Yet again, Israel is terrorising Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yet again, smoke bombs are choking Palestinian lungs. Palestinian homes in Gaza are, yet again, being turned from places where families are loved, where children grow, where food is cooked and eaten, and where dreams are dreamt, into rubble: tangled steel, shards of glass and piles of bricks.
Palestinian eyes have been blinded by Israeli rubber bullets. Palestinian bodies have been bruised by Israeli batons. Palestinian bones have been broken. Palestinian children have been murdered with heavy weaponry. The words of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda are brought to mind: “And in the streets the blood of the children. Ran simply, like children’s blood.”
Newspaper headlines across Australia ask us to consider why this “cycle of violence” is continuing. Others describe the events of the last few days as another flashpoint in the “Israel/Palestine conflict.” These sanitised descriptions disguise what is, in reality, a generations-long project of ethnic cleansing.
This new offensive by Israel began in the neighbourhood of Sheik Jarrah, then spread to the Al Aqsa mosque and now into Gaza. It is designed to rid Palestine of Palestinians, or to at the very least to defeat them as a people: to break their national consciousness, to destroy their spirit.
Israeli military leaders are open about this. In 2003, Israeli General Moshe Ya’alon spelled this out when he said that his task was to get the Palestinians to understand “in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”
To say this is a “cycle of conflict” implies equivalence between the parties involved. There is none. There is the oppressor and the oppressed. There is Israel, a nuclear armed power that has one of the most advanced and well funded militaries in the world, a force backed without hesitation by most major Western Powers. Then there are the Palestinians, a population increasingly cantonised and immiserated. Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights describes the situation for people in Gaza: “We have had the blockade for the last 14 years, which paralyzed our entire life. We have the pandemic. And now, I mean, we have this fourth war against Gaza on civilians, civilian targets in the eye of the storm.”
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “all sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down”. This is double speak of the highest order. The Biden administration has given every indication that they are as dedicated as every previous US government to continuing an intimate military and economic relationship with Israel. Indeed, the Biden administration seems set on maintaining the US embassy in Jerusalem, a provocative Trump-era decision which effectively gave the green light to Israel to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah. To urge “de-escalation” and call for “peace” amounts to telling the Palestinians to accept their situation: to go quietly. Thankfully, the youth of East Jerusalem, the villagers in the West Bank, the people of Hebron and Jenin and those in Gaza care little for Blinken with his smooth suits and his blood-soaked diplomacy.
In defiance of the compliant, corrupt double-dealing of the official Palestinian leaderships, tens of thousands of Palestinians are resisting. A new generation of freedom fighters has been born. They blockaded the Israeli military from entry in Al Aqsa, they faced down fascist Israeli settlers trying to march through their neighbourhoods and now, in town after town across historic Palestine, they are protesting, rioting, burning Israeli flags and hoisting Palestinian ones. Photos of young Palestinians being arrested by Israeli police and security show their defiance. Many are smiling, grinning in fact, as if to say “it is in our resistance that we become human”.
Demonstrations in the northern city of Umm al Fahm were heard to chant “From beneath the rubble we rise... from beneath the destruction we are reborn.” Such new generations of fighters have no official sanction, no Arab regimes to back them, no global diplomatic clout to wield. All they have is their voices, their bodies, their determination—and we should add to that list the backing of protest movements across the world.
“In Safsaf, after the inhabitants had hoisted the white flag, the soldiers gathered the men and women into separate groups, bound the hands of 50 or 60 villagers, shot them, then buried them all in the same pit.”
Palestinians have their backs against the wall. In Gaza, they are subject to a devastating economic blockade and regular Israeli air offensives. In the West Bank, they have every aspect of their lives controlled and regulated by humiliating and often violent restrictions. Within the 1948 borders of Israel, they are routinely harassed, denied basic democratic rights and hounded out of their homes and off their land. In every part of historic Palestine, there are escalating levels of brutality, intimidation and repression. Nevertheless, there are flickers of resistance.
Ethan Ackelsberg, in a 2018 piece published at SocialistWorker.org, makes the case that Israel is an apartheid society, existing in defiance of international law.
It’s hard to believe now, but some people once thought Israel was a good idea. Not just a good idea, but a great historical breakthrough that would transform the world, and the Jewish people, for the better. “A wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence”, Theodore Herzl wrote in his 1896 pamphlet, The Jewish State. “We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes ... The world will be freed by our liberty.”
There’s a little girl. She’s maybe 8, maybe 10, with huge eyes. In a quiet, little voice, she describes what happened to her in late February in Huwara, a Palestinian town in the West Bank. “We started to hear sounds from outside the house. I moved to the windows in our room but there was shooting so I got onto the floor then they broke the windows”, she tells an Al Jazeera journalist.
Rachel Corrie, an American Palestine-solidarity activist, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer twenty years ago this month. She was murdered by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) while attempting to defend a Palestinian home from demolition in Rafah, a city in the blockaded Gaza Strip. Samir Nazrallah, whose home Corrie was trying to protect, told Al-Monitor: “I was watching what was happening through a hole in the house’s wall. I remember that the driver pulled out the soil from under Rachel’s feet, which made her lose balance, and then, when she fell, he ran over her”.