A Tryst With Peace At The Cost of Justice

Palestinians have long been told to accept Israeli brutality as a part and parcel of their lives in the name of making peace with its neighbor.

Israel has yet again raised the bar of brutality in a week of unwarranted violence targeting Palestinians. If five lives were lost to sheer savagery on September 26, three more were taken intentionally on September 30. The parochial boundaries that stifle Palestinians in their state-in-waiting have transformed into a death knell where justice has become nothing but a fleeting memory. Should Palestinian first fight for justice or chase the elusive fountainhead of peace?

The cycle of discontent bogging down Palestinians is mostly the creation of peace initiatives that seldom honour their self-respect and equality. Every agreement has only made Palestinians feel profoundly that they won’t be automatically accorded a dignified existence in their homeland. Neither the Oslo Accords of 1993 nor former US President Donald Trump’s peace plan of 2020 has outlined measures to end Israeli military occupation, which is the single most way to stop the economic and humanitarian crises afflicting Palestine.

All agreements suggest substantial aid to shore up the Palestinian economy under the Israeli occupation. Unquestionably, this is an unsustainable model where there are no ways to generate revenue and make people self-reliant. Under the Oslo agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Israel government, the latter is required to collect and transfer import duties on consignments bound for the Palestinian territories. Whenever Israel withholds these remittances – they form almost half of Palestine’s revenue – the PA records massive budget deficits, which ought to be subsequently evened out by aid from donor countries.

According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to the UN General Assembly, the fiscal cost of occupation for the Palestinian people between 2000 and 2017 was estimated at $47.7 billion, or thrice the size of the Palestinian economy in 2017. The figure includes $28.2 billion in estimated accrued interest and $6.6 billion in leakage of fiscal revenues to Israel.

If that money was at Palestine’s disposal, it could have financed the government’s development spending by over 10 fold. If the economy was revitalized by the lost billions, it could have generated two million jobs over the course of 18 years. That means 111,000 jobs could have been created each year if the Palestinian aspirations were put into perspective by countries that try to broker peace by offering aid to Palestine and authority to Israel.

Palestine’s real GDP growth was by less than one percentage point in 2019, not better than the two preceding years. Lockdown measures to tame COVID-19 worsened the situation, with revenues from tourism, trade and transfers declining to their lowest levels in 20 years. As 2021 nears its end, the financial crisis has deepened amid a decline in foreign aid and a growing tax dispute with Israel. Since 2019, Israel has deducted a total of $851 million from the tax revenue dues. Worsening things, European aid has also fallen from $600 million to a meagre $30 million this year.

The worst-hit has been Gaza where the young people, who form the majority of the population, have been confronting the challenges of war and joblessness. Around 70% of the Strip’s two million population are below 30 years and they have lived through the wars of 2008-09, 2012, 2014 and 2021. Gaza City alone houses more than 9,000 people per sq km, which is one of the highest population densities in the world. Nevertheless, Israeli missiles have mercilessly targeted the Strip in each war, making it a hellhole.

The vicious cycle of destruction that tethers Gaza has also affected its water and power infrastructure, agriculture, industry and health services. The Oslo Accords permit fishing rights to Palestinians up to 20 nautical miles into the Mediterranean Sea, in utter disregard of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that grants an exclusive international legal fishing limit of 200 miles to sovereign countries. Israel often takes revenge by further reducing the fishing limits, as it did last month. Fishing and related industries are the lifelines of at least 70,000 Gaza residents and what else can Israel’s cruel policies be than utter disregard for the idea of justice?

Unemployment levels in the Gaza Strip are twice that of the occupied West Bank due to travel restrictions and difficulties in getting work permits, thanks to Egypt more or less blockading the Rafah border crossing ever since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007. The Erez crossing with Israel also remains shut for most part of the year. Those who cry hoarse for peace and freedom conveniently turn a blind eye towards Palestine’s wasted lives, their fall into an abyss of despair and their increased dependence on food aid on a daily basis.

Palestinians don’t have control over their property, resources and lands. Every time a new Jewish settlement comes up in the Palestinian territory or a Jewish family forcibly takes possession of a part of their property armed with favourable court orders, the international ‘keepers’ of Palestinian peace are hinting it to be the new normal.

People who raise their voices against injustice in the occupied territories are treated like dreaded criminals. They are constant targets of security coordination between Israel and the Palestine Authority, where the latter’s intelligence mechanism is used to raid, arrest or kill its own people. Any collective Palestinian resistance is immediately stamped by Israel as a hindrance to peace, though it is the path taken to achieve the same that Palestinians object to. After all, does peace stand a chance to succeed without justice?

Israel is the only country that holds trials of juveniles in military courts. Children aged as young as 10 are charged with throwing stones, a crime punishable under the military law by up to 20 years in prison. Most of the detained kids are subjected to physical violence, sometimes including sexual abuse, and kept under prolonged detention without trial. Things aren’t easy for older prisoners either. Repeated assaults, solitary confinement, denial of proper medical care and reduction of ration of water, meat and bread stem from the same venom of hatred that Israeli forces spew on an average Palestinian on a daily basis.

For Palestinians, the terms ‘peace’ and ‘freedom’ signify a feeling of belonging to their land only when they are treated like humans. Their dignity and self-reliance begin where Israeli occupation and donor aid end.

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