The Problem is the Occupation of Palestine

Relatives of Palestinian Saad Dawabshe
Relatives of Palestinian Saad Dawabsheh mourn during his funeral in in Duma village near the West Bank city of Nablus August 8. Dawabsheh died from a wound he sustained after attackers torched his family home in the occupied West Bank. Dawabsheh's 18-month-old baby Ali was killed in the same attack. Reuters/Abed Omar Qusini

Today, there is a popular uprising in Palestine. Aside from a few isolated cases, this is largely a non-violent uprising, involving thousands of Palestinians marching toward Israeli checkpoints, demanding their freedoms and their rights.

They are consistently met with Israeli army violence, with high-velocity and metallic bullets—frequently misrepresented as rubber bullets—to disperse protesters. Since the beginning of October, more than 7,000 Palestinians have been injured, including more than 1,000 by live ammunition.

The main question is: Why is this happening? After 22 years of negotiations, Palestinians realized that the road to peace is completely blocked by Israel, and that Israeli governments are using peace negotiations as a cover for the expansion of settlements.

Another reason is the dramatic increase in violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians. This violence had two sharp peaks. The first was the killing of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July 2014; the boy was kidnapped and burned alive by Israeli settlers.

Then was the case when Israeli settlers hurled firebombs into the Dawabsheh family home during the night of July 31 this year, burning to death 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh. His parents also later died from the injuries they suffered in the attack. Ali's four-year-old brother, Ahmed, is still in hospital recovering from his injuries.

These attacks sent a clear message to Palestinians living under occupation: Nobody is safe. Despite the efforts of Palestinian Authority (PA) security apparatuswhich consumes 28 percent of the PA's budgetthe PA is unable to protect the Palestinian people from the Israeli army or from illegal settlers.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the Israeli violations of Al-Aqsa mosque. Israeli efforts to impose restrictions on the entrance of Muslims trying to reach their place of worship touched a sensitive Palestinian nerve.

The problems at Al-Aqsa mosque cannot be fixed by revoking the residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians or with more cameras to spy on those who pray. The problem is that 95 percent of Palestinians are prohibited from reaching Jerusalem. I was born in Jerusalem and worked as a physician for 15 years in Jerusalem. Yet, since 2005, Israel has not allowed me or others to go there, even though I am an elected legislator.

This uprising is the result of an accumulation of factors, all of which have roots in one place: the Israeli occupation of Palestine that has lasted for 48 years, the longest in modern history. We have been promised a solution that has not been realized.

Palestinians were forced to accept a painful compromisea state made up from less than half of the territory they were promised by the UN. Their leaders signed the Oslo Accords, but all Palestinians got was more settlements, more oppression, and more violations of their dignity.

The younger Palestinian generation sees no future for themselves. The rate of unemployment for young educated people is more than 60 percent.

I was asked why this uprising is happening now. What is different about this generation of Palestinians? The main difference is that this generation knows exactly what they are missing.

Mainly through social media, young Palestinians know how people are living in other parts of the world; they know what it means to be free. They know what it means to have opportunity for economic prosperity. They know what they are missing and they are asking for the freedom they do not have.

Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the reason for the uprising to be incitement. Many authoritarian leaders and dictators have claimed the same, instead of trying to find the root causes in their own actions.

However, the true cause is clear. It is Israeli occupation, which must end for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem 48 years ago, declaring it part of Israel. Now the Israeli government is building barriers to separate East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem. They claim that these barriers are for security, but they are clearly instruments for annexing land.

Netanyahu keeps telling Palestinians to join him in negotiations. Palestinians negotiated for 22 years; all they got was more settlements and more oppression. For as long as Netanyahu refuses to stop building settlements, he is making it impossible for Palestinians to negotiate.

During the past 22 years of negotiations, the number of illegal Israeli settlers on Palestinian territories increased from 115,000 to 650,000.

Calling for negotiations while settlement expansion continues is like asking two people to sit down and negotiate over a piece of cheese. One sidethe Palestiniansis prohibited from reaching the cheese by walls and barriers. The other side is sitting back relaxed, eating the cheese while the two are negotiating. At the end of the day there will be nothing left to negotiate over.

There is only one way to bring calm to the current situation. Israel must first cease all settlement activity, then declare that they are ready to end occupation, and ready to release the more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners.

There is only one way out of this, for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis, and for the sake of peace: End the occupation, and allow Palestinians to have their free and independent state.

Mustafa Barghouti, is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative.