On the Occasion of a Nonending Occupation

On the Occasion of a Nonending Occupation

Forty three years have passed since the June war of 1967 and sixty two years have elapsed since the 1948 war. The question today remains: where are we at in terms of ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and moving forward towards different relationships not simply between Palestinians and Israelis but throughout the Middle East. The answers are grim indeed. Instead of containing the conflict, Israel’s perpetual obsession with security and the industry created around it, whether in the military, media, diplomatic circles or in presentations aimed at convincing the Israeli population and others across the world of Israel as victim and candidate for eradication seems destined to lead Israel from one war into another. As witnessed in the recent tragic episode of the Gaza Flotilla taken over by Israeli commandoes, the Israeli action and its aftermath made out of the Turkish people a hostile nation.

But Israel’s obsession with security is reinforced by actions on the ground in order to keep lands occupied in June 1967 as part of Israel or under Israeli control. The Separation Wall that snakes around 720 kilometers plus in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the expansion of hundreds of Jewish settler colonies in the West Bank and the refusal to hand back the Golan Heights to Syria are all intended to supposedly provide Israel with self-made guarantees of survival. The siege on the Gaza Strip confirms again Israel’s security vision. Having pulled out its forces from the Gaza Strip, Israel could have chosen to normalize its relations with the Gaza population; instead it has placed all of them under house arrest by imposing the siege. There is no willingness to acknowledge that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians want a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict with Israel. Even the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 was seen as insignificant and not worthy for comment by a majority of the political elite in Israel.

Israel does not have a vision for peace nor is it willing to mold such a vision together with its Palestinian neighbors. The Israeli vision for a Palestinian state is for that state to remain, for an indefinite period of time, another additional guarantee for Israel’s security. Thus a viable Palestinian state, as called for by President George W. Bush, will only become viable, from an Israeli perspective, if it were totally dependent and remains subservient to Israel’s security needs and requirements. There is no other vision beside that of security to determine the future between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli actions in East Jerusalem are also proof that Israel does not have a vision for peace; rather its intention is to take over as much of the Arab Palestinian parts of the city in order to make it impossible to share the city in any future arrangement. The litany of woes, home demolitions, family evictions beside the series of administrative, municipal and other restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem make the city of Jerusalem a sad divided city contrary to the claims of Israeli politicians. The socio-economic, cultural and educational disparities between the Arab Palestinian and the Jewish inhabitants of the city are proof of the marginalization of the Arab city of Jerusalem. The Israelis are not courageous enough, maybe not wise enough, to opt for a vision in which Jerusalem is shared among all of its communities and the two nationalities in order that all will feel that the city is theirs with mutual acknowledgement and respect.

The prospects for peace and a just resolution to the Arab – Israeli conflict and to the Palestinian predicament of dispossession and estrangement are indeed not there. There is doubt that the powers of the world, including the USA, would convince the Israelis to move forward towards a comprehensive vision for peace. Instead, they may as well be convinced themselves by the Israelis that more military campaigns are called for in order to assure the security of the Israeli state.

The sense of desperation and injustice that is prevalent not only among Palestinians but also across the Arab and Muslim worlds is not a good omen for Israel and its Western allies. Unless something gives concretely on the ground and unless things start moving forward on the political process, then the prospects for the future are going to be disastrous to all of us in this region, Israel included.

*Dr. Sabella is Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees.  He lives in Jerusalem.