Raja Shehadeh reveals Israel’s relentless pursuit of Palestinian erasure, warning that if it doesn’t accept a sovereign Palestinian nation, it will turn into a fascist state, lurching from war to war

There is no doubt that Hamas committed war crimes when its fighters massed into Israel, in the process, demeaned Palestinians who it claims to represent. But it is equally an undeniable fact that there would have been no Hamas and its documented excesses but for an unapologetic and arrogant Israel.

A country which came into being after forcibly usurping land from Palestinians and forcing them to exile is now bombing Gaza out of existence, seemingly without a care. There is no sign now — nine bloody months after the latest round of bloodbath began — when, if it all, the misery raining on the mass of unarmed Palestinians will end. Despite more and more countries turning against Israel, will the Jewish state ever learn to live in peace with Palestinians?

This is the question leading Palestinian writer, lawyer and human rights activist Raja Shehadeh (72) asks. In What Does Israel Fear from Palestine?, published by London’s Profile Books (by Hachette in India). He admits the future looks bleak for the majority of Palestinians not aligned with Hamas and equally for the Israelis who are powerless to stop their country’s shameless military blitzkrieg. But Shehadeh sees a narrow silver lining.

“Looking back at the history of the region, it is only after great upheavals that hopeful consequences follow,” he writes, referring to how the difficult years of the First Intifada led to the 1991 Madrid peace conference involving Israel and Palestinians which in turn resulted in the Oslo Accords two years later. Beyond this, however, the author himself seems to be staring at a dark future although he doesn’t say so in so many words.

Palestine: A story of colonialism, not occupation

You can’t blame him for despairing despite being an optimist. The bottom line is that Israel, too proud of its military superiority, has never shown any hunger for genuine peace with Palestinians. After Israel was founded in 1948 in collusion with Britain, Israeli leaders worked for the absolute dissolution of Palestine in every sense of the term. Israel ensured that the Palestinians who fled never returned. Every war led to the occupation of more and more Palestinian and Arab territory. Israel also imposed its will on Gaza and the West Bank, making their so-called autonomy meaningless.

This is why, Shehadeh argues, the present relationship between Israel and the Palestinian territories is more akin to colonialism than occupation. In the West Bank, where the author resides, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs live side by side, subject to different laws and legal systems. Whereas temporary military occupation can be justified as essential and even legal, colonialism and apartheid are illegal and undemocratic.

The 1993 Oslo Accords raised a lot of hope but ended as a failure because Israel was not ready to treat Yasser Arafat and Palestinians as equals. Eventually, disgruntled Palestinians came to view the pact as a surrender document. Hamas was in the forefront of the opposition.

The Zionist plan to reoccupy Gaza Strip

Under the Oslo Accords, Gaza and the West Bank were to become one integral unit. Israel saw to it that they remained separate. The electoral takeover of Gaza by Hamas, leaving the Palestinian Authority, a pale shadow of the original Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO, in control of the West Bank helped Tel Aviv. To ensure that they remained separate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed Qatar in 2018 to make monthly payments of $15 million in cash-filled suitcases to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas used a part of it for development but diverted enough to build winding and solid underground tunnels to the later shock of the Israeli military and its supposedly all-knowing intelligence agencies. In the meantime, Israeli politicians could say the Palestinians were divided and there was no one they could talk to.

Israel only needed a pretext to bomb Gaza. In 2008, it launched a military operation that left over 1,300 Palestinians dead. In 2014, Israel dropped 20,000 tonnes of explosives on an area of 365 square kilometres over 50 days, killing 2,251 Palestinians. Israeli air raids on Gaza in 2021 killed at least 260 people in 11 days. Israeli planes killed more than 30 Palestinians in 2022. In the ongoing war in Gaza, nearly 35,000 people have already perished, a vast majority of them women and children, and the bloodbath shows no signs of ending soon. Gaza is devastated.

You are wrong if you think Israel’s determination to wipe out Hamas had its origin in the October 2023 attack by the group. Even before the bloody 2014 war got over, Israeli historian Benny Morris betrayed the Zionist mindset when he wrote: “We are talking about reoccupying the entire Gaza Strip and destroying Hamas as a military organisation, and perhaps also as a political one. This will require months of combat, during which the Strip will be cleaned, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, of Hamas and Israeli Jihad operatives and armaments.” What Israel is now doing is what it could not do in 2014.

The elusive quest for peace

So, is there any hope for peace in the region? The author rightly blames the US for not doing enough to put pressure on Israel, its client state. He also finds fault with Western powers which sanction individual Israeli settlers without linking their actions to the Israeli state and army. Any future negotiations for a two-state solution, Shehadeh is convinced, must involve not just the US, because it is not a neutral party, but other major powers. too.

Notwithstanding the author’s amazing hope for a better tomorrow, it is difficult to see Israeli rulers making a U-turn and embracing Palestinians. Forget Gaza, even in the West Bank, after decades of pursuing settlement projects, Israel has left little room for Palestinians to establish their state.

But the book warns that if Israel does not accept a fully sovereign Palestinian state, it will be transformed into an openly fascist and racist state that will lurch from war to war. One cannot but agree. An Israel that does not accept peace with Palestinians will remain forever under siege. The death of Yasser Arafat and the political pauperisation of the PLO did not lead to peace; the possible demise of the Hamas and its leaders also will not result in peace for Israel.

Next Story