Sixty Years of Dispossession, Humiliation, and Oppression in the Middle East
By Susan Abulhawa
14 May 2008
We watch these celebrations with an ineffable collective loss and grief, and an equally deep vow never to give up our basic rights as the natives of Palestine.
I recently took part in a four-person panel discussion of solutions to the conflict that arose 60 years ago and still persists when Israel was established in Palestine, displacing more than half of the native Palestinian population. We were two Jews and two Palestinians and I was the only woman.
I listened carefully to each of my fellow panellists talk about the two-state solution and heard potential fixes for everything from the settlements and water, to regional balance of power and refugees. The other Palestinian on the panel still believed in the two-state solution even though it is neither "ideal nor just" but he was willing to compromise anyway. Just to live. To walk home without going through five checkpoints. I wasn't as willing. He lives there, I don't. I get it. But I'm Palestinian too. And the country they stole was also my inheritance, my history and heritage, my home where my family has lived for centuries.
Creating a disjointed Palestinian state completely surrounded by Israel on what is now less than 16% of historic Palestine is and always was unjust and immoral, as it overrides basic principles of justice and international law and precludes repatriation for over 5 million refugees. The other panellists felt that I essentially was unrealistic or na´ve. I listened again to all the things that Israel would "never agree to" and a rehashing of the endless "peace initiatives" in all the glory of their persistent failures to do anything but increase Palestinian misery.
What Israel will or will not "agree to" ought to be moot because Israel has never been vague about its nefarious intentions to have all of Palestine without Palestinians. Everything they've said and everything they've done and continue to do speak to this fact. It is not about what Israel will or will not accept, but whether we and all of humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike, will accept that Palestinians should not have certain self-evident and inalienable rights accorded to the rest of humanity.
Each initiative to settle this conflict reflects some creative design to circumvent Palestinian basic human rights in order to accommodate Israel's desire for religious purity. The world is willing to leave five million Palestinian refugees out in the cold ("to be settled at a later date") because Israel insists on "Judaising" the homes, cemeteries, farms, and history they stole from them.
The international community raises no objection to Israel's eternal control of all Palestinian borders, economy, water, and air. Gaza's 1.6 million human beings languish in darkness, mass hunger and misery deliberately imposed by Israel, without so much a peep from the Security Council.
It is not clear to me what we have done to the world that we should be so excluded from humanity, but this persistent trampling of our human rights must end. Either nations have accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a document that applies equally to all human beings, or we do away with that document all together and join to Israel's law of the jungle. There can be no selective application of its principles - principles that guarantee the right of refugees to return to their homes; that promise us a right to our own history and heritage and freedom from foreign occupation and oppression.
We are not less human that we should be expected to continue to "negotiate" with our oppressors for basic human rights. For decades now we have extended our collective hand in willingness to accept the two-state solution, a desperate offer of great compromise on our part. And for that same length of time, Israel has continued to steal more and more of our land, to kill, maim, and dispossess more and more of us. The daily horrors inflicted on my countrymen have nothing to do with terrorism or our corrupt leadership. Our great crime is that we are not Jewish. We are oppressed, denied, humiliated daily, dispossessed and robbed because we are not Jewish.
The concepts of human equality, human dignity, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not the exclusive privies of West. They are also ours and we are not powerless to demand them. Ours is the power of an indigenous people struggling against a colonial oppressor hell-bent on taking our place, even though there is space enough for both peoples.
History has already taught us that military might is no match for such a power. Increasingly, people of conscience, including our Jewish brothers and sisters, throughout the world are speaking up for our rights, often at great personal expense to themselves. Academics, labour unions, churches, and civic institutions around the globe are divesting from Israel. We should stop engaging in theoretical debates about a dead and bloated two-state solution, rummaging through the wreckage of countless peace initiatives, giving up more and more, hoping this merciless military occupation will have mercy on us.
Human worth cannot be measured by arbitrary standards, like skin color or religion. History will teach us this lesson yet again, and it will judge harshly all the 60th anniversary celebrations taking place around the world on this day when we grieve for the identity, land, and heritage taken from us because we are not Jewish. We watch these celebrations with an ineffable collective loss and grief, and an equally deep vow never to give up our basic rights as the natives of Palestine.
Susan Abulhawa is the author of The Scar of David, a historic novel; and she is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, and a member of the Deir Yassin Remembered Board of Advisers.