It’s Time We Visit Gaza

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one area where liberals and neo-conservatives in America find common ground. From Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton all the way to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice one and all are united in supporting Israel’s assault on the Palestinian people and their land.

The criticism of Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is a case in point. The hysteria on the Right is not worthy of repetition, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi outdid herself by issuing a statement that: “It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression.” Wrong to suggest? Here is something right to suggest: Madam Speaker, it is time for you to visit Gaza.

In The Tribes Triumphant, arguably one of the best books ever written about the Middle East, journalist Charles Glass describes children in Gaza on their way to school: “… little girls with white fringe collars, boys leading their younger brothers … with canvas bags of books on their backs, hair brushed back and faces scrubbed … Thousands and thousands of children’s feet padding the dusty paths between their mother’s front doors and their schools … Beautiful youngsters so innocent that they could laugh even in Gaza.”

Glass reveals that 56.6 percent of the 1.4 million people living in Gaza (if you can call it living) are under the age of 18. That means 792,400 children; Gaza has no cinemas, no theatres, no concert halls, and no space for entertainment or amusement. Where then do these children play? Israel controls all access to, from and within Gaza, never allowing these children to see the world outside this tiny crowded strip of sand they call home. If this, Madam Speaker, is not ethnically based oppression, what is?

“Gaza First” was the slogan that got the Oslo accords off the ground in the early 1990s. Today, as innocent, unarmed men, women and children in Gaza are imprisoned, starved and killed by Israel in broad daylight, its obvious that it, meaning the Oslo agreement, was another nail in the coffin of a just and lasting peace. Then came Sharon’s Gaza disengagement, which was a disingenuous claim by Israel to make “concessions for peace”. Pretending to pull out of Gaza for the sake of peace, Israel tightened the noose around Gaza and its people while freeing itself from any obligation for the welfare of the people of Gaza.

People call Gaza a hotbed of terror, neglecting, or perhaps refusing to see that people in Gaza are attempting, albeit in all futility, to resist the terror under which they are forced to live. Close to one million of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents are refugees or descendents of refugees forced out of their homes from other parts of Palestine only to be imprisoned and impoverished in Gaza. In The Roadmap to Nowhere Tanya Reinhart writes: “Since 1967, 280,000 people in Gaza have passed through Israeli prisons, detention cells and interrogation rooms.” The connection cannot be overlooked: Residents of Gaza have made a name for themselves in resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine even before 1967 and they have paid dearly for this resistance.

On 11 December 2006 Jan McGirk described in The Independent the effects of Israeli terror on the children of Gaza: “No sane child can remain unaffected by the mayhem of Gaza Strip. Playmates frequently are killed or maimed: at last count, Israeli guns had slain 88 Gazan children and wounded another 343 between mid-June and December, 2006” She further writes that “In Gaza’s grim conditions, mothers find it hard to tell if their offspring are crying out of fright, pain or misery. But when normally bickering brats fall silent, it’s the first sign of mental scars from being constantly scared.” She adds, “Muhammad, who would hit smaller children or shatter cups when he did not get his way, eventually revealed in an after school meeting that two IDF soldiers had executed a young man right in front of him.”

In America people still speak of a “peace process”, and the situation in Gaza and in the West Bank is characterized as a conflict between two people who can’t find a fair compromise. Few dare to mention that the only process that is taking place is oppression for the sake of expansion. Palestinian children are imprisoned, traumatized, starved and murdered so that Israeli can maintain its hegemony over the: “Land of Israel”.

Gaza is collateral damage, the children of Gaza are of no consequence and the leaders of the enlightened, democratic Western world could not care less. But in spite of its enormous military might Israel’s authority over life in Gaza can be must be defied. People conscience must act so that the ethnically based oppression, of which House Speaker Pelosi says it is wrong to accuse Israel, must be brought to an end.

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Shades of Grey: Nusseibeh’s “Once Upon A Country”

 

The recent so-called peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland, reminds me of a time in early 1995. Then, as the cancer was taking over his otherwise perfectly healthy body, my father Matti Peled gave an interview that became the weekend cover story for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. The headline for the story was: “Rabin Does Not Want Peace.” This was in the midst of the Oslo euphoria when Rabin was The Man of Peace. This headline sealed the relationship between Rabin and my father, two men of steel who for thirty years had fought side by side, and worked together to build the Israeli army and then in 1967 lead it to the final conquest of the “Promised Land.” Rabin never called to say farewell to my dying father as other comrades in arms did nor did he come during theShiva, the traditional seven days of mourning, to express his condolences. Eight months and three bullets later Rabin himself was dead.

At the time, people were shocked when my father said that Rabin’s government had no intention of allowing the Palestinians to establish an independent state. Some even attributed his words to his old age and ailing body. But that was not the case at all. The Oslo accords were flawed, and he knew it then because he took the time to read them. Arafat agreed to recognize the state of Israel and in return he got an agreement to a step-by-step process towards an objective that was never clearly defined. Arafat’s willingness to agree to this exhibited a great deal of faith and courage for which he never received credit. There were others, like Edward Said, who had read the accords and refused to be blinded by exhilaration of the moment. The bottom line was this: Rabin, the man who swore to break their bones, was not going to let Palestinians establish an independent state of their own.

Sadly, it seems that today Abu Mazen is making the same mistakes as his predecessor: Participating in a process that gives Israel credibility but is ill defined and promises nothing for the Palestinians. In his new historical autobiographyOnce Upon A Country, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, who many accuse of selling out due to his comments regarding the right of return, shows how Israel never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He shows that neither Rabin, or Barak or any other Israeli prime minister had ever intended to make peace with the Palestinians. Their intention was, and still is, to turn the Palestinian people into “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for the Jewish state that was established on the ashes of a country that, as the book title suggests, once upon a time existed.

In this book, Nusseibeh highlights the shades of grey in a conflict that most people prefer to see in black and white. He writes to the Israelis as much as he writes about them. He sums up his feelings about the Israeli people when he describes his first encounter with day-to-day Israelis: “they were normal people just like us.” His first impression was that there was no reason why he “couldn’t live in the same democratic, secular state with these people who had cut in line for a taxi.” The Israelis, however, want the land for themselves and they see no reason why they should live in a country with him in it.

Nusseibeh’s book makes a strong case for the rights of his people, whose wisdom, traditions and sense of dignity he extols. He writes about the Palestinian existential ties to Jerusalem, which are clear and obvious to Palestinians but in the so-called “Judeo-Christian” world these ties are conveniently overlooked. Little is known in the West and in Israel of the deep historical and cultural ties that Muslims in general and in particular Palestinians have to Jerusalem. Nusseibeh writes: “You see this in our literature, our symbols, and our language, in the city’s architecture, its climate … all of these formed us as a people.” Nusseibeh then summarizes the reality of today’s Jerusalem: “the long term Israeli plan to degrade Arab Jerusalem into a ghetto of a greater Jewish city.”

The book describes the history and the richness of the Arab culture of Palestine and while this too is obvious to Palestinians and to people in the Arab world, it is not at all clear for others. People in Israel and the West know little if anything about the Arab culture and history of Palestine. Israelis for example learn very little about what happened in Palestine in the two thousand years between the destruction of the Second Temple and the establishment of the Zionist movement.

Nusseibeh also illuminates aspects of Islamic thought and traditions that are rarely brought up in today’s discourse on Islam: elements of openness and inclusion. “At the deepest metaphysical levels, Jews and Arabs are allies,” he says and he adds, perhaps alluding to the inevitability of a shared future based on the shared past, “any attempt to separate them is a product of the modern European myth of a ‘pure’ nation purged of outsiders.”

Even on religion, arguably the most contentious of the issues we face, Nusseibeh points to the grey area in which we can find common ground. Contrary to what many in the West think, the violence that plagues our land is not the fault of our respective religions, even though they claim deep ties to the land. As Nusseibeh sees it, the problem lies in the policies represented by leaders such as the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the one hand, and the slain Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on the other, both of whom use religious sentiment to their own political ends. Hamas he says, may well “bristle at the thought of the enemy being the source of our identity as Muslims. But the religious fanatics can eradicate the Jews from Jerusalem only by first doing violence to Islam.”

Nusseibeh goes on and confirms our common bond with the story of the Caliph Omar, who conquered Jerusalem but entered the holy city unarmed. Then, with the help of a local Jewish man, Omar found the site of the Jewish temple, which was used as a rubbish dump, and together the two men cleaned the rubbish off of this holy site with their robes.

If religion will have its say regarding the future of the 10 million people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, then it might as well be part of the solution, rather than the oil feeding the fire. Nusseibeh suggests that “despite Hamas, Islam may well be part of the solution to healing our terribly violated land. The fanatics like to hold up the Koran [sic], they just don’t like to read what it says about the Jews and Jerusalem, Israelis would similarly be wise to read what their own prophets have to say about oppression.” Indeed they would, and indeed between Muslims and Jews there are more bonds than differences.

Another example of the bond that ties our two cultures exists in the story of Abraham the patriarch preparing to sacrifice his beloved son. The story exists in both the Torah and the Qur’an; in the Torah the beloved son is Isaac and in the Qur’an it is Ishmael. But that is less significant; what is significant is that in both holy books, the Almighty God does not allow Abraham to slaughter the boy. In both cultures, the prohibition to sacrificing our children comes directly from God. Whether it is for religion or for land, if we are to fight we would all do better to heed this commandment and use nonviolent means to achieve our goals, rather then send our young to kill and be killed. 

Another aspect of Palestinian life that is rarely talked about, and that is highlighted in this book is that of the Palestinian political prisoners. Although they currently number around ten thousand men, women and even minors, little is said of this remarkable facet of the Palestinian struggle: local leaders and activists who sit in Israeli prisons have been part and parcel of Palestinian political life since the occupation began. Nusseibeh calls them “one of our greatest national success stories.”

The list of Palestinian leaders Israel has murdered is too long to count and that of those wasting away in Israeli prisoners is longer still. Israel has created an entire penal system for the purpose of the so-called “security” prisoners. Through this system, Israel has over the span of forty years violated practically every international law regarding political prisoners, by denying them their rights as human beings and as freedom fighters.

As we look forward, we are faced with two options: as Nusseibeh puts it, from the Palestinian perspective, “Either we get our state or they will have a battle for equal rights on their hands.” Among Palestinians, he writes “readiness for a two-state solution is not a permanent fixture” and if Israel does not act soon to allow an independent Palestinian state “Israelis might have an anti-apartheid campaign on their hands.” Today the anti-apartheid campaign seems almost inevitable.

Either way the future has to be determined by the two sides as equal partners. As long as the occupation exists and the Israeli military has the upper hand there can be no equality. Clearly, it’s going to be an uphill battle to end the occupation, but Nusseibeh’s experience shows that a serious nonviolent campaign can yield results. As he puts it: “Israelis had nothing in their repertoire to defeat a dedicated nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience” and apart from using excessive force, they still don’t.

Our two nations have been manipulated and lied to for a very long time, and the gap is deep as the wall is high. Still, as improbable as it may seem today, what this book suggests is true: what we as Israelis and Palestinians have in common is far greater than the issues that divide us. We now need to join hands, tear down the wall and work together to determine our future as equal partners. As I look back to 1995, I can’t help remembering that among those who called to wish my dying father a speedy recovery was the late Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat.

Transforming Israel

Now that Kosovo is the newest independent state to emerge out of the ruins of the former Yugoslavia parallels are being drawn between the Balkans and the Middle East. One response to this development came from Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who said that as she does not mind if the Palestinians follow the Kosovars and declare statehood; what worries her is that Palestinians will demand equal rights with Israelis.

Adding to Israeli fears of the impending demand for equal rights, in an article published recently in The Guardian, Ahmad Khalidi wrote that the state now being offered to the Palestinians is less attractive than ever and that Palestinians may just opt to “evoke Olmert’s worst nightmare” and call for a “genuine partnership of sharing the land.” Both Livni and Olmert have stated that the possibility of equality keeps them awake at night, and with good cause. Once the discourse moves from “self determination to that of freedom and democracy” as Ahmed Khalidi puts it, the Zionist brand of apartheid will have to fold and a secular democracy will have to emerge in its place.

Three things will be argued here regarding the issue of transforming the racially segregated state of Israel into a secular democratic state on all of historic Palestine/Israel:

1. In order to achieve a lasting resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israel’s domination over the land, the people and the discourse must be brought to an end, and the parties must negotiate as equals. At the same time, any effort to bring about such a solution needs to take into account that Israel will not permit such paritywillingly and will use all of its power to maintain its domination.

2. As long as the main efforts to resolve the conflict focus on the partition of historic Palestine/Israel there will never be a resolution. The idea of partition has become bankrupt and promoting it allows Israel to dominate the discourse and to continue its brutalcontrol over Palestinians and their land.

3. What is known as the one-state solution is no longer one option out of several, it has become a reality; the efforts and the discourse must now focus on transforming the racist, segregationist system in place today into a secular democratic system of government. The resolution of the conflict lies not in partition and more segregation but in severing the institutions of government from the single identity of either side. The state needs to serve and represent all Israelis and Palestinians who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In order to reach a sustainable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, parties representing the two sides need to be able to negotiate as equals and to decide together which solution would best serve the ten million inhabitants of Palestine/Israel. But Israel’s success in maintaining domination over the discourse has blocked any serious attempt at meaningful discussion. Israel refuses to allow any parity between itself and the Palestinians, and will not permit any serious discussion on the transformation of the racist segregation thatexists today into a real democracy.

Israel has from its very founding worked relentlessly to trivialize everything that took place between the destruction of the Second Temple and the founding of the state of Israel. This effort is focused particularly on erasing the 1,400 years of Arab and Muslim presence in Palestine. As far as Israelis are concerned, that presence was nothing but an historical misfortune that was remedied upon the establishment of the Jewish state and the return of Eretz Israel to its rightful owners in 1948. This effort was hugely successful: Even with the existence of major Arab and Islamic monuments still standing, and a significant Palestinian presence, both Muslim and Christian, few Israelis know or care to know about the historical and cultural significance of the last two millennia. From an Israeli viewpoint the moral, historical and religious superiority of the Jewish claims to the land are absolute.

Since the notion of Israeli supremacy is deep rooted among Israelis and it is a major factor in Israel’s position vis-a-vis the Palestinians we can see why Israel has never agreed, and it is not likely that any Zionist government will ever agree, to negotiate with the Palestinians as equals. The following example demonstrates that irrespective of political party and even among the Israeli peace camp, parity is frowned upon. On the core issue of the use of force, Israel maintains that Palestinians must refrain and refuse to use what meager military means they posses in their struggle for their rights, and has succeeded in painting the Palestinian struggle for freedom as terrorism. (Hence the absurd question repeated often by people in Israel and the West: “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” hinting that the problem is the Palestinians predisposition to resort to violence). Since there is no parity, and Israel maintains that it holds the moral high ground, it has the right to use military force against Palestinian “terrorism.” Israelis who refuse to serve in the armed forces are not recognized by the state as conscientious objectors but treated like common criminals; and even the so-called “peace camp” does not recognize the right of those refusing to serve in the Israeli military (since Israel possesses the moral high ground there is no need for an Israeli Gandhi).

Israel’s approach towards any resolution of the conflict is based on the premise that Israel will determine the nature of the solution, and the Palestinians must be resigned to accept it or suffer the consequences. Israel will permit the Palestinians a level of independence that Israel will determine based on its own perception of Palestinian compliance with Israeli interests. The best Palestinians may expect is that Israel will at some point permit a limited autonomy on selected areas of historic Palestine, areas selected by Israel alone. The possibility that the two parties need to reach a solution as equal partners is, as was mentioned earlier, not acceptable. Why the Palestinians have thus far agreed to be led by Israeli interests and to be dominated by Israeli politics is beyond our scope here, but what is amply clear is that the best interests of the Palestinians count for nothing. Israel has no intention of willingly allowing for a solution that is good for both parties, and insists on pushing its own narrow and shortsighted interests to the limit.

The absurd situation where partition is regarded as the only viable solution to the conflict, and at the same time it is clearly not a viable solution, allows Israel to continue to impose its will on all ten million inhabitants under its rule, and it renders any struggle to end Zionist domination over Palestine useless. When the efforts to bring an end to the conflict focus on transforming the militant Zionist regime currently in place into a free and pluralistic democracy, it is likely to develop more impetus and eventually succeed, even in the face of Zionist resistance.

History has shown that as long as the effort to end Israeli domination over Palestine remains focused on the notion of partition, or the two-state solution, it is doomed to be ineffective. The two-state solution is a fig leaf that Israel uses to cover its policies of land confiscation and brutal oppression. Israel’s policies of segregation are firmly linked to the chauvinistic notion that Israel should remain in control of the land and its resources. We would do well to note that the notion of partition serves only the shortsighted Zionist policies of power and domination, but does not take in to consideration the long term interests of Israelis and Palestinians.

Since Israel claims security to be its top priority, it will always claim that for security reasons it cannot give up a certain hill or valley only to secure more land for its illegal settlements in Jerusalem or the West Bank. Israel also maintains the sole right to determine who will represent the Palestinians as Israel’s negotiating partner, using once again so-called “security” considerations. Israel has and in all likelihood will continue to delegitimize (not to say assassinate or at least arrest) anyone who is unwilling to accept its right to total domination of the land and the discourse. This is at the root of the why real, good faith negotiations are yet to take place.

The arguments against a single state may have their merit, but they fail to acknowledge one thing: that the single state is not one of several options to be considered in the future; the single state is already a reality. Even though the state of Israel denies it vehemently, all ten million people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are subjects of the Jewish state. Israeli insistence that a Palestinian state is in Israel’s own best interest and that Israel is committed to the creation of a Palestinian state is a poor smoke screen and in light of the facts on the ground this argument barely holds water. The different sets of laws and the travel restrictions that separate Palestinians from Israelis, allow Israel to create the illusion that there are two (or perhaps three, counting Gaza) political entities that govern the two people. Sadly, the reality is that different arms of the Israeli government, not separate independent governments, govern the two people. Palestinians are governed by the behemoth called the Israeli security system that Israel has created and maintains at high cost for the sole purpose of governing a population against its will. Israelis are governed by a radical, chauvinistic and racially discriminatory regime that pretends to be democratic.

In order to avert the possibility of losing its power, Israel has in effect placed a veto on any discussion of the transformation of the Jewish state into a secular democracy that would serve all of the people living within it. Furthermore, Israel will not engage in any discussion on the atrocities it committed during the war of 1948, nor will it engage in discussion on the reversal of the exile forced upon Palestinians in 1948. Israelis have been taught that even mentioning the refugees and the events of 1948 constitutes treason, and few are willing to discuss this, much less place the responsibility on Israel. The official line is that the “Arabs” rejected the UN partition and the “Arabs” convinced the Palestinians to leave their homes and their land and none of this has anything to do with Israel.

By ignoring the refugee issue, Israel has in fact deliberately shut the door on a solution that is both pragmatic and just. But it is hard to imagine that any resolution regarding Palestine can be reached and sustained unless the refugees are represented and unless they are part of the solution.

The oppressor-oppressed relationship between the two nations takes a heavy toll on both Israelis and Palestinians, albeit in different ways. Only once the two sides are freed from this burden will they be able to find a solution that is acceptable and has a chance to withstand the test of time. This is a tough challenge and to overcome it will require both people to defy the occupation and demand that the occupation apparatus, the Israeli “security system,” be dismantled. As things stand today, Israelis are either oblivious to Palestinian suffering or they condone it. The Palestinians for their part are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the brutal force used against them.

The nature of the solution must naturally be linked to the efforts to reach it. As things stand today, Israel makes sure that any efforts placed towards the resolution of the conflict are targeted towards the partition of Palestine, which in all likelihood will never occur. Even though these efforts yield no results the West stands behind Israel and mention of a secular democracy is deemed anti-Semitic. While the official stand of the two parties is in favor of this solution, in the case of Israel at least this stand is clearly disingenuous. While Israeli rhetoric claims to favor the partition of the land, Israeli governments have clearly acted in a way that negates the possibility of a Palestinian state to ever emerge, and has in fact sealed the fate of the two nations to live in one state, ruled by a single government.

Israel has acted quite deliberately to achieve this, and it has done so in two ways: education and infrastructure. If one takes a look at textbooks taught in Israeli schools, one will be hard pressed to see a map of Israel in which any Palestinian territory is delineated. Israeli students learn, and quite accurately so, that the whole of “Eretz Israel” is included in the state of Israel. Palestinian monuments and institutions are rarely marked and Palestinian towns, the ones that are found in these books, are described simply as “non-Jewish.” The Palestinians are portrayed as either refugees or as poor, backward people who are not modern and educated like the Israelis and the proof for their backwardness: they are unable to step out of their own dusty and congested villages into the modern world. Palestinian national aspirations are ridiculed and their identity as a nation is, so the official line claims, a new phenomenon that emerged only after the 1967 War.

Palestinians who are citizens of the state are referred to as “the Arabs of Israel,” a term that serves two purposes: to disassociate them from the Palestinians who live in the lands occupied in 1967, and from any national aspirations they may have. The second purpose is to portray the Palestinian citizens of Israel as people who have no unique national identity other than being Arabs whose existence in “our” country is coincidental. This lends itself to the claim that the “Arabs” have 22 states and Jews only one, therefore if they don’t like it they should leave and go live in some “Arab” country.

As for the infrastructure, just as Israel had done in the aftermath of the 1948 War, towns, neighborhoods and highways are being built for Jews only on Palestinian land. Having continued this policy of major expansion into the West Bank, Israel has blurred the lines that used to delineate between the West Bank, where a possible Palestinian state might have been established, and the rest of Israel. Towns with massive housing projects, and industrial complexes along with modern highways connecting them to each other and to Israel proper were built at a huge expense and represent a massive investment. Although the mainstream Israeli-left still holds that these may be removed one day when the illusive peace is achieved through partition, they give permanent status to the existence of the Jewish settlements on land occupied in 1967.

In order to avert any attempt to cut these areas off from Israel, Israel also invests in a massive defense apparatus on the one hand and public relations campaigns on the other. The two work in unison to protect, legitimize and as mentioned before give permanent status to this expansion. The Zionist education system and the massive investment combined have been a huge success, but now the Jewish state has to deal with a segregated, disenfranchised “minority” that makes up half of the population.

Accepting the transformation the Israel into a democratic state as the preferred solution to the conflict will allow for a more effective struggle to end the occupation, which is the de facto apartheid regime that Israel has in place. There is a need to move away from the default position of so many peace groups that claim the two-state solution is the ultimate solution. Even if at one point this was a realistic solution it is no longer the case; and even if it is, as many sincere peace activists claim, the preferred solution, because of Israel’s shortsighted expansionist policies it has become defunct. Peace activists would do well to recognize this and unite behind an anti-apartheid movement to transform Israel into a secular democracy.

One constantly hears talk of ending the impasse in the peace process, talk that is based on the myth of the existence of such a process, the end of which will be a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. But what is it about this seemingly perfect solution that makes it so elusive? From the 1947 UN resolution to Partition Palestine, to the more recent Road Map, every plan to separate the land into two political entities has not only failed but also fueled more bloodshed. As we look at the various proposals we see that each one has allowed for greater Israeli domination of the discourse and of the land at the expense of Palestinians while demanding Palestinian acceptance. In other words, every so-called “peace plan” has deepened the Zionist hold on the land and its resources. The 1947 partition plan was a poorly designed plan that had no chance of ever surviving forcing a solution that would give the majority of the land to what was then the Jewish minority. As though this was not folly enough, close to 400,000 Palestinians would have had to live within the boundaries of the state designated for the Jewish population. As it turned out, the Zionist leadership had a plan and at the first opportunity the Israeli militia began to force these people, who had no say in determining their future, out of their homes and away from their land.

The more recent proposals offer the Palestinians, who today comprise about 50 percent of the population somewhere between 10 percent to 15 percent of their historic homeland. The latest census published in Haaretz in February 2008 states that the total population of the West Bank and Gaza combined is now up to four million; the Palestinian population within the state of Israel proper is close to 1.5 million. The total population of Israel without the Palestinians citizens is around five million. Still the five million Jewish citizens are given domain over more than 90 percent of the land and resources, and if the Palestinians want “peace” they must settle for the rest. Besides all of this there are the Palestinian refugees whose voices and their rights have been silenced with brutal force over the years, but without whom no resolution can be achieved.

A mutual struggle for equality within a single state holds the promise of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians who they rule with brutal force, can be brought to an end through defiance of the Israeli security apparatus that is charged with enforcing the oppression. The defiance of the occupation through a joint struggle with a dedicated focus towards the transformation of Israel into a secular democracy holds the promise of a great future for both nations.

The idea of Israelis and Palestinians living in a single democracy is considered by many people to be naive, and perhaps it is. But one has to wonder: Does the current Zionist brand of apartheid, breeding as it does fear and suspicion, offer any future at all? The transformation of Israel into a democratic, pluralistic, secular state that will offer equal citizenship to all ten million people who reside within historic Palestine can provide a sound solution to the conflict. Furthermore, though morality is seldom mentioned as a political objective, it is morally right to turn Israel into a state that is a function of the will of the people rather than it being the enforcer of its own will on the people. It is morally right to bring the two nations to a place of equal opportunity and give them an equal voice in determining their shared future.

When Israelis and Palestinians work together for the benefit of their own future and the future of their children there will be no problem they cannot solve. Both people have proven that they are capable of great things, and one may expect that the democracy they create will serve them both well. Together the two nations will secure their mutual rights, their shared destiny and their rich heritage.

On a personal note I want to add the following thoughts: As an Israeli that was raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state, I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively “our own.” In my opinion there is something that is greater than that dream: living in peace and raising our children in our shared homeland; teaching children about the rich traditions of this land and the heritage left to them by their ancestors. Every church, mosque and synagogue across the country tells a story; ancient cities and citadels are everywhere, and every corner in the land bares the mark of great kings and philosophers. All of these make up the rich mosaic of our homeland, and I emphasize our homeland, whether we are Palestinian or Israeli, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian.

Hope in Gaza

Israel’s assault on the people of Gaza is so horrendous that it will not soon be forgotten. This vicious attempt by Israel to destroy an entire nation has tipped the scales for good and Zionism will forever be remembered as a blemish in the history of the Jewish people. The people of Gaza, however, give us hope and they will forever be remembered for their courage and resilience during these trying times.

The people of Gaza, while being deprived of rights and resources, still find the inner strength and the belief in their destiny to send their children to school. There are close to 800,000 children living in Gaza; they make up more than half of the population. The mothers and fathers and teachers of Gaza are creating hope where others see none, and they are building a future where some would claim there is none. But the price of education in Gaza is dear as the number of children targeted by Israeli violence rises continuously.

In a previous article (“It’s time to visit Gaza“) I quoted from journalist Charles Glass’ The Tribes Triumphant and I wish to do so again here. Glass, unlike CNN or any other news agency is not obsessed with violence but is impressed as we all should be by the children: “Thousands and thousands of children’s feet padding the dusty paths between their mother’s front doors and their schools … Beautiful youngsters so innocent that they could laugh even in Gaza.” One can only imagine the mothers preparing lunches for these children, and making sure their clothes are ready and clean as they send them off to school. But the road to school in Gaza is an uncertain one, and risk of death by Israeli death squads is imminent.

I was deeply moved by Ramzy Baroud’s recent piece about his late father (“There are no checkpoints in heaven“). Clearly the man was head and shoulders above most people and clearly he recognized the need to defy the occupation and maintain his dignity as a man and as a Palestinian. He paid dearly for this, because there is nothing more threatening to Israel’s occupation than a man who would defy its brutal force.

Ramzy’s story is similar to that of another friend of mine who is also from Gaza and who was also prevented from visiting his dying father. This gentleman is a physician and is devoted to saving the lives of children. He is an inspiring man of deep religious conviction and optimism. When I visit Gaza, as I am determined to do before this year is out, I hope that they will be able to join me. In fact, I hope to be able to go with a delegation.

For over 60 years Gaza has proven itself to be an endless source of optimism and courage. Even with a population density that is among the highest in the world, and a lack of resources that seems hopeless, and even with a brutal occupation and severe restrictions that have been part of life for Gazans since the destruction of Palestine some 60 years ago, still Gazans fight on. Resistance to the occupation, education and steadfastness are only a few of the hallmarks of the people of this ancient land.

I recall the first time I heard first-hand about the type of torture that is the daily bread of people in Gaza. It was more than 20 years ago, while I was living in Japan as a student, a young Israeli who I mistook for a friend shared the following story from his days of service as an officer in Israel’s “glorious” naval special-forces, or as Israelis call it, “The Commando.” He told us how, as a matter of routine he and his unit would patrol the Gaza coast aboard their naval warships. As they came upon a Gazan fishing boat they would stop the boat and force the fishermen to jump into the water. Then, they would blow up the boat. Once the boat was blown to bits, the Israeli sailors would shift their attention to the helpless fishermen in the water. Under gunpoint, one by one, they would force the fishermen count from one to a hundred. One by one these men, who eventually could no longer hold themselves above water, drowned to death. This, the young Israeli officer said, was done “to instill fear in the Arabs, and to teach them who was boss.”

This young Israeli officer was one of Israel’s “finest,” the product of the finest Zionist education system. He saw no wrong in letting men drown in front of his eyes, and felt no urge to save a helpless human being from certain death. But he is not alone in his disregard for human life.

The Israel newspaper Haaretz’s online edition recently published that “[Israeli] Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday defended the Israel Defense Forces’ operations against Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip as necessary for the advancement of peace negotiations.” According to Haaretz, Livni said: “I would expect that when civilians are harmed by deliberate terrorism, people won’t make a comparison between them and Palestinian civilians that are harmed during Israel’s defense operations.” Furthermore, according to Haaretz: “Livni expressed concern at what she termed a growing trend of de-legitimization of Israel in world public opinion. Livni does not see the connection between Israeli actions and the reaction of the world community.”

Livni is no different than the young officer who murdered Gazan fishermen. She and other members of the Israeli cabinet along with the military top brass see no problem with Israeli forces killing Palestinian children, and they seek and often receive the support of the world community. In their minds, Palestinians do not deserve the same rights as Israeli Jews, and therefore it is permissible to torture them and murder their children. What is not permissible is to criticize Israel for the killing innocent Palestinians. Livni and her comrades are disturbed that the rest of us do not see this as clearly as they do.

But rather than give attention to the lies and accusations of Zionist militants, we would do well to focus our attention to the people of Gaza and in particular to the children who are forced to live in this concentration camp. These children and their brave and caring parents represent hope in its truest form. They need courageous people who, like Ramzy Baroud’s late father, are willing to defy the brutal Zionist regime but who unlike him are free of the restraints of that regime. People who live in Israel and the US need to stand by the people of Gaza and help them to tear down the walls of this ghetto.