By Joharah Baker
Palestinians have been screaming it from the rooftops for several decades; human rights groups have highlighted it time and time again and global voices of conscience have held demonstrations, sit-ins, solidarity rallies and have written books espousing it. However, with the exception of these limited circles, “it” has fallen largely on deaf ears. A report by a highly esteemed UN official a few days ago may be the impetus needed for this fundamentally significant point to finally be heard.
We are talking about the foundations of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the core of all the subsequent ills it has produced. To the Palestinians, and to many other brave-hearted individuals that dare stand by them, the equation is as clear and simple as black and white. The Israeli occupation – illegal, belligerent and all-oppressing – is the source of almost all that has gone wrong. Remove it and the rest will naturally fall into place.
A report by independent UN investigator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the UN Human Rights Council, John Dugard has Israel up in arms. Generally, this is a good sign for the Palestinians. If a report or statement ruffles Israel’s feathers – at least those related to the Palestinians – this usually means it is worth paying attention to.
The report, to be presented to the council next month, draws parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa. Dugard, a South African himself who campaigned against the racist system concluded that, “common sense … dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al-Qaeda, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.” That is, “acts of violence” committed by the Palestinians.
Dugard went on to say that although these acts were “deplorable” they needed to be understood, “as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” maintaining that Israel’s policies are consistent with all three.
“Every effort should be made to bring the occupation to a speedy end. Until this is done, peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue," Dugard concluded.
Elementary, many would say. If there were no occupation to resist, there would be no reason for violence. This is not how Israel sees it, unsurprisingly. "The common link between Al-Qaeda and the Palestinian terrorists is that both intentionally target civilians with the mere purpose to kill," Israel’s UN ambassador in Geneva Itzhak Levanon said. “The fact that Professor Dugard is ignoring this essential fact, demonstrates his inability to use objectivity in his assessment.”
This is not the first run-in between Israel and Dugard. In 2001, the South African lawyer issued a report criticizing Israel’s violations of human rights. Israel and the United States brushed off the report as one-sided and in 2006 Israel refused to allow Dugard to head a UN-mandated fact finding mission in Gaza to investigate Israel’s military invasion there.
Nevertheless, even if Israel and the United States dismiss Dugard as, God-forbid, bias towards the Palestinians and therefore unreliable, others should take notice. Dugard’s pearls of wisdom may be basic common sense but they are pearls too often cast back to sea and swept away by Israel’s powerful media and propaganda machine, which portrays the Palestinians as heartless terrorists out for Israeli blood.
Criticizing Israel does not come without a price, though. While Palestinian-bashing is seen as an admirable role in the Bush-instigated “war on terror”, any negative remarks about Israel are immediately slapped with the shameful anti-Semitism brand. Dugard, for example has become persona non grata in Israel because of his views, his credibility slashed in the corridors of the United Nations for his “one-sidedness.” It should be noted that Dugard never condoned violence, even Palestinian violence, or terrorism, as his report described it. His only “vice” was to offer some balance to an otherwise lopsided argument. For that, Dugard will always be discredited by Israel and the United States.
Dugard is not the only one who has faced Israel’s wrath for courageously shedding an honest light on the Palestinians’ plight. In 2006, former US President Jimmy Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid” generated tidal waves of protest from Israel and its supporters. Even former Carter supporters shied away from the book’s candid portrayal of the Palestinian territories. Fourteen members of the Carter Center board – a human rights organization headed by the former US president – resigned in protest of the book, saying it focused on criticism of Israeli policy.
“You have clearly abandoned your historic role of broker in favor of becoming an advocate for one side,” one board member wrote to Carter in the letter of resignation. Truth be told, the book is critical of all those involved in the conflict, including the United States and the Palestinians. But because Israel is not portrayed as the quintessential victim of brutal Palestinian and Arab terrorism, the book was written off as blindly pro-Palestinian.
But it is not only these bold men who have begun to see through Israel’s mighty propaganda machine. Even so-called friends of Israel are daring to doubt Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians as necessary measures for Israel’s ubiquitous security. In a letter published in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda expressed his country’s discontent over Israel’s lack of implementation of the roadmap. “We believe it is important that the commitments in the road map be implemented immediately, including improvement of security measures and dismantling settlement outposts by the Israeli side,” Fukuda wrote. “It is extremely important to remove restrictions on movement and access for people and goods, to enable smooth and effective implementation of the assistance to Palestinians, and to promote Palestinian economic development.”
No doubt there are several other examples of cracks that have begun to disfigure Israel’s ridiculous “security” façade, which it uses as an excuse for almost every act of oppression against the Palestinians. Israel has flat out refused to attend next month’s UN conference on racism, or Durban II, accusing the last conference of being a platform for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity.
Still, even if Israel and its allies – Canada has already announced it would also not attend – are not at the conference, many other countries will be, and Israel, being one of the most racist countries today, will surely be a topic of discussion.
In today’s insane world where peoples and countries are branded as being either “for or against”, fearless voices such as John Dugard and Jimmy Carter must be commended, not only for their fearlessness but for defending a truth so seldom told.
-Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH – www.miftah.org), where this article was originally published. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.