By Ramzy Baroud
For Palestinians, 2017 is a year of significant anniversaries.
While historians mark May 15th as the anniversary of the date on which Palestinians were expelled from their historic homeland in 1948, the fact is the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians began in earnest in 1947.
In strict historical terms 1947 and ‘48 were the years in which Palestine was conquered and depopulated.
The tragedy, which remains a bleeding wound until this day, started 70 years ago.
June of this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli military occupation of the 22 percent of historic Palestine that was not seized by Zionist militias in 1947-48. Among other notable dates, November 02 is starkly remembered as the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
While the roots of the Zionist campaign to claim Palestine as a Jewish state go back much earlier, the document signed by British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, was the first official commitment made by a major world power to facilitate “a national home for the Jewish people.”
The British made their infamous ‘promise’ even before the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine and most of the modern Middle East officially capitulated in World War I.
A few years after the declaration was made, Britain was entrusted by the League of Nations in 1922 to be the caretaker of post-Ottoman Palestine, mandated to lead the country, like other Arab regions, towards independence.
Instead, the Brits worked to achieve the opposite. Between 1922 and 1947-48, with direct British assistance, Zionists grew more powerful, forming a parallel government and a sophisticated and well-equipped militia. Britain remained decidedly pro-Israel after all these years.
When the British mandate over Palestine officially ended in November 1947, that parallel regime simply moved in to fill the vacant space, in nearly perfect tandem, claiming territories, ethnically cleansing most of Palestine’s Arab population and, as of May 14, 1948, declaring as a reality the State of Israel.
The following day, May 15, has since been recognized by Palestinians as the day of the Nakba, or the catastrophe of war and exile. Nearly 500 Palestinian villages and many cities and towns were depopulated, seized or destroyed. An estimated 800,000 Palestinians were made refugees.
These anniversaries are important not because they form convenient numbers, but because the political context surrounding them is unprecedented.
The United States government has abdicated its long-term commitment to the so-called ‘peace process’, leaving Israel alone to decide the course of its own action, while the rest of the international community stand hapless.
The ‘peace process’ was certainly not designed to create favorable outcomes for Palestinians, but was part of a larger design to formulate a ‘solution’ in which Palestinians were to be granted semi-autonomous, disconnected, mini regions to be called a state.
Now that pipedream is over – Israel is expanding its illegal settlements at will, constructing new ones and has little interest in adhering to even the US-envisaged ‘negotiated agreement’ paradigm.
In the meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership remains visionless.
Although politically defunct and practically impossible, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still insists on the two-state solution formula, wasting precious time that should be geared towards arranging a future that is predicated upon co-existence in a shared land and a joint future.
It is important that the Palestinians are freed from the stifling discourse which rendered the Nakba of 1947-48 extraneous and molded an alternative narrative in which only the Israeli occupation of 1967 seems to matter.
Indeed, the official Palestinian discourse has been quite confusing and consistent for some time.
Historically, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was forced to concede under American, and sometimes Arab pressures, and alter its demands throughout the years.
The greatest of these concessions was made in 1993 when the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which redefined Palestinian rights around specific UN resolutions 242 and 338. It relegated or discarded everything else.
Not only was this a great folly, but also a strategic mistake for which Palestinians continue to bear the consequences to this day.
Existing now are several Palestinian depictions of the history of their struggle against Israel, while the truth is that there can only be one way of understanding the so-called conflict – one that starts with Zionist settlements in Palestine and British colonialism 100 years ago.
The strange thing is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is himself sending mixed messages. While on one hand he seemed disinterested in contextualizing the struggle of his people back to the Nakba 70 years ago, his authority announced that it will be suing Britain for the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Britain, on the other hand, had brazenly announced that it will be ‘celebrating’ the 100-year anniversary of the declaration, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being the guest of honor.
The country that facilitated the ongoing tragedy in Palestine still refuses to acknowledge the enduring harm it committed one hundred years later.
Israel is experiencing no moral awakening either.
Aside from the small school of Israel’s ‘new historians’, Israel continues to hold into its own version of history, much of which was constructed in the early 1950s under the guidance of then Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Compelled by pressures, fears and lack of vision, the Palestinian leadership failed to grasp the need to hold onto and explain these anniversaries combined as a roadmap towards a solid, unified and sensible discourse.
Politics aside, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 cannot be appreciated without understanding its dreadful consequences which played out in 1947-48; and the Israeli occupation of the remaining 22 percent of Palestine is entirely out of context if read separately from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
Moreover, the Palestinian refugee crisis, which continues to manifest itself in Syria and Iraq until this day, cannot be fathomed or explained without examining the origins of the crisis, which date back to the Nakba.
True, 2017 is burdened with significant and tragic anniversaries, but these dates should not be used as opportunities to protest, registering only a fleeting movement of solidarity. They should offer the chance to re-articulate a unified Palestinian discourse that crosses ideological and political lines.
Without honest understanding of history, one cannot redeem its many sins.