Friday, April 13, 2007

Privileges and Principles in Palestine/Israel

April 13, 2007

" . . . a solution divorced from the context of its problem is a solution built on quicksand" (Khalidi xxiv).

Since many Palestinian-Americans find the "old country" somewhat provincial compared to our adopted homes in Europe and North America, we find it humorous when European and North American Jews, with no previous ties to historic Palestine, wax eloquently about "home" upon first stepping foot on Ben Gurion (Lod) airport soil.

In no time the "olim," (newcomers to Israel) are swapping hummus and falafel recipes, which has been appropriated as "Israeli" food. One Palestinian woman lamented recently that she had to pull out a history book to convince an American friend that falafel was an Arabic dish. In just a matter of time, the recent immigrants, or "transplants," as a Palestinian journalist refers to them, are calling one another "habbibi," Arabic for darling, and filling up comments boxes on their blogs with "yallas," and "ya annis" (other appropriated Arabic sayings).

No one will ever convince me that a privileged American or European Jew has a right to freely immigrate to Israel, or for that matter 1,156,977 Russians since 1948, when people with keys and deeds to their houses, not to mention hundreds, if not thousands, of years of continuous living in historic Palestine, do not. The Palestinians preceded the Jews in Palestine and never left Palestine, until three-quarters of them were ethnically cleansed, to enter again. In addition to preceding both Jew and Muslim in Palestine, the Palestinian-Arab incorporates them (Khalidi xxviii).

In 1897, Theodor Herzl convened a Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. What must be seeded in one's mind in order to circumvent the baffling charges and countercharges, the diversions and the circular arguments that inform the Palestine/Israel issue are the words of the eminent Palestinian historian, Walid Khalidi:

The Palestine tragedy--of which the current Middle East crisis is but the latest chapter--has, unlike most great upheavals in history, a specific starting point: the year 1897 (Khalidi xxii).

He continues:

All the poignant crises that have rent Palestine and the Middle East since then--the great Palestine Rebellion against the British in 1936-9, the Palestine War and Exodus of the Palestine Arabs of 1948, the Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, and the Arab-Israeli War since 1967--flow directly or indirectly from the Basle Congress of 1897. Behind the seemingly labyrinthine complexities of the so-called Arab Israeli conflict and the baffling maze of claims and counter-claims, there lies a continuous and continuing dual process. On the one hand, Zionist determination to implement, consolidate and expand the Basle 'vision', irrespective of the Arab character and patrimony in Palestine and its hinterland; on the other a corresponding development of Arab resistance to Zionist encroachment and self-fulfilment at Arab expense (Khalidi xxii).

Principled Palestinians consider the "right of return" as the heart and soul of the issue, even more so than the status of Jerusalem. As a literature teacher, I know that "reconciliation" is a major theme in works of literary merit. Ethnic cleansing is a war crime. Denial of right of return for Palestinians is colluding with a war crime. Dr. Salman Abu Sitta writes:

If a robber destroys a home or builds another floor on it, is he entitled to it? In that case, under what premise did the European Jews recover their homes and property, up to the last painting, from their European fellow citizens after half a century?

In the book of human rights and even in national laws nothing supercedes the sanctity of private property and the right to return to it.

More and more principled Israelis are also calling for a right to return and are also calling attention to Palestinian ethnically cleansed and destroyed and defaced villages. One such Israeli is Uri Zackhem, who has filmed several demolished Palestinian villages. Uri writes:

I'm Israeli, Jewish and live in Kfar Saba.

I like to help documenting the landscape, especially all the things (buildings, roads, railways, ..etc.) which are taken for granted and which are not taught at Israeli schools.
For me gaining knowledge about the past is one important step. Working for equality and justice is the next one.
My wish is one or two states between the sea and the river. I want Israel (or whatever it will be called) to be socialist, multiethnic and multicultural, with equality to all the citizens and religious freedom and freedom from religion if they wish so.

Stopping the law of "return", and the return of all the Palestinian refugees that want to, living among the people already living in Israel.

To these words I will add the words of the poet, Issa Chaccour, who, while speaking of his village, Bir'im, engages the hearts and minds of many Palestinians, who remain steadfast and resolute despite Israeli intransigence on the one hand and the cynical and self-serving compromise of their leaders on the other:

Your people, Bir'im have not died
And will not forsake a grain of sand from you
As long as you have men like these
As long as you have men like these
Who continually strive for justice
they do not care what others may say
And they always say to the oppressor
Our Bir'im is more precious than money.
And the return will never disappear
We will return contented
We will forget the bitter days.

Khalidi, Walid. From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948. Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987.

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