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  • Writer's pictureMary Abu Ghattas

The Present Moment and Palestine


 

Naji al-Ali's Handala surveys the pivotal moments of Palestinian history

A small, ten-year-old child, known as 'Handala', watches some of the pivotal moments of the

Palestinian struggle throughout time. Image Credit: Safdar Ahmed

 

Introduction

For the past 93 days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the hierarchical nature of time.

As the death toll in Gaza reaches 22,835 Palestinians of which 15,984 are women and children and with countless others missing and likely buried under the rubble, I am reminded of the significance of the present moment. As Eckhart Tolle puts it: 


"Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now.”

We cannot change the past, nor can we act out the future.


We can only be and do in the present.


This is not to trivialise the lessons of the past, nor the significance of planning for a better future but rather to emphasise the urgency that exists in the immediate realm and the importance of applying that agency to take action now, while drawing on the lessons learned from the past with the intent of establishing a better future.


As a human, born and raised in the occupied West Bank, I aim to use this article to explore the relationship of time to the Palestinian cause, and put into words what everyone with agency and access to the present moment, can do now.  


 

The Now


We cannot alter history, nor can we will the future into being. As the only point in time when any of us are equipped with any agency, ‘The Now’ remains unique. And yet, the potency and the power of the present moment is never truly accessible when one’s influence is threatened, limited or completely confiscated. 


Agency and the People of Gaza

In the Palestinian context, when reviewing time and our relationship to it, it is essential to interrogate the disparity that exists over an individual’s self-governance at any given moment. Looking specifically to the present moment and to Gaza, a recent article published in The New Yorker by poet Mosab Abu Toha exposes ‘the power of now’ for the besieged strip’s civilians as nothing but a mirage. The story provides a harrowing account of what happened when the Israeli soldiers took him into custody, describing in horrific detail the complete lack of agency civilians have at any given moment on a day-to-day basis. From being perpetually ordered to leave particular geographies; to being starved of food and clean water; to having no access to reliable communications or emergency health care; to finally being abducted at gunpoint and taken blindfolded to a detention centre where he is beaten and threatened. His very survival is in a constant state of uncertainty. As he writes in a description befitting of all civilians in Gaza today:


“Then someone grabs the back of my neck and shoves me forward, as though we are sheep on our way to be slaughtered.”

Agency and the International Stage

Meanwhile, on the international stage, the impotence of global systems and humanitarian safeguards have been laid bare as urgent pleas for an immediate ceasefire remain unanswered. On December 6th, António Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations, invoked Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, in bid for a humanitarian ceasefire.

The Article, one of the most powerful tools at Guterres’ disposal, reads:


"The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”


The US vetoed the resolution. The United Kingdom abstained. Thirteen countries voted in favour: Albania, Brazil, China, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Russian Federation, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. 


It seems when it comes to enforcing human rights, we live in a world where 13 countries — 

 all members of the United Nations Security Council — have no more agency than a defenceless, bound and blindfolded poet, staring down the barrel of a gun.


 

The No Longer Now


Although the past denotes a fixed and unchangeable series of events beyond our influence, our understanding and interpretation of history offers insights into how actions can and may shape the course of events to come. When it comes to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and universal human rights, history serves as a valuable resource providing lessons and perspectives that can guide decision-making and strategy.


Cherry-Picking The Past

The interpretation of the No Longer Now depends on the writer, reader and the emphasis placed on different aspects of historical narratives. However, in order to have a well-rounded understanding of the past, a comprehensive approach is crucial in examining any given event. Since October 7, Israel and many of its allies have perpetuated a tale whereby Hamas is cast as the lone villain and Israel as an innocent victim of an unforeseen and extreme act of barbarity. The 75-years worth of historic context is nowhere to be seen, nor is there any background provided for how the Jewish state came to be.


As the Israeli historian, Professor Moshe Zimmerman stated recently about the practice of history at the time of Nazism:


"When I think about Germany and about German historians who constantly hid behind the 'neutrality' and 'objectivity' of history, I know where that leads. Those who are colourless, who are neither here nor there, in the end collaborate with what exists. A historian needs to infer from the past about the present."

The Nakba

Although the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 is well-known to the Arab and Muslim worlds, my interactions with many other foreign peoples indicate that very few have learnt anything about it. As Palestinian scholar, and one of the founders of post-colonial studies, Edward Said once remarked:


"We were the people dislodged from the land. We were the indigenous inhabitants who were thrown out to make way for a Jewish state. We are, in fact, victims of the victims.”

The details of the planned, radical displacement and murder of the original owners of the land by groups of Zionist militias, remain largely unknown still. 


The Romanticisation of the Jewish State

Instead, the western world including many of its Jewish inhabitants were fed a narrative of a utopian and pioneering new state fuelled by heroic enterprise. This tale has been critical in silencing any dissent about Israeli apartheid policy and facilitating a discourse that is regularly branded “complicated.” One of the myriad examples of the romanticisation of the Jewish state is the phrase: “Make the desert bloom.


Just last May, as Palestinians commemorated the Nakba, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, issued a video message:


Today, we celebrate 75 years of vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East. 75 years of dynamism, ingenuity and ground-breaking innovations."


Then, she said, "You have literally made the desert bloom.” 


Such statements are not only completely divorced from reality both on demographic and geographic grounds, but dangerously insinuate that there were no native inhabitants before the Jewish state was created, or imply that the people who were there were lazy, primitive and unsophisticated.


Palestinians have a popular phrase: “Akhadooha mafroosheh”, which in English, roughly translates to: 'they took it (the land), fully furnished.’ Even Yosef Diamant, a member of the Zionist military organisation, Haganah, who confesses to perpetrating the ethnic cleansing massacre in Tantura , says openly in a documentary of the same name, that:


Tantura was a rich village and had beautiful houses. Its residents lived like Europians.


75 Years of Palestinian Suffering

It is not possible to properly and comprehensively chronicle the events and systems of calculated apartheid the Palestinian people have endured for the past 75 years in this article, however this quote by Amnesty International provides a good summation:


“Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, successive governments have created and maintained a system of laws, policies, and practices designed to oppress and dominate Palestinians. This system plays out in different ways across the different areas where Israel exercises control over Palestinians’ rights, but the intent is always the same: to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.” Israeli authorities have accomplished this using: “Fragmentation into domains of control, Dispossession of land and property, Segregation and control, and Deprivation of economic & social rights.”


Overlooking this history and focusing solely on the events of October 7 as if they took place in a vacuum, not only serves to embolden the Israeli narrative as the nation of history's exceptional victims, but deliberately negates the exceptional suffering of Palestinian people. 


As the Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy eloquently put it: “I don’t recall one occupation in which the occupier presents himself as the victim. Not only the victim, the only victim.” 


Edward Said Foresaw It All

In an interview recorded in 2001 at the time of the al Aqsa Intifada, Edward Said foreshadows the current atrocities we’re witnessing in Gaza today:

“The Israeli military causes immense damage to Palestinians day after day: more innocent people are killed, their land destroyed or confiscated, their houses bombed and demolished, their movements circumscribed or stopped entirely. Thousands of civilians cannot find work, go to school, or receive medical treatment as a result of these Israeli actions. Such arrogance and suicidal rage against the Palestinians will bring no results except more suffering and more hatred, which is why in the end Sharon has always failed and resorted to useless murder and pillage. For our own sakes, we must rise above Zionism’s bankruptcy and continue to articulate our own message of peace with justice. If the way seems difficult, it cannot be abandoned.”

Substitute the then leader, Sharon, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Said has provided an accurate depiction not only of what we are bearing witness to today, but how we must aspire to act in light of this suffering.


 

So, What Now?


Then, comes the future. An unknown concept that sits outside the parameters of relevance and reality. A realm of possibility; speculative in essence, uncertain and ever-changing. 


Although the past and the future are strange bedfellows, history can be an important compass to guide the direction we choose to take in the present moment. To effectively bear witness in the present so we can plan for the future, we need to be courageous enough to use truthful terminology and call things for what they are.


Call it as it is: Apartheid

To effectively bear witness in the present so we can plan for the future, we need to be courageous enough to use truthful terminology and call things for what they are. Numerous international humanitarian organisations, Post-Apartheid South Africa and Namibia, and even Israeli Human Rights Groups, amongst other voices call it as they see it: apartheid. In March 2022, the UN joined the growing consensus. When it comes to Israel, apartheid is deeply ingrained in the exclusionary, settler-colonial essence of the Zionist enterprise.


BDS: Apartheid’s Kryptonite

So, how can we draw lessons from the South African experience of apartheid? We can hear from the leaders of the Anti-Apartheid Movement which led the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against the apartheid regime of South Africa. Lord Hughes, a British Labour politician and the chairman of the AAM from 1975 until 1995, explained:


"I fully support Israel’s right to exist, despite its deficiencies. Nevertheless, as someone who successfully moved a boycott of South African goods in 1962 when a member of Aberdeen City Council, I fully support the right to use a boycott as a legitimate expression of those who oppose Israel. The AAM used a variety of methods to oppose the apartheid regime, which in the end did lead to its downfall."


Co-founder of the Palestinian BDS movement and co-recipient of the 2017 Gandhi Peace Award, Omar Barghouti believes this strategic action is gaining increasing traction:


Trade unions and social justice movements, representing tens of millions, and many thousands of artists, academics, students, feminists, climate justice organisers, LGBTQI+ activists, not to mention an extraordinary number of music, film and sports celebrities, have declared support for Palestinian rights, with many endorsing BDS. Palestinians across historic Palestine and in exile have reaffirmed our unity as a people in our quest for self determination.


We’re assertively demanding justice, not begging for charity to help us live with injustice. Most importantly, we are telling the world, we need more courage, more human decency to end complicity in Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

We need strategic, effective BDS campaigns now more than ever.”


Racial Elimination of Palestinians  

The economic boycotts of South Africa, important as they were, were only part of a larger international isolation campaign that included political, economic, cultural, academic, and sporting boycotts until it came to an end in the early 1990s. This is significant because although BDS is highly effective in the long term, the Palestinian context is drastically different from that of apartheid South Africa. Collective, organised, long-term international pressure needs to be exerted on Israel and its allies, to change its apartheid policies if change is to be seen. 


Fayez Sayegh, Palestinian diplomat, scholar and teacher, is one of the experts on the differences between South African and Israeli apartheid. He delineates these distinctions clearly in his article, Zionist Colonialism in Palestine (1965):


“If racial discrimination against the ‘inferior natives’ was the motto of race-supremacist European settler-regimes in Asia and Africa, the motto of the race-supremacist Zionist settler-regime in Palestine was racial elimination. Discriminatory treatment has been reserved by the Zionists for those remnants of the Palestinian Arab people who have stubbornly stayed behind in their homeland in spite of all efforts to dispossess and evict them, and in defiance of the Zionist dictum of racial exclusiveness.”

Zero-Sum Game

A ‘zero-sum game’ is a mathematical representation used to describe a situation that involves two sides, where the result is an advantage for one side and an equivalent loss for the other. In other words, player one's gain is equivalent to player two's loss, with the result that the net improvement in benefit of the game is zero.


Israel’s agenda, since day one, has always been a zero-sum game. Afterall, the very essence and objective of the Zionist project is racial and cultural exclusion. Therefore Israel - in its current form - will never accept living alongside Palestinians.


Throughout this genocide, I have seen this racist ideology perpetuated over and over by Israeli Zionists of all walks of life. I’ve watched more videos than I care to see of Israeli politicians, Israeli settlers, Israeli TV reporters, and even the occasional recorded conversation with Israeli teenagers on Omegle and TikTok, emphatically assert this sentiment.


Indeed, within Israeli society, proposed methodologies for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians have never been more blatant. Five weeks into the bombardment of Gaza, two Israeli Knesset members published an article in the Wall Street Journal calling for a plan to transfer parts of the population from the Gaza Strip to countries that agree to accept them and last week Knesset member and former Israeli UN ambassador Danny Danon said that the State of Israel had received numerous inquiries from South American and African nations willing to take in refugees from the Gaza Strip in exchange for money and warfare. And then you have far-right Knesset minister Amichai Eliyahu, who claimed there are no non-combatants in the Gaza Strip and suggested that dropping a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip might be a more effective option.


No Land Left for a Palestinian State

The Zero-Sum game, the result of the racial elimination policy espoused by Israel can be traced on many levels - starting with the co-ordinated massacres perpetrated by Zionist militias against Palestinians in 1947 and 1948 which were designed to kill and / or terrorise Palestinians into fleeing, resulting in 800,000 Palestinians forcibly expelled from their homes. 


The two-state solution, although a comforting ideal, has no connection to contemporary realities.

Since September, 1967, Israel has continued to fund and build illegal settlements, making the Two-State solution geographically impossible. In a powerful interview Hagai El-Ad, former executive director of Human Rights organisation, B’Tselem, describes 'The Gaza-fication' of the West Bank, and his illustration is crystal clear:


 “The uprooting of Palestinian communities all over the West Bank is not a project of the settlers, the bad ones, the good ones, or the other ones. It is a state project. All of these policies have been in place in a variety of ways. There are legal mechanisms that the state has been using to take land from Palestinians and settle Jewish communities on it instead.” 

Beyond the violation of international law, arming and protecting settlers, and consequently, subjecting unarmed Palestinians to daily settler violence, these settlements are strategically placed to undermine “the geographic viability of a Two-State solution, exacerbate tensions and further harm trust between the two parties” as the representative of the United States put it in a Security Council meeting held in September 2023.


Today, 40 percent of the occupied West Bank land is now controlled by settlements with more than 700,000 settlers – 10 percent of Israel’s nearly 7 million population – living in 150 settlements and 128 outposts dotting the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.


As long as Israel remains vehemently committed to its Zionist core, there will not be peace in the region. This is what our 75 years worth of history says. Without justice, peace is not possible. As Martin Luther King Jr explained:


 "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy… Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”
 

Seize The Now


The Now is a flowing river of Palestinian blood. Even while drafting this article, I knew it would be essential to update the number of dead Palestinians in the moments just prior to publishing. 


The Now is a flowing river of Palestinian blood.

Although the future is unknown, this doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to take action today for a better tomorrow. We must act now to put an end to this ongoing bloodshed, barbarity and heartbreak. We must act now in the name of a better world and to avoid an indelible stain on our collective conscience. 


In a reality where we watch in real time as innocent children are torn to pieces; where safety, justice, freedom, and indeed, humanity are all but abstract concepts no more perceptible than Russell’s teapot, all we have to hold on to, is our agency in the now.


So please, free citizens of this reality, I implore you: don’t stop using whatever form of agency you have, to demand an immediate and enduring ceasefire.


***

What the Free People of the World Can Do Now


  • Educate yourself. The 75 years of Israeli occupation and Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice cannot be grasped overnight. It is long and brutal, but not complicated. 

  • Pressure your governments to call for an immediate ceasefire. If you are a US citizen, call your representatives

  • Join others who stand against genocide. Participate in demonstrations, sit-ins, speak up, talk to people, and help expose Israeli propaganda by sharing the truth about Palestine and the genocide taking place in Gaza. 

  • Boycott Israeli products, especially those coming from illegal Israeli settlements. 

  • Boycott companies that support Israel.

  • Advocate for the international isolation of Israel: culturally, academically, in sports, art, and public forums.


 

Photo of author, Mary Abu Ghattas
Mary Abu Ghattas in Palestine

About the author:


Mary Abu Ghattas holds a bachelor degree in English language and literature and has a professional background in broadcasting and communications. Born and raised in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, she currently resides in Ramallah.


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