The sweep of COVID-19 across the globe has knocked off the world agenda the plan of the U.S. and Israeli governments to “settle” the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by granting the Israeli government pretty much all it wants in its “Deal of the Century.” However, while the new disease rages, Israel continues to implement its policies of ethnic cleansing.
Here, I visit with several notable Gaza activists about what is needed next. But first, I believe it is necessary to remind everyone of the historical context that has shaped today’s reality.
A history of intent to oppress
U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” is not a “peace plan.” Rather, it is a blueprint for usurping Palestinian lands and ethnically cleansing Palestinian inhabitants, with the aim of erasing Palestinian identity and history. As such, it is not unprecedented. Trump’s plan is only the most recent “solution” for Palestine drafted by a foreign power without consulting the people most affected.
Historic Palestine has been a target for occupation since the first conference organized for the Zionist movement in 1897. In 1917, via the Balfour Declaration, the British government announced its support for creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine—giving a green light to the immigration of Jewish people from countries all over the world to Palestine. What often is forgotten is that the declaration also contained a pledge to respect the civil and religious rights of Palestinians. Of course, this promise was broken many times over.
In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 181, which split Palestine almost in half: the new Israeli state was given 57% of the land, Jerusalem was designated a “Special International Regime” and the reminder was allocated for an Arab state (initially governed primarily by Jordan). [Another promise that was not kept: Palestinians living in the new Jewish state were to be allowed to stay.]
Palestinians, of course, were not allowed to vote on their fate, since they were British subjects at the time. Thus, it should have been no surprise that the result was the Nakba, or catastrophe, in which more than 700,000 Palestinians faced brutal, forced displacement at the hands of Zionist forces. By January 1949, Zionist forces had seized control of 78% of historic Palestine, sacking as many as 600 Palestinian villages. With time, Zionists perhaps thought that taking Palestinian land would be easier. Ten years later David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, said, “the old will die and the young will forget.”
Yet the generations of Palestinian refugees alive today have not forgotten the injustices done to them; in fact, in many ways, the Nakba continues today. Israel’s aggressive measures to force Palestinians off their land or squeeze them into submission have only accelerated—aided and abetted by its most powerful ally, the United States.
Deal or ‘Steal’?
The most recent advancement of the Nakba carried out directly by the United States, with the 2019 decision to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, followed by announcement of the much-touted “deal of the century.” That plan, however, is actually a blueprint for Nakba 2.0:
- Palestinians would be forced to give up their dream of a capital in Jerusalem, settling instead for an area in the outer sections of the eastern part of the city.
- The Palestinian state would be an “archipelago” of enclaves, connected only by a network of roads, highways and tunnels.
- Israeli security would be prioritized over Palestinian sovereignty. Thus, Israel would continue to control the air space, Jordan Valley — proposed as the new eastern border of Israel — and the network of roads. Israel also would be allowed to enter the Palestinian state at any time in the name of security and “maintain the right to dismantle and destroy any facility used for the production of prohibited weapons or for other hostile purposes.”
- Israel would annex large swaths of land now home to settlements. In fact, approximately 97% of Israelis in the West Bank would be incorporated into Israeli territory.
- The 6 million Palestinian refugees would be refused the right of return — a right enshrined in international law under U.N. Resolution 194. In addition, only refugees currently registered with UNRWA would be eligible to receive benefits from the agency, thus excluding future children.
Trump threatened to stop all American funding and support for the Palestinian people if their leaders refuse the deal. But this deal is actually a “steal” and we will never accept it.
In Gaza, residents launched their largely peaceful weekly protest by the border called the Great Return March (GRM). In the West Bank, there were—until COVID-19 swept in, resulting in quarantines and lockdown—direct clashes with the occupation military.
A main goal of the Palestinian resistance is to spread awareness among about the dangers of the deal and the people’s inviolable right to return to their homeland. We Are Not Numbers, for example, invited Palestinian-American human rights lawyer Noura Erakat to speak about how to wield international law as a “weapon”; a large crowd assembled to hear her at the Islamic University of Gaza.
Here are a few perspectives from Gazan activists about what will come next, on this, Palestinian Land Day and the anniversary of the kick-off of the GRM.
Lawyer, human rights activist and president of the International Commission for the Support of the Rights of the Palestinian People (HASHD)
Salah praises the achievements of the Great Return March, which first launched March 30, 2018, even though it exacted a high price (nearly 200 killed and more than 9,000 wounded). “The Great March of Return succeeded in restoring the Palestinian cause to the Arab, international and regional agendas,” he explains. The U.N. Human Rights Council established a fact-finding committee that documented the committed crimes against peaceful demonstrators committed by Israel. And the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court ruled that all requirements have been met to permit a full investigation of Israeli crimes. “None of would have been possible without the sacrifices of our people,” insists Salah.
The protests slowed to a halt in recent weeks, and Salah says groups in Gaza, including his own, have begun ramping up plans to re-escalate in different, safer, more creative ways. However, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe and concerns that it will spread in Gaza, for now those plans are limited to social media. For example, an online petition is gathering signatures to support the continued demand for Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland.
He adds that another priority must be Palestinian unity across political factions.
“All people in Gaza look forward to unity and political cooperation,” he says. “We need to re-organize the entire Palestinian house.” This means gradually but officially withdrawing from the Oslo Accords, halting security coordination with Israel and allowing all Palestinian parties to set the Palestinian agenda.
Success is not possible, though, without international support.
“The United Nations, European Union and other countries and human rights organizations must condemn the Deal of the Century. It is necessary to build a global front to repel plans for liquidation of the Palestinian cause.”
Ahmad Abu Artema
Human rights activist and writer credited with first envisioning the Great Return March
Ahmed differentiates styles of resistance to the Deal of the Century between Gaza and the West Bank. Due to the nature of Israel’s control of Gaza, there is no military presence that can be opposed directly. The only option is activities like the Great Return. As for international support, he doesn’t have much hope for engaging governments.
“There are economic relations worth tens of billions of dollars between European governments and Israel, so we don’t expect to see them aligning with the rights of the Palestinian people and pressuring the occupation state to compel it to comply with human rights resolutions,” he says. Instead, he says, wider cooperation with civil society organizations is needed—for example, by renewed support of boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS).
“The BDS movement must be expanded and strengthened to delegitimize this racist occupying entity by inviting economic, academic and cultural players engage. We can win by boycotting occupying countries, cutting ties with them and denying them legitimacy.”
Meanwhile, he points out, “A deal must be accepted by both sides. Since Palestinians reject it, there is no ‘deal.’ Imposition by force has no moral legitimacy.”
Project manager for We Are Not Numbers and chosen by the Carter Center as the first Palestinian observer for the Tunisian elections
“Starting with moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then withdrawing aid from the agency serving 80% of Palestinians, and finally closing the PLO’s offices in Washington, D.C., Trump has signaled in many ways that he sees no future for Palestinians and that we are not part of any peace ‘deal,’” observes Issam. “By not allowing us any form of self-determination or independence, and forcing us to agree to it, it’s clear he considers us sub-humans.”
However, while many Gazans turned out in the Great Return March and then to protest the so-called deal of the century, many more residents did not.
“It’s easy, after 14 years of blockade, facilitated by a lack of international action, to feel hopeless, that no action on our part will make a difference,” he explains. “Nevertheless, history has proven that occupations ultimately don’t last.”
Tahani Abu Dagga
Former minister for the Palestinian Authority and a political and social activist living in the West Bank
Palestinians must not give up on attracting meaningful support from inside Israel, Tahani insists.
“Among the Jewish and Israeli people, there are people who stand firmly against Trump's and Netanyahu's decisions,” she explains. “They support the two-state solution, although many support it because they are afraid of the one-state alternative. We should work with them. They will be more influential than us in the Israeli, American and European streets.”
Abdullah Jamal Abu Al-Hunoud
PhD, professor of economics at the Arab College of Applied Sciences, Rafah, Gaza
Abdullah agrees with Ahmad Abu Ratema’s point of view on the importance of boycotting Israeli products.
“Since 1967, the Israeli occupation authorities have endeavored to impose restrictions and put obstacles in the way of the growth and development of the Palestinian economy, with the aim of controlling it,” he observes. “So, it also has imposed control over our natural, human and economic resources, including land, water and, to a large extent, Palestinian manpower, to ensure the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain a market that supplies Israel with cheap labor and consumption of their products.”
He points out that Palestinians have become second only to Israelis in consumption of Israeli products. And due to the low income of Palestinians, we are forced to consume the lesser-quality Israeli products. We are in large part one of the reasons Israel has become such a competitive international market.”
Meanwhile, due to strict limits on the Palestinian economy, it has become fragile, weak, dependent and fragmented, dependent on consumption rather than production.
“The data over time is shocking. In 2010, for example, Israel's illegal use of Palestinian natural resources cost the Palestinian economy approximately $1.83 billion, or 22 percent of our GDP, for that year,” he notes.
Thus, he emphasizes the importance of economic resistance, based on collective action. That means a commitment to BDS.
“Boycotts can reduce Israeli exports and force the closure of production lines for shoddy goods destined for the Palestinian economy,” he adds. “This will affect the profits of many companies and institutions, causing them to decline slightly or a lot.”
We will not be silent
Each Gazan human rights activist emphasized a variety of issues and actions needed. But they agreed on one fact: Despite the tremendous difficulty and grief that results from resistance against such a strong power, inaction is not an option.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not rooted in religion, for us at least. The majority of Palestinians are Muslims, but we live in peace with Christian and non-religious Palestinian neighbors. In the same way, we will be happy to live side-by-side with Jewish people, or people of any religion who respect our human rights. What we will not tolerate is bigotry and oppression.
We Palestinians believe the Deal of the Century is a thinly veiled plan for ethnic cleansing designed to erase Palestinian identity and history, since it will deepen and expand measures that oppress Palestinians and violate our rights.
In its failure as a peace plan, the Deal of the Century clearly exemplifies the inequality that exists on the ground in Israel/Palestine. There is no equality between Palestinian and Israeli power, and how could there be? Palestinians are an occupied people, limited and restricted in every area of our lives. We also don’t have the military might of Israel. Because of this, we don’t want to initiate or witness more war.
However, once Israel starts or provokes war, we won’t keep silent. We are resilient and strong. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our land, which we consider tantamount to our dignity, even if we have to do so with our naked chests.