The ongoing assault on the Palestinian people is intensifying, and we need to up our response, argues Mona Kamal
One of the legacies of the end of the First World War was the carving up of the Middle East according to the secret Sykes-Picot agreement between the British and the French. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was incorporated into the Treaty of Sèvres which commenced the dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire and allowed Britain to begin its occupation of Palestine, as well as the process of creating a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine.
As you would expect, this part of history was completely left out of the centenary of Armistice Day commemorations. Not unlike how the current ongoing plight of the Palestinians is left out of media reporting. Mainstream media headlines and articles consistently use language that dehumanises Palestinians, that suggest Palestinians just “die” without cause and frame the violence they face as one part of a two-sided conflict.
In recent years, especially this year, right wing politicians, with the help of the media, have made a concerted effort to dominate any debate or discussion on Palestine around the question of antisemitism. Conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism has become one of the establishment’s favourite method of attacking Jeremy Corbyn, with the added bonus of undermining Palestine solidarity. But it has meant that even on the pro-Palestine side, arguments have increasingly been bogged down by refuting claims of antisemitism and viewing Palestine through this lens.
The danger of this is that we become defensive over the issue of Palestine rather than actually advocating for freedom for, and showing solidarity with, Palestine. It also means the material reality of what Palestinians are facing, the oppression and their resistance, is largely absent from the conversation.
Since the Great Return March began on 30 March, Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting at the border with Israel every Friday. They’ve been met with sniper fire that has killed at least 210 and wounded over 18,000 (the majority having been shot, and others suffocating from highly concentrated tear gas), including children, journalists and medics.
The deadliest day of the protests was the 15 May which marked 70 years of the Nakba, and which coincided with the new US embassy opening in Jerusalem. This is very much a part of the context of this new wave of Palestinian resistance and the brutal violence against them from the Israelis.
70 years after the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians (three quarters of the population at the time), Palestinians in the Gaza strip, mostly refugees from other parts of historic Palestine, and facing one of the harshest sieges in recent history as well as regular Israeli airstrikes and full scale offensives, are protesting for their right to return to their homeland and their right to live.
At the same time, Trump has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, legitimising Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and putting the final nail in the coffin of the two state solution. Trump also changed US policy such that it no longer recognises 90% of Palestinian refugees and drastically cut funding of UNRWA. The Israeli Knesset passed a law explicitly saying that only Jewish people have the right to self determination in over 80% of historic Palestine. It is on these grounds and in the face of this increasing erasure of Palestinian rights that the people of Gaza are resisting and demanding freedom.
And it’s not just in Gaza. Since Trump has effectively given Netanyahu the green light to violate international law any which way he pleases – not that Israel has had much respect for international law to begin with – the entire village of Khan Al Ahmar in the West Bank is facing demolition after approval from the Israeli Supreme Court in May 2018. It has so far been halted because of effective resistance by Palestinians who barricaded the village and refused to let bulldozers through. Similarly, up to 40,000 Bedouins in the Negev live in fear that their villages will be demolished at any time as part of the Prawer-Begin plan to evacuate them.
There’s also a crackdown on any degree of Palestinian dissent and on international support. Recently, a Palestinian-American author, Susan Abulhawa was detained and deported to stop her from speaking at a Palestinian literature festival taking place in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There continues to be daily raids in the West Bank which involve the harassment, kidnapping and arbitrary detention of Palestinians, largely children.
For all of these reasons, we cannot lose sight of Palestine. We cannot allow their voices to be silenced, their oppression to become sanitised, their struggle to become an anecdote in a political witch-hunt in Britain. Palestine is the issue, and we need to be loud and clear on it.
BDS is growing – the University of Leeds recently became the first university to divest from firms involved in the Israeli arms trade, and AirBnB pulled its listings from illegal settlements – we need to amplify and strengthen this movement. We need to stop culture being used to whitewash Israeli apartheid by campaigning against Eurovision being held in Tel Aviv next year. And we need to put opposition to UK arms sales to Israel and the question of freedom for Palestine front and centre on the political agenda.
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