Governing by Khutzpah: Israel and the Outdoor Prison called “Palestine”
Now that the United Nations Security Council has issued a written condemnation of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed outrage at the member states of the Security Council and especially towards the USA and Pres. Obama for allegedly tacitly supporting the vote despite formally abstaining. Keep in mind, however, that the UN resolution is tantamount to a finger-wagging and has no real effect on Israeli foreign relations or domestic governance. As stated this week in Israel’s Ha-Aretz newspaper, “The resolution adopted by the Security Council will have no practical ramifications for Israel. The resolution doesn’t include any coercive measures or define sanctions for those who violate it, except for a mechanism by which the United Nations’ secretary general will submit a report on the state of settlement construction to the Security Council every three months.” Mr. Netanyahu’s intense censure of the USA comes despite the fact that we are the biggest donor of military and private aid to Israel, donating billions of dollars each year in weapons and cash, especially during the Obama administration: Your tax dollars hard at work. Yet by making a mountain of this recent UN mole-hill, Mr. Netanyahu does his best to ensure that its closest foreign allies in the Security Council dare not make any more serious moves against Israel’s continued policies and actions regarding the Palestinians.
Little is known about the history of Palestine and Israel in the United States, and this article seeks to remedy that by providing a summary of the history and events that have transpired in Palestine — with as much verifiable and objective sources of information as possible.
Since 1994, Palestine has generally been described as a semi-autonomous territory of Israel, with its official land area consisting of the Gaza Strip and roughly a quarter of the West Bank. While the eastern half of Jerusalem consists of nearly one million Palestinians, thus forming a quarter of the nearly four million Palestinians in Palestine, Israel officially controls Jerusalem as its own capital. To truly appreciate the complex nature of this irregular geographic definition, one must consider the history of Palestine — a history that is fundamentally rooted in border disputes, foreign interests, and bloodshed.
A Summary of the History of Palestine
Palestine is located in the Sinai Peninsula, a region of semi-arid land between the Red Sea to the South and the Mediterranean Sea to the West. Palestine is surrounded by Arab nations with whom it shares its turbulent history: to the North lies Lebanon and Syria, to the East lies Jordan, and to the Southwest lies Egypt.
With a land area of 5,860 square kilometers, the West Bank lies in the northeastern section of Israel, upon the western bank of the Jordan River, where it also borders the nation of Jordan. Narrowly situated between Egypt and Israel, the Gaza Strip lies upon the far eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea and has a land area of 378 square kilometers. Of this total land area of about 6,238 square kilometers, less than a quarter of it is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Israeli-approved governing body of Palestine. Israel strictly controls the remaining portion of this land area. For example, since 1967, Israel has created settlements of its own in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, filling them with about a quarter of a million Israeli settlers who, in graven contrast to neighboring Palestinians, enjoy all the benefits of one of the strongest economies, protected by one of the strongest military regimes, in the Middle East. Further, Israel controls virtually all the modes of transportation in and out of Palestine, holds the key to all borders, strictly limits the PA’s ability to nurture foreign relations of any type, and forbids the PA from creating a military force of its own. In 2003, in violation of the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel commenced the building of a great wall of sorts along the borderline between the West Bank and Israel “proper,” and in so doing, has greatly changed and infringed upon the territory traditionally demarcated as the West Bank. Much like Israel’s recent aggressive control of the Palestinian border has damaged the already ailing Palestinian economy, this physical barrier has further robbed Palestinians of equitable access to land and water, food sources, health care, and employment opportunities. As a result, Palestinians are ever more beholden to Israel as their source of food, water, shelter, and safety.
Although the once-rich soil of Palestine had traditionally been used by Palestinian farmers and shepherds for agriculture and livestock-grazing, over fifty years of Israeli-led military attacks against Palestinians, Israel’s destruction of the territory’s landscape, and Israel’s paralyzing blows to the Palestinian economy have more than simply eroded the topsoil and destroyed the practicality of subsistence farming. Today, most Palestinians who are employed — about half of the workforce is unemployed — hold low-level jobs in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing, and service industries. While farm work is the major form of employment for Palestinians, most of the farms employing them are located in Israel “proper,” and to a lesser degree, in the surrounding Arab nations. As a general rule, Palestinians are far too poor to own their own companies or lands.
Due to the Israeli government’s suffocation of Palestinians’ access to free trade, their free use of land and water, their free movement within and outside of their reserved territories, and their freedom from constant armed Israeli attack, more than half of Palestinians live below the poverty line of US$2 per day, more than half are refugees from the Israeli war machine, more than half are youth under the age of eighteen, and more than half are illiterate.
Since 1987, Palestinians have risen in mass revolt against Israel’s efforts to destroy them. This Palestinian revolution is called the Intifada, or uprising. It has come in two waves, now referred to as the First Intifada of 1987 and the Second Intifada of 2000. In the name of nationhood, both sides have committed thousands of murders, and the fighting continues because neither Israel nor Palestine is willing to compromise on crucial issues. In 1994, Palestine was granted partial self-governance by Israel as a result of negotiations between the PA President, Yasser Arafat, and the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, both of whom received the Noble Peace Prize for their efforts. The PA, with its eighty-eight member Legislature, President, and Judicial Body, was born as a result of these negotiations. Its nascent political structure is still too disheveled to appropriately handle the crisis into which it was born. Although it has been attempting to clarify its Basic Law, to draft a Constitution, to delineate the powers of its Judicial Body, and to barter peace with Israel, the PA is itself embroiled in political turmoil between its various factions, ranging from the moderate to the extreme. Such a delicate lawmaking process is only further hindered by the constant military violence between Palestinians and Israelis.
Palestine from the Ancient Period to the 20th Century
Precariously situated between the continents of Africa, Europe, and Asia, this ancient crossroads of diverse nations seems to never have known the peace that multiculturalism is truly capable of spawning. There was one not so brief exception, however, to this grim view of history. Between the Sixth and Fourth Centuries BC, the Persians ruled this region with respect and support for the varied array of people living there. The Persian kings rebuilt the Temple of Solomon that the previous Chaldean warlords had destroyed, and they helped foster an intellectually appreciative climate which, among many other academic and cultural pursuits, promoted the writing of the Torah. This example of peace serves as a pristine historical lesson in the restorative potential of compromise and collaboration — virtues which seem to be dreadfully lacking in the periods of time before and after this particular era of Persian rule.
Archeological evidence proves that people have inhabited the Sinai Peninsula as far back as 200,000 BC. Evidence of agricultural and artistic pursuits notes that a substantially sized community of human beings lived in this area around 12,000 BC. Jericho, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, is considered by most archeologists to be the oldest continually-inhabited city on Earth, with evidence of farming, herding, and craftmaking dating back to 7,000 BC. Between 5,000 BC and 2,000 BC, various tribes settled and clashed in this region, starting with the Assyrians and Akkadians, and the Amorites and Canaanites. The Jewish faith commenced with the birth of the line of Abraham at about 1,800 BC, which over the next few centuries, splintered into the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel, who strayed almost entirely from the precepts of the Jewish faith and who battled for dominion over the region. This taut struggle between the Hebrews was exacerbated by the influx of Greek Philistines at around 1,200 BC. Such divisive tribal fighting eventually led, in the Eighth Century BC, to the destruction of all local power by the foreign Chaldean invaders, who took military advantage of the havoc in the region to broaden the reach of their own empire. The oppressive Chaldean grip on the peoples of the region lasted until the Persians wrested power from them in the Sixth Century BC. As noted, the next two hundred years of Persian rule liberated the Hebrews, Philistines, and even the Chaldeans, from cultural oppression.
In 300 BC, Alexander the Macedonian, also known as Alexander the Great, entered the region at the head of vast armies with the singular focus of spreading Hellenism to the world. Though Greek did become the principle language of this region for centuries to come as a result of Alexander’s invasion, the stability of the region that existed under Persian rule was utterly vanquished — thus, lending much support to the ancient credo that states, “it is much simpler to destroy than it is to create.” Over the next nearly two millennia, the Sinai Peninsula became enslaved to foreign interests battling for control over the region with all the bloody elements of political, military, and economic warfare, thus signaling to the world that the Sinai Peninsula is a region of pivotal importance — a geographic key to throw open empirical fancies onto the stages of three empires — Asia, Africa, and Europe. Power hungry empires followed in the footsteps of Alexander. The Romans came in the First Century BC; the Arabs followed in the Seventh Century AD; the Romans returned — now aided by the French, English and Germans — with the Crusades in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries AD; the Arabs regained control in the Fourteenth Century; and finally, the Ottoman Turks added the region to their list of conquered peoples in the Sixteenth Century, and held such dominion until the Twentieth Century, when European re-ascendancy over the region’s affairs became certain during World War I. Certainly, history shows us that multicultural appreciation for minorities did not exist in the Sinai Peninsula during those two bloody millennia.
Neither did multiculturalism seem to exist in Europe, for it was this very lack of minority rights in Europe that led to the Jewish Zionist movement of the late Nineteenth Century — a movement that would soon collide with the interests, rights, and very lives of the Arabs of the Sinai Peninsula.
Palestine in the Twentieth Century
After World War I, with the Treaty of Versailles, Palestine was granted its long sought-after independence from the Ottoman Turks in 1919, and thus the nation of Palestine was born. Its sad fate, however, was sealed two years earlier. In 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, which voiced support for the Jewish Zionist movement — a policy that sought to assist Jews, particularly those in Europe, to migrate en masse to the Biblical Holy Land in and around Jerusalem. Moreover, the Zionist movement activated the 1896 dream of its German Jewish founder, Theodore Hertzl — a dream of “a land without people for a people without a land.” The obvious problem with this fancy bit of propaganda was the fact that the Sinai Peninsula was home to a large Arab population — a people, indeed, who would look harshly upon further European despoiling of their independence. In the 1920’s, tens of thousands of Jews started to migrate to Palestine. By the end of this decade, Palestinians began to understand that Zionist immigration into their country would continue despite their laws to the contrary. Violence erupted between the Palestinian Moslems and the Jews in 1929, when a skirmish over the holy site of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem boiled over into a major street riot. This initial confrontation over control of sites held sacred to Jews and Moslems alike marked the beginning of tensions that would carry forth to the present.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, fleeing from Nazism and general European anti-Jewish fervor, European Jews began to illegally migrate to Palestine in ever-larger numbers, tripling the number of Jews that lived in Palestine before the commencement of the Zionist exodus, and quadrupling the amount of land owned by the Jews in Palestine. The European Zionists’ purchasing power over the Palestinians was not the only factor involved in helping the Zionists to buy huge quantities of Palestinian real estate. Since their immigration, the Zionists realized that they would have to fight for their right to stay in Palestine. They began to form large and aggressive street gangs using thug-like activities to intimidate and destroy Palestinians at every opportunity. Two of the most powerful Zionist terrorist groups were the Stern gang and the Irgun gang. In order to send a clear message that anti-Zionist policies would receive violent responses, regardless of their state of origin, in 1944 these Zionist gangs killed the British High Commissioner after he expressed support for the Palestinians’ rights to limit Zionist immigration; in 1946, the gangs bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, a hotel that hosted various diplomats whom Zionists perceived as hostile to their cause; and in 1948, as part of the Deir Yassin massacre, these Jewish gangs killed 254 Palestinians. Meanwhile, Zionists in the USA lobbied US support for their continued migration into Palestine and defended the Jews’ right to a homeland via careful alliances with the media and academic intelligentsia.
These combined political, economic, and military tactics worked to drive Palestinians out of their own lands. By 1948, after the Deir Yassin massacre and related threats of further violence against the Palestinians by the Zionists, 750,000 Palestinians fled their own nation, leaving behind all their real and most of their personal property, and sought refuge in the neighboring Arab countries, especially Jordan. The Zionists claimed victory. As a response to the Zionist’s terrorizing methods, and even more so, in order to reverse the flow of Palestinian refugees into their lands, the nations of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt declared war on Israel. By the end of this Arab-Israeli War, the well-funded Zionist forces occupied 78% of Palestine, ceding the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem to Jordan and the Gaza Strip to Egypt. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared statehood, and the short-lived nation of Palestine was destroyed. Sealing their unchallengeable dominance over the region, that same year, the Zionists murdered the United Nations mediator Count Sweden who was deployed by the UN to help bring peace and safety to the region. Further, immediately after declaring statehood, Israel issued laws appropriating all the real and personal properties that the Palestinians left behind in their escape from Zionist violence, thereby vastly multiplying Israel’s wealth and real estate holdings in what was once Palestine.
Between 1948 and 1967, Israel declared Jerusalem its capital, it continued its attacks on Palestinians living in UN refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and it repeatedly defied UN resolutions reprimanding Israel for its violence. Feeling unprotected by the international community, frustrated Palestinians began to mobilize into armed groups, such as Fateh and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and used similar tactics as the Zionist gangs in prior decades. Violence between Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip escalated to the point of war.
On June 5, 1967, in a preemptive surprise attack against a poised offensive movement of troops by Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, Israel commenced the Six-Day War. By June 10, Israel had defeated the three Arab nations, and had reclaimed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as its own. As a result, 325,000 fearful Palestinians fled these Occupied Territories and sought refuge in Jordan, Egypt and Syria. As for the lands and properties abandoned by Palestinians fleeing their homes in the Territories, Israel appropriated these and established Israeli settlements in their place.
The clashes between Israelis and Palestinians only worsened after this War. In 1969, Zionists set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most holy Moslem sites in Jerusalem. Similar acts of violence were used by both sides of the confrontation; however, Israeli military, political and economic clout dwarfed Palestinian efforts. Despite numerous documents issued by the UN and the international community, not one nation stepped forward to assist the Palestinians in their military struggle against Israel. In the 1990’s, when hundreds of thousands of Zionist Jews migrated to Israel after the fall of the Communist bloc, and when 370,000 Palestinian refugees from Kuwait returned to the Occupied Territories and to Jordan after the First Persian Gulf War, the tension between Arabs and Jews naturally increased.
Palestinian resistance, left without effectual international support, eventually devolved into violent revolution, namely via the First Intifada of 1987 and the Second Intifada of 2000, caused by the Israeli Prime Minister’s surprise visit to the rebuilt Al-Aqsa Mosque — a show of great disrespect for Moslem’s rights in Jerusalem and a dashing of any pretense of Palestinian claims to partial-sovereignty in that holy and much-disputed city. In response to these Palestinian uprisings, Israel has faithfully pursued what in 1988 it aptly named its “Iron Fist Policy,” a fierce course of action that includes a host of human rights violations against Palestinian revolutionaries and their ideological supporters in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and in any other part of Israel. The official Israeli policy includes measures such as the “breaking of bones” that Israel publicly promised Palestinian detainees, mass arrests and minimum administrative detentions without trial, explosive home demolitions of suspected “enemies of the State,” strategic assassinations, and extreme methods of general warfare.
Such a dehumanizing level of oppression of Palestinian’s basic human rights has attracted much vocal and written international support, in addition to over four billion US dollars of aid earmarked for immediate relief and rebuilding efforts in Palestine. Unfortunately, due to the disheveled structure of the new PA and the long standing war-torn status of Palestine, little of the international relief funds are effectively useable. Further, the vocal support lent by the international community has not been backed by any actions aggressive enough to dissuade Israeli occupation and destruction of Palestinian life. Despite the limited autonomy granted to Palestine after the 1994 peace accords, and despite internationally-bartered peace negotiations leading to the 2003 Roadmap, true independence for Palestine, the end of Israeli occupation, and a resolution to armed conflict in the region — indeed the very aims of the Roadmap — are, in the eyes of Palestinians, far-fetched hopes so long as Israel is effectively permitted by the international community to fearlessly employ hostile tactics against Palestinians.
As it stands, Israel continues to deprive Palestinians of their rights to healthy food, land, air, water, shelter, safety, free movement, free expression, free worship, and among many others, the simple right to live in a homeland which Palestinians and their ancestors have held precious for thousands of years. To justify its actions, Israel states that like the United States in its mission against Al-Qaeda and the nations that President George W. Bush has named the “Axis of Evil” — Iraq, Iran, and North Korea — Israel is a “freedom loving nation” fighting terrorist Palestinians in a war meant to bring democracy via a two-State solution. Palestinians retort that they are not terrorists, but rather that they are freedom fighters, and are striving to overthrow a colonial regime directly headed by Israel and supported by the USA and Great Britain, whose oil interests in the Middle East arguably guide their necessity to find a sure foothold in the region from which to wage political, economic, and military warfare on all who hinder their access to such natural resources. The truth of this dialectic remains clouded in the eyes of the international community.
Meanwhile, what remains clear is that Palestine is falling, and Israel is on the rise. In about 2004, one journalist embedded in Palestine captured a translucent image of this crisis on a brief video, which received little air time in the media of the USA. The video shows an Israeli soldier with an M-16 chasing a young Palestinian boy, who seemed to be less than ten years old. After being chased by the soldier for a couple of minutes through part of a village that had been dessimated by explosives, the boy stopped, bent down, picked up a rock, turned around, raising the rock fiercely over his head and aiming at the soldier. Through the video, which was taken at some distance, one could see the boy yelling “Allah-u Akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic. The soldier stood his ground and aimed his rifle straight at the boy’s chest, but he lacked the moral surety to shoot. Instead, he turned around and started running in the direction from which he came, and the boy gave chase. This image of the boy with a rock in his hand chasing a fully-equipped adult Israeli soldier shocks the conscience. The reality, however, is that this scene depicts the actual differences in power between the two sides fighting this decades-long war. The typical Palestinian “soldier” is a slingshot-armed boy — poor, hungry, and tormented. Not only does this stand in stark contrast to a typical Israeli soldier, but this odd pairing of foes also clearly spotlights a frighteningly explosive situation to which the international community has failed to adequately respond.