The status quo in Palestine and Israel cannot hold. The images of human carnage and indiscriminate destruction emerging from Gaza are unbearable. Palestinians in the West Bank – the other part of the Israeli militarily occupied territory – look on, knowing that Gaza’s fate could very well be a prelude to what Israel has planned for the West Bank if the Palestinian leadership does not back off from seeking non-member status of the UN General Assembly.
This last-ditch effort by Palestinians to take their issue back to the UN – and, by doing so, breaking the US monopoly on managing the conflict – may well be the fuel that powers the latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
The younger generation of Palestinians take strength from seeing Israel receive some of its own medicine – violence. These youngsters no longer fear Israeli military might. Born under an Israeli military occupation that does not look like it intends to end any time soon, they feel they have little to lose in swinging back at Israel’s iron first.
Older Palestinians look on with a much more nuanced understanding of Israel. They believe, from bitter experience, that this game of violence is the only one that Israel understands and that fighting back merely gives Israel the pretext to continue its persecution of Palestinians with total impunity.
A significant cause of the current political paralysis is the stereotype, designed and propagated by Israelis, that the Palestinians living on the other side of the separation barrier are violent and not deserving of freedom. Most Israeli Jews do not see Palestinians as equal human beings, and thus any violent action against them becomes justified, no matter how cruel or illegal.
Yet Palestinians, despite this stereotyping, miraculously wake up every morning and – beyond doing their utmost to sustain a livelihood under miserable conditions – somehow remain focused on working towards a future free of military occupation.
Israel spends hefty amounts on professional PR firms and masters of spin to disseminate the falsehood to foreign audiences, especially the US, that ending the 45-year-long military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza would put Israel in existential danger. A similar fear-mongering strategy is used to dismiss the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. In the meantime, Israel makes matters worse on the ground by continuing to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements.
Enter reality. The status quo of occupation is unsustainable. Israel’s 10m-high separation barrier and decades of self-indoctrination have blocked its view of the real world. It has allowed Israelis to simply stop seeing real live Palestinians – who are decidedly alive, even if not well, and determined to live normal lives.
Israelis cannot see the enthusiastic young men and women at the Hereditary Research Lab at Bethlehem University who are exploring the genetics of hearing loss and breast cancer.
They cannot see hundreds of parents – yes, mothers and fathers – holding their children’s hands as they lead them to watch the performances of the Palestinian Circus School or Al-Kamandjati music school.
They cannot see the 18 banks and half dozen or so equity capital funds that, day in and day out, seek businesses to invest in, only to end up with more funds than this militarily occupied market can absorb.
They cannot see an army of telecommunication engineers and call-centre operators trying to create a commercially viable network, even though the needed, imported equipment is routinely delayed, at times for years, at Israeli ports.
They cannot see an army of tech-savvy youth who want to use smartphones but cannot because the Israel military prohibits the use of 3G frequencies.
They cannot see the dozen or so business incubators that host entrepreneurs, many of them women, who routinely pitch their ideas to investors but are often doomed to fail because of the innumerable obstacles imposed by the Israeli occupation.
They were blind to the excitement and grassroots campaigning across the cities and villages of the West Bank as we recently went to the polls, again, for municipal elections.
Most important, Israelis cannot see something much more serious than any of this – that the Israeli status quo, built on a cruel collective indifference and the false glow of an artificial donor-boosted prosperity, can lead to only one outcome: collapse.
Socially, economically and politically, Palestinians will not, and cannot, take any route other than redoubling their efforts toward ridding themselves of the Israeli boot that is pressed on their necks.
Israelis may be living in utter denial of the peculiar, doomed reality they have created by the sheer might of force, but this is no excuse for the rest of the world, especially the US, not to wake up and realise that ending the occupation has the potential to release a tremendous amount of positive energy in the Palestinian community. And it this energy that will allow Palestinians to negotiate in good faith as it rebuilds its society from the ruins of decades of destitution.
Ending this military occupation will not totally resolve the conflict. But allowing Palestinians real authority over their affairs would be a huge step forward that could save many lives on both sides of the Wall.