By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
There are some people who have a healthy relationship with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. They just don’t care much about it. There are others who have an unhealthy relationship with it. They have a pathological hatred for Israel. Then there are those who have a pathological hatred and arrogant, almost colonial-like, dismissal of Palestinians. They are often members of the pro-Israel crowd, usually English speakers.
Their worldview often starts with cliches such as “there are no Palestinians” or “Jordan is Palestine.” For them the millions of people who live in Gaza and the West Bank are basically non-existent, not seen as really people. The phrase “there are no Palestinians” is like someone saying “there are no Corsicans” or “there are no Macedonians” or “there are no African-Americans.” It’s a denial of the existence of people’s own identity. But even if you go down the rabbit hole of this claim, those who despise Palestinians must be held to account for the fact that there are millions of people living in Gaza and the West Bank. They can call them “Arabs” or “Bobs” or whatever, but the fact is they cannot ignore the large numbers of people in Gaza, Khan Yunis, Jenin, Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and a thousand other communities.
Another bait and switch the anti-Palestinian crowd does is they try to bring up “demographics.” Demographics is the strange “answer” that both the Israeli left and right have for the conflict. For the left demographics lead to a “one state solution” or “apartheid” because they argue that half the people between the Jordan river and the sea are Arab. For the right, the argument is that the Palestinian population is exaggerated. Ok. So let’s say it’s exaggerated. But take a drive in the West Bank. What do you see as you drive along the 60? Palestinian Arab villages on both sides of the road, one after the other. So the pro-Israel voices manipulate data to say “there are only one million Arabs” in the West Bank, or only 2 million or whatever their imaginary number is.
But even when the chicanery of demographics has been discussed, there are still millions of Arabs, millions of Palestinians.
So then comes the argument “Jordan is Palestine.” This is another bait and switch, because even if Jordan suffers a revolution and becomes “Palestine” there are still millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan becoming Palestine doesn’t reduce the Palestinianess of the West Bank, it just creates more Palestine.
But then, then, the voices come who say “what about San Remo” and they create stories about how an obscure peace conference in 1920 leads to the conclusion that “Therefore, the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state is exactly equal or greater to the legitimacy of any of the Arab nation states.” And these voices then claim “As you can see from eyewitness reports in the video above, the Arabs of Palestine viewed themselves as Syrian and as pan-Arabs. They had no aspirations for independence.”
So what? So in 1920 some Europeans who were carving up the Middle East didn’t recognize Arab states? So Arabs living in Jerusalem, Haifa, Gaza, Amman and other places at the time did not have a concrete demand for the kind of state they wanted. Neither did the American colonists in 1770. Perhaps neither did Slovenes desire independence in 1920, perhaps only in 1991 did they struggle for independence. If you take the logic of the anti-Palestinian voices, you would then find “there are no Slovenes” and “Slovenia is in Bulgaria” or some such logic. You’d hear how the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into Yugoslavia in 1918 is the only legitimate state that can exist and Slovenia has no rights to be Slovenia.
This is the logic that the anti-Palestinian crowd has: There are no Palestinians, Palestine is in Jordan and the 1920s colonial European decisions mean that there can be no Palestine. No matter that almost 100 years has passed since San Remo and that people change, they grow national aspirations, just as numerous groups jockeyed for national borders in the late 19th century. But while the anti-Palestinian voices see Jewish nationalism as totally legitimate they cannot imagine why a person in Ramallah or Jenin might desire an independent state.
But really what moves the anti-Palestinian mentality is an arrogance, almost a kind of colonial narrative, that views the millions of people in Gaza and the West Bank as not deserving of equal rights. The kind of people who always scoff at Palestinian rights, who say “there shouldn’t be a Palestinian state,” at the heart of their worldview is the view that Palestinians, that Arabs, that the people living in places like Ramallah, do not deserve the same rights as them.
You can see this in the voices of Americans who make up the bulk of anti-Palestinian voices, who travel freely to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem, who go back and forth to various Jewish communities in the West Bank, and who look at the Arabs everywhere around them and cannot imagine for a second that these people deserve the same rights as they do. It’s not just a question of a right to vote and to have a vote in which state (Israel or Palestine). It is a question of basic human rights. The right to freedom of movement. Imagine the life of Israeli passport holder or US or EU passport holder traveling to the West Bank. They travel freely through Ben-Gurion airport or via Sheikh Hussein bridge from Jordan. They drive where they like. They go to Tel Aviv to the beach and Jerusalem for Friday night and then a trip to Efrat on Tuesday and the Dead Sea on Wednesday. They go through checkpoints here and there with ease.
But for them they cannot imagine that a person from Ramallah, should have the same rights. No rights to travel to Jerusalem. No rights to go to the beach in Tel Aviv of course. No rights to travel to the Dead Sea. No rights to fly out of the country via Ben-Gurion Airport, or a right to travel to Jordan and fly from Amman.
So why is this? Why is is that someone from America who came to Israel yesterday enjoys all these rights, but someone born in Bethlehem in 1966 or 1976 cannot travel to Jerusalem? They have to travel on some complex, long road, to go where they want in the West Bank, around Jewish communities and roads built in their midst. Because they lack basic human rights. They are not second class citizens, but non-citizens, third class. They lack basic rights over planning, over everything.
Now let’s consider the “solution” for these millions of people living as third class non-citizens? For the anti-Palestinians the solution for the man born in Bethlehem in 1966 he deserves no rights. No rights to establish a state for himself where he can travel where he likes within it, and no rights to have Israeli citizenship, even though Israel has imposed military rule over him for 50 years.
But the anti-Palestinian doesn’t see this circumscribed non-life that has been imposed upon Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza for 50 years. They can’t see it or imagine it. Because they are used to flying to Europe when they want, flying to America when they want, traveling to the Dead Sea and Eilat when they want.
And that is why people who despise Palestinians truly deserve to have to live like them. They deserve to have their passports confiscated and be sent to Bethlehem or Ramallah or Jenin for a few months. Not fifty years of course, but just a few months. To live under the checkpoint regime imposed upon them and feel what it is like to lack basic human rights. Right to free speech? No. Right to freedom of movement? No. Right to protest? No. Right to a lawyer if one is arrested? No. Living in a non-state with no rights to have a citizenship in your own state or another state.
They should have to live in the hell of Gaza, a tiny non-country, squeezed next to the sea with no ability to travel via Israel or Egypt to go anywhere and under permanent blockade. Barely electricity. No ordering books from Amazon. 1.8 million people live like this in Gaza. How can such conditions be imposed on people who have no rights. No rights to a port or an airport or to travel or go abroad for education or go on vacation. It’s like being ordered to live in a poor version of Manhattan your whole life. Of course most people would eventually feel claustrophobic even living in Manhattan with all it offers, let alone Gaza.
The basic things that people take for granted are denied Palestinians. Now, they are not the only ones denied many of these basic things. Other people across the Middle East often lack basic human rights. Women in Saudi Arabia lack basic human rights. People in Yemen cannot travel. Syrians have been turned into stateless people by Assad’s brutal war. Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon have no rights.
But the difference between the life of people in Gaza or Jenin and those in these other places, is that people don’t scoff at those suffering in Saudi Arabia, or poor people in Iraq or Yemen. But with Palestinians, the anti-Palestinian voices scoff at these people, they deny they exist and they revel in their misery, they disrespect them and mock them. They can’t have any empathy for a woman born in 1967 who has had to live her whole life under military rule without a passport or right to travel. If I tell you women in Saudi Arabia suffer, most people don’t say “there are no women in Saudi Arabia” or “they aren’t Saudis”, no most people will agree it is disgusting that they cannot travel without male “permission” and are kept in a near-slave-like status.
The only solution for people that routinely dismiss the rights of Palestinians to have basic human rights, and dismiss them as a people, is that they be sent to Palestine, sent to Ramallah, their passports confiscated and they be forced to live there for several months. It won’t take long for them to see the reality and understand exactly what is happening. Just a few trips to the cattle-like checkpoints at Qalandia or elsewhere, where you are processed one at a time like prisoners, even though you committed no crime, is enough to shock anyone into their senses. Whatever dislike they have to Palestinians, or denial of the Palestinian demands, or view of Palestinians as inexorably stuck in militancy and hatred, they will understand that after 50 years of military rule, one must have some sympathy for people kept in a non-state-like-prison. It doesn’t mean sympathy for terrorism, and sympathy for all the bad things conjured up in the Palestinian national movement. But at least sympathy for the ridiculous denial of basic rights to millions of people, coupled with the denial of any choices for them, choice for statehood or choice for citizenship in another state. Just a permanent nonentity status.
Everyone who wants to talk about Palestinians and explain and postulate should first have to go to Palestinian communities and live there. That alone would be a good solution to people who want to “explain” what is happening and give their views on them.