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Until Return - Issue 5

The Palestinian Catastrophe - 60 Years of Justice Denied
Dr Jess Ghannam
Al-Awda Executive Committee
15 May 2008

Palestinians from across the world are marking and commemorating the 60th Year of the Nakba or Catastrophe. This Nakba began when roughly 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and villages of historic Palestine in carefully planned attacks by Jewish militias led by British trained officers. Their tactics included massacres and forced evacuation. During that period 531 indigenous Palestinian Arab villages, 11 towns and cities were de-populated and destroyed and the largest refugee problem in the world was created. Today the population of Palestinian refuges stands at over 7.0 million people. Three quarters of the entire world population of Palestinians are refugees and/or living in exile (shatat). There are 59 refugee camps scattered all over Palestine and the Arab World. To this day, justice has been denied. Justice has been denied because our inalienable right to return to our homes and lands in Palestine has been put on hold and subverted by the creation of a racist Zionist Apartheid State and the collusion of many other countries. But make no mistake, the Palestinian right to return is an inalienable natural right that is protected and guaranteed under International law, the Geneva Conventions, and by United Nations resolutions. No country, individual, or international body can stop the return home of our people to Palestine. At this historical moment, however, it is important to assess where we are in our process of returning.

From a narrow and myopic point of view, it would be very easy to feel hopeless. The current status of life in historic Palestine is very disturbing. Israel’s racist policies and processes, as a means to pacify and control our people, have created profoundly inhuman and immoral conditions on the ground for Palestinian men, women, and children. The Israeli Annexation Wall, despite being declared illegal by international courts and condemned by the international community continues its serpentine chokehold on the daily life of every Palestinian living in the West Bank. The Wall, together with some 600 or so Israeli military checkpoints scattered strategically throughout the West Bank to destroy any possibility of freedom of movement, access to health care, and the building of economic infrastructures for independence have produced a significant decline in the health, wellness, and economic viability for every Palestinian. In addition, Israel continues its voracious consumption and theft of Palestinian land in the West bank to create illegal Jewish-only colonies armed against our people and protected by the military. There are now close to 500,000 illegal Israeli ‘settlers’ living in Jerusalem and the hills of the West Bank.

Although the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is brutal and illegal, it sadly pales in comparison to the catastrophic conditions in the Gaza Strip. The cruel racist manifestations of Israel’s occupation are no more painfully evident than in the Gaza Strip where 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children are literally starving to death under the watchful eye of the Israeli military and international community. At the time of the writing this article, the only power plant in the Gaza Strip was shut down because Israel refuses to allow fuel to enter the Strip. Hospitals and clinics have no fuel for their emergency generators and have stopped functioning in any meaningful way. The steady Israeli diet of forced starvation for Palestinians living Gaza has reduced the food supply to below subsistence levels. Our people are starving. The Israeli military and government, control every aspect of the inflow of food, medicine, and water into and out of Gaza. They also control the outflow of people. Chronically ill cancer patients who have already been given permission to leave Gaza for emergency life-saving treatment have been left for dead at the Erez Crossing in Gaza. Literally left for dead-- Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch report that scores of Palestinians have died at that checkpoint waiting for medical care. Gaza is a large Bantustan where millions of Palestinians are imprisoned, feel the pain of starvation, and wait to taste the fruit of freedom and self-determination. While they wait, Palestinian men, women, and children die every day in Gaza from Israeli air strikes, incursions, and the denial of rights.

It would be easy to conclude that this is a grim and pessimistic analysis about the future of Palestine. A long-sighted and broad analysis actually provides for more optimism, hope and pride. Put simply, Palestinians still exist. Despite years of occupation, forced exile and dispossession from their own homeland, and other brutal practices and structures, we have not been passive or accepting of occupation and dispossesion. We have managed to exist and resist oppression with dignity, pride and resilience. Wherever Palestinians live, irrespective of age, our vision is clear-- we will continue to resist, we will return home, and we will be free.
It is essential to keep a long and historically broad perspective of our struggle for return, freedom and self-determination. Resisting and removing the yoke of Israeli occupation and apartheid structures will take time. As we march forward to freedom, Israel is moving in a very different direction. As Palestinians commemorate the Nakba and celebrate 60 years of stubborn resistance, what is Israel celebrating?

The foundation of failure rests on the denial of reality, the denial of history, the denial of current practices, and denial of where it is going. How else should the world judge a state that sanctions and promotes torture, fails to protect and care for all of its citizens, projects military power to intimidate other countries and civilians, creates apartheid structures that oppress people, continues to steal land, has no constitution and refuses to declare borders? Israel is not just a failed state it is a pariah state. Israelis are forever asking themselves, why do people criticize us? Why is there so much enmity towards us?. The power of psychological denial is so great that most Israelis cannot fathom why so many people of conscience are critical and why Israel is so vilified on the world stage.

The answer is simply---Israeli actions, and not its words, are now (finally) seen for what they are. The occupation of Palestine and the ongoing march to further de-populate Palestine of all Palestinian Arabs is no longer a secret. It is out in the open, people see Israel for what it is and what it is doing. More people are leaving Israel than immigrating, and the slow decline and the myth of Israel is unraveling.

Now is the time for people and countries of conscience to confront the reality of this failure and wake up from a dream-like slumber. Israel only wants one thing:”a land without Palestinian Arabs"-- it makes living in denial easier. Finally, I also want to address the few remaining Palestinians that believe that negotiating with Israel on a two-state solution is the only path to our freedom. Please wake up from your sleep, your denial and let us return to Palestine with dignity and self-respect.

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