“NEUTRALITY”: A TOOL OF SYSTEMATIC MURDER AND OPPRESSION

by Sarah Edgcumbe

TW: settler colonialism, violence, war

Media outlets are once again decrying the “conflict” between Israel and Palestine, framing Hamas actions as “terrorism”, whilst conversely describing Israel’s as “military action”. At the time of writing, Hamas rockets had killed eight in Israel, while Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza had killed 122 Palestinians (including 31 children) and injured 830 others. The imbalance in power, resources and media discourse is beyond belief.

Gaza is still reeling from the trauma enacted upon it by Israel during the Great March of Return protests between 2018 and 2019. So enraged was Israel by this unarmed demand by Palestinians in Gaza – to be released from their increasingly uninhabitable open-air prison in order to return to the land and homes that were stolen from them – that it killed 123 people, injuring a further 6,400. Among this staggering number of casualties were a significant number of Palestinians who have been left with life-changing injuries (mainly amputated limbs) as a result of Israel’s deliberate policy of using ammunition unsuitable for protest suppression due to its deadly characteristics. The Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) do not discriminate between old and young. Between the 30th March and 31st December 2018, Israel injured 1,642 Palestinian children in Gaza with bullets, bullet fragments, shrapnel, rubber bullets and direct hits from tear gas canisters. UNICEF estimates that more than 25,000 children in Gaza require psychological care. 

The most recent escalation in violence by Israel as seen in the most intensive aerial bombardment of Gaza for years, was started not by Hamas firing rockets, but by… violence perpetrated by Israel. The neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah is situated in a highly sought after area of East Jerusalem, and put simply, Israeli settlers want it. What Israel wants, it is willing to take in flagrant violation of international law and through whatever violent means it deems to be necessary. The fact that Palestinian families already inhabit the homes of Sheikh Jarrah, and have done for generations is completely inconsequential for Netanyahu’s government. This is because it literally never faces consequences for its brutal military occupation of Palestine. No international body ever meaningfully holds or has held Israel accountable for its excessive savagery, murder, suppression, land grabbing, resource stealing, ethnic cleansing and general tyranny. It is a bully permitted to run amok, provided that it doesn’t steal dinner money from anybody except the Palestinians. 

The most recent escalation in violence by Israel as seen in the most intensive aerial bombardment of Gaza for years, was started not by Hamas firing rockets, but by… violence perpetrated by Israel.

As Palestinians peacefully rallied to show their support for the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, following the Israeli-issued order they received to leave on the 2nd May, Israel responded with predictable disproportionality, beating and arresting protestors with impunity. Israeli retaliation against Palestinian resistance intensified on the 7th May, when the IOF broke into the prayer room of Al-Aqsa Mosque, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at the unarmed worshippers inside. More than 200 Palestinians were wounded during this attack, with at least three of them losing an eye. More completely unnecessary life-changing injuries incurred by Palestinians for having the audacity to exist and resist subjugation. And still, the media avoids labelling Israel a terror state, and the IOF agents of terror or terrorists. 

Sure, in the video of the attack posted by the Guardian newspaper, you can hear “Allah Akbar” being exclaimed, but contrary to popular belief, this is not some sort of terrorist mantra. A previous Palestinian student of mine in Nablus who had trouble sitting still and who disliked reading, joyfully exclaimed “Allah Akbar” when after weeks of concerted effort, he managed to achieve an A. Similarly, a Palestinian friend just outside of Nablus was so delighted that his horse took itself to its own stable unaided that “Allah Akbar” was his chosen celebratory phrase. Just as it is often heard as a form of celebration, it can be uttered as a form of protection and supplication in times of danger, such as when the IOF enter a building and are hell-bent on eviscerating every Palestinian inside it. 

As coverage of events is shared on social media, the prevailing media discourse collides with well-meaning but naïve calls for calm discussion and neutrality in such a way as to further bolster Israel’s choke-hold on Palestine. Stories of Palestinian children deliberately shot by the IOF in Jerusalem are met with responses reasserting Israel’s right to defend itself. Stories of Gaza once again being devastated by Israeli aerial bombardment, with subsequent death, displacement and lives shattered, are met with calls for Palestinians to adhere to the plan for a two state resolution. Myriad voices plead for the Israelis and Palestinians to come together and talk, perhaps sing and recognise each other’s humanity as if both sides are engaged in an identity-based conflict (which they are not). 

via American University of Beirut (aub.edu.lb.libguides.com)

The seemingly never-ending and deeply vacuous defence of Israel’s violence on the grounds that it should be able to defend itself has muddled the facts on the ground to such an extent that it is mind-boggling. In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes to make way for the creation of the Israeli state. Historic Palestine was reduced to post-1948 Palestine: Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Land-grabbing and forced displacement of Palestinians has never ceased since, and so Palestinian-controlled territory is rapidly shrinking as Israel occupies more and more land, steals more and more resources, and builds increasing numbers of Israeli settlements on Palestinian hilltops. Campaigns of terror and intimidation are systematically waged against the Palestinians by both Israel (the IOF being foot soldiers of terror), and Israeli settlers. Palestinian families are burned out of their homes and their olive groves, murdered, beaten, humiliated and dehumanised. The Palestinian economy is strangled by Israel, and Gaza is subjected to an ongoing blockade. Every aspect of Palestinian life is affected by the Israeli occupation. IOF soldiers are unpredictable, but always volatile: they are young, armed and indoctrinated. Palestinian protests against Israel’s occupation are met with lethal force (incidentally, Israeli protestors against the occupation are also often beaten, though usually by right-wing mobs rather than the IOF). Palestinian youth, journalists, law makers and other outspoken figures live knowing that at any moment they could be kidnapped by the IOF and interned under Israel’s military law. This law enables Palestinians to be imprisoned for rolling six-month periods without charge or trial under administrative detention. Torture of Palestinians, including children by Israeli forces is well-documented. 

All of this begs the question: given the grinding reality experienced by Palestinians throughout recent history, why do we insist on labelling those who engage in armed resistance as terrorists, rather than freedom fighters. Why do we give Israel a green card to enact obscene levels of violence against the Palestinians? 

Palestine has no air force, no tanks, no substantial military at all. It has no recourse to military aid. Israel, on the other hand, is provided with billions of dollars worth of military aid each year from the U.S alone, while the UK has approved arms sales to Israel worth hundreds of millions of pounds since 2014. Palestinian youth armed with stones and slingshots are no match for Israel’s vast arsenal of top-of-the-range weaponry. This is not a conflict. This is David versus Goliath, if Goliath were  a greedy, entitled, vengeful shit. 

Palestinian protests against Israel’s occupation are met with lethal force (incidentally, Israeli protestors against the occupation are also often beaten, though usually by right-wing mobs rather than the IOF).

If another country, say, North Korea, invaded the U.S tomorrow, and within a couple of years forcibly displaced (murdering, raping and pillaging along the way) the American population, settler-colonising 45 of the 50 U.S states and controlling the borders of the remaining 5 (not to mention controlling movement of people within three of those 5 states) the narrative would be very different. Armed resistance enacted by American citizens against the colonial powers and their violent occupation would be lauded, valorised as courageous and selfless; a fight for the people. Yet when the Palestinians engage in such a struggle for liberation from oppression they are labelled as terrorists and urged to agree to the two state solution.

The misconception that Palestinians refuse a two-state solution is a well-orchestrated PR exercise on the part of Israel, which has already settled much of the land which would comprise the independent Palestinian state. Blaming Palestinians for the non-existence of the two-state solution is not only ignorant, it is callous. How can Palestinians exist at peace in a state when, in reality, they have already been expelled from much of it? For the two state solution to represent a possibility, Israel would be required to withdraw from a significant amount of land in the West Bank, relinquishing hundreds of settlements in the process, as well as releasing its tight grip on Gaza’s throat. When the Israeli government states that it wants peace, it is spouting empty rhetoric. What it actually wants is complete erasure of Palestinians. This is illustrated by the fact that Israel has refused to engage with the mutual ceasefire that Hamas proposed on the 12th May, on the basis that it seeks to achieve “certain military goals”. How many Palestinian civilians will die or lose loved ones as Israel seeks to achieve this murky goal? How many more lives will be irredeemably shattered? As parents in Gaza make the heart-wrenching decision to bring their children to sleep in the same room as them, reasoning that it is better to die together should they be the next victims of an Israeli aircraft bomb, the last thing they need is our neutrality.

photo by Sarah Edgcumbe

During a classroom exercise with my 6th grade students in Nablus a few years ago, we discussed whether you could truly remain neutral when faced with an elephant standing on the tail of a mouse. Of course, you cannot, the elephant has all of the power, all of the strength, all of the control. In the words of my 6th grade class, you should never pretend to be neutral, or you will be responsible for killing the mouse. 

Calls for conversation-based reconciliation and an end to armed resistance are disingenuous. These are not calls for peace. In real terms, these are calls for the Palestinians to roll over and die quietly. Peace is not the responsibility of the Palestinians, it is the responsibility of the occupying power – Israel. 

Until Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem there can be no peace for Palestinians. Until it ceases to obliterate huge swathes of Gaza, Palestinians will continue to live lives characterised by suffering and terror. Just as we supported the French Resistance during World War II and the anti-apartheid resistance in South Africa, so too should we support the Palestinian resistance, whether expressed through steadfastness and refusal to be displaced from their homes, throwing stones, or firing rockets. The onus is firmly on Israel. 

Featured image by Sarah Edgcumbe


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