From Israel’s right to exist to Palestine’s right to statehood

Syed Sharfuddin*

The ten-day exchange of rocket firing between Israel and Gaza came to an end in the late hours of 20 May 2021 after intense diplomatic pressure was applied by the international community, as well as by Israel’s friends to reach a ceasefire, but the mess it created both politically and on the ground will take months to clear out. This time Israel not only repeated its persistent and known tactics to disregard the international status of the disputed Al-Quds, it also grossly violated Palestinian people’s human rights to worship, protest and defend themselves against state approved attacks on their history, life and property. The short -term priority for Israel, following the ceasefire, is to restore the soft image of Israel, which has been badly damaged in the eyes of its traditional supporters in the US and the EU. Israel also hopes that the ceasefire would remove global attention away from the real issue of forced evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to establish new Jewish settlements, and bolster the weak political position of Prime Minister Netanyahu with Israeli voters.

On 15 May 2021, the memories of 9/11 were revived when global news networks showed live images of a multi story building in Gaza crumbling down on the ground in a surprise aerial attack carried out by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). This was a despicable attempt of an aggressor state to block out the virtual reporting of Israeli raids on the civilian population in Gaza, and human rights abuses of Palestinian people in Jerusalem covered by Al-Jazeera, TRT and other news networks. By doing so, Israel declared a war on Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

During the Israeli aggression on Gaza, the Zionist apparatus launched a media offensive globally to gain public sympathy for Israel. Staying away from the current news that its TV channels could not show because Israel clearly came out as an aggressor state, they started showing TV documentaries, which highlighted the struggle of Jewish families in Europe during the Holocaust. There is absolutely no relationship between the adherents of the Jewish faith and the armed action of the government of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu does not represent a majority government in Israel and cannot claim to speak for all the Jewish people in his country. But the timing of showing such programmes made it obvious what the Zionist media wanted to achieve because its own friends and well wishers were disappointed with Israel for continuing to indiscriminately drop bombs on the civilians and destroying homes, schools, hospitals, roads and sources of their livelihood in Gaza.

The programmes that show innocent Jews suffering as a community at the hands of Nazis do not tell that a century ago the Jews also faced racist slurs and struggled to advance in social status, education, jobs and housing in many countries in Europe that were not aligned to Nazi Germany politically. This mirror of history is ugly and it is successfully blocked out by the Zionist media that controls news content and its packaging. History is not what actually happened in the past but what gets reported in the present.

The plight of the survivors of the Holocaust is highlighted not just at times like these when Israel’s approval rating is the lowest globally, but also at the annual remembrance of this painful event every January. But it will never tell its public that at the peak of the mighty Ottoman Empire, when Jews were attacked in Europe where did they go for safety. They were given refuge by the Muslim Ottomans. Istanbul was like Tel Aviv for them. There were no restrictions on them to practice their faith in Synagogues that did not need to be kept hidden from public sight as in Venice once upon a time, or own property, or get education, or train for various professions, or excel in business. The successor state to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, is still as Jewish friendly as it was in the past. It supports the Palestinians not because they are Muslims, indeed they include Christians, and non-believers as well, but it supports them morally and politically because they have become today’s ‘persecuted Jews’ in their own homeland.

The Islamic countries, with some notable exceptions, are not even aware of these subtle undercurrents that make the news. Five decades ago, Israeli politicians used to ask other governments: “where else should the Jews of Israel go if they are not acceptable to the Arabs; should they all be corralled and drowned in the Red Sea?” Now a time has come when the reverse question is being asked by Palestinians in the occupied territories: “where else should the Palestinians go if they are not acceptable to the Israelis; should they all be corralled and drowned in the Red Sea?”

Some Arab and non Arab Muslim majority states have already accepted this illegitimate and heavily shifting status quo of Palestine in favour of Israel by establishing diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv during the last Trump administration. Their explanation for doing so is that by establishing bilateral and trade relations with Israel, they could positively contribute to the setting for restarting the stalled Middle East peace process. They also expect that being friends of the US and Israel could give them extra weight in the Middle East power play. The once popular but now forgotten formula of “Land for Peace” is obsolete because Israel has appropriated most of the Palestinian lands through national legislation and is not prepared to negotiate it for peace. With the announcement for the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem last year, even Al-Quds Al Sharif is not open for negotiation by Israel. If the Biden Administration continues on the footsteps of  former President Trump’s all out support for Israel, other Arab and Islamic states would come under great pressure economically or politically to sign agreements for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in the coming years.

Unfortunately the signs from Washington for taking a neutral, non-partisan stand in the Israel Palestine conflict are not encouraging. On 12 May 2021 on a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Biden said that Israel “has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your country.” However, in contradiction to the concern of president Biden’s statement, the US did not do anything to hasten the convening of the UN Security Council meeting on Palestine requested by Tunisia, Norway and China last week. In fact, the meeting was delayed from 12 to 16 May 2021 due to procedural US objections. By not agreeing to a joint statement on ceasefire, the US also helped Israel by giving it extra days to punish the Palestinians and continuously pound Gaza with heavy artillery. The US also plans to give additional aid to Israel to bolster its defence capability, support new settlement activities and acquire more Palestinian land in East Jerusalem in the future instead of making US aid for Israel conditional on progress in peace negotiations.

The failure of the UN Security Council to reach a consensus agreement on ceasefire led the Organisation of Islamic Conference, Arab League and Non Aligned Movement groups at the UN to call an emergency session of General Assembly on 20 May. But given the way the UN works, a statement coming from the General Assembly on Palestine has no enforcement power unless the UN Security Council endorses it under Chapter seven. Nevertheless, the General Assembly meeting, under the Presidency of Turkey, brought a moral victory for the peace seekers. A ceasefire was eventually agreed, but only after Israel had heavily punished the civilian population in Gaza for supporting Hamas. The more IDF hit Palestinian targets in occupied territories the more popular Hamas became as the only party, however weak, that has the courage to stand up to Israel in defence of the victims and their distraught families.

Nothing can be more irresponsible than the recognition of the “right to self defence” of a state that has repeatedly violated the human rights of the people it has subjugated by force and created an Apartheid system where Palestinians who oppose the Israeli occupation of their territories are kept behind fences built with tall concrete structures and barbed wires. The current crisis was started by Israel in the holy month of Ramadan when there was no provocation from the Palestinians. At that time Hamas was not even in the picture. The rockets Palestinians used to defend against Israeli firepower consisted of handheld stones, fuelled filled bottles and crude home made missiles with no distance trajectory or target accuracy. Almost all of them ended up being blocked by Israel’s iron dome anti missile system. If thousands of rockets were fired into Israel, as stated by Israel and accepted by President Biden, the casualty rate in Israel should shave been into thousands. But it did not even total fifteen in ten days of cross firing.

The entire Palestinian population in the occupied territories is daily subjected to the terror of Israeli security searches of person, homes, transport and offices, and indirect repression in the form of denial of work permits, closure of internet and mobile services, road blocks, suspension of people’s movement and free flow of humanitarian aid, household and construction goods and medicines. Israel has also nibbled away the occupied territories by establishing illegal settlements and by replacing the indigenous Palestinian population with new immigrant families from Russia, the Central Asian Republics, the US and Europe. The conflict is not only unequal between the opposite sides but also not on a level playing field. Under these circumstances calling Palestinians the aggressor party and saying that State of Israel has the right to self-defence is as ludicrous as saying that a tiger has a right to walk into a cat’s corner and expect no meow.

The major supporters of Israel are the custodians of the democratic values of freedom, justice and human rights in the brave new world. Their concerns about the Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps in China and the stateless condition of the Rohingyas in Myanmar are appreciable but their support for Israeli atrocities in Palestine is most unfortunate and indefensible. Justice can only be served if the contesting parties are treated with a neutral and impartial stance; not when one party is always blindly supported but the other is held to account for its excesses.

In addition to the gross violation of the human rights of the Palestinians, there is also a fallacy that the Jews of Israel bought land from the Palestinians by putting their thumbprints on government approved deeds of sale and paid money to settle there. This is a historical fallacy invented and spread by the colonial powers in order to get acceptability. Even the Arabs think that the Palestinians sold their land to the parents of the present day Israelis.

It is a historical fact that Palestine, as most of the Middle East, was under the sovereignty of the Ottomans. The Arab rebellion against the Turks did free them from being ruled from Istanbul but it did not give them the right to sign off Palestine and gift it to the British without holding a referendum in Palestine. The Palestinian example is no different from the colonial history of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. Despite the fact that the colonial powers had placed this part of Southern Africa under their military control, and in some cases, decided to settle their own nationals or third country nationals there, they had to ultimately grant independence to the colonies and give the right of land ownership back to the original inhabitants. This was despite the fact that the colonial powers, especially the Apartheid regime in South Africa, had enacted many national laws to regularise the sale of land under their administration.

As the world has made progress, many oppressive customs and laws of the past have been challenged and replaced by democratic principles and fair arrangements. Take for example the slave trade with is now completely outlawed; or military expeditions where a country’s army simply marched into another country, defeated any armed resistance and demanded reparations or added it to the empire of the victor state; or the medieval practice of regarding women as property and depriving them of the right to franchise. Therefore, the propaganda of the so-called sale of Palestinian lands in the colonial period is wroth challenging in the International Court of Justice backed by the UN General Assembly in the same way as the legal challenge put forward by the Republic of Mauritius to Britain for the return of Chagos Islands, which include the strategic island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The Palestinian lands must be returned to their original owners or their heirs with an apology note even if these were bought by the Zionists for a pittance under a colonial authority, because the latter did not have the legal right to approve their sale. As far as the local Sephardic Jewish population of Palestine is concerned, it never exceeded in numbers compared to Muslim Palestinians. The territory and demography of Israel changed after the mass immigration of Ashkenazi Jews to Israel over many decades.

This position is still held today by the Republic of Cyprus regarding the sale of land in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Nicosia has warned non-Cypriots that if a foreigner buys land in the Turkish Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus will not accept it as legal because, according to them, the land belongs to the displaced Cypriot people who left Northern Cyprus following the deployment of Turkish troops there. This position has the full support of Western countries, which have also refused to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an independent entity. If a “position of principle” is acceptable to the Western countries in the context of Cyprus, why should it be unacceptable in the context of Palestine. One can’t help but ask whether this is because the Cypriots are predominantly Christians and the Palestinians are predominantly Muslims? Or the party that stands to benefit from this stance is a Jewish Israel but not a Muslim Cyprus?

The Zionist movement plans to take the borders of Greater Israel to every area where Jewish prophets lived. The territory of present-day Israel is not their final border. Their expansionist design has roots in the religious prophesies mentioned in the Torah and the Talmud, which means that you cannot expect any concessions from them in the matter of land redistribution in Palestine.

How should one counter an argument when Zionist propaganda goes as far back as six century BC to claim that the kingdom of Yehuda, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who is regarded as the patriarch of the Jewish nation, covered the whole of Palestine and the nearby Arab wasteland. This account of Talmudic history, combined with the biblical prophesy that the glory of Israel will be revived in the land that is now inhabited by the Jews and where the Temple of Solomon will be reconstructed on its original foundation closer to the end of times, wipes out any right of the Palestinians on their motherland in the occupied territories established over generations. The only way to address this kind of logic is for the Palestinians to claim all Judaic prophets as Palestine’s prophets and all the historical places associated with the Jewish faith as the sacred places of Islam. Moses is the most mentioned prophet in the holy Quran. His name appears 136 times in the Quran followed by Abraham 69 times, Joseph 27 times, Aaron 20 times, Isaac and Solomon seventeen times each, and David and Jacob sixteen times each. As against this, Muhammad is mentioned by name in the Quran only four times. Four of the one hundred fourteen chapters of the Quran are named after Israeli prophets; namely, the Family of Imran, the Children of Israel, Abraham and Joseph. The Arch of the Covenant is mentioned in Chapter two of the Quran. King Solomon’s story is part of the parables of prophets stated in the Quran. The story of David defeating Goliath and becoming the king of Israelites is also mentioned in the Quran. The prophets and places in these lands are sacred to all Abrahamic faiths. There is no exclusive copyright of one faith on them.

If the Muslims of Palestine and indeed the rest of the Islamic world start claiming the history and heritage of all Abrahamic prophets mentioned in the Quran as part of their faith and heritage, the Zionists will lose their exclusive claim on Temple Mount as a Jewish icon because Muslims will also have an equal claim on it in line with Islamic texts. Although it might sound strange, but in the absence of a just and lasting solution of the Middle East problem politically, the only peaceful option left for the Muslims of Palestine is to use Islam as the rallying point to reassert their rights and identity in the occupied territories in the same biblical rhetoric that is used by the Zionists to gain sympathy for their expansionist project of Greater Israel.

Meanwhile the Islamic countries are so engrossed in their political and sectarian infighting that they have lost the will to question a wrong and support the victims of oppression, even if tomorrow holds the dangerous prospect of them facing a similar threat in their own lands. Their coming together this week in New York over the most recent Israel Palestine conflict was a rare show of unity, and if it could be sustained in the future, the Quartet engaging with the conflicting parties to restart the Israel Palestine talks and successfully concluding these for a just and lasting solution of the conflict may not be far from reality.

*The author is a former Pakistani diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Political Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. He was also formerly a Board member of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, UK Chapter, and CEO of Muslim Aid, UK.