Palestine: Sixty-two years of catastrophe

May 7, 2010
Palestinian refugees.

During April, 11 Palestinians, including two children, were killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

For the world’s corporate media this was a quiet month. The deaths received little coverage in the Western media, unlike the two Israeli soldiers killed attacking the Gaza Strip on March 26.

A May 3 International Solidarity for Human Rights Foundation report said that the April death toll included: two sisters, aged five and six, killed by soldiers on the West Bank; a detainee in his 18th month of solidarity confinement in Be’er Shiva prison; a 62-year-old who died at a West Bank checkpoint where he was forced to wait on his way to hospital; a wanted Hamas-affiliated activist whose West Bank home was demolished on top of him; and three resistance fighters defending the Gaza Strip from an Israeli incursion.

The report also said 285 Palestinians, including 26 children, were kidnapped or detained by Israeli soldiers in April, and attacks against Palestinian residents and property in East Jerusalem had intensified.

These figures are not remarkable for Palestinians, for whom normal life includes ongoing killings and targeted assassinations, large-scale detention without trial, restriction of movement by walls and checkpoints, harassment and humiliation by soldiers and settlers. Further suffering is caused by demolition of houses, expropriation of land and political and economic marginalisation.

This has been the case since the state of Israel was established on May 15, 1948 — a date remembered by Palestinians as al Nakba (“the catastrophe”).

The establishment of Israel was a catastrophe for Palestinians because it involved hundreds of thousands of people being driven from their homes and land. Those who remained inside the borders of Israel were reduced to second-class citizenship. As a self-defined “Jewish state”, Israel was not inclusive of the mostly Muslim and Christian local population.

Israel was established as a state exclusively for Jewish colonial settlers and their descendants.

The Zionist movement began establishing European Jewish settler colonies in Palestine in the late 19th century. Initially marginal, and largely ignored or accepted by Palestinians, these rapidly increased in size and number after 1917, when Britain invaded and adopted the policy of establishing a “Jewish national homeland” in the area.

This led to conflicts between Palestinians and Jewish settlers over land. However, Zionism remained a fringe current among European Jews until the Nazi Holocaust and the reluctance of Britain, the US, Canada and Australia to accept refugees from Nazism.

The Israeli state established by the well-armed Zionist militias in 1948 covered 78% of Palestine. To create the Jewish majority necessary for a “Jewish democracy”, 80% of the Palestinian population was violently expelled.

Most Palestinians fled to the remaining 22% of Palestine: the West Bank (which includes East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s conquest of the rest of Palestine in 1967 complicated its project of maintaining a Jewish majority: about half the population of territory now controlled by Israel is Palestinian.

Therefore, while the West Bank and Gaza Strip were effectively annexed to Israel, its inhabitants were excluded from citizenship.

However, Jewish settlers in these occupied territories, from Israel and overseas, have full citizenship rights, even though the settlements violate international law.

In 1993, following the uprising known as the first intifada, the Oslo accords were signed between Israel and the then-leadership of the Palestinian national movement. This established the Palestinian Authority, with some limited powers to administer the occupied territories.

This didn’t stop violent repression of the Palestinians, and in 2000 the second intifada broke out. The ongoing “peace process”, with the stated aim of an eventual Palestinian state based on the increasingly reduced-occupied territories, has been seen as increasingly irrelevant by Palestinians.

Israel has not been willing to halt the steady encroachment of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank. East Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel and pretexts from urban planning to archaeology are used to justify “Judaisation” of the city.

Despite the presentation of the conflict as between two neighbouring states, in reality Israel and Palestine do not exist side by side: the one lies on top of the other.

There is a de facto single country, ruled by a single apartheid state, but half its population — the Palestinians — are treated as a conquered, subject people.

Jewish-only West Bank settlements, whose inhabitants enjoy Israeli citizenship, are connected to Israel by a network of Jewish-only roads. Palestinians living nearby are barred from these roads and no citizenship rights.

These roads, the settlements, military-controlled “security zones” and the barrier Palestinians call the “apartheid wall” confine West Bank Palestinians to geographically separated enclaves.

Because the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip has refused to collaborate with the occupation, the territory’s 1.5 million people have been subjected to a crippling siege since 2007, with Western and Egyptian support.

Basic necessities, including food, are scarce. A May 3 BBC report said the amount of food Israel allows in is calculated on the minimum number of calories needed to keep most of the population alive.

Constant Israeli military incursions against Gaza are punctuated by larger-scale assaults, such as the three-week “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008 and January 2009, which killed more than 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

Despite Western government-support and biased mainstream media coverage, Israel’s unwillingness to end the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem or stem the growth of Jewish-only land in the West Bank has exposed the so-called peace process.

This, and the horrific massacres of “Operation Cast Lead”, have lead to a growing international solidarity movement calling Israel what it is — an aggressive apartheid state.

Adopting tactics that were successful in the struggle against South African apartheid, there is a growing global movement for a boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel (the BDS campaign).

Israel, and its western backers, attempt to discredit opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic. In 2005, the European Union-affiliated European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EMCRX) extended the definition of anti-Semitism to include “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. This is despite Israel’s confinement of Palestinians to ghettos and its blitzkriegs against them and neighbouring countries bringing such comparisons to mind (even if they are sometimes overstated).

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”, is also defined as anti-Semitic. This definition is designed to stop any questioning of Israel’s right to use apartheid and ethnic cleansing to maintain a Jewish majority inside Israel.

Someone with no connection to the country can obtain Israeli citizenship on the basis of Jewish ancestors. However, 4 million Palestinian refugees are denied the right of return and 4 million West Bank and Gaza Palestinians are denied citizenship. For the EMCRX, questioning this is anti-Semitic by definition.

However, the traditional goal of the Palestinian liberation movement was for a democratic, secular Palestine with full equality between Jews, Muslims and Christians. Such a democratic vision is the opposite of racism.

International solidarity and the BDS campaign is challenging 62 years of catastrophe for Palestinians. It needs our full support so the catastrophe can finally end.


Jerusalem was founded about 1000 BCE during the time of King David. It was already a settlement lived in by the Jebu, and the Torah says David bought some land from them. The Jews built and a few times had to rebuild Jerusalem because since antiquity it has been conquered at least 25 times. The Jews lived there a thousand years until the Romans conquered it, then stole it from the Jews in 135 CE. Because the Jews rebelled, Roman Emperor Hadrian banned them from Jerusalem and forced them out in the Diaspora. He also changed the name of Israel/Judah to Palestine to cut off Jewish identification with the land. But there were always some Jews living there no matter who ruled. In the 7th century CE, the marauding Muslims conquered Jerusalem only to be kicked out later by the Persians. In the 1500s the Ottoman Empire conquered it but they lost it in WW I to the British. After almost 2000 years the Jews returned to their homeland. Most of the 600,000 Arab Palestinians who lived there left after warring with the Jews. But now the Jews are willing to make peace with these original Arabs. One problem is tens of thousands of Arabs moved to Israel looking for jobs when Israel became a state and now everyone of them is claiming to be an original settler which the Jews will not tolerate. Did you know the Arab Palestinians were one of the most highly educated people in the Middle East before Arafat showed up? He turned these people into maniacs who killed Jews at every opportunity. The Israelis are sad about every Palestinian who dies but they are told daily by the Palestinians that they will kill them and take their land. Jerusalem would not be Jerusalem without Muslims. There are many Muslims who want peace with the Jews, but Hamas etal will kill them if they get the chance. I think Hamas and Hezbollah must be removed for true peace. After all they are Iranian influenced. Maybe Hamas will be gone soon as their foreign aid is rapidly dropping. Nations are getting tired of their crap. Then the interlopers (but not the original Arab occupants) must be sorted out if possible, for they have no rights to the Holy Land of the Jews and Christians. (Muslims already have a holy land and two holy cities.) Then Jews and Palestinian Arabs will stop threatening each other, and there will be peace on earth. Am I a dreamer? Maybe given enough time...

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.