At about 1:30 A.M. on August 25, 2011 Israeli warplanes bombed the Salama Sports Club in Beit Lahia. The building was empty at the time. The sports club, however, is in the middle of a residential area. Two people from a neighboring house were killed in the bombing, Salama Abdul Rahman al-Masri, 18, the son of the house’s owner, who died immediately; and Alaa ‘Adnan Mohammed al-Jakhbeer, 22, from Jabalya. Twenty five other people were injured in the bombing, including eleven children and seven women. The bombing also caused heavy damage to the Dar Al Huda School and several surrounding buildings.
Salama was sitting with seven friends of his in the back yard of his family’s house. After evening prayers they often sat there. This evening, Salama had went shopping for gifts for Eid before joining his friends. Fourteen people lived in Salama’s house, his parents, three of his brothers, five of his sisters, and the wife and baby of one of his brothers. Salama was a hardworking young man. He wanted to help his family have a better life. He worked two jobs, one in a store that sells chickens, and another at a falafel stand. He did this while he studied to retake the Tawjihi, the exam to enter university. Ambulances arrived quickly, only ten minutes after the bombing, but it was too late for Salama, he was killed instantly when a piece of shrapnel from the bombing struck the back of his head. His brother wants the international community to “stop pretending that giving aid is enough, the people who were killed here were civilians, we are treated unfairly, to support us in our quest for our rights, not just provide food. Our problem isn’t food, it is that we are refugees expelled from our land and denied our rights.”
His friend Alaa was not so lucky. He died from his wounds two hours later. He and Salama had met through Salama’s older brother, they had become close friends. Despite the fact that Alaa wasn’t from Beit Lahia he often came to Beit Lahia to spend time with Salama. He had recently finished his degree in Islamic Law from a center run by the Waqf in Beit Lahia.
The Salama Sport Club is a large building. Three floors, the top floor was used as area to play sports, basketball, volleyball, football, the middle floor was used for practicing karate and other sports, the lower floor was devoted to weight lifting. The entire building is now destroyed. The bomb penetrated the top floor and exploded in the middle floor. The roof has collapsed onto the lower levels. Equipment lies scattered around the rubble. Thankfully the Israeli’s did not choose to bomb the club a day earlier, it was full of people having a celebration. The club opened in 2005 and served hundreds of local residents, providing much needed recreational possibilities in an area that lacks many choices. Employees don’t understand why the club was bombed, it was a public club, it was not affiliated with any political party, it was only a place for local young people to exercise and play games.
Next to the Salama Sport Club is the Dar Al Huda School. Unlike the Salama Sport Club the school wasn’t empty when the bomb struck. Workers were inside painting it, getting it ready for the new school year which starts soon. Two of them were injured. One of them is in the hospital now, in critical condition.
The Dar Al Huda School serves about three hundred and twenty students. Two hundred students in a kindergarten and 120 students through the sixth grade. When we arrived children were collecting books from the rubble, piling them up, trying to salvage what they could. The building is heavily damaged, the wall on the side facing the sport club is totally destroyed. Rubble fills the classrooms. The walls are still adorned with murals of cartoon characters, Bambi and Snow White seem to be the most popular. Dar Al Huda is a private school. It attracted students from all over North Gaza, families of refugees, from Haifa, from Lod, from Ashdod, from Beersheba. They came for the art programs, for the small classes. Now, the children’s paints lie scattered in the rubble, their art projects hang from the ceiling covered in dust. The walls of the kindergarten are still covered in posters of fruits and animals, but no students will be studying there any time soon. The front of the school is covered in plaques thanking donors who helped to build the school. The Canadian International Development Agency has wasted its money, they built a school, but Israel has destroyed it. No more students will be learning to paint in their building. We walk around the school with its director, he asks us why Israel would destroy a kindergarten, did the children learning to paint threaten them? Did the children learning to read threaten it? In truth, the existence of the children is a threat to Israel, they are a living reminder of the Nakba, of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. If only the children would disappear Israel might be able to convince the world that its crimes are all in the past, that they are somehow less real. The children exist though, now they live in Gaza, not in their homes in Ashdod, Beersheba, and Lod.
In a few weeks, a group of quiet, dignified elderly men and women will arrive in London to explain how the forces of the British state crushed their testicles or breasts with pliers. It was part of a deliberate policy of breaking a civilian population who we regarded as “baboons”, “barbarians” and “terrorists.” They will come bearing the story of how Britain invaded a country, stole its land, and imprisoned an entire civilian population in detention camps – and they ask only for justice, after all this time.
As a small symbol of how we as a country have not come to terms with our history, compare the bemused reaction to the arrival of these Kenyan survivors of Britain’s gulags to the recent campaign supporting the Gurkhas. We have all waxed lyrical over the Nepalese mercenaries who were, for two centuries, hired by the British Empire to fight its least savory battles. Sometimes they were used in great causes, like the defeat of Nazism. Sometimes they were used to viciously crush democratic movements in India or Malaya or Pakistan. But they obediently did the bidding of the Empire – so they are a rare bunch of foreigners who the right will turn moist over and welcome to our island.
I too strongly supported their rights to reside in Britain, out of simple humanity – if they’re good enough to die for us, they’re good enough to live with us. But isn’t it revealing that even in 2009, we can cheer the servants of Empire but blank the people mutilated and murdered by it? There will be no press campaigns or celebrity endorsements for the survivors of the Kenyan suppression when they issue a reparations claim in London next month. They will be met with a bemused shrug. Yet their story tells us far more.
The British arrived in Kenya in the 1880s, at a time when our economic dominance was waning and new colonies were needed. The Colonial Office sent in waves of white settlers to seize the land from the local “apes” and mark it with the Union Jack. Francis Hall was the officer of the East India Company tasked with mounting armed raids against the Kikuyu – the most populous local tribe – to break their resistance. He said: “There is only one way of improving the [Kikuyu] and that is to wipe them out; I would only be too delighted to do so but we have to depend on them for food supplies.”
The British troops stole over sixty thousand acres from the Kikuyu, and renamed the area “the White Highlands.” But the white settlers were aristocratic dilettantes with little experience of farming, and they were soon outraged to discover that the “primitives” were growing food far more efficiently on the reserves they had been driven into. So they forced the local black population to work “their” land, and passed a law banning the local Africans from independently growing the most profitable cash crops – tea, coffee, and sisal.
The people of Kenya objected, and tried to repel the invaders. They called for “ithaka na wiyathi” – land and freedom. After peaceful protests were met with violence, they formed a group, dubbed the Mau Mau, to stop the suppression any way they could. They started killing the leaders appointed by the British, and some of the settlers too. As a result, the London press described them as “evil savages” and “terrorists” motivated by hatred of Christianity and civilization. They had been “brainwashed” by “Mau Mau cult leaders”, the reports shrieked.
The 1.5 million Kikuya overwhelmingly supported the Mau Mau and independence – so the British declared war on them all. A State of Emergency was announced, and it began with forced removals of all Kikuyu. Anybody living outside the reserves – in any of the cities, for example – was rounded up at gunpoint, packed into lorries, and sent to “transit camps”. There, they were “screened” to see if they were Mau Mau supporters. One of the people locked up this way for months was Barack Obama’s grandfather.
Professor Caroline Elkins, who studied the detention camps for five years for her remarkable book ‘Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya’, explains the tactics adopted by the British to snuffle out Mau Mau. “Electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire,” she writes. “Bottles (often broken), gun barrels, knives, snakes, vermin and hot eggs were thrust up men’s rectums and women’s vaginas. The screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects.”
The people judged to be guilty of Mau Mau sympathies were transferred to torture camps. There, each detainee was given a number which they had to wear on a band on their wrist. They were then stripped naked and sent through a cattle dip, before the torture would begin again. “Detainees were frog-marched around the compound and beaten until blood ran from their ears,” Elkins writes.
The Kikuyu survivor Pascasio Macharia describes some of the tortures he witnessed: “The askaris [guards[ brought in fire buckets full of water, and the detainees were called on by one, [my friend] Peterson first. The asakaris then put his head in the bucket of water and lifted his legs high in the air so he was upside down. That’s when [one of the camp commandants] started cramming sand in Peterson’s anus and stuffed it in with a stick. The other askari would put water in, and then more sand. They kept doing this back and forth… Eventually they finished with Peterson and carried him off, only to start on the next detainee in the compound.”
Another favoured torment was to roll a man in barbed wire and kick him around until he bled to death. Typhoid, dysentery and lice sycthed through the population. Castration was common. At least 80,000 people were locked away and tortured like this. When I reported from Kenya earlier this year, I met elderly people who still shake with fear as they talk about the gulags. William Baldwin, a British member of the Kenya Police Reserve, wrote a memoir in which he cheerfully admits to murdering Kikuya “baboons” in cold blood. He bragged about how he gutted them with knives while other suspects watched. Another British officer, Tony Cross, proudly called their tactics “Gestapo stuff.”
For the civilians outside, life was only slightly better. Women and children were trapped in eight hundred “sealed villages” throughout the countryside. They were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, and forced at gunpoint to dig trenches that sealed them off from the world.
There was always another, honorable Britain who fought against these crimes. The Labour left – especially Barbra Castle and Nye Bevan – fought for the camps to be exposed and shut. They didn’t succeed until the British imperialists were finally forced to scuttle away from the country entirely. We will never know how many people they murdered, because the colonial administration built a bonfire of all the paperwork on their way out the door. Elkins calculates it is far more than the 11,000 claimed by the British government, and could be as many as 300,000.
Yet in Britain today, there is a blood-encrusted blank spot about Empire. On the reality show The Apprentice, the contestants recently had to pick a name for their team, and they said they wanted “something that represented the best of British” – so they settled on “Empire.” Nobody objected. Imagine young Germans blithely naming a team “Reich”: it’s unthinkable, because they have had to study what their fathers and grandfathers did, and expunge these barbarous instincts from their national DNA.
This failure to absorb the lessons of Empire is not only unjust to the victims; it leads us to repeat horrifying mistakes. Today, we are – with the Americans – using unmanned drones to bomb the Pakistan-Afghan borderland, as we did a few years ago in Iraq. Nobody here seems to remember that the British invented aerial counter-insurgency in this very spot – with disastrous consequences. In 1924, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris bragged that all rebellion could be stopped with this tactic. We have shown them “what real bombing means, in casualties and damage: they know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed,” he said. Yet instead of “pacifying” them, it radically alienated the population and lead to an uprising. If we knew our history, we would not be running the same script and expecting a different ending.
Gordon Brown said last year (in India, of all places) that “the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over.” The survivors of England’s blanked-out torture camps are entitled to ask: when did we start?
Johann Hari is an award-winning journalist who writes twice-weekly for the Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers.
Israel’s relatively recent demand for recognition as a “Jewish state” or “homeland for the Jewish people” has important implications for the Palestinians (whether refugees, citizens of Israel, or residents of the occupied territories) with regard to their history, identity, rights, and future. This essay explores the moral and practical reasons why they cannot accede to this demand, or even accept Israel’s self-definition as a matter of exclusive Israeli concern.
IN HIS SPEECH to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on 24 May 2011, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared:
It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say: “I will accept a Jewish state.” Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end; that they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.
Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people has become a central Israeli demand that is being portrayed as an existential concomitant of Israel’s perceived security needs. Despite Israeli claims to the contrary, this is in fact a relatively recent demand, as Raef Zreik argued in the last issue of this journal. It was not raised in previous rounds of negotiations either with the Palestinians or with any other Arab party before 2008.
Be that as it may, not only has it been adopted by the current Israeli government, but it has secured growing support abroad from both Western governments and pro-Israeli and Jewish circles in the diaspora. In a major policy address on 19 May, President Barack Obama formally endorsed the definition of “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people”—the first time a U.S. president has done so.
Meanwhile, the official PA/PLO position is that how Israel defines itself is not a Palestinian concern, and that the Palestinians cannot accede to this demand on two basic grounds: first, because defining Israel as a Jewish state prejudices the political and civic rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, who comprise 20 percent of the population and whose second-class status would be consolidated by dint of recognizing the “Jewishness” of the state, and second, because to acknowledge Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people would compromise the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, as there would be no moral or political grounds for them to return to a universally recognized Jewish state.
Negating One’s Own History
But even the PLO riposte, while perhaps valid as far as it goes, is to my mind neither complete nor totally convincing. The Palestinians cannot be indifferent to how Israel defines itself or how others are ready to define it. In the context of the struggle over the shape and future of the Holy Land, one side’s appropriation of a certain definition affects not only the rights of those who reside in the territory, but their very history and identity, their relationship to the land, and by extension their rights, future, and fate as well. There are, in fact, several deeper layers to this issue that warrant further examination and debate.
First, and perhaps most importantly, if Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, then the lands that it occupies today (and perhaps more, for there are as yet no borders to this “homeland”) belong to this people by way of right. And if these lands rightfully comprise the Jewish homeland, then the Arab presence there becomes historically aberrant and contingent; the Palestinians effectively become historic interlopers and trespassers—a transient presence on someone else’s national soil.
This is not a moot or exaggerated point. It touches on the very core of the conflict and its genesis. Indeed, it is the heart of the Zionist claim to Palestine: Palestine belongs to the Jews and their right to the land is antecedent and superior to that of the Arabs. This is what Zionism is all about, and what justifies both the Jewish return to the land and the dispossession of its Arab inhabitants.
Clearly, this is not the Palestinian Arab narrative, nor can it be. Palestinians do not believe that the historical Jewish presence in and connection to the land entail a superior claim to it. Palestine as our homeland was established in the course of over fifteen hundred years of continuous Arab-Muslim presence; it was only by superior force and colonial machination that we were eventually dispossessed of it. For us to adopt the Zionist narrative would mean that the homes that our forefathers built, the land that they tilled for centuries, and the sanctuaries they built and prayed at were not really ours at all, and that our defense of them was morally flawed and wrongful: we had no right to any of these to begin with.
The demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people has yet another dimension. It places the moral burden of the conflict on the Palestinians, and consequently, not only exonerates Israel from the dubious moral circumstances of its birth but makes the Palestinians the historical transgressors. Indeed, by refusing to accept the Jewish claim to the land, we are to blame for what has befallen us: had we accepted Israel’s claim during the Mandate years, the entire conflict could have been averted; 80 Journal of Palestine Studies we should simply have handed the land “back” to its rightful owners from the time that they began to articulate, at the dawn of the twentieth century, their interest in it as an actual—rather than spiritual—homeland. From this perspective, it is Arab rejection that caused the conflict and not the Zionist transgression against Arab land and rights. This is of course precisely why this Israeli government and its most ardent Zionist supporters want to wrest this recognition from the Palestinians, as it would absolve Israel of its “original sin” and delegitimize the Palestinians’ version of their own history.
Taking this reasoning to its logical (if extreme) conclusion, recognition would give Israel the right to demand a measure of retributive justice. If the Palestinians caused the conflict, they should pay for their “sins”: the Palestinian refugees should not be compensated for their dispossession, and the Palestinian people as a whole should lose any claim to equality or equivalence in any political settlement premised on supposedly painful or generous Israeli concessions. Certainly, the putative Palestinian state should not be allowed what Israel allows itself, whether this is the right to self-defense or the right to be free from foreign (i.e., Israeli) military or civilian presence on its soil. (Note the striking passage in President Obama’s address in which the flat statement that “every state has the right to defend itself” is followed immediately—and without a trace of irony—by the demand that the putative state of Palestine be “non-militarized.”) From this perspective, the Palestinians must remain on semi-permanent probation as past culprits and potential future miscreants.
Recognizing the “Jewishness” of the State as it Stands Today
But, the argument goes, all this has to do with the past. Why cannot the PLO/PA extend recognition to Israel as the Jewish homeland as it stands today? In other words, why can’t recognition be seen not as an extension of a historic conflict, but simply as a reflection of today’s realities and as a means of resolving the conflict?
There are a number of answers to this. We understand that there is a Jewish majority in Israel today and that the character of the state reflects this. But we cannot sever the thread that connects the past to the present and, necessarily, to the future. A “homeland” cannot merely be a construct of today, with no implications for tomorrow.
And there is more. Israel’s Arab population is of the same provenance and root as the rest of the Palestinian Arabs—their right to be where they are is no less than that of the residents of the West Bank or Gaza, no less than the right of Palestinians anywhere to claim the land of Palestine/Israel as their patrimony. By accepting the definition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people (indeed, “in any way it wishes,” according to the official PLO position), the “outside” Palestinians (in the occupied territories and the diaspora) would effectively be undermining the Israeli Arabs’ claim to belong to this same homeland. The land of Palestine/Israel would thus no longer be their home, and their right to be there would no longer have any historical Why Can’t the Palestinians Recognize the Jewish State? 81 or moral validity: Israel’s self-definition accepted, on what basis would they continue to reside in someone else’s homeland, and what grounds would they have to demand equal political and civic rights there to begin with?
By thus signaling our indifference to Israel’s self-definition, we would be dissociating ourselves from our kinship with the “insiders” and acknowledging that our common identity or fate has little meaning for us. In other words, the message to Israel would be: “Do with the Palestinian citizens what you will, because you can define yourself as you want regardless of what this implies.” The upshot would not only be prejudicial to the Israeli Arabs’ political and civil rights, but a dissolution of the ties that have shaped a common Palestinian identity across the boundaries of a nominal and entirely arbitrary line drawn on a map in 1949. In this context, and in defense of the rights of the Arab minority in Israel, the PLO (and the international community) could as well demand as a precondition for peace that Israel define itself as a state for all its citizens—a demand that is certainly more consistent with the Western liberal tradition that Israel purports to represent than its claim to ethno-religious exclusivity.
The language of homelands is deeply problematic, especially when it involves diametrically opposed and deep-seated narratives. The formulation “Israel as the state of the Jewish people” leads us back to the same political and ideological impasse as “Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,” as it is based on the same premise. “Two states for two peoples” begs the question of who these two peoples are: Is Israel the state of all its peoples, or just a Jewish state? How Israel defines itself is of profound import to the Palestinians and the nature of any potential settlement. To call on the Palestinians to recognize the Israeli state as the homeland of the Jewish people is to take a decisive stand against the Palestinians’ history, narrative, and political rights. The international community must understand and recognize this as it moves toward accepting Israel’s demands. The Israelis and the Jewish communities across the world must reconcile themselves to a peace that is based on other foundations than this.
The Palestinians (as represented by the PLO) have already formally recognized both the reality of the State of Israel and “its right to live in peace and security,” per the 9 September 1993 letter from PLO chairman Yasir Arafat to Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The recognition was doubly reinforced by the two subsequent amendments of the PLO charter, in 1996 and in 1999 (the latter at the demand of then prime minister Netanyahu himself). In any future peace treaty, the Palestinians may reasonably be further asked to accept the agreed borders as final and inviolable, to commit to a resolution of all outstanding problems by peaceful means, not to allow their territory to be used for hostile acts against Israel, to respect the holy sites of all faiths, and to undertake that a comprehensive settlement of all the core issues will represent a final end to the conflict.
What they cannot be expected to do is to renege on their past, deny their identity, take on the moral burden of transgressor, and give up on what they believe is their history. In other words, they cannot be expected to become Zionists.
AHMAD SAMIH KHALIDI, a former Palestinian negotiator, is editor of Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, the Arabic-language sister publication to the Journal of Palestine Studies. A version of this essay was posted on Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel web site under the title “The Palestinians Cannot Be Zionists” on 15 June 2011.
The Egyptian Cabinet has issued a new law that permits the locals in Sinai to own land there, after years of denying them this right for security reasons. The cabinet also decided in a meeting to set up the Special Supreme Council for Developing Sinai, with an independent budget and jurisdiction, dedicated to the integrated development of the peninsula.
The new council’s headquarters will be in Sinai and its chairman will report directly to the prime minister.
The government has also decided to set up a new public university in North Sinai, and to issue a license for a private university in South Sinai. Moreover, the government will develop major roads in Sinai to improve tourism in the peninsula.
The government has decided to issue a quota for the employment of Sinai’s locals in public and private companies and projects.
It is also considering setting up a new governorate in the middle of the Sinai peninsula, as this zone in particular suffers from poverty.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Spokesman for Silwan defense committee Abdulkarim Abu Sunaina revealed an Israeli Judaization scheme to encroach into Silwan district and wipe out Al-Bustan neighborhood using different excuses such as the establishment of sewerage systems.
Abu Sunaina, in a press release on Tuesday, reported that the Israeli municipal council in occupied Jerusalem closed the street near the sit-in tent in Al-Bustan area and started under military protection to carry out excavations allegedly for the establishment of a sewerage system.
The spokesman affirmed that these excavations are aimed at encroaching upon Al-Bustan neighborhood under different pretexts and then faking archeological findings as a prelude to extending day by day these excavations further into the neighborhood.
He added that such excavations are also intended to undermine the movement of Palestinian residents in the neighborhoods in order to make it easy for the Israeli occupation authority to pounce on them in case it issued demolition orders against their homes in the coming days.
The spokesman noted that the Israeli municipal council dared to take such step only after it was able to jail lately a large number of young Palestinians from Silwan.
In another incident, Wadi Hilwa information center said on Tuesday that a new settlement outpost consisting of eight housing units and four floors will be built in Ras Al-Amud neighborhood in Silwan district near the old police station that was seized by the Zionist settlement society Elad.
The center added that the Jewish settlers are trying to take hold of a building of seven floors in Al-Farouk neighborhood located between Silwan and Jabal Al-Mukkaber.
It noted that Elad society seized months ago a Palestinian apartment building in the same neighborhood.
Medical sources in the Gaza Strip say at least six people have been killed in Israeli attacks against the coastal sliver in the past 24 hours.
Five people were killed and 30 others wounded in a series of pre-dawn Israeli attacks that continued into the early hours of Thursday, AFP Adham Abu Selmiya, a spokesman for Gaza’s emergency services, as saying.
Among the killed were two members of the Islamic Jihad Movement identified as Ismail al-Asmar, 34, and Ismail Amum, 65.
Asmar was killed when his vehicle was targeted by an Israeli missile on Wednesday morning in the southern city of Rafah. Amum’s body was also found after he was killed in an earlier strike near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.
Another Jihad activist, 20-year-old Atiya Muqat also lost his life in an Israeli attack on Wednesday evening and a separate attack on Rafah killed a civilian working inside Gaza’s underground tunnels across the Egyptian border.
Israel continued its attacks on the beleaguered Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, when its warplanes pounded a sports hall in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, killing a civilian and wounding another 20.
Hours later, a civilian critically wounded in Beit Lahiya died due to the severity of his injuries.
Tel Aviv has threatened more attacks on the Gaza Strip, which has been under an all-out Israeli siege tightened since 2007.
Israel has stepped up its airstrikes against the besieged Gaza Strip over the past few days, killing more than 20 people in the Palestinian coastal sliver and leaving scores more injured.