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.

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