By Haidar Eid – Gaza
“Injustice is human; but more human still is the war against injustice.” — Bertolt Brecht
The long walk to South Africa’s freedom is marked by two immense tragic events, the Sharpville massacre (1960) and the Soweto Uprising (1976), both of which led to the galvanising of internal and international resistance against the Apartheid regime, the long-called for release of Nelson Mandela (1990) and, ultimately, to the end of one of the worst inhumane systems humanity has ever seen, namely, Apartheid. Without Sharpeville and Soweto, among other landmarks towards victory over settler colonialism, South Africa would still be ruled by a minority of fanatic, white settlers claiming to be fulfilling the Word of (their) God!
Palestine’s long walk to freedom has gone through similar harrowing defining events, beginning with the 1948 Nakba, to the latest 8-day onslaught on Gaza. In order to understand Gaza 2012, one ought to trace its origin back to 1948. Two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were kicked out of their cities, towns and villages in 1948. In After the Last sky, the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said argues, eloquently, that every Palestinian knows perfectly well that what has happened to us over the last 6 decades is “a direct consequence of Israel’s destruction of our society in 1948…” The problem, he argues, is that a clear, direct line from our misfortunes in 1948 to our misfortunes in the present cannot be drawn, thanks to “the complexity of our experience!” The new realities we have created, to attempt to survive our continued dispossession and colonization” neither fit simple categories nor conform to previously encountered forms!”
Gaza, 340 km square, is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negros” of the American south, the black natives of South Africa, the surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi cannot coexist with. Hence the calls to “flatten Gaza,” “bomb it back to the middle ages,” and cause a “shoah” (holocaust) in Gaza! And since “[there] are no innocents in Gaza, [we should] mow them down … kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.” ; Gaza should be “bombed so hard the population has to flee into Egypt”); it should be “wiped clean with bombs!”
In 2008/9 Gaza was bombed by Apache helicopters and F16 and V58 fighter planes for 22 days, ultimately causing the deaths of more than 1400 civlians. And as if that was not enough, Israel, with the impunity it has enjoyed since its establishment, decided to come back into Gaza two weeks ago and repeat the same crimes in 8 days, this time killing more than 175 civilians, including 34 children, 11 women, 19 elderly, and injuring 1399, including 465 children, 254 women, and 91 elderly people! These are massive losses for a population of just over 1.5 million people.
Israel’s air-strikes which damage essential infrastructure and terrify the civilian population are a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people and are war crimes which are forbidden under international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prescribes the manner in which armies must treat civilians during times of conflict.
But Israel has been getting away with these war crimes and crimes against humanity! The official government-based “international community” does not seem interested in the suffering of the native Palestinians! Neither does it even try to show sympathy with those children who get killed in broad day light. The much-admired, “better than Bush” American president, Obama, thinks that “Israel has the right to defend itself!” The same right does not apparently apply to Palestinians! Likewise, The British FM William Hague made clear that he believes “Hamas bears the greatest responsibility for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end!” This is in spite of the multi-tiered oppression of Palestinians by Israel, from apartheid to military occupation and colonization, and in spite of the deadly siege imposed on Gaza for more than 5 years, so much so that Israel even used ‘calorie counting’ to limit the amount of food that entered Gaza during the blockade!
This, however, has been Israel’s policy for a long time. The late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin’s, in 1992, wished Gaza “would just sink into the sea.” The Oslo Accords, signed by Rabin, brought more misery into the lives of the 1.5 million inhabitants of this besieged, impoverished, occupied, small strip of land. The fact that Gazans are not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the Black natives of South Africa, they should be isolated in a Bantustan, in accordance with the Oslo terms, without calling it so; and if they show any resistance to this plan, they must get punished severely by transforming the entire strip into an” open-air prison,” or even a concentration camp!
Both the US and the UK display deliberate and unconscionable ignorance in the face of the brutal reality caused by Israel to Gaza. As a result of Israel’s blockade on most imports and exports and other policies designed to punish Gazans, about 70% of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according to the United Nations, and about 80% of its residents live in grinding poverty. About 1.2 million of them are now dependent for their day-to-day survival on food handouts from U.N. or international agencies; an increasing number of Palestinian families in Gaza are unable to offer their children more than one meagre meal a day, often little more than rice and boiled lentils. Fresh fruit and vegetables are beyond the reach of many families. Meat and chicken are impossibly expensive. And fish is unavailable in its markets because the Israeli navy has curtailed the movements of Gaza’s fishermen.
But don’t Obama and Hague know this?!
As Hamid Dabashi puts it: “Obama is fond of saying Israelis are entitled to defend themselves. But are they entitled to steal even more of Palestine, terrorise its inhabitants and continue to consolidate a racist apartheid state…? Was South Africa also entitled to be a racist apartheid state, was the American south entitled to slavery, India to Hindu fundamentalism?”
Obama and Hague, and the European Union at large, seem to have paid attention only when the Palestinians of Gaza decided to take action into their own hands. Palestinians are not expected to even show pain since that might disturb Israel’s peaceful tranquility! Israel’s racist policy besieging the Strip has, nevertheless, backfired. Palestinians of Gaza, in spite of this deadly medieval siege, have managed to dig tunnels, smuggle medicine and milk for their children and the sick, and– this is the biggest “crime”–manufacture home-made rockets used only, and always, in self-defence , and in a way that has caused minimal body harm to Israelis. Consider the number of Palestinians killed in the 2009 onslaught in comparison to Israeli casualties; and in the latest massacre, 2012. When families get wiped out, children killed, and pregnant women are targeted (1 bullet, 2 kill!), we do not, then, have the luxury of debating the “conflict” with short-sighted, white politicians (even if, sometimes, they wear black masks!). But consider also, the relentless, daily struggle to fight Israel off our land, away from our skies and seas, our bodies and our stomachs. This cannot be calculated in numbers, but it is a cost that has been paid every single day, and has been paid since Israel colonized and occupied our land in 1948.
The only option is to follow the same route that worked for the South African struggle: the South African internal campaign to mobilize the masses on the ground and their mobilizing of international civil society, rather than indifferent governments around the world. What hope could they have gotten from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Roland Reagan, and Helmut Kohl? These politicians were not moved by the Sharpeville and Soweto massacres at all. It was left to ordinary South African and global citizens to show their moral rejection of crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system. The South African anti-apartheid campaign, ultimately, managed to topple apartheid, in spite of the blood of those heroes who lost their lives in these and other massacres. South African anti-apartheid resistance was not put on par with the crimes of Apartheid. Nobody dared to talk about the “two sides!” or “the conflict!” South African anti-apartheid activists insisted that apartheid be viewed as the crime that it was and that the state and all its institutions be boycotted both internally and externally. The more crimes white SA committed, the more it got isolated by ordinary people inside and outside the country. A line can now be drawn between the 1948 institutionalization of Apartheid and Sharpeville (1960), Soweto (1967), and mass struggle of the 1980’s and the end of the racist system in 1994.
That was SA’s long walk to freedom.
There was no compromise on respect for basic human rights; and the international community was forced to see the line between 1948, the racist massacres and resistance to racial bigotry. The context was clear. Apartheid’s attempts to point fingers at “black violence” and “intrinsic hatred” toward Western civilization and democracy, did not hold water. Neither did the propagandistic idea of giving Natives “independence” in their own “Homelands!”
Similarly, international civil society, and some governments, have seen through Israel’s campaign of Hasbara(propaganda) where the aggressor is turned into the victim. From the Nakba (1948) to the Naksa(1967), up to Gaza 2009 and Gaza 2012, Palestinians have been completely dehumanized. Instead of Reagan and Thatcher, we have Obama and Hague, blaming the victim and condemning resistance to occupation, colonization and apartheid! Palestinians, according to this decontextualized approach, bring it on themselves. President Obama showed real anger: “no country on earth… would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders” and offered the United States’ full support for “Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes!” But there was no mention whatsoever of the “other side!” No mention of the F16s, Apache’ and phosphorus whose use against unarmed civilians is illegal under international law, because they are simply used by “us” against “them!” Not a single word about about the killing of more than 175 civilians, including 34 children, 11 women, 19 elderly, and the injury of 1399 people!
But South Africans did not wait for the American administration to “change its mind” and notice that, although Black, they were human beings too.! The global BDS campaign, steered by South African anti-apartheid activists, coupled with internal mass mobilization on the ground, was the prescription towards liberation, away from the façade of “independence” based on ethnic identities. Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2012, like Soweto 1976, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.
The de-osloizing of the Palestinian mind has taken concrete steps with the formation of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (2004) and The Boycott National Committee (2005) based on the legacy of popular resistance. The blockade of Gaza, however, has continued the de-osloization process as a precondition for the complete liberation of the Palestinian mind. Gaza 2012 has, undeniably, given a huge impetus to this process by making ALL Palestinians inside and outside of historic Palestine realize that “Yes, We Can!” We are no longer the weaker party, the passive victim who does not dare bang on the walls of Ghassan Kanfani’s tank in Men in the Sun, but rather Hamid in All That is Left To You, the Palestinian hero who decides to act!
Gaza 2102 represents, as I wrote on the second day of the onslaught,
“… the moment of truth, the moment of sending a clear message…: The Mubarak and Abu el-Gheit era is gone. That the power of deterrence, in light of the massive imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, lies with the ordinary citizen in the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Rabat, Doha, Amman and Muscat. The demonstrations, which have erupted in London, New York, Glasgow and other cities must be translated into a new, concrete reality steered by Palestinians and Arabs…”
Gaza 2012’s strong reminder to Zionist Israelis, “whose incomparable military and political power dominates us [is that] we are the periphery, the image that will not go away” (Said) the same way native black South Africans stayed on their land until the demise of Apartheid and its Bantustans.
-Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor with Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.(A shorter version of this article was published by Al-Akbar – http://english.al-akhbar.com)