Category Archives: Right of Return

What is Next for Palestinian Popular Resistance in Gaza?

Wafaa Aludaini is a witness to many of Gaza’s recent tragedies and also never-ending resistance. She experienced the violent Israeli occupation, the subsequent blockade on the impoverished Strip, and several wars that resulted in the death and wounding of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

But none of Israel’s wars impacted Aludaini’s life as much as the 2014 onslaught which Israel dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge.’

Of the nearly 18,000 houses destroyed, two homes, one belonging to Wafaa’s family and the other to her in-laws, were also destroyed by Israel’s bombs.

Gaza’s infrastructure, which was already dilapidated as a result of previous wars and a protracted siege, took a massive beating during the 51-day Israeli bombardment.

The most irreplaceable of all of this tragic loss is human life, as 2,251 Palestinians were killed and over 11,000 wounded, many maimed for life.

War and siege, however, only strengthened Wafaa’s resolve as she became more involved in covering news from Gaza, hoping to reveal long-hidden truths and defy mainstream media narratives and popular stereotypes.

During the ‘Great March of Return’, a popular movement that began on March 30, 2018, Wafaa joined the protesters, reporting on a daily basis on the killing and wounding of unarmed youth who flocked to the fence that separates besieged Gaza from Israel, to demand their freedom and basic human rights.

Enraged by the refugees’ daily chants of ‘End the siege’, ‘Free Palestine’, and their adamant insistence on their ‘Right of Return’ to their original villages in Palestine, which were ethnically cleansed during Israel’s violent birth in 1948, Israeli snipers opened fire. In the first two years of the March, over 300 Palestinians were reportedly killed, and thousands wounded.

Aludaini was there during the entire ordeal, reporting on the dead and the wounded, consoling bereaved families, and also taking part in an historic moment when all of Gaza rose and united behind a single chant of freedom.

Aludaini was not a typical journalist chasing after a story at the fence, as she was both the story and the storyteller.

“I am a journalist, but I am also a refugee. My parents were expelled from their village in Palestine, which is now in Israel,” she said.

“Being a journalist in Gaza is not easy, because every single day, you are subjected to (the possibility) of being killed, injured, or arrested by the Israeli occupation forces. In fact, many journalists were murdered by Israeli fire this way.”

On why she chose journalism as a career although she studied English literature at a local Gaza University, Aludaini said that the more she understood mainstream media’s reporting on Palestine, the more frustrated she felt by the unfair depiction of Palestine and the Palestinian struggle.

“Journalists who are (advancing) mainstream media (narratives on Palestine) are, in a way, helping the Israeli occupation in killing more innocent people in Palestine, in particular, in the Gaza Strip. (They) are strengthening the people (Israelis) who expelled us in 1948, encouraging them to violate international law,” Aludaini said.  “So I am asking them to come here, to Palestine, to see for themselves, to see the Apartheid wall, to see the checkpoints, to see what is happening in Israeli jails. Only after they see it with their own eyes, can they tell the truth, because journalists should tell the truth and stand for humanity, regardless of religion and regardless of anything else.”

In a similar tone, Aludaini challenged “defenders of the Israeli occupation” to come to Palestine and to “listen to the people who had their children killed; to those who got expelled from their homes. In every home in Palestine, there is a story of misery, but you will never find (these stories) in mainstream media.”

Regarding the Great March of Return, Aludaini said that the March was “a popular protest where the people of Gaza collectively gathered at the separation fence between Gaza and Israel,” to exhibit various forms of resistance that focused mostly on cultural resistance.

Protesters carried out various forms of “traditional activities, like dancing dabka, singing old songs, cooking Palestinian dishes,” Aludaini said, noting that the most touching of these scenes were those of “elderly Palestinians holding the keys of their homes from which they were forcibly expelled in 1948 during the Nakba,” or the Great Catastrophe.

“This kind of popular resistance is not new for Palestinians (as they) have always used all their means to fight for their rights, to fight (against Israeli military) occupation, like the weekly protests (at the Gaza fence), or (the symbolic acts of) stone-throwing. Even when Gazans resort to armed resistance, people never stop displaying popular (forms) of resistance as well.”

But is this the end of the March of Return?

Aludaini said that the March is not over; however, the strategy will be reformulated to minimize the number of casualties.

“After almost three years of the protests, the High Committee of the Great March of Return decided to change the approach of the protests. From now on, the marches are only going to be held on national occasions instead of being held on a weekly basis because Israel uses lethal force against peaceful and unarmed protesters.”

According to Aludaini, the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is already overwhelmed by the lack of hospital equipment, electricity, and clean water, can no longer handle the pressures of daily deaths and injuries.

Aludaini herself spent many hours in Gaza’s hospitals, interviewing and comforting the wounded. She told us of a Gazan mother of four who participated in the March every Friday without fail. “One day, she was shot in the leg, and it was hard for her to walk. But the following Friday, she returned to the fence. When I asked her why is she back despite her injury, she told me: ‘I will never allow the Israelis to steal my land. This is my land; these are my rights and I will come back (to defend them) again and again.’”

For Aludaini, it is the resilience of these seemingly ordinary people that inspires her and gives her hope.

Another story is of a 19-year-old girl who implored her parents repeatedly to join the protests. When they finally relented, the young girl was shot in the eye by an Israeli sniper. Aludaini and her comrades rushed to the hospital to show support for the protester who lost her eye, only to find her in high spirits, stronger and more determined than ever.

“She told us that as soon as she leaves the hospital, she plans to go back to the fence.”

Aludaini challenges “Israeli propaganda” that claims that its wars and ongoing violence in Gaza are motivated by self-defense. If that is the case, “why is Israel targeting the West Bank which is also subjected to annexation and apartheid?” she asks.

“(Currently) There is no armed resistance (in the West Bank), but (the Israeli occupation army) still kills people every single day.”

Aludaini, who is frustrated by the lack of emphasis on media studies in Gazan universities, is determined to continue with her work as a journalist and as an activist, because when the media fails at exposing Israeli crimes in Gaza, it is the likes of Wafa Aludaini who make all the difference.

 

Why Israel Fears the Nakba: How Memory Became Palestine’s Greatest Weapon

On May 15, thousands of Palestinians in Occupied Palestine and throughout the ‘shatat’, or diaspora, participated in the commemoration of Nakba Day, the one event that unites all Palestinians, regardless of their political differences or backgrounds.

For years, social media has added a whole new stratum to this process of commemoration. #Nakba72, along with #NakbaDay and #Nakba, have all trended on Twitter for days. Facebook was inundated with countless stories, videos, images, and statements, written by Palestinians, or in global support of the Palestinian people.

The dominant Nakba narrative remains — 72 years following the destruction of historic Palestine at the hands of Zionist militias — an opportunity to reassert the centrality of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. Over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Palestine in 1947-48. The surviving refugees and their descendants are now estimated at over five million.

As thousands of Palestinians rallied on the streets and as the Nakba hashtag was generating massive interest on social media, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, paid an eight-hour visit to Israel to discuss the seemingly imminent Israeli government annexation, or theft, of nearly 30% of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“The Israeli government will decide on the matter, on exactly when and how to do it,” Pompeo said in an interview with Israeli radio, Kan Bet, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Clearly, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has American blessing to further its colonization of occupied Palestine, to entrench its existing Apartheid regime, and to act as if the Palestinians simply do not exist.

The Nakba commemoration and Pompeo’s visit to Israel are a stark representation of Palestine’s political reality today.

Considering the massive US political sway, why do Palestinians then insist on making demands which, according to the pervading realpolitik of the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict, seem unattainable?

Since the start of the peace process in Oslo in the early 1990s, the Palestinian leadership has engaged with Israel and its western benefactors in a useless political exercise that has, ultimately, worsened an already terrible situation. After over 25 years of haggling over bits and pieces of what remained of historic Palestine, Israel and the US are now plotting the endgame, while demonizing the very Palestinian leaders that participated in their joint and futile political charade.

Strangely, the rise and demise of the so-called ‘peace process’ did not seem to affect the collective narrative of the Palestinian people, who still see the Nakba, not the Israeli occupation of 1967, and certainly not the Oslo accords, as the core point in their struggle against Israeli colonialism.

This is because the collective Palestinian memory remains completely independent from Oslo and its many misgivings. For Palestinians, memory is an active process. It is not a docile, passive mechanism of grief and self-pity that can easily be manipulated, but a generator of new meanings.

In their seminal book “Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory”, Ahmad Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod wrote that “Palestinian memory is, at its heart, political.”

This means that the powerful and emotive commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba is essentially a collective political act, and, even if partly unconscious, a people’s retort and rejection of Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, of Pompeo’s politicking, and of Netanyahu’s annexation drive.

Despite the numerous unilateral measures taken by Israel to determine the fate of the Palestinian people, the blind and unconditional US support of Israel, and the unmitigated failure of the Palestinian Authority to mount any meaningful resistance, Palestinians continue to remember their history and understand their reality based on their own priorities.

For many years, Palestinians have been accused of being unrealistic, of “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” and even of extremism, for simply insisting on their historical rights in Palestine, as enshrined in international law.

These critical voices are either supporters of Israel, or simply unable to understand how Palestinian memory factors in shaping the politics of ordinary people, independent of the quisling Palestinian leadership or the seemingly impossible-to-overturn status quo. True, both trajectories, that of the stifling political reality and people’s priorities seem to be in constant divergence, with little or no overlapping.

However, a closer look is revealing: the more belligerent Israel becomes, the more stubbornly Palestinians hold on to their past. There is a reason for this.

Occupied, oppressed and refugee camps-confined Palestinians have little control over many of the realities that directly impact their lives. There is little that a refugee from Gaza can do to dissuade Pompeo from assigning the West Bank to Israel, or a Palestinian refugee from Ein El-Helweh in Lebanon to compel the international community to enforce the long-delayed Right of Return.

But there is a single element that Palestinians, regardless of where they are, can indeed control: their collective memory, which remains the main motivator of their legendary steadfastness.

Hannah Arendt wrote in 1951 that totalitarianism is a system that, among other things, forbids grief and remembrance, in an attempt to sever the individual’s or group’s relation to the continuous past.

For decades, Israel has done just that, in a desperate attempt to stifle the memory of the Palestinians, so that they are only left with a single option, the self-defeating peace process.

In March 2011, the Israeli parliament introduced the ‘Nakba Law’, which authorized the Israeli Finance Ministry to carry out financial measures against any institution that commemorates Nakba Day.

Israel is afraid of Palestinian memory, since it is the only facet of its war against the Palestinian people that it cannot fully control; the more Israel labors to erase the collective memory of the Palestinian people, the more Palestinians hold tighter to the keys of their homes and to the title deed of their land back in their lost homeland.

There can never be a just peace in Palestine until the priorities of the Palestinian people —  their memories, and their aspirations — become the foundation of any political process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Everything that operates outside this paradigm is null and void, for it will never herald peace or instill true justice. This is why Palestinians remember; for, over the years, their memory has proven to be their greatest weapon.

Arabs, UN Must Move to Swiftly Protect the Status of Palestinian Refugees

‘Heinous racism,’ is how the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor described a recent decision by Lebanese authorities to bar Palestinian refugee expats from returning to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s restrictions on its ever-diminishing population of Palestinian refugees is nothing new. However, this event is particularly alarming as it may be linked to a long-term official policy regarding the residency status of Palestinian refugees in this Arab country.

Many were taken aback by a recent Lebanese government’s order to its embassy in the United Arab Emirates, instructing it to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in Lebanon.

Tariq Hajjar, a legal advisor to the Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement that “the circular includes heinous racial discrimination against Palestinian refugees holding Lebanese travel documents.”

Hajjar rightly insisted that “the holder of this document should receive similar treatment to the Lebanese citizen.”

Indeed they should, as has been the practice for many years. Otherwise, there is no other place where these refugees can possibly go, considering that Lebanon has been their home for decades, starting in 1948 when Israel forcefully expelled nearly a million Palestinians from their historic homeland.

Refugees, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, should be treated with respect and dignity, no matter the political complexity of their host countries. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon cannot be made an exception.

Last April, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights called on the United Nations to provide financial assistance to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, indicating that due to the coronavirus pandemic, a whopping 90 percent of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have lost their jobs.

Under discriminatory Lebanese laws, Palestinian refugees are not allowed to practice 72 types of jobs that are available to Lebanese nationals. This is merely one of many other such restrictions. Thus, employed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (the vast majority of whom are now unemployed) have been competing within a very limited work market.

A large number of those refugees have been employed at the various projects operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Many of those who were lucky enough to receive university degrees opted to leave the country altogether, mostly working in the teaching, engineering, banking, and medical sectors in Arab Gulf countries.

However, due to the coronavirus, the severe financial hardship suffered by UNRWA and to new Lebanese government regulations, all doors are now being shut in the face of Palestinian refugees.

For thousands of those refugees, the only remaining option is sailing the high seas in search for a better refugee status in Europe. Yet, sadly, tens of thousands of those refugees are now living a miserable life in European camps, or stranded in Turkey. Hundreds drowned while undertaking these perilous journeys.

According to a recent survey by  the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, only 175,000 (from nearly half a million) Palestinian refugees still reside in Lebanon.

That said, the Palestinian refugee tragedy in Lebanon is only a facet in a much larger ailment that is unique to the Palestinian refugee experience.

Syria’s Palestinian refugees arrived in the country in waves, starting with the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the ‘Nakba’, or Catastrophe. Others fled the Golan Heights after the Israeli invasion in 1967. Many more fled Lebanon during the Israeli 1982 invasion.

The relatively safe Syrian haven was ruptured during the ongoing Syria war started in 2011. UNRWA’s mission, which allowed it to provide the nearly half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria with direct support was made nearly impossible because of the destructive war, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled the country or became internally displaced.

The devastating impact of the Syrian war on Palestinian refugees was almost an exact copy of what had transpired earlier during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the case of Iraq, where most of the country’s 35,000 refugees fled, the Palestinian refugee crisis was particularly compounded. While Palestinians enjoyed a permanent residence status (though no ownership rights) in Iraq before the war, they were still not recognized as refugees as per international standards, since UNRWA does not operate in Iraq. Post-2003 Iraqi governments exploited this fact to the fullest, leading to the displacement of the country’s Palestinian population.

Since its advent, the US Administration of President Donald Trump has waged a financial war on the Palestinians, including the cutting of all aids to UNRWA. This infamous act has added layers of suffering to the existing hardships of refugees.

On May 5, UNRWA, somberly declared that it only has enough cash to sustain its operations until the end of the month.

The truth is that, long before Trump targeted the UN agency, UNRWA has functioned for over 70 years with an inherent vulnerability.

UNRWA was established exclusively with a UN mandate that provided the organization with a “separate and special status” to assist Palestinian refugees.

Arab governments, at the time, were keen for UNRWA to maintain this ‘special status’ based on their belief that lumping Palestinian refugees with the burgeoning world refugee crisis (resulting mostly from War World II) would downgrade the urgency of the Palestinian plight.

However, while that logic may have applied successfully in the immediate years following the ‘Nakba’, it proved costly in later years, as the status and definition of what constitute a Palestinian refugee remained historically linked to UNRWA’s scope of operations.

This became clear during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but, especially, since the start of political upheavals and subsequent wars in the Middle East in the last decade.

This is precisely why the US and Israel are keen on dismantling UNRWA, because, according to their logic, if UNRWA ceases to operate, the Palestinian refugee ceases to exist with any status that makes him/her unique.

Such precarious reality calls for an urgent and creative solution that should be spearheaded by Arab countries, UN-registered NGOs, and friends of Palestine everywhere.

What is needed today is a UN-adopted formula that would allow the legal status of Palestinian refugees under international law to remain active regardless of  UNRWA’s scope of operation, while providing Palestinian refugees with the material and financial support required for them to live with dignity until the Right of Return, in accordance to UN Resolution 194 of 1948, is finally enforced.

For the rights of Palestinian refugees to be maintained and for the Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria scenarios not to be repeated, the Arab League must work within the framework of international law – as determined by the UN General Assembly – to safeguard the Palestinian refugees’ legal status which is currently under an unprecedented attack.

Palestinian refugees must not have to choose between forfeiting their legal and unalienable right in their own homeland and accepting a life of perpetual degradation and uncertainty.

“The Donald Trump I know”: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics

A precious moment has been squandered, as Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, had the chance to right a historical wrong, by reinstating Palestinian national priorities at the United Nations Security Council on February 11, through a political discourse that is completely independent from Washington and its allies.

For a long time, Abbas has been a hostage to the very language that designated him and his Authority as ‘moderates’ in the eyes of Israel and the West. Despite the Palestinian leader’s outward rejection of the US ‘Deal of the Century’ – which practically renders Palestinian national aspirations null and void – Abbas is keen to maintain his ‘moderate’ credentials for as long as possible.

Certainly, Abbas has given many speeches at the UN in the past and, every single time, he has failed to impress Palestinians. This time, however, things were meant to be different. Not only did Washington disown Abbas and the PA, it also scrapped its own political discourse on peace and the two-state solution altogether. More, the Trump administration has now officially given its blessing to Israel to annex nearly a third of the West Bank, taking Jerusalem ‘off the table’ and discarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Instead of directly meeting with leaders of the various Palestinian political parties and taking tangible steps to reactivate dormant but central political institutions such as the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Abbas preferred to meet with former Israeli right-wing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in New York, and to carry on regurgitating his commitment to a by-gone era.

In his UN speech, Abbas said nothing new which, in this instance, is worse than not saying anything at all.

“This is the outcome of the project that has been introduced to us,” Abbas said, while holding a map of what a Palestinian state would look like under Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’. “And this is the state that they are giving to us,” Abbas added, referring to that future state as a ‘Swiss cheese’, meaning a state fragmented by Jewish settlements, bypass-roads and Israeli military zones.

Even the term ‘Swiss cheese’, which was reported in some media as if a new phrase in this ever-redundant discourse, is actually an old coinage that has been referenced repeatedly by the Palestinian leadership itself, starting with the onset of the so-called peace process, a quarter of a century ago.

Abbas labored to appear exceptionally resolute as he emphasized certain words, like when he equated the Israeli occupation with the system of apartheid. His delivery, however, appeared unconvincing, lacking and, at times, pointless.

Abbas spoke of his great ‘surprise’ when Washington declared Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, subsequently relocating its embassy to the occupied city, as if the writing was not already on the wall and that, in fact, the embassy move was one of Trump’s main pledges to Israel even before his inauguration in January 2017.

“And then they cut off financial aid that was given to us,” Abbas said in a lamenting voice with reference to the US decision to withhold its aid to the PA in August 2018. “$840 million are held from us,” he said. “I don’t know who is giving Trump such horrid advice. Trump is not like this. Trump that I know is not like this,” Abbas exclaimed in a strange interjection as if to send a message to the Trump administration that the PA still has faith in the US President’s judgement.

“I would like to remind everyone that we have participated in the Madrid peace conference, and the Washington negotiations and the Oslo agreement and the Annapolis summit on the basis of international law,” Abbas recounted, signaling that he remains committed to the very political agenda that reaped the Palestinian people no political rewards whatsoever.

Abbas then went on to paint an imagined reality, where his Authority is supposedly building the “national institutions of a law-abiding, modern and democratic state that is constructed on the basis of international values; one that is predicated on transparency, accountability and fighting corruption.”

“Yes,” Abbas emphasized, as he looked at his audience with theatrical seriousness, “We are one of the most important countries (in the world) that is fighting corruption.” The PA leader, then, called on the Security Council to send a commission to investigate allegations of corruption within the PA, a bewildering and unnecessary invitation, considering that it is the Palestinian leadership that should be making demands on the international community to help enforce international law and end the Israeli occupation.

It went on like this, where Abbas vacillated between reading pre-written remarks that introduce no new ideas or strategies and unnecessary rants that reflect the PA’s political bankruptcy and Abbas’ own lack of imagination.

The PA President, of course, made sure to offer his habitual condemnation of Palestinian ‘terrorism’ by promising that Palestinians would not “resort to violence and terrorism regardless of the act of aggression against us.” He assured his audience that his Authority believes in “peace and fighting violence.” Without elaborating, Abbas declared his intention of continuing on the path of “popular and peaceful resistance,” which, in fact, does not exist in any shape or form.

This time around, Abbas’ speech at the UN was particularly inappropriate. Indeed, it was a failure in every possible way. The least, the Palestinian leader could have done is to articulate a powerful and collective Palestinian political discourse. Instead, his statement was merely a sad homage to his own legacy, one that is riddled with disappointments and ineptitude.

Expectedly, Abbas returned to Ramallah to greet his cheering supporters once more, who are always ready and waiting to raise posters of the ageing leader, as if his UN speech had succeeded in fundamentally shifting international political momentum in favor of Palestinians.

It has to be said that the real danger in the ‘Deal of the Century’ is not the actual stipulations of that sinister plan, but the fact that the Palestinian leadership is likely to find a way to co-exist with it, at the expense of the oppressed Palestinian people, as long as donors’ money continues to flow and as long as Abbas continues to call himself a president.

Crisis and Opportunity: The ‘Deal of the Century’ Challenge for Palestinians

After several postponements, US President, Donald Trump, has finally revealed the details of his Middle East plan, dubbed ‘Deal of the Century’, in a press conference in Washington on January 28.

Standing triumphantly beside Trump, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, must have surely understood that the timing of the announcement, only a few weeks before Israel’s third general elections in one year, was tailored especially to fit the embattled Israeli leader’s domestic agenda.

Consisting of 80 pages, 50 of which are entirely dedicated to the plan’s economic component, the document was a rehash of previous Israeli proposals that have been rejected by Palestinians and Arab governments for failing to meet the minimum standards of justice, equality and human rights.

Former Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, contended in an interview that the plan is not even American, but an Israeli one.

“What you heard last night from Trump is what I heard from Netanyahu and his negotiating team in 2011-2012,” Erekat said. “I can assure you that the US team did not make a single word or comma in this program. I have the protocols and I am willing to reveal to you what we have been offered. This is the plan of Netanyahu and the settler council.”

It was no surprise, then, to read the reaction of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who assigned Trump’s plan to the “dustbin of history”.

As expected, Trump has granted Netanyahu everything that he and Israel ever wanted. The American vision for Middle East ‘peace’ does not demand the uprooting of a single illegal Jewish settlement and recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital. It speaks of a conditioned and disfigured Palestinian state that can only be achieved based on vague expectations; it wholly rejects the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and fails to mention the word ‘occupation’ even once.

Obviously, only Israel benefits from the US plan; the Zionist discourse, predicated on maximum territorial gains with minimal Palestinian presence, has finally prevailed. Every Israeli request has been met, to the last one. Meanwhile, Palestinians received nothing, aside from the promise of chasing another mirage of a Palestinian state that has no territorial continuity and no true sovereignty.

Palestinian concerns continue to be ignored, as Palestinian rights have been ignored for many years, even during the heyday of the ‘peace process’, in the early and mid-1990s. At the time, all fundamental issues had been relegated to the ‘final status negotiations’, which have never taken place.

The ‘Deal of the Century’ merely validated the status quo ante as envisioned and unilaterally carried out by Israel.

That said, Trump’s plan will fail to resolve the conflict. Worse, it will exacerbate it even further, for Israel now has a blank check to speed up its colonial venture, to entrench its military occupation and to further oppress Palestinians, who will certainly continue to resist.

As for the economic component of the plan, history has proven that there can be no economic prosperity under military occupation. Netanyahu, and others before him, tried such dubious methods, of ‘economic peace’ and such, and all have miserably failed.

Time and again, the UN has made it clear that it follows a different political trajectory than that followed by Washington, and that all US decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem, the illegal settlements and the Golan Heights, are null and void. Only international law matters, as none of Trump’s actions in recent years have succeeded in significantly altering Arab and international consensus on the rights of the Palestinians.

As for the status of – and Palestinian rights in their occupied city – East Jerusalem, rebranding a few neighborhoods – Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis – as al-Quds, or East Jerusalem, is an old Israeli plan that has already failed in the past. The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had enough political sagacity to reject it, and neither Abbas nor any other Palestinian official would dare compromise on the historic and legal Palestinian rights in the city.

The Palestinian leadership cannot be absolved from its responsibility towards the Palestinian people, and its unmitigated failure to develop a comprehensive national strategy.

Immediately after Trump announced his plan, Abbas called on all Palestinian factions, including his rivals in the Hamas movement, to unite and to develop a common strategy to counter the ‘Deal of the Century’.

Knowing that the US-Israeli plot was imminent, why did Abbas wait this long to call for a common strategy?

National unity among Palestinians should never be used as a bargaining chip as a scare tactic, or as a last resort option aimed at validating ineffectual Abbas in the eyes of his people.

The PA is now facing an existential crisis. Its very formation in 1994 was meant to marginalize the more democratically-encompassing Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

According to the new American diktats, the PA has already outlasted its usefulness.

As for Israel, the PA is only needed to maintain ‘security coordination’ with the Israeli army, which essentially means ensuring the safety of the illegal and armed Jewish settlers in occupied Palestine.

While unity among Palestinian parties is an overriding demand, Abbas’ PA cannot expect to maintain this ridiculous balancing act: expecting true and lasting national unity while still diligently serving the role expected of him by Israel and its allies.

While Trump’s sham ‘plan’ does not fundamentally alter US foreign policy in Israel and Palestine – as US bias towards Israel preceded Trump by decades – it has definitely ended the so-called ‘peace process’ charade, which divided the Palestinians into ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ camps.

Now, all Palestinians have become ‘extremists’ from Washington’s viewpoint, all equally shunned and marginalized.

Abbas would be terribly mistaken if he thinks that the old political discourse can be saved,  which was, oddly enough, written in Washington.

The problem with the Palestinian leadership is that, despite its frequent protestations and angry condemnations, it is yet to take independent initiatives or operate outside the American-Israeli paradigm.

And this is the Palestinian leadership’s greatest challenge at this stage. Will it move forward with a Palestinian-centric strategy or persist in the same place, regurgitating old language and reminiscing of the good old days?

The Trump Plan is Just a Cover for Israel’s Final Land Grab

The Trump “Vision for Peace” will never be implemented – and not because the Palestinians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s enthusiastic public embrace of the plan belies the fact that the Israeli right detest it too.

The headlines are that, with US blessing, Israel’s dream is about to be realised: it will be able to annex its dozens of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. In return, the Palestinians can have a state on 15 per cent of their homeland.

But that is not the real aim of this obviously one-sided “peace” plan. Rather, it is intended as the prelude to something far worse for the Palestinians: the final eradication of the last traces of their political project for national liberation.

US President Donald Trump’s plan is neither a blueprint for peace nor a decree from the heart of the US empire. Rather it is a decoy, an enormous red herring created in Tel Aviv and then marketed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump may think his vision could lead to a “realistic” two-state solution. Even many critics assume it envisions the establishment of a highly circumscribed, enfeebled Palestinian state. But for Israeli leaders it serves another purpose entirely: it provides diplomatic cover while they put the finishing touches to their version of a one-state solution inside Greater Israel.

Netanyhau has crafted a “deal of the century” designed to fail from the outset – and managed it through deeply partisan White House intermediaries like David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, and Kushner. For all of them, its purpose is to provide a fresh alibi for Israel and Washington to continue disappearing the Palestinians more than two decades after the illusions of the earlier Oslo Accords “peace” process can no longer be sustained.

Israeli bad faith

That this is intended as a grand deception should not surprise us. The current plan follows a tried and tested tradition of US-dominated “peacemaking” that has utterly failed to bring peace but has succeeded triumphantly in smothering and erasing historic Palestine, gradually transforming it into Greater Israel.

Trump’s deal is, in fact, the third major framework – after the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and the Oslo accords initiated in 1993 – supposedly offering territorial partition between Israelis and Palestinians. The lesson of each has been that Israel and the US have returned after each inevitable and intended failure to offer the Palestinians even less of their homeland.

On each occasion, Israel (and before its creation, the Zionist leadership) has signed up to these peacemaking initiatives in bad faith, forcing Palestinians, as the weaker party, to reject them. And each time, that rejection has been weaponised by Israel – used as a pretext to steal more territory.

This plan is no different from the others. It is simply the latest iteration of a pattern of settler-colonial expansion sponsored by Western powers. But this time, if Israel succeeds, there will be nothing left of Palestine even to pretend to negotiate over.

UN partition rejected

The idea of division first took substantive form with the United Nations Partition Plan of late 1947. It proposed creating two states: a Jewish one on 55 percent of Palestine would supposedly serve as compensation for Europe’s recent genocide; and an Arab one, on the remaining 45 percent, would be for the native Palestinian population.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, knew that the Palestinians were bound to reject a plan premised on their dispossession. That was the very reason he signed on. He hated the limitations imposed by the UN on his emerging Jewish state – he wanted all of Palestine – but was only too aware that Palestinians hated the partition proposal even more than he did. He knew his good faith would never be put to the test.

Under cover of the ensuing, year-long war, Ben-Gurion sent his troops way beyond the partition lines, seizing 78 percent of historic Palestine and transforming the area into a Jewish state. In 1967, his successors would grab the rest, as part of a surprise strike against Egypt and other Arab states. And so, the 53-year-long occupation was born.

Oslo’s separation logic

Just as now with the Trump plan, the Oslo process of the 1990s was not rooted in the idea of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state – only of pretending to offer one. In fact, statehood wasn’t mentioned in the Oslo accords, only implied by a series of intended Israeli withdrawals from the occupied territories over a five-year period that Israel reneged on.

Instead, Oslo was seen by the Israeli side, led then by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, chiefly in terms of an “economic peace”. The new rallying cry of “separation” was intended to transform fragments of the occupied territories into free-trade zones to exploit a captive Palestinian labour force, and then to normalise relations with the Arab world.

Oslo’s only meaningful legacy – the Palestinian Authority, today led by Mahmoud Abbas – still clings to its primary role: as prison guard overseeing Palestinians’ confinement in ever-shrinking fragments of the occupied territories.

The Trump plan recognises that Oslo is now more an obstacle than a vehicle for further Palestinian dispossession. Israel has absolute control of East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state. The army and settlers have cemented Israeli rule over 62 percent of the West Bank – territory Oslo declared as Area C – that includes its best agricultural land, water sources and mineral wealth. Gaza, isolated from the rest of the occupied territories, is besieged.

The only thing left for Israel to do now is formalise that control and ensure it is irreversible. That requires making permanent the current apartheid system in the West Bank, which enforces one set of laws for Jewish settlers and another for Palestinians.

Palestinian obligations

Trump’s “Vision for Peace” is needed only because Oslo has outlived its usefulness. The Trump plan radically overhauls the Oslo process formula: instead of a supposed sharing of obligations – “land in return for peace” – those obligations are now imposed exclusively on the Palestinian side.

Under Oslo, Israel was supposed to withdraw from the occupied territories as a precondition for achieving Palestinian statehood and an end to hostilities. In reality, Israel did the exact opposite.

Under the Trump plan, Israel gets the land it wants immediately – by annexing its illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley – and it gets more land later, unless Palestinians agree to a long list of impossible preconditions.

Even then, Palestinians would only be entitled to a demilitarised, non-sovereign state on less than 15 percent of historic Palestine, amounting to a patchwork of enclaves connected by a warren of tunnels and bridges, surrounded by armed, fortress-like Israeli communities.

But even this vision of pseudo-Palestinian statehood will never come to fruition – something Netanyahu has made sure of. The Trump plan is a catalogue of the most unacceptable, humiliating concessions that could ever be demanded of the Palestinian people.

Impossible preconditions

It offers them a state that would be unlike any state ever envisaged. Not only would it have no army, but it would have to permanently accommodate a foreign army, the Israeli one. Palestine would have no control over its borders, and therefore its foreign relations and trade. It would be deprived of key resources, such as its offshore waters, which include large deposits of natural gas; its airspace; and its electromagnetic spectrum.

It would be deprived of its most fertile land, its quarries, its water sources, and access to the Dead Sea and its related mineral and cosmetics industries. As a result, the Palestinian economy would continue to be entirely aid dependent. Proposed industrial zones in the Negev, accessible only through Israeli territory, could be closed off by Israel at a whim.

East Jerusalem, including its holy sites and tourism industry, would be sealed off from the Palestinian state, which would have its capital instead outside the city, in Abu Dis. That village would be renamed Al-Quds, the Holy, although the deception would satisfy outsiders only, not Palestinians.

Intentionally lacking specifics for the time being, the Trump vision suggests Israel and Jordan would eventually share sovereignty over Jerusalem’s most important holy site, Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The US appears ready to let Israel forcibly divide the site so that Jewish extremists, who want to blow up the mosque and replace it with a temple, can pray there – in a repetition of what happened earlier to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

No legal redress

There would be no Palestinian right of return. Abbas would need to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, retrospectively sanctioning Palestinians’ dispossession and colonisation.

The Trump plan demands that the PA strip the families of political prisoners and martyrs killed by the Israeli army – the Palestinian equivalents of Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko – of their welfare payments.

In an interview with CNN this week, Kushner made clear quite how intentionally contradictory his demands of Palestinians are. Before it can be recognised as a state, the Palestinian Authority is expected to enforce the disarmament of the Palestinian factions, including its militant rival Hamas.

But it will have to do so while behaving like some kind of idealised Switzerland, according to Kushner, who insists that it uphold the most stringent democratic standards and absolute respect for human rights.

He indicated that the PA would fail such tests. It was, he said, a “police state” and “not exactly a thriving democracy”.

The Trump plan’s proposed democratic Palestine, it should be noted, would not be eligible to partake of international justice. Should Israel commit atrocities against Palestinians, the PA would have to forgo any appeals to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which adjudicates on war crimes.

And in a final proof of its determination to ensure Palestinians reject the deal, the Trump administration has dusted off a forcible transfer plan long promoted by the former far-right defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Israel could then redraw the borders to strip potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Israel of their citizenship. Such a move would constitute a war crime.

Nightmare scenario

The Trump plan’s secret weapon is hidden in the “four-year clause”, as Kushner’s CNN interview makes explicit. He said: “If they [the PA] don’t think that they can uphold these standards, then I don’t think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognise them as a state, to allow them to take control of themselves, because the only thing more dangerous than what we have now is a failed state.”

Israel and the US know that not only will Abbas or his successor never consent to the White House’s nightmare scenario, but that they could never meet these preconditions even if they wished to. But if the Palestinians don’t concede everything demanded of them within four years, Israel will be free to start grabbing and annexing yet more Palestinian land.

And worse still, Israel, the US and Europe will seek to blame Palestinians for choosing apartheid over statehood. Apologists will say once again that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

In other words, if Palestinians refuse to disappear themselves in line with the Trump vision, it will be assumed that they consent to Israel’s permanent apartheid rule. Palestinians will have forfeited their right to any kind of state on their historic homeland, ever.

That is the real Trump vision, designed in Israel and soon to be rolled out in Palestine.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Will Not Bring Peace: That was the Plan for the US and Israel

Much of Donald Trump’s long-trailed “deal of the century” came as no surprise. Over the past 18 months, Israeli officials had leaked many of its details.

The so-called Vision for Peace unveiled on Tuesday simply confirmed that the US government has publicly adopted the long-running consensus in Israel: that it is entitled to keep permanently the swaths of territory it seized illegally over the past half-century that deny the Palestinians any hope of a state.

The White House has discarded the traditional US pose as an “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders were not invited to the ceremony, and would not have come had they been. This was a deal designed in Tel Aviv more than in Washington – and its point was to ensure there would be no Palestinian partner.

Importantly for Israel, it will get Washington’s permission to annex all of its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. Israel will continue to have military control over the entire West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to bring just such an annexation plan before his cabinet as soon as possible. It will doubtless provide the central plank in his efforts to win a hotly contested general election due on March 2.

The Trump deal also approves Israel’s existing annexation of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will be expected to pretend that a West Bank village outside the city is their capital of “Al Quds”. There are incendiary indications that Israel will be allowed to forcibly divide the Al Aqsa mosque compound to create a prayer space for extremist Jews, as has occurred in Hebron.

Further, the Trump administration appears to be considering giving a green light to the Israeli Right’s long-held hopes of redrawing the current borders in such a way as to transfer potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians currently living in Israel as citizens into the West Bank. That would almost certainly amount to a war crime.

The plan envisages no right of return, and it seems the Arab world will be expected to foot the bill for compensating millions of Palestinian refugees.

A US map handed out on Tuesday showed Palestinian enclaves connected by a warren of bridges and tunnels, including one between the West Bank and Gaza. The only leavening accorded to the Palestinians are US pledges to strengthen their economy. Given the Palestinians’ parlous finances after decades of resource theft by Israel, that is not much of a promise.

All of this has been dressed up as a “realistic two-state solution”, offering the Palestinians nearly 70 per cent of the occupied territories – which in turn comprise 22 per cent of their original homeland. Put another way, the Palestinians are being required to accept a state on 15 per cent of historic Palestine after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.

Like all one-time deals, this patchwork “state” – lacking an army, and where Israel controls its security, borders, coastal waters and airspace – has an expiry date. It needs to be accepted within four years. Otherwise, Israel will have a free hand to start plundering yet more Palestinian territory. But the truth is that neither Israel nor the US expects or wants the Palestinians to play ball.

That is why the plan includes – as well as annexation of the settlements – a host of unrealisable preconditions before what remains of Palestine can be recognised: the Palestinian factions must disarm, with Hamas dismantled; the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas must strip the families of political prisoners of their stipends; and the Palestinian territories must be reinvented as the Middle East’s Switzerland, a flourishing democracy and open society, all while under Israel’s boot.

Instead, the Trump plan kills the charade that the 26-year-old Oslo process aimed for anything other than Palestinian capitulation. It fully aligns the US with Israeli efforts – pursued by all its main political parties over many decades – to lay the groundwork for permanent apartheid in the occupied territories.

Trump invited both Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, and his chief political rival, former general Benny Gantz, for the launch. Both were keen to express their unbridled support.

Between them, they represent four-fifths of Israel’s parliament. The chief battleground in the March election will be which one can claim to be better placed to implement the plan and thereby deal a death blow to Palestinian dreams of statehood.

On the Israeli right, there were voices of dissent. Settler groups described the plan as “far from perfect” – a view almost certainly shared privately by Netanyahu. Israel’s extreme Right objects to any talk of Palestinian statehood, however illusory.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition will happily seize the goodies offered by the Trump administration. Meanwhile the plan’s inevitable rejection by the Palestinian leadership will serve down the road as justification for Israel to grab yet more land.

There are other, more immediate bonuses from the “deal of the century”.

By allowing Israel to keep its ill-gotten gains from its 1967 conquest of Palestinian territories, Washington has officially endorsed one of the modern era’s great colonial aggressions. The US administration has thereby declared open war on the already feeble constraints imposed by international law.

Trump benefits personally, too. This will provide a distraction from his impeachment hearings as well as offering a potent bribe to his Israel-obsessed evangelical base and major funders such as US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in the run-up to a presidential election.

And the US president is coming to the aid of a useful political ally. Netanyahu hopes this boost from the White House will propel his ultra-nationalist coalition into power in March, and cow the Israeli courts as they weigh criminal charges against him.

How he plans to extract personal gains from the Trump plan were evident on Tuesday. He scolded Israel’s attorney-general over the filing of the corruption indictments, claiming a “historic moment” for the state of Israel was being endangered.

Meanwhile, Abbas greeted the plan with “a thousand nos”. Trump has left him completely exposed. Either the PA abandons its security contractor role on behalf of Israel and dissolves itself, or it carries on as before but now explicitly deprived of the illusion that statehood is being pursued.

Abbas will try to cling on, hoping that Trump is ousted in this year’s election and a new US administration reverts to the pretense of advancing the long-expired Oslo peace process. But if Trump wins, the PA’s difficulties will rapidly mount.

No one, least of all the Trump administration, believes that this plan will lead to peace. A more realistic concern is how quickly it will pave the way to greater bloodshed.

• First published in The National

Occupied Palestine: From BDS To ODS

We spent the last week in Occupied Palestinian Territory, commonly referred to as Israel, where we traveled around the country to visit communities in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Bethlehem, the West Bank, the Nagab, and more.

We call Israel Occupied Palestine because it is not just the West Bank and Gaza that are occupied, but all of historic Palestine, the entire Palestinian nation. Palestinian people do not have equal rights and their communities are constantly encroached upon by settlers pushing them into small, crowded areas. The mistreatment of Palestinians happens right before the eyes of the Israeli Jews. If they do not see it, it is either because they do not want to see it or because they are encouraged not to see it. Just as Jim Crow racism was evident to all in the southern states of the US, apartheid in Palestine is obvious.

This visit deepened our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement because we saw modern apartheid, Jim Crow-segregation laws, ongoing land theft, and ethnic cleansing. For example, we were in Jerusalem when a squadron of fighter jets flew over our heads to bomb the open-air prison of Gaza killing more than 30 people. The Israeli people, media and politicians applauded that, displaying a sickness that runs deep in this colonized land founded on theft, terrorism, and violence.

To end the colonization, there is great hope of developing a movement for the creation of One Democratic State (ODS). This is being organized by a large group of Palestinians and Jews as the formation of two separate states is impossible. ODS envisions a universally equal and democratic nation where minority communities are protected and every person can vote. ODS is the first step to the decolonization and healing of Palestine.

Aida Refugee Camp (Photo by Margaret Flowers)

Correcting The Record

Palestinians are disenfranchised:  Occupied Palestine is called a liberal democracy. In reality, while Palestinians are the majority, most of them can’t vote. Out of a total population of twelve million people, five million Jews can vote and five million Palestinians can’t. The remaining two million Palestinians who live in “The 48,” the land between the West Bank and Gaza, can vote but often boycott elections in protest. The dominant parties all support anti-Palestinian policies.

Sign entering Area A, Israeli Citizens Forbidden.

Palestine has hyper-segregation: Palestine can only be described as a modern apartheid state with updated Jim Crow laws. We drove on Jewish-only roads where the color of a person’s license plate determines if they can use the road. There are military checkpoints along these roads. Palestinians are often forced to take long detours to get around the segregated roads and walls. Many Jews never meet a Palestinian because their lives are so segregated.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Occupied Palestine was divided into Areas A, B and C. We visited Bethlehem, classified as Area A, where a sign upon entry warns it is against the law for Israeli-citizens to enter. In Area A, the Palestinian Authority (PA) serves as police and can arrest Israeli-Jews and turn them over to Israeli-police. In Area B, both the PA and Israeli-police have power. And, in Area C, the majority of the country, only the Israeli-police have authority.

Land Theft Against Palestinians Continues: People are often told that no one lived here before 1948 when the occupation of the area by Jewish settlers began. This massive land theft continues today. Although the German Holocaust is used to justify this, the Zionist project began well before then.

Jaffa, above, as depicted by Gutman, and, below, as the crowded Arab city that actually existed (Photo by Margaret Flowers)

This false picture is depicted by the well-known Zionist artist Nahum Gutman. His famous painting of the major Arab city of Jaffa showed only sand dunes and a few buildings where hundreds of houses stood. Today Sir Charles Clore Park covers the remains of this section of the city. Similar tactics have hidden thousands of Palestinian villages that existed before “The Nakba” in 1948.

Jaffa was an important Arab port city with a population of 90,000 before 1948 that served as an entry point into Jerusalem and beyond. The first Jewish neighborhoods were built there in the late 19th Century. Tel Aviv, the first Jewish-governed city, began in the early 20th century as a suburb of Jaffa. More than ninety-five percent of the population of Jaffa was expelled by Zionist militias in 1948 and beyond. The remaining residents were confined to an area under guard and forced to operate the port. Between 1947 and 1949, the Nakba terrorized Palestinians and forced 800,000 to flee their homes. The Absentee Property Law was used to seize the homes of those who fled.

Zionist settlers continue encroaching on land in Palestinian neighborhoods. In the historic walled city of Old Jerusalem, they come up from underground tunnels to seize homes in the Palestinian quadrant and put them under armed guards. In Palestinian East Jerusalem, Zionists continue to confiscate houses and land, pushing Palestinians to the other side of the segregation wall where they are crowded into areas without city services. Similar forced urbanization and crowding is occurring throughout Palestine. Gaza is perhaps the most severe example of this. Over the last 50 years, the Israeli government has transferred between 600,000 and 750,000 settlers to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in at least 160 settlements and outposts.

In the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, this land annexation has made a two-state solution physically impossible. The combination of hundreds of thousands of settlers, Jewish-only roads plus the Expansion (or Annexation) Wall that divides Palestinian communities, and more than 200 checkpoints have severely restricted movement for Palestinians and seized 78% of their country.

A banner hanging in Mea Shearim, a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Judaism is not Zionism: In the 1880s, Palestinian Jews amounted to three percent of the total population. They were apolitical and did not aspire to build a Jewish state. We met with Rabbi Meir Hirsch in the Mea Sharim neighborhood of Jerusalem. This tightly-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood has signs posted on the walls that say: ‘A Jew Not a Zionist,’ ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good.’

Hirsch’s family came to Palestine 150 years ago from Russia. His people came to better worship God, not to take land from Palestinians. Hirsch told us about Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutch Jew who worked to prevent the 1917 Balfour Declaration and almost succeeded. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British government, announced support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. De Haan was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah for his anti-Zionist political activities. His murder led to the Neturei Karta movement, which resists Zionism to this day.

Hirsch views Zionism as contradictory to the Jewish religion. His community believes the Torah does not allow Jewish sovereignty of any kind over the Holy Land and those who want to live there must have the approval of the native Palestinian people. Hirsch says that ultra-Orthodox Jews “want to see the end of the Zionist tragedy and the restoration of peace to the Middle East.”  His views counter those who claim criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic as, he says, “Judaism and Zionism are as foreign to each other as day and night, good and evil.”

Graffiti made by the graffiti artist Banksy is seen on Israel’s Separation Wall in Abu Dis on August 6, 2005. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

One Democratic State

There is a positive path to resolving the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. The path comes from the movement for One Democratic State, which envisions a genuinely just and workable political agreement developed by Palestinians and Jews together.

There has been a marked decline in support for a two-state solution. A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research from September 11-14, 2019 found only 42% of Palestinians now support the two-state solution. When President Netanyahu entered office a decade ago, that figure was 70%. Similarly, fewer than half of the Jews now support a two-state solution. Further, 63% of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of the settlements and 83% support the local and international boycott (BDS) movement against Israel.

We met separately with two leaders of this campaign, Awad Abdelfattah, a founder of the Arab Balad Party, and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian. Along with many others in the ODS campaign, they seek a multicultural and constitutional democracy in which all people enjoy a common citizenship, a common parliament, and equal civil rights, with constitutional protection granted to national, ethnic and religious views. ODS means equal rights for Palestinians and protection of the rights of Jews.

Their vision includes making the Palestinian ‘right of return’ a reality. Palestinian homes and communities were demolished years ago. According to the Palestinian geographer Salman Abu-Sitta, 85% of Palestinian lands taken in 1948 are still available for resettlement. While more than 530 villages, towns, and urban areas were systematically demolished, their agricultural lands still exist. Other lands lie under public parks and forests. Refugees could actually return, if not to their former homes, at least to the parts of the country where they originated. Palestinian planners could design modern communities for refugees and their descendants in the areas they left with new communities and economic infrastructure that is integrated with other segments of the society. Land redistribution, financial compensation, and equal access to education, training and the economy would enable refugees, like other Palestinians, to achieve economic parity with Jews within a fairly short time.

For Jews, their security will increase by providing constitutional protection of their collective rights. While structures of privilege and domination would be dismantled, the “collective rights” of groups to maintain their community in the framework of a multi-cultural democracy (e.g., communities of ethnic Russians, African asylum-seekers, foreign workers, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, and others) give Jews the collective security they need.

ODS views the establishment of a just and working state as requiring: decolonization, restoration, and reconciliation. Decolonization includes ending economic, cultural, political, and legal domination. This means building an egalitarian, inclusive and sustainable society that restores the rights, properties (actual or through compensation), identities and social position of those expelled, excluded and oppressed. This is followed by reconciliation to confront the still-open wounds of the Nakba and the Occupation, and the suffering they have caused.

While the view may sound Utopian to some, in fact, it is the practical path out of the current disaster of Occupied Palestine. Palestine is already one nation. The issue is whether it will be a democratic state with equal rights for all citizens that dismantles the apartheid system or whether it will remain an undemocratic and unequal settler-colonial nation.

We titled this article “BDS to ODS” because while this solution must come from the Palestinian people, along with Jews, people in the United States and throughout the world who support peace and justice have an important role to play through the growing BDS campaign to pressure Israel into accepting ODS. This struggle will be won through solidarity between popular movements inside and outside Occupied Palestine.

We encourage you to visit Occupied Palestine to see and learn for yourself. If you visit Jerusalem, be sure to take the tour offered by Grassroots Jerusalem. They also offer a guide to Palestinian places to stay, shop and eat. Zochrot is an organization that also offers tours and resources about the Nakba. If you are interested in direct service, you can volunteer to assist with the olive harvest or volunteer in places such as the Aida Refugee Camp. They need all sorts of volunteers, especially those who can provide instruction to children in music and arts. Visit Volunteer Palestine to see the many opportunities available.

An Outside View from the Palestinian Camps of Lebanon raises Troubling Questions

Every time I return from visiting Palestinian refugee camps dispersed throughout Lebanon, I’m haunted by the monumental suffering that has been systematically imposed on the twelve million Palestinians. There are between 5-6 million Palestinians in exile, and 6 million under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Whether they live in historic Palestine or among the exiled diaspora in Lebanon and beyond, the level of discrimination Palestinians experience on a daily basis is relentless. In this proxy ‘war on terror’ tearing apart several Middle Eastern countries; whether identified as an eschatological ‘last days’ scenario or viewed as a competitive agenda of dominance over land and resources, the Palestinian people are the primary victims.

Exodus from Palestine 1948

Palestinians have suffered massacres and ethnic cleansing beginning with the events of the 1948 apocalyptic catastrophe (Nakba), when more than 750,000 were expelled from their homes. During the succeeding years Palestinians have known further massacres (Jenin 2002), and death, injury and imprisonment within the West Bank. Exiled Palestinians in Lebanon later fled the destruction of the refugee camps including Tel al-Zataar (1976) only to take sanctuary in Sabra/Shatila where many faced the massacre in 1982. In 1985 the war of the camps Sabra/Shatila and Bourj Barajneh, Palestinians again became victims. Palestinians were victims, alongside their Lebanese neighbours during the 2006 Israeli attacks on Lebanon; a year later they suffered during the siege and bombing of Nahr Al-Bared Camp, (2007) when fourteen members of the Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group fleeing the Lebanese Army, took the camp hostage. The extremists escaped but the entire camp, home to 32,000 refugees, was flattened. Today, more than twelve years later, from a total population of 32,000, only 22,000 Palestinians have been able to return. Many are still living on containers.

Khiam Prison

 

List of people who had been imprisoned at Khiam Prison

The liberation of Khaim Prison in 2000 (photo attached to the ruins)

Current day Palestinian exiles fleeing the war in Syria are also fleeing Islamic extremist groups who infiltrated Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Palestinians in Gaza, under an Israeli controlled siege, have suffered huge military bombardment from the air, sea and land as they struggle to ward off a creeping genocide. The litany of crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians are too numerous to  enumerate in this short article. These targeted attacks and an endemic discrimination that has pursued Palestinians around the globe has continued for more than seven decades. It is a holocaust on a time-scale that shows no sign of ending. In a collective mindset of cognitive dissonance, the irony is that given that Palestinians are of the semitic race, those who speak out about these crimes are frequently labelled as anti-semitic.

Despite what Palestinians have already been through the situation for them in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating. Through a complex system of changing laws on residency Palestinians are regularly denied travel documents and the right to work legally. They are specifically denied the right to work in several leading professions such as doctor, teacher, banker, nurse, pharmacist, lawyer and engineer. By identifying Palestinians as foreign they come under the Lebanese law of reciprocity which is impossible to be complied with given that their country of origin is occupied Palestine. In addition Palestinians don’t have the right to own property and in circumstances where a Palestinian refugee has acquired property under earlier laws, the property can now no longer be passed on to their children.

Electric cables in Shatila

Palestinian refugee camps are insecure, overcrowded, unsanitary and with electric cables strung haphazardly in the narrow passages the rate of death by electrocution, of both children and adults, in Shatila Camp alone number around fifty. Sabra/Shatila, situated on the outskirts of downtown Beirut is approximately one kilometre in size. It was designed to accommodate a population of around 800; however, with the influx of Palestinian refugees fleeing earlier massacres in South Lebanon and the current war in Syria, Sabra/Shatila now has a population of around 30,000. At the time of the 1982 massacre, the population was about 80,000 since all the South Lebanon camps were flattened. The same holds true for the twelve refugee camps dispersed around Lebanon. There is no room to accommodate those who are being born or to bury those who die.

An alley in Shatila, Beirut

A year ago Trump withdrew the US share of financial support for UNWRA, the organisation charged with responsibility for the economic well-being of Palestinian refugees. The US contribution to the UNWRA budget was 50%. Saudi Arabia has agreed to pick up the shortfall; however it’s widely believed that acceptance of this money will soon become conditional on Palestinians giving up their legal ‘Right of Return’. This is a Machiavellian choice — feed one’s children or give up one’s lawful right to a homeland in their lost but not forgotten, paradise. Palestinians will be unlikely to accept such an offer since feeding their children today would condemn these children to a life of exile, poverty and statelessness. It’s the hope of returning that has kept them alive.

UNWRA

Lebanon is facing a new dilemma which could indicate a further hardening of opinion against the Palestinian refugees and a strengthening of pro-Zionist forces outside and within Lebanon. With the return from America of one of the Lebanese Zionist Israeli collaborator administrators at the Khiam Detention Centre (1982- 2000), where many Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners were subjected to years of brutal torture, questions are being raised as to whether those who collaborated with Israel in the torture of prisoners should be allowed to return without penalty. Sectarian Lebanon has always had a core of pro-zionist supporters who have historically collaborated with Israel. The prime example of this was the orchestrated massacre of an estimated 3,000  Palestinians in Sabra/Shatila carried out by armed Christian Phalange with Israeli support. No one has ever been held accountable in a court of law for this crime against a defenceless population of women, children and old men. The PLO men of fighting age had agreed to leave Lebanon and go into further exile because they believed the promise made by the International Community that their families would be protected.

Nahr al-Bared Camp after 2007 bombing by Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group, who held the camp hostage

 

Another image of Nahr al-Bared Camp

It’s not possible to look at this injustice without first understanding the role of both Christians and Jews in the eschatological belief system of messianic zionism. Were it not for the support of these evangelical Christian Zionists the initial Jewish Zionist endeavour to claim Palestine as a Jewish State might have been resolved with people of different faiths living together, as was the case within historic Palestine. Christian Zionist supporters hold with the Prophesy that when Jews ‘return’ to the Holy Land (historic Palestine and beyond) and King David’s City and Solomon’s Temple is ‘restored’ in place of the Haram al-Sharif; the Islamic sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, the world will enter into a state of final days. Destruction of Islam’s third most holy site would certainly risk plunging the world into a full scale global war. Israel has never defined its borders and Eretz Israel maps Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sinai and parts of Saudi Arabia as its promised land.

(For a full understanding of this complex Christian evangelical movement I would refer the reader to the studies of Stephen Sizer and Don Wagner.) Christian and Jewish Messianic Zionism as a theological and political belief system would not be significant were it not so widely supported within the US establishment and also within several European countries, including the UK. The war with Iraq, John Bolton’s moves toward war with Iran, Trump’s move to place the US Embassy in Jerusalem and his declaration that the Syrian Golan Heights is part of Israel, are all indicative of the strength and power of this movement to propel events in order to bring about this Armageddon ‘last days Prophesy’.

This brings me back to the question of who are the drivers of conflict in the Middle East. Since I am neither a Christian or Jewish messianic zionist I would be amongst those left to face the ‘last days’ in the rivers of blood as foretold in this ‘prophesy’. Were that to be a natural event (or even assuming by ‘God’s’ hand), it would be a tragedy; however, were the event to have been engineered by messianic zealots who are seeking the (first…/or if Christian, the second) coming of the Messiah, such an act would be a war crime of genocidal and epic proportions. Given this possible scenario and the decades-long persecution of the exiled Muslim and Christian Palestinians I’m lost as to the reason why the mainstream Christian Church is so silent on this and almost by default supportive of this Israeli endeavour to requisition Palestine and beyond as a Jewish State. Where is the Christ message of love and inclusiveness in Christian Zionism?

Britain has a clearly documented history which has led to the establishment of Israel on historic Palestine beginning with the Sykes/Picot agreement 1916 and the letter by Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild in 1917. Palestine never was a country without a people. In fact, it has a rich cultural heritage where Muslim, Christian and Jew lived comfortably side by side (Jews having always been a small minority). In 1948 the population of Palestinian Christians and Muslims was 1.5 million. Of these 50% were uprooted by force and fled into exile and remained refugees in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and beyond to this very day. One might think that given Britain’s promise to the Arabs of sovereignty over their own land and having liberated Jerusalem from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Britain would be honour-bound to keep that promise.

Not so…. It’s quite evident from Parliamentary discussions and the recent (2017) centennial celebration when Theresa May (totally ignoring the Palestinian catastrophe that resulted in exile of now around 6 million Palestinian refugees), proudly welcomed Netanyahu to the UK in acknowledgment of Britain’s role which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel. The message constantly repeated by successive US and UK leaders is that we stand by Israel regardless of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Other than receiving some criticism from international leaders purporting Israel’s ‘response to be disproportionate’,  Israel operates with complete immunity. It is also clear from a recent Parliamentary debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords that the UK government also stands by Israel and the US in proscribing the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. French President Macron has chosen not to follow the US and UK lead stating that France and no other power has a right to decide what Lebanese political parties are good and which are not. This, Macron says, is up to the Lebanese people.

So why this move on the part of the UK government, now?’ The NOW raises interesting questions. What clearly has changed is that Hezbollah, as part of a Syrian coalition, has been largely successful in halting ISIS and along with Russia, preventing regime change in Syria. Given that ISIS is a known fundamentalist terrorist umbrella group one might have thought that defeating them was in the UK’s interests. From an Israeli perspective, however, Hezbollah’s strengthened resistance capabilities will not be viewed as serving their expansionist interests, particularly as Lebanon shares a border with Israel.

Had ISIS not been defeated and had regime change taken in place Syria (an ally of Iran) this would have weakened Iran. Iran, an oil and gas rich country with an Islamic interest free banking system, has been viewed as a military target these past few decades. Israel regards Syria, Hezbollah and Iran as hostile to their illegal occupation of Palestine, the Golan Heights and repeated invasions of South Lebanon. One wonders if Israel initiated the move for the US and  UK to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation as a prelude to gaining support for an attack on Iran? Trump’s rejection of the agreed nuclear peace agreement and recent allegations made against Iran nudges us closer to war.

The majority of Lebanese are aware that were it not for the Hezbollah resistance, Israel would have likely acquired South Lebanon years ago. Besides the gas fields of Golan Heights, Lebanon’s Litani River has a natural supply of fresh water. Hezbollah came into existence after the 1982 Sabra/Shatila massacre. If there was no threat from Israel to Palestinians and to Lebanese, there would be no need for Hezbollah to form a resistance group. Those who responded to the call to protect Lebanon would likely melt back into the community and take up earlier professions. When Israel invaded and bombed Lebanon in 2006 it was the Hezbollah resistance fighters who forced them back across the border. Lebanon is a sectarian country that has not only been invaded and attacked by Israel on numerous occasions, it has also known devastating civil war. It holds together by a delicate balance of sharing power between the various factions. The political wing of Hezbollah holds a significant role within the Lebanese government.

Just days before I arrived in Lebanon, Israel dropped bombs on the Al Manar media office in Beirut and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) office in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Israel also dropped bombs in Syria and Iraq killing several Iranian citizens who were there by invitation of those countries’ leadership. It was the skill of Hezbollah in capturing a drone that identified Israel as the perpetrator, which made it clear that Hezbollah’s military response was retaliatory and not an unprovoked attack. Such action by Hezbollah may have averted a full scale attack by Israel on Lebanon.

The UK government’s insistence on Israel’s right to defend itself (even when Israeli forces are dropping bombs and white phosphorous on the defenceless population of Gaza or sending drones into Beirut), fails to acknowledge that Palestinians and Lebanese also have a right to defend themselves. It is the Palestinians who are suffering from an illegal occupation and genocidal siege. Are these moves the precursor to the US, Israel and UK creating a World War Three scenario by heightening the likelihood of war with Iran and other major powers — a war that could easily escalate into an Armageddon ‘Last Days’ scenario? Or is it that the UK, like the Anglican Church, is unwilling to take a strong public stance against the prevailing power by addressing this decades long injustice and very real threat to all of humanity?

Film Charts Failed Experiment Inviting Palestinian Teens to Become Kibbutzniks

A new documentary brings to light an episode almost completely erased from Israel’s official history – and one that reveals how Israel’s apartheid character was established from its birth.

The The Voice of Ahmad by directors Avshalom Katz, David Ofek, Ayelet Bechar, Shadi Habib Allah, Naom Kaplan, Mamdooh Afdile, and Iddo Soskolne is being screened in Israel this month. It centers on the extraordinary early life of Ahmad Masrawa back in the 1950s, as the recently established Jewish state was finding its feet.

Masrawa was one of many hundreds of Palestinian teenagers in Israel who were adopted by a kibbutz, agricultural communes that were at the core of the Zionist movement’s efforts to Judaize lands just stolen from the Palestinian people – both from refugees forced out of Israel and from the small number of Palestinians, like Masrawa, who managed to remain inside the new state.

Today, hundreds of these kibbutzim exist, all of them exclusively Jewish and controlling the vast bulk of Israeli territory. Israel’s Palestinian citizens are effectively banned from living in them.

But, as this new film shows, there was a brief moment when a handful of progressive Israeli Jews imagined a different future in which Jewish and Arab kibbutzniks could live together. That experiment ended in complete failure.

A stab in the back

Masrawa is part of the largely-overlooked Palestinian minority in Israel – today a fifth of the country’s population. He was among a rump population of Palestinians who avoided the mass expulsions of the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, that created Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland.

A few years later, under international pressure, Israel belatedly gave this minority a very second-class citizenship.

The fact that Palestinian citizens, now numbering 1.8 million, have the vote is often cited as proof that Israel is a normal western-style democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this documentary underscores.

Ahmad’s strange teenage years have been unearthed now because he starred in a short documentary in the mid-1960s, called “I Am Ahmad,” that was initially censored and, when it was finally screened, caused uproar. Ram Loevy, its director, says in the new film that his documentary was viewed by most Israeli Jews at the time as “a stab in the back.”

Slum neighborhoods

It was the first time an Israeli film had ever allowed an “Israeli Arab” – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – to be the protagonist.

“I Am Ahmad” follows Masrawa as a near-two-decade military government imposed on Israel’s Palestinian minority is being lifted just before the outbreak of the Six-Day war. He is filmed leaving his poor village of Arara in northern Israel to travel to the rapidly expanding Jewish coastal city of Tel Aviv to find work.

Masrawa narrates the film, providing personal reflections in Hebrew on what it is like to live effectively as a foreign worker in your own country.

Like many thousands of other Palestinians in Israel, he was forced by day to work as a casual laborer on construction sites, disappearing at night to dwell in slum neighborhoods of tin shacks set up by Palestinian citizen workers on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

High death toll

The Voice of Ahmad is compilation film, comprising six short documentaries inspired by or expanding on I Am Ahmad, a restored version of which opens the new movie.

Sky of Concrete sees an elderly Masrawa spend the day with a group of today’s casual laborers from his village on a building site. Little has changed half a century later, as Masrawa discovers, including the same tragically high death toll in an industry that barely seems to value the lives of its non-Jewish workers.

But the most fascinating segment of the Voice of Ahmad is the backstory of why Masrawa ended up in the 1960s building new homes for Jewish immigrants arriving to entrench the dispossession of Palestinians like himself. That context is not provided by I Am Ahmad.

It would have to wait another half-century for that story to be revealed in “I Used To Be Zvi,” a kind of belated prequel to “I Am Ahmad.” Its co-director, Ayelet Bechar, recently expanded on her research for the film in an article for the liberal Haaretz newspaper.

Judaizing Palestinian land

“I Used To Be Zvi” concerns the 18-year period between 1949 and 1967 before Israel seized control of the occupied territories, a time when Palestinians in Israel lived under harsh military rule despite their citizenship. They were locked up inside their few surviving communities while their new rulers confiscated almost all their farmland to settle Jewish immigrants in their place.

While this land larceny was taking place, however, two prominent Jewish socialists began a limited experiment in mixed living that appeared – at least, superficially – to challenge Zionism’s core principle.

The lands seized from Israel’s Palestinian minority were transferred to hundreds of kibbutz, socialist-style agricultural communes set up for Jews as part of Israel’s official Judaization policy.

Many decades on, these communities control almost all of Israel’s land, which they hold as nationalized territory on behalf of all Jews around the world, not Israel’s citizens.

Although the kibbutz has been widely extolled in the west as a model of egalitarian, cooperative living – and in Israel’s first decades attracted starry-eyed European and American volunteers – all of these communities use vetting committees to ensure no Palestinian citizens gain admission.

Mixing with girls

In Israel’s early years, however, a few Jewish socialists argued that the kibbutz movement should live up to its supposed ideals of “Zionism, socialism and the brotherhood of nations.” They established a Pioneer Arab Youth organization, recruiting Palestinian teenagers in Israel like Masrawa to live on a kibbutz.

The obstacles were many. Each had to harbor its Palestinian youngsters as fugitives from the authorities. The military government required them to live in their own, segregated and imprisoned communities.

And despite professed lofty ideals, most Jews in the kibbutz movement regarded their Palestinian neighbors not as potential brothers but as a threat to Israel’s ethnic state-building project.

These young Palestinian recruits, meanwhile, were not there out of a love of Zionism. They wished to break free of the stifling economic and social restrictions imposed by the military government. A few admit they were enticed too by the chance to mix with kibbutz girls.

Kibbutz ambassadors

Masrawa arrived at his kibbutz, aged 14, under a new Hebrew identity he had been assigned: “Zvi”. But differences of treatment were apparent from the outset.

Palestinian members were required to wear a different uniform and allocated menial tasks. Even Pioneer Youth’s motto prioritized subservience, amending the kibbutz slogan “strong and brave” to “strong and loyal.”

And while the kibbutzim were grudgingly allowing handfuls of Palestinian teens into their midst, they also colluded with the military government to steal the remaining farmlands of the villages from which their Palestinian wards hailed.

There was a subtext of political missionary work too. Avraham Ben Tzur, a Pioneer Youth founder, observed that the aim was to turn impressionable Palestinian youth into ambassadors for the kibbutzim, presumably in the hope that when they returned to their villages they would try to justify to their extended families the theft of the villages’ lands by the kibbutzim.

The project quickly started unraveling when it became clear that Pioneer Youth’s organizers had no vision beyond a parochial, Jewish one.

Feelings bottled up

A heartbreaking, reconstructed scene in “I Used To Be Zvi” shows young Masrawa, filled with the kibbutz ideals of shared, egalitarian living, heading to the offices of the Israel Lands Authority to inquire about setting up the first Arab kibbutz next to his village of Arara, south of Nazareth.

The senior official burdens him with a long list of conditions he must meet before he can be given approval. When Masrawa fulfills his side of the bargain, he is given yet more demands, and more, until finally the exasperated official explains the facts of life to Masrawa.

He tells him the government will never allow an Arab kibbutz. Not only that, he adds: “On the expropriated land of your village we will establish three Jewish communities, which will take up arms when needed.”

The clear implication is that these Jewish communities will, if needs be, use their weapons against Masrawa and his fellow villagers to enforce the theft of Arara’s lands.

Indeed, no Palestinian kibbutz, or even a genuinely mixed one, was ever permitted.

Walid Sadik, who later served as a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, observed that he and the other Palestinian kibbutzniks had “kept our mouths shut and our feelings bottled up.”

Intermarriage rejected

But it was the experience of another Palestinian, Rashid Masarawa, that sounded the death knell of Pioneer Youth.

In the mid-1960s he fell in love with and married a Jewish woman, Tzvia Ben Matityahu, on Kibbutz Hashlosha. Given Israel’s restrictions on mixed marriages, which continue to this day, the couple had to travel abroad to wed.

On their return, they were exiled from Hashlosha, and sought refuge among friends at another kibbutz, Gan Shmuel.

Their application to live there was rejected too, however. The vast majority of members objected because the Masarawa family originated from Sarkas, a village destroyed by Israel in 1948 to prevent its refugees from ever returning. Gan Shmuel had been built on Sarkas’s stolen lands to appropriate them.

Masarawa tearfully noted: “If I was accepted as a member, it would mean that I was being returned to my village.” In the Zionist worldview, the danger was that the kibbutz members were being asked to concede something that might set a precedent for a right of return.

‘Sand thrown in our eyes’

The Zionism of these Jewish socialists decisively trumped any semblance of shared humanity or compassion. The Pioneer Youth dissolved soon afterward as young Palestinians in Israel shifted allegiance towards the new Arab nationalism of Nasserist Egypt.

Ben Tzur, founder of Pioneer Youth, recorded his shock to Bechar that, after Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, his Palestinian recruits voted down a plan much favored by kibbutz members to create an alternative state for Palestinians outside their homeland, in Jordan.

Masrawa observed: “Looking back now, I say they threw sand in our eyes. They made a mockery of the [kibbutz] ideal.”

No hope of brotherhood

The military government may be a distant memory now but its legacy persists.

Israel’s Jewish character still precludes equality for Palestinians, even those with citizenship. Assumptions among Israeli Jews of disloyalty from Palestinians are still commonplace. Palestinian land is still being Judaized, though now that Palestinian citizens have lost all but a tiny fraction of their lands, that process is chiefly taking place in the occupied territories. Rigid ethnic segregation ensures mixed marriages are still rare and deplored.

Palestinian voting is still no more than window-dressing, and now increasingly characterized by Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu as fraud. He declared only this month that Palestinian citizens had tried to “steal the election” by exercising their democratic right.

And brotherhood, of course, is today not even an aspiration.

Ugly ethnic supremacism

The “Voice of Ahmad” ends with a short film, The Helsinki Accord, by two Israeli citizens – one Jewish, the other Palestinian – who have sought a self-imposed exile in Finland. There they live as neighbors, share a passion for sweating it out together in a sauna, and jest about Israel’s destruction by a nuclear bomb.

The Jewish friend, Iddo Soskolne, whose family originates from Poland, says Finns have nicknamed him “felafel” for being from the Middle East.

Finally, the pair concede, they have found equality in their status as a minority, as outsiders, in Finland. They have found a true brotherhood that would be impossible in Israel.

It was, after all, the good guys – the socialists – who established Israel’s version of apartheid alongside and enforced by the “egalitarian” kibbutz. These racist political structures were created by an Israeli Labour party whose political demise is now – after a decade of rule by the ultra-nationalist right – much lamented abroad.

But the reality is that the Zionism of Israel’s founders was as ugly a project of ethnic supremacy as the Zionism of today’s nationalist right led by Netanyahu. Ahmad Masrawa’s story is a helpful reminder of that truth.

• First published in Mondoweiss