Palestine Struggles  - Palestine

Palestine Struggles

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

The political thought of the Palestinians has evolved in a framework, the elements of which reach them from far in historic time and the strings of which are tied to other lands that do not border its own. Like the people on Noah’s Ark, the Palestinians have a destiny, perhaps to survive to the end, but all this time, unlike them, to remain inflicted, helpless and entrapped in midst the wide ocean of humanity.

The tragedy of Palestine is somber with the sadist thought that religion is the most common reason behind war. This may not be thought as true in today’s increasingly secularized world, when most wars are being waged for economic reasons, yet it is an un-evadable reality that all wars have the element of race and identity embedded in them. Perhaps it is this sense of identity, inalienable to human nature that is the reason for war. All factors that add to identity may be additive causes of war, like economic, cultural, ethnic, historic or religious.

However, popular Palestinian leadership took a secular stance from an early stage, partly because Palestine was multi-cultural and multi-religious and partly because in the new scheme of things when things had to move via the new channels of the UN and the world community, one had to move with the new norms of democratic, secular and liberal labels.


Palestinians between the Arab World

Perhaps this was the reason for the back-tracking of Haj Amin al Husseini, who had embraced the Muslim Brotherhood and whose struggle for independence had been strictly on the grounds of religion and Arab Nationalism. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who toppled the Egyptian Monarchy in 1954, though being an ardent believer of Pan-Arabism, was skeptical towards the Brotherhood for its approval of violent means and its underground networking. Therefore Gamal dissolved the All-Palestine Government under Haj Amin in Gaza that was under Egypt control since the First Arab Israel War of 1948 - making way for the formation of PLO, which would commence in 1964, in Cairo.

Nabka refers to the great catastrophe of mass exodus of the Palestinians from their land at the hands of the Israeli occupiers in the 1948 War, when about 700,000 Palestinians (now grown to 5million) were driven out to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Some of these refugees also entered the Egyptian Sinai desert, from where they made guerilla attacks upon Israeli forces. These rebels had the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1956, Gamal closed the Straits of Tiran and nationalized the Suez Canal Company and closed the canal to Israeli shipping.    Britain and France secretly joined Israel in the Sinai Campaign wherein Israel captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula and Gamal had to agree on demilitarizing the Sinai and allowing Israeli ships to pass, so that in return Israel would withdraw. 

Meanwhile the spirit for Arab unity was ripe in the newly independent Arab states and Syria and Yemen were ready to unite under Gamal Abdel Nassir, who was hailed as the champion of Arab unity and for his Suez Canal endeavor against Israel. In 1958 Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli agreed to the formation of the United Arab Republic, making Gamal the head of the whole republic.

Perhaps a lot was on Shukri’s mind when he decided to step down from power in favor of Gamal. Syria at that time had become a pivot between the US and Russian Cold War. On one hand the Baghdad Pact (between Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and UK) had made a belt of US allied states that separated Socialist-tilted Syria from the Eastern Bloc (of Soviet-allied nations) and on the other hand the US denied Shukri (who had been deposed once before too, in the 1949 CIA sponsored coup) any allegiance. At the same time the US tried to soften Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq for US military intervention in Syria. This strengthened the need for unity in a fast changing world. But the establishment of the United Arab Republic also jarred political life in Syria as Egypt became the commanding post. As a result the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party that had been an advocate of the unity, quickly turned against it. In 1961 Syria seceded from the unity and in a couple of years the Syrian Ba’ath Party seized power by a coup. Hafez al Assad was part of this coup.

Thus was the complex situation around the Palestinians, who surrounded by a set of nascent nations wanting to champion them but not even strong enough to stand their own feet.

Al Fatah in Jordan

Yasser Arafat was one of the Fedayeen in Sinai who were ousted in the aftermaths of the Sinai Campaign; from here he fled to Kuwait where he and like-minded Palestinians formed the Fatah Movement. The Movement quickly spread in the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – and Gamal offered Yasser Arafat to become head of the PLO in exile.

The 1967 Six-Day War was an eye-opener for the Arab nations who were hitherto not accepting Israel's legitimacy, nor had apprehended the vulnerability for their own territories and borders at Israel’s hands. In a surprise attack Israel took away the whole of Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Sinai was returned in 1978, Gaza was evacuated in 2005 and the Golan is still occupied, while the West Bank has been semi-occupied ever since.

Thus the air of pride with which Egypt and Syria, had issued in the September 1967 Khartoum Arab Summit, the "three no's", resolving that there would be "no peace, no recognition and no negotiation with Israel" – was blown out.

Meanwhile, occupying all this land did not stop Israel from more interventions, it went further on to attack Palestinian freedom fighters in Jordan and it invaded a large part of Lebanon in the pretext of the Lebanese Civil War.

In little time Palestinian freedom fighters under Fatah’s flag became strong in adjacent Jordan. Apart from an open support from Syria, Jordan and Egypt these fighters were also supported with weapons and training by the Communist Block. Fatah’s resistance in the 1968 Karameh Battle in Jordan, in which the Israeli forces had to retreat, strengthened Fatah’s position in the Palestinian people. So much so that the Jordanian King Hussein became fearful of Fatah as a threat to his own rule in Jordan. This resulted in the disgraceful event of the 1970, Black September wherein Fatah was ousted from Jordan in a bloody yearlong campaign – from here they fled to Lebanon.

In Lebanon

So while Arafat was being hailed as the hero of the Palestinians and his being elected chairman of PLO in Cairo in 1969 –  one reason or the other was leading to the expulsion of his fighters from every place. The funeral of Eljamal, the Lebanese commando killed in action in the Battle of Karameh, was attended by 250,000 Lebanese and the Lebanese had extended in their solidarity with the Palestinian cause – one of the reasons why Fatah felt welcomed in Lebanon.

Previously Lebanon had faced a US intervention. Lebanon’s President Chamoun, a Christian, was pro-west and favored the Baghdad Pact while Sunni Prime Minister Rashid Karami supported Nasser and Arab Nationalism. This divided the political structure of the country. As the Muslims began to expressively push for joining the United Arab Republic, Chamoun called for the 1958 US intervention, which ensured the reelection of a US-tilted Christian candidate for presidency.

Gamal’s untimely death in 1970 was a blow to Pan-Arabism. His successor Anwar Sadat had a tough time filling his shoes. For Anwar and the newly empowered Assad in Syria it was vital to somehow prove themselves chamois of the Arabs after Gamal. So he and Hafez al Assad decided to take back their land from Israel in a surprise attack.  Jordan’s King Hussein’s relations with Syria were strained at that time for their backing the PLO in the Black September event. The Yom Kippur war was wage by a coalition of Egypt and Syria on Israel in 1973, territorially the war was an utter failure, but it did give Israel the message that as long as the Arab spirit remains kindled, it will not be left in peace.

Differences between pro-West, pro-Communist, pro-Syria and pro-Fatah factions in Lebanon culminated into the long Lebanon Civil War that went on from 1975 to 1990. Fatah inevitably had to take side of the Nasserist Lebanese National Movement (LNM) in the war and took control of the south, while the north-east was occupied by Syria.  The Syrian always felt that Lebanon was their snatched-away province and though they were aligned to the Fatah, they were not ready to share Lebanon with them. So when Fatah became strong footed in Lebanon, Hafez al Assad switched sides from supporting the pro-Nasser side to supporting the Maronite-dominated government. Inter-state interventions made the war prolonged and multifaceted. In 1982 there was an agreement that called for PLO fighters to evacuate Lebanon – many were exiled to Tunis and many hid in Lebanon.


Failed Peace-Process and Intifada

Fatah’s headquarters remained in Tunis till 1993, and from there the First Intifada was ignited in December 1987. Abu Jihad, commander of Fatah's armed wing al-Assifa, organized youth committees in the Palestinian territories from Tunis that were to became the framework of the Intifada. Abu Jihad was assassinated by Israeli assassins in Tunis. Marwan Bargouti then became the leader of the Intifada from Fatah’s side while Hamas sprout out as a new party from the old foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The clash between PLO and Hamas was that of a pro-secular approach and a strictly Islamic approach. While PLO seemed willing to compromise at some length with Israel under UN and US pressure, Hamas' Charter clearly stated that it aimed to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But surely internal rifts between Palestinian factions were not the drivers of the Intifada.

After the 1967 War the Peace Process had been initiated, largely under the auspice of the United States, which in time became, in the eyes of the ordinary Palestinians nothing more than an ‘illusionary process’ bringing nothing but increasing repression to them. The Israelis domination over all trade and the increasing isolation of Gaza and the West Bank from the outside world created an absence of any Arab economy in Palestine. Israel’s confiscation of agricultural land, rationing of water and food and restriction on movement has dragged 80% of Palestinians below poverty lines. These frustrations coupled with physical and psychological abuse with daily incidents of beatings, shootings, killings, house demolitions, uprooting of trees, deportations, extended imprisonments and detentions without trial – can be listed as genuine causes of the Intifada.

Yet the constant dismay over the Peace Process, which may have been a simmering light in midst the darkness of hopelessness, did create the milestones upon which the nation would react. Apparently the US tried hard to broker peace between Israel and Palestinian, but now as we look back on the timeline of the Peace Process, we find that firstly the Process served more to buy time for Israel to strengthen itself in a land where it was surrounded by enemies and secondly to isolate Palestine from its friends.

We find that as Israel was able to buy more time with UN, European and US backing, it created opportunities for it to play into the fault-lines in Arab unity. Most successfully they created diplomatic ties with King Abdullah and his administration and convinced him of the wisdom in Jordan-Israel alliance in the wake of Arab Unity that threatened his monarchy. The 1994, Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was just a formal recognition of a longstanding relationship of intelligence and military cooperation between them.

With Nasser gone in 1970, Israel’s diplomacy penetrated Egypt too and there were treaties of peace between them. In fact the 1978 Camp David Accord, which is termed as a crucial part of the Peace Process were really a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, whereby diplomatic relations were revived and Israel was allowed passage through the Suez Canal. Egypt also agreed to end all kinds of hostilities agaisnt Israel.

In all the maneuvering of the Peace Process, the real issues - of Palestinian independence, the borders of their state, the fate of their refugees and the settlements issue - were always pended for later time. In contrast Israel insisted on more and more concessions for itself every time. For the Palestinians the Camp David Accords meant further softening of Arab powers against Israel. Very soon after the Accords the US issued its Israel-US Memorandum Agreements in 1979, wherein the US reaffirmed Israel of future United States support and supply of military and economic aid to Israel. All this accumulated in the 1st Intifada, which consisted of strikes, institutional and economic boycotts like refusal to work in Israeli settlements on Israeli products, refusal to pay taxes, refusal to drive Palestinian cars with Israeli licenses, graffiti, barricading and widespread throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF. To this the Israeli authority retaliated with their ‘Breaking Palestinian Bones’ policy - over 2000 Palestinians were killed, against 160 Israeli deaths. 

The 1st Intifada was brought to a closure with the Oslo Accords in 1993. In Oslo Israel agreed to let PLO form an administrative presence in Palestine, with the pretext that it would formally recognize Israel and renounce the use of terrorism against Israel – in return Israel promised to evacuate a few towns. Permanent status negotiations were pended for discussion at a later stage, as usual. However it was agreed that a permanent agreement ‘must’ be reached within five years – and that was the time to which Palestinians were to look ahead to now. And that was the time when Yasser Arafat planned to announce the unilateral declaration of independence of Palestine.

Frustration was added for the Palestinians, when IDF secret plans like ‘Field of Thorns’ and ‘Clean Break’ were disclosed, these plans showed Israel’s intention to take back the West Bank and expel the remaining Palestinians from the Land in case of failure of Oslo Accord. The plans showed that Israel was fully preparing for full-fledged war against the Palestinians population. This compelled the Palestinian side to reassess its ability to war too and they started making preparations, however crude they may have been.

At the July 2000 Camp David Summit, both Barak and Arafat blamed each other for escalations and both could not agree at - the borders, Jerusalem, settlements, Palestinian statehood and refugees issues. To the added grievance of the Palestinians Barak demanded Jewish access to the Temple Mount, something Arafat could not agree on at any cost.

Though we are used to hearing the set rhetoric of ‘Ehud Barak's unprecedented offer and Yasser Arafat's uncompromising ‘no’’ at Camp David, the truth about the Camp David Summit is hard to know as most of the dealings were verbal and not written down. But experts speculate that Clinton and Barak had offered Arafat an ideally Bantustan-Palestine, completely crisscrossed with Israeli highways and settlements that would further isolate the Palestinians economically, socially, politically and would render their military capability completely neutralized under close Israeli surveillance – this coupled with the fact that Palestinians were not free to cross boarders to or from other countries. Moreover it is said that Clinton offered Arafat to give up claims over ‘most of East Jerusalem’, an offer even Hussein of Jordan could not accept in his time. How could Arafat tell his people of such an ‘independent state’ he had negotiated for them? 

On the home end Arafat faced enormous pressure from Arab leaders and other international players not to declare an independent Palestinian state, as planned for September 13, 2000. Explaining why he was against such a declaration, Hosni Mubarak said ‘We don't want any clash between the two sides’. Arafat finding no support for him against the Israel/US allegiance, and in fear of an all-out attack on Palestine, decide not to declare independence.

This decision pushed the Palestinians further into dismay. Abuse on the checkpoints, beatings, shootings, house demolitions, detentions without trial continued, more land was confiscated and more separation-walls isolated the Palestinians. At this point, on September 28, as a symbol of Israeli victory over Arafat, Ariel Sharon together with a Likud party delegation surrounded by hundreds of Israeli riot police, visited the Temple Mount, access of which was reserved only for the Muslims. This ignited the Second Intifada that lasted till 2005.

The 2cd Intifada saw more than just stone-pelting and protests, a new strategy of suicide bombings and drive-by-shootings was introduced by Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade. The Israelis retaliated by tank, gunfire and air attacks. IDF used F-16s, drone aircrafts and helicopter gunships that pounded the civilian population with missiles on the pretext that militants were hiding in their midst. Hamas’ spiritual leader Ahmad Yassin and founding member Al-Rantissi were assassinated with hellfire missiles fired by Apache gunship helicopters.

The IDF, as it had been planning, launched Operation Defense Shield on March 29, 2002. IDF entered the major townships of Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarm and Hebron, imposing strict curfew and with orders to: ‘target and paralyze anyone who takes up weapons and tries to oppose our troops, resists them or endangers them’, and this they did. On the first day of the Operation the IDF attacked and destroyed parts of Arafat’s compound and laid siege on the headquarters and extracted political targets from the compound. The IDF attacked the Compound thrice that year and the siege of September lasted till October 2004, when Yasser Arafat was transferred to a hospital in critical state.

In April, 2004, Sharon sent a letter to US Pres. George Bush about his plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip, stating that "there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement" – Arafat being in hospital.

Attacking Arafat and bringing him to his demise was an attack on the Peace Process and on the dream of the two-state solution. Arafat’s death and subsequent coming in power of Mahmoud Abbas meant a moderate Palestinian Authority who would be flexible to Israel and international pressure – and it meant that the Palestinian public would now look more towards revolutionary organizations for hope, if any.

Amnesty International Report published in November 2001 said, ‘In particular, the IDF have used US-supplied helicopters in punitive rocket attacks where there was no imminent danger to life. Israel has also used helicopter gunships to carry out extrajudicial executions and to fire at targets that resulted in the killing of civilians, including children...’ 

In Feb. 2005, Ariel Sharon, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan met in Sharm el-Sheikh and agreed on a cessation of all violent activity against each other, marking a formal end to the Al-Aqsa Intifada. And the same year Israel ‘disengaged’ from what was left of the Gaza Strip. In real-time Israel controls Gaza's air and maritime space, and six of Gaza's seven land crossings. It can enter Gaza with its military at will and has made a no-go buffer zone within the Gaza territory. Gaza is dependent on Israel for its water, electricity, telecommunications and food – in short when Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005 it converted Gaza into the world’s largest prison.

After 2005 Israel regularly conducts operations against the Gaza population every year and punishes them. In Dec. 2008, Israeli F-16 fighters launched a series of air strikes against targets in a one-sided war on Gaza. Some 1,400 Gazans were killed as the IDF pounded rockets on schools, hospitals and civilian compounds, leaving Gaza void of any working infrastructure within 22 days. Israel used white phosphorus bombs and other illegal experimental weapons on civilians in this war.

In 2011 Pres. Obama announced his 19 May Parameters saying: ‘Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.’ He added that, ‘the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.’ Although these were just word with no practical implications, much uproar ensued against him in both US and Israel. And to date the Palestinian Issue remains in a continuous state of limbo.


Is there a Solution?

The problem with the One-State-Solution and the Two-State-Solution is that in both ways Israel loses its grounds and the Palestinians win it – one may bethink that Israel survival is in a No-Solution and in a permanent chaos.

In case of the One State Solution, also called a bi-national solution there would be a single state comprising of all what is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In this Solution the Arabs and the Israelis will have equal citizenship and equal rights in the combined entity for all inhabitants of all three territories, without regard to ethnicity or religion. In such case Israelis will also lose a majority which they are enjoying right now in a separate Israel. On the other hand the Palestinians look forward to ‘the possibility of having Jews, Muslims and Christians living under the sovereignty of an Islamic state’. It is clear that only a very minor segment of Jewish society that is moderate allows for such a solution, whereas the majority extreme-right Jews can think of it as a death-pang.

As for the Two-State-Solution, wherein the Palestinians would decisively lose all land that they would thereby agree to give to Israel, it seems they agree on this too. Looking at the reality on ground and realizing that Israel would perhaps never return their land, it would be practical for the Palestinians to look towards a half-Palestine where at least they would be able to live with dignity and freedom. Two real separate states would mean that Palestine would be able to keep an army, make diplomatic ties with other nations, pursue its own economy and perhaps in time come at par with its oppressor, Israel.

In the Two-State-Solution Israel would no longer be able to make highways through and through the Palestinian land, nor control its people at check-points nor humiliate them nor enter their properties at will – such inhuman practices would have to be forsaken by the Israelis. Moreover, Palestine would be in control of its waters and maritime affairs, it may even lay claim on the newly discovered oil-rigs adjacent to its coasts. And most of all the Two State Solution would permanently bar the Jewish dream of ‘greater Israel’ the boundaries of which go much beyond even the whole of historical Palestine.

Any true solution is based on equality, freedom and equal rights, and until the time Israel is willing to come to that human level, there will be no solution.


  1. Farhad: Truly a tragedy that humanity has made for itself, and the writer has unfolded it revealingly