A First Step At Turtle Bay
Minutes after the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly—138 in favor, 9 opposed—to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, many hastened to declare that the passing of this resolution won’t change a thing. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinians will wake up tomorrow and find that little has changed,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice stated, explaining why America opposed the resolution.
But even as I write, dozens of jubilant Palestinians circle around me in the U.N. hall, celebrating the birth of their state with music, drinks, and raucous laughter. The energy is high and the mood is light. Is it any wonder? Just this morning, I witnessed U.N. security personnel ordering a young delegate to remove the Palestinian flag he had draped around his shoulders. This afternoon, seconds after the resolution passed, dozens of young Palestinians unfurled flags and keffiyehs, and draped them around their shoulders—and this time, nobody stopped them.
“There are no words to express our happiness. Since over sixty years we are suffering, and it is time for us to have our state. It should have been long ago—thank God we have it now,” said Mohammad Judeh, who self-identified simply as “a Palestinian from 1948.” He said he believes the results of this vote will change things on the ground; at the very least, he hopes Palestine will now take Israel to the International Criminal Court for keeping Palestinian children in prison and other “unjust” practices.
Omar Faqih, of the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also said the results of today’s vote will have a practical impact. “It will create a new legal base for the Palestinians to defend themselves,” he said, referring to the ICC, the World Health Organization, and other international institutions. “Today is a historical day. It gives the Palestinian community hope that in the future, the U.N. will vote to recognize Palestine as a full member state. And it proves that those in the international community who believe in justice and peace will vote for Palestinians.”
Mazen Jhalil, a young Palestinian-American, said of today’s vote: “Whether it makes any difference on the ground or not, I don’t know. But whether it makes a difference for me personally—yes, it does. Me, here, witnessing a new state of Palestine and a new birth certificate for Palestine—this means a lot to me.”
Disturbingly, it’s not only the Palestinians who are here celebrating and clapping all around me—several male representatives of Neturei Karta, the anti-Zionist Jewish religious movement, are mingling with the Palestinians, whose resolution they fully support. Rabbi Chaim Zvi Freyman, a wizened old man sporting a grey beard and payos along with the traditional black garb of the ultra-Orthodox, told me he is proud to support the establishment of “Palestine hashleymah,” the complete and peaceful state of Palestine—without a state of Israel next door, presumably.
“This is a pivotal step in the right direction, to repair the unfortunate humiliation perpetrated against the Palestinian people as the result of the Zionist movement,” Rabbi Freyman said, adding that today’s vote will be to Palestinians what the Balfour Declaration was to the Jews. It’s that first moment of recognition, of legitimacy, which he believes can’t help but snowball—even if only because of its impact on Palestinian morale. “The mental, psychological impact here is tremendous. In any war, everyone knows that the morale of the fighting force is very important. This will certainly uplift the spirits of all concerned, and it will start a chain reaction—God willing.”
The Palestinians in the crowd seemed to share that sentiment. “Everybody here is saying the exact same sentence: It’s the first step,” said Omar Ghraieb, 25, a Gazan journalist who was wearing a keffiyeh. “And that is my reaction as well. We’re happy—and we’re also anxious to see what comes next.” One can only hope the Palestinians weren't happy for the same reason the Neturei Karta were.