What is at stake in Palestine and Israel today
as viewed by Ghada Karmi
Ghada Karmi, Palestinian writer and activist, visited Canberra last year as part of a speaking tour in which she spoke about her recent book The Return
as well as giving more general insights about Palestine and Israel. I was fortunate to meet Ghada and hear her speak.
I particularly appreciated the part of Ghada’s talk where she sought to deal with certain of the myths surrounding Israel and Palestine. What she had to say has particular relevance to those of us in PIEN who seek to engage the wider community in discussion about Palestine.
As people within an organisation such as Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network, we care for Palestinians of all religions and we are concerned about many aspects of the current situation in that troubled place that have an adverse impact on the way Palestinians live. As an added element, we need to stand beside our Christian brothers and sisters. Ghada, herself a Muslim, said that she finds it amazing and further, “reprehensible”, that Christians in Western nations are not speaking out against many aspects of what is happening to Christians in her homeland.
In engaging with these “myths” about Palestine and Israel, Ghada gave an outline of what can be long-held and current views and what flaws can be seen. She took, neatly, seven and I will list these below.
1. What is happening in Israel and the Occupied Territories, despite how it may seem, is not a situation of conflict. To speak as if it were is to imply two roughly equivalent powers. People say ’this conflict has been going on for thousands of years’ but today’s situation has its own specific nature. This is not a conflict but a settler colonialist project, an occupation.
2. An added mantra that one hears is that the situation is ‘so complex’. There are in fact bold parameters which are agreed upon by many. Various UN resolutions have been passed and whilst they may be largely ignored, underlying understanding and agreement are evident. The Israeli Government does not deny many of the claims made against it. Yes, they have taken over more land since 1967. The extension of the Jewish settlements is done quite openly. The Australian media gives photographs and details.
3. A particularly sad aspect of the realpolitik
of this Holy Land is the way the Bible is used by many to shore up land acquisition and settlement expansion. This is not about Biblical truth and ancestral lands although many Christians particularly in America see the situation in these terms. Biblical prophecy is contestable and surely not intended as a 21st
C geopolitical guide.
4. Another disturbing element is the way the tragedy of the Holocaust is often used as a tool, an arguing device, as if it is self-evident that because of the Holocaust modern Israel can choose its own policies.
5. The actions of the Israeli government are then posited as a moral response to what has happened in European history, a moral enterprise to somehow right the wrongs. The tragedy of the holocaust is part of the background of the creation of Israel but Zionism and the movement for a Jewish ‘homeland’ began as a political movement long before Hitler’s evil. Israel was formed as a result of a post-war decision by Western nations to create a place of refuge, yes, but in someone else’s land. There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians still in refugee camps, four generations, who were displaced from their homes around 1949. There must be acknowledgement of this past catastrophe.
May I add here that the right of Israel to exist is not contested by most of today’s Palestinian and advocacy groups but both the post 1967 occupation and expansion, as well as the continuing existence of the refugee camps, must be justly dealt with by Israel itself and other powers.
6. Another way that what is happening is often described is to use the terms of religious conflict; Jewish people against Muslim. This is a way to sidestep the real political issues at stake. It is also of course to ignore the Palestinian Christians.
7. Finally, the emotive and historically charged words of anti-Semitism figure large in the Israeli government’s vocabulary as well as that of its supporters particularly in the United States. It is not anti-Semitic to critique the policies of a government and further, to assume that all Jewish people support these policies and think in the same way is a form of anti-Semitism in itself. To call on Israel’s government to adhere to United Nations resolutions is not being against “the Jews”. Many Jewish Israelis speak out against: the occupation
and its many manifestations; the land acquisition involved in the construction of the separation wall; and the extension of the Jewish settlements.
Whilst much of the above material will not be new to many of us, I feel that Ghada has given a clear outline and summary of the key issues and what is at stake. Various insights may be helpful for all of us with an affiliation to PIEN as we position ourselves alongside those who strive for justice and peace for all people in that region.
Ghada Karmi's book can be purchased here