Guest post by By Mark Hage from Vermonters for Justice in Palestine

May 15, 2018

 

There are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, and greater than half remain de jure stateless.  It wasn’t until college that I learned why.

On a winter night in 1977, alone in my dorm room, I read a work of scholarship book by a British historian on the War of 1948 in Mandate Palestine and the events leading up to it. It was a self-directed reading choice for an independent study course on Israel and Palestine. This book was revelatory and shocking.

It was my first exposure to the Palestinian narrative of the war that led to the establishment of the State of Israel. The self-declared “Jewish state,” I discovered, had been built by fire and blood, terror and ethnic cleansing, on the ruins of Arab Palestine.  

750,000 Palestinian men, women and children were driven by Jewish militias from their homes and lands, or had taken flight for fear of what would befall them when those militias attacked, including massacres and the rape of women that had occurred across Palestine.  

More than 500 Arab villages and towns were ultimately destroyed by Jewish forces.  

Massive amounts of Palestinian land were confiscated as state property for the exclusive benefit of Jews. Looting of Palestinian property during the war and afterwards was widespread.

Palestinians call this national tragedy al Nakba – the “Catastrophe.”  

May 15 marked its 70th anniversary.

***

As the tragedy of the Nakba unfolded, Palestinians clung fiercely to the belief that they would return soon to Palestine, in a matter of days or weeks at most.  To homes and gardens, fields and orchards, familiar streets and cafes; to windows that need cleaning and beds that must be made, strong coffee, warm bread and fruit ripening on kitchen tables; to stories and songs of hearth, family, and communal regeneration, to old and young love.

How could it be otherwise?  

What could possibly justify permanent exile from Palestine, the land where they had been born, where their children and grandchildren had been born, and where, God willing, they would be buried one day?  

Who among us, fortunate to have a home, does not return to it at the end of each day when night and exhaustion are upon them, when the body craves sustenance and comfort?  

Who does not suffer grievously from endless wandering, cut off from everything that gives life meaning, purpose and joy?  

U.N. Resolution 194, adopted during the Nakba, December, 1948:

“Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

***

David Ben Gurion was the de facto Zionist leader of the Jewish community in Palestine and chief political architect of the Nakba.  He was born David Grun in Poland to Jewish parents; he adopted a Hebrew name, as did many European Zionists, after emigrating to Palestine.  

Ben Gurion said of the Palestinians post-Nakba: “The old will die and the young will forget.”  

But the old ones were more wily and unbroken than he had imagined.  They preserved and passed on the rich history of Palestine and memories of the beloved country to the young.

The elders stored vital maps and keys, and imbued their children with the creativity, endurance, and will to resist despair, humiliation, oppression.  They refused to bend their knee to historical oblivion, to the oppressor’s vision of a Palestine without them.

They uttered and sang and danced the forbidden word – Return.

They journeyed toward home in the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish:

“We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’ fear of memories.” 

***

In 1948, 247 Palestinian villages in southern Palestine were completely “cleansed” by Jewish forces.  The traumatized refugees fled to Gaza and ended up in eight refugee camps.

March 30 to May 14 this year, Palestinians assembled and camped, unarmed, near Gaza’s demarcation line with Israel.  Tens of thousands protested there each Friday over that period, in actions collectively called “The Great March of Return.”  

In this fenced-off, buffer zone, highly militarized on Israel’s side, Palestinians were shot and tear gassed for seven consecutive weeks by Jewish snipers and soldiers ensconced in well-protected firing positions, far removed from danger. At least 109 Palestinians were killed.  13,000 were injured or maimed, many critically, nearly 3,400 from live ammunition.

Here is the carnage report for one day, Monday, May 14, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health:

  • 61 Palestinians killed, including 8 minors and 1 paramedic
  • 2,771 injured – including 225 minors, 11 journalists, 17 paramedics
  • 130 in serious and critical condition
  • 1,360 shot by Israeli soldiers using live Israeli ammunition.

B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, has unequivocally denounced Israel’s actions,  calling on soldiers to “hold your fire.” In echoes of Nuremberg, it warned:

“The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences [in Gaza] rests with the policy makers and – above all – with Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff. They are also the ones who bear the obligation to change these regulations immediately,….

“That said, it is also a criminal offense to obey manifestly illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.”

***

70 years after the Nakba, in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, heavily fortified, Jewish-only settlements, home to 650,000 Israelis, are expanding on stolen Palestinian land.  

Most settlers, especially those who reside in the most populous colonies, are blessed with comfortable, middle-class lives, coming and going as they please for work and leisure, with generous access to water from West Bank aquifers for drinking, bathing, and filling swimming pools.  

Far-right political and religious fanatics among them commit acts of cruelty and violence against Palestinians with regularity and impunity.  They scorch olive groves, poison livestock, destroy wells, set houses on fire. They throw Palestinian families into the street, then move in as Israeli police look on passively or assist.  “Death to the Arabs” is a common slogan painted on walls and chanted in marches.

Settlers of every stripe take what they want when they want it – they are lords of the land, and every Israeli soldier knows it and makes sure no Palestinian forgets it.

The words of B’Tselem:

“Settler violence has long since become part of Palestinians’ daily life under occupation. Israeli security forces enable these actions, which result in Palestinians casualties – injuries and fatalities – as well as damage to land and property. In some cases, they even serve as an armed escort, or even join in the attacks. Investigations, if even opened, are usually closed with no action taken against perpetrators as part of an undeclared policy of leniency. The long-term effect of this violence is the dispossession of Palestinians from increasing parts of the West Bank, making it easier for Israel to take over land and resources.”

***

Winston Churchill’s grandson once asked Ariel Sharon, the late Israeli general and prime minister, how Israel should deal with the Palestinians. Sharon responded:

“We’ll make a pastrami sandwich out of them. We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in twenty-five years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Jewish settlers shop for pastrami and other favorite foods in large supermarkets that also feature Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream.  Even this Vermont pillar of the socially responsible business community has carved out a modest commercial niche in the settlements, thanks to its Israeli franchise.  

 

In August, 2014, when Gaza was being bombarded and invaded, its hospitals on the brink of collapse and its morgues overflowing with the dead – more than 2,000 were killed during this round of slaughter – the corpses of babies had to be stored in ice cream freezers until the hostilities ceased.

***

In 1938, ten years before the Nakba, Mohandas Gandhi expressed his strong antipathy to the Zionist colonial project in Palestine, writing:

“My sympathy [for the Jews] does not blind me to requirements of justice. …It is wrong and in-human to impose the Jews on the Arabs.  What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.”

80 years after Gandhi’s condemnation of Zionism, the Jewish state is still strategically, ruthlessly and immorally pursuing its penultimate objective – “imposing” a Jewish state, with an overwhelming Jewish demographic majority, on all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.  

Each day consequently brings new atrocities and crimes of dispossession in the occupied territory – from the killing and maiming of defenseless Palestinians in Gaza to the revocation of Arab residency permits in East Jerusalem to daily military incursions into the West Bank to the issuance of orders for more land confiscations and the demolition Palestinian homes.

Inside Israel’s 1948 borders, citizens of Palestinian, Bedouin, and African descent are denied full equality and civil rights by a pernicious system of institutional racism, state violence, and discrimination that privileges Jewish citizens.  According to The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there are over 65 Israeli laws that

“discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.  The discrimination in these laws is either explicit – “discrimination on its face” – or, more often, the laws are worded in a seemingly neutral manner, but have or will likely have a disparate impact on Palestinians in their implementation. 

“These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention. Some of the laws also discriminate against other groups such as gays, non-religious Jews, and Palestinian refugees.”

 

***

 

Zionism’s settler-colonial mission in Palestine, whose founders conceived and executed the Nakba, grinds on relentlessly.  There is no end in sight to Israel’s occupation, now in its 51st year, or its illegal settlement regime.

But the popular, nonviolent resistance movement inside Israel and the occupied territories, and across the world, is growing in numbers and intensity.  The influence and success of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (www.bdsmovement.net) is a powerful testament to that.  

For Americans, whose tax coffers subsidize Israel’s military with billions annually, the choice is clear. It is summed up cogently in the words of the late Juliano Mer Khamis, an Israeli actor and drama teacher, writer and freedom fighter.  

He was the son of a Jewish mother, who served as an Israeli soldier during the Nakba and later became a fervent anti-Zionist activist, and a Palestinian Arab father, who was deeply committed, with his wife, to the struggle for equality and justice in Israel-Palestine.  

A former soldier himself in Israel’s occupation army, Juliano broke ranks decisively and said:

“Either join the Palestinians in their struggle for liberation, or you join the Israelis in their project of destruction.”

 

-By Mark Hage, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine