Over the weekend, over a dozen Palestinians were killed
while trying to enter Israel from Lebanon and Syria commemorating the day Israel was created 63 years ago. The media jumped on the idea of a third intifada and the possibility of more violence. But what does this mean for the Palestinians and will their efforts be in vain?
In my senior thesis at university, I wrote about Egyptian-Israeli
relations since Egypt became the first country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. My conclusion: the relationship between the two countries would not progress beyond a diplomatic formality until the Palestinian question was solved.
The facts are that when Israel proclaimed itself to be a country a lot of Palestinians either fled because of the ensuing violence or were forced from their homes in what we today call Israel. These refugees continue to be stateless and homeless and have not become integrated in their host countries for reasons both owning to said host countries desire to exploit the Palestinian cause
but also because these Palestinians still desire to one day return to their towns and villages that are located in Israel.
In many of the most recent peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine the “right of return,” as the issue of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel/Palestine is referred, is an oft ignored subject. It’s ignored mainly because Israel refuses to begin any talks if there is any reference to the return of Palestinian refugees. They refuse this because if Palestinian refugees were allowed to return it would tamper with the pleasant majority of Jews living in Israel. And what kind of Jewish state would Israel be if the majority of people living within it’s boundaries were not Jewish?
The protests over the weekend marking the Nakba – or catastrophe in English and the word used to describe the day Israel was created – reignited the question of what will be done with Palestinian refugees if Palestine is declared a state. Will they be allowed to at least return to the state of Palestine? Or will they continue to shoved into refugee camps with little hope of having sovereignty over their lives or futures?
Israel would like to ignore the Palestinian refugee question. They feel that the Arab states that play host to these communities should bear the responsibility for their future – meaning do what Jordan has done and give them nationalities. While Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt should have done this a long time ago if they actually had sympathy for the Palestinians as people rather than as a political tool, these countries are not ultimately responsible for their refugee status. They did not create the situation (Israel’s creation), they did not ask for it to be created, and they certainly did not create the cause (the Holocaust) for many European Jews to feel compelled to create their own state.
Holocaust denial in the Middle East is something that angers a lot of people in the West, particularly those of course who lost everything during this horrific period in the world’s history. However, it is not surprising in a region where illiteracy rates are high and education quality low to expect people to know their own regional history much less the history of Europe. Or to somehow overcome educational systems run by governments for whom it is advantageous to distract their populations with another enemy – Israel – by taking away the sympathy for the country’s creation.
But for those who do know the facts around the Holocaust, the general feeling is – the Holocaust was a European problem with a Middle Eastern solution.
It would be inaccurate to say that Jews in the Middle East and Africa never faced discrimination – but it would be inaccurate to say that Jews from the Middle East and Africa suffered anywhere near the amount as those living in Europe or Russia. While many Jews were expelled or indirectly forced to leave their native countries following the creation of Israel, this was much more a protest to the creation of Israel than any inherent anti-Semitism.
While we’re on the subject of anti-Semitism, Semite means person of Middle Eastern descent, not just Jews.
So what will happen next? Probably Israel is going to make a bunch of noise about how their security is paramount to any possible Palestinian state (how arrogant is that to consider you’re own security more important than an entire populations right to freedom and sovereignty?), Netenyahu will talk about Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East (it’s not democratic to hold a population hostage like in Gaza or destroy freedom of movement like in the West Bank), America will veto any UN resolution chastising Israel’s actions in killing unarmed protesters, talking heads will babble about a possible third Intifada, the American Jewish lobby will perpetuate the fear of violence and threaten any American politician who dares to go against Israeli interests with withholding campaign donations, and if any Palestinian dares to so much as throw a pebble, Israel will declare that this is irrefutable evidence that Palestinians are little more than terrorists and and that Israel has justification for occupying the West Bank and Gaza.
Hopefully, the wave of revolutions consuming the Middle East will provide more context and sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Hopefully these revolutions will frame the Palestinian cause as a fight for freedom and democracy rather than as mere violent tendancies.
There is a lot of hope riding on the renewed cooperation on Fatah and Hamas and their ability to receive UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September. If that doesn’t happen, well, you can never predict what hopeless people will do.