For most Americans, the Gaza Strip is, at best, unknown territory. At worst, it is a hostile land whose “terrorist infrastructure” must be dismantled, no matter what the cost to its million and a half residents.
The Gaza I have been visiting for the past twenty-one years bears little relation to the dehumanizing imagery to which it has been reduced by the mainstream media. The Gaza I know is home to friends and strangers who are as welcoming and humane as they are resilient and determined to achieve their freedom. They have maintained their humanity despite enduring a brutal forty-two-year-old Israeli occupation that has cost them the destruction of their homes, land, economy and future and the loss of more than 4,000 lives since the dawn of the twenty-first century.
For the past two and a half years, this spit of sand–just twenty-five miles long and a few miles wide–has been virtually a closed prison. Since June 2007 Israel’s blockade has prevented the entry of all but a handful of basic items, and the exit of patients who urgently need medical treatment and students with scholarships to study abroad. Then, a year ago, came the “shock and awe” of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead,” intended as a knockout blow not just to the crude rockets fired from Gaza but to its life-sustaining infrastructure and the will of its people to resist. [continued…]
I am a Palestinian refugee, from the village of Fallujah which lies between Gaza, Hebron and Asqalan. I’ve never been allowed to visit Fallujah; my grandparents were exiled from there in 1949 (a year after the founding of Israel) and took refuge in the Gaza Strip. My father and I were both born in the Khan Younis refugee camp-he a few years before Gaza was occupied by Israel, and I in 1988, a month after the outbreak of the first intifada. My dad married a woman from the West Bank-they had met and fallen in love while they were both studying at Birzeit University, and when I was two years old we emigrated to the UK where he received his Phd.
Fourteen years later, in 2004, we all returned to Palestine to live in Ramallah. Now British citizens, my parents were determined that my three siblings and I would forge a stronger connection to our homeland than we ever could living abroad. At first, the transition was made easier by the fact that our foreign passports gave us the freedom of movement that was denied to other Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For me, this reality was shattered when in late 2005 I attempted to cross the River Jordan from the West Bank to visit my aunt in Amman. The Israeli border agents told me that I could not pass, because I had an Israeli issued Gaza ID. Under Israeli military rules, this meant that I could not ‘legally’ be present in the West Bank because the Israeli occupation had mandated that Palestinians from Gaza could not enter the West Bank, and Palestinians from the West Bank could not enter Gaza. This policy had been in force since the early 1990’s, but was applied with increasing severity after the outbreak of the second intifada.
I lived the next four years under constant fear of arrest by the Israeli military, because that would have resulted in almost certain deportation to Gaza, and isolation from my family. For those four years, I never left the confines of Ramallah, so as to avoid the Israeli checkpoints on every one of the town’s entrances-but even this couldn’t give me a sense of security because I had to commute daily to Birzeit University, on a route frequently patrolled by Israeli forces from the nearby settlement of Bet El. [continued…]
In recent years the idea of a one-state solution has been anathema to Israelis and their supporters worldwide. This has been fueled by the fear of the “demographic threat” posed by the high Palestinian birthrate. Indeed, many Israeli supporters of a two-state solution came to that position out of fear of this demographic threat rather than sympathy with Palestinian national aspirations.
At the root of their fear was the belief that despite Israel’s best efforts to push Palestinians from land and property and to import Jewish settlers in their stead, the Arab population would keep climbing. And that, when the Arabs reached the 51% mark, the state of Israel would collapse, its Jewish character would disappear and its population would dwindle into obscurity.
Yet that scenario is not necessarily the inevitable result of either demography or democracy. Religious and ethnic minorities have successfully thrived in many countries and managed to retain their distinctive culture and identity, and succeeded in being effective and sometimes even dominant influences in those countries. Those who believe in coexistence must begin to seriously think of the legal and constitutional mechanisms needed to safeguard the rights of a Jewish minority in Israel-Palestine. [continued…]