The Gaza withdrawal has been a positive step toward the liberation of the occupied territories and the creation of a Palestinian state. Yet, some commentators in the media have complained of Palestinian celebrations and descriptions of the withdrawal as a victory. These complaints seem untenable and tend to follow the line of blaming Palestinians for something, somehow, always. In no other occupation have the occupied been expected to show such deference and respect to those who have stripped them of their rights and subjected them to the military rule of another nation. Throughout the world peoples have embraced the end to colonial rule with joy and a sense of achievement. Yet for some reason it is inappropriate for the Palestinians to express such sentiments. Why is this?
It seems perfectly clear that after suffering under a debilitating occupation they should be happy to see their occupiers depart. The occupation and the apparatus to accommodate the 8,000 settlers who lived in Gaza, which happened to have 1.5 million Palestinians inhabitants, resulted in a tortuous existence for the residents of Gaza as it does today for the Palestinians in the West Bank. The settlements managed to take up one third of Gaza. The checkpoints and bypass roads strewn throughout Gaza have forced crops to rot in the road for days waiting to get through to markets. Palestinians have had trouble getting to hospitals and women have had to deliver children waiting at checkpoints. Further, they have made maintaining friendships a trying task. Students have oftentimes been unable to go to school and the whole structure of Palestinian society has been placed under enormous strain. Who wouldn’t celebrate this coming to an end?
Complaints about Palestinian celebration beg the question how were they supposed to react? Were they supposed to cry? Were they supposed to thank their occupiers for graciously departing Gaza after 38 years of misery? When one entertains the alternatives these complaints become all the more untenable. How can people have trouble understanding why an occupied people are happy not to be occupied?
The people of Gaza have every right to celebrate. Further, they have every right to view this day as a victory. Of course the Palestinians consider the withdrawal of the Israelis to be a victory. The fact that they survived 38 years of occupation while maintaining a national identity and successfully elected their President, Mahmoud Abbas, is a victory. Seeing this day is a victory.
While the Palestinians in Gaza have every right to celebrate, there remains much to be done. The West Bank and East Jerusalem remain occupied. In these territories there remain about 200,000 Israeli settlers at the expense of 2.5 Million Palestinians. The rest of the occupied territories must cease to be occupied so that true and lasting peace can take hold and so that a people subjugated by occupiers so long can finally begin on an independent path towards their future uninhibited by the whims of others who have no right to dominate.
The bigger question here is why aren’t the Israelis celebrating? If this is a big step toward peace and is done in recognizing the right of all peoples of this world to self-rule, why aren’t the Israelis happy to see this day come? If being occupiers was such a dreaded role for them – as they often claim – then why aren’t they happy to shed off at least part of that role? And why aren’t the Zionists here in America celebrating this historic step towards peace?
I’ll tell you why: because rhetoric rings hollow when faced with truth. And today the truth is that the hopes for a greater Israel are showing they were not realistic. The Israelis have recognized the Palestinians cannot be beaten down any further. They have reached their breaking point and if there is any hope for peace a resolution must be sought. There can be no more demands made of this battered people. The line has been drawn, and all the columnists and commentators who claim they wish to see a Palestinian state while bemoaning Palestinians celebrating a step towards its liberation have been exposed for the frauds they truly are.
-The writer, a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies, is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.