The Real Roots of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

By Julian Kunnie

There is no question that the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict is now the most explosive in the world today. The violent incursions by the Israeli army into the occupied territories and the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 that resulted in over 240 deaths and 50,000 people fleeing their homes in south Lebanon, is yet another indication of the grossly violent nature of the Israeli regime, akin to the militaristic intransigent apartheid regime of South Africa of the 1970s and 1980s that terrorized the neighboring African states of Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Factually, Israel is a full-fledged apartheid state, a settler-colonial outpost that essentially serves the designs of United States imperialist hegemony in that part of the world, home to the largest oil reserves on the planet. Israel is currently repeating its bellicose behavior of 1982 when it illegally invaded Lebanon to force out the Palestine Liberation Organization, killing close to 20,000 civilians in the process. In 1982, it laid siege to the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla, and under the watchful eyes of then Israeli defense minister, Ariel Sharon, gave sanction to the South Lebanese army that massacred over 900 Palestinian women, men, and children.

In 2004, once again, Israeli military forces pummeled the Palestinian refugee camps of Jenin and Balata resulting in the massacre of hundreds of women, men, and children. All of these acts are war crimes and constitute acts of genocide, given the intentional nature of the assassination of unarmed civilians. In Jenin, houses were razed to the ground by Israeli tanks with no prior warning. Accounts by journalists and Palestinians who survived described horrific accounts of executions of unarmed civilians, mothers shot as they attempted to rescue wounded children, elderly men being stripped and humiliated in front of youngsters, and ambulances prevented from attending to the injured and wounded. U. S. supplied Apache helicopters deliberately targeted civilians according to numerous Palestinian witnesses. Ramallah and Jenin resembled places devastated by an earthquake, the stench of dead bodies rising under the rubble serving as a terrifying reminder of the carnage, all under the pretext of combating terrorism. The bombing of offices of the late Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority and the sadistic and indiscriminate violence of the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians and the denial of food and water to thousands of people, triggered protests around the world, in places as far away as Indonesia. The U. S. government which supplied the helicopters and fighter bombers to Israel then tacitly endorsed support of the Israeli regime to protect itself against terrorist Palestinians, asserting that Yasser Arafat had invited such reprisals because of his inability to curb suicide bombers. As with most colonial situations, the U. S. arrogated to one person among the colonized to be chiefly responsible for the actions of all who are colonized. In 2004, former U.S. president George W. Bush referred to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a man of peace, the same man who supervised the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Chatilla in 1982. Today, Israeli leader Benjamim Netanyahu continues to defy the international community and even U.S. president Barrack Obama’s call for a dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, indications of the refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood.

In July, 2006, the world witnessed the outrageous criminal acts of the Israeli apartheid-like regime against the Palestinian people, who are surrounded by a towering wall around the West Bank and hemmed in by barbed-wire fences, with 10,000 people being held in detention in Israeli jails where torture and humiliation are widespread. Lebanon has borne time and again the brunt of Israeli military aggression, with the Israeli regime claiming that it’s invasion of Lebanon is essential to the ousting of militants from Hezbollah, and in retaliation for the killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the abduction of two others. Israel’s response is not mere overkill where hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian lives are equated with those of two Israelis; it is also criminal in its intent and effect. Why is it that most of those killed in Lebanon are overwhelmingly civilian, including villagers with women and children, such as the eight in the village of Aitaroun on July 16 and families huddled in the basement of a building in Tyre on the same day? Why does the world stand by idly, observing daily pictures in newspapers of women and children standing outside the ruins of homes pulverized by Israeli bombs, as we did of a woman and her children in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on July 19?

In line with its overt support and maintenance of Israeli aggression, the U. S. government continues to threaten a veto of any resolution that condemns Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinian and Lebanese civilians at the UN Security Council since the U.S. views the Israeli attacks as legitimate actions against terrorists. How can one equate the actions of a small militia like Hezbollah or Hamas gunmen with that of a regime armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons that employs its massive airpower and military might to decimate and annihilate defenseless civilian populations? Following Hamas’ victory in free and fair elections in the occupied Palestinian territories, the U. S. joined Israel earlier this year in punishing the Palestinians. It froze the funding of Palestinian civil service sectors through international donor agencies, causing excruciating poverty and hunger for Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza, insisting that Hamas remained a terrorist organization. Such is the character of U.S. support for democracy among oppressed and colonized people like the Palestinians! This is precisely the reason that Palestinian women burnt Israeli, U.S., and European flags in an angry anti-Israeli protest in Gaza City on July 18—because Israel is viewed as an extension of U.S. and European Union imperialism and takes comfort in protection by these superpowers.

The pro-Zionist media establishment in the U.S. that exerts a stranglehold on news networks around the world continues to portray the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a tit-for-tat historical feud in which both sides are apportioned equal culpability in the supposed endless cycle of violence, where Palestinian suicide bombers are viewed as the essential problem, provoking legitimate aggressive Israeli aerial bombings of civilian areas and targeted assassinations of Palestinian political leaders. Certainly, the killing of Israeli civilians is regrettable and tragic. Yet, what has gone largely unmentioned is the fact that over 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli military between 2002 and 2004, most under the age of 15 years. Are youth under 15 the real terrorists who pose a threat to Israeli civilians? Over 25,000 Palestinian civilians have been wounded since the beginning of the second Intifada.

Owing to its ownership generally by mammoth corporations, including military industrial giants (the National Broadcasting Corporation in the U.S. is owned by General Electric, for instance), the press generally regurgitates the ideological position held by the White House, which justifies the huge infusions of military and economic aid to Israel, up to $3 billion per year, for a population of just over 3 million people. Israel has the fourth most powerful military in the world, built with the technical and financial assistance of the U. S. over the past 50 years. It possesses nuclear weapons, assisting the apartheid regime of South Africa to explode an atomic device in 1979.

It is critical that for any lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that the real roots of the situation be told. First, the roots of the conflict are not millennia old as we have been led to believe, but actually began with the rise of the modern Zionist movement in the late 19th century. After World War I, Jewish immigration to Palestine intensified through the 1920s and 1930s, prompting fears by the indigenous Palestinian Arab population of becoming a minority in their own land and resulting in outbreaks of attacks on Jewish settlers. By 1939, as World War I was launched, Arabs constituted 69% of the Palestinian population, and Jews were 31%. Notwithstanding this population disparity, the UN partitioned Palestine, allocating 55% of the land to the minority Jews who owned only 7% of the land. This action precipitated the opposition by Palestinians to what was perceived as an unjust distribution of land that significantly disadvantaged them and made them pariahs in the land of their birth. The establishment of the Israeli state subsequently in 1948 caused 700,000 Palestinians to flee from the war raging around them. Thousands saw their homes bulldozed and erased, forcing them to become refugees in occupied Palestine and exiles in other parts of the Arab world. The Palestinians did not leave Palestine volitionally because they were ordered to by Arab military commanders who wanted to push the Jews into the sea as is the popularly held view. Even noted Israeli historians like Avi Shlaim and Han Pappe confirm this fact of Palestinian dispossession and forced expulsion. It was not hatred of Jews that provoked Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlers, but the fact of losing homes and possessions, family, and land.

It is not the Arabs who generated hatred of Jews. The Palestinians are portrayed as violent terrorists and demonized, principally because they have never agreed to surrender their national identity and right to their homeland in Palestine, even though they are the only people in the world living under direct military occupation for over 50 years. To depict Palestinians as an essential barbaric, savage and violent people by nature and culture is racist, and ought not be permitted in any information coverage because it distorts the existence of a people and perpetuates hatred and lies about them irrationally. During the presence of Moorish Arabs in Spain from the 8th century, it was in Andalusia where Arabs, Jews, and Christians thrived peacefully for centuries. It was Averroes, the Muslim scholar of the 12th century, who preserved the works of Aristotle in Arabic and subsequently made these available to the Latin speaking world, even though Christian emperors strictly prohibited such works. It was the Muslim intellectuals of Cordova and Granada to whom many Jewish intellectuals turned to for inspiration, all of which was stamped out, not by Muslim intolerance in the late 15th century, but by Christian totalitarianism under the Catholic sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella. The Muslim world then provided refuge to Jewish communities seeking protection against Christian fundamentalist violence.

The prejudice against Palestinians and Arabs must stop. Today, in the land of Jesus’ birth, shortly after the commemoration of the passion and death of a Palestinian Jewish rabbi over 2,000 years ago, the war rages, predicated on colonial violence and the politics of occupation. Since the Oslo agreement of 1993, the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories has intensified, igniting anger among the Palestinians who view such well-provided and resourced settlements as pockets of Israeli affluence amidst widescale Palestinian poverty. Just like the attempts to place arm bands with numbers on the arms of Palestinian youth, kindling pictures of Nazi Germany (denounced even by an Israeli military general) these settlements are viewed as humiliating of an oppressed people. Young suicide bombers reflect the deep sense of hopelessness and despair of a people who have been refugees for over 50 years, and who view all negotiations as futile because their dream of a homeland fades daily.

The Palestinians need a homeland unconditionally, and have agreed to co-exist with an Israeli state so long as they have a portion of their homeland returned and can once more live as a sovereign people. Alternatively, why could not Palestinians and Israelis live in a secular democratic state where everyone’s counted equally? Is it because the Israeli’s fear the power of democracy where they would be a minority, just as whites feared such in an apartheid-free South Africa? Is this too much for the Western world to accept? Must blood continue to be spilled, of a people whose only crime is that they are Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim, living in an area surrounded by massive oil resources needed for Western consumption? Is the real reason that the U. S. fears a Palestinian state because it could be a democratic and progressive state unlike most regimes in the region, and which could inspire the Arab masses to also agitate for true democracy and justice, where the billions of dollars of oil sale revenues could be used to fund the development of Arab peoples and not be re-invested in the West, as is currently the case? The truth cannot be suppressed forever. The occupation of Palestine must end now for a lasting peace to prevail in the region.

Julian Kunnie is Director and Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, in the USA and the author most recently of Indigenous Peoples’ Wisdom and Power: Affirming our Legacy Through Narratives (Ashgate, 2006). His forthcoming work is Globalization and Its Victims: Wars Against Mother Earth and the Poor of the World (Palgrave-Macmillan).

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )