Gaza Stripped, Strapped and Forgotten21 Jul 2014
I found myself unable to look away from an extremely disturbing picture last night; it shows a man crying over the body of a child around two years old, lying on a hospital bed, with half his head blown off. There’s an accompanying video but I couldn’t look at that.
It’s just one of hundreds of the horrors to come out of Palestine in the last week and as I write, the death toll of Palestinians has crossed 400, with 20 fatalities on the Israeli side.
These targeted attacks on Palestinian civilians have been going on for years.
The fall of Palestine started with Lord Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 1917, who wrote to one of America’s richest Jewish families, the Rothschilds, declaring his support for a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Jews saw this as a cue from Britain to start the emigration to their new homeland. Initially, some Palestinians let out parts of their homes to the new immigrants.
Britain however was alarmed, they hadn’t decided as yet how to divide the country and still wanted to maintain ties with the Arabs so they sent a team of experts to study the situation.
In the meanwhile, it was 1945 and newly-elected US President Harry Truman decided he supported a Jewish state and two years later announced his approval of the exodus of 100,000 displaced Jews into Palestine.
Initially, the United Nations had agreed to control the holy sites in Jerusalem, but that was more or less forgotten once the British started to withdraw from the country and after President Truman’s endorsement of the state of Israel.
When Israel was finally established as a state in 1948, it kick-started a never-ending war between Arabs and Jews.
Gaza had initially been run by the military but was given right to its freedom in 1994, Israel pulled out its troops and Israelis were asked to evacuate. Today, the Gaza strip is governed by Hamas and has a population of just under 2 million people, with regular trade and travel embargoes.
Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people in 2005, possibly because they felt the Fatah party – which Israel approves of- wasn’t working in their favor. It’s sort of how democracy works. Also, Hamas (while I don’t agree with their militant tactics) are the party that takes care of Palestinians’ everyday needs; food, water, schools and most importantly hospitals. “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” wrote Israeli scholar Reuven Paz.
In 1969, when Israel was just 21 years old and building comfortable settlements over bulldozed buildings and bodies, Prime Minister Golda Meir said in a statement to the Sunday Times “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.”
What happened in Palestine in 1948 is the equivalent of William Hague (or now Phillip Hammond) writing to India’s Narendra Modi approving the creation of a larger Indian state and the annexing of Nepal. Then Barack Obama would have to say that it’s a brilliant idea, and approve 5 million Indians emigrating into Nepali homes which forces the Nepalese into the uninhabited and arid parts of the country. The United Nations then tells the Nepalese not to worry, as it will manage the area in and around Mount Everest. It fails to do this and in no time, India is managing Everest, and slowly draining Nepal of everything it once stood for.
Does that sound ridiculous? It should. Because it is, but that’s kind of what happened.
Since 1948 when Palestine ceased to exist almost overnight, it fought to be recognised as a state, which was finally agreed to in 2012 by the United Nations. This has been vehemently opposed by Zionists but hailed by the Arab world.
In the interest of balance, Zionist organisations deny that they had taken over Palestinian land and homes, saying many Palestinians didn’t own these lands, and had defaulted on the rent on them, meaning the land belonged to the government and was free for the taking.
However, there are a number of Jewish organisations run by orthodox Jews that reject and oppose Zionism and Israel’s occupation. They have joined hands with British Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Socialists and general Justice Hunters who question Israel’s motives and bullying tactics.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, Israel is a regime; it may allow its citizens to vote, but there is a clear demarcation between Israelis and Palestinians. As we have seen clearly over the last few weeks, in fact years, Israel uses the militant organisation (and ruling party of Gaza) Hamas as its main excuse to bomb Palestinian ambulances, hospitals, and care homes for the disabled. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has gone as far to claim that Hamas are using the civilians as human shields.
Even the wording describing the Israeli homes as “settlements” and calling the area “occupied territories” implies that the Jewish settlers are outsiders to that area.
My family has just come back from a trip to Israel, and my mom who had experienced some of the harshest injustices under apartheid South Africa, claims the persecution of the Palestinians is worse than anything she had ever experienced. They are basically strapped into their areas of living with an invisible belt.
Checkpoints are in every part of Israel, and free movement is difficult. Tourists and Israelis pass through the settlements breezily after showing their travel documents but Palestinians could wait hours to be allowed through. Sometimes Palestinians could be made to wait an entire day at a checkpoint to go home, only to finally be turned away. Palestinians don’t even have passports. They are scattered around the world, many unable to return to their homeland even to see family members.
People across the world have been marching for Palestine’s freedom for decades. When I was young and idealistic and thought these things made a difference, I marched too, proudly with my face painted, with my Converse matching my Palestine-themed T shirt; as Israel continued to shell Gaza’s children with a torrent of missiles.
Because Britain was the ruling authority in Palestine in the 1940s, it was natural that Palestinians would move here when 600,000 of them were forced out of their homes to become refugees during Israel’s takeover. And that’s precisely why Britain has a sizable population of Palestinians. It’s difficult to be sure of the exact number, but it’s thought to be around 20,000.
Each time we marched, the late left-wing MP Tony Benn would speak, horrific Palestinian case studies would be revealed, the massacres of Sabra and Shatila would be dredged up, the world would be appalled, people would stop drinking coke and supporting Marks and Spencer and then a celebrity would die or X Factor would start and Palestine would be forgotten for a while.
It’s been about ten years since I attended a protest, but I have been invited to a few as dozens happen across Britain, with people from all walks of life protesting at Israel regime’s unrelenting attacks.
Even though I’m less idealistic and more cynical, I wonder if this time, the world’s antipathy towards the atrocities in Gaza will finally make a difference. I wonder if finally the fact that Israel can no longer hide its brute force against women, children and the disabled under the pretext of hunting down Hamas militants, means people are ashamed of supporting the country? Then I realize I’m disillusioned, and the TV show Big Brother will end (or start, I can’t keep up) or a celebrity will go into rehab and Palestine will be once again forgotten for a while.