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Nothing can annul the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination, writes Mustafa Barghouti*

Al Ahram 15 - 21 May 2008 Issue No. 897

Sixty years on what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba -- the catastrophe -- but what might be more accurately termed the inauguration of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, one is struck by a remarkable irony. Both Palestinians and Israelis appear engaged in a neck-and-neck contest to enter the greatest number of precedents in the Guinness Book of Records.

Palestinians in Bethlehem created the largest key in the world, to symbolise the right to return, and the largest flag in the world, to symbolise the Palestinians' thus far denied right to self-determination. And they wrote the longest protest letter ever, on behalf of thousands of Palestinian political detainees and in defence of the cause of freedom.

The Israelis, meanwhile, cooked the largest ever dish of hummus, symbolising their resolve to appropriate Palestinian culture after having seized most of Palestinian land and appropriated Palestinian political rights.

Each side has its own way of commemorating the founding of the so-called state of Israel. Perhaps the best book that can be read on this occasion is The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe. In this latest of his works, the Israeli historian systematically and in uncompromisingly objective detail exposes the fallacy of the Zionist narrative of events between 1947 and 1948. Pappe argues that the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians was not the product of the random circumstances of war, but rather the deliberate combat goal of early Israeli military units. He substantiates his arguments with extensive documentation of more than 30 horrific massacres of Palestinian civilians and demolitions of Palestinian villages carried out by members of the Haganah, the Irgun and the Stern Gang. His invaluable work crowns a collection of similar studies undertaken by such eminent scholars as Avi Shlaim, Walid Al-Khalidi and Edward Said.

If Israel has since been surpassed in its record of the fastest ethnic cleansing operation in history, it is now the record holder in the longest occupation in modern history. Five years ago, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (including Jerusalem) and Gaza, which began in 1967, stole that record from the Japanese occupation of Korea.

Not happy, it then topped this with the incontestably unique twist of turning the occupation into the worst form of apartheid in history. Testimony to this comes from such prominent figures as former US president Jimmy Carter and the current South African minister of intelligence -- a man of Jewish origin -- Ronnie Kasrils. Both of these men have seen the realties on the ground and both refused to let Israeli intellectual terrorism intimidate them from telling the truth and keeping faith with their consciences, the cause of human rights and the history of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

We know, of course, that the current US president, George W Bush, along with many other Western leaders, has hastened to share in the Israeli anniversary celebrations, eyes studiously averted from what is happening to the Palestinians. But we also know that Israel's image has sunk dramatically in the balance of Western public opinion, in spite of the generally pro- Israeli bias of Western media. Nor have we missed yet another testimony to the hypocrisy that typifies politics in this day and age: Nelson Mandela, the most celebrated and respected figures in the world, is still on the US Congress's terrorist list, as is the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa today.

But beyond all that hypocrisy, distortion of truth and self-deception, Israel's triple-laurel, made up of the fastest ethnic cleansing operation, the longest occupation and the worst apartheid, has not only inflicted an unpardonable injustice on the Palestinian people, it has also inflicted an unforgivable offence against Jews themselves and against the memory of their suffering and persecution at the hands of the Nazis and in earlier chapters of history.

In their struggle against apartheid, the Palestinians are fighting for the right of Palestinian refugees to live in their national home with dignity, like other peoples, and they are fighting to recover their usurped right of self-determination.

Sixty years after its founding, the Israeli establishment -- ruled today by generals of war and captains of the military-industrial complex -- can not, no matter how hard it tries, discredit the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for the universally recognised basic human rights to equality, freedom and self-determination. Nor will it ever succeed in refuting Mandela's famous observation that the Palestinian cause is the foremost challenge to international humanitarian conscience.

Supporters of the Israeli occupation are ceaselessly amazed at how tenaciously the Palestinians refuse to cave in to the cruellest of blows. Nor can they conceal their wonder at the constantly regenerating impetus the drive for Palestinian rights has received from new generations of Palestinians, even from those born and raised in the Diaspora, whose sense of what is wrong and unjust only deepens with time.

Despite our failures, our divisions and our mistakes, and despite the cruelties the world, both near and far, has meted out to us, we -- the Palestinians -- are moving forward, struggling to keep the torches of self-confidence, hope and faith in the value of human justice alive and burning.

Meanwhile Israel -- the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, possessor of 400 nuclear warheads, the manufacturer of ceaseless wars, the driver of an economy thriving on stolen land and water, and on the sweat of others' brows -- is sinking further and further on the scales of humanitarian values, as though determined to move against the tide of justice which colonialist powers larger and older than Israel failed to turn -- in India, Algeria, South Africa, and certainly in Palestine.

* The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.


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