The Christian Science Monitor somehow allowed Dashiell Shapiro to publish an opinion piece and, in doing so, paid homage to Golda Meir and the supposedly deceased Israeli meme that there are no Palestinian people. One would think that today, the Palestinian people would no longer need to be subjected the denial of their existence. The last politician of any real relevance that was able to resist the reality of the Palestinian people was Golda Meir who looked the occupation in the face and proudly insisted that “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.” With the two state solution still dancing in the minds of American politicians like Terry Kiser at “Weekend at Bernie’s,” it would seem evident that there is such a thing as Palestinians and, particularly after two intifadas, such a thing as Palestinian nationalism. By offering to transfer Gaza and its Palestinian population to Egyptian control, Shapiro is singlehandedly altering the identities of the Palestinians in Gaza, stripping them bare of their collective histories and identities in an effort to resurrect a racist attitude that has no place in any modern discussion.
Shlomo Ben-Ami was an Israeli negotiator at Camp David and is an avid Zionist, as he states in the introduction of his book – Scars of War, Wounds of Peace. Yet, even the one-time Zionist negotiator for Israel was able to identify the existence of a Palestinian people and Palestinian nationalism long before the establishment of the Israeli state:
The message of the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs as a clash between competing, exclusivist nationalisms, not just a banal dispute with indigenous fellahin who could be easily bought off and evicted, that has started to penetrate the Zionist discourse in the wake of the 1929 riots became now an unequivocal reality for most, if not all, the leaders of the Yishuv… They understood, just as their Arab counterparts did, the irreconcilable nature of the contradiction between the objectives of the two national movements vying for control of Palestine.
Like Golda Meir, Shapiro is implying a two-fold accusation: there has never been a Palestinian nation and there has never been a Palestinian people. While it is certainly true that Palestinian nationalism did not appear until later, the name Palestine was first used by Herodotus in the 5th century BC, and later by Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Byzantines, and by the Ottoman Empire. Consequently, the people that lived in this region of the Empires that, one after another, colonized Palestine were called Palestinians. Thus, to say that there has never been a Palestinian people is to ignore over 2000 years of history. Secondly, the idea of nation-states was still being perfected in the 1920’s with many future states fighting against the fist of colonialism. Colonies, including Palestine, may not have been classified as the modern concept of a nation-state, but this does not give others the right to define the indigenous people of the area.
Unfortunately, in his opinion piece, Shapiro attempts this exact folly. By suggesting that the post-revolution Egypt take control of Gaza (“self-rule could be allowed”) Shapiro is trying to define what it means to be Palestinian in a simple and simplistic two-page op-ed piece. By ruthlessly penning such an article, Shapiro has reduced the Palestinian identity to a colonial practice in top-down diplomacy, cruelly ripping away the identity of 1.6 million people. Like the European colonialists that traded African territories like children with baseball cards, caring little for the demographic realities on the ground, creating new countries and territories while dividing families and villages from thousands of miles away, Shapiro has proudly declared that reality be damned; Palestinians and Palestinian nationalism are false concepts that can be moved around, altered and destroyed.
Not only has Shapiro attempted to reduce the meaning of the Palestinian identification, he has half-heartedly and single-handed tried to redefine the boundaries of Palestine. Forget Hamas and forget Fatah, forget the conflict between Israel and Palestine. There is a land called Palestine that cannot be divided anymore. Simply because of the land of Palestine was split physically in 1948 by the creation Israel and politically in 2006 by the Fatah/Hamas divide certainly does not give Shapiro the right to redefine the borders. On a practical level, Shapiro is echoing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s calls for population transfer, an act illegal under international law. Yet pushing for the annexation of Gaza – and the dismemberment of what is left of Palestine – is crossing the boundaries of theoretical and psychological destruction, trying to create a second Nakbah for Palestinians in which their identities – not land, possessions and families, like the first Nakbah – are ripped away.
Fortunately, the extremism espoused by Shapiro in his article is one shared by few outside of Palestine and no one within it. Despite the political and geographical divide between Gaza and the West Bank, there is a strong sense of national unity that incorporates both territories. Removing Gaza from the Palestinian question is simply not possible. Despite being under the military control of Egypt from 1948 to 1967, Gaza is part of Palestine and full of Palestinians who have a sense of Palestinian nationalism that has only grown stronger with the intensification of the Israeli occupation.
Despite finding many advantages (for Israel) of handing control of Gaza to Egypt, Shapiro barely mentions the resistance the would be felt in the West Bank, Israel, Gaza and the entire Arab world, caused by the hubristic redefinition of borders in such a colonial fashion. The move would be wholly rejected from Ramallah to Gaza and from Cairo to Riyadh. Considering the nationalist sentiment that has been flowing throughout the region in recent months, exploding in revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, one would think that Shapiro would be more respectful of the power of Arab nationalism and identity.
Shapiro’s unforgivably orientalist position reflects an author who is profoundly out of touch with the reality of Middle East. Palestine and Palestinians are a reality that cannot be simply erased by a flick of some diplomatic pen. To think otherwise is to adopt an antiquated, colonialist approach to Palestine that should be relegated to the waste bin of history.
Photo from Faime