The latest round of fighting in Palestine may have ended with a ceasefire on 21 May, but the roots of the conflict remain unaddressed.
These roots, if left unattended, will only result in more escalation and more victims.
The structure of the Zionist project remains unchanged. It is a project that from its inception has been based on the uprooting of the native population in Palestine, ethnic cleansing, theft of land and resources, eradication of Palestinian identity, discrimination, the total control of the lives of the Palestinian people, and the denial of basic Palestinian rights.
As long as the project is the same, the only difference between short rounds of military escalation and so-called periods of calm is that of varying degrees of aggression. During military escalations, Israel kills Palestinians. During periods of calm, Israel steals Palestinian land.
Under both scenarios, Israel’s system of oppression humiliates Palestinians, controls their lives, uproots them, and discriminates against them.
But May’s escalation also demonstrated the determination of the Palestinian people and their steadfastness against Zionist attempts to supplant them, eradicate their identity, and break their morale.
One question that arose after the latest escalation, as it does after every escalation, is simply, who won?
Before answering, it is worth noting that the criteria for victory for a colonized people are different from the criteria for the colonial power.
This should be fairly obvious, but is worth elucidating anyway. Throughout history, colonial powers have enjoyed military superiority, international political support, and plentiful economic resources. It is these very advantages that allow colonial powers to invade other nations. A balance of power, in fact, would preclude colonialism.
As a result, colonized people’s loss of life and property were correspondingly greater. They bore the brunt due to the imbalance of power.
Avoiding false equivalence
Consequently, it is important to define the criteria to measure what victory or defeat looks like in this case without comparisons that make the mistake of equating the sides.
The strategic objective of the Zionist project since its inception is the establishment of a safe country for Jews from around the world. In order to morally justify this objective, the Zionist project portrayed Palestine as a land without a people.
It has utilized a wide variety of measures to eradicate the Palestinian identity and presence from the land, from direct massacres and forced expulsions to the destruction of villages and imposition of suffocating measures to undermine the Palestinian ability to survive. In Jerusalem, to this day, the Zionist project continues to prevent even the raising of the Palestinian flag.
Parallel to attempts to erase the Palestinian presence, the Zionist project also directed its efforts to manufacturing an image of Israel as a natural, safe, advanced and investor-friendly place – a normal country. This explains Israel’s exaggerated celebrations of every normalization of relations with any country, even if a small one.
Against these efforts, how did the Palestinian people resist?
The Palestinian people are winning first of all by simply maintaining their presence. The Palestinian identity is the very antithesis of the Zionist colonial project. The existence of the name of Palestine and the Palestinian people is a constant reminder that Israel is a colonial state that replaced the Palestinians and whose existence causes suffering to millions of Indigenous people.
The Zionist project surely hoped that Palestinians would suffer the same fate as the Indigenous population of North America and Australia. This did not happen. Israel has now to face the constant challenge of instability.
Palestinians not only maintained their existence, but changed the reality of suffering and subjugation exercised by the Zionist project to a state of resistance. Unwittingly, Israel has helped maintain this spirit of resistance. The humiliation at Israeli military checkpoints, continued land theft, the Judaization of Palestinian neighborhoods, and the system of apartheid are constant reminders that the reality is unadaptable, that the relationship with Israel is that of victim with aggressor and rightful owner with thief.
The opposite of rational
In addition to the basic characteristics of Israel as a country of colonialism, aggression and violence, we can add foolishness and arrogance.
What does this country want after conquering some 80 percent of historic Palestine and controlling its resources and borders?
Why does it not take the initiative to defuse the conflict and leave Palestinians to live in stability on the remainder of the land?
What will it gain by uprooting a few more families in Sheikh Jarrah or violating al-Aqsa mosque, one of the most sacred places for some 2 billion people worldwide?
Perhaps the better question to ask is: Can we really expect a country based on conquest, aggression, ethnic cleansing, and repeated massacres to change suddenly into a rational state?
Aggression and injustice are the opposite of rationalism. This is one of the pillars of universal justice. The more a colonial power exhibits the greed and aggression inherent to its nature, the greater the resistance.
It was Israel’s ongoing project to Judaize Jerusalem and expel its native population that caused this latest escalation.
In doing so, Israel helped remind the Palestinian people of their unity. Palestinians in all localities participated in this round against occupation forces, from Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, to the refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, who rushed to Palestine’s borders to express their anger.
Palestinians inside the boundaries of occupied 1948 Palestine – also known as Israel – are those who survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948. The country that came to be called Israel gave them citizenship and wagered that the Indigenous people could be Israelized. As part of this effort, the state tried to eliminate all symbols and reminders of their Palestinian identity.
However, the Palestinians of Israel did not forget their roots. And in the latest round of escalation, they reasserted their identity; organized widespread demonstrations; took down the colonial flag and raised Palestine’s in its place. They also burned police stations and vehicles because these are not symbols of law and order, but rather enforcers of colonialism.
A global cause
Such comprehensive popular participation has sent a strong message about the revolutionary vigor of the Palestinian people. It showed a new generation of Palestinians who have not forgotten their national awareness even though they grew up in a distorted political environment that promoted surrender as peace and did not experience past intifadas and confrontations.
The popular movement also garnered widespread international solidarity. Large demonstrations took place in dozens of countries worldwide, including in the US, whose administration is the world’s staunchest supporter of Israel.
Western powers in particular remain biased in favor of Israel, which enjoys almost unlimited western support in terms of weaponry, money and political cover. However, mass grassroots demonstrations indicate a worldwide awakening of conscience. This, in turn, will make positions in support of Israel increasingly embarrassing for officials, who will struggle to justify policies whose ethical grounding have been undermined.
Scenes of Israeli crimes against children and civilians, the destruction of whole residential neighborhoods, and attacks by occupation forces and settlers in Jerusalem have propelled the worldwide opposition to Israel.
Equally important have been pictures and footage of Palestinian resistance. People empathize with victims, but they also draw inspiration from examples of battle and heroism.
It remains paramount to continue to remind the world that Palestinians are the victims. There is an enormous imbalance of power between them and Israel. They are the side that suffer the most in loss of lives and property.
But it is also important to understand the armed resistance. Striking Tel Aviv with rockets is not primarily about the damage it causes, but the message it sends.
The value of Palestinian resistance weapons – crude and homemade as they are – is not about how they measure up to Israel’s advanced and highly lethal arsenal. The value of developing and using these weapons lies in the willingness to fight in spite of the imbalance in power that it illustrates.
These weapons serve to show the Palestinian people’s determination to reject and constantly challenge the occupier and demonstrate a refusal to adapt to the colonial logic that underpins the Zionist project’s existence.
Israel’s efforts to create an image of itself as stable and prosperous have failed. Instead, it is the Palestinian movement that sent a reminder that a colonial society is an abnormal society.
Now is the moment for supporters of Palestinian rights around the world to redouble their efforts to impose worldwide isolation on Israel’s colonial apartheid system.
Ahmed Abu Artema is a writer who lives in Gaza and a researcher at the Center for Political and Development Studies.