What was the ultimate instigator of the latest brutal onslaught in occupied Palestine? Why is the world not acknowledging the root cause of the problem? What kinds of power relations, interests, and trade-offs influence Western leaders and media discourses on Palestine? And what is it that needs to be changed so that such brutal political violence, death, injury, disability and exposure to psychological terror can end?
Events began with the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Palestinian East Jerusalem, where Palestinians have already been struggling for years against eviction so their homes will be taken by Israeli Jewish settlers. While this is illegal according to Geneva Conventions, it forms an important part of the Israeli government’s policy of Judaizing Jerusalem. Protests during the past month, over the forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes, led to Israeli police violence against unarmed Palestinian civilians. Additionally, and at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel blocked Palestinian gatherings around East Jerusalem’s Old City and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa mosque on 10 May 2021, while people were praying. Hundreds of Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas, some lost their eyes and more than 50 were taken to hospitals for treatment.
The Israeli brutality in East Jerusalem infuriated Hamas in Gaza Strip, which had already been captive to the choking siege with very difficult overall conditions and dilapidated systems, including a health system on the verge of collapse. In response to this brutality, Hamas began to fire, in the main, home-made rockets into Israel on 10 May. Israel, which has one of the strongest militaries in the world, responded with impunity and excessive use of force, with some 150 fighter jets striking the Gaza Strip, also with helicopters, supposedly directed at military targets and Hamas leaders. In fact, precision strikes against military targets are impossible in the Gaza Strip – a stretch of land which is considered the most densely populated on earth. Such strikes inevitably lead to the deaths of civilians who are merely seen as collateral damage. At least 212 Gaza Strip Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombings and shelling, and among them at least 61 children and 36 women and about 4000 injured as of the early morning of 18 May. In the meantime, 10 Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets, among them 2 children and an Israeli soldier.
Israel has to contend with its communal violence, instigated by Sheikh Jarrah, al-Aqsa and the Gaza attacks, and serious systematic and systemic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, second class citizens. While all tragic, it does seem that these events have united all Palestinians – in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, inside Israel, and abroad. A new generation of young Palestinians in East Jerusalem emerged. They are so courageous, exhibiting spectacular understanding and attitudes. A real act of resistance with a ‘strong national backbone,’ as they uphold their dignity and freedom – vital aspects of their consciousness.
Given all that is happening, I find it disturbing that many among the Western and even Arab media outlets, as well as many Western governments, still focus on the symptoms of current events without addressing the root cause of this problem. And astonishingly, the world seems to be more disturbed by Israel’s bombing and destruction of the Associated Press office building in Gaza City than the bombing and destruction of homes of Gazans, with entire families killed as multistorey buildings where families live are flattened, and where civilians are fleeing their homes but with nowhere to go, with some taking shelter in unprepared UNRWA schools. More, the Western media provides information so that readers believe that Palestinians and Israelis are equal, when Israel is the occupier and coloniser and Palestinians are the occupied and colonised, controlled by an Israeli Apartheid regime. And this cover-up continues, although some media outlets are becoming more vocal about apartheid Israel and also Israel’s colonial project, including one amazing New York Time Opinion article recently published explaining that Palestinian refugees deserve to return home. Perhaps this is one of the ripple effects of the new Black Lives Matter movement in the US, which is awakening the world to injustices and structural and systemic discrimination and subjugation of not only Black people in the US, but others elsewhere, including Palestinians.
The creation of the State of Israel was at the expense of Palestinians who had nothing to do with European anti-Semitism. This legacy continues with millions of Palestinian refugees waiting for their right to return home; with Israeli military occupation and colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip including East Jerusalem, wanting the land without its people; with life under an apartheid regime and a choking siege on the Gaza Strip.
Ultimately, the injustice that has befallen Palestinians needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Justice, freedom, sovereignty and self-determination will have to be ensured. Israeli occupation and colonisation of the West Bank, including Palestinian East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, must end; and Palestinian refugees must return home.
–On 21 May 2021, a ceasefire has been agreed on between Hamas and Israel. None of the issues mentioned above will disappear with the implementation of the ceasefire.
By Prof. Rita Giacaman, Birzeit University
Ramallah, West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory