A week and a century like no other

A week and a century like no other
6 min read
14 May, 2021
Comment: Rami Khouri witnesses a shift in the way Israel's occupation is understood and talked about on the global stage, and considers its implications for Palestinians and Israel.
'This week stands apart from anything that has come before' writes Rami Khouri [Getty]
The rapid-fire events and widespread violence that started in Sheikh Jarrah and spread to all Palestine and Israel this week seem like just another round of the same dynamics we have witnessed for decades: An occupied Arab population resists a powerful Israeli occupier that uses disproportionate military force in Gaza and Jerusalem that results in hundreds killed and wounded.

But this week is different.

It stands apart from anything that has come before; but it also reflects and repeats everything that has come before in the century-long Palestinian-Israeli and Arabism-Zionism conflicts.

Everything of consequence that has happened since 1920 also happened this week - from Israel's massive military attacks, sieges, and ethnic cleansing of civilians by force or judicial decrees in order to judaize Jerusalem, to popular resistance by Palestinian civilians, military resistance by Hamas in Gaza, and clashes and lynchings between Arab and Jewish Israelis.

None of this is new, nor are the spontaneous popular rallies of support for Palestinians across the region and the world, or even a few joint rallies by Arab and Jewish Israelis demanding coexistence with equal rights.

But this week is different.

For along with the military, political, demographic and civilian events we are used to witnessing, new elements on the scene indicate that this may be the beginning of a historic turning point in the Arabism-Zionism conflict that has spanned three centuries - since the birth of the Zionist movement in 1897 to create a Jewish state in Palestine.

Everything of consequence that has happened since 1920 also happened this week

This week is different and also significant because four new elements have emerged that could change the course of events in the years ahead.

The first important development is that Israel and the word "apartheid" are now routinely mentioned together in discussions around the region and the world.

This is Zionism's nightmare, because all Israel's nuclear bombs and American support are helpless in the face of an anti-Israeli apartheid global struggle that would mimic the mobilisation that ended the white South African apartheid system three decades ago.

Recent Israeli and international reports by the Israeli group B'Tselem 
and Human Rights Watch verified Israel's apartheid system that many have only hinted at to date. The apartheid word was used because of Israel's systematic and institutional discrimination against Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, live under its occupation, or have been refugees in exile since the creation of the state in 1948.

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Second, this common global coupling of Israeli policies with apartheid is troubling for Israel because of two growing international trends: popular demonstrations this week across the entire world supporting Palestinian rights, and the expanding global support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel non-violently for its persecution of Palestinians.

The Palestine issue now stands in the global popular political consciousness alongside the three other big international issues - climate change, Black Lives Matter, and women's equality. Israel and Zionists should be concerned, because their ability to hide their colonial and racist crimes against Palestinians is now exposed for all to see and to counter politically.

The third historic new development this week has seen Palestinian men and women appearing in the global mainstream and social media to tell their own story - no longer filtered by gatekeepers who have allowed the Israeli narrative to dominate the world's public sphere for the past century.

This started when Palestinians - often in real time social media video - showed the world Zionist and Israeli state practices of ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Jarrah has been a real-time living lesson in the colonial subjugation of Palestinians

More importantly, Palestinians routinely explain to the world that Zionist armed gangs before 1948 and the Israeli state since then have practiced such forced evictions and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian civilians for the past century, in order to make room for Jewish immigrants.

The fourth and most important new dynamic this week has seen these three elements above combine to force a global public discussion of how the settler-colonial practices that Israel is using in Sheikh Jarrah have been used by the Zionist movement and the state of Israel since their inception over a century ago.

Interested people around the world, who wonder why Israelis and Palestinians re-ignite their battle every few years in ever more destructive forms, can see for the first time ever this week on their television or computer screens how it happened. How the 1897 Zionist settler-colonial project succeeded in creating the Israeli state in 1947 on land from which it forcibly expelled Palestinians, and continues to expand with new colonies and settlements in occupied Arab lands.

The moves by state-supported Israeli thugs to remove Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in order to judaize that part of occupied East Jerusalem have been a real-time living lesson in the colonial subjugation of Palestinians. The world now clearly sees Israel's ethnic cleansing as illegal under international law, and how major western powers' support and quiet or acquiescent attitudes empower it.

Zionist leaders in 1915-1947 successfully lobbied the British world power then to give them a homeland-to-become-a-state in a 93 percent Arab Palestine; Israel since 1948 has mobilised the US global power to support it fully and not question its predatory brutality against Palestine and other Arab lands, such as the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

Zionism and Israel now faces the threat they feared most - united Palestinians everywhere resist

But this week is different.

For never before since 1897 has international attention to events in Palestine included continuous discussions about the role of Zionist colonial and apartheid policies in bringing the region to today's stage of recurring wars.

Never before has the US Congress seen what it witnessed on May 13, 2021, when a string of newly elected Congressmen and women spoke out for a US policy that treated Israelis and Palestinians equally.

And never before has international media coverage included so many references to seeking peace by redressing the colonial injustices of 1915-1948 that replaced a mostly Palestinian Arab land with a mostly Jewish Zionist Israel.

Israel Friday experienced the nightmare of its own making. As Palestinians in all of historic Palestine together resisted Israeli aggressions, thousands in Jordan and Lebanon symbolically crossed the borders into Israel, and tens of thousands marched in solidarity in foreign capitals.

Everywhere speakers called for sanctions and boycotts against Israeli apartheid. Zionism and Israel now faces the threat they feared most - united Palestinians everywhere resist Zionist aggression, identify it as a colonial apartheid system, and enjoy expanding international popular support.

When the fighting ends in this round, it is likely that the four dramatic new developments in the battle between Zionism and Arabism that reared their faces this week will impact attempts to resolve this long-running conflict, by finally addressing seriously the two related forces that still shape it: the colonial apartheid nature of Israel's policies, and the nonstop quest for justice by the Palestinians.

Rami G. Khouri is Director of Global Engagement and senior public policy fellow at the 
American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Middle East Initiative. 

Follow him on Twitter: @ramikhouri

Have questions or comments? Email us at editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.