In 2018, I was in Jerusalem with an impartial human rights organisation to document human rights abuses on both sides of the inappropriately termed Israel-Palestinian ‘conflict’. On a normal and otherwise insignificant day under Israeli occupation, I spoke with the latest Palestinian victims and witnesses of an apartment-block demolition.
The Israeli authorities had arrived in the early hours of the morning with their weapons and demolition contractors. They made themselves known to the sleeping families by detonating explosives at the front gate and rapidly ‘evacuating’ residents at gunpoint. They gave them no time to dress properly or salvage possessions – including the identification documents that are vital to proving residency in the city and accessing services.
Bulldozers spent the rest of the morning destroying the homes of three families and the livelihoods of those who depended on two small businesses that had been located on the ground floor.
The justification given was that there was no building permit approved for these so-called ‘structures’. Since 1967 – when Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem – 98 per cent of building permits have been denied to Palestinians, who have a moral and internationally-recognised right to live with dignity and safety there. Such demolitions are part of Israel’s long-term strategy of ethnic cleansing.
My teammates and I looked across the neighbourhood, taking in the knowledge that surrounding houses could also be targeted at any time: almost all were marked for demolition. In order not to draw international attention and outrage, such as that currently attracted by neighbouring Sheik Jarrah, Palestinian homes in that neighbourhood are picked off relatively quietly and strategically.
As the Israeli forces packed up and drove away in their armoured tanks, a small group of young Palestinian children threw stones at them. They were immediately met with rubber-coated steel bullets and quickly scattered across the rubble and wreckage and out of the direct line of fire. Thankfully none took a direct hit, and on that day they were okay.
Meanwhile, looking on from a distance, and well aside from where the children had been, a local Al Jazeera journalist was filming the incident. Despite the ‘PRESS’ label on his bullet proof-vest – which should have guaranteed his immunity – he was not as lucky as the children, and was hospitalised with gunshot injuries.
Israel has a long history of targeting journalists. Its latest attack on the Gaza Headquarters of Al Jazeera, the Associated Press and the BBC is merely one of its most brazen and publicised efforts. The bombing was made politically possible by the latest declaration of war, and yes, by the violent response of Hamas to its long-term, brutal, systematic and relentless injustices against Palestinians – which hardly garner international attention, much less meaningful international action.
Headlines about Palestine and Israel are rarely pitched in context, especially in Australia. In the small moments of the everyday, Israel is the aggressor. When we judge the enduring situation from an objective human rights perspective, there is no competition for responsibility: Israel is the heavily resourced military and governing power of both societies, the transgressor of international law, the enforcer of Apartheid, and for historical and political reasons, it’s the main recipient of western governments and media sympathies. This must change.
While it would be cruel to deny that Israeli citizens are suffering in the current ‘conflict’, it is an abomination to ignore the fact that as a society they do not suffer to nearly the same degree as Palestinians suffer, or that as a society they have not gained profited from Palestinian suffering over the decades past since 1948. Or that as individuals, Israelis get a vote.
It is their government – and its predecessors – that have sown the seeds of this current flare up by using violence, racism, dispossession, oppression and dehumanisation. And it is that government – the Israeli government – that is the only entity with the power to calm the situation. It must take its military boot off the necks of Palestinians in Sheik Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Israel. The rest of us, collectively, must stop blaming its victims.