A cause for celebration?

Posted on 26 August 2014

Tuesday August 26th
We’ve been home a few days and life in Palestine has been largely uneventful, by West Bank standards at least.

Tonight we went to an event hosted at the Alternative Information Centre in Beit Sahour. It’s an organisation that was established 30 years ago, and does some great work, especially around the theme of normalisation. Ilan Pappe, eminent Israeli historian and academic was speaking about the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

As always, he was excellent. He talked about the history of the Zionist project, how deeply racist it is, and how this has inevitably led to today’s genocide in Gaza. He talked about the mass expulsions that characterised the Nakba—the Catastrophe of 1948 where 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their land and homes to make way for Israel, the Zionist project of European Jewry. The project, to be successful, and is until now being played out each and every day across Palestine, relies on forcing Palestinians into contained spaces. He spoke of the Jewish West Bank and the Palestinian West Bank, and how Israel’s project holds the ideal of Western democracy at its core. However, it also has to deliberately change the demography to allow it to exist as a self-proclaimed democratic Jewish state.

When Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel on May 15th 1948, elections were not imminent. They were delayed explicitly to enable to widespread ethnic cleansing of Palestine to ensure that the population within what had become Israel was almost entirely Jewish. For those Palestinians who managed to remain in their homeland, many as IDPs (internally displaced people) living near their original homes but forbidden by law from returning, they had become Israeli ‘citizens’. Israel widely cites its Arab minority as evidence to refute charges of racism and apartheid. In fact, having looked at the proposed South African model whereby the ‘natives’ remained but within Bantustans and with no rights was not acceptable as Israel could not claim it was a functioning Western democracy. So ethnic cleansing was the only option. Ilan noted that this (ethnic cleansing of Palestine) is a full-time job, 24/7. Its success relies on, especially Liberal Zionists, including writers, poets, journalists, academics, and of course the political establishment, to implement.

To cut a very long talk short, which is certainly doing Ilan a disservice, he ended talking about Gaza specifically (and the political moves that led to the little Gaza ‘pocket’ coming to exist as the largest refugee camp in the world) and how Israel, because of the racist nature of Zionism, can do nothing other than commit genocide against the Palestinian living there. But he had some positive words, too. The struggle for Palestine and for the rights of its people lie firmly within the paradigm of international human rights and civil rights. This must be stressed and focused on at every opportunity, and not just vis-à-vis Gaza. It is all of Palestine, and of all Palestinians.

We had to leave as the Q&A started, which was a shame. However quite a lot had been happening while we’d been sitting in one of the beautiful stone buildings in the old city of Beit Sahour. As we were driving through Bethlehem back home, we saw a car driving around crazily (that’s not unusual) but with huge Hamas flags being flown through its roof. The young guys inside (shebab) were clearly very excited about something. As we approached Deheishe (the largest refugee camp in Bethlehem and where J was born and grew up) there were more, and there were people carrying flags, too, and not just Hamas flags.

Then we stopped. The traffic ground to a halt. Obviously something had happened, people were celebrating, but the question was what was it? We asked one guy: he just ran past shouting “victory” so that didn’t help in the slightest. Finally, as the cars edged forward inch by inch, we asked another guy and he said it was the ceasefire.

As often happens when Palestinians have something to celebrate, especially when it’s connected to the resistance, crowds gather which results in the road in front of the camp being blocked. After about ten minutes and ten feet, I got out and walked up the road. We’d already seen the fireworks, and as I walked through the belching smoke of gridlocked cars, lorries and assorted vehicles, I saw many hundreds of people across the road, on the rooftops, hanging out of cars.

In the centre men were dancing (that’s very usual) and the nationalistic songs were blaring out from a sound system that could barely cope. Flags of every political party were there, not just Hamas. This was a unified celebration of the victory of the resistance in Gaza against one of the world’s mightiest armies. And the women were there, too. Hundreds and hundreds. This was a very powerful scene: all ages and genders, all political affiliations, united in their euphoria.

When we finally got home, I checked the news to see what had really happened as no one had said anything more than victory, Netanyahu’s signed it, and ceasefire. I’ve not been able to find an article with the comprehensive terms and conditions, but it seems very similar to the last long-term agreement in 2012. Which made me think, is that a victory, when this is what should have been implemented last time but wasn’t? There is more around further talks about the port and other aspects of the closure to be determined. And it’s not really for me to judge what victory is, especially as I don’t know all the details. It was a bitter-sweet celebration in so many ways, but I was pleased to see people united and committed to the cause.

But it did also bring me back to something that Ilan had said earlier this evening: Israel will always agree to talks but it never has, so far at least, ever had to implement anything. Could this be, with the weight of world pressure and especially with the façade of its claims of democracy ripped off, be the beginning of a new phase? (I’m not holding my breath…)

2 responses to A cause for celebration?

  • Binal says:

    Glad you got there safely – hope you enjoy the rest of your time :)

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