Saturday, May 31, 2008

From the Nakba to Absurdistan



A man pleads with an Israeli soldier detaining a child during an Israeli military operation into the West Bank city of Qalqiliya, May 2008. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)

his month Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary and a panoply of politicians and celebrities honored its achievements. The star attraction at the official celebrations was undoubtedly US President George W. Bush, whose praise for Israel reached Biblical proportions. Echoing both Theodor Herzl and the Old Testament in his speech before the Knesset, Bush called the Jewish state "a light unto the nations." But while Israel and its allies applauded six decades of Israeli independence, we Palestinians commemorated the Nakba, our catastrophe, our darkness.

Commemorating the Nakba means recognizing that 60 years of Israeli independence also marks 60 years of Palestinian dispossession; that 60 years of Israeli statehood also marks 60 years of Palestinian statelessness; and that 60 years of Jewish freedom in Israel also marks 60 years of unfreedom for Palestinians.

It was not always clear that Palestinians would remember themselves. One of the most widely repeated quotes attributed to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, captures his dismissal of Palestinian pre-existence in what became Israel. "The old will die and the young will forget," he reputedly said. This was only half right: four generations of refugees later, we have not forgotten.

From Beit Lahiya to Beirut, from Nablus to New York, and from Lydd to London, we still remember. We remember how our homeland was partitioned against the will of the majority. We remember how our families fled in fear of massacre and rape, with thousands forced out by Zionist militias. And we remember that while the 1948 War for Palestine wiped our country off the map, it failed to erase our peoplehood.

The act of remembering is in this sense also an act of resistance. We refuse to submit; we decline to disappear; we reject the whiting out of our indigeneity. Through small acts of cultural resistance at home and in exile, we are reclaiming our history.

The establishment of the Nakba Archive, by Palestinians in Lebanon, is a case in point. The Archive, a fraction of which was screened in London's Palestine Film Festival, collates video testimonies from survivors of the 750,000 Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 War. Currently, it boasts approximately 1,000 hours of interviews conducted with some 500 refugees from over 130 villages. It also maintains an excellent website at www.nakba-archive.org.

A similar project has been initiated in Israel itself, where filmmaker Raneen Geries has recorded testimonies of Palestinian women who were internally displaced in the 1948 War. Just as the fact that Israeli forces destroyed and depopulated over 500 Palestinian villages in the war is little known outside the Arab world, so the history of the internal displacement of approximately 40,000 Palestinians within Israel has been largely silenced. Projects like these are of vital importance because they genuinely give a voice to the voiceless.

But these projects also remind us of a disquieting truth: the Nakba is not over. There are echoes of 1948 among the recent waves of forced migration from conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon, where Palestinian families became refugees for a second, third or even fourth time.

There are echoes of 1948 in the approximately 40 "unrecognized" villages in the south of Israel, where Palestinian citizens of Israel today remain prey to yet further displacement and dispossession. Villages like Atir and Umm al-Hieran have already suffered home demolitions as Israeli authorities prepare for their evacuation and replacement with new, exclusively Jewish, towns.

And there are echoes of 1948 in the collective punishment that is still being inflicted on Palestinians today, most notably in the embargoed Gaza Strip, where approximately 70 percent of the population of 1.5 million are registered refugees. Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, Israel's unlawful construction of settlements and the wall is still expropriating Palestinian land for Israeli settlers, still separating family members from one another, and still denying Palestinians freedom of movement in the land of their birth.

The matrix of vulnerabilities that attend this state of statelessness raises an obvious question: if the Nakba is still in progress, then how will it end? Few people believe Annapolis holds the answer. As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently admitted, "Nothing has been achieved in the negotiations with Israel yet." For all their efforts, neither Abbas nor his appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has secured American intervention to enforce Israel's commitment to freeze settlement expansion. Almost half a million Israeli settlers already live in occupied Palestinian territory, yet Israel continues building to increase this figure yet further.

By now it should be clear that reliance on American benevolence is no strategy for national liberation. As Israeli settlement expansion continues apace, the prospects of a viable Palestinian state emerging at all, let alone by 2009, look ever more remote. Forget Palestine; at this rate, the scraps of land remaining for an "independent" state alongside Israel would have to take their name from a recent novel: Absurdistan.

But if the two-state solution is obsolete, the growing support for a one-state solution should reassure Israelis and Palestinians alike. Within a single democratic state that recognizes the equal value of all its citizens, irrespective of ethno-religious affiliation, we could begin to build a new history of peaceful cooperation and coexistence. This state would truly be a light unto the nations. And when such a state extended invitations to its birthday party, all its peoples could join in the celebrations.

Sharif Hamadeh is a former advisor to the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department and a former fellow of Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. He is currently completing his legal studies in London as a Lord Mansfield scholar of Lincoln's Inn. This commentary first appeared in Adalah's Newsletter, Volume 48, May 2008, and is republished with the author's permission.


Sharif Hamadeh, The Electronic Intifada, 30 May 2008

1 comment:

Jaakonpoika said...

Could you kindly comment - either in English or suomeksi - whether my details are correct in a dissident essay in
http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Expelled-Jews-statistics.htm ?

E.g. "...Tel Aviv - The Silicon Wadi?
Tel Aviv (literally: Dumb-Hill of Spring) was plain desert at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, in the advent of her 100th year celebrations in 2009, it is the Silicon Wadi (Valley) of the Mediterranean since 1990's.

It is United States that profits from Israel, rather than the opposite. Israel gets nearly 3 billion USD from USA annually, but open brain drain is its prerequisite. Astonishing number of 25% of the Israeli researchers have moved to the United States - and this figure does not yet include the people with double citizenship. The next largest drain of researchers are 12.2% from Canada, 4.3% from Netherlands, and 4.2% from Italy.

Before the Second Intifada, there were nearly 200 Israeli companies listed in the Nasdaq, at the Intifada the count dropped to 70. (The number is still greater than from all the European countries combined). It is said that the dollars are green since the Americans pull them down from the tree raw and fresh. The start-ups are imported straight from the garage, and scaling up of production in the "conflict hotspot" has been considered impossible. But the new Millennium has brought a change in tide.

In Israel, 20% of citizens possess a higher decree from the university. Over half of the export from Israel are High tech products (32 $ billion in 2007), compared to the 25% average of the OECD countries. Israel's GDP is about $200 billion. She exhibits second highest output of new book per citizen and more patents per person than any other nation. Nobels, by definition, are awarded to the people who have made services to the whole world, and 21% of the prizes have gone to this population of less that 17 million, taking both Eretz Israel and galut (diaspora) into account.

The population of Arabs under the Israeli government increased ten-fold in only 57 years. Palestinian life expectancy increased from 48 to 72 years in 1967-95. The death rate decreased by over 2/3 in 1970-90 and the Israeli medical campaigns decreased the child death rate from a level of 60 per 1000 in 1968 to 15 per 1000 in 2000 at the Westbank. (An analogous figure was 64 in Iraq, 40 in Egypt, 23 in Jordan, and 22 in Syria in 2000). During 1967-88 the amount of comprehensive schoold and second level polytechnic institutes for the Arabs was increased by 35%. During 1970-86 the proportion of Palestinian women at the West Bank and Gaza not having gone to school decreased from 67 % to 32 %. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in West Bank and Gaza increased in 1968-1991 from 165 US dollars to 1715 dollars (compare with 1630$ in Turkey, 1440$ in Tunis, 1050$ in Jordan, 800$ in Syria, 600$ in Egypt. and 400$ in Yemen).

Also, the biggest generic drug factory in the world was recently established in Israel. Generating US$7 billion in annual revenues, Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA) is the world's largest generic pharmaceutical company. That is: to cure people with less money. TEVA makes generic versions of brand-name antibiotics, heart drugs, heartburn medications, and more - in all close to 200 global generic products, 700 compounds, and more than 2800 dosage forms and formulations. TEVA's pharmaceuticals are used in some 20% of U.S. generic drug prescriptions. Examples of TEVA's generics include lower-cost equivalents of such blockbusters as anti-depressant Prozac and cholesterol drug Mevacor. Nevertheless, in biotechnology and original drug development, about 400 experimental Israeli drugs have been approved or accepted in clinical phases.

How has the United Nations reacted to such an impact especially in the field of medicine and health care? One-fourth of the judgements of the Human Rights Commission strike Israel.

There is a pious smoke screen on the industrial countries mediating peace to the Middle East. A collaboration between the Jews with their technology and science and Arabs with their oil and loyality has been a great nightmare for the Western countries. The intimate friendship between the cousin "races", as officially declared by Chaim Weizmann and Emir Feisal in Versailles peace conference, was deliberately mutilated. The Second Intifada could be called The Oslo War.

Aviv is Hebrew for "spring", symbolizing renewal, and tel is an archaeological site that reveals layers of civilization built one over the other. The Jewish population has been such a layer of native culture not only in the Palestine, and the expulsion of the native Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from various Muslim countries since 1948 has been al nakba, catastrophe, for these societies..."

Pauli Ojala, evolutionary critic
Biochemist, drop-out (MSci-Master of Sciing)