Over the course of a generation, Palestine disappeared from the map. By 1970, just over seventy years since the Basle congress launched Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state, Palestinian society had been shattered. The reality was this:
Around half of all Palestinians were living outside Palestine as dispossessed, denationalised refugees, prevented from returning home.
One in seven Palestinians were living as second-class citizens in a state which defined itself as the homeland of the Jews.
One in three Palestinians were living under military rule, increasingly subject to a regime of apartheid separation designed to facilitate the colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) by Israeli settlers. (Over half of the OPT population were themselves refugees from 1948).
For political Zionism to come to fruition – for a Jewish state to be created in Palestine – it was necessary to carry out on as large a scale as possible, ethnic cleansing of the country’s unwanted Arab natives. But even in 1948 and especially in 1967, Israel was unable to fully ‘cleanse’ the land of the Palestinians.
As a result, Israel’s fallback position was to implement an apartheid regime of exclusion and discrimination. Where the dispossession had been most effective – inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders –apartheid could be less explicit. But in the OPT, home to a vast majority of Palestinians, what my new book calls 'Israeli apartheid' had to be overt and iron-fisted.
This is what lies behind the dreadful conditions for Palestinians living in both Israel and the Occupied Territories to this day.
It also lies behind the question "Why have the Palestinians continued to reject a compromise with Israel?" from the very beginning of the state in 1948, to Arafat’s ‘No’ at Camp David and beyond.
The myth of ‘brave but peace-seeking’ Israel always let down by violent, compromise-rejecting Arabs is powerful and enduring.
Israel’s defenders argue that if only the Palestinians had accepted partition in 1948, rather than seeking ‘Israel’s destruction’, everything would have been different.
Likewise, for the propaganda war of the Second Intifada, the Palestinians – and Arafat in particular – were said to have turned down a ‘best ever’ offer from Israel at Camp David, instead opting for violence.
But let us take a look at 1948. In Israeli Apartheid I argue at length and in detail that the real story of Israel’s creation – the Nakba – is very different from the sanitized, Zionist narrative.
When the UN proposed partition, Jews owned less than seven per cent of the land and made up a third of the population – yet over half of the land of Palestine was assigned to the Jewish state. Moreover, even within its proposed borders, the Jewish state’s population would be almost half Arab.
Ironically, while Palestinians are often accused of ‘rejectionism’, the Zionist leadership only accepted the idea of partition for tactical reasons.
Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion described a “partial Jewish state” as just the beginning: “a powerful impetus in our historic efforts to redeem the land in its entirety.”
In a meeting of the Jewish leadership in 1938, Ben Gurion shared his assumption that “after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state – we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”
It should come as no surprise that “the fear of territorial displacement and dispossession was to be the chief motor of Arab antagonism to Zionism”.
Palestinian Arabs had seen the Jewish proportion of Palestine’s population triple from around 10 per cent at the end of World War I, while the Zionist leadership in Palestine made no bones about their political aims.
A question worth asking then, is whether you or I would simply accept the loss of our country, or if we too would be ‘rejectionists’?
A similar question can be posed about events at the Camp David negotiations of 2000. Contrary to popular assumptions, “Israel never offered the Palestinians 95 percent of the West Bank as reports indicated at the time”.
The ‘generous offer’ was just another incarnation of previous Israeli plans to annex huge swathes of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, retaining major settlement blocs “that effectively cut the West Bank into three sections with full Israeli control from Jerusalem to the Jordan River”.
To question why the Palestinians have ‘rejected’ compromise is to look at the region’s past and present from a particularly skewed perspective.
The truth is this: Palestine has been wiped off the map, its land colonised, and its people ethnically cleansed. Expecting those on the receiving end to be satisfied with the crumbs from the table is both unjust – and wishful thinking.
(c) Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer. His book Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide (Pluto Press, 2009) has just been published. White's articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Middle East, and Christian-Muslim relations have appeared in a wide variety of media outlets, including Ekklesia. Visit his website at www.benwhite.org.uk
For more information on Ben White's book, from which this article is an excerpt, go to http://israeliapartheidguide.com/ and see also Ekklesia's accompanying news report (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9699) and comment (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9700).