Op-Ed: Palestinian thirst for dignity and justice

Dear Tufts colleague Mr. Benjamin Shapiro,

First, I would like to publicly acknowledge your Op-Ed that was published in the Tufts Daily on Dec. 6, 2017, entitled “Fletcher Israel Trek: Promoting Diplomacy, Diversity and Accuracy,” in which you reacted and contested my own Op-Ed that was issued on the same newspaper on Nov. 15, 2017, under the title “Israel Academic Treks: single narrative at the service of occupation.”

Your op-ed is a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion about the Israeli/Arab-Palestinian conflict in our esteemed Tufts academic institution. I believe that it is vital to highlight first and foremost what unites us here as a Tufts community rather than what risks to divide us.

Second, as you can imagine, I have profound intellectual disagreements with your understanding of the historical episodes that contributed to the current situation in the Middle East. I will not accuse you that you have demonstrated a lack of understanding of the conflict as you stated regarding my thoughts and ideas.

Instead, I will do my best to explain why your perspective is inherently biased, desperately aligned with the 19th century European colonial project that culminated in the Zionist colonial conquest of Palestine and most importantly why your op-ed is just another mere propaganda campaign that prolongs one of the current democratically elected but nerveless terrorist, racist and criminal Israeli Government which through its policies and tactics represents an existential threat to our shared values of freedom of speech and academic freedom, self-determination and equality between all human beings regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, color or sexual orientation.

The Balfour Declaration and the U.S. extension to include Jerusalem, is rooted in a racist ideology. Israel is a European colonial settlement established by the British government and now sustained by imperialism and neo-colonial powers. From the Babylonians to the Persians to the Romans, down to the Crusaders, the Ottomans and the British: Palestine has been ruled by successive empires, none of which have had any legitimate claim over the inhabitants of Palestine: Jews, Christians, Muslims and non-believers. The supporters of the Zionist movement around the world have no legal or historic right to immigrate, confiscate and claim lands that belong to the only indigenous people of Palestine. Christians and Muslims, too, trace their archaeological history to thousands of years ago in the selfsame Palestine. That does not entitle them to declare a Christian or Islamic republic in Palestine.

There is no country in the world which bases its identity on the replacement of the legitimate inhabitants of a land by another ethnic group that self-declared its absolute right to grab lands by force in denial of international law. Your claim that the Palestinians will never earn their freedom as long as they lack democratic representation is yet another illustration of the neo-colonial, neo-liberal narrative that brought chaos, destruction and radicalism to the Middle East and North Africa region in the name of democratization and human rights.

It is not up to you, nor to me or to the British or American leaders of yesterday, today or tomorrow, to decide the capital, borders or the system of governance of the people that live thousands of miles away from here and have never meddled into our interior affairs.

Palestine belongs to Palestinians, not to Muslims, Jews or Christians. In a democratic society, there is nothing called a Muslim, Jewish or a Christian state. Regarding the alleged democratic, vigorous, equal and success story that you claim Israel has become, I have the regret to have to remind you of what you describe as Arab-Muslims in Israel are denied the right of return to their villages from where they were expelled.

The concept of community settlement is just one example of the same kind of segregation and apartheid that existed in South Africa. In these villages, non-Jewish Israeli citizens and particularly Arabs are denied the right to own a house or business. In East Jerusalem, since 1967, Palestinians are essentially stateless, stuck in legal limbo, as they are not citizens of Israel, nor are they citizens of Palestine. Israel treats Palestinians in East Jerusalem as foreign immigrants who live there as a favor granted to them by the state and not by right, despite having been there before the arrival of the first Zionist. They are required to fulfill a certain set of requirements to maintain their residency status and live in constant fear of having their residency revoked or attacked by extremist settlers.

In occupied Palestine, even water is used as a tool of domination. Water consumption figures are telling: While Israelis have access to around 240 liters of water per person per day, and illegal settlers over 300, Palestinians in the West Bank are left with 73 liters — well below the World Health Organization’s minimum standard of 100. These cases of three different categories of native Palestinians living under Israel discrimination policies will hopefully make you reconsider your assessment of the state of democracy in Israel.

It is unbelievable to blame, as you did, Palestinians for not living in an egalitarian society when even their movements from one village to another are left to the discretion of the daily mood of an occupation soldier.

Moreover, and despite these historical facts, Palestinians and Arabs remain committed to the peace of the brave. The Arab peace initiativthat was unanimously endorsed by all 22 Arab countries in 2002, remains, until today, a historic compromise that can achieve lasting peace and reconciliation in the region. The proposal assures Israel of normalizing relations with all Arab countries, in exchange for a full withdrawal from the Arab occupied territories, including East Jerusalem and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee question. This peace initiative has, since its endorsement, been politically ignored by the successive Israeli governments and on the ground with more illegal settlements in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, an entire blockade of the Gaza Strip and reinforcement of the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. It is worth here, to mention the courageous words of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who declared at the United Nations General Assembly tribune on Nov. 13, 1974: “Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

Regarding Israel Academic Treks, your words such as Ramallah is the: “de facto capital of Palestine,” or you cannot think of a better place than Ramallah to achieve a vision of Palestine for Fletcher students, and “exposure to Palestinians,” have been the ultimate offenses. I would like to remind you again that it’s not up to you to decide anything regarding the brave people of Palestine. Thanks to your Op-Ed, Fletcher students know now better than any time in the past, from an Israel supporter, that claims of impartiality and balance in these programs are state of denial or hallucination and that the government of Israel is deliberately targeting them for the service of its well-documented agenda of occupation and domination.

Finally, I will end by a quote delivered by a leader, apparently, we both admire, Nelson Mandela: “No power in this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity.”

Best regards,

Mohamed Nabil Bennaidja

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