The creation of Israel in 1948 is commonly referred to as the nakba: the catastrophe. It is a measure of the disaster of the Arab defeat in June 1967, when al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the Haram al-Sharif were captured that, of all the disasters that the Palestinians have suffered since 1948, that is the one known as the second nakba. This month, the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War will be marked all over the world. For Jews around the world it was a triumph, and they will welcome the fact that Israel is expected to mark the occasion by announcing new plans to consolidate its control over the Haram and East Jerusalem; for Palestinians and their many supporters, Muslim and non-Muslim, the anniversary will mark 40 years of ever-increasing suffering under zionist rule, at a time when many Palestinians, particularly those in the “open jail” of Ghazzah, are perhaps suffering greater deprivations and hardships than ever before.
Current events in Palestine can be seen as a microcosm of events over the last 40 years. Throughout this period, Israel has struggled to consolidate and legitimise its conquests, one way or another, while Palestinians have done everything possible to fight back, while consistently refusing to accept that the loss of al-Quds is permanent. At every stage there have been leaders on the Palestinian side who have argued that further resistance is futile, and have tried to persuade the Palestinians to reach a settlement on terms that would inevitably be dictated by Israel and its American allies. And at every stage the Palestinians have chosen to back those leaders who have insisted on resistance, and have called for sacrifices instead of surrender. And time and again, Israel and the West have tried to bolster “moderate” Palestinian leaders while attacking those who insist on resisting; only to find the popularity and credibility of the latter increased by their actions. And all the time, Israel has combined its attacks on the Palestinians with political, legal and military strategies to “change realities on the ground” in al-Quds, in order to make its control unchallengeable.
This is exactly what is happening now. The last part of May has seen the resumption of Israeli attacks on Hamas leaders, which had been in abeyance in recent months as Israel’s allies in the Arab world -- the Arab states -- tried to persuade Hamas to ‘moderate’ its position through proposals such as the Makkah accords. At the same time, Israel and its Western allies have tried to build up the “moderate” Palestinians in the Fatah movement, led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, in the hope that they will fight Hamas on Israel’s behalf. One of the Palestinian leadership’s greatest achievements in recent years has been the avoidance of civil war, despite massive differences between the Hamas and Fatah movements. However, as conditions have worsened in Ghazzah, subjected to inhuman economic and political restrictions by Israel, with the support and cooperation of its Western allies, conflict between Hamas and Fatah members has inevitably broken out at times. However, despite the Israelis’ best efforts, and thanks largely to the maturity of Hamas political leaders, this has not yet reached the stage of open warfare; all Palestinians, whoever they may support politically, and however angry and frustrated they may be, know that this can only play into the hands of their enemies.
It is partly to encourage this process, as well as a recognition that the attempts to “moderate” Hamas have failed, that Israel has resumed its attacks on Hamas leaders. While some have been killed by military strikes -- along with dozens of innocent by-standers, such as the eight members of the family of Hamas legislator Khalil al-Hayya, killed when missiles destroyed his home on May 21 -- others have been arrested. These have included Palestinian cabinet ministers Wasfi Kabaha and Nasser al-Shaer. The latter, interestingly, is not a member of Hamas, and has been described as a moderate who favours cooperation between Hamas and Fatah. His arrest is confirmation that Israel’s strategy is to promote conflict between the major Palestinian groups.
For years the Israelis have maintained the propaganda that they would like to make peace, if only there was a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Increasingly, however, even Western observers are recognising that Israel prefers to maintain a state of conflict because it is by far the stronger power and it uses every escalation of the war with Palestinians to legitimise its main priority: the securing of control over al-Quds and the Haram al-Sharif. As the Palestinians fight and die in Ghazzah and the West Bank, Israel is expanding its settlements east of Jerusalem, encircling the city in order to make it impossible for the Palestinians to claim it as the capital of the state that Israel has no intention of granting them.
Wars end only when one side surrenders. Israel now recognises that the Palestinians will never surrender on terms acceptable to it, and so is determined to take what it wants by force. For the Palestinians, therefore, there seems to be little alternative but more of what they have already endured for 40 long years.