By Mats Svensson
You come to Palestine as a diplomat, as a development worker. You come to create change. To make something better. Not for yourself but for people living on a small plot of land between the Jordan River and a wall. You are well educated, have a Master’s degree or you might even have a PhD in political sciences, economics or social sciences. You can also speak fairly good Arabic if not Hebrew. You have a lot of useful experiences and have been to many countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Palestine is normally not your first country. You are supposed to create change, a real change. That’s your challenge.
When you leave two, three, four or five years from now, change has been created. Land has been stolen, houses have been demolished, people have been killed. Settlers have moved onto stolen land protected by the Israeli army. Change has taken place, it has become worse. You as a diplomat or development worker together with all others can now just feel that you have become a total failure.
You have been listening to Obama’s speech in Cairo, believing for a few moments that it is happening. You have seen Blair moving in and installing himself at the American Colony Hotel. He moved in but did not come out. You have been listening to the Quartet, to Merkel, to the Swedish Foreign Minister. While they have been talking, while you have been listening, another house has been demolished and another family has been displaced. It often happened outside the compound of the diplomatic missions. On the other side of the road. You just couldn’t miss it.
You have known it the whole time. You have written about it in confidential reports back to headquarters. Often, early in the morning when you drink your morning coffee, you got a message from a UN office; a house will probably be demolished today in Silwan, or a family will be forced out, 412 steps from Blair’s bedroom.
Everything became clear to me one morning when I was having breakfast with two older men. One Palestinian and one Israeli. They are childhood friends and have breakfast together every three months. The Israeli man is now retired, but was recently head of Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency. Suddenly he tells his Palestinian friend, “My friend, just make sure you have a good life.” “What do you mean, I live under occupation, how am I supposed to have a good life?” says the Palestinian man. “I know, but it is the only thing you can strive for,” says the former agent. “People forget and seem unable to read or understand what has been said. A long time ago, one of our leaders said, ‘We just make sure that the world stays engaged in a constant peace process, but we never sign the peace agreement.’ And today,” he continues, “we are winning every day and there is not much more to take. We will never sign it.”
In 2003, when I started to work on the book, Crimes, victims and witnesses: Apartheid in Palestine, I returned to Sweden at one point and began to talk about my experiences. That I thought there were similarities between what was happening in Palestine and what had happened in South Africa before 1994. I was then always criticized for this stance, questioned as if I had no perspective, as if I was completely without history. At that point, you could still in Sweden officially discuss and debate whether what Israel was doing could be called occupation, that it was occupying. Going one step further and also using the word ‘apartheid’ was unthinkable.
Ten years have passed. Very much has changed. We have been influenced by Jimmy Carter’s book where he writes about Apartheid, and Desmond Tutu’s clear position. With President Mandela, there was never any doubt. Something that was unthinkable then has become commonplace today.
However, what has not changed are the actions of the international community, or lack thereof. There are certain exceptions, brief episodes, an event here and there, but in general, we continue to deepen our relationship with those undertaking the occupation, colonialism and which today has come to mean apartheid.
My book, which has been issued by South African publishers, Real African Publisher, is an attempt by a bureaucrat in pictures and text to describe the crimes that are currently being committed. My first real meeting with reality occurred in 2004 on the Gaza Strip. I met a little girl who had become homeless a few weeks earlier. Israel had destroyed her family’s house. It had been a multi-apartment building that had been razed to the ground by some caterpillars. Now she was sitting in a small refugee room talking about all the terrible things that happened that day. But she also said that she longed for the little red and white bird that used to come and eat breakfast with her on the porch. It struck me then that occupation, colonialism or apartheid is not only about death, death, death but even more about constantly losing something small, day after day. Every day, something is lost. But the little that is gradually and constantly lost is so small that no one writes about it.
You do not write about longing for a little bird. That decades of occupation are about many hours, days, nights of loss. In the end, you have nothing else to loose. Only longing remains.
While something is continuously being lost, the talks continue. Sometimes the session leader was called Kerry, sometimes Blair. He could also have been called Bildt. But this changes very little. The process continues. The strategy has already been established a very long time ago.
“We just want to make sure that the world stays engaged in a constant peace process, but we will never sign the peace agreement.”
The Shin Bet man thought it was strange that the world could not read. That the message is clear. Clear both in writing and in action.
Kerry and Blair have also failed. They know it but do not really want to admit it. Failed when they experienced that the last part of Palestine was stolen. In what many call the 20th century’s greatest theft.
At the same time, the world is starting to wake up. Action groups in South Africa, Australia, USA, Palestine, Israel, UK, France, Sweden and Germany under the name BDS: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, are formed and act on the basis of a common front. In the same way, churches are coming together under a common document, “A moment of Truth, Kairos Palestine.” They are two movements which increasingly also collaborate. Nothing will stay forever, everything is constantly moving. As I wrote in the preface of my book:
This is not a book about hope, for you’d have to be blind to live in Palestine today and feel hope for the future. Feelings are short-lived, though, and not constant. The history of the oppressed tells us that occupation is just a temporary disease. Even the most brutal apartheid regime will not last forever; they are doomed to fall. This is, therefore, a book about a short time in history. For this too will pass.”
– Mats Svensson is the author of Crimes, Victims and Witnesses: Apartheid in Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.