Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Naim Ateek: The Ongoing Nakba

The Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel, writes about "The Ongoing Nakba" in The Cornerstone. Sabeel is the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem - www.sabeel.org - and The Cornerstone is Sabeel's quarterly newsletter -http://www.sabeel.org/pdfs/Corner50%20-2008.pdf

The Ongoing Nakba

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, makingthe most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish,but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5: 15-17)

When reviewing the history of the Israel-Palestineconflict from the 19th century to the establishmentof the state of Israel in the mid 20th century, it is possible to point out at least seven major historical developments thatdirectly or indirectly contributed eventually to the Palestinian Nakba.

To help the reader understand this background, it is necessaryto outline these developments briefly:

First: Since the beginnings of the 19th century, one can point to the development of what became known as pre-millennial dispensationalism among certain Evangelical and Protestant groups in Western Europe, especially in Britain and later in the United States. This teaching emphasized the centrality of the Jewish people in God’s plan of history, their essential return to Palestine in fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and the re-establishment of their ancient kingdom as a prelude to the Second Coming of Christ, the great battle of Armageddon, the final defeat of evil, the end of the world, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

Second, the emergence of the Zionist Movement in Europe at the end of the 19th century seeking a safe haven for Jews who have suffered long as minorities living among eastern and western European Christians. The Zionist Movement visualized the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and its vicinity in the spirit of colonialism and imperialism of the time.

Third, the next significant development was the acceptance of the British government to adopt and sponsor the Zionist project in what we know as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 just before the end of WWI. After the war, Britain assumed the mandate over Palestine and began to help the Zionists realize their dream in Palestine.

Fourth, the Balfour Declaration gave a great boost to the Zionist Movement. The latter intensified its activities among Jewish communities everywhere and cultivated important links among influential people including high level state officials and top government leaders in various countries especially in Europe and the United States.

Fifth, the tragedy of the Holocaust during WWII and the suffering of millions of Jews under the Nazis sharpened the Jewish problem and called attention to the plight of European Jewry. It won them tremendous sympathy, and the urgency of finding a viable solution.

Sixth, the success of the Zionist Movement through its influential friends around the world and especially those in the United States in passing the Partition Plan of Palestine in November 1947 through the United Nations General Assembly that gave over 55% of the land of Palestine to the Jewish state when Jews, legally, owned less than 7% of it.

Seventh, the Zionists executed their plan of establishing the state of Israel, and through military force were able to ethnically cleanse 78% of the land of Palestine of its Palestinian people and to demolish over 500 of their villages and towns.

These seven factors are crucial to understanding the background to the Palestinian Nakba. One cannot, however, gloss over the weakness of Arab and Palestinian leaders at the time, their ineffective diplomacy (even collusion with Zionist leaders), their lack of sound planning, and their deficient organization. By and large, they underestimated the military training and power of the Zionists as well as their influential contacts abroad that protected and supported the actions of the nascent state.

When we look at the last 60 years, it is clear to many people that neither the Palestinians nor the Arab countries, nor the international community through the UN have been able to bring an end to the tragedy of Palestine. No just resolution of the conflict has been implemented. In fact, the political situation has deteriorated since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in June 1967. Since then, the state of Israel has grown economically and militarily in leaps and bounds and its military grip over the remaining Palestinian land and population has become firmer and harsher. In other words, the Palestinian Nakba has not only continued, it has worsened.

While the government of Israel has successfully linked itself with the United States, the strongest military and economic power in the world today, the Palestinians have not enjoyed such powerful allies to protect them and plead their just case. Instead of realizing that no real justice will ever come from the US because of its unwavering commitment to Israel, the Palestinian Authority in its desperation and frustration, has continued to cling solely to the US administration.

In a unipolar world, justice is not always defined in accordance with the principles of international law but according to the interests of the major power and its allies. In such a context, Israel has enjoyed a free rein. To a large extent, it has been free to do what it wants against the Palestinians and to dictate what it wills to them all in contravention of the decisions of the international community and with no power to restrain it.

It is important to remember that when the United Nations partitioned Palestine and legitimized the creation of Israel in 1947, the Zionist forces immediately began to ethnically cleanse their designated area of Palestine. In fact, in their cleansing sweep, they were de-populating the area of the Palestinian state as well. The UN ordered the Zionists to re-track and allow the repatriation of the refugees. Israel, even when still in its infancy, flouted UN resolutions. It never allowed the return of the refugees nor did it pull back to its own designated area of Palestine.

The failure of the international community to be firm in the face of Israel’s intransigence has become a repeated scenario. The United States and its allies have glossed over Israeli unjust practices and expansionist policies. To this, one can add the weakness of Palestinian and Arab leaders, their lack of vision and unity, and their inability to use their powerful resources to pressure the United States to put a stop to Israeli violations of the human and political rights of the Palestinians.

In such a situation, the Palestinian Nakba is doomed to continue and worsen. Chris Hedges has aptly written, “Extremists never begin as extremists. They become extremists gradually. They move gingerly forward in an open society. They advance only so far as they fail to meet resistance. And no society is immune from this moral catastrophe” (Hedges: 2006,152). Since 1948, Israel has been able to get by with its injustice because of the weakness of the international community (UN) that was unable or unwilling to contain its (Israel) ravenous appetite for Palestinian land and the domination of its people.

There are other factors that have contributed to the on-going Nakba. A simple outline would include the following:

1. In addition to the above mentioned factors that include the misuse of the Bible in support of Israeli claims, and the misuse of the Holocaust to instill guilt and sympathy in people, fear is a strong factor that prevents many goodhearted and knowledgeable people within the country as well as outside it, from taking a brave prophetic stand against Israeli injustice. Fear leads to silence and this allows Israel to persist in and intensify its oppression.

2. Israel has developed into a strong economic and military power and enjoys a wide business network with many countries that are unwilling to relinquish their interests for the sake of a Palestinian solution that they are not sure about.

3. The insistence on the Jewishness of the state of Israel, the demographic obsession to maintain a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority, and the expansionist policies through settlement building are three interconnected factors that have contributed to the perpetuation of the Nakba.

4. The futility of the frustrating, tedious, and protracted negotiations between the PA and the governmentof Israel has led some Palestinians to opt for the use of violence as away to achieve liberation. This vicious cycle of violence has also contributed to the ongoing Nakba.

5. The internecine strife within the Palestinian community and especially between Fatah and Hamas and the continued internal violence has not only added to the continuing Nakba, it has created a new Nakba.

The continuing Nakba can be described by some of the words from the book of Lamentations:
“Remember, O Lord,what has befallen us; Look, and see ourdisgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest ... The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.” (Chapter 5, selected verses).

Yet in the midst of such calamity and despair, the writer of Lamentations concludes with an affirmation about the sovereignty of God, “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations... Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old....”(5:19-21).

There are dark times in the history of a nation when people of faith must reaffirm their trust and hope in the living God. Such a trust and hope in God has a way of rejuvenating and energizing the community as it continues its struggle for liberation.

Many Palestinians today, Christians and Muslims, are affirming their trust and hope in the sovereignty of God who would lead them to justice and freedom.

[The Rev. Naim Ateek - director of Sabeel, Jerusalem]

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