By Omar Barghouti
As I write these words, a new unflinching generation of Palestinians is rising up against Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.
This phase of popular Palestinian resistance has broken out spontaneously, in reaction to exceptionally repressive policies of the most racist, settler-dominated and far-right government in Israel’s history.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in 2009, Israel’s descent into unmasked, right wing extremism has accelerated alarmingly. The number of Jewish settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land has grown by more than 120,000, something Netanyahu was recently caught on tape boasting about. Meanwhile, a steady stream of discriminatory, anti-democratic laws targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to a lesser extent Jewish-Israeli critics of Israel’s apartheid regime, have been passed by the Israeli parliament. These include the so-called “boycott law,” and the “Nakba law.”
Following a recent visit to occupied Palestine, South African Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete wrote, “Apartheid in South Africa was a picnic compared to what we have seen in the occupied territories.” Not just in the occupied territories, actually.
The ongoing Israeli “state terrorism” against Palestinians all over historic Palestine, the violent attacks and desecration campaigns by fanatic Jewish fundamentalists against Palestinian civilians, including burning a toddler and his parents alive, and the systematic desecration of our Christian and Muslim places of prayer, particularly the Al-Aqsa (Noble Sanctuary) mosque compound, were the direct trigger for the current Palestinian uprising, dubbed “The Jerusalem Intifada” by several political parties and youth groups.
For more than a decade, the fanatical messianic “Temple Mount movement” has been growing inside Israel, with the ultimate goal of destroying the Muslim shrines on the Noble Sanctuary and replacing them with a temple, something they declare openly.
Once on the fringes of Israeli society, today this dangerous fundamentalist movement has moved into the mainstream, counting senior government officials among its adherents. The Israeli government in fact provides direct financial and political support to extremist settler groups, like the Temple Institute and others, that are colonizing Palestinian homes and neighborhoods in Jerusalem and actively working towards building a temple in place of the Al-Aqsa mosque, putting paid to hollow, disingenuous claims by Netanyahu that Palestinians have no reason to fear an Israeli desire to change the status quo on the site.
The seemingly random but persistent Israeli violent attacks against Palestinians are in fact part of an official Israeli strategy whose goal is to intensify the ethnic cleansing and “Judaization” of occupied East Jerusalem, especially its Old City and, and to eventually take over the Noble Sanctuary. This was done with the historic Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers by an Israeli-American terrorist. Following the massacre, Israel’s occupation authorities partitioned the mosque and gave half of it to Hebron’s notoriously far-right and violent settler population for exclusive Jewish use, effectively rewarding them for the murderous acts of the killer who came from their midst and egging them on to pursue their criminal attacks on Palestinians with impunity.
As early as 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing accused Israel of pursuing a “strategy of Judaization“:
“From the Galilee and the Negev to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities promote a territorial development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities, particularly affecting Palestinian communities, side by side with the accelerated development of predominantly Jewish settlements.”
Even the U.S. State Department acknowledged in its 2009 International Religious Freedom Report: that “many of the national and municipal policies in Jerusalem were designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem.” The prominent South African jurist John Dugard compared those policies to those applied by apartheid South Africa.
This strategy could not succeed without the rubber-stamp Israeli judiciary, which a UN fact-finding report of the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009 condemned as having “structural flaws,” and without the prevailing culture of violent racism and dehumanization of Palestinians that has taken over Israeli society.
The current shaking off of Israel’s chains, almost entirely led by groups of very young Palestinian men and women, with a refreshingly prominent participation of the latter, is not just a struggle to decolonize the Palestinian land, but just as crucially, if not more so, to decolonize Palestinian minds.
For two decades the Oslo process has attempted to negate most of the UN-stipulated Palestinian rights and to arrest Palestinian aspirations. The Palestinian Authority (PA) created by Oslo was designed to be a sub-contractor for the Israeli occupation, relieving the occupation of mostly municipal duties, suppressing resistance to it and all the while providing the precious fig leaf to allow Israel’s relentless colonization of Palestinian lands and gradual ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to proceed under the guise of a “peace process.” This fraud has allowed Israel to open diplomatic relations and trade channels with tens of countries, including China, India, Brazil and other large economies, taking its economy to the level that it is at today.
Most damagingly, Oslo and its architects have tried to reduce the definition of the people of Palestine to only those who reside in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, omitting the 50% of the Palestinian people who live in exile, denied their right to return home, and the 12% who are the indigenous Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel, living as second and third class citizens in their homeland.
The great obstacle facing the new uprising is that the PA is not only missing in action, but is often working behind the scenes to thwart and undermine widespread popular protests. Its scandalous coordination and gratuitous sharing of intelligence with the Israeli military continues, despite being universally condemned by Palestinians from across the political spectrum. This coordination, which Israel considers indispensable, has considerably undermined Palestinian resistance to the occupation.
Fortunately, the increasingly despotic PA lacks any significant credibility among Palestinians, young and old, residing in Palestine or in exile, and is therefore compelled to tread a thin line, allowing some space for protest and dissent which can be exploited by those of us seeking to transcend the political impasse following the effective collapse of Oslo.
Still, and even if this popular uprising does not evolve into a full-fledged intifada, it has already revealed to Israel, the U.S. and other world powers that are complicit in maintaining Israel’s regime of oppression, that Palestinians will never accept slavery as fate. New generations will continue to rise up and assert their will to be free, against all odds. After being written off by Israel and its allies as self-centered, apolitical or apathetic, Palestinian youth are proving to be just as loving of freedom and justice, and just as indignant about oppression, as anyone.
But how to de-escalate this “Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” many journalists have asked?
The famous “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is in fact not a conflict at all, by an accurate definition of the term. The question of Palestine is one of resistance against a colonial, apartheid regime. The root cause of all this original violence by Israel and the reactive violence by Palestinians is Israel’s system of injustice and the complicity of world powers and corporations in maintaining it. Those, like me, who truly wish to see an end to all violence should strive to eradicate its root causes, thus cutting off the roots of this poisonous tree.
Israeli apartheid will not end voluntarily, almost all Palestinians and many people of conscience the world over recognize. Concerted, widespread, sustained nonviolent pressure that is anchored in international law and universal principles of human rights is needed, particularly in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS. A military embargo, for instance, similar to the one imposed on apartheid South Africa, and an intensification of the academic and cultural boycott as well as divestment from complicit companies like Hewlett-Packard and G4S can be far more effective than a thousand empty calls for “restraint” in preventing Israel from shattering the status quo in occupied Jerusalem, and its thinly-veiled attempts to paint the explosive situation created by its apartheid regime as a “religious war.” After such a “de-escalation,” perhaps we can pursue the goal of freedom, justice and equality.