In announcing the ceasefire in Gaza, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that Israel had “reached all the goals of the war, and beyond.” It’s an odd choice of words, but I guess the right words are hard to find when you have just committed one of the most shameless acts of genocide since the Second World War.
It gets worse. Apparently, Olmert and his generals were not acting against the Palestinian people. According to Olmert, they were actually saving the Palestinians from Hamas! They say love comes in different shapes and sizes, but I am yet to hear of that version of love that comes in the form of mass death. It sure is an odd way to “save” the Palestinian people by massacring over 1300 of them, including over 400 children according to the United Nations. Not to mention that, whatever you may think of them, Hamas were the choice of the people in one of the freest elections in Arab history.
But as members of the Israeli government reflect on the war’s supposed success, they should ponder one more statistic, one that I am witnessing in every conversation amongst moderate, liberal and progressive Arabs around the world. There is one more corpse lying somewhere in the rubble of Gaza today. It is the lifeless body of the spirit of peace.
Arabs of all walks of life have had it with the murderous arrogance of successive Israeli governments, and stand totally convinced now that the Israeli establishment has no intention of working for a real and lasting peace. This is a fact that can be tested in almost every Arab home. And I am not talking here of the homes in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon that have lost loved ones to the raging Israeli war machine. I am talking of the homes of liberal and business-minded Arabs in Amman, Cairo, and Dubai. These are the same people who dared think in the mid 1990s that Israel is seriously seeking a just understanding with its neighbours, and that perhaps, just perhaps, we were about to witness the beginning of a new era of peace in the region.
But there are limits to the forceful pull of hope. The death of Yitzhak Rabin was probably the most consequential moment in road to peace so far. I am no fan of Rabin, but many Arabs saw something in him that they have not seen in any Israeli leader before him or since. He realized a most basic truth: The best hope for Israel’s future in the region is peace with its neighbors. He realized that guns and tanks can only go so far. But his assassin’s bullets have seemingly killed that type of wisdom in all Israeli leaders.
Livni, Barak and Olmert are back to the old and failed formula: terrorize the Palestinians to death. That’s right. Occupy them for over 40 years. Close off their borders. Blockade them to starvation. Deny them their democratic choice. And when they dare to lash out of their prison with rockets, bomb them into oblivion. An eye for an eyelash.
Of course the Hamas rockets are wrong. But what is forgotten in some media quarters is that every breach of the ceasefire was actually caused by a sudden spate of assassinations committed by the Israeli government, and not by Hamas.
As the sense of outrage intensifies, the focus is shifting in the minds of Arabs away from the ever elusive and seemingly futile peace process, and towards the simple notion of human rights. Arabs in Palestine cannot be massacred with impunity. That is why Arab blogs and other forums are flooded with discussion of ways to bring Israel to account for the war crimes committed in Gaza. This is not the emotive type of talk that usually follows any war. This is a serious and practical discussion on what can be done to launch war crime claims against Olmert and others responsible for the murder of over 400 children.
Never mind the two state solution. We want a human rights solution. Forget the nitty gritty discussion of where the boundaries of a Palestinian state will or won’t lie, or what neighborhood of Jerusalem is Palestinian or not. What the Arabs want now is for the world to respect the simple rights of every Arab that lives either in Israel or in the occupied territories. And no one, other than a downright racist, can say that Palestinians are not entitled to fundamental rights just as the average Israeli, or any other human being.
This in turn is leading to a renewed discussion of the one state solution in the land of Palestine and Israel, where Christian and Muslim Arabs live side by side with Israelis in one democratic nation. The two state solution has been on the table for over 20 years, and it has led nowhere. Circumstances could never be more auspicious than they have been recently and yet Israel has reacted to the two – state solution with violent disdain. The current Palestinian leadership has done everything within its power to get Israel to accept the two state solution. Mahmoud Abbas is Israel’s favorite Palestinian and they could not have dreamt of a more obedient partner. The Arab League has offered Israel full and lasting peace in return for the two state solution. And how has Israel reacted to all those overtures and favorable circumstances? With Blood and tears.
Forget talk of boundaries and geography. Our people in Palestine and Israel are not to be slaughtered at will to win a few cheap votes in the Israeli election. We want justice. We will try every international law forum, every UN agency. We will stand up and won’t be cowed by murder in broad daylight.
And there lies another unintended consequence of the Israeli Government’s Christmas madness. Two days ago, the children of Gaza went back to school. There were images broadcast of several classrooms with missing children, killed by Israel, whose seats were left unoccupied. A simple note was left on their empty bench, with the name and age of the slain child.
I focused on the faces of those left behind, the children of despair in Gaza. My initial instinct was to feel sorry for them, for what they have gone through. But then I saw something else. A spirit of pride and defiance. The spirit of that unique indomitable character that shines through and guides the victims of injustice to victory.
That same spirit that guided the founding fathers of the United States, the anti-apartheid campaigners in South Africa, and many others who have come through the worst injustices to claim their rightful place in history with pride. The Israeli aggression on Gaza of 2008 / 2009 has given the Palestinians their Leningrad. And just as the mountains of bombs that the Nazis rained on that city could never dent the Russian spirit of pride and resistance, so it shall be in Palestine. From the ashes of Gaza, a new future beckons.