Saturday, September 22, 2007
Civil Society and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
By JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN
"......Reading these words, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu and had to double check the source to certify that they were in fact spoken 31 years ago. Unfortunately, however, although the similarities with present day circumstances are remarkable, the situation that we face vis a vis the Palestinian issue today is far more serious.
Noam Chomsky's response to my upbeat description of last year's UN's Conference in Geneva on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was that if things did not soon improve on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, the next such conference "would be a wake." It was a sobering reminder of just how dire the situation has become; how, in Chomsky's words we are currently witnessing an event almost unprecedented in the modern era: the systematic, deliberate and long-term destruction of an entire nation......
By understanding this we are forced to confront the sudden cynical embrace by both Israel and the US of Mahmoud Abbas and his disturbing acquiescence in this embrace. Abbas' illegal government-by-decree has agreed not only to avoid any dialogue or attempts at reconciliation with Hamas; it has also accepted in Orwellian fashion-the US/Israeli designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Indeed Abbas himself while lauding the values of freedom and democracy announced on Israeli television that he would refuse to "conduct negotiations with murderers." Surely his Israeli and American backers have satisfied their immediate aims of making him an honorary Warrior on Terror. Thus, with help from his foreign backers, Abbas' Fatah faction has succeeded in splitting the Palestinian National Movement in half making it easier still for the Israelis to continue to destroy the economic, social, cultural and political fabric of Palestine. Who are these people that they would sacrifice on the altar of celebrity, power and corruption the historic struggle and soul of Palestine? The path on which this cynical triumvirate of power is moving leads inexorably to a fate none of us here would seriously like to contemplate.
Last November I had the pleasure of returning to Gaza to visit friends to whom I owe more than I can ever say. Yet the visit called up the usual mixture of emotions that fill one's heart with the beauty and anguish that is Gaza today. In the midst of a lovely family gathering, of laughter, warmth and an uncanny sense to me of belonging, the treacherous thundering guns of "Operation Autumn Clouds" commenced in the north, in Beit Hanoun. In the days that followed I visited the Shifa and Kamal Adwan hospitals the ICU wards full of badly wounded civilians- and the morgues on which the dead men, women and children lay silently on cold, silver freezer trays.
What was more troubling to me than anything else was not the absurdity and injustice of these deaths; the on-going brutality and barbarism that a state has adopted under a hideous veneer of "security needs." No, what bothered me most was the chilling familiarity of the scenes: Jenin, Rafah, Gaza City, Khan Yunis, Ramallah, Nablus, Beitunia, El-Bireh, Qalandia, Beit Sahour, Hebron I can no longer remember which place bore which of these unspeakable tragedies. All I know is that they show no sign of ending and that, my friends, is why our messages here at this conference must be urgently heeded."