May 17, 2018 by IJV
By Lynne Segal
Write something on the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel and the Nakba I was asked. It shouldn’t be hard, I’ve been working with other Jews in Britain campaigning for peace and justice for Palestinians for almost two decades. In the process I’ve acquired the closest of friends, as good as family, amongst a few Jewish Israeli peace activists, and the greatest admiration and respect for those long suffering, gentle, generous, Palestinians I’ve been privileged to meet and, very occasionally share a platform with in London – when they’ve manage to jump the high hurdles drastically curtailing their movement. Yet, I find it an almost impossible task. My politics has always involved working out how to keep hope alive, especially in harsh times such as these, when the favoured policies of our ruling elite are deploying force, tightening border controls and imposing austerity, economic and other forms of precarity on the most vulnerable. However, when ending the Israeli occupation remains the first and most necessary challenge for anyone who cares about the constant mobilization of violence and wretched conditions imposed upon indigenous Palestinians in the West Bank and the constantly traumatic experiences of living in Gaza, it is so very hard to beat back despair.
Year in, year out, we have witnessed the Israeli state’s ruthless imposition of military force to defend the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank, the constant uprooting and erasure of Bedouin villages in the Negev, accompanying the ongoing siege of Gaza since 2007, rendering it the biggest outdoor prison in the world – but one where even clean water, let alone medicine or other necessities, is increasingly scarce. This makes everything so relentlessly bleak for those of us trying to offer solidarity from afar with Palestinian demands for human rights and justice. Whoever we lobby, whatever we say, whenever we march – the calamity continues.
I am writing this on the eve of May15th,, 70 years to the day since the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic), which was the day the state of Israel came into being. It was shortly before this date that Israeli forces first showed how unmitigated was the violence they were prepared to unleash in what was now clearly a colonial project. Ultimately, some 720,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their villages during the 1948 war, amounting to 80 per cent of those then living in what was then declared the state of Israel. One of Israel’s distinguished modern writers S. Yizhah recorded the violence leading up to this event in his novel Khirbet Khizeh (The ruins of Hizeh), written after serving as a Zionist soldier fighting in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and describing the expulsions that occurred towards the end of that war: ‘Who, then, would ever imagine that once there had been some Khirbet Khizeh that we emptied out and took for ourselves. We came, we shot, we burned; we blew up, expelled, drove out, and sent into exile.”
However, this military act of ethnic cleansing has never ceased, but has continued ever since, its ferocity waxing and waning whenever each new piece of Palestinian territory is seized. The Nakba is not an event, but a structure, a process that has carried over until this day. As the eminent Palestinian write, Elias Khoury attests:
The consequences of continuing Nakba is nowhere clearer than in East Jerusalem and Hebron, whether then or now. It is not a past event, one the we could perhaps commemorate, but continues to the present.
Indeed, yesterday 58 Palestinians have already been killed and 2,000 wounded, some of them in critical condition without access to adequate medical care. They are, after all, living in the Gaza Ghetto.
This is why Khoury knows that there can be no mutual recognition of past suffering by the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians until Nakba is overcome. And until then Israeli control can only be met by resistance. Nothing is past in relation to Nakba.
Like Edward Said before him, Khoury tells us that we must indeed commemorate the Holocaust, knowing that it was the millennia of European anti-Semitism that lay behind it. This is why he also stresses the overwhelming significance of combatting anti-Semitism wherever it arises, including in the Arab world, or among those who deploy it working for Palestinian rights. However, he is equally adamant that the brutality of the Zionist colonial project, daily impacting upon Palestinian lives, must be continuously challenged and ultimately stopped. We should know that today there are over 40,000 demolition orders within Israel, while in the West Bank rare are the families without one or more of their members having been imprisoned in the hundreds of thousands of arrests of Palestinian men, women and very large numbers of children.
Yet Israel has faced negligible criticism of its continued land seizures and near total control over Palestinian territory and lives, least of all from the USA, with its massive military and ideological support for Israel. The provocative opening of its embassy in Jerusalem is just another indication that it too believes Palestinian lives do not matter.
Meanwhile, the resistance which comes from the people under Israeli siege, some of whom have been locked in modern ghettos for years on end is, literally, a death-defying or, for increasing numbers, deadly affair. We are witnessing this again right now, watching the extreme violence Israel’s army is using against those unarmed citizens who have been marching week after week against their imprisonment in Gaza, demanding to return to their homes which were seized in 1948 – with over a 100 killed, and over 10,000 injured, to date. For those of us expressing solidarity from afar, including significant numbers of us coming together as Jews, it is hard not to feel utterly powerless.
I wrote about this a few years ago, worrying anxiously how to resist despair, and concluding, like others before me, that for Palestinians it is often primarily a matter of surviving despair. Survival itself is, of course, a type of resistance. I recalled then the late John Berger’s powerful summary of his impressions visiting Palestine a decade ago. Surrounded by rubble on all sides, including ‘the rubble of words’, he found what he called an ‘undefeated despair’ amongst many of the Palestinians he met. It is despair that Israeli policy has tried to instill in Palestinians from the beginning, again making survival itself the bottom line for Palestinian resistance. Yet, as we see in Gaza today, active forms of resistance continue to thrive, and among each new generation of Palestinians there are those still determined to do more than survive, knowing, like the heroic teenager Ahed Tamimi, that ‘To Exist is to Resist.’
From afar, we can only try to learn from and support each new form on non-violent resistance. Palestinians have asked us to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel, and whatever reservations we might have about how exactly one implements this policy, it is surely necessary for us all to at least comply with the spirit of their call. Meanwhile, in Britain, we must insist that it is incumbent on people everywhere, but especially upon Jewish people whom Israel claims to ‘represent’, not to stay silent in the face of the injustice of the ongoing Nakba. Our only hope lies in the numbers we can persuade to join us.