A few weeks ago, Israel was delighted to find the cures to two of their biggest headaches. Now their reality is very different.
A few weeks ago, Israel was delighted to find the cures to two of their biggest headaches; the pandemic and the Palestinians.
Leading the world on vaccinations, Israel was upbeat at the prospect of reopening, and the Palestinians were as divided as ever. Their struggle showed every sign of being defeated and marginalized. Fast forward to this week, and the arithmetic has totally changed.
The eviction orders instigated by Nahalat Shimon, a settler organization based in the United States, against Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to replace them with Jewish ones sparked an unprecedented popular resistance. The Israeli military and police responded with excessive violence, with unrestrained right-wing settler gangs doing the dirty work.
Riding on the wave of unity and resistance and outdoing the moribund and obedient Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Hamas fired protest rockets into Israel. Israel swiftly responded with brutal bombardment, killing and injuring hundreds.
Difficult as it may be, bombs and rockets must not fog our sight. The events of Sheikh Jarrah were the catalyst, and there is a word to describe them: ethnic cleansing.
When Palestinians mark 73 years of the Nakba – the catastrophe of Palestinians’ mass expulsion from their homes by the armed forces of Zionism – today, these events are a vivid reminder that what started in mid-May 1948 was only the beginning of this relentless and unending Nakba.
In 2009, before he became deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King talked about Sheikh Jarrah when he said, “we will take house after house” and “make this area Jewish”. Words that play to this tune are not new nor surprising; the first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, wanted to make Palestine as Jewish as England was English and called for the “clearing of the land”.
What changed, however, is the sustained shift to the right in Israeli society. Here we have half the population of the land, the Jewish Israeli part, in its trajectory towards a violent, oppressive, and racist state. The other half, the Palestinian Arabs, squeezed economically and politically with total disregard for their human rights.
Before we mention the invisible half that makes Palestinians whole: those displaced and forgotten in refugee camps and diaspora life outside historical Palestine. There is also a word to describe this: apartheid.
It is fitting to note that 1948, the year Israel was created, was also the year that South Africa adopted the policy of apartheid. Both countries developed a warm and collaborative relationship, and both justified their dominance over other people with the claim that they faced annihilation otherwise.
White Australia’s government was the best friend of Apartheid South Africa and is now a best friend for Israel. The trio shares a strong history of colonialism and discrimination against the Indigenous people they colonized.
Australians dismissing this as ancient history or believe geography and pandemic constraints distance them from the conflict must think again. Many Australians are so vested personally and emotionally, and by the colossal complicity of our own government.
Growing trade irrespective of products come from illegal Israeli settlements, expanding defense procurement of weapons irrespective if tested on Palestinians, consistently voting in support of Israel at the UN regardless of human rights violations against Palestinians, and objecting to the International Criminal Court investigation of Israeli war crimes are run-of-the-mill Australian government policies. Every Australian has a voice to change this.
And this is personal and painful for some of us. My mother’s maternal grandfather’s house in Sheikh Jarrah still stands. The place he owned and lived in for years before the Nakba is where his grandchildren now live. I visited that beautiful house as a child every time I visited Jerusalem, where my mother was born, and which I am barred today from even visiting. It has large white stones that predate the Israeli state and have borne witness to the lives of generations of the Salah family.
Like other Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, and for no reason other than their faith, my cousins face daily violence, racism, and intimidation from fanatic settler criminals protected by the Israeli government – a government Australia is eager to watch.
Last week, Australian volunteers were working hard to fundraise for Give-A-Gift, an annual campaign of Olive Kids – an Australian foundation I am proud to be involved in founding and running – to secure meals, clothes, and toys for the children of Gaza. Our partners in Gaza were also working tirelessly to get the clothes and toys ready for Eid. But the children didn’t get their gifts this year; they’ve got bombs and death instead.
In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement achieved global attention and set the course for real change. Will 2021 be the year of change for Palestinians? The struggle to end apartheid in South Africa found momentum when people of conscience worldwide stood up and took action. Australia and the world must not tolerate Palestinian dehumanization, oppression, and the denial of their right to equality and justice any longer. Amin Abbas is a diaspora Palestinian and founding board member of the Australian Foundation for Palestinian Children, Olive Kids.