Some takeaways from this year’s Nakba anniversary

Israel’s democracy will be complete only when a Palestine is re-born.

Israel's separation wall.
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Israel's separation wall.

Some takeaways from this year’s Nakba anniversary

As the Palestinians observe the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, they haven’t lost hope yet for a state of their own. They are still holding out little hope despite that parts of the long-awaited state have already vanished with Israeli settlers racking up more land over the years, whether they like it or not.

Israel’s “temporary” military occupation of the West Bank since the Six-Day War in 1967 has continued over half a century. This "temporary" status could be viewed as a lie on a par with other big political lies used in different conflicts, Palestinian and Israeli peace activists argue.

The two-state solution is becoming a distant dream and the Oslo Peace Accords, which launched the peace process in 1993 to establish a Palestinian state, are barely remembered.

Successive US administrations have urged and asked Israel to curb settlement-building in the occupied West Bank to no avail. The United States was the first country to recognise Israel as an independent state on 14 May 1948. Since then, Israel has become, and remains, America’s closest partner in the Middle East.

In a recent opinion poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah and the International Programme in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University, only 33% among the Palestinians and 34% among Israeli Jews support a two-state solution.

Even fewer people on both sides support one state with equal rights, while most Palestinians and Israeli Jews (61% and 65% respectively) think that another intifada is looming.

Only 33% among the Palestinians and 34% among Israeli Jews are supporting a two-state solution. A fewer people among both sides support one state with equal rights, while most of Palestinians and Israeli Jews (61% and 65% respectively) think that another intifada is looming.

Today, it's hard, if not impossible, to remove Israeli settlers from the West Bank if a final peace agreement is reached. Their population already crossed by the beginning of this year a major threshold of half a million people, standing at nearly 720,000, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

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Palestinian demonstrators protest in old Jaffa, while one demonstrator holding up a sign reading "Down with the Balfour Declaration."

Israel has given an "official" status to its settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, despite their illegality, given that they are built on occupied Palestinian lands according to the international law.

The outposts had been established without permits from the Israeli authorities, but Israel announced more than once its intention to legalise some of them.

On its website, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has an official narrative regarding the settlements. It states that the attempt to portray "Jewish communities in the West Bank" as a new form of colonial settlement in the land of a foreign sovereign is as "disingenuous as it is politically motivated."

Read more: 75 years later, unpacking the Palestinian Nakba still difficult

Palestinians and Israeli peace activists counter this narrative, citing a catalogue of international laws that prohibit the occupying state from deporting parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies or appropriating land and demolishing houses.

They argue that the Zionist ambition to convert Palestinian lands to be solely Jewish predated the Nakba when nearly 800,000 Palestinians became refugees when the Israeli state was created. For them, the Nakba isn't just a historical event, it's a process that still continues today.

Read more: The Palestinian Nakba did not end in 1948

The moral price of success

Israel celebrates its 75th birthday while enjoying accumulative social and economic successes. The country has a health care system, which is highly rated in international surveys and for many consecutive years.

It has established itself as a major tech world player and it's the fifth-most educated country globally.

The economy is strong compared to Western and developed countries. The GDP grew in 2022 to an impressive 6.5%, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) data.

But international and Israeli rights groups argue that there's a moral responsibility since Israel is responsible for what has happened for a population whose members are categorised today by different statuses, i.e. refugees, Palestinian citizens of Israel, residents of Jerusalem and Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank. 

The United Nations says that Israeli government policies in the occupied territories had made a serious and multi-faceted impact on all areas of Palestinian life. 

"There is so much 'silent harm' and psychological trauma, that may not be immediately apparent, resulting from the erosion of economic, social and cultural rights. These debilitating processes have severe short and long-term consequences and must be urgently addressed," according to the first report to the General Assembly issued in October last year by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.

Palestinian and Israeli historians say that Israel should acknowledge "its original sin", as described by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, the director of European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter, and the author of 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine'.

Read more: Palestinians absent from their own cause

There have been mounting calls, as well, to compensate the Palestinians for decades of loss, displacement, confiscation of land, and discrimination to make peace possible, since Israel's success came at a high moral cost and at the expense of a catastrophe, or nakba, for another people.

But such calls seem to be disconnected from today's reality.

Israel's politics in 2023 is controlled by a government labelled as the most right-wing ever with ministers from far-right and ultra-religious parties, who want to see a "Greater Israel" stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river and outrageously say that the Palestinian people were an "invention."

They clearly call for a pure Jewish state with no sovereign Palestinian borders, let alone a shared Jerusalem.

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The Dome of the Rock is seen in Jerusalem's skyline.

These voices are a stark departure from previous Israeli strategies to "manage/shrink the conflict" by offering the Palestinians economic incentives. Both policies are, however, viewed by the Palestinians as a smoke screen to conceal and sustain the occupation.

As for the "cost of the occupation", Israeli economist Shir Hever highlights an interesting hypothesis in his book "The Political Economy of the Israeli Occupation."

He argues (page 60) that had there been no military occupation of the Palestinian territories (occupied after the 1967 war), the Israeli governments could have allocated their funds from the settlements and the military posts, checkpoints and security to other sectors in Israel.  

More recently, it was reported in Israeli media that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir was planning to create a new security force in occupied East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, which may include a billion-shekel budget ($282 million) to fund nearly 2,000 officers.

In January, Ben Gvir, the leader of a Jewish supremacist party, instructed Israeli police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces and said, in his directive, that waving the Palestinian flag was "an act in support of terrorism."

For the Palestinians, this was another example of the never-ending subjugation of their rights in a country whose politics have shifted to far right ever since the new government came to office in December 2022.

They decry a yawning gap between Israelis and the Palestinians in vital aspects such as education, health care, public transportation, human rights and economic conditions, as well as the separation wall (described by Israel as security barrier) that keeps Palestinians in the occupied West Bank out of Israel and invites comparisons from international and Israeli human rights groups to apartheid.

'Two Israels'

The Nakba's 75th anniversary and Israel's celebration of its founding coincide this year with unprecedented anti-government protests, which laid bare the depth of divisions in Israeli society.

The Israelis are now talking about two Israels; one for the pro-democracy protesters, who are mostly secular, and another for their supporters of a government led by the far right and Benjamin Netanyahu who surpassed the founding father of the country, David Ben-Gurion, as the longest-serving prime minister having served in office for over 15 years.

Read more: Are Israeli protests really about democracy?

For the past five months, tens of thousands of Israelis have marched in major Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, against what they perceive as the government's plans to weaken the Supreme Court, undermine democracy and to impose "judicial dictatorship".

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Protesters against the Israeli occupation carry letters of the word "Apartheid" next to a sign with Theodor Herzl's photo during a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the government's legal overhaul.

Within the protest movement, there have been a few voices who strive to highlight what they believe the root cause that erodes at Israel's democracy, which is the continuing occupation of Palestinian land.

They argue that as Israel celebrated its birthday in April (based on the Jewish calendar), the country's real democracy will be complete only when a Palestine is re-born. Until then, all talk about co-existence in a binational state where mosques are built alongside synagogues will remain reassuring cliches to hear.

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