Americans need to Answer: When Will Palestinians get their Fourth of July?

By Juan Cole

Americans are commemorating the Fourth of July today, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

The grievances that the four million inhabitants of British North America had in 1776 were not felt by them to be narrow or specific but rather universal, and so too was the remedy. They laid against the government of King George III that it was not serving the interests of its North American subjects.

Thomas Jefferson wrote,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

All human beings are created equal, the founders of the United States believed.

That means that Palestinians, as human beings, are also created equal. The text says “all.”

Moreover, the Palestinians by virtue of being “men” (i.e. human beings) have been endowed by God with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Palestinians do not have any of these rights, whether God wants them to or not. They were successively ethnically cleansed from their homeland of Palestine by militant Jewish settlers. (There were no Jews in Palestine to speak of as recently as 1800; Bonaparte found about 3,000 I think; Palestine was inhabited by Muslim and Christian Palestinians and as late as 1939 the British mandatory authorities envisaged a Palestinian state in 1949). Some 750,000 were expelled with no compensation and their land and property usurped in 1948. More tens of thousands were displaced in 1967. Their numbers have grown. Some 20 percent of Israel is remnants of the original Palestinian inhabitants, some 1.6 million persons. They are second class citizens in many ways.

But the some 4 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza, and the several hundred thousand living in Lebanese refugee camps, are living lives the opposite of the ones Jefferson declared natural. They are stateless. In the West Bank they live under Israeli military rule; there are a few civil institutions, but all of these can be over-ruled by the whim of the Israeli army. Palestinians do not control their land, water or air. In Gaza, the Israelis have put them under siege, including the children and non-combatants in general. They aren’t allowed to export virtually anything they produce. They have no port or airport (both bombed by Israel). They suffer from massive unemployment and even malnutrition. The Israelis have placed the Palestinians of Gaza in a huge open-air concentration camp. With American and European help.

In the phrase of Warren Burger, the stateless have no right to have rights. They do not have the right to life, or liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. They may be killed with impunity (the Israeli army has killed 9 Palestinians, including children, in its crackdown on the West Bank over the horrific kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youth. The horrid character of the crime does not authorize Israel to engage in collective punishment nor Israelis to act as vigilantes and deprive other people of life or liberty.)

So the Palestinians do not have a right to life. They have no liberty at all as the US founding generation conceived it. And they certainly have no right to pursue happiness. Their lives are constrained and made difficult by deliberate actions of Israeli officials and officers and armed squatters on their land who torment them.

The Declaration of Independence insists that people have a right to elect their government. But Palestinians cannot elect the Israeli government, which actually rules them (and they cannot elect the Lebanese or Syrian governments either, where there are significant Palestinian refugee populations). The elections held after the Oslo process have been undone by deliberate Israeli intransigence. When Palestinians vote for the Palestine Authority, in any case, they are not actually getting representation that matters. Unelected forces in Israel still control their land, air and sea.

When Palestinians elected a Hamas government in 2006, the Israelis disrupted it and fomented a PLO coup against it. The Americans in 1776 said of King George, “He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.” Palestinian parliamentarians have been arrested in large numbers by Israeli soldiers on the West Bank. Some are now again kidnapped.

The early Americans were angry that King George III took away land at will, which is something the Israelis routinely do to the Palestinians. They also minded that he appointed the court judges. The Palestinians have no courts in which to adjudicate their claims, being forced to litigate in front of unsympathetic Israeli judges.

Did the Americans mind that the king was “cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world?” Israelis are doing that to the Palestinians. Were they angry at him “for depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury”? The Israelis arrest and hold people for a very long time without any judicial process.

The remedy the early Americans applied to these problems, of rising up against foreign occupying troops, is not available to Palestinians. The Israelis are too strong, too well armed, and too backed to the hilt by the US Congress, many members of which have more or less been bribed by pro-Israel donors. Opposing the Israeli occupation is routinely equated in the US to “terrorism,” even though Palestinians are the aggrieved party. But in any case, the Declaration of Independence does not say all men are created equal except those that have some violent people among them. And King George III saw the American revolutionaries as terrorists, too.

The horrible thing is that US diplomacy and US taxpayers’ money is going toward keeping the Palestinians stateless and without rights. Americans are doing to a helpless people exactly the kinds of things they wouldn’t put up with from King George III for themselves.

Americans don’t have a responsibility to liberate everyone in the world. But they do have a responsibility not to help Israel deprive Palestinians of their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Related video:

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21 Responses

  1. “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, ”

    Breaking (yesterday) news (see New York Times) indicates that the period after “Happiness” may be a comma, as in the other phrases in this passage. The PBS Newshour’s last piece yesterday discusses this with the scholar who did the research and published this result.


  2. Thomas Jefferson said all men are created equal, unfortunately many US politicians do not believe that, Putin in that New York Times article had to remind John McQeada and Obama of that fact. The Palestinians will get nowhere whilst being led by Abbas, he has given commitments to US/Israel that he will not apply for UN institutions and presumably also the ICC, this is unbelievable, especially when the well documented war crimes of population transfer are ongoing, and more of the same are promised, pursuing Israel through the International courts is not even an act of resistance, it is the least any self respecting leader would do to protect his people from the daily humiliations life under occupation, but he will not act. link to

    • What would the outcome be of the Palestinians declaring themselves a state? What would the borders be of that state?

      This would just be a feel-good fantasy, and it wouldn’t put any pressure on Israel.

      Without cooperation with Israel, this isolated, disjointed, nominal state will be impoverished.

      The only practical way forward is for Israel and the Palestinian people to be closely integrated economically, regardless of the political arrangements.

  3. Just to add to my comment above, McCain and Obama said the US was the “exceptional nation” and that they believed it with every fibre of their being. In my opinion that is not only wrong, but dangerous.

  4. Thank you for your July 4th commentary. What suggestions do you have for Americans interested in helping end the oppression of Palestinians?

  5. Thank you for expressing the very similar thoughts I had as well this morning. Even as we celebrate the freedoms we have today we are mindful of our own forms of tyrannies thrust upon us by our own government which threatens our privacy, by such organizations as the NRA who warp and twist the constitution, by economic inequalities which restrict the pursuit of happiness and by the failure of our elected representatives whose own special interest subordinate those of their constituencies.

    Time for another revolution!

  6. Just curious: is resolving the horror of the Palestinians, turning them loose to do their version of the Struggle for Democracy, going to un-light all the fuses, un-say all the unforgivable insults, unmount all the troops and weapons and the institutions and their complexities of idiotic greedy self-serving dead-end “policies,” un-make Dimona and the deadly spawn of the sick creatures who have put the “Samson option” on line connected to who knows what kind of Dr. Strangelovian trigger, un-rule people like Arafat and Assad and Netanyahoo and Cameron and the deep state here there and everywhere?

    But of course, inarguably, whatever else goes on, that set of changes to the circumstances of one set of the earth’s wretched is the right thing to do. Might even be a kind of catalyst of Goodness, who knows?

  7. It is necessary to keep the grievances of Palestinians in the public conscience. But this is just the easy work.

    I’m most interested in suggestions for what can be done to change the situation. I’m not expecting a plan of action for today, but a long term vision would be nice.

    I give up on a 2-state solution. The writing is on the wall: the patchwork “state” that is possible in the west bank now is a terrible deal for Palestinians, and that offer will get worse.

    I believe Palestinians should shift their focus to becoming loyal citizens of a bi-national state of Israel. That transition will of course involve a monumental shift of attitudes. But a number Palestinians are already there.

    You got any better ideas?

    • There will be no binational state because Israel does not want to grant citizenship to West Bank Palestinians.

      • You have to look 30 years ahead. What looks impossible today will someday seem inevitable.

        Israel is on a trajectory to be the 21st century apartheid state, even to its friends and supporters. For a variety of reasons, I do not consider Israel today the moral equivalent of South Africa, but that is where they are headed. Israel will resolve the question of the rights of Palestinians, there is no other way.

        You might be surprised that a considerable faction on the right in Israel is seriously discussing the annexation of the West Bank, and the granting of citizenship to all residents. You’ll have to endure a lot of anti-Obama, right wing crud, but this talk is instructive:
        link to
        Caroline Glick author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East “

        The thinking here is that the Jewish birth rate is actually higher than the Palestinian rate, despite reports to contrary. The demographic time bomb is a dud. Of course the plan is to leave Gaza alone, not sure if that could work out.

        • I’ve seen more hardline articles coming out of Israel where the writers are essentially saying, “Israel needs to annex the West Bank (Judea and Samaria being the preferred term by the right) and remove all the Arabs.”

          Here’s an example by Joel Meltzer of The Jerusalem Post) link to

          How Mr. Meltzer envisions removing the majority Arab population from the West Bank he declines to say, other than wishing for an “alternate or creative solution”.

          Particularly alarming is a renewal of remarks like that of former Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai who once stated: “The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians of Gaza] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” That some in Israel are willing to consider a “shoah” (Holocaust) of Arabs as the final solution for the Palestine / Israel conflict is sobering indeed.

          Netanyahu’s current strategy looks like a piece-by-piece push to get all the Arab population to go to Jordan, Egypt or elsewhere in the greater world.

          Unless a Palestinian Mandela and an Israeli Mandela come up with a whole new vision, it looks like the incremental dispossession of the Palestinians will continue.

        • Ethnic cleansing is not a realistic possibility. Sure, that has always been and will forever be the position of some on far right.

          I see no evidence that Netanyahu expects Palestinians to emigrate.

          What the right is doing in the West Bank is simply squeezing and containing the Palestinian population. Really, isn’t it obvious? I suspect their long term strategy is a “2 state solution” that confines Palestinians to disconnected, fragmented homelands. The strategy is working and continues apace.

          Many Palestinians have figured out that the “2 state solution” is a dead end. Many op-ed pieces have appeared the past 5 years by Palestinians suggesting Israeli citizenship as the best way forward. The sooner the “2 state solution” fantasy/diversion dies, the sooner Israel will be forced to deal with the political and human rights of Palestinians.

          Israel can absorb the West Bank and still have a Jewish majority state.

          BTW, do you read stories of the 20% Arab population in Israel wanting to emigrate to Jordan or Lebanon or Syria or Egypt? Neither do I.

          Ideally, the Palestinians would have the West Bank for their independent state. The 20% Jewish population there can just make do like the 20% Arab population manages in Israel. This would be the most justice outcome, but there is no mechanism for it to happen. It won’t happen.

          I heard Shimon Peres on Charlie Rose last week. He is adamantly opposed to a one state solution. He offers the happy divorce of the Czechs and Slovaks as a useful model. Perez is a man of the 20th century. It will take a future generation to accept that the integration of Jews and Palestinians is the only remaining moral path forward. Full democracy in South Africa was also unthinkable not so long ago.

        • @HMReader:

          The suggestion that Israel should remove all Arabs from the West Bank and annex it was first forcefully espoused by Rabbi Meir Kahane when he was elected to the Knesset in the 1980s.

          His slogan directed to Israelis was ” I say what you think”.

          Kahane believed that these Arabs should be compensated by Israel for being uprooted from their land.

          He was viewed as an unacceptable extremist by Israelis and American Jews alike and the Kach Party he founded was eventually banned as a racist organization – one of its card-carrying members was Avigdor Lieberman.

        • You’re right Mark, ethnic cleansing is nothing like a majority position in Israel.
          Your earlier point that the majority in Israel don’t support Palestinian citizenship in a bi-national state is also true. But that stance can change.

          Palestinians can gain citizenship by switching to a strategy of sustained peaceful protest. Emphasis on peaceful – throwing rocks leads nowhere, in fact any violence just plays into narrative of the Israeli right.

          Israel can not resist peaceful protest demanding voting rights.

          I hope the Palestinians can rally behind such a strategy some decade soon.

  8. The West Bank is under martial law and has been so since 1967. The Gaza disengagement of 2005 ended IDF martial law there.

    As a result of the Camp David Accords – which many saw Palestinians saw as a sellout by Anwar Sadat since it postponed final status negotiations on the Palestine question – the Israelis created in 1981 the “Civil Administration” which is a branch of the Israel Defense Forces led by a brigadier general that is the supreme ruling power over the West Bank. Currently that person is Brigadier General David Menachem, whose identity is not very well known outside Israel even though he is the de facto ruler of West Bank Palestinians. Go on YouTube and you can see him and his entourage meeting for tea at the office of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem recently.

    The West Bank is divided into military districts under the Civil Administration each of which is headed by an IDF colonel who acts as a military governor in the region.

    “The Palestinians have no courts which to adjudicate their claims………………”

    I would disagree with this. Even though Israeli military tribunals hear criminal prosecutions of West Bank Palestinians, there is a limited court system that exists. For example, an appeals panel exists of Palestinian jurists to hear reviews of election results.

    Following the Six-Day War, legal formalities such as deed recordation and marriage license registration, were performed by churches in the West Bank. West Bank Palestinians affairs were also administered by Jordan, who issued passports to Palestinians and, up until the late1980s, made welfare payments to families in the West Bank.

    The Palestinian Authority has been compared by some to the Judenrat organization that constituted Jewish self-rule of the Warsaw Ghetto – it is ultimately designed to advance the interests of the occupying power.

    • Camp David established a framework to negotiate a final status for West Bank & Gaza. PLO didn’t participate because, among other reasons, a right of return wasn’t guaranteed up front. The UN General Assembly backed the PLO.

      I believe this was a terrible blunder, a lost opportunity. The Palestinians could have had their state based on 1967 borders.

      So then we fast forward to Oslo era. I believe Israel made a good faith offer, but maybe issues like water rights kept it from being acceptable to Palestinians. It was a messy deal, but oh so close. There was blame and stupidity from rejectionists on both sides for blowing up opportunity, launching hostilities.

      Now there are half a million jews scattered across the West Bank. Interesting that the Jewish population percentage in West Bank is about the same as the Arab Population percentage in Israel.

      I’m afraid the two state approach is done. The “facts on the ground” are now too much to unwind. Palestinians will have a much better future as part of Israel. In the United States, Native Americans have dual citizenship in the U.S. as well as their particular Indian nation. Maybe something like that could work out.

  9. “Americans don’t have a responsibility to liberate everyone in the world. But they do have a responsibility not to help Israel deprive Palestinians of their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Amen to that. And, I would add, having supported and enabled the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians for the past 66 years, we Americans have a moral responsibility to make amends as best we can. Having taken their homeland from them, we could at least offer them a new one here by giving those who want it citizenship and financial help to make a new start. For the others, financial reparations, and an apology.

    • #boomerBob
      You are on to something here.
      I agree that the US should allow Palestinians to migrate here, and to give them reparations, etc. Assuming that there are 4 million Palestinians. $100,000.00 per person would be a good start. This comes out to about $400 billion dollars. For the amount of aid that we give to Israel and the amount of money for military preparedness that we are committed to spending, we will readily spend this much in 10 years anyway. I maintain that the $2 trillion Iraq debacle was a lot to do with weakening Iraq for the benefit of Israel.

  10. The short answer to the question is there will be no Palestine in the west bank and Gaza

    The longer answer is a two-state situation is now impossible unless Israel has the political and military will to forcibly remove over 500,000 non-Arabs from the west bank. It is important to understand that the settlers make up a significant part of the IDF and have access to all the IDF weapon, including aircraft. Any attempt to remove the settlers, many of whom are willing to fight to the death, would result in a civil war with a very tragic outcome.

    So, Israelis now only have two other options (the status quo is completely unsustainable):

    – (1) A single secular state (non-Jews and non-Muslim), where everyone is equal and the settlers either have to give up the land or the state will have to raise taxes and compensate the displaced people. Given the Arabs are mostly poor, the taxes would mostly come from the Jewish citizens. Over time as Jewish people leave because the state is no longer “Jewish” and the Arabs continue to have children, eventually the Jewish will be a large minority. Once dominate minorities never give up power willingly and always resent havering to give up power (current example = Sunni in Iraq).

    – Fight to the death. This is problematic for the Israelis because contrary to the myths, they do not have the resources for a long term fight to the death. Wars require three things – cannon fodder (lots of humans to die for the cause), material to be destroyed and lots of wealth to pay for all the stuff. While Israel has a population of about 7 million, a significant number of those are dual nationals and as much as third of the people in Israel would flee any war (because that is just what humans do in war zones). While there would be some people that would move to Israel to fight, that number is probably very small. The Arabs have access to 10X the number of Israelis. Israel has no “magic” weapons and the world is awash in weapons equal to anything Israel has. Also the world has learned how to defeat the IDF by practicing on the USA. The bottom line is the probability of Israel losing is very high, although Israelis are blinded by immense hubris and delusion, so most will not see this until it happens in front of them..

    Based on past behavior, I do not expect the Israelis to allow a single secular state but will choose to fight a losing war. In other words, their hyper-inflated egos will not allow them to compromise, so they will lose everything.

    • Spyguy, you’re right that Israel won’t forcibly evict 500,000 settlers. But beyond that, none of your scenarios make any sense.

      The settler air force is funny idea. Israel is not going to fight “the Arabs” to the death. Jews are not going to emigrate.

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