The current escalation in violence did not start with the killing of two Israeli settlers, it started a long while ago and has been going on for years. Every day Palestinians are killed, wounded, arrested. Every day colonialism advances, the siege on our people in Gaza continues, oppression persists. As many today want us to be overwhelmed by the potential consequences of a new spiral of violence, I will plead, as I did in 2002, to deal with its root causes: the denial of Palestinian freedom.
Some have suggested the reason why a peace deal could not be reached was President Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness or President Mahmoud Abbas’s inability, but both of them were ready and able to sign a peace agreement. The real problem is that Israel has chosen occupation over peace, and used negotiations as a smokescreen to advance its colonial project. Every government across the globe knows this simple fact and yet so many of them pretend that returning to the failed recipes of the past could achieve freedom and peace. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
There can be no negotiations without a clear Israeli commitment to fully withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; a complete end to all colonial policies; a recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people including their right to self-determination and return; and the release of all Palestinian prisoners. We cannot coexist with the occupation, and we will not surrender to it.
We were called upon to be patient, and we were, giving chance after chance to reach a peace agreement. Maybe it is useful to remind the world that our dispossession, forced exile and transfer, and oppression have now lasted for nearly 70 years. We are the only item to have stood on the UN’s agenda since its inception. We were told that by resorting to peaceful means and to diplomatic channels we would garner the support of the international community to end the occupation. And yet, as in 1999 at the close of the interim period, that community failed yet again to undertake any meaningful steps, neither setting up an international framework to implement international law and UN resolutions, nor enacting measures to ensure accountability, including boycott, divestment and sanctions, which played a crucial role in ridding the world of the apartheid regime.
So, in the absence of international action to end Israeli occupation and impunity or even provide protection, what are we asked to do? Stand by and wait for the next Palestinian family to be burned, for the next Palestinian child to be killed or arrested, for the next settlement to be built? The entire world knows that Jerusalem is the flame that can inspire peace and ignite war. Why then does the world stand still while the Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people in the city and in Muslim and Christian holy sites, notably Al-Haram al-Sharif, continue unabated? Israel’s actions and crimes not only destroy the two-state solution on 1967 borders and violate international law, they threaten to transform a solvable political conflict into a never-ending religious war that will undermine stability in a region already experiencing unprecedented turmoil.
No people on the globe would accept to coexist with oppression. By nature, humans yearn for freedom, struggle for freedom, sacrifice for freedom, and the freedom of the Palestinian people is long overdue. During the first intifada, the Israeli government launched a “break their bones to break their will” policy, but for generation after generation the Palestinian people have proven their will is unbreakable and needs not to be tested.
This new Palestinian generation has not awaited reconciliation talks to embody a national unity that political parties have failed to achieve, but has risen above political divides and geographic fragmentation. It has not awaited instructions to uphold its right, and its duty, to resist this occupation. It is doing so unarmed, while being confronted by one of the biggest military powers in the world. And yet, we remain convinced that freedom and dignity shall triumph, and we shall overcome. The flag that we raised with pride at the UN will one day fly over the walls of the old city of Jerusalem to signal our independence.
I joined the struggle for Palestinian independence 40 years ago, and was first imprisoned at the age of 15. This did not prevent me from pleading for peace in accordance with international law and UN resolutions. But Israel, the occupying power, has methodically destroyed this perspective year after year. I have spent 20 years of my life in Israeli jails, including the past 13 years, and these years have made me even more certain of this unalterable truth: the last day of occupation will be the first day of peace.
Those who seek the latter need to act, and act now, to precipitate the former.
A version of this article was published at the Guardian, on 11/10/2015: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/11/israel-occupation-palestinian-territory-peace-diplomacy