Israel’s celebrations continue this week, this time celebrating nearly 51 years of military occupation and the denial of freedom.
As a reward for maintaining a more than half-century of occupation, the U.S. will also be moving its embassy to Jerusalem – a decision that only serves to embolden Israel’s illegal actions.
It is easy for Israel to celebrate. It's gotten what it wants: land, international recognition, a quisling Palestinian leadership that maintains security for Israel and barely a whisper of condemnation from world powers.
But amidst all the celebrations, it is time for Israelis to finally look in the mirror and acknowledge the gross historical injustice that was committed against Palestinians in 1948 – and that continues to be done to us today – and to take action to reverse it. Such an acknowledgement and attempt at redress are pre-requisites for any true peace in the region, and for the creation of a brighter future in which Israelis and Palestinians can live together as equals.
Israel’s establishment seven decades ago came at the expense of the Palestinians. 75 percent of the Palestinian population were expelled from Palestine, unable to return. Today, millions of Palestinians remain languishing in refugee camps in the occupied territories or neighboring countries, waiting to fulfil their internationally-recognized right to return home.
But nearly 150,000 Palestinians remained, including my own parents and grandparents, despite threats to their lives and livelihood. Overnight, they were transformed into strangers in their homeland. Hebrew suddenly replaced Arabic; more than 400 Palestinian towns and communities that were home to friends and loved ones were destroyed, wiped off the map completely.
In the case of my family, my grandparents and fathers became "present absentees" – present in the country, yet absent from their land when Zionists took over. That mere act – fleeing war – has meant that my father was never allowed to return to his home or town (al-Mujaydil); his home was demolished and his town turned into an Israeli one (Migdal HaEmek).
For decades, my father has had to endure the memory of the Nakba, passing al-Mujaydil every time he leaves Nazareth. I have never understood how he has managed to keep strong and positive despite his world being destroyed in 1948 and seeing the remnants of his former happy childhood.
In the aftermath of 1948, Palestinians were simultaneously transformed into ghosts – as though we did not exist – and labeled "demographic threats" – simply because we did exist – who needed to be contained and controlled.
Seventy years later, little has changed. While no longer living under military rule, Palestinian citizens of Israel remain either "threats" or “ghosts” in the eyes of most Israelis. Nakba denial (or justifying) is commonplace in Israel. But unlike other countries that deny crimes, Israel takes it further by forbidding and seeking to punish those who dare publicly remember the Nakba.
So demonized are Palestinians that anti-Palestinian racism has been on the rise in Israel for years, with laws that directly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state.
These laws hauntingly resemble those of the Jim Crow era in the U.S., with the Knesset legalizing the ability of Israelis to deny housing to Palestinians, restricting whom Palestinians can marry, and criminalizing calls for boycotts to protest the government’s racist policies.
Senior Israeli political and religious leaders proudly display their anti-Palestinian racism, boasting that they have killed Palestinians with impunity; threatening that our heads should be "chopped off," and electoral race-baiting with warnings that we vote "in droves."
But as much as Israel tries to deny or excuse the Nakba, or pretend that we do not exist, Palestinians - whether citizens of Israel, living under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories, or in the diaspora - remain firm in our desire to live in freedom, equality, and dignity. No bulldozer can erase the consciousness and identity of an entire people.
Israel’s actions underline that it is weak and that Israelis have not come to terms with the fact that their country’s existence came at the expense of Palestinians, that it was built upon the destruction of another nation, and that as long as it continues to dispossess Palestinians there will never be peace in the region.
No strong nation would gun down dozens of unarmed, caged-in protesters as Israel has done in Gaza in recent weeks; no strong nation would imprison a 16-year-old girl for daring to try to stop an armed soldier from terrorizing her town, as Israel did recently with Ahed Tamimi; and no strong nation would allow its citizens to terrorize an entire captive population, as Israel’s settlers have done with impunity in Hebron and across the occupied West Bank.
The 70th anniversary of the Nakba and 51 years of occupation and recent events in Gaza should serve as a wake-up call for Israelis, long in denial about the reality of the country: Palestinians are not going away. It's time for them to deal with us as equal human beings who deserve the same rights as everyone else.
Rather than demonizing and dehumanizing Palestinians, and seeking to build walls to separate and control us, Israelis should be asking themselves what type of future they want to see.
Is it one where Jewish Israelis continue to rule over millions of Palestinians who are granted fewer rights - if any at all - and push them off their land, or one where Israelis and Palestinians share the land, living together as equals?
After years of U.S. coddling, I am under no illusions that the Trump administration, which openly supports Israel’s alt-right government, will do anything. Rather, the change will come only after the rest of the world - whether through the BDS movement or otherwise - makes clear to Israel (and the U.S.) that it will no longer tolerate apartheid.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst and activist, and a former adviser to Mahmoud Abbas and the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Twitter: @dianabuttu
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