Prince Charles’ visit to the occupied Palestinian territories has garnered media attention. Words of sympathy, far from a political message, were the subject of his speech in Bethlehem after touring historical sites and meeting with Palestinian refugees at the Aida refugee camp. Nevertheless, his statement has resonated with Palestinians.
The media is describing Prince Charles’ address as “the strongest” ever, coming from a member of the Royal family. “No-one arriving in Bethlehem today could miss the signs of continued hardship and the situation you face,” he declared. “It is my dearest wish that the future will bring freedom, justice and equality to all Palestinians, enabling you to thrive and prosper.”
Notably, the Prince’s statement, “We must pursue this cause with faith and determination, striving to heal the wounds which have caused such pain.” The rhetoric itself is void of specifics, yet it must be interpreted to shift attention upon Britain’s role in the on-going Zionist colonisation of Palestine.
In 1986, Prince Charles had penned a letter in which he acknowledged the influx of European Jewish settlers in Palestine as having contributed to the turmoil in the Middle East.
The wounds the Prince spoke of are political. There is much to be done in terms of decolonisation if Palestinians are indeed to enjoy freedom, justice and equality. Likewise, Britain’s role in facilitating Israel’s colonial presence in Palestine must be clearly articulated. A strong statement, in terms of empathy, can substantiate what human rights organisations, in Palestine and abroad, have been raising awareness about. How Prince Charles’ comments will resonate once the hype regarding the visit is over is a different story.
Prior to the Prince’s visit to Palestine, British MPs called upon the UK government to recognise the state of Palestine, based upon the usual “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” Such recognition, albeit considered a necessary diplomatic move, does not translate into Palestinian rights and independence. It merely supports the international community and the two-state compromise. Palestinians require more than insubstantial recognition and further loss of land.
Charles’ words, therefore, must not be left to oblivion. A clear reference as to the cause of Palestinian suffering would have been welcomed – after all, Israel blatantly flaunts its human rights violation to promote its security narrative. Yet the acknowledgement of culpability in terms of history is what contemporary politics refrain from speaking about. This trend has influenced and changed the narrative on Palestine, to the point that the alleviation concocted by the international community in terms of humanitarian aid has eclipsed the importance of speaking about Palestinians’ political rights.
Last week, Israel seized agricultural land in Bethlehem to pave the way for additional settlement expansion. If the international community has its way, the recent land grab would be contextualized only within the current, mild opposition to settlement expansion, as opposed to asserting the original colonial plan that altered Palestine to accommodate an expanding Israel.
Politics conveniently overlook history. Israeli settlement expansion, state and settler violence, forced displacement and Palestinian refugees have been appropriated by the international community to weave a string of proposals that have nothing to do with Palestinian rights. International consensus over the plans designated to overlook Palestine have taken precedence over the rights and needs of Palestinians. Equally important, the dissociation between the current deprivation Palestinians experience, and the early colonial violence, has provided a platform for the international community to refuse to consider the importance of linking back to history and to acknowledge the political violence inscribing the current annihilation of Palestinian demands.
This requires more than an acknowledgement of an illusory Palestinian state. On their own, Charles’ words have little to no potential in terms of lobbying. Not because the exhibited support is insignificant, but rather due to the prevailing protection provided to Israel at an international level. Even Amnesty International lost an opportunity to highlight the fact that Palestinians have been suffering since the inception of the Zionist colonial project, preferring instead to rely on the narrative of “half a century of Israeli military occupation.” Defining Israel merely as a military occupation is harmful to Palestinians. Coming from a human rights organisation, it is a damaging connotation.
As yet, there is no bridging of the gap between solidarity with the Palestinian people and political action for Palestinians’ political rights. It will indeed be a pity if the opportunity to demand political change in terms of decolonisation is wasted in favour of sensationalism over Charles’ visit.