By Yvonne Ridley
The United Nations declared 29 November to be the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People more than 40 years ago. Sadly, it has become just another date in the ever growing timeline of misery inflicted on the people of Palestine.
The reality is that ever since the stain of the Nakba in 1948, the suffering has been ongoing, with no promises of justice ever being fulfilled.
Palestine today stands as a mark of shame on the international community, which has not only stood by and watched increasingly blatant land grabs by Israel’s brutal military occupation, but has also been complicit in much of what has taken place.
When the UN introduced this international day Israel had grabbed less than three per cent of the West Bank; today it has taken more than 43 per cent and built hundreds of illegal settlements.
What is left has been described as a series of “Bantustans” which make it virtually impossible for an independent Palestinian State to come to fruition. In the meantime, Israel continues to control 100 per cent of the occupied territory, including the bits that are nominally under the governance of the Palestinian Authority.
Anyone who still talks of a “two state solution” is thus either not acquainted with the reality on the ground in Palestine; extremely deluded; or a liar. Quite possibly all three.
Israel, especially under the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has set about dismantling Palestine before a watching world, while paying cynical lip-service to peace. As far as he is concerned, the Palestinians must make all of the concessions and jump through the hoops dictated by his government; Israel makes no concessions whatsoever.
Internationally, the issue of Palestine has become so insignificant in the great scheme of things that this year’s “International Day of Solidarity…” came and went with barely a whimper. Very few politicians outside of Palestine bothered to say or do anything. Those in Turkey were an honourable exception. Everywhere else, it has become a major non-event in the international calendar.
The words and intentions of the UN General Assembly back in 1977 ring hollow today. With the US able to wield its veto in the all-controlling Security Council to cover Israel’s back, the government in Tel Aviv has been able to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with impunity.
The General Assembly is impotent and can say a lot but cannot actually do anything, so Israel continues to pursue extreme policies against the people of occupied Palestine, including collective punishment, home demolitions and ethnic cleansing. Every now and again, Israeli troops bomb the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, for the sole reason, it often seems, simply because they can; “Israel Defence Forces” is a misnomer.
Palestine’s modern history has thus been punctuated by grim anniversaries brought about by Israeli violence — from troops as well as armed settlers — as well as changes on the ground such as the apartheid “separation” wall, military checkpoints, illegal settlements and settler-only roads. Arbitrary arrest, detention and torture are daily occurrences, even against children.
Palestinians are denied freedom of movement in their own land. When Israel’s massive military offensives are thrown into the mix, it produces a toxic cocktail from which even hospitals, schools and places of worship are not spared.
The Palestinians under occupation are treated as second class citizens; so too are the 20 per cent of Israel citizens who are Palestinian Arabs. Meanwhile, millions of Palestinian refugees remain confined within overcrowded refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighbouring countries, where they often experience discrimination in employment, education and health. Those trapped by the civil war in Syria face an even more uncertain future.
The one sliver of hope in all of this is the heroic determination and resistance of the Palestinian people themselves.
Despite Israel’s brutal occupation, the fickle nature of the international community and One-Term Trump — who has gifted Netanyahu and his government more than they could have dreamed of, destroying the myth that America has ever been an honest broker — they remain committed to fighting for their legitimate rights, including the right of return to their homeland from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948.
That’s a process, by the way, which has been ongoing ever since.
The right of return was guaranteed by UN Resolution 194 (III), which said that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
The refugees’ return to their land was a condition of Israel’s membership of the UN; it has never been fulfilled, nor has Israel ever been held to account for this blatant rejection of the will of the international community. At the very least, its membership of the organisation should be suspended.
When the Palestinians finally get justice, therefore, it is unlikely to be thanks to the UN or the governments around the world, which continue to insist on the two-state debacle under a Palestinian Authority which exists solely to serve the interests of the occupation state of Israel.
It is a disgracefully absurd situation that will only be overcome if the people of Palestine are able to use their courage and determination to unite under a new, democratically-elected leadership without interference from Israel and its allies.
If the UN has even an ounce of self-respect, it must honour the commitments that have been made to the Palestinians, including their right to return and the end of the occupation. It might also consider self-reform so that the five members of the post-World War Two nuclear club no longer control the Security Council and defy the will of the other 188 member states. That’s an anomaly which the modern world can easily do without.
The last thing the people of Palestine need are more false promises or meaningless UN “International Days…” They need action. If that isn’t forthcoming, then 29 November simply exposes the UN’s impotence in the face of Israel’s cruelty, brutality and injustice, aided and abetted by its allies in the West.