On truth and privilage
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD*
I had the honor of speaking at the conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement last weekend (10/15-17/2004). This was especially meaningful to me to come back to Duke after a five year absence (I was a faculty at Duke for six years before I moved to Yale). I was amazed at the innuendos, lies, distortions, and good-cop/bad-cop tactics used by those who advocate for Israeli apartheid. But the truth is difficult to hide. While they falsely claimed that the PSM conference condones attacks on Israeli civilians, the same critics have never condemned the far larger attacks (quantitatively and qualitatively) of the Israeli army targeting Palestinian civilians. More tellingly the now tiresome attacks on free speech fail to address the etiology of the disease, whose symptoms include violence, let alone propose a rational solution.
Nearly six of the 9 million Palestinians are refugees or displaced people denied their inalienable right to return to their homes and lands simply for being Christian and Muslim. 520 towns and villages were wiped off the map and their residents expelled between 1947-1949. Half of the refugees in this period were created before May 1948 when neighboring Arab armies tried to intervene.
As for those remaining, Amnesty International reported: “In Israel for example, several laws are explicitly discriminatory. These can be traced back to Israel’s foundation in 1948 which, driven primarily by the racist genocide suffered by Jews in Europe during the Second World War, was based on the notion of a Jewish state for Jewish people. Some of Israel’s laws reflect this principle and as a result discriminate against non-Jews, particularly Palestinians who had lived on the lands for generations. “ As I explained in my talk Israel is the only country in the world that recognizes members of a particular religion regardless of where they live as “nationals” with citizenship offered automatically to any of them (including converts) who wish to come live on land that belongs to native Palestinians. Meanwhile Palestinian refugees (Christians and Muslims) are denied the right to return simply for not being Jewish.
And it gets much worse in the occupied West Bank and Gaza where Israel transplanted 400,000 colonists on confiscated Palestinian lands. These Palestinians, unlike the ones Amnesty was referring to, are not even nominal citizens. Beit Sahour (my own hometown, primarily Christian) and Bethlehem and other remaining towns and villages lost much of their lands and now exist in shrinking prisons/ghettos being surrounded by walls, fences and ditches. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognized that barriers built on Palestinian lands separate natives from their farms, work, hospitals and schools. The ICJ and the international community at large recognize what is happening for what it is: land theft, apartheid, and racism.
Violence, like in all such colonial situations kills far more natives than invaders/settlers. This is evident in the history of European colonization of the Americas, South Africa under apartheid, Algeria under French rule and so on. We need to talk about the root causes of the disease (colonialism) rather than focusing on a small sliver of its many symptoms. Other symptoms include 670 Palestinian children murdered in the past four years and thousands of homes demolished. Not one human rights organization has accepted the usual Israeli excuses and repeated denial of culpability for the intentional killing of Palestinian civilians. Mr. Nielsen and the slick PR campaign evident in teh US (but not to the rest of the world) make excuses for these deaths while the US sends over $5 billion of our taxes to Israel (40% of all foreign aid). Amnesty International called on the US to halt shipment of weaponry and equipment used, according to all Human Rights organizations that looked into this, to carry out the large-scale violations of International and Humanitarian law and in many cases amounting to war crimes.
We live in an Orwellian world where for occupying Kuwait and violating a handful of UN resolutions, Iraq civilian infrastructure was obliterated and the country subjected to a 14-year regime of sanctions and siege that (according to UN reports) caused the death of 5000 Iraqi children every month. And finally, a war that violates the UN charter to cause a regime change that benefits US corporate and special interests. Yet, for violating over 65 UN resolutions (shielded from 35 others by US veto power), Israel receives massive US governmental largesse and is enabled to continue down its self-destructive course founded on ideas of Jewish suprematism.
We will continue to speak-out and urge everyone to get the facts for themselves and not rely on the mis-education provided by Fox, CNN and other corporate media outlets or by soundbites reminiscent of what used to be said about other natives: “if the red Indians just stop the savagery, everything will be OK”, “if the ANC (African National Congress which fough Apartheid) renounces terror and burning people alive they can have a state In Natal”. With the US and Israeli governments standing virtually alone in opposition to peace with justice while continuing to wage war and oppression with our taxes, we deserve to hear the truth.
As Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa explained: he supports divestment from Israel because Apartheid systems and racism need to be challenged anywhere they occur and particularly if they are funded by our taxes.
I spent over one hour talking to the handful of protestors outside the conference. I challenged them to public debates but unfortunately they refused. Since they were from outside of Duke, perhaps those at Duke or in the local Jewish federations who made statements condemning the PSM conference would take the challenge to have a public dialogue. Since I consider North Carolina my second home, I am happy to travel for this.
In my latest book, I articulate a vision for peace based on justice is a transformation of Israel to a state for its citizens and using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guiding principle. I explain in detail why there was never a real “two-state” solution and there will never be one; it is analogous to attempts by South African whites to solve the black problem by creating Bantustans. The admixture of populations, the plight of refugees, and the limited natural resources are but the tip of the iceberg. The crux is and remains the exclusivist ideology of Zionism. The transformation, to a post-Zionist discourse will happen. The question is will it happen peacefully as in South Africa with divestments and boycotts. Transformation does not mean "annihilation of Israel". In fact, the reverse is true as everyone recognizes that the direction of the past few decades (based on a racist ideology of injustice, hate and "separation") would only lead to more violence and bloodshed. If apartheid was the problem in South Africa, it surely cannot be a solution in Israel/Palestine.
* The author is an associate professor at Yale and author of "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle" (http://qumsiyeh.org).