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To Create Something from Nothing The Making of a Palestinian State

The Making of a Palestinian State


Mavivi comes from South Africa and is for the first time in Gaza to speak with women’s organisations, students, civil servants and political fractions. For 18 years she was part of the struggle against apartheid.

There are those who never understand despite having seen everything and having access to all knowledge. And there are those who only need a few hours to understand. Mavivi belongs to the second category.

I saw when Mavivi cried for the first time. Mavivi had then been in Gaza for less than 24 hours. During a day, she had spoken to 30 representatives from several women’s organisations. She stands outside the hotel and looks out over the Mediterranean when she spontaneously exclaims, "South Africa was a picnic compared to the situation here."

24 hours later, she cries openly for the second time. She has spoken with doctors, architects, teachers, everyone who tries to create a tolerable situation for the masses inhabiting the Gaza Strip. Again she compares South Africa with Israel/Palestine–"apartheid was stupidity, but here one has sophisticated the stupidity."

But it is when she cannot keep her tears back for the third time that many should have had the opportunity to listen to her. She stands and leans against the wall in Abu Dis. Presses on it as if she would like to tear it down. The wall that soon will shut out 29,500 people from Jerusalem forever. She says, "Someone has taken the cheese (Palestine) and left the holes (Ramallah, Hebron, Gaza, Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Qalqiliya), but the holes are empty and someone thinks that one can create something out of nothing. Who believes that?"

Mavivi spoke about creating something out of nothing, from a few scattered, empty holes something grand shall be established. Mavivi needed five days to understand and make statements that should touch us all. Mavivi speaks about empty holes, holes that have been enclosed with high walls inside of which one keeps people using the most sophisticated supervision systems. To her, the despised South African "homelands" appeared like small paradises.

Mavivi was on the Gaza Strip three years ago in December. That was before the Israeli settlers had left Gaza, before one had carried out a free and fair election in Palestine. Since then, it has become worse for most people.

* There are today 149 settlements with 450,000 settlers on occupied territory, 30,000 more than when the settlers left Gaza.

* The world has rejected the democratically held election. Palestinians did not understand that one should have voted for the ones that one wanted to get rid of.

* The wall is longer than three years ago and has dug deeper into occupied territory.

And today we are on our way to create something out of nothing.

We work with and support nation building. Each diplomatic actor with self-respect begins work with the same blind enthusiasm. The kind of job that builds on very much belief and some good judgment. As a Nordic diplomat said a little while ago, "I have to believe this, it is my job."

While the international community with the most educated civil servants works to realise the dream of supporting the creation of a state built out of nothing, without borders and people crammed into ghetto-like environments without Palestinian de facto control, territory after territory disappears and ends up on the wrong side of the wall. Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement with 28 000 settlers, may be the most obvious one. It is the settlement that all diplomats in Jerusalem with some interest of the surroundings outside the work place cannot miss.

Each weekend, diplomatic plated cars pass by the gigantic settlement on the way down to the Dead Sea. The wall is being built at a furious speed while we rub our skin with the soft, black mud and let the mud dry in the strong sunlight, the skin stings slightly but pleasantly. I swim together with settlers from Ma’ale Adumim and later tell Muhammed in Abu Dis how it feels to float around in the Dead Sea. It is a long time ago since he was able to be there. When I return a few hours later, the wall has become somewhat longer. Ma’ale Adumim, which previously did not exist in our modern history, is soon completed. People live there with access to water, swimming pools, olive groves outside the window, schools, clinics and perhaps most importantly–access to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv just 60 minutes away. Many live in Ma’ale Adumim and work in Tel Aviv. It is cheaper that way, because the land is free.

If you stand in Ma’ale Adumim and look south, you see Abu Dis which is soon completely enclosed on three sides–a densely populated suburb to Jerusalem with open fields down towards the Dead Sea. Now almost everything is gone, gone forever. The wall will surround Abu Dis on three sides. Ma’ale Adumim and the wall around Abu Dis are establishing new facts on the ground.

Most people who have some insight of these facts seem to think that it is very wrong. The UN, other international as well as Israeli and Palestinian organisations seeking peace, each week take large numbers of visitors into the present Mavivis apartheid. The guides tell engaging stories and the visitor reacts with strong feelings, similar to Notre Dame in Paris or the pyramids in Cairo. Reacting to the grandiose lunacy.

We know it all. We have seen it all. The whole international collective is horrified. We wonder how it is possible. Young and old from different political alignments and religious groupings experience the same thing, feel the same powerlessness before the historical course of events.

Are we all part of a new faith movement. A belief that we can create something out of nothing. Turn water into wine. That one can shut one’s eyes from reality, that one can pass by Ma’ale Adumim as if it never happened and that all of the people in Abu Dis who recently had access to a normal life with basic rights, now shall be satisfied with nothing. As long as one gets a state. Mavivi from South Africa would probably call this religious fanaticism.

A humble question to the international community is in what way the good intention of international development cooperation’s concentration on nation-building will help the people in Abu Dis?

MATS SVENSSON, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at