The Nakba persists: Will the world silently watch as annexation brings another catastrophe?
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Today, 15 May, is the day Palestinians commemorate the Nakba or Catastrophe in Arabic, in memory of the almost total destruction of our presence in our homeland, 72 years ago. The organized pillaging campaigns led by Zionist militias, who would later become the Israeli army between 1947-1949 resulted in the destruction of more than 500 towns and villages, and the massacre of thousands of Palestinians. The Nakba also caused the systematic and widespread expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, forcing their exodus to neighbouring countries. Up until today these refugees, whose number exceeds 5 million, are still denied the right to return to their country despite international law guaranteeing this right.
While we commemorate the memory of this heavy past, we are aware that the Nakba has never ended. Palestinians continue to be forcibly displaced ever since, as Israel persists with its expansion plans. The military occupation imposed since 1967 over the remaining 22% of the area of historic Palestine provides Israel the opportunity to grow its settlements, while subjecting Palestinians to a brutal and segregationist regime. Israel conducts a policy of land fragmentation through the besiegement of the Gaza Strip, the building of the separation wall in the West Bank, in addition to the hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks that are ghettoizing Palestinian communities in well-guarded enclaves. Furthermore, daily confiscations, demolitions and destruction of Palestinian property take place, coupled with a policy of arbitrary detentions and imprisonments based on unjust military orders. Israel does not hesitate to use other measures of unlawful and often indiscriminate killings to pave the way to further land grab. Not one Palestinian is safe from the Israeli military machinery whose objective is to dispossess and control.
All or nothing
In the early nineties the Palestinian leadership negotiated a solution where Palestinian aspirations for self-determination are realized in an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the land occupied in 1967. By agreeing to this solution, our leadership has made a historic compromise on over 88% of the land of historic Palestine. Almost three decades after the agreement on the principles of this solution, Israel refuses to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and further entrenches its presence by continuing settlement and related infrastructure construction. It also persists in its policies aiming at Judaizing the holy city of Jerusalem by gradually erasing its multicultural and diverse identity as a city for all faiths.
The international community’s lack of adequate response to Israeli unilateralism has only emboldened it to move forward with its policy of imposing facts on the ground. Donald Trump’s current ‘Deal of the Century’ is the last blow on the diplomatic efforts that have been undertaken for the last three decades. It aims at normalizing the defacto situation that has turned Palestinian communities into Bantustans, with no access to borders with any neighbouring state. The plan guarantees continued Israeli control over Jerusalem including the holy sites. If this plan is implemented there will never be two states. Israel will permanently be the sole effective power controlling the area, where Palestinians are a demographic majority, governed by a set of different rules than Jewish Israelis. It will lead the conflict to a zero-sum game where it is all or nothing for each party.
While the world looks elsewhere
At the time the global coronavirus pandemic is dominating agendas worldwide, Israel has created a ‘unity government’ with a declared intention to annex the Jordan Valley, that represents almost 30% of the total surface of the West Bank, and holds the highest potential for the development and demographic expansion for any future Palestinian state. Already at the beginning of this month of May, the Israeli Defense Minister has given approval to illegally confiscate 1000 square kilometres of land in the West Bank to construct 7000 new illegal settlement units.
Israel has continually acted as a state above international law, knowing that the only response it shall get to its grave violations are rhetorical condemnations. Over the years the US bias for Israel, and its reiterated use of its financial and political influence, has completely disabled international will and resolutions.
It is time for action, not rhetoric
Today we risk a brand-new Nakba. The planned annexation of the Jordan Valley will not only cause an acute humanitarian crisis for the almost 100,000 Palestinians living there, it will also be a deadly blow to Palestinian national aspirations for a state of their own. This will bring a new era of the unknown to a region that is already plagued by civil wars and bloodshed.
South Africa is one of the key nations that we count on to support Palestine in its fight against this threat. Over the years our nations have been joined in struggles for dignity, equality and freedom. Recognising the similarities in the experiences, President Nelson Mandela said: “We know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Now we call on South Africa, to stand with us and prevent the official enactment of apartheid in Palestine.
It is time to impose international sanctions against Israel. As chair of the African Union, South Africa has a critical role in ensuring that all African nations stand firm against the continued domination and illegal exploitation of Palestinian resources and land. Israel must no longer be allowed to act in full impunity, it must be held accountable for violating the laws and principles that were set to safeguard peace and security around the world.
Palestinians have a right to self-determination in their homeland. This right is inalienable, whether in an independent state of their own, or as free and equal citizens in their historic land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Annexation shall not guarantee Israel’s security, it shall only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis for Palestinians, and start another spiral of violence that will eliminate the chances for negotiated peace. It shall not, however, undermine the destiny of Palestine and the Palestinians to be free.
* Hanan Jarrar is Ambassador of the State of Palestine in South Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.