By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
The third explosion in the Palestinian struggle for freedom from occupation finally came in October of this year, sparked by the Israeli minister of defense banning the Palestinian Murabitun from entering Al-Aqsa mosque, either for tutorials or maintenance and protection roles, something they have been doing for decades. The Israeli action spread like wildfire across the West Bank and Gaza, as though the Palestinians were shaking off the decades of accumulated humiliation under the occupation.
The future of the Arab –populated Jerusalem where Al-Aqsa mosque is located was decided by Israel as soon as the guns fell silent after the 1967 war and Israel was triumphant and drunk with a heady sense of power. On 18 June of 1967, the government of Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and extended the Israeli laws to it. This action was supported by all Israeli political and civil society factions, secular and religious, and across party lines.
The emerged Israeli leaders since then shared the view about the implacable hostility with the Palestinians and the need to deal with them from a position of strength. They never distinguished between the issue of peace and the issue of occupation. Their definition of peace is to create facts on the ground and support their actions by demonstrating to the Palestinians and their Arab supporters that Israel could not be defeated. In this context the annexation of Jerusalem and the colonization of the West Bank were seen by the Israeli leaders as acts of peace insofar as it demonstrated to the Arabs the unflinching resolve and the power of the Jewish state.
Surrounding the Palestinian Population centers with concentric circles of settlements, including access roads and military facilities has been part of a policy pursued by all Israeli governments after 1967, whether Labor or Likud. While the settlements were being built in the West Bank, Israel has been expanding the borders of the pre-1967 East Jerusalem to include ten percent of the West Bank and constructing large settlements around the Old City since day one of the occupation.
The housing project of “Jabal Abu Ghunaym” is a blatant example of Israel’s tactics for creating facts on the ground and preempting the establishment of a Palestinian state. “Jabal Abu Ghunaym” was a 500 acre pine forested hill, owned by Palestinians, south of Jerusalem proper on the road to Bethlehem. Netanyahu’s government confiscated the land in 1997, changed its name to “Har Homa” and built thousands of housing units for Jewish settlers. The site was chosen in order to complete the chain of Jewish settlements around Jerusalem and cut off contact between the Arab side of the city and its hinterland in the West Bank. The US used its veto twice to block Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel’s decision to construct a settlement at “Har Homa”. An emergency special session of the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a halt to construction in “Har Homa” and an end to all settlement activities in the occupied territories. Only three countries voted against the resolution: Israel, the US, and Micronesia.
The Palestinians aspired to independence and freedom in their own country, but their hopes for deliverance by the Arab states were dashed when Egypt concluded a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and their hopes for liberation at the hands of the PLO collapsed after the 1993 Oslo agreements and decades of futile negotiations with Israel.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) granted Palestine a non-member observer State status in the UN in November 2012 and the Palestinian flag was raised outside the New York UN headquarters in 2015. The question is: What is the value of the UNGA and other international organs decisions regarding Palestine if Israel does not abide by them?
Thirty-eight UN General Assembly (UNGA) decisions against Israel’s illegal policies in the occupied lands since 1967, and Israel acts as if they are not of its concern. The question of Palestine has been re-introduced every year since 1949, and in every year, the UNGA re-affirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty, and the right of the refugees to return to their homes and properties.
The International Court of Justice in Hague ruled that the wall that Israel was building in the West Bank was illegal and should be removed immediately and the signatory to Geneva Convention were obliged to enforce compliance by Israel. In the five years after the wall was deemed illegal by the ICJ, Israel pressed on with its construction to the extent that it is now one of the most defining components of its occupation.
The Israeli governments ignore these decisions, confiscate more land, build more Jews-only settlements and Jews-only roads and continue the siege and starvation of two million Palestinians in Gaza Strip. Its military and the settlers have been free to pursue their lawlessness for decades; they routinely commit crimes against the Palestinian civilians, driven by weird ideological myths and with extreme callousness and brutality. They burn defenseless teen-age and families alive, demolish houses, destroy trees and crops, and treat the Palestinian lives as worthless. And Israel is assured of total impunity by a paralyzed international system and a complicit international community led by the US. On October 24 of this year, the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously called on the Palestinians, [the victims of occupation and countless crimes by Israel], to end incitement against Israel [their occupier]. The committee dehumanized the Palestinians, and none of its forty-four members dissented!
Israel’s vision of the occupied lands future is taking physical shape on the hills of the West Bank, in Arab East Jerusalem and in Gaza siege. Boosted by government incentives, sales of new homes in the Jewish-only settlements have been rising by more than twenty percent every year since the signing of the 1995 Oslo II agreements in Taba/Sinai. The Jewish settlers population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that was less than 120,000 in 1995 has reached more than half a million today.
Young Palestinians found the occupation, the siege, the land confiscation, the settlements, the humiliation, the loss of dignity and self-respect at the checkpoints harder to bear. The Israeli occupiers’ leaders, military and settlers saw the Palestinians, in the words of Azzam Tamimi, as “subhuman and not worthy of respect.” Worse yet, Palestinians felt complicit in their own subjugation through their own leadership cooperation with the Israeli occupation. Given that the Israelis have been engaged in such atrocities against the Palestinian people, cooperation with the Israelis by their current leaders felt more like collaboration.
The latest Palestinian uprising is decades overdue, but it may soon lose its momentum if it continues as leaderless uncoordinated series of confrontations by angry young individuals with the occupation. Israel and the established Palestinian leadership in the West Bank learnt from previous uprisings how to race to catch up with the popular movements and use subversion and other means to abort them. The first Intifada was aborted by the PLO after signing the Oslo agreements and the second Intifada was aborted by the PLO’s empty promises for two decades of negotiations with Israel and the US.
My fear is that the latest uprising might not end the occupation in the foreseeable future because the legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership is eroding, the Palestinian society is divided and polarized, and the dysfunctional leadership cannot deal seriously with the challenges of occupation, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, and Gaza siege. The problem is that the present leadership never managed to advance beyond the aging well-established corrupt Fatah elites.
I believe in the promise of peace with justice, but the promise of just peace for the Palestinians is bogged down by the realities they live in. The Palestinians are living in a tragedy of eternal struggle imposed on them from without and cannot be resolved by dysfunctional leadership rhetoric or virtual reality.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.