By Raja Shehadeh
April 4, 2019
Israel is holding an election on Tuesday, and Palestinian communities in the occupied territories are not following it with much interest. This is not because whoever is elected will not have a strong impact on our lives. It’s because none of the leading candidates has a program for peace. The main contenders are committed to maintaining the illegal Jewish settlements that have been established in the West Bank. They do not seek to end the occupation.
Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, but it lords over these lands like a sovereign power. Or worse. It has seized tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, which is supposed to administer the West Bank; it keeps Gaza under siege. It dictates that we, Palestinians, can only watch from our homes the results of an election whose outcome will govern our lives and the future on our land. Israeli Jews in the West Bank are citizens, but we are not. They will be able to go into Israel to vote. Not us.
During the last Israeli election, in 2015, I wrote that Palestinians here had become less interested in the results of that race than in the prospect of filing various international legal cases. I, for one, had pinned my hopes on the preparation of several claims to be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. One of them would challenge the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. There was no lack of evidence, I thought, and the transfer of civilians by a government into territories it occupies is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
Now I think: Never mind the merits of any such cases. With the United States government threatening to refuse granting visas to the court’s staff — this, in relation to another case, to do with suspected crimes in Afghanistan — our chances are slim.
Last month, the Trump administration also recognized Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights, disputed territory that Israel forcibly seized from Syria in 1967. This can only embolden Israel to eventually proceed with the formal annexation of the West Bank.
Israel, thanks partly to this support from the United States, now appears to be winning on all fronts, with impunity. And we Palestinians seem too weak to stop it.
Israelis, for their part, seem to live under the illusion popularized by their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that their government can manage the conflict — that there is no need to actually resolve it. Yet over the span of Mr. Netanyahu’s premiership, the situation has gone from gloom to more gloom, from dark times to darker ones, from some measure of hope to despair.
Then again, at this point, maybe even darker would be better for us — maybe that’s the only way out. My one consolation watching Israel pursue its current path is to think that it is doing itself damage, too.
Consider Three Examples:
Violence by Jewish settlers and right-wing activists against Palestinians in the West Bank more than tripled last year, compared with 2017.
An Israeli family built a home on land taken away from Palestinians — and then tried to rent it out on Airbnb. When the company balked, citing a new policy announced late last year against listing properties in settlements, the family brought a case for discrimination in the United States. (The Palestinian family is suing back.)
Last week, a family near the village of Hizma, north of Jerusalem, whose house is in an Israeli settlement, chose to destroy its home of more than three decades rather than paying Israeli authorities to do the job (and being fined).
Won’t Israeli society at some point also feel the nefarious effects of its government’s inhumanity toward us?
In Arundhati Roy’s novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” one of her characters, Musa, says that if Kashmiris have failed to gain independence from India, at least in struggling for it they have exposed the corruption of India’s system. Musa tells the book’s narrator, an Indian: “You’re not destroying us. You are constructing us. It’s yourselves that you are destroying.” Palestinians today might say the same of our struggle with Israel.
Raja Shehadeh is a lawyer and the author of “Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine.”