A land called Palestine
Synopsis : There is a beautiful country where a struggle continues to gain their independence and where people wait and suffer since 1948 when the State of Israel came into being and occupied a part of Palestine forcing millions into exile. They all want to return home and live in peace and prosperity but it is denied them in a political impasse that no intervention of the UN has been able to resolve.
I had a friend in Algeria called Abou who was a Palestinian living in exile. He was a very nice fellow and friendly. He once told me that to send a letter to his family that still lived in Gaza, he had to send it to Cyprus from where someone had to redirect it to Gaza. This round about way made it difficult for him to communicate with his loved ones because of the blockade of Gaza instituted by the Israelis and this was in 1972.
He also told me that Gaza had a new airport but no planes were allowed to land or take off from there due to this blockade so he had to go to Egypt and cross over to Gaza at the Rafah crossing.
Since the establishment of the state of Israel in the land of Palestine in 1948 and its brutal birth, there have been millions of Palestinians who fled in exile to Jordan, Egypt and many other countries that would take them and they still live in vast refugee camps abroad since 1948.
A whole generation of Palestinians has grown up under appalling conditions of these camps and still dreams of returning to their country someday. They have tried peaceful demonstrations and when that did not work, took to armed struggle called Intifada spearheaded by their leader Yasser Arafat but Arafat died without realizing his dream of a free Palestine.
The 1967 war that the Israelis fought against its more powerful Arab neighbors and won only in a few days rewrote the history of the Holy land and new boundaries were drawn by the victor that enlarged the land of Israel and stretched all the way to Sinai where they had to fight another war with Egypt later on.
Egypt lost that war as well and this emboldened the Israelis to start resettlement of Jewish population in the occupied territory of the West Bank and elsewhere against the wishes of the United Nation resolutions and continues to this day. This defiance on their part comes from their military victories and immense financial support from the Jewish Diaspora so the Palestinians still wait and dream.
I met some Palestinians in Sienna in Italy one day and found that they were so nice people and eager to help me find a trottoria for the night.
Source : Google photo of Jimmy Carter making peace
They were like Abou and wished to go home but still wait. In the meantime the demolition of Arab homes in the West Bank continues to make way for new homes for the Jews. Many US presidents tried as peace brokers but no one succeeded. Jimmy Carter once brought them together so a peace treaty was signed by Sadat and Begin so that ended the animosity between Egypt and Israel but did not solve the problem of Palestine. Clinton also brought Arafat and Israelis together to make peace but that went nowhere.
I was struck by the vehemence of the Jewish Diaspora living in the United States and their superb organization and support of Israel when one day I was invited to a Jewish home in Washington,D.C. There I met with very young girls who told me in no uncertain terms their feelings towards the Arabs although they had never been to Israel and knew no Arabs or Palestinians. I could not tell them that they too dreamed of a homeland for themselves just like the Israelis because they would not listen. On a very short notice they could flood Washington,D.C. with thousands of telegrams in support of Israel and against any move to legitimize the claims of the Palestinians. The Jewish lobby is very strong indeed.
Against such odds, the poor Palestinians are at a loss to know what else they can do so some of them join the militant bands that control Gaza now and bring on them the military retributions of Israel that the world condemns. The stranglehold on Gaza has made life very difficult for the residents there and they run short of everything they need to live. The food and medicals supplies sent from other countries by ship are turned away by the Israeli patrols and Rafah crossing is tightly monitored.
The drones keep a watchful eye on Gaza and alert the military if any thing unusual happens there on the ground.
Now let us look at the situation there from the point of view of the Israelis who are bombarded with rockets from the north which is Lebanon and from the west where Gaza lies. The Palestinians who are allowed into Israel often create problems by throwing bombs and shooting Israelis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv or attacking the isolated kibbutzs so they take measures to stop them.
At the core of this problem lies Jerusalem where Saladin built a mosque called Al Aqsa on top of the holy temple mount where the Jews had the original temple. In the heart of Israel stands this symbol of Islam that reminds the Jews everyday that their homeland was invaded by the Moslems and their holy sites were desecrated by Saladin to build a mosque that sows hatred in the heart of every Jew.
The orthodox Jews still hope to build their temple on the mount someday and have gathered stones for it but they may have to wait a long time because of the festering issue of the homeland for the Palestinians and the status of Jerusalem.
Israel says Jerusalem is their capital and cannot be divided as it stands now and they will not stop the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank which is by definition an occupied territory. So both sides have taken a hard line and dig their heels in the sand.
One should have some sympathy for the Jews for their desire to have a homeland because of the trauma of their slaughter in the hands of the Nazis so they were desperate. The history of Jewish persecution in the hands of others is very ancient that convinced Moses to bring them out from Egypt to Palestine long ago but the Diaspora suffered elsewhere as well. The antisemitism was rooted in Europe where Hitler found it convenient to persecute them and gas them in various concentration camps like Auschwitz and Birkenau in very large numbers. Those who survived still bear the scar and will readily show you their tattooed numbers on their arms.
So the next generation of Jews fought hard to return to Palestine and establish their homeland with the help of the British and the Balfour declaration. They had vowed never to let other people persecute them. You can not argue with that given their history.
The only problem was that the land they occupied to create their homeland was called Palestine where a people called the Palestinians lived so they had to be uprooted to make a place for the new found nation of Israel. Believe me, this creation of Israel was violent but that is a part of the history that does not need to be repeated here.
It is true that many Palestinians live in Israel and some have even been elected to their parliament. Many live in the old part of Jerusalem apart from the Jewish quarters in an uneasy existence and resist the pressure to declare Jerusalem the sole capital of Israel because they too want it to be the capital of their future homeland. Israelis are adamant on this issue and say that Jerusalem cannot be divided. So that is the impasse.
The point is that Palestine is where Jews, Moslems and Christians all make their claims not to mention various factions of Christians who still quarrel among themselves about minor matters.
Its dry soil has been soaked in blood since Christ was born there and crucified by the Romans. Later came the Crusaders who tried to chase the infidel Moslems out but Saladin came to shed more blood of the Christians. This bloodletting for a dry piece of rocky land still continues with no end in sight. All this violence for what? Is one’s faith more important than other’s and why?
Just imagine for a second if both sides compromised on some key issues and made peace, what a wonderful future the Palestinians and the Israelis could enjoy? There could be trade between them, cessation of all hostilities, tourism that could bring in huge benefits, create jobs for millions and speed up the infrastructure development.
There could be investment from abroad in agriculture, industries and many other fields to the tune of billions of dollars and Gaza airport could then become the gateway to the world for everybody.
All the Israelis have to do is to sit down with the Palestinians and sort it out in a feasible way and make it happen by recognizing that the Palestinians no longer need to stay as refugees in foreign countries and need a home land just like Israel. They can co exist side by side and benefit from it. They can turn their rocky land into the garden of Eden using the technology the Israelis claim to have and help Palestine grow as a nation that benefits everybody. But it needs visionaries and the courage of Anwar Sadat who singlehandedly made peace with Israel. The Egyptians also negotiated to get the Sinai back but Sadat paid a high price and was assassinated. By who and why does not matter now.
So Barack Obama still has a few days in the White House and the enormous power to recognize the State of Palestine before he leaves office to someone who wants to turn the clock back but will he do it? Will he take the sound advice of Jimmy Carter? It could be his crowning achievement and the history will always remember him as a visionary but will he take such a step? I don’t know and I am not holding my breath.
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