Nearly 5,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed in Israel’s 4 week bombardment and military incursions into the Gaza Strip. Over 1,400 Palestinians have been killed, 8,200 have been wounded, 80% of them civilians. Much of Gaza is living on less than two hours of electricity a day; medicine and safe water are becoming scarce; basic foodstuffs cost five times what they cost three weeks ago. Israel has claimed its actions are in self-defense against Hamas rocket fire. Yet, 90% of these homemade rockets are neutralized mid-air by Israel’s “iron dome” missile defense system. To date, 3 Israeli civilians and 36 soldiers have been killed.
Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72 hour ceasefire starting Friday to negotiate a longer term ceasefire. Yet, given Israel’s military and economic dominance, a just solution for Palestinians can only be achieved when the world stands in solidarity with Palestine and pressures Israel. This requires that we go beyond the causes and effects of the current conflict and into the historical root of the issue: Israel’s colonization of historic Palestine, its control over the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian struggle for land, the right to return, and equal rights and liberties.
Zionist Colonization and Expansion
In 1882, the first wave of Zionists began to settle in Palestine. By 1914, the Jewish population was 60,000; the Arab one, 683,000. In 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration announcing support for a “Jewish national home in Palestine” thus further encouraging Jewish settlement in Palestine. With the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in 1933, Jews fled Europe; many of them migrating to Israel and dramatically increasing Jewish migration. During Zionist settlement, clashes broke out with Palestinian farmers displaced by Zionist settlers. In 1947, when the United Nations (who were ruling over Palestine) gave the Israelis 56% of historic Palestine to Zionist settlers, the Zionist settlers were 32% of the population and owned 6% of the land. When Israel declared statehood in 1948, the Arab states refused to recognize it on the grounds that the Zionists were a colonial presence.
In 1948, the Arab states attacked Israel. After pushing back the attack, Israel went on the offensive and expanded its borders past the 1947 UN designated ones. At the end of the war in 1949, Israel occupied 78% of historic Palestine. The remaining 22% was divided between Jordan and Egypt: East Jerusalem and the West Bank went to Jordan; the coastal plain of the city of Gaza went to Egypt. The State of Israel displaced 700,000 Palestinians (half the Palestinian population); 75% of them fled military actions by Zionist militias. This is the basis of Palestinian’s demand for the right to return to their lands as stipulated in the UN Human Rights Declaration.
Israel Takes It All
In 1967, after winning the Six Day’s War, Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. During Israel’s almost 50 year occupation, Palestinians have endured expanding Israeli settlements, more walls separating and enclosing communities and limiting movement, curfews, detention, torture, bombardment, and economic isolation from the world.
After 1993, (under the Oslo Accord) partial control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was ceded to the Palestinian National Authority (PA) made up of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) with its main group Fatah led by Yasir Arafat. It was divided into area A, B, C with the PA given some authority over areas A and B, and Israel maintaining full control over area C which
crisscrosses areas A and B and monopolizes land near the Jordan River. This means that there is no contiguous body of land under the PA authority. In the everyday lives of West Bankers, this means that to get from one point in the West Bank to another they are forced to wait one to several hours to get through Israeli security checkpoints. Area C’s monopoly of the Jordan River means that Israeli settlements irrigate their farms and use four times the water Palestinians use whose water is rationed by Israel and who are limited to rain fed agriculture. Israel has encouraged the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank through subsidies, tax breaks, infrastructure, and security.
The majority of those living in the Gaza Strip are refugees from Israel. In June 2001, a wall was built between Gaza and Israel and, in 2004, between Gaza and Egypt. With the evacuation of Israeli settlements and military from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and Israeli control of Gaza’s air-space, coastal waters, and territorial borders, the Gaza Strip has been likened to the world’s largest and most populous open air prison.
Palestinians in Israel
About 150,000 Palestinians remained in what became the State of Israel in 1948; now, there are over 1.4 million (about 20% of the population). Palestinians are treated as second class citizens with far fewer resources devoted to their education, health care, jobs, and social services. The Palestinian struggle has demanded equal rights and liberties for these Palestinians in Israel.
About 800,000 Palestinians were driven from Israel during the 1947-49 War. In the 1967 War, 440,000 Palestinians were displaced. Many of them now live in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. Palestinian refugees are a majority in Jordan. The total Palestinian refugee population now numbers 5.6 million.
The peace process has been an upward hill battle for Palestinians seeking self-determination often against opportunistic Arab states and always against Israel’s acquisitive designs for the West Bank. Israel, with its military and economic dominance and full backing by the United States, has always maintained the dominant position. Much like with South African Apartheid, only international solidarity and pressure can shift the balance.
Camp David Accord
The Camp David Accord was a 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt brokered by President Jimmy Carter. It emerged out of Egypt’s unilateral recognition of the State of Israel. As a result, Egypt got back some of the lands it lost. Yet, it shortchanged the Palestinian cause. The Camp David Accord is seen as a betrayal by Egypt to secure military funds and aid from the US and regain lost lands while pretending to do help Palestinians.
The Oslo Accords
Faced with the emergence of the radical Hamas and the Intifada (“shaking off”), Israel was forced to negotiate a deal with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993. As a result of the Oslo Accord, the Palestinian Liberation Organization established the Palestinian National Authority and ceded some authority of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet, ultimately, negotiations collapsed with Israel’s refusal to return to its pre-1967 borders (i.e. unwillingness to give up East Jerusalem); its insistence on annexing large parts of the West Bank; and its refusal to accept legal or moral responsibility for Palestinian refugees.
2002 Arab League Peace Plan
In 2002, at the Beirut summit of the Arab League, all the Arab states except Libya endorsed a peace initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia. The plan offered an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including recognition of Israel, peace agreements and normal relations with all Arab states, in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Golan heights, “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem” and “establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as the capital.” The head of the PLO has enthusiastically endorsed this plan, while most factions of the Hamas rejected it.
A Just Solution
Whatever solution the Palestinian people desire and negotiate with Israel, moral and historical clarity of the issue is imperative. While ultimately the political conditions may influence the ultimate solution, historical on this issue is important. Given the history, it seems that at Palestinians a just solution must include:
- End of the Israeli settlement and military control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
- The right of return (as guaranteed in the UN Human Rights Declaration) to Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war.
- Equal rights and liberties to Palestinians in Israel.
International Campaign for Boycotting, Divesting, and Sanctions Against Israel
One way in which the people around the world have been expressing solidarity with Palestine has been by pressuring Israel through boycotting Israeli products, divesting from Israeli companies or those that aid it, and pushing for sanctions. It is a tactic inspired by the similar BDS campaign that built international pressure against Apartheid South Africa. The recent bombings and deaths in Palestine have brought this tactic into the public light once again. It is our responsibility that even when the bombings and massacre stop, that we not forget the injustice that is the occupation of Palestine and that we continue to fight to free Palestine.
“Across the Wall: Israeli Settlement Bus Routes.” VisualizingPalestine.org. Accessed August 1, 2014. http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/across-the-wall
Joei Beinin and Lisa Hajjar. “Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.” Middle East Research and Information Project. February 2014. Accessed August 1, 2014 at http://www.merip.org/primer-palestine-israel-arab-israeli-conflict-new
“Imagine a Segregated Road System Where the Color or your License Plate Dictates Which Roads You Can Drive on.” VisualizingPalestine.org. Accessed August 1, 2014 at http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/segregated-roads-west-bank