By Ismail Haniyeh
When the Israeli leaders launched their expansionist war in June 1967 they never envisaged that 40 years later they would still be haunted by the consequences. At the time, they were driven by one strategic objective: to end the conflict by seizing all that remained of Palestine and complete the process of ethnic cleansing that started in 1948. They did not realise the resolution of this conflict would take much more than military superiority.
The occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula was portrayed as the victory of David over Goliath. For the next two decades the Palestinian experience was drowned out by the clamor of Israeli hubris. The world paid little attention to the expropriation of Palestinian land, the apartheid regime established by the occupation and the systematic destruction of Palestinian livelihoods.
It was only in 1987 that the world awoke to the reality of a popular Palestinian uprising – Intifada. A new generation had come of age, thirsty for freedom and peace with dignity in their own land. The two decades since have confirmed that my people will not repeat the mistakes of 1948. They will remain rooted in their land, whatever the price, and pursue their legitimate right to resist the occupation. That right is supported by, for example, UN Resolutions 2955 and 3034, which affirm the "inalienable" right of all peoples to self-determination and the legitimacy of their struggle against foreign domination and subjugation "by all available means".
Israel’s fateful error was to underestimate the resolve of the Palestinians. Tens of thousands have been killed or wounded by the Israeli army since 1967. During 2006, the number of Palestinians killed reached 650. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, more than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel – about 40% of the male population. Today three-quarters of the Palestinian people are displaced: there are 5 million Palestinian refugees throughout the world.
With the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, we were told that things would get better. But life became more hellish as Israel accelerated settlement building and seizures of our land. Meanwhile, the world was fed the fallacy that Israel was defending its "threatened existence". In reality, it is Israel, through the prosecution of colonial war, that has threatened the Palestinians’ right to live in their land. And when they were most needed, the world’s most powerful states refused to ensure respect for the international law that "the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible".
In contempt of the will of the international community, Israel continues to build its annexationist apartheid wall across the West Bank. Which western state would, in the 21st century, accept that its citizens be literally caged and locked into cantons?
Undaunted by repression, my people have embraced democracy as a means of struggle and governance. Yet in response the world’s most powerful democracies have imposed an economic blockade against my people, while Israel continues to kill, expropriate and destroy with impunity. The humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is clearly designed to subvert the elected government and create a client authority that concedes every wish of the occupier. There can be no exit from the impasse without sanctions being lifted and Israel’s release of the hundreds of millions of dollars of our money it has seized.
In the 1967 war, Israel conquered the land of Palestine but it did not conquer the people. And in its attempt to debase and dehumanize my people, Israel has debased and degraded itself before the family of nations. The 1967 war has over 40 years engendered successive wars and destabilization of the Middle East. The increasing mistrust between the Arab-Muslim peoples and the western world is rooted in the conflict in Palestine.
The first step to change this catastrophic climate is for the west to engage with the Palestinian National Unity government, which envisages the establishment of an independent state on all the Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967, the dismantling of all the settlements in the West Bank, the release of all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the recognition of the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. If Israel is serious about peace, it has to recognize these basic rights of our people. The 1967 war remains an unfinished chapter. Nothing will stop our struggle for freedom and to have all our children reunited in a fully sovereign state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital.
-Ismail Haniyeh is the Palestinian Prime Minister (This article first appeared in the Guardian June 6, 2007)