Writing after 60 Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli forces in Gaza, Fiona Ferguson discusses Trump’s calculated embassy move, the history of the Nakba and the need for international solidarity.
The reality of Israeli Apartheid is once again on our screens—the deadliest onslaught since 2014. As I write, protests have erupted in Gaza in response to the US moving their Israeli Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. The response of the Israeli state has been vicious, sustained and indiscriminate; 59 Palestinians have so far been gunned down by Israeli forces, and thousands have been injured. Layla Ghandour, only eight months old, is thought to be the youngest of 6 children killed. A war crime if ever there was one.
Israeli War Crime
This latest massacre is hard to stomach for any decent human being, but it wasn’t unexpected. In fact, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) dropped hundreds of leaflets on the area surrounding the border before the protest, making clear their intentions; any attempt to damage the ‘security wall’ or injure IDF soldiers during protests, they said, could end in the death of Palestinians. But, of course, the buffer zone between Gaza and the IDF sniper line means that little to no harm could have come to the soldiers from protesters. There were no ‘clashes’ as the mainstream media are reporting, because the Palestinian protesters were never close enough. Rather, the IDF picked off scores of non-violent protesters from afar, using planned lethal force. Yet, predictably, Israel has pinned blame for the murders on Hamas for inciting the protests, while giving the impression that their well-resourced—US backed—military machine is somehow the victim in all of this, rather than the families of the 59 dead.
Israel has already rolled out the claim that the murder of scores of people was an unfortunate but inevitable reaction to provocation. Indeed, they claim to order their soldiers; ‘Only if you see someone with a weapon and feel in immediate danger, shoot to kill’. Very few who have watched the recent scenes in Gaza, or have any knowledge of Israel’s repeated and flagrant violation of UN resolutions on use of proportionate force and international law, will see this as anything more than weasel words. Shoot to kill or maim is not a last ditch tactic of the IDF, but a well-worn principle.
Plague On Both Your Houses?
Israel’s responsibility for this tragedy is clear. And we should not be deflected from condemning it. Too often progressives are cajoled—sometimes with very little resistance—into a “plague on both your houses” approach to this issue; ‘all sides bear responsibility’ they say, ‘we condemn them both’. Bernie Sanders’ conflated condemnation of the violence being the latest example of this approach. Naturally, fault can be found on any side of a conflict. But this equivalence approach ignores that the effects of this conflict are not equally felt on both sides. It allows the notion that the trillion-dollar murder machine that is the IDF is somehow comparable or equal to thousands of Palestinians throwing stones or rocks. It removes the context of the racist, apartheid policies of the Israeli state. Instead, the conflict between Israel and Palestine should be a basic question of oppressed and oppressor, and what side we are on.
Israel, then, has much to answer for. But their murderous actions would not have been sustained this long were it not for the blind eye turned by world leaders and the backing of the US. Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem was always going to escalate tensions in the region, as forewarned by the protests that followed the announcement late last year, and the international bodies such as the UN who called on Trump to reverse his decision. But the US president, who has famously supported Israeli bombing campaigns in Gaza and included a $200 million increase to Israel in his budget request for 2019, went ahead with plans and appeared via video link to the opening ceremony, greeted by chants of ‘Trump, Trump, Trump…’ from the crowd. His daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband were sent in person and spoke of being honoured to join Benjamin Netanyahu and his cohorts in celebrating the future of Israel. Images of Ivanka embracing Netanyahu emerged at the same time as the news broke that protesters had been killed and maimed.
This is the kind of future that the Trumps are honoured to be a part of. Their embassy relocation is an attempt to normalise the actions of the Israeli state in order to strengthen the very profitable relationship between the US and Israel, which has been proactively cultivated since The Six Day War in 1967 when Israel proved itself a reliable ally of US imperial interests by defeating neighbouring Arab nationalist regimes. This can be seen, very clearly, in the last 50 years of US foreign policy and the $134.7 billion it has gifted to Israel to date.
Trump’s relocation of the embassy was predicted to increase tensions in the region because of the date he chose to open it: “the 70th anniversary of the birth of the Israeli state”. This, of course, coincides with the Palestinian commemoration of the wave of ethnic cleansing that took place in order to make way for the Israeli state, the Nakba, meaning ‘the catastrophe’ in Arabic. The Nakba was a human tragedy, and displacement on a colossal scale; whole villages were burnt to the ground and innocent Palestinians gunned down, beaten and forced to flee by zionist militias. Some 850,000 were removed from their homes. To this day, those Palestinians and their descendants have been denied their right to return.
To mark the anniversary, Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank have been mobilising to the border since 30th of March this year, demanding that the right to return—a central aim of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. They have received widespread support from people and movements across the world, but have been met with bullets and violence from Israeli forces. This week’s atrocities will bring the total death toll from the last six weeks to around 100 and the injury list to nearly 10,000. Israel explicitly deny Palestinians the right to return to their land because their very presence would disrupt the racial and religious supremacy that now exists there. Instead, they employ apartheid tactics to repress those Palestinians—referred to by the Israeli state only as Arabs—who still reside there, while the borders around the Palestinians who reside in Gaza are tightly controlled.
But Palestinians have persisted in travelling to the border. Day after day, protesting peacefully and marching for their right to return. When Jared Kushner spoke at the embassy opening to say that ‘the ongoing protests are part of the problem’, he was feeding into the myth that is reiterated time and again by those who allow Israel to kill with impunity. When those who lay blame on both sides mimic the Israeli state rhetoric—repeating that if only Palestinians would stop protesting for their freedom, they would be free—they are enabling Israel’s oppression, and ignoring the fact that no freedoms have ever been won without a struggle. And that is exactly what Palestinians are doing—from flotillas to the BDS campaign, to these latest demonstrations—taking a stand and resisting their oppression.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
What measures should the much vaunted ‘international community’ take to help? The most obvious is to back the BDS campaign that has taken up concrete measures which can be enacted in the wake of Israel’s latest actions, including an immediate military embargo on Israel. This measure has already been backed by Amnesty International who called the atrocities a ‘shameless violation of international law.’ By maintaining trade agreements, specifically arms deals, countries and bodies like the EU are complicit in the murderous oppression of Palestinians. The EU’s refusal to sanction Israel for its flagrant abuse of international law, as with it’s disregard for Catalonians beaten by Spanish police, or refugees from war torn Syria drowning at its borders, does much to tarnish the ‘democratic and human rights centred’ facade that it works so hard to portray.
There are some, however, who have set an example for how the BDS campaign can be enacted. In Ireland in particular, Dublin was the first capital in Europe to adopt the BDS campaign and Derry was the first city to endorse it. Likewise, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), and student unions in Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin and Galway University have all endorsed BDS too. And the call has gone out, too, for the British and Irish governments to expel the Israeli ambassador. Though Ireland and many others were quick to expel a Russian ambassador without proof of wrongdoing, they have only committed so far to meeting with the Israeli ambassador to express their concern, despite these crimes being as clear as day. They should follow the example of South Africa who have already expelled their Israeli ambassador in an act of condemnation and of huge solidarity. As Omar Barghouti put it, “Palestinians are asking for solidarity, not charity. Palestinians and solidarity groups…are calling on Ireland, the EU and the world at large to uphold their moral and legal obligation to do no harm to us.” History will not look kindly on those who do not heed his words, and remain silently complicit in the murder of the next 59 Palestinians.
Times likes these, as tragic as they are, remind us of the reality facing Palestinians; of the brutal shortages of medical supplies in Gaza, the lack of access to clean water, the intermittent electricity supplies, and the daily harassment by the IDF.
Those with gunshot wounds or lost limbs will face the brunt of these inhumane conditions in the days ahead, as they are carried back from the Israeli border. Our solidarity is with them.