Nearly 60 years after most Palestinians were first forced from our
homes, the killings and blockades carry on with impunity
Israel is 58 years old today. Israelis have already celebrated with barbecues
and parties. And so they should, for they've pulled off an amazing stunt: the
creation of a state for one people on the land of another - and at their massive
expense - without incurring effective sanction. Some of those not celebrating,
the Arab citizens of Israel, were also there, demonstrating to remind the world
that Israel displaced 250,000 to take their land without compensation. Millions
more Palestinians will demonstrate today in the refugee camps of Gaza, the West
Bank and neighbouring Arab states against their expulsion by Israel. The world,
however, is not listening, any more than it did in 1948, when most of Palestine's
inhabitants were expelled to make way for Jewish immigrants.
My family was among those displaced and, though a child, I vividly remember
the panic and misery of that flight from our home in Jerusalem on an April morning
in 1948, with the scent of spring in the air. Palestine by then had become a
raging battleground as Jews fought to seize our land in the wake of the 1947
UN partition resolution. My parents decided to evacuate us temporarily. "We
will return," they insisted, "the world will not let such injustice
happen!" They were wrong: the world let it happen and we never returned.
Little comfort in knowing that we were among many others, that we did not end
up in tents, that conflicts do such things. Our lives, our history and our future
had been traduced. In those early days, I would wonder with anguish how the
Jewish incomers who took over our house could sleep at night, seeing our belongings,
family photos, children's toys. Subsequently, Israelis made much of the danger
they faced from five Arab armies in the 1948-49 war, but in reality their forces
were greater than all their opponents' combined, and the latter ill equipped
and poorly trained.
Growing up in Britain, I got no sympathy but rather kept being told about the
need to give Jews a state they could feel safe in. But at whose expense was
this generosity? We Palestinians had no hand in the Holocaust, nor in persecuting
Jews. But we were transformed from a peaceable agrarian people into a nation
of beggars under occupation, refugees, exiles and second-class citizens of Israel.
Worse still, we are now labelled terrorists, suicide bombers or Islamic extremists.
Our crime? We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for that we have
been repeatedly punished, most recently for electing the "wrong" government,
headed by a party the west, not Palestinians, labels as terrorist.
I went to "Palestine" last month to see what 58 years of Israel had
done. It was also springtime, but this was a shadow of the land I had known.
I found a pathetically fragmented society, clinging to a fading dream of statehood
against the odds. Israel's policies have broken up the Palestinian territories
into ghettoes behind barriers and checkpoints. Gaza, supposedly liberated, is
a big prison where, according to the World Bank, 75% are under the poverty line
and a quarter of children are malnourished. Since January, Israel has kept the
cargo crossings into Gaza closed most of the time. Flour ran out last month,
and now medicines. The UN has warned of a humanitarian disaster. Now Israel
is threatening to cut off fuel because of outstanding Palestinian debts, normally
paid from Palestinian tax receipts, which Israel has illegally held back since
January. The barrier wall, sealing off whole towns and villages, makes normal
The new, democratically elected Palestinian government is paralysed because
of Israeli and western sanctions. International aid to the Palestinians, $1bn
annually, has been stopped; $70m donated by Arab states is blocked because banks,
fearing international sanctions, refuse to transfer the funds. Money has run
out for 150,000 public workers and their approximately 1 million dependants.
I found deserted supermarkets and shopkeepers in despair. Armed men roam the
streets full of anger at their loss of livelihood. Meanwhile, Israel's assault
on the Palestinians continues. Last week the army killed nine and wounded 24.
It mounted 38 incursions into Palestinian towns and arrested 61 people, including
The Quartet powers have agreed a three-month emergency aid package. Because
of the freeze on relations with Hamas, the aid will bypass the government, though
how essential services can be run without a central administration is hard to
imagine. Arab foreign ministers have warned of a breakdown in law and order
if the Palestinian Authority collapses, but to no avail. The world's silence
in the face of this cruelty is astonishing. There is no international outcry
against a policy whose transparent objective is to goad the Palestinians into
overthrowing the government they elected in favour of one more pliant to Israel's
designs. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan is to draw Israel's border "unilaterally",
annexing the large West Bank settlement blocs and keeping Jerusalem and the
Jordan Valley. The roads connecting it to Israel will bisect Palestinian territory.
What remains, 58% at most, together with the Gaza prison, will form the "Palestinian
state". Olmert will be in Washington soon, no doubt seeking a rubber stamp.
The idea is presumably that the Palestinians - dispersed and powerless - will
then no longer be in Israel's way. Anyone who believes this, as the west's unthinking
support for Israel seems to suggest, knows nothing about history or the will
of peoples to resist injustice. The Palestinians are no exception.
Dr. Ghada Karmi is a research fellow at the Institute
of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University, and a former consultant to the
Palestinian Authority. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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