How should we think about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict? Please note: how comes before what. Before coming to any substantive conclusions – certainly before taking sides – we must be clear as to how the issue ought to be approached. It would be a mistake to start in normative mode. A moral value judgment must be made: I would certainly not advocate avoiding it. But we must not start with moral value judgments. Assigning blame for atrocities is not a good starting point. In any violent conflict, both sides may – and often do – commit hideous atrocities: wantonly kill and maim unarmed innocent people, destroy their homes, rob them of livelihood. And of course all these atrocities must be condemned.
Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has been the only sovereign state in British Mandate Palestine. Palestinians have been living either as second-class citizens in the Jewish state; or as colonized residents of the West Bank and Gaza with no human or political rights; or as refugees dispersed and stranded in neighboring Arab countries, in often extremely difficult conditions. The chances of Palestinians overcoming exile and exercising their right of return seem as far away as ever. Hardly more promising are the immediate prospects for ending the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in accordance with the international and Arab consensus, in place since at least 1976 and rejected by the United States and Israel.
In the Israeli discourse, Israel has always been the innocent victim of vicious aggression from its neighbors. This perception of reality has only intensified with its two recent wars - against the Palestinians in Gaza and against Lebanon. On this view, in both cases Israel has manifested its good will - it ended the occupation of the Gaza strip in 2005, just as it ended the occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. But, on this perception, the other side reciprocated with unprovoked rockets attacks on Israel.
Beirut is burning, hundreds of Lebanese die, hundreds of thousands lose all they ever owned and become refugees, and all the world is doing is rescuing the "foreign passport" residents of what was just two weeks ago "the Paris of the Middle East". Lebanon must die now, because "Israel has the right to defend itself", so goes the U.S. mantra, used to block any international attempt to impose a cease fire.
Whatever may be the fate of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israeli army’s war in Gaza is not about him. As senior security analyst Alex Fishman widely reported, the army was preparing for an attack months earlier and was constantly pushing for it, with the goal of destroying the Hamas infrastructure and its government. The army initiated an escalation on 8 June when it assassinated Abu Samhadana, a senior appointee of the Hamas government, and intensified its shelling of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
May 11, Sabra-Shatila camp
There is a plot of land of perhaps less than a half acre, surrounded by a wall with a large iron gate, where the victims of the 1982 massacre are buried. The land is mostly flat and covered by grass, with a few mounds here and there, the locations of mass graves which we can see through the gate's vertical bars. On the outside wall there are large, slightly fading, poster photos of those found dead after the rampage of Phalangist militiamen that were sent in by the Israeli army that had surrounded the camp in 1982. The gate-keeper is an old Palestinian, with half of his teeth missing, sitting under the shade of the tree near the gate and selling flowers. We ask him to open the gate and let us enter the ground. The old man says that if the visitors are American he will not let them enter. "Yes, the visitors are American, but they are good Americans," I explain. Then pointing to Noam a few steps away, I say that he, in particular, is the most indefatigable defender of Palestinian rights in America. The old man stares at me with a skeptical look for a few seconds, as if to gauge the truth of what I just said, then gets up and opens the gate.
The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.
The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.
There are two choices. The first is obviously an independent Palestinian state. At a minimum, this would be within the 1967 frontiers—only 23 per cent of historic Palestine—and would have East Jerusalem as its capital. All settlements, without exception, would have to be dismantled. Their occupants could stay if they wished, since we want no more expulsions, but it must be under Palestinian sovereignty. Personally I would see no objection to this state being demilitarized, on condition that there was an international force to protect us. But the borders must comply with international decisions.
1. Dominate thy neighbor. No atonement necessary for an occupation that deprives the Palestinian population of life, liberty and even brief moments of happiness. We'll continue violating every international law and convention that stands in our way.
2. Nothing succeeds like success. The thirty-seven-year-old occupation continues in full force and will remain in place. With lands confiscated and settled, the territories as we knew them in 1967 no longer exist. And with every Israeli under 50 raised with the occupation in the background, the territories are no longer "occupied"--a term that suggests an interim condition--but rather transformed into areas permanently and irreversibly controlled by Israel. Incidentally, this process follows closely the "creation of facts" that took place in pre-state and immediately post-state Israel.
IOA Editor: A very important discussion on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and 'God-given land' claims by Israelis, including Said's recognition of Jewish/Zionist rights in Palestine - but not as "the only claim or the main claim," rather, as "a claim, among many other."
Edward Said's comments are as relevant today as they were in 2003, a few months before his death. They serve as an excellent 'reality check' against the current focus on Settlement Freeze - an insulting diversion from the main discussion: the Occupation itself.