How much help should we accept?

Should we be accepting support from Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Believe it or not but many Israeli Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and in Israel condemn the actions of their government and put their lives at risk to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and justice. I have met on more than one occasion Israelis who work for organisations like B’Tselem, which document human rights abuses.

For the longest time though, I felt this to be a massive contradiction. So you want to help our struggle but yet you are also living in a settlement? You are living in the homes of our parents and grandparents but yet somehow advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people? How can that be right? So I began to question things. Was I just being unfair on people who are choosing to extend their hands to us and want to help?

This took me back to 1947-48 when everything really went wrong for the Palestinians. In 1948 when the state of Israel was established and following the aftermath of the Holocaust, many Jewish families were paid to come and live in Israel. The reason behind this was to encourage mass immigration to the region – a very smart strategy if you ask me. Jewish families from all over the world began to immigrate to Israel being lured in by the prospect of a better life, financial support and benefits.

This was combined with a lot of hostility towards Jews from the MENA region as a reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel. (Whether this was a fair or reasonable reaction is a debate we will leave for another time.) Nevertheless there was uncertainty about their fate in the Middle East. Don’t forget it had also only been a few years since the end of the Holocaust and so most Jews still felt insecure about their future.

Now putting yourself in their shoes in the context of what had just happened and the reaction of the Arab countries, would you have said no to an offer of a better and more secure life in Israel? Really the question comes down to this: should we be standing against the Jews who chose to immigrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens or should we be accepting help from them as Palestinians because ultimately we all would have made the same decision?

I decided to investigate this question a little further as I wasn’t sure what to think. One part of me understood how simple the decision must have been for them but then the other part of me thought how cruel these people must have been to be able to live in homes that did not belong to them. These were our homes, our land, our trees. How could a person make such a selfish decision and live in the home of another family, knowing full well it was not their own and yet not say anything?

One man in particular really made an impact on me and helped me come to terms with the reality of what happened in 1948 and I want to tell you his story. Let us call him X.

X is an Israeli, originally a Moroccan Jew whose family has lived in Israel since the 1950s. I was curious as to how he could live with himself knowing he took over another family’s home (of course I didn’t say this to him but that’s exactly what I was thinking) so I began to question him about things and I was completely taken aback by his response.

X was a young boy – no more than about 8 or 9 years old – when his family emigrated to Israel. They were previously living a comfortable life in Morocco until the late 1940s when riots broke out against Jews all over the Middle East in response to the establishment of Israel. More than 18,000 Jews fled their homes in Morocco in 1948 and 1949 alone seeking a better life.

X’s family were offered money by the Israeli government to come and live in Israel – a life they could not even have dreamt of in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East at the time. Of course, his parents did not hesitate and they packed up their things ready for a new life in Israel.

On arrival, he described to me how he walked into the new house given to him by the military and he could feel the presence of another family. The house almost felt ghostly with the carpets, antiques and belongings of another family. They had obviously belonged to the Palestinian family that had lived there before them.

I then asked him whether his parents had said something, asked who the family were, demanded to be moved to another house and his response was this:

“No one spoke about it. We just didn’t ask. We knew, but we didn’t ask.”

For them it was very straightforward, they were told this was their new home and that was that. They made it their own. Until this day, they still do not know the Palestinian family who used to live there.

After hearing his story, it made me question how I would have reacted in the same situation. When I put myself in their shoes – would I really have said no if someone had offered me a life in Israel in the context of 1948, only several years after Hitler’s killing spree of the Jews? Would I have made that choice, as most Jewish families did, of a better quality life for my family and just turned a blind eye to everything else?

They didn’t physically remove us, heck most of them didn’t even see us thrown out at the time. They were invited into empty homes and many of them chose to simply not ask questions. Would you have asked had you been in their position?

Of course, hundreds of years of suffering is not an excuse to justify what happened and what continues to happen to the Palestinian people. Palestine was not an empty land when the Jews began to immigrate in and as each year passes, we watch as the land we once called Palestine is slowly engulfed by Israeli settlements and the 400 mile long wall.

I do however accept that at the time the state of Israel was established, the Jewish people needed to identify themselves with a land and they needed a place to call home. This is a point of fact not an opinion. And unfortunately for us, this was at our expense. Being Palestinians though, we must understand their struggle and their need for a homeland. After all, we are now a people without a land.

I remember reading a book about Judaism and something really stuck in my head: “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man.”

Religion advocates justice, peace, righteousness, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I believe in both our rights to live in the land and I believe we have the potential to live together; if we could do it before we can do it again. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it isn’t possible. Wounds can heal, painful memories fade and hate can be overcome.

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[The wall in Bethlehem, West Bank]

Let’s create a community where we accept each other’s existence and focus on what both people have in common rather than dwelling on our differences. Let’s bring together the new generation of Palestinians and Israelis and recognise both peoples’ struggle and right to self-determination.

The power of change is in our hands. It is us – the new, young generation of educated Palestinians and Israelis – who can prevent more suffering. Let’s make sure we all have a good future and our children and grandchildren do not suffer as our ancestors did.

We need as much help as we can get from inside and outside, from Palestinians and Israelis, from Arabs and non-Arabs, from Jews and non-Jews. Do not shut out people who extend their hand to you.

Let’s create a democratic state and home for us all.

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Made in Palestine

It has been quite a while since I last contributed to Palestine 101 and I’ve only just realized why. I arrived back in the States a month ago and since then I’ve been seeing friends, family and living the comfortable life I have always lived.

If I am going to be honest with myself, I really just forgot. I left Palestine, I left the Middle East and I forgot. I forgot about everything; the occupation, the poverty, the poor living conditions, the weapons and the struggle of the Palestinians. It’s amazing how quickly I reverted back to my luxurious Western lifestyle and without even realizing, lost the inspiration and drive I felt to help the Palestinian struggle.

In all fairness, I guess you could say how could I be expected not to forget? When you have the gift of freedom and are able to live peacefully in a country where your rights as a citizen are safeguarded, how can you still remember the Palestinians?

For those that haven’t read my previous article on Palestine 101 ‘Palestinian or non-Palestinian’, I thought I’d give you a little background on me. My dad is American and my mom is Iraqi, but I was born and raised in New York.

Anyway a few days ago, I went out with my mom to buy some groceries. She always likes to shop in KNS Glatt Farm Inc, which is in Lawrence, New York. You can find pitta bread, vine leaves and chickpeas in the market – absolute essentials for Arab-style cooking!

I should probably mention this suburb of Long Island is also home to many Orthodox Jews. To think an Arab would travel from their own hometown to a Jewish market in order to buy food used in traditional Arabic dishes — a little ironic, huh? (Let’s leave that discussion for its own article).

So while I was at the grocers, I picked up a jar of olives to see how they had been made and I saw plastered in big, black letters:

PRODUCT OF ISRAEL

It didn’t take more than a second for all the memories to flood back and I was reminded of my experiences in Palestine and the injustice of it all. Now some of you might be thinking, ‘but this is just a simple package stamp? Who really cares?

For me, it was much more than that. This ordinary stamp is just another attempt at erasing the identity of the Palestinians. Israel has robbed them of their land and robbed them of their homes and now they’re trying to rob them of their cultural food, too? Since when did Israel start growing olives?

photo (1) olives israel

This is a strategy used all over America to deny the Palestinians of their rights. It is a strategy used to lie to American generations about the history of the Palestinians. It is a way of covering up the truth and creating a false sense of connection with Israelis, who have kindly provided us with olives from their land. Wow have they thought this one through.

I for one refuse to be lied to.

Did you know buying a made in Israel product not only directly finances the occupation but also funds the racist, Zionist movement that wants to get rid of all the non-Jews from the region? I decided to do a little more research on the whole situation and ask around how much people knew and you would not believe what I found out.

Did you know all goods exported out of Palestine with a made in Palestine label are denied export by the Israeli forces? That’s why we don’t ever see them. These goods are only sold within the Palestinian borders and can’t be exported out.

It’s the exact same tactic used to cover up the realities of the occupation. The unlawful treatment of Palestinians is not broadcasted internationally because that kind of information would be detrimental to Israel’s public image (and subsequently its biggest supporter – the US). They have done the same thing by denying anything made in Palestine from being shipped. They just don’t want people to know.

So the next time you see a made in Israel label, take a step back and remind yourself of what it really means; it is a small but very significant example of the systematic and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

It is so much more than just a label.

(Contributor 714)

The Arab Threat to Israel

Have you ever heard people talk about Israel being under threat from the Arabs? (Thinking about it, maybe I should have titled this the non-existent Arab threat as it’s a bit misleading).

My usual response to these conversations is, “sorry, what threat exactly?”

From what I can see, there is no military threat from the Arab world (at least what we would normally think of as the conventional, military threat). With the Iraqi army gone and the falling apart of both the Egyptian and Syrian army, I wonder why people are still hung up about the Arab military threat posed to Israel.

The Arab world is so caught up in internal conflict that any sort of coordinated revolution against Israel has become virtually impossible. There is just no way it is going to happen. With the disenfranchised, political elites and the growth of religious sectarianism in the Arab world, it comes as little surprise that we lack a common purpose or belief to collectively guide us.

We are no longer Arabs. We are Muslim, Christian or Jewish. We are Palestinian, Lebanese or Jordanian; Iraqi, Syrian or Saudi Arabian; Egyptian, Kuwaiti or Libyan. Is anyone identified purely as an Arab anymore?

The conventional military threat against Israel is gone.

Really take a moment to let that sink in.

The conventional military threat against Israel is gone.

The Arabs are busy killing each other while Israel is winning. What does this really mean?

Simply put, the potential of the new Israeli generation is vast. Israel has room to progress and develop economically, to foster innovation and creativity, to build infrastructure and improve education. There are more opportunities than ever before. But with all these new opportunities in mind, Israel could still be doing better.

What are they missing, you ask?

Compromise.

In order to realise the regions’ real potential, Israel is going to have to compromise.

Ever thought about the potential benefits if Israel were to free up its labour market and immigration policies? What would happen to the quality of life of the Palestinians and Israelis? How about free trade with its Arab neighbours – Jordan and Palestine?

Jordan valley
[View of Palestine and Israel from the Jordan Valley, 2014]

Only when Israel has chosen to compromise will they really be able to maximise their economic growth potential and this will only happen through partnership and trade with neighbouring countries, compromise and replacing its government officials with realists and technocrats. If Israel refuses to compromise, it will eventually be forced to by international pressure.

An Israeli journalist recently made the following statement in Haaretz:

“The signs of a boycott against Israel are worrisome. This is a civic boycott that originates from the grass roots and is harming the standard of living of all of us. Consumer organisations are imposing a boycott on the purchase of Israeli consumer goods, port workers are refusing to unload Israeli ships, academic organisations are imposing boycotts and European firms don’t want to do business with Israeli firms, because the occupation contradicts their ethics.

The direction is clear: Israel is slowly but surely becoming illegitimate. The international isolation surrounding it is intensifying, and this situation will deteriorate if the negotiations with the Palestinians reach a dead end. See what United States Secretary of State John Kerry said in Davos. This is a slow and creeping process, but it is liable to erupt all at once, when a large international bank or a multinational corporation announces a severance of business ties with Israel. Much of Europe already considers us an apartheid state, and when that becomes the prevailing public opinion, the boycotts and sanctions will go from sporadic and civil to official government policy — just as happened with white rule in South Africa.”

Sorry Israel but your ethnocratic government really doesn’t know how to realise your true potential.

A Long Walk to Freedom

So last night I watched the new film Mandela: A long walk to freedom and what a brilliant film it was. (Don’t worry, I won’t give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet!)

All throughout the film I could not help but relate it to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and notice the mutual struggle of the native South Africans under apartheid rule and Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Watching this film really was an emotional rollercoaster for me. (And I have to admit I did cry a good three times…Thank God for my pocket tissues!)

As the film takes you through Mandela’s fight for freedom, there were times where I felt perhaps the best thing for the Palestinians would be for us to be revolutionaries and fight for our country, for our land, for our Palestine. To be more like Mandela’s wife as portrayed in the film who channels her anger and frustration at the apartheid system to encourage people to use violent means to bring it down (although this never actually worked). At one point in the film, she gives a speech and declares, “although we may not have AK47s, we have stones and we have our hands.” Sounds a little like the Palestinian struggle, no?

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[Palestinians’ daily struggle through Israeli checkpoints]

Just as it happened in South Africa, maybe we need more bloodshed, more martyrs and more people resisting Israel for us to gain international support and awareness. Palestinians deserve the right to self-determination and the right to determine their own future in the very land that they come from, no?

Then as the film went on, I noticed how Mandela spent more than 25 years locked up in prison, sacrificed his family and his life for his country and then turned around at the end of it all and publicly declared his forgiveness to those in power, I could not help but admire him for his grace, humility and devotion to peace.

Mandela represented hope for the black people in South Africa. He was an advocate of peace and non-violent resistance as a means of achieving freedom and was lucky enough to live the downfall of apartheid and see his people liberated.

So the film made me think, are the Palestinians fighting the right battles?

I have long heard people (Palestinians and Arabs especially) refusing to accept the existence of Israel (some even refuse to say the word by the way). People talk about how Palestine belongs to the Palestinians and will always belong to them (including the cities that are now in Israel), referring to Tel Aviv as Tel al-Rabi (the name it used to be called when it was a Palestinian village) and publicly declaring their denial of Israel’s existence.

But does this actually lead anywhere?

Realistically, are we ever going to get Palestine back?

Are we ever really going to be able to rightfully return the homes back to the millions of Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon?

Or is this just the less painful way, to stay in denial and pretend like Israel doesn’t exist? Is that what they mean when they say ignorance is bliss?

The Palestinian people have certainly paid a heavy price for Israel’s existence and continue to suffer a great tragedy at the hands of the occupation. But from what I can see, it takes a great deal of courage to accept the painful reality that Israel isn’t going anywhere, especially when it has gained the support and backing of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America.

Ever since my trip to Palestine three years ago, I have felt a strong connection to my homeland, a feeling that has been ingrained in me ever since and it has been a constant Ping-Pong game in my head.

Am I turning my back on my country if I accept Israel exists? Or am I just avoiding accepting the reality of the situation and obfuscating any possible solutions for the Palestinians through wishful thinking?

My family has directly suffered at the expense of creating a homeland for the Jews. My grandmother used to share tales with us of how they fled their home in Jaffa in 1948 with only a few possessions and the key to their home. My grandfather told her not to take any more because they would be coming back as soon as things had settled down. Years later, my grandparents both passed away having never returned back to their home.

So I understand the frustration. I understand the struggle and I understand the unfairness of it all. I am after all a second generation exiled Palestinian. I just question whether we are fighting the right battles and what help it will really do for us if we continue to live in the past.

Inspired by a man of wisdom, should we reconsider what we are fighting for?

The Israeli-Palestinian compromise

We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” [Nelson Mandela, 1997]

When people talk about peace negotiations, you will often hear them talk about compromise. ‘Both the Palestinians and the Israelis need to compromise.’ Today I would like to explore this option.

To-date, the Human Rights Council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel alone, than it has all the other states combined. Since 1948, Israel has violated over 75 UN resolutions as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention that is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. The US vetoes all major resolutions against Israel and so they either do not get passed or are not even brought to vote. Because of this, Israel acts as it pleases and remains unaccountable for its actions.

For more than a decade now, Israel has been running an iron fist policy to clamp down on the Palestinians, it has been actively cleansing the indigenous people of their land by illegally demolishing their homes, colonizing their land and raiding their villages; not to mention the curfews, collective punishment and ghettoization all at the expense of establishing the newly founded state of Israel for the Jews.

Israel starves the Palestinian economy dry by restricting land and water usage, access to international markets, liquidity of money supply and natural resources. It deprives the Palestinians of their legal right to any potential revenue sources. The Palestinian Ministry of National Economy recently published a report assessing the costs of the occupation on the Palestinian economy. And I quote,

The total costs imposed by the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian economy which we have been able to measure was USD 6.897 billion. In other words, had the Palestinians not been subject to the Israeli occupation, their economy would have been almost double in size than it is today.”

If we delve deeper into the water issue alone, the World Bank published a report in 2009 stating there is 2.4 billion cubic meters of pure water available yearly in the region, of which Israel utilizes 90%. Israeli settlers consume seven times more water than Palestinians and yet pay one fifth of the price the Palestinians pay.

I have only just brushed the surface by the way, and that’s without even mentioning the Palestinians in Gaza. For anyone who is not too clued up on the situation, naturally you would think both sides need to compromise to come up with an agreement right?

Unfortunately, this is no longer the reality of the situation. Israel has squeezed the Palestinians of anything they initially had to compromise with. Actually, the only thing the Palestinians have left is the right of return of the millions of refugees, which although technically and physically is becoming impossible, it remains an understandable symbolic lynch point on the political and diplomatic front.

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[Keys representing the lost homes of millions of Palestinians]

There is no compromise that can be done by the Palestinians. What we are witnessing day in day out is the measures Israel is putting in place to engulf the whole of the West Bank and Washington is allowing them to do so. Even the UN resolutions that do eventually get passed are often watered down for fear of being vetoed by the US.

Unfortunately we still speak of Israel’s violent crack down on any type of organised political or social action. It maintains its grip on the Palestinian people by silencing them and undermines anyone in the international community who questions Israel as a Jewish state. It maintains its iron fist policy and the commoditisation of fear as its main defence against another uprising from Palestinians from within and without.

Perhaps the best hope for the Palestinian people exists in the young Arab and Jewish Israelis; the new generations who can build the foundations to a future solution. Without major initiatives within Israel and the West Bank, no sustainable long-term solution will ever be achieved.

I wanted to finish today’s post with a quote I read recently that I could relate to.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Prince Faisal’s letter

Prince Faisal (later King Faisal of Iraq) writes to a senior American Zionist in 1919:

We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in race, have suffered similar oppressions at the hands of the powers stronger than themselves.

We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. We will wish the Jews the most hearty welcome home.

A document of understanding and welcome of what could have been.

Weizmann_and_feisal_1918
[Chaim Weizmann (zionist leader) and Prince Faisal, 1918]

The future Palestinian generations

As I approach my last week in Palestine and my internship with the Welfare Association comes to a close, I thought it would be a good idea to focus my final posts on the future.

As I have said before, I envision a future where Israelis and Palestinians live together. I envision a future without discrimination and where we have equal rights as citizens. I envision a future where people are proud to be Palestinian and proud of their Jewish neighbours, where we have a government representing both Palestinians and Israelis, where synagogues, mosques and churches stand side by side and people speak both Arabic and Hebrew. It is about time Israelis and Palestinians recognize we can never get rid of each other.

Arguments about history and who has rightful claims to the land are not going to get us anywhere. In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years down the line, these details won’t matter anymore. The real question we should be asking ourselves is how we can ease the life of future generations – our children, our grandchildren and their children.

What can we do today to help the children of tomorrow?

Just as Palestinians have had a tragic history, Jews have had an even worse one. They have been expelled from more than 100 countries around the world since AD250 and have been persecuted much longer than we ever have. In the end Jews are our cousins and there is a lot of ground for cooperation and understanding if we change our perception of things.

It is very clear to me that we have a lot of potential. Did you know the Palestinian people hold one of the highest numbers of PHDs in the world?

The insecurity of not having a homeland should be the driving force behind our hard work and motivation. As Palestinians, we should strive to be the best and work harder than anybody else. Working hard is particularly important for us because without money, power and influence we will not get anywhere. We will never gain our rights and independence and we will never have a homeland (albeit in Israel, Palestine or whatever you want to call the country).

We cannot keep viewing ourselves as victims and blame all of our problems on the occupation. For the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Israel, the ones who continue to live and breathe the occupation everyday, their existence alone is a powerful form of resistance and I would say continue to do what you are doing. You are what is keeping the Palestinian population from fizzling out and resisting against the racist Israeli state that is ethnically cleansing the region of non-Jews.

For the Palestinian diaspora, the ones who live outside of the country and who do not have restrictions placed upon them, you are free to excel and I believe the future of Palestine is in your hands. We are emotionally detached from the situation because we have not had to experience the humiliation and hardships of living under the Israeli occupation everyday. Let us work together to stop this purely Jewish state Bibi is trying to create. Lets show the world it is in everyone’s benefit for Israelis and Palestinians to be on the same side.

Together

I urge the Palestinian diaspora to learn more about the situation and to teach other people about what is going on. We have to realize we cannot expect change to happen but we have to create this change. I urge people to come and visit Palestine and to see for yourself what the media hides from you. That is when you will truly understand the power of propaganda.

We have to be the ones to build the bridges for future generations to walk on, we cannot expect someone else to build them for us. Certainly we have a tough mission ahead of us and that is to fight for the rights of the non-Jews in Palestine. We must open our arms to anyone wanting to help fight for our cause, whether they are Jews against the Israeli state, Americans, Europeans, Africans – anyone willing to stand with us and fight against racism.

The Palestinians living in Israel and holding Israeli citizenship, those that have had to live among the Jews are living proof that it can be done. When I went to Jaffa, my friend and I had lunch at a fish restaurant called the Old Man and the Sea where the waiters spoke English, Arabic and Hebrew fluently. I had a Palestinian family sitting on my left, foreigners on my right and Israelis sat in front of me. I did not know this even existed!

I know it takes a lot of strength to accept the reality of the situation, but once more people are able to do this we will be able to think clearly about the future of our people. I have heard a lot of people here tell me how they do not recognize the state of Israel (both old and young) but unfortunately Israel does exist and it is not going anywhere.

If we are ever to move forward, acceptance of Israel’s existence is the first step. Of course I know this is easier said than done, especially for those who have had to live under the injustices of the occupation and can see how Israel is destroying Palestinian life and the lives of millions of refugees. Of course we all feel frustrated and angry and rightly so, but if all of us thought this way we will never move forward.

All I ask is that when you think about the future of Palestine, think realistically and practically and 50 years down the line. Don’t think of next year or 2 years time. In the end, there is no point fighting a losing battle. Lets fight the battles we can win – like fighting for our rights, fighting for our independence. The first step in moving forward is acceptance so we can then think clearly about what is it that we really want.

What I personally see that is most needed here is for people to be able to live in peace. All the non-Jews living in Israel and Palestine deserve the same rights and freedoms as the Israelis have. There is no difference between the two. We all bleed the same colour, don’t we?

I read these words on the apartheid wall in Bethlehem and have not been able to forget them since:

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We remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of ours friends.

Please stand with us against the racist Israeli state and open your eyes to the realities of the situation. Everything the media feeds you is propaganda at its finest.

Just look at what happened to me in the past week. My facebook and email accounts were hacked three times this week from IP addresses in Russia, the US and Palestine. I couldn’t add extra security measures or change my password. An hour after posting my blog on my mother’s facebook wall, someone then tried to hack into her account. Anyone else who has been criticizing Israel had a similar experience?

Seems to me like I am getting my message across and hitting a sensitive nerve with the right people. Lets stand together and not give in to this intimidation. Lets show them that we cannot be silenced. Please like and share my blog!