By Samah Jabr
Sixty-seven years after the massive expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands, the scene in Palestine is grimmer than ever. We observe for example that following almost a year of meetings, the US-backed talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel fell apart last April. What followed that summer was an escalation of violence and a destructive war on Gaza.
Although a reconciliation agreement was signed by conflicting Palestinian political parties in 2014, we are still living with the devastating effects of the war on Gaza and the political polarization – which rather than resolving, is now at its peak. The reconstruction of Gaza is on hold; Gaza government employees who were hired between 2007 and 2014 have not been receiving their salaries by the PA government despite the “reconciliation;” continuous electricity and clean water are unavailable in Gaza; and its Rafah entrance has been blocked for more than 100 consecutive days. PA officials claim that Hamas took part in secret negotiations with Israel about its plan to turn the Gaza Strip into a separate Palestinian entity. The PA considers that plan a “scandalous conspiracy” and promises to not let it take place. Meanwhile, officials in Gaza dismiss such allegations as “false polemics” and clarify that they are negotiating merely to end the siege, to exchange prisoners, and to achieve a long term truce. Despite all its years of negotiations, the PA never addressed lifting of the siege of the Gaza Strip. And regarding the fate of East Jerusalem, where the PA hopes to establish the capital of the Palestinian state in accordance with the Oslo Accords, officials are giving no more than a lip service. And worst of all no one dares to talk about the right of Return.
During the recent clashes between the “Islamic State” and Palestinian fighters at Al Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus (where the besieged and starved population has shrunk from 150,000 to approximately 16,000 during the last four years of violence in Syria), there was a presidential decree that all public employees “volunteer” one day’s salary to save Al Yarmouk. This was the response, instead of using this crisis as a lever to educate about the predicament of Palestinian refugees and to mobilize for the implementation of the right of return for all Palestinian refugees!
Sovereignty versus the State
In December, Palestinian officials submitted a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank within two years, a submission which was voted down. We remember that in 1974, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, to national independence, and to sovereignty – but our officials behave like helpless subcontracted managers in the service of the occupation.
At the Pesach holiday a few weeks ago, the West Bank was cut in two; Palestinians were unable to work across the Ramallah-Nablus road in order that Israeli settlers could run the Bible Marathon. This action went unopposed by the PA. Recently, the Israeli Army arrested Palestinian Parliament member Khalida Jarrar, bringing to sixteen the number of Palestinian lawmakers currently in Israeli detention and paralysing our legislative counsel. Jarrar and many others were arrested from “Area A” – an area under full PA control, where Israeli forces coordinate their entry with PA forces. Here as elsewhere, the Palestinian Authority remains in close coordination with Israeli security, even after the brutal killing of 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza last summer and the death of Minister Ziad Abu Ein last December in a violent confrontation with the occupation forces; an act for which no one has been punished.
In his speech last September at the United Nations during the 69thannual General Debate, Palestinian President Abbas said “It is impossible, and I repeat – it is impossible – to return to the cycle of negotiations that failed to deal with the substance of the matter and the fundamental question.” And yet, now despite the Israeli President’s recent blatant disavowal of a two-state solution, the President announced that “talks with Israel are still on the table,” while addressing Palestinian leadership on April 4that the opening of a conference in the West Bank to discuss the future of the Palestinian Authority.
The PA has become an official member of the International Criminal Court, but PA officials report that going to the ICC is to deter Israel from only future crimes against Palestinians. In contrast, Shurat Ha Din, a legal group in the USA close to Israel, has already initiated action against Palestinians with the declared intent to push Palestinian institutions toward collapse. In February, a New York jury imposed $218 million damages upon the PA, as compensation for six attacks taking place more than a decade ago in which Israelis with US citizenship were killed or injured. Another such process, against the Arab Bank, was filed for transactions to accounts belonging to Hamas members. The latest case filed against Palestinians related to Hamas’ briefly closing Israel’s Ben Gorion airport during Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer. Where is justice for all of the Palestinians killed or injured by US-sponsored arms? For Palestinians, with US citizenship, killed or tortured by Israel? For Rachel Corrie, crushed by an Israeli Army’s Caterpillar bulldozer?
In addition to these actions, anti-terrorism laws in the US isolate most Palestinians from potential funding sources, manipulate their national agenda, and empower the political minority to implement its agendas in Palestine. The participation of Hamas in the government would risk the $400 million that Washington provides to the Palestinian Authority annually – the consequence that influenced the PA to backtrack on the reconciliation agreement it signed a year ago. Even among non-governmental Palestinian institutions and ordinary people, US money and US laws are not used to further the welfare of people, but to foster resentment, to intimidate, to hush voices of dissent, and to incite Palestinians to boycott one another.
Daring in the Face of Intimidation
Palestinian university students are voting against the party that is supported by the PA, even though these opponents are often arrested and harassed at election time. The Palestinians in the territories and in refugee camps too might dare to raise their voices in the face of a monopolizing leadership which has led the Palestinian cause to an impasse, in the face of political stagnation that is imposed by the violent occupation and the soft policies of its international allies who pressure us to conform to the colonial norms. It is by daring to speak that we find our way back to each other, to maintain our capacity for connection and empathy, and to survive over our anguish, fears and victimhood.
When I survey the intimidated world around me, I am also often frightened – but I return to my inner hopes to draw strength. I hope for a time when the refugees will return home, when the wall of separation will fall, when those who were treated as dangerous and were silenced for so long will be finally recognized and heard. I hope, equally, that those who once hushed our voices with all tools available to them will always be able to listen and speak too.
– Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist and psychotherapist who cares about the wellbeing of her community – beyond issues of mental illness. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was originally published in Middle East Monitor)