Fri 17-May-2024

Israel wants to destroy Gaza and annex the West Bank, but what do the Palestinians want?

Tuesday 7-May-2024

What is taking place in occupied Palestine is not a conflict between more or less equals, but a straightforward case of illegal military occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and outright genocide by one, heavily-armed side — Israel — against the largely unarmed other, the Palestinians. Those who insist on using “neutral” language in depicting the crisis in Palestine are harming the Palestinian people beyond their seemingly innocuous words.

This morally non-committal, middle-ground language is now at work in Gaza. It is there that the harm of this “impartiality” is being felt the most. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” said the late South African anti-apartheid activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His wisdom will always ring true.

While most countries and peoples around the world are certainly not taking the side of the Israeli oppressor, some, wittingly or otherwise, are. There are those who are taking Israel’s side by directly fueling and funding the Israeli killing machine in the Gaza Strip, while blaming the Palestinians for the war and its devastating impact, as if history only started on 7 October; it didn’t.

However, supporting Israel not only involves the supply of weapons, trade links or shielding it from accountability under international law. Ignoring Palestinian priorities, and highlighting Israel’s political discourse and expectations are also a form of supporting Israel and denigrating Palestine and its people.

Ever since 7 October, questions have been asked about what Israel wants in Gaza. On 7 November, while vowing to destroy Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was set to maintain “security responsibility” over the Gaza Strip for “an indefinite period”.

The Americans agreed. “There is no coming back to the status quo,” US President Joe Biden said on 26 October, which “means ensuring that Hamas can no longer terrorise Israel and use Palestinian civilians as human shields.”

The Europeans, who had often presented themselves as equal partners to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, adopted a similar attitude. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, for instance, set out a proposal for Gaza, including a “reinforced” version of the current PA, “with a legitimacy to be defined and decided upon by the [UN] Security Council” rather than the Palestinian people themselves.

Even those who admonished Tel Aviv for having unrealistic expectations have failed to ask the obvious question: what do the Palestinians want?

As soon as it was obvious that the Palestinian resistance was far too strong to allow Israel to achieve any of its lofty objectives, government officials, experts and media analysts began warning the occupation state that no military victory was possible in the Strip. They contended that Israel must also develop a “realistic” strategy to govern Gaza after the destruction of the resistance there. Some of these statements were celebrated even by pro-Palestinian Arab and Middle Eastern media as an example of the changing western narrative on Palestine.

In reality, though, the narrative has remained the same. What has changed is the unprecedented degree of Palestinian steadfastness, sumud, which has inspired the world and frightened Israel’s allies about the grim scenarios awaiting Tel Aviv should its occupation forces suffer an outright defeat in Gaza.

Even though many among Israel’s western allies may have seemed to be critical of Netanyahu, they were still behaving out of concern for Tel Aviv first and foremost, with neither love nor respect for the Palestinians. This is nothing new.

Since the destruction of the Palestinian homeland — the 1948 Nakba — two narratives have emerged. The Israeli narrative was embraced fully by western mainstream media, politicians and academics who invested in misrepresenting the “conflict”. They depicted Israel as a “Jewish state” fighting for survival in a hostile Arab world and among competing Arab interests, as well as factional and disunited Palestinians, who only agreed on one thing: they want to destroy Israel.

The Palestinian narrative is that justice is indivisible, and that the cornerstone of any lasting peace in Palestine is the restoration of dispossessed Palestinian refugees to their homeland, through their legitimate Right of Return, which has been denied consistently by Israel.

When Israel occupied the rest of historic Palestine in 1967 and extended its system of apartheid to the newly-occupied territories, it was only natural that ending the Israeli military occupation and dismantling the racist system became critical Palestinian demands. However, this happened without ignoring the original injustice which had befallen all Palestinians in 1948.

Israel’s allies in the West used the Israeli occupation as an opportunity to distract from the root causes of the “conflict”. With time, they reduced the conversation on Palestine to that of the illegal settlements, which Israel began constructing, contrary to international law, after completing its military occupation in 1967.

Any Palestinian who contended that the issue is not a “conflict” at all, and that the root cause is the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine, was, and continues to be, called a radical, or worse. This reductionist thinking is now being applied to Gaza where every historical reference is pushed aside intentionally, and where the Palestinian political discourse is shunned in favor of Israel’s deceptive language.

However, no matter how often western media continues to speak about “Palestinian terrorism” and the need to release Israeli hostages and prioritize Israeli security, while ignoring Israeli terrorism and Palestinian detainees and political aspirations, there will be no resolution to this issue now or in the future if Palestinian rights are not accepted, respected and fulfilled.

Gaza is part of historic Palestine; it is not a separate entity.

Neither its past nor its future can be understood or imagined without appreciating the Palestinian struggle in the whole of Palestine, indigenous Palestinians in today’s Israel — 20 per cent of the Israeli population — included.

This is not an opinion, but the very essence of the political discourse emanating from all of Gaza’s political groups. The same assertion can be made about the political discourse of Palestinians in the West Bank, throughout historic Palestine, and those in shatat, the diaspora.

Israel and the US may try to imagine whatever future they wish for Gaza, and they may also try to achieve that future through missiles, dumb bombs and bunker busters. No amount of military might or firepower, though, can alter history or redefine justice.

What Gaza ultimately wants is the acknowledgement of historical injustices; respect for international law; freedom for all Palestinians; and legal accountability for Israel. These are hardly radical positions, especially when compared with Israel’s very obvious policy of destroying Gaza, annexing the West Bank and ethnically cleansing the Palestinian people. Will Washington and its western allies ever understand and acknowledge this fact?

-Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC).

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