Friday, 30 November 2012

Palestine, the UN and Rank Hypocrisy

On November 29th 1947, United Nations Resolution181 declared the separation of the British Mandate of Palestine into an ‘Arab’ state, a Jewish state and Jerusalem (an international city).
On the 65th anniversary of this day the United Nations met again; this time to acknowledge the state of Palestine.  Today’s article argues that the US, Israel and their few friends have, for decades, thwarted the will of the world that two states, Israel and Palestine exist.  They have instead maintained their disingenuous ‘roadmap for peace’, which has served only to legitimise and perpetuate the dissolution and destruction of Palestine – and that our one way out, is through the peacemakers inside Israel.

Why Are Palestine at the UN?

In short, the Palestinians have been attempting (since before Israel even happened) to attain acknowledgement of their own statehood and rights to autonomy and self determination.  Their beautiful country has been passed between the Ottoman Empire, the British and is now occupied by the state of Israel, and has been for over forty years.

Just six months after the declaration of the state of Israel, the UN resolutions against Israel’s treatment of Palestine and Palestinian began.  Resolution 212 – Assistance for Palestinian Refugees was created after the mediator to Palestine found the exodus of Palestinians in areas now deemed Israeli created a humanitarian crisis.  His comments were direct in his report which stated that for the UN “the choice is between saving the lives of many thousands of people now, or permitting them to die”.  He goes on to state in his report that “the alleviation of starvation and distress amongst the Palestine refugees is one of the minimum conditions for the success of efforts to bring peace to that Land”.  Important to note this statement was made in 1948, and what has changed for the better since?  Generations of Palestinians have gone through the same treatment in an ever tightening leash of Israeli occupation.

To further make my case, since its inception, over 130 UN General Assembly resolutions have been made with regard to Israel and Palestine.  They include but are not limited to:

July 4 1967: UN General Assembly Resolution 2253 (ES-V): Condemns Israel's measures to change the status of Jerusalem as invalid
July 14 1967: UN General Assembly Resolution 2254: "Deplores" Israel's failure to abide by UN General Assembly Resolution 2253 (ES-V)
December 1 1969: UN General Assembly Resolution 2535: UNRWA Report. "Reaffirms" the "inalienable rights" of the Palestinian people and requests the Security Council to take "effective measures" to force implementation of previous UN resolutions
December 11 1969: UN General Assembly Resolution 2546: Condemns Israeli "violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" in the occupied territories
November 22 1974: United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3236: Recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to regain its rights, including the right to self-determination and the right of return.
November 22 1974: UN General Assembly Resolution 3237: Observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
December 6 1979: UN General Assembly Resolution 34/70: Reaffirms previous calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and an international peace conference with PLO participation.
December 19 1982: UN General Assembly Resolutions 38/180: Calls all nations to suspend or sever all diplomatic, economic and technological ties with Israel. Condemnation of Israel on various topics including occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, war in Lebanon and the annexation of Jerusalem.
April 20 1988: UN General Assembly Resolution 43/233: Expressing shock over killing of Palestinian civilians in Nahalin.
December 15 1988: UN General Assembly Resolution 43/177: Acknowledges the proclamation of the State of Palestine on 15 November 1988

One can see from the tone and frequency of these resolutions that since its inception, the majority of the countries of the United Nations have found Israel in contempt of the spirit of the 1947 agreement and in breach of international law. For its treatment of Palestinian refugees, the continued building of settlements (fortress towns) on Palestinian lands, its defiant development of nuclear weapons, its annexation of Jerusalem, its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, its building of an Apartheid Wall surrounding most Palestinian villages and controlled by Israeli Military forces, for its blockade on Gaza which has caused a humanitarian crisis, for its war on Gaza ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008/9 which saw over 1000 Palestinians killed….for all these reasons, the UN General Assembly has laid down resolution after resolution signalling international agreement against Israel’s actions.

So one might ask: if there are all these resolutions, why hasn’t anything been done?  The answer to this is quite simple: the US has used vetoed or abstained from resolution critical of Israel which has reached the UN Security Council (the bit of the UN which actually calls the shots) has been adopted.  The resolutions go up, and the resolutions come back down, vetoed.  It is clear, to take action against Israel, is to take action against the United States.  This is a step no state is willing to take on behalf of Palestine.

So what’s the Big Deal about This Resolution?

That is a very good question.  The Palestinians are simply determined to progress, through all diplomatic means available to them, the advancement of their cause.  Looking at the history of it, one can only applaud their continued efforts.  The less optimistic amongst us might consider it the diplomatic equivalent of repeatedly banging one’s head against a wall.

Following the latest US veto at the Security Council of a proposed resolution to admit Palestine to the UN as a member state, the Palestinians came to the back door.  They found they could side step the Security Council, and apply straight to the General Assembly to attain Non Member State Observer status.  This means a) implicit acknowledgement that a state of Palestine exists and b) potential access to funding and institutions of the UN such as the International Criminal Court (where they try the war criminals).

Now, the stated policy of the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel is a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict’ revolving around the creation of two states.  So you might think that the UN acknowledging that Palestine exists would be, dare I say it, a good thing?  Surely, that would simply be an echo of the original resolution 181?

First, we were told it was a pointless effort.  Then we were told it was an obstacle to peace.  Then we were told it was wrong for a state to be acknowledged via the UN rather than diplomatic negotiations (this is a first….anyone remember Kosovo? Israel? Any other state in the last fifty years?)  Perhaps one of the most disgraceful and transparent manipulations was that by the UK government, who stated that they would only support the resolution if Palestine subscribed to certain conditions, the key of which was to abandon any right to apply war crimes committed by Israel to be taken before the International Criminal Court.  Have you ever heard of any state having its membership of the United Nations contingent upon giving up its rights to protect itself from war crimes?  No, you haven’t, because no state ever has.

Despite the hustle, the result of the vote was: 138in favour, 9 against and 41 abstentions.

The meagre nine that voted against the resolution included Israel, the United States and Canada, joined by the Czech Republic, Panama and several Pacific island nations: Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. The Pacific nations typically support the U.S. and Israel at the U.N. on key General Assembly resolutions.  It would not be overstating the case to consider this vote a landslide in favour of Palestinian self determination.

Reaction to Palestine Being Granted Non Member State Observer Status

                  US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice denouncing the vote for Palestinian Non Member Observer Status

It might surprise those possessing more than half a wit to find that there has been vocal opposition to the point of near hysteria from spokespersons Israeli, American and British about the existential catastrophe that would result if the UN voted for this resolution.  They swing in bipolarity between the vote being utterly pointless and simultaneously the death knell to peace in the Middle East.   
Over in the US, and apoplectic Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN stated that ‘This resolution does not establish aPalestinian state’ and Hillary Clinton called the move ‘counterproductive’.  The UK’s foreign secretary William Hague meanwhile ‘lamented’ the UK’s forced abstention at the hands of Abbas who steadfastly refused to give up the right to prosecute Israeli war crimes for the sake of the UK’s yes vote.
Canada’s foreign minister John Baird threw a full blown diplomatic hissy fit and recalled Canadian diplomats from Israel, the West Bank and UN Missions in New York and Geneva.

Israeli PM Netanyahu stated that the vote will “change nothing”, whilst his foreign secretary hinted it may lead to “the toppling of Abbas” (the President of the Palestinian Authority) as anecessary measure.  Meanwhile Tzipi Livni, the self styled moderate dove of the Israeli political system declared the Palestinian move a “strategic terror attack”.   The reaction from Israel went further than words though, with the state announcing hours after the vote, that it would be expanding it's illegal settlement building programme, with thousands of new homes to be built on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in coming weeks and months.

A Hawk in Doves Clothing

It does not take a genius or a conspiracy theorist to understand that the US, UK and Israel state authorities have no interest in creating a peaceful two state solution in the Middle East.  The US and Israel (and their clients abroad), have used peace negotiations to provide a smokescreen of legitimacy to the continued expansion of Israel into the territories of Palestine.  Over the last forty years, Palestine has been taken from a State, to several Occupied Territories, to its current derisory position of being several large open prisons governed by the Israeli armed forces.  This point has been made and lamented upon by many commentators, campaigners and peacemakers alike have lamented for decades.
Noam Chomsky refers to Israel as essentially a client state of the US providing military, technological and corporate assistance to the US in the region, a role it adopted after its 1967 ousting of Egypt’s Nasser.

Therefore, rather than Israel being delegitimized like Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, Apartheid South Africa or other nations which defied international law and will, Israel has (thanks to its supporters) gained a legitimacy far beyond the bounds of reason.  As Naomi Klein pointed out in 2009:
“Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon, and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures - quite the opposite. The weapons and $3bn in annual aid the US sends Israel are only the beginning. Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first country outside Latin America to sign a free-trade deal with the Mercosur bloc. In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45%. A new deal with the EU is set to double Israel's exports of processed food. And in December European ministers "upgraded" the EU-Israel association agreement, a reward long sought by Jerusalem.
It is in this context that Israeli leaders started their latest war(Operation Cast Lead): confident they would face no meaningful costs. It isremarkable that over seven days of wartime trading, the Tel Aviv StockExchange's flagship index actually went up 10.7%.”

The Palestinian's persistance in taking these matters outside the US lead 'peace process' serves to highlight the rank hypocrisy at play, and force these players into showing their true hand.  This is eaxctly the direction the peace process, the real one, needs to head in.

To Hell with the Road Map

If we continue expecting the US to broker a real peace, we simply sit on the sidelines wringing our hands in hope whilst Palestine is rubbed off the map, while Palestinians are brutalised and further generations of Israeli’s brutalise themselves by becoming oppressors.

We must surely, and soon, find a way to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  As the US is unlikely to give up its treasured client in the region, the Palestinian’s have the will but not the power, and the international community is simply an unheeded voice: the change makers are the Israeli peacemakers.  It is for them to oust their war-mongering political leaders and demand a society based on equality and justice, not oppression and occupation.  Newspapers like Ha‘aretz which denounce the Israeli war machine; social justice movements like OccupyIsrael; Peace groups like Peace Child Israel & Jerusalem Peacemakers; Human rights organistions like B’Tselem and others; the mind blowingly brave Refusenik movement of Israeli young people who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.  All these groups are the conscience of Israel, the humanity hidden behind the public narrative.  They are the untold story.  They work day in, day out with Palestinians and international peace and aid workers for a real peace.  It is for those of us who want justice for Palestine, to stand with these Israeli peacemakers….as they really are our only hope.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Time to Call a Spade a Spade

Ten years ago, I spent my 21st birthday in Palestine.  It was a fairly perfect scenario.  In the UK, you traditionally reach adulthood at 21.  You are presented with a symbolic key.  I was presented with a shocking realisation: what I saw on the news was not true.  What I read in the papers was not true.  There was a disgraceful sociocide happening in the world and I would not have known about it had I not been there and seen it
Today’s article takes you through what I saw, what life is like under occupation for Palestinians and that for peace to reign, freedom must ring across the Occupied Territories of Palestine. We must call the so called Israel-Palestine conflict what it really is….a systematic, cruel and cynical demolition of one society by another.

The Context is Decisive

An action cannot and should not be judged merely in and of itself.  The context in which an action happens defines it, almost entirely.  A punch to the face looks quite different when it is a man punching his wife, or a rape victim punching her rapist.  The context is decisive. 
So, when someone says Hamas are firing hundreds of rockets into Israel – does Israel not have the right to defend itself?  The question is sort of meaningless without the context.  One could as easily ask – Israel has blockaded 1.7 million people (based purely on their race) into a 24 mile long, 5 mile wide strip of land, it won’t let them out, it controls the air, sea and land borders, it refuses to allow enough food, water and medical supplies in, or good out to the extent that a humanitarian crisis point has been reached – do those people have the right to attempt to break out?
I’m not going to detail the history for you here, as it is written elsewhere but you should know, so do look here.

Seeing For Yourself

When I was approaching my 21st birthday, a group of socialist students at my University held a talk.  They had been in Ramallah on the West Bank in April 2002.  They spoke about an Intifada and Oppression and Massacres.
 I’d heard almost nothing about this issue before.  I couldn’t have pointed to Israel on a map.  They showed tanks rolling through residential streets, exploding cars, acres of flattened homes and mile long queues of human beings in the beating sun at military checkpoints while young men and women with guns randomly pushed, shoved and arrested them.  I could not believe my eyes.  At the end of the talk, they announced a delegation would be going to the Occupied Territories in June and asked people to register their interest.
Weeks later, I was on a plane with a group of other students, heading to Israel.

The West Bank: What? They’re Just Like Us!

Al Manara Square, Ramallah, 2008 (c) Scriptonite

This sounds so entirely na├»ve now, but I think it’s important to tell the truth of one’s experience even at the risk of looking rather foolish in retrospect.  My first realisation on getting into Ramallah was – hang on, this isn’t a sand pit!  I had clearly been given the impression that this was some sort of ‘backward’ place full of crazy savages, best kept away from the civilised world.  I want to say clearly here, it doesn’t today make a difference to me if an oppressed person talks like me, thinks how I think about the world, or has the same access to technology as me.  But the thing that struck me as a 20 year old was ‘But…these are just regular human beings like me’.  There were cinemas, coffee shops, the odd bar (dancing late into the night at Stones Bar in Ramallah remains one of the best nights of my life).  There were schools, human rights organisations, medical centres, theatres.  There was a society.  A clear, unmistakable society.  These people weren’t running around frothing at the mouth killing each other.  They were just going about their lives.  But their lives were limited.  Their lives were limited by an Occupation by the world’s fourth most powerful military.

Witness to Devastation

Over the week we visited many Palestinian towns.   

 Warehouse destroyed in Nablus Old Town

Nablus, a beautiful old town with parts that make you feel like you are walking through the bible.  We didn’t have to look far to see the damage left by the Israeli Defensive Forces (IDF). We visited a house which had been demolished.  The warnings had come when the Father of the family had gone across the street to his brothers to share some supplies.  He had watched as a shell razed his family home to the ground, with four generations inside.  Not one member of the family inside the house had lived.   We looked at the spot and I saw my friend T cry for the first time, a she walked away from the scene unable to tolerate the emotional overwhelm.   

 Boy sitting amonst ruins of Jenin, 2002

We went to Jenin where basically the entire town had been flattened in April.  It was different to watching it on the film I had seen.  You realise how utterly strange it is to see only destruction for as far as you can see.  The birds weren’t singing.  One family, who were living in what was left of the ground floor apartment (it had only three walls, the fourth exposed like a studio set) took the time to tell us their story.  First came the bombs, then came the tanks, then the men of the town were asked to circle in the demolished centre, they were handcuffed with these plastic ties the IDF use (like those you’d use on a bag of peas) and the women & children were taken away elsewhere.  Both groups thought they would never see the other again.  After several hours and some symbolic shootings, all were released back into the devastated homes.  The thing that struck me most was the quiet dignity of the people moving through the dust and rubble, working together to rebuild.  
It struck me that I was in the site of a disaster.  Hundreds of people had died in creating these piles of rubble.  Too many to count, too many stories to retell.  But it was not simply the people that were being killed.
I was stunned to see hospitals, schools, roads and an airport destroyed.  I realised that what the IDF was committed to in the Occupied Territories, was not killing terrorists, it was about killing a society.  It was about breaking down the institutions, facilities and people that make up a society.

Watch a documentary on the Jenin Massacre here:

The Night the Sky Burned

Footage taken in Ramallah, 2002 (c) YouTube User: RamallahFirst

Our final night in Ramallah, we held a concert with our friends.  We each performed a song or some little act.  My friend T taught me a song and we sang it together.  We smoked, we drank a little, and we rolled up into our sleeping bags and thought about going home.  All of a sudden, we were woken up and told that the IDF were coming into Ramallah.  We could stay there or we could distribute ourselves among key buildings in the area to help prevent them being blown to bits.  It was a no brainer for me.  I ended up rotating between the Health Ministry and a media building called the PARC building in Ramallah.

I cannot adequately describe the absolute horror that ensued that night.  The sky looked as if it were on fire, and it sort of was.  The black sky was lit up by the sheer amount of munitions soaring through it.  IDF tanks went past shaking the building to its foundations.  The windows rattled in their frames.  The sound landscape was full of whooshes, bangs, sirens, deep rumbling, thudding, and popping. 
One of our delegation disappeared into the bathroom to throw up.  I stood with T looking out of the windows of the high PARC building at a skyline I had never seen, a skyline of an invasion.  We had the idea to turn on the news so we could see it being reported.  We went from news channel to news channel among the English speaking channels, and nothing was happening.  Then we got to the BBC, and a reporter based in Jerusalem said ‘And it is a quiet night in Ramallah, with Israeli forces returned to the city gates’.  These words have never left me.  To be in the midst of a fury I had never seen on TV, let alone in my own life, and realise that if I had not been there, I would not have known it was happening.  It was not that the situation in Ramallah was not being reported, it was the fact that it was being misreported that angered me most.  I remember having an experience close to internal combustion, just fury and disbelief spitting all over the place. 

We were given the choice the following morning to go home via the British Consul, or stay.  It was our due day to leave.  About half the delegation left, but T and I felt it would be, for us, the highest order of hypocrisy and cowardice to leave then.  We had come on a delegation to show solidarity with the Palestinians, to better understand the situation on the ground and report back to the UK.  So, what on earth were people doing leaving the moment the Israeli’s invaded?  Given it was now clear the BBC were not going to letting people at home know what our taxes were being spent on, it was on us to tell that story.

We stayed for a further ten days before we needed to return to Britain.  It was the best and worst time of my life for a long time.  I met incredible people, I fell in love (let’s not go into that here!), I travelled through beautiful landscape, I ate incredible food, I heard stories, I felt at one with the world, I felt like I was becoming an adult.  I also genuinely thought I would die at several points, in explosions, being shot at near a checkpoint, being treated like a second class citizen in Israel, and seeing death.

A Duty to Report Back


Since then I have been back to the place several times, sometimes for a month, sometimes for a few days.  But it remains a special place for me, not simply for some geo-political reason.  It is special because I count Palestinians among my friends, and I have been inspired by Israelis working for peace in their own society where it is not seen as cool or popular, but akin to treasonous.  In particular, I spent some time in Gaza.  In Khan Younis, Jabaliyah camp and Gaza City.  Gaza is different.  Ramallah and Gaza are about as different as London and Gaza.  Even then it was more religiously observant than Ramallah, it was more conservative, it was an open prison of 1.7 million Palestinians with its borders controlled by Israel.  You even get a separate passport stamp when you go into Gaza so you can’t lie about it when you get back to Ben Gurion airport and try to leave.  The one constant was the quite incredible hospitality of the Palestinians, keeping us safe, fed and sharing their stories.

One night on the beach, we were smoking hobbly bobbly and talking into the night with a group of Palestinians and suddenly the sky was full of a sound I’d never heard.  The only similar thing I’d heard was a NASA space launch, a deep whooshing bassy sound so loud it made it impossible to speak as we couldn’t hear each other.  The sky was entirely black but the sound came in from the sea and over our heads.  Finally I heard what Nabeel was shouting in my ear ‘Apache! Apache!’
People didn’t go running in all directions like in the movies.  We all simply looked up at the sky in complete shock.  Then a small blue-white light appeared out of the guts of one of the Apache helicopters that we could hear but not see, so it seemed simply to appear in the sky like a shooting star.  It made an arc in the sky, with the apaches already out of range, there was utter silence.  We watched the light in silence on the beach, bodies turning in sync to see the light dip finally into the skyline.  Uncomfortable seconds later, an explosion shook the air and the skyline burned red. It wasn’t until the following morning that we could get to the site and see a destroyed residential building, and a new family bereft with their grief.

And Ever Was It Thus

The 'Apartheid' Wall which Israel has built around Palestinian towns and cities

Every day of every year since my 21st birthday, the people I met have lived under that occupation.  Their homes have been bulldozed by IDF bulldozers to make way for Israeli settlements, their olive groves and farms have been destroyed or simply stolen, their families remain segregated in separate areas of the West Bank or Gaza Strip, each city and town of Palestine has since been confined behind an Apartheid Wall.  Israel has literally, in defiance of several UN resolutions, built a wall around Palestinian cities.  This wall is permeated in spots by inhuman checkpoints, controlled by the IDF, that resemble the control gates in farms used for cattle.  A floor to ceiling steel turnstile which people queue behind, present their credentials to a camera and receive either a green light, or a red light.  No human being is seen.  It is, even as a visitor, knowing you are going home, knowing that you are not the target, is the most dehumanising experience.

                                                     Queue at Qalandiya Checkpoint, Ramallah, 2008 - (c) Scriptonite

So when I turn on the news and see people shooting rockets out of Gaza.  I think ‘That’s horrible, but it is not irrational.  It’s not psychotic, mindless violence’.  It is the most rational thing in the world, in context.  You know how I know this?  Because if Israel has the right to defend itself from rockets, then Palestine has the right to defend itself from occupation.

The solution is clear; it has been clear for decades and is the stated policy of Israel, the US, Europe, The Arab League (including Iran) and Hamas.  A two state solution based on the 1967 borders, a free Palestine.  But not one day since 2001 has Palestine not been under occupation.  When ceasefires are in place, which they have been for extended periods, Israel gets peace.  But Palestine doesn’t get freedom.  The bulldozers, the settlement building, the farm destructions, the checkpoints, the wall, the blockade of Gaza’s supply lines.  These all remain.  There will be no peace, and there cannot be peace, until the Israeli Occupation is over.  To call for a cessation of arms, without a cessation of the occupation is to call for order over justice.  You cannot have peace without justice, because oppressed people will simply not tolerate oppression, they will always seek to overcome.  The single best thing Israel can do to secure its peace, is give justice to the Palestinians.  Many on the ground in Israel realised this long ago and work tirelessly to impact their government and their fellow Israelis.  The day their voice is heard and heeded, is the day the end of this conflict begins.

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