For Palestinians, Israel’s elections promise nothing but defeat

Raja Shehadeh

After 50 years of occupation, our freedom is shrinking every day. But even if Netanyahu loses, little will change

Tue 17 Sep 2019


Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu visit the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron. Photograph: Emil Salman/AP

When Boris Johnson announced his plan to suspend parliament, I was visiting Orkney with my wife, Penny. It was the last week of a month-long stay in Scotland, and it took a day for the news to reach us. We were having tea with some English friends on 29 August when they heard what had happened. They began to fume: he’s done it again. They worried how this would undermine their country’s democracy. It was a curious twist: I am usually the one bearing bad news about the state of my country. For a brief moment, we traded anxieties – although mine were of a more existential nature. Even in Scotland, the bad news from home was constant: the expansion of Israeli settlements, the threat of annexation, and the steady tally of death and injury in Gaza, all eating away at what remained of my Palestine.

A few days later, just after Johnson had expelled 21 MPs from his party, we flew home. The driver who picked us up from the airport took the usual circuitous route to get us to Ramallah, crossing three checkpoints on the way. At each one, we held our breath and hoped the soldiers were not in a bad mood. As always I felt the shock of returning home, seeing our parched hills at the end of summer and my noisy, crowded city; I had a sudden and pervasive sense of precariousness.

None of the parties contesting the elections are talking about the occupation or putting forward proposals for ending it

On the way our driver informed us without betraying any emotion that Israel was no longer allowing traffic from Jerusalem to pass through the notorious checkpoint at Qalandia into the West Bank, forcing drivers on to circuitous routes through other checkpoints and compounding the misery there. “They are digging and placing cables” on the road to the checkpoint, he said. Then with typical sardonic Palestinian humour he added: “Perhaps they are planning to present us with a gift.”

His other news was about Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumphant stroll through the old city of Hebron, where he spoke in front of the Ibrahimi mosque, a holy site for Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In 2000, Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to al-Aqsa mosque sparked a second intifada. But this time Palestinian protest was muted. Some signs were held aloft and a murmur of anger was heard.


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