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Netanyahu’s triumphalism is fragile as thin ice

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 15.05.2018:

It often happens that we are questioned here in Bethlehem and Palestine whether there is still hope. To be honest, I do not always feel comfortable with that question. Of course there is very little optimism about a just peace agreement in the near future. Rather, the opposite is the case: people here expect the situation to deteriorate. A peace agreement, if it comes, will be for the children, perhaps only after decades.

In a massacre like now in Gaza, hope seems to be very far away. Israeli soldiers are shooting at unarmed demonstrators with 60 deaths as a result. Many demonstrators were gathering together with their families, in at least initially a relaxed mood. When drones spray tear gas over protesters and even kill an infant, you feel outraged that this can happen. The question one asks is why there is so little international pressure, rather than from which depths Palestinians can raise hope in the long dark night of occupation. In Gaza Palestinians mainly demonstrate from a feeling of despair as they live in an almost completely closed strip of land with two million people under the heavy pressure of a lack of basic facilities such as electricity and potable water. It goes without saying that in the news despair has a higher priority than hope.

And yet, hope as an inner shared force is important. Hope is not the same as optimism, which is more an assessment of what is going to happen. When talking with people around me I notice these days that hope has not disappeared. Here is my personal list of reasons:

– The triumphalism of Netanyahu, supported by Trump and his family, is as superficial and fragile as thin ice. There is no country where national flags are so much hoisted – and where Palestinian flags, as in Jerusalem, are banned (because they ‘incite violence’). Is this not a power which self-congratulates too much, celebrates too much, is over-confident because of that ‘full’ support of the ‘most powerful man on earth’ – who is according to mainstream American media a ‘serial lier’? How much real support in the world does Israel have for its actions against the Palestinians? How deep has Israel’s moral authority sunk?

– Worldwide, there is considerably more support in recent years for civil pressure on Israel, however much this pressure is belittled in Israel (though a full Israeli ministry is devoted to fighting BDS, the boycott movement). Among American Jews of a new generation a silent revolution is taking place, with poignant criticisms of Israel. Many organize themselves in by no means marginal organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now. That has perhaps little or no effect on the Republicans, but its impact is definitely felt within the Democratic Party.

– Palestinians are a proud and resilient people. There is a lot to criticize as for its political leadership, but that does not mean that civil society is uncommitted. The Great Marches in Gaza were the initiative of civil society, not Hamas or other political parties. There are many demonstrations and general strikes these days, people are active on Facebook, hundreds of organizations and spokespersons retell in new ways the Palestinian stories of the past and present, including the Nakba, past and ongoing, and the occupation. Worldwide there is more knowledge of the Nakba than, say, twenty years ago. More initiatives among Palestinians preserve and expand that collective memory, though more are required. Knowledge of the past is essential to keep hope in the future: a principle that is widely shared among Palestinian educators I know. I notice that Palestinian teachers and also the Palestinian curriculum give more attention to the history of Palestine than before.

– This morning I watch a video on Facebook from Palestinian students at the University of Tel Aviv, singing a national Palestinian song right in front of the university gates. That too shows courage. There are many demonstrations in Palestinian cities in Israel that bear witness to a shared inner strength; in solidarity with Gaza, in commemoration of the Nakba and in protest against the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

That shared inner strength is the basis of real hope. In the end Palestinians know that justice is on their side. That is the source of real hope.

And, as many spokespeople say here, life goes on, staying in despair is a luxury people do not have.

Toine van Teeffelen

15 May 2018

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