Seventy two years ago, on May 14, 1948, the map of the Levant changed. A line was drawn in the sand – literally, figuratively and unilaterally – to create the state of Israel in the land of Palestine. For Palestinians, 700,000 of whom were expelled from the area, it was a day of extreme deprivation and inconsolable grief, and its consequences have yet to be rectified.
The day after the anniversary of Israel’s formation, May 15, is commemorated as Nakba Day – nakba being the Arabic word for “catastrophe”. It is a day to recognise the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people, and to reflect upon what can be done to alleviate it.
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As in 1948, this year’s Nakba Day also takes place the day after the formation of an Israeli government, albeit a new cabinet rather than a new state. And yet if this new administration has its way and annexes large parts of the Palestinian Territories, the map will change once again, to devastating effect.
After 18 months of political stalemate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his arch-rival-turned-ally Benny Gantz have formed a coalition built primarily on the platform of annexation. It was also formed out of a desperation to exclude Arab-Israeli political parties, whose constituents make up a fifth of Israel’s population, from any share in government.
Palestine and Israel are currently fighting a common enemy in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and yet the Israeli government seems determined to ensure that they are not on the same side. Israel has consistently blocked Palestinian attempts to import or create the supplies needed to contain the virus, all the while pushing ahead with an annexation plan.
This was made even more apparent this week, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel. Although Mr Pompeo sent signals on Washington’s behalf that a slowdown in annexation may be appropriate, given the pandemic situation and pressure from the region’s Arab states, he continued to advocate the merits of US President Donald Trump’s so-called peace plan, of which annexation forms an integral part.
There was no recognition whatsoever during the visit of the desperation among Palestinians in the face of the mounting threats – between the public health emergency and the loss of their land – to their own existence. Nor was there any mention of the interests of Arab citizens of Israel, whose immediate ancestors were also victims of the Nakba. Instead, the overall message remained that American leadership reserves its greatest compassion for the State of Israel alone.
If Israel's new administration has its way, the map will change once again and to devastating effect
That the state of Israel is here to stay is beyond dispute. But to allow that stateto continue acting and relentlessly expanding in a way that causes perpetual suffering for others is unacceptable.
Arab citizens of Israel deserve not only full rights in the eyes of the law, but an end to the daily discrimination that disadvantages them in their own homeland. Palestinians deserve the complete restoration of their dignity and an end to the occupation. The longer that Israel operates as though none of these things matter, the heavier the moral burden will weigh upon the shoulders of Israelis. As for the Palestinians who are being kept under their thumb, the weight risks crushing their sense of justice for good.