Like every year, Palestinians pray that this is the last year they will have to spend under occupation. June 5 marks the 44th year the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem have been under Israeli control, captured in the 1967 War. Just last month, Palestinians commemorated an equally if not more devastating occasion, the 1948 Nakba, when most of Palestine fell to Israeli hands, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees and the State of Israel was created.
The two wars in which Palestinians lost their country created huge injustices for the indigenous population, injustices which have yet to be rectified. The refugee issue, largely created in 1948 has left over five million Palestinians refugees, both outside of Palestine and in refugee camps within its borders. Today, the right of return continues to be a demand Palestinians insist on and one that Israel refuses completely.
In 1967 or Al Naksa [the setback], Palestinians again fell under Zionist rule, this time losing something near and dear to their hearts –” Jerusalem. While east Jerusalem remains under occupation – Israel’s unilateral annexation of it deemed illegal in the eyes of the international community – over the years, Israel has carried out a systematic and long-term policy of “judaizing” the city. This includes land and house takeovers, settlement building, a heavy military presence in the eastern sector and the gradual but palpable encroachment of ideological Jewish settlers into pockets of Arab Palestinian communities throughout east Jerusalem.
The West Bank and Gaza suffer no less. The West Bank, also occupied territory, has been swallowed up, mountaintop by mountaintop by Jewish settlements. Today their population reaches over 300,000 [another 200,000 live in settlements around Jerusalem]. The separation wall has cut into huge swathes of West Bank land, also illegally, and checkpoints between West Bank cities and Israel plague just about every Palestinian.
However, no matter how desperate the situation seems and how dire the conditions get, Palestinians never give up hope or their struggle. On June 5, instead of calling a general strike or holding a symbolic sit in, hundreds of Palestinians marched to flashpoints with Israel. At Qalandiya checkpoint, Palestinians peacefully marched and protested at the barrier, vowing to walk to Jerusalem “in the millions.” They were met with tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and water hoses.
In the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, some 20 people were killed when they marched on the border with Israel, refugees and Syrians separated by the war wanting to return home. The scene was reminiscent of last month’s marches for Al Nakba, determined Palestinians willing to risk their lives for the chance to walk on the soil of Palestine.
It is days like these that allow hope to continue in all of our Palestinian hearts. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have squashed any chances of a negotiated resolution to the conflict, the determination in the hearts of those brave souls will keep the dream alive. Days like yesterday and May 15 are reminders that Palestinians have not accepted the status quo, do not take Israel’s oppression and injustice lying down and will fight tooth and nail to win their freedom.
And in spite of the reality in which we live –” the growing settlements, the continued killing, the land confiscations, the home demolitions, the expulsions from Jerusalem and the denial of the painful history that put us where we are today –” we are not without a future. Israel tries to avoid days that commemorate Al Nakba and Al Naksa, not because it is worried about the loss of Palestinian life, but because it does not want the truth it has tried to distort for so many years to reach the world. And each time television screens bleep images of unarmed Palestinians resisting gun-toting, teargas throwing and baton wielding Israel soldiers trying to stop people from returning to their rightful homes, that truth will gradually seep its way into the minds and consciousness of the world’s citizens.
This may not be the year our prayers are answered. But they will be answered. Of this, there is no doubt.