N E W P A L E S T I N E N E W S L E T T E R No.7
Gaza: In the Five years since Cast Lead
A time to remember the horrors, and the thousands still mourning the dead and coping with the injuries and loss of homes, infrastructure and utilities.
A time to recall all the attacks since then, both the ones with elaborate biblical code-names and heavy bombers, and the casual deaths and injuries inflicted on farmers and fishermen or kids at play.
A time to renew action against the blockade that has reached nightmare levels since the army coup in Egypt destroyed the tunnels that kept a lifeline for 1.7 million people.
And a time to say NO MORE, as reports indicate a new assault is being planned: the IDF is talking up “a recent spike in the number of attacks emanating from Gaza and, subsequently, the number and intensity of Israeli retaliatory strikes.” Stating that the “main threat from Gaza” was “rockets and terrorism” (which in their language covers just about everything and everyone) Defense Minister Yigal Ya’alon seemed to be preparing the propaganda for another round of collective punishment covering both “above ground” and “underground”: “Therefore, the operation that the IDF would be required to undertake would have to deal a harsh blow to Gaza and to the organizations operating there, in a way that would damage their capabilities and exact a heavy toll.” And he stated that the army had upped its “technological prowess and intelligence capabilities” in readiness for war.
Israel’s Top Two VIPs, PM Bibi Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, boycotted themselves from the memorial for Nelson Mandela last month: perhaps they had their doubts about admitting that this convicted terrorist was being honoured by the world as a freedom fighter and peacemaker, or maybe they feared going anywhere near people who understand the word “apartheid”, or being present at a celebration embodying racial de-segregation.
Well, now they have a consolation with their own alternative State funeral, as their beloved ex-PM, champion of colonising settlements, and top-ranking war criminal Ariel Sharon has gone to meet his maker. The close coincidence of the two funerals is perhaps in rather bad taste, but holds multiple opportunities for embarrassment. Featured events will be lots of tree-planting, wall-building and concrete-pouring all over the Jordan Valley and points west of it.
Ariel Sharon’s memorial plot is set to displace 15,000 Palestinians. The plot, located on the outskirts of Hebron, will take over land lived and farmed by Arabs for at least four centuries and will be surrounded by a five-metre tall concrete wall with armed sentry posts on each corner. It will also be connected to Israel by a four-lane commemorative highway. No, this isn’t satire, it’s for real.
No doubt that, too, will be considered another site that has to be “eternally Israel”, a Holy Site on a par with the tombs of the Patriarchs and Prophets.
“It’s what he would have wanted,” said a source.
Amid speculation that had he lived, he might have withdrawn from the West Bank to enable a Palestinian state there, historian Juan Cole focuses on 10 things Sharon spearheaded that created the present geo-political landscape of the Middle East
1. aggressive ethnic cleansing massacre at Qibya in 1953 that carried on from the Nakba strategy;
2. he was foremost in initiating the 1967 invasion of the West Bank and Golan heights (both still occupied), and Gaza (strategically de-colonised but under brutal siege);
3. he spearheaded governmental support for mass colonising the West Bank;
4. he initiated the strategy of surrounding Jerusalem with a solid bank of settlements, effectively annexing it;
5. he did these things consciously to prevent a separate Palestinian state;
6. “Sharon crafted the invasion of Lebanon in 1982″, intending to instal an Israel-friendly regime. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in the shelling of Beirut and the massacres of Palestinian refugees from the Nakba at Sabra and Shatila camps by Christian militiamen under Sharon’s watch;
7. The following 18-year brutal occupation of south Lebanon, which angered and politicised the population, had the effect of building up resistance organisations such as Hisbullah which linked up powerfully with co-thinkers in neighbouring Syria and Iran;
8. In 2000, Sharon’s swaggering procession to claim the Jerusalem Muslim holy site of the Temple Mount lit the fuse for the explosive Second Intifada, a tragic episode that has been manipulated by Israel to portray the Palestinians as a nation of bloody suicide bombers, and enable more land-grabs and repressive segregation in the name of security.
9. As Prime Minister he started the building of the separation wall;
10. He initiated the policy of getting the US to invade Iraq in 2003.
Of course he didn’t do all these things alone, and his co-thinkers and successors are still in place. But the stature of this gigantic ogre derives from his having done it all. It would be nice to say the world will be a better place without him, but unfortunately as his past eight comatose years show, the world he created lives on under new management.
UN Year of solidarity with the Palestinian People
On November 26, the UN General Assembly voted to proclaim 2014 as the “UN Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”. The vote was 110 in favour, 7 against (Israel, US, Canada and Australia, plus the three American-client minuscule Pacific islands) and 56 abstentions led by Europe. Apparently the resolution calls for working with civil society.
It would be good if the UN did something really special to mark this Year. But there’s no need for it to rack its brains for something new: it has three well established resolutions it can bring out of its closet, dust down, and take a new look at. What better occasion than a “Year of” to review the three main resolutions that are the focus of current campaigning by the very same international civil society that the UN has decided to team up with?
The International Year would surely be an excellent occasion for the UN to review the implementation of UN resolutions on Palestine. In fact, if it gets to the end of 2014 without doing so, that would be a disappointingly token effort.
* UNGA 181 (29 November 1947) bound Israel to abide by human and civil rights norms as a condition of its existence.
* UNGA 194 of 11 December 1948 asked Israel to bring home the refugees;
* In May 1949 Israel was made a UN member, with both 181 and 194 “noted” and linked (albeit in an advisory capacity) to admittance. Every year since 1948 the UN has reaffirmed Resolution 194 and right of return despite Israel’s explicit refusal to return any refugees whatsoever.
* UNGA 242 confirms the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and “requires … withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. Dated 22 November 1967, it was sponsored by Britain’s UN ambassador Lord Caradon. It did go on to include recognition of Israel, which Arafat and the PLO famously gave in 1993 on the White House lawn. But not a single soldier has been withdrawn.
In this UN Year for Palestine, it should now decide whether its trust has been abused and take action such as trade, diplomatic and cultural sanctions and/or suspension of membership until these matters are corrected.
“It’s OK, mate, nothing to worry about, we’ve done it lots of times before … no, we don’t need planning permission… First we send the bulldozers, then you get the letter…”
A brilliant candid-camera style two-minute sketch video from a BBC show has been featured in the Times of Israel, with the video embedded and all the dialogue spelled out in case any of the casually understated words are hard to hear. For those who missed it on “The Revolution Will be Televised” (BBC3) here it is — as recommended by both One Democracy and The Times of Israel. Now that must be a first.
What with that and the apartheid wall re-created to scale in London’s Piccadilly, Israel’s propaganda machine must be wondering where to go next to top this important PR coup. At any rate, it’s making the most of it, positively basking in the limelight. They say no publicity is bad publicity.
New population figures
Useful end of year figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, clarifying up to date population and geographic spread of the Palestinian people, totalling an overall figure of 11.8 million.
There are 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and 1.7 million in Gaza, 1.4 million in Israel, 5.2 million in Arab countries and an estimated 665,000 spread around the rest of the world.
In the West Bank 44.2% are refugees; in Gaza 58% are refugees.
The report includes figures on age, birth and death rates and average household size.
PCBS indicated that the number of Palestinians in historical Palestine totaled 5.9 million at the end of 2013, whereas the number of Jews living in historical Palestine totaled 6.0 million at the end of 2012.
Unlike the mad, obsessed demographers of Israel’s academic and political class, echoed by international press and politicians who would be ashamed to engage in such pigeon-holing of babies in their own countries, these figures are mildly interesting to those who are far more concerned about human beings in all their shapes and sizes.
But some aspects do stand out.
First, for those who think that Right of Return refers only to those living in camps abroad, it’s worth repeating that more than half the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza — over 2 million people — are registered refugees who were driven out of “Israel proper”. (And that’s without counting the “internally displaced” Palestinians who stayed in the country in 1948 but were still dispossessed of their lands, homes and villages.)
So the proposal that Right of Return should mean return to a “Palestinian state” on the West Bank and Gaza is a complete nonsense, because many of them are there already.
Second, the figure showing an almost exact parity of numbers between Israeli Jews at 6 million (presumably not counting the million who are living abroad) and Palestinians who live now within historic Palestine at 5.9 million, would seem to us a good place to start from to build a single democratic country together. It neatly eliminates talk of “minorities and majorities” in favour of a joint enterprise where at least numbers start out evenly spread even if politics, ideas, values, history, power and money are very varied indeed.
“Palestinian leadership must come from the prisoners”
The South African apartheid regime was deeply repressive. But the Rivonia prisoners headed by Mandela did get a trial and access to lawyers. They really had been planning armed struggle and sabotage against the regime, which did have ample evidence against them. Mandela did get the chance to make his famous statement from the dock, and the world had the chance to hear it.
Israel recently released prisoners it had kept for nearly as long, exchanged as pawns in return for the Palestine Authority’s agreement to give away most of their planned state in land swaps* even as their land is being taken for more settlements. These prisoners are referred to as terrorists, as if they were convicted in a fair trial, but some are speaking now and revealing the dreadful pressures that led to their convictions.
Unlike Nelson Mandela, they have not been invited in for talks. And though their return is feted by the current leadership with flowers and flagwaving celebrations, it does not seem in the least bit interested to hear what they have to say.
But, says one released pre-Oslo prisoner, “Palestinian leadership must come from the prisoners”. Interviewed by Mousa Abu Maria of the Palestine Solidarity Project, Riziq Ali Saeed Salah, was imprisoned for 20 years after 4 months of isolation, torture and threats to harm his family. In prison he served his fellow prisoners by keeping information, newspaper clippings and archives of the popular struggle and international developments such as the Oslo “peace process”. Inside the prison, “we knew the entire agreement was a lie … the most shameful moment in Palestinian history.” He believes that “the occupation is not just the West Bank and Gaza, it is in Haifa and Yaffa. There is a right to resist. But the best way was during the First Intifada. We had the most participation in that time because people felt they were one people. That was not the same as the Second Intifada, and it is very different now. The Palestinian people must find unity again”.
He believes the current leadership does not know how to stand up to Israel. “The next negotiating team should be made up of former prisoners. We know what it is like to sacrifice for Palestine. We will not bend to Israel; we are not afraid of them. We are the most connected to the land and the people, we know how to fight. … Also, we need unity between Palestinians inside Palestine and the refugees. We cannot allow a solution that does not allow the refugees to return”.
“The biggest mistake of Oslo was agreeing before the prisoners were released and the refugees were allowed to return. We cannot make that mistake again.”
* Land Swaps: this is not what it sounds, but actually just another word for “Transfer” a cherished notion of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party, to expel hundreds of thousands of its Arab citizens by re-drawing the border around them. This would delight the demographers by reducing and weakening the Palestinian numbers within “Israel” regarded as traitors and foreigners, living in and around the towns of Kafr Qara, Umm al-Fahm, Tayibe and Qalansawe in the South Gallilee “triangle”. The Times of Israel reported: “Unnamed sources told [Israel daily paper] Maariv that the “triangle” plan has come up during talks between Israel and US officials at various levels, including at least one occasion when very senior officials including Kerry were in attendance.”
This “neat idea” would appear to be giving the Palestine Authority an “exchange” for all the theft, disfigurement, distortion and destruction in the West Bank and as a “fair exchange” for the Jordan Valley, but for Israel it means a further expulsion of more than a quarter of a million unwanted non-Jews who of course have not been asked what citizenship they want. The report continues: “Maariv noted that Liberman consistently raises his proposals in contacts with American and European interlocutors, and that he recently held talks on the peace process with Kerry in Washington.”
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