By Miko Peled
48 hours after I landed the reality of this land, a land that people like to call holy, began taking its toll on me. The movie “Boy In Stripped Pajamas” came to mind as I played with my kids in the pool of Kibbutz Zikkim, a beautiful pastoral little kibbutz or agricultural commune, is on the Mediterranean coast just a stone’s throw from Gaza to the north. The narrative in the movie describes the innocent German boy by the name of Bruno growing up across the fence from concentration camp. The German boy whose father is the commander of the camp is completely oblivious to the reality beyond the fence and is forbidden by his mother from exploring the backyard. But while Bruno’s mother naïvely believes the “farm” to be an internment camp, her husband has sworn under oath never to reveal that it is in fact an extermination camp specifically designed to help the Nazis achieve their horrific “Final Solution.” Eventually defying his mother’s rules and venturing out beyond the backyard, Bruno arrives at a barbed wire fence to find a young boy just his age emptying rubble from a wheel barrel. That boy, obviously a prisoner at the camp was wears a stripped pajama.
For israelis this narrative is a frightening one, but sadly they have plunged themselves into a reality where this narrative is being re played but with a new cast. This time Israelis are living across the fence from Gaza, but unlike the German family in the movie they are not oblivious to what goes on in the camp. For the most part Israelis are not only aware of the horrors that take place in the concentration camp near them, they see it as justified.
It’s only been about six months since my last visit here, just as Israel was preparing to launch its latest sadistic terror attack on the civilian population of Gaza, a population whose average age is 15.5, a population of innocent children. I visited Zikkim then because after all, it is the home of my in-laws, the place where my wife was born and raised.
In this chauvinistic state created by my forefathers the terror attack on Gaza is called a war. It is much easier that way for the consciences to bear. After all, fighting an enemy that possess tanks and war planes, artillery and sophisticated weapons, smart bombs and air to air missiles, along with anti aircraft and anti tank weapons is a great deal more heroic than to massacre innocent children, women and men who are defenseless, have no means of escape and no means of fighting back. But of course the reality is that the Israeli army, that sadistic military force that has made a name for itself over the last sixty years as a force to be reckoned with, is in fact no more than a shameless army of cowards lead by a junta of brutal, sadistic racists.
Instead of the patronizing call we constantly hear for a “Palestinian Gandhi” one would hope to see the emergence of international support for a Palestinian Patrick Henry. The call “Give me liberty or give me death” awakens strong emotions even today, more than 320 yeas after Patrick Henry gave the speech that crystallized perhaps more than any the American colonies call for independence from the English crown.
There has never been, not is it likely that an occupying power will ever relinquish its domination willingly. Israel is not different. Not only is Israel not likely to end its iron rule over Palestine and its people, it is placing all of its effort to make Greater Israel a permanent and irreversible reality. So while Patrick Henry’s was a call for arms, in the case of the Palestinian struggle the call should be for a more sophisticated and more effective national struggle.
There is nothing Israel likes better than a military confrontation, and the Israeli “security” forces go out of their way to blame Palestinian for initiating violence so as to justify their own brutality. But a violent struggle only helps the oppressor and it is in fact a statement of despair.
Three clear goals struggle on which the struggle would do well to focus could be as follows:
1. Granting all Palestinians full equal rights with Israelis.
2. Granting Palestinians unrestricted freedom of movement within Israel/Palestine.
3. Reigning in the Israeli forces and withdrawing them of from population centers.
Until these conditions are met, Palestinians have no reason to negotiate or cooperate with the Israeli authorities. Until they are met there needs to be a concerted effort to isolate Israel, and to initiate a struggle that defies its laws and undermines it authority. Israel profits greatly from Palestinians who are forced to apply and pay for permits and licenses; Israel profits from Palestinians who are forced to buy Israeli products. Haaretz newspaper recently reported on the huge profits that Israeli farmers and government agents make as a result of the siege imposed on Gaza. An effort can focus on the idea, also made famous during the American Revolution that there can be “no taxation without representation” calling for defiance of the Israeli authorities and boycott of Israeli products and goods.
Those who still believe in a negotiated settlement with Israel on the basis of two states should read the following lines from Patrick Henry’s famous speech: “It is natural for men to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth…Are we disposed to be of the number of those who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not…”
In the long run, the best possible outcome for Israelis and Palestinians is a pluralistic democracy where people’s rights are protected by a constitution and the rule of law. Israelis and Palestinians, by virtue of their sharing a homeland are fellow countrymen. As such they are deserving of the same rights and share the same responsibilities. Their first responsibility is to engage in a struggle to bring an end to the apartheid regime that holds them both in a seemingly endless struggle, and to cooperate as equals for a better future.
Jerusalem, August, 2009.
I had visited Bil’in again this sumer, to participate in the weekly Friday protest. After spending the night with a friend in Ramallah, we drove throught the beauttiful hilly roads that are typial of Palestine and arrived just in time for the march.
The people of Bil’in endure live ammunition, tear gas, arbitrary arrests, abuse of their children by Israeli forces. But their spirit is never broken. Mohammad Al Khatib was in jail when I was there, but his brother, dressed in waterproof overalls soiled by Israeli “stinky water” smiled at me and said: “It is only temporary”. With the support of the members of the Int’l Solidarity Movement, Israelis and others they go on, fighting for the peace and justice they and all of us deserve.
Here are some images from this place where giants dwell.
Besides restoring my faith in humanity, Barak Obama’s victory made me think of one thing: The first Palestinian Prime Minister in a post Zionist, secular, democratic state in Palestine/Israel. This may sound strange coming from an Israeli living in America, but just as Obama is good for black and white Americans, a Palestinian prime minister in a secular democracy will be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians. If it can happen in the US it can happen in the holy land. On January 20, an African American by the name of Barak Hussein Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States. This is a milestone if ever there was one, and there are many lessons to be learned from it. At the same time, this does not mean that we should expect that an Obama administration will offer anything new as far as US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.
One lesson we need to take from Barak Obama’s victory is this: With razor sharp focus on a single issue, driven home here in America and in our shared homeland, we can achieve equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians in all of Palestine/Israel. The message has to be: End the apartheid. The term occupation has become irrelevant because it has come to imply a temporary situation and the Zionist rule of Palestine is clearly not temporary. The message and the effort need no longer focus on a tiny, helpless Palestinian state living peacefully alongside an all-powerful Israel that is armed to its teeth; that possibility has been obliterated for good anyway. The message and the effort should be focused on ending apartheid and a call for equal rights.
It would be naïve to assume that an Obama administration will turn away from years of US blind support for Israel. Sure, it would be ideal for President Obama to ask former President Jimmy Carter to be his special envoy to Israel/Palestine, but that is not likely to happen. In all likelihood there will be a return to the policies of the Clinton years, policies that may have had good intentions but lead to more of the same. The reason these policies failed and will fail again is that they do not recognize the problem for what it really is, namely the existence of an apartheid regime over Israel/Palestine.
If the last 40 years have taught us anything it is that as long as the basic premise for a solution remains partition and is not divorced from the Zionist notion of a big Jewish state next to a small Palestinian state, there can be no resolution. At this point there is no reason to expect change in American policy on the basic premise, not even from President Barak Obama. However, if the point is driven home with enough zeal, an Obama administration and the American public being sensitive to racial, ethnic and religious discrimination will eventually be forced to re examine support for a country that practices discrimination.
The issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel is one that needs to be re examined if we strive to move toward democracy and reconciliation. It is one of the claims Israel used to discredit the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat and uses now to discredit Hammas and interestingly, the US uses this same claim to discredit Iran. But a close examination will show that on this issue there is little for which Hammas can be blamed.
Expecting Palestinians to accept the rights of an exclusively Jewish state is, plain and simple, stupid. The Jewish state has an insatiable appetite for Palestinian land, it imprisons and forces millions of Palestinians to live in exile and poverty, making the demand for acceptance by Palestinians clearly outrageous. For nearly thirty years Arafat and his successors have bent over backwards to show that they accept the existence of an exclusively Jewish state, even as that very state continued to oppress and imprison Palestinian people and disposes them of their land. Palestinian leaders have done everything they possibly could to appease one Zionist government after another in order to gain some headway, but alas they received little in return for their efforts.
Hammas leaders refuse to recognize and accept the existence of the State of Israel, but can one really blame them? Israel has to date refused to define its own borders and its own character (A Jewish State? A Democracy? An ethnocracy? A theocracy?) But however Israel may choose to see itself, it is without a doubt a bi national state that practices discrimination along ethnic and religious lines. Furthermore, the Jewish state does not recognize Palestinian national rights and aspirations, and it acts with great determination to undermine the basic human and civil rights of Palestinians.
In many ways, the comparison between blacks in America and Palestinians is Israel/Palestine is an appropriate one. The struggle of African Americans to achieve equality under the law and then their struggle to see that the equality is in fact being enacted is inspiring and can be copied; the non violent nature of their struggle, the moral high ground maintained by African American leaders, their spiritualism and their activism are all good models to emulate.
Palestinians in their homeland and abroad have always been educated, hard working and ethically and morally outstanding citizens. The fine qualities of Palestinians as a community and as a nation have been masked by a campaign that intentionally focuses on a militant minority that has embraced violence and is by no means typical or representative of the Palestinians as a whole.
The notion that has been created is that we, Israelis and Palestinians are opposing nations, one just and righteous and the other mean and misguided, fighting for the same land. God cannot possibly be on both sides so we must choose sides for him and thus we all fall deeper and deeper into a bottomless chasm.
We need to take God out of the discourse and accept that we are all His chosen people, and therefore apartheid and human rights abuses cannot be tolerated. These are issues that are very near and dear to people in America, particularly now that Barak Obama was elected and so this is the time to change the discourse.
Instead of fighting to end the occupation, we must focus on bringing an end to apartheid. We all need to believe it is possible and to educate young Palestinians and Israelis that they must not despair but believe in their ability to bring change. In the words of Barak Obama himself, we need to encourage them to have an audacity to hope and to believe that they can indeed make a difference. This will allow Israelis and Palestinians to achieve equality and establish a society that embraces dignity and mutual respect.
I am a professional martial artist, I teach karate for a living. So what does that have to do with peace? A lot! I was able to visit two karate schools in the PA, one in Anata and one in Ramallah. They were both excellent schools with a very high level of instruction. Now martial arts is something I do know a lot about and I know a good school when I see one. It means a good, dedicated and demanding teacher and it means loyal and serious students.
While I was visiting these schools I had spoken to the students. I told them that karate is all about self defense, it is all about overcoming our fears and it is all about reaching for the highest goals possible. For Palestinians living under Israeli military oppression this is crucial. First of all it is a way to instill inner strength in children so that they know they are able to resist without having to resort to violence. That by practicing martial arts they are developing an inner strength that is far greater than all the weapons the Israeli army can ever accumulate.
“Think about it”, I said to one child that was practicing” a soldier who carries so many weapons must be full of fear. Particularly since the Israeli soldiers carry these weapons to fight an unarmed civilian population – can you think of a more cowardly thing to do? You who have no weapons but are fighting the fight that is just and therefore you are by far stronger, even though it does not seem that way.”
Of the thousands of people I know that practice martial arts and are black belts few have ever resorted to violence. That is the sign that have truly mastered their martial arts. When you are skilled in fighting but never resort to violence you are showing the greatest skill of all. Now win the context of resistance this is an important point. It takes a lot of courage to resist a violent and brutal army and practicing martial arts develops courage. You have to know in your hear of hearts that you are stronger, and karate teaches you to believe in your self. Without a firm belief in yourself it would be impossible to resist in an intelligent way. Palestinian children need to know that they do have a chance at a god life, that they do deserve to live in freedom that this land we share is their land just as much as it the Israelis; they need to know that no one has the right to keep them from living a full life, from travelling, studying. They need to be taught that it i snot only right but imperative to defy Israel and the laws that govern Palestinian life.
By the same token Israeli children need to know that they must defy their own government and they must travel and engage in relation building with the people with whom they share the land. The Israeli army wants to keep us apart and we must fight them and insist on joining hands and creating a better country where Israelis are freed from the restrictions of their oppressive government a government that makes every Israeli an accomplice in its crimes.
On one of my visits to the school in Anata I brought my two boys. These are some pics from my visits to karate schools in Ramallah and Anata.
The Bil’in struggle against the wall and against the confiscation of land from Palestinians to build Israeli settlements is a good model for future struggle against Israeli apartheid. It is a struggle that includes Israeli and Palestinian people side by side and it has on its banner the clear message of a non violent struggle.
The Bil’in conferences, of which I was able to attend one, the 2007 conference, is a good concept that is clearly catching on and getting attention. It will hopefully be more of an anti apartheid/pro democracy event in the future. As more people realize that that has to be the objective of the struggle: A secular democracy in our shared homeland, equal rights for all Palestinians and Israelis,a constitution drafted by both sides.
With his latest statements and unrestrained violence, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has once again confirmed that the occupation, the oppression and the slow genocide of Palestinians by the Israeli war machine he heads will not stop. Any talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are meaningless he says, and as far as he is concerned there will be no relief for the Palestinians, not even symbolic relief for people trying to cross the checkpoints. After all, even a short delay at the checkpoint can put an end to the life on an innocent Palestinian. Barak who has earned the dubious distinction of Israel’s most decorated soldier, by killing mostly unarmed Palestinian civilians, will do nothing that might hinder the liquidation of Palestinians, young or old. With Barak in control of Israel’s security apparatus Israelis and Palestinians can expect more violence and more losses of innocent lives.
Barak and his generals all have innocent blood on their hands and should be tried at The Hague for violations of international law and crimes against humanity. But instead they direct Israeli soldiers, government-trained assassins, secret police, and so-called border patrolmen to shoot and kill innocent Palestinians. Because in Israel all “security” personnel are all above the law and none of the perpetrators of these crimes, their commanding officers or the government ministers in charge are brought to justice.
At the same time thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are continually thrown into Israeli prisons for daring to resist the unlawful crimes of the Israeli occupation and since they are categorized as “security” prisoners they have no real protection under the law. Many of these prisoners are political activists and leaders who would otherwise be hailed for daring to resist Israeli apartheid. One can say with certainty that “defense” Minister Barak will block any attempt to change this situation, thus guaranteeing that the conflict will go on with no end in sight.
Rather than brace for the next Palestinian uprising of which there is already talk, it is time to consider a joint, non-violent struggle to end the occupation for good. As an example, we should note the courage, persistence and the determination of the unarmed, joint resistance that has been taking place in the small Palestinian town of Bil’in in the West Bank. For several years now Bil’in residents, together with Israeli peace activists and others have conducted a non-violent, joint struggle against the confiscation of Bil’in lands and the erection of the separation barrier.
Besides the regular weekly resistance, Bil’in has already hosted two international conferences on the non-violent struggle against the occupation and both were well attended. One would hope that the next conference would seriously discuss the means of expanding the struggle against the occupation to all parts of Palestine/Israel.
The term “occupation” gives the false impression that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and indeed in all of Palestine/Israel is somehow temporary. It is common to speak of 40 years of occupation but in reality the occupation of Palestine has been going on for 60 years and there will be no end to it without well-planned, joint, non-violent resistance. From its very creation Israel has been an apartheid state in which the Palestinian population that survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948 have been living under occupation, as prisoners in their own land.
At its very inception Israel had developed a brutal system to enforce the occupation and the state of apartheid. This system, conveniently but disingenuously referred to as the “defense” or “security” apparatus has for 60 years been in charge of policing the Palestinians as they fight for their rights as a nation. Using collaborators, the internal secret police or Shabak, the so-called Border Patrol (which is made up of mostly disenfranchised segments of Israeli society) and the Israeli Army, this massive Godzilla has been sucking the marrow out of Israeli society and destroying Palestinian life.
It is interesting to see how this Behemoth of a “defense” force reacts to the rather small non-violent protest in Bil’in; disproportionate number of forces being used; rubber coated bullets and tear gas canisters are shot into the crowd even though children are present; all this disproportionate violence is an indication that even though they are large and armed to the teeth the Israeli “defense” forces view the non-violent struggle as a threat. Violence is the life-blood of the Israeli “defense” forces and the notion of a non-violent, joint struggle is threatening its very existence.
There are two characteristics of Israeli life that the Israeli “defense” system, or security system, whichever cynical name it chooses to go by, needs to preserve at all cost. The first is the racist character of the state of Israel, and the second is the occupation that allows it to suck the life out of both nations. By keeping these two alive, the “defense” department receives its pound of flesh in the shape of an estimated $30 billion per year.
It is therefore of the highest national priority for both Israelis and Palestinians to defy this massive monster and to defy the occupation that it is protecting. Any future organized resistance must follow the lead of Bil’in and be joint and non-violent and it must have clearly defined objectives. Among these objectives should be the complete elimination of the racist segregation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel/Palestine.
It would be a serious mistake to think that cosmetic changes like the Oslo Accords could bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The era of cosmetic changes together with the two-state solution is gone forever. Only full equal rights for both people in their historic homeland will bring an end to this conflict. And while there are those who will claim that this it is a naive dream and will never become a reality, we would do well to remember that the success of any struggle depends on the determination of its leaders and the clarity of its purpose, not the doubts of naysayers.
According to the Zionist narrative a Palestinian State may exist only if it neighbors a state that has a Jewish majority and which occupies most of the land of Israel/Palestine. When Israeli governments speak of a Palestinian state they mean a walled off Bantustan like Gaza. But as we see in Gaza, enclosing and starving people and depriving them of hope solves nothing. In Gaza, besides the violent power struggles, which one might expect under the circumstances, there are close to 1.4 million people, more than half of who are under 18 years of age. In other words over 700,000 children live in Gaza completely exposed to the unrestrained violence of the Israeli military.
If the violence would cease there could be a chance to protect these children and give them a better life and perhaps even a future. But as it stands, with Barak at the helm only resistance similar to the Bil’in example, which is non-violent and includes Israeli-Palestinian cooperation can provide hope for children in Gaza.
In a recent article that was published in the United States, Dr. Mona El Farra from Gaza wrote that, “This may seem an unlikely time to discuss the prospect of one state with equal rights for all, but the fighting in Gaza makes clear that a cordoned-off Gaza Bantustan is no solution.” The question that Dr. El Farra raises is monumental: Why is it right to speak of equal rights everywhere except for Israel and Palestine? Indeed, it may be an unlikely time but it is never the less the right time to discuss the establishment of a secular, democratic state in Israel/Palestine in which human and civil rights are guaranteed to all its citizens.
Clearly it is time for Israelis and Palestinians to rise and defy the highly decorated General Barak and the violent system he heads. It is a system that through the use and manipulation of violence has kept the two nations captive within the conflict for 60 years. It is time for a joint, non-violent struggle that will finally free the two peoples from the violence imposed on them, and bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.