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Dispatch from Palestine: A year in review

Yumna Patel (Dec.31, 2018) is a multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

Looking back on this year, it is difficult to choose one moment, one tragedy, or one political decision that stands out among the rest.

Palestinians witnessed a tumultuous year in 2018, as they saw hundreds killed from the West Bank to Gaza, their rights slowly stripped away inside Israel, and the heart of Palestinian identity, Jerusalem, pushed further out of reach.

We have seen the Israeli occupation expand its reach through its growing settlement enterprise, increasing home demolitions, and extrajudicial killings of unarmed protesters, all with the full backing of the United States and relatively No accountability from the international community.

2018 marked 25 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, but a fair and just peace agreement for the Palestinians remains far out of reach — the dream of an independent Palestinian state even further.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which was supposed to be a temporary government according to the accords, has developed into a despotic regime, focused more on quashing dissent and policing free speech than achieving liberation and statehood. (Its function is plainly to distribute and allocate salaries)

2018 also marked 70 years since the Nakba, the tragedy that has shaped the Palestinian issue for generations.

But as evidenced by the ongoing fight for the rights of refugees in Gaza’s Great March of Return, the fight against expulsion in places Silwan and Khan al-Ahmar, and the fight for equal rights as citizens in Israel, the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, of the Palestinian people did not end in 1948.

The impact of Trump

President Donald Trump talks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

It goes without saying that perhaps that most defining moment of the year actually took place in late 2017, when President Donald Trump announced that the US would be recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The decision sparked widespread protests that lead to the arrest of hundreds of Palestinians and the injury of many more.

Even after the initial protests died down, Trump’s Jerusalem decision has continued to be a feature of nearly every demonstration, big and small, across Palestine.

Over the course of the year, the Trump administration has relentlessly unleashed a series of political decisions aimed at harming the Palestinian people and forcing their leadership to the negotiating table.

From defunding UNRWA and USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, to moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s decisions will have a lasting political impact on the region. The human impacts have already begun to be felt.

More than 60 Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli forces on the Gaza border on May 14th when they were protesting Trump’s decision to move the embassy.

Last week, a three-year old Palestinian refugee boy died waiting for treatment in a Lebanon hospital. (He was actually treated but his case was serious) Many have attributed his death to the UNRWA financial crisis, saying that the family could not afford to pay and that the hospital delayed the treatment because they were waiting for the insurance payment from UNRWA.

As time goes on, more than 5 million Palestinian refugees will feel the effects of UNRWA’s financial crisis in the form of job cuts, reduced healthcare coverage, and the shut down of primary schools across the region.

The existence of UNRWA is truly essential to the lives of Palestine’s most vulnerable communities. Living in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, I have witnessed my neighbors skip doctor visits and unable to purchase necessary medications due to the fact that the current health care they receive UNRWA doesn’t cover all of their needs.

If the already lacking coverage is taken away from them, it is not out of the question that many more will suffer the fate of that young boy in Lebanon.

The UN has reported that despite a rise in humanitarian needs across the occupied Palestinian territory, funding levels for humanitarian interventions declined significantly: only US$221 million had been received (from other donating governments), compared to the $540 million requested in the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Gaza & The Great March of Return

Much of this year’s coverage of news in Palestine has focused on the besieged Gaza Strip, which entered its 11th year under siege in 2018.

With every passing day, the situation in Gaza grows more and more dire. People see only a few hours of electricity a day, unemployment rates are at an all time high, and hospitals are closing their doors due to lack of medications.

In 2018, the UN reported that around 1.3 million people in Gaza, or 68% of the population, were food insecure.

We have reported on a series of stories from the Gaza Strip this year, each one more distressing than the last.

We have seen children with cancer forced to travel alone to the West Bank for treatment without their parents, UNRWA employees set themselves on fire after losing their jobs, and the ever rising death toll from the Great March of Return.

On Saturday, one Palestinian was killed and six more were injured along the Israeli border fence.

UN documentation reported on December 28th that the death toll from Gaza’s Great March of Return stood at 180, and that over 23,000 people had been injured (mutilated and handicapped) in the protests. Among the dead are journalists, medics, women, and children.

This year marked the highest death toll in a single year since the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2014, and according to UNOCHA,  the highest number of injuries recorded since the group began documenting casualties in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2005.

The Great March of Return has galvanized Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip to demand an end to the crippling Israeli siege.

The Great March of Return in Gaza, August 10, 2018 (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Despite nine months of death and injuries, and no tangible wins for the protesters, the continued participation of Gazans in the march is evidence of the growing desperation in the coastal enclave.

With nowhere to go, no future for Gaza’s young people, and no medicine for the sick, the only remaining choice for many is to try as hard as they can to tear down the walls and fences surrounding them, knowing full well that death awaits them at the borders.

Growing discontent with PA

In the PA-controlled West Bank, there is a growing sense of discontentment with the government and its leaders, who continue to prioritize their consolidation of power and resources over the rights of the people.

The state of hopelessness and frustration among Palestinian citizens is on a steady rise, with polls showing that Palestinians ranked corruption as the second largest problem they face after the economic crisis – higher than the Israeli occupation, which ranked third.

Palestinian economic and social decline has led to higher rates of poverty and unemployment, with college graduates witnessing the highest rates of joblessness.

The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), once the most important official instruments of control and accountability for the government, has been dysfunctional for the past 11 years. (And lately dismissed by Mahmoud Abbas with no date for election)

The PA’s executive authority and security apparatuses have continued to impose restrictions on media and journalists through the Cyber Crimes Law, blocking websites that publish dissenting voices, and detaining journalists and activists critical of Mahmoud Abbas and his regime.

Over the summer, PA forces violently suppressed youth-led protests that criticized the government’s policies in Gaza and its security coordination with Israel, which has been denounced as a “revolving door” policy funneling Palestinian activists from PA jails to Israeli prisons.

In the wake of a spate of attacks earlier this month allegedly orchestrated by Hamas, demonstrations erupted in support of the PA’s rival faction, and in condemnation of Israel’s punitive ongoing home demolitions, road closures, and massive arrest campaigns.

Video footage of the protests showed PA security forces using batons to beat demonstrators, many of them women.

Despite widespread public outcry and ongoing protests, the PA is moving forward with a controversial social security law which will see citizens that work in the private sector paying 7% of their monthly salaries taxes to the Palestinian Social Security Corporation (PSCC), with no clauses exempting workers who receive minimum wage.

While the law claims workers will be able to apply for a retirement pension at age 60, it stipulates that widows, orphans, and the families of Palestinians killed by Israel will not be eligible to receive benefits.

Palestinians have voiced their opposition to the law, citing concerns that if subjected to monthly deductions, workers receiving already low wages will not be able to provide for their families or pay off hefty bank loans, which many Palestinians use to purchase homes, cars, etc.

The primary opposition to the law lies in the fact that many Palestinians do not trust the government to uphold its end of the deal, and that under the Israeli occupation and an increasingly unstable PA, there’s no guarantee they would ever see the benefits of their contributions.

Business as usual for the Israeli occupation

According to UN documentation, a total of 295 Palestinians were killed and over 29,000 were injured in 2018 by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Over 459 Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished by Israeli forces, marking a slight increase from 2017. The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 472 Palestinians, including 216 children and 127 women.

In the wake of this month’s spate of attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers, Israel has stepped up its efforts to demolish the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks on Israelis, a policy that has been widely criticized for years as collective punishment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on so-called “deterrence”efforts, instructing security officials to fast track punitive home demolitions, despite previous recommendations from an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks.

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed the first reading of a bill to forcibly transfer families of Palestinians involved in attacks against Israelis, despite heavy opposition from intelligence and army officials.

If passed into law, it would see that within a week of an attack or attempted attack, the Israeli army would be permitted to expel the relatives of the Palestinian assailants from their hometowns to other areas of the West Bank.

Forcible transfer is considered a war crime under international law.

Since the election of Trump, the West Bank has witnessed a steep increase in the expansion of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

In the 22 months before Trump was elected, 4,476 settlement housing units were approved, according to settlement watchdog  Peace Now. But since his election, that figure has more than tripled to 13,987 housing units.

Earlier this week, Israel advanced plans for nearly 2,200 living units in 47 settlements.

Palestinians in the West Bank have also witnessed a frightening increase in settler attacks on them and their property, with settlers more emboldened than ever before.

In 2018, UNOCHA recorded 265 incidents where Israeli settlers killed or injured Palestinians or damaged their property, marking a 69 per cent increase from 2017.

One Palestinian woman, 48-year-old Aisha al-Rabi, a mother of eight, was killed in October when settlers attacked her family’s car with rocks as they were driving home in the Nablus district of the northern West Bank.

Some 7,900 trees and 540 vehicles were damaged or completely destroyed in settler attacks, the UN reported.

The Palestinians that shook 2018

Amid all the devastation of 2018, several Palestinian faces have emerged from the darkness to offer a sense of hope, inspiration, and resilience for their people.

The following men, women, and children have been iconicized through social media for their roles in combating the Israeli occupation and bringing the plight of the Palestinian people to the international stage.

Ahed Tamimi

16-year-old Ahed Tamimi in Israeli military court (Photo: Tali Shapiro/Twitter)

Ahed Tamimi was propelled on to the international stage when she was arrested by Israeli forces in December 2017 after she slapped an Israeli soldier during a raid on her hometown of Nabi Saleh.

As she severed out an 8-month sentence in Israeli prison, she shed a new light on the issue of Palestinian child prisoners and the struggles of Palestinian youth under occupation.

By the time she was released, she had reached star status in Palestine and beyond, and has remained outspoken in her criticism of the Israeli occupation, travelling the world raising awareness about the Palestinian cause.

Yasser Murtaja & Razan al-Najjar

Razan al-Najjar, photo shared by the al-Najjar family.

Yasser Murtaja, portrait from his Facebook page.

During the Great March of Return, Israeli forces shot and killed Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja and medic Razan al-Najjar, drawing outrage from the Palestinian and international community.

Their deaths highlighted Israel’s widely criticized open-fire policy along the Gaza border, and the ongoing killing of unarmed civilians.

The funerals of both Murtaja and al-Najjar drew thousands of mourners, and their status as heroes of the Great March of Return has been memorialized on Palestinian social media.

The Bedouins of Khan al-Ahmar

Ibrahim Khamees, a member of the Khan al-Ahmar village council, watches as armed Israeli forces guard a bulldozer that razed lands on Wednesday to create a pathway for Israeli forces to use in the imminent demolition of the village (Photo: Akram al-Wara)

As the battle to save their village came to a head this year, the bedouins of Khan al-Ahmarremained steadfast in their nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation’s efforts to expel them from their lands.

Through grassroots efforts, the people of Khan al-Ahmar galvanized international support for their struggle, resulting in the indefinite postponement of the village’s demolition.

Rashida Tlaib

On their way to Congress: Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (left) of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Omar is the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States. (Photo: Twitter/Rashida Tlaib)

Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District made headlines across the US and the world as one of the first Muslim-American women to be elected to Congress, and the first ever Palestinian-American woman to do so.

In Palestine, Tlaib’s win was a form of poetic justice: the descendant of Palestinians from a small occupied West Bank village would now be serving in one of the highest levels of US government.

Since her election, Tlaib has been outspoken in her defense of the BDS movement, and has even announced that she will be leading a delegation of her colleagues to Palestine, as an alternative to AIPAC’s annual Israel trip for new members of congress.

Looking forward

As we enter the New Year, there is little reason for optimism in Palestine.

The Israeli occupation continues to tighten its grip with the help of the US, and the prospect of any reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and free democratic elections in Palestine are virtually nonexistent.

Palestinians in the West Bank continue to see their family members cycled through the Israeli prison system, with 5,554 Palestinians in prison as of November.

The current security situation in the West Bank has created a climate in which Palestinians are scared to drive their cars between cities, fearful that a settler attack or wrong move at a checkpoint could spell their death.

In East Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees are bracing for the worst as Israel moves forward with its plans to shut down UNRWA’s operations in the city.

In Gaza, the Great March of Return pushes on into its 10th month, and an end to the Israeli and Egyptian siege is nowhere in sight.

The Trump administration continues to tout its “deal of the century,” which many Palestinians anticipate will attempt to erase any Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, and force them to once again compromise their rights for the sake of Israel and the settlers.

The political future of Palestine is as uncertain as ever, and 2019 will likely see a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation here.

This year, we have interviewed hundreds of Palestinians from the borderlines in Gaza to refugee camps of Bethlehem. Countless people have have opened up their homes to Mondoweiss, to tell us, and show us, the reality of their existence under occupation.

Time and time again, we have asked people what their message is to the world, and to the Israeli government.  And time and time again, there is one common theme to every person’s answer:  sumud, or steadfastness

Obsessed with Time? Applicable to every Palestinian living under Israel occupation

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh has used his pen to delicately trace the contours of Palestinian history and landscapes, bringing readers into the harsh and complicated realities that shape daily life in the West Bank, where some two and a half million Palestinians have remained under an Israeli military occupation for more than half a century.

Jaclynn Ashly, Nov. 20, 2018

Shehadeh, who also practices law, wrote his first book in 1982, titled The Third Way: A Journal of Life in the West Bank, which painted a nuanced portrait of life in the occupied territory and created the ideological foundation for his future books.

“[The book] started when I went to the United States for the first time,” the 67-year-old told me at his office in Ramallah city, where shelves of legal books and documents line the white walls.

“I met a close friend of mine, who, although he is Palestinian and follows things here, he really had no idea what life was like here,” he explained.

“When I returned [to the West Bank] I wrote him lengthy letters trying to explain how it is day to day. And it wasn’t a dramatic thing. It was little harassment and difficulties that people outside could not imagine happening at all.” (The daily frequency of these harassment is the main culprit of apartheid practices) 

“I realized there was a need for such writing, and I expanded it into a book,” he said.

The book consists of stories and journal entries written by Shehadeh. Its title is derived from a saying among inmates at the Treblinka extermination camp in Nazi occupied Poland during the Holocaust: “Faced with two alternatives, always choose the third.” (Not applicable for Palestinians in colonial Israel which has endured over 7 decades and worsening)

In Palestine, he uses this saying to explore the options Palestinians have under Israel’s occupation: to either face “exile or submissive capitulation” or “blind, consuming hate.”

The third way is sumud, or steadfastness, a word used by Palestinians to articulate the act of staying on the land, regardless of the difficulties in doing so, in order to resist Israel’s ultimate goal of expelling Palestinians from their lands.

Shehadeh has since written 10 books, his most popular being Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape, which explores his changing relationship with the landscape of the West Bank owing to Israel’s settler colonial project.

He has a new book set to be released next year, titled Going Home.

Although Shehadeh did not want to speak at length about the focus of the book, he said it explores aging and the changing perceptions of time as “you become closer to the end.”

“I’ve become rather obsessed with time,” Shehadeh said. “Maybe that’s why it bothered me so much that you showed up late.” He smiled and chuckled – the first sign of warmth he showed me since I had agitated him by arriving a half hour late. (I had used the wrong café as a reference point to his office.)

Shehadeh lives a simple life in Ramallah city, gardening, reading, listening to classical music and, of course, writing. Shehadeh has kept a sometimes daily — sometimes weekly – private journal for decades, allowing him to revisit old events, feelings and perspectives, transforming blank pages into literary works that have earned him international acclaim.

“I have a practice of always carrying around a small piece of paper or notebook and jotting things down,” Shehadeh told me. “It’s not a journal that I make myself write. I write when I need to in order to explain things to myself, or when I’m coming to terms with things.” (I take notes when I read books)

From law to literature

Shehadeh, one of the founders of the Palestinian human rights group al-Haq, had always wanted to be a writer. However, after the publication of his first book, “I realized there was a lot of work to be done in the legal aspects and the human aspects [in the occupied West Bank],” he said.

He instead dedicated most of his time to challenging Israel’s occupation and human rights violations through international legal frameworks.

“The biggest asset for Palestinians is the law,” Shehadeh told Mondoweiss. “Because the law is on our side. To some extent [at the time] there was more interest and shame among the international community regarding international law.”

(There are 2 parallel law codes in Israel)

Shehadeh served as the legal adviser for Palestinians during the Madrid peace negotiations in 1991, but left over disagreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s focus and priorities, which the writer said valued political expediency and the return of exiled leaders over issues facing Palestinians on the ground.

“The PLO agreed to terms that, from the beginning, I thought were too restrictive,” Shehadeh said. “It would have taken great effort to bring in issues that are so relevant to us [Palestinians] here, such as [Israeli] settlements and the land.”

He sipped from a cup of coffee an assistant had brought, and then went on: “It was only about creating a self-government for Palestinians. In my mind, [the negotiations] were leading to Israel unilaterally confirming and consolidating what was already happening. I decided it was futile and left.”

Years later, the Oslo agreements were signed in secret between the PLO and the Israeli government, dramatically altering life in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The agreements broke up the land in the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, leaving more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control, while the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) was permitted to govern just 18 percent of the land.

“I was very disappointed [after Oslo],” Shehadeh said calmly, his hands clasped together and resting on his knee. “It made a difference in my whole life, because until then I was giving up everything I could to the legal aspect of the struggle.”

“My life really changed. I felt that my work had amounted to very little in terms of political effectiveness […]

Since Oslo, the Palestinian leadership has been excusing its failures and holding onto this deal, which they are bound to hold onto because they have no power to get out of it. And it has been downhill ever since.”

It was Shehadeh’s frustrations with Oslo that spurred him to leave al-Haq and direct his energy towards writing.

‘My father would feel very disappointed’

While Shehadeh always wrote on the side, even as he did legal work documenting Israel’s violations in the Palestinian territory, the first book he was able to dedicate a significant amount of time to was Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, which he wrote when he was in his late 30s.

The memoir explores Shehadeh’s complicated relationship with his father Aziz, an accomplished lawyer who was stabbed and left to bleed to death near his home in Ramallah in 1985.

Israeli authorities were accused of harboring political motives and not investigating the murder properly, and the case has since remained unsolved.

His father had, and continues to have, a profound influence on Shehadeh, and to this day the book was the most challenging for him to write, he tells Mondoweiss.

“Parents are extremely important and the perceptions and relationships change when one changes in time,” he said. “Whenever I tried to write something else, I would get back to that subject in my mind. So it was important and difficult to write.”

Since then, he has explored his relationship with his father in many of his books.

His father Aziz was one of the first Palestinians to promote a two-state solution and recognition of an Israeli state.

In 1953, his father won a case against Barclays bank that allowed Palestinian refugees to access their accounts after Israel had seized them in 1948, when Israel was established upon the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their lands.

“I think my father would feel very disappointed [by the current state of the Palestinian territory],” Shehadeh said, without hesitation. “He realized early on, before many others, that we have to make a peace deal with Israel.”

However, Aziz was unique in his ability to see the potential positives in making a peace deal, Shehadeh noted.

“His father thought that Israelis and Palestinians working together would bring about a much better people, for both of us,” the writer explained. “We complement each other and we can do great things together.”

Shehadeh says that he has also inherited parts of his father’s vision.

Like Shehadeh, Aziz understood the importance of Palestinians staying on the land. “My father would do everything possible to help Palestinians stay here. Every new person staying here was a gain.”

However, unlike his father, Shehadeh does not support a two-state or one-state solution to the decades-old conflict, noting that these discussions were “irrelevant.”

Instead, the writer says his “dream” is “one region,” reminiscent of a Greater Syria, and believes this will inevitably become the future. (So far, Israel is the existential enemy of the One Syrian people)

“It will come one day. But it’s a dream, just like the one-state solution is a dream,” he said. “It’s futile for us to dream now. I think we should focus on calling for the end of the occupation, and then we can find ways that we can live together. The question is how do we relate these two nations — Palestinians and Israelis together?”

The most pressing issue for Shehadeh is the right of return for Palestinian refugees — upheld by United Nations resolution 194 — who were expelled from their homes and lands during the Zionist takeover of historic Palestine in 1948.

“The right of return is a fundamental matter for Israel, because Israel bases its state mythology on the lack of a presence or existence of a Palestinian nation,” Shehadeh explained.

“So to recognize that there was a Palestinian nation living in what became Israel means Israel has to readjust its identity. And this is essential if there’s ever going to be peace”

‘To dehumanize them, you reduce your own humanity’

His latest book, Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine, published last year, documents Shehadeh’s shifting perspectives and relationships with several Israeli friends throughout Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory.

“I’ve been rather obsessed with the fact that when I go to a place, let’s say a checkpoint or a certain landscape that was changed, I see it both in the way it was and the way it is now,” Shehadeh explained to me.

“These two realities are in my mind all the time […] But it’s only because of my age and experience that I can see it in this way. But anybody who is an adult now, even in their 20s or 30s, will only know about how it is now. They will have no perception or imagining of how it was before.”

These thoughts created the framework for the book, exploring various “crossings” that have changed throughout the occupation.

He said that he explores “how different relationships existed between Palestinians and Israelis at various levels, the relationship and continuity of the land, the way that it was open at one point, and how the crossings into Israel have changed.”

Shehadeh’s book, which in part focused on his relationship with his Israeli friend Henry and included personal letters exchanged between the two friends, examines these relationships in a humanistic, thoughtful and honest way.

In a land where even the most mundane aspects of Palestinian life are shaped by Israel’s occupation, it can be a personal struggle not to become bitter and resentful toward Israelis as a whole.

But Shehadeh has been able to transcend these feelings. “To dehumanize them [Israelis], you reduce your own humanity,” he said.

“I’ve passed through stages,” Shehadeh added. “The first intifada was one, when I would be so angry and so full of hate, and therefore feel myself reduced by the hate. I realized it doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t provide me a service and it doesn’t give my cause a service.”

“It doesn’t help me in my life or my understandings. So I got over it, and I never succumbed to it again.” (And now he is succumbing to what? The laws of the occupiers?)

Continuing Sumud

Much has changed throughout the decades Shehadeh has been writing.

He remembers when it was difficult to get away with even mentioning Palestine in his books. When he did write that controversial 9-letter word, his books were often taken from public library shelves and torn apart.

“I remember going to Barnes and Noble, and noticing that one of my books — When the Birds Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege — was placed in the military history section,” he said, noting that he believes someone had placed it there so that no one would see it.

However, “now there are many books and intellectuals who are critical of Israel, which was not the case before.”

Meanwhile, he said, Israel has shifted farther to the right, with US President Donald Trump “allowing Israel to do whatever it wants.” Shehadeh believes that this is in fact bad for Israel.

“It is destroying the country,” he told Mondoweiss. “They are becoming fascists.” (They have been acting fascists since they were created and planned their terrorist activities as fascists before their “independence” from mandated Britain)

For the daily life of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Shehadeh believes that it has become more complex. “I think in the past it used to be a lot simpler because we all understood occupation and we all thought it would end soon. But as time went on we realized that’s not the case,” he said. (As he understood Britain mandated occupation?)

“But it was clear where we were moving and the situation wasn’t confusing,”’ he continued. “At the same time, daily life was much more difficult and obstructed.”

However, now in the occupied West Bank, he says, there are more opportunities and possibilities for Palestinians. Particularly in cities like Ramallah, which boomed after 1997 becoming the de-facto capital of the West Bank, Palestinians have more access to economic ventures or other projects than they did before. (An economy that is extension to Israel economy?)

According to Shehadeh, this is all part of the continuing sumud, and represents developments that have made it easier for Palestinians to remain here.

“If you think about Ramallah, as bad as the government [Palestinian Authority] is, they’ve managed to make it possible for people to lead their lives with clean streets and cafes.” (Great, while settlers dump their sewage in Palestinian schools?)

Ramallah’s active cultural scene, consisting of everything from visual arts, poetry and theater to hip hop and underground music, is an important element of sumud. “The assertion of the self is an important part of the resistance,” Shehadeh says.

“People are staying, and that’s very important. There is power in the fact that despite everything Israel has tried to do we are still staying,” he said, highlighting that the population of Palestinians and Israelis within Israel-Palestine is almost equal.

“That’s a great achievement considering how much Israel has tried to prevent it.”

Shehadeh politely glanced at his watch to check the time. We had been speaking for about two hours, and I thought it was best to finally end the interview.

The acclaimed writer walked me out. “Thank you for your time,” I said, and his reply was brief. “Yes, thank you. Good bye.” His eyes lowered to the ground as he gently closed the door in front of him.

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is demand that Palestinians abandon their rights and dreams

Activism

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The following is a report by Richard Falk on “The Arab International Forum for Justice for Palestine,” held in Beirut on July 29, 2018. His report is followed by a personal account to Falk’s blogreaders of a more personal character, describing the style and manner of the gathering.

My note: This “Deal” was discussed during Clinton tenure and it is Not a new plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause and identity.

1. There was bright sunshine throughout the entire Forum thanks to the announcement that Ahed Tamimi and her mother were released on that very day, and boldly reaffirmed their abiding commitment to resistance.

This teenage Palestinian icon from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh had completed an 8-month jail term for slapping an IDF soldier after her cousin had been shot in the face.

Instead of exhibiting empathy for Ahed Tamimi, Israel exhibited its vindictive approach to the Palestinian reality by jailing such a sensitive young woman rather than acting in a civilized manner by exhibiting sympathy for the normalcy of her reactions, indeed their dignity, to being a witness of such brutality by an agent of the Israeli state.

The Tamimi family were prominent resisters before “the slap heard around the world.” It was evident by the frequent reference to Ahed by speakers at the Forum that her show of defiance and youthful exuberance was worth a thousand missiles, expressing not only sumud (steadfastness), but also the conviction that nonviolent resistance can become transformative if adapted to the realities of an oppressive situation.

Of course, not a word in the NY Times about Ahed’s release, while papers in Lebanon wrote complementary feature stories with sympathetic pictures of this heroine, and in every Turkish paper I saw her release was a front page story.

Ahed seems comfortable with the prominence of her role despite being so young. As far as the eye can see, Ahed seems completely unaffected by the dark shadows cast over her young life by the harshness of Israel’s response to her totally spontaneous gesture of resistance.

While celebrating Ahed release, we should also pause to remember Razan Al-Najjar, the heroic nurse tending the wounded at the Gaza Great March of Return fatally shot on June 1st by an IDF sniper in cold blood while apart from the demonstrators, away from the fence, dressed in easily identifiable white medical clothing, working in the vicinity of Khan Yunis.

We should also salute Dareen Tatour, fine Palestinian poet, author of the poem “Resist My People, Resist Them,” sentenced to prison just now for the sin of writing defiant poetry, having only recently been released from years of house arrest, denied access to the Internet, and even to her own village community.

2. There was one feature of the Forum that I admit made me increasingly uncomfortable as I listened to speaker after speaker pour cold water on Trump’s promise, or was it a threat, to end the conflict with “the deal of the century.

When it came my turn to speak at the very end of the day, I started by saying how astonished I was by the attention given by prior speakers to this catchy phrase used by Trump. According these words of the demagogue so much attention gave the still undisclosed U.S. proposal a political weight it didn’t deserve or possess, and could put the Palestinians in an unnecessarily awkward, defensive, and combative position. (This is how Israel was created by non-abiding promises kept by the colonial powers to the Jews and Not kept to the Palestinians)

I pointed out that Trump’s erratic approach to the world since he became president had weakened greatly the U.S. global leadership role, and that his extreme partisanship with respect to the Palestinian struggle had reduced to zero American credibility as an impartial or constructive arbiter in relation to the future of the two peoples. (

Actually, the people in the region never believed in the US credibility as a fair mediator. Mind you that it was the “Christian” Evangelical movement in the USA that precede Herzel, 50 years, in his ideology)

U.S. credibility as a peacemaker had long ago been convincingly challenged, for instance, by the devastating book of Rashid Khalidi, “Brokers of Deceit,” and even more comprehensively by Jeremy Hammond in his important assessment, Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” (2016).

It seemed to me that the words “the deal of the century” had entranced and bewitched this Palestinian audience, and maybe others, leading to my fear that Trump had put them on a road leading to a political dead end for the Palestinian aspirations, crushing their struggle by being tricked into entering such a spiderweb of bombastic irrelevance.

What the U.S. seems ready to offer, besides bombast, and what Israeli leaders have been talking about more and more openly, is that if the Palestinians abandon their rights along with their dreams, “peace” becomes possible.

This includes abandoning political goals associated with the right of self-determination. If the Palestinians are so foolish as to do this, then they can become hapless beneficiaries of “an economic peace” courtesy of Israel’s generosity and charitable nature.

The deal of the century reduced to substance is nothing more than “geopolitical bribery,” exchanging the prospect of some dollars for the renunciation of inalienable rights.

In such a bargain the devil is NOT in the details, but is the very essence of what is being proposed.

Of course, there are almost certain also to be humiliating details involving the concrete implications of permanent submission by the Palestinians: acceptance of uncontested Israeli control of Jerusalem, a complete denial of any right of return for  Palestinian refugees or exiles, and a series of master/servant economic arrangements.

My plea at the Forum was to put “the deal of the century” in its proper perspective by ignoring it, or if it must be discussed, then re-frame all references to the deal by recognizing that it is less a deal that an attempted diktat, in actuality a crude attempt to commit “the crime of the century!”

(How many crimes of century have the Palestinians  to deal with? Every decade in Israel existence was a crime of the century committed)

3. I highlighted the second portion of my presentation by quoting the opening line of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

I felt this kind of interface well depicted the current situation of the Palestinians. It was the worst of times because the alignments in the Arab world together with the geopolitical forces seemed to favor the success of the Zionist Project to an unprecedented degree. The major Arab governments were moving toward postures of “normalization” with Israel without any longer insisting on the precondition of reaching a sustainable peace with the Palestinians.

This regional setback has weakened Palestine diplomatically, and materially. At the same time the Trump presidency has made no secret of its endorsement of maximal Zionist goals, agreeing to support whatever Israel (and Saudi Arabia) want.

Above all this commitment involves ramping up a dangerous confrontation with Iran. Most of Europe seems unhappy with these developments, but has so far lacked the energy, incentive, and leadership to play an offsetting role to balance Trump’s one sidedness and thus act to keep alive what has become a Zombie solution, the barely flickering flame of “a two-state solution.

In other words, from the international community of states, the best that can be hoped for at this stage, is a rather lame show of support for the two-state mantra, which has been effectively moribund for several years.

In sum, if Palestinian prospects are interpreted through the prism of standard international relations, the outlook is dismal, and not by chance this is the line being pursued by the Middle East Forum, an ultra-Zionist NGO.

Its chosen mechanism to drive the point home is its rather diabolical scheme labeled “the victory caucus,” which is actively recruiting, with a disturbing degree of success, members of the U.S. Congress and the Knesset.

It wants the world to understand that since international diplomacy is dead and with Trump in the White House the occasion offers Israel the opportunity of adopting more muscular tactics to force the Palestinians to understand that their game of resistance is over, that to avoid collective suicide there is no alternative left to the Palestine other than political surrender.

And by such reasoning, if the Palestinians are wise enough to accept this line of thinking, then they will become beneficiaries of some variant of economic peace as a sign of Israeli gratitude.

Fortunately, these dismal scenarios of defeat do not tell the true or real, much less the whole, story.

Several recent developments have created new and promising opportunities for the Palestinian national movement to move its own agenda forward. These developments involve a welcome shift of the center of gravity of the Palestinian movement from reliance on inter-governmental initiatives, including those pursued at the UN, to a phase of struggle that combines new modes of Palestinian resistance with a rapidly expanding global solidarity movement.

This solidarity movement is receiving a great boost in credibility as a result of the militant support that BDS campaign is receiving in South Africa.

In effect, on the basis of their experience of racism, South Africa is delivering this urgent message to the world: we alone know from experience the full horror of an apartheid regime, and what Palestinians daily face is a form of apartheid that is even worse than what we endured, and finally overcame by a struggle that combined the brave resistance of our people buoyed by the solidarity of the world; although the circumstances are far different, apartheid in Israel can be overcome by a similar shift in the balance of forces due to an intensifying popular struggle neutralizing the repressive capabilities of military and police domination.

I mentioned two developments of particular importance in the emergence of this altered scenario of struggle more encouraging for the realization of Palestinian aspirations.

First, the Israeli nation-state law of the Jewish people that by its bluntness in asserting the exclusivity of Jewish rights in Israel, including that of self-determination, amounts to a formal adoption of an apartheid ideology by Israel in all but name. In effect, this development vindicated the conclusions of the ESCWA report on Israeli apartheid prepared by Virginia Tilley and myself that was condemned so fiercely by the Israeli ambassador, and even more so by Nikki Haley, the American ambassador at the UN, when it was released in March 2017.

As the discourse at the Forum and the mainstream media now illustrate, it is no longer controversial to attribute apartheid to the particular Israeli mode of dominance imposed on Palestinians. What makes the nation-state law so politically and psychologically helpful in this respect is that the relation of the Israeli state to its Palestinian minority was, although discriminatory enough to form one domain of the apartheid system, far less onerous than Israeli policies and practices toward refugees in neighboring countries or Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Thus for Israel to acknowledge apartheid as the modus operandi in Israel itself amounts to a signed and voluntary confession as to the racist character of overall domination.

Such an interpretation of the nation-state law is important for mobilizing popular support for more militant forms of solidarity with respect to the Palestinian people.

Apartheid is an international crime, one type of crime against humanity that is set forth in Article 7 of the Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court, and deprives Israel of the propaganda value of claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East, a major pillar of its claimed politic al legitimacy. That pillar crumbled the moment the Nation-State bill became Israeli law.

The second development that creates opportunities for advancing the Palestinian struggle is the exposure of the violent nature of Israel’s control mechanisms, especially its reliance on grossly excessive force in calculated response to the Great March of Return.

These demonstrations at and around the Gaza fence are demands to implement the most fundamental of Palestinian rights as set forth by international law. Killing unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition exposes to the world the violent nature of Israel’s structures of domination.

This use of lethal force at the Gaza border recalls vividly the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, which many commentators identified as the point of no return for South African apartheid, revealing the true racist nature of its governing process to the world.  The Gaza massacre is actually far worse than Sharpeville (although there were other massacres to follow including crushing the Soweto Uprising), as the willful killing at the Gaza border has now been repeated on a series of successive Fridays.

It is the extreme character of these two developments that provides this golden opportunity to civil society activists and their organizations to mobilize wider and deeper support for the Palestinian struggle.

The BDS Campaign, already commencing its 14th year, becomes more central in this effort to isolate Israel internationally and emphasize the criminal illegitimacy of Israeli apartheid. It is appropriate to mention that South Africa sought to demonize opposition to its racist policies by dubbing anti-apartheid activists as “terrorists” or “Communists.”

Israel uses a similar rhetorical tactic by branding its critics and activists as “anti-Semites.” Although Israeli apartheid is different in many aspects from South African apartheid with regard to both internal and international contexts, both instances of apartheid involve structures of subjugation based on race with the overriding purpose of maintaining domination of one race, and the victimization of the other. South African apartheid proved vulnerable to resistance and solidarity initiatives.

It is my belief that the opportunity now exists, more so than ever before, to establish a comparable vulnerability with respect to Israeli apartheid.

It should be appreciated that the great unlearned lesson of the last half century is that military superiority has lost much of its historical agency.

The colonial wars were won by the weaker side militarily. The Vietnam War was lost by the United States despite its overwhelming military superiority. The side that control the heights of legal, moral, and political opinion eventually usually controls the political outcome in contemporary struggles for control of sovereign states, especially if the struggle takes place in a distinct political entity, and not as a secessionist move by a captive nation with an existing large sovereign state (for example, Catalonia, Chechnya, Puerto Rico).

The Palestinians have been winning the legitimacy war to achieve such nationalist aspirations, and now is the time for soft power militancy to get on with the job.

4. Despite the implicit acknowledgement of apartheid by the adoption of the nation-state law as Basic Law of Israel, that is, as not subject to change except by enactment of another law with Basic Law status, it seems helpful to reassert the relevance of the ESCWA Report.

That study, arousing great controversy at the time of release, is no longer as relevant or as needed for purpose of debating whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. Even before the Basic Law was adopted, the evidence of Israeli practices shows, as the Report argues, that Israel is an apartheid state. The Report remains relevant, however, to obtain a better understanding of the distinctive, specific, and comprehensive nature of Israeli apartheid.

For one thing, the Report examines the allegation of apartheid from the perspective of international law as it is set forth in various authoritative places, especially the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the International Crime of Apartheid.

Secondly, it argues on the basis of evidence that Israeli apartheid extends to the Palestinian people as a whole, not just to those living under the dual legal systems of the West Bank or as the discriminated minority in Israel. The apartheid regime developed by Israel applies also to the refugees confined to camps in neighboring countries and to those Palestinians living in Jerusalem, which is governed as if it is already wholly incorporated into the state of Israel.

We reaffirm the central conclusion of the Report that the only valid path to a sustainable peace for both peoples requires the prior rejection of the ideology and the dismantling of the structures of apartheid.

Any other purported peace process will produce, at most, a new ceasefire, most likely, with a very short life expectancy. A secondary conclusion is that as a matter of law, all governments and international institutions, as well as corporations and banks, have a responsibility to do their utmost to suppress the crime of apartheid as being perpetrated by the leadership of the state of Israel.

It also would follow that lending assistance to Israel either materially or diplomatically is now unlawful, aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise.

Conclusion: The time is ripe for civil society to represent the Palestinian people in their struggle against the Israeli apartheid regime. This struggle is just and the means being pursued are legitimate. Resistance and solidarity are the vital instruments by which to challenge apartheid, and its geopolitical support structure. This was the path that led to the collapse of South African apartheid, and a similar path is now available for the Palestinian struggle.

Afterword: Falk’s note on the conference of a personal character.

My initial impression after experiencing a 90-minute airport line for those carrying foreign passports to gain entry to Lebanon was that the conference was incredibly disorganized. There was no program available to the participants even after the Opening Ceremony began in a packed hotel auditorium with a crowded and passionate gathering of persons dedicated to justice for Palestine, hailing from many countries, from as far away as Mumbai and San Francisco, including diplomats, religious personalities dressed in traditional garb, and those who in a diversity of ways had kept faith over the years with the Palestinian struggle.

Not surprisingly, the Irish participants stirred the crowd the most with their fiery eloquence, drawing on their shared experience of a somewhat similar prolonged, and often anguished, struggle. The Forum was a microcosm of Palestinian inclusiveness. I was not really surprised that Ramsey Clark was the beloved Honorary Chair of the Forum, and learned that only a recently broken hip kept him away.

There were many moments of personal satisfaction during my long one day visit (that seemed like three), including a warm coffee chat with Rabi3 Bashour, recalling our ESCWA experiences, and discovering that his venerable father, Maan, was the heart and soul of the Forum, both as moderator of the event and its guiding spirit throughout the entire process from its origins until the present.

The formative idea of the Forum is to establish a platform that is wide enough to accommodate all tendencies in the Palestinian national movement provided only that there exists ample evidence of dedication to justice for the Palestinian people.

This meant Fatah and Hamas in the same room, religious figures and firmly secular persons, representatives of trade unions, student organizations, prisoner and detainee family members, women’s groups, members of parties from the far left and the center (I never became aware of any right wing participation).

It was the central task of the Forum to keep this symbolic expression of Palestinian unity in robust good spirits, and only secondarily, to address matters of substance. The unspoken dream of the occasion was that the success of the Forum would nudge the political leaders of the now deeply divided Palestinian movement to put aside their differences and achieve sustainable unity so as to pursue together the far greater convergence of goals at the common core of their struggle.

There was a call from the podium at the outset for “practical proposals” rather than just “speeches,” but rhetorical style is almost impossible to discipline, and especially so in the Arab world. And so, inevitably, there were an assortment of speeches mainly validated by frequent emotional flourishes throughout their delivery, yet in fairness there were also several promising concrete suggestions for action initiatives.

I came to appreciate greatly the anarchistic style of hospitality, above all by Nabil Hallak, the guiding conference presence, with No observable capacity for conventional organization beyond a restless vitality that made us all feel welcome, appreciated, and well cared for.

Once I overcame my own anxieties about the chaotic logistics enough to go with the flow I enjoyed being in such a setting, and everything important worked out somehow. It turns out Nabil has a beautiful wife, has fought in Palestinian resistance, and as a result possesses a body that was pierced by nine Israeli bullets.

Despite this, Nabil is modest about his past, projects a joy-for-life esprit and manifests day and night an intense dedication to the Forum as an ongoing political project. He is close to Tima Issa, a TV producer in Beirut with whom I had done a program a year ago, who extended the initial invitation and made the social dimension of my brief visit both enjoyable and memorable.

About Richard Falk
Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University. He is the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 volumes. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

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