After an episode of horror, silence prevails. The final pleas and cries of hundreds of Palestinians, ignored by international bodies, were answered most decisively with the screaming sounds of Israeli bombs and bullets. The frantic rush of anxious ambulances unable to reach those in need has ceased, as have the lives of the unassisted victims. Life has been stilled. The entire city has been smashed to pieces, as insidious “terrorist infrastructure” such as roads, schools, homes, and water supply lines has been blown asunder. One can only perhaps hear the light fluttering sounds of celestial wings, as angels descend from the heavens, through the earth, and into the hell that is Jenin, gathering up the souls of massacred innocents.
Many variations of this same theme have been repeated throughout the Occupied Territories as Sharon continues his campaign of carnage. Virtually the entire physical network of the Palestinian Authority has been smashed, as Arafat awaits the godly grace of Powell to deliver him from the clutches of Israel.
Given the dramatic and serious qualitative changes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems prudent to understand how the current peace framework has collapsed, and how a genuine solution to Palestinian self-determination can be put forth.
That the Oslo framework has collapsed is undeniable. Ten years after its inception, the life of the ordinary Palestinian has become increasingly miserable and intensely frustrating. The Israeli settlements have thrust the sharp blade of colonization deeper into the heart of Palestinian aspirations than ever before. Barak, Netanyahu, and Sharon have all increased the number of settlements in Palestinian lands dramatically. Sharon authorized the construction of 30 new settlements during his first year in office, and his draconian plans for a new buffer zone in the West Bank would likely result in the expulsion of around 400,000 Palestinians, according to a recent article by Patrick Martin of World Socialist Web Site.
Palestinian economic ability, never on the verge of real development in the last ten years, lies shattered. Investment is non-existent. Around 40-70% of the population is unemployed, and a full two-thirds of all Palestinians live below the poverty rate off the measly sum of two dollars a day. This, however, pales in comparison to a Financial Times report last year which revealed that almost half of all Palestinian children are born blind, deaf, or anemic.
To these figures must be added the daily destruction of infrastructure and homes as a result of Israeli bombs, missiles, and bulldozers. Thousands of new refugees and homeless children have been created in the last year alone, and even the refugee camps have been targets of IDF uprooting campaigns: the expropriated are re-expropriated.
It is not at all an exaggeration to state that the Oslo “peace process” has been a complete death process for the Palestinian people, demographically, economically, and morally. Arafat’s position as a formally recognized leader of a mini-state authority has allowed him to throw a few thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry to real heroes of the cause, such as Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright, but little else. Even on the basis of full cooperation, such as his December cease-fire of last year, nothing positive emerged: in three weeks, dozens of Palestinians including women and children were gunned down while not one Israeli civilian was killed, yet he was held responsible for the “shattering” of the cease-fire after a blatant provocation by Sharon. And who can forget the “generous” peace offer, with Arafat refusing the grand prize of a glorified ghetto consisting of disconnected villages, marred by settlements, without sovereignty, water supply or airspace, still represented as a “lost opportunity” by that great guillotine for the mind, the American media. Even the PA police officers, often used as a puppet police force to repress their own people, now lie dead in the dozens, executed by Israeli soldiers.
From the start, the Oslo framework was a frame-up. Arafat was given token powers, for which in return, he would become the symbolic target of Israel’s full scorn and hatred. Everything could be reduced to demonizing Arafat; if the natives have to be looted, plundered, uprooted, and liquidated, it is only because Arafat is incompetent. And thus, Israel’s racist actions conveniently become the Palestinians’ own fault.
The questions facing us now about new avenues of hope for the Palestinians are also very important. I respectfully disagree with the assessment of Jeff Halper, (Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), who, after pointing out that the settlements are on the verge of becoming permanent, that destruction of Palestinian infrastructure is extensive, and that the EU and international community has failed in its most basic tasks, still believes that “international civil society” can guide along Palestinian liberation towards a “just peace”.
The vague and nebulous formulation of an “international civil society” seems to be undermined by the complete impotence illustrated by Arab/EU leaders, as well as international law, in saving civilians from massacres in the camps of the West Bank. And who would implement, ensure, and enforce this “just peace”-let alone propose it above and over American plans to both sides? The concept of intervention by civil society, based on the South African model of liberation, will not by itself prove sufficient in Palestine. While America could afford to oppose apartheid against South African blacks, it cannot afford to abandon its only reliable ally in this valuable region out of feigned compassion for human suffering. Similarly, America could afford to pose as the saviors of the Kuwaitis, but not without committing an act of genocide against over one million Iraqi civilians. One must remember that Oslo was an American-sponsored idea, and that the involvement of the American government in the Middle East is not out of any impartial consideration for both sides, but for the increased consolidation of its global power, which often depends on human suffering. Other solutions for a just peace must be sought out.
In this search, we must begin with the Palestinian native, who is involved in a life and death struggle: this is in itself power. He sees his condition deteriorating daily, always at the mercy of the soldier with the gun and the glare. He can look up and see the tiny, wealthy nearby settlements, composed of mafia thugs, murderers, crop-burners, water-aggrandizers, and other assorted representatives of modern Western values responsible for his dispossession. The Palestinian, contrary to reactionary nonsense, values his life as much as any other human. Otherwise, we would not have witnessed those tragic images of a father desperately trying to protect his young son from a hail of Israeli bullets, which ultimately killed them both. But let us suppose that one of them had survived: how long can a son or a father contain his rage at the occupiers who killed his loved one, who humiliate and taunt him daily, and who defend the colonizers of his own homeland on the basis of racial supremacy? He has already died from the occupation, that unavoidable, slow-motion bullet which aims straight for the heart.
In sum, the Palestinian has suffered from four decades of savage oppression-the pain of which deeply moves the Arab masses throughout the region. The Arab street has become painfully aware that the posturing of its leaders-issuing rhetoric on television while whispering sweet things into American ears-is useless. A movement based on NGOs and religious organizations alone cannot create a free Palestinian state in an historical and political vacuum, but a mass radical current against Arab autocracies and dictatorships would provide the necessary impetus to remove the very roots of conflict: the dictating stranglehold of American capital.
Of course, this would have to be accompanied by a change of consciousness in Israel. It has not been said strongly enough in the past, but I firmly believe that in order for peace between peoples to prevail in the Middle East, the Zionist project must be abandoned. Despite the fact that Zionists constantly denounce my brave Jewish brothers and sisters who oppose Israeli policies as “self-hating”, Zionism is one of the most self-hating philosophies ever created. As Jewish historian Lenni Brenner notes in his book Zionism In the Age of Dictators, it was created entirely out of a reaction to European anti-Semitism, and held many of its characteristics: consider the following repulsive quote from a paper published by a 1930’s Zionist youth group, Hashomer Hatzair, cited in Brenner’s book:
“The Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligations, knows no order nor discipline.”
Or consider the words of Zionism’s founder, Theodore Herzl, in his own diary: “I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism”.
This kind of reactionary drivel, embedded into the consciousness of many Israelis, represents a major psychological obstacle to a sincere solution. The idea of mutual antagonism through self-hatred and paranoia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the European Jewish settlers treated the Palestinians as inferior pests that need to be removed even before Israel’s inception. In 1937 Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first PM, wrote: “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it”. A racialist basis for the Jewish state was made clear by Joachim Prinz, Zionist rabbi of the 1940’s: “A state built upon the principle of the purity of the nation and race can only be honored and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind.” Such putrid nonsense, which finds its echoes in several right-wing Israeli parties that now fill Cabinet positions, is completely incompatible with a just peace.
Zionism assumes that antagonism and hatred between Jew and non-Jew are automatic and inevitable, providing the fuel for a phenomenon Israeli writer Uri Avnery once described: “We Israelis need a scarecrow to frighten ourselves, one frightening enough to pump adrenaline into our national bloodstream. Otherwise, it seems, we cannot function.” The American empire, of course, has no problem providing the syringes for Israel’s adrenaline needs, for since the 1967 war it has seen as Israel an indispensable tool with which to smash Arab nationalism and independent development. But now, the contradiction has been reversed: Israeli colonialism is itself creating a burning passion among Arab citizens to pursue a course radically different from the one America and its friendly Arab dictatorships have in mind. Avnery is right, Israel “cannot function” as long as it remains a client state for the sake of a foreign power; its very ability to survive as a healthy state depends on abandoning this role and abandoning ethnocentrism as its guiding principle.
No effective solutions for peace can be hoisted up on the rubble of Oslo, and on the rubble of thousands of Palestinian homes and schools, if proposed on the basis of American edicts once again. Palestinian freedom cannot be allowed to fly away on the wings of ascending angels, struggling to reach heaven with the heavy burden of so many innocent souls across Palestine.
Oslo showed that there is no room for an “independent” Palestinian ghetto that is only independent from dignity and justice: the Palestinian masses refuse to accept a prison cell with a sticker label, and Sharon refuses to accept the existence of the Palestinian masses. The Palestinian struggle for liberation has deep regional and international meaning, precisely because all paths toward it lead away from the clawing grip of pax-Americana. We should not be afraid to recognize that the Palestinian right to self-determination does not amount to American-sponsored determination of their fate, and that any just solution between two peoples must involve the democratic, mass organization of those people towards a brighter future.
M. Junaid Alam is an undergraduate student of Political Science Northeastern University Boston, an anti-war activist and a member of the Committee for Peace and Justice. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org