If history is often underscored by irony, nothing could throw up a better picture than the intertwined tales of Israel and Palestine. If in the past it was the long search of the Jewish diaspora for a homeland, in these present times it is the desperation of the Palestinian diaspora to eke out a state for itself.
The Jewish diaspora found its destiny in Palestine, through making sure that Palestine was supplanted by Israel. In the decades since May 1948, it is the tribe of Palestinians that has been wandering the earth in search of a state. If for thousands of years the Jewish people, beaten and battered and bruised by systemic cruelty through the generations, moved from place to place before they could see a country carved out for them out of Palestine, it is now the people of Palestine who, beaten and battered and bruised, try to survive in an enclave called Gaza, with all that Israeli firepower flying in from nocturnal skies to burn them to death.
The sufferings of the Jewish people are part of history and biblical tradition. From Roman times until the end of the Second World War, they suffered mightily and yet persevered admirably in their determination not to go extinct. Six million of them perished at the hands of the Nazis --- in Germany, France, Poland, Holland, Austria. In such concentration camps as Bergen Belsen, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau, they were pushed to their deaths by an infamous, murderous regime led by Adolf Hitler and sustained by men driven by racial and religious hate.
Those who survived lost their homes, their careers, their dignity. Kristallnacht in the 1930s was the beginning. And before the sufferings of the Jewish people drew to an end, anti-Semitism, a perversion of human values, reared its ugly head almost everywhere in Europe. Not even Joseph Stalin was free of such prejudice, for on his watch Jews were mercilessly persecuted in the Soviet Union. The Nazi men of power behind the gas chambers met their deserved end at Nuremberg.
The persecution of the Jewish people came to an end when Zionism, given a spurt by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, succeeded in setting up the State of Israel, in Palestine, on 14 May 1948. The Star of David flew all across the homeland of the Jews. For Palestinians, it was a time to flee, for their homes --- with their olive trees and gardens and heritage --- swiftly passed into the hands of the people of Israel. The Holocaust had given the Jewish people their Promised Land. The fulfillment of that Jewish promise quickly led to Palestinian despair.
Nakba --- disaster, catastrophe, cataclysm --- was but another term for the death of Palestine. No fewer than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and from their country as soon as Israel took form and substance. Anywhere between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were put to the torch. And prior to that, before May 1948, between 250,000 and 300,000 Palestinians saw their homes seized, their history upturned. Their state was gone. They were suddenly, much like the pre-1948 Jewish people, human beings without a country.
It was a reversal of roles. The agony of the Palestinians was not to end but worsen over the years. In the aftermath of the Six-Day War in June 1967, when Israeli troops captured large swaths of Arab territory --- the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights, Sinai --- a fresh exodus, of between 280,000 and 325,000 Palestinians, was the consequence. The tragedy has gone on.
And yet things were not supposed to be this way, if United Nations Resolution 181, adopted on 29 November 1947, was anything to go by. Six months before the rise of Israel, the resolution put forth the idea of future relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Simply put, Palestine would be partitioned into two states, Israel and Palestine; Jerusalem would be shared by Israel and Palestine; and Jerusalem would remain home to its Muslims, Jews and Christians.
The world's powers ignored that resolution, for they were in a hurry to bring an end to the Palestine Mandate. The job was done when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel on the afternoon of 14 May 1948 in Tel Aviv. Resolution 181 died a swift death.
Irony has persisted to this day. Today, as many as 600,000 Jewish settlers have homes, illegally, on Arab land in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Every settler is permitted to carry a weapon, but no Palestinian has that right. Within Israel itself, a so-called nation-state law in 2018 stripped Arabic of the status of an official Israeli language it shared with Hebrew. And that ignores the fact that 20 percent of Israelis, or 2,000,000, are Palestinians of the Muslim, Druze and Christian variety.
Manifest injustice marks the operation of the State of Israel. The spark for the ongoing crisis in Gaza came through Israeli attempts to engineer a further expansion of settlements, this time through evicting Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem and have the homes commandeered by young Jews, who are already in possession of twenty five apartments in the city.
The future does not look bright for six Palestinian families, who have been waging a legal battle to keep their homes, to prevent them from being seized by Jewish settlers with encouragement from the state. Tongue-in-cheek, the Israeli authorities have been trying to project the legal battle as a private real estate dispute between the Palestinian families and a secretive settlers group.
Observe the disingenuousness: the settlers group two decades ago 'purchased' the land on which the Palestinian homes exist; and the homes have been there since the 1950s. Place all that horror beside another and the picture gets to be much clearer: In January this year, the Israeli authorities issued tenders for 2,500 new settler homes in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
That small matter of irony again. In the 1930s and 1940s, Nazi obscenity forced Europe's Jews out of their homes, which were swiftly occupied by Hitler's rabid followers and collaborators. In our times, Netanyahu's Israel, in what eerily looks like ethnic cleansing, is determined to push Palestinians out of their homes, which will then fall, like ripe fruit, into the hands of men for whom every stretch of land, in Israel and beyond, is Promised Land.
And yet there is the larger truth, beyond the bombs that fall on Gaza, beyond the grasping hands of settlers extended toward Palestinian homes. Palestine is a metaphor, a once and future reality. Moshe Dayan was wrong when, in his hubris, he told himself that Palestine was finished. Palestinians since 1948 have been victims of gross injustice, just as Jews bore the brunt of injustice till the West gave them a homeland three years after the darkness of the Holocaust years.
Edward Said, born in Palestine thirteen years before Nakba, put it well: "You cannot continue to victimise someone else just because you were a victim once --- there has to be a limit."
Benjamin Netanyahu and his people cannot forever shut their ears to that warning.