As Palestinians mourn the death of three boys by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, Chair of Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign Derry, Catherine Hutton, looks at how the daily realities faced by Palestinians are supported by Israeli policy, such as the new Nation State Law, and why that means we must support the call to BDS if we are to have any impact in fighting against apartheid conditions.
Since the Great March of Return protests in Gaza began on March 30th this year, over 200 Palestinians have been murdered and more than 20,000 injured by Israeli forces. Many of the dead and injured were children, medics and journalists. Almost 90% of the refugees living in Gaza are descended from those who were ethnically cleansed from their land and homes in 1948 during the Nakba. They have been campaigning since then for the right to return that is granted to other refugees across the world.
Trapped in Gaza, the conditions for refugee Palestinians are deplorable. Very limited access to electricity and practically no sanitation. Even the water is undrinkable. Because Israel controls everything that enters or leaves the strip, many in need of life-saving medical treatment have died as a consequence of being refused exit permits.
Though this inhumanity in Gaza against almost 2 million people has been ongoing for 11 years, it appears on our screens only intermittently. Only when the Great March protests began earlier this year did international attention revert to Gaza. I am reminded of Derry 50 years ago, when the Civil Rights March of 5th October 1968 forced international attention onto the discrimination in housing, jobs, education and votes being suffered by Catholics in the North of Ireland.
It is widely accepted that the Israeli regime of apartheid imposed Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Gaza, and on Palestinian citizens of Israel is of a magnitude not witnessed in South Africa. And as the establishment across the world refuses to engage with BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) in any real way, the apartheid policies go largely unchallenged.
Nation State Law
In fact, following the enactment of the Nation State Law recently, the response from the international establishment has been meek. The EU were quick to criticise the new law, which stipulates that only Jews have right of self-determination in Israel, but no sanctions have been suggested. No divestment from international trade has been put in place. Only a commitment to continue to engage with Israel on the issue.
The Nation State Law provides legal teeth for discrimination that was hitherto de facto, particularly in the important area of housing. It says that the state “places national value on development of Jewish settlement and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” It treats Palestinians as trespassers in Israel and promotes the very settlements which flout international law by bulldozing and burning Palestinians from their homes. It also creates a situation whereby Palestinian citizens of Israel are forced to participate in this reinforced discrimination because their taxes will be used to implement it.
The aim with the new law is the same as the reason that Israel refuses to allow Palestinians the right to return – to maintain a Jewish majority. And the money it pours into international charm offensives maintains a layer of allies who will speak out against those who criticise such moves as ethnic cleansing. The new law specifies that the majority too have rights and that ‘the majority decides’. In February, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that ‘Israel must maintain its majority even at the expense of human rights’.
Palestinians in Israel, therefore, are now second class citizens as a matter of law. Arabic, too, has been downgraded as part of the new measures which encourages hatred against Palestinians and enables exclusion. The consequences of these new measures, if drawn to their logical conclusion are horrifying. They have set a dangerous precedent by legalising discrimination.
Apartheid conditions in the West Bank
Stark realities like those which could be achieved by the Nation State Law in Israel already exist in the West Bank. Imagine that you are standing at a bus stop alongside one other person, waiting for the bus to arrive. You are both heading in the same direction but when the bus pulls up, you are not permitted to board. It pulls away without you. Why? Because you hold the wrong ID. This is life in the West Bank, where Israeli-operated buses travel and pick up passengers on Palestinian land, yet do not serve Palestinians who hold West Bank IDs. These buses are part of a segregated infrastructure and transport system that helps Israeli settlers move efficiently through the heart of occupied territories, while Palestinians in the same area are denied their right to freedom of movement.
Palestinians living in the West Bank not only endure the frustration of mushrooming Israeli-only settlements in their midst, illegal under international law, but are also made to suffer the humiliation of not being able to use the same transportation system as settlers. In the Jim Crow era in the U.S., buses became a powerful site of protest of a broader system of racial segregation. Today in Palestine, buses remain a poignant symbol of how Palestinian rights are systematically denied.
The example of Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin village of 181 people, is a succinct one when looking at the result of Israeli occupation and settlement policies in the West Bank. Palestinian Bedouins expelled from the Naqab desert by the Israeli army moved to the West Bank and settled in Khan al-Ahmar, expanding it. Khan al-Ahmar is located between two expanding illegal Israeli settlements which by contrast look like cities, ‘always well lit and clean, with well-functioning sewage and running water; they have several schools, clinics and of course security provided by the Israeli army. The residents of Khan al-Ahmar have been denied access to any of the services their Israeli neighbours enjoy’.
The imminent demolition of Khan al-Ahmar has been put on hold – for now. This small, but significant victory was achieved by the unceasing pressure and commitment of Palestinian and international activists as well as the support of politicians, trade unions and solidarity groups around the world.
Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions
The ever expanding illegal settlements on either side are no doubt forefront in plans to displace Palestinians in order to replace them with settlers. Other methods of displacement include Palestinians in Jerusalem who face the revocation of their IDs and residency if they are found to be “disloyal” to the state of Israel. In the West Bank, in 2016 alone, Israel utilised discriminatory practices to displace 1,283 Palestinians from their homes. These war crimes are increasing rapidly while international bodies and governments do nothing but offer verbal condemnation. As in South Africa, the only way the Israeli apartheid regime will be dismantled is by peaceful, organised resistance in the form of Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions. That is why we BDS.