By Lal Khan & Javed Iqbal
On Monday 14th May over 60 Palestinians were slaughtered by the Zionist state at the Gaza border. In those harrowing moments, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner were celebrating the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem along with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reactionary diplomats from different US imperialism’s subservient states. These ‘guests’ at the unveiling ceremony were eagerly chatting over festive music, food and displaying their inhuman nature by vying support to perhaps the most brutal and oppressive regime on the planet. In a sinister act, they were pretending to be oblivious of the carnage and blood being spilled in the sands of Gaza’s inhabitants including children and the elderly.
This bloodbath is the continuation of the Israeli army’s policy during the last seven weeks: shooting with live ammunition at demonstrators, on the false assumption that anyone approaching the separation fence is a legitimate target. Most of the wounded will be condemned to suffer lifelong injuries.
Most of the Gazans who died on Monday were shot by Israeli snipers. According to the Gazan Health Ministry, World Health Organisation representative and a group of aid agencies 2,771 people were wounded during Monday’s unrest. Of those, 1,360 were wounded by live fire, 400 by shrapnel and 980 were suffering from gas inhalation. Majority of those wounded by the live fire were struck in their lower limbs, the dead included eight children under the age of 16.
Tens of thousands of people have been protesting along the fortified border with Israel since 30th March, calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to their homes now inside Israel. Since the protest began, the Israeli army has killed 111 Palestinians, including an eight-month-old baby girl who died of tear gas suffocation. More than 12,000 have been wounded since then.
Week after week on every Friday in these months the ordinary people of the Gaza strip marched to the border to protest against the occupation and demanding their right to return to their homes. They had conquered the fear of death and the Zionist oppression. The Israeli Human rights organisation B’Tselem’s director, stated,“Soldiers – including snipers – fired for hours on end at protestors… I’ve never seen such massive destruction ever before.” The vanity and barbarous character of the Zionist regime was laid bare when the Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented, “There are no innocents in Gaza.”
According to an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation (NGO) of French origin best known for its projects in conflict zones Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) severity of the injuries demonstrates that Israeli forces are resorting to disproportionate force to incapacitate the protesters. The result is unnecessary damage and suffering and it has not stopped protesters from going back to fence. MSF has said that majority of their wounded patients say they have nothing to lose, no hope, no jobs, nothing and just want to go back and die at protest sites. Some are returning to the demonstrations with casts, on crutches, or with external fixators holding together shattered bones.
MSF went on to say that the collapse of all public services has heightened the disaster in Gaza. The ongoing Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and recent US funding cuts to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, has exacerbated the dire situation. A large number of the wounded will need specialist treatment and Egypt and Jordan should be prepared to facilitate medical evacuations of patients for long-term care that is not available in Gaza due to the Israeli blockade. Referrals to the West Bank may also be needed, and these should all be facilitated on the basis of medical need—not political considerations.
This horrendous tyranny was “condemned” as usual by Western and world governments apart from the US imperialists and their closest toadies. The autocratic and dictatorial new Ottoman Pasha of Turkey, Erdogan has come out and condemned the Israeli brutality but most Arab regimes including the largest and most sacrosanct monarchical Saudi Arabia were conspicuous with their criminal silence and their covert support for the Imperialists and their Zionist outpost in the Middle East stands exposed. In the present period, the Arab-Israeli conflict between Israel and these reactionary regimes has no reality left, not even as a cosmetic gimmickry. Arab regimes are willing and covertly moving to enter strategic relations with Israel, despite the objection of their inhabitants and are egging Israel and Trump to take on Iran their real enemy. The war in the Middle East for decisive military action against Iran will not only involve Israel and America but it will involve these reactionary Arab regimes beating Israel and American war drums.
Gaza was part of historic Palestine before the state of Israel was created in 1948 in a violent process of ethnic cleansing, expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. Between 1947 and 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees beyond the borders of the state. Israeli forces had taken more than 78 percent of historic Palestine, ethnically cleansed and destroyed about 530 villages and cities, and killed about 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities, including more than 70 massacres.
About 70 percent of the Gaza Strip’s population of two million are descendants of Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in other parts of Palestine in 1948, in places such as Lod and Ramle, and now live just a few kilometres away from their original homes and towns.
The Gaza Strip is frequently on the news. The small enclave is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and has been aptly described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”. It came under Israeli occupation, along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Gazans live under a decade-long land, sea and air blockade and cannot leave the Gaza Strip without hard-to-obtain permits from the Israeli military. Leaving through Egypt – their only other option – is restricted to a few days a year when the Rafah border is open.
The Israeli blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip, in its current form, has been in place since June 2007, when Israel imposed an airtight land, sea and air blockade on the area. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, as well as two of the three border crossing points; the third is controlled by Egypt.
Movement of Gazans takes place either through the Israeli crossing of Beit Hanoun or through the Egyptian crossing of Rafah. Both Israel and Egypt have kept their borders largely shut, and are responsible for further deteriorating the already-weakened economic and humanitarian situations. Israel has allowed passage through the Beit Hanoun crossing only in exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases. The same is the case with the Egyptians who according to a 2016 United Nations report, kept the Rafah crossing closed continuously since October 2014, including for humanitarian cases, except for 72 days of partial openings. The same report said one-third of exit permit applications for medical treatment outside of Gaza submitted in 2016 were rejected or delayed by Israel.
Israel’s siege on Gaza has devastated its economy and has directly led to underdevelopment of the territory. About 42 percent of Palestinians in Gaza suffer from poverty, youth unemployment stands at 58 percent, and some 80 percent rely on international aid, mainly food supply, according to the World Bank. The siege has led to shortages of basic items, like food and fuel. It has also stymied Gaza’s potential for long-term economic development. Chronic problems, such as access to education, healthcare and clean water, have become more pronounced.
Since the beginning of the siege, Israel has launched three protracted military assaults on Gaza: in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Each of these attacks has exacerbated Gaza’s already dire situation. Tens of thousands of homes, schools and office buildings have been destroyed. Rebuilding has been next to impossible because the siege prevents construction materials, such as steel and cement, from reaching Gaza.
Over the years, Israeli missile attacks and ground incursions have also damaged Gaza’s pipelines and sewage treatment infrastructure. As a result, sewage often seeps into drinking water, which has resulted in a sharp increase in waterborne disease. The assaults destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power plant. The Strip has been experiencing an electricity crisis for a decade, with most homes, businesses, and hospitals receiving power intermittently – at times, only up to three hours a day.
More than 90 percent of Gaza’s water has been rendered unsafe for drinking. Plans to improve Gaza’s water quality have been thwarted by the ongoing power crisis. Water projects are among the largest consumers of electricity. Without enough power to maintain existing water and sanitation systems, it is impossible to build new ones. Many homes in Gaza rely on electric pumps to push water to the top of the building. No electricity for them means no water.
In 2008, after Hamas pushed out Fatah, the first major Israeli assault on Gaza continued for 23 days which the Zionist state called “Operation Cast Lead”. This resulted in destroying 47,000 homes and killing more than 1,440 Palestinians.
In 2012, Israeli forces killed 167 Palestinians, in an eight-day assault dubbed “Operation Pillar of Defense” by Israel. The death toll included 35 children and 14 women. Gaza’s infrastructure was also heavily damaged; 126 houses were completely destroyed, and schools, mosques, cemeteries, health and sports centres, and media institutions were also hit, among other structures.
In 2014, Israeli launched another bloody and brutal attack spread over 50 days killing more than 2,100 Palestinians, including 500 children. Over 11,000 Palestinians were wounded, 20,000 homes were destroyed and half a million displaced from their homes.
The strategy and tactic of armed struggle conducted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Fatah and other left-wing organisations under the umbrella of the PLO did not succeed in dislodging Israeli Zionist state primarily because of the US, French and British imperialist support for the Zionist state. For the same reason, the Arab Israeli wars between the Zionist state and the progressive Arab regimes of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were unable to make any gains either. These failed to get the Palestinians their liberation. By the late 1980’s the methodology of the armed struggle proved to be futile and Palestinians on the ground began to draw different conclusion and embarked on the road of mass uprising culmination in the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987 against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The exhausted PLO leadership under Yasir Arafat afraid of the pressure of the masses from below and the miserable failure of their tactics over the 40 years rapidly switched over towards a negotiated solution. Under the auspices of the very same imperialists who had set up and financially, diplomatically and militarily propped-up their outpost in the middle east, were not going to get the Palestinian any freedom. The uprising lasted from December 1987 until 1993, with the signing of the Oslo Accords.
However, the PLO leadership made enormous concessions and backtracked from the original position of the Palestinian struggle to a large extent. Hence “to resolve this conflict” Palestinians made an extraordinary compromise in 1988. Despite the enormity of the injustice imposed on them four decades earlier, they recognised Israel as established in 1948, and settled for a Palestinian state in the occupied Palestinian territories, less than a quarter of their original homeland. However the famous handshake on the White House lawn between Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Madrid Conference, the Oslo accords and many other such diplomatic agreements notwithstanding did not deliver any salvation for the Palestinian. On the contrary, the Israeli subjugation, brutality, and further colonisation in the form of an aggressive programme of demolitions and illegal new settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank continued. Peace remained elusive because Israel simply moved the goalposts. It connected those settlements with roads that Palestinians are barred from using. This process cut up the occupied territories into pieces, making Palestinian statehood and independence impossible. In effect, the Nakba process continued under the pretence of a “peace process.”
Palestinians have been organizing demonstrations, boycotts, strikes and outright revolts from hostile foreign rule since the British and French imperialist carved up the Middle East after the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1914. The secret and conspiratorial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916 between Britain and France led to divvying up the spoils in the Middle East between France and Britain.
In 1917 the British imperialist took up the responsibility of establishing “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This declaration was contained in a letter written on November 2, 1917, by the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Baron Walter Rothschild, a close friend of the Zionist movement leader Chaim Weizmann. It stated that the British government viewed “with favour” the establishment in Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people, and [Britain] will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.” With the stroke of a pen, the British imperialist declared that indigenous Palestinians, 90 percent of Palestine’s population, would not exist as a political community for the sake of establishing a Jewish national home. This act was nothing but sealing the fate of Palestine to perpetual occupation, colonisation, war and turmoil. The dispossessed Palestinians are still suffering today from the historical crime of the imperialist policy of divide and rule. The British commitment was endorsed in 1920 as Herbert Samuel, a British Zionist, arrived in Palestine as Britain’s first High Commissioner. In that year, the British ‘mandate’ of Palestine was formalised by the League of Nations in a special article in its legislation.
The “nakba,” or catastrophe as Palestinians refer to it, did not end in 1948. Israel has justified its existence on an unequivocal Jewish demographic majority in a place where Muslims and Christians combined had constituted an overwhelming majority.
Rather than challenge this zero-sum equation of human existence, the United States has provided Israel with diplomatic cover and bottomless military aid. Israel continues to systematically dispossess Palestinians. It continues to steal Palestinian land for illegal settlements while destroying Palestinian homes and evicting families. Israel also continues to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland just because they are not Jewish.
This is why Palestinians have been resisting for more than seven decades: They are fighting to remain on their lands with dignity. They have valiantly resisted their colonial erasure. Palestinians have endured tremendous suffering and hardship, but there is no choice but to continue in the struggle. Israel and the Trump administration are trying to make permanent the exclusivist regime that they have imposed upon Palestinians — one based on racial and religious supremacy: apartheid. But Palestinians, even in this devastating moment, are paving paths of resistance to new and possible futures where freedom is not a mutually exclusive privilege but a natural human condition that can be enjoyed and embodied by all.
No US president ever applied any meaningful pressure on Israel. The Obama Administration made a couple of peace gestures on their way out. Donald Trump, however, moved Israeli leaders farther away from accountability, staffing his administration with extremist hardliners, backing away from Palestinian rights, taking Jerusalem “off the table”, ending the use of the word “occupation” to describe Israel’s military presence on Palestinian lands, and slashing assistance to Palestinian refugees by tens of millions of dollars.
Seventy years after the Nakba and its victims are no closer to justice today than they were back then. Much of the world has resigned itself to tepid commentary instead of meaningful action, as Israel bars Palestinians from every avenue towards dignity and freedom: No right to self-determination in a viable state of their own, no right to return to their original homes, and live sniper fire awaits those who mount an effective protest, even when they’re unarmed and non-violent.
But no matter how bleak the reality looks today, in terms of policy and on the ground, there is a counter-reality that must be recognised: Human aspiration for freedom and instinct of survival is mightier than any army or mighty force that stands in its way. Bullying and coercion over the past 70 years have not broken the spirit of Palestinian resistance.