Continuing Conflict – Ramallah

Raja Shehadeh’s book When the Birds Stopped Singing was a pointed, passionate and heart-breaking book yet I found it incredibly informative about the perspectives of everyday Palestinians facing the aggression of the Israeli military and leadership.  It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to live in a literal war zone, with tanks driving by my house, hearing shelling and shooting around my neighborhood and not being allowed to leave my house except for a few hours every few days.  On top of that, I cannot imagine being separated from my spouse due to roadblocks and having to face the crisis alone.  Yet all of these things and more happened to Shehadeh and his friends and family during the 2002 siege and occupation of Ramallah.

 

The theme that I found the most alarming throughout the entire book from the original takeover to the withdrawal with continued occupation was the idea that Israeli soldiers, by way of Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Sharon considered all Palestinians to be terrorists.[1]  By constant dehumanization efforts which taught that all Palestinians, civilian, resistance or otherwise were capable of committing acts of terror against the Israeli Jews, the army was able to commit atrocities without pausing to recognize them for what they were – acts of terror in response to acts of terror.[2]  This is further highlighted by an incident described a few pages later – a woman was shot simply for hanging her laundry outside to dry – yet the Israeli soldiers shown on television were victorious over the enemy and proud of their victory – something to which the author stated they should feel shame for such actions – certainly not pride.[3]

The anger, discrimination and violence depicted in this book is almost unfathomable to me.  I know it happens all over the world, but it boggles my mind.  I cannot imagine a scenario in which driving a bulldozer through someone’s house while they’re still in it would ever be deemed acceptable.[4]   Worse than that, even, refusing to allow humanitarian and/or medical personal into the area to search for and rescue survivors is repugnant.[5]  To occupy an area without making special provisions for those in medical need just because you have the power to do so, while still claiming moral superiority is a contradiction of the highest order.[6]  Regardless of whether these actions are born out of hatred, fear, self-justifying beliefs or righteous indignation/vindication, these actions are based on the principle of might makes right.  Should things continue in this path, I do not see the war between Israel and her displaced, oppressed Palestinian neighbors ending any time in the foreseeable future, although Israel seems determined to either drive them out of their remaining slivers of land by force or eliminating the Palestinian people entirely.

[1] Raja Shehadeh, When the Birds Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege, (Hanover: Steerforth Press, 2003), 84.

[2] Shehadeh, 84.

[3] Shehadeh, 88-89.

[4] Shehadeh, 116.

[5] Shehadeh, 116.

[6] Shehadeh, 95.

Advertisements

The Failure of the Oslo Accords of 1993

Any peace negotiation is entirely contingent on how willing each side is to compromise, negotiate and to follow through on their agreements.  In those terms, it seems that the Oslo Accord of 1993 was doomed to fail almost before it started.  From the very beginning, Prime Minister Netanyahu (who followed Yitzak Rabin who negotiated the Oslo Accord) was determined and even built a political platform on preventing the agreements negotiated in the accords from taking place at practically any cost.[1]  Even the exchange of recognition letters between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were slanted, and clearly showed bias towards Israel.  Yasir Arafat, representing the PLO, had to recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist and to renounce terrorist activities perpetrated on the Palestinian side.[2]  In exchange, however, Israel did not have to recognize the Palestinian right of independence or of self-determination.[3]  In addition, although a Palestinian civil authority would be established, its authority was overridden by Israel’s military authority.[4]

One of the key points of contention, however, was the city of Jerusalem – particularly East Jerusalem.  Israel claimed Jerusalem as its capital, and the Palestinians wanted East Jerusalem – the home of the Dome of The Rock – to be the capital of the future Palestinian State.[5]  When Israel annexed all of Jerusalem in the war of 1967, it immediately began building settlements, destroying Palestinian settlements there and expanding the sphere of influence of Jerusalem proper for an additional 105 kilometers.[6]  Yitzak Rabin sought to consolidate the territory Israel wished to keep permanently prior to the accord being implemented, making at least part of the implementation not only impractical, but impossible as well.[7]

Given the duplicitousness of Israeli government leaders, and the relatively powerless Palestinian leadership to do anything about it, the Oslo Accords of 1993 could not possibly have been put into practice or enforced, at least not as a whole.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 435.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 436.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 436.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 437.

[5] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 439.

[6] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 439.

[7] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 440.

Israeli Politics – In the Land of Israel

If one thing can be made clear from the book In the Land of Israel, it is that the people of Israel are divided on issues of politics, with opinions, support and political affiliations all over the board, depending on the person, the area, past experiences and hope for the future.  What was surprising to me, given the circumstances was the fact that the Palestinians interviewed who are living in Israel are divided as well.  Opinions, loyalties and beliefs are all over the place in this work, and seeing the differences in opinion from a single region of the world was refreshing and incredibly enlightening when it comes to the Arab Israeli conflict over the same piece of land.  In Jerusalem’s Geulah quarter, for example, Zionism is dead, and viewed as a disaster by the Orthodox.[1]  Contrary to the dawning of a new age with the establishment of statehood, in this neighborhood, Statehood has simply reestablished a return to the past, and not in a positive way.[2]  This view supports a compromise with the Palestinian Arabs and a return to peace apart from the continual state of conflict that independence and statehood brought with it.[3]

In the settlement of Bet Shemesh, by contrast, young men view the Arab outrage over their displacement with disgust, as well as the Labor party.[4]  The Arabs are given jobs, education and development throughout the settlements and the only reason they are unhappy with their conditions is because someone told them that they should expect better.[5]  Without that external influence, they would be content and obedient to the laws of the State of Israel.[6]  In addition to that, they argue that there are dozens of Arab countries in the Middle East and world-wide – what could be so wrong about the Jews wanting a homeland of their own in the land of Israel, and why would the Arabs want to take that away from the minority Jewish people?[7]  These sentiments are also articulated by Menachem in Tekoa – going still further that if as many Arabs are eliminated as possible, the rest of them might recognize how well they had it and be content with what they’ve been given.[8]  For Menachem in Tekoa, stopping the fighting in the 6 days war was an error in judgement, and Israel should have pressed on in order to achieve total victory and to settle the conflict once and for all.[9]

The voices reflected in this book may not be reflective of all of Israeli society as the author himself notes in the beginning of the work, but there is a clear cross-section of both Jewish and Arabic residents.  It’s clear that the country is divided over the peace process, potential compromises and their views on their Arab neighbors.  The fact that neither side can agree on a direction moving forward makes negotiations with their neighbors and the potential for a fair and lasting peace far more difficult.

[1] Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel (Orlando: Harcourt Inc, 1983), 13.

[2] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 19.

[3] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 19.

[4] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 41.

[5] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 42.

[6] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 42.

[7] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 43.

[8] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 59.

[9] Oz, In the Land of Israel, 60.

Differing Objectives

After the first Gulf crisis, Secretary of State James Baker renewed his efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute in 1991.[1]  The framework for settlements between Israel and their neighboring Arab Nation states had previously gained traction with Israeli assistance to Lebanon, as well as talks between Anwar al-Sadad of Egypt and Menachen Begin of Israel at Camp David in 1978, but had been stalled due to lingering disagreements, semantic disputes and continued violence in the region.[2]  Arab States including Syria desired negotiations with Israel overseen by both the United States and the Soviet Union, specifically for the return of the Golen Heights.[3]  PLO representatives were not allowed to attend the meetings, but Palestinian individuals abroad and from the territories were allowed to attend as part of the Jordanian delegation.[4]  At the Madrid Conference between the years of 1991 and 1993, Israel met with delegates from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan (including Palestinians).[5]  As terrorism, retaliation and increasing violence continued on the West Bank and the Gaza strip especially, groups like the Islamic Jihad and Hamas formed under the outrage of the Intifada.[6]  These groups maintained the position that peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors was not possible, only armed resistance could free Palestine, where – instead of the secular democratic state advocated by the PLO – an Islamic state could be established in Israel’s place.[7]  The insistence of an Islamic holy war to destroy Israel and to begin an Islamic state advocated by Hamas put them at odds with Arab Nation states who still desired to negotiate peace agreements that acknowledged and recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and put them at odds with the PLO, which had almost moved to obscurity.[8]

[1] Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 417.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 352.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 417.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 418.

[5] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 419.

[6] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 403.

[7] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 405.

[8] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 410.

Political Institutions and the 1967 War

A lot of politics both regionally and international were taking place behind the scenes and out in the open, which led to the war of 1967.  Primarily, the Israeli government considered itself surrounded by hostile forces, and was bound and determined to defend itself against any perceived threats to her sovereignty and her independence.[1]  Backing Israel and competing in global cold-war politics was the United States, seeking to give Israel weapons and military defenses to help arm her against the surrounding threats and antagonistic political climate.[2]  The USSR, conversely, supported key Arab states, namely Egypt, providing defensive weapons systems in preparation for an armed conflict that would escalate into a potential global war.[3]

Undermining all efforts for a possible peace agreement, the political and ideological organization Al-Fatah and their military arm Al-Asifa were actively trying to spark the war that almost everybody else was trying to avoid.[4]  Their incursions into Israeli held territory under their mission of liberating Palestine and returning it to the Palestinian Arabs and creating a secular democratic state was backed by Syria.[5]  Al-Fatah aimed primarily to inflict terror on the Israeli populace and its government, deliberately targeting civilians and aiming in the open to draw the region into armed conflict.[6]  All of these key players factored in to the outbreak of violence in 1967.  Israel was determined to defend herself against any potential threats, and wanted to desperately assert her military superiority over her Arab neighbors, seeking above anything else to prove that she was capable of defending herself and should be acknowledged as an independent nation that had the right to exist.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Al-Fatah and the PLO wanted to reclaim their homeland from Israel, who they viewed as colonial occupiers.  Their primary goal was to free Palestine from Zionist radicalism and return to the land that they considered home.  Backing Israel in her determination was the United States.  Backing the Arab nations like Egypt, the USSR was providing weapons and support, bringing cold war politics to the conflict in the Middle East.  It was a hotbed of violent potential that sparked into the six day war of 1967, which humiliated Egypt, left more Palestinian Arabs homeless and removed from their homes and towns and left Israel with more land than they had when the dust settled from the war in 1948.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 273.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 276.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 277.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 278.

[5] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 278.

[6] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 279.

Palestine Post WWII

Once WWII had ended and was followed quickly by the war of 1948 which granted independence to the Jews and the formation of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict truly began in earnest.  In the war of 1948, Israel had dominated its Arab neighbors and reclaimed much of the territory that the Jews believed was theirs through divine mandate.  This led to understandable and reasonable objections from the surrounding Arab nations, and even more understandable conflicts between the Jews and their former Palestinian Arab neighbors.  Many Arabs living in Palestine prior to the war of 1948 had fled their homes when war broke out, reasonably so.  Many others were removed by force.  Once the dust had settled, however, Palestinian Arabs believed they had the right to return to their homes and villages – a right that the Jewish State of Israel flat out denied.[1]  The Jewish leaders of Israel framed their rejection of that right in terms of national security – despite the official designation of Israeli citizens, all Palestinian Arabs were considered to be potential subversives by the State.[2]  The State of Israel retained the right to move remaining Arabs off of their land by force, despite their lawfulness, and entire villages were moved or destroyed by the military.[3]  Israel believed that these now-refugees should be embraced and welcomed into the surrounding Arab countries, but although they received sympathy from Arabic neighbors, they were also viewed with suspicion and most of them were denied citizenship in their new countries of residence.[4]  This, rightfully, created contention between the Jews and their Arab neighbors, both of whom believed they had a right to the land that they had once called home.

The second post-WWII source of conflict over Palestine was Israel’s new position of extreme aggression – even provocation – of their neighboring Arab countries, much to the chagrin of European powers like Britain and the United States.  Known as Ben-Gurionist Activism, the Jews believed mandate Britain was obligated to help them establish their rights and independence.[5]  When that failed to happen, Ben-Gurion believed that they had to be confronted both diplomatically and militarily to ensure the establishment and maintenance of Jewish rights.[6]  This activism also assumed that the only discourse the Palestinian Arabs would understand would be military strength.[7]  Any hint of resistance or hostility had to be met and challenged head-on to demonstrate to the Arab states (and to the rest of the world at large) that Israel would not tolerate anything that threatened either its security or its sovereignty.[8]

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2017): 222.

[2] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 222.

[3] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 222.

[4] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 223.

[5] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226.

[6] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226

[7] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226.

[8] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226.

The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Palestine Partition Proposition

From the beginning of the British mandate in Palestine following WWI, tensions between the growing Jewish population in Palestine and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs in the region had continued to grow.  The Arabs of Palestine distrusted the British mandate officials, in large part due to their perceived favoritism towards the Zionist claims for a Jewish national home which was sparked by the Balfour Declaration of 1922.[1]  In the aftermath of the Arab revolt of 1936, the Peel Commission was formed to understand and investigate the underlying motives behind Arab resistance to both the Jews and the British Mandate.[2]  The conclusions of the Peel Commission Report and the idea of a partition of two independent states was a last-ditch effort by mandate Britain to attempt a lasting peace between the Jewish and Arab communities, although it was doomed to fail even before its findings were published.

The Peel Commission of 1937 was tasked with two important objectives – to get to the bottom of the causes of tension between the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine and to make recommendations of how that tension could be equitably resolved.[3]  At the outset of the published report, the commission acknowledged the seriousness of their charge, indicating that “no other problem of our time is rooted so deeply in the past,” referencing the historical claim to Palestine shared by Jews and Arabs alike.[4]  The commission also admitted that promises made to both sides in the duration of WWI which led to the mandate of Palestine had given both Arabs and Jews of Palestine expectations that had not been fulfilled satisfactorily.[5]  Neither community had any interest in working together to create or maintain a single state in the region, nor were both willing to reconcile and work together for the formation of a national identity.[6]  Given that, the ultimate recommendation of the Peel report was a revolutionary one that would pave the way for all future reconciliation attempts in Palestine going forward.[7]

In the interest of peace, the commission recommended a partition plan for Palestine, which created two separate and independent states: one for the Arabs and one for the Jews.  Although seemingly equitable from a current viewpoint, the partition becomes less-so when viewed through the lens of Arab sentiments contemporary with the report, the division of land given the demographics or the time and the way that the land was to be divided.[8]  In addition, the Peel Commission recommendation did not allow for the creation of a third separate state for Palestinian Arabs – rather the division would make the Arab section of the partition a part of Jordan, since historically the region had been encompassed by the Southern Syrian Empire.[9]  This would mean that the Arabs living in Palestine would forgo their growing national identity and become absorbed by the Jordan Emirate.[10]  For the Arab community in Palestine, this compromise was untenable.  While other Arab populations in the Middle East were gaining autonomy and independence from colonial interference, those in Palestine viewed the potential of Jewish State as a takeover of their homeland by a foreign (and often hostile) people.[11]

While ultimately rejected as impractical, the Peel Commission Report viewed their recommendations as the only available method to creating lasting peace in a region torn apart by dueling national identities by two distinctly different cultures that could not – or would not – see eye to eye.  There would be no compromise possible amidst the growing tensions of a region where both communities had a valid and historical claim to the same homeland, especially in light of perceived Western interference in Middle Eastern affairs.  Where Palestinian Arabs rightly viewed themselves as capable of independence and self-governance based on a long-standing presence in the region dating back to the 7th century.  On the other hand, Jews had a historical claim to the land that they believed was given to them by God himself, a claim that even many Muslims acknowledged openly.[12]  The unfortunate truth was that both communities shared claim to the same territory, and neither were willing to accept a lesser portion of that claim than they believed they deserved – namely all of Palestine.  Anything short of the entire land of Palestine would be unacceptable to Arabs and Jews alike, making the Peel Commission recommendations doomed to fail almost before they could be published.    Although the commission report ended on a hopeful note, stating that “if it offers neither party all it wants, it offers each what it wants most, namely freedom and security,” and it was most likely the only possible solution for peace, it fell short of the goal and was rejected by both sides.[13]  Instead of easing inherent tensions between the two opposing sides, the idea of partition sparked new ones, which put Jews, Arabs and British mandate powers simultaneously at risk for growing violence in the region going forward.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bartal, Shaul.  “The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Origins of the Partition Concept.”  Jewish Political Studies Review 28, no. 1/2 (Spring 2017): 51-70.

 

Gill, Natasha.  “The Original ‘No’: Why the Arabs Rejected Zionism, and Why it Matters.”  Middle East Policy Council. Accessed March 10, 2018http://www.mepc.org/commentary/original-no-why-arabs-rejected-zionism-and-why-it-matters.

 

Jewish Virtual Library.  “British Palestinian Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report.”  July 1937.  Accessed March 18, 2018.  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-peel-commission-report.

 

Smith, Charles D.  Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 129.

[2] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 134.

[3] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Origins of the Partition Concept,” Jewish Political Studies Review 28, no. 1/2 (Spring 2017): 52.

[4] “British Palestinian Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report,” July 1937, Jewish Virtual Library, accessed March 18, 2018, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-peel-commission-report

[5] “British Palestinian Mandate Text of the Peel Commission Report.”

[6] “Palestinian Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report.”

[7] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 57.

[8] Natasha Gill, “The Original ‘No’: Why the Arabs Rejected Zionism, and Why it Matters,” Middle East Policy Council, accessed March 10, 2018, http://www.mepc.org/commentary/original-no-why-arabs-rejected-zionism-and-why-it-matters.

[9] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 57.

[10] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 57.

[11] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 58.

[12] Charles D. Smith, “Palestine and the Arab Israeli Conflict,” 134.

[13] “Palestinian Mandate: The Text of the Peel Commission Report.”