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Israeli Occupation Causes Palestinian Identity Crisis

Israeli occupation and colonization is not only stripping Palestinians of their land, but their identity too, Rana Baker writes.
Palestinians wave flags during a rally marking the U.N. General Assembly's upgrading of the Palestinians' status from "observer entity" to "non-member state", in the West Bank city of Ramallah December 2, 2012. Israel said on Sunday it was withholding this month's transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, after the United Nations' de facto recognition of a Palestinian state.  REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Colonialism is not limited to physical boundaries, theft of resources, and even military aggression. In fact, it extends far beyond what we see, hear, and touch to what we do not. And the latter is equally perilous to say the least. 

It seems that colonial powers present the colonized not only with the illusion of democracy, prosperous economy, and social justice, but also with an ever-imposing dictionary of words that slowly becomes entrenched in their daily interactions and systems of thought. Domestic colonizers, i.e., the local beneficiaries of colonialism such as politicians, government officials and businessmen, are usually the first to adopt such dictionaries.

Palestine offers itself as a stunning example through a series of behaviors and generalizations that have become the "norm" to the extent that it is becoming smaller not only physically and geographically, but also in the language and mentality of its own people, the Palestinians.

Some weeks ago, I was surprised when an economist referred to the annual budget prepared by the Hamas government — which only rules Gaza — as a "state budget." If anything, this instance shows the implications that come with a decades-long occupation designed to create mentalities that act and react within pre-determined borders, never to surpass them. 

Israel's psychological violence is inherent both in its discriminatory policies, and physical establishments. The geographical division between Gaza on the one hand and the West Bank and territories seized in 1948 (modern-day Israel) on the other, is manifested in Erez, the Israeli checkpoint that stands "protected" by a huge wall and watchtowers in northern Gaza to prevent Palestinians from both sides to make it to the other side.

Erez is off limits to the Palestinians on either side. Israel's segregation and fragmentation of the Palestinian people through checkpoints, walls, and barbed wire finds clear reflections in the language and psychology of those affected by it. This external geographical disconnection has become so internalized that many Palestinians, when asked to introduce themselves including the name of their country, give either Gaza or the West Bank as their reply; as if each were a country.

The West Bank residents are constantly forced to treat Gaza as if it indeed were a separate country. This becomes evident when a one-hour drive from Ramallah, for example, takes more than 36 hours of traveling from country to country including boarding a flight from Jordan to Egypt only to enter Gaza.

Those "lucky" enough to cross through Erez, either because of severe illness or work with international organizations, are taught the concepts of "superiority" and "inferiority" the hard way. The hollowness of the hall, its many gates, x-ray machines, the plain colors, and the fact that not a single soldier or official is seen until the very end, cannot be a coincidence. Indeed, the entire architecture of having Israeli soldiers or officials look down on you through windows in the second floor is specifically designed to tell you that while you are "down" and "exposed," they are "up," unexposed, and probably pointing their guns at you. There are countless incidents when Palestinians, including minors, were forced to strip down to their underwear for no apparent reason.

The feeling of vulnerability that sweeps one's body and brain while in Erez is unfathomable. Erez does not strip Palestinians of their clothes only, but of their self-confidence as well. No matter how hard one tries to assure him or herself, he/she will still have to feel as though something was wrong with them. One begins to think hysterically about possible scenarios that might befall them and is filled up with complacency if nothing of that occurs. Psychologically, the brain forgets the torment it had to go through by simply moving through the "procedures."

Israel's systematic violation of brain dynamics, has led to increased alienation on the part of many Palestinians who were forced to grow up away from their roots. Many young people, especially those who live inside Israel, refer to this problem as an "identity crisis." According to them, they feel Palestinian only when out of the country. Notably, one can barely find a Palestinian with an Israeli citizenship writing or tweeting in any language other than Arabic. These meaningful forms of preserving the Arab Palestinian identity are becoming increasingly prevalent among young Palestinians all over historical Palestine. Some years ago, English was regarded as the language of "modernism" to the extent of using the English alphabet to write Arabic words and expressions.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan writer and highly-regarded intellectual, dubs such behaviors as a "cultural bomb" and in his book, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language and African Literature, he argues that the effect of a cultural bomb is to "annihilate a people's belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves."

One does not need to think twice to figure that Israel is following the exact divide-and-rule colonialist principle that was previously implemented in Latin America and all over Africa. 

Israel is restless in its attempts to maintain the Palestinian internal rift while at the same time working hard to lure as many Palestinians as possible into its peace-making illusion and shining democracy. The Palestinian culture continues to be branded as barbaric and any kind of resistance, be it armed or unarmed, is quickly discredited as uncivilized acts carried out by savages with the aim of disturbing peace.

Linguistically, the term colonization is constantly reduced to apply to Gaza, the West Bank and sometimes East Jerusalem. What took place in 1948 is a mass forcible transfer of protected persons, a conduct that is prohibited under international law regardless of the motive. If this is the case, one should question the soundness of employing a reductive approach to legally defined terms so as to accommodate political incorrectness.

Whenever the Palestinians attempt to think outside the box, Israel sends a harsh reminder to drag them down to their "designated" area. However, one must realize that Israeli colonialism is only a fraction of worldwide imperialist powers that continue to produce human suffering all over the world.

Rana Baker, 21, is a student of Business Administration in Gaza. She writes for the Electronic Intifada. Her Twitter: @RanaGaza.

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