Israel and Palestine – Part II

OK, you really have to see this: Read the 3rd and 4th comments to “Israel and Palestine – Part I.” (Scroll to the bottom of the page.) Someone wrote to ask: If Israel wasn’t occupying Palestine in 1966, why did his or her birth certificate list “Israeli-occupied Jerusalem” as his/her place of birth? I’m waiting to find out if s/he knows exactly where s/he was born — see this wonderful UN map from November, 1949 to see why that would matter (click on it to enlarge).

What I tried to explain is that “occupied” could mean, basically, “being in charge of no-man’s land” — in terms of internationally-recognized boundaries, at least. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire — whoosh! A whole area which had no internationally-recognized ruler. (How do you say that when it’s a democracy? “Ruler” sounds like a monarchy.)

So Israel was considered to be occupying land, territory, rather than another country’s sovereign domain. Considered so by international bodies like the UN.

But what I am remembering as I am writing this is Sulaiman Al-Hamri saying (I paraphrase, but not by much): “I inherited the resistance. My grandfather fought against the British occupation. My father fought against the occupation. And I fought against the occupation.”

Then he decided to resist by talking with the enemy instead of leafleting and organizing protests, and joined Combatants for Peace — but that’s for another post.

So clearly the Arab inhabitants of the land between the Jordan and the Sea considered the British to be occupiers. And the (mostly European) Jews who succeeded them were seen the same way. I wonder if any non-Muslim/non-Arab ruler would be so felt. (Ethnic Turks are Muslims but not Arabs; different language group.) Could the struggle have started out not being about independence per se, but about “outsiders” ruling?

Just a thought. In any case, Palestinians, like pretty much all groups I know about in the world today, want independence, autonomy, the ability to rule themselves and thus determine their own destiny. Who can blame them? It’s pretty much the status quo today. It tore apart Yugoslavia and is threatening to tear apart Iraq; it’s a political struggle, interwoven with ethnic and therefore often religious issues.

When I was a kid, in the 1970s, I remember distinctly learning this phrase: “The Palestinians are not a people; they have no right to that land.”

It was shortly after the Six-Day War, the land had only recently come under Israeli jurisdiction (there we go, that’s the word to replace “rule”), and therefore a million or two or so (sorry, it’s late, I’m not going to go searching the web for the conflicting claims of how many) Palestinians had only recently come under Israeli jurisdiction.

I can only guess that Sulaiman Al-Hamri’s father was resisting Israeli occupation post-1967; it would be ironic indeed if it were 1949-1967 Jordanian occupation to which he referred. (His family lives in and around Bethlehem, which Jordan ruled at that time. But it’s not likely that that’s what he meant.)

Palestinian rejection of Israel went hand-in-hand with the rejection by other Arab states, so it had started way before 1967. (See this Canadian Broadcasting Corp timeline of Yassir Arafat’s life; and this Lebanese anti-Israel political cartoon from before 1967. Remember that there were Arab anti-Jewish riots in Hebron and Safed in the 1920s, which, not coincidentally, is when the British were talking out of both sides of their mouth about a Jewish National Homeland. See “Israel and Palestine – Part I” for a quick history of that.)

Anyway, when I was a kid, the idea that there were “Palestinians” who needed independence and autonomy was a new one in the American Jewish community. Maybe in Israel too. So it took me until college, in the 1980s, to learn that there actually was such a thing as the Palestinian people, and that my people were, at the least, not helping them and, as hard as it is for me to write this in a public place, also oppressing them. I know that Palestinian hatred of Israel went back to before it even existed, but I also know more than I wish were true about Israeli treatment and mis-treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. See B’tselem for information since 1989. Or Machsom Watch for info about West Bank checkpoints since 2003. (One of my mother’s cousins is part of this group.) Or the reports of Rabbis for Human Rights. None of these go back to 1967 but they get the point across.

Just some late-night thoughts about occupation, and who perceives land to be “no-man’s” and who perceives it to be theirs — or at the very least, that it doesn’t belong to the people who are overseeing it. Read this 2005 analysis by Samir Ghattas, who according to his by-line is/was director of the Maqdis Centre for Political Studies in Gaza. Fascinating: In the course of his analysis of the importance of military struggle to the Palestinian cause, he outlines the development and solidifying of the Palestinian identity — and of the world’s, especially the Jewish world’s, recognition of it over time. (And he makes the point that armed struggle must be a means and not an end it itself, which I fear that at times it has become for some Palestinians.)

He quotes Golda as saying “What Palestinian people?” That was the attitude and belief I was taught. Apparently it was an ignorant one; they knew themselves even if we didn’t.
But I have to say again: violence is not a solution. I don’t approve of it. Killing civilians is not an appropriate way to get what you want, and that applies to everyone. And aside from being morally repugnant, killing leads to more killing, not to peace — so it doesn’t work to get you what you want! At this point it doesn’t matter who killed whom first, or who killed more, or who was mean to whom when or why. Not if you want a solution. Sulaiman Al-Hamri again: We need to know our history, but be cannot be prisoners of it.
This is why Combatants for Peace exists. It is composed of men and women who understand only too well that every act of violence by one side is now used by the other to justify their violent response. Bakesh shalom v’rodfeyhu: Both “Seek peace” and “Pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). Seek it — because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s a valuable treasure that you seek. Pursue it — becuase you are pursuing your own happiness. My own little drash.