By Miko Peled
I will never forget celebrating Independence Day in Israel as a child. Yom Ha’atzmaut as we call it in Hebrew was a big day. The main event was the military parade in the streets of Jerusalem and as I recall, it began in the main stadium of Hebrew University. We would sit among dignitaries because my father, the late General Matti Peled, was a member of the Israeli army’s top brass. Such excitement can hardly be described in words. Patton and Centurion tanks drove by, army units would display their colors and, of course, the Israeli air force would put on an aerial show displaying the F-4 “Phantom” fighter jets acquired from the US.
As the most recent Independence Day came and went, I felt dismay. On the one hand, Israel is home to a nation that for centuries was despised, oppressed and nearly exterminated and like the phoenix rose from the ashes. The Hebrew language and culture were revived and a sense of belonging and dignity were restored to many Jews. On the other hand, the price paid by Palestinians was enormous; cities and villages razed, political and social structures destroyed, people removed from their homes, lands confiscated, thousands imprisoned and killed for resisting an ongoing campaign that can only be described as ethnic cleansing.
This is the reality in Israel/Palestine and it matters to the US because America has aligned itself with Israel and generally signed off on its actions. Sadly, instead of initiating progress, every new administration falls into the same pattern: pointlessly trying to resolve the issues of settlements and security and resuscitating the lifeless notion of the Two State Solution.
The US has always held the position that the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are an obstacle to peace but that never stopped Israel from building Settlements. This is true regardless of which party was in power in either country and it is an argument that no American president has been able to win. Israel can’t stop building settlements any more than it can stop calling itself Israel because settlements are what made Israel a reality.
Grabbing and settling the land one dunam at a time is a fundamental philosophy that dates back to the earliest days of Jewish immigration to what was then called Palestine. Building settlements, colonizing, is at the heart of Zionist ideology. The settlements are built for Jews only on land from which Palestinians were evicted. We should note that not one city, village or any other form of settlement has been built for Palestinians since the State of Israel was established in 1948 even though population growth has certainly warranted such development.
As for security, the argument that a nuclear power with a massive military such as Israel could be threatened by the Palestinians, who have never had as much as a simple armored brigade, is not a serious one. Israeli security maintains databases with information about most, if not all, Palestinians. Israel controls every aspect of the life of Palestinians from childhood to old age: travel, employment, school and political life are all monitored by Israel. Even the Palestinian Authority cannot act on many matters without approval from Israel.
When President Obama is ready to take on the Israeli Palestinian conflict he will need to apply a systemic approach which will require head on collision with Israel and with AIPAC. There are several important issues he can raise and providing he has the determination to stand up to Israel and its lobby in the US he will have a positive impact. One issue is the condition of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, imprisoned in Israeli jails and Israeli compliance, or lack thereof, with international law regarding imprisoning foreign nationals. Another issue could be the use of live ammunition and intimidation by the Israeli army to disperse non-violent protests. Alternatively, the administration could take up the issue of Israelis’ disregard of the killing of innocent men, women and children in Gaza.
Since Israel’s establishment, it is estimated that 500 Palestinian towns and villages were leveled and close to one million Palestinians dislocated to make room to settle Jewish immigrants. An estimated 2,000 mosques and countless churches, schools and hospitals were destroyed and in their place were built towns, malls, homes and parks for Jews. After 1967, when for the first time in over 2000 years Jews were in control of all of historic Israel/Palestine, settlement activity spread into the West Bank.
This year, people of conscience might want to take stock of what the last 62 years have yielded. No longer being a child I find it hard to get excited on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Rather, as I see the pain in the eyes of my Palestinian friends and their aging parents I am reminded of the pain in the eyes of voiceless Jewish refugees who wandering in Europe, were victims of a world that didn’t care.
By Miko Peled