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Life and Death in Palestine: Who Cares Today?
In 2010, basing their calculations on official maps created by the Civil Administration, B’Tselem researchers reported that 42% of the landmass of the West Bank fell under the control of settlers. An additional 18% has been seized by the IDF as “closed military areas” for purposes of “training”.

10 September   |   2017   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

This is an asterisked footnote in a book, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, by the American writer Ben Ehrenreich that was published by Penguin Press (USA) in 2016. The author dedicated it to his mother. On page 263, and in relation to this footnote, Ehrenreich ponders that only “After nearly half a century of evictions, demolitions, confiscations, mass arrests, targeted killings, and the steady and methodical disenfranchisement, dispossession, and humiliation of an entire people” did Palestinians realise that Israeli policies are also about expropriating land.

I have been involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for well nigh three decades. In one sense, I have earned my stripes by engaging the protagonists on both sides of this conflict. I have written extensively about it, spoken about it at conferences and advocacy meetings, read a large number of books on it, have been involved in second-track negotiations during the much-maligned Oslo years and have often see-sawed between optimism and pessimism. On a good day, I have thought of the very starkness and horror of the occupation ever since 1967 and experienced a few waves of optimism that Palestinians will eventually fulfil their self-determination and rid themselves of the yoke of oppression. But such feelings were almost inevitably followed by equally strong waves of pessimism that this breakthrough for peace, justice and security will simply not occur during my lifetime. In one sense, I suppose that my feelings replicated Emile Habibi’s satirical and powerful neologism of a ‘pessoptimist”.

And then I read Ehrenreich’s book. It is not a book that I enjoyed in any literal sense. Rather, it is one that captured me. It moved, angered, frustrated and infuriated me. It also forced me to face the enormity of the odds stacked up against a Palestinian people whose cardinal fault was that they were kicked out of their own lands and turned into refugees. And today - certainly after the Arab uprisings of 2010 - much of the world kicks their cause around like a ball in a football pitch.

Ben Ehrenreich lived in the West Bank, staying for long periods with Palestinian families in its largest cities and smallest villages. His book introduces us to ordinary Palestinians and reminds us not only of a cruel occupation that almost symptomizes the banality of evil and echoes its painful realities. He forces readers to deal with Israeli settlers who admit that they wish to drive Palestinians from their lands and whose actions are often sanctioned by the Israeli government. He crosses checkpoints, observes demonstrations (against Israel and the Palestinian Authority), describes walls and fences that have sundered home from field and goes to court where Palestinians, young or old, often appear before judges simply because they seek their freedom.

But what about 2017? Sadly, the Palestinian conflict that had mobilised much of the world has been reduced to a feeble and unhappy whimper. The Arab uprisings in 2010 - in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere - sucked our attention away from Palestine and its endemic ills. Coupled with the inability of the Palestinian officials - be they in Ramallah or Gaza - to defend their cause in view of their own bombast, self-interest or unending internecine battles, the Palestinian struggle no longer inspires the world. It does not even inspire belief in ordinary Palestinians anymore who hold pretty negative opinions of their leaders, no longer trust the vanishing two-state solution and who in increasing numbers are applying for Israeli citizenship as a way out of human misery. In fact, any serious political observer would tell us today that Palestine is no longer on the international agenda and that Israel is being callously and knowingly allowed to manage the occupation with undisguised impunity and without any moral or international challenge.

But is this solely an outcome of Palestinian ineptness and double-dealings? Is it due merely to Israeli artifice and stratagems or to its Janus-faced political leaders? I do not think so, and I would argue that part of this sagging disinterest is centred on the Arab World itself. Simply put, the Palestinian quest is no longer a cause that mobilises many Arab and Muslim leaders. It no longer elicits any practical support from them except with long statements and some crocodile tears. Why? Because Israel is no longer viewed by some Arab states as their foe. Israel is now a partner in the ‘war against terror’. Just look at the region that encompasses the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf countries. Iran has become the real bogey for some countries. Syria less so these days as its president is given temporary immunity from prosecution. Besides, some countries are busy demonising Qatar for spurious reasons, attacking Yemen or arresting and muzzling their own citizens.

But the overarching secret - one that is known by Arab masses everywhere - is that Israel is now an ally, at times overtly, and at others covertly, of some Arab countries and this cooperation is more important than the rights of disempowered Palestinians. The discourse in the Arab World let alone in other continents is no longer rights-based; it is interest-based. Meanwhile, Palestine resembles an old patient suffering from political sepsis and all the empty words that are supposedly supportive of Palestinian self-determination and legitimacy under International law are merely a way to keep the conflict in its non-temporary state of induced coma!

So would this change in a world that has become populist and thuggish and puts crude interests and personal solipsism ahead of human rights? I doubt it, but reading Ehrenreich’s book is sufficient to remind me that the unjust suffering of Palestinians cannot last forever no matter how the world thinks or behaves today. And Ehrenreich reinforces this point when he quotes the late British novelist Doris May Lessing in his Epilogue, “What else is there for any of us but courage?”

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2017   |   10 September


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