By Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban
After demolishing all the houses of Al-Arakib, the Israeli occupation authorities razed the village cemetery, completely erasing the memory and history of this Palestinian village, as it has erased more than 500 other Palestinian villages since 1948. A few days later, the Israelis desecrated 150 graves in the historic cemetery of Ma’aman Allah in Jerusalem, one of the oldest and largest Muslim cemeteries in the Holy City. This cemetery was once 200 acres in size, containing the mortal remains of thousands of the Prophet’s companions, early Muslims, Islamic scholars, leaders and martyrs. That was before the Israelis came along; now only 20 acres remain.
At the same time as the Israeli government’s vandalism of Palestinian property, Jewish settlers have burnt hundreds of dunums (1 dunum equals 1000 square metres) of agricultural land in the West Bank as they continue to demolish houses and dispossess the indigenous people. This is given a legal fig-leaf by the “absentee landlord” laws which deny the right of return to Palestinian refugees driven off their land by the Israeli occupation. The same Israeli government which imposes this apartheid-style law on Palestinians uprooted since 1948 calls on Arab governments to return the property of their Jewish citizens who migrated to Israel under pressure from the Jewish state.
These efforts to break the will of the Palestinians while assaulting the remains of their dead suggests a moral bankruptcy haunting Israelis today, through which they are trying to erase the memory of Palestinian villages and towns they have destroyed out of a deep-rooted fear that history will wake up to make their lives impossible.
Such treatment of cemeteries is in stark contrast to the way Arabs and Muslims deal with Jewish sacred places, including cemeteries and synagogues, in Arab countries. Despite the wars between the Arabs and the Zionist state not one Jewish tomb or synagogue has been destroyed or damaged; this is simply not something that they would contemplate let alone do, out of respect for people who are, after all, human beings created by God. The Israelis’ fear of Arabs and those who support their legitimate rights cannot be matched by similar fears or actions by Arabs against Jews in any Arab capital city.
Israeli paranoia reached a new peak recently with the claim by the country’s President, Shimon Peres, that the entire British people are “anti-Semitic”. Although Mr. Peres backtracked very quickly on his unambiguous statement, it exposed an unwillingness to acknowledge that it was a British government which offered Palestine on a plate to Zionists with the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
As a nuclear power in receipt of billions of dollars of US aid every year, it is increasingly obvious that Israel – with its criminal actions and statements like that of Shimon Peres – is becoming a liability to its main benefactor. Senior US military officers have said as much and doubts are beginning to creep in about the future of the Zionist entity built upon the usurpation of Palestinians’ human and legal rights. The Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) campaign has now crossed the Atlantic, with some success as a company in Washington has called for a boycott of Israeli goods.
The BDS movement, founded in 2005, has raised awareness internationally of the need to boycott Israel to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied since 1967, end racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens and recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land, a right enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 194. BDS has gathered momentum following Israel’s brutal assault on and invasion of Gaza in 2008/9 and its commandos’ murderous hijacking of the Freedom Flotilla at the end of May 2010. Mahmoud Darwish’s cry, “Besiege the blockade!” has been heard and taken up by intellectuals, artists and musicians who are starting to think twice before working or performing in Israel; concerts and other events have been cancelled as many have shrugged off fears of being labelled “anti-Semitic”, the usual charge made by Israel against those who dare to challenge its contempt for international law.
A boycott movement has even surfaced inside Israel – prompting a change in the law to make such campaigns illegal – confirming the arrival of what Omar Barghouti calls “Palestinian South Africa”. Other commentators such as Ahmad Moore in the Huffington Post are pointing out that Israel cannot be Jewish and democratic at the same time, referring to Israeli racism against native Palestinians in the process. The spokesman of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Chris Gunness, has accused Israel of broadcasting a “bunch of lies” about UNRWA and its work with Palestinian refugees.
Throw in the shifting role of Turkey and its relationship with Israel and the Obama administration’s failure to formulate reasonable peace proposals and you can see why Israel is beginning to fear for its capacity to break international laws and conventions with impunity. It is also being made aware that it won’t be able to use its nuclear arsenal against those defending human rights in Palestine, particularly the right to liberty and justice.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Middle East has been changed as a result of the struggle for justice and the steadfastness of the resistance in the region. The most important strategic shift is that of Turkey; not for nothing did British Prime Minister choose Ankara in which to call Gaza a “prison camp”. The age of US-led divide and rule, splitting the region into friends and enemies, radicals and moderates, may be ongoing officially, but in the minds of the people of the Middle East such tactics no longer have any meaning or power. They look to see whether a person or group collaborates with the US and Israel in the colonisation of Palestine, or resists such injustice and works towards freedom in the best interests of the people, building bridges across the ethnic and sectarian divides that the occupation powers try to exploit. Even if those in Washington do not realise the importance of this transformation, their Zionist surrogates do, to the extent that they now fear the dead in their graves as well as the indomitable will of the living.
If some politicians and intellectuals in the West still think of a peace process that isolates Hamas and Iran, or divides the region’s resistance groups, then they are wasting their time. The pulse of the people in the Middle East has overtaken them and is heading in a different direction.
A survey conducted recently by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland presents a window on the new reality in the Middle East for the benefit of those on the other side of the Atlantic who have failed miserably to understand the aspirations, strength and will of the people of this region; qualities, I might add, which are evident in our history and victories over countless invaders, no matter how severe or how lengthy their oppression. Telhami’s poll indicated that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tops the “new real world order” popularity stakes with 20% of the votes, followed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez with 13%; close behind Chavez with 12% is America’s current bête noir, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What was described as particularly bad news for the White House is that 77% of those surveyed believe that Iran has the right to possess nuclear energy and 57% of them consider that a nuclear Iran would be better for the Middle East. Israel, remember, stands unopposed at the moment as a nuclear power in the region.
This survey demonstrates the great chasm between the thinking of the US administration and that of the people of the Middle East. When worried Europe pressed the United States to rein in Israel to stop its war on Lebanon in 2006, the then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded by saying, “The U.S. has no interest in returning the area to the way it was”. Thanks Condie; the area certainly did not go back to the way it was; it took a new and important direction based on a future that promotes the freedom and dignity of its people and the stability of their countries. What remains is for the White House and its policy-makers to recognize this fact which to our eyes is as obvious and bright as the midday sun; it’s a fact which also goes some way towards explaining Israel’s fear of our cemeteries. Only one question remains, however: are we going to live up to the new ideals, with Palestine triumphing over apartheid and racism like the South African model, having touched the conscience of fair-minded people the world over?
Source: Al-Sharq Qatari newspaper via Middle East Monitor
Professor Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates.