June 5, 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which culminated in the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, among other transformations of regional politics. The post-1967 occupation and its consequences continue to structure the mainstream conversation about resolving the conflict between Israel the Palestinians, and those between Israel and other Arab states, even as scholarship increasingly poses the occupation as part of a longer-term and more multi-faceted question of Palestine. We asked several specialists to reflect on the past, present and future of the question of Palestine at this historical juncture.
The Politics of Hope: 1967 and Beyond
The last two years have marked an inventory of commemorations, some global and momentous, such as World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, and others specific and momentous—the Balfour Declaration, the Suez war and, of course, the six-day war of 1967.
The act of commemoration is never innocent. It requires a critical and cautious approach that reflects on continuity and rupture, ponders the past’s haunting of the present and envisions the future.
Envisioning futures in this present of the ascendancy of a global right and the celebration of stupidity is no small order. In the midst of an uprising-turned-civil war-turned international proxy war, foreign intervention, a new brand of vigilante Islamism, ongoing occupation and a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions—that is not today Palestinian but Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni—those of us who study the Middle East, or call it home, face a paralyzing landscape of despair.
I propose that we approach hope and despair not as enemies but as a troubled couple. In narrating this dialectic, in its Palestinian iteration, the story cannot begin in 1967. Of course, the ghost that must always haunt narration is 1948, the year of that twin birth: the Israeli state and the Palestinian refugee condition. The Palestinian need not conjure the ghost of 1948, as it is always present—in inherited memory, in experience, in the shaping of ways of being and understanding.
The legacies and living memory of 1967 are not specters of the same sort. They are more like zombies, the walking dead brought to life without speech or free will, feeding on our contemporary landscape and bleeding on our imaginations. 2017 is the fiftieth year of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The occupation is a half-century old. It is not temporary or incidental. It is structural.
What can a commemorative return to 1967 teach us about decolonization and the possibilities of a politics of hope?
In March, on the shores of the Dead Sea, under the auspices of King ‘Abdallah II of Jordan, the withered remains of another zombie, the Arab League, declared the imperative of restarting the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians so as to reach a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. The statement went on to say that it would be unacceptable to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Beyond an initial reaction of faint disgust, mixed with irritation at the repetitive strain of the gaping abyss between Arab regime rhetoric and Arab regime practice, we should see this statement as one place to think about the tenacious ubiquity, sometimes latent, sometimes explicit, of the 1967 defeat/zombie.
I want to think about the ruptures of 1967 briefly, and then plead that we un-think them. The six-day war was certainly a rupture in Palestinian and Arab time, land, power and politics. The most enduring and painful wound was to the land itself, as in a matter of hours Israel tripled its size and consolidated, in Guy Laron’s words, “a regional empire stretching from the banks of the Suez Canal in the west to the Jordan River in the east, and from Sharm al-Sheik, jutting deep into the Red Sea, to the snowy peaks of Mount Hermon, within sight of the suburbs of Damascus.” Historical Palestine was united once more, and under one state, the Israeli state that sought at all costs to overtake and deny Palestine as history, as present, as future. This return of territorial contiguity had the paradoxical effect of reuniting families across the open wounds of 1948. Children in Nazareth, who themselves were just emerging from a period of military rule, that constriction of mobility and freedom that Israel would neatly transpose onto the West Bank and Gaza, could suddenly experience the roads, sights and spaces of Nablus and Jenin. A network of long-lost uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters could now come together. It was a moment in which the Israeli government had sabotaged the imperative that informs policy and practice until today—to separate Palestinians from one another.
But the 1967 war did not rend the terrestrial plane alone. It also tore holes in the air; the quick destruction of the Arab air forces meant a looming, incessant Israeli presence in the sky. The ruptures would happen too in the realm of law, a realm of coloniality that has brought into being the categories of the human and non-human, as Samera Esmeir’s work has powerfully delineated.
The Balfour Declaration had initiated the erasure of the Palestinian as a named subject worthy of politics. UN Resolution 242 recuperated and repeated this erasure by conjuring a refugee problem that appeared as the result of a natural disaster rather than political design. At stake here, of course, is what successive Israeli governments have perfected in their self-representation as at once militarily superior and existentially threatened. More importantly, in 1967, the Israeli government would begin a treacherous itinerary through the terrain of international law. As Noura Erakat’s forthcoming book will show, Israeli governments sought at each turn to take the land of the West Bank and Gaza, without also acquiring the people living on it.
The six-day war also cemented a politics of deferral, a phenomenon historically in process since 1919, when the Covenant of the League of Nations divided the world into “advanced nations” and those peoples who were “not yet able to stand by themselves.” The 1967 war and UN Resolution 242 escalated this “not yet” condition—not yet ready, not yet worthy of self-rule, not yet free.
The Palestinian fedayeen would initially reject their erasure in the halls of international moral and political claims. And in this sense, historians, scholars and observers of Palestine and the Palestinians have identified, and perhaps overdetermined, the most positive shift of the 1967 war. We have learned that those six days marked the transformation of the Palestinian guerrilla from a passive actor dependent on and derivative of regional revolutionary projects into a central icon of a new global age of revolution. The parallels between and solidarities across Cuba, Vietnam, Algeria and the Black Power movement in the United States were exhilarating and everywhere to be seen. The imperative of armed struggle underwrote this ephemeral and deeply flawed era of revolution.
It was the famed battle of Karama that would provide the affective registers to narrate Palestine politically and visually. Art and the visual field were sites of intense struggle and contestation. The “cinema of the people” and the fedayeen’s film, documentary and photography cadres would use Karama as a representational tool. They created exhibits, in which, as revolutionary filmmaker Hani Jawhariyeh put it, “the Palestinian people saw themselves [for the first time] in images that spoke of their national cause and revolution.” Indeed, it was in these post-1967 and, importantly, 1968 moments that Jawhariyeh would explain “photography had become a new weapon in the Palestinian revolution.”
It was not long, however, before the Palestinians, too, would concede and begin the ostensibly realistic and ultimately devastating process of allowing the six-day war to set the terms of political action, and more devastating still, the limits of political imagination. The constriction of imagination is clearest in the Arab League’s implicit delineation of Israel and Palestine. Where are the borders that separate these two places? Is not Palestine the always-already underbelly of Israel?
The 1967 war brought into focus the two main dynamics that Laron’s recent work highlights— the deepening rule of the generals, on the one hand, and the growing disparities between the very wealthy and very poor, gaps to which the IMF played conspiratorial nurse, making prescriptions that simply served to aggravate the illness. It is this rule of the gun that is perhaps the most lasting regional legacy of the 1967 defeat. For it was after all in 1967 that military rulers would use all necessary means to contain dissent in the rapid and parallel processes of the erosion of standards of living and the increase of class inequality.
Because of all of these ruptures of 1967, we must think again, carefully and cautiously, about continuity. Elias Khoury, a poetic leader in the battle against the walking dead, recently asked at a conference titled “The Naksa Fifty Years Later”: Where are the Arab archives? This is a crucial question. Its answer can lead us once again to the condition of the present, the condition of the last 50 years, indeed the last century. That condition is the uneasy but steady marriage between Israeli settler-colonialism and Arab authoritarianism.
It is not coincidental that every Israeli invasion or attack on Palestine and/or the Palestinians since 1948 has targeted a Palestinian archive. The story of Khalil Sakakini’s daughters as they entered the Hebrew University library in Jerusalem just after 1967 to find their father’s books, with his handwriting in the margins, organized neatly on a shelf, is one example of many. The Israeli targeting of Palestinian archives is a state of siege, the evidence, should we have needed it, of an ongoing settler-colonial enterprise.
But the targeting and confiscation of archives work in multiple other ways. They constrain who has what academic freedom to tell which histories. The shards of the colonized archive in their locations in Israeli institutions and libraries are the very material conditions that determine who narrates the past, who writes history and who gets to don the warm robes of objectivity. As Mezna Qato warns us: “Our attention often focuses on the materials Israel has seized from Palestinians, but Israel holds documents belonging to Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon (at least). Most of that material remains classified. We only know of it because Israeli historians working in service of the state, or as part of military research, have published studies utilizing this material.”
To decolonize knowledge production, we must think critically and rigorously about archives, not simply as collections of documents but as what Ann Stoler has described as transparencies of power relations. And part of the task moving forward, in both scholarship and political work, is peeling away the transparencies, not the least of which are our inherited epistemologies and assumptions.
If art is the highest form of hope, we must look to art to navigate our attempts to decolonize. Here the production of knowledge at its optimal height must take creative forms. While the archives are locked away in the vaults of an ever tightening and resilient Arab authoritarianism, or held hostage by the equally tight and resilient enterprise of Israeli militarization and dominance, the search for other sources is a necessity. Indeed, this search is one crucial way to recover continuities and, in so doing, decolonize time.
We can and must find other sources and texts—oral accounts, pamphlets, declarations, speeches, literature, media—to tell the lost tales that the zombies obscure. There are many scholars who have led the way in this effort to transgress periodization: Frances Hasso on gender, sexuality and women’s movements; Shira Robinson on the experiences of the 1948 Palestinians as “citizen strangers”; Kimberly Katz on Jordanian Jerusalem; Mezna Qato on education and popular mobilization; and Leena Dallasheh on pre- and post-1948 Nazareth. We can follow these pioneers to think again and anew.
Perhaps, for example, we can begin the history of the fedayeen not in the 1960s, but the 1950s, the 1930s or indeed the nineteenth century. Perhaps, for another example, we can think again and anew about the central question of land in Palestine, and its inextricability from histories of global and regional capital, whether in the bantustans of the contemporary West Bank or the coastal strip and interior hinterlands of nineteenth-century Palestine. Perhaps we can think again and anew about the possibilities of internationalism and revolution, not just in the 1960s, but much earlier, before the nation-state paradigm became the only way to organize collective life and liberation. Here of course I am thinking of Ilham Makdisi’s seminal work, in which she de-exceptionalizes the intellectual history of the Middle East by narrating the significance of socialism among thinkers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The historian’s task, then, is to decolonize Palestinian and Arab periodization—to not begin and end in 1948, 1967 or 1993, but to transgress temporality and look beneath, across and beyond Israeli colonization as the way to understand history.
Perhaps these lessons can help us return, not to a space or a time, but to hope as a political act—an act that must continue in the face of death and failure, an act that must suspend the expectation of change and victory, an act that sees despair not as the opposite of hope but as its companion.
Sherene Seikaly is is associate professor of history at the University of California-Santa Barbara, editor of the Arab Studies Journal and co-founding editor of Jadaliyya.
The Pretense of Stasis
During a Labor Party meeting not long after the June 1967 war, Golda Meir turned to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, asking him: “What are we going to do with a million Arabs?”
Eshkol paused for a moment before he gave his answer. “I get it,” he said. “You want the dowry but you don’t like the bride!”
This anecdote underscores that, from the very beginning of the post-1967 occupation, Israel made a clear distinction between the land it had occupied—the dowry—and the Palestinians who inhabited it—the bride. This distinction swiftly became the logic informing the structure of Israel’s colonial project, while the mechanisms developed to expropriate Palestinian land and to manage the colonized inhabitants produced a series of contradictions that continue to shape the geopolitical reality between the Jordan Valley and Mediterranean Sea to this day.
Not surprisingly, the overarching contradiction is the one between geography and demography. Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land, its ongoing effort to confine the colonized residents in enclaves, and its policy of transferring hundreds of thousands of Jews to the West Bank and East Jerusalem have rendered the two-state solution increasingly untenable. The ongoing invocation of this solution by virtually every Western leader, as well as the Gulf states, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and even Hamas has become a chimera, which merely reinforces the status quo.
The status quo, however, cannot last forever. The de facto annexation of the West Bank may ultimately satisfy Israel’s territorial desires, but it has simultaneously produced a new reality that will be impossible to sustain in the long term. While this reality clearly involves the changing demographic balance, its ramifications are undoubtedly political.
Currently there are about 6.5 million Jews between the valley and the sea. Within the same territory there are 6.2 million Palestinians—both Muslim and Christian—and about 400,000 non-Arab Christians, members of other religions or people of no religion, as well as more than 180,000 foreign nationals. The territory over which Israel has effective control does not have a Jewish majority. These facts suggest that the drive to expand does not sit well with Zionism’s ethno-demographic reasoning and produces, in Israel’s own eyes, an existential threat.
Moreover, there is only one real sovereign in the territories Israel captured in 1967 (excluding the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt). And within this territory two legal systems operate simultaneously—one for Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens and the other for the occupied Palestinian inhabitants—indicating that this sovereign entity should legally be characterized as an apartheid regime. It is undoubtedly different from South Africa’s apartheid, but then Italy and the US are also different from each other even though both are considered liberal democracies. Apartheid clearly operates differently in diverse historical, demographic and geographical settings, yet it still retains its fundamental characteristic—a legal system of racial segregation, oppression and dispossession.
Paradoxically, the Israeli right—as opposed to liberal Zionists—recognizes this reality and so it is exhorting the political center to abandon the two-state paradigm. The right’s immediate objective is to transform the de facto annexation of the West Bank into a de jure one, and while its strategies for warding off the “Palestinian demographic threat” are opaque, two major ideas have been percolating in Israel.
The first is the Jordan option, which asserts that Jordan is the real Palestinian state and accordingly suggests that the Palestinian population should be transferred to the East Bank of the river. The second invokes former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s “Palestinian autonomy” script, whereby the Palestinians live in West Bank enclaves and are responsible for their own health care, education and other public services, like collecting the garbage. This idea, too, has a precedent—in South Africa, they called these enclaves bantustans.
Thus, though none of them clearly says so, the future envisioned by Israel’s current political elite is either one of widespread expulsion or fortification of an apartheid regime.
But the abandonment of the two-state paradigm also has the potential to bring about a new and long overdue debate. A one-state paradigm would allow for the avowal of history, namely the idea that the conflict did not begin in 1967 but rather at the turn of the nineteenth century, even before the Palestinian nakba and Israel’s independence in 1948. Only when history is acknowledged and confronted can the injustices of the past be genuinely addressed and a viable solution forged.
Unfortunately, instead of facing up to history the Israeli government has introduced a spate of draconian laws, policies and regulations while launching incitement campaigns against the Palestinian citizens of Israel and, increasingly, against Jewish liberals as well. Indeed, the governing strategies developed and deployed by Israel in the occupied areas are currently colonizing the Jewish state. The fact that the colonial leviathan is finally recoiling inward, instituting the apartheid logic inside the pre-1967 borders, is perhaps most obvious in the Israeli Negev, where the state has intensified its campaign against the indigenous Bedouin population.
Umm al-Hiran, a village of Bedouin citizens destined to be destroyed and replaced by a Jewish settlement called Hiran, is the clearest example. Just a few kilometers from the village, about 30 religious Jewish families live in a makeshift gated community, waiting patiently for the government to expel the Bedouin families from their homes. During a recent visit to this Jewish community, I saw houses scattered around a playground and a pleasant kindergarten with joyous paintings on the exterior wall. Needless to say, the bucolic setting was both surrealistic and unnerving considering the coming violence that underlies it. Ironically, the people who are destined to dispossess the residents of Umm al-Hiran are West Bank settlers who have returned to Israel to colonize Bedouin land.
Surely the chickens have come home to roost. Yet as the settlers seize the dowry from the bride they are assisting the government in the entrenchment of its apartheid regime, while simultaneously undermining the pretense of stasis, thus sowing dragon’s teeth for the future.
Neve Gordon is author of Israel’s Occupation (California). A longer version of this piece appeared in The Nation.
Threatening Us Here and There
The dangerous antics of President Donald Trump have prompted a range of responses from those who disagree with the extremism of his regime and its far-right assaults upon democratic principles. The quadrupling of the ACLU membership, the spontaneous demonstrations at US airports in response to the so-called Muslim ban, and the participation of some 4 million people (in the United States alone) in the Women’s March on January 21 are just a few indications of the alarm of US citizens at what is going on. Some of these people have been surprised to learn that the infringement on, for example, immigrants’ freedoms under Trump is just an intensification of policies in effect during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Even less well known is how the misogynist class and race war that the Trump regime is pursuing against women, the poor and the non-white in the US is materially and ideologically intertwined with Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial war against the Palestinians. And much less publicly discussed is how this partnership with Israel is also an intensification of what has gone before. It is time for the outraged liberals digging into their pockets for the ACLU and other worthy non-profits to connect the dots and direct their anger internationally, too.
Some parts of the picture have long been clear. The US facilitation of Israel’s colonialism is well documented by historians and other scholars. The American government’s support of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem that began in 1967 is an extension of its deep complicity in the settler-colonial takeover of Palestine by the Zionist movement and the continued development of the settlement project by Israel since that state’s establishment in 1948. Trump’s appointment of bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, a donor to Israeli settlements and an opponent of Palestinian statehood, as US ambassador to Israel is one symbol of the uninterrupted intentions of the US political class to encourage the systematic Israeli violation of international humanitarian and human rights law that are endemic to the occupation. It is an occupation, as Israeli historian Avi Shlaim explains, that has “very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism.” Israel can thrive within the status quo, without peace with the Palestinians, while it gobbles up more and more Palestinian land. Throughout the long history of American connivance with Israel, Palestinians have suffered every kind of deprivation, abuse and indignity. And these two regimes are increasingly turning on their own citizens to keep the deal going.
What threatens the values of freedom, rights and democracy—what threatens us here in the US—is what threatens Palestinians living under long-term military occupation, as well as the few Israelis who try to defend them. The “repertoires of the far right” that “set the tone” for Israel’s policies, as David Shulman described it, come from the same songbook that Trump and his ilk are singing from. The attempts to intimidate those who dare dissent from the government line, the laws for crushing protest and threatening civil society, are mirrored here and there. The supporters of Trump decry protesters as paid liberal agitators. Hear the echoes in the Netanyahu government campaign against Israeli human rights and other opposition groups such as Breaking the Silence for accepting foreign funds. Here and there see the arrests of protesters, the legislation aimed at deterring peaceful demonstrations, the surveillance of activists and criminalization of speech on social media in order to crush dissent. Neither regime hesitates to violate the rights of its own citizens. Both turn on anyone who dares to object.
The racism that is at the heart of the US and Israeli security systems, and the training and tools shared between the two countries’ militarized police forces, fuel the shoot-to-kill actions of officers in both places. That is what leads to the murders of children like Trevon Johnson (one of 400 or more people killed by police in the US so far in 2017) and 16-year old Fatimah Hjeiji in occupied East Jerusalem. Very few are ever held accountable for these extrajudicial killings, and officials in both countries encourage the impunity. When citizens in both countries object to the deplorable attitudes of their “leaders” and the actions of police forces, their protest is criminalized.
The ruling classes of Israel and the US are two peas in a pod, goading their supporters into enacting their racist-nationalist populism in ever more violent ways. The increase in the number of hate crimes across the US since Trump’s election is just one manifestation. Trump’s late May visit to Israel and the region showed how he and Netanyahu stoke fear of terrorism among the population in order to have excuses for various actions that do little but increase the funds available for destruction and repression. Claiming that terrorism is the world’s largest challenge, Trump and Netanyahu stepped up the rhetoric against Iran, and found in fear of terrorism an excuse for engorging defense budgets, and in Trump’s case, sealing massive arms deals with Saudi Arabia, one of the most regressive, authoritarian regimes around today. Anyone who is shocked by or afraid of what the Trump regime has unleashed in the US may be getting a small sense of what Palestinians have been contending with during five decades of life under occupation.
Fortunately, many US citizens can see through the false justifications of the political elite. They see the ideological and material connections between what is threatening their values and lives in the US and what is maintaining Israel’s military occupation and its systemic discrimination of Palestinian citizens of Israel. There is a generational shift among Jewish Americans, with younger Jews especially becoming more able to speak out critically against Israel’s claims to act in their name, people no longer willing to defend Israel’s actions at any moral or material cost. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Birthright Unplugged and Open Hillel provide hope that the blind consensus of the US political and Jewish leadership can be shifted. Also offering hope is the growing movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), which has the backing of these Jewish groups, in addition to the endorsement of many academic associations, unions and church groups, as well as Black Lives Matter and associated organizations fighting for racial justice in the US. As more people recognize that they live under connected regimes of oppression, that they share liberatory goals, they can combine their energies and resources, learn from their diverse experiences and analyses, and work collectively to change these systems that keep us all down.
Lori Allen is senior lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at SOAS University of London.
How to End the 1967 Israeli Colonial Occupation
As we mark the anniversaries of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian nakba, the Israeli occupation, the Oslo accords and the intra-Palestinian divide, the realities on the ground get worse, the ramifications of these tragic events become more entrenched, and justice and peace recede further and further into the distance. Given these political trajectories, and the new global, regional and local orders, a discussion of how to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 might appear odd to some.
Yet such qualms must be categorically rejected, for ending the post-1967 occupation is the most appropriate way to “celebrate” its fiftieth anniversary. Ending the occupation is neither an ideological fantasy nor a nationalist aspiration. It is a duty on the part of the international community, and a commitment the nations of the world are obliged to fulfill under international law.
To answer the question of how to end the occupation, it is crucial first to answer the question of why this illegal occupation has been perpetuated over the decades. There are seven major reasons why. Only when we reverse these conditions will justice and rights will be closer to realization.
Firstly, and fundamentally, the occupation has lasted until today because its root causes were (and still are) left unaddressed, namely the 1948 ethnic cleansing of historical Palestine and the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians. Unless these causes are addressed, the occupation will continue.
Secondly, by design and definition, peace and colonization are incompatible paths, even if they may run in parallel. Imposing peace under colonial occupation—instead of engaging in decolonization—only distorts the basic meaning and value of peace. It turns peace into a mere security arrangement on behalf of the occupier.
Thirdly, when the occupier is protected by a one-sided “peace process” and also is let off the hook with regard to the root causes, the greed and brutality of the occupation and the system of apartheid will simply grow, particularly when nurtured by increasingly racist and violent Israeli governments.
Yet it is not only Israel that is to blame for the continuation of the occupation. Upon its establishment in 1994, the Palestinian Authority (PA), or at least its leadership, accepted a subcontractor role in the occupation. Subcontracting repression made the Israeli occupation cheaper and sustainable.
Fifthly, the occupation was further entrenched by the deep horizontal and vertical schisms in the Palestinian national movement. The absence of strategic Palestinian cohesion was detrimental to the effectiveness and endurance of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.
The sixth element in the equation is the complicit international community. To assuage its guilt, the international community has “invested” more than $30 billion of aid in the Occupied Territories to bring about peace and development. In the absence of peace and development, aid essentially functioned as a subsidy to the Israeli occupation, making its costs even more bearable.
And lastly, the failure of these financial and economic tools was accompanied by an enormous political failure as international diplomacy remained controlled by the United States, and as the international governance systems and institutions, primarily the United Nations, moved from one deficiency to another.
The reversal of these seven conditions would pave the way for an end to the Israeli occupation. More concretely, to answer the question of how to end the Israeli occupation, there is an urgent need to reinvent the global governance systems and institutions to become more effective and accountable. Israel-Palestine provides the best case study for assessing the efficacy, relevance and responsiveness of global governance frameworks and structures. That reinvention must bring about new accountability mechanisms for the donor community in the Occupied Territories. Business as usual cannot be the mantra any longer.
As for the Israelis, they need to recognize the existence of the illegal occupation and burst the well-sealed bubble in which they live; to address the notion of God’s chosen people and its implications of supremacy; and to tackle the exaggerated security phobias in which they are imprisoning themselves. In undertaking these tasks, justice and equality for all—and therefore meaningful peace—can draw closer.
As for the Palestinians, they need to end their vertical and horizontal fragmentation; to reinvent their political system, institutions, representative bodies and leadership; and to construct the pillars for a culture of debate that allow them to strategize for the future. In addition, Palestinians need to move beyond the Fatah-Hamas binary and reconfigure the duties and responsibilities of the PA, especially its security forces. These actions must be accompanied by a narrative and discursive shift, which is more urgent today than ever, but can only be realized with a new Palestinian intellectual leadership. Without such serious engagement, Palestinians will trap themselves in cycles of oppression and injustice resulting from the continuation of the Israeli colonial occupation.
In a nutshell, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community should stop talking about peace and one- and two-state solutions. These concepts are irrelevant. Ending the occupation is the only thing that matters, as it is a prerequisite for any future solution.
This is not a postcard from the future or a letter written by an astrologer from a different galaxy. It is simply a call to abandon the fake parties—the “peace process,” pursuit of statehood or quasi-sovereignty under occupation, one- or two-state solutions, the quest for greater Israel—and instead join the real party. This party, when celebrated, will bring peace and justice to millions of people spread all over the world. And the time for that real party is now.
Alaa Tartir is program director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a post-doctoral fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and a visiting research fellow at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
Tel Aviv, 1996
I was in the home of my beloved aunt Frania, my mother’s sister. Frania and my mother, Taube, survived the Holocaust and during seven years of horrific incarceration, including in Auschwitz, managed, miraculously, to stay together. There were many stories but the most recurrent and agonizing centered on hunger, unimaginable hunger. This hollowness translated into Frania having a powerful need to husband bread in her home at all times. We used to eat bread and butter for dessert with a cup of coffee.
On this particular day, something happened that had never happened before: Frania ran out of bread. I was standing in her kitchen while she was preparing breakfast. She opened the bin on her kitchen counter where she kept fresh bread and found only a few slices. She then opened her freezer, expecting to find at least two loaves, but found none. For a moment, she stood motionless in front of the open freezer, trying to process the want she had long ago defeated. She closed the freezer door slowly and turned to me with a look of controlled panic in her eyes. She began to tremble. Hugging her tightly, my eyes welling with tears, I promised to run out immediately and buy her bread. There was a big supermarket literally two blocks from her apartment in one of Tel Aviv’s busiest shopping areas. But, of course, the abundance of food just yards from her home could not, for those few unbearable moments, mitigate her pain and her fear. Even after I ran home with a bag filled with bread, she remained apprehensive and uncertain.
It was my last day in Gaza after an intensive week of work. I was in a UN bus heading to the Erez crossing point with several UNRWA employees. We were driving along one of Gaza City’s main commercial streets. The bus stopped at a red light at a busy intersection. I was staring out the window and noticed below me, in a parallel lane, an old man in a car. He held some pita bread in his hand and was attempting to make a sandwich with some other kind of food.
Suddenly the old man looked up from his sandwich and motioned to a young boy who was about 11 or 12 years old. The boy was standing on the sidewalk, peddling packs of cigarettes he carried in a wooden tray that was clearly too big for his small frame. The young boy approached the old man and they spoke briefly. I assumed the old man was going to buy a pack of cigarettes but instead the young boy handed him two individual cigarettes, which appeared to be all he could afford. The old man paid the boy and then, in a gesture that the youngster did not expect, the man threw half of his pita sandwich into the cigarette tray. The child hurried off and I kept staring at the old man thinking about his simple act of kindness. As our bus began to move, I looked up and saw the young boy standing at the corner of the intersection ravenously eating his half of the pita bread. He ate with a hunger that startled me.
When I was asked to write this reflection on a half-century of Israeli occupation, these are the stories—one distant, one recent—that kept coming to my mind, insisting to be heard. Bread. Hunger. Deprivation. Without equating their experiences or suffering, my aunt and the little boy in Gaza are linked to each other not only by the occupation but also by what it has wrought after 50 years of denial. Is it not policy-driven hunger and want—so far removed from settlement freezes and land swaps—more than anything else that binds Palestinians to Jews? And such deprivation is not just about hunger; it is also about place and the certainty of that place, which was never fully resolved for Frania or for the Palestinian boy.
What constitutes an acceptable response to such visceral deprivation? It must begin with what I, as a Jew, have been told I must never do: Claim a relationship between my aunt and the child in Gaza, embracing that child as part of our moral universe. Despite the variance in their lives, each of them deserve and require the same ethical and principled response to their shared humanity, a response the occupation has, from its inception, demanded we reject.
Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University.