Thirty-seven years after Israel’s military might rolled into the West Bank and Gaza the occupation of these Palestinian territories continues. Thirty-seven years of death and destruction, thirty-seven years of illegal settlement building, thirty-seven years of brutality and Palestinian dispossession and still the world averts its eyes. It is the longest occupation of one country by another in modern times; an occupation, which has involved Israel in dozens of violations of UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions. And still many casual observers assume the conflict is symmetrical. They adopt pious neutrality rather than mount a serious attempt to understand what is happening.
Neutrality and lack of engagement on the Palestinian/Israeli issue are luxuries we cannot afford. It is not acceptable for Western societies to remain aloof while Palestinians are ethnically cleansed from their land and social genocide is implemented. With all the information in the public domain, it is surprising such attitudes persist –” particularly with the conflict central to the Global War on Terror. No other issue so enrages the Islamic world. Today that anger affects us all.
When people in the UK talk blandly of ‘reconciliation’ between Palestinians and Israelis, it is either an indication of indifference or a tacit admission of ignorance about Israel’s territorial and demographic intentions – intentions conceived in the closing stages of the nineteenth century and given life in 1947 when the state of Israel was born. The implementation of those intentions is a process, which for half a century has made the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza intolerable – the apartheid years in South Africa were a picnic by comparison. However, Zionists have never kept their aims secret. From Ben Gurion onwards they have made clear that the principle objective is to ‘redeem’ the Holy Land. ‘Redemption’ is the name of their game. It is a policy, with which Palestinians can never be expected to reconcile themselves.
According to Zionist doctrine, land that is possessed collectively or individually by Jews is “redeemed”. The war of 1948 left 22% of Palestine in non-Jewish hands and it remained the duty of Zionists to complete the unfinished business. The war of 1967 provided an opportunity for further Judaization and, currently, American omnipotence provides yet another window.
The redemption agenda in the West Bank and Gaza is underwritten with almost limitless US political, economic and military support. But even so – according to Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery (in Ur Shlonsky 2002) – three conditions must be satisfied in order to guarantee a successful conclusion.
– Palestinian resistance must be broken
– Public support must be ensured and the active participation by at least a section of Israeli society needs to be counted on operationally
– International criticism must be silenced
In respect of the first condition Uri Avnery outlines four necessary tactics:
1). Continuous military operations: Palestinian society as a whole should be targeted including all political parties and movements. The civilian population must be terrorised and property and cultural treasures demolished.
2). Expulsions: The daily lives of Palestinians must be made unbearable. This will encourage immigration and weaken resistance to future expulsions.
3). The elimination of the Palestinian political class by assassination, detention or expulsion.
4). The continued expansion of settlement activity and redemption of the land.
These tactics are implicit in everything Israel is doing in the Occupied Territories. What is surprising, however, is that all of these actions are highly visible and yet the international community does nothing to stop them. Over two hundred illegal Israeli settlements and four hundred thousand settlers are now in situ. Along with settler only roads and military areas they account for over 75% of occupied West Bank and Gaza and are responsible for the consumption of more than 80% of the renewable water resources. The fact that under the Fourth Geneva Convention it is illegal for an occupying power to transfer civilians into occupied territory or introduce permanent changes that do not benefit the occupied population is ignored. If any other country behaved in the way Israel treats the Palestinian population, there would be an international outcry. Sanctions, a trade boycott, even military intervention would be called for. Instead the plea goes out for “reconciliation” or worse still the world looks the other way.
What Israel failed to foresee in its redemption planning was the resilience of Palestinian resolve, the strong sense of nationhood and the robustness of Palestinian society. In recent years Palestinians have not packed their bags and left in large numbers and, although further forced mass transfer –” a euphemism for ethnic cleansing – remains an option for Israel, it is an option the authorities prefer to avoid, given the galvanising effect it would have on world opinion.
Meanwhile the extended nature of the occupation undermines and corrodes Israeli society. Israel is highly militarised and everyone –” men and women –” serve as conscripts in the armed forces. The brutality of their actions and the effect those actions have on conscripts has leeched into the wider community and corrupted society as a whole. The lofty ideals of the original immigrants have been supplanted by racism, anger and fear and unsustainable material ambitions.
Palestinians cannot be expected to reconcile themselves to the redemption agenda and, until Israel demonstrates unequivocally that the Zionist goal of a Jewish state from the Jordan River to the sea has been abandoned, ‘reconciliation’- for Palestinians – is off the menu. Not only will Palestinian resistance continue interminably, but Islamic anger around the globe will be enflamed.
The Palestinian/ Israeli conflict is not symmetrical –” Israel possesses one of the most powerful military machines in the world, Palestinians light arms, stones and homemade bombs. And it is certainly not a conflict that can be ignored. The despair and horror of suicide bombers has made that abundantly clear. We are all involved.