Tag Archives: Gaza

SUPPORT GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA: SWEE ANG and MAZIN QUMSIYEH

14 Jul

[Prefatory Note: These two statements about the al-Awda Freedom Flotilla en route to Gaza are contributions from two heroic figures in the long Palestinians struggle, hopefully known to many of the readers of this blog. This flotilla is on  a humanitarian mission, carrying much needed medical supplies and is again dramatizing the plight of the population of Gaza, unendurable victim of vindictive Israeli measures that amount to flagrant and deliberate violations of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting and criminalizing measures of collective punishment inflicted upon the population of a society subject to belligerent occupation. Israel claims that it is no longer bound by the Geneva Convention because of its ‘disengagment’ in 2005, but the international consensus is otherwise. Gaza continues to be ‘occupied’ from the perspective of international law and the UN, and has been subject to a harsh blockade, periodic massive military attacks, and virtual closure for the past ten years. These statements below are not only informational, but also calls for solidarity and action. I am proud of my friendship and camaraderie with Swee Ang and Mazin Qumsiyeh. In view of past Israeli violent obstruction of humanitarian initiatives designed to lessen the suffering of the Gaza population solidarity with this initiative, as suggested below, is indispensable.][I have added a further message from Swee Ang worth reading.]

GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA: SWEE ANG & MAZIN QUMSIYEH

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(1) Dear Friends and Family,

 

I am due to join the al-Awda (The Return) Freedom Flotilla to Gaza this weekend on its last leg from Europe to Gaza. She has started her journey from Norway on the 70 Anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba and this journey is highly symbolic. The Nakba is the Arabic word for Catastrophe which started in 1948 when 50% of the population of Palestine was driven out to live in refugee camps and Palestine was erased from the map of the world. Please look at the links about the Awda and the other Freedom Flotilla ships she is joining.

 

https://sgf.freedomflotilla.org/news/al-awda-freedom-flotilla

 

https://jfp.freedomflotilla.org/

 

 

I am highly honoured to be invited on board. It is important to explain to you why I chose to do this. Among the queries I received is why I have overstepped my role as a doctor to do this. Can I not spend my vacation leave from the NHS on a holiday cruise instead of an old overcrowded fishing boat? My answer is simple. The situation in Gaza is dire. Our articles both published in the British Medical Journal, describe a bit of it;

https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6644/rr

https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6644/rr-0

 

A doctor, a surgeon is a human being with a conscience and a compassionate heart, much more than just a skilled technician. The very fact that I can do operations and fix broken bones will not stop me from losing my humanity. A robot might turn the other way, but a child of God does not.

 

Most of you know that I am going to be seventy come the end of the year and I would like to make this my birthday present to the people of Gaza and Palestine. Please read my statement below which will soon be included in the Freedom Flotilla website. You will know from what I wrote that even if Awda is kidnapped and all of us are put in prison, it is not a failed mission. The Palestinians will know that we have not forgotten them, and that we, like them, live out our lives with hope and love with faithfulness.

 

Statement of Dr. Swee Ang:

 

“When invited to come on board Al-Awda, the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, I know I must join them. This summer marks the thirty-sixth year of my journey with the Palestinians. It began in 1982 when as an ignorant Pro-Israel Christian doctor I first stepped foot as a volunteer surgeon in Gaza Hospital in Beirut’s Sabra Shatilla Palestinian refugee camp. There I fell in love passionately with a generous, kind, honest and gentle people – the Palestinians. They were forced out of Palestine in 1948, and found themselves refugees. Despite the dispossession, persecution and injustice they remained human. About 3 weeks after my arrival, more than three thousand of them were cruelly massacred. My heart was broken and trampled on, and would have remained dead and buried in the rubble of their bulldozed homes. But the survivors even while burying their own loved ones nurtured me back to life with their tears and love. The children filled with courage, hope and dignity inspired me and gave me strength to walk on with them. “We are not afraid Doctora come with us”. It is now 70 years since the Palestinian Nakba and Diaspora in 1948. When will their journey home begin? Today, six million Palestinians dispersed in various refugee camps are denied the right of return to their ancestral Palestine; the other six million lived under occupation in Gaza and West Bank.  For twelve years, two million Palestinians have been imprisoned under a brutal land and sea military blockade in Gaza. During this time there were three major military assaults where Gaza was relentlessly bombed for weeks. Recently, since 30 March 2018, unarmed Gaza demonstrators calling for the Right of Return are shot at with high grade military assault rifles leaving more than 124 dead and 13,000 severely wounded with hundreds of amputees and potential amputees. The Flotilla brings hope to the besieged Palestinians. They are praying for us in their mosques and churches in the Gaza Strip. They know we are making this journey for them. Even if we are to be abducted, imprisoned and deported, may we remain faithful in solidarity and love for the people of Palestine and Gaza.

 

Dr Swee Ang, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon; author From Beirut to Jerusalem.

July 2018″

 

Please remember Palestine and the people of Gaza, and all on board the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

 

Love you all and God bless

Swee

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Dearest Heaher and Friends,
Thank you for everything and sharing what you wrote and what you are doing.  I am with you and will share as much as I can with people from the flotilla. My prayers and best wishes for tomorrow’s trial. 
They have wounded 300, killed 4 yesterdayin Gaza on Friday. Two of the children killed were playing in their parents garden and not even at the demonstration. There was a brief news statement from the occupying army – I can’t trace the source now that the military announced that they will abduct the Awda and sell her and donate the money to some charity for Israeli soldiers! That is to show who is boss and nobody will dare mount anymore flotilla!
They have also halved the food supply allowed into Gaza (OCHA report).  The night watch on Awda has received desperate calls for life-saving intravenous antibiotics. Last minute I am only able to secure a handful to take on board, but not sure whether it is going to be allowed into Gaza or not.
I know it is beyond your control, but I need to hear good news from you about your court case tomorrow as we seem to be embarking on a mission of high risk physically but high morale spiritually. Will be off to church to pray for you, the people of Gaza and the flotilla, and off to the airport. Once we leave for Gaza I will have no assess to emails and whatsapp, but please leave a message on the participants website about your news and I will get your messages.
Trust me – the people who are destroying our earth for gains are also the ones who invent and use the arms to murder and destroy Palestinians, the people of the Middle East, and the rest of the world. They are wreaking havoc. Why this evil and greed? It is such a beautiful world God has given us , but to share and to love. Not to appropriate and destroy.
Fight the good fight Heather and always remember you not only have us with you but also God for the earth belongs also to God. People in Gaza are prepared to die standing, and live on their knees, and will not die in silence their courage will be our inspiration.
With much love
Swee
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(2) Mazin Qumsiyeh [mazin@qumsiyeh.org]

Human Rights Newsletter ‎[humanrights@lists.qumsiyeh.org]‎

 

Saturday, July 14, 2018 7:02 AM

 

Five times boats have successfully reached Gaza. it can be done with this

flotilla of four boats bringing medical supplies and hope but we need your

help:

 

  1. Share our messages and encourage your contacts to share them using

hashtags #ShiptoGaza #FreedomFlotilla #CountdownToGaza; share e.g. videos like this short 30 seconds video https://youtu.be/Nau5CPo9feo

using those same tags.

  1. Reach your local media with news links from our website

https://jfp.freedomflotilla.org/, our participants and events and insist

they cover the events

  1. Contact elected officials and ask that they contact Israeli officials to

demand they let the ships through [your local or national campaing

  1. Follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FreedomFlotillaCoalition/

), Twitter @GazaFFlotilla and Instagram @gazafreedomflotilla/ and encourage

others to spread the word. Follow our boats’ progress at

https://jfp.freedomflotilla.org/follow-the-mission

  1. Hold an activity or event on or around July 21 (first Saturday after we

sail from Palermo) and/or July 28 (second Saturday, close to our estimated

arrival in Gaza or possible interference by Israeli forces) to demand that

our boats be let through and that the blockade be ended, permanently.

  1. Donate through on of our FFC campaigns:

https://jfp.freedomflotilla.org/donate

 

For activism methods/suggestion, see http://qumsiyeh.org/activistmanual/

and http://qumsiyeh.org/whatyoucando/

 

Earlier this year, the ideas of a very clever young lady in Gaza attracted

attention

https://wearenotnumbers.org/home/Story/One_woman_tackles_two_Gaza_challenges_electricity_construction

Now, Majd and 3 other young people have started a crowdfunding project for

the Sunbox : https://www.launchgood.com/project/bringing_light_to_gaza_1#!/

blog about life in Gaza in French http://carol.blog.tdg.ch/

 

Ireland to be the world’s first country to divest public money from fossil

fuels

http://www.thejournal.ie/fossil-fuel-divestment-bill-4124211-Jul2018/

 

Take action to thank Irish politicians who supported the Occupied

Territories Bill (first time European country boycotts settlement goods)

http://www.ipsc.ie/action-item/take-action-to-thank-politicians-supporting-the-occupied-territories-bill

 

Stay human

 

Mazin Qumsiyeh

A bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home

Professor,  Founder, and (volunteer) Director

Palestine Museum of Natural History

Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability

Bethlehem University

Occupied Palestine

http://qumsiyeh.org

 

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GAZA: Ordeal & Destiny

30 Jun

[Prefatory Note: I post below two items pertaining to Gaza—my short poem, and a collection of responses to the question “What is the Future of Gaza” by a clever online publication, called ‘One Question,’ which true to its name poses a single question to a number of people presumed to have something to say in response, is the creation of Cihan Aksan and Jon Bailes. I only learned about this format because I am among the respondents represented below.  My current concern is that while the world of states, and even the UN, has virtually abandoned the people trapped in Gaza, we who support their empowerment and liberation, must not lose faith in their future, nor weaken our emotions of empathy so long as their ordeal persists.]

 

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Great March of Return and the Unspeakable

 

This wordless borderland

Where love and atrocity meet

 

Where free fire zones

Fill pools with blood

 

Overflowing hatred

Climb forlorn fences

 

Call forth silences

Of heart and mind

 

Words of rage

Rightless rights

 

March and return

Return and march

 

Tears are not enough

Nor outrage nor silence

 

When tending the wounded

Become a capital crime

 

It’s time to say

This world is doomed

 

 

27 June 2018

Yalikavak, Turkey

 

 

 

One Question

Gaza

28th June 2018 Cihan Aksan And Jon Bailes <stateofnatureblog.com/one-question-future-gaza>

 

One Question is a monthly series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question. This month, we ask:What is the future of Gaza?

With responses from: Ramzy BaroudRichard FalkSara Roy; Abdalhadi Alijla; Norman Finkelstein; Toufic Haddad; Atef Alshaer; Helga Tawil-Souri; Hagar Kotef; Joel Beinin; Magid Shihade; Ran Greenstein; Richard Hardigan; Salman Abu Sitta.

 

 

Ramzy Baroud

 Journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story(Pluto, 2018). He has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

 

The ongoing siege on the Gaza Strip was interrupted by three major Israeli wars: in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014, with a total death toll that exceeded 5,000. Tens of thousands were wounded and maimed, and hundreds more were killed in the in-between, so-called ‘lull’ years. Coupled with a hermetic blockade, Gaza cannot rebuild most of its destroyed infrastructure, leading the United Nations to conclude that the tiny but overcrowded enclave will become ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. In many ways, however, and tragically so, it already is.

 

The future of Gaza will follow the same path of horrific wars and a suffocating siege if no new positive factors are injected into this dismal equation. Without a regional and international push to force Israel to loosen its grip, or to find alternative routes to assist the isolated Strip, misery will continue, even beyond 2020. ‘Uninhabitable’ or not, Israel has no plans to allow Gaza’s 2-million inhabitants, mostly refugees from historic Palestine, today’s Israel, to lead normal lives.

 

It is important to note that Israel is not solely responsible for Gaza’s current fate; Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are also culpable, each with its own agenda. Egypt, which shares the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, wants to ensure that Hamas, which it perceives as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, is isolated and weakened. The PA, which is controlled by the largest Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) faction, Fatah, is also hell-bent on defeating Hamas. Fatah lost a parliamentary election to Hamas in 2006, and does not wish to repeat that perceived folly by allowing another democratic election to take place.

 

Thus, the Palestinian political rift is important for all parties involved: Israel needs to demonise Hamas and, by extension, all of Gaza; Egypt wants to marginalise any strong Islamic political tide, and the PA in the West Bank wants to keep its rivals at bay. Despite Hamas’ regional politicking, it has so far failed to break away from its isolation. Gaza is, therefore, not a victim of Israel alone. True, the latter owns the largest shares in Gaza’s desolation, but other Arab and Palestinian parties are greatly invested and equally keen on keeping the hapless Strip on its knees.

 

If the status quo persists, a backlash is on the way, not just in terms of another deadly Israeli war to ‘downgrade’ the defenses of Palestinian resistance, but also in terms of social and political upheaval in Gaza and the West Bank. The large protests against the PA in Ramallah in recent days were violently suppressedby PA police and thugs, but West Bankers are growing angry over the subjugation of their Gaza brethren. Meanwhile, the mass ralliesat the Gaza-Israel fence are an indication that Gazans are seeking alternative methods to fight back, even at the price of a high death and injury toll, as has been and continues to be the case

 

.

Richard Falk

 

Professor Emeritus in International Law, Princeton University; between 2008-2014 he served as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council; his most recent books are Power Shift: On the New Global Order(University of Chicago, 2016) and Revisiting the Vietnam War(University of Cambridge, 2017).

 

It is important to understand some essential features of the distinctive place of Gaza in the wider context of the Palestinian struggle for elemental rights. Perhaps most fundamentally, unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not considered part of the ‘promised land’ that forms the substance of the Zionist Project to form a Jewish State that corresponds with its understanding of the scope of biblical entitlement.

 

At the same time, Gaza has a long history of centrality in the Palestinian national experience that stretches back before the time of Mohammed, and thus the inclusion of Gaza in Palestine’s vision of self-determination is vital. This collides with Israel’s desire to maintain a Jewish majority state, which would make it desirable for Gaza to be absorbed or at least administered separately by either Jordan or Egypt.

Gaza, more than the West Bank, has also been the center of Palestinian resistance, being the site where the First Intifada was launched in 1987 and where Hamas came to govern after it prevailed in internationally supervised elections of 2006 and in a struggle for governing authority the following year.

 

The intense hostility between Hamas and the PLO has fractured Palestinian political unity, weakening Palestinian diplomatic leverage, and making it more plausible for Israel to claim it has no Palestinian ‘partner’ in the search for a peaceful solution.

Such a background helps us understand why Gaza has experienced massively destructive attacks by Israel in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as the recent border massacre in response to the Great Return March that is the latest example of Israeli reliance on excessive violence and cruel tactics to crush Palestinian resistance.

 

Gaza also partakes of the wider fate of the Palestinian people, which in the time of Netanyahu and Trump seems extremely unfavorable, with respect to relief from the ordeal of a suffocating blockade that has lasted more than a decade and control policies designed to achieve de-development of the Gazan economy. In this regard, the safest prediction is a continuation of the cycle of repression and resistance with no change of basic circumstances. Even the Israeli expansionists do not seek to absorb Gaza, although its offshore deposits of natural gas might create a future temptation.

 

The longer vision of a Gazan future is clouded at present. Ideally, Gaza would participate in a single secular state embracing the whole of historic Palestine. Increasingly, the impracticality of the two-state solution has focused Gazan hopes either on a long-term ceasefire or a genuine peace process that establishes a single democratic state.

 

 

Sara Roy

 

Senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, specialising in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is also co-chair of the Middle East Seminar, jointly sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and co-chair of the Middle East Forum at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Her books include: The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1995, 2001, third edition 2016 with a new introduction and afterword and Arabic edition forthcoming in 2018); Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Pluto Press, 2007); and Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector (Princeton University Press, 2011, 2014 with a new afterword).

 

The question itself reflects the problem. It speaks to Gaza as separate and apart – severed from Israel, the West Bank, and the world. In this regard, Israel has been stunningly successful; it has not only removed and contained Gaza geographically, economically and legally; it has convinced us to understand and accept Gaza as something distinct and awful, unenduring, and therefore undeserving of a normal, worthwhile existence.

 

Gaza’s temporality has always defined Israel’s approach to the territory because Israel has never really known what to do with Gaza. Gaza has always been unruly, guilty of what for Israel is indefensible and unforgiveable: defiance. This accounts in part for Israel’s brutal treatment of the territory including a blockade now in its 12thyear, which has destroyed the local economy. Gaza was – and remains – the center of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and the injustice that sustains it.

 

The recent protests along the fence isolating Gaza from Israel, which at times exceeded 30,000 people, were a nightmare for Israel, a harbinger of things to come. No doubt one issue plaguing the Israeli government right now is how better to control Gaza.

 

This question, I am told, is at the heart of the American peace plan (especially since the West Bank has effectively succumbed to Israeli rule). Controlling Gaza in the future, however, will be no different from the past.  Gaza will continue to be treated as a humanitarian problem requiring nothing more than subsistence relief. Defining the parameters of Israel’s policy toward the territory, an Israeli defense official was clear and succinct: ‘No development, no prosperity, no humanitarian crisis.’

 

Gaza’s future must be informed by its past; yet, its lived reality has no connection to a past or a future. The majority of Gazans have no memory of Gaza before the destruction. History – both recent and far – is not so much absent as it is vacant, and without that history to navigate a way forward, there are no prospects worth thinking about or expectations worth having. People are so consumed by the present that mundane needs have become aspirational. The future is beyond conceptualisation.

 

If Gaza has a future outside incarceration, it lies in ending its liminality and present state of exception. It lies in admittance and inclusion. And it lies in returning to Gazans what they want most – a predictable, unexceptional life.

 

 

Abdalhadi Alijla

 

Palestinian-Swedish researcher and writer. Since April 2018, he has been an Associate Fellow at the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a member of the elected Executive Committee of the Global Young Academy for 2018-2019, Director of Institute for Middle East Studies, Canada (IMESC), and Regional Manager of the Varieties of Democracy Institute (Gothenburg University) for Gulf countries. His work has appeared in OpenDemocracy, Huffpost,Qantara, Your Middle East, Jaddaliyaand other media outlets.

 

Gaza has two futures: the future that the Palestinians living in Gaza are looking for, a Gaza open to the world with no fear, and the future that seems to be their destiny, which is the current reality of a life filled with misery. When I left Gaza more than a decade ago, I knew that I was leaving a place which seemed like another planet behind me, where the unemployment rate was high, Palestinian internal division was deepening, and the Israeli siege had only just started. Today, the situation in Gaza is catastrophic, literally.

 

The Palestinians of Gaza are paying the price for Israel’s occupation, and the detrimental policies of both Hamas and Fatah. The recent incidents in Ramallah and the Gaza strip, where Hamas and Abbas’s forces broke up protests taking place in opposition to the sanctions against Gaza by the PA, has proven that both political entities are acting as de-facto, Israel-delegated authoritarian forces.

 

The Palestinians of Gaza look for a bright future where they can move freely, study and have access to health care without being dehumanised. The future Gazans want is the future where ICT incubators flourish, and industries that have been destroyed by Israel, such as textiles, will return. The future of Gaza should be without the occupation, the siege, and political division.

 

The other future, which I see as the most probable, is the continuation of the suffering and dehumanisation of the Palestinians of Gaza by settler colonial Israel, as well as the negligence of the Palestinian leadership with respect to the demands of their citizens for unification and elections. This future is the one that nobody wants except the Israeli occupation. It is the future characterised by high rates of suicide, a slaughter every four years, and miserable economic and societal conditions.

 

 

Norman Finkelstein

 

Received his PhD from the Princeton University Politics Department. He has written many books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering(Verso, 2000), and most recently, Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom(University of California, 2018).

T

he modern history of Gaza begins in 1948 with the massive influx of expellees from the newborn state of Israel. In 1967, Gaza came under a brutal Israeli occupation. Israel alleges that it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but the consensus among legal specialists – including top Israeli authority Yoram Dinstein – is that Israel remains the occupying power. In 2006, after Hamas won ‘completely honest and fair elections’ (Jimmy Carter), Israel imposed a medieval-like blockade on Gaza. In the meantime, Israel has visited not fewer than eight ‘operations’ on Gaza since 2004. After the last massacre, Operation Protective Edge (2014), President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, went to Gaza and observed, ‘I’ve never seen such massive destruction ever before.’

 

UN agencies have now pronounced Gaza ‘unlivable.’ ’I see this extraordinarily inhuman and unjust process of strangling gradually two million civilians that really pose a threat to nobody,’ UN humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, Robert Piper, observed last year. Echoing him, UN Human Rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, recently deplored the fact that Gazans have been ‘caged in a toxic slum from birth to death.’

 

On March 30, the people of Gaza initiated weekly mass demonstrations to break the illegal siege. Human rights groups report that the marches have been overwhelmingly peaceful. But more than 110 Gazans have been killed and more than 3,700 injured (many permanently) with live ammunition by Israeli snipers. ‘Israeli forces’ repeated use of lethal force in the Gaza Strip since March 30, 2018, against Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life,’ Human Rights Watch concluded in a major investigation, ‘may amount to war crimes.’

What is the future of Gaza?

Sara Roy of Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies has observed that ‘innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink, and likely by the soil in which they plant.’ Experts say that before long Gaza will be overrun by typhoid and cholera epidemics. It is impossible to predict the future except to say, if the international community doesn’t act, Gaza won’t have one.

 

A 2015 UN report by New York State judge Mary McGowan Davis called on Israel to lift the blockade ‘immediately and unconditionally,’ while the European Parliament in 2018 called for an ‘immediate and unconditional end to the blockade.’ If Israel isn’t compelled to end the illegal and inhuman siege, the judgment of History will not be kind. Will it one day be asked, why was the world silent when Gaza was crucified?

 

 

Toufic Haddad

 

Completed his PhD in Development Studies at the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London in 2015, and has recently engaged in postdoctoral research for the Arab Council for Social Sciences, exploring the political economy of siege and resilience in the Gaza Strip. Author of Palestine Ltd.: Neoliberalism and National Liberation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory(I.B. Taurus, 2016).

The future or Gaza needs little prognostication: what after all could be the future of a territory of 360 km2crammed with two million people, two thirds of whom are refugees; whose water is entirely poisoned; whose civilian infrastructure has effectively collapsed; where food dependency exceeds 80 percent, and unemployment is the highest in the world? In 2017, the UN advanced its own 2012 prediction that the territory would become ‘unlivable’ by 2020, declaring the territory had already passed this dubious threshold.

 

Gaza has long been a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ well documented by the not-so-small cottage industry of local and international organisations designated to confer such designations.

 

And here lies part of the problem: the perpetually deteriorating humanitarian and developmental conditions that have come to define the ‘Gaza ghetto’ continually frame their subject matter as an object of international humanitarian appeal, or as a festering security dilemma.

 

It is this dual approach that bears much of the blame for Gaza’s tortured predicament, because the ‘problem of Gaza’ is ultimately a political problem. And it has been the deliberate attempt on behalf of these actors to avoid or suppress the political nature of Gaza that has led to its persistent worsening situation.

What after all is ‘the Gaza Strip’? The territory has no natural precedent, and can only be understood as a rump territory created in the wake of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine’s southern and coastal plains during the creation of the state of Israel.

 

Gaza’s concentration of historical and political injustices is too long to document in 400 words. The resulting ‘open air prison’ the territory has become is a scourge on the conscious of humanity.

 

Absented in the statistics documenting Gaza’s travails is the untold story of how this ugly brother of the West Bank consistently generated the Palestinian movement’s political vanguard, organising for refugee return, statehood and national liberation. While today this movement is led by Islamo-nationalists (Hamas), years ago this mantle fell to communists, Nasserists, Left nationalists (PFLP), and secular nationalists (Fateh).

 

The myth that this predicament can continue ad infinitum, solved through ‘technological fixes’, aid and yet more sophisticated military means – from drones and remote controlled machine guns, to underground walls, is precisely that – a myth.

 

Eventually Palestinians and their allies will develop means to more effectively counter their predicament, be this violently or nonviolently.

 

The question then becomes how much blood is to be shed before then, and perhaps more importantly, what history will write about those who perpetuated this bloodshed, by design or by default.

 

Atef Alshaer

 

Lecturer in Arabic Studies at the University of Westminster. He has written several research papers and monographs, including Poetry and Politics in the Modern Arab World(Hurst, 2016); Language and National Identity in Palestine: Representations of Power and Resistance in Gaza(IB Taurus, 2018); the co-authored The Hezbollah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, with Dina Matar and Lina Khatib (Hurst, 2014); and an edited volume, Love and Poetry in the Middle East(Hurst, 2018).

 

Known as the biggest open air prison, Gaza’s future lies in it being totally liberated. Besieged and battered by three devastating wars and constant attacks by Israel, ruled by Hamas without any regimes nearby to cooperate with its partisan rule, Gaza is left to fend for itself in the face of a world that seems content to look at it as an abyss, the ultimate brainchild of Israel and its ideology of racist Zionism, with its irrational and irresponsible American patronage.

 

Much has been written about Gaza, but little has been done to alleviate its suffering, that of two million people trapped for more than a decade in 365 square kilometres. It is crowded as well as poverty-stricken, and lacking in opportunities for its vibrant and often educated youth. It is depleted of humane prospects for the future, yet Gazans continue to resist and innovate in their resistance; and the latest manifestation of this is the Great March for Return, held to commemorate the 70thanniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, the dispossession from historic Palestine.

 

The past of Gaza has been tragedy and resistance and so is its present and so will be its future. The only meaningful future for Gaza is for it to be reunited with historic Palestine within a one democratic state solution, where every citizen from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea has equal political and human rights. Short of that, Gaza will remain deadlocked between uncaring Egypt on the one hand and deadly Israel on the other. Alas, it will continue to be without an open border to connect it to the outside world, and without viable infrastructure reinforced with fair political solutions that address the root cause of its wretched state. This is anchored in the liberation of the whole of Palestine from the Israeli occupation and its entrenched mind-set of apartheid.

I

t is utterly sad that Gaza lacks a future that befits its extraordinarily warm and movingly steadfast people, notwithstanding the pain. Gaza was once part of the fabric of the Mediterranean world. Wrenched from its natural bosom, Gaza will most unfortunately remain a suffering shadow of its former prosperous self.

 

Helga Tawil-Souri

 

Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University where she is also the Director of the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. She co-edited Gaza as Metaphorwith Dina Matar (Hurst, 2016), and teaches and writes on technology, media, territory and politics in the Middle East, with a focus on Palestine-Israel.

 

That the question of a future of Gaza separate from Palestine makes sense already foretells a destination. Gaza has been severed: from Palestine, and from the world; while that world either supports Israel’s leading role in Gaza’s undoing, or, at best, throws up its arms in despair or in disregard, and lets Gaza sink into an abyss.

 

There is no doubt – looking at the past five, then, twenty, fifty, seventy years – that Gaza gets progressively worse. Based on that calculation, the future is grim: dispossession, destitution, misery, abjection; more of the past seven decades, for a growing population whose age is younger, who has never known anything outside of the man-made disaster called Gaza.

 

In the immediate future, Israel is hell-bent on making Gazans disappear… How, I’m not sure. The coming years and decades are too painful for me to ponder.

So my thoughts move along the measure of centuries instead. I think of the Maya (or the Mycenaeans): disappeared civilisations about whom we rely mostly on archaeologists to reconstruct an understanding, while we treat their ruins as playgrounds on which to take holidays along pretty seasides. Gaza might become a tourist destination with beautiful beaches in three or four-hundred years. But unlike with the fate of the Maya, or the Mycenaeans, our task today is to document – so that centuries from now, Gaza’s fate is not sealed as yet another disappeared culture.

 

There should be records, notes, reports; recipes, stories, biographies, pictures. Accounts and illustrations about life with constant military machines flying overhead and life forcefully severed from outside contact except virtually. Recordings, compilations, archives of sub-local dialects, idioms, performances, prayers, songs, architectural details, engravings, memories (of those who remember ten, twenty, seventy years ago). Details of weddings and burials and surgeries performed in the dark and the din of generators; figures, measurements and reports of babies orphaned, footsteps taken, high school graduation ceremonies held, regardless of physical and psychological scars wreaked.

 

Centuries from now, the disappearance of Gaza will be a permanent stain on humanity’s conscience, a moment of failure when society allowed a mighty victim to do away with a group of individuals because of the circumstances they were born in. There will be records that this disappearance wasn’t a miracle, a freak series of natural causes (as what presumably befell the Maya), or an inexplicable migration of millions of people. No, in Gaza, it was a protracted, painful, relentless sociocide, and the world clapped along or shed a tear, but not more. And we would have the records.

 

 

Hagar Kotef

 

Senior Lecturer in Political Theory and Comparative Politics at SOAS, University of London. Her book Movement and the Ordering of Freedom (Duke University Press, 2015) examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces.

 

’m writing these words as the future of Gaza seems to oscillate, once again, between a bright (?) economic future promised by the new American peace-enterprise, and yet another round of the ongoing ‘cycles of fighting’, as they are officially termed. In recent days, we have seen increasing attacks on ‘Hamas’ infrastructures’ (which in Gaza often means simply ‘infrastructure’), retaliations on Hamas’ part, and an inflated rhetoric that we know too well from previous rounds. (Is there a future for a place that seems to be situated within a cyclical temporality?)

 

Trying to predict the future would therefore be foolish, but I am also not sure I want to use this question as an opportunity to imagine. As a Jewish Israeli, this is not my imagination to unfold, not my space to occupy.

 

The point of departure should therefore be the imagination of people in Gaza, and the recent demonstrations at Israel’s buffer zone provide an opportunity to listen. Those demonstrations entailed a demand for a future: a demand to be set free of the siege that has lasted (depending how and what one counts) at least 11 years, but also, through the name ‘the Great March of Return’, a demand to change the terms through which this freedom is understood.

It is not just a demand for basic human conditions: electricity for more than four hours a day, drinking water (96% of the water in Gaza is not drinkable), the right to fish, to work, to reconstruct demolished homes, the right to move, to see family members, to receive education, medical treatment; it is also a demand for a political language, a space, where the people of Gaza have a place not just as humanitarian subjects but as political actors. This demand, I believe, calls us to question initiatives such as the new American enterprise, but also to reflect on the terms of the question itself. As a question about the future of Gaza it undermines, I believe, precisely this latter – political – call for a future.

 

The future of Gaza should be integral to the future of Palestine, and any effort to separate the two questions already surrenders itself to the terms Israel has worked so hard to construct. Since 1967, and increasingly after the disengagement of 2005, and then the rise of Hamas and the division of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2007, Israel has been doing everything within its capacity – politically and militarily – to separate the future of Gaza from the future of the West Bank.

 

The recent attacks of the PA on demonstrators supporting Gaza show that the PA itself has accepted this division (if only as a tool to re-gain control over Gaza). The American enterprise seems to already take the isolation of Gaza almost for granted. When we ask about the future of Gazawe have already given up the question of the future of Palestine or have excluded Gazans from this question. We need to ask a different question then, or ask the question differently.

 

Joel Beinin

 

Donald J McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University. From 2006 to 2008 he served as Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of History at the American University in Cairo. In 2002 he served as president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. He has written or edited eleven books, most recently, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2016).

 

The Palestinian Great March of Return exposed both the diplomatic impasse over Israel/Palestine and the emergence of a new political alignment in the Middle East. The campaign, which began on March 30, was initiated by politically unaligned young men and women of the Gaza Strip as a protest against their miserable futures. They did so independently of both Hamas and Fatah, which have become increasingly corrupt while failing to improve their lives or to advance Palestinian political and human rights. Demonstrators demanded that the decade-long siege by Israel and Egypt be lifted and called for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes – highlighting the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, rather than its post-1967 consequences.

 

On May 14, as President Donald Trump’s coterie of hardline Zionist funders and supporters, represented by Sheldon Adelson and anti-Semitic evangelical Protestant preachers John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, celebrated the inauguration of the future US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli forces shot dead over 60 Palestinians and injured over 2000. Beyond verbal denunciations, the only practical response by any Arab state was Egypt opening its border with the Gaza Strip for the month of Ramadan, allowing a limited number of Palestinians to exit. The reason for the measured response of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt is that they have been forging an alliance with Israel directed against Iran.

While several secret meetings between Israelis and Emiratishave been reported, Saudi Arabia is reluctant to openly acknowledge its alignment with Israel. Israel is pursuing a more public relationship. Before Saudi Arabia and Russia kicked off in the opening game of World Cup 2018, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s official Arabic Twitter account wished Saudi Arabia ‘best of luck!

 

By withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, President Trump signalled willingness to follow Israel’s lead in pursuing realignment of the Middle East around an anti-Iranian front. Palestinians may become collateral damage of this agenda, first and foremost the 1.9 million residents of the Gaza Strip, which may become ‘unliveable’ by 2020 according to a UN report. However, the Saudis and Emiratis, who have recently bailed out Egypt to the tune of $8 billion, could easily become the lead funders for the rehabilitation of Gaza if they became convinced that their anti-Iranian project requires it.

 

Magid Shihade

 

Assistant professor of International Studies at Birzeit University. His book, Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict among Palestinians in Israelwas published in 2011 by Syracuse University Press. His recent articles include: ‘Global Israel: Settler Colonialism, Ruptures and Connection’, Borderlands, 2015, and ‘Education and Decolonization: On Not Reading Ibn Khaldun in Palestine’, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, 2017.

 

In thinking about the future of Gaza, one has to consider the history of modern Palestine, and the founding of the Israeli settler colonial state in 1948, which has led to a process of elimination of the native Palestinian society, through displacement, separation, maiming, encampment, caging and killing.

 

The Israeli state is a racialised and racist state which affects not only the native Palestinians but also Jews of non-western origin, and migrants from Africa and Asia. Since its founding it has been engaged in violence against the native Palestinian population, and peoples in neighbouring states. It has also been engaged in wars, arms exports and support for criminal regimes, creating havoc around the world. Like all settler colonial states, its impact can be seen locally, but more than other cases it has been a global issue from the start.

 

Thus, while the Israeli state must be seen as a European settler colony (like the US and others), its specific features must be considered. Its uniqueness lies in its claims to represent world Jewry – implicating Jews wherever they live, forcing them to take a stand either as supporters of Zionism, or as detractors of a racist ideology and state – as well as in its self-image as the West’s front against Asia and Africa. But it is also unique because it has created millions of Palestinian refugees since 1948, who live in many countries and have gained the support of the local populations. And, by being part of the western global exportation of arms and violence, it has created mass opposition around the world.

 

In short, the Israeli state and its policies towards Gaza and Palestine must be seen in their global context, and in their connection to the rise and dominance of racist western capitalist, colonial, and imperialist policies. They are part of a larger structure that has been at war against the most vulnerable at home and abroad, those who are considered ‘Other’ or disposable, and against nature and its limited resources.

 

So, the future of Gaza-Palestine is part of the future of the world. It is the future of surviving the current conditions, created by the many who have been negatively affected by them, and needs a global framework. In thinking about the possibility of a better future, one is reminded of the concept of asabiyya(social solidarity) defined by the 14-15th century scholar Ibn Khaldun. In his analysis of how societies manage to survive, Ibn Khaldun argued that some form of common feeling is needed among the members of a group. And this cooperation between people is not just an ethical issue, but a practical one.

 

Taking that concept to a global scale, one can imagine the majority of people having in common a respect for human lives, human dignity, equality, fair pay for labour, quality of life, the right to mobility, and a world where natural resources and the environment are respected, without which we cannot survive. For Gaza-Palestine to have a better future, we are responsible for working to create a different and a better world for much of its population.

 

Ran Greenstein

 

Associate professor of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Among his publications are Zionism and its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine(Pluto, 2014), and Identity, Nationalism, and Race: Anti-colonial Resistance in South Africa and Israel/Palestine(forthcoming).

 

For the last 70 years Gaza has been stranded between Israel and Egypt in a state of limbo. Not wanted but not given up; dominated but not subordinated; always controlled from the outside but left to its own devices from the inside; separated from the rest of Palestine but linked to it; incorporated into the system of domination but not integrated socially and politically.

 

Does its future have to look the same as its past and present?

 

To avoid that, it needs to reverse course, to become re-integrated with the rest of Palestine, to overcome the image of the bogeyman it has acquired in Israeli eyes.

 

Why has Gaza been such a problem for its neighbours? It epitomises the Palestinian situation; most of its population are refugees who regard pre-1948 Palestine as their true home after generations of life in exile. Yet, unlike other refugees, its people live within the boundaries of historical Palestine, a few miles away from their ancestral land. For three decades they could hop on a taxi and in an hour find themselves in Ashkelon or Jaffa, able to see the sights and work but not spend the night there, let alone return on a permanent basis. For the last two decades even this symbolic relief has been blocked, increasing the sense of isolation and desperation.

What can be done to change the future? First, Gaza must cease being a bone of contention between rival forces. The PA must stop punishing its people for making the ‘wrong’ electoral choice; Hamas must stop using it as an alternative political centre. Both sacrifice the interests of the people for the sake of power. This is replicated on the broader scene, with regional forces using diplomacy and money to play one faction against another. Internal Palestinian unity is essential for a move forward.

 

Reaching out to Israeli constituencies is another necessary step. Gaza’s only viable future is with the rest of Palestine and that means Israelis are essential to the picture. They must be seen as part of the solution not only part of the problem. A strategy that gathers progressive forces on a platform of individual and collective equality, redress and justice for all, is needed. Only through political dialogues among all population segments can a common solution be developed, aided by global solidarity that is guided by local actors.

 

Richard Hardigan

 

University professor based in California. He is author of The Other Side of the Wall(Cune, 2018). His website is richardhardigan.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @RichardHardigan.

 

The quality of life in the Gaza Strip is appalling. According to a 2017 studyby the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, the unemployment rate hovers at 44% (61.9% for those under the age of 29). 80% of Gazans depend on humanitarian aid, while 60% suffer from food insecurity. 96.2% of the Strip’s water is contaminated and undrinkable. Electricity is cut for all but a few hours every day. Raw sewage is pumped into the sea. And the situation is only worsening. A reportissued by the United Nations in 2015 predicted that the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has calledthe situation in Gaza ‘one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that [he has] seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the United Nations.’

 

The crisis in Gaza is entirely man-made. It is a result of the Israeli blockade of the enclave, which began in 2007 after Hamas’ election victory that followed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005. Israel insists the purpose of its blockade is to diminish Hamas’ capacity to maintain or increase its weapons arsenal, but a quick scan of the items it bans – which includes such goods as chocolate and potato chips – reveals the mendacity of its claim. In fact, a US diplomatic cable quotedIsraeli officials as saying they wanted to ‘keep Gaza’s economy on the brink of collapse.’

 

Since the imposition of the blockade Israel has also engaged in three major assaults on Gaza, the consequences of which were devastating. Thousands of Palestinians – most of them non-combatants – died; tens of thousands of homes were destroyed or badly damaged; schools, hospitals, factories, farms, mosques, and infrastructure such as power and water plants were hit.

 

Israel’s policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip is to raise the level of suffering of the civilian population to such an extent that it will have no choice but to overthrow the Hamas government. But this is a serious miscalculation. Over the last decade Israel’s harsh measures have given Hamas the opportunity to cement its stranglehold on power. Only by easing its restrictions on the embattled enclave and allowing for its reconstruction can it hope to create an environment in which an extreme political movement such as Hamas cannot thrive. If Israel continues on its current path, the civilian population will eventually reach its breaking point. And when it does, the Gaza Strip is going to explode in a paroxysm of violence, the consequences of which will be devastating not only for the Palestinians, but for Israel, as well.

Salman Abu Sitta

 

A writer and activist on Palestinian refugees and the Right of Return. He has authored over 300 papers and articles and five books including the encyclopaedic Atlas of Palestine 1948and the expanded Atlas of Palestine 1917- 1966published in 2010. He is founder and president of the Palestine Land Society, UK, for the purpose of documenting the land and people of Palestine. The society website has a wealth of information at www.plands.org.

 

Gaza is the symbol of Palestine. Gaza is the part of Palestine which never willingly raised a flag other than that of Palestine. Gaza represents the conscience of the Palestinian people, which can express itself freely (most of the time), unlike in other regions in Palestine, under Israeli rule.

 

Gaza is not only the symbol but the centre of resistance to the occupation of a homeland.  In Gaza, the first commando operations to liberate occupied Palestine started in 1950. In Gaza, demonstrations against settling Palestinians in Sinai in 1954 and 1955 were met with killings and jail sentences. The cry of the people in the streets was ‘we want to return home, not further exile.’

 

In Gaza, the first popular movements to liberate occupied Palestine started just after al-Nakba. Fatah, Arab Nationalists, Muslim Brothers and Communists each vied to find the best strategy to liberate Palestine throughout most of the 1950s.

In Gaza, the first democratically elected Palestine Legislative Council was formed in 1961. From Gaza, the first Palestinian delegation travelled to New York in 1962 to address the UN on behalf of the Palestinian people. All previous representations at the UN had been made by Arab League members.

 

Why is Gaza Strip the most crowded place on Earth?

During the British Mandate on Palestine (1920- 1948), Britain, in contravention of its obligations to bring independence to Palestine, allowed European Jewish settlers to come to Palestine. During this period, the settlers, with British collusion, managed to control only 6% of Palestine. Armed and trained by the British, these Zionist settlers (later called Israelis) depopulated 675 Palestinian towns and villages and occupied by military force 80% of Palestine in 1948/49, after the unceremonious British departure.

Nowhere are the effects more striking than in southern Palestine. The southern half (50%) of Palestine was totally ethnically cleansed by the Israelis and the inhabitants of 247 villages have been pushed into 1.3% of the territory. That is the Gaza Strip. They now live in 8 refugee camps at a density of 7000 people/km2.

 

They literally see their land and homes across the barbed wire. Their land is still empty; the settlers’ density is only 7 people/km2.

The longest standing resolution in UN history since 1948, UNGA resolution 194, calls for the return of the refugees to their homes.

 

Three generations of refugees, as the youngest eloquently demonstrated in April and May 2018, insist on their Right of Return. There can never be any peace in the region without the right of 7 million Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, now occupied by 2% of Israelis.

 

The future of the whole region resides in Palestine. And the future of Palestine resides in Gaza. And the future of Gaza is in the Right of Return. And that calls for justice, well over due.

                 

 

 

GAZA: Grief, Horror, Outrage, Remembering

15 May

[Prefatory Note: Slightly revised at the end.]

 

GAZA: Grief, Horror, Outrage, Remembering

 

GRIEF

 

How can one not feel intense grief for the young Palestinians who out of despair and fury joined the Great March of Return, and so often found death and severe injury awaiting them as they approached the border unarmed!!?

 

This was not a gratuitous event, or something that happened spontaneously on eitherside. After 70 years of Palestinian suffering, with no end of torment in sight, to show the world and each other their passion was what would be seen as normal, even admirable, demonstrating a spirit of resistance that endured after decades of repression, violence, humiliation, and denial of the most fundamental of rights. After 70 years of Israeli statehood, this violent confirmation of our worst fears and perceptions, seals a negative destiny for Israel as far as the moral eye can see.

 

 

HORROR

 

When exposed to such visual images of resistance and sniper violence the scene expresses the horror of burning steel rubbing against raw flesh. There is no way to grasp this particular cartography of risk, vulnerability, and security than to have recourse the language and imagery of horror. Such a sad narrative of horror will linger on both sides to haunt both collective and individual memories, but one with tragic pride, the other with repressed shame.

 

The horror was magnified by coinciding with obscene celebratory events in Jerusalem where Americans representing the Trump presidency, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and the American Ambassador, David Friedman, brought infamy to the United States by this unseemly display of indifference to crimes against humanity being unabashedly committed as they spoke. Such moral and political insensitivity will not and should not be forgotten.

 

 

OUTRAGE

 

Words are all we have, but they will do. As Thomas Merton taught some crimes

are situated in the domain of the unspeakable.

 

The occasions for outrage about the treatment of the Palestinian people are many, but the Israeli reaction to this Palestinian march reaches a new level of moral, political, and legal wretchedness. It recalls the cry of religious leaders of conscience in the last stage of the Vietnam War, expressed by their dutiful compilation of criminal acts of American violence committed in relatively defenseless Vietnam bearing the telling title—NOT IN OUR NAME.

 

As Jews, as Americans, as human beings, isn’t it about time to take a similar stand, and at least create symbolic distance between the perpetrators of these crimes and ourselves?

 

The feeble Israeli claims of its right of self-defense or attributing Palestinian martyrdom to Hamas are so shallow and lacking in credibility as to discredit further rather than provide justifications for this exhibition of homicidal violence on a massive scale not as isolated incident but as a series of arrogant reenactments.

 

 

REMEMERING

 

Not with words or argument, but with tears, and tears will not do.

 

Certainly as the Martyrdom of Gaza, and quite possibly seen as a kind of silent bonding by the Palestinian people with the African victims of the Sharpeville Massacre (1960) or the civil rights marchers at Selma (1965) but far worse!

 

From this darkness will come an as yet undisclosed inspiration.  

Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a Conversation

4 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified text of an interview conversation with Khourosh Ziabari, initially published on the website of the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence on February 4, 2018, <info@odvv.org>] </info@odvv.org>

 

 

Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a conversation

 

Khourosh Ziabari: Humanitarian crisis in Gaza has entered its 11th year as the crippling siege by Israel is making the living conditions of Palestinians more complicated with time. The blockade in what is popularly referred to as the world’s “largest open-air prison” means growing unemployment, people having intermittent access to pure water, the economy is almost dysfunctional and poor infrastructure and lack of funding make the two-million population vulnerable to heavy rains and extreme weather. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories believes Israel is not doing enough to make the living conditions of Gaza Palestinians better, and the United States is also failing to play a constructive role.

 

Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, who has published and co-edited some 40 books on human rights, international humanitarian law and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an interview with the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof Falk shared his views on the recent controversy surrounding President Trump’s proposal to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the ongoing humanitarian emergency in the Palestinian territories.

 

Q: In a piece recently published on Foreign Policy Journal, you talked of Palestine as being a hugely discriminated against nation, which in the recent decades has undergone major hardships due to the inability or reluctance of the United Nations to take steps to balance the needs of the Palestinian people against the political leverage of Israel and its allies. The improvement of the living conditions of the Palestinians depends on a logical and justifiable way out being found to end the conflict. Is the international community really unable to come up with a sustainable and all-encompassing solution?

 

A: The failure of the international community with respect to the Palestinian people and their legitimate grievances is due to several special circumstances; most importantly, the underlying determination of the Zionist movement to control most of Palestine as delimited by the British mandate. In this respect, assertions by Israeli leaders of their desire for a political compromise should never been accepted at face value, and are patently insincere, public relations gestures seeking to influence international public opinion, and convey the false impression that Israel is seeking a political compromise with Palestine.

 

Secondly, this Zionist ambition is now strongly supported by the United States despite not being clearly articulated by the government of Israel. This obscurity, essentially a deception, allows the international community to act as if a peace process is capable of producing a solution for the conflict even though Israel’s actions on the ground point ever more clearly toward an imposed unilateral outcome, which essentially is a unilateral insistence that the conflict has been resolved in favor of Israel.

 

Thirdly, the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the U.S. translates into a geopolitical protection arrangement encompassing security issues and even extending to insulating Israel from censure at the UN, especially by the Security Council, and making sanctions impossible to impose. In such a setting, the Israelis are able to pursue their goals, while ignoring Palestinian grievances, which results in tragedy and suffering for the Palestinian people. Given the balance of forces, there is no end in sight that might end the conflict in a fair way.

 

Q: President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to move the U.S. embassy to this city met a big resistance at the United Nations, both on the General Assembly and Security Council levels. Why do you think the international community and even the major U.S. allies didn’t say yes to this proposal?

 

A: Trump’s initiative on Jerusalem ruptured whatever fragile basis existed for seeking a diplomatic solution for relations between Israel and Palestine. There had been a clear understanding, respected by prior American leaders, that the disposition of Jerusalem was a matter that was to be settled only through negotiations between the parties. This understanding was broken by the Trump initiative for no apparent reasons beyond pleasing Netanyahu and some wealthy Zionist donors in the U.S. Beyond this, for Trump to side with Israel on such a sensitive issue, which deeply matters symbolically and substantively, not only for Palestinians, but for Muslims everywhere, and even for Christians, damaged beyond repair the credibility of the United States to act an acceptable intermediary in any future peace process.

 

American credibility was at a low level anyway, but this latest step relating to Jerusalem, removed, at least for the foreseeable future, any doubt about the American partisan approach, and more dramatically, made it evident that diplomacy based on the two-state solution had reached a point of no return.

 

In one respect, the Trump move on Jerusalem lifted the scales from the eyes of the world. It should have been clear for some years that the size of the settlement phenomenon and the influence of the settlers, now numbering about 800,000, had made it impractical to contemplate the establishment of a genuinely independent and viable Palestinian state. As well, the U.S. had long ceased to be an honest broker in the diplomatic settings that were described by reference to ‘the peace process,’ and probably never was partisan from the outset of the international search for an outcome that was a genuine political compromise. If there is to be an effective diplomacy with respect to the relations between the two peoples, it must, in any event, be preceded by dismantling the apartheid structures that were developed by Israel over the decades to subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole and the United States must be replaced by a credible third party intermediary. Israel feels no pressure to accept such changes, and so there is no current alternative to exerting pressure on this untenable status quo through support for militant nonviolent forms of Palestinian resistance and the global solidarity movement, with a special recognition of the contributions of the BDS campaign. It may be relevant to note that the BDS Campaign has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.

 

Q: In the recent years, many resolutions and statements have been issued in condemnation of the expansion of Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied following the Six-Day War in 1967 by the UN General Assembly and its affiliated human rights bodies. Even the UNSC Resolution 2334 (2016) declares Israel’s settlement activity a “flagrant violation” of international law. Is the publication of statements and condemning a state, while the state itself doesn’t recognize the demands and considers them invalid, a viable solution? If the international community is convinced that Israel should stop the illegal settlements, then how is it possible to make it happen?

 

A: The continued expansion of the settlements despite their flagrant violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention is both an expression of Israel’s contempt for international law and for world public opinion. It also reveals the impotence of the UN to do anything effective to impose its will that is any more consequential than the issuance of complaints. When geopolitical realities shield the behavior of a state from international pressures, the UN is helpless to implement its resolutions, and international law is put to one side. The UN is an organization of states, and limited in its capacity to shape behavior, especially by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As such, the UN was never expected to have the constitutional capacity to overcome the strongly held views and commitments of the five states given permanent membership and the right of veto in the Security Council in the UN Charter. The Security Council is the only organ of the UN System with clear authority to reach and implement decisions, as distinct from advisory opinions and recommendations. The Israel/Palestine conflict is an extreme version of the Faustian Bargain struck between the geopolitical power structure and global justice, which was written into the UN Charter and the constitutional framework of the UN, as well as exhibited in UN practice over the years.

 

Q: News reports and figures show that the living standards and the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip are getting worse as time goes by. The unemployment rate has climbed to 46%. Research organizations and local media say 65% of the population is grappling with poverty and the food insecurity rate is roughly 50%. How do you think the perturbing humanitarian crisis in Gaza can be alleviated?

 

A: It is difficult to comprehend accurately the Israeli approach to Gaza as its motivations are very different from its stated justifications. Israeli policy often appears cruel and vindictive, with security rationales sounding more like pretexts than explanations. Excessive force has been repeatedly used by Israel in Gaza, and little effort to achieve some kind of tolerable stability has been made.

 

Israel has rejected a series of proposals for long-term ceasefires put forward by Hamas during the past decade. Israel has periodically attacked Gaza, inflicting heavy damage on a helpless and impoverished civilian society in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014 while the international community condemned these excessive uses of force. Now that the economic squeeze is pushing Gaza once again toward the brink of a humanitarian disaster the ordeal of the nearly two million Palestinians entrapped and utterly vulnerable. The situation in Gaza is once again a matter of grave concern, with humanitarian alarms being sounded by those with knowledge of the precarious health and subsistence crisis facing the population.

 

It is unclear what Israel actually wants to have happen in Gaza. Unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not part of the Zionist territorial game plan, and is not considered part of biblical Israel. To the extent that Israel is pursuing a one-state solution imposed on the Palestinians, Gaza would be likely excluded as adding its population to that of Israel would risk exploding ‘the demographic bomb’ that has for so long worried Israelis because of endangering the artificially generated Jewish majority population, and supposed ‘democratic’ control of this ethnocratic polity.

 

The Zionist project has long resorted to extreme measures to achieve and then sustain the democratic pretension of its governing process, initially dispossessing as many as 700,000 Palestinians from the territory that became Israel in 1948. This coerced dispossession during combat was combined with a post-conflict refusal to allow those who left their homes and villages during wartime any right of return. Such ethnic cleansing was reinforce by completely destroying hundreds of Palestinian villages with bulldozers. This pattern of controlling the population ratio between Jews and non-Jews has been a persistent issue ever since the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 when the Jewish population of Palestine was about 5%. In the early period, the Zionist effort was focused on overcoming the Jewish demographic minority status by stimulating and subsidizing Jewish immigration. Yet even after the surge in immigration prompted by the rise of Nazism and European anti-Semitism, the Jewish population of Palestine was only about 30% at the start of the 1947-48 War.

 

Israel would probably like to have Gaza disappear. If that is not going to happen, then the second best solution is to entrust Jordan or Egypt with administrative control, security responsibility, and sovereign authority. So far neither Arab government wants to assume control over Gaza. With these considerations in mind, Israel seems determined to maintain instense pressure on Gaza, allowing the population to hover around the subsistence threshold, and to signal Israeli aggressiveness to the rest of the region, asserting a military presence from time to time that seems both punitive and designed to remind Gazans that resistance on their part would be met with overwhelming lethal force causing devastation and heavy casualties, including imposing a condition of enduring despair on the civilian population.

 

 

 

Jewish Ethnicity, Palestinian Solidarity, Human Identity

23 Jun

 

 

[Prefatory Note: the following interview with Abdo Emara, an Arab journalist was published in Arabic; it is here republished in slightly modified form. The changes made are either stylistic or clarifying. There are no substantive changes from my earlier responses. I think it worthwhile to share this text because the questions asked by Abdo Emara are often directed at me in the discussion period after talks I have given recently.]

 

Jewish Ethnicity, Palestinian Solidarity, Human Identity

 

  1. Many believe that all Jews are completely biased in favor of Israel. Since you are Jewish this raises some questions. Why have you supported the grievances of the Palestinians? And why does not Israel welcome you on its territory since you are a Jew?

It is a rather well kept secret that from the very outset of the Zionist movement there were many Jews, including some who were prominent in their countries who opposed or strongly criticized Zionist ideology, as well as the way Israel was established and subsequently developed. After 1948, and even more so, after 1967, Israeli supporters, strongly encouraged by Zionist leaders and Israeli diplomats, have increasingly claimed that the Israeli government speaks for all Jews regardless of whether or not they reside in Israel. If this claim of universal representation is denied or resisted that person will be identified by Zionists/Israelis either as an anti-Semite or as bad, a self-hating Jew, or some combination of the two. I have increasingly supported the grievances of the Palestinian people from two perspectives, in my capacity as an international law specialist and as a human being opposed to the oppression and suffering of others regardless of whether or not I share the ethnic and religious background of such victims of abuse. I have taken these positions without any feelings of hatred toward Jews or alienation from the Jewish people, or toward any people due to their ethnicity or brand of faith. My understanding of identity is much more bound up with common humanity and action in solidarity with victims of abuse than with worrying about whether or not they happen to be Jewish. I have drawn wisdom and insight from Jewish traditions, especially by heeding Old Testament biblical prophets, but as well from contact with the great texts of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. At the same time I am appalled by some passages in the OT that appear to counsel and even celebrate genocidal onslaughts against the ancient enemies of the Jewish people.

 

  1. How is the pretext of anti-Semitism used to silence critical voices in Israel and throughout the Western world? And what are the most influential institutions that try to silence and discredit academic voices that reject Israel’s repressive policies?

With the support of Israeli lobbying groups and ultra Zionist pressure groups and activists, there is a concerted campaign in Europe and North America to defame critics of Israel by calling them ‘anti-Semites.’ Especially since the Nazi genocide, to be called an anti-Semite whether or not there is any responsible basis for such accusations has become one of the most effective ways to discredit and distract. Even when accusations do not silence a critic, as in my case, they have detrimental and hurtful effects. Above all, they shift the conversation from the validity of the message to the credibility of the messenger. In the Israel/Palestine context this takes attention away from the ordeal experience by the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Thus, allegations of anti-Semitism function as both sword (to wound the messenger) and shield (to deflect and inhibit criticism and opposition).

 

  1. How do you interpret the Egyptian policies toward Gaza since the Sisi coup? How can these policies be changed? What is their legal status?

I interpret Egyptian policies toward Gaza since the Sisi coup of 2013 as primarily an expression of renewed collaboration with Israel with respect to Gaza as intensified by the Cairo view that Hamas is inspired by and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is enemy number one of the current Egyptian government. I am not familiar with the details of the Egyptian policy toward Gaza, although I know it imposes arbitrary and hurtful restrictions on entry and exit. Egyptian policies toward Gaza seem clearly to involve complicity with Israel’s worst abuses in Gaza, and entail potential criminal responsibility for Egyptian leaders and implementing officials. Israel seems clearly guilty of inflicting collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and for aiding and abetting the implementation of the unlawful blockade of Gaza that has been maintained by the state of Israel since 2007 with many cruel consequences for the Palestinians, including those needing to leave Gaza for lifesaving medical treatments.

 

  1. How do you evaluate Hamas’ new policy document?

I believe the Hamas document moves toward the adoption of a political approach to its relations with both Israel and Egypt. By a political approach I mean a willingness to establish long-term interim arrangements for peaceful coexistence with Israel and normalization with Egypt. Hamas expresses this willingness by indicating a readiness to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory occupied by Israel since the end of the 1967 War. Such a shift by Hamas does not acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as a state nor does it involve a repudiation of the 1988 Hamas Charter, although it does abandon the anti-Semitic rhetoric and seems more disposed to pursue its goals diplomatically and politically rather than by reliance on armed struggle, without giving up in any way rights of resistance, including armed resistance.

 

5- Did it became impossible for Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights throughout international organizations in the light of the latest UN refusal of UN ESCWA report your good-self drafted?

The reaction to our ESCWA report, “The Practices of Israel Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” did reveal a lack of independence and objectivity within the UN when placed under severe geopolitical pressure by the United States Government. It seemed clear that when the UN Secretary General ordered ESCWA to remove our report from their website, he was succumbing to pressure exerted by the United States, whose ambassador to the UN denounced the report without giving reasons as soon as it was released, presumably without it ever being read, and demanded its repudiation. Of course, the outcome was mixed. On the positive side, Rima Khalaf, the highly respected head of ESCWA resigned on principle rather than follow the directives of the SG, and the firestorm generated by the release of the report resulted in the text being far more influential and widely read than it might otherwise have been if treated appropriately. On the negative side, was the strong evidence that the UN is often unable to act effectively in support of the Palestinian people and their long struggle for their basic rights. The UN is geopolitically neutralized as a political actor even when Israel acts in flagrant and persisting defiance of international law and its own Charter.

 

6-Talk about the Trump-sponsored Century Deal between Palestinians and Israelis is increasing now … what are your expectations for such a deal? Will include what is said to be a “resettlement” of the Palestinians in Gaza and Sinai ?

 

Nothing positive for the Palestinian people can emerge from the wave of speculation that Trump will soon broker the ultimate peace deal. Israel is content with managing the status quo while gradually increasing its territorial appropriations via settlements, wall, security claims, and various demographic manipulations. Palestine lacks credible leadership capable of representing the Palestinian people. This partly reflects the low credibility and poor record of the Palestinian Authority and partly the deep split between Hamas and Fatah. Palestinian unity and credible leadership is a precondition for the resumption of genuine diplomacy. Geopolitical pressure should not be confused with diplomacy, and will not produce a sustainable peace even if the PA is force fed a one-sided outcome favorable to Israel that is disguised as a solution.

 

7- How does Israel see the current Egyptian regime? and to what extent did it feel comfortable towards Mohamed Morsi?

 

Israel seems quite content with the current government in Egypt, and the policies that Cairo is pursuing at home and in the region. This contrasts with its thinly disguised dislike of and anxiety about the Morsi government, and worries that Morsi’s Egypt would increasingly challenge Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, and possibly alter the balance of force in the region in ways contrary to Israel’s interests.

8- Does Israel hate the existence of a democratic regimes in the Arab region, especially the neighboring countries? And why?

 

Israel opposes the emergence of democracy in the Middle East for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that Arab governments to the extent democratic are more likely to reflect in their policies, the pro-Palestinian sentiments of their citizenry. As well, Arab governments that adhere to democratic values are more likely to act in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Also, it is easier for Israel to work out pragmatic arrangements with authoritarian leaders who have little accountability to their own people and have demonstrated a cynical readiness to sacrifice the Palestinians for the sake of their own national strategic interests. This has become most evident in the kind of diplomacy pursued by the Gulf monarchies in recent years, dramatically evident during the three massive attacks on Gaza by Israel during the past decade that have devastated a totally vulnerable civilian population.

  1. Why do the far right think tanks- like Gatestone Institute and Middle East Forum which is known by its absolute support of Israel praise President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Why do these centers deeply praise him?

My prior responses make it clear that the Israeli policy community is pleased with Egypt governed by an authoritarian leader who adopts an agenda giving priority to the suppression of political Islam, taking the form in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian governance under Sisi is precisely what Israel would like to see emerge throughout the region, and if not, then the second option, is prolonged chaos of the sort that exists in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. As well, the reinforced sectarianism of Saudi Arabia is consistent with Israel’s view that Iran poses the most dangerous threat, not so much to its security, but to its agenda of regional influence.

 

  1. In your opinion, what is the most Arab country supporting the Palestinian issue?

I would say that none of the Arab countries is genuinely supportive of the Palestinian struggle at the present time. With a note of irony the most supportive countries in the region are non-Arab: Turkey and Iran, and their support is extremely limited. It is a sad commentary on the drift of regional politics that the Palestinians are without governmental support in the Arab world, a reality magnified by the fact that if the publics of these countries were in a position to make policy, the Palestinians would be strongly supported. In this regard, including in the West, Palestinian hopes for the future are increasingly tied to the interaction of their own resistance in combination with a growing solidarity movement in Europe and North America. The UN and traditional diplomacy, as practiced within the Oslo framework for more than 20 years have proved to be dead ends when it comes to protecting Palestinian rights.

 

Two Sides of the Palestinian Coin: Hunger Strike/Gaza

28 May

 

 

The Palestinian hunger strike protesting Israeli prison conditions was suspended on May 27th after 40 days, at a time when many of the 1000 or so strikers were experiencing serious deteriorations of health, most were by then hospitalized, and the holy period of Ramadan about to commence creating continuity between the daytime fasting of the faithful and the prior desperate protest of the strikers. What was perhaps most notable about this extraordinary gesture of a mass prolonged hunger strike was that it was treated as hardly worthy of notice by the world media or even by the United Nations, which ironically is regularly attacked by diplomats and the media in the West for being overly preoccupied with Israeli wrongdoing.

 

It needs appreciating that recourse to a collective hunger strike is a most demanding form of political resistance, invariably provoked by prolonged outrage, requiring courage and a willingness to endure hardship by participants, as well subjecting their will to as harsh a test as life offers. To continue foregoing food for 40 days is a life-threatening and heroic, a commitment never lightly undertaken.

 

With Bobby Sands as their leader ten IRA imprisoned hunger strikers starved themselves unto their death in 1981. The world watched in rapt attention as this extraordinary spectacle of self-inflicted death unfolded day by day. Without openly acknowledging what was happening before their eyes, hardened political leaders in London silently took notice of the moral challenge they confronted, shifting tactics abruptly, and began working toward a political compromise for Northern Ireland in a manner that would have been unthinkable without the strike.

 

The Palestinians can harbor no such hopes, at least in the near term. Israel deliberately clouds the moral and political embedded challenges by releasing videotapes supposedly showing ‘snacks’ secretly being eaten by the strike leader, Marwan Barghouti. This fact that this accusation was vigorously denied by his immediate family and lawyer is occasionally noted in the world media, but only as a detail that does not diminish the impact of discrediting the authenticity of the strike. Whether true or not, Israel succeeded in shifting attention away from the strike and avoids doing anything significant to improve prison conditions, much less take steps to end the severe abuses of the Palestinian people over the course of an incredible period of 70 years with no end in sight. Prison authorities immediately resorted to punitive measures to torment those prisoners who were on strike. Such a response underscores ‘democratic’ Israel’s refusal to treat with respect nonviolent forms of resistance by the Palestinian people.

 

At this same time as the prison drama was unfolding, Gaza was experiencing a deepening of its prolonged crisis that has been cruelly manipulated by Israel to keep the civilian population of almost two million on the brink of starvation and in constant fear of military onslaught. Supposedly the caloric intake for subsistence has been used as a benchmark by Israeli authorities for restricting the flow of food to Gaza. And since that seems insufficient to impose the level of draconian control sought by Israel, three massive military attacks and countless incursions since the end of 2008 have inflicted heavy casualties on the civilian population of Gaza and caused much devastation, a cumulative catastrophe for this utterly vulnerable, impoverished, captive population. In such a context, the fact that Hamas has retaliated with what weaponry it possessed, even if indiscriminate, is to be expected even if not in accord with international humanitarian law.

 

A leading intellectual resident of Gaza, Haider Eid, has recently written a poignant dispatch from the front lines of continuous flagrant Israelu criminality, “On Gaza and the horror of the siege,” [<http://mondoweiss.net/2017/gaza-horror-siege/&gt;, May 25, 2017]. Eid ends his essay with these disturbing lines:

“We fully understand that the deliberate withholding of food or the means to grow food in whatever form is yet another strategy of Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid in Palestine, and, therefore, should be viewed as an abnormality, even a pogrom!

 But what we in Gaza cannot fathom is: Why it is allowed to happen?”

 

At the start of Ramadan, Haider Eid appeals to the world to stand up against what he calls ‘incremental genocide’ “ by heeding the BDS call made by Palestinian Civil Society.”

 

It is significant that Eid’s appeal is to civil society rather than to the Palestinian Authority entrusted with representing the Palestinian people on the global stage or for a revival of ‘the peace process’ that went on for twenty years within the Oslo Framework or to the UN that accepted responsibility after Britain gave up its Palestine mandate at the end of World War II. These conventional modes of conflict resolution have all failed, while steadily worsening the situation of the Palestinian people and nurturing the ambition of the Zionist movement to reach its goal of territorial expansion.

 

Beyond this, Eid notes that the authority of BDS is a result of an authoritative Palestinian call to which the peoples of the world are implored to respond. This shift away from intergovernmental empowerment from above to a reliance on empowerment by a victimized people and their authentic representatives embodies Palestinian hopes for a more humane future, and for an eventual realization of long denied rights.

 

It is appropriate to merge in our moral imagination the ordeals of the prisoners in Israeli jails with that of the people of Gaza without forgetting the encompassing fundamental reality—the Palestinian people as a whole, regardless of their specific circumstances, are being victimized by an Israeli structure of domination and discrimination in a form that constitutes apartheid and different forms of captivity.

 

It seems that the hunger strike failed to induce Israel to satisfy many of the demands of the strikers for improved conditions. What it did achieve was to remind Palestinians and the world of the leadership gifts of Marwan Barghouti, and it awakened the Palestinian population to the moral and political imperative of sustaining and manifesting resistance as an alternative to despair, passivity, and submission. Israelis and some of their most ardent supporters speak openly of declaring victory for themselves, defeat for the Palestinians. Regardless of our religious or ethnic identity we who live outside the circle of Israeli oppression should be doing our utmost to prevent any outcome that prolongs Palestinian unjust suffering or accepts it as inevitable.

 

What is unspeakable must become undoable.

 

 

A Gaza Centric History of Palestine: Past, Present, and Future

24 Sep

 

 

[Prefatory Note: The review below was initially published in the Journal of the Contemporary Thought and the Islamicate World (SCITIW REVIEW). http://sctiw.org/sctiwreviewarchives/archives/74 It is one of three remarkable books dealing with Gaza that I read this past summer. The other two are Mohammed Omer’s Shell Shocked: On the Ground Under Israel’s Gaza Assault (2015) (see my July 8, 2015 post, “Wartime Journalism: Mohammed Omer on Gaza”) and Max Blumenthal’s The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015). Both of these books are accounts of the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza by normatively engaged journalists. Omer giving an insider account that stresses the day by day experience of those exposed to such an onslaught that allows one to almost feel the excruciating pain, fear, and loss that Gazans felt during the attacks. Blumenthal also gives readers the benefit of his presence in Gaza and exposure to its courageous population, but he also includes valuable interpretative material. Their normative engagement is evident from their empathy with the Gaza ordeal of the Palestinians and understandable antipathy to Israel’s tactics and overall behavior. While discarding the liberal posture of neutrality, this high quality journalism under the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the sense of conveying the unfolding reality of important events in ways that deepen awareness and understanding beyond what mainstream media reports.

What makes Filiu’s book so important, beyond its extraordinary historical depth that allows readers to better grasp the tragedy that has befallen the Gazan people, is its persuasive insistence of the centrality played by Gaza throughout the experience of Palestinian resistance to Israeli dispossession and annexation, including the originality of the uprising known as the first intifada in 1987, and even more so an insistence that the Gaza holds the key to any kind of sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine. This is a striking view, given the extent to which both Israel and the world treat Ramallah and the Palestinian Authority as central, and Gaza as marginal if not altogether dispensable in the context of diplomatic negotiations and the outcome of the conflict.]

A Gaza-Centric View of the Palestine National Movement

 

Jean-Pierre Filiu, Gaza: A History, trans. John King, Oxford University Press, 2014, 440 pp., $29.95 US (hbk), ISBN 9780190201890.

The distinguished French historian, Jean-Pierre Filiu has produced a magisterial overview that recounts the ebb and flow of Gaza’s fortunes from ancient times up through the present. Although a member of the faculty of Sciences Po in Paris, Filiu is not a typical academic historian, having earlier served as a diplomat in Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia, published two novels, and even written popular songs, including one devoted to Gaza. Filiu’s pedigree training and scholarly contribution have earned him a deserved reputation as one of the world’s leading Arabists, and someone particularly expert on political trends in contemporary Islam. He has published several well-regarded books on the Middle East including The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising (2011) and From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadist Legacy (2015). The latter book poses the haunting question as to whether the political destiny of the peoples in the Middle East is to remain entrapped in the ongoing struggle between tyrannical leaders and Muslim fanatics. More than most commentators on the regional developments, Filiu perceptively realized that the democratizing hopes of the “Arab Spring” in 2011 would be short lived, and likely would be soon overwhelmed by a variety of counterrevolutionary forces intent on restoring an authoritarian status quo ante, however high the costs of doing so. The main motive of these counterrevolutionary elites was to avoid the twin fates of secular democracy and radical Islam.

Filiu’s authoritative treatment of Gaza starts with a useful background summary of its role as a trading center in the ancient world of the Middle East with a past traced back to the Hyksos people of the eighteenth century BCE. Readers are helpfully informed that Gaza, situated between Sinai and Negev Deserts and the Mediterranean Sea, became a major site of struggle for warring neighbors over the long arc of history, including Egyptian pharaohs, Persian kings, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Fatimids, Mamluks, Crusaders, and Ottomans. Filiu emphasizes the rivalry between Baghdad and Cairo with respect to Gaza as contributing to the frequent changes of fortune confronted by the city and region. A second chapter is informative about the generally unappreciated relationship of Gaza to hallowed figures in Islamic tradition. For instance, one principal mosque in Gaza is built to honor the memory of the great grandfather of the Prophet and another is dedicated to one of Muhammad’s close followers who accompanied him on his sacred journey from Mecca to Medina. Both of these men were prosperous traders who brought caravans of goods from Arabia for sale in

September 22, 2015

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the markets of Gaza. After presenting this early history, Filiu devotes the remainder of Gaza to Gaza’s experience in the continuing struggle over Palestine’s future that began in a serious way with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the British Mandate established after World War I under the auspices of the League of Nations lasting until 1947 when Britain turned over responsibility for Gaza’s future to the United Nations.

The remaining fifteen chapters of Gaza narrate the tortured and tormented experience of Gaza, the scene of many dreams of liberation and peace, but also a place of frequent carnage and a continuing ordeal of massive suffering. Gaza, which covers 140 square miles, the size of several middle sized American cities, still plays a central role in the unfolding Israel/Palestine conflict. In this fundamental respect, Gaza is a detailed historical narrative of past and present, which also underscores the totally unresolved future of Palestine as a whole, leaving readers free to contemplate Gaza’s future through the sophisticated optic that Filiu provides.

Filiu has produced, in a manner that I find extraordinary, a study of Gaza’s history over this incredible sweep of time that manages to exhibit at each phase of the narrative an astonishing mastery of detail. Filiu presents us with the dizzying interplay of dominant personalities interweaved with accurate depictions of the many defining incidents that give substance to the complex history and experience of Gaza. Such a tours de force of scholarly achievement does not make for easy reading given the density of the material. As a whole, Gaza is somewhat overwhelming in its cumulative impact as a result of its long succession of unfamiliar names and recitation of one detail after another that are difficult for a normal reader to keep in mind. At the same time, beyond the weight of Filiu’s facticity is a wealth of interpretative knowledge that imparts an unprecedented understanding of the contemporary experience of Gaza and the part it has played for both Israelis and Palestinians in the unfolding conflict.

Despite this challenge posed by this seeming surfeit of names and events, a kind of pre- digital example of information overload, Filiu facilitates comprehension of the main narrative motifs by framing his central interpretative analysis through reference to illuminating conceptual themes. He proceeds chronologically assessing the unfolding Palestinian ordeal in three clusters of four chapters each: “1947-1967: The Generation of Mourning,” “1967-1987: The Generation of Dispossession,” “1987-2007: The Generation of the Intifadas.” The book concludes with a final chapter entitled “The Generation of the Impasse?” as if the currently blocked situation in the underlying conflict between Israel and Palestine that has dominated the lives of the Gazan people for several generations seems likely to continue to be their fate for the indefinite future. Filiu ever so slightly lightens this gloomy prospect by putting a question mark at the end of the chapter title, perhaps acknowledging that not even a master historian should pretend to foretell Gaza’s future with confidence or indicate with confidence hopes and fears that the impasse will be broken at some point.

With this framework Filiu brilliantly portrays the Palestinian ordeal as it has tragically played out during the 67 plus years since Israel came into existence as a sovereign state. There is no attempt by Filiu to write this contemporary history of Gaza from a detached point of view, that is, by suspending empathetic feelings and ethical judgments. The tone of the narrative and the spirit of Filiu’s personal engagement with the Palestinian tragedy is clearly conveyed on the dedication page: “To the memory of the thousands of anonymous who died in Gaza before their time though they had a life to live en famille and in peace.” In effect, without sparing Palestinians and their leaders harsh criticism for failures of competence in the course of his narrative, including their embrace of brutality and

corruption, Filiu laments Palestinian victimization and decries Israeli oppression. With such a perspective it is not surprising that Filiu is generally sympathetic with Palestinian resistance activities over the years.

In discussing partition, the plan proposed by the UN General Assembly to overcome the tensions between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, Filiu makes clear that the Zionist movement was pushing the British hard to endorse such a division during the latter stages of the mandatory period. For Zionist leaders partition seemed at the time the only available path leading to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, thereby achieving the basic Zionist project in accord with the Balfour undertaking. In angry contrast, the most representative Arab voices in Palestine were early united in their fervent opposition to partition ever since it began to be seriously considered by the British government, increasingly aware of rising tensions between the resident Arab population of Palestine and the successive waves of Jewish immigration. Already in 1937 Fahmi al-Husseini, the mayor of Gaza, warned British authorities against partition and any related attempt to promote the emergence of Jewish statehood. Filiu quotes al-Husseini to illustrate this depth of opposition: “It would be better for the British government to consign the inhabitants of Palestine to death and destruction, or even to envelop them in poison gas, than to inflict upon them any such plan” (46). As we know, such Palestinian wishes were ignored not only by the British, but also by the organized international community acting under the auspices of the United Nations. In response to the mounting tension in Palestine between Jews and Arabs, Britain went ahead and proposed partition, which was consistent with their typical colonial endgame and legacy in many other parts of their collapsing empire (for instance, Ireland, India, Malaya, and Cyprus). When the UN in 1947 did finally propose partition in General Assembly Resolution 181, the British surprisingly abstained, perhaps feeling that there was nothing to be gained at that point by further antagonizing the Arab world, especially given the persistence of British interests in the region, epitomized by the retention of the Suez Canal.

The focus on the complex dialectics of victimization and resistance in Gaza is at the core of Filiu’s interpretative standpoint. This emphasis likely represents the most enduring contribution of the book to our appreciation of both the scholarship and policy relevance of the Gaza Strip to the overall story of the Israel/Palestine struggle. What Filiu does convincingly is to challenge the mainstream view that Gaza is but an ugly sideshow of the main Palestinian dramas, generally regarded by both sides to be the West Bank and Jerusalem. Of course, the centrality of Gaza’s victimization has become internationally recognized, especially after the imposition of a blockade in 2007 when Hamas took over the government in Gaza and during the last seven years when Israel launched savage attacks in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014 that eroded the carefully orchestrated public image of Israel as a benevolent political actor. What Filiu significantly adds to this image of Gazan victimization is the understanding that the broader movement of Palestinian national resistance has been centered in Gaza since the onset of the conflict with the Zionist project, and that this pattern of resistance continues in Gaza more than elsewhere in Palestine despite the severe and prolonged forms of collective punishment imposed by Israel on the Strip over the course of decades.

Even more challenging is Filiu’s controversial insistence that a sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine can only be achieved if Gaza will be accorded a decisive role in the process. Filiu underscores this belief in his drastic revision of thinking surrounding the peace process in the closing sentences of Gaza: “It is in Gaza that the foundations of a durable peace should be laid…The Gaza Strip, the womb of the fedayin and the cradle of the

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intifada, lies at the heart of the nation-building of contemporary Palestine. It is vain to imagine that a territory so replete with foundational experiences can be ignored or marginalized. Peace between Israel and Palestine can assume neither meaning nor substance except in Gaza, which will be both the foundation and the keystone” (340).

Filiu’s view of a peaceful solution challenges the view of most Israelis that Gaza, without figuring in Israeli biblical claims, and containing 1.8 million Palestinians hostile to Israel’s very existence, has no place in Israel’s conception of its own final borders or of an acceptable outcome of the conflict. Israelis generally regard Gaza as nothing more than a bargaining chip in any future peace negotiations. From Israel’s perspective Gaza is the one unwanted part of occupied Palestine (in sharp contrast, with Jerusalem and the West Bank), an assessment provisionally expressed by Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, which involved the withdrawal of IDF forces and the removal of Israeli settlers in a plan conceived and implemented by the Israeli hardline leader Ariel Sharon. Gaza continues to be viewed as a threat to Israeli security if ever allowed to become consolidated with the West Bank in a future Palestinian state and is viewed as a threat to Israel’s ethnocratic and democratic claims if incorporated into a single Israeli state encompassing the whole of historic Palestine.

With respect to Gaza, Israelis seem now to prefer either retaining control over a subjugated and devastated Gaza or inducing Egypt to resume responsibility for administering Gaza. The Egyptian government has made clear its unwillingness to accept responsibility for governing Gaza, which makes the unfortunate present situation the most likely scenario for the foreseeable future. In this sense, the whole burden of Filiu’s assessment is at odds with the manner in which Washington framed the “peace process,” which, as might be expected, seems based on an acceptance of Israel’s view of the marginality of Gaza with respect to the final resolution of the conflict.

Filiu’s mode of highlighting Gaza also challenges the views of the Palestinian Authority, with its capital in Ramallah, that gives its highest priority to ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, getting rid of as many Israeli settlements as possible. The Palestinian Authority seems to care little about the fate of Gaza, especially since Gaza fell under the control of Hamas in 2007, although its formal position continues to include Gaza as an integral part of a Palestinian state.

In this respect, Filiu’s Gaza-centric interpretation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is by far the most original and controversial part of his historical account. It rests on a carefully documented narrative of Gaza’s role as the true center of Palestinian resistance and resilience throughout more than six decades of struggle. As Filiu mentions, the most perceptive of Israeli leaders, notably David Ben-Gurion, were nervous about the developing situation in Gaza from the earliest period of Israel’s existence, especially as Gaza became the default option for many Palestinians displaced during the nakba, the occasions of massive expulsion and dispossession that caused so many Palestinians to be driven from their homes, and to seek sanctuary in Gaza, the West Bank, and neighboring Arab countries. In Filiu’s view, throughout the war that produced the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state, “…Israeli units were systematically driving the Arab population out of the combat zone even when their villages offered no resistance to the advance of the Zionists” (62). The sadness and desolation of dispossession resulted in Gaza becoming early in the conflict dominated and radicalized by refugees and their profoundly alienating experiences. In the late 1940s Palestinian refugees amounted to more than 75% of Gaza’s total population.

The large refugee camps spread throughout tiny Gaza became focal points of ferment and eventually resistance, taking the initial form of the fedayin insurgent activities from the

1950s on. It was the fedayin fighters that found ways to penetrate Israel and inflict casualties particularly on soldiers and police, and later, on Israeli settlers in Gaza. This type of armed struggle inevitably prompted Israeli reprisal raids that were from their outset deliberately disproportionate. As Filiu observes, “[i]t was in Gaza that the fedayin were moulded, and the Hebrew State would soon make Gaza pay for it dearly” (94). This prediction was fulfilled in 1956, Egypt being displaced from Gaza, and Israel occupying the Strip for four months as an aspect of the Suez War, with accompanying massacres of Palestinian civilians being carried out by the Israeli military prior to a UN protective force being inserted to monitor the border. Filiu asks this provocative question: “Is there any doubt that the history of Gaza would have taken a different turn had a Palestinian entity been established there, under UN protection, in defiance of Israel, while maintaining special ties with Egypt” (105-106)? Although Filiu seems to have meant the question to be rhetorical, I am skeptical of any supposition that Gaza might have been spared Israeli fury even if the UN had agreed to sponsor and protect Gazan self-determination and sovereignty within the less crystalized climate of opinion in 1956. The political will to confront Israel has never existed on a global level or within the United Nations except to the extent of adopting a public discourse sharply challenging Israel’s policies and practices that is reinforced by periodic censure moves that were generally softened or opposed by the West.

As dramatic as the fedayin phenomenon, the outbreak of the intifada in 1987 that witnessed an unexpected mobilization of Palestinian civil society in Gaza, later spreading to the West Bank, challenged Israel’s capacity to maintain order in occupied Palestine. As Filiu persuasively argues, it was the fedayin and intifada that finally lent credibility and inspiration to the Palestinian national struggle, somewhat overcoming the humiliating failure of the pathetic international efforts by neighboring Arab states to challenge the existence of Israel. The failure of these several regional wars, culminating in the disastrous Arab defeat in the 1967 War, which greatly expanded Israel’s territorial identity, resulted in a second and permanent occupation of Gaza, with the war having the geopolitical effect of transforming Israel in American strategic thinking from being a heavy burden on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to becoming a major strategic asset. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, “the rest is history.”

Filiu gives a fascinating portrayal of the rise of Islamism in Gaza, including a depiction of the charismatic leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by an Israeli missile in 2004. What Filiu’s discussion shows it that the early Islamic efforts in Gaza, inspired by and derivative of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, were devoted on principle to resistance activities within the law, focusing on a long range view of liberation by way of family values and education. It was only as a result of Israeli oppression in Gaza and a growing rivalry for popular allegiance with the secular coalition, the Palestine Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, that led to the formation of the militant Hamas, and with this development, to extreme violence, highlighted by suicide bombing attacks within Israel in the late 1990s, often directed at the civilian population. Israel, at first, actually encouraged the political emergence of Islam, supposing that it would weaken what was perceived to be its principal adversary, the PLO, but as time passed, and Hamas tactics shifted to suicidal violence, Israel treated Hamas as a terrorist organization, and remains unwilling to back off such a view despite Hamas’ effort to pursue a political track for reaching its national goals since it took part in Palestinian elections in 2006.

Arafat is duly presented as the leading Palestinian liberation figure and international diplomat, but also deeply criticized by Filiu for the political innocence of his deferential approach to the United States and accompanying naïve hopes that Washington would deliver

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a just peace to the Palestinians after the Oslo Framework of Principles had been agreed upon in 1993. Filiu draws our attention to Arafat’s reaction to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which brought tears to his eyes and the tormenting cry “It’s over, it’s over” (234)—meaning the prospect of a negotiated peace died with Rabin. Although Filiu does not evaluate Arafat’s reaction, it seems exaggerated, given Rabin’s acquiescence in expanding the settlement movement in the West Bank and Jerusalem and his “iron fist” policies in reaction to the first intifada.

One of the several virtues of Filiu’s historical approach is his willingness to employ evaluative language to describe Palestinian experience of victimization and Israeli tactics of oppression. He repeatedly refers to Israeli practices as imposing “collective punishment,” and as resulting in “massacres” of innocent Gazans, and of the experience endured by Gaza’s population as trauma, including “collective trauma.” At the same time, despite being highly critical of Israel’s approach, Filiu avoids any condemnations based on international humanitarian law or international criminal law. Filiu does not, unlike Ilan Pappé and other critics of Israel’s behavior in Gaza, speak of “genocide” or even “crimes against humanity.” In general, I conclude that Filiu’s sense of critical history with respect to Gaza does not accord significant relevance to international law.

In conclusion, Filiu provides a reader with a wealth of information, an historical perspective that greatly deepens our appreciation of the importance achieved by Gaza in the past, and above all, depicts the brutality of Israel’s behavior toward the people of Gaza and its failure to quell the spirit of Palestinian resistance. At the center of Filiu’s argument, beyond his assessment that the present period is best characterized as one of “impasse,” is the claim that Gaza remains the keystone for a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a view shared by neither the formal Palestinian leadership nor by any influential Israeli, American, or European leaders, past or present. However this issue is resolved, Filiu is highly successful in making a reader appreciate Gaza’s illustrious past and the crucial role that recent generations of its people have played in keeping the fires of Palestinian resistance burning even in the face of Israel’s cruel, domineering, and oppressive behavior.

A few final comments on Filiu’s historiography. First of all, I wonder whether it was necessary to provide so much factual detail in narrating the history of Gaza; it seems to me that the main interpretative lines of assessment could have been developed as authoritatively, and with a gentler reading experience. Secondly, I think that the ethical forthrightness of Filiu’s approach lent added clarity to his interpretive perspectives, and was valuable as a matter of “full disclosure” of author to reader. If hidden from view, it would have raised questions about integrity and trust. And thirdly, the inclusion of prescriptive ideas in a work of contemporary history gives greater practical relevance to the understanding of the past being set forth. Policymakers on all sides would gain much from Filiu’s deeply considered argument for the centrality of Gaza to the Palestinian national struggle and to hopes for a sustainable peace that protects the rights of both peoples on the basis of equality.