Jonathan Freedland claims (22/5/2021) that the day has come closer that “if Israel did not do the right thing and end it [the occupation], it would eventually be branded a pariah state.” I expect that defenders of Israel’s continuing military occupation of millions of Palestinians will argue back that Israel does not have a partner with which to negotiate the end of occupation.
Even if that is the case, here are five steps the Israeli government could take towards ending occupation on its own initiative. 1) Repeal the odious, racist 2018 Jewish nation-state law which establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value;” 2) remove at least some of the 135 outposts in the West Bank which are illegal even according to Israeli law and whose expansion dispossesses Palestinians; 3) end the blockade of Gaza, allowing the flow of people and goods; 4) repeal the application of the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem (the law which is enabling the dispossession of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah) and implement plans to equalize the city’s non-citizen Palestinian residents with its Jewish residents; 5) fulfil its obligations as an occupier to the Palestinians under its military rule by protecting them from continuous settler harassment, instead of working hand-in-glove with the settlers.
That is not a full list of all the Israeli government could do, but the reality that no Israeli government is willing to take such steps should give pause to those who lend their automatic support to it.
It is difficult to throw off the sense of being trapped in a recurring nightmare, the same feeling of paralysis and powerlessness to prevent this happening again. If this is how I feel, far away and safe in the UK, how does it feel to be a Palestinian in Gaza? Reporting the number of dead – at least 232 Palestinians in Gaza, including 65 children, as well as 27 in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and twelve in Israel, including two children, two Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and three migrant workers – does not cut it. Even reciting the names of the dead who I do not know leaves me numb. I clutch at some words from amid the ruins and graves. Someone called Ismail writes:
I’ve noticed a new phenomenon on social media in Gaza: people are sending their loved ones farewell messages before their death… I cannot accept that you will see all the blood and cruelty in Gaza and will not care. That you are not willing to do a thing beyond settling for justifications that protect your military actions… I am writing to tell you that this struggle, before it is a political or historical or ideological struggle, is our human struggle. A struggle for our humanity
Gazan lawyer and activist Fatima Ashour wrote on her Facebook page in Arabic:
I lost my home yesterday. And when I went there today, all was already destroyed…. I rescued whatever I was able to from there, but I left my spirit there, behind. We’re doomed to be exiled a thousand times, inside our country and outside of it… These are their memories that were also bombed, clothes, books, pictures, tears, laughter and dreams… all these were bombed and disappeared in a second, before your eyes, and there is nothing you can do but flee, with a naked spirit and bereft of everything.
As I listen closely, I begin to feel something. I can also feel something of the anxiety that the Indian migrant care worker who looks after my father in Karmiel has, even though they are beyond the range of Hamas rockets. I can also feel the mixture of apathy and disappointment of the residents of the area in Israel bordering Gaza, a third of whom have left for safer locations, that their government that their government has not put an evacuation plan into action, so they rely on their own resources of mutual aid instead. Like the citizens in Gaza, they are pawns in someone else’s deadly game.
I can remind myself of what I wrote when this happened before, in 2014, in 2012 ( was not writing in 2008-9). At least in 2014, although the misery and injury lasted seven weeks and interrupted my summer research, I diverted my energy into collating a special issue of the academic journal Theory and Event about the Israeli war on Gaza. I was coherent enough to write what I thought were seven insightful blogs about topics such as “This is what conflict management looks like,” and about how asymmetrical warfare, as between Israel and Hamas, is inevitably punctuated by moments in which civilian casualties capture public and political attention. But my earnest posts have not stopped the cynical Israeli practice of “mowing the grass” and shrugging off the public relations cost of cutting down all the flowers – all the Palestinian lives – that grow in it.
I also wrote in 2014 about the Israeli dissenters to their country’s war on Gaza, including the creative intervention of the Bereaved Families Forum to beg to end the flow of bereavement. I found hope in the slogan chanted at anti-war demonstrations, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” claiming it is a radical chant, refusing the the ethno-national-religious grounds on which the conflict is conducted. But the cycle of bereavement has not stopped and the slogan is once again being chanted at anti-war demonstrations, this time against the background of ethnic-inter-communal violence within Israel. Now the slogan seems more like a leap of faith then ever. A ceasefire has been announced and I hope it holds, even though I know it is unlikely to be more than that – a ceasefire – a respite before the next round. Somewhere in the rubble there is some hope, but today it is still buried. It is a time for mourning.