Palestine: the global struggle against apathy


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By Nina Butler, Special Correspondent | Palestine

Ramallah: Israel’s largest circulation English newspapers, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz, have constructed an alarmingly patchy impression of Israel’s latest aerial bombardment on the already embattled Gaza Strip. Ha’aretz is seen as the most left-leaning and liberal publication with sophisticated and provocative opinionistas who routinely criticise the conservative, trigger-happy, rightist seats of power. However, while terror and devastation rained from the Gaza’s skies, flattening the bulk of the infrastructure in an already densely populated prison and killing 162 Palestinians and 5 Israelis, Ha’aretz headlines read:

“Israel’s Pillar of Defence achieved its goals”; “The worst campaign for tourism to Israel ever”; “Entering Israel – Mexican tourist busted with drone parts in luggage”; “Fighting Hamas in Gaza is a slippery venture”; “Israel’s arms industry hoping success of Iron Dome will bring it sales”; and my favourite, “In line of fire, Ashkelon hotel finds quirky new guests”.

The Jerusalem Post (ironically called The Palestine Post prior to 1948) has a more mainstream readership. In surveying the headlines one reads that, “Schools remain closed in South despite night of quiet”; “IDF arrest 55 terror suspects in the West Bank”; “Military op ends, election campaign begins”, and then a variety of self-congratulatory statements from Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that serve as article titles. A few days ago Jerusalem Post ran a story that covered the trauma inflicted on Israeli families’ cats and dogs by warning sirens during rocket fire.

None of the headlines of either publications—the largest in the country—mention the Gazan death toll, or the fact that an entire family (Al-Dallou) of 10 was massacred there, that journalists have been killed and residential areas targeted. The revolving photo albums for Operation Pillar of Defence show images exclusively from Israel and diplomatic boardrooms. The only one taken in Gaza is of a rocket being launched from there.

Consider a headline article in Jerusalem Post from November 21st“Truce distant possibility after Rishon Lezion strike”. Published to highlight the effects of an airstrike on the Tel Aviv area in which “six people were lightly wounded”, residents voice their opposition to a cease fire: “Our neighbours in the region are watching us, and they see this as a sign of weakness.” Instead of peace they want to cripple Palestinians once and for all: “we have to do and go into Gaza like we did in the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield [in 2002], until the problem is solved.” After providing a laundry list of reasons why a cease fire is not desirable, one resident concluded: “They only understand force.”

The deep hypocrisy in this goes entirely undetected by the author, who endeavours instead to draw out their discomfort and stress in this time of conflict. Another resident was quoted: “Of course we’re worried about the soldiers, but we have to take care of this problem.”

“This problem” is 8 million Palestinians, near to 5 million of which are third generation refugees—dispossessed and exiled in permanent refugee camps, abject squalor and silent indignity on Israel’s doorstep. Contrary to the foundational myth of Zionist nationalism—“a people without land and a land without people”—the land of Palestine had a thriving and diverse indigenous population of Arabs—Muslim, Christian, Jewish, urban and agricultural—who were ethnically cleansed to make space for a colonial settler movement to set up an exclusively Jewish state in 1948.

As is characteristic of such colonial settler communities, the indigenous population is entirely ignored, always discounted by notions of racial superiority. One only has to drive near the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank to see the racist remarks spray-painted on neighbouring mosques, and the crossing out of Arab villages on road-signs, if there are road signs at all. One only has to stand at any of the checkpoints across Israel to see Palestinians being herded, spat at, ordered and shoved like cattle. One only has read the statements from the article on Tel Aviv residents above to see that even in Israel’s most progressive and multicultural city the complete destruction of all of Gaza’s functionality is desired to alleviate “the problem”–Palestinians themselves don’t even come into consideration.

Such disregard is fostered by the complete separation of living space and the confinement of Palestinians to Gaza and the West Bank. Through an advanced system of pass laws and checkpoints, Israel ensures that most Palestinians never travel into Israel, a country of incredible wealth and comfort by contemporary global standards. As a result, most Israelis’ idea of what is ‘Palestinian’ is founded upon the media and popular culture in Israel and many have never even met a Palestinian, let alone engaged them in a humanising conversation.

I have noted commonality in this isolated prejudice to the lives of white South Africans living in privileged suburbs of Johannesburg and Cape Town even to this day. Although we are in a post-apartheid era and the socio-spatial divisions of race are blurring, to be wealthy and white still means that you never travel to squatter camps on the fringes of city space, and you certainly would never invite an impoverished black South African to a braai behind the barbed-wire walls of your Johannesburg home.

To see the way in which Israelis cocoon themselves from the human rights violations and poverty of refugee camps on the other side of the apartheid wall and checkpoints that are in such proximity to their wide palmed boulevards, cafes, shopping malls and parks has been a frightening reality check for me, a privileged white Joburger.

It frightens me because I know this callous disregard for suffering on my doorstep all too well. I know how often I pull out of my drive way and see undignified desperation without batting an eyelid. I know how easy it is to forget what is on the other side of the highway.

It is an extension of this same blinkered phenomenon that allows one to worry about a cat’s patterns of behaviour, and your own unhealthy stress in a context of war, while entirely disregarding the massacre of an entire family a few kilometres away.

Privileged self-absorption is evident not just in Israeli and South African society. I have seen it to horrifying effect in India, where glittering economic enrichment parades next to a quarter of the world’s urban poor living on the smell of oil rags and sewage pipes. I hear of it in New Orleans, in Mexico City, in Rio de Janiero.

However, those who roam on the fringes of shopping malls and palmed boulevards are increasingly adopting non-violent popular struggle strategies and starting to be brake down the barriers that keep them outside.

In a telepathic multinational display of solidarity with Gaza, and resounding condemnation of the Israeli military’s brutality, there have been protests in the past week from London, to Indonesia, to Amsterdam, to universities in the United States, to Pakistan’s capital, to Kashmir, Delhi, South Africa, Chile and peace activist gatherings in Tel Aviv. The outpour and sympathy and outrage continue despite the one-sided global media coverage and frequent referral to Palestinians as “terrorists.”

The momentum of Palestinian solidarity is founded upon the practice of including Palestinian flags at the forefront of a variety protests, revolutionary uprisings and student movements for social justice since the 1960s. Contemporarily, graffiti slogans across Kashmir say “we are Palestinians too”; the chants in Tahrir Square called for the liberation of Palestine; many Greek protestors see their plight as an extension of the Palestinians struggle against hegemony; Spanish students don keffiyehs as they shout for change; Palestinians occupy Wall Street too; and London rioters mobilise behind the growing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

As a ceasefire is reached between Hamas and Israel, it must be remembered that the Palestinian struggle, as always, trudges on. The occupation of Palestine is more than apartheid walls, check-points, pass laws and blockades: it is a system of dehumanisation and exclusion.

The Palestinian struggle is against the disregard of suffering and injustice from the comfort of living rooms, and from glossy front-page editorials. Their struggle is global.

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