Between pressure and counter-pressure: Muriel Asseburg continues the history of the Palestinians up to the present day.
Hardly any political conflict has been reported on more for decades than the Middle East conflict. Due to the German past, the relationship to Israel is a special one – which explains the extraordinary attention, but also the strong polarization in media and politics. You know a lot about Israel, its history and its society in Germany – if you want to. This is quite different for the Palestinians, who are usually only in the spotlight during armed conflicts.
Who knows their view of history and internal debates? Who in the broader public knows outstanding personalities like the women’s activist Leila Ajesch or the national poet Mahmud Darwisch?
This gap is now filled by Muriel Asseburg with her book "Palestine and the Palestinians. It gives a face not only to some personalities, but to an entire society. In an unagitated, matter-of-fact tone, the Middle East expert, who as a senior fellow in the Middle East and Africa department of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) tends to advise German policy-makers, strides through this ideologically mined territory.
[Muriel Asseburg: Palestine and the Palestinians. A history from the Nakba to the present day. Publisher C.H. Beck, Munich 2021. 365 S., 16,95 €.]
Critical of the Palestinian national movement or of long-time President Yasser Arafat, Asseburg does not shy away from showing that the Israeli occupation, at least since Prime Minister Netanyahu, is designed to be permanent.
Nakba is more than a fighting term
Asseburg, one of the most knowledgeable experts on the Middle East conflict, makes it clear right from the start that there is no room for polemics and ideology here: she uses the term Nakba, which many in this country hastily classify as a fighting term, to describe the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 – because this is what it is called in Arab historiography, since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes as a result and this was perceived as a "catastrophe".
In this way, the Arab-Palestinian perspective is taken seriously – at the same time, Asseburg counters the fact that she laments at the beginning, namely that Palestine and Palestinians are often stereotypically perceived as terrorists or mere victims, and what a strong role Israeli interpretations play in that. Building on Gudrun Kramer’s classic 2006 introduction to the history of the Palestinians from the Ottoman Empire to the Nakba, Asseburg, after a brief review of the British Mandate period, continues the story from the founding of the state of Israel to the present day.
The mere enumeration of population figures around 1882 refute the later Israeli narrative of Palestine as a "land without a people". A narrative that continues in today’s inequality for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who lose their homes and residency rights in their hometown if they go abroad to study, for example, and do not live continuously on site.
The property of Palestinian "absentees" after their flight was mostly confiscated by the Israeli state anyway. House by house, square meter by square meter is fought for ground, creates Israel facts. To understand this conflict, such facts are necessary.
Ongoing dispossession and expulsion
Only then can it be seen that there is a connection between ongoing dispossession and eviction of Palestinians and attacks on Israel – as most recently in May, when the threatened forced eviction of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood led to belligerent actions.
The evolution of the Palestinian national feeling reads more excitingly than the sketch of the political representations in the form of Fatah, PLO or Hamas – simply because these are better known. Going through the various peace negotiations, even in this brief review, one almost gets mixed up with the different tracks. The development of Palestinian society and the neopatrimonial grip of Arafat and his organization, which prevented the development of a rights-based liberal democracy, are also critically presented. Plus, maps without which you can’t understand the impact of Israel’s settlement policy on Palestinian anger.
It becomes particularly political when assessing the current situation of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories against the backdrop of the controversial apartheid analogy drawn by critics of Israel from non-European countries.
The author shows that a de facto "complex one-state reality" has long since emerged, as Israel’s government repeatedly makes clear that it is unlikely to end the occupation. Asseburg also believes that a two-state solution is unlikely, since the positions on the final status would be further apart today than they were in the 2008 round of negotiations in Annapolis.
Discrimination in the foreground
Therefore, a permanent state of affairs is foreseeable in which discrimination comes to the fore – both of Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin and of Palestinians in the occupied territories. In June 2017, even the German Parliament’s Scientific Service (Wissenschaftlicher Dienst des Bundestags) assessed the Israeli measures taken so far in the occupied territories as "acts of displacement," arguing that their purpose is to create an "inhospitable, repellent environment hostile to development".
Despite all the differences, Asseburg certainly sees overlaps between the definition of apartheid under international law and the situation in Israel and the occupied territories.
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In particular, the limited rights of the Palestinian population and the systematic preferential treatment of the Jewish population referred to the Rome Statute’s definition of apartheid as an "institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another"-even though the system of differentiation in Israel and the occupied territories is not based on "race" but primarily on ethnoreligiously defined ethnicity.
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Among Palestinians, says Muriel Asseburg, in the face of this one-state reality, there is growing support for models other than their own nation-state: their struggle is shifting from one against occupation to one for greater equality.