By Vijay Prashad
Everything is known of the everyday indignities of living under the Israeli occupation: the checkpoints, the separation wall, the embargo, the settlers, the IDF raids… Much has been written about individual acts of violence and inconvenience. The fundamental immobility of the Palestinians is not often underlined. Palestinians in Gaza are cut off from this in the West Bank, who are themselves not allowed into Israel proper. The seminars I attend rely upon Skype to link intellectuals, whose academic freedom is violated systematically by Israel. Gaza is in a spectacular form of isolation. But the West Bank is also caged in.
The list of indignities when listed again and again attain the status of making the occupation eternal. The Palestinian comes across as victim. The Israeli as powerful and the victor. This is the myth of the IDF and Mossad: that they are invincible and legendary. Each retelling affirms the Israeli project. The Palestinian movement is tossed into purgatory.
Nothing is further from the truth. Israeli occupation is a failure. The arrogance and anxiety of the IDF at the checkpoints shows their tenuous hold on power. The exhausted swagger of the occupying police in Jerusalem marks the futility of their project. One policeman tells me he is fed up. He finds his job hopeless. The most messianic zealots are the settlers. They are armed and violent. For them the Arab is vermin. They have descended into inhumanity. Their hold on Israeli politics is firm.
The history of this settler is an old one. It had been identified by the Palestinian elite at its start. Historian Mahmud Yazbak of Haifa University has revealed this in his archival research. He quotes the newspaper Filastin (27 August 1913): ‘These Zionist foreigners come to us after humiliation and expulsion from their own countries. They take advantage of our kindness, then soon become our masters and use their strength on us. They look at us with contempt. When we seek to open our children’s eyes to the dangers around them we are accused of racism, savagery and hate. In their newspapers they write, for European consumption, that we are arousing the people against them, trying to slaughter them and wipe them out. Is this not the story of the wolf and the sheep?’
This was before 1948. It understands the dynamic. The more barriers you build, the more brutal your reprisals the deeper the knowledge, in your nerves, of your failure. Since 1948, the Israelis have tried to exterminate the Palestinians as a people and an idea to no avail. Walking through Jerusalem I am struck by Palestinian defiance of old and young, men and women. Children walk past the guards with a certain confidence.
The conflict has delivered trauma into the heart of Palestinian childhood, but it has into erased its spirit. In 1912, as Professor Yazbak shows, the newspaper Al-Karmil bemoaned of the Palestinian nation, ‘Your children after you will suffer long, permanently. O my people, what has happened to you?’ This was far sighted but also limited by the elite view of the paper. The writer did not foresee that the permanent occupation would occasion permanent struggle.
Israeli occupation has failed. It has thrown everything against Palestinian dreams, but it cannot shatter them. There is a pathetic desperation about the Israeli occupation. The racism against Arabs in Israeli society is a reflection of this failure. These are morbid signs of the failure of Zionism. Israel neither will allow for a binational one state solution nor the internationally mandated two state solution. It is trapped into a permanent occupation. It claims that Palestine will not negotiate. But what is there to negotiate about?
The Palestinian national project is in disarray. Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, says that the movement needs a new horizon. ‘We know how to say no,’ she tells me. ‘We need to create an alternative project.’ Zoabi, a brave and bright politician, knows that this is not easy. The Palestinians are divided by the Israeli occupation (in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, inside the 1948 Green Line and as refugees); they are also divided by political faction. So many of their best politicians are in prison. These are the best organizers. They are the ones capable of building the fragmented population. There is little international pressure upon Israel to release these political prisoners.
How could a unified project emerge in these conditions? Israeli occupation does not only have no answers for peace, but it also blocks the Palestinians from creating a unified alternative. Those indignities are not only an everyday problem for the Palestinians but they are a political blockage for the Palestinian future. The indignities are not merely immoral. They are political, killing the possibility of a Palestinian politics.
What is the future of Palestine? Bleak. The world sees the problems but does little. There is little pressure on Israel from anyone certainly not the West nor the Arab governments. Both have leverage on Israel but use it against the Palestinians. The Arab governments are rhetorically pro-Palestinian, but are on the road to normal relations with Israel. The UAE has opened the door. The countries of the Global South stand in word with Palestine. But they have growing commercial ties with Israel. Arms purchases from Israel are obscene. India buys half of Israel’s arms sales. There is little pressure for an end to these arms sales. They underwrite the occupation.
Within Palestine these tentacles of connection are little known. One neglected element of pro-Palestinian work is to fight to break the growing link between the Global South and Israel. Some of the responsibility is on the Palestinian Authority. In Ramallah there is a new ministry of foreign affairs building. It was built with funds from China.
But Palestine does not have an ambassador in China. There is also no BDS in China. BDS is weak but growing in India. There needs to be pressure on India to cut back arms purchases from Israel. In 1899, Yusef Diya al-Khalidi wrote a famous letter to the chief rabbi of France. His plea went unheard: ‘but in God’s name, leave Palestine in peace!’ Today’s plea is different. In the name of international law, put pressure on Israel to lift its foot off the Palestinian throat so it can enunciate a new horizon, a robust politics.