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Robert Azzi: ‘A person can only be born in one place’

  • In this Tuesday, May 23, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump waves with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. AP



For the Monitor
Sunday, September 16, 2018

‘I see no other way than to begin now to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together, and sharing it in a truly democratic way, with equal rights for each citizen,” Edward Said wrote in 1999. “There can be no reconciliation unless both peoples, two communities of suffering, resolve that their existence is a secular fact, and that it has to be dealt with as such.”

Perhaps that time to begin anew has come.

Today, after years of violence, repression, oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people and their resources, the Oslo peace process, signed 25 years ago this week, is dead.

Said, in 1999, writing about the Oslo Accords, said (rightly, I believe) that they were “designed to segregate the Palestinians in noncontiguous, economically unviable enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories’ integrity.”

Abetted by betrayals and corrupt leadership on all sides, the Palestinians never had a chance. Even Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, claimed in 2001, in an interview in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ofra, that “I de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords.”

Donald Trump, who initially tried to drive a stake through Palestinian national aspirations by moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, has continued to work to delegitimize and marginalize the Palestinian people.

This month, acting in concert with the Netanyahu government and in support of his trio of settler-supporting and financing advisers, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Middle East adviser Jason Greenblatt and son-in-law Jared Kushner, he attempted to drive new stakes through the hearts of those who still aspire for Palestinian independence and freedom from oppression.

Most recently, Trump has:

Attempted to dispossess Palestinians from any right-to-return by attempting to redefine who is a Palestinian refugee;

Cut more than $200 million for humanitarian and development assistance in the occupied West Bank and Gaza;

Cut another $60 million scheduled to go to the U.N. agency running schools and health clinics;

Cut $25 million from six occupied East Jerusalem hospitals, mostly church-run, including cutting money to cover cancer treatments and other critical care;

NB: Trump to Palestinians – agree with me or drop dead.

Closed the PLO office in Washington, D.C.

And, for added measure, on Sept. 12 – one day before Oslo’s 25th anniversary – the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that would codify a 10-year, $38 billion defense aid package for Israel that was negotiated by the Obama administration – the most generous ever to Israel. The U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018, as approved, would keep any future president from reneging on the deal.

What a deal: $38 billion for arms while cutting $25 million for cancer treatment.

Why should we be surprised?

Why should anyone be surprised that a government willing to incarcerate and separate children from their parents, in concert with a government willing to authorize target practice on civilians living in the world’s largest open-air prison in Gaza, would deny identity, health and freedom to the Palestinian people.

“A person can only be born in one place,” Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote. “However, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare.”

For Trump to demand that Palestinians, living under occupation, negotiate with their occupier and oppressor is like insisting that a hostage negotiate with their hostage taker.

Or, as Israeli-British emeritus professor at Oxford University Avi Shlaim wrote in 2010, “Netanyahu is like a man who, while negotiating the division of a pizza, continues to eat it.”

Trump’s and Netanyahu’s autocratic and supremacist aspirations will likely succeed in the short run. Settlements will continue to expand on the West Bank, Palestinians will continue to be dispossessed in East Jerusalem and Gazans will continue to be killed in Gaza.

Today, as I write, three more Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, one a 12-year-old.

Today, as I write, Israeli forces are preparing to bulldoze the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar and expel its 180 residents in order to make way for the building of more illegal settlements.

This continued state of apartheid, repression, expropriation and colonization will continue for the foreseeable future. Trump and Netanyahu have the guns and the votes and are willing to sharply increase Palestinian suffering, poverty, hunger and illness in order to try to force Palestinians to submit and relinquish their national rights.

That’s not going to happen.

There will be no return to Oslo and no compromise on U.N. Resolutions 242, 338 and 194. Attempts to deny Palestinians services and to lessen their expectations, to imprison them – shame and wound them – will fail.

I believe the failure will turn on those who in their hubris, in their arrogance and inhumanity, tried to force a people with legitimate aspirations into submission.

It is the understanding of humanity that while the days of colonialism, imperialism and apartheid are not yet over, in the long run those forces of injustice will succumb – as the French did in Algeria, the British in India, the Americans in Vietnam – to those who resist in order to claim their identity, dignity and honor.

“For a colonized people,” Frantz Fanon – who resisted in Algeria – wrote in The Wretched of the Earth, “the most essential value . . . is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com. On Sept. 17, at South Congregational Church, 27 Pleasant St., Concord, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. he will be offering a PowerPoint presentation titled “President Jefferson’s Quran: A History of Islam in America” as part of Welcoming Week: https://concordnhmulticulturalfestival.org/welcoming-week.)