Opinion |

We Palestinians Are Not Children of a Lesser God

Israel’s goal has never been coexistence between two sovereign, democratic states, but Israeli supremacy from the river to the sea. But from Sheikh Jarrah to Gaza, we Palestinians are rising up, unified, for our rights

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Palestinians demonstrate the city of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, in solidarity with Gaza, this week.Credit: ABBAS MOMANI - AFP
Sabri Saidam

International and Israeli commentators love to talk about a "cycle of violence." For Palestinians, that’s an even more worthless cliché: the violence we are now witnessing is part of our daily, oppressive reality.

It is difficult for Israelis, to accept that they have systematically denied the rights of the Palestinian people for so many decades. That’s why they often default to crude propaganda that blames the victims: From "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" to "Arabs live better under Israeli control than anywhere else in the Middle East."

But brute reality clearly contradicts that propaganda, and the dissonance is increasingly clear even to Israelis. From illegally annexed Jerusalem, to besieged Gaza, from Hebron and even the Galilee, the Palestinian people is denouncing, with a strong and unified voice, the injustices we have suffered for generations.

The international community likes to call for "peace and security." That will undoubtedly fail if there is no will to address the facts that have built up the reality of apartheid.

Israelis tend to forget, but the only party that has ever made any significant compromise for peace is the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the PLO, the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It recognized the 1967 borders, only 22 percent of historic Palestine, as the borders of a future state. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy successive Israeli governments married to stubbornness and territorial maximalism.

Israeli security forces take aim at Palestinian demonstrators in Hebron during protests against Israel's occupation and its airstrikes on Gaza this week.Credit: HAZEM BADER - AFP

As time moved on, it became clear that Israel’s goal had never changed: This was not about a coexistence between two sovereign and democratic states, but about Israeli supremacy from the river to the sea. That meant, on the one hand, expanding illegal colonial settlements to preclude the birth of an independent Palestinian state, while on the other hand approving racist legislation aimed at treating Israel’s own Palestinian citizens as less than second-class citizens.

The facts are indisputable. Since the PLO’s recognition of the 1967 borders, Israel has almost tripled the number of settlers in occupied territory. This is not "natural growth," but part of a network of incentives provided either by the state or by organizations working closely with Israeli officials.

This is the case in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of Occupied East Jerusalem, where settler organizations get official backing to evict Palestinians from their homes. Let us look deeper into that case in particular.

Israelis claim that this land belongs to them, because they have ownership deeds dating from before 1948. But Palestinians with title deeds cannot claim their own property, not even Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. How far does an average Jewish Israeli citizen think that a human being can tolerate such egregious injustice and lies? 

A Palestinian youth looks for salvageable items amid the rubble of the Kuhail building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City this week.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS - AFP

And the asymmetry isn't just about land and property rights, but also about nationality and citizenship, access to natural resources and various services. It's about the "luxury" of basic living conditions, and civil, political and human rights!

The privileged Israeli population is not willing to give up what it has illegitimately taken from the other, the Palestinians that is seen as the weaker and exploitable party. The international community allows Israel to continue being the privileged party and does very little to assess or confront the injustices it inflicts.

But just like during the First Intifada, most Israelis have been caught by surprise. They didn’t expect that Palestinians from all over, from Akka [Akko] to the Naqab [Negev], from Nazareth and Jaffa, would rise up and demand their rights.

This is a bigger phenomenon than what happened in Jerusalem, or the Netanyahu-sponsored attacks on the Al Aqsa mosque. Days earlier, Israel’s occupation forces had attacked Palestinian Christians on their way to celebrate Orthodox Easter in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

This isn’t at all about one particular case. It is a popular mobilization, based on the shared interests of a whole nation. And that includes rejecting the policies of fragmentation imposed by Israel on all Palestinians, rightly categorized as apartheid, in recent reports by  B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch

These painful days, from Sheikh Jarrah to Gaza and beyond, should serve as an opportunity for Israelis to shake off the well-worn propaganda they’ve absorbed for so long, and to look afresh at the immorality of systematically denying our rights.

They need to come to terms with the fact that their "privileged" status won’t last forever, and that serving the cause of justice is the only way to secure a future of lasting peace and security.

Failing to do so is a guaranteed route back to the misnamed "cycles of violence" that are symptoms of an apartheid regime that many Israelis still don’t want to see.

Israelis also need to know that not one Palestinian will give up their rights, no matter where they live. We have offered enough proof of our resilience. We are not the children of a lesser God.

Sabri Saidam is the Deputy Secretary General of the Fatah Central Committee

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