Sunday, January 18

History did not begin with the Qassams

Israel has ended the shelling for now. Gaza residents surely welcome the chance to sleep through the night without the noise of explosions. However, it needs to be pointed out that this is another unilateral decision; Israel has, for their part, decided to stop dropping bombs. They have done this without what would seem like important gestures or steps for peace: without talking to Hamas, without withdrawing troops, and without promising to end the economic blockade and closures of borders that have been imposed on Gaza. Ceasing to drop bombs is a step, but it seems just one of several that need to be taken as people here move toward peace. The continued refusal of one power to talk to another seems unlikely to lead to long-term security for either Israelis or Palestinians.

This is an article from an Israeli newspaper about what's happening in Gaza. The title itself, "History did not begin with the Qassams," is perhaps a challenge to start thinking about the conflict here in a new way.

-------------by Amira Hass, the full article below and linked here.

History did not begin with the Qassam rockets. But for us, the Israelis, history always begins when the Palestinians hurt us, and then the pain is completely decontextualized. We think that if we cause the Palestinians much greater pain, they will finally learn their lesson. Some term this "achievement."

Nevertheless, the "lesson" remains abstract for most Israelis. The Israeli media prescribes a strict low-information, low-truth diet for its consumers, one rich in generals and their ilk. It is modest, and does not boast of our achievements: the slain children and the bodies rotting under the ruins, the wounded who bleed to death because our soldiers shoot at the ambulance crews, the little girls whose legs were amputated due to horrible wounds caused by various types of weaponry, the devastated fathers shedding bitter tears, the residential neighborhoods that have been obliterated, the terrible burns caused by white phosphorus, and the mini-transfer - the tens of thousands of people who have been expelled from their homes, and are still being expelled at this very minute, ordered to cram into a built-up area that is constantly growing smaller and is also under sentence of incessant bombing and shelling.

Ever since the Palestinian Authority was established, the Israeli public relations machinery has exaggerated the danger of the military threat that the Palestinians pose to us. When they moved from stones to rifles and from Molotov cocktails to suicide bombings, from roadside bombs to Qassams and from Qassams to Grads, and from the PLO to Hamas, we said with a whoop of victory, "We told you. They're anti-Semites." And therefore, we have the right to go on a rampage.
What enabled Israel's military rampage - the proper words to describe it cannot be found in my dictionary - was the step-by-step isolation of the Gaza Strip. The isolation turned Gaza's residents into abstract objects, with no names and addresses, except the addresses of the armed men, and no history, aside from the dates determined by the Shin Bet security service.

The siege of Gaza did not begin when Hamas seized control of the Strip's security organs, or when Gilad Shalit was taken captive, or when Hamas was elected in democratic elections. The siege began in 1991 - before the suicide bombings. And since then, it has only become more sophisticated, reaching its peak in 2005.

The Israeli public relations machinery happily presented the disengagement as the end of the occupation, in brazen disregard of the facts. The isolation and closure were presented as military necessities. But we are big boys and girls, and we know that "military necessities" and consistent lies serve state goals. Israel's goal was to thwart the two-state solution, which the world had expected to materialize once the Cold War ended in 1990. This was not a perfect solution, but the Palestinians were ready for it then.

Gaza is not a military power that attacked its tiny, peace-loving neighbor, Israel. Gaza is a territory that Israel occupied in 1967, along with the West Bank. Its residents are part of the Palestinian people, which lost its land and its homeland in 1948.

In 1993, Israel had a one-time golden opportunity to prove to the world that what people say about us is untrue - that it is not by nature a colonialist state. That the expulsion of a nation from its land, the expulsion of people from their houses and the robbery of Palestinian land for the sake of settling Jews are not the basis and essence of its existence.

In the 1990s, Israel had a chance to prove that 1948 is not its paradigm. But it missed this opportunity. Instead, it merely perfected its techniques for robbing land and expelling people from their houses, and forced the Palestinians into isolated enclaves. And now, during these dark days, Israel is proving that 1948 never ended.

It raises some important points and some things that MCC emphasizes in our work here. Causing the other 'much greater pain' is not the answer, regardless of who is causing the pain
and who is suffering. Understanding the perspective of people different than ourselves is one way to help people here move toward peace. Decontextualized pain explains why a lot of
what happens here happens, and is a danger in itself; seeking to know friends, neighbors, and the community around us is one way to combat our natural inclinations to protect 'ourselves'
and what's 'ours'.

This past Thursday night, MCC workers attended the launch of an educational packet by an Israeli partner, Zochrot. They discuss the 'Nakba', or 'Catastrophe' in Arabic, and try to educate
the Israeli public about the way Palestinians view the events of 1948. At the packet launch one of the Israeli teachers who was going to use the packet shared his thoughts (in paraphrase):

I believe that the Nakba is continuing, even now, with the attacks on Gaza. It's not only the destruction of a people, but the destruction of a culture as well. I am an old man, and I don't
believe that I will see the end of the Nakba in my lifetime; I don't think Israeli society will realize what it is doing while I am still alive. But, I think that the work that Zochrot is doing is
what needs to be done, and what can be done. Seeing the work of Zochrot gives me hope that one day we will live in peace, and I want to say thank you.

It's encouraging to hear such words from an Israeli, and we hope that more of the people who call this place home will come to realize that causing 'the other' pain is not the way forward.

Trey Hulsey is an MCC Peace Development Worker in Bethlehem, and loves both his wife Jessie and many of the people in Israel/Palestine.

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