There seems to have been a shift or something that’s changed amidst the conflict encircling Israel and Palestine. But this conflict, more than anything, is rooted in history. So what has actually changed and what has just been buried by gunpowder?
I spoke to Atalia Omer, professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame and a senior fellow in the Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative at Harvard Divinity School, about this shift, or illusion of a shift, and the history preceding it.
A most popular phrase to which many resort is the throw-your-hands-in-the-air, sigh, and declare “Well! What can I say? Both sides are so wrong.” My personal favourite that I have come across is the notion that “there isn’t enough effort on both sides.” I was too shocked to even laugh. It’s remarkable how on-trend this approach is in this particular conflict. With the Vietnam War, for instance, did anyone ever say the wrong was equally on both sides? Well if they did, it certainly was not a very respected approach. Unlike here, where Vox News proudly asserts that in regards to Israel and Palestine, “both sides have squandered peace and perpetuated conflict.”
The misinformation and falsehood start there. Omer explained how inhumanities inflicted upon Gaza is especially falsified in this regard, she spoke of “the 15-year blockade on the Strip where it has become an open-air prison. Israel controls the air, water, and land. The ways in which the argument of self-defence is deployed by Israel is myopic of the ongoing violent realities of this blockade.”
Social media has really taken to the stage most recently. Suddenly it was okay to speak out, which I think is new, not something so common even five years ago. “I think Palestinians, finally, are able to get out to the world their raw experiences,” said Omer. She explained that Palestine isn’t the first to be further oppressed by the United States and that’s an important connection. She explained how the Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian rights movement have this in common. Both affirm the callousness of racial discrimination, as we see in Israel’s apartheid regime, and merciless killing, as we see everywhere we look amid Palestine.
“‘Palestinian lives matter’ has become very intelligible even if the tired ‘self-defence’ arguments, underpinned by deep-seated orientalism are still operative,” Omer said, explaining how the political stances have been hurtful to the Palestinian cause. It can almost feel like it’s not Israel against Palestine but Palestine against much of the rest of the world. How can it not feel this way? We see this in how President Barack Obama graciously refused Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for $45 billion dollars in military aid, instead, offering a humble $38 billion, while the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees’ (UNRWA) budget doesn't even hit $1 billion.
As Omer explained: “changes within the political map can be very significant though the ‘base’ of Trump, influenced deeply by Christian Zionist notions, it is very strong and has already been impactful through the so-called normalization with the Arab countries, the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem, and with respect to policies against Iran, as well as hurtful disinvestment from UNRWA.”
Another aspect in confronting the inhumanity of the conflict is Great Britain and the role they played in how the conflict came to be. But how much blame can we put on Britain? At the time when Britain had a mandate over Palestine, they (unjustly) thought themselves fit to decide upon how to deal with the land, but now no such mandates exist, and Palestine is left to deal with the repercussions. Can the entire conflict be rooted as a byproduct of a post-colonialist society? When, laughably, colonialism was finally “over?”
As Omer explained, Britain crowned itself king of the world and went about instigating settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is best explained with a famous and all too true quote by Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian author and a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: “They steal your bread, then give you a crumb of it... Then they demand you to thank them for their generosity... O their audacity!”
Omer explained how the settler colonial lens is a crucial component to understanding the conflict: “Everything that has unfolded in the land since 1917 happened under various covers of imperial sponsors. The US took the place of Great Britain.” I can’t help but smile a bit at this - America had its revolution, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
So what of the two-state solution? Omer explained that the apartheid regime and reining inequality makes it impossible. To go back to square one, Israel is not “the only democracy in the Middle East,” because it’s not a democracy. Why do we expect Palestinians to forget the Nakba and accept the wrongly justified settler colonialism and relinquish all objection for all they have lost and continue to lose, due to the inhumanities of further colonialism and apartheid? As Omer put it: “The so-called ‘two-state’ is deeply flawed, especially because it erases the settler-colonial dispossession of Palestinians from what is considered ‘proper Israel’ or the territory within the Green Line or the 1948 armistice line. A ‘two-state’ formula is based on an arbitrary line, an erasure of the Nakba. A democratic re-imagining will require Israel to relinquish claims to Jewish supremacy on the entirety of the land. Then we can speak on various possibilities for confederations and so forth.”
Perhaps one of the largest injustices people make upon Palestine is the claim that it all started with the Balfour report or in 1948. The first Zionist agricultural colony was established in 1878 in Palestine, known as Petah Tikva. Therefore, Zionism was not a byproduct of the Second World War or the atrocities of the Holocaust, it was established much before then. In 1905, when Jews made up six per cent of the population in Palestine, Israel Zangwill stated that Jews must drive out the Arabs or “grapple with the problem of a large alien population...”
The Zionist underground military organization known as the Hagana was founded in 1919. This organisation would carry out the chilling research in compiling the “village files,” which would further fuel the massacres and violent displacement of Palestinians, coming in full strength by 1947, and continuing to the present day. “Indeed, many Palestinians refer to their experiences as an ‘ongoing Nakba’, a point which really became clear in the nonviolent grassroots struggle in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.” said Omer.
It is imperative to understand that the war between the Arab countries and Israel began one year after the Israeli army had commenced in the planned ethnic cleansing, setting the stage for the callous expulsion, rape, murder, imprisonment of innocent Palestinian people, and maddening destruction of the historically and culturally invaluable communities without a moment’s hesitation. Yes, the operations were in full flight a month or so after the Arab-Israeli War officially began, but the moment the ethnic cleansing operation, known as Plan Dalet, was finalized, on March 10, 1948. Oh, and the British were there the whole time. Some even went as far as to confiscate the mere and sparse homemade weapons of self-defence of the Palestinian people under the pretence that they would protect them. They stood back and watched without lifting a finger. Just look up the Deir Yessin Massacre, and the Tantura Massacre, where most of the killing was done in cold blood on the beach. It is also just 15 kilometres from a Zikhron Ya'akov, a “quaint,” as said by Tourist Israel, tourist hotspot, known for its wonderful and historic buildings. I wish those tourists knew what other history is lined among the cafes. All that I have stated can be verified through various historians such as Illan Pape, and his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and Ten Myths About Israel, as well as Edward Said’s books, such as The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
So if there are “two-sides,” one is rooted in colonialism and the other is contending against being colonized, as they have done for decades. Violence on the Palestinian side is not right, either, but the narrative doesn’t start there. Don’t pretend it's a fair fight. Don’t run with your hands in the air, attributing it all to unlucky coincidence and irreparable conflict, to bring back my favourite quote, that there simply “isn’t enough effort on both sides.”
“The entire space is undergirded by a Jewish supremacist ideology that manifests in different ways in 48’, 67’ & Gaza,” Omer said, wielding back to the blatant inequality of the entire region that disarms the entire premise of it all being a tragic, “but equally so!” conflict.
On May 21, Israel issued a cease-fire. It certainly won’t last. And as Palestinians have this brief space to process the prior inhumanity before more is inflicted, hoping for a way for peace and justice to be achieved, I can only wonder. Perhaps it will be found; perhaps the international community will wake up. But at what cost?