Presented By Dr. Subhi Ali
The recent history of Palestine is full of tragedies, sad anniversaries, contradictions, conspiracies, and stories of stoic resistance. This history is studded with expressions of the ‘biggest’, ‘longest’ and other adjectives which are worthy of the Guinness Records. Repetition of those adjectives does not in any way diminish their impact and significance. Al Nakba of 1948 is indeed the most devastating event in Palestine’s 5,000 year history compared to any other event. The Crusaders came, conquered, butchered people and left. There has been no major dislocation in the country. The spread of Islam in the 7th century gained adherents and accommodated neighbours who were not strangers to Palestine. The spread of Christianity merely changed the beliefs of the same population from one religion to another. The Jewish Hebrew tribes, meaning transient tribes, were very small in number and their arrival and departure left no physical presence of any kind. So how come this exceptionally tragic Nakba took place in the twentieth century at an age when civilization was supposed to be given high prominence?
The contradictions and ironies abound. At a time when the Allied planes were dropping leaflets on the Arabs promising them independence and freedom if they defeat the Turks, Mark Sykes and George Picot were huddled in a room dividing the Arab lands between them. One year later, Balfour promised a land, which he did not own and which the British had barely started to enter, to European Zionists who had not set foot on the land of Palestine. Meanwhile, the owners of this land were totally oblivious to this conspiracy. Weizmann prepared for the takeover of Palestine while the war to conquer it was being fought. He formed an advisory committee for the Zionist Commission headed by a Zionist, a young civil servant by the name of Herbert Samuel. Samuel would be, two years later, a trusted British High Commissioner whose task was to convey “the Sacred Trust of Civilization” of the League of Nations to Palestinians, granting them independence and freedom. In his four years of office, Samuel laid the foundation of the State of Israel by promulgating laws to facilitate land transfer, immigration, setting up separate Jewish education, banking, and labour institutions and a new paramilitary army later known as Haganah, all under a quasi-government known as the Jewish Agency.
This blatant British betrayal had to be justified and explained by the Zionists. There was a need for myth fabrication in order to convince the reluctant politicians and the unwitting European public. Consider these slogans which had a powerful effect at one time; we know today they are all false:
"Palestine is a land without people”, “the Zionists were in self defense”, “the few won against the many”, “the refugees left on their own accord or by Arab orders”, “Israelis are peace loving and the IDF is merely saving the lives of innocent civilians against the Palestinian terrorists”, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East”, “there is no possibility for the refugees to return to Israel”, “Israel is an ethnically and legally Jewish state”, “there is no Palestinian partner for peace”, “Palestinians turned down the Israelis’ generous offer"
Today, a simple surfing on the internet is all that is needed to review the documents, books, papers, photos, and television footage, and to prove that all these statements are entirely false or at least highly exaggerated. Those who spread them may admit that they are fully or partially wrong. The main point is that they produced the desired effect at the right time and tremendous gains have been obtained from them.
Facts, figures and maps are my tools of persuasion and information. However, sometimes they lose their significance. You do not see the life, the suffering, the hope and despair behind them. Take the figure of 675 depopulated villages whose inhabitants comprise 85% of the inhabitants of that part of Palestine that became Israel. It is equivalent to 230 million Americans or 44 millions Britons becoming homeless by the invasion of foreign hostile immigrants.
Imagine a state being congratulated for its “independence” (from whom I wonder?) 60 years ago on a land it does not own. 93% of Israel’s territory is stolen from its owners. They are watching across the barbed wire or behind the Apartheid Wall.
The figures are not of much help. Perhaps the memory of a ten year-old boy recalling Al Nakba may be more meaningful. This is what I told Uri Avnery, the Israeli peace activist, in Paris one evening.
About a million people became refugees in 1948. Their life had suddenly been transformed from a state of tranquility to a state of utter destitution: families expelled at gunpoint in the middle of night or in the heat of a summer day, screams of help, cries of pain, children lost, mothers clutching pillows instead of their children, thirsty old men shot in the head if they stopped for water in the forced march, a whole family dismembered to pieces by a bomb dropped from a plane while having supper, survivors of massacres walking about in a daze.
The scenes of devastation filled the landscape: the sea of wrecked humanity trailing along the sea coast in Gaza or in the ravines of the West Bank, resting under a tree, in a mosque or a school, counting their number; the distraught father or mother rushing back aimlessly looking for a missing loved one; houses deserted with a bed unmade, hot food in the kitchen; a dog looking for its owner; plants remain unwatered; cattle and sheep wandering about out of their open sheds. Screams of Yahud, Yahud (Jews, Jews) are heard and the tired crowd disperses frantically in crevices and behind rocks.
A jeep with mounted machine guns sprays all moving objects. A plane hovers gently, almost soundlessly, then drops barrels of destruction on concentrated masses, limbs flying in the air, hanging on a branch.
Avnery was one of those riding in a jeep with a machine gun. When he heard my recollection he was visibly shaken. His wife was almost in tears. He admitted that he was a member of the Jewish terrorist organization, the Irgun, and that he, perched on a hill and carrying his machine gun in Huleigat, saw this dazed mass of humanity moving slowly along the shoreline towards Gaza, fleeing Israeli machine guns.
He was sad and sorry. But he failed my Litmus test. I asked him if he, after what he saw and felt, would support my right to return to my home, not his. ‘No,’ came his emphatic reply. This peace activist, like most I came across, is only ready to allow the Palestinians freedom in fragments of the West Bank provided that 80% of Palestine is purely Jewish and al Nakba is a sad but irrelevant historical event.
Al Nakba is still continuing: in full force in Beer Sheba, in discrimination in Galilee, in brutal occupation of the West Bank and in the starvation and near genocide in Gaza. The Zionists did not learn from their bloody history in the last 6 decades or from their tragic European history when they appealed to the world to stand for justice and equality.
Now, like the Mandate, they are building a settler state in the West Bank. Like at the end of the Mandate they are now approaching 30% of the population (at present 25%). But in a tragic reversal of fortunes, it is the Palestinians, not the Jews, as in the Mandate, who control only 8% of Palestine (40% of the West Bank x 20% of Palestine).
But there is a difference. The Palestinians learnt their lesson. In spite of brutal occupation, assassination and oppression, they stayed put and did not leave. To be sure, the 1948 ethnic cleansing is still continuing in all parts of Palestine. Moreover ethnic cleansing plans are now openly advanced by Israeli cabinet ministers under the name of “transfer” or “land exchange”.
This greed for land, free of its people, has backfired. It will bring to collapse the racist regimental Apartheid-practising warmongering Israel. Instead, it could, one hopes it would, bring to light, out of total darkness of blood and darkness, a liberated Palestine which would be a peaceful, democratic and free home for its natural inhabitants and those who wish to enjoy the same in this tortured Holy Land.
At this point, I venture to advance the premise that the Zionist project has not succeeded in its objectives. I dare say that the 90-year war against a civil, unsuspecting and unprepared people, in spite of tremendous odds and immense military, political and financial power against them, has produced a stalemate.
Why is that? The Zionist project has three objectives. Number one, conquering the land of Palestine. Number two, eliminating its people by massacres, expulsion, transfer, occupation, continuous suffering and despair. Number three, destroying the link between the people and their land, erasing their history, confiscating their geography and obliterating their historical, cultural, and religious landmarks in Palestine. In terms of land, they conquered 78% of Palestine in 1948. In 1967, they occupied the rest of Palestine and parts of Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. It was a tremendous physical victory.
What use do they make of this land today? In Israel, 80% of Israeli Jews still live in 12% of Israel. The rest is taken up by kibbutz and the army. Thus 93% of Israel’s area, which is the refugees’ land, is used for agriculture, army installations, and the rest is kept in reserve. It is kept in captivity for future immigration, leaving 6 million refugees, the owners of this land, in exile.
The kibbutz was meant to establish a bond between a typical Jewish European banker and the land. Today, only 1.5% of Israelis can be called rural. Only some 9,000, out of 5.5 million Israeli Jews, earn a living from agriculture. Most of the refugees’ land is used for 55 airports, several military bases, depots of weapons of mass destruction, and training fields. Will that use of the land be described as a normal pursuit for a normal people in a normal country?
If we now turn to population, two thirds of Palestinians are refugees today. The largest percentage of any people any where. If we add those displaced in 1967, we find that three quarters of Palestinians do not live in their homes. They are scattered over 130 countries. It would be reasonable, therefore, to assume that Zionists have not only succeeded in occupying their land, but also in dispersing its population. Let us have another look at the figures. Those who are dispersed away from Palestine in far away Arab and foreign countries, do not exceed 12%. That is about 1 million Palestinians. In rough terms, the Palestinians today are just over 10 million. The remaining 9 million (or 88%) are still in the Mandate Palestine and a ring around it in neighbouring Arab countries, not exceeding a hundred miles in width. Half of the 9 million people are in Palestine, making them now, or at most in the next five years, equal to the number of Jews in Israel. In the year 2025, the Jews in Israel will be 6.7 to 7.7 million according to immigration rate. In the same year, the Palestinians will be 8 million.
What is the significance of these numbers? They lead to the motive behind the concept of Israel as a Jewish state, meaning a purely ethnic or religious Jewish state which the Palestinians are required to formally acknowledge. There is no concept in international law or even in the Partition Plan, on which Israel based its declaration, for a purely ethnic Jewish state. This is a racist concept, morally repugnant, legally invalid, and politically dangerous.
Why do they insist on that? The Jews around the world are about 13 million. The figure hardly increases due to assimilation and mixed marriages. Since Israeli plans recommend that 5 million Jews should remain in the United States, and not immigrate, in order to run AIPAC and similar organizations, and since half a million Jews prefer to remain in Europe, this means that Israeli Jews will hardly exceed 8 million people apart from natural increase. In the year 2050, Palestinians will reach 34 million, half of them in Palestine and the other half on its borders.
But we do not need to wait that long. The besieged Gaza Strip, the largest concentration camp in the world today, accommodates the inhabitants of 247 depopulated villages in 1948. The population there is 1.5 million people which equal all Palestinian population in 1948, now crammed in 1% of Palestine. Thus, it appears that the persistent Israeli plans to eliminate the Palestinians have failed.
Now we come to the third element of the Zionist objectives: to erase the Palestinian memory. You only need to visit refugee camps and centres of Palestinian presence in Arab and foreign countries, and I have visited four dozens of them, to realize that Ben Gurion’s prediction that “the young will forget” is entirely false. The third or fourth generation of refugees is articulate, efficient, knowledgeable, and more determined than their parents to restore their rights. The prevalence of right of return committees and conferences everywhere in the world, from refugee camps to university campuses, is ample proof that the bond between people and their land is never severed nor weakened.
This is not a triumphant statement. You may remember Durban One conference in 2001 in which 4,000 NGO’s carried Palestinian flags and supported the rights of those young refugees who were frequently parts of them. Durban Two next year would promise even greater support. Ironically, the dispersion of Palestinians around the world has lifted the fog of Zionist propaganda which monopolized Western minds for at least 5 decades.
So here we are today, 60 years after Al Nakba. The facts are before us. It is not possible any more for any one to say “I did not know”. One can say “I agree or not” or “I support this or not” but every person of conscience has the means to know.
The conclusions are obvious. Israel, by all accounts, has violated almost every article in international law. It is the most censored. It has been considered in Europe to be the greatest threat to world peace. It failed to achieve what it perpetually called its demand for security, in spite of the fact that it has one of the strongest armies in the world, and it has the largest depot of weapons of mass destruction between London and Beijing. The reason is simple–that a robber will not feel safe as long as the victim is still trying to recover his property. That feeling of insecurity will never be achieved before justice is made.
Israel has also failed to be a normal nation with an army. It is an army with people from 110 countries speaking 82 languages. Israel’s thriving economy has no value neither for the Palestinians nor for its Arab neigbhours. Its industry is extra-territorial, export-oriented industry which could take place on an aircraft carrier, or any silicon valley. It does not need a depopulated country. Israel failed to show that Zionist Israel has any redeeming value for Palestinians, Arabs, or even the world at large. It always meant death and destruction for them against glory and self-satisfaction for Jews.
After all these wars, suffering, and persecution, is Israel worth it? Is it likely that Israel can continue this way for long? How much blood will be shed and suffering endured before a realization that this was a misguided project? Why can’t a Jew in Tel Aviv live with the same rights and duties as a Jew in Washington? Why can a Jew in Washington rightly claim equal rights to American citizens while supporting racism and Apartheid in Palestine? These perennial questions will haunt the Zionist project for ever.
Let me now turn to the Palestinians themselves. Yes, they have suffered a great deal. Yes, they have shown a great resilience and determination. You only have to watch the response of a mother in Gaza whose children were killed by an Israeli shell and who is sitting on the rubble of her home saying “we shall never leave our homeland”. But that is not enough. We Palestinians must be more efficient. We must combine our forces and our talent, a great deal of which remains untapped. The huge gains we made in 1974, when the world recognized the inalienable rights of the Palestinians and admitted Palestine as an Observer at the United Nations, have dissipated slowly. The onset of Oslo, the biggest political hoax in our history, has fragmented our society within the occupied areas and discouraged the Palestinians abroad.
The present leadership, and particularly those around it, does not have the trust of the majority of Palestinians. Their fruitless negotiations are known from the very beginning to be a waste of time. Indeed, they were used as a cover for more settlements, and an excuse for forfeiting more and more Palestinian rights. The Palestinians today, all over the world, are in a state of agitation. They call for uniting the Palestinian people again. That can only be achieved through the election of a new Palestine National Council. The only elections which took place since the Algiers PNC of 1988 took place in the Occupied Territories in 2006 which comprise only 30% of Palestinians. Even there, most of the elected representatives were immediately jailed by the Israelis. The other 70% have no representation. Moreover, about half the Palestinians were born after the 1988 Council. They have no voice at all. Many members of old PNC have died, are sick, or have retired. The boys and girls of the first intifadah are now grown up men and women who are effective in their societies. Some old political parties have lost their significance and constituency; new political parties have risen and gained tremendous support. It is impossible to ignore all this.
I know of many efforts to activate PNC and PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. There have been meetings, conferences, and petitions demanding the right of representation. Among others, I have met President Abbas and Mr. Zanoun, the PNC speaker several times, urging them to enforce the agreements made for PNC elections. Apart from unkempt promises, we got nowhere. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I have no doubt that the Palestinians will regroup again as they did in 1948, and build their national institutions headed by the PNC and PLO. They will elect their new leadership which truly represents them and which defends and upholds their inalienable rights.
The 90 year war against a people must end. It should end because the Zionist project was a historical, costly and bloody mistake. It also failed. It cannot continue to impose its racist policies and apartheid on Palestinians. It cannot continue to occupy Palestinian land and deny Palestinians the most basic of human rights, to return and live in their own homes. As for Palestinians, I am sure they will continue to struggle to restore their rights. The time that colonial powers dictated their will upon others has gone and will never return. Now is the time for peace. Restoration of rights is the only way to deliver people out of this evil. As history tells us, only justice has a long life–everything else has its own seeds of destruction. Justice must be made–this is the only road to peace. Let us take it.