At 70, Israel is a bellicose regional giant

A mural in Gaza reads: “We will return.”

Ali Jadallah APA images

Between 30 March and 11 May Israeli forces shot dead more than 40 unarmed Palestinians and wounded over 2,000 during the Great March of Return series of protests in Gaza. On 14 May alone, in protests coinciding with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers killed a further 58 Palestinians and wounded nearly 2,800.

Palestinians have not been the only target. On 12 April, a senior Israeli official, housing minister Yoav Galant, again called publicly for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to be assassinated, a call he first made last year. On 10 May, Israel attacked what it claimed were Iranian missile launchers inside Syria, a sovereign state, in the latest of more than 100 such attacks on targets in Syria over the past few years.

Such words and deeds – enacted and expressed with impunity, unhindered by international sanction or even rebuke – represent the swaggering self-confidence of a state that fears no law or retribution.

Israel today has one of the world’s strongest militaries, some of the globe’s most advanced drone technology and is among the world’s top exporters of weapons. It enjoys the support of all Western states, especially the US, and has made significant political inroads into Africa, India, and to a certain extent, China. Its military, economic and political power has never been so great.

No one imagined in 1948 that the state created on the homeland of another people and at their expense – an ethnic cleansing justified as a moral act to salve the world’s conscience for crimes committed against the Jewish people – would grow into this terrifying and bellicose regional giant.

A trauma still unappreciated

Certainly, no such thought was in our minds as we fled our homes during the Nakba of 1948. Mine was an ordinary family with ordinary lives until we found ourselves one day catapulted into a nightmare with no end. As children, we were three siblings, who did not understand why we had to leave all that was familiar and made up the life we knew – our house, our school, our family dog.

My memories of that time, fragmented as they are, are all of fear and anxiety, reflecting the feelings of my parents. Like all Palestinians at the time, we believed that we would soon return, when “things settled down.” The idea that we were losing everything we possessed to make way for a people alien to us so they could find refuge in the homes we had vacated was preposterous and unthinkable.

We fled to Damascus first and then to London. The view my parents clung to was that our exile was temporary and we would soon be back. But as the years passed the hope faded and then turned into an ideal we aspired to but feared would never be realized.

I used sometimes to wonder what the Jewish immigrants who were settled in our house in Jerusalem did with our belongings. Did they throw them away or keep them? And did they feel anything about the family whose place they had so obviously taken? Hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians like us must have had the same thought.

In the first years after the Nakba, Palestinians did nothing but struggle to survive. It was a trauma of a severity still unappreciated to this day, a time of sadness and loss. We were defeated and friendless until the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the resurrection of the Palestinian national movement.

There then followed a heady period of hope and self-assertion. It reached its zenith in the late 1970s, but Israel’s invasion of Beirut in 1982 led to a decline in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s fortunes, and the Oslo accords of 1993 compounded that decline. The last 20 years of Palestinian history have been punctuated by Palestinian uprisings and brutal Israeli repression, while Israel’s colonization has continued relentlessly. The Palestinians have been unable to stop it, their leadership divided and weak.

An unstoppable wave

Today the Palestinians, who were a homogeneous society when I was born, are fragmented: nearly 5 million live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza; some 1.5 million are second-class citizens in Israel; there are over 3 million refugees in Arab countries registered with the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, and an unknown number of exiles further afield. Meanwhile, Israel, to us an illegitimate usurper and standing affront to all that was decent, has only grown in strength and international acceptance. Its defeat, economically prosperous as it is and basking in American adulation, seems far away.

Maintaining an optimistic outlook in the face of Israel’s blanket impunity is a difficult challenge. A disinterested observer of this scene in 2018 might well conclude that the Palestine cause is hopeless.

But that would be wrong.

While Israel has been consolidating its power, the Palestinians, in their different locations, have been increasingly asserting their existence and right to resist. It is as if they have awoken from a long torpor.

The last decade has seen an extraordinary revival of national consciousness. Each locality where Palestinians live has developed its own form of resistance activity, whether inside Palestine or out. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is but one of these. A ferment of creativity in Palestinian art, literature and culture has taken hold, and political activism has assumed new forms.

This wave, which is now unstoppable, draws on the young, a generation of fresh, committed supporters of the cause of their parents and grandparents. Seeing this in action has been the most uplifting experience of my life. It has infused new energy into a cause that may have faltered from time to time, but never died.

Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian physician, academic and writer. Her latest book is entitled Return: A Palestinian Memoir.




Palestinians are today's Native Americans: their ousting from their own land was tragic but generations of occupiers are now deeply entrenched and not going anywhere as they were born on the land and it is therefore theirs from their perspective. The best anyone can hope for is getting the descendants of the occupiers to recognise what their forefathers did was wrong instead of celebrating it (Nakba/"Independence" Day).