Forging a new path for peace
By Mazin Qumsiyeh
(unpublished, updated 7/2/04)
Two injured Palestinian girls were treated in Connecticut thanks to generosity of medical professionals and host families. Hiam was 7.5 years old walking with her mother to visit a friend in Gaza when an Israeli sniper took out her left eye. Marwa celebrated her 10th birthday in Hartford in September with a two-inch bullet still lodged in her head. Four weeks earlier an Israeli bullet entered her foreahead, traveled through her brain and lodged against her temple. She was at teh time sleeping in her own house. Her brother who was sleeping next to her ran out of the house splattered with blood and still refuses to sleep in his own home. Both families (12 and four children) had no income as Israel stopped all Palestinians from reaching their jobs since the start of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation. The plight of these two families illustrates the hidden catastrophe in the occupied West Bank and Gaza that is now known as the Palestinian Intifada or uprising.
Media coverage of the Middle East conflict has focused mainly on political issues, less on the impact of the deaths of some 3600 Palestinians, and even less on the wounding and maiming of 35,000 others. The direct impact of nearly four years of blockade and warfare on daily Palestinian life is reduced to mere ciphers (2 killed here, 5 there, 8 elsewhere) while detailed information is provided on any and all deaths of Israelis. Americans consequently have no idea of the true magnitude of suffering, segregation, and ethnnic cleansing that would constitute an unprecedented national emergency where it to take place on a similar scale here. By contrast, the rest of the world is not ignorant thanks to a less biased European media and thanks to outlets like Al-Jazeera television, the most popular cable news network from Africa to Central Asia. In fact this conflict of presentation is partially responsible for the quagmire we face today resulting in the "war on terrorism." But before we get to that, let us look closely at the Palestinian situation, long ignored in the US.
The following observations are based on information from the Union of Palestine Medical Relief Association, Palestine Red Crescent, and the Health Development Information and Policy Institute. The data cover the period from the start of the latest Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
If we consider that 3.5 million people live in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, a total of 35,000 injured Palestinians is the equivalent of having over 2.6 million Americans. Of those injured, 40% (West Bank) to 52% (Gaza strip) were children under age 18 years old. 36% of injuries were by live ammunition, the remainder by rubber-coated steel bullets, and other so-called "non-lethal" means. Two-thirds of the injuries were to head (like Marwa's case) and upper part of the body. One third (West Bank) to one half (Gaza) of those injured were hit in the back.
An astonishing 60% were not involved in demonstrations or clashes (Hiam and Marwa are typical stories). Nearly 200 Emergency Medical Technicians were injured while trying to evacuate other injured individuals. Over 100 journalists were shot or beaten by Israeli soldiers/settlers and six press centers were shelled. Shelling of civilian areas has accelerated and over 7000 buildings were destroyed leaving nearly 35,000 people homeless. An internal and external siege and closure of Palestinian towns and villages prevented many from reaching urgently needed medical care. Dozens of deaths are directly attributed to this closure. The closure also prevents medical personnel from getting to the scenes of injury and many more of those who died bled to death while waiting for evacuation.
18-25% of those injured suffered permanent disabilities impacting their function for the rest of their lives. Over 500 cases involved loss of an eye (as in the case of Hiam). Over 1500 cases involved loss of use of an extremity (hand, foot). Over 52 Palestinians were assassinated (extrajudicial killings are considered a war crime by International law).
Such injuries are wreaked in a context of economic devastation. Israeli occupation forces have diverted natural resources from use by the indigenous Palestinian population to use by settlers/colonists. The Israeli army even attacked sewage treatment facilities, water wells, schools, and hospitals. Over 200,000 trees were uprooted and over 25,000 acres of agricultural land bulldozed or otherwise rendered unusable. According to the World Bank and International agencies, the siege and relentless attack on Palestinians under occupation resulted in massive poverty and economic hardships.
Physical injuries and economic deprivation are only part of the story. The Gaza Community Mental Health Program counsels increasing numbers of children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. Symptoms include thumb-sucking, crying, clinging to parents, nightmares, bed-wetting, poor appetite, poor sleeping patterns, short attention spans, aggression towards siblings or parents, and fear of dying.
The horrendous statistics above are not disputed by Israeli sources. They merely point out that if Palestinians somehow stop "the Violence" or the "Terror", Israel will negotiate in good faith to bring them freedom from occupation. This attitude is judged by Palestinians and most of the world as at best naive and at worst malicious colonial attitude calculated to result in continued subjugation. Afterall, resistance to occupation is a recognized International right. As to negotiations there must be clear examination of what negotiations were about in the past and also where is the violence coming from and who are the victims in this uneven struggle.
Recent "peace negotiations" seem to have emphasized more than ever that the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict centers on the narrative of a people striving to remain or return to their lands against an occupation intent to cleanse the area of its native inhabitants. From the turn of the century to the Palestinian revolt of 1936 against British occupation and continued Jewish immigration, the percentage of Jews in the population rose from 6% to 27.8% (Michael J. Cohen, The Origin and Evolution of the Arab-Zionist Conflict, p. 90). Lord Balfour wrote in a memorandum to Lord Curzon, his successor at the Foreign Office, on 11 August 1919 (two years after theBalfour declaration): "In Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants... Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land." As events unfolded later, there was good reason for the fears of the native population.
Regardless of the specific methods employed (details of which are provided in numerous books by Palestinians and confirmed by Israeli books ranging from those authored by Avi Schlaim, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris, Sternhall and others), the reality is that over 95% of Palestinian families (Muslims and Christian) have lost lands and/or homes to Jewish settlers between 1947 and today. The Jewish population of Israel/Palestine today stands at 4.5 million while thePalestinian, Christian and Muslim population within the Green Line is 1.2 million. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (including occupied East Jerusalem) number 3.5 million, andPalestinians outside of Palestine/Israel about 4 million. Of the total (roughly 8 million) Palestinians in the world, over 5.5 million are refugees or so called "displaced persons." This latter category is very telling. A quarter of Israel's own 1.2 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship (Israeli Arabs) are considered"present absentees." In his book “1949: The First Israelis” Tom Segev wrote: "the definition in the law was changed to embrace all who had abandoned their 'usual place of residence', even if they were still living in and "equal" residents of Israel...the law defined them as absentees, even if they had only left their homes for a few days and stayed with relatives in a nearby village or town, waiting for the fighting to end. Later they came to be referred to as 'present absentees'. The majority of them were not allowed to return to their homes....The Minister of Justice expressed the view that an absentee remains an absentee forever, even when allowed back and so long as he is an absentee his property belongs to the Custodian of Absentee property" (pp. 80-81). The law was applied only to Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Hence, lands and homes vacated by the 800,000 refugees (now numbering over 4 million) and the 85,000 internally displaced people (now 250-300,000) were considered state property and turned over to the Jewish Agency which administers the land and leases them only to Jews (under its own rules).
In an article in the Ha’aretz newspaper, Danny Rabinovitz wrote, "What happened to the Palestinians in 1948 is Israel's original sin.... Between the 1950s and 1976, the state systematically confiscated most of the land of its remaining Palestinian citizens." Martin Buber, the noted Jewish Philosopher, addressed Prime Minister Ben Gurion on the moral character of the state of Israel with reference to the Arab refugees in March 1949: "We will have to face the reality that Israel is neither innocent, nor redemptive. And that in its creation, and expansion; we as Jews, have caused what we historically have suffered; a refugee population in Diaspora."
Expelling the colonialists would be unthinkable even though their colonization activities were against the will of the majority of native inhabitants and was only possible by force. Expelling the remaining Palestinians (1.2 million in Israel "proper" and 3.5 million in occupied areas) would also be very difficult (although there are many voices in Israel in support of that). Many Israelis oppose a return of the refugees and many wish to retain the privileges of the colonizers in a Jewish state. They also oppose the creation of a democratic system anchored in a constitution guaranteeing equality for all its citizens with a complete abolition of all forms of discrimination against the native population (a post-Zionist Israel, ala post-apartheid South Africa). What Israeli governments (Labor and Likud alike) tried to do is create another way (first proposed by Alon in the 1970's realizing the dangers of demographic "imbalance" within "Eretz Yisrael". This consists of isolating Palestinians in Bantustan style areas with their own Palestinian jailers who will keep Israeli security (termed autonomy), by putting the Palestinians,"there," and the Israelis, “here”, a sort of separation or apartheid. The settlements would stay, the confiscated lands would be accepted as Israeli property, the refugees resettled in lands other than their own, and Jerusalem remains under Israeli sovereignty (with "autonomy" for remaining Gentiles in Jerusalem). This is basically the same package presented at Oslo (except Oslo was supposed to be interim and for only 5 years) as a mechanism to satisfy Israel's needs and solve Israel's "Palestinian problem." It was last presented in July at Camp David by Barak and Clinton to Arafat and company. It was indeed the Alon plan, repackaged.
For example, Israeli sovereignty on Jerusalem in nothing more than continued artificial and forced attempts to judaicize a multi-religious city and limit non-Jewish presence. Ingenious and devious ways to accomplish such tasks range from economic methods, to incrediblely convoluted rules and regulations, to forced removal of residency rights, and to use of terror and land confiscation.
The Oslo "peace process "represented a new "tool to reach traditional Israeli objectives" (quote from Israeli Prime Minister Rabin). Those objectives include the desire to resolve the impasse in the territories (demographic) by means of an apartheid system since Israel is not capable of fulfilling the right wing aspirations without significant cost. Interestingly, things have gotten worse for the Palestinians since Oslo (but obviously better for the Israeli military policy). Israel having policed the occupied people for so long was weary and tired and wanted the Oslo accords as a way to legitimize the occupation while removing the burden of being in direct policing of Palestinians. The idea was to have jailers who are Palestinians. If you read the Oslo accords, that is what most of the lines deal with. Under the guise of "security", it was demanded that free speech be inhibited, that any opposition to this sham peace be silenced etc. It became a mantra for Israeli politicians when confronted with issues of human rights or international law (settlements, refugees etc) to simply say that "we are discussing these things at the table." This provided them with the cover to accelerate land confiscations, settlement expansions, and building bypass roads.
As to refugee rights these were to be made null and void. A few thousands would be allowed under family reunification plans at the convenience and whim of the Israeli government and with no time limits to reaching any specified numbers. The reason given for abrogation of such basic and inalienable rights (also recognized by international law) is that such influx of refugees could endanger the "Jewish character" of the state. This is a concept that in any other situation would be dismissed immediately for what it is: racist. Afterall, how is maintaining the (artificially-created) "Jewish character" of the state different than maintaining the white nature of Soutrh Africa or the Aryan nature of Nazi Germany?
Many Jews recognize that Israel needs to evolve from a "Jewish state" to a state of all its citizens. And, it eventually will, with or without the refugees returning. It is only logical to expect that the 1.3 million current Palestinian citizens of Israel are not "thrilled" to live in an Israel that has a national anthem which talks about Jewish yearning for a homeland. They are not keen about a state that has no constitution to protect non-Jews but rather has specific laws to discriminate against them. The laws insure that “Jewish only” towns and villages continue to flourish while remaining Arab towns are besieged, get fewer services, and dwindle. They are not content in a state that has a law of return giving automatic citizenship to any Jew in the world who desires it, while denying citizenship to non-Jewish people who were born and raised there. Many of this latter category are relatives of those Palestinian who remained and many of these people have not seen each other in 52 years.
Palestinians do recognize fear of minority status exhibited by many Jews. But persecution of Jews in Europe (though not in Palestine, where we lived in harmony for centuries before Zionism) is not an excuse for bringing persecuted religious minorities to settle forcibly on someone else's land. Further, that problem is obviously not solved by ethnically cleansing and oppressing another innocent people or by re-establishing ghettos. In fact it is ironic that the only place in the world where a significant number of Jews are endangered and killed now is in Israel itself. That original fear was used to justify discrimination and brutality directed at Palestinians simply for inhabiting the land that Zionists coveted for their "homeland." Unfortunately, and as illustrated over and over in human history, fears are powerful emotions that prevents working for coexistence, humanity, and decency.
A battery of international laws outlaw Israeli violations of Palestinian civil and human rights: The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, UN resolutions 194, 242, 338, the Hague Regulations, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights/Convention on Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on Rights of the Child.
Israel's human-rights violations have been condemned by Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Israel's human rights organization B'tselem, and many other organizations.
But Israel's culpability while obvious should not allow us to forget the superpowers that made it possible. The British government role in the Middle East in the early half of the 20th century is deplorable. The US took over from the British the role of policeman of the Middle East. Henry Kissinger codified US foreign policy in this area in the 1970's. They include our "unique" relationship with Israel, ensuring stability (status quo with loyal Arab dictators), keeping the flow of cheep oil in our direction and arms in the other direction, massive foreign aid centered on advancing these goals (currently several $billion per year to Israel alone), commitment to keeping Israeli military superiority to any combined regional force, and commitment to not do anything against Israeli interests. Clinton, Gore, and Bush repeatedly emphasized this latter point by pledging never to pressure Israel (not even when US interests are at stake). Even as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) escalated attacks on civilians recently, Congress approved additional military aid and passed a resolution supporting Israel.
The weapons that inflicted the massive toll described above are made in the United States (M16 rifles, ammunition, Apache Helicopters, F-16 fighter jets), and paid for by our taxes. Over the past four decades, the US has funneled $250 billion dollars to Israel (and now over $120 billion to organically-linked occupation of Iraq supported by Zionist neocons in the US administration). What we give to Israel annually is more money than we gave to the subsaharan Africa, Latin America and the Carribian combined. Our government has also used its veto power in the UN dozens of times and its superpower status to bully other countries, all ina futile attempts to shield Israel from an overwhelming International condemnation of its atrocities.
It is debatable how much Israeli lobbies played a role. Admiral Thomas Moorer of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in this regard: "I've never seen a president --I don't care who he is-- stand up to them the Israelis. It just boggles your mind. They always get what they want. The Israelis know what's going on all the time. I got to the point where I wasn't writing anything down. If the American people understood what grip those people have on our government, they would rise up in arms. Our citizens don't have any idea what goes on." (See Washington Report 12/1999, p.124 quoting from Andrew Hurley's book, "One Nation Under Israel"). Some intellectuals like Noam Chomsky however argue that it is more to do with corporate interests (Oil, weapon sales) that make these governments support the atrocities committed by Israel. But in either case, both camps agree that it is not in the long term interests of average European or US citizen for his coundtry to have so massively supported ethnic cleansing and oppression of another people.
In the global context, everything is now connected. Recent polls (Newsweek, Zogby) showed a majority of Americans thought that our support of Israel helped bring about the terrorist attacks of September 11. Bin Laden certainly latched on to this in his latest propaganda by saying that the US can have no security unless Palestine gets its security. A similar strategy was adopted by Saddam Hussain to take advantage of legitimate grievances (the US's misguided support of Israeli aggression to starvation of Iraqi Children by US led sanctions). But symptoms such as terrorism, however ugly, are not the real underlying disease. While treating symptoms, it is essential to examine and probe the underlying cause. Examining who has power and who profits in the Middle East would be a more intelligent way to examine the conundrum that is the so called Arab-Israeli conflict.
Where do we go from here:
One well-planned media campaign initiated by Israel and its supporters to counteract the images of suffering Palestinians in 2001 was to cost 100 million dollars. It apparently aimed to paint a picture "Arab" or "Islamic" terrorism, equate Arafat with Bin Laden, and brand legitimate Lebanese and Palestinian forms of resistance to oppression as "terrorism" while preventing any discussion of state sponsored terrorism.
The media campaign was kicked off by columns from known Israeli apologists (Will, Saffire, Buckely, Friedman, Kelly etc.). A whole gamut of Israeli leaders followed before the cameras as "experts" and it helped increase the rising anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. Barak, Netenyahu, Sharon, Peres, and many of their disciples were allowed free reign with little questioning by people like Larry King or Dan Rather. Why not ask questions such as:
- If Israel was so great at this "war against terror" and they have such sophisticated and powerful "tools", then why do they still suffer from increased terrorism which seems to only accelerate as Israeli forces use ever more brutal tactics against Palestinian civilians?
- Why did Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once say that "if I were a Palestinian, I'd be a terrorist too" (the same guy who earlier asked his soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian protesters)?
- What drives someone to commit such horrendous acts? Religion seems such a feeble excuse especially when dealing with the fastest growing religion in the world.
- Is state sponsored terrorism included in the war against terrorism? If so would the US bring to justice individuals like Ariel Sharon (responsible for massacres at places like Qibya, Sabra, and Shatila), Yithak Shamir (planted bombs in civilian areas), or Henry Kissinger (war crimes in Asia)?
- Is US support of the Apartheid regime in South Africa or other racist or undemocratic regimes a contributor to instability in the world?
Our bloody human history did not start September 11, 2001. Are we to forget the decimation of millions of native Americans in the name of progress and Christianity, the genocide of Christian Armenians by the Muslim Turks in the name of unity, the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinians in the name of Judaism and "Jewish nationalism," or the millions of Vietnamese killed by our own "just war"? The continuing US led sanctions have so far killed half a million Iraqi children. Our Secretary of State Albright did not dispute this enormous genocide but said instead (on 60 Minutes): "we think it is worth it".
Thus, the role the US government plays in the Middle East should be examined carefully and we should look at how to move this world to a more just and peaceful state. Facts are available now through the wonderful medium of the internet and it is difficult to hide what is going on. Further, anyone can travel to Iraq, to the occupied areas, to refugee camps within and outside Israel, and to unrecognized Palestinian villages, to see first hand what is really happening.
The International community while finally awakening to the facts is laboring under governments continuously intimidated and bullied by teh only remaining superpower. However, to run US foreign policy to benefit a small group of interested parties (e.g. oil corporations and military industries and Zionist cabals) is not sustainable long term. To prop undemocratic regimes against the will of the people is also not sustainable. Ofcourse, the powers to be will fight tooth and nail to ensure information is controlled and people not know what is going on. This struggle is not between Arabs and Israelis or the West versus the East but a struggle between war and peace advocates, between those who are clinging to ill-gotten power and wealth (including such diverse groups as the Saudi Royal Family, military chiefs in the US, Zionist leaders, oil companies, multinational corporations) and the majority of all religions and races who are interested in a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
Thus, many Israelis and Palestinians are now working towards a Post-Zionist era analogous to the post-Apartheid era of South Africa. Many Americans of all faiths (including many Jews) are questioning the logistics of a system of US hegemony for narrow interests. The International community would do well to facilitate the peaceful transformation of Arab countries to pluralistic democratic societies and the transformation of Israel to a secular democratic state for all its people regardless of their religion. And yes, this means giving the Palestinian refugees the Internationally recognized right to return to their homes and lands.
Recognizing basic human rights provides the only route to real peace in our times. If enough people push for this ideal in the Middle East, then we can truly become an example to the rest of the world and a beacon of hope instead of being the spark for continued injustice and violence across the globe.
I will end by quoting Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of our times, p. 208): "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Mazin Qumsiyeh is an Associate Professor of Genetics at Yale University School of Medicine
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