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8 May 2008 Edition

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International: Israeli actions overshadow state anniversary

Celebrations and Disaster


THIS MONTH Israel will mark the 60th anniversary of its proclamation of independence. But amidst the celebrations a discordant note is being struck by Jewish organisations and activists, both in Israel and across the globe.
That their voices are being heard above the celebratory din marks a significant departure and indicates that Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories have significantly diminished its own authority and may well be eroding the very foundations of the state itself.
Typical of this ever increasing discontent is a public letter circulated in the UK media earlier this week, which was signed by over 100 members of Britain’s Jewish community, prominent names from the arts, politics and  academia.
Their message was clear: “We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birth of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza.....”
On one level, the modern day state of Israel has much to celebrate: grown from 650,000 people in 1948 to some seven million today; a thriving economy (albeit one built on Washington’s annual US $3-4 billion subsidy) and a society that remains more open and free than many of its neighbours.
Indeed, two of the modern state’s fiercest opponents are Israeli: journalist Amira Hass, who works with the daily Ha’aretz newspaper and is the daughter of parents who survived the Nazi death camps at Bergen and Belsen; another is the former Irgun member Uri Avnery, the founder of one of its most effective opposition/ peace groups, Gush Shalom.
But Israel 60 years young is a nation riven by fundamental flaws that would suggest it cannot continue along the same path for the next six decades.
No other nation comes even close to Israel’s defiance or disregard for UN resolutions. It is in violation of some 138, while Iraq notched up a mere 69. In addition, Israel has existed in a state of perpetual war for the last 60 years and, as a result, is the only state in the modern era that does not have internationally declared borders. This is simply not sustainable in the longer-term.
Just as May marks an occasion for celebration in Israel, so it marks the anniversary of massive loss for the Palestinian people, those within the Occupied Territories and the estimated 4 million that now comprise the diaspora.
While Israel celebrates, Palestinians mark what they simply term ‘al naqba’ – the catastrophe, or the disaster – the events of May 1948 when anything from 700,000 to one million Palestinian fled their homes in what was to become the state of Israel. In the fetid, teeming camps of Gaza and elsewhere refugee status became the only legacy they could pass on, first to their children and then to their grandchildren. Many still carry with them the keys to the homes they left behind.
Official Israeli history says Palestine was unoccupied, or that there was no nation present in the territory which, in 1948, the UN had decreed was now to house both peoples – ‘a land without people’, as the Zionist phrase goes. Curiously, South Africa’s Boers based their own state on a similar lie. Israel also claims that any Palestinians who did leave in May 1948 did so either voluntarily or at the urgings of surrounding Arab states and leaders. Nonsense.
The campaign of terror can be traced back to the late 1930s, but gathered pace in the postwar years as the outline of the UN plan for historic Palestine became clearer. It was spearheaded by Irgun and the Stern Gang and had the clear objective of cleansing historic Palestine of its indigenous population.
The campaign effectively culminated in the massacre of Deir Yassin, in April 1948, when Stern and Irgun gunmen attacked a village and slaughtered an estimated 250 civilians. Irgun was led by one Menachem Begin who, as Israeli Prime Minister would launch the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which the Sabra and Shaitla massacres were carried out.
Begin wrote approvingly of how Deir Yassin had induced “limitless panic” in the natives, who began to flee their homes: “This mass flight soon developed into a maddened uncontrollable stampede. The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated.”
In 1948, Palestinians lost 78 percent of their land. In 1967, following the Six Day War, they lost the remaining 22 percent, what is the West Bank and Gaza. 
Today, separate Palestinian authorities hold a feeble authority over a portion of these territories – pockmarked with hundreds of illegal settlements and connecting roads from which the Palestinians are banned – which have been likened to nothing more than modern day bantustans.  And when the Apartheid Wall is finally completed, it is estimated that the Palestinians will lose control of almost half of that 22 percent of historic Palestine.
In 1988, 40 years after the UN decreed that Palestine would be home to two peoples, the PLO made an historic compromise by accepting the partition of what had been historic Palestine. Israel has never done so.
Six years ago, the late, outstanding Palestinian intellectual Edward Said addressed this hypocrisy at the heart of modern day Israel. What he wrote then still holds true. It is above all, an issue for Israel and its unquestioning supporters to address:
“Now the international community must lay upon Israel the obligation to accept the principle of real as opposed to fictional partition...of limiting Israel’s untenable extra-territorial claims, those absurd Biblically-based pretensions and laws that have so far allowed it to override another people completely. So far, all we have heard is that Palestinians must give up violence and condemn terror – is nothing substantive ever demanded of Israel?”

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