|(A Palestinian child waves the national flag. No picture credit available)|
I'm new to Twitter. I've used it sporadically over the years to promote my blog but never managed to 'get' it. Today was the first time I have seen something horrific unfold before my eyes, a tragedy told in a hundred voices. The hardest thing was seeing people who have previously been articulate become almost incoherent with grief and frustration. Twitter is intimate in a way that a news story is not.
Today, I got a much stronger sense of what life must be like in occupied Palestine. Right now, people are signing off twitter, getting ready for bed. They say they can't sleep because it's hot, the power is out again. In some places the streets are pitch black, as no power means no lights. Above all, people sound scared.
To go to bed, not knowing what you might wake up to. Knowing that your family, your friends are all vulnerable. Knowing that there is no-one to turn to and that chances of finding justice are remote. Today was particularly brutal. Three children died. The first was under two years old. The two older children were killed by the Israeli military police. I can only imagine how, lying in a hot, dark room, the ghosts of all of the hundreds of Palestinians injured, killed, detained, kidnapped, held without trial and tortured by people with incredible power and invulnerability must haunt a person.
There have been 120 violent attacks by settlers in 2015 alone. These settlers are not an unfortunate violent fringe. Settlement in Palestinian territories is illegal under international law, but this has not stopped the government from approving the construction of 300 new settler homes in the West Bank this week. Settlers are often Ultra-Zionists who feel the land is theirs by divine right and that their settlement is part of a brave, moral crusade. They have the support of their community, their government and in their eyes, their religion. Only 8% of complaints by Palestinians about settler violence result in convictions and the government often approves the demolition of Palestinian houses to make way for settlements. They give the excuse that Palestinian houses were built without permits, which are almost never granted.
This two-tier system also extends to convictions. A popular attack by settlers is arson, as demonstrated so tragically today. The average sentencing for arson attacks is between two and three years. Earlier this year the Israeli Cabinet passed a bill allowing for up to ten years imprisonment for Palestinian stone throwing, even if there was no bodily harm or intent to cause bodily harm. The same offence with proof of harm can be as much as twenty years.
Settlers do what they do because they feel empowered to do so. There are many international programs encouraging Zionist Jewish people to settle in Israel or Palestine. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks where a Jewish supermarket was targeted by the gunmen, leaflets were found amongst the flowers encouraging Jewish people to settle in the Holy Land. The settler movement takes the most extreme, entitled, right-wing, racist and also often fearful Zionists and empowers them to bully their way into supremacy,
This has to stop. We have to stop characterizing the Palestinian resistance as terrorism whilst refusing to understand the horrific circumstances under which their actions are taken. The international community has to stop merely 'condemning' illegal settlements whilst continuing to provide huge amounts of financial and military aid. These deaths are not the result of a tit-for-tat conflict between people we have no connection to. That aid money that empowers an openly racist, brutal, apartheid government is ours, it has our fingerprints on it.
Tonight there are people mourning yet more deaths of children whilst their streets are overrun by a heavily armed police force who they have good reason to fear, who this week shot a Palestinian boy in the back as he ran away. There are children who have lived through three conflicts, carried out on their doorstep, in their back yard. There is no 'equivalency'. It is, quite simply, wrong.
Note: This blog is based on my personal response. I've never been to Palestine and all of my information and interpretations are second hand. If this post has touched you or fired an interest, please also seek out the voices of people and groups who have experienced it first hand.
What can we do?
Sadly, not all that much. Like many movements who are up against powerful political and commercial vested interests it is mostly little things.
- Find your local BDS/Free Palestine group. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement targets Israeli financial interests by refusing to buy certain products or from certain companies. Local BDS groups will often focus on a few targets at a time to increase the impact. They also organise collective actions and protests.
- Write to your MP and ask why we are not sanctioning what is essentially a brutal apartheid regime that commits war crimes and flouts international law.
- Support Palestinian artists. There is a movement towards non-violent resistance via culture and awareness. When a country goes through so many years of upheaval and trauma culture runs the risk of being lost or distorted by violence. Art, culture and education are key elements of healing and rebuilding. Buy music, support crowdfunding, go to shows.
- Stay aware and spread it around. Shamefully, up until a few years ago I had filed Palestine under 'Bad, don't buy Israeli vegetables, nod seriously when people talk about it'. Without vocal public will, it is unlikely that our support for Israel will change.