It is a story of the long, unending odyssey of a people forced into exile by history.
It is time once again to remember Palestine, the land that was and ought to be again. No, Palestinians have never been forgotten, but in a world of changing priorities and the rise and fall of politics, along with a corruption of diplomacy, they have often been pushed into the backwaters of international affairs. That is the pity. That also is a reason why today, as the world observes International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, it becomes important to draw public attention to the miseries Palestinians have been subjected to since May 1948.
And yet, as Resolution 181 of the United Nations made clear on 29 November 1947, circumstances were not expected to shape up the way they have. Resolution 181 clearly envisaged, in the historical landscape that was Palestine, the creation of a sovereign state for the Arabs of Palestine and for the Jewish community a country that would be known as Israel. The United Nations was unambiguous in its statement that Jerusalem would be shared by both Palestine and
Israel, that indeed the city would remain home to the religious communities --- Jews, Christians, Muslims --- that had shared it for endless generations.
The story of Resolution 181 stops at 1947, for in May 1948, with the triumph of Zionism and the creation of Israel, it was the Arab population of Palestine who bore the brunt of the change. Briefly, it was for Palestinians a loss of land and, with it, a loss of heritage. Add to that the loss of dignity, individual as well as collective. There are the ageing men and women who yet remember the homes and the orchards they were forced to leave behind, property taken over by the state of Israel. There are the memories of the influx of Palestinian refugees into countries beyond Palestine, an odyssey that has continued to this day. The people of Palestine are yet in search of their Promised Land. And yet the global community remains half-hearted in its approach to the need for these displaced, stateless people to have a sovereign republic of their own.
That brings us to the question of a two-state solution, much of it based on the ideas incorporated in Resolution 181, that in these past many years has been pivotal in any discussion of politics in the Middle East. Of course, there is a
Palestinian Authority. Of course, the Palestinian Authority enjoys observer status at the United Nations. Of course, Palestinians have a government administered by Mahmoud Abbas. All these should cheer people who have consistently demanded that Palestinians be given their niche on the world stage. But, then again, the Palestinian Authority is not the Republic of Palestine. It may be enjoying a certain degree of autonomy within the confinement in which it operates, but autonomy cannot be passed off as independence.
And now consider the many and manifest travails Palestinians have undergone in these past many decades. Successive governments in Israel have brazenly gone on extending the country's reach across increasing swathes of Palestinian land, territory Israel occupied during the Six-Day war of June 1967 and never gave up, through building illegal settlements for Jewish citizens. There is a question of morality involved here in that aggression is unmitigated criminality. Indeed, it is the immorality Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors have systematically and arrogantly demonstrated which has stymied Palestinian aspirations. The immorality has often translated into violence against Palestinian youths, the severity of which has shocked the world. Those desperate stone-throwing boys in Gaza are a voice of desperation and that wall prohibiting their families from asserting their dignity before the world is a scandal the world, or much of it, refuses to see. The scandal has now scaled greater heights with the current political dispensation in Washington decreeing that it considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel, that world opinion to the contrary be damned.
Today, the occasion is also one of condemning the reluctance or failure or both of the nations of the Middle East to argue the case for Palestine. Jordan under its Hashemite monarchy never treated the Palestinians on its soil well. Other Arab states and kingdoms have stayed well clear of the issue, though they have regularly come forth with lip service to the cause of these people whose country was commandeered from them seventy one years ago. To be sure, the
Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat made grave mistakes, as made evident through the chaos it unleashed long ago in Amman and Beirut before moving on to Tunis. But since that time, pragmatism has defined the working of the Palestinian political base. Arafat abandoned the gun for peace when he appeared with Yitzhak Rabin at the Clinton White House. And Mahmoud Abbas has gone around the world soliciting support for a sovereign Palestine that will, in the larger interest of history, exist beside Israel.
It is time to recall the intellectual brilliance of Palestinian scholars and writers and artistes who have in their diverse ways spoken for their people. The poetry composed by Palestinians has been heard around the world. And heard too have been the screams and loud tears of parents losing their children to the indiscriminate shootings let loose by Israeli soldiers.
Great causes do not die. They get pushed into the background. They are suppressed for some time. But they breathe and live, despite the brutality of the ages. In Ramallah, in small Palestinian towns and in its little hamlets and among the Palestinian diaspora, the lamp glows on.
It will be wrong to look away from that light, for Palestine through the winding and treacherous paths of history was never destined for darkness.
International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is being observed today