Middle East News Service
[Exclusive translation] Oren Yiftachel: Gaza's Lost Time
[Middle East News Service Comments: Oren Yiftachel is a Professor of geography at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er-Sheva and one of the sharpest minds on the Israeli left. His abilities were recognised by then Prime Minister Barak when he was summonsed to assist the Israeli team at the Taba negotiations who wanted a reliable expert on the team. His theme, however, is that it is history that matter and that no matter what Israel tries it cannot succeed unless it confronts Palestinian history and its own relations with that nations.
Gaza’s Lost Time
Firing at Israel will stop only if we start discussing history, including that of the Palestinians, instead of talking about territory.
Oren Yiftachel 10/1/09
The sights of death and destruction from Gaza are horrifying, and the residents of the south are still under constant bombardment. It is an infuriating, saddening, suffocating and outrageous situation. During a bloody conflict it is indeed difficult to look beyond the violence, but in my opinion such a look is essential to understand what is happening before us.
A noted Australian Aboriginal author commented once, during the struggle for Indigenous rights: ‘where national territory operates, our time epoch is over. But our epoch has a habit of returning after its death.’ This statement could help us understand what is happening in Gaza.
If we can look at the violent events beyond the terrible destruction, dust clouds, bodies, blood stains and children’s screams, we could appreciate this war as the continuation of the Israeli territorial act, which adopted a cruel and persistent aim – the silencing of Palestinian epoch, that is, the erasure of this country’s complete history. The silencing of history, needless to say, is also the erasure of Palestinian place, and with it all the political rights – those that exist as inherently theirs, and not as acts of Israeli benevolence .
If so, the current invasion into Gaza is not just an operation to halt the rockets, a pre-election effort to improve political profiles or an attempt to rehabilitate Israeli deterrence. The invasion is not just another attempt to ‘make order’ for others and bring down the elected Hamas government, or an imperial (Israeli-American) effort to control the Muslim populace by increasingly violent means. The current invasion is of course all of the above. But it is also the continuation of a long-lived strategy to deny, erase and smash any mention of this place’s history over recent generations. Almost everyone – politicians, artists, the media, university researchers and intellectuals have joined in this erasure project.
So, against the erasure efforts, let us remind ourselves: the Gaza strip was formed as a geographical entity after the 1948 war, when about 150,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled to it from what is today south-western Israel. Most of the expulsion took place during Operation ‘Yo’av’, known for its aim to ‘cleanse’ the area of Arabs. Those expelled and fleeing crammed into the space alongside the 60,000 original Gaza residents. The ceasefire lines with Egypt became the country’s borders, and the Arab refugees remained trapped beyond the border, without any possibility of returning to their villages and lands, which, meanwhile, had been crushed to rubble. The lands of Gazan refugees were expropriated in the Fifties and allotted to dozens of Israeli towns and villages established from Jaffa to Be’er-Sheva.
The refugee population of Gaza today numbers over a million (out of about a million and a half) and its geographical condition has deteriorated beyond measure – crowding, poverty, and an increasingly prohibitive system of restrictions on mobility, employment and trade with the outside world. While the occupation of Gaza in 1967 eased the closure and enabled Gazans to come in contact with other Palestinians, during the first Intifada and more so since the Oslo Accords, Gaza has once again been blocked, this time with a terrifying fence installed in 1994, would you believe it, as part of the ‘Peace Process’.
Israel avoids confronting the issues
The rise of Hamas, which posits an alternative to the Oslo Accords must be understood against this background. Instead of being a route to peace, the Accords became a Palestinian ‘Via Dolorosa’. But since Hamas’s democratic elections victory, Israel further ghettoized Gaza by imposing a siege on the area thereby completely isolating it from the West Bank.
Hamas rejected the illusion of ‘two states for two people’, which itself became an empty mantra, one that enables the interminable continuation of the colonial occupation. Hamas gave a voice to refugees when it appointed Ismail Haniyeh, a refugee from the Shati camp, as Prime Minister. Contrast this with a corrupt Palestinian elite that is trapped inside the Oslo Accords, which ‘prohibited’ raising the refugee issue, i.e. the recent history of this land country, as part of the day-to-day political discourse.
Launching rockets from Gaza at Israeli citizens deserves full condemnation as an act of terror against Jews and an act that severely harms the Palestinian nation. But beyond this it must also be seen as an attempt to remind the world, Israel, and also the Palestinian leadership, that the refugee question is still alive and kicking.
Faced with this continuous outcry, Israel in its typical manner decided to avoid the issue and resorted to State terror. Consequently it commenced a campaign of fire and brimstone into Gaza, one which is meant to liquidate, kill, divide and enclose. But this power is politically and morally weak. Neither tonnes of ‘Cast Lead’, nor the killing of children nor the burning of Gaza towns will not silence the voice of history. The epoch that disappeared at the sound of the war drums, during the violent creation of the ‘Gaza Strip’, will return after its death, as remarked by that Aboriginal author.
The conclusion is obvious: beyond the ceasefire that is needed immediately, the real end to violence will pass only through returning history , back into our political discourse, that is, through an open and profound investigation of the history that generated Jewish-Palestinians relations in this land. As well Israel needs to confront its own negation of history and Palestinian rights.
During such an investigation, which, of course, will be dependent on the termination of Israeli colonial rule, the question of the refugees and with it the question of the entire Gaza Strip will rise again, along with questions regarding the traumatic Jewish history and the prospects of ensuring a Jewish future in an Arab Middle East.
In other words, recognition of Palestinian time is the only way to also acknowledge Jewish time. Only when history replaces territory as the central topic of discourse, that is, when the history of the country included that of all of its residents and exiles, the foundations will set for mutual recognition between two nations with equal rights in a common homeland. Then the rockets will stop, and there may even be a time of reconciliation.
Prof Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography at the Ben-Gurion University, Be’er-Sheva.
Translated from the Hebrew by Keren Rubinstein of Melbourne Australia.
Hebrew original: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3652051,00.html