I took the train to Stuttgart with my Area Director in the Teachers’ Union last Wednesday. The Middle East came up and he told me that he knew very little about it and added that he thought that there should be some way for the people there to divide the land so that everyone would be satisfied. I tried to fill him in on over one hundred years of history in about ten minutes.
Later, I thought that if an educated American like he owned up to knowing nothing about Palestine, most likely millions more Americans know little to nothing as well. Much of the time we Palestinian-Americans engage with people who are like-minded and assume that people know a lot more about Palestine than they actually do.
I’m thinking that it would be helpful to have a Palestine primer in order to educate people, a one page handout to explain the story of the Palestinians.
OK, a lot of my students don't know the difference between Palestine
so check out the links if you are already confused.
One will note from this blog post that Jaffa, which is now a part of Israel, was a cosmopolitan Palestinian-Arab city over one hundred years ago. In 1948, Jaffa’s population included 70,000 Palestinian Arabs. After 1948, only 7,000 Palestinian Arabs remained in Jaffa. Many of them left Jaffa on boats headed for Lebanon and Gaza, the very same boats with which they used to export their famous oranges, since appropriated by the Israelis. Since my companion to Stuttgart, my inspiration for this primer, is an art teacher, I’ll include Palestinian artist Tamam Al Akal Shammout’s painting (above) which depicts the fleeing refugees.
What happened to cause this exodus?
We have to go back to Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, when Theodor Herzl, a Jew, founded political Zionism, which is the idea that European Jews should go to Palestine and form a Jewish state. It was little concern to him that Palestine was already occupied by Palestinian-Arabs, who comprised a thriving and well-developed society. The Jews didn’t want to come to Palestine and blend in to live with the people already there; they wanted the land without its people; i.e., an ethnically pure Jewish state. And so one of many Zionist lies came into being: that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land.
After World War I, the British administered Palestine. They made it very easy for European Jews to immigrate to Palestine. The “Jewish” lobby that now influences the US Congress, was quite effective in influencing the British powers that be. Palestinians were alarmed at the influx of Jews, whose purpose was to create a “Jewish” state in a land that was predominantly Palestinian-Arab. What ultimately happened is that Palestine was partitioned. By 1947, Jewish immigrants comprised thirty-three percent of the population of Palestine. They were granted fifty-five percent of Palestine for their “Jewish” state, although they owned only six percent of the land. Who would agree to such a plan? And why would a Palestinian Arab who lived in Ramallah, but had business in another part of Palestine, want to see his country rendered asunder? Raja Shehadeh, writes in Palestinian Walks how difficult it was for his refugee father to leave cosmopolitan Jaffa for the relatively provincial Ramallah.
The Zionist Jews also realized that they couldn’t very well have a “Jewish” state if the majority of its inhabitants were Palestinian. So they embarked on a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign. Their propagandists still proffer that “tiny” Israel was besieged by four Arab armies, yet no Arab armies entered Palestine until half of the 750,000 Palestinians who were ultimately expelled, had already been ethnically cleansed from their towns and villages.
The Palestinan refugees, who were expelled to Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, saw their homes, their orchards, their businesses taken over by Jewish immigrants. The refugees who tried to return were shot. Many refugees ended up in Ramallah, my father’s hometown, which was administered by Jordan after 1948. Israel demolished at least four hundred and eighteen Palestinian villages to wipe out Palestinian culture, which is genocide, and also to ensure that the refugees would have nothing to which to return. They also depopulated 675 towns and villages of their Palestinian inhabitants. To this day, in spite of UN Resolutions and in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Israel refuses to let the Palestinian refugees and their descendants return to the land of their birth and the place of their heritage.
After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel ended up occupying the rest of Palestine. Again, in contravention of international law, they’ve moved hundreds of thousands of settlers on Palestinian territory and subject the Palestinians in these areas to apartheid practices.
I read in This Week in Palestine
about contemporary Jaffa. Only one Palestinian pharmacy remains in Jaffa today. As a person of Palestinian background, my heart is broken when I contemplate the destruction that the Zionist invaders have carried out in the land where my father was born. It is an ongoing decimation of Palestinian life. Raja Shehadeh, upon contemplation of the destruction of his beloved hills
, conveys the irony inherent in Zionism: “Beautiful wadis, springs, cliffs, and ancient ruins were destroyed by those who claim a superior love of the land.”
I see that I have exceeded the one page limitation I put on myself. All that I have in my heart about Palestine takes more than one page. When I see a dead Palestinian teenage boy, I see my own son, Kahlil. When I see an old respectable man in an old-fashioned suit holding his granddaughter, I see my father. This man (pictured above) was a judge, the father of Akram Fares, a journalist for the British Independent. His father was recently killed by Israeli soldiers while he was walking to the gate in front of his farm.
The Zionists are very adept at spin. The people of the United States acknowledge that slavery was a crime. The people of South Africa acknowledge that apartheid was a crime. The Zionists figure out ways to work a story to excuse their heinous crimes, and they know how to work the system to get their lies published in the Washington Post. Recently at the Davos Forum, Israel’s President Shimon Peres in shrill abusive tones in fractured English spewed out words justifying the recent murder of 1300 people in Gaza. He and his fellow Zionists have been getting away with murder, theft and the destruction of Palestinian society and culture for over sixty years now. The audience politely clapped at the end of his sophomoric rant. This was too much for the Turkish prime minister who got right into the self-righteous old murderer’s face and called him a “killer.” He also admonished the audience for applauding the killer.
People seem to be talking more about Palestinian history now and the roots of the conflict. I am hopeful that this will aid everyone’s understanding. The Zionists don’t want the Palestinians to return to their original villages and towns from where they were expelled in 1948 because then the Jews won’t be a majority in Israel anymore. Today’s Palestinian refugees and their descendents number in the millions. Another irony is that they can go to Brazil; they can go to the US; they can go anywhere in the world if they’re lucky enough to immigrate, but they can’t go back to the village or town in historic Palestine (now called Israel) from which they or their parents came. But your next door neighbor in Florida or New Jersey, who has never set foot in the Holy Land, may immigrate to Israel and become an instant citizen.
So, there you have it. The Zionists like to say how "complicated" it all is. It' actually quite simple. Zionism is racism. It excludes the indigenous population from living on much of its own land and it wiped out most of Palestine’s heritage by systematically bombing its villages. The Zionists almost completely wiped out a thriving and well-developed society in 1948 and have done a pretty good job of colonizing and destroying the rest of Palestine they took over in 1967. Israel has no “right” to exist on stolen lands which belong to the refugees. The dismantling of Israel as an ethnocentric state which privileges Jews at the expense of its indigenous Palestinian-Arab inhabitants is just and right, just as the eradication of a state policy that instituted slavery was right. The Zionist Jews will have to get over themselves and own up to their crimes. We’re never going to forget our heritage and we’re never going to surrender and become the accomplices of our own dispossession. The right of return to one’s home is enshrined in international law. It’s about time more people stand up to the thuggish, bullying, thieving, dissembling, home wrecking Zionists, just like decent people gave no quarter to slavery and apartheid.
At dawn on April 28, 1948, armed Zionists over-ran Jaffa, and forced the townspeople out of their homes at gunpoint. The terrorized citizens were forced into boats and driven out to sea, pursued by a hail of Israeli bombs and bullets. Tamam Al-Akhal, 1998
Picture of Akrem al-Ghoul, the father of the Indepedent's reporter Fares Akram