In a spacious yet fortified UN compound in Rome members of the Palestine committee at the General Assembly repeated old mantras; they vowed support for the Palestinians, issued a press release and then went to lunch.
The committee consisted of several UN ambassadors, all well-intended, sympathetic and concerned; they also knew well that their efforts were more or less futile. One of the ambassadors, of a country not so friendly by American standards, exclaimed: “No matter how hard we try, America blocks our efforts.”
Things went fine, more or less, until an Israeli activist, with a dishevelled beard and scattered thoughts, shared some of his observations: he dreamed of a Middle East in which Arabs and Israelis are integrated, living in seamless harmony, sharing and benefiting from their economic leverage; a day in which Israel is accepted as part and parcel of the entire region. As he gasped for badly needed breath, another NGO person opted to bring such a fantasy a step closer to reality; she suggested dialogue, between Israeli and Palestinian parliamentarians. I fumed.
It is increasingly apparent that the Palestinian crisis is losing its appeal on an international level: it is neither urgent nor defined according to its proper parameters, that between a colonial master that doesn’t hesitate to commit the most atrocious crimes to achieve his colonial project and an oppressed and nationally disintegrated nation that has fought alone, using all means to achieve its liberation.
“I too wish that the Middle East could become an oasis of economic harmony and political integration,” I told the ambassadors. “In fact, I wish that conflicts everywhere would cease in favour of a world predicated on the principles of equality and justice. But until that happens, we must carry on with our fight against injustice everywhere, and with whatever means that are available to us.”
Before we turn the suffering of the Palestinians into the kind of benign topic that could easily be solved through dialogue — as if 60 years of killing, colonial settlement and ethnic cleansing was a simple misunderstanding — let’s recall the facts, harsh and pressing: a nation imprisoned and persecuted in the occupied territories, another treated like second, if not third class, citizens inside Israel and millions of others dwelling in refugee camps across the Middle East.
The Libyan leader, Muammar El-Qaddafi, was recently reported to have reached a decision to evict all Palestinians from Libya, the rationale being they belong in Palestine. Qaddafi’s wisdom already caused thousands of Palestinians to be deported following Arafat’s Oslo agreement; they dwelled in the desert, my uncle and his family included, between Egypt and Libya, before they were divided between various countries. Qaddafi knows well the fate awaiting those Palestinians if his decision actualises, but once a revolutionary always a revolutionary, they say.
In Iraq the plight of the Palestinians is deteriorating to the extent that it is now like a horror story. Saddam, though he treated Palestinians well, blocked their attempts to own property so that they wouldn’t settle and thus concede their right to return to their homeland. The result was that the moment his statue came down, Iraqi landlords moved to evict thousands of Palestinian families. To date over 500 Palestinians have been murdered in Iraq, thousands more have been wounded and many of the rest are living in tent cities in various parts of Iraq and near the Jordanian border. In a recent onslaught Iraqi militias and US soldiers attacked Al-Baladiat neighbourhood in Baghdad, killing and wounding many. Those lucky enough to possess the cash exchanged the lives of their families for $250 per person and were then forced to flee. They had nowhere to go but in circles.
Louise Morgantini, of the European Parliament, informed me in Italy that the crisis that has befallen Palestinian refugees in Iraq is being discussed at the UN behind closed doors; one solution proposed thus far is to transfer them to South America. She angrily demanded something be done to move them to the West Bank. There was little I could do aside from writing about it. Palestinian leaders are too busy squabbling about factionalism and splitting imaginary political power.
These are not symbolic problems that can be addressed via a well articulated Arab Peace Initiative or that can be solved through dialogue. Israel understands well that a Jewish state can only be established in a domain that is free of anyone who fails to subscribe to such values. Joseph Weitz, who was appointed by the Jewish Agency to head transfer committees in 1948 captured the underlying essence of the Israeli project since day one: “Between ourselves it must be clear that there is not room for both peoples together in this country … We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with the Arabs in this small country. The only solution is a Palestine without Arabs.”
From the early days of Ben Gurion’s transfer to Vladimar Jobotinsky’s Iron wall and on to today’s Separation Wall the impetus of the Israeli project has never lost momentum. Meanwhile, Palestinians are in a constant state of transfer and re-transfer. It is clear that Israel will not achieve peace out of benevolence or through unconditional dialogue; it can only be pressured to do so. This needs neither Arab initiatives nor joint parliamentary meetings in which misunderstandings are smoothed over. We must either begin to think on that front or quit wasting precious time in extravagant conferences, symposiums and NGO meetings.
RAMZY BAROUD teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology and is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle. He is also the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org