Palestinians have been waiting for their independence for almost a century. At the end of World War I, Palestine, which had been a colony of the Ottoman Empire, was occupied by the British army. Palestine’s population was then 93 percent indigenous Palestinians and 7 percent Zionist Jews, mostly recent immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, working, with British consent, to establish a Jewish home in Palestine.
After the war, the League of Nations converted the Middle East colonies of the defeated Ottoman Empire into mandates, each supervised by a European power which had the duty to bring its mandate to the point of independent nationhood. The mandates of Syria and Lebanon went to the French, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine to the British. Iraq became an independent nation in 1932, Syria and Lebanon in 1944, and Jordan in 1946.
In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan for ending the Palestine mandate that allotted 56 percent of the land for a Jewish state but only 43 percent for a Palestinian state even though Palestinians comprised two thirds of the total population and owned over 90 percent of the land. The plan also gave most of the coastline and prime agricultural areas to the proposed Jewish state. The Zionists accepted the plan while the Palestinians understandably rejected it.
When fighting broke out, the UN and the US, convinced partition was unworkable, began exploring binational solutions. But, by mid-1948, the Zionists had conquered more than half of Palestine. As the last British troops departed, the Zionists declared their independence as the Jewish state of Israel under the provisions of the UN partition plan. US recognition of the new state made the partition of Palestine a fait accompli.
By the end of 1948, Israel had conquered and occupied almost 80 percent of Palestine and had evicted or ethnically cleansed over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands, forcing them into refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, or the West Bank and Gaza. The remaining 22 percent of Palestine not occupied by Israel became a colony of Jordan, once again depriving the Palestinians of independence and statehood.
In its 1967 Six Day War, Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. It now controlled the entirety of Palestine including the original 43 percent designated by the UN partition plan for the Palestinian state. Israel, as an occupying military power, had a duty to withdraw from the Palestinian land it had occupied and return it to its rightful owners, but it refused to do so. Instead, it immediately began treating the occupied Palestinian territories as an Israeli colony, transferring its Jewish citizens into all-Jewish settlements, while evicting more and more Palestinians from their homes, confiscating their land, and subjecting them to harsh military rule.
The Palestinians rejected Israeli colonization, demanded their independence, and soon began a violent revolt against Israeli occupation of their land. Lacking the sophisticated and modern weaponry of the Israeli armed forces, the Palestinians resorted to asymmetric or guerilla warfare, including acts of terrorism, tactics commonly used by weak insurgents fighting wars of independence against powerful colonial occupiers.
Israel responded savagely, using all the tools employed by colonial powers attempting to maintain their hold on valuable colonies, including random arrests, torture, assassinations, indefinite imprisonment without trial, house demolitions, mass detentions, collective punishment against civilian populations, strict military rule, and other oppressive measures that violate international law and are sometimes labeled “state terrorism”. These tactics have proved successful.
During the past 47 years, the Palestinians have tried both violent and nonviolent resistance with no success, and the UN, the US, the EU, and other European nations have tried for decades to resolve the conflict. Despite those efforts, no Israeli government has been willing to withdraw completely from the occupied territories to allow the Palestinians full independence and a state of their own on the remaining 22 percent of Palestine. Instead, Israel has greatly increased its illegal land seizures and evictions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to a recent statement from Israel’s Housing Minister, there are now about 750,000 Israeli Jews living in settlements on Palestinian land and that number is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2019. Based on recent statements from the leaders of its major political parties, including its prime minister, Israel has no intention of withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories which it considers to be part of a Greater Israel it inherited from Biblical times.
As observers to the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, we need to ask the right questions and avoid accepting the narrative that Israel wants us to accept: that it is a beleaguered country merely defending itself from mindless terrorists who aim only to kill Israeli civilians. In reality, the Palestinians, including Hamas, are fighting for their independence from a brutal oppressive colonial power, Israel, who took all their remaining land in 1967, has settled massive numbers of its own Jewish civilians on their remaining land, and refuses to give them even 20 percent of that land to create the independent state of Palestine they have been promised since the end of World War I. If that was happening to me, I’d be willing to fight and die for the independence of my people, wouldn’t you?
It’s high time we started looking at the Palestinians as freedom fighters, struggling to achieve their independence and a state of their own from an oppressive colonial power, Israel, who is unwilling to allow that to happen.
How can we, as Americans, support the Palestinian struggle for independence. By being vocal in our criticism of Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinians to have a state of their own on the West Bank, by writing letters and emails to our congressional representatives telling them to stop their blind, unwavering support of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people. By having the courage to tell American Jews that their unquestioning support of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people is immoral and that they need to tell the Israelis that while their support of the state of Israel is unconditional, they cannot support immoral and oppressive actions and policies of its current government.
Americans, including Jewish Americans, stood up for the rights of Black South Africans to have equal rights and freedom and ultimately forced our own government to pressure the white South African hierarchy to give black South Africans equal rights. It’s high time Americans stood up for the rights of Palestinians to be free of Israeli oppression and to have independence and a nation of their own.