The Palestinians won’t go away
Every year, on May 15, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba (“the catastrophe”): the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and land. In 1948, more than 60 percent of the total Palestinian population was expelled. More than 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and destroyed. To date, Israel has prevented the return of approximately 6 million Palestinian refugees, who have either been expelled or displaced. Approximately 250,000 internally displaced Palestinian second-class citizens of Israel are prevented from returning to their homes and villages.
The 60th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel does not call for celebration, but for an honest assessment of the manner in which the state was created and its consequences. The creation of the state is the single event that led to ongoing hostility between Arabs and Israelis, led to the instability of the Middle East region, to a humanitarian crisis, and to the continuation of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that literally worsens by the hour 60 years later.
One of the most open secrets about Israel’s creation is its deliberate and systematic use of force to expel Palestinians from their lands. In fact, Jewish leaders spoke openly of the need to use military clashes to expel as many Palestinians as possible before other Arab countries could come to their defense. The Haganah militia’s Plan Dalet was the blueprint for this ethnic cleansing. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said, “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”
Sixty years later, Israel and Palestine are consumed in violence. Innocent Palestinians and Israelis are both dying in the conflict. The United States contributes to the violence by providing military aid. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza spirals out of control. The majority of Palestinians live in abject poverty.
Those populations remain vulnerable to extremist organizations. Israel continues collective punishment of the Palestinian population through the military occupation of Palestinian lands. This collective punishment includes home demolitions, expansion of illegal outposts and settlements, barrier walls, blocked access to medical care, checkpoints, and targeting of the civilian population by the Israeli army.
Celebrating Israel’s creation on Arab lands represents a questionable morality that renders theses celebrations unacceptable from any ethical perspective. First, they never mention the terrible fact that Israel came into being and is intrinsically linked to the dispossession of the indigenous Arab population who now comprise the world’s oldest and largest refugee population. This anniversary cannot be celebrated in a vacuum, but at a moment during which Israel is one of the states systematically violating the basic rules of international law, humanitarian law and human rights, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice.
The U.S. Congress erred when it recently passed a one-sided resolution that failed to address the entirety of what the creation of the state of Israel has meant to the very people that live there — Palestinians and Israelis. Instead, the United States should support a just and lasting peace between these communities by encouraging dialogue, diplomacy and the efforts of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to seek peace and justice with one another.
We are gravely concerned that President’s Bush’s visit to Israel will again ignore the other side of Israel’s creation; the agony of the Palestinian people, many of whom are now American citizens.
Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinian rights and unconditional U.S. financial and diplomatic support for Israel fuels anti-American sentiment abroad. A 2002 Zogby poll conducted in eight Arab countries showed that “the negative perception of the United States is based on American policies, not a dislike of the West.” The same poll showed that “the Palestinian issue was listed by many Arabs among the political issues that affect them most personally.”
Resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue would undoubtedly improve America’s international image by proving that the U.S. government supports the consistent application of international law.