“It is a sacred duty for me, as a [Holocaust] survivor, to protest against the persecution, the oppression and the imprisonment of so many people in Gaza, including more than 800,000 children,” -Reuven Moskowitz (82)
Reuven Moskowitz was one of eight Jewish activists onboard the Irene, more commonly referred to as The Jewish Boat to Gaza. Another passenger had lost his daughter to a Palestinian suicide bombing attack. The remaining activists were Israeli, British, and American nationals who shared a common goal of forging a step in the civilian peace process by symbolically breaking the illegal siege on Gaza.
It did not matter that they were Jewish. It did not matter that two of the activists had endured two of the most painful experiences of Jewish history. It did not matter that these experiences are ironically what Israel employs to justify occupying Palestinian land. It did not even matter that the voyage was an obvious symbol that Israel is losing the support of more and more world Jewry. The Israeli Defense Force still “peacefully,” yet forcibly boarded the ship twenty miles from the Gazan coast, and towed it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
It was no midnight on the Mavi Marmara. There were no “violent” clashes or deaths, and likewise most media glazed over the event as a rather uneventful, peaceful failed attempt to break the siege. Likewise, there was no media outcry or newspapers bathed in green, black, and red as protests for Palestine erupted around the world. Israel successfully avoided another public relations disaster, and most of the Westernized world still remained in oblivion over the plight of Palestine.
One of the passengers on board commented that what happened aboard the Irene was symbolic of the bleak prospects for actual peace in the region. The minute a just peace appears on the Palestinian horizon, it seems to get hijacked and dragged to Israeli shores.
Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mahmoud Abbas are currently going through the motions. They are posing for the photo ops, filming the vigorous handshakes, and every so often a new decision pops up in the headlines. It may as well be Jimmy Carter, President Sadat, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Or perhaps Bill Clinton, Yassar Arafat, and Yizhak Rabin.
Sometimes I think it’s all the same conference and someone in the White House has a mean hand with Photoshop.
Important issues are on the table – the status of Jerusalem, borders between the states, settlements, refugees, and questions of Israeli security. However, the most important question is hardly addressed in mainstream analyses: if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “solved” on paper, how could it possibly translate into a just peace on the ground?
In 2005, Israel agreed to “disengage” from Gaza. It seemed momentous: Israeli soldiers were dismantling illegal settlements and giving the land back to Palestine. At the time, the bargain was that as these settlements were lost, certain established settlements in the West Bank became permanent. Not only did this further carve Palestinian land into a patchwork of “Jew only” roads and numerous humiliating checkpoints, it led to the creation of Gaza as we know it today: an open-air prison.
When I imagine Palestine, I imagine the West Bank and Gaza at their 1967 borders. They are two fractions of a once full land, but nevertheless, in my mind, full, functioning body politics of people. In reality, Israel has built settlements on sixty-eight per cent of this land. The remaining thirty-two per cent is controlled by Israeli security.
It is easy to wonder whether this is a “peace” process or a “how many pieces can we break Palestine into” process.
Like all the other peace accords and agreements, any actual “peace process” would take many years to refine and implement. If it miraculously did not derail, any concessions to Israel would become ingrained into international law. Since the power dynamics between oppressor and oppressed tend to be rather skewed, this would most likely result in Abbas signing away more Palestinian land or the rights of refugees than creating a just peace.
It would be perfectly legal. It would be projected as the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and an important step towards peace in the Middle East at large. In reality it would institutionalize perpetual injustice.
Adding to the “legitimacy” of a false peace, the Palestinian Authority’s appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is working to declare a Palestinian state in 2011. “Palestine” would have international recognition (meaning Palestine would be considered a country and Palestinians would be acknowledged as coming from said country) including a UN seat. If they are very good, they may even get to raise their flag in front of the pretty fountain.
The rest of the world would scan the headlines and breath a sigh of relief that that silly conflict was over. Obama would flex his world-saving biceps, and write another check to Israel. Actual Palestinians would still be living under occupation. They would have to deal with checkpoints, home demolitions, expulsions, arrests, settlement expansion, and their right to movement and livelihood being choked by “Jew-only” roads. Only this time it would not defy international law, robbing Palestine of its strongest weapon: its legitimacy.