“There was no such thing as Palestinians … They did not exist.”
– Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (The Sunday Times, 15 June 1969)
Israel and Gaza are abuzz with activity.
Humanitarian groups and relief agencies are trying to squeeze through Israeli and Egyptian bottlenecks to deliver their much-needed supplies; fighter jets bomb tunnels and kill ‘militants’ as Ehud Olmert maintains he is abiding by the ceasefire; Palestinians are returning to their destroyed homes to sift through rubble and mourn their dead; international human rights lawyers are busy recording eyewitness testimony and gathering evidence for future war crimes tribunals; intense negotiations underway in Cairo hope to broker an extended truce between Israel and Hamas, likely involving the exchange of prisoners (apparently negating any real purpose of the war); and candidates jockeying for frontrunner status in Israeli elections spend an inordinate amount of time making trivial distinctions from each other.
Netanyahu, Lieberman, Barak, and Livni all claim to know how to properly put ‘the Arabs’ in their place, albeit with dreadfully fascist overtones in the case of some contenders, and best control the situation in Gaza. But even if all outstanding issues were miraculously resolved to Tel Aviv’s satisfaction, Israel’s next prime minister will still find pretext to continue agitating against Hamas and the people of Gaza.
Because they have yet to recognize Israel’s ‘right to exist’.
Acceptance of this abstruse concept has been a longstanding and immutable demand of both the United States and Israel before substantive talks with Hamas, or any other self-described resistance group, can take place.
I submit however, that nearly all Palestinians have de facto accepted Israel’s ‘existence’.
Indeed, they will contend:
Have we not recognized Israel’s ‘existence’ when we know it was they who prevented food, medicine, fuel, electricity and clean water from reaching Gaza for 18 months, causing a humanitarian crisis? Then afterward, bombed and invaded a defenseless population, killing over 1,300 and wounding thousands more—the vast majority of whom were civilians? Have we not recognized Israel’s ‘existence’ when we know it was they who fired white phosphorus at our people, causing burns so severe they penetrate through skin and muscle to the bone? Have the Samounis of the Zeitoun district of Gaza City not recognized Israel’s ‘existence’ when 110 members of their extended family were herded by Israeli soldiers into a warehouse without any food, water or heat for 24 hours, then the building they were placed in shelled the next day, massacring 30? When ambulances were prevented for four days from reaching those inside because the soldiers, a mere 100 yards away, had erected earthen barriers to deliberately obstruct them? What about the four infant children found huddled and starving next to the bodies of their dead mothers, or the injured, who had to be removed by donkey carts because ambulances were still not allowed to approach? Did they not all bear witness to Israel’s ‘existence’? Has Khaled Abed Raboo not acknowledged Israel’s ‘existence’ when he stood outside what remained of his home in Jabaliya and a tank with Israeli soldiers ordered him, his mother, his wife and their three children to evacuate? And when they did so waving white flags, all three of his children shot? Had Mr. Abed Raboo not recognized Israel ‘existence’ when he saw Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, only 15 meters away, shoot dead two of his daughters, age two and seven, and critically injure the third? Does witnessing one’s defenseless children being gunned down at close range, before one’s very eyes, not meet the standard of having accepted that Israel ‘exist’? Have the residents of Khuza’a not recognized Israel ‘existence’ when their village came under a 12-hour assault by Israeli forces, killing 14 people? Was the bulldozing of homes with civilians inside, the killing of those carrying white flags, the firing on an ambulance attempting to evacuate the wounded, and the shelling of homes with white phosphorus not enough to say yes, we acknowledge you ‘exist’? What about the refugees taking shelter in the Al-Fakhoura school in Jabaliya? When the area just outside the school was shelled by the IDF and 43 displaced Gazans killed as they were heading to the market for food? Have their surviving relatives not adequately recognized the cause of their untold grief is Israel’s ‘existence’? Has Israel’s ‘existence’ not been confirmed by the A’aiedy family, whose home was hit by an IDF shell, wounding two 80-year old women and three of their grandchildren? Who waited 86 hours to be rescued because the army did not permit ambulances to evacuate them to hospital, and anyone who attempted to leave the courtyard in order to get water shot at? Has Israel’s ‘existence’ not been recognized by those in the West Bank forced to travel on different roads than Israeli citizens? And negotiate a maze of checkpoints where they undergo humiliating searches and delays, just so they can travel a few miles? Are the women who have been forced to give birth at checkpoints, and often miscarry at them, oblivious to Israel’s ‘existence’? Or how about those who have been cut off from their farms and livelihood by Israel’s ‘security fence’? In fact, isn’t the hardship and suffering endured by all Palestinians who have lived, or are living, under Israeli occupation enough proof that Israel ‘exists’?
But, if acknowledging Israel’s ‘right to exist’ means accepting that anyone who is Jewish can automatically become a citizen of Israel and then live on the very land, and in some cases, in the very home, of a Palestinian family who has lived there for generations; if it means relinquishing the right to say “this was my land and my home before you took it away from me”; if it means forsaking the right to return to Palestine with deed and keys in hand, demanding to know what entitled the families from England, Russia, Morocco or Ethiopia to live on the property of those 700,000 who were forcibly expelled in 1948; if it means denying the very existence of Palestine and Palestinians—as Golda Meir tried to do—by erasing their history, culture, and collective memory … then no. Israel has no ‘right to exist’.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.