Ignoring the roots of conflict

A Palestinian boy stands behind a fence at a UN school in Gaza where his family was forced to seek refuge. Israel’s attacks on Gaza have affected all 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged territory. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

My uncle, aunt and cousins in Gaza have not showered for more than two weeks now. I make a point of this because Samuel Wurzelbacher, otherwise known as “Joe the Plumber” who was propelled into the limelight for questioning then US President-elect Barack Obama, has become a so-called “war correspondent” in the southern Israeli town of Sderot. Talking to The Guardian from his new beat, he spoke with sympathy about how difficult life must be for Sderot’s residents. “The people of Sderot can’t do normal things day to day, like get soap in their eyes in the shower, for fear a rocket might come in. I’m sure they’re taking quick showers. I know I would.”

I wonder what Wurzelbacher would make, then, of the “day to day” lives of the people in Gaza, whose water tanks have run dry, who have no electricity, and where many are struggling to pay for flour, the price of which has jumped to around 160 shekels (around $40) a sack due to the recent onslaught. I wonder, too, what Wurzelbacher would think of my uncle’s recent argument with his wife about the family’s sleeping arrangements. When Israel began its latest military campaign on 27 December, my aunt had wanted everyone to sleep in one room so they could all die together if the house was struck. However, my uncle meanwhile thought they should spread out to increase the chance of someone surviving.

Wurzelbacher is amongst many who either do not know or choose to ignore the essence of the Palestine-Israel conflict. What the Israelis unleashed on Gaza is not, as our debutant journalist friend would have us believe, simply about rockets falling on the homes of Israelis. Has Wulzerbacher ever thought to ask himself what would compel a human being to launch a rocket in the first place? In plain language, Israelis live under rocket fire because their government has for the last 41 years pursued a policy of occupation and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians. It is irrational and hypocritical to think that the people of the occupied West Bank or Gaza, many of whom are refugees from villages where Israeli towns like Ashkelon and Sderot now stand, have no right to resist their extermination. To borrow that tired phrase so often used by the Israelis, no people could tolerate for so long those who are attacking them. And yet, this is precisely what is expected of the Palestinians.

It must not be forgotten that long before Hamas was a feature on the Palestinian political landscape, the Apartheid state of Israel was doing everything it could to make life unbearable for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as part of a concerted plan to rid historical Palestine of its native inhabitants.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, between 1967 and 2007, Israel erected 121 settlements in the West Bank, with an additional 100 illegal “outposts,” in which the most right-wing Jewish settlers live. “Twelve other settlements are located on land annexed by Israel in 1967 and made part of Jerusalem,” the group says. Even while claiming to be negotiating a peace deal last year, Israel was busy planning and building new settlements. No Palestinian can enter these exclusive Jewish colonies, which are heavily guarded by soldiers, nor can they use the roads that lead to them, built on confiscated Palestinian land.

Israel has tried to undermine the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state ever emerging by erecting an Apartheid Wall that snakes through the West Bank and eats away at more Palestinian land. This potent symbol of apartheid, which is considered unlawful by the International Court of Justice, has divided families, separated farmers from their land, students from their schools and universities, workers from their jobs, and the sick from their medical treatments. To get anywhere in the West Bank, Palestinians must pass through a myriad of road blocks and checkpoints, transforming an otherwise simple journey into a time-consuming, frustrating and humiliating experience. Palestinians are subject to arbitrary detention, luggage and body searches and interrogation at the will of Israeli soldiers. They are required to obtain a special permit to enter Jerusalem, making it virtually off limits to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians are subject to curfews, some lasting up to 40 days, during which they are forbidden from leaving their houses. They are granted few permits to build or repair their houses, and Israel punishes those who build without approval by demolishing their homes. In an act of collective punishment, Israel also bulldozes the houses of families of suspected resistance fighters, often without warning those inside beforehand. The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions estimates that more than 19,850 Palestinian homes in the West Bank have been torn down since 1967.

A “law of return” means that anyone in the world who claims to be of Jewish descent can gain Israeli citizenship. At the same time, Palestinians like my own father have no right to return to the place where they were born, let alone pass on their nationality to their children. The movement of Palestinians is closely monitored and controlled by the Israelis. My cousin, who traveled from Gaza to live in his home village in the West Bank has been missing for two weeks now. It is likely he has been arrested for this so-called violation (as he only had a permit to visit), but the Israelis haven’t even bothered to inform anyone of his whereabouts.

These tedious lists of grievances, which could go on for pages, illustrate that no Palestinian, whether they choose to resist Israeli oppression or not, can escape the ritual humiliation and degradation of occupation. It should now be clearer to Wurzelbacher that it is this daily regime of confiscation, desperation, humiliation and discrimination that compels Palestinians to resist Israel’s policies of exclusion, just as Native Americans and black South Africans were compelled to resist their oppression. Even Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, who played a crucial role in designing the Gaza onslaught, acknowledges this fact. In 1998 he told the Israeli daily Haaretz that “If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I’d eventually join one of the terrorist organizations.”

No family in Gaza has emerged physically or psychologically unscathed from Israel’s latest push to crush the Palestinians. Through their wanton use of extraordinary military force, the Israelis have sown the seeds of the next generation of Palestinian resistance fighters. The children who witnessed their parents and siblings torched by white phosphorus, crushed by a bomb, or riddled with bullets will never forget such horrors. This is to say nothing of the total blockade Israel continues to impose on Gaza. However, the Palestinians will not be beaten, shelled or starved into submission. Violent and nonviolent Palestinian resistance will continue until Israel uncurls its iron fist and agrees to a fair and just peace. After all, justice for the Palestinians is the only way for Israel to be a “State” rather than an Apartheid State and in so doing truly ensure the safety of its own citizens.

Dalila Mahdawi is a journalist with The Daily Star in Lebanon.

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