Palestine 2009: After Gaza

March 2009

Driving from Tel Aviv to Haifa, you could be forgiven for not realizing you are driving close to the old Green Line that marked the border of the mountainous West Bank with Israel until 1967 when Israel seized the occupied territories. The highway is straight and uneventful as it heads through lush farmland on Israeli’s coastal strip on the edge of the West Bank. You cannot see the wall Israel has built near the border, yet Palestinian-looking towns are dotted all around.

But the wall is there all right, hidden on the Israeli side by bushes and trees, concealing the reality of the Palestinian presence from the nervous eyes of Israel’s Jewish citizens. The wall, it seems, is not there to mark a border; it is there to hide the Palestinian. From inside Qalqilya, one of the towns to my right as I head to Haifa, it is a raw presence—concrete and wire fencing surrounding the entire town, bar a checkpoint that controls access in and out. Entering the town was easy enough, but exiting was a problem. The soldiers aggressively wanted to know why we were “entering Israel”. My companion, a journalist from Tobas in the north of the West Bank, was taken aback at the phraseology.

“No, we’re going that way, not into Israel; we’re going to Ramallah.”

“But now you are going into Israel, you go to Israel before you go to Ramallah.”

The soldiers were young; one was apparently from the former Soviet Union, a Russian; another was British. Here they were deciding whether Palestinians could or could not leave their hometown heading north, south or west to enter other Palestinian villages or towns inside the territory occupied in 1967. East was off-bounds, that was internationally-recognised Israel. These soldiers were here to hold them back from attacking the settlements dotted around the hilltops of the West Bank, land they clearly considered to be part of one unified state—or from mixing with them at all.

The valley was full of towns and villages. You had to strain to make out which was which. The generally more modern and pristine looking—and higher up the hills—were Israeli Jewish, the more rundown and improvised with minarets were Palestinian. On the “other” side of Qalqilya—Israel—there were also Palestinian towns, such as Taibeh. These were the “Israeli Arabs”, citizens of the state living the twilight world of the Israeli suspicion of their “loyalty”—Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu had just come in third place in Knesset elections on a platform of anti-Arab race-baiting—and the occupied Palestinian’s taunts of collaboration with the enemy.

Palestinian towns lay all around, to the left and to the right, in the hills and in the lowlands, inside occupied territory and out, in the grip of the Israeli army and outside the embrace of the Jewish state. This was the geographical heart of Israel-Palestine, where the coastal strip segues into the rising ground of western Palestine, the hills of the West Bank. This presaged Lieberman and Zionism’s nightmare, the inter-mixing of populations where the dream of a Jewish majority state collapses. 

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When Israel began its military blitz on the Gaza Strip on December 27 the death toll was almost immediately large and the destruction almost immediately immense. Hundreds died within days, and over 1,300 were left dead and over 5,000 maimed when it was over. No less immediate was awareness around the region and beyond about the scale of the suffering. British journalist Robert Fisk noted in his account of the Lebanese civil war that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (the second after its first foray of 1978) was more or less the first Arab-Israeli conflict where it lost control of the narrative in the West. Israel was demonised over its conduct and peaceniks made their presence felt inside Israeli society. In Gaza, Israel denied journalists access until the attack was over, but al-Jazeera and many others were already entrenched on the inside, bringing the reality of the carnage to viewers in the Arab region and around the world. The channel played over and over clips of doctors in hospital and morgues holding up dead children with bullet holes plainly there in their chests for all the world to see. In the Arab world in particular it was easy for sympathy with the suffering of ordinary people to mesh imperceptibly with sympathy for Hamas.

A coastal enclave whose land, air and sea borders are completely controlled by Israel, save shared control mechanisms with Egypt at the Rafah border area, Gaza has long been a prison. Cut off from the West Bank, a territory that escaped Zionist control during the fighting of 1947-9 but which was to become a successive refuge for Palestinians driven from Israel, Gazan society was brutalised more than other Palestinian communities after the occupation of 1967 kicked in. Its economy was intimately linked to Israel’s, while attempts at developing Palestinian forms of economic independence were, in the classic colonial fashion, stifled. When former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Declaration of Principles with Yasser Arafat in 1993 it was the Gaza Strip that Israeli readily ceded civilian control of. Rabin himself once famously wished the strip of land would fall into the sea.

Following the same logic as Rabin, Ariel Sharon closed Jewish settlements in the area in 2005, calculating that the integrity of a purist Jewish state was better served by removing 8,000 settlers from frontier territory in the biblical land of promise than maintaining them among a population of over a million non-Jewish Palestinians. Since 2007 when the Islamist group Hamas took control of Gaza in fighting with the Fatah group of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the autonomous Palestinian National Authority, Israel has maintained a tight blockade on human and material traffic in and out of the territory. Hamas and other Islamist groups regularly fired rockets into Israel, rockets which like those used by Hizbullah in Lebanon were rough and unsophisticated at first but began to improve with time. Who fired first and who was responding to who was lost in the tit-for-tat of the historical conflict, though Western media have generally accepted the Israel line that provocation starts with rockets. It worsened in the weeks before December 27 with Israel cutting off electricity and gas supplies to Gaza, as Hamas refused to renew a ceasefire agreement with Israel in the face of violations on both sides. The script was almost written in advance.

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After the Gaza war, Ramallah was a town in quiet turmoil. Like any other town in the occupied territories, Ramallah’s fortunes have risen and fallen since the interim peace agreements of 1993 set up the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) there and the Intifada broke out in 2000. Since the current PNA chief Mahmoud Abbas came to power and put an end to the armed uprising, Ramallah uniquely has prospered. It is a town awash in foreign aid money and the whole gamut of local consultancies and charities has come into existence to help soak it up.

Ramallah has also blossomed as East Jerusalem has sunk further into isolation. Many East Jerusalemites of means have managed to find work in Ramallah or otherwise relocated there to breath what they can of freedom. Life in East Jerusalem is a Kafkaesque battle against the cunning and relentless paper trail of Israeli bureaucracy whose one aim is to encourage the Palestinian to leave. The Interior Ministry building on Nablus Street is for Palestinians as hellish a place as the infamous Mugamma in central Cairo is for Egyptians. Many Ramallah residents suffer to maintain their Jerusalem residency status. They will keep a flat there and a telephone line and pay Israeli municipality taxes to prevent giving the Israelis an excuse to revoke their right to live in the city of their birth. An East Jerusalemite who marries a Palestinian from outside the city runs the risk of eviction. There are currently plans to evict residents in the Silwan district for a tourist development and build more settlements to the east heading down to the Jordan valley, thus finally cutting off the north of the West Bank from the south.

Surrounded by settlements, including one that sits stares down arrogantly from a fortified hilltop more or less inside the city itself, Ramallah is a bubble. Access to Jerusalem involves one of two main checkpoints, the hellish Kalandia that runs through a refugee camp, or Hizmeh inside the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Haneina. They are separated by the Israeli settlement of Atarot, which is protected by an imposing concrete section of the wall that runs throughout the occupied territories. Residents of Atarot are privelaged with a special road, protected by The Wall, that takes you straight down to Tel Aviv and the coastal plain in barely half an hour. A sense of powerlessless pervades the air. Residents of Ramallah will use the car for a trip of even just a few blocks; the chance to drive anywhere without checkpoints and roadblocks, even if it’s just around the hamster wheel of a city like Ramallah, is worth taking. I was reminded of the scene in Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention where the camera closes in to reveal that a darkly implied brutal beating to death—the viewer’s imagination was left to surmise who—is nothing more than a frantic effort to kill small snakes in a suburban back garden.

Ramallah was, as Nasser, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, scathingly put it, “the green zone”, something akin to Baghdad’s protected government and diplomatic zone that deals with the outside world as if all was well in a troubled land. In Nasser’s view, Fatah supporters were not seeing the wider picture of Israeli fear and capitulation, from the invasion of Beirut in 1982 when Arafat was forced to flee, to the Lebanon war of 2006 when thousands of Israelis fled Haifa and some of Haifa’s Palestinians even crowded into Ramallah hotels. “My prediction is that by 2012 Nasrallah will be in Haifa,” he declared. His interlocuters smoking and drinking late into the cold Ramallah night seemed incredulous. The comment partly reflected the low opinion Jerusalemites have of Ramallah and Abbas. In the annexed city, they are on the frontline of rejection of the Israeli state. “I don’t like Hamas but I respect them, they are better than the people we have now,” said Wafa Bukhari, who says Jewish settlers have tried on several occasions to break into the basement of her home in the Old City.

The European Union in particular is exploiting the Palestinians’ entrapment in the twilight zone of semi-statelessness and recognition/nonrecognition for the sake of political prestige—a role to play—and the benefit of its own economy, said anthropologist Khalil Nakhleh of Birzeit University and author of The Myth of Palestinian Development (Jerusalem: Passia, 2004). He noted that while the EU has done virtually nothing at a political level to stop repeated Israeli destruction of Palestinian infrastructure since 2000, it has gaily stepped in after each orgy of violence to award contracts to European firms to rebuild that which was destroyed. “I’m not against economic growth but I want independent production in the economy, not just consumption. Why can’t Palestinians initiate projects in Area C (the 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli control)? Why can’t the EU press Israel on this?” he said.

These development policies go hand in hand with the training of Palestinian security forces, a project involving Britain, the United States, Egypt and Jordan, which has over the past year seen Abbas’ impose strict control over Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, arresting Islamist and other forces still interested in the uprising, but in a strange alliance with the Israeli army. When you are granted access into the sealed-off Palestinian town of Qalqilya, Palestinian forces in neat new blue uniforms stand by monitoring the scene only several hundred metres away. “They are there to train Palestinians to maintain order against Palestinians and not against Israel and the occupation,” Nakhleh said. The Israelis enter at will to arrest agitators against the status quo.

In the cafes, bars and restaurants of Ramallah the well-heeled railed against Hamas. They said it was more concerned with maintaining its Islamist project in Gaza than taking serious steps to end political separation from the West Bank, playing into the hands of Israel and its “divide and rule” policy. Hamas only cared for its imarat ghazza, “the Gaza emirate”, Fatah people would say. One Palestinian journalist told me she would rather be ruled by the Israelis than Hamas. The fear of Hamas’ rising popularity in the West Bank had so gripped the self-rule authorities that they actively repressed popular protests in solidarity with Gazans during the war. “They didn’t even fight. Where was the resistance they talk about?” said a Fatah member of the Palestinian parliament, deriding Hamas’ performance during the Gaza war. They argued that Hamas was acting on the orders of its backers in Tehran and Damascus and had shown irresponsible leadership by insisting on military action—rockets into south Israel—that led to widespread death and destruction for Gazans. They also say Hamas has taken the decision of where to resist or not for itself. “There is no doubt about the Palestinian people’s right to resist. But the question is who, when and in what format? No one has the right to take the fate of a whole people by the hand and lead them wherever they want,” Abbas himself said. But he was speaking in his first public appearance in Ramallah once the war was over, a war during which he was nowhere to be seen in Ramallah. Many say he should have resigned, the symbolic move that a true leader would understand had to be taken in such circumstances, even if he disagreed with Hamas over its behaviour.

“The rift has become ideological and touches the nature of Palestinian life, whether its Islamist and theological or democratic and national. It’s not just a question of the peace process with Israel versus armed struggle, it’s more than that,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the legislative assembly, speaking in the offices of the NGO she runs in Ramallah. “At this point, Hamas is gaining more support because they are seen as the underdog and the peace process did not yield results, and that has undermined moderate voices.” 

Many Palestinians I met in Jerusalem and the West Bank agreed with Hamas’ view that Abbas had blind faith in negotiations with the Israelis. The Ramallah leadership was politically and morally bankrupt, they argued. Buoyed by the rhetoric of victory, Hamas leader-in-exile in Damascus Khaled Meshaal opened a debate about the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), the secular body dominated by Fatah which has led the Palestinian national movement since the 1960s, suggesting the PLO needed revamped with new elections, presumably to reflect the leadership role he now believes Hamas has in the Palestinian cause. “Hamas is now presenting itself as the legitimate representative force of the Palestinians: the force that wins elections and fights the Israeli occupation,” said Khaled Hroub, the U.K.-based author of a study on Hamas. According to one former security employee, Fatah forces are nervously monitoring Ramallah to see if Hamas-looking people rent out apartments, giving them a foothold for street activity in the future against Abbas in favour of Hamas. Political analyst Ali al-Jarbawi said neither Fatah nor Hamas had a convincing vision for Palestinians. “Hamas is advocating resistance but also a truce (in Gaza) with the Israelis. For Abbas, it’s about negotiating forever with the Israelis with no result,” he said. “We have to combine resistance with negotiations. If talks fail and Israelis don’t want (to return land), we should close the door on negotiations and resort to other options.”

Ashrawi sees all this as threatening gains made internationally in challenging Israeli practices in the occupied territories. I lobbed her the subversive argument put forward by many intellectuals among both peoples in historical Palestine for formalising the one state that effectively exists by ensuring full rights for all inhabitants of the land. Such talk was “glib”, she said dismissively, since in the meantime Israel is engaged in the continuous process of confiscating land and cutting off communities, practices which require a Palestinian state in the territories as soon as possible in order to protect the Palestinian presence as it currently stands.

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Gaza was a scene of destruction, but met with a remarkable spirit of survival. The famed Palestinian quality of sumoud—lauded in poetry and popular culture—seemed very real and tangible in Gaza, no rhetorical trick employed by politicians. “Israel has been practising collective punishment on all Gaza since the first uprising began in 1987,” said a pharmacist who gave his name as Abu Baraa. “We’ve been through so many crises that it creates a kind of psychological immunity.” His meagre display of medicine and health and beauty products reflected Israeli restrictions on imports. Prized international brands of baby diapers were nowhere to be found and he complained about the Egyptian versions that arrive smuggled in tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt. Some areas of the territory, mostly in the impoverished refugee camps and farming villages, were completely flattened.

Hilmy Samouni survived a missile attack on a house in the agricultural Zeitoun district outside Gaza City where he lost at least 23 members of his extended family. The story has become well-known. The Israeli army herded them into a building that was subsequently bombed and Hilmy says he spent four days inside the ruins while the army refused to let them out. He was stoic and philosophic, surprisingly together considering his loss, which included his mother, father, wife, son and brother. “They came here intending to cause destruction. The army has a new generation of 18-year-olds who have been taught that Gaza is a place that you can do what you want,” he said, as we surveyed graffiti soldiers had left on the walls. There was a tombstone with the words “Arabs: 1948-2009”. “Die you all,” another message read. “You can run but you can’t hide,” “Gaza, we are here.”

Samih al-Sawafiri’s farmhouse was also requisitioned by the army during the war. When he returned he found they had smashed his televisions, broke holes in his walls and bulldozed his poultry into the ground. A few feathers and a great big smell in the air were the only memory of 50,000 battery hens that once inhabited large pens in the yard. Most striking was the mural art. There is a picture of a pig with “oink-oink” scribbled in Russian next to it, numerous Stars of David and a colour fire engulfing a veiled woman who a man is holding on a leash. Walls were daubed with messages such as “Leave or die” in Hebrew, and “Fuck Gaza” and “Fuck Hamas” in English. “They want a land without a people. They want us to go to Rafah, or Sinai,” a sanguine Sawafiri said, pondering the possible broader meaning behind the words.

Hamdy Shaqqura of Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza said the physical and verbal violence left in Palestinian homes was worse than anything Palestinians had encountered since 1967. “They are trained and recruited on hatred of Arabs, that’s the only explanation for it,” he said. “This is an act of revenge to demonstrate the might of Israel and its military capabilities. I can’t understand it in any other context.”

The view of the conflict in Gaza was different. For Hamas, the “Ramallah camp” believes naively in peace talks and giving up al-muqawama, resistance to occupation. They argue Abbas has become Israel’s policeman and his security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank, where he controls some territory, amounts to collaboration. Their message is that only ascendant political Islam can mobilise people to fight for the restitution of rights. “Abu Mazen (Abbas) believes in peace, dialogue with the occupation, security coordination and in talks even if they last 100 years,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. He argued that it was use of force that made Israeli quit its Jewish settlements in Gaza in 2005. “(Abbas) has not demanded liberating the West Bank. He’s happy with the situation like this. Israel is the protector of the West Bank and he’s the protector of Israel.”

Barhoum argued that the rocket phenomenon into Israel was a product of the Intifada and Israel’s blockade and that Israel would never give Palestinian leaders in the West Bank an independent state on the lands seized in 1967 without a return to arms. “If it were not for the security coordination in the West Bank, collecting weapons,  tying the hands of Hamas, then the occupation would not have been able to enter Gaza like it did. We paid the price of muzzling the resistance in the West Bank,” Barhoum said. “We have to resist and I believe these rockets have a temporary and strategic aim. The temporary aim is that they pressure us in Gaza, so we pressure them in Israeli cities. There is a balance of terror—well, you can’t balance their terror but you can equal it a bit. Second, when we fire rockets from Gaza it’s the result of war and not the cause of it. The war was from one side and we fired rockets as a result of this war. Third, Israelis are leaving (because of rockets).” But he reiterated Hamas’ long-term view that a modus vivendi can be achieved with Israel. “They want security, we want a state. Give us a state and they can have security through a long-term ceasefire, for 10, 20, 25 years, whatever.” 

*******

Al-Muqawama, or resistance, has been so suppressed by Abbas and Israel in the West Bank that driving the roads has become easy for those with special permits, Israeli passports or white European faces. With some 500 checkpoints organising the truncated freedom of movement of over 2 million Palestinians from one enclave to the next, many of the roads open technically to both occupied and occupier are now safe. Settlers stand by the roadside hitchhiking rides, or waiting politely in prim bus shelters. Some go for a brazen jog. All this would have been unimagineable five years ago.

Exploiting my rights to the full, I took a trip into the largest settlement of all, the hidden mountain city of Ariel. Officially with a population of only 20,000, it gives the impression of being larger, sprawling for 12 km (8 miles) across the hills to the west of Nablus with an industrial zone, shops, schools and offices. Connected seamlessly by highway to Israel proper, “she is here to stay”, its website says. Indeed, Ariel is one of the settlement blocs that Israeli governments have insisted will remain part of Israel in any historic resolution with the Palestinians.

Inside, I found immigrants from Russia and Arab countries utterly disconnected from the realities of the land around them. The buffoonish Benjamin Netanyahu, the Lithuanian-origin former prime minister trying to form a government, would never be tough enough on the Arabs, said Ira Isacov, a worker in a video store who emigrated from the former Soviet Union 14 years ago. “Lieberman will be like Stalin in dealing with the Arabs. Stalin, Lenin and Lieberman—they are strong men. Netanyahu is weak,” she said. “The world likes the Arabs, the whole world is protecting the Arabs,” another Russian immigrant said. Lieberman posters were all around. He says he wants to pass a law that would require Israeli citizens to sign a “pledge of allegiance to the Jewish state” and deny the right to vote or to hold public office if they refuse. He also talks of “transfer” of Palestinian towns north of the West Bank such as Umm al-Fahm to a Palestinian state and annexation of West Bank settlements.

Haim Dhen emigrated from Morocco over four decades ago. He speaks Hebrew with an unabashed “oriental” accent, returning to this Semitic language the proper pronunciation of letters such as the ‘ain, ra and ha so mangled by Israeli’s dominant European caste. His sentences were peppered with the Arabic he still speaks at home. “They can’t have passport but they can move around with some kind of document,” he said. I noted that no one in Ariel terms the non-Jewish indigenous population by their own name, Palestinian: they are a sea of Arabs. Orientalist clichés abound. “In my opinion, the Arabs always want war. If you give them something they always want more,” Dhen explained over a cup of Arabic coffee served up in his small restaurant.

For someone who chose to move to Ariel 10 years ago for the pure mountain air, cheaper housing and better schools for his kids, he seemed resigned to an uncertain future. Even Ariel was not safe from the concessions a future Israeli government would have to make, he said, and the price would be to put Jews in danger. “We think Ariel will be lost. I don’t believe them,” he said of Israel’s political leaders. “Sharon gave away Gaza. Now there are rockets on Ashkelon and Ashdod. If they give anything now to Abu Mazen (Abbas) there will be rockets on Tel Aviv.” Lieberman was honest, he said: “He says the truth to our faces”.

As we talked, the afternoon call to prayer gently wafted over the mountain city with the mist that rose from the demographic threat down below. The Palestinian town of Salfit is separated by fencing and army watchtowers from Ariel. Its roads are rundown and full of potholes, its people depressed. Israel’s elections meant nothing to them. “The one among them who kills more of our people wins,” said Awad Shudayyid. “We hear about their elections but the Gaza events have taken over people’s interest,” said one woman who worked in a clothes shop. “They talk about peace but just want to put their hands on our land.” As for Ariel, “They live their lives and we live ours. There is no contact at all between us. They are in a closed citadel on top of the mountain.”

Mobility, contact, freedom of movement. These were the issues constantly invoked by Palestinians everywhere. Not only freedom of movement between Palestinian towns inside the Green Line, cut off by The Wall and the system of checkpoints and exclusive settler roads; also contact between Palestinians inside the occupied territories and those just kilometres away inside Israel. More than that, mobility over all of historical Palestine, to Tel Aviv, or Jaffa, or Haifa. This freedom once existed, in the years immediately following the Israeli victory in 1967, a victory which united Palestine and all its contemporary peoples. Separation and isolation grew in stages, from the colonisation begun after the Israeli right came to power in 1977, to the first Intifada of 1987, to the establishment of the PNA from 1993, to the Intifada of 2000. The Palestinian nationalist movement played no less a role than Zionism in increasing the separation of Palestinians as it gradually narrowed its focus of attention to the areas seized by Israel in 1967, one of the cruellest ironies of the struggle for independence. “In the ceasefire talks, nobody is talking about individuals (moving freely)—not at all. It’s only about economic transactions, that’s it. They will likely resume permit system to allow people for medical reasons to pass and some merchants” said rights activist Hamdy Shaqqoura in Gaza. “From 1967 to 1993 we could drive to Yafa, since that time they incorporated more restrictions and ended up with this total ban on movement. I can’t imagine stability and any atmosphere of peace without the free movement of persons to the West Bank and Israel.” 

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Back to the road to Haifa. I was on my way to meet Mahmoud Yazbek, a historian at Haifa University who had talked impressively on al-Jazeera on the day of the Israeli elections about the rise of Lieberman. Haifa is usually touted as Israel’s successful “mixed city” of Arabs and Jews, though Palestinians form only around 10 percent of its 300,000 population. Haifa lies in north Israel, near the Galilee and Triangle area around Nazareth where the Palestinians still form a majority of the population, despite a state settlement policies since the 1970s. Unlike Jaffa near Tel Aviv, Haifa’s Palestinian population is fed by a bank of Arab villages in its hinterland. Israel has a similar project for the south where Arabs also form half of the population, moving Bedouin into specific townships. As one Jewish colleague without Israeli nationality said, Israelis murmur that they have become the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv state; cognitively, the north and south remains to them barbarian territory. Palestinians have so far remained only 20 percent of Israel’s population because of the flow of Jewish immigration, but form almost 50 percent of the demographic profile of all Israel/Palestine.

The Israeli Arabs—an ideological term that denies indigenous Palestinian identity—are also nervous. “The fear really is that Israeli leadership and society have begun to show signs of accepting the idea that ‘we don’t want Palestinians’ in Israel,” Yazbek said, surveying the coast towards Lebanon from the top floor of a campus building on Mount Carmel. “The Palestinian historical experience says anything is possible. Before 1948 no one believed that the state of Israel could be established and the Palestinians would be made refugees. But the chaos that would ensue from a war with Iran could be exploited.” 

The Israeli Right has made great play of what they say is the Arab population’s increasing politicization during the last Intifada and the Gaza war, as if they could link with the Palestinians of the territories in arms against Jewish Israelis. But their activism has never gone beyond protests. As Rina Jabareen, International Advocacy Director of Haifa-based legal centre Adalah, says, the Arabs of Israel are not interested in armed struggle to create a new political reality in Israel, where they face systematic socio-economic discrimination, including aggressive colonisation around their towns with the aim of starving them of land and resources. “For Palestinians inside Israel to keep all of the struggle civil is an achievement. Black South Africans looked at armed struggle as key to liberation. That was a major part of their struggle. But that’s not on their agenda here at all,” she says.

Indeed, the Adalah centre has doggedly pursued the Israeli government in courts over discrimination that extends from the prominent such as housing and education benefits denied to Palestinians for not having served in the army—conscription is voluntary solely for Arab Muslims and Christians—to the petty, such as the denial of licences to Arab farmers to sell their eggs in supermarkets. Some Arab towns and quarters have even been sectioned off from Jewish immigrant neighbours, such as Lod which has its own concrete version of the West Bank Wall. The result has been the creation of two societies within one country, a prosperous new Israel backed by massive state largesse and an old Palestinian society, marginalised but surviving. The two remain inextricably tied, despite the best efforts to keep them apart. Courts have backed Palestinians seeking to find homes inside the new settlements (moshavim) in the Galilee and Negev, despite housing committees trying to keep them out. Upper Nazareth, a town set up in the 1950s for Jewish immigrants to offset the historical Palestinian town, now sees prosperous Palestinians moving in. Even in Jerusalem some Palestinians are seeking to move into the Jewish areas in the annexed East such as French Hill, and for perfectly mundane reasons—it’s cleaner and there are services.

The outlines are emerging of how the degradation and segregation of Arab areas may ultimately backfire, given the Palestinians’ refusal to leave. “I can buy a house in Tel Aviv but I can’t in a settlement in Galilee. Each Arab town has a settlement around it that stops it developing, so you have a demographic problem inside the town,” said Yazbek. “It could create an internal Intifada to demand living and housing rights.”

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Israel/Palestine today is a tense and claustrophobic. But what I sensed most of all was desperation—not so much the desperation of Palestinians in Gaza who suffered a war  that implied they were no more than human detritus in Israeli eyes, or the desperation of the isolated Palestinians in East Jerusalem resisting the pressure to leave, or the desperation of Palestinians in the Bantustans of the West Bank where they hope it’s not too late to patch together a state, or the desperation of the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as they battle racial discrimination and dark hints of a new ‘48. The desperation I felt was in Israeli society and the Zionist ideology driving it. Former army chief-of-staff Moshe Yaalon once said in 2002 that the Palestinians “must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people”.  Israel seems desperate because the Palestinians are not a defeated people, but remain a cultural, political and demographic reality throughout the de facto apartheid state of Israel/Palestine.

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Date: Monday, 11. July 2011 2:44
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