I am writing from London, where in the last month there have been an unprecedented amount of protests campaigning for Palestine to be freed, mirroring those that have taken place in almost every other major city on earth. Crowds have chanted “Free, Free Palestine” whilst lifting placards through London’s most prestigious shopping and tourist zones, along with the ever-popular “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free”, which incidentally calls for the destruction of the State of Israel within it’s not-so-thinly-veiled subtext.
The problem with the phrase ‘Free Palestine’ shouted at rallies, printed onto posters, and appearing on car stickers is that, essentially, it creates a false reality; it makes no sense. It ignores what has come before us in the annuls of history. It’s easy to forget when engulfed in tsunamis of factually incorrect hysteria and hastily designed info-graphics on facebook, that reality is rather important. In order to free something, firstly it must exist, and secondly it must be held captive. The State of Palestine, although recognized in principle as a member state by the majority of other members states within the UN, did not exist when these lands became controlled by Israel. According to historical fact as opposed to emotive frenzy, Palestine was not captured by Israel. Palestine has historically been a geographical region, but never a self-governing political entity, a country if you will, for the Palestinian people.
It is currently divided onto two separate pieces of territory, with two different majority governments, without an internationally recognized Independence Day, and without the official recognition or endorsement of the other country with which it shares a tiny swathe of land, Israel. The historic Declaration of Principles, signed in 1994 and made iconic by the famous handshake between Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, President Clinton almost pushing them towards one another, made clear that the steps towards the creation of a Palestinian State shouldn’t be unilateral but must also allow for the security of the State of Israel.
If you are of a certain persuasion, and are sharpening your metaphorical pencils to accuse me of denying the Palestinians the right to a country they can call home, please know this: I support the creation of a Palestinian State. Friends, it’s important to clarify that the State of Palestine will be established, alongside the State of Israel; there are millions of Israelis and millions of Palestinians living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and nobody is going anywhere anytime soon. A two-state solution is in practical terms, the greatest hope for peace and prosperity across the region.
However, chanting that Palestine should be “freed” simply serves to turn a blind eye to history, and further imply that the only reason there isn’t a Palestinian State, an independent country that offers self-determination to the Palestinian people, is that Israel once again is exclusively at fault.
Judging by the unprecedented levels of vitriol and diplomatic pack-hunting of Israel within the international community, one would be forgiven for thinking that Palestine had been an established nation state since the beginning of time, and Israel simply waltzed in to eradicate it in 1948 or 1967. The simple truth is that, rightly or wrongly, a nation state of Palestine has never existed. I also ask what are these many thousands of people are campaigning to free Palestine from? Israel? Duplicitous Governance? Hamas? Blockades? Iranian influence? Or is this a plea for diaspora Palestinians to be freed from refugee camps in a wealthy Arab world that has not sought to integrate their Palestinian brethren, and their offspring, in the last 66 years? It may even be a plea to free the historic geographical area of Palestine from Jews.
Palestine was a swathe of land ruled by many different empires in the last 3000 years. There is debate surrounding the origins of the word ‘Palestine’, many believe it to be derived from the Hebrew word ‘Peleshet’, translated to mean “rolling” or “migratory,” the term was used to describe the inhabitants of the land to the northeast of Egypt… the Philistines.
From the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, from the Byzantine period to the Babylonian Empire, from the Roman Empire all the way through to the Ottoman Empire – none had ever thought to create an independent country called Palestine, in which the people of Palestine can prosper under their own self-determination, with their own government. If the State of Israel is an occupier of the Palestinian people, then logic dictates that every one of the parties that came before it were also occupiers.
Friends, the closest that the Palestinian people had ever come to their own sovereign state was the UN Partition Plan of 1947, whereby the UN offered the Jewish inhabitants a state and the Arab inhabitants a state, the land partitioned in a practical way according to the population demographics of the time. The Jewish Agency accepted the plan, despite dissatisfaction with numerous parts of it. The Arab parties did not, and tragically the Palestinian people henceforth became a pawn with which the Arab world could accuse, and abuse, Israel. Egyptian diplomat Azzam Pasha said of the Jews, “We will sweep them into the sea”. The Syrian president, Shukri al-Quwatli, stated: “We shall eradicate Zionism”. Egyptian King Farouk told the American ambassador to Egypt, “In the long run the Arabs would soundly defeat the Jews and drive them out of Palestine”.
Fast-forward to the moment the State of Israel took control of Judea and Samaria, now commonly referred to at the West Bank (as it’s the Western Bank of the River Jordan) and Gaza, in the Six Day War of 1967. Gaza had been occupied by Egypt for twenty years. President Nasser had established the ‘All-Palestine Government’, a politically impotent organization relying on Egypt for power or responsibility. Nasser then dissolved this and officially merged it with the short-lived United Arab Republic. References to an independent Gaza were removed and Egyptian administration was enforced. Nasser had effectively annulled any Palestinian claim to self-determination in Gaza. As far as I am aware, there was no international outcry denouncing Nasser for denying the right of Palestinians to their own country, no ‘Free Gaza’ demonstrations in London.
Jordan had annexed the West Bank for twenty years, no Jordanian government in that time had offered the Palestinians the opportunity of self-determination either, instead they offered Jordanian citizenship. Remember, these are Arab states, denying their Palestinian brothers the right to call their home the State of Palestine.
This brings us to today, to London, to Vancouver, to Sydney, to Paris. Angry protests calling for Palestine to be “freed”, where we see the burning of Israel flags, and the unfortunate amalgamation with the historic and baseless hatred of Jews when some protestors hold signs with slogans such as ‘Hitler Was Right’ and ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas.’ In practical terms, hatred and hysteria will not help the Palestinian cause, nor garner much support from Jewish people or co-operation from the State of Israel.
This did not set out to be a historical overview of the piece of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. The Palestinian people will achieve self-determination, and have waited a long time for this right to be fulfilled. I do not profess that Israel has always done everything it can to bring self-determination to the Palestinians, nor that the Palestinian leadership has always acted in the best interests of their own people.
Creating a nation state is not easy, nor is it simple… especially in the Middle East with the current climate of vitriol and mistrust. However, let’s be clear, creating the State of Palestine is the challenge that lies ahead, not simply “freeing” Palestine. To shout “Free Palestine” is to not understand the complexities of history and the current political map of the region.
What the world is asking Israel, the Jewish State, to do, is to officially relinquish areas and cities that are holy to Jewish people, to potentially jeopardize its own security, and to be integral in creating a State of Palestine for the very first time in the history of the world. Israel already withdrew from Gaza, and I believe they must sit around the negotiating table with Fatah as soon as possible. The world is asking the Jewish state to do what the Romans, Babylonians, Byzantines, Ottomans, Egyptians and Jordanians have thus far refused to do… to make the State of Palestine an established and prosperous reality.
There is a massive difference between freedom and creation. Freeing something lets it go, creating something builds for a prosperous future. Denouncing Israel will not expedite or enhance this process, nor will shouting “Free Palestine”. With an upsurge of positivity to better the lives of Palestinians, and essentially a collective will to find middle ground, Palestine can be created.