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Things have to change: Can Israel live with its own moral dilemma?

By Fariba Amini

"There is no such thing as the Palestinian people..."  -- Golda Meir, 1968

Israel recently marked its 60th anniversary, at a time of great upheaval all over the Middle East and while the Israeli society is divided on a number of issues. In many ways, the leaders of the Israeili State have not achieved what its founders meant to do - create a secure, democratic state based on social and economic justice for all the citizens. Israelis may enjoy freedom but the freedom of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose land, property, livelihood, trees, gardens and homes have been destroyed is nowhere in sight. For the majority of Palestinians, this is, instead, the anniversary of what they call "al-Nakba."  In Arabic, it means catastrophe.

According to historians, the population in Palestine in 1881 consisted of 450,000 Palestinian Arabs and 25,000 Jews. In 1899, the mayor of Jerusalem, a Palestinian Arab, wrote to a rabbi in France saying that yes, historically, Jews may desire to return to Palestine after 2000 years but "in the name of God, let Palestine live in peace." The rabbi gave the letter to Theodore Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement who in response assured Mayor al-Khalidi that the Zionists would bring prosperity to the land which would benefit both the Arabs and the Jews.

Almost half a century later, Ben Gurion, the father of the Israeli nation, said, "Why should the Arabs make peace? We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs.  We come from Israel, it's true but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them?"

In his book, the Yellow Wind, the renowned Israeli writer David Grossman, after traveling and witnessing the misery of the Palestinians, wrote, "Who are these people who claim that they are acting in my name and in the name of my future (and who actually influence it decisively against my will), who are able to harden their hearts so much against others and against themselves, over the course of an entire generation or two, and become the kindling of the historical process they desire? What do I have to do with them? If they succeed in getting what they want, and if the opportunity presents itself (and in the inconstant Middle East it will eventually do so), and if they could proceed immediately to the next stage of realizing their grand plan, they will then be even stronger and more determined, wonderfully trained in hardening their hearts."

David Grossman is one of many Israeli citizens and peace activists who have systematically criticized the government policies of non-engagement. After losing his twenty-year old son Uri in the 2006 war against Lebanon, he refused to meet or shake hands with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Grossman was in the midst of writing another novel when there was a knock on his door with terrible news, news no parent wants to hear. He stopped writing for a while but, encouraged by his colleagues, Amos Oz and A.B. Yehushia, he finished the novel.

Olmert, whose government is blamed for initiating and mishandling the war in Lebanon and who has been involved in numerous corruption charges, hosted G.W. Bush a few weeks ago. Mr. Bush, never knowing what to say and when to say it, used the occasion to compare the democrats to those who appeased Hitler, indirectly referring to Barack Obama, who is a proponent of direct talks with the "enemy."  While Israel celebrated its anniversary, many Israelis seemed torn between right and wrong. Olmert's family is a reflection of the deep divisions in the Israeli society: his wife and sons are involved in the peace movement.

Like other Israeli authors who are disturbed by the occupation, settlements, constant humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, and the destruction of their homes, Grossman talks of a society built not on principles of justice for all citizens but on the misery of a whole nation. In his book he mingles with and lives among the Palestinians. He witnesses much misery in all the places he visits. He witnesses the resentment, the anger of a people who have lost a part of their humanity. He visits a kindergarten, watches children who only draw pictures of fallen men and women, who are in filthy classrooms with nothing colorful, only shades of darkness. He talks to a man whose son was imprisoned for being a Fatah member, becomes a collaborator, is let out of prison, and, filled with shame, participated in the killing of a Jewish couple. The soldiers, looking for the son, interrogate the father, beat him in a room, and imprison him for four months. But he has no information; he has not been in touch with his son for years. One morning, the soldiers come with a bulldozer and, giving him 15 minutes to take his belongings, destroy his house. (According to a clause in the Israeli law, and following British precedent in Palestine, a military commander can order the destruction of any building in any village or city the resident of which has committed any type of security violation.) The son is found and killed but his body is never released to his family. The man, Mohammad, is left with nothing.

Talking to Grossman, Mohammed says, "If my son murdered, kill him. Kill him immediately! But why have you destroyed my entire life? Why have you made me and my family into beasts? I still have power in my hands"- he clenched his fist for me and trembled. "I could kill a million times the man who ordered my house destroyed. Did I ever do anything like that? Did I ever think like that before? I only wanted to live. Now they have made me like that, too. They have turned me into a murderer."

Having lost his livelihood, his home, his son, and no future in sight, he becomes a beggar going from one village to another, too ashamed to be a pauper in his own village.

In a study released in 1988, Benny Morris, Israel's most renowned revisionist historian, published a study about the Palestinian refugee problem which demonstrated that 60 percent of Palestinians were uprooted and their society devastated. 389 Arab villages were destroyed.

There are 4.5 million Palestinian refugees according to the UNRWA. Palestinians are scattered all over the world as far away as Chile, El Salvador, and even the U.S. Virgin Islands, with their families often left behind in the occupied territories. They cannot visit them, for they have no passports. The families cannot leave because leaving means never returning.

Palestine is now divided in two and there is not much hope for a Palestinian state in sight. The Palestinian people are divided by their own political forces, mismanagement and corruption and partitioned by the Israeli government.   At times, the reality of creating one state is becoming more of a myth. The many accords have fallen. The very last one, in Annapolis, was a sham and another show for the Bush administration whose policies have failed one by one in the greater Middle East. There are now two territories, but in reality, the peoples living there are the same whether in the West bank or Gaza: people from the same roots with the same desires, whose hopes have been shattered by decades of anger, hatred and bloodshed and whose leaders cannot come together to make the right choices and decisions.

When Jimmy Carter went to meet with Hamas, he was shunned and cursed by the right wing lobby and the Christian Right in this country. When Yasser Arafat met Rabin, they were both reprimanded by their people. Rabin was assassinated and who knows what really happened to Arafat who died suddenly of a mysterious illness. When Abbas became Prime Minister, inheriting a politically corrupt machine, he was not welcomed by his people. Yet, the Israeli and the American governments hailed him as a man of peace who might be able to bring together a uniform government. But he too, much like others, is powerless. In light of constant bombardments and tanks crushing little children and innocent civilians, he has had to defend his own people, whether they are in Gaza or the West Bank, or else he will be doomed.

The Palestinian lawyer and author Raj'a Shehade wrote in his book, The Third Way, that he had chosen sumud, endurance. "Of the two ways open to me as a Palestinian- {one is} to surrender to the occupation and collaborate with it or to take up arms against it, two possibilities which mean, to my mind, losing one's humanity-I choose the third way. To remain here. To see how my home becomes my prison, which I do not want to leave, because the jailer will then not allow me to return."

The Jewish people lived in Palestine 2000 years ago. It is understandable that, in their desperate search for safety and security, they wanted to return to this land, especially after the Holocaust. I had read and watched movies about the Holocaust, but the magnitude of the event only dawned on me when I visited the museum of Ann Frank in Amsterdam. I came to know about the Jewish people through the eyes of Anne Frank. This 15-year old girl and her family were destroyed only and only because they were Jews.

Nevertheless, with all the harsh realities of the 1940's, one cannot ignore that many of the settlers came from Brooklyn or other parts of the world and Israel was founded on the land of the inhabited people, the Palestinians.

The justice the Israeli society sought to build has backfired. Many may feel that the end of an era has come but the fact is it is only the beginning. If Israel does not find itself and get out of the quagmire it has created, no citizen on this side of the wall or the other side will ever have peace and security.

Israel must change its face in the 60th anniversary of its conception. Otherwise the world which has turned its back on the Palestinians will have also have to give up on a "democratic state" in the midst of corrupt monarchies and one man Republics. The Israelis will be remembered as people who created their country out of the ashes of World War II but upon the destitution of others. Isn't that a real moral dilemma?  Isn't the "transfer" of a majority of the populace, the Palestinians, wrong and immoral and that they, the Palestinians are in fact dying a slow death? How can a people who felt and went through all the agonies and losses take the hopes and livelihood of others? Shouldn't the compassion that the Jews expect from the world be reciprocal?

At a fundraising event for a democratic congressman a few years ago, I met Nancy Pelosi who had not yet become the Speaker of the House. I told her until the issue of Palestine and the Arab- Israeli conflict is unresolved, the Middle East would never see peace. She just nodded.

Even if Palestinians are scattered throughout the world, in small communities, and many of them are portrayed as violent, far from the reality of what and who they are, they are still a nation. What is the definition of a nation anyway?  "A nation is a defined cultural and social community. In as much as most members never meet each other, yet feel a common bond, it may be considered an imagined community. One of the most influential doctrines in Western Europe and the Western hemisphere since the late eighteenth century is that all humans are divided into groups called nations."

The world in general and the Middle East in particular need to see a real country and a state for the Palestinians, for everyone's sake and for Israel's peace of mind. And humanity owes the Palestinians a home they once had and is now lost. As the late Edward Saeid said in an article in 2002, "Palestinians will not go away."

... Payvand News - 06/04/08 ... --

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