The crisis in Gaza

Since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge that started on July 8, Israeli airstrikes have more than killed 1800 Palestinian civilians and injured over 7000, despite having some of the most sophisticated and advanced military equipment. A number of UN humanitarian shelters and schools have been targeted, mosques and cathedrals destroyed, schools and hospitals bombed, doctors and medical staff injured. If this isn’t a public massacre, I don’t know what is.                         

While many of Israel’s allies condone Hamas for firing rockets into Israel, I do not. Condemning Hamas would be like condemning the residents of the Warsaw ghetto for resisting their Nazi oppressors. The Palestinians will resist any way they can, as is their prerogative.

Israel has imposed a near-total embargo on Gaza and has illegally occupied Palestinian land for over 65 years. The people of Gaza live in an open-air prison with limited access to food, water, humanitarian aid, gas and electricity for over half a decade. What you see happening now is only one of many ruthless massacres committed by the Zionist regime since the beginning of the illegal occupation in 1947. Israel spreads terror among Palestinian civilians and uses the notion of “self-defence” to justify its actions. No Israel, you do not have the right to defend yourself when you are illegally occupying another country.

So what can we do to help as supporters of the Palestinian cause?

Firstly we should all be supporting the BDS campaign. Boycotting Israeli products is the simplest and most effective means of resistance against aggression. The Israeli industry is perennial to its survival as a state and it is vital a clear message is sent to Israeli businessmen and exporters that their own government is responsible for their losses and the adverse consequences to their businesses.

Since Israel began their onslaught on Gaza three weeks ago, findings show that 1 in 5 Israeli exporters are finding it difficult to sell abroad because of anti-Israel boycotting and a lot of these boycotts are coming from the UK and Scandinavian countries. The Israel Export Institute has reported 66% of Israeli businesses have cut prices desperately trying to get people to buy their products. They have received more and more order cancellations and are now calling for government intervention to protect Israeli businesses from boycotts.

It may not seem like a lot but on a large scale, with a mass movement of international boycotts, Israel will feel the pressure. And it will hurt.

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There is a new app called ‘Buycott’ which allows you to join different campaigns. I am part of ‘Long Live Palestine Boycott Israel’ and ‘Avoid Israeli Settlement Products’. The app allows you to scan barcodes from your Smartphone and it will tell you where the product has come from. It couldn’t be simpler to use and I would definitely recommend it.

We should also continue to report on social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great tools to enlighten others and reach the conscience of the world as to what is happening without the filtering and bias of news reporters. It is also a really good way of pressuring news outlets to meet objective standards and report the truth.

This is a real test of the strength of the international community and the power of non-violent resistance against Israeli aggression. Never underestimate your role in this. Each and every one of us has a moral obligation to speak up. We cannot tolerate Israel’s utter disregard for international humanitarian law and the ongoing slaughter of men, women and children.

Let us continue to educate, boycott and resist.

In the face of injustice, there is only side to choose.

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How much help should we accept?

Should we be accepting support from Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Believe it or not but many Israeli Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and in Israel condemn the actions of their government and put their lives at risk to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and justice. I have met on more than one occasion Israelis who work for organisations like B’Tselem, which document human rights abuses.

For the longest time though, I felt this to be a massive contradiction. So you want to help our struggle but yet you are also living in a settlement? You are living in the homes of our parents and grandparents but yet somehow advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people? How can that be right? So I began to question things. Was I just being unfair on people who are choosing to extend their hands to us and want to help?

This took me back to 1947-48 when everything really went wrong for the Palestinians. In 1948 when the state of Israel was established and following the aftermath of the Holocaust, many Jewish families were paid to come and live in Israel. The reason behind this was to encourage mass immigration to the region – a very smart strategy if you ask me. Jewish families from all over the world began to immigrate to Israel being lured in by the prospect of a better life, financial support and benefits.

This was combined with a lot of hostility towards Jews from the MENA region as a reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel. (Whether this was a fair or reasonable reaction is a debate we will leave for another time.) Nevertheless there was uncertainty about their fate in the Middle East. Don’t forget it had also only been a few years since the end of the Holocaust and so most Jews still felt insecure about their future.

Now putting yourself in their shoes in the context of what had just happened and the reaction of the Arab countries, would you have said no to an offer of a better and more secure life in Israel? Really the question comes down to this: should we be standing against the Jews who chose to immigrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens or should we be accepting help from them as Palestinians because ultimately we all would have made the same decision?

I decided to investigate this question a little further as I wasn’t sure what to think. One part of me understood how simple the decision must have been for them but then the other part of me thought how cruel these people must have been to be able to live in homes that did not belong to them. These were our homes, our land, our trees. How could a person make such a selfish decision and live in the home of another family, knowing full well it was not their own and yet not say anything?

One man in particular really made an impact on me and helped me come to terms with the reality of what happened in 1948 and I want to tell you his story. Let us call him X.

X is an Israeli, originally a Moroccan Jew whose family has lived in Israel since the 1950s. I was curious as to how he could live with himself knowing he took over another family’s home (of course I didn’t say this to him but that’s exactly what I was thinking) so I began to question him about things and I was completely taken aback by his response.

X was a young boy – no more than about 8 or 9 years old – when his family emigrated to Israel. They were previously living a comfortable life in Morocco until the late 1940s when riots broke out against Jews all over the Middle East in response to the establishment of Israel. More than 18,000 Jews fled their homes in Morocco in 1948 and 1949 alone seeking a better life.

X’s family were offered money by the Israeli government to come and live in Israel – a life they could not even have dreamt of in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East at the time. Of course, his parents did not hesitate and they packed up their things ready for a new life in Israel.

On arrival, he described to me how he walked into the new house given to him by the military and he could feel the presence of another family. The house almost felt ghostly with the carpets, antiques and belongings of another family. They had obviously belonged to the Palestinian family that had lived there before them.

I then asked him whether his parents had said something, asked who the family were, demanded to be moved to another house and his response was this:

“No one spoke about it. We just didn’t ask. We knew, but we didn’t ask.”

For them it was very straightforward, they were told this was their new home and that was that. They made it their own. Until this day, they still do not know the Palestinian family who used to live there.

After hearing his story, it made me question how I would have reacted in the same situation. When I put myself in their shoes – would I really have said no if someone had offered me a life in Israel in the context of 1948, only several years after Hitler’s killing spree of the Jews? Would I have made that choice, as most Jewish families did, of a better quality life for my family and just turned a blind eye to everything else?

They didn’t physically remove us, heck most of them didn’t even see us thrown out at the time. They were invited into empty homes and many of them chose to simply not ask questions. Would you have asked had you been in their position?

Of course, hundreds of years of suffering is not an excuse to justify what happened and what continues to happen to the Palestinian people. Palestine was not an empty land when the Jews began to immigrate in and as each year passes, we watch as the land we once called Palestine is slowly engulfed by Israeli settlements and the 400 mile long wall.

I do however accept that at the time the state of Israel was established, the Jewish people needed to identify themselves with a land and they needed a place to call home. This is a point of fact not an opinion. And unfortunately for us, this was at our expense. Being Palestinians though, we must understand their struggle and their need for a homeland. After all, we are now a people without a land.

I remember reading a book about Judaism and something really stuck in my head: “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man.”

Religion advocates justice, peace, righteousness, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I believe in both our rights to live in the land and I believe we have the potential to live together; if we could do it before we can do it again. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it isn’t possible. Wounds can heal, painful memories fade and hate can be overcome.

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[The wall in Bethlehem, West Bank]

Let’s create a community where we accept each other’s existence and focus on what both people have in common rather than dwelling on our differences. Let’s bring together the new generation of Palestinians and Israelis and recognise both peoples’ struggle and right to self-determination.

The power of change is in our hands. It is us – the new, young generation of educated Palestinians and Israelis – who can prevent more suffering. Let’s make sure we all have a good future and our children and grandchildren do not suffer as our ancestors did.

We need as much help as we can get from inside and outside, from Palestinians and Israelis, from Arabs and non-Arabs, from Jews and non-Jews. Do not shut out people who extend their hand to you.

Let’s create a democratic state and home for us all.

A letter to Mr Johnson

Anyone get the chance to see the wall put up just off Piccadilly Circus in London? It was up for 10 days just after Christmas Day in front of St James Church organized by the group, Bethlehem Unwrapped.

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[The wall in Piccadilly, London]

The wall is a replica of the 8-metre wall ring-fencing the citizens of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the first city Israel targeted with the construction of settlements shortly after 1967 because of its water resources, religious significance and proximity to Jerusalem. There are currently 20 fully developed settlements in Bethlehem and many more are in the process of construction.

To put things in perspective, the wall imprisons the Palestinian communities in Bethlehem and in some areas, stretches as far as 20km into Palestinian territory. Most of the land confiscated for the purpose of constructing the wall was taken from its owners, the majority of which represented the Christian community in Palestine.

The aim of the replica wall put up in London was to bring to light the struggles of the Palestinians in Bethlehem who are systematically prevented from visiting the holy land of Jerusalem for Christmas. With the wall and checkpoints in place, the people of Bethlehem are unable to visit Jerusalem without a permit from Israel (which by the way is most often refused) and even then, a journey that would normally have taken 10 minutes, now takes more than an hour.

I commend Bethlehem Unwrapped for the steps they have taken to raise awareness of what happens on the ground in Palestine. Reading and seeing pictures of the 8-metre high wall is nowhere near as powerful as when you see it in real life. The gravity of the situation and the injustice of it all really hit you when you see it with your own eyes.

So each night Bethlehem Unwrapped organized a different event and the one I attended that night was a panel talk called: “Both sides of the barrier: separation or security?”

Unsurprisingly, before stepping into the church, we were confronted by a backlash of Zionists waving the Israeli flag in our faces and chanting the Israeli national anthem. It is always a pleasure dealing with irrational and aggressive Zionists.

I heard some absurd claims made by one of the panelists Alan Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at the British Israel Communications and Research Centre and so I would like to take the time to respond to some of these claims.

So Mr Johnson, in your 20-minute speech you spent two minutes telling us a story of a 17-year-old Israeli girl who was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. This girl should not have died and I am truly sorry for this loss of life, like any other.

Seeing as you mentioned the loss of life, I assume you are against the killing of innocent civilians? On this basis, is there a reason you failed to mention the hundreds and thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed over the past 65 years? You spoke about how you could sit all day naming the Israeli children who have died, but then how long would it take me to name the dead Palestinian children?

You talked about having a ‘moral calculus’ and that one must incorporate this into one’s opinion of the wall. I totally agree with you. Yet when there is an imbalance of power with an oppressor like Israel terrorizing Palestinians, ghettoizing them, killing men, women and children, stripping them of their sense of being, their homes and any hope of ever having a future, shouldn’t this be part of the moral calculus too?

Sir, have you forgotten about the 28,000 Palestinian homes that have been demolished since 1967? Have you forgotten about the war crimes of your government – the men women and children who had their limbs blown off and insides burnt from the white phosphorus and drones that were used? You call the Palestinian suicide bombers ‘terrorists’, but then what do you call the actions of the Israeli government?

Sir, have you somehow forgotten about the open-air prison Israel has created in Gaza? Have you forgotten about the hundreds of Palestinian children who until today are kidnapped in the middle of the night and thrown into prison for throwing stones? What about the children who die of starvation and freeze to death in refugee camps because they were forcefully exiled from their homes? What about the orphans who are forced to grow up without parents because of the violence and out-of-proportion reactions of the Israeli military?

I can keep going if you’d like?

Sir, with all due respect you cannot talk about decontextualizing when your whole speech was filled with “half sentences disconnected from the entire event” (those were your words if you remember). As panelist Jeff Halper nicely pointed out, the word ‘terrorism’ was mentioned 21 times in your speech, and somehow you did not once mention the word ‘occupation’ or ‘state terrorism’ when discussing the wall.

It is certainly a very complex situation and there is no way we can disagree on that fact. When we look at statistics, the wall has been effective in reducing the number of suicide bombers and facts are not something one can dispute, that is true. A government must be reactive to external events and protect its citizens, which makes sense.

But this wall is by no means bringing us any closer to a long-term solution for both sides. The sooner it goes down, the sooner a solution can be found.

Regardless of my own opinion on a two-state solution, the wall has shattered all hope of this ever happening anyway. Had the wall been built on the internationally recognized 1967 borders and not cut so deep into the West Bank, then perhaps we would still have something to talk about.

Mr Johnson, if the Israelis do truly want peace perhaps it is about time an Israeli official addressed the Palestinian people and took responsibility for their wrongdoing.

When the Israeli state denies the Palestinians their right to existence and their right to self-determination, this certainly does not bring us closer to a solution. When the hardship and suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people is not recognized by the state nor by spokespeople like yourself, you immediately shut off the possibility of ever achieving peace.

When that happens Sir, maybe then we can talk.

A Long Walk to Freedom

So last night I watched the new film Mandela: A long walk to freedom and what a brilliant film it was. (Don’t worry, I won’t give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet!)

All throughout the film I could not help but relate it to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and notice the mutual struggle of the native South Africans under apartheid rule and Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Watching this film really was an emotional rollercoaster for me. (And I have to admit I did cry a good three times…Thank God for my pocket tissues!)

As the film takes you through Mandela’s fight for freedom, there were times where I felt perhaps the best thing for the Palestinians would be for us to be revolutionaries and fight for our country, for our land, for our Palestine. To be more like Mandela’s wife as portrayed in the film who channels her anger and frustration at the apartheid system to encourage people to use violent means to bring it down (although this never actually worked). At one point in the film, she gives a speech and declares, “although we may not have AK47s, we have stones and we have our hands.” Sounds a little like the Palestinian struggle, no?

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[Palestinians’ daily struggle through Israeli checkpoints]

Just as it happened in South Africa, maybe we need more bloodshed, more martyrs and more people resisting Israel for us to gain international support and awareness. Palestinians deserve the right to self-determination and the right to determine their own future in the very land that they come from, no?

Then as the film went on, I noticed how Mandela spent more than 25 years locked up in prison, sacrificed his family and his life for his country and then turned around at the end of it all and publicly declared his forgiveness to those in power, I could not help but admire him for his grace, humility and devotion to peace.

Mandela represented hope for the black people in South Africa. He was an advocate of peace and non-violent resistance as a means of achieving freedom and was lucky enough to live the downfall of apartheid and see his people liberated.

So the film made me think, are the Palestinians fighting the right battles?

I have long heard people (Palestinians and Arabs especially) refusing to accept the existence of Israel (some even refuse to say the word by the way). People talk about how Palestine belongs to the Palestinians and will always belong to them (including the cities that are now in Israel), referring to Tel Aviv as Tel al-Rabi (the name it used to be called when it was a Palestinian village) and publicly declaring their denial of Israel’s existence.

But does this actually lead anywhere?

Realistically, are we ever going to get Palestine back?

Are we ever really going to be able to rightfully return the homes back to the millions of Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon?

Or is this just the less painful way, to stay in denial and pretend like Israel doesn’t exist? Is that what they mean when they say ignorance is bliss?

The Palestinian people have certainly paid a heavy price for Israel’s existence and continue to suffer a great tragedy at the hands of the occupation. But from what I can see, it takes a great deal of courage to accept the painful reality that Israel isn’t going anywhere, especially when it has gained the support and backing of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America.

Ever since my trip to Palestine three years ago, I have felt a strong connection to my homeland, a feeling that has been ingrained in me ever since and it has been a constant Ping-Pong game in my head.

Am I turning my back on my country if I accept Israel exists? Or am I just avoiding accepting the reality of the situation and obfuscating any possible solutions for the Palestinians through wishful thinking?

My family has directly suffered at the expense of creating a homeland for the Jews. My grandmother used to share tales with us of how they fled their home in Jaffa in 1948 with only a few possessions and the key to their home. My grandfather told her not to take any more because they would be coming back as soon as things had settled down. Years later, my grandparents both passed away having never returned back to their home.

So I understand the frustration. I understand the struggle and I understand the unfairness of it all. I am after all a second generation exiled Palestinian. I just question whether we are fighting the right battles and what help it will really do for us if we continue to live in the past.

Inspired by a man of wisdom, should we reconsider what we are fighting for?

A New Way of Thinking

While the Jews in Israel celebrate their independence every year in May, Palestinians remember it as the time when hundreds of their villages were destroyed, civilians were massacred in huge numbers and more than 800,000 men, women and children were displaced from their homes (including my grandparents).

Palestinian_refugees[Palestinian families dispelled from their homes; 1948]

60 years down the line and Palestinians are still living under occupation. Of the total Palestinian population 45% of us are refugees (and that doesn’t even count the unregistered refugees) – that’s around 5.3 million people worldwide.
5.3 MILLION.

Each year we lose more of our land and more children are born detached from their Palestinian roots. Ask any diaspora Palestinian about their origins and you’ll find each one has a more complicated story than the next.

Now lets not dwell on the past because what’s done is done. Fast-forward to the year 2013 and the solution for the future.

Clearly our chances of establishing our own Palestinian state have long been eroded. There are now over 550,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank most of who are living in Jerusalem. What are we supposed to do with these Jewish settlers – throw them out? What about the millions of refugees? What about the question of Jerusalem – is it our capital or theirs?

Too many questions and no one to answer them.

For me it’s very simple. Just as we do not deny the persecution of the Jews and their struggle for freedom for hundreds of years, the Palestinians should be given that same acknowledgment of suffering.

If we were given the same civil and political rights as Israelis and treated equally, we could all live under one roof. We could learn and teach one another. We could have citizens speaking both Hebrew and Arabic. We could be one people living under one rule of law. We could have a government comprising of both representatives of Palestinians and Israelis. It would mean an end to the brutal occupation that discriminates against Arabs and shuns their rights and it would mean an end to Israel’s unsustainable ‘iron fist’ policy. It would be mutually beneficial.

Heck, if they wanna call the country “Israel” then fine we will call it “Israel” – so long as we are not discriminated against for being Palestinian. We did not choose to be Palestinians, just as Jews did not choose to be Jewish.

But no, maybe I am too idealistic. Zionists would never let that happen. The idea contradicts their dream to create a homeland for the Jews, a purely Jewish state. The idea contradicts their desire to ethnically cleanse and destroy our national, cultural and geographic connections to the homeland.

So what do we do?

We continue to resist and fight the occupation.

Israel wants new generation Palestinians and the diaspora to forget and lose our attachment to the land, they do not want us to fight and they do not want us to remember our identity.

I vow to never be one of these people.

I am Palestinian and I do not forget.