How many times do we have to shout for justice? How many times do we have to cry for it? How often do we have to ask those that do not see the injustice to look in the right direction? And see it for what it is. What goes on in Palestine goes beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. What happens there daily is unthinkable and singular. It is simply absurd. The madness cannot compare with any other place, not because the loss of life is more precious there, but because it is Israel and the United States that are responsible for the disastrous situation there, and they are getting away with it.
What country imprisons children? Hundreds of them between the ages of 12 and 15 that are held in Israeli military detention and abused physically and verbally. Israel systematically prosecutes hundreds of youngsters in military courts each year and it is the only country that prosecutes children while lacking basic and fundamental fair trial agreements. As many as 8000 children have been arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military prisons since year 2000, and have been systematically tortured, for being charged with throwing stones. At the same time, no Israeli child has ever been in a military court.
What country target kills activists and journalists? Peace activists that are present on the land, to protect the civilian population and to report the news, but whom are directly targeted and then blamed for their own deaths, for being on the wrong side.
What country demolishes homes and leaves people to live in tents under olive trees? How is this done in a country that claims to be a democracy? Discrimination against Palestinians, even Palestinian citizens of Israel, is embedded in the dry technicalities of planning, zoning, and administration. Almost the entire West Bank has been declared by Israel “agricultural land,” so that when Palestinians request permission to build on their own properties they are refused. Virtually all of East Jerusalem has been zoned as “open green space,” meaning a Palestinian can own land but cannot build on it, the land being “reserved” for future urban development, such as an Israeli settlement or roads for Jews only. In Jerusalem signs clearly state that Israel aims at the Judaization of the city through the policy of the Israeli government to maintain a majority of Jews over Palestinians. With these simple policies in place, Israel can demolish houses anywhere and anytime it wants, without receiving criticism or blame. Even though under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Occupying Powers are prohibited from destroying property or employing collective punishment, because Article 53 reads: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” Under this provision the practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is banned, as is the wholesale destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure, but Israel can do it, and get away with it.
What country stops ships from entering with medical supplies, or stops cargo with foods and clothing at ports, making it expensive and nearly impossible for donators to send aid of any kind? What country can destroy European Union funded projects, and get away with it? Some 79 EU-funded structures were demolished in the West Bank and Jerusalem region in 2012 and 54 more were destroyed in the first six months of 2013. Only between 2001 and 2011, Israel destroyed development projects worth €49.14 million, of which €29.37 million was funded by the EU or its member states. Now what country can get away with that?
What country can shoot hundreds of kids with rubber bullets in the eyes, and blind them or disable them for life? Who shoots and executes teenagers and makes up stories when no witnesses are around to say that they were unarmed? What country on earth keeps the dead bodies from their loved ones as a common practice, with the justification that they do not want the funeral to turn into a demonstration? Of anger, shock, incredulity?
The majority of these Palestinian children are killed and injured while going about normal daily activities, such as going to school, playing, shopping, or simply being in their homes and this is besides Israeli air and ground attacks, or indiscriminate fire from Israeli soldiers.
And there are those that still believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complicated and sensitive topic. There are those that believe there are two distinct and plausible narratives, with faults on both sides. Many believe there is either one truth or the other. Many do not even question basic assumptions, and accept and embrace a truth that to them is undeniable; they are simply accepting something they do not even question the morality of. When exposed to the facts, however, many react as though their whole world is being shattered. The very ground beneath their feet is shaken. The reaction to the newly found information produces a cognitive dissonance with them, that forces them to hold on to the version they believed to be true and stay loyal to their existing ideas by justifying them and repeating the slogans that help reinforce those long-held ideas without asking questions, and without understanding that they too are helping maintain and support a racist state and a colonial power.
The truth is that a balanced presentation of this conflict is impossible. There cannot be balance in an inherently unbalanced situation. There cannot be balance where information has been so highly manipulated, controlled and manufactured. There cannot be balance where there is so much unbalanced power and military might. Every bit of information has been used to support one side over the other, and to strengthen the standing of one side while dehumanizing the other. The constructed narrative was meant to delegitimize one side, with the most powerful telling it; but that does not mean that there isn’t an absolute truth or that there isn’t a right and a wrong. It is just blurry and difficult to see because it has been so highly controlled; but it does exist and it is our duty to see and recognize who the real victim is, as well as who the real perpetrator is. A balanced representation of something so unbalanced will sound one-sided, as it will weigh very heavily against Israel.
We have become accustomed to telling our story and defending it, by reinforcing what we say quoting the Israelis, the Americans, the British and the French, by hiding behind other people’s names and ideas, as though their words will be stronger and more credible than ours, and as though they will be believed while we will not be. It has been yet another way of controlling the information and telling it from the western point of view, while taking away our right to tell our own story.
Why shouldn’t the Palestinians tell their own history and express their ideas without having to resort to western narratives? Can we just tell the story from our point of view? Can we tell our history, our own history, with our words? We know our story better than anyone else because it is ours, and it cannot be told, by anyone but us. We know our own history, because we come from within it and we have been paying attention. We were not distracted, while others might have been, because it concerned our very existence, and therefore nobody can explain it or defend it better than ourselves. Most importantly, it cannot be told by the ones trying to control the story.
The whole question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its present and past, is covered in too many myths and accepted double standards. Every speech by every Israeli politician, every act by every Israeli soldier, and every narrative representative of the general cultural atmosphere starts with myths and double standards. They always start with a long series of lies and deceptions. If those are not known or recognized, the representation of the conflict will always be unbalanced because it is the very basis that is flawed. Talking about this conflict would be like talking in vain, or like talking to a wall, without any hope for real peace and justice for the people there.
We need to recognize that the very essence of the conflict, which started with the creation of the state of Israel and the displacement of its original inhabitants -the Palestinians – is the first issue that needs to be addressed. Starting from the very first fact, from the beginning, not from the middle, and definitely not from the end. Point (myth) number one: the right of return of the Jews to their homeland, a land that was populated by others and that had to accept those Jews that were not the same as those that lived there thousands of years ago. People that came back, claimed a heritage, a connection to the ancient Hebrews: they are religious, not religious, atheists and nationalists. They come from many different continents, and they come for different reasons such as religious fervor or for opportunism. This is Zionism and the world accepted it.
Of course, if we’re talking about religious Zionism as opposed to political Zionism then the origin is much older; it didn’t go by that name, but the notion that the land of Israel had always belonged to the Jewish people spiritually or that it was promised to the Jews by God is an ancient one, but surely that is not a sound basis for 20th century nation building. Most importantly, if there is a right of return for the Jews in principle, then why is there not the right of return for the Palestinians? The double standard and injustice lays in the fact that it is the actual people that have had to leave their homes in Palestine – the Palestinians and their direct descendants, that have the keys and deeds to their homes -that have no right of return to their homes. The Palestinians today know exactly where their homes and their wells are located, they remember where they used to walk to school and where their towns used to stand. But they do not have the right to return there. This is a double standard of immense proportions. The Israelis talk about their ties to King David that reigned 3000 years ago, and they say that the modern day Jews are his descendants. But there is no evidence that he ever existed, except for in the Bible, which is not an accurate historical document. The people of Palestine, whom have always lived on that land and that have never been anywhere but there, have been expelled and ethnically cleansed and archeologists are still trying, but unable to prove, that King David ever existed.
Palestinians were dispossessed to make this fictional mythical connection possible. Zionists start every discourse with these underlying myths. If repossessing a land that a people inhabited thousands of years ago is acceptable and fair, then that opens the door to claims by other people, dangerous and anti-historical claims such as those of the Islamic fighters who claim to be re-establishing a caliphate from the past. Cults are dangerous and people inside of them cannot usually see them for what they are; they simply see themselves as members of a special group that has a special destiny, which is always under threat. Survival is always the most important principle and members are taught from birth that the world outside is dangerous and threatening, making every person a recruit. That is true for Zionism, and that is also true for the Islamic State.
One has to recognize that Israelis today are the product of a settler-colonial state that was created through the removal and the elimination of another people who lived in the territory before them. The relationship they have developed with their victims is typical of a settler-colonial reality, based not just on the removal of the people but also of their historical places, monuments and all evidence and trace of their presence and rights to their land.
The persecution of the Jews was immoral and abhorrent. Humanity said never again; never again against the Jews; never again, in the history of mankind. We will not allow the persecution of any one people and it is immoral to take part in it, as well as to condone it. There was a right and a wrong side of history then, and there is a right and wrong side of history now. Only that this time, the Palestinians are the victims of the Jews, and the Jews are those committing the crime. And the world is condoning it. If the Holocaust was immoral and a crime against humanity, then removing the indigenous people and taking their land and resources is called settler-colonialism and that too is immoral and a crime against humanity.
When Zionism was born in Europe, and sought European and world support and gained momentum, it was able to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It did so by terrorizing the Palestinian population by placing bombs in the middle of busy markets, hiding explosives between watermelons at fruit stands. Vicious and violent terrorist acts, in the streets as well as in hotels, so similar to the ones we hear of today in cities like Baghdad, Islamabad, or Kabul; but they were being perpetrated by the Zionist Jews in Palestine. The Zionist terrorist groups known by the names of Irgun, Hagannah and Stern, attacked and killed civilian Palestinians and also the British, at a time when Palestine was under British control. Zionist terrorism and the history of the creation of the state of Israel should be known and taught. It should be exposed to the Israeli people as well as to the rest of the world for the sole purpose of recognizing the suffering of the Palestinians, and for the importance of truthfulness for reconciliation. It is also fundamental to give context to an otherwise seemingly complex and controversial topic. Even though we know this history, our history, it is also well detailed by the Israeli historians Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon, Baruch Kimmerling, Israel Shahak, Norman Finkelstein and Avi Shlaim.
Today Israel is a criminal, occupying force. It is a violent and militaristic state wrapped in a nationalistic culture and disguised as a progressive bubble, in contrast to the savage neighbors within which the country must survive. This deceptive lie has been used over and over again since the establishment of the state, and regardless of its acts of violence and policies Israel has been able to turn the argument around to say that it is the Palestinians that are violent; when in fact it is like having a discussion on the chicken and the egg. We are not tackling the primary issue or the underlying problem and there is no context. Oddly enough the Zionist propaganda can be perpetuated, and at the same time the Zionists can do exactly what they consider immoral, which is the demonizing of the Arab side, without the world seeing anything wrong or distorted in that. At the same time they can silence any criticism of Israel because they bring it back to the most powerful weapon they possess, anti-Semitism.
Although it is the actions of the state of Israel, its continued wars and occupation, illegal settlements and assassinations that lead to harsh criticism, the anti-Semite card is always used, even towards their own, calling them self-hating Jews. The label is too often abused and misused, and many Jews and Israelis know that all too well and know that this can be extremely dangerous, because we would not be able to see anti-Semitism or better anti-Judaism when it really is that. It is of vital importance for the Jews that the term and slogan is not overused as it loses its meaning and historical significance. It cannot become a tool for the defense of Israel or the silencing of its critics, a dangerous double-edged sword.
Look at Israel for what it is and what it stands for. There is an apartheid system in place, and there is an occupation. The injustice has lasted a long time and the criminal acts have become too blatant not to be seen, or to turn the other way. It is time to be on the right side of history and recognize that Israel is a country that has ethnically cleansed the land of Palestine of its original inhabitants, the Palestinians -both Muslim and Christian - since its creation in 1948, and continues to do so to this day. It is time to understand that Israel carpet bombs densely populated areas, it kills people whom have never had the possibility of standing in front of a court, and because preventative killing is condoned.
Israel is the last remaining colonial power that has put in place a system of roadblocks and checkpoints that are part of everyday life for the Palestinians, and that have been set up to humiliate and harass the people, causing them to become resentful and pushing them to react so more wars can be initiated and more Palestinians be killed. With the final solution being less Palestinians on the land and more land for Israel; an easy way to achieve Israel’s plan of having more for themselves. It is a tragic vision that Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe and journalists like Gideon Levy have too often acknowledged and know all too well.
There is real apartheid on the ground, and apartheid is not just simply a word, but it is used as an accurate comparison with South Africa. It has been perfectly designed and is being applied, with South Africans themselves saying that life under Israeli rule is far worse than it was for them under white rule. There are Jews-only roads and neighborhoods with religious zealots living in illegal settlements that are heavily armed and act out violently and aggressively against the Palestinian population, with total impunity. But Israel has succeeded in portraying itself as the victim describing itself as a country defending itself from a dangerous people wanting its destruction. They have been effective in getting the world to see them for what they are not, democratic. They have made the world believe that the Palestinian fight for freedom from occupation is a terrorist campaign against them, and that the resistance is about something else. They have used the anti-Semite justification for the oppression, as though the Arabs are not themselves Semites, but of another kind. They have indeed succeeded in making the world believe that there was an existential threat to them, the same one the United States and the world are now facing. The fight for equal rights was defined as terrorism, and the terrorism in Palestine is now also Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, Libyan and spread across the Middle East and other Islamic societies. Terrorism, which in fact both the US and Israel have planted the seeds of, has been threatening and destroying the lives and cities of the Arab and Islamic societies while at the same time safeguarding Israeli and Western interests.
Islam was never in the past regarded with the stigma it now has, but rather the opposite. Islamic societies were historically perceived as having been intellectually and scientifically enlightened at a time when Christianity in the West was characterized by inquisitions, torture, and mass persecutions. Historical accounts tell of the brutality of Christian Crusaders compared to the nobility of the Muslim armies. The Islamic world was enlightened long before the Christian West, despite being a younger religion. And while the Europeans were burning witches, the Arab and Islamic cities of Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo were centers of learning and philosophy. Islamic extremism and terrorism rooted in Wahhabism, a sect that is embraced and promoted by Saudi Arabia, is not an intolerant version of Islam; it is an ideology, just like Zionism is. Zionism indoctrinates young Jewish people to an extremist and uncompromising viewpoint that deals in racial superiority and divine right, and so do Wahhabism and the Islamic State. If one ideology is wrong, so is the other. If one is dangerous, so is the other. If one needs to be defeated, so does the other.
The history of the Palestinians and of the Jews; that of modern day Israel and Zionism; the rise of terrorism in the Arab and Islamic world as well as around the world; the wars in the Middle East and the subsequent refugee crisis; these are all connected and intertwined. The emergence of the Islamic State and religious ideological war, a phenomenon which has emerged in the past decades with the fall of the Soviet Union and the vacuum created by the end of a bipolar world, has been replaced by a unipolar world led by the United States and which has found its new enemy in religious and ethnic wars. Artificial lines were drawn up with the creation of Israel in 1948, but more recently in Iraq when the United States invaded the country for oil and resources and divided it up, separating a nation in opposite camps and for the sole purpose of weakening one of many Arab states in order to grab resources and protect the Israeli ally. Artificial lines and suspicious support was provided to those whom they considered right and that would suit their interests, ultimately leading to the rise of the Islamic State which consequently was exported to nearby Syria, weakening yet another strong secular Arab Islamic country. Ideological religious warfare which in reality started with Zionism and which threatened Arab and Islamic states as it was created in their midst, which has now brought to the rise of the Islamic State, mirror images of each other and the biggest threats to the world.
Author - Rania Hammad
Rania Hammad was adjunct professor of International Relations at St. John's University from 2003 until 2010, amongst other things, she is the author of “The Other Israeli Voices” and "Palestine in my Heart".