The human body is an amazing creation. It’s not only the most complex system known to mankind, but it embodies within it signals that tell its owner that something has gone wrong. A similar signaling system exists in political bodies. Those tasked with reading the signals–be they individuals, physicians or politicians–can choose to consciously ignore the warning signs. The Middle East peace process between Palestinians and Israelis has been emitting SOS signals for decades, but only recently are those signals being received and analyzed for what they are transmitting- -a clear and irreversible message that the entire paradigm of “two states for two peoples” has collapsed.
Like doctors who peddle medications instead of practicing medicine, many politicians are under the influence of their narrow political interests and prefer not to call situations by their name. After so many years of failure–political, legal, diplomatic and economic–those who are paid to diagnose and treat reality are being replaced with voices from all corners of the world, voices convincingly making the case that the entire premise undertaken by the Palestine Liberation Organization, starting as far back as 1974, is no longer feasible. Continue reading →
More than any other time in the history of Palestine, there is an urgent and critical need for regime change. Let us not allow the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah efforts to secure “full recognition” at the UN from the urgent need of a regime change.
This PLO/Fatah regime, perhaps the longest running political and criminal regime and enterprise in the Middle East, much longer than Saddam Hussein Ba’athist regime, much longer than Bashar/Hafez Assad Ba’athist regime, much longer than Hosni Mubarak regime, much longer than Muamar Gaddafi regime.
This regime more than any thing else, is responsible for the reckless behavior in Jordan leaving long suffering on Palestinians in Jordan, directly responsible for the Palestinian exile from Kuwait causing immeasurable suffering and losses to more than 350,000 Palestinians. This regime simply abandoned Palestinian refugees in Lebanon leaving a weaken community to the mercy of Israel and its allies in Lebanon and never looked back and sought redress for the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla and in Tal-Za’ater.
This regime squanders tens of billions that remained unaccounted for, was never accountable to any one, never representative of any one, never elected by any one, it is regime that is self serving, self promoting , abusive of civil and human rights and in the service of the Jewish Occupation.
“How is it that by virtue of being Palestinian I am told that my ‘sole legitimate representative’ is an organization I have never subscribed to, am not a member of, and have never voted for?” These words by Samah Sabawi, the Public Advocate for Australians for Palestine best describe the feelings of millions of Palestinians around the world who questions the legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership seeking recognition for its “state” under Jewish Occupation, a “ Bantustan” a state it negotiated to manage for and on behalf of the Jewish Occupation in Oslo.
Mahmoud Abbas’ PLO regime is no different from the illegitimate and much discredited regimes of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, Bin Ali’s Tunisia, Bashar Assad’s Syria or Gaddafi’s Libya. It was never voted on by the people inside and outside of Palestine, it never sought legitimacy from the people it claims to represent; it never made any efforts to allow free and democratic representation and always sought its “legitimacy” from outside, from organizations such as the Arab League and of course from Israel under Oslo Accord.
Over the years, the PLO and its leadership past and present proved to be a total failure, a fraud, a big lie, a “liberation” that was never there and a ‘liberation’ that was never achieved.
True, there was armed popular resistance specially while the leadership was in Lebanon, however the leadership never played a key and critical role in the fight against Israel with most of the fight and dying was done by young men and women committed to the liberation of Palestine.
While the fighting men were dying, the leadership enjoyed the good life in the hotels and brothels of Beirut, East Berlin, Prague, Moscow, Warsaw, Budapest and Baghdad among many of the places, looting the people’s treasury. Keeping in mind more Palestinians died in inter-factional fighting than in fighting Israel. Those “leaders” who survived Israeli assassinations came back to manage the Jewish Occupation!
From its inception in Jerusalem back in 1964 under the auspices of the Arab League, the PLO never lived up to its Fundamental Law as representative of all Palestinians, in Occupied Palestine, in the Occupied West Bank, in the Diaspora and in the many refugee camps in the Middle East.
The PLO regime, never made any efforts to organize direct elections, as the Iraqi government did in post Saddam (even in host countries that would allow such vote), never made efforts to seek directly its legitimacy from the people but opted to and for archaic system of proportional representation “quota” with trade unions, student unions, and “member organization” selecting their membership to the Palestine National Council (PLC), with the PNC in turn selecting the 18 members of the PLO Executive Committee. The Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine never voted for the PNC and subsequently the PLO and its present Executive Committee of Mahmoud Abbas, of Hanan Ashrawi, of Yasser Abed-Rabou of Saeb Erekat, have no legitimacy whatsoever.
Of course Oslo Accord, criminally, recklessly and incompetently negotiated by the Palestinian Trio of Arafat, Abbas & Qurai, never had authorization from the PNC and was negotiated in secret even from members of the PLO Executive Committee.
Oslo Accord turned the PLO from a “Liberation” organization to a “management company” for the Jewish Occupation, with the PLO giving full and unconditional recognition of the State of Israel with open un-defined borders. Oslo never defined the legal status of the West Bank as “occupied”, failed to define the legal status of Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and of course totally ignored the Jewish Settlements. Oslo granted Israel the total and unconditional control over 58% of the Occupied Territories (Area C).
The PLO leadership also failed to include a key and critical issues of “framework of reference” from negotiations unilaterally voiding and cancelling the applicability of all international treaties, conventions, UN Security Council and UN Resolutions, and bilaterally committing to negotiations with Israel under the rules of “mutual agreement” over the final outcome of “final status” thus giving Israel a “veto”. Oslo of course excluded the key issue of refugees, excluded East Jerusalem, and Jewish Settlements, leaving these issues to the mutual agreement of Israel. That is why 20 years of negotiations and “peace process” led to nowhere.
While the PLO leadership formally committed to “bilateral negotiations” of the final status, the PLO granted to and ceded to Israel the absolute rights of “unilateral” actions on the ground including building of settlements, setting up Jewish Only Roads, setting up “security checkpoints” targeted killings, home destructions among many of the rights granted to Israel under Oslo, acts of treasons at best.
The late Yasser Arafat even went further when in the exchanged letters with Rabin termed the military and armed resistance of the PLO as acts of terror and violence. Under Oslo, Arafat committed to the safety and security of Israeli citizens both members of the Israeli Army and armed Jewish Settlers terrorists in the Occupied Territories.
Arafat made the security of the Jewish Occupation his priority, making funding, organizing and managing the Palestinian Security Forces as his top priority. That priority remained the same under Mahmoud Abbas.
Arafat and the Palestinian leadership desperate to restock and refund its bank accounts having squandered tens of billions, stolen, fleeced and recklessly “invested” negotiated a deal that allowed the PLO/Fatah to take over the operational expense and funding the civil and administrative parts of the Jewish Occupation, while Israel kept its Jewish Occupation as is. The PLO regime over the years saved Israel at least some $50 Billions since Oslo.
Oslo Accord called for the establishment of the “Palestinians Interim Self-Government Authority” or the PA. The establishment of the PA reduced and marginalized the role of the PLO and the PNC, while at the same time substantially increasing the role and power of Fatah as the effective Palestinian regime in Ramallah.
The 1977 election of Hamas as the majority within the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) endangered the role of Fatah as a regime and as a direct financial beneficiary of the Jewish Occupation. Overt and covert cooperation with Israel, with the US, with Jordan and Egypt ended the short-term government of Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas effectively aborting the people’s vote as head of the PA suspended the PLC and began to rule with “executive orders”. Keeping in mind his term as “president” expired few years back, yet he continued to run and manage the PA.
With Fatah losing the election, the role of the PLO once again became important, critical and central to the return of Fatah regime to power with the argument that Hamas win, did not mean that Hamas is representative of the people and this role is exclusive to the PLO as the “sole and legitimate representative of the people”.
The questionable legal status and claims of the PLO as the “ sole and legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people is on its own is more than enough for the demand of a regime change.
Over the years and since its inception, the PLO leadership ran what can be termed as “armed racketeering mafia” whether this was the case in Lebanon before or after the “exile” from Lebanon, or while in Tunis, certainly the PLO/Fatah ran and is running a mafia in the Palestinian Authority with Fatah being the financial beneficiary of such racketeering operation. This is evident in the refugee camps in the West Bank and in Lebanon. It is evident in the economic and financial control and power of PLO/Fatah “associates” having substantial financial interest and control over the economy within the Palestinian territories.
Moreover the PLO and Fatah over the years never made any serious efforts to build and establish “governing institutions” leaving that task to Salam Fayyad who began to work on establishing such “governing institutions” only in the last few years. What were the PLO and Fatah doing all these years, they did not liberate, and at least they could have worked on “governing institutions”?
More troublesome is the systematic corruption reaching epidemic proportion that characterizes the nature and operation of the PLO/PA/Fatah without any serious efforts to tackle this problem and without serious efforts to recover the hundreds of millions stolen or unaccounted for since Oslo. So far no one is calling for a full accounting of the tens of the billions fleeced and disappeared from the Palestinian treasury from inception of the PLO to Oslo. Without going back to the tens of billions that simply disappeared from the Palestinian treasury.
By all accounts the PLO/PA/Fatah ran a regime not so different from the police state of Hosni Mubarak or Saddam Hussein or Bashar Assad or Bin Ali or even Muamar Gaddafi, with arbitrary arrests and detentions of citizen mostly on “political charges” with systematic use of torture, lacking independent judiciary, lacking the very basic of rights for the accused and defendants, borrowing much of the legal process from Israel and the “Mandate Laws” even using Jordanian legal system which too is lacking the basic and fundamental rules of fairness and justice. The PLO/PA/Fatah used brutal police to disburse peaceful protest and prevent peaceful assembly if that assembly is against the regime.
In conclusion, the PLO/PA/Fatah regime, not only failed to liberate, it became a managing partner for the Jewish Occupation, saving Israel tens of billions of dollars in operational costs. The PLO/PA/Fatah regime became a partner and security agent to the safety and security of the Israeli Army and the Jewish armed settlers and terrorists.
The PLO/PA/Fatah never took any measures and efforts to implement the International Court of Justice ruling of the “illegality” of the Jewish Apartheid Wall. It never took any effective measures to bring about the end of the siege of Gaza leaving that to Turkey to challenge such siege, made such a mess of the Goldstone undermining efforts to bring criminal charges against Israel and its leadership, the negotiating partners of Abbas, Quari and Erekat. It hindered efforts to establish a Palestine Documentation Center to establish a database of refugees and their properties inside Israel leading to efforts that allowed filing of legal claims of refugees to sue and recover their properties inside Israel as the Jews did in Europe.
The PLO/PA/Fatah regime failed to build solid transparent and effective governing institutions. It squandered tens of billions that remains unaccounted for, it runs a police state no different from that of Hosni Mubarak, or Bashar Assad, and most of all it lacks the legitimacy that only the people, the citizens can grant to such regime.
The PLO/PA/Fatah systematically failed to provide safety and security for the Palestinians citizens and property from confiscation, attacks and destructions by the IDF and armed settlers. The PLO/PA/Fatah totally neglected the needs and interests of the Palestinians Diaspora whether in the refugee camps in Lebanon or Syria, or in the makeshifts camps of Palestinians exiled from Iraq. It simply failed at every thing and that is enough to justify a regime change in Palestine.
Sami Jamil Jadallah
Sami Jamil Jadallah is an international legal and business consultant and is the founder and director of Palestine Agency and Palestine Documentation Center www.palestineagency.com and founder and owner of several business in technology and services. Sami also runs an online website (Jefferson Corner). His articles are also featured on PalestineNote and Veterans Today.
Born in the Palestinian city of El-Bireh ( presently under Israeli Military Occupation, Armed Jewish thugs and settlers). Immigrated to the US in 62. After graduating from high school in Gary, Indiana was drafted into the US Army ( 66-68) received the Leadership Award from the US 6th Army NCO Academy in Ft. Lewis, Washington. Five of us brothers where in US military service about the same time. Graduated from Indiana University with BA-72, Master of Public Affairs-74 and Juris Doctor-77, and in senior year at IU,was elected Chairman of the Indiana Student Association.
The Israeli government’s sigh of relief was surely heard around the globe. When the rift between Palestinian factions existed, Israel simply brushed off any possibility for resolution of the conflict, claiming that the Palestinian president was simply too weak to implement any agreement as along as Hamas was in control of Gaza. Then, taking all by surprise, the two largest Palestinian factions declared an end to their five-year disunity and signed a reconciliation agreement brokered by the post-Mubarak Egyptian government. The agreement itself reads more like a power-sharing agreement, something every living democracy knows very well. However, before the ink on the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement was dry, Israel opened its worn out play script and started reading from past chapters; this time the Israeli kneejerk reaction–within hours–was that there is no way to make peace with Palestinians as long as Hamas is involved. This would be comic if lives, both Palestinian and Israeli, were not at stake.
Let’s take a step back and look at the facts, possibly inconvenient facts for many.
Why did Israel, from the outset of the Oslo process nearly two decades ago, enter into an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, better known as the PLO? There is no secret here. The first step that kicked off the entire infamous Oslo Accords was an exchange of letters, one of which the PLO, via its late Chairman Yasser Arafat, provided to Israel. The full text of the document is public knowledge and states unequivocally, in its entirety:
“The signing of the Declaration of Principles marks a new era…I would like to confirm the following PLO commitments: The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself…to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations…the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators…the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.”
On the very same day, September 9, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, issued his own letter which stated the following, in its entirety:
“In response to your letter of September 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that, in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.”
Note two very important issues here, 1) the entity Israel recognized is the PLO (an organization composed of many different factions representing the full political and ideological spectrum), not Fatah, not Hamas and not the Palestinian Authority, which, by the way, is a product of the Oslo agreement itself and has no negotiating mandate, and 2) the PLO not only recognized Israel as other states did, as simply a member state of the United Nations, but went even further to state its “right…to exist in peace and security.” No country on earth has formally recognized Israel in such a comprehensive manner.
So all the rumpus about Fatah and Hamas reconciling their internal differences and all the immediate punishing of Palestinians by Israel for this reconciliation raises some key concerns. First and foremost, what does Israel want? Does it want a Palestinian partner who can actually reflect a representative political system with the potential to reach and then implement a peace agreement?
Likewise, what are all the old-new demands that Hamas must recognize Israel? Hamas does not recognize Israel anymore than Israel’s current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party represents the State of Israel. What difference is there between the far right coalition in Israel and the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas?
The fact of the matter is that anyone observing the agonizing details of this conflict over the past six decades can only deduce one main thing: Israel has no intention to reach a lasting peace with Palestinians. Furthermore, in order to maintain the international community’s commitment to underwriting Israel’s continuing military occupation, Israel has perfected the sadistic game of maintaining a never-ending peace process, one that only gives it more time to create additional facts on the ground (such as settlements) which may be jeopardizing the entire two-state framework as a solution.
Ordinary Israelis are afraid to put down their guns and make peace because the scenarios seem too vulnerable and uncertain. Instead of calming these fears by forging good, new, functional partnerships with Palestinians as equals, the current Israeli government intensifies these fears with the same tired old angry rhetoric about terrorism and the culture, religion, and aspirations of their neighbors.
The missing voices in the debate are many, but a key voice that has yet to be heard is that of the world Jewry. After all, Israel is acting, or so it believes, in the best interest of Jews worldwide. It is hard for me to believe that continued settlement building, continued economic strangulation, continued collective punishment, continued denying of Palestinians from reaching their holy sites, including the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and other forms of repression of another people are in the interest of the world Jewry. However, until we hear loud and clear from Jewish communities around the globe that these acts of Israel are not being done in their name, we can only assume that Israel is drunk on its own arrogance and narcissism because of the unfettered support that it receives from the world Jewry, and this realization, if true, would be sadder than the lack of a peace agreement.
A great deal has been written over the years addressing the Palestine–Israel conflict, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. However, few works on the subject really present the personal aspect: What is it like to be a refugee? What propels a decent human being to take up arms, to become a freedom fighter or a “terrorist?”
This book tells the remarkable story of one such refugee, following his journey from childhood in the Nahr El Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, becoming a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), through to eventual emigration, a new life as an engineer in the United States, and a ‘return’ trip to historic Palestine.
Jamal Kanj joined me in an exclusive interview to discuss his book Children of Catastrophe: Editor Elias Harb
ELIAS HARB: In your book you convey the personal aspect of the life of the refugees. Can you tell us what inspired you to write Children of Catastrophe?
JAMAL K. KANJ: The Americans and the West in general are not well aware of the Palestinian experience. On the surface and at an emotional level, they are generally more sympathetic towards Israel, but this is mainly due to their lack of understanding or total disconnect with the human side of the Palestinian story.
Also one must recognize that the peculiar relationship between Israel and the West is deeply rooted in a long history of abhorrent Western anti Semitism culminating in the Holocaust. Hence, it was a mix of sympathy, guilt, and religious institutions in America and Europe which played an important role in shaping the lopsided view towards the Palestine Israel conflict.
Having lived in the US for thirty years after leaving the camp, I discovered that most people tend to switch off when trying to make an intellectual or historical argument explaining the Palestinian position. At the same time, I observed that the majority can better connect and listen when the intellectual or the historical argument is framed within the personal experience. During those 30 years, almost everyone whom I came to know at a social level consciously or subconsciously became more sympathetic with the Palestinians.
To sum it up, the main impetuous for writing this book remains my strong conviction that we, as Palestinians have a powerful story to share with the rest of the world, especially in the West. Throughout the pages of this book, I hope to connect with all those whom I have not, or may not have the honor meeting personally, to share with them the personal aspects of the Palestinian side of the story.
EH:Can you briefly tell us of the British role facilitating the Zionist colonization of Palestine ?
JKK: While the World Zionist Organization (WZO) was founded in Europe in the late 1800s, their plan to colonize Palestine did not start to take shape until the 1920s and 1930s. One major reason, up until 1917 and in addition to Palestine , the Zionist movement contemplated other options for this “Promised land” such as Uganda , Cyprus , Sinai and parts of Argentina .
They basically were willing to take any “real estate” property a colonial power was willing to sell them. But in November 1917, and to sway the purported “influential” Jewish opinion in the US on the war (at the time, WZO had very close relation with the German Kaiser and maintained its headquarter in Germany ) the British Foreign Ministry issued a letter to a Jewish banker, Baron Walter Rothschild, promising the banker with a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
In 1920, and as the new occupying power, Britain appointed Herbert Samuel, a professed British Zionist as the high Commissioner for Palestine. Under his reign, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased exponentially and unlike the old Jewish residents, the new wave of European immigrants chose exclusive Jewish communities, segregated from the Native Palestinians and even from the old Jewish neighborhoods. With a lush of funds provided by the international Jewish National Fund (JNF), the new immigrants attempted to purchase land at any cost. Much like the extraneous prices they are willing to offer today for properties in East Jerusalem and Hebron.
As then and now, the Zionist organizations failed to acquire much, if any Palestinian owned properties. It is worth noting here, the JNF owned less than 7 per cent of Palestine when the UN voted to partition the land between its Natives and the new Jewish immigrants. Most of the properties the Zionists eventually purchased were from absentee landlords, mainly large feudal Lebanese land owners in the northern part of historical Palestine.
The aggressive land ownership program, combined with new exclusive communities, created a political and cultural chasm between the Native and the new settlers. At that point, it got even more complicated as this new European community closely allied itself with the despised colonial power. In response, the Palestinians waged in 1936 one of the longest civil disobedient strikes in the history of Palestine, lasting for more than six months protesting the mandate power and its policies of transforming the demographics from the local Native population with the new European colonists. After failing to quash the civil protest, Britain promoted, enabled, and armed Jewish military groups to help repress the local population. These same Zionist military groups metamorphosed into the Jewish Haganah, the nuclei of the future Israeli army, and became officially part of a joint contingent of British/Jewish military force suppressing the Native Palestinians.
To give you a good idea on the level of Palestinian resistance against the British colonial power and its Zionist instrument, before its departure from Palestine, England had more military forces in Palestine than they had in the entire Indian continent.
EH:How were the Zionists successful in driving Palestinian from their homeland?
JKK: In short, well organized systematic terror campaign by the Zionist paramilitary groups. The terror campaign resulted in the expulsion of 805,067 Palestinians and the destruction of 531 indigenous villages, representing roughly 85 per cent of the native population and the seizure of 92 per cent of the land.
But as I pointed in the book, equally important to the Zionist campaign of terror, was the fact that more than 50 per cent (413,790) of the refugees mentioned earlier were forced out of their homes by the Zionists’ terror while Palestine was still ostensibly a British protectorate. As an example, the infamous Massacre of Deir Yassin took place on April 9 1948, over a month before the departure of the British army form Palestine. When according to UN investigation reports the Jewish Irgun organization, under direct orders from Menachem Begin, slaughtered a large number of the Palestinian civilians in the village. To justify murdering women and children, Begin explained that “The massacre was not only justified, but there would not have been a state of Israel without the victory at Deir Yassin.” Alas, Begin became a future Israeli prime minister and won the Noble “peace” prize!
But the overall Zionist campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestine was led by Ben Gurion, (first Israeli Prime Minister) who consciously or unconsciously assigned to their military operations jargons tantamount with ethnic cleansing, from names such as matateh (broom), tihur (cleansing), biur (a Passover expression meaning “to cleanse the leaven”) and niku (a Hebrew word for cleaning up).
This was a plan which Joseph Weitz, the head of the National Jewish Fund, described earlier in his diary on 20 December 1940 that “Not one village must be left, not one [Bedouin] tribe. The transfer must be directed at Iraq , Syria , and even Transjordan .”
EH: What happened to old Palestinian towns and villages?
JKK: Since 1948, the Jewish National Fund (which owns 85 per cent of land in Israel ) has led an international scheme to cover up the destroyed Palestinian villages with a specious environmental forestation campaign promoting the planting of trees in Israel. The JNF boasts that it “… has planted over 240 million trees in the land of Israel ”. The JNF does not, however, disclose to its unsuspected donors that at least eighty-six of these forests and parks are built over the ruins of destroyed Palestinian villages. As an example, the well-known Israeli Canada Park was built on the ruins of the ethnically cleansed villages of Emmuas, Yalu and Bayt Nuba; the trees in Biriya Forest grow over the foundation of the village of Amuka ; the town of Reihaniyeh is buried under Ramat Menashe Park and the remains of Ajur are fertilizing the greenery in Park Britain.
Wherever the JNF did not reforest what were once peaceful villages and as part of Israel ’s conjured history, Israel bestowed Hebrew pseudonyms replacing the Native names of Palestinian towns. Thus, Tel Rabi became Tel Aviv, Lubya turned into Lavi, Al Zeeb transpired into Gesher Haziv, Saffuriyya into Tzippori and Beit Jala metamorphosed into Gilo.
EH: Following the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) did Israel leave the Palestinian Refugees alone?
JKK: The Zionists consider the mere existence of Palestinians whether under occupation or in refugee camps represent a negation to their ideology which denies the Palestinian people as a collective national identity. As mentioned in the book, the camp or camps became to symbolize Palestine away from home, it became little Palestine . I expounded extensively on this parallel which was very well understood by the Zionist ideologues. Hence, Israel maintained a terror campaign against camps and repression under occupation to force Palestinians into capitulation and self defeat. Israelis always tried to make the point: we won and you lost, just accept it.
However, Israelis fail to understand people’s connection to the land, for other than their religious patrimony, the people of Israel never in modern history have they had to experience that kind of relationship. I suspect that throughout their history of oppression in Christian Europe, Jews had accepted defeat and lived psychologically as a defeated community all the way through the Holocaust. While I am not a psychologist, I suspect by tormenting Palestinians under occupation and in refugee camps, Zionists are attempting to mirror their own experience of psychological defeat on the people of Palestine.
To their chagrin however, the refugees’ identity became an expression of nationhood and defiance, rather than privation and compliance. As Israeli writer Danny Rubinstein described the Palestinians in his book: Every people in the world lives in a place. For Palestinians, the place lives in them.
EH: Can you describe what is it like to be a refugee?
JKK: Aside from Israeli terror, and on the economic level, I am not sure I understood at the time, what it was like not to be a refugee.
However on the political level, it was very clear, and like all young children who were born in the camp, I realized at very young age that I was a victim of human injustice. I was reminded every day that I was born in Lebanon, a foreign country with no citizenship rights. And I don’t necessarily blame Lebanon for this, for the blame should fall on the entity that took my parent’s home and made me a stateless person. My parents’ only fault was that they belonged to a different religion. Unlike Israel, Lebanon gave us a place to call temporary home.
I do however fault Lebanon for depriving the Palestinian refugees from their political and economic rights. Palestinian refugees, who lived or were born in Lebanon , could not own a property and were not allowed to work in over 70 trades. The law was amended recently reducing the number of prohibited trades.
As I elaborated extensively in the book, at the emotional, we lived relatively a normal life in the camp. The strong family structure made up for life’s hardships and shortcomings. With as little as we had in the camp, I have no memory of lacking any of life’s intuitive pleasures. Philosophically speaking, it is not possible to lack what you have never experienced. In other words, you do not miss what you never had. In short, life as a refugee was normalized by what we had and not by what was lacking.
EH: Why did you believe your parents avoid conversations at home about the Nakba (Catastrophe)?
JKK: For Palestinian refugees in general and mine in particular, losing home was an experience beyond description. Deep inside they must have felt guilty, shamed and blamed themselves for leaving and not dying on their land; but more importantly they believed that they were hoodwinked by the Zionists and for believing in the sense of international justice.To them, talking about the Nakba was like adding salt to injury. I was not sure if they were trying to suppress their memory hoping to lessen their anguish, or simply avoid it.
At the same time, they were much happier talking about Palestine , the land and life before becoming refugees. They seemed more at peace and complete when reminiscing the little details about what it was like “back at home.” A person would have to be in their shoes to be able to comprehend or appreciate their life long trauma.
EH: In Children of Catastrophe you write that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon represent a special and unique case. Why are refugees in Lebanon different than Palestinian Refugees in other Arab countries?
JKK: As I indicated above and elaborated at length in the book, while all Palestinian refugees suffered the same terrible problem of adjusting from statehood to statelessness, unlike other Palestinian refugees, the refugees in Lebanon represented a special and unique case. From the outset, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were treated as foreigners with no social, labor, or political rights. Unlike refugees in the West Bank and Jordan who were granted citizenship, and Syria where refugees were accorded full residency privileges, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were prohibited from working in more than 70 trades and professions (the law was amended recently reducing the number of prohibited trades.) The Lebanese government instituted also special regulations restricting the movement of refugees within the state and limiting their ability to build or to own property in the country.
The confessional Lebanese democracy between various religious sects (18) certainly contributed to this complexity. For the presence of the Palestinian refugees was considered by some Lebanese as an upsetting factor in the balance of power in this small country. This is an important area, which is addressed at length in the book.
EH: In the summer of 2007, your camp, Nahr el Bared was completely destroyed following a raging battle between the Lebanese army and a little known group Fatah al Islam. Were there other reasons to destroy the camp and what happened to the camp residents?
JKK: Destroying the more than 6000 homes could have been easily avoided, but as I surmised in the book, the destruction of the camp must have been an end by itself.
The camps with a very high population density, over 40,000 inhabitants living in an area less than one square mile. Fatah al Islam numbered less than 300 fighters (a spokesman of the organization claimed in the Lebanese press the number at 98 fighters). Their defending positions were located at the north end of the camp. However, from the onset of the fighting, the Lebanese army bombarded the camp proper indiscriminately and did not limit the shelling to Fatah al Islam fighting positions.
According to Amnesty International and other Human Rights organization, the Lebanese army deliberately set some homes on fire and several houses were destroyed in the weeks after the end of fighting.
I have concluded in the book that there were at least three reasons for the destruction of the camp: Middle East peace process; 2nd Lebanese sectarianism and 3rd Economic reason. Not to mention the possible Israeli hand via its spy network within the Lebanese army. In 2009, Lebanon arrested an army Major, who played an important role in directing the battle of Nahr el Bared for working on behalf of Israel.
Now more than three years later, the camp residents are still homeless and awaiting the Lebanese government and the international community promises to rebuild the camp and return them to their homes.
EH: There was a tearful meeting of yours cousins (Amsha’s daughters) who you never met, when you were checked in at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Can you tell explain why you have never met them?
JKK: I must say that meeting was a climax in mine and I am certain in their life too. Like many Palestinian families, my grandfather was forever separated from his only sister (Amsha) in that May Day in 1948. They both died later, she in her country that became no more, and he in a refugee camp in other lands. Amsha left behind three daughters who remained in what became Israel.Despite a UN resolution calling on Israel to allow for the return of refugees back to their homes. Israel did not comply with the UN resolution, thus leaving many families forever separated from their loved ones and from their homes.
Our reunion was not planned, but it was destiny for us to meet after 50 years since they were split forever from my father. In late 1996 I was checked in at the emergency room at the Hadassah hospital, and when my cousins (Amsha’s daughters) found out, they were next to my bed in no time. It was our first ever meeting. A section in the book details how even under a semi comatose condition, I recognized them before they had a chance to introduce themselves to me.
Sadly, they lived less than 200 miles from the camp, but when I met them at the emergency room, my travel was via the US over 10,000 miles away. Yet, I may have been the lucky one, for others have never had a chance to be reunited with their loved ones gain.
EH: Do you think there will be light at the end of the tunnel for Palestinian refugees in general, and in Lebanon on in particular?
JKK: Meeting with the refugees, I can attest to the Israeli writer whom I quoted earlier, that Palestine lives inside every one of them. However at this period in time, I am not very optimistic with a light at the end of the tunnel. Israel far right hard liners have hijacked Israeli politics, not that their left was much better off. It is clear, the more the Palestinian leadership is willing to compromise, the more Israel moved to the far right, which has manifested today by the call to recognize Israel as a Jewish democracy (theocracy).
The light at the tunnel will come when the international community can live up to its commitments for a just peace that takes into heart the right of return for the Palestinian refugees and allow the Palestinians to exercise their God given right in a country they can call their home.
EH: Thank you Jamal for your interview with Intifada Palestine, and congratulations on your new book Children of Catastrophe.
HILDREN OF CATASTROPHE
Journey From A Palestinian Refugee Camp to America
Author Jamal Kanj talks about life in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. In his recent book “Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian refugee camp to America,” provides an account of life from Palestine to refugee camps in Lebanon and the events leading for the creation of the state of Israel.
Palestinian sources revealed a letter sent by Obama that outlines carrots and sticks approach to get Mahmoud Abbas to go to direct and endless negotiations so as to keep the disastrous Oslo cover for the occupation going a few more years. This revealed once and for all that Washington is indeed Israeli-occupied territory. Despite our political differences, we can only feel pity for Abu Mazen whose two open choices are both bad: a) negotiate while Israel continues to colonize and ethnically cleanse what remains of the occupied areas and thus lose what little credibility remains among the Palestinian public, OR b) insist on reference to International Law (and thus a settlement freeze) and lose hundreds of millions in funding and lucrative positions of power over the now de facto self-rule areas. In either case there will be no end to the occupation and no real or sovereign Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. Will he choose a third route that preserves dignity and self-respect and give up the charade of Oslo and its trappings that he started (and convinced Arafat to follow for years until Israel killed him when he hesitated)? (there are ways to do this since an agreement signed under duress and especially one that violates basic international law is null and void anyway and does not remove the rights of native people even when someone representing them signs it). Will PLO reclaim its name sake as Palestine Liberation Organization or degenerate into the Palestinian Leftover Officials? Will the Palestinian people realize that they hold the keys to their own future and that salvation will not come from anyone else?
We lost our friend Art Gish, a longtime active volunteer member of Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron. Art was 70 years old and died in a farming accident with his tractor in Athens, Ohio. Art was a graduate of Manchester College and Bethany Theological Seminary. He is the author of The New Left and Christian Radicalism (Eerdmans, 1970), Beyond the Rat Race (Herald Press. 1972), Living in Christian Community (Herald Press, 1979), and Hebron Journal: Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking (Herald Press, 2001). Art Gish has been part of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron since 1995, getting in the way of Israeli military and settler violence against Palestinian civilians. http://rosemarieberger.com/2010/07/29/christian-peacemaker-art-gish-dies-at-70/
The US Army reported that 32 soldiers committed suicide in June. Dozens of others were killed. Wikileaks published US documents that basically should make every American question the illegal wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, the US media conveniently ignores all this and obediently publish the lies of their Zionist masters instead of exposing those who profit from wars and mayhem.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home http://www.qumsiyeh.org
Professor, Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities
Chairman of the Board, Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People, http://www.pcr.ps