Occupied East Jerusalem – Palestinians are marking 70 years since the ethnic cleansing of their homeland by Zionist militias to create the state of Israel. The event is called the Nakba, or “Catastrophe”, in Palestinian history.
For Palestinians, the establishment of Israel in 1948 opened a chapter of collective suffering, wars and displacement. Built as a state for Jews, Israel discriminates against Palestinians in many aspects of their lives.
Today, Palestinians in different parts of the country carry different identity documents and live different realities, separated by an 8-metre-high concrete wall and military checkpoints.
Two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been living under an airtight land, sea and air blockade for more than a decade and suffer from acute poverty.
The 1.8 million Palestinians inside Israel, carrying Israeli citizenship, are an involuntary minority, discriminated against by more than 50 laws for not being Jewish.
On the 70th commemoration of the Nakba, Al Jazeera spoke to young Palestinians, asking them what they think the solution is to what has been dubbed the world’s most intractable conflict.
In general, discrimination is not natural. But when we have a colonial entity that was built on the basis of ethnicity – a state built for the Jewish people – discrimination is something very natural in this context; it is expected.
This discrimination has created a sense of inferiority within us. We have started to see Israelis as superior to us, because of systematic [Israeli] policies over a long period.
This is a challenge we face as Palestinians in the 1948 territories [inside Israel]. We start to think: ‘I’m worth less than a Jew,’ even though I am from here and I’ve been living here, and they came from Europe, Africa, Russia and other places.
The solution to this conflict is to get rid of colonialism and establish one state.
We want a state for all its citizens. A state that can guarantee the return of the refugees. A state that can preserve our culture, history and Canaanite civilisation, that respects the suffering we underwent as a people from Ottoman, to British, to Israeli colonialism.
We have to develop our methods of resistance. Israel is blocking our resistance methods from every direction. We can’t work on one level. We can’t just work on changing international opinions, or just using armed resistance – we have to work on all aspects to develop our tools and tell the world we are under occupation.
The 70 years since the Nakba have been 70 years of the Israeli occupation trying to erase our identity every day.
But despite all Israeli efforts to do that, we have managed to preserve our identity, as much as we can, as Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Palestine is from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea. Historical Palestine is the one that we believe in.
Every day, the [Israeli] occupation expands in Jerusalem. It is clear that the occupation is dominating education, health, economy, tourism in the city.
The only thing we have managed to retain control over is our identity, which is very present in the minds of youth and with their refusal to obey [the occupation].
There is no solution to the conflict because it is an existential, spatial, ideological conflict. It is not a business deal – you take a piece, and I’ll take a piece. It is linked to something ideological, religious. It is a conflict over space and existence.
It is connected too, over Israeli beliefs, Zionist beliefs, that they do not want to let go of in any shape or form. [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu today is demanding a takeover of the occupied West Bank. The construction of settlement homes has not stopped over the past 10 years and more.
Today we drive from Jerusalem to Nablus, and the road is filled with settlements. And from Jerusalem to Hebron, there are settlements the whole way.
What solution? What end to the occupation? With the tools and policies they’re using? Has the peace process progressed? What positives have we benefited from? It’s the opposite. Over the past 10 or 15 years we lost all the lands in the occupied West Bank that connect our cities, and now they have Israeli settlements on them.
What’s the solution?
I personally do not see an end to the occupation in the near future.
But since the occupation has been here for 70 years, and we are forced to live in this situation – it’s not that we’re happy about it – and there are Arabs and Jews, I think there should be a temporary solution.
I think there can be some kind of coexistence between the two sides based on laws and rights. There should be red lines that can’t be crossed. I think this would benefit both Palestinians and Israelis, so there can be some kind of stability in the region, individuals can have their rights and live their lives far from difficulties, and we can overcome the obstacles of violence and lack of stability and the bad economic situation.
I think this is what most countries around the world look for; it’s so we can end this conflict that is causing distress in the whole Middle East.
[In the 1948 territories] you feel like an outsider. This is not your state, and that’s apparent in every detail, big or small.
Whether it is state emblems, or the fact that you can’t use your language freely as any Jew can, or that you do not get the budget you’re entitled to. You do not have a decent standard of living like any other person.
Today if you want to say Palestine, one person tells you Palestine is from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, another person says Palestine is on the 1967 borders [East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza].
Today, political parties and institutions are not working together towards the same goal.
[But] irrespective of the process that we’re going through as Palestinians, our rights are our rights. Liberation is a right. It does not matter if we’re not able to organise, or there are ongoing discussions between us as a people, it is our right to be free. No one can tell us ‘only when you organise yourselves, then you can be free’.
I personally believe we can all live together in one state. The refugees must return to their homes, as per all human rights conventions. We must learn from the experiences of other countries, such as the South African experience. We must also have a measure of human rights and raise popular pressure to really create this one state.
The main problem is the occupation.
I am a graduate of dentistry. I tried to leave the Gaza Strip to do a PhD in Turkey, but I missed the opportunity because the border is closed.
Ending the occupation as a system is the first step towards a solution, and after that, we can decide whether we as a Palestinian people will accept the presence of foreigners living with us in the same country, or if they should return to their countries and call for their right of return.
Most of them come from Germany and other European countries.
The two-state solution – the most feasible solution – is dead. If you look at the reality on the ground, we’re shifting towards a one-state reality that enshrines apartheid in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Also, continuous aggressive Israeli policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem hinder any prospects for future solutions.
The Palestinians are weak as well, so I’m not sure what a solution would be in the future.
I can say that Palestinians have lost hope. The young generation does not foresee any solution if you maintain the current Palestinian leadership and the radical Israeli government.
The [Israeli] occupation is working to divide us, to make us struggle for demands, not for liberation.
The solution is to put this struggle for demands to the side and work on a struggle for liberation.
A liberation struggle begins with awareness, learning from past experiences, such as the two Intifadas [popular Palestinian uprisings] and the 1936 revolt, and reading history correctly, not from the perspective of the victim but from the perspective of the freedom fighter.
We are not victims, we are entitled to our rights, and we have the methods to succeed.
This is where the solution starts. If I were to paint you a picture of the solution, I would be doing the solution injustice.
The right of return of Palestinian refugees is the first step in the solution. After that, I believe we can create one democratic state where Palestinians can express their demands freely.
The state cannot be a Jewish state if we want a solution, because giving priority to the Jewish people means the state will not be representative of the Palestinian people as well.
We have a clear national identity, but at the same time, the society we live in does not understand us, and this is a big problem. You feel lost. You talk to people who do not understand you.
I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for three years; I’m studying there. I feel very alienated.
Follow Zena Tahhan on Twitter: @zenatahhan