May and June are once again upon us, which means Palestinians are commemorating the Nakba (the catastrophe of their 1948 dispossession) and Naksa (the disaster of the 1967 War and subsequent occupation). Meanwhile Israelis celebrate the establishment of their state and the conquest of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai. This inevitably leaves one to ask the banal question: “Will there be peace in our lifetime?”
In a mass email sent on 5 May, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of the pro-Israel lobby group J Street, wrote to his supporters: “I’ve just arrived in Israel with a delegation of J Street leaders on our annual fact-finding mission to the region.” He added: “It’s an energizing time to be here. After years of frustrating deadlock, talk of peace is in the air again.”
What air is he breathing?
US Secretary of State John Kerry recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “the window for a two-state solution is shutting” (“Kerry: two years left to reach two-state solution in Middle East peace process,” The Guardian, 18 April 2013).
Myths and double standards
In fact, it’s been shut for decades. Kerry is merely regurgitating the old, numbing talking points. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deadlocked because of the myths and double standards that dominate the debate.
Zionists claim that Jewish people have a right to “return” to Palestine — or the Land of Israel, as they call it — because they are related to the ancient Hebrews, a tribe that lived there thousands of years ago. Yet Palestinians who lived in Palestine only 65 years ago and remember when they were forced to leave as refugees are forbidden from returning to their homes and their land.
A nation whose connection to the land is based on something that took place thousands of years ago is telling a nation that still has the keys to their homes and the deeds to their land that they must stay out.
The State of Israel was established on the ruins of Palestine, but today close to half of the population residing under Israeli control are Palestinians. Israel maintains laws that discriminate against the Palestinian portion of the population — or what it calls the non-Jewish population.
One may wonder why Palestinians call Israel’s establishment a catastrophe, or Nakba. It might be hard to grasp how this historic marvel, the revival of the Jewish state, could be called a catastrophe. However, a closer look will show that characterizing the war of 1948 as catastrophic is not only justified, it involves understating what happened.
The war of 1948 was an act of terrorism initiated by Zionist militias that ended up in the destruction of Palestine and the forced displacement of its people. What makes it even worse is that the catastrophe did not just take place in 1948. It began in 1948 and has been going on ever since.
The catastrophe continues with thousands of Palestinians in jail, 1.6 million living under siege in Gaza, another 1.5 million living as second-class citizens in Israel, close to three million in the West Bank living at the mercy of the Israeli army, which knows little mercy, and approximately seven million Palestinians living as refugees outside of Palestine who are not permitted to return to their homes.
This May and June, it is time to reflect on the reality in which Palestinians are forced to live, and separate it from the virtual reality that Israel and its supporters try to paint. Perhaps this year it is time to assert in clear terms that supporting an exclusivist and discriminatory Jewish state means supporting a state that violates the most basic human and civil rights of millions of Palestinians, including the right to life itself.
If peace is indeed in the air then one would hope that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the refugee camps and in Israeli jails are also breathing it. If so, they can leave their cells and their makeshift homes, close the camps, open the prisons and return home, to Palestine. It also means that a bi-national democracy that respects and represents the rights of all people is on its way.
Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in California. He is the author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.