A few months ago in November one big story was Gaza firing rockets at Israel. The media reported the same narrative: Palestinians are firing rockets so Israel is justified in defending itself. Interestingly though, the media failed to mention that Israel systematically violates human rights laws with its land, air and sea blockades of Gaza and that is has been building illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. The media failed to give Americans some context, portraying Israel as an innocent victim of Palestinian aggression.
A Brief History of Palestine and Israel
In the early 1900s Palestine was home to Christians, Muslims and Jewish people. Before the First World War many Russian Jews were settling in Palestine and by 1917 support for Zionism became British Policy with the Balfour Declaration. With the Nazi takeover in Germany even more Jewish settlers entered Palestine. After three years of revolt by the Arabs the British finally acknowledged in the Peel Commission of 1937, that the problems of Palestine were due to two national movements that were irreconcilable. Their solution was division between the Palestinians and the Jewish people. The Jewish people would get 20% of Palestine, which would include most of the coastline, Galilee and the Jezreel Valley, which were the most fertile of the agricultural land. What did the Palestinians get? The poorest lands of Palestine like the Negev Desert, as well as the hill country of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. To make matters worse, major Arab towns were included in the proposed Jewish state. The Peel Commission proposed to transfer populations of Arabs (this was later acknowledged as ethnic cleansing) from territories allotted to the Jewish state. Of course the Jewish people accepted the terms, the Arabs on the other hand, (who totally got screwed) went to war with both the British and the Jewish population. The British realizing the irreconcilable differences left the mess they had created to the United Nations.
Zionists lobbied UN members persistently in order to secure the two-thirds majority for Jewish statehood. Here American Zionists played a huge role in getting the Truman Administration to support the resolution. Truman mentioned that he had never had so much pressure and propaganda aimed at him. The Jewish people had garnered international authorization for the creation of a Jewish state in part of Palestine.
After the UN partition, civil war between the Jewish people and the Arabs in Palestine ensued. Thousands of Arabs were forced to flee their homes. As the Jewish people secured cities like Jaffa and Haifa, awarded to them by the partition, Palestinians were forced to flee and become refugees. Jewish forces had driven over 200,000 Palestinians from their homes. In 1948 after the British left Palestine the Arab-Israeli war ensued.
After the British withdrew from Palestine, the countries Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon committed armies to help Palestine and started a war with Israel. Together they might have been able to defeat Israel, but instead of fighting against Israel, they fought against each other. They went in with their own national interests, which stopped them from working together against Israel. After the two wars about 750,000 Palestinians were turned into refugees and went to Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan and Egypt. The only remaining Arab territories of Palestine were the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The Gaza Strip remained a technically self-governing territory. By the end of it Palestine was wiped off of the map, 78% was lost to Israel, forcing Palestinians to live under foreign occupation or in other Arab countries. Palestinians are still currently fighting for recognition of their rights.
Why Palestinians are firing at Israel
Palestinians launched hundreds of rockets towards Israel last November over the assassination of a top Hamas leader, and in February of this year over the death of a Palestinian man that occurred after an Israeli interrogation; however, many Americans do not know (because the media will not discuss it) that Palestinians also launch rockets because Israel builds illegal settlements on disputed land and because of a land, air and sea blockade around the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations Fact Sheet, Israel’s intense blockade started in 2007 and because of it 35% of Gaza’s farmland and 85% of its fishing water are totally or partially inaccessible. Israel’s naval force prevents fisherman from accessing areas where sardine shoals are found undermining the livelihood of 25,000 people. It is no wonder then that 44% of Gazans are food insecure and about 80% are aid recipients. Israeli imposed restrictions also lead to severe fuel and electricity shortages resulting in outages of up to 12 hours a day. Additionally, due to import restrictions, the quality of infrastructure and vital services has been declining. Its denial of basic human rights not only goes against international law but also amounts to collective punishment. Given all of this, does Gaza have a right to defend itself? Why are only Israelis victims and only Palestinians terrorists? Israel has imprisoned Palestinians in Gaza and has denied them basic supplies to survive and yet it is portrayed as simply defending itself.
No one mentions as Rula Jebreal does in her article, “Palestine’s Inevitable Third Intifada,” that despite the fact that President Mahmoud Abbas has met all the conditions the Israeli government has asked for – has recognized the state of Israel, and has denounced violence – he has failed to achieve any political concessions from Israel. She writes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored him, delayed talks and has humiliated him publically by continuing to build more settlements, which VIOLATES the 1993 Oslo Agreement. The agreement stated that neither side should take steps that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza, yet Israel has increased its settlements and its settlers from 300,000 to over 500,000.
An Unequal Conflict
Despite Israel’s violation of international law and of the Oslo Agreement, the media and American politicians right away lined up behind Israel. Nobody called out Israel for its oppression of Palestinian people, and no one mentioned the unequal conflict between them. Billions of dollars worth of US military aid is given to Israel, so it has state of the art technology while Gaza does not even have an army or an air force. Most of the rockets Palestine launches don’t even hit anything. According to The Economist:
- From January 1, 2012 to November 11th 2012: 1 Israeli was killed compared to 78 Palestinians.
- From November 13th-19th 2012: 3 Israelis were killed compared to 95 Palestinians.
- The total number of Israelis killed by rocket, mortar or anti-tank fire from Gaza since 2006 is 47, while the number of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli fire from April 1st 2006 to July 21st 2012 is 2,879.
This disproportionate use of power by Israel is because the United States allows it (we’re great at punking Arabs too). In America whether you’re a politician or the media you cannot criticize Israel, you are just supposed to blindly support it. Case and point: the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. The nomination of Hagel (now confirmed as defense secretary) angered many pro-Israeli politicians. I understand that America most definitely benefits from its relationship with Israel given its geopolitical location, but what I don’t understand is why Israel is dictating our political affairs? As long as the secretary has American interests, why does he need to have Israel’s? I’m glad Hagel called out Israel for intimidating lawmakers in Washington and that he spoke out against some of the sanctions against Iran. Had Hagel made the same remarks or more horrible ones about Arabs it would not have been such a big deal (it may have even helped his career). If you watched the Republican presidential candidates in front of AIPAC (the immensely powerful Jewish Lobby), it was Republicans trying to beat each other at who could kiss Israel’s ass the most. Newt Gingrich went as far as to say that Palestinians were a “made up people”. The callous and disrespectful way Republicans and Democrats dismiss Arabs is repulsive. It’s even more galling since no one would dare speak that way about Jewish people in America. Right away they would be labeled anti-Semitic and would lose any credibility, not to mention their job (see Helen Thomas). Implicitly what this shows is that in American politics you can speak disrespectfully about Arabs, but not Jewish people. This preferential treatment of Israel not only hurts our foreign relations with Arab countries, but even worse, it hurts the peace process America is trying to negotiate. How will Palestine and other Arab nations take us seriously when we enable Israel’s unjust actions?
The United Nations voted a few months ago and Palestine, although falling short of UN membership, is now recognized as a non-member state. While this is not statehood, it will grant Palestine access to International Criminal Court. Israel and the US voted against Palestine, but Palestine still received the support of 138 countries. What did Israel do after the Palestine vote? It defiantly boosted settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem just to spite Palestine. The fact is that the US is not acting fairly and the peace process has yielded nothing for Palestinians except a gross power imbalance that the US and Israel continue to perpetuate. Both sides need to compromise, not just Palestinians. Although Americans continue to say that the UN vote is counterproductive to peace talks, they do not mention how the settlements by Israel are also. As Rula brilliantly points out: Netanyahu while failing to negotiate with Abbas who has been peaceful and met his demands, has instead negotiated with Hamas who launched missiles. She notes that this is a dangerous precedent showing that if you peacefully meet Israeli demands they will ignore you, but if you launch missiles they will negotiate.
For many Americans feelings of empathy stop at Israelis, but they shouldn’t. The fact is that on both sides innocent people are being killed and BOTH sides are killing people. So both sides need to cut the shit. I sympathize with Israel and its leaders. I understand that it is surrounded by people and countries that do not recognize its existence and would definitely like to do it harm, so I understand its fear, but that doesn’t give it license to oppress others either. So before you agree with the media and many American politicians that only Israel is justified in its actions against Palestine, ask yourself if you are for its blockade and its illegal settlements, and if you would like to live in Gaza.
Here is a factsheet done by the United Nations on Israel’s Gaza blockade. http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_gaza_blockade_factsheet_june_2012_english.pdf
The history of Israel and Palestine is taken from The Arabs a History by Eugene Rogan.