The Futility of Repression in the Occupied Territories
The current escalation of military force by the Israeli government of prime minister Ariel Sharon in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza to break the back of the Palestinian uprising was expected. It may also be predicted that the outcome will not improve security for Israelis, nor weaken the desire of Palestinians to end their state of occupation.
The reality which Israelis who voted Sharon to power last February seek to deny to themselves is that Israeli security is inseparable from Palestinian freedom. It is also true that Palestinian freedom cannot be attained at the cost of Israeli security. It was the recognition of this mutual dependence of security and freedom that led to the Oslo Accord of 1993 between the late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. The demise of the Oslo Accord does not change this reality.
A doctor tends to an injured Palestinian 28 March 2001 at a hospital in the West Bank town of Ramallah following deadly air strikes launched by Israel.
The mutual dependence of Israeli security and Palestinian freedom, however, does not place the two people in equal relationship. In the nature of unequal relationship between occupier and occupied, the rights of Palestinians for freedom from occupation takes precedence over the rights of Israelis for security. For it is entirely within the scope of Israeli politics to end the occupation of Palestinian lands, and provide for the security and freedom of both people.
Instead of proceeding from this simple truth, Israelis have engaged in the politics of apportioning blame on Palestinians and their leadership for an uprising against occupation. Such politics ring increasingly hollow. This truth which Israeli leaders and population seek to evade was admitted in a remarkably candid statement by Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former Acting Foreign Minister of Israel under the previous government of former prime minister Ehud Barak. Ben-Ami in a cabinet meeting of his government during its final weeks in office responded to the lists of Palestinian transgressions by observing: "Accusations made by a well-established society [Israel] about how a people [Palestinians] it is oppressing is breaking rules to attain its rights do not have much credence."
Ben-Ami's words were reported in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. These words are of such significance that were they understood in their fullest by Israelis they would then be able to break their own psychological barrier to peace with Palestinians as did the late Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, for the Arabs by visiting Jerusalem in 1977. Ben-Ami is the first Israeli politician to put in words publicly what a new generation of Israeli historians such as Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris and others have been documenting, that the source of Palestinian anger and frustration displayed in the violence of the uprising is not some crude Arab or Muslim version of European anti-Semitism, instead they are a result of the real sense of injustice and victimization of Palestinians by Israelis.
The sad irony is that a majority of Israelis, and Jews worldwide, have forgotten the lesson of their own struggle for freedom and statehood. The lesson in its wider historic significance may be found in the words of George Bernard Shaw, the great Irish playwright and author. He wrote, "If you destroy a people's nationhood - it will know no other thought but its reconquest. It will listen to no moderator, hear no philosopher, lend an ear to no preacher so long as its national demand is not answered. No problem - not even the most vital - will win its attention except the matter of its unity and national liberation."
Palestinian paramedics carry the charred body of a Palestinian into an ambulance 28 March 2001 in the West Bank town of Ramallah after Israel launched deadly air strikes
The history of the twentieth century confirms the truth of Shaw's observation. In the long arc of history if there is any meaning to be found, it is about the struggle of people to freedom, for there is no justice where freedom is absent.
Shlomo Ben-Ami's words are a reminder to his people that they cannot escape the judgment of history. Hence, it is only right that it is in historic Palestine Jews and Arabs, both children of Abraham, now confront each other with no intermediaries. And neither can acquire security or freedom without fully acknowledging that what each wants can only be given by the other. It is on such simple truths, unvarnished and uncomplicated, rest the meaning of history for all people.
Salim Mansur is Associate Professor for the Department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario, London. This column originally appeared in the April 4 edition of the The London Free Press and was re-published with permission from the author.
Topics: Occupation, Palestine