What a long decade last year has been for the Palestinians! It was a year marked, as it were, by a one-two punch here, an uppercut there, and assorted jabs in between directed at the very mid-section of their national sense of selfhood as a people.
Consider this. The United States, ostensibly the even-handed arbiter of the Palestine conflict, chose, in a capriciously unilateral move, to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, claiming that in future negotiations the Palestinians’ ancestral, holy city is now “off the table”. It cut off aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), on which impoverished Palestinian refugees had depended for a living. It shut down the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington, unceremoniously sending its representatives packing. It instructed its special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, while he met with the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a 15-member group of donor nations, to urge Europeans to condition future aid on “changed behaviour” by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
And it opted, in a move meant to affirm America’s unwavering support of the Zionist entity, to drop out of the UN Human Rights Council because of the group’s “unrelenting bias against Israel”. All in the span of less than a year.
But all that is not what really haunts us today as we contemplate all the diplomatic setbacks that Palestinians have suffered recently. What haunts one is the fact that, to Israel these days, the lives of individual Palestinians — those of children included — are so cheap, so worthless, that disposing of them has become a mundane quotidian affair.
Recall how last week, Israeli snipers, manning ramparts at the Gaza-Israel border, killed seven Palestinian protesters, including two children, and injured over 500, the deadliest day since last May, when 60 protesters were killed and thousands injured. And recall how, in the US, last week’s massacre, when it merited mention in the mainstream media, it found mention in the News in Brief sections of newspapers.
All of which raises the question about how Israel propagandists in the country, well-schooled in their tools of trade, have so desensitised Americans to their atrocities that these no longer elicit outrage — the very Americans who live in a society where, say, had the National Guard killed and injured so many peaceful protesters, the event would’ve shocked people’s conscience, and ultimately entered the history books,
Mention today, as one case in point, the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard during a mass protest on campus against the bombing of Cambodia by US military forces, during which 28 guardsmen fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others. Mention, I say, these killings, even in passing, to whomsoever you wish, and you would elicit a response expressing horror at the memory of that event, which remains vivid in America’s essential repertoire of consciousness.
But the more important question we should raise here is how and why Israeli leaders, along with a large segment of ordinary Israelis, have now so demonised Palestinians that, in these Israelis’ eyes, they are no longer human, and thus Israelis do not have to overcome deep inhibitions in their nature, as the rest of us have to, before killing other human beings in cold blood, mowing them down like game or stomping on them like vermin.
When, for example, an Israeli military sniper — call him Shlomo — sees a teenage demonstrator, 150 yards away across the border from him, in the scope mounted on his gun and then blithely pulls the trigger, we should not really be shocked by the spectacle. To Shlomo, the Palestinian kid — call him Ebrahim — is already subhuman. And having convinced himself that Ebrahim belongs to a nameless, faceless group of human beings who are less than human, the way is already paved for Shlomo to kill without one iota of remorse or moral anguish. This mindset is not, of course, unique to Israelis, since it was present when Germans killed Jews in Nazi Germany, Belgians killed Congolese en masse in the Congo, Europeans killed native Americans, and British troops, in April 1919, fired at Indian civilians assembled for a peaceful protest in a park in Amritsar, with women, children and elderly present, and, at one fell swoop, killed hundreds, an outrage that later came to be known as the JallianwallaBagh Massacre, after the name of the park where the demonstrators had initially gathered. To colonial Brits at the time, Indians were simply a lower species of men and women. Killing Indians was no big deal. Why even raise it as an issue!
After killing Ebrahim that day, Shlomo no doubt would’ve gone home, hugged his kids, eaten dinner, listened to Bach and then gone to bed, as if nothing unusual had happened in his life that day. In like manner are so great many Israelis socialised, so many have had drilled in them the notion that Palestinians are not human enough — certainly not human enough for Israelis to share their humanity with.
“Arabs are drugged cockroaches scurrying around in a bottle”, Rafael Eitan, once Israel’s chief of staff, declared in 2002, describing Palestinians living under the rule of the gun in the Occupied Territories. That is but one quote, among dozens of similar ones, from dozens of similarly prominent Israeli leaders, whose pronouncements about race, that defined the very ethos of the Zionist movement, have long since become a prop for the character formation of Israelis.
Yet, here’s the rub: the dialectic today that defines the interaction between Israelis and Palestinians, as occupier-occupied, coloniser-colonised, is stacked against the former. As Israel impoverishes Palestinians materially, it enriches them spiritually. As Israel dehumanises Palestinians’ sense of human being, it strips itself of its own humanity. As Israel leaves Palestinians no choice but struggle, it elevates their will-to-meaning.
Aggregate all that, and you discover that the Palestinian people’s experience, under these dialectical conditions, will in time come to a critical mass, hastening Israel’s day of reckoning with the imperatives of history and history’s implacable rules. Don’t our holy texts, after all, tell of how for every oppressor, a day will come? Don’t oppressors, by their very nature as oppressors, dig their own graves?
FawazTurki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.