The following is the text of comments delivered by EI co-founder Ali Abunimah at the Fourth Annual Walk for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine in Oak Park, Illinois on 15 May 2005, organized by the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine.
Today, the Israeli cabinet gave its approval to renew an Israeli law that says that an Israeli citizen can marry anyone in the world and start a family and have them naturalized as Israeli citizens, except for a Palestinian. According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper website, the law is designed to slow down the rapid growth of the Palestinian population inside Israel and forestall demands for equal rights, while “protecting Israel’s image” to the outside world.
Palestinians are oppressed not just by the occupation, but by an entire system in Israel and all the territories it controls built on the belief that the privileges of one group can be maintained at the expense of the fundamental rights and dignity of another.
Today in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to the US State Department there are 5.2 million Israeli Jews and 5.3 million Palestinians living under the rule of the Israeli government. In other words a shrinking Jewish minority rules over a fast-growing Palestinian majority.
South African law professor John Dugard, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, wrote last August that Israel has created, “an apartheid regime” in the occupied territories “worse than the one that existed in South Africa.” Dugard should know, because he was a member of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In 2002, the Former Archibishop of Cape Town, and Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu wrote, “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”
57 years ago, when the State of Israel was declared, on the smouldering ruins of Palestinian society, I doubt that Israelis imagined that we would be where we are today. Today, the world refuses to confront the reality that Palestinians are once again a majority in their own homeland, and millions more still live in a painful exile that must end.
Today we have a proliferation of fake peace plans, from the Road Map to the Geneva Initiative, which seem to be designed for one purpose: to absolve those who advocate them from the moral responsibility of confronting the reality that they have allowed to develop. Peace plans and endless process have become little more than therapy for guilty consciences. Such peace plans allow us an easy way out. Anyone can say “I support the peace process.” It costs nothing because there is always more delay to avoid the moment of decision. Anyone confronted with the reality of the growing settlements and the apartheid wall can say, “I oppose them, but let them be negotiated in the peace process.”
If you say, “end the occupation,” but you believe that the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Gilo are just “neighborhoods” of Jerusalem and that it is no problem for Israel to keep “settlement blocs,” then in fact you do support the occupation. More than that, you support the acquisition of territory by war. There is no shortcut to justice, and hanging a flag over inequality, dispossession and exile and calling it a Palestinian state will not end the crisis.
Some of those who do not wish to confront reality console themselves by pointing at Israel’s so-called Gaza disengagement. Let us be clear, that plan is not a step to peace, but designed explicitly, as Israel’s defense minister Shaul Mofaz once again confirmed last week, to provide a cover for the continued land grabs in the West Bank. Since last Spring hundreds of Palestinians have paid with their lives in Gaza as Israel has destroyed thousands of homes and communities to build more walls and cages around Gaza in preparation for its withdrawal. Occupation by remote control is still occupation.
Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace if they live together reconciled in democracy in which the dignity, culture and rights of each person is protected and celebrated as we seek to do here in the United States. Palestinians will not agree to live in the cages Israel is building for them. As a Palestinian, I say to Israelis, you must give up your power and yield to democracy. And walk with us to a future where you will be safe and where you will have place no greater than ours, but no less.
To the US government, to our Congressmen and Senators, to the European Union, to Kofi Annan and the Quartet and to the parasitic peace process industry of think tanks and World Banks we must say peace will not come because you say you support peace plans — though, of course going along with these charades would win us praise as moderates.
Peace will come only when people stand with the weak against the strong, with those who seek justice against the unjust, when we shatter the comfortable silence. Those of you who have participated in the growing campaigns in churches and colleges for targeted divestment know that you have been called extremists and worse and faced a determined and unscrupulous backlash. Those who have gone to Palestine with the International Solidarity movement, to confront non-violently the occupier’s bulldozers and tanks have been vilified, even in death, like Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall.
But don’t shy away from what you hear a calling to do. Draw strength from the words of Martin Luther King: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremist for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
Now is the time to increase the confrontation with injustice, until it is defeated.