For Palestinians, theirs is not the land of conquest, but the land of their roots going back to time immemorial. Such a lineage does not rely on a biblical promise like the Jewish claim that God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants, and is therefore, the historical site of the Jewish kingdom of Israel. It belongs to the people of Palestine by the simple fact of their continuous residence repeated through birth and possession going back to the earliest Canaanites and even those people living there before recorded history. They were there when the Israelites invaded the land, occupied it, and held it intermittently as wave after wave of other conquerors came and went, and they were still there when the Romans put an end to Jewish Palestine by destroying Jerusalem in 135AD. If a religious basis is sought, then the Palestinians can lay claim to being the descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael who is regarded the forefather of the Arabs. But actually, Palestinian rights are enshrined in the universally accepted principle that land belongs to its indigenous inhabitants. Thus, the modern day struggle for this land by European Jewish immigrants who have no connection with Palestine other than through their religion is a colonial enterprise that seeks sovereignty for an “external Jewish population” to the exclusion of the indigenous Palestinians who, regardless of faith–Jewish, Christian or Muslim–have lived together for centuries.
Although eager to accept the UN Partition Plan of 1947 which recommended that 56% of the land be set aside for a Jewish State, 42% for an Arab state and 2% for an internationalised Jerusalem and its surrounds, the world has not said a word about the land that was seized by Zionist terrorists before the State of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948. Through a series of shocking massacres, the territory assigned to the Jews suddenly became 77% resulting in more than 750,000 Palestinians being forcibly expelled and dispossessed of their homes, personal property and their homeland. The Jewish State then came into being without waiting for the United Nations Commission – prescribed in the Partition resolution – to hand authority progressively over to the Jewish and Arab leaders for their respective states.
And after the 1948 war, Israel declared Jerusalem its capital in contravention of its internationally-recognised status of corpus separatum–a status that is still recognised. Effectively, the new state of Israel was not only created in violation of, it continued to violate, the very resolution which Israelis now look to as giving them sovereignty. The Arab state imposed by the UN Partition Plan without consultation and in contradiction to the UN charter – which should have upheld the majority indigenous Palestinians’ right to self-determination – has since been deliberately and methodically whittled away by Israel, leaving nothing but isolated non-contiguous parcels of land to some 4 million Palestinians.
Around 170,000 Palestinians remained in what became Israel, the largest number of whom resided in the Galilee area, originally a designated part of the Arab state under the Partition Plan. These Palestinians also became the victims of Israel’s land grab policy. Over 438,000 acres, which was more than the total Jewish land holdings at the time, were confiscated and a further 400,000 acres were marked for confiscation. After Israel won the 1967 war, the total territory of Palestine came under Israel’s rule. It annexed East Jerusalem, despite the Holy City’s internationally recognised status and began implementing its Jewish settlement program with a vengeance. The Palestinians in Israel were increasingly aware of their precarious position politically and declared a national strike, known as “Land Day” on 30 March 1976 against Israel’s continuing ruthless land expropriation. An affinity was quickly felt between Palestinians everywhere and “Land Day” was adopted as a sort of national Palestinian day which is commemorated by Palestinians and their supporters around the world each year. This awakening of national consciousness had an unequivocal political message: end the occupation and allow self-determination of the Palestinians in a sovereign state living in peace side by side with Israel.
Thirty-one years later, the message is till resonating, but the Palestinians are further away from seeing a solution than ever before. Daily, Israel is taking a bit of land here and a bit of land there, to make all of Palestine “Israel’s Land”. The problem then will be, what to do with 5 million Palestinians with no land? There are only a few possible, but criminal solutions – transfer, collective imprisonment, apartheid, and/or ethnic cleansing. Alternatively, Israel can disengage from the West Bank to the 1967 borders or agree on a single, democratic state for all. Without a just solution, the struggle for Palestine’s land will continue.
SONJA KARKAR is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.