The Loss of ‘48
May 15, 2021, marked the 73rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. The Arabic word ‘nakba’ can be closely translated to ‘catastrophe.’ It refers to the creation of the state of Israel and the forced expulsion of over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians from their villages. In addition to those who were displaced, thousands of Palestinians were also killed as their villages were burned down and emptied. Operational orders were such that specific Palestinian towns and villages were to be targeted, destroyed, and their inhabitants forced to flee or die. The most famous incident is that of the Deir Yassin massacre, in which around 100 Palestinians were killed.
By allowing the news of Israeli barbarity to spread, authorities wanted to incite fear in the hopes that Palestinians would willingly leave their villages. Palestinians ended up in neighboring countries’ refugee camps, where their descendants still live today, hoping to return to their homes one day. Aside from those who are internally displaced, there are about 5.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today. And unlike the Jewish diaspora, Palestinians are not given the right to return.
Ethnic cleansing refers to the systematic erasure of an ethnic or religious group from a geographical area, through methods including forcible removal, destruction of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, and murder. In Palestine, this process of ethnic cleansing has also included renaming Palestinian villages and bulldozing entire homes in efforts to erase any traces of their existence. Israel has forcefully moved beyond the limits of the UN Partition Plan, which divided Mandate Palestine into an Arab State (43% of the land), a Jewish State (56%) and the City of Jerusalem. Israel now occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well.
The former leader of the Zionist paramilitary organization Irgun, (later absolved into the Israeli Defence Forces), and future Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, made it clear what the state of Israel should look like: “The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever.” This project of ethnic cleansing dates back to 1948 and we are continuing to see it unfolding.
Sheikh Jarrah and Beyond
The illegal occupation of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah set off the recent Israeli attacks in the West Bank and Gaza. In the 1950s, the Jordanian government built residences and leased them to Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes in West Jerusalem. The documents that support these residential claims were recently sent to the current homeowners to assist them in their case in Israeli court. On the other hand, the legal claim that Israeli settlers are making is based on an Israeli law that was passed in 1967, allowing Jews to reclaim their properties that were held by Jordanian or British authorities in the city before 1967. However, when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem began after the Six-Day War, the legal status of Sheikh Jarrah was clearly that of ‘belligerent occupation’ under international law, concluding that moving Israelis into Palestinian territory would be a violation.
In May of this year, the Israeli district court in East Jerusalem approved a decision to evict six Palestinian families from their homes. Seven more families are being forced to leave their homes by August 1st. Some of these families have filed an appeal against the evictions, but the proposed court date has since been rescheduled. In Sheikh Jarrah, there are already families that were forcefully expelled in 2008 and 2009. Israeli settlers now reside on these properties, with the armed support and ‘protection’ of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).
After the court ruling, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah broke out into peaceful protests. The police met those protestors with stun grenades, water cannons and skunk water. While armed Israeli settlers continued to enter the neighborhood, Palestinians from outside Sheikh Jarrah were barred from joining the protests. Several protesters were arrested, including activists and residents Tala Obeid, Omar al-Khatib and Mahmoud Nabil al-Kurd, who have since been released. More recently, a similar case of expulsions and ethnic cleansing is taking place in the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where settlers plan on displacing over 100 Palestinian families.
During the last few days of Ramadan, Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which is the third holiest site for Muslims across the world, was repeatedly attacked by Israeli authorities. Unprovoked by Palestinian worshipers, the IOF used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse worshipers. Israeli forces eventually retreated from Al-Aqsa on May 10th, after leaving the mosque’s interior severely damaged and hundreds of protesters injured.
From May 11th to May 21st, Israel continuously bombed the Gaza Strip indiscriminately. Israel claims that its attacks were in response to rockets fired by Hamas, the fundamentalist paramilitary group that controls the Gaza Strip. Reportedly, 12 Israelis, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets during the most recent escalation of violence. However, Israel’s Iron Dome defence system has been able to intercept most of the rockets. Over the years, with the help of US aid, Israel has been able to develop one of the most powerful militaries in the world. The annual $3.8 billion in aid from the US is mostly used to purchase and develop sophisticated military equipment and defence systems. Moreover, Israel is the only country in the region that possesses nuclear weapons. The firepower that Hamas has is not comparable to the kind of military technology that Israel boasts.
Reports state that at least 248 people, including 66 children have been killed by Israeli raids. Gaza hospitals are left overwhelmed with casulties and a Médecins Sans Frontières’ clinic was reportedly damaged in the aerial bombings as well. According to international humanitarian law, the deliberate targeting of civilians, medical establishments, and transport systems are all considered illegal. Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was adamant about continuing attacks with “full force.” With growing grassroots activism, protests around the world, and some pressure from states, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, May 21st.
Since the ceasefire, attacks on al-Aqsa mosque have begun again, with journalists being targeted as well. Furthermore, Israeli police are planning to implement “Operation Law and Order,” which will see a crackdown on about 500 Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem and lands occupied in 1948. Israel’s continued efforts to suppress any form of dissent has led people to believe that the ceasefire in Gaza was merely a media ploy to divert attention from the atrocities. However, activists have made it clear that stopping the raids on Gaza is not enough to silence them.
Traditional Media vs. Social Media Coverage
In addition to Israeli military attacks on residential buildings, which they claim served as military infrastructure for Hamas, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has also destroyed the building that housed international media offices, including Al Jazeera. Those in the building were given 5 minutes to evacuate but were denied the chance to save their equipment in the building.
Most Western news outlets have reported that Israeli air raids on the Gaza strip are in self-defense and in response to Hamas’ rocket strikes. It is important to note that news on the occupation of Palestine has almost always been presented without any historical or political context. The headlines of traditional news media only serve to perpetuate the same tit-for-tat narrative. In reality, Hamas’ rocket attacks started after weeks of tension over Sheikh Jarrah court case and the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Inside Israel and the West Bank, thousands of Palestinian citizens in towns, villages and cities have taken to the streets in protest of Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies. There have also been protests in major cities worldwide, in support of the Palestinian cause. Unlike in previous large scale protests during the first and second intifadas, or ‘uprisings’, events in the occupied territories and Gaza can now be filmed and documented. This allows the Palestinian diaspora and others around the world to see exactly what has been happening. The dominant narrative is no longer emerging from Israeli reports and skewed news media, but people who are on the field . When watching videos of a Palestinian being lynched in the middle of the street, it is hard to deny the truth about this so-called “conflict.” Moreover, the live footage not only demonstrates the brutality of the IDF and the IOF, but also shows clear prejudice and discrimination from right-wing Israeli settlers as well.
Why You Should Care About Palestine
The fear of being politically correct is hindering people, and particularly those with large platforms, from openly taking a stance on the oppression of Palestinians. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have been accused of censoring, taking down, blocking, or making it harder to view content about the West Bank and Gaza. So as Facebook and Instagram censor posts, please don’t censor yourself.
For so long, Palestinian activists have had to preface their comments by assuring people that their criticism of the state of Israel is not in of itself anti-semitic. This idea that the state of Israel is infallible because it is tied to Judaism is completely a political one. It conflates discriminating against a religion or ethnic group with condemning the actions of a state. After all, criticizing Saudi Arabia, or for that matter any organization or group that claims it has ties to Islam, is not in itself Islamophobic. Similarly, criticizing Modi’s Hindu nationalist government does not mean that one is anti-Hinduism.
Amy Kaplan, the author of Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance, argues that like the United States, Israel’s existence is believed to be “divinely ordained and that it is therefore exempt from the rules that apply to other nations.” This idea of Israeli exceptionalism has resulted in the international community, and in particular the US, turning a blind eye towards the foundation of the state of Israel and the crimes that it continues to commit.
If you believe that North American settler colonialism and the genocide of Indigenous peoples were crimes, then you should also believe that Palestinians have a right to live and fight for their rights. The disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties has made it clear that this is not a war between two equal sides. Palestinians are the oppressed who are fighting their oppressor. So even when considering the violence perpetuated in self-defence by Palestinians, it is important to question which alternatives they have left. They have been slowly stripped of their land and dignity over the last 73 years. It is important to take the time to educate yourself, and to not stay silent in the face of injustice.
The UN Security Council has already failed to pressure Israel on a ceasefire because of the United States’ unrelenting support for Israel. However, there is still reason to hope that popular protests in Israel, Palestine, and around the world will make a difference. By speaking up about Israeli apartheid, we will finally be rid of this myth that Israel is ‘the only democracy’ in the Middle East and be able to liberate Palestine.
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Edited by Chelsea Bean and Tuti Sandra