Last week, Avaaz.org, the world’s largest online activist organisation that focuses awareness on climate change, poverty, corruption, human rights and animals rights among other issues, put up a telling map of the world titled ‘Welcome Palestine!’ with the sub-caption: ‘Possibly the best map of the world ever?’
It showed how countries voted for the UN General Assembly proposal to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a non-member observer State. The 193-member Assembly had 138 voting ‘Yes’, only nine voted ‘No’ (the US, Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau), and 41 abstained. The UK, Germany and Australia were among the prominent members who abstained.
Palestine gets this status after its failed attempt last year to join the UN as a full member; after that, the Palestinian authority watered down its request to a “non-observer State”, which has been granted. The Vatican now has such a status.
For long years the Palestinians have been asking for an independent sovereign State in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, but the peace talks have taken a long and tortuous route over 20 long years, yielding nothing. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build settlements on the land it wants, and Palestinian families are constantly thrown out of homes to make way for the new settlers. The suffering of Palestinians has been graphically detailed in many books.
Enough of aggression
At the UN session, before the vote, the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said, “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation. The world is being asked today to undertake a significant step in the process of rectifying the unprecedented historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people.”
He concluded his speech to a standing ovation where he called upon the UN General Assembly to issue “a birth certificate to the State of Palestine”.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowded into the main square waving Palestinian flags, danced to nationalist music and chanted “God is great”.
Actually, they had begun celebrating a full day ahead; the desperate, frustrated and anguished people in this region have celebrated many times before. They did so in 1967, only to find their allies in the Arab world getting a bloodied nose. There was hope after the Oslo Accord in 1993, but that came to nothing. Their ultimate hero, the Palestine Liberation Organisation chief Yasser Arafat was imprisoned in his compound and humiliated by Israel for a long time before he was allowed to be removed to France, as his health had deteriorated badly. His body was recently exhumed to examine claims that he had been poisoned by the Israelis.
What the vote means
With this UN vote, Palestinians can now participate in UN General Assembly debates, and might be able to join several UN agencies. The one they covet the most is the International Criminal Court (ICC), where they can haul up Israeli leaders for crimes against humanity.
Israel has called this vote “political theatre”; US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “unfortunate and counterproductive,” and said only “direct negotiations” can bring peace.
A comment in The New York Times summed up the greatest fear of the powerful American Jewish community, which shapes the American stance on the Palestine-Israel conflict: “A major concern for the Americans is that the Palestinians might use their new status to try to join the International Criminal Court. That prospect worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians might press for an investigation of their practices in the occupied territories.”
I asked Michelle Cohen Corasanti to comment on this development. Her recently launched book, The Almond Tree, gives a graphic account of the living hell that Israeli soldiers have made for people on occupied land. “I was on cloud nine and thrilled to hear about the UN vote. Now the Palestinians will have access to the International Criminal Court to charge Israel with war crimes,” she said, echoing Palestinian hope.
On the reaction of the powerful American Jewish community, she said the Jews who follow “Israel blindly are furious because Israel is angry. Israel’s government’s goal is to have all of historic Palestine for Jews only. In order to achieve their goal they need to colonise the land and ethnically cleanse it, both of which are not done in times of peace. Israel prefers to distract the world by claiming there are threats elsewhere, for example, Iran.”
Many Jewish Americans believe Israel wants peace and that the Palestinians are only interested in wiping Israel off the map, “despite all the evidence to the contrary. You can see who is wiping whom off the map.”
But, she adds, the Jews who have “done their research are thrilled because they understand that there can be no peace without justice, and no justice without truth. At least now the Palestinians can make the world aware of the crimes that Israel commits against them.”
Michelle adds that the degrees of justice “they are willing to grant the Palestinians vary, but at least they understand the concept of justice enough not to blindly support Israel. These Jews understand that Zionism (secular nationalism) and Judaism (religion) are not the same.”
But she thinks Palestinian statehood is far from a reality. Justice will bring peace and security for all, but “until the world recognises what Zionism did to the Palestinians, compensates them, and they are granted freedom, equality, security, and everything a people need to live with human dignity and succeed, there can be no peace.”
It was interesting to watch and analyse the way Europe voted in 2011 and now. Sweden switched from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’; Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, and Georgia shifted from ‘Abstain’ to ‘Yes’; Germany, Netherlands, and Lithuania changed from ‘No’ to ‘Abstain’.
While this shows a strategic diplomatic shift in several European nations away from Israel (and, hence, the US too) and towards Palestine, the UK had suggested that it would vote ‘Yes’ if the Palestinians agreed not to pursue charges against Israel at the ICC. Along with the US and Israel, the UK too believes there can be lasting peace in this region only through dialogue, but Palestinians have now lost confidence in the neutrality of the western world when it comes to broking peace between Israel and Palestine.
In The Almond Tree, Ichmad, who turns a moderate after his education and work in the US, asks his brother Abbas, a Hamas leader, why the peace Israel offered at Oslo wasn’t accepted. Says a bitter Abbas: “Peace wasn’t offered. Israel wanted to rule us on land, sea and air, create an open-air prison… Do you really think they did all this just to stop a few homemade missiles? They want to kill our hopes and dreams, destroy our humanity.” The truth, he adds, is that Israel had turned a hardworking, proud and resourceful people into a “nation of beggars”.
Shaky past, dim future
Only the coming days will reveal if this latest UN vote will be more than symbolic as far as Palestinians are concerned. So often in the past, the world has only flattered to deceive them, and dashed all their legitimate hopes to the ground.
But will Palestine really become the world’s 194th State; if it does, what challenges will it face?
“A Palestinian State is not a reality at all; not yet,” says Michelle, adding, “If the world was smart, it would make sure any Palestinian State that rises is as viable as possible and is given every opportunity to succeed. .”
The other excellent book on the Palestine-Israel conflict I’ve treasured is Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. It is about Hasan, a Palestinian Arab driven out of his home by Israelis. In the melee, his younger twin son, Ismael, is snatched out of his wife Dalia’s arms by Moshe, an Israeli soldier, whose wife was spared during the Holocaust as she had to serve the sexual needs of the SS. That trauma left her incapable of bearing a child. Moshe is angry that the Arab woman should have two while his wife can’t even have one child, and so kidnaps Ismael and raises him as David.
After losing Ismael, Dalia is never the same; and little Amal, who is born later, faces the brunt of the pain, blame, and emptiness that inhabit her mother’s world.
Earlier, Hasan meets his dear Israeli friend Ari, who angrily tells him about what Europe did to the Jews in the Nazi era. Hasan interrupts him to say: “Exactly, Ari. What Europe did. Not the Arabs. Jews have always lived here. That’s why so many more are here now. While we believed they were simply seeking refuge, poor souls, they’ve been amassing weapons to drive us from our homes.”
Well, how often in the history of mankind have we seen the tormented turning tormentors?
A Facebook war
The Avaaz.org poster on the UN vote on Palestine was one of the most shared and commented items on Facebook. By Wednesday afternoon, the poster had been shared by 47,995 users and attracted 2,819 comments. As expected, the war of words - sometimes rather ugly and descending into four-letter words — was mainly between Muslims and Jews in general, and Israelis and Palestinians in particular.
While a common sentiment expressed by Americans was reflected by this one: “Not proud of being an American today”, Andres Avraham, a Jew, was most vocal. Unlike jews, Arabs didn’t want peace as they “are driven primarily by religious hatred. The Arabs want blood — they want the Jews dead. They don’t want a 2 state solution, they want a one state solution with no goddamn jews in it.”
In another post, he called Palestinians “the worlds biggest crybabies…lefty-liberal, mulit-cultural appeasement monkeys” and “self-righteous hypocrites.”
Palestinians and Muslims cheered the UN vote, but hardly any Muslims condemned the Hamas brand of violence. But some Jews did favour the vote. Anthony Andrea said Palestine would "have justice in the end — why is a jewish nation perpetrating genocide i thought we were supposed to learn from what hitler did."
But others were angry. One post claimed the Jews had connection “to that land that date(s) back to about 4000 years!! No word for “Palestinians” until 1967 it was first heard! Hamas can send their rockets to civilian targets — !!unprovoked!! —, but Israel cannot defend itself?!”
Some Europeans, whose countries had voted ‘No’, said they were “ashamed” of their country. Chetter Jummin expressed scepticism at the UN decision and said: “Recognised or not they will always have Israel at their doors, hellbent on making Palestine their own personal anti-stress punching bag... with too many people turning the other way because of history. That’s how f***ed up the World is.”
Swear words there were in plenty; one Israeli asked a Palestinian to “stick it up your camel’s hump”; another said he hated “all rabis and let them die in hell”. The ‘compliments’ were returned forcefully!
A New Zealander, Fitzcarraldo Edwardo, asked Avaaz.org to correct the status of New Zealand. “The map is wrong, New Zealand voted yes, despite having a Jewish PM and pissing off the Aussies and the Yanks! Oh and of course no one asked the actual population of NZ which way we should vote! Latest poll showed 65% against! Isn’ democracy wonderful when left in the hands of imbeciles?”