Freedom and justice for Palestine – an urgent imperative
Martin Luther King once famously said: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” The struggle for freedom with justice in Palestine has, perhaps, been the longest – and seemingly endless struggle for human rights and self determination. It remains a blot on human history that an entire people can be occupied by an invading power for forty six long years and the international community acts as if helpless. By its silence, the world has been complicit with the violent crimes against Palestinians committed by the Zionist regimes in Israel which have followed one after another in a farcical democracy.
Barely 70 years ago were the Jews subjected to inhuman treatment and persecution for a long time. Having found a solution to their tragedy through the United Nations, Palestinians had to contend with a partition of historic Palestine on a totally flawed understanding of justice; one which gave the Jews land that Palestinians had lived in for tens and thousands of years. The 1948 Palestinian exodus that followed, known in Arabic as the Nakba affected over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled. Around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel (50 percent of the total Arab of Mandatory Palestine) left in what a virtual act of ethnic was cleansing – tantamount to a crime against humanity. Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented Palestinians from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees to this day. They fondly carry keys to the homes from where they were expelled in the hope that one day their right of return will be enforced under the provisions of international law.
The very formation of Israel was based on an unjust framework. Mahatma Gandhi summed up the now obsolete and irrationally argued Biblical claims by Jews for their conquest of Palestinian lands with words of advice to the Jews. He wrote: “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts…A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart.” Gandhi further asserted: “My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and in the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after their return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? … It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.” Indeed, the very foundational logic of political Zionism is questionable. Many eminent theologians challenge Israel’s Biblical claims arguing precisely that it is necessary to make a distinction between Israel as a Biblical notion and historic Palestine. An international meeting of the World council of Churches observed: “In the very place where Jesus Christ walked upon the earth, walls now separate families and the children of God – Christian, Muslim and Jew — are imprisoned in a deepening cycle of violence, humiliation and despair.
Today, Palestinians seek a two-state solution – one in which the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entails “two states for two peoples” living side by side in peace. The problem with getting to this rather simple proposition is Israeli intransigence in refusing to surrender lands that were grabbed in the war of 1967. It gets worse. Israel continues to grab more land, displace, dispossess and expel Palestinians from their homes and villages only to create settlements for Jews who have no right according to international law to live in areas captured during a war. This obduracy stems from a colonial racist mindset among Jews – largely European in origin- who considers the Arab as inferior. Moreover, their colonial project is defined by the greed to control the immense resources that the region possesses.
Over the years, polls have consistently shown that informed Israeli and Palestinian majorities favor a negotiated two-state settlement. Contrary to popular notions, more than three quarters of the Palestinian respondents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip approve a two-state solution. The two-state solution also enjoys majority support in Israeli polls although there has been some erosion to its prospects over time.
Palestinians in the occupied territories today maintain a vigorous but non-violent protest movement based on the work of various civil society groups such as Stop the Wall Campaign, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, human rights NGOs, women’s associations, and prisoner support groups as well as trade unions, independent politicians and parties. Churches, and civil society groups as well as highly respected academics and universities have joined the Palestinian chorus for justice. Whether marching towards sensitive spots, campaigning on social media, or striking against increases in food prices, Palestinian protestors have focused on the right to a state build around the right of return, freedom, and equality. They also coalesce with Palestinians inside Israel, and in a non-hierarchical fashion, and through the use of social media, they joined forces with youth groups in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon seeking to enter Israel through the borders of those countries to affirm their right of return and assert the centrality of the right of return in popular activism.
The Palestinians are clear: ‘No more words. Justice and justice alone is our non-negotiable and urgent requisite.’
The YWCA of India and, indeed, the World community of YWCAs do not have a choice when it comes to the Question of Palestine. It has the irrevocable obligation to stand up for justice and speak-act in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians. This convention could well be one where a cutting edge Women’s Movement in India like the YWCA could take an unequivocal stand and say YES to justice in Palestine NOW.