Tuesday, May 6

Perspectives on Israel’s 60th Anniversary and Naqba

Israel is celebrating sixty years since its establishment and at the same time the Palestinians will be mourning. For the Palestinian people there is no cause to celebrate. Many of us who were born in Israel or who had immigrated and become Israeli citizens under the Law of Return do not see much cause to celebrate either. Undoubtedly, disapproving eyebrows will be raised at this statement! The Jewish communities of Europe had almost been exterminated in the Holocaust of the 1930’s and 1940’s by Hitler and his Nazis. After the Second World War, remnants of the Jewish survivors made their way to Palestine.

On 29 November 1947 the United Nations voted to terminate the British Mandate of Palestine by 1 August 1948 and, to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict in the British Mandate of Palestine, for a plan for the partition of the Mandate territory. The plan came to be called the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine or United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181. The plan was approved by the United Nations General Assembly by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions.

The plan would have partitioned the territory of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with the Greater Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, coming under international control. (From Wikipedia).

The establishment of the State of Israel unfortunately resulted in the displacement of the indigenous Palestinian people and this in itself is the basis of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that defies a solution to this day.

This country had known so many wars and both Arabs and Israelis have paid a heavy price in blood.

Many members of the Knesset are party political hacks who have no interest in the people they are supposed to serve. They are there because of the prestige that being a Knesset member holds. Many of them including cabinet ministers have police investigations pending for corruption and moral turpitude. A famous example of this is the ex-president of Israel, Moshe Katzav. Even PM Ehud Olmert is under investigation by the police for suspicions of corruption.

The Arab nations were never prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist or to negotiate a peace settlement. The reason for this was their view that Israel had stolen Arab land and driven out much of the indigenous Palestinian population. This created a massive and tragic refugee problem that defies a solution to this day. Palestinian refugees are the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, the majority of who were dispossessed, forced to run away or expelled when the state of Israel was created in 1948. This dispossession and expulsion has continued since with the second largest such event in Palestine taking place during the 1967 war, launched by Israel on its Arab neighbors and resulted in the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Palestinian refugees generally fall into three main groups: Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, internally displaced Palestinians who remained within the areas that became the state of Israel, and Palestinian refugees displaced in 1967 from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has continued to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return to their ancestral towns, villages and homes.

At least three generations of Palestinians were born of refugee ancestors. Some of them had been dispersed all over the world but many live in refugee camps under the most shocking conditions and in extreme poverty. The latter have no hope and no future and they have been exploited by heartless politicians who do not intend to solve this tragic problem. Israel had achieved much despite its struggle to survive, however it had failed in its human relationships in many ways. It claims to be a democracy but is it really? The Arab populations that remained behind and did not run away have Israeli citizenship and yet suffer from unofficial discrimination when it comes to job placements. When a country is an occupying power, it cannot be a true democracy. Occupation and democracy do not mix. Domination and control of the Palestinian People are essential elements of the occupation. Roadblocks, permits and licenses are essential for every procedure despite its insignificance to Israel’s security. Arbitrary seizure of land, privileges concerning water use, cheap labour are all part and parcel of suppression of Palestinian human rights not to mention the enhancement of the occupation.

Benjamin Pogrund was a journalist with the Rand Daily Mail newspaper in Johannesburg for 26 years, who reported and commented on apartheid's evils. He was arrested and ostracized by the white apartheid government of South Africa in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was banned from reporting. He has lived in Israel for more than ten years. He wrote in a thought provoking article “Catastrophic, but not apartheid” that the occupation and settlements are catastrophic to both Israelis and Palestinians. He continues, I want two states, side by side in peace: That's an agreed-upon separation, not apartheid. I share the dismay and shame of many Israelis about the morass into which the occupation has dragged us - the mutual killings, the infliction of suffering, and the brutalization of both Israelis and Palestinians as perpetrators and victims. I am desperately worried about our betrayal of our moral values and of the lessons of our own persecution down the centuries”.

All these symbols of the occupation developed from a mixture of economic greed, religious messianism and security claims which are an integral part of the desire of religious zealots who received the green light from the Israeli Government to build homes and settle on usurped Palestinian lands captured in the Six Day War of June 1967.

The occupation is corrupting Israel society and is ruining it!

The settlers who live in the occupied territories have created facts on the ground which makes the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel impossible. A Palestinian state can only be established in the territory occupied in the Six Day War of June 1967. If it were possible, it would mean a massive return of the settlers to within the green line. It is unlikely that these settlers would agree to that in order to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state possible. It is doubtful if Israel really intends to move forward towards a two-state solution despite the utterances of its leaders. The facts on the ground prove the opposite because Israel is expanding existing settlements, even building new ones in the West Bank.

The alternative solution to this is a binational state whereby the settlers remain under joint Palestinian/Israeli rule which would allow for the right of return of Palestinian refugees who fled. There is no third solution. The nature of the binational state would have to be determined by a joint Israeli-Palestinian plebiscite. The chance of this happening is very remote indeed under the present circumstances and even in the near future. Nevertheless it has to be considered given the impossibility of achieving a two-state solution.

Israel had also adopted a divide and rule policy which also pushed the idea of a two-state solution onto the backburner if not making it impossible to achieve. Israel was instrumental in strengthening Hamas in order to weaken the PLO. Today Palestine is divided into two entities, Gaza ruled by Hamas and the West Bank ruled by the Fatah affiliated Palestinian Authority. These two entities are at severe loggerheads with one another. The US, EU, UN and Russia are delegitimizing Hamas which they view as a terrorist organization. However, the reality is that without Hamas no peace will ever be achieved. This is an irrefutable fact! At the same time, Hamas has suggested a tahida – a period of calm. The main problem with this is the possibility of Hamas using this calm to re-arm and attack Israel when it feels strong enough to do so. This could be prevented by a serious and neutral third party monitoring the situation to prevent both sides from acts of aggression and arms build up. After all, there is no sign that Hamas is prepared to negotiate with Israel or cease its terror activity. The success of a cease-fire that moves in the direction of a peaceful solution is dependent on the desire of both sides to negotiate a peace agreement. Both sides must share a common interest to make peace. Without this the violence will continue unabated. Mahmoud Abbas is despised by his own people and is very weak. Yet, he is being artificially propped up by Israel and the US.

“Unfortunately, throughout its history, Israel has acted as though its definition as a Jewish state provides it with a license for favoring the country's Jews over its Arab-Palestinian citizens. This democratically unacceptable favoritism has dictated a policy of institutionalized discrimination toward the country's Arab- Palestinian citizens in all areas of life: community infrastructures, access to health services, education, use of land, water and other natural resources, lack of equal job opportunities, and more.

As a result, there are today wide discrepancies between the country's Jewish and Arab communities, and these gaps constitute a powder keg in the relations between Israel's majority and its minority. We all know that there are those who claim that discrimination is inherent in Zionism, but this was never a principle of the movement, nor does the idea appear in Herzl's writings. On the contrary: Herzl pointedly related to the Arabs in his ideas and plans in an inclusive manner”. From Haaretz, 02/05/08,
“The 'nations test'”

Despite these problems, Israel has made great advances in technology, science and medicine. All this was achieved while fighting for its survival. The price was heavy and no real progress was made for a true peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours and of course the Palestinian people.

So much more could be achieved had both the Palestinians and Israelis ceased their hostilities against each other and worked towards achieving a true peace which would guarantee justice, democracy and prosperity for both sides. For each person killed, whether Palestinian or Israeli, results in more hate, more violence and revenge.

Only two Arab states have a peace treaty with IsraelEgypt and Jordan. Other Arab states in the Gulf such as Qatar have hosted Israelis. However, progress on all the fronts depends very much on solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israel has failed to integrate its Arab citizens into Israeli society. While the situation in Israel is still very distant from apartheid South Africa and there is no resemblance at all to the situation prior to black majority rule, Arab citizens do not feel an integral part of Israel. The emphasis of Israel as a Jewish state alienates the Arab sector. An example of this is the national anthem, which is not all-embracing and Arab Israelis are unable to identify with it.

Israeli society has ceased to be the caring society that it once was. The behaviour in the streets, abrasiveness, impoliteness and lack of consideration for others has become a national way of life. Educational standards are dropping and so are the achievement rates. This loutish behaviour is evident on the roads where road manners are severely lacking. This results in very high accident rates. Family violence is on the increase and so is violent crime.

It is also becoming increasingly more difficult for young, qualified people to find jobs. Those that do are poorly paid. Many youngsters have to undergo a battery of pathetic psychometric examinations before being admitted to university. This results in many potentially good students being beaten by the system before they even start. However, if the parents happen to know the right people in the right places at the right time, many potential students somehow have their futures assured - very different from meritocracy.

What society and future can we promise to our children? Zionism has ceased to be relevant. It achieved its objective of establishing a homeland for the Jewish People who have been a persecuted minority for generations in the Diaspora. This objective was achieved but at a very heavy price. It resulted in the displacement of about 700 000 Palestinians from their homeland and a severe Palestinian refugee problem which remains unsolved to this day. We have to look at the future and realize that time is running out. The core of the conflict here is the refugee problem and repatriation of the refugees as well as compensation.

If this problem is not addressed in a serious manner, the whole area will be involved in violence for many years. All the negotiations that have been conducted with the Palestinians in the past have been futile as this problem has never been addressed in a serious manner so that a just solution could be found with which both Israelis and Palestinians can live. The situation is so complex and bound with strong emotions on both sides that objectivity can result in accusations of cooperation with one side or the other to the detriment of both sides. The mindset of many Palestinians is that Israel is stolen Palestinian land and these lands have to be returned to the Palestinian people which could spell the end of Israel’s existence.

Another source of concern is the cynical use that Hamas has made of the Holocaust in describing the plight of the Palestinians. It wishes to portray Israel as committing genocide against them. This exercise is futile as much as it is false. They believe that if one delves on this ad nauseam it becomes truth.

Where is Israel heading in the next 60 years? There will be deterioration in the situation and Israel will find itself in an untenable situation arming itself to the teeth. This will exact a high cost in lives as the Palestinians will also become stronger and more resilient.

As the two-state solution is showing signs of not being practical because of territorial expansion of illegal settlements in the so-called future Palestinian state, it will lose support due to it not being a viable option. The binational state solution will once again return to the drawing boards for serious debate. The nature of this option is not clear at this stage. Suffice it to say that the possibility of a federal solution which would take into serious consideration a solution to the refugee problem as well as the illegal settler problem. This state will have to be secular and democratic in nature so that there is no religious domination of one group by another. The chance of this solution being acceptable by both sides remains very remote indeed.

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