Zero Hour in Palestine
Wednesday’s announcement by President Trump, who finds a soul mate in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that he will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem solidifies our status, along with Israel, as a rogue state and an international pariah. The United States long ago lost credibility as an honest broker in any Mideast peace agreement. We have provided $38 billion in military aid to Israel over the last decade despite Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law and its well-documented war crimes. We do nothing to halt the expropriation of Palestinian land. We give unequivocal support to Israeli attacks on Palestinians, including the bombardment of largely defenseless civilians in Gaza, that have left thousands of dead and destroyed whole neighborhoods.
The Trump decision sends a message to those who demand justice for the Palestinian people: Our only hope is to strengthen the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to isolate and cripple Israel. This would involve a robust boycott of Israeli cultural and academic institutions. It demands divestment from companies with financial interests in Israel. And it seeks to impose international sanctions on the Jewish state. The goal of the BDS movement is to end the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, achieve equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure the right of return for all Palestinian refugees in the diaspora. If we fail to act we must accept our complicity in the slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people.
“The current xenophobic, racist U.S. administration is smashing international law as fast as it is smashing its own mask of respect for human rights and with it whatever credibility it still has around the world,” said Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. He commented after I reached him by email.
“By trying to bestow legitimacy on Israel’s patently illegitimate annexation of occupied Jerusalem, the U.S. administration, whose own legitimacy is contested by millions of Americans, is throwing a flame onto a haystack in a midsummer day,” he said. “If we turn this deliberate act of mega-arson into an opportunity to further build the BDS movement to isolate Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid, we can advance the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”
The United States is the only nation, with the exception of Israel, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump’s decision will enrage Muslims throughout the world. Palestinians in Gaza City, Bethlehem and Rafah have already marched through the streets chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel” and “Down with Trump.” They burned American and Israeli flags and photos of Trump. The Palestinian Islamic group Hamas is calling for “a day of rage.”
“Trump’s extensive reference to Israel’s far-right policies of ethnic profiling, militarized walls and extreme racial violence as a model for his own fanatic policies in the U.S. and around the world confirms Israel’s status today as a senior member of the xenophobic—mostly anti-Semitic—far-right club that is growing in the U.S., Europe, India and elsewhere,” Barghouti said.
The Trump move, along with Israel’s naked theft of East Jerusalem, will give rise to spontaneous acts of resistance such as that which took place last July when Israel tried to restrict Palestinian access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, in Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated at the site until Israel removed barriers, metal detectors and security cameras introduced after three Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli police officers at an entrance to the compound July 14.
Wednesday’s announcement is one more indignity visited on a people who have known nothing but abuse, humiliation and violence since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. It says to all of the dispossessed of the earth that their rights and aspirations are meaningless. It is a public declaration of contempt for the oppressed. And the oppressed, filled with rage, unable to use the industrial weapons that rain death and destruction on Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans and Yemenis, will employ cruder instruments of death to fight back. The state terrorists in Israel and Washington will use those attacks to justify an escalation of violence in a never-ending cycle of hate that we, the oppressors, initiated.
“Jerusalem lies at the heart of Palestinian identity and is a unique spiritual, cultural and symbolic center for Palestinian life,” Barghouti said. “It is also sacred for monotheistic religions, including about 1.5 billion Muslims. No state in the world [had recognized] Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. So, by recognizing it as Israel’s capital, the Trump administration is not only isolating itself and trashing decades of U.S. policy and international law. It is deliberately inciting a global wave of protest against Israel’s illegal control over the city and against the exceptionally reckless U.S. policy. I cannot see how this can serve U.S. interests, even if defined as the interests of the ‘1 percent.’ It therefore indicates the administration’s adoption of an Israel-first agenda that appeals to a small yet very influential part of its constituency—fanatic Christian fundamentalists and the Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian far-right Jewish establishment. As the prominent South African jurist and former U.N. special rapporteur John Dugard once said, Palestine today has become the litmus test for the West’s respect for human rights—just as South Africa once was. If the West fails to end its fatal collusion with Israel’s regime of apartheid and colonialism it will lose all credibility around the world, especially in the Global South.”
This is zero hour for the Palestinian people. Saudi Arabia, which has built a de facto alliance with Israel in its effort to launch a war against Iran, has signaled its willingness to sacrifice the Palestinians by proposing a “peace agreement” that Israel will embrace. The agreement, proposed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, traps Palestinians within Israeli-controlled borders, transfers East Jerusalem, where the Palestinian population in the city resides, to Israel, permits Jewish settlements to remain on Palestinian land, slices up sections of the West Bank to prevent contiguous Palestinian control and sovereignty, and prevents from returning to their homes the Palestinians who were “ethnically cleansed” from land Israel controls. The Saudi plan mirrors the agreement offered in 2000 to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat by President Bill Clinton, an agreement no Palestinian could accept and Arafat rightly rejected. The Muslim world has long paid lip service to Palestinian rights while quietly backing the Israeli occupation. Egypt, for example, seals the southern border of Gaza to assist Israel in maintaining the world’s largest open-air prison. But now the Saudi regime is public in its effort to sell out the Palestinians. This gives to the BDS movement—and a separate BDS movement should be launched against Saudi Arabia—a new urgency.
The Palestinian Authority, a puppet regime put in place by Israel and the United States that has little support among Palestinians, will be further discredited and reviled as the U.S. Embassy is moved. Its loss of authority will weaken the last vestiges of Palestinian civil institutions. Trump’s decision is also likely to accelerate Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes, evictions, expropriations, revocation of residency permits and colonization of the city by Jewish settlers. It will tighten the barrier set up by Israel to prevent Palestinians in the West Bank from traveling to East Jerusalem. It will continue to see the steady reduction of the Palestinian population as East Jerusalem, piece by piece, is handed over to Israeli Jews.
U.N. Resolution 476, adopted in 1980, declared Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem “null and void,” called it “a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War” and said it “constituted a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” But this resolution and others have routinely been ignored and defied by Israel and the United States. Israel since occupying East Jerusalem after the 1967 war has stripped more than 14,000 Palestinians of their right to live in the city. It routinely denies Palestinians new building permits, demolishes Palestinian homes and olive groves and builds huge, fortress-like housing complexes for Jewish settlers that surround the dwindling Palestinian neighborhoods. Israeli police patrol the streets of East Jerusalem, engaging in acts of open brutality and violence, including the killing of unarmed demonstrators. Basic municipal services, including education, have been degraded.
“Moshe Dayan [the onetime Israeli defense minister] once said that Israel must act like a mad dog so no one in the international community will bother it,” Barghouti said. “His prophecy has come true like never before with the current extremely racist and dangerous Israeli government. With its influence in the White House finally matching its influence in Congress, Israel is drunk with power and, as a result, recklessly undermining the very legitimacy of its decades-long regime of oppression against the Palestinians. This is a key factor behind the impressive growth of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights worldwide.”
“People of conscience worldwide are now called upon to stop the ‘mad dog’ before its unconstrained madness spills over to the rest of the world,” Barghouti went on. “The most effective way of doing that is by supporting BDS campaigns to continue building this peaceful justice movement until serious sanctions are imposed on Israel’s regime. In the U.S., the strong connection between U.S. support for Israel’s wars of aggression and policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing on the one hand and severe cuts in social, health and educational services in the U.S. on the other must be exposed and acted upon. Exploring the intersectionality of our struggle for liberation with struggles for racial, economic, social, gender and climate justice in the U.S. and beyond is crucial in this respect.”
Israel and the United States have amply demonstrated their intentions. Israel uses intimidation, fear and violence to subdue and crush the Palestinian people. We must build an international movement to pit power against power. We must press on until all economic trade, military aid and cooperation with Israel are ended. If we succeed, Israel will be faced with the prospect of losing its own viability. This is the only way left to achieve justice and the rule of law.
“No one should dismiss Palestinians yet,” Barghouti concluded. “At the darkest moments of Palestinian dejection and despair and at the height of Israel’s delusional triumphalism over us, our people has always risen like a phoenix to tell the world that we shall overcome, we shall never accept slavery as fate, and we shall persistently resist and insist on a life that is worth living, as [poet] Mahmoud Darwish says, and that is a life of justice, peace and dignity.”