Time to go home to Palestine

A two-state solution will not stop the plight of the Palestinians; they need to go home.

Millions of Palestinians live have been displaced since 1948 [AFP]

The last weeks of assault on Gaza have brought many people out to the streets, onto social media and engaging in discussions, debates and arguments with friends and colleagues. Of course, in Gaza itself, there is no time for such things, as hellfire from the air and invaders on the ground force people to consider how to separate their families so not everyone dies in one missile strike.

The media continues to report on truces and ceasefires, with some reference to the actual positions and demands of the two sides (almost always without any reference to the context in which this conflagration is happening), the ongoing 60-plus year occupation of Palestine, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Remembering Oslo

On the Palestinian political scene, we are seeing history repeat itself, something that should cause a great amount of worry to Palestinians around the world. The political reality is that Hamas has become the Fatah-led PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) that agreed to enter the 1991 peace process that indirectly ended up with the Oslo Accords.

During that phase, the PLO faced serious challenges following its decision to effectively side with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. At that time, the Palestinian community in Kuwait was the leading financial support of the PLO and the Palestinians in the occupied territories engaged in an intifada that was changing worldwide opinion of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

Following the Iraqi invasion and subsequent Gulf War, the Palestinian community in Kuwait was mostly expelled and the PLO largely cut off from a significant amount of Arab financial and political support. Facing an unprecedented economic and political crisis, exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union at roughly the same time, the PLO accepted the lifeline of the Madrid Peace Conference and the process that it yielded. If Oslo did not offer liberation, it did offer an institutional role and financial support for the PLO/Fatah.

Hamas, following its decision to support the Syrian uprising, which cost it support from both Syria and Iran, and the drastic changes in Egypt that have resulted in a president that has targeted both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, is also facing an unprecedented political and economic crisis. The lifeline of talks was not offered to Hamas, but one could argue that the political lifeline of armed conflict was generously given by Israel.

Though Hamas has put forward the key points of the lifting the siege of Gaza and allowing free movement of people and goods in and out of the territory as its conditions for a truce, it is the very articulation of these demands that expose its position as nouveau Fatah – and in some ways a victory for Israel.

The demands Hamas has made fit squarely within the framework of Oslo and the despised two-state solution that that agreement outlines. In fact, one could argue that the Hamas list of demands is essentially a demand for the full implementation of the Oslo Accords, and nothing more. In an interview with BBC World Service after two days of Israeli bombardment, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan called for an end to the conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state – the same formulation that PLO/Fatah has accepted.

However, despite this apparent acceptance of Israel’s terms of surrender to the Palestinian national movement, there is little prospect of this kind of so-called solution happening, thanks to Israeli desires to continue and expand the occupation, and because ultimately it is not a solution to anything. So what then?

Returning to Palestine

Over 80 percent of the population of Gaza are refugees. With another two million Palestinian refugees in various states of desperation in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, the crisis of 60-plus years would hardly be solved by the creation of a Palestinian Authority-type state. Not only has the more than 20 years of peace talks not benefited them at all, the situation for Palestinian refugees wherever they are in the region, has gotten progressively worse during that same period.

If life in Gaza is intolerable under the siege, life in Syria is impossible, life in Iraq is precarious at best, life in Lebanon is as if under a boot and so on. The Arab countries have proven their inhospitableness to Palestinians. If there were a people today in need of their own homeland for their continued security as a people, it is the Palestinians.  

And yet, they once had and could have them once again – it is time to go home, time to return to Palestine. Not the Palestine of the occupied territories, but the Palestine of Asqelon, Asdud and Haifa. This will not be easy, and certainly not without risk of many being killed, for the Israeli military will surely be given orders to fire. Yet a population already captive, already under siege, already facing a future dystopia – namely the people of Gaza – have found themselves victims of repeated military assaults leaving thousands of dead and wounded.

The future generations of Gaza – without adequate water, sanitation and food – are traumatised to the point of requiring new studies into the effects of such unprecedented forms of collective punishment and targeting.

So what is the there to lose? There is no political party or faction on the Palestinian scene that is seeking more than a form of apartheid that the two-state “solution” offers. Military confrontations have only allowed Israel to expand its control over Palestinian territory, to displace and dispossess more Palestinians and to make life increasingly intolerable.

And while there is much to laud about alternative methods, such as unarmed resistance and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the pace of such activity in terms of yielding a meaningful change in the reality on the ground is agonisingly slow.

When armed conflict erupts or when a military assault occurs anywhere else in the world, civilians flee – including across international borders. The only place this does not happen is Gaza – not in 2008-2009, not in 2012, and not now. If in 1947-1948 the Zionist and Israeli forces could use violence and intimidation to force Palestinians to flee their homes, it is time now, in 2014, to respond to violence and brute force by returning home. As Israeli tanks and troops cross the frontier in Gaza, let the Palestinian people turn towards their destroyed villages. If Israel wants to destroy Beach camp and Bureij camp, let it. These are not homes, they are temporary shelters.

In 2011, small numbers of young men tried to cross borders from Lebanon and Syria and were shot at. This was held up both as heroic efforts to return, and evidence of what Israel would do. But that effort was highly contrived by political forces for the sake of their positions inside Syria and Lebanon, and anyway, a few dozen young men making such an effort is something the Israelis could easily deal with.

The UN estimates since the assault on Gaza, over 100,000 Palestinians have been displaced. The number of people in Gaza who feel they have no worthwhile future in Gaza is surely much higher. The thousands are already on the move, with no place safe to go. Take those thousands, combined with tens of thousands from Syria – now living in desperation in Lebanon and Egypt (or risking their lives by attempting to get to Europe by boat) – and this is hardly something the Israeli military would be ready for. And perhaps, today, more than ever, there is a grassroots movement of solidarity around the world that supports the Palestinian people in their demands for justice and liberation and who would not sit by in the face of a new massacre.

Each day, under the cover of force and violence, Israel transfers part of its population into the West Bank to create facts on the ground. Illegal under international law and revealing the true intentions of successive Israeli governments, this population of settlers has taken over land and natural resources, while Palestinian refugees – the one-time inhabitants of the land – live in squalor and only the certainty of dispossession.

It is time to bring justice in the Palestinian world. It is time to reverse this awful tide of history.

It is time to go home to Palestine.

Adam Shapiro is a documentary filmmaker and Palestinian rights activist. He co-directed the six-part documentary series Chronicles of a Refugee, was a co-founder of the ISM and worked to find homes for Palestinian refugees forced to flee Iraq.

Follow him on Twitter: @adshap