PALESTINE is the moral touchstone of our times.
A placard, first seen in Gaza in 2012, described the occupation powerfully, in the bleakest possible lines,
You take my water
Burn my olive trees
Destroy my house
Take my job
Steal my land
Imprison my father
Kill my mother
Bomb my country
Starve us all
Humiliate us all
But... I am to blame
I shot a rocket back.
The occupation is 70 years old, do we or do we not risk our comfort and raise our voices against it?
Do we wish to risk being denied US visas, the lure of Green cards, the fear of no longer being invited to embassy receptions, not being on the list of State Department visits, Fulbright fellowships, gender and development consultancies, trips abroad, free booze at parties? Do we wish to risk being denied a whole range of delectables and perks which spread out and embrace Dhaka’s intellectuals, academics and cultural celebrities, who choose to live like those whom Malcom X had scathingly described as ‘house Negros.’
House Negros were different from field Negros, the former type of slaves, he said, were like Uncle Tom. Although the House Negro wore his master’s second-hand clothes, ate food left by his master on the table, he was contented so long as he could live close to the master, whether in the basement or in the attic. He was the minority, the field Negro was the majority, one of the ‘masses.’ When the master got sick, field Negros would pray that he’d die. If the master’s house caught fire, field Negros would pray for a breeze to come along and fan the flames.
Even though slavery has been abolished in the US, there are twentieth-century house Negros, says Malcolm X, ‘modern-day Uncle Toms.’ I too, see them. Here, there, everywhere.
These are a few pages from my Palestine notebook where I keep a record of events and stories, poems, drawings, photos, which speak of the everyday oppression, and resilience, of the Palestinians. I also record the cruelty of the oppressors.
IVANKA Trump’s vapid and puffy smile, Bibi Netanyahu’s perpetual smirk, and pale-faced Jared Kushner’s meaningless mouthing of words — images of the US embassy’s inauguration in Jerusalem that stay with me after watching live TV on the internet for hours, after clicking and staring at heaps of still photos, one after the other.
When they clapped, their hands seemed to be dripping with blood.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians began a six-week tent city protest along the Gaza/Israel border on March 30, 2018. The protest would be from Land Day, March 30 (the day Palestinian Israelis had protested against a wave of land expropriations, 1976) to Nakba Day, May 15. Nakba, as the world has learned, is Arabic for ‘catastrophe’ and catastrophic it was, that day in 1948, when Israeli forces drove out 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland to help establish Israel.
Palestinians, the ‘largest and longest suffering’ refugees in the world, number 6.5 million. One in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian.
APARTHEID is a system of separation and separateness, it is a system which, as Robert Wintemute reminds us, keeps groups of people who are comparably connected to a territory separate, it denies them equal rights of citizenship and the right to vote. Apartheid is the solution to a colonial problem; when European settlers in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were faced this problem — indigenous people outnumber the settlers, what is to be done? — they reduced the indigenous people to a minority.
There were two exceptions: South Africa and Israel.
The Christian-European settlers in South Africa faced a black majority in May 1948. The Jewish-European settlers faced an Arab majority in May 1948.
South Africa needed black labour to exploit, it therefore chose the path of ‘self-declared (and unapologetic) apartheid.’ Israel on the other hand, chose ‘disguised (and vigorously denied) apartheid.’
It expelled 750,000 indigenous Arabs from what was their own territory, and declared themselves independent. Israel has sustained the system of disguised apartheid by denying Palestinian refugees the UN-recognised right of return; if Palestinians had not been terrorised and evicted forcefully, they would have had a 55 per cent majority. Not the 80 per cent majority that Jews enjoyed (and still do) in Israel.
Those who live in Gaza now were expelled, or are the children or grandchildren of those who were expelled, on Nakba Day.
A small minority of Palestinian citizens, 1.5 million or 20 per cent of Israel’s population, were not expelled from Israel in 1948; of them, 83 per cent are Muslims, 9 per cent are Christians and 8 per cent Druze. Their mother tongue is Arabic, and they live in towns and villages located in three main areas in Israel: Galilee to the north, Little Triangle in the centre, and Naqab to the south.
They are second-class citizens, serving as Israel’s ‘democratic figleaf.’ One of them is Seraj Assi.
BUT before telling Seraj Assi’s tale, let’s take a look at what the democratic figleaf hides.
State resources are not equally distributed between the Jewish and Palestinian citizenry, ‘wide gaps’ exist, these are perpetuated and maintained.
The state continually confiscates their land, demolishes homes, and enforces their segregation. Their freedom of expression is limited, political participation is restricted through various means. A host of laws enforce discrimination, among them, the Law of Return (1950), every Jewish person in the world has the right to obtain citizenship in Israel (no similar right however exists for Palestinians); Citizenship and Entry Law (2003), banning family unification of Palestinians who live in Israel with their spouse from occupied Palestinian Territories, Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon; Nakba Law (2011), which takes away state funding from any public entity including educational institutions ‘guilty’ of commemorating the Nakba; Expulsion Law (2016), which allows for Arab members of Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to be expelled if they make remarks or act in a manner which the (Jewish) majority deems incites ‘racism or supports terror.’ This is not an exhaustive list of the laws that corral and constrict Israel’s Palestinians, its internal ‘others.’
Assi’s grandparents managed to remain within the new state of Israel. His father and grandfather were forced to live under a military regime which Israel had imposed on the Arab population from 1948 to 1966, they did not enjoy any freedom of movement as it was controlled by permit requirements and curfews, they could not see fellow Palestinians and Arabs, neither in neighbouring countries (Jordan, Egypt) nor in the West Bank and Gaza, nor even in towns and villages within Israel.
Assi, who studied in an Arab school in a village near Jaffa, never came across the word ‘nakba’ in Arabic textbooks, let alone Hebrew ones. Teachers never mentioned the word, Jewish officials would visit school around Independence Day, Assi suspects to ‘monitor...the use of the n-word’, an absurd notion, for he writes, ‘At the time the students there had no idea that such a word even existed. If anything, we thought that nakba was Arabic for Holocaust.’
The word ‘Palestine’ was absent too. There were no ‘Palestinian people,’ only ‘West Bankers’ and ‘Gazans.’ Palestinians were their ‘other,’ not the Israelis. ‘We, the Palestinians within Israel, were simply ‘Arabs’ — neither Israeli nor Palestinian, but a nebulous species devoid of national character, identity, and memory.’
Assi recalls having been fed a steady diet of Zionist mantras, ‘God promised the land to the Jews,’ ‘The Zionists made the desert bloom.’ But the problem was, they would contradict the Zionist platitudes Assi repeatedly overheard, ‘The Arabs fled because they were cowards,’ ‘The Arabs attacked Israel first,’ ‘Palestine was an empty land before the Zionists,’ ‘Israelis have lived in the Land of Israel for 3,000 years.’
Trying hard to ‘make sense of the internal chaos’ in his mind, Assi recalls asking his history teacher once, ‘From whom did Israel gain independence in 1948?’
‘He hummed, gazed out into the distance, and said nothing.’
FOR those who blame the ‘Orange Man’ (as some anti-war activists choose to call president Donald Trump) for tilting US policy too heavily in favour of Israel (the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, the Gaza massacre), it would be relevant to remember that the former president, Barack Obama, despite his dislike of Netanyahu, was ‘one of the most pro-Israeli American presidents since Harry S Truman.’ British-Israeli historian Avi Shlaim elaborates,
‘[During his eight years in office] Obama has given Israel considerably more money and arms than any of his predecessors. He has fully lived up to America’s formal commitment to preserve Israel’s ‘qualitative military edge’ by supplying his ally with ever more sophisticated weapons systems. His parting gift to Israel was a staggering military aid package of $38bn for the next 10 years. This represents an increase from the current $3.1 to $3.8bn per annum. It is also the largest military aid package from one country to another in the annals of human history.’
And it was during the Obama years that (a) the 2009 Gaza War, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead (b) the Gaza flotilla attack, which left 19 international activists on board an aid flotilla seeking to break the seige of Gaza, dead, and (c) the July-August 2014 offensive, following the abduction and murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager burned alive by Israelis in Jeruslaem, which left 2,314 Palestinians dead 17,125 injured — occurred.
THE wounds suffered by the victims of the Israeli sniper attacks, said Labour’s shadow foreign secretary in the House of Commons, are often a matter of discussion on hunting websites in America, ‘they regularly debate the merits of the 7.6 millimetre bullet vs. the 5.5 millimetre bullet. The latter, they say, is effective when you want to wound multiple internal organs, while the former is preferred by some because, and I quote: ‘It is designed to mushroom and fragment,’ ‘To do maximum internal damage to the animal.’
This ammunition was allegedly used in Gaza against unarmed men, women and children. Their only ‘crime’? They were protesting. And the oppressor, does not like resistance.
Khalil Siyam, an official of the Gaza Health Ministry told trtworld.com, ‘We at the Gaza Health Ministry still don’t know what type of gas is being used. They (the Israeli army) use different ones, some are yellow, some are green, some are grey. There are different types and they have different kinds of effects on people. Sometimes it causes hysteria, sometimes it causes nervous breakdowns, sometimes people vomit. Of course this is a violation of international law, we have not seen anything like this in the world.’
The 7.6 millimetre bullet, the unknown tear gas — all part of Israel’s ‘qualitative military edge’?
But cracks are already appearing. Professor Robert Wintemute predicts that support for the civil society BDS movement is bound to increase in Europe and North America since hiding injustices and cruelties is becoming increasingly more difficult for Israel (and its Western allies), and that South Africa’s one-state solution will be the only credible solution, ‘a single, secular, democratic state with equal citizenship and voting rights for Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians, a strong constitution prohibiting direct or indirect racial or religious discrimination against any individual or group, and a strong constitutional court to enforce it.’
Whereas professor Norman Finkelstein foresees the ‘coming collapse of Zionism in America.’
Can Israel’s macabre rites of killing Palestinians come to an end? Do they really need to bloody their hands more?
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