as the West Bank barrier and exclusionary citizenship laws, it becomes hard to see Israeli policies as anything other than race-based warfare.”   (Celena Schmolzi)

“The use of apartheid as a descriptor of the Israeli occupation is the bare minimum. It is progress to see more prominent politicians and organisations adopt such terminology but it does not come close to describing the crimes against humanity that Palestinians have endured over the last 70 years.”   (Yousef El-Jayyousi)

3. In what ways can the Palestine crisis be compared to the Native American genocide?

“Settler colonialism, in which the colonised are dispossessed of their ancestral land and cultural sovereignty as the colonising body builds a society on the said land, is a system that has long abused Indigenous people from both regions. Likewise, both regional groups—neither monolithic—have a long history of fighting colonialism and working to preserve their cultural legacies in the face of attempted erasure. These diverse, interconnected anti-imperialist struggles are neglected in school history textbooks the world over.”   (Kaylen Howard)

“One of the major goals of Palestinians is to build solidarity as it makes for a stronger movement for everyone. A major component of this is Indigenous solidarity here in the Americas. Both have experienced forceful land theft and ethnic cleansing in the name of the occupiers’ fleeing religious persecution. The results Palestinians achieve in regaining their independence within their homeland have major implications for indigenous reclamation of land worldwide.”   (Yousef El-Jayyousi)

4. What do you imagine it would take for the US government to revoke support for Israel? What would it take for the U.S. government to support Palestine?

“I imagine the U.S. government would revoke its support of Israel if popular support of Palestinian liberation became immensely economically and politically disruptive. I also think revocation of support would occur if other Western governments directly called the U.S. out for sanctioning human rights violations. The U.S. would support Palestine if it was more economically and politically favourable, or if it meant subtle maintenance of the international settler colonialism status quo.”   (Kaylen Howard)

“To answer the last question, I believe what is needed for the U.S. government to revoke its report for Israel and in turn support Palestine is a widespread call to action from constituents. A huge part of the U.S. pro-Israel platform relies on voter support because support for Israel is popular among voters and has been since the Cold War. We must change the status quo and let our lawmakers know that we cannot stand for Israel’s atrocities and we do not want to be associated with them, even if they are the ‘lone democracy of the Middle East’ as is often said to undermine legitimate critiques of Israeli government. Israel has for too long been viewed as a country with shared values, and the American people must let their lawmakers know that illegal occupation, human rights violations, and genocide are not our American values.”   (Celena Schmolzi)

“As a settler-colonial state itself, the United States would need to reckon with its own existence in order to yield any criticism of the Israeli Occupation. U.S. support for Palestinians can only come with the liberation of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. The only way for the U.S. to end its support of settler colonialism is for the U.S. empire to fall. This may sound radically revolutionary to some, but it is not. There is nothing radical about establishing justice. Nothing radical about the rejection of white supremacy. Nothing radical about the restoration of land to its rightful inhabitants. It is time for us to stop accepting Western settler states as legitimate or rightful simply because they have existed for long periods of time.” (Yousef El-Jayyousi)

2 Comments

  1. I am very proud of this great discussion among educated figures who obviously seemed aware of what is going on on the globe .
    Congratulations

  2. One feels hopeful and happy that young Arabs who grew in western societies are still attached to their roots.

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