Why The Expression “Free Palestine” is Misleading and, at Worst, Intentionally Deceptive : by Rick Aiyer

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When I hear free Palestine” (or some iteration thereof), I retort, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the “cause” is a fait accompli since midnight on May 14, 1948: the moment a Jewish-majority state in the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people — the pluralistic, liberal parliamentary democracy we know as Medinat Yisrael — was re-born following millennia of occupation by various colonial powers.

As you may well imagine, bewilderment often ensues. Underlying my perhaps offbeat response is an intent to understand what precisely one means by the expression free Palestine.” Interpreted in its most straightforward grammatical construction with some comprehension of the principle of self-determination, achieving a free Palestine” would mean ushering Palestine” from an implied colonial occupation to a reality whereby its native inhabitants may freely be the masters of their own destiny.



If this is what is meant by “free Palestine,” I stand by my assertion. If one is to understand “Palestine” as the land bound by the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, freedom was indeed achieved when, upon the termination of the British mandate, those indigenous to the land — the Jewish people — exercised their inherent right to self-determination and fulfilled a 2,000-year-old hope by declaring the re-establishment of Israel. This does not negate Palestinian long standing connection to the land.

Upon explaining the foregoing, I am usually told, No! You know I meant freedom for the Palestinian people.” My retort? — also somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “But the Jews are Palestinians, and they are free.” This time, it is frustration that usually ensues. But that does not negate the truth and premise of the assertion: defined with honesty and sincerity, a Palestinian” people that excludes Jews does not and cannot exist. The name Palestine” is of a colonial origin: a name foreign to the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael, a name occupying powers, in pursuit of the colonial mission, imposed on Eretz Yisrael with the intent of terminologically stripping the connection of the Jewish people to their land. Arguably, they succeeded, for the name Palestine” kept up over millennia, frequently defining how individuals of all religions — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others — living in Eretz Yisrael identified themselves. Indeed, the State of Israel as we know it was almost named Palestine” in Arabic (this consideration was abandoned to avoid creating confusion with the most likely name for the Arab state envisioned by the UN Partition Plan of 1947).

Of course, it is well understood that in common parlance, Palestinian” intends to refer to the non-Jewish people who profess a connection to Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, such is the definition that articles 6 and 7 of the Palestinian National Charter ascribe, for all practical intents and purposes, to the term Palestinian.” 

Working therefore off the assumption that by free Palestine,” one means permitting the non-Jewish people of Eretz Yisrael to determine their destiny (and reserving discussion on this alleged right’s legitimacy for another day). I maintain — assuming my counterpart is still willing to converse with me — that they too are free and have been since the British Mandate terminated. The Partition Plan, it is worth remembering, envisioned the creation of two states in Eretz Yisrael: one Jewish, another Arab. In the spirit of peaceful co-existence, the Jewish people accepted this plan despite its questionable equity. Any semblance of decency — or at least pragmatism — would have expected that the Arabs reciprocate, and in doing so, fulfill their own hope for freedom and self-determination. Instead, they chose war. As we well know, Israel survived, and the land today referred to as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip fell under Jordanian and Egyptian control, respectively. 

In contrast to the usual aftermath of armed conflicts, Arabs across Eretz Yisrael remained free following the 1948 war. Israel granted the Arabs living within its borders the same citizenship, rights, and privileges enjoyed by Jewish Israelis, including suffrage. Jordan offered those living in the West Bank the right to self-determination — a right exercised at the 1948 Jericho Conference in the form of voluntarily choosing unification with Transjordan under Hashemite rule as opposed to independent Palestinian statehood. 

Such could have been the storys end had it not been for the events precipitating the 1967 war: Egypt blocking access to the Strait of Tiran — a causus belli (act of war) — and Jordans corresponding aggressions against Israel. 1967, of course, saw Jerusalems re-unification and the assumption of Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Freedom for a people who wage — then lose — war is an undeniable historical anomaly. Still, Israel once again elected to offer the Palestinians the opportunity to carve their own path ahead: an offer ultimately yielding the Oslo Accords and placing the Palestinians on the road to eventual statehood. The irony that the state granting and supporting Palestinian self-governance for the first time in history is labeled by some as an occupying colonial power” should not be lost on us. 

Indeed, Oslos vision for a two-state solution has not been realized more than two decades following its signing. The reasons thereof alone are susceptible to a dissertation. However, one may, for the most part, reduce them to the following incontrovertible truth: a sovereign Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israels existence, prosperity, or security. Sadly, the Palestinian governance apparatus has hereto manifested its inability, at best, or unwillingness, at worst, to provide this necessary guarantee.



To return to the issue underlying free Palestine”: the use of this expression, without further qualification, is misleading and, at worst, intentionally deceptive. As mentioned, any reasonable, common-sense interpretation of the expression free Palestine” leads to a singular conclusion: fait accompli since May 14, 1948. However, such is not the interpretation held in the minds of those who utter it. Therefore, I ask these individuals, what do you mean? If free Palestine” is poor but good-faith word choice for the longer and less catchy seeking, without subjecting Israel to delegitimization, dehumanization, or double-standards, a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not compromise Israels existence, prosperity, or security,” I believe it is a worthwhile endeavour to engage in meaningful dialogue. If on the other hand by free Palestine,” one means an end to Israels identity as a Jewish-majority state with Jerusalem as its united and undivided capital or worse yet, an end to a Jewish presence altogether in Eretz Yisrael, that to me is pure and simple anti-semitism hiding behind the cloak of human rights advocacy.

By Rick Aiyer