By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Zionism is a nineteenth century European settlers’ movement presented its mission as a return to ‘an empty wasteland that has been waiting for them since thousands of years to make it habitable and prosperous.’ Today, the Jewish settlers in Palestine have been tracing their roots as a nation state in biblical antiquity. In modern colonialist Israel, archaeology plays an important role in affirming the claimed links between the intrusive European colonialists and ‘ancient tribes’ that lived in Palestine two thousand years ago. Linking the ancient past and the political present plays a crucial role to any claim by the Israelis to possess the land and effectively silence any attempt to provide the history of the indigenous Palestinians.
The history of ‘Ancient Israel’ is based on the myth of the Hebrew biblical narrative which is nothing but unverifiable stories about ‘god and prophets’, a ‘chosen people’ and a ‘promised land’. It uses historical fiction to express ideological beliefs. Which god gives one tribe a license to kill and evict indigenous people from their homes unless this god’s name was Arthur James Balfour? The historian Giovanni Garbini argues that ‘without the use of external documentation it is impossible to identify where the biblical narratives are sound.’
The Israeli biblical studies has focused on inventing Israel’s ‘ancient entity’ while ignoring everything else of Palestine’s rich history in order to justify and legitimize Israel’s imperial ambitions. The only subject of biblical study became the history of ‘Ancient Israel.’ Menachem Begin said in 1969, “If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land.” The Israeli biblical discourse argues that ‘ancient Israel’ emerged in Palestine in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition, a period when Israel is considered to have taken possession of some areas in Palestine, but the history of Palestine covers two thousand years before and two thousand years after ‘Ancient Israel.’
Even in the West, the history of ‘ancient Israel’ has been a major part of the education in the schools of theology. Biblical studies in the West, according to Edward Said, have been given full weight of authority and became in many ways an extension of the Orientalist discourse that depicts the Middle East culturally backward. It has denied time and reality to the civilization of the indigenous Palestinian population who lived on the land, domesticated animals, developed advanced culture there, and traded with neighboring states before and after the ‘ancient Israel’. Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign Minister and the author of the 1917 infamous Balfour Declaration was an Orientalist with strong belief in the inferiority of the non-Western nations. He was making a reference to ‘ancient Israel’ when he offered Palestine as “a natural home for the Jewish people” in his Declaration.
The political significance of the archaeology in Israel is evidenced in choosing Masada for the annual swearing-in ceremony for Israeli military. Masada is a remote Palestinian mountain near the Dead Sea where according to Jewish studies, ‘few hundred besieged Jewish rebels committed mass suicide rather than surrendering to the Roman Emperor troops.’ The nationalist Israeli poet, Isaac Lamdan asked the Jews to pledged “never again shall Masada fall” as a political metaphor to urge Jewish settlers to defend modern Israel. Yigael Yadin, the archaeologist who excavated Masada wrote: “Masada represents for all of us in Israel a symbol of courage, a monument of our great national figures, heroes who chose death over a life of physical and moral serfdom. We, the descendants of these heroes, stand here today and rebuild the ruins of our people.”
If the Israelis remember Masada that allegedly took place more than two thousand years ago and needed archaeology to prove it happened, the Palestinians shall not forget the massacres of al-Qastal battle in April 1948 and Gaza wars in 2008-9 and 2012, and al-Nakba in 1947-48 with living participants and eye-witnesses to support their unfolding events. Unlike the Masada rebels who allegedly committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans, the Palestinian fighters in al-Qastal were defending villages from being ethnically cleansed against much larger and well armed Jewish military. Under the command of Abdel-Qader al-Husseini, the Palestinian fighters displayed great heroism before all were killed, guns-in-hand. Al-Qastal and its surroundings today are cleansed villages and towns, part of Israel, District of Jerusalem. Its inhabitants are among the 1948 refugees who were expelled from their homes or fled in pre-Israel Palestine.
Palestinian fighters in besieged Gaza City defended the City and the Strip against the most powerful military in the Middle East. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon order to remove all Gaza’s Jews and withdraw all Israeli military from Gaza in 2005 was a rational decision. It was an admission by the most militant Israeli leader that physical occupation of Gaza was too costly to be sustained. The Israelis discovered that the Palestinians can be bombed, blockaded and starved but not subdued.
The 2008-9 Israeli attack on Gaza’s populated area with aerial strikes, naval bombardment, artillery and missiles destroyed the city, killed more than 1300 and injuring more than 10,000, mostly civilians and children. The Israeli tanks and Cobra helicopters launched their Hellfire-missiles, but the Israeli ground forces stayed in the outskirts of the city and did not attempt the conquest of the city or the refugee camps because the outcome of such invasion would not be an easy-walk. On November 14, 2012 Israel assassinated Ahmed Ja’bari, the commander of Hamas’ military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades with a missile fired from a drone. Hamas military response was rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in defiance; Israel launched ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’, an all out war of indiscriminate shelling and bombing against Gaza infrastructure and civilian houses. Israel claims that its forces targeted more than 1,500 military sites in Gaza Strip, but that did not stop the Palestinian fighters from firing rockets toward Israeli cities and towns till a ceasefire was announced.
Like the Palestinian refugees everywhere, Gaza refugees’ hope of returning to their homes has foundered by Israel, Western governments and the incompetent Arab and Palestinian leaders. The Palestinians have the right to fight for their natural rights that have been denied for generations.
On July 5, 1950, Israel’s parliament passed the ‘Law of Return’ that allows any Jewish person to become an Israeli citizen upon entry into Israel. At the same time, Israel denies the Palestinian refugees right of return to their homes, farms and businesses; most of their houses have been demolished by the Israelis; and some of their houses are declared as vacant and allowed Jewish settlers to move into them.
A strong legal case can be made for the refugees’ right of return. In September 1948, Count Bernadotte officially recommended “the right of the Arab refugees return to their homes.” After the end of the 1948 war, the United Nations General Assembly issued Resolution 194 affirming the right of return for “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors.” In his book, Palestine and Israel: A challenge to Justice, Professor John Quigley writes that, “a right of return is not defeated by the fact that the area from which a person was displaced has changed in character.”
Call them freedom fighters or terrorists, the Palestinians will continue to exercise their natural rights, fighting land usurpation and oppression by the Israeli colonialists with all means until they achieve justice according to international laws. John Locke, the theorist of the 1688 English Revolution and the 1776 American Revolution wrote in his Second Treatment of Government: “……….. [if] men live together by no other rules but that of beasts, where the strongest carries it, and so [that] lay a foundation for perpetual disorder and mischief, tumult, sedition, and rebellion.”
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.