we need to call a spade a spade. what’s going on between Palestinians and Israelis is not a ‘conflict’ – it is an occupation.
By Hiba Farra
Palestine is back in the headlines. The forced displacement of Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, the attack on the Al-Aqsa mosque in the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, and the full-scale war launched on Gaza – all these injustices pushed Palestine to global headlines, although what has reached Australian media has been limited.
When the Palestinian struggle for freedom is discussed, the term ‘conflict’ is often being used and abused, as a continuous effort by some governments and mainstream media to dilute and belittle the Palestinian struggle for justice.
For Palestinians, this term does not adequately describe the Palestinian experience nor what the people of Palestine have endured over the past seventy-three years of their struggle for justice and freedom. And it surely does not describe the Israeli aggression and injustice towards the indigenous people of Palestine. Simply, it’s because what is going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis is not a ‘conflict’ – it is a colonial occupation.
For the world to get anywhere in this debate on the question of Palestine, the world needs to call it by its true name: occupation.
When a patient goes to the doctor seeking treatment for an illness, the first thing the doctor has to do is to diagnose the illness correctly and only then can the condition be properly treated. Misdiagnosing the condition will lead to prolonging or exacerbating the illness and eventually not being able to treat the patient at all.
When discussing the situation in Palestine and referring to it as a mere conflict, we are misdiagnosing the problem, making it impossible to go forward from here.
An occupation is where one group of people has been unfairly oppressed by another group of people, and in most cases been displaced from their homeland, whether physically, culturally, politically or all of the above.
For more than 73 years the settler-colonial state of Israel has occupied greater Palestine, and for more than 53 years Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Amnesty International attests that this has resulted in systematic human rights violations against Palestinians living there.
Human Rights Watch issued a major report in January 2021 stating that Israel is committing crimes of apartheid and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, The report explained that Israel has dispossessed, confined and forcibly separated Palestinians, and Israel has demonstrated systematic intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.
So let us break down this issue. Eighty percent of Palestinians living within the pre-1948 borders of British Mandate Palestine were displaced in the 1948 creation of Israel, and the majority of them and their descendants have remained stateless refugees ever since. Those who remained on their land after 1948 are now subject to over 65 discriminatory Israeli laws. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza have been living under Israeli military occupation since 1967, the longest military occupation in modern history, where every aspect of their life is impacted, restricted and controlled.
And yet it seems the world is expecting the Palestinians to give up on their aspirations and sign off their rights to freedom, dignity and equality in order to reach a lasting ‘peace’. Palestinians crave real peace. But any imposed ‘peace process’ that begins with a misdiagnosis of the problem will continue to compound the problem, and will continue to be unacceptable to the Palestinians; their seventy-three years of resistance makes it clear enough that real peace must bring peace for all.
Some might argue that all the peace talks over the years are proof that Israel was open to settling this issue and giving Palestinians some of their rights. Unfortunately this is far from the truth, and to help understand that we should look at the ideological regime that governs the state of Israel. It is soon evident that the rights that are given to the Israelis are in no way to be compared to those of the Palestinians, and that discrimination is one of the main pillars that the Israeli ideology was built on.
For those who do not believe that this is the reality on the ground, you would do well to go to Israeli schools and neighborhoods, and compare them to those of the Palestinians. To visit some towns like Al-Khalil/Hebron and compare the quality of the ‘Israeli only’ roads to the ones Palestinians are permitted to drive on.
To compare the water restrictions for the Palestinians there, to the unrestricted water allowance for the (illegal) Israeli settlers.
To go to the Israeli military courts where young Palestinian children are shackled and taken to stand in front of a military judge after signing papers written in Hebrew (a language many can’t speak or understand), for acts as simple as throwing a stone.
To break bread with any number of Palestinian refugees in the global diaspora, now in their third and fourth generation of statelessness.
To observe the collective punishment in demolishing Palestinians homes in the occupied West Bank.
To look at the illegal Israeli settlements that were built on Palestinian land across the West Bank, while the very negotiations for ‘peace’ were taking place and still continue to be built until this day.
To visit Sheikh Jarrah, that quiet neighborhood in east Jerusalem where Palestinian families have been living for generations and being forcibly uprooted from their homes, to be replaced by Israeli settlers; Sheikh Jarrah is another proof that as we commemorate the seventy-three years of Nakba we are reminded that our Nakba still continues.
And finally and most importantly, to bear witness to the continued siege on Gaza that has turned it into the world’s largest prison, where 2.048 million people are living in 365 km2 of rubble and being denied the basic needs for living, and now to witness the systematic killing of the people of Gaza that have been subjected – for the fourth time since 2008 – to the most brutal Israeli killing machines on a daily basis for the past two horrific weeks.
Israel has continued building illegal settlements despite many United Nations resolutions that has urged them to stop and to dismantle existing ones. As one example, UN resolution 2334 that states: “Recalling the obligation under the Quartet Roadmap, endorsed by its resolution 1515 (2003), for a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity, including ‘natural growth’”.
If you read the Oslo Accords and compare what the Palestinians were meant to be given on paper with what they have been given in reality, it is difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that Israel entered these negotiations to simply ‘buy time’ and build as many settlements on Palestinian land as they possibly can. Israel has been deceptive by giving the world the impression that it wants peace while reality suggests that Israel is so far from wanting peace, as it has no intention of relinquishing its discriminatory occupation.
And on the issue of justice, let us remember that the displaced Palestinians’ Right of Return, inscribed under UN resolution 194 since 1948, has been denied and ignored by Israel and not mentioned in any recent negotiations, while the right to settle in Israel can be exercised by any European or American Jew that has no ties with the land of Palestine. Can such blatant discrimination ever lead us to peace?
And while touching on UN resolutions that have been dismissed and totally ignored by Israel, we need to shed some light on UN resolution 252 that, in light of current events, is clear proof that Israel is defying international law by changing the legal status of Jerusalem and continuing its illegal land grab and the uprooting of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
One would stop and ask, based on all the above: are the Palestinians being unreasonable in their demands for freedom, equality and justice? Or, for that matter, does Israel truly want peace? Is there a road to peace? Is it reachable or are the obstacles too hard to overcome? And finally, the main question: where to go from here? Have we reached a dead end?
The answer to all the above invites us to take a look at the numerous United Nations resolutions that Israel has ignored over the past 73 years and ask ourselves: what if it were any other country that committed this number of violations of international law? How would the international community react?
When looking at all this, it is hard to see a glimmer of hope or a light at the end of the seventy-three-year-long tunnel. Unless, that is, the international community stands up for justice and humanity, and calls Israel out for all its violations of both international law and human rights. The answer will come when the world stops repeating the lies of the oppressor and blaming the victim, and a good start would be acknowledging that what is happening on the ground is a brutal occupation rather than a simple conflict.
Achieving a just and durable peace in Palestine is possible. It is time for the world to speak up and stand on the right side of history.
Hiba Farra holds a law degree from AAU University in Jordan. She is a community organiser and a proud advocate for the fight for Palestinian justice.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.