The Guardian / May 15, 2023
We can’t change the past. On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, we strive for a single state where all citizens have equal rights.
For us Palestinians, 15 May marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba (the “catastrophe” of 1948), during which about 70% of the Palestinian population was forcibly displaced and more than 500 communities were wiped out completely, in addition to the massacres committed by Zionist militias.
The Nakba of 1948 marked the destruction of the indigenous Palestinian population’s way of life and the establishment of the state of Israel. In the 1967 war, another important turning point, Israel occupied the remaining 22% of historic Palestine.
Yet, in successfully gaining control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel inadvertently unified Palestinians who joined a common struggle for freedom, self-determination, and the right of return to the lands that so many had been violently forced to flee. Certain Israeli leaders even warned of the consequences of maintaining the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The illegal Israeli occupation gradually transformed into a system of apartheid. According to Ronnie Kasrils, who was one of the Jewish leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle and a member of Nelson Mandela’s government, Israeli apartheid in Palestine is even worse than the apartheid that used to exist in South Africa.
This includes illegal colonial settlements supported by religious-nationalist fanatics like the national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, and the financeminister, Bezalel Smotrich – the latter has openly referred to himself as a “fascist homophobe”. Occupation led to apartheid and apartheid produced fascists.
In 1993, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) accepted the creation of a state on only 22% of historic Palestine. But, as we have learned bitterly through the experience of the Oslo Accords, the compromise of Palestinians has not improved the situation for our people.
Thirty years after signing the Oslo agreement between the PLO and Israel, the “two-state solution” is dead because of Israel’s continuous colonisation and de-facto annexation of Palestinian land.
This includes dozens of illegal settlements, the construction of a segregation wall (most of which was built on Palestinian land), and an Israeli political discourse that stresses there will only be one state – a “Jewish state” – between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.
It is clear that the Oslo agreements are no longer viable, and that the Palestinian Authority (PA), having been weakened and delegitimised by Israel, is isolated and severely unpopular among the general Palestinian population.
Despite all these difficulties, the younger Palestinian generation is determined to continue with the struggle for freedom. A growing number of Palestinians believe that the only solution left is a single democratic state on the whole of historic Palestine without occupation, apartheid or discrimination.
For decades, there have been Palestinian leaders and activists who have called for the establishment of one democratic state in Palestine where Jews and Palestinians can live together with equal rights.
In recent years, even as Israel’s consolidation of apartheid has become increasingly blatant, Europe and the United States have continued to pressure Palestinians to accept a two-state solution that perpetuates inequality and suffering, with no regard to our right to self-determination and without any serious effort to stop settlement building.
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Nothing can justify settler colonialism that is harmful to both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. Confronted with a project aimed at the elimination of the Palestinians as a nation, we have remained resilient, determined not to give up our homeland.
We remain committed to the fight for freedom, and to a struggle for the creation of a just and democratic society that benefits all people without discrimination.
Today, 75 years after the Nakba, more than 6 million Palestinian refugees are unable to return to their homeland. Meanwhile, the number of Palestinians in the land of historic Palestine is at least equal to the number of Jewish Israelis.
This painful anniversary, and horrendous present reality, must compel western policymakers and civil society leaders to think outside stale paradigms. We cannot change the past, but the only solution for a post-apartheid future is a single democratic state where all citizens have equal rights and equal duties.
Mustafa Barghouti is leader of the Palestinian National Initiative