2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba or the forced migration of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by the Israeli occupiers. This was part of the greater 1948 Palestine War, which is also given the name of Nakba. Nakba in Arabic means catastrophe and it was a major catastrophe for the Palestinian people. It meant the end of their national independence and freedom, it began their subjugation under a power with no legal right to be there. It was the beginning of a struggle that still goes on to this day. 70 years on and the Palestinian people are not better off in many ways. The Gaza Strip has become an open-air prison, with the people there facing regular terror from the Israeli forces and economic hardship. In the West Bank, things are not much better with much of the same. The current Palestinian Authority has also proven itself ineffective in trying to promote Palestinian liberation and many Palestinians have felt betrayed by Fatah and the PLO. The struggle is constantly evolving and ever-changing with new developments, victories, and losses every day. We will try to understand the issues facing the people of Palestine today, the nature of the Israeli occupation, and possible solutions. To understand these will provide an educated viewpoint on the struggle and allow us to try and better help the Palestinian people.
The Issues Facing Palestine Today
Currently, in Palestine, the climate and conditions are grim, to say the least. The occupation has proven itself to be very disastrous for the Palestinian people on many levels. The occupation has been characterised by violence, political repression, economic destruction, and dehumanisation of the Palestinian people. The occupation was enacted following the 1967 war when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The UN adopted the term of “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (OPT) for these areas. Under international law, occupation is a temporary military regime put in place to maintain law and order during war or major transition. When a country occupies territory, it is obligated to abide by international law set out by treaties such as the Hague Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has violated almost all of them. The list of Israeli violations of international law is quite a long list but a few notable examples are indiscriminate use of force against Palestinians, the forced relocation of Palestinian civilians, forced confiscation of Palestinian land and homes, and the permanent annexation of Palestinian territory for the construction of settlements. All of these issues, along with a multitude of others contribute to the current condition of the Palestinian people.
Violence is no stranger to the IDF and the Israeli government, rather, it has become their favourite method when having to deal with the Palestinian people. Just recently at a protest against the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem, IDF soldiers murdered 59 Palestinians in Gaza. The fact is that Israel has relied on violence against the Palestinians since its foundation in 1948 and the aforementioned forced migration of Palestinians from their homes. The forcing of Palestinians from their homes did not end with the Nakba but, continues to this day. In order for Israel to establish its illegal settlements, it must remove Palestinians from the land. This has led to violence against those Palestinians who wish to stay and try and resist the confiscation. Often the IDF will beat them or murder them. As Israel forces Palestinians out of the West Bank, they have turned the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison. Since 2006 the Israelis have imposed a siege on Gaza and its people. Nearly 70% of those in the Gaza Strip are people forcibly removed from their homes during the Nakba and many of them continue to campaign for their right to return, a concept we will delve into later. This sharp resistance in Gaza has led to Israel imposing strict rules against people in Gaza. Israel restricts freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and has built walls and fences meant to keep the Palestinians inside Gaza. Israel also regularly fires missiles into the Gaza Strip, often hitting civilians rather than the intended “military targets”.
Another large issue facing Palestinians is the curtailing of their freedom of speech and right to organise. The Israeli government has done all in its power to ensure that the Palestinian people have no real ability to organise and resist but, they still have. The Palestinians have been able to organise groups both armed and political in order to try and combat the Israeli occupation. These organisations face great difficulties when trying to organise as most protests are met by violent reciprocations by the IDF. This has led to the necessity of armed struggle being carried out by groups such as the PFLP and Hamas, although both of these groups run political wings and participate in Palestinian politics. The Palestinian people have also looked outward for support from the world and have gotten it in some degree. The most successful of these movements in the BDS Movement. BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”. The BDS Movement calls for the boycott of Israeli goods and services, companies halt business with Israeli ones, and the imposing of major international sanctions on Israel. BDS has seen limited success but, the popularity of the movement is growing. The limited success of BDS can be attributed to the major support for Israel seen in much of the West where the movement is most popular. Israel also controls much of the media narritive on the issue and controls what goes in and out of media channels. This has led to the distortion we see today in much of the mainstream media.
The call for BDS stems from the Israeli policy of economic disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people. The Israeli government has long held embargoes on Palestinian goods and prevents them from being shipped out in large quantities. Also, many major Western countries prohibit Palestinian goods from being sold, further aiding Israeli economic policy. The internal economics of Palestine are also a mess due to the Israeli occupation. With much of Palestinian land under seige or being confiscated, there is not much room for economic development. This has led to a huge unemployment problem and the Israeli bombing has led to an even larger homelessness problem among Palestinians. The fact is that there are few jobs for Palestine. Much of the industry has been closed down or bombed by the Israelis. Those who are in the Palestinian territories are not allowed to move to the Israeli territory where the jobs are. Even if they could move, the nature of Israeli society has been morphed to be hostile towards hiring Palestinians. There are no opportunities for Palestinians to succeed economically and this is intentional. The Israelis realise that if the economic conditions are bad enough, Palestinians will leave, which is what they want. They want an exodus of Palestinians so that they can take full control of the land. Many in Palestine have left, never to return but, many stay and continue to resist the occupation. This is truly heroic and shows the nature of the Palestinian people as resistant.
The Nature of the Occupation
The nature of the Israeli occupation and the existance of Israel can be understood with two fundamental concepts: settler colonialism and apartheid. Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism where settlers create a separate society from the native people and wish to take control of native land and edge out the native people. Israel is what is known as a settler colonial state. Settler colonial states are generally the product of foreign imperialism, another major example is the United States. The second concept of Apartheid is a severe policy of racism, dispossession, and dehumanisation. The term comes from South Africa where it was the reigning policy between 1948 and 1994. Apartheid involves segregation, denial of equal rights, humiliation, and dehumanisation of a specific group. Israel also feeds off the support of Western countries, mainly the United States. The power of the US in the international arena has led to Israel getting away with the murderous policies seen during the occupation.
Settler colonialism is the fundamental principle of the existance of Israel. Israel has built itself on the confiscation of land from the native Palestinians and has formed a society and culture built upon that. Israel gets its legal justification for settler colonialism from its prevailing ideology: Zionism. Zionism proclaims the right of Jewish people to national self-determination and an independent country. This is not inherently a bad concept but, the way Israel has gone about enacting Zionism has turned it into a violent and racist ideology bent on the destruction of the Palestinian people. The Zionism of Israel has paved the way for Israeli law to claim the entirety of Palestine, leaving no room for the Palestinians to have their own nation. This was made clear when the creation of Israel was finialised by the Allied powers following the Second World War. Much like all settler colonial nations, Israel is a product of imperialism. The State of Israel was forced upon the Palestinians without their consent or say in the matter. Many Palestinians had hoped for a state where Jewish people, Arabs, and other groups could live together in equal standing but, that would not be the case. Hardline Zionists would establish an ethno-nationalist state and enact the Nakba in 1948. This would trigger several wars by the Arab powers against Israel and all would end in Israeli victory, with US help. During the entire history of Israel, the intention has been to edge out the Palestinian population and have full settler control. Many try and counter this fact by mentioning the Israeli propositions for a “two-state solution”, claiming that it is the Palestinians’ fault they are still at war. This position ignores fundamental facts about those propositions, the main one being that none of the propositions offered the Palestinians real national sovereignty. Many included merely autonomy within Israel or would relegate Palestine to a puppet state. The Palestinian people do not want to have their sovereignty dictated to them, they want to exercise their right to self-determination! That is determination on THEIR OWN terms. It is the right of no one to dicate what a people group can or cannot do. Settler colonialism deprives the Palestinians the true liberty given to every nation and groups, the liberty to express their culture and sovereignty.
The second fundamental principle of the occupation is apartheid. Now before going further into this topic, some things must be clarified. When using the term “apartheid”, that is not meant to imply that the systems in South Africa and Israel are exactly the same. They both have their similarities and their differences. When referring to apartheid, the definition outlined in the 2002 Rome Statute is what is being used. That definition is:
“Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”.
With the clarification done, let us delve into why Israel is an apartheid state. In order to maintain the settler colonial goals in line with Zionism, there can be no Palestinian nation and to some no Palestinian people. This is evident in the actions of the Israelis towards the Palestinian territories. Techinically there is a Palestinian Authority with de jure “control” over certain aspects of governance but, that is hardly the reality. Israel maintains de facto control over the Palestinian territories and continues military occupation. Law under the occupation and in Israel are essentially the same due to this system of apartheid. Palestinians are treated differently than Israelis in many different ways such as: education, housing, employment, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and other basic human rights. Many laws exist that insitutionalise and legalise this oppression. Among these are the Law of Return (1950) and Israeli Citizenship Law (1952). Both of these laws stripped Palestinian refugees of citizenship and solidified a superior civil status for Jewish Israelis. The Israelis have also been able to legalise the confiscation of Palestinian land and homes through the Absentees’ Property Law (1950).
Segregation of the Palestinians in a legal sense is carried out through a system of two separate codes of law. A common example of this is, say a Palestinian and an Israeli are both living in the West Bank. If the Israeli were to commit a crime, they would be tried under Israeli Civil Law. While, if the Palestinian were to commit a crime (or most likely merely look at an IDF soldier the wrong way), they would be tried under Israeli Military Law, almost ensuring a guilty verdict. Israel has been criticised for this policy by the UN but, as Israel tends to do, they ignored it. Segregation also exists in a physical sense. The most prominent example are the walls built that enclose Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli law also designates areas for specific groups. For example, in the West Bank there are specified areas and neighbourhoods where Palestinians cannot go. There are also areas where Israelis are not allowed to go. Any basic investigation into Israeli policy warrants the conclusion of seeing a clear apartheid policy. Forced transfer and segregation of a population, persecution of Palestinians based on identity, persecution due to the Palestinian resistance to apartheid, and the depravation of the Palestinians’ basic human rights. It is clear that Israel is no humanitarian or peaceful force, despite pundits that would claim otherwise.
Self-Determination and Solutions
Despite claims otherwise by people who generally do not know what they are talking about, the conflict in Palestine is not one of religion but, of self-determination. The fact of the matter is that Israel is depriving the Palestinians of their right to self-determination and sovereignty. This is in direct violation of the UN Charter. The only reason Israel gets away with what it does is because of them being backed by the US and major Western powers. Many like to point that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish nation because, the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination. This is true and it would be hard to find any who would disagree. This issue is not the Jewish people’s right to self-determination but, the deprivation of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Also, while the Jewish people do have a right to self-determination, the State of Israel hardly has the right to exist. The creation of Israel was a result of imperialist meddling in Middle Eastern affairs and it was done without the consent of the Palestinian people. As mentioned earlier, this was not the original intention of many early Zionists. Jewish people had been living in Palestine for centuries and before the Nakba and had coexisted with Palestinian Arabs. The hope of many early Zionists and people living in Palestine was the creation of a state where all groups could be represented, this just did not end up being the case. This dream of coexistance was lost when the hardline Zionists came into power and enacted their policies of genocide and murder.
All of this begs the question: is there any solution? Well yes but, from there we can divide it into the idealistic solution and the realistic solution. The idealistic solution is the state described earlier. A secular state where all are represented equally and coexist without the racism and settler colonialism of the modern Israeli state. The realistic solution is a Palestinian one-state solution. The fact of the matter is that it is native Palestinian land and they have the right to live and control all of it. Can Jewish people live there and should they be allowed to participate in the government? Yes, of course but, given the history of the Israeli occupation, the only viable way of correcting the problem is the complete dissolution of Israel and the formation of a Palestinian state. This again leaves the question about Jewish self-determination open and one could ask: “If they cannot have a state in Palestine, where can they have one?” Well, do not think that the Jewish people cannot have a state in Palestine, they can. It just cannot be like Israel. If the Jewish people were to sit down with the Palestinians and figure out conditions for either joint rule of a secular Palestine or for a separate Jewish state somewhere in the area, that would be ideal but, again, that is unrealistic. We must look at the humanitarian option and that option is supporting the Palestinian people in their struggle. The issues of how they would operate post-independence is not within our authority to comment on definitively as of right now.
70 years ago the Nakba forced the Palestinians from their homes and set the stage for a regime of terror, apartheid, and violence. Their national freedom crushed but, the spark of resistance still glowed within the hearts of brave freedom fighters that struggle to this day. The conflict in Palestine is one shrouded in disinformation and one must look past what is said by the Western media to truly see what is going on. Israel is an oppressive, settler colonial apartheid state that has curtailed the rights and liberties of the Palestinian people for its own gain. The IDF murders innocent civilians; men, women, and children. This is not a religious matter, it is a human matter. The Palestinian people must be free and must have justice. If there are any of you reading this who still think that Israel has good in it or can be redeemed, look at this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu and see if you still think that way:
“Israel is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people”
If you have a conscience, support Palestine.