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Two anniversaries, one catastrophe

Palestinians across the world tomorrow mark the 60th anniversary of the Nakba – “the day of catastrophe”. Only hours before, on the evening of 14 May 1948, a group of Zionist Jews declared themselves the independent government of a Jewish state, excluding Palestinians who had lived on the land since time immemorial. They are two very different anniversaries.

A ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing and territorial expansion, organised by militias and terrorist groups, had created the conditions for the declaration. In April 1948, future Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Irgun terrorist gang massacred more than 100 men, women and children in the village of Deir Yassin. Many villages outside the land allotted to Jews under the 1947 United Nations partition agreement came under artillery bombardment. Soon, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled, never to see their homes and land ever again.

And that is a tactic that has served the Israeli government well, right up until today. Whilst going along with so-called “peace talks” and international diplomacy, they use force to establish a very different reality on the ground. Of course they have only been able to do this with the support of the United States, which recognised the state of Israel just eleven minutes after the declaration. They were followed five days later by the Soviet Union – a massive betrayal of the Palestinians. Stalin had taken part in the division of the post-war world, and the Middle East was not in his “sphere of influence”. Under the Stalinist policy of peaceful co-existence, the Soviet Union abandoned the Palestinians to their fate.

And for many years their plight was largely ignored, until a new generation launched a fresh phase of resistance, with the formation in 1964 of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The PLO brought all Palestinian groups under one umbrella and gave them an international voice. At its first meeting in 1964 the PLO adopted the Palestine National Charter, which called for the establishment of a democratic and secular state in Palestine and in 1969 Yassir Arafat became its chairman and symbol of national aspirations.

The demand for a secular state is being given fresh momentum today by a new generation of Palestinians – in Israel, in exile and in the occupied territories. This vanguard are refusing to go along with the “two-state” fraud. They recognise that there is no “peace plan” and that Israel’s rulers have no intention of allowing Palestinians to form a viable state.

Settlements continue to expand and Israel exploits the resources of the occupied territories without their population having any political or economic rights. Gaza is surrounded and under siege, entirely cut off from the West Bank; Hebron is surrounded by thousands of Israeli troops, protecting a handful of crazed Zionist settlers, and 40% of the West Bank is taken up with Israeli infrastructure, according to a recent UN report. There are over 400,000 settlers who have no intention of leaving the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.

As the London One State Group, which organised a packed conference in London last year, puts it: “The birth of the non-racial democracy in South Africa and the implementation of the power sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland have strengthened the belief that partition is not the inevitable, nor the most desirable resolution to the conflict." Jewish anti-Zionist writer Joel Kovel argues that the inner contradictions of Zionism have led Israel to adopt "state-sponsored racism" and says it is urgent to “envision Israel beyond Zionism”.

The Zionists fear a movement for a one-state solution beyond anything Hamas can throw at it. Prime Minister Yehud Olmert has said: “We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: ‘There is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want now is the right to vote’. The day they get it we will lose everything.” In 2006 the population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza taken together was: Jewish 5,393,400, Arab 5,328,949.

But Israeli Jews have more to gain than to lose from a one-state solution. Today they live in a militarised society which is far from the co-operative paradise promised by the early Zionist founders. Israel’s military spending is higher than all the countries on its borders combined, and it is the only nuclear power in the Middle East. It cannot be described as a safe haven for Jews – in fact is the most dangerous place for them on the planet.

But a new generation of leaders on both sides is needed to take this project forward. The challenge is to relaunch the Intifada along the lines of civil and economic resistance; to reject the whole two-state fraud once and for all; to find ways to make a principled appeal to Jewish Israelis and to re-establish Palestine national identity, to include Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who were excluded by “two states”.

In his 2007 book, One Country – A bold proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, Ali-Abunimah (founder of the Electronic Intifada website) writes that this is a time of profound uncertainty and risk but also of “tantalising opportunity”. And he concludes: “There is a need for urgent action on two fronts: One is in the realm of dialogue, imagination and construction of an inclusive vision. At the same time, there is a pressing need for resistance to the outcome Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinians ...”

Penny Cole
14 May 2008

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