Many acts regarding Palestine are an enigma. Everything is convoluted, and you do not know who is killing who and for what reason; a “mad house” where nothing makes much sense.
Others believe it is part of the nature of the Middle East, where everyone is used to killing everyone else for no clear reason, as if it is an inherent mark of the region: “As Arabs and Orientals are known to act violently and irrationally.”
There are some who believe that Islam is the root cause of what is happening: “As Islam is a violent ideology that encourages Muslims to terrorise others and kill them in the name of Allah, and unless Islam is defeated or at least radically reformed, this will never end.”
Then, there are those who think this is unnecessary tension: “Let them slaughter each other, and one should simply mind his own business and live his life because it is the nature of life and people on the surface of this planet that have been doing this since the beginning of creation.”
Of course, we also have those who think Israel is a case of success in an ocean of failure and an oasis of democracy in the Arabian desert of despotism and deserves support. This stems from the belief that it is playing a very important role in defending “Western” interests in one of the most important areas of the world. Therefore, Israel should be protected, not only from external dangers, but from internal ones as well. This includes leaders who want to divert Israel from the original scheme to become merely another Middle Eastern country infested with religious fundamentalism and tyranny. In other words, to protect Israel from itself.
As an intellectual, I was taught that true intellectuals are always ready to stand by the marginalised, the oppressed and the victimised. That it is not ethically right to equate victim with victimiser; that all human beings are equals, regardless of their gender, race, country, religion or political and ideological backgrounds. That human dignity and preserving it is the highest value known to the human race and depriving a person or a people of their freedom is the antithesis of maintaining human dignity. That occupying someone else’s land is a crime, and the worst among crimes is colonialism, as it practically enslaved more than half of humankind under empty slogans used to justify the biggest crime in human history.
As a Palestinian refugee, a son of a Palestinian refugee and a grandson of a Palestinian refugee, I have seen throughout my life how we Palestinians were always treated as criminals for demanding our lawful rights of returning to our country, cities, towns and villages. How we, the victims, were called terrorists, and how we were asked to condemn ourselves for demanding our rights. How we were accused of bringing it all on ourselves, either because incorrectly we have sold our land to “Jews” or because we were not clever enough to accept American and Israeli generosity and refused to share our homeland with foreign colonisers.
Half of my people were forced out of their homes in 1948 to other countries, while foreigners took over our homes, including bed sheets, curtains, bookshelves, the rugs on the floor, flowers on the table and in the garden, and even our memories. Yet, Israel claims that Palestinians left voluntarily; therefore, they are not eligible to return to their homeland and homes.
The only right Israel has on our land is that according to their holy book, their god gave them our homeland and their ancestors lived on our land two thousand years ago. That we, the Arabs, have a lot of land, so Palestinians could live anywhere on Arab land. That European countries ethnically-cleansed Jews, so we Palestinians have to pay for their mistake.
A few weeks ago, I was travelling in a group to an Arab country, while one group member was delayed at the airline’s counter. He was completely frustrated, so I asked him what was happening. He said they would not allow him to travel and he knew deep in his heart why, as all those who hold Palestinian passports are treated as a plague by the rest of the world. We made many calls to the hosting country, and his visa issue was finally resolved. Yet, he was not reassured until we got through the customs of the inviting country.
This simple incident explains how we Palestinians are treated by the rest of the world and how much we are taught to mistrust “the world” who failed us at every turn, while our tormenters and subjugators are treated with respect and dignity. To many of us, mistrust in the international community is the rule, and anything else is an exception. For those who choose to blame us, let them try being a refugee for seventy-four years. While Israel, the illegally occupying force, is protected even from itself, Palestinians are denied their land, state, history, holy places, identity, and even a coloured piece of cloth called a national flag.
Thirty-one-year-old Ghofran Warasnah was shot dead by the Israeli occupation forces located at the entrance of Al-Arroub Palestinian refugee camp near Hebron. Ghofran was a Palestinian journalist who was heading to work. According to reports paramedics were barred from reaching her for 20 minutes and the ambulance carrying her dead body was attacked by Israeli forces.
Of course, this kind of extra-judicial killing is the norm in the West Bank, this year alone 50 Palestinians have been killed, including 15 children. In most cases Israeli occupation soldiers claim that the victims were assailants armed with knives who had to be shot to protect the occupation forces. No evidence is ever provided for their claims.
Unlike others, Israel kills suspects then seeks to legitimise the murder.
How are Israelis able to play the role of the victim? They are able to manipulate facts and escape the consequences of their actions. Basic facts which are not “disputed” by anyone except by the illegal Israeli occupation forces, such as that Al-Aqsa Mosque has been a Muslim holy site for the last 1,400 years. This fact is recognised by all concerned international organisations and laws.
Unfortunately, most of those who acknowledge this do not act accordingly, save some empty statements that denounce Israel’s actions especially those related to human rights violations. They act with indifference towards Israeli violations and aggression, to the extent that they practically forgot their commitments and obligations towards the tenets of the UN and perceive and deal with Palestinians who are resisting a brutal colonial occupation in Jerusalem as vagabonds and trouble makers, not as freedom fighters and martyrs. This approach makes them complicit in the atrocities being committed.
This contradiction was evident when Israeli fanatics marched through the Old City of Jerusalem hoisting Israeli flags, abusing and cursing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Palestinians, then broke into Al-Aqsa Mosque and practiced their prayers inside this Muslim holy site under the protection of Israeli occupation police, while the real owners of the mosque were beaten with batons and accused of disturbing the peace.
These crimes are legalised by the Israeli judiciary, who gave Jews the right to intrude into Al-Aqsa, protected by Israeli police who watch over them when they were reciting their prayers, justified by Western media which always claims that Muslim holy sites are disputed places, governed by the Israeli government.
So, does the world really believe that Israel is an occupation state? Theoretically speaking yes. In practice, however, this same world has not done anything tangible over the last 55 years to deter Israel or punish it. On the contrary, economic relations continued and helped strengthen the occupation’s clout. All the European countries, America and most of Latin American, Asian, African and even some Arab countries have diplomatic relations with Israel. During the Trump era, the United States – the most powerful country on Earth – even relocated its embassy to occupied Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Turning the UN resolution on the matter into rhetoric.
Inaction and neutrality in the face of aggression is a sign of ethical bankruptcy. The world has long crossed this line to a more inferior one; the stage of covering, justifying and aiding the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people. This same world who has been giving the occupation a green light for the past 55 years, condemning the Palestinian victims as they try to defend themselves.
What we see on the ground proves beyond no doubt that the world only believes in the language of nuclear war heads, aircraft carries, nuclear submarines, jet fighters and supersonic missiles and not in justice for the oppressed and those whose rights have been ripped from them.
After the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, three journalists share how Israeli forces deliberately targeted, shot, and wounded them in the line of work.
By Vera Sajrawi / June 1, 2022
The first time I experienced the violence of Israeli forces as a journalist was shortly after I returned from the United States in 2014, where I had spent a few years studying and working in the media. A documentary filmmaker asked me to help him cover the annual Nakba Day protest in Bethlehem. By then, I had already worked in the occupied West Bank, but never in Bethlehem, where Israeli forces are known for using excessive force from a close range.
There are snippets from that day that I not only still remember, but feel like I relive even on a physical level, no matter how much therapy or healing I do. I remember the moment the Israeli soldiers charged at the journalists. We were all bundled together in one corner to the side of the soldiers and protesters, dressed in full protective gear.
Our helmets and vests were clearly labeled “press.” From this, and the fact that we were holding cameras and microphones, there was no way to mistake that we were journalists. Nor were there any protesters near us.
Yet suddenly, the soldiers charged at us, shoving us and screaming at us to leave the scene. Before we even had a chance to move, they fired stun grenades and tear gas. The sounds were deafening, and the air burned.
As I struggled to put on my gas mask, one of the soldiers came right up to me and screamed in my face. He then sandwiched me between his rifle and a nearby wall while bellowing in my ear to move. Luckily, the American filmmaker I was with intervened and told the soldier we were leaving. I still had my eyes shut, and I remember thinking the way I used to when I was a child — that if I don’t lock eyes with the monsters (which, back then, were imaginary and hiding under my bed), they cannot kill me.
As soon as I put on the gas mask, I saw the soldiers shove another journalist. He did not scream or cry like me; he kept hugging his camera and raising it in the air to protect it. In the end, they detained him. It was the first time I saw the army detain a journalist in front of my eyes. I wanted to save him, to go and scream at the soldiers to leave us alone, but I was too terrified to say anything.
Israeli forces routinely attack, arrest, and sometimes even kill Palestinian journalists simply for doing their job. According to the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, as many as 55 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since the year 2000. Since the start of 2022, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) recorded 215 attacks on Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces. Meanwhile, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, 15 Palestinian journalists are currently sitting in Israeli prisons, including one in administrative detention.
On top of the physical traumas we sometimes face, we also have to constantly endure the emotional trauma of witnessing and documenting the oppression of our people, and our colleagues, at the hands of occupying forces. The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh earlier this month has resurfaced that collective trauma for all of us.
Following Shireen’s killing, +972 Magazine spoke to three journalists from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to shine a light on their experiences of working in the field while under occupation and siege. Here are their stories.
‘I felt like a missile hit me’ Mo’ath Amarnih is a photojournalist who has been taking photos since he was 10 years old. In November 2019, while covering a protest against land confiscation in Khirbet Safa, a few miles north of Hebron, Amarnih was shot in the face with a rubber bullet and lost his eye from the damage.
“On that day, the brutalization was monstrous,” he tells +972. “As soon as people started gathering, the army began firing dozens of tear gas grenades. Then there was a period of calm, but my gut told me something worse was going to happen.”
Amarnih was filming from a position behind a dirt pile which hid his lower body, and was wearing a press vest and helmet. “I thought this would protect me from their bullets,” he says. But it wasn’t enough.
“When you are hit with a bullet, you do not hear its sound,” says Amarnih. “I felt like a missile hit me and my head was blown away. I did not comprehend what was happening to me. I was unconscious, and for a few seconds my whole life flashed in front of my eyes. I did not know if I was alive or dead.”
According to Amarnih, the army did not provide any medical care after he was shot. Instead, soldiers came and took photos of him, while help came from other journalists on the scene. Later, when his lawyer asked the police about the results of their investigation into the incident, they told him that the army concluded that the bullet was not theirs.
“Until today I still cannot believe that I survived,” he continues. “I still live with the bullet in my head. They shot me in the eye — the most important part of my body for my work.”
For several years after the incident, Amarnih was physically unable to return to taking photographs. “When I focused my seeing eye on the lens of the camera, I would fall into holes in the ground,” he says. He also encountered an emotional block: “Every time I would look into the lens, a flashback would take me back to the moment I was shot.”
Amarnih says he received the emotional support he needed after the incident from his family and his colleagues, who were also traumatized by what they had witnessed. But the trauma still resurfaces, as it did after the recent killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. “I saw myself in her killing,” says Amarnih. “I did not comprehend that it was her funeral — I felt like it was me being carried in her casket. I thought they were burying me.”
On reflection, Amarnih sees this incident as part of a pattern. “When there are no clashes, the army attacks journalists,” he says. “They go crazy as if they have seen the devil. We sometimes prefer not to wear press vests, since we do not want them to recognize and target us. They suppress us because our photos prove to the world that they are a criminal army. We want the whole world to know how much we suffer to show them the whole picture. We need international protection. We want the world to hold Israel accountable for its attacks on us.”
‘I heard them laugh, saying “I got him”’ Mohammad al-Azza was born in Aida Refugee Camp next to Bethlehem, where he lives today. In 2013, he was working as the communications director at a youth center in the camp, documenting life in the camp through photos and videos, when he heard gunfire outside. He immediately picked up his camera.
“I saw a bunch of soldiers who came down from their base standing 150 meters away from the entrance to Aida,” he tells +972. “I went out to the balcony on the second floor and started taking photos. I was alone.”
As the soldiers continued approaching the entrance of the camp, they fired tear gas, sound bombs, and rubber bullets at a group of Palestinian youth who were trying to resist their entry. Then, al-Azza saw the commander of the army unit point at him while talking on the phone.
“Usually when the military raid the camp they would yell at me to leave the scene, curse at me, or fire stun grenades and tear gas toward me,” he says. “That day, they did not mess with me. It was weird but I kept taking photos, especially of the commander who spent time focusing his rifle then firing toward the kids.”
At a certain point, the soldiers yelled at al-Azza to go home, so he started leaving the balcony. But suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a fire spark and realized immediately that it was coming from the rifle of one of the soldiers. The rubber-coated bullet hit Mohammad in the face, on his right cheek.
“I screamed so loud,” he says. “I heard the soldiers and the commander laugh, saying ‘I got him.’ My face was covered in blood, and the friend who came to help me freaked out when he saw.”
Because the army had blockaded the camp, the ambulance was unable to reach al-Azza. “I walked with my friend, bleeding heavily. The soldiers told us to stop but we kept walking toward my house, and they started firing tear gas canisters at us.” Al-Azza’s neighbor took him in his car to the hospital, using a back road to avoid the soldiers.
“All the bones on the right side of my face were fractured, and my eye fell because the bones surrounding it were not holding it anymore,” al-Azza continues. “I was in surgery for nine hours. They took bones from my hip and planted them in my face, and they also used platinum in place of the facial bones that were shattered.”
The army accused al-Azza of throwing stones at the soldiers, and the Israeli media parroted the army’s claims. But al-Azza had taken photographs of the commander, so he decided to sue him. “The army started asking every single person they arrested from the camp about me in an attempt to accuse me of something, to counter my lawsuit,” he says.
After spending two weeks sleeping at two different hospitals, and 10 hours in operations, al-Azza was allowed to go home and continue visiting the doctors for further medical care. The first night after he was released from the hospital, though, the army raided his house. They broke the door down and destroyed everything in the house, before threatening his mom: “If he doesn’t come to us, we will bring him back to you dead.”
Al-Azza was not at home that night, nor did he return home for the next several weeks in order to avoid the army and to continue his medical treatment. “They kept breaking into our house and beating up my family,” he says. “One time, they detained my father and brother and made them call me to turn myself in, but I refused.” ‘When the camera is present, they panic’ After two exhausting months of living away from home, al-Azza decided to go back. The army immediately raided his house. “They started beating me up,” he recalls. “I begged them not to hit me in the face, but they deliberately struck me on my injury. Blood started running down my neck and chest.
“They took me to Etzion interrogation center; I was wearing my shorts and they refused to let me change or put on shoes, or to receive medical care,” al-Azza continues. After four days in detention, the army started interrogating him and tried to force him to sign a confession, which he refused to do.
Eventually, the army took al-Azza to a hospital in Jerusalem so that he could be examined by an eye doctor. Before long, however, he realized the real reason they had brought him there: they wanted a doctor’s opinion that would counter al-Azza’s lawsuit, in which he stated how his sight had been affected by the injury. “I kept asking the doctor what exams he was doing and he did not answer me,” al-Azza explains. “Israeli forces were present with us in the room. I’m sure they had an agreement.”
After that, the soldiers returned him to Ofer detention center where he spent 10 more days before being released on bail. He continued to pursue his lawsuit against the army.
“Every month for three years I went to Ofer for yet another court session in my case,” he continues. “The Israeli authorities banned me from traveling to the United States for facial reconstruction surgery and kept trying to force me to drop the case — including by making up a bunch of allegations against me. My case is still at the High Court. I do not know where it stands today.”
Like Amarnih, al-Azza sees a pattern in the way Israeli forces target Palestinian journalists at protests. “The soldiers always target the journalists first with [sound and tear gas] bombs and yell at us to leave so they can operate freely,” he says. “When the camera is present, they panic. They do not want the world to see [what they’re doing].”
When I ask him why he keeps going back out into the field despite the risk of injury or even death as a Palestinian journalist, he responds that it is his duty to continue. “The Israelis worry about their image, so they try to stop Palestinians from documenting their crimes,” he says. “They want to decide the narrative and to appear powerful and humane, when in reality it is the exact opposite.
“The army raided my refugee camp every day and confiscated my footage, and once broke my camera,” he continues. “But I never thought I would be targeted deliberately — perhaps only injured by mistake. I was very lucky to live because by shooting me in the face they intended to kill me. But I am not scared; on the contrary, I feel like I have nothing to lose.” ‘My life could have ended in seconds’ Youmna al-Sayed works as Al Jazeera’s English-language correspondent in the besieged Gaza Strip. She is originally from Egypt and was born in South Africa, where she spent most of her life before marrying a Palestinian from Gaza and moving with him to the strip. They have four children between the ages of four and eleven.
Al-Sayed had already become accustomed to Israeli soldiers firing stun grenades — and often live fire — at journalists while covering demonstrations at the Israel-Gaza fence, particularly during the Great March of Return. But the events of May 2021, and in particular Israel’s aerial attacks on the strip during that month, were beyond anything she could imagine. During those days, she tells +972, “no place was safe.”
She remembers sitting in her car when Israeli forces bombed another vehicle just meters away. “My life could have ended in seconds,” says al-Sayed. “Our car hit the sidewalk from the impact of the missile, and I had bruises from hitting my head on the dashboard. I didn’t feel any pain because I was too shocked to understand what just happened. The driver spoke to me and started shaking me, but I couldn’t hear his voice. I just felt like I could see my kids in front of my eyes.”
Shortly thereafter, paramedics arrived at the scene and al-Sayed found herself in Al-Shifa hospital — a location she knew well from reporting, but where she was now a patient. “I carried on after that incident, but I won’t lie to you if I tell you that I can still feel the same feelings of shock from that day until today.”
To prepare for any possibility of violence, al-Sayed says that she and her colleagues make sure they wear protective gear every single time they report, although that doesn’t help much in the face of Israeli bombings. “We try everything that shows who we are and why we shouldn’t be targeted. But journalists can be targeted at any time, anywhere, with press vests and helmets — none of that will keep you safe. It doesn’t matter if you’re not Palestinian: if you’re a journalist covering Gaza, you’re a possible target.”
The solution, she believes, is to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against journalists “who are only messengers, just like the international community would do with any [other] country that targets journalists. Only then will Israel be deterred.”
The killing of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, is one more chapter of the 74-year-old Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe).
Much had been argued about the creation of Israel and the ensuing ethnic cleansing of historical Palestine. Sadly, most had become a desensitized academic debate, lifeless abstract portrayal failing to depict what it really meant to be a refugee without a country.
On May 15, 1948, Zionists danced and firecrackers burst over New York neighborhoods celebrating the founding of Israel. At the same time, and on the other side of the world, Zionist terrorist military organizations waged a war to depopulate Palestine from its native population. The end result, in access of 780,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from more than 500 destroyed towns and villages.
For the new state, Palestinian refugees, like my own parents, were dispensable nuisances. In a 1948 foreign ministry study, Israel predicted the refugees “… will waste away. Some will die but most will turn into human debris and social outcasts ..” in other countries.
To Israel’s chagrin, refugees rose from the ashes of burned villages refusing to be cast into the oblivion of injustice. Shireen Abu Akleh grew up under occupation, armed herself with a microphone and a camera making sure her parents’ story is remembered and Palestinians do not become “human debris.”
The murder of Abu Akleh is inseparable from Israel’s continuum crimes against Palestinian intellectuals. To name but few, the assassinations in Beirut of magazine editor Ghassan Kanafani in 1972, and Poet Kamal Nasser in 1973. The murders, like the razed villages in 1948, were part of determined Israeli efforts to thwart the Palestinian narratives and hide crimes against humanity.
Unlike Abu Akleh, when journalists were killed in Ukraine, the West rejected Russian inculpability, did not demand joint investigation, and requested the International Court to investigate Russia’s war crimes.
In this case, Israel (like Russia) denied responsibility, and charged its Hasbara PR machine with a deflection strategy to cast doubt on the murder and escape liability. Unlike Russia, however, Western media became a welling extension of the Israeli PR machine.
American media outlets ascribed nuance terminology to explain Abu Akleh’s death, or promoted, unquestionably, the false Israeli PR narratives. For example, the initial New York Times headline said, “Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Dies at 51.”
In their initial coverage, Western media outlets ignored testimonies of firsthand eyewitnesses and those of journalist’s colleagues.. One who was injured, and a second hid behind a tree two feet away from the journalist’s body unable to help her friend. She watched tortuously as an Israeli soldier continued to shoot in their direction despite their blue media vests. Instead, Western media sought corroborations of Israeli PR professionals who were tens of miles from the crime site.
CNN waited almost two weeks before airing eyewitness accounts, and the Associated Press (AP) 12 days to eventually, in an overly cautious report, challenge the Israeli PR machine.
On the official level, the Biden Administration called for a joined Israeli and Palestinian investigation into the “death” of the journalist. Palestinians rejected the call for a joint investigation asserting that murderers can’t be trusted in investigating their murder.
Israel’s previous sham investigations have almost always absolved its army’s crimes, or issued a slab on the hand, if any. In addition, Israel has in the past protracted its investigations as part of a dual strategy: squish calls for independent inquiry on the short term, and to deflate international outcries with the passing of time, on the long term.
To reference some examples, the 2003 murder of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was run over by an Israeli military bulldozer, and the murder in the same year of British cameraman James Miller. Or the 2000 murder of the 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah on live TV.
The army probes following up to these well publicized crimes, like all lesser-known murders, exonerated Israeli soldiers and blamed the victims for their own death.
Alas, When compared to life lost in Ukraine, American life, and all lives for that matter, seem to have less value when the alleged murderer is an Israeli soldier, who most likely used an American weapon.
As in the case of previously murdered journalists, activists, children, and the razing of the media tower in Gaza, Israel executed Shireen Abu Akleh to silence the Palestinian story. For the microphone in Abu Akleh’s hand had become more perilous than a gun, and the camera more powerful than a bullet.
*Jamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America, and other books. He writes for various national and international commentaries
The Palestinian people rightly saluted Hisham Abu Hawash as a brave man who was prepared to die in pursuit of his freedom. On 4 January, the occupation state of Israel agreed to his release following his almost five-month-long hunger strike. Images of Hisham’s frail, almost skeletal body were widely shared on social media, together with a video of Hisham’s children visiting and hugging their dying father, raising anger amongst human rights defenders.
Those who have experienced fasting, particularly for religious reasons, will readily acknowledge how challenging experiencing hunger is. At the end of just a day of fasting, they are ready to tuck into a feast. Imagine going without food for almost five months as Hisham did. Imagine also what would drive someone to do this.
I doubt that any of his captors would be brave enough to do what he did for freedom.
Hisham was held in administrative detention, which Israel uses and abuses at will with no accountability. A practice it uses to hold Palestinians for extendable periods without charge, on suspicion that they pose a security threat. Once it has designated the evidence as ‘secret’, it can apply repeatedly for renewal of detention, which the Israeli courts almost always uphold.
Abu Hawash is not the first and he certainly will not be the last Palestinian whose rights Israel abuses in this way with impunity. The Palestinians have Britain to ‘thank’ for this law, which Israel introduced in 1979, based on the British Mandate 1945 (Defence Emergency) Regulations.
In October, five Palestinians were on hunger strike demanding their freedom, moving UN experts to point out that calls on Israel to comply with its obligation have come to no avail. “In international law, administrative detention is permitted only in exceptional circumstances, and only for short periods of time. Israel’s practices exceed all of the international legal boundaries.”
All but one of the detainees succeeded in forcing Israel to release them within days of each other, except Abu Hawash who doctors warned last week was near death.
The international community which usually rushes to claim Israel has a right to defend itself against Palestinian resistance were tongue-tied and said nothing in opposition to the practice which UN experts called an “unlawful practice”.
While Abu Hawash will be released on 26 February, there are currently over 500 Palestinians, including six children being held under administrative detention.
The remaining detainees recently announced that they will boycott the Israeli courts’ system in protest at their detention.
It is left to individual detainees to fight for their freedom from administrative detention. Israel can and in 2022 will detain more Palestinians without charge or conviction. While some foreign missions in Palestine raised their ‘concern’ in Hisham’s case, none committed to taking a stand that would place enough pressure on Israel that would force it to end this practice.
The British Consulate in Jerusalem tweeted: “Gravely concerned about the deteriorating health condition of Palestinian #HishamAbuHawash who has been on hunger strike for 141 days to protest his administrative detention in an Israeli prison since October 2020. ½”, while the European Union Delegation to the Palestinians tweeted: “1/2 Seriously concerned about the critical health condition of Palestinian Hisham Abu Hawash, who has been on an extended hunger strike for 140 days to protest his administrative detention in an Israeli prison since October 2020.”
Gravely concerned about the deteriorating health condition of Palestinian #HishamAbuHawash who has been on hunger strike for 141 days to protest his administrative detention in an Israeli prison since October 2020.
Neither embassy in Tel Aviv tweeted or made any comments about the practice. Why this division of responsibility? The missions express concern in Ramallah but blindly support Israel in Tel Aviv? As for the US, well the US Embassy Twitter account was silent on the matter and in the absence of a US Consulate in East Jerusalem, it is difficult to judge whether the consulate which Biden promised but has thus far failed to reopen, would have said in the matter.
The reaction in Palestine to Hisham’s release was joyous but Palestinians questioned whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had raised the issue of Abu Hawash when he met Israeli Defence Minister Gantz at his home near Tel Aviv. However, a video circulating on social media, appeared to show Abbas being thanked by a member of Hisham’s family thanking the president for his efforts in releasing him. What is clear though is that Hisham gained his freedom through his own sacrifice and the support of people around the world rather than Abbas’ intervention.
In Israel, the reaction of a society that keeps moving to the right as it continually elects extremist leaders was of anger at the agreement to release Abu Hawash. However, their anger should have been directed at their government and the legal system which allows detention without charge. They would not accept this practice for their own family or friends.
The anger was exemplified by the extremist, far right Kahanist MK Itamar Ben Gvir who on hearing the news of the ‘deal’ attempted to break into the Abu Hawash’s room at the hospital but was prevented by Hisham’s family and supporters. Another far right Israeli attacked a Palestinian cameraman outside the hospital simply for reporting on the gathering.
Britain’s legacy since the Balfour Declaration and the Palestinian Nakba that coincided with the end of the British Mandate, continues to haunt Palestinians, with the practice of administrative detention which Israel adopted to suit its oppressive policies towards the Palestinians.
Successive administrative detainees have used hunger strikes as a last weapon to peacefully seek their freedom. In addition to labelling Palestinians ‘terrorists’ and their use of peaceful means of resistance as different variations of this, including ‘economic terror’, ‘political terror’, an Israeli leader is likely to couch a new phrase to label hunger strikes as a form of terror. Perhaps this could be ‘starvation terror’ or ‘hunger terror’. The alternative will be to label it as some form of ‘new anti-Semitism’, perhaps that the administrative detainees would not do this if they were detained by another country, ‘singling Israel out’ because it is what they claim to be ‘the world’s only Jewish state’. Mad as it sounds it would not surprise me in the least if Israeli leaders attempted to smear these brave detainees for fighting peacefully for their freedom.
The easier route for the oppressive state would be to end this practice. Detainees should either be charged or released if the state cannot bring charges.
While its at it, it could recognise the rights of Palestinians to freedom, justice and equality in their homeland, end its settler colonialist Apartheid policies and make peace with the Palestinians whose land it continues to exist on through the denial of their rights, including the right for the refugees to return, oppression and most importantly, through the barrel of the gun.
Al Jazeera talks to young Palestinians injured during Israel’s May offensive and now left with permanent disabilities
By Maram Humaid
In May 2021, the occupied Gaza Strip experienced renewed bloodshed and destruction as Israel launched a devastating 11-day-military-offensive on the besieged enclave.
It was the fourth major offensive launched by Israel on the Palestinian territory in 14 years, compounding the already dire living conditions and the high rates of poverty and unemployment in Gaza which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007.
The assault in May killed at least 260 people, including 39 women and 67 children, and wounded more than 1,900, according to the health ministry in Gaza. The bombardment also destroyed 1,800 residential units and partially demolished at least 14,300 other units.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced to take shelter in United Nations-run schools.
About seven months later, the reconstruction process has slowly begun, albeit with Israel continuing to prevent the entry into Gaza of many materials it says could also be used for military purposes.
Talks mediated by Egypt have failed to reach a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group which rules Gaza, and tensions remain high.
Many people in Gaza have been left to cope with the aftermath of the 11-day assault, including many young people who were left seriously wounded.
Al Jazeera talked to three young people, who were injured and left with permanent disabilities during the offensive, to discuss what they endured and what they hope for in the new year.
‘Mum, I wish I could see your face’
Mohammed Shaban’s only wish for the new year is to be able to see again. The seven-year-old lost his eyesight on the first day of the Israeli offensive in May.
That day, Mohammed went out with his mother, Somayya, 35, to buy clothes for him and his siblings.
“He was very happy and could not wait to go home to show his new shoes to his sisters,” Somayya told Al Jazeera.
“Suddenly, a huge explosion hit the area. I didn’t remember what happened. Dust, chaos, people screaming, blood …”
Somayya stopped talking for a moment, then continued. “I remembered Mohammed, I started screaming: ‘Where is my son? Where is my son?’”
Mohammed’s eyes were severely wounded when an Israeli air attack hit two people on a motorcycle in Jabalia in the north of the Gaza Strip. He was rushed to hospital.
“His face was covered in blood and his eyes were bleeding terribly. I lost consciousness when I saw him,” Somayya said.
After several attempts, the doctors decided Mohammed’s eyesight could not be saved and they had to remove his eyes.
“I can’t stop crying whenever I see him. He keeps asking his siblings, ‘Why can I only see black darkness? Why can’t I go to my school?’” she said.
“Last night, he told me: ‘Mum, I wish I could see your face.’”
Mohammed was recently admitted to a school for visually challenged children, but his mother has no hope for the new year.
“After what we have seen during this year, I cannot expect any better. Our days are the same. I believe Gaza’s destiny is to face more torture and suffering,” she said.
She said her only wish for 2022 would be for Mohammed to see again. “I wish I could give him my eyes.”
A report by Defense for Children International (DCIP) said 2021, which saw the killing of 86 Palestinian children in the occupied territory, was the deadliest year on record since 2014.
“During the 11-day military assault, Israeli forces killed Palestinian children using tank-fired shells, live ammunition, and missiles dropped from weaponised drones and US-sourced warplanes and Apache helicopters,” said the report on the May assault, dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls.
‘I want to be a doctor when I grow up’
Farah Isleem, 12, feels more optimistic in the new year, despite losing her leg in May 2021.
“It was around six o’clock at morning. I was sleeping. Suddenly I woke up to an explosion. I was not able to move. Everyone was screaming around me,” she told Al Jazeera.
An Israeli raid had hit Farah’s home on the fifth floor in a building in the al-Sabra neighbourhood in central Gaza City.
Hazem Isleem, Farah’s father, is a security worker in Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital. That night, Hazem was at work, dealing with patients and people being evacuated from bombed areas.
His seven children were rushed to the hospital after the bombing. Six suffered minor wounds, but Farah was badly hurt.
“When I first saw her, I realised her leg would have to be amputated,” he said. “It was shattered and bleeding severely.”
Farah was given a medical referral to Jordan, where she travelled with her mother three days after she was injured.
After trying to save her leg for 15 days, the doctors decided it would have to be amputated. A prosthetic limb was fitted to her leg later.
“Imagine your beautiful and intelligent child having her leg amputated at this young age. It is a very hard feeling,” Hazem said.
Upon Farah’s return from Jordan after a month, her family and school organised a reception party to welcome her back.
“My big focus now is my studies at school,” Farah told Al Jazeera. “I face some obstacles going up and down the stairs, but my family always helps me.”
Farah told Al Jazeera before her injury, she was afraid of the sight of blood and of injuries. But now she wants to be a doctor, and her New Year’s wish is to learn English fluently as it would help her achieve her dream.
“I was in so much pain during the treatment process. But thanks to God everything is ok now,” she said with a smile.
According to UNICEF, before the escalation in violence, one in three children in Gaza already required support for conflict-related trauma. The UN body stressed the need for mental health and psychosocial support for children facing dire living circumstances.
The organisation also said tens of thousands of children in Gaza will require humanitarian assistance to access safe drinking water and basic sanitation over electricity shortages affecting water production in the besieged territory.
‘I wish I could walk again’
Eighteen-year-old Mahmoud Naim lies on his back in bed, unable to move.
He is paralysed and unable to feel the lower part of his body since the shrapnel from an Israeli shell hit him in the back and pierced parts of his stomach on May 18.
“I went out to the street to buy bread for my siblings. I saw a friend and stood there talking to him. Suddenly there was an explosion. I don’t remember anything after that,” Mahmoud told Al Jazeera.
“My life has been turned upside down,” he said.
Mahmoud stayed in the intensive care unit for several days before he was referred to Egypt for further treatment. He underwent seven surgeries and still needs intensive physiotherapy sessions and medication.
Shrapnels are still stuck in Mahmoud’s back. They should be removed as soon as possible so that his condition improves.
“Currently I can’t move at all on my own. My mother helps me, but my brothers are [too] young,” he said.
“Sometimes I stay on the bed waiting for my cousins to come if I want to move.”
Before his injury, Mahmoud worked in a shop to support his family. His father has been sick for a long time and his condition deteriorated after his son’s injury.
Mahmoud told Al Jazeera he heard of reports claiming the shell that hit him was not Israeli, but a Palestinian shell that hit him by mistake.
“It was a continuous state of war in which everyone was under bombardment and terror, and the victims were all innocent people,” he said.
“Despite what happened to me, I am optimistic about the beginning of 2022 as every year is a new start.
“Enough of the war and enough of what is happening to us in the Gaza Strip. I hope calm prevails, our living conditions improve and I wish I could walk again.”
After 141 days on hunger strike in an Israeli prison, Palestinian prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash has agreed a deal with the occupation authorities that his administrative detention will end on 26 February. The Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs Commission announced the deal between Abu Hawash and the Israeli occupation authorities, but did say what led to the agreement or who played a role in it.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) said that the hunger strike and deal highlighted the issue of the prisoners held by Israel. “The struggle by Abu Hawash has brought the issue of the prisoners, specifically the issue of administrative detention, back to the forefront, despite all the challenges,” said the society.
Father of five Abu Hawash, 40, is from Dura, south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. He was detained on 27 October, 2020, and was immediately put under administrative detention for six months. Facing neither charges nor a trial his detention order was renewed several times, prompting him to go on an open-ended hunger strike in protest.
The most important fact in his case is that the Israeli authorities agreed on his release against their wishes. Neither the politicians nor the military wanted him to be released. They waited for him to end his protest, but when his health condition deteriorated critically and he was on the verge of dying, they accepted that he preferred death over administrative detention. So why didn’t Israel just let him die?
Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that the Israeli authorities came under massive pressure from the Palestinian Authority to release Abu Hawash. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of the General Intelligence Service, Majed Faraj, are said to have made intensive representations to the Israelis for his release.
However, Israeli journalists dispute this. Although the PA should have played a major role in getting Abu Hawash released from prison, I doubt that it did. The evidence for this is the PA’s own detention of Ziad Al-Kilani, a Palestinian from Jenin who was released recently by Israel. With their own prisons full of Palestinian political prisoners, many of them ex-prisoners of the Israelis, why should Abbas and Faraj seek to have Abu Hawash released?
Commenting on the reports about Abbas’s involvement in the deal to release Abu Hawash, former West Bank hunger striker Sheikh Khader Adnan said, “If the PA’s political pressure is effective, it should seek the release of Marwan Al-Barghouti or hunger striker Naser Abu Hamaid, who is on the verge of death.” Adnan added that if the PA is able to do anything at all, it should at least push Israel to end the isolation of the Palestinian prisoners in Al-Ramla Prison.
Immediately following the announcement of the deal between Abu Hawash and the Israeli occupation authorities, the Times of Israel reported that his marathon hunger strike attracted intense interest from Palestinians as well as international pressure on Israel. UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric welcomed the deal, and said, “We have always made it clear that detainees must be tried according to legal procedures or released.”
Israel did not want to release Abu Hawash precisely because it will now come under more pressure to release prisoners held without trial under the archaic administrative detention system. Moreover, the government will be condemned by extreme right-wing Israelis for buckling under pressure from “terrorists”. On hearing about the deal, one extremist member of the Israeli parliament, Itamar Ben-Gvir, stormed into the hospital where Abu Hawash is being held and tried to attack him.
The Palestinian resistance did not claim to have put any pressure on Israel to release the hunger striker, but hailed his patience and resilience. However, Israeli media have revealed that pressure from the Palestinian resistance in Gaza pushed Israel to promise to bring his administrative detention to an end.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that threats from Gaza prompted the Public Prosecution Service to agree on Abu Hawash’s release on 26 February. According to Israeli journalist Gal Berger from Kan, “The release of Abu Hawash reiterated the connection between Gaza and the West Bank.”
Baruch Yedid of Channel 14 told me that it is not in doubt that the threats from Gaza played a role in the release of the hunger striker. “Currently, Israel does not want a confrontation. It does not want a confrontation with Hamas.” He confirmed that many right wing Israeli media are using this incident to attack the government.
Well-respected columnist Gideon Levy of Haaretz told me that Israeli did not want Abu Hawash to die. “They know that this would cause more unrest in the West Bank and rockets from Gaza,” he explained.
The Israeli government, said Meron Rapoport from +972 magazine, reiterated to me that Israel did not want a dead prisoner. “It seems that the release of Abu Hawash was related directly to Gaza, but Israel always gives up at the last moment.”
The PA may be trying to claim the credit for the end of Abu Hawash’s hunger strike and his release next month, but it shows itself up by doing so. If Abbas and Faraj think that political prisoners should be released, then they should empty the PA’s own prisons of every member of every resistance faction. The fact that they won’t tells us all we need to know about their real intentions.
Over the last few decades, Israel has been threatening war against Iran incessantly. Theatrical performances have been staged at the United Nations, such as in 2012, when former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a cartoonish diagram of a bomb symbolising Iran’s alleged nuclear threat; or when, in 2018, he brandished an amateurishly labelled Google map of an alleged Iranian nuclear site.
Such Israeli propaganda has been accompanied by much huffing and puffing by the country’s military and civilian leaderships, which have been interchangeable at least since General Yigal Allon became acting prime minister in 1969 (although earlier Israeli prime ministers, including David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, also played major military roles). Yet it is Israel, not Iran, that has been in possession of nuclear bombs since the 1960s – and it is Israel that allegedly had plans to use them during the June 1967 war, and again when it was losing in the early days of the October 1973 war.
Israel had acquired the ability to make nuclear weapons from none other than France, which conspired with Israel in the latter’s 1956 invasion of Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, in return for which the Israelis demanded that France build them a nuclear reactor at Dimona.
In 1973, Israel reportedly loaded 13 nuclear bombs and was ready for them to be dropped on Egypt and Syria, had the US not come through with an air bridge of weapons that turned the war in Israel’s favour.
The irony of Israel, which is a nuclear menace and major aggressor in the Middle East region, portraying itself as a victim of its neighbours cannot be overstated. One of the most remarkable features of the establishment of this settler-colony in 1948 was its insistence on establishing a state of permanent war in order to expand its territory for further zionist colonisation and to safeguard its colonists from anti-colonial resistance.
Ongoing persecution Many western countries that supported the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which gave Israel its birth certificate, claimed that in supporting Israel’s creation, they aimed to avert war and the persecution of Jewish colonists if Palestine’s Arab majority achieved independence in one state.
But in supporting the creation of a settler-colonial state, they inflicted on the Middle East as a whole a state of permanent war and ongoing persecution of Palestinians and other Arabs whose territories Israel conquered.
To legitimise the state of permanent war, Israel sought early on to portray its citizens as actual or potential victims of wars and persecution inflicted by Palestinian resistance and Arab states, which in turn necessitated Israel’s use of permanent war and persecution as “retaliation”.
Israeli propagandists insist that Israel is merely ‘defending’ itself against the aggression of those it oppresses, colonises and invades
This was clear to Israel’s western supporters as early as 1948. The Israeli expulsion of the Palestinian population, along with Israel’s territorial encroachment upon their UN-designated territories, became the casus belli for weak and ill-equipped neighbouring Arab armies to intervene in May of that year to put a stop to the ongoing ethnic cleansing and colonisation. The weakness of the Arab armies, however, was well-known to the Americans and the Zionists.
Former US Secretary of State George Marshall’s assessment was as follows: “whole govt structure [of] Iraq is endangered by political and economic disorders and Iraq Govt can not at this moment afford to send more than [the] handful of troops it has already dispatched. Egypt has suffered recently from strikes and disorders. Its army has insufficient equipment because of its refusal of Brit[ish] aid, and what it has is needed for police duty at home.
“Syria has neither arms nor army worthy of name and has not been able to organize one since [the] French left three years ago. Lebanon has no real army while Saudi Arabia has [a] small army which is barely sufficient to keep tribes in order. Jealousies between Saudi Arabs and Syrians on one hand and Hashemite govts of Transjordan and Iraq, prevent Arabs from making even best use of existing forces.”
‘Threat to international peace’ A member of the US delegation to the UN observed on 4 May 1948 – just days before Arab armies intervened – that the Security Council would soon be confronted with the question as to “whether Jewish armed attack on Arab communities in Palestine is legitimate or whether it constitutes such a threat to international peace and security as to call for coercive measures by the Security Council”. The draft memorandum noted that if Arab armies entered Palestine this would lead Jewish forces to claim “that their state is the object of armed aggression and… use every means to obscure the fact that it is their own armed aggression against the Arabs inside Palestine which is the cause of [the] Arab counter-attack”.
When Israel conspired with France to invade Egypt in October 1956, it was part of the cycle of permanent war it sought. The Israelis occupied Gaza and the Sinai and refused to withdraw for four months, despite UN and US condemnation. Israel finally had no choice but to withdraw and try again a decade later. In 1967, Israel would claim that it had to invade three Arab countries pre-emptively before they attacked it, deploying the very same arguments as in 1948. It occupied more lands and persecuted more Palestinians, Syrians, and Egyptians. This would be followed by its unceasing war against Lebanon, which began in the form of periodic raids in the late 1960s to outright invasions in 1978 and 1982, and more occupation and persecution of the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples.
In 1973, Israel shot down a Libyan civilian airliner over the Sinai, killing all 106 people on board. Israel’s 1981 attack on a nuclear reactor in Iraq, which was still under construction by France, was also justified with Israel’s claim that “we were therefore forced to defend ourselves”.
Over the decades, in addition to killing tens of thousands of Arab civilians and creating millions of Palestinian refugees, Israel displaced a million Egyptians during the War of Attrition in the late 1960s, and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese people through its invasions of Lebanon since 1978. Killing machine Under the pretext of defence, in the last few years, Israel has periodically bombed Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza. Meanwhile, its killing machine and military persecution, along with its colonial settlers, continue to target Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Syrians in the Golan Heights.
Israel’s racist police and legal apparatus unceasingly target Palestinian citizens of Israel. Yet, Israeli propagandists insist that Israel is merely “defending” itself against the aggression of those it oppresses, colonises, and invades. Israel’s ongoing attack on the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, triggered by its theft of Palestinian homes; its continued racist persecution of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and its jailing of two million Palestinians in Gaza triggered massive Palestinian resistance this past May.
This year, the Palestinians’ ability to bring the state of permanent war home to Israel was unprecedented, transforming the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation and the regional military equation in major ways.
Since its founding, Israel has invaded Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria; bombed Iraq, Sudan, and Tunisia; taken an aggressive posture towards Iran, Libya, Yemen, Morocco, and Algeria; and is the only country in the region that possesses and threatens to use nuclear weapons. Yet, Israel continues to claim unabashedly that it is the victim.
It is clear that Israel’s pretexts and justifications for its continued aggression and imposition of a state of permanent war on the region still rely on the very same arguments, and aim to achieve the very same goals, that it set for itself at the moment of its birth.
The attacks carried out by the Israeli settlers against the Palestinians in the West Bank alongside violations of the occupation soldiers have continued to the extent that they have prompted Israeli alerts and fear that these attacks will ignite the security situation in the Palestinian areas.
The Israeli security alerts mention the existence of preliminary information from the settlers that they may carry out sabotage operations against Palestinians and their establishments, homes and farms, including burning of cars and buildings, beating with batons, and throwing stones. These and other factors could ignite the area as they may provoke Palestinians’ attempts to take revenge for any aggressive attacks that the settlers may carry out.
In light of the series of Palestinian attacks that took place in recent weeks, the Israeli military establishment fears that the violence of settlers and right-wing activists against the Palestinians may worsen the security situation in the Palestinian territories even further, especially in view of the escalation of field tensions between the Palestinians on the one hand and the settlers backed by the Israeli army on the other.
In addition to the recent Palestinian operations, the Israeli army and the Israel Security Agency Shabak have monitored the flare-up of field protests in various areas of the West Bank. During these protests, stones and explosives were thrown at army forces and settlers’ vehicles. They have, on their part, responded with gun fire in addition to launching several arrest campaigns against Palestinian youths, whether they were suspected of carrying out offensive operations or participating in throwing stones and planting explosive devices. Additionally, there are other forms of popular resistance taking place in various cities across the West Bank.
Israeli warnings of bloody attacks that may be carried out by settlers against Palestinians coincide with the release of Israeli statements accusing the settlers of enflaming the security situation. A notable example of these has been the recent by statement Omer Bar Lev, Minister of Public Security who accused the settlers of carrying out violent acts to ignite the field security situation with the Palestinians, so they are forced to respond to the attacks through stabbings and shootings. There are Israeli fears that these attacks will continue in the coming days.
The occupation army has monitored 15 incidents against Palestinians in recent days, including cases of burning a building, burning a car, throwing stones, raiding a house, hitting with batons, using pepper gas and the like. During one of these violent attacks, a Palestinian truck driver was hit in the head with a stone thrown at him by a group of Jewish settlers in Chumash.
For quite some time there was no such settlement violence against Palestinians. However, when the atmosphere is “saturated with a large amount of fuel,” which is the expression used by the occupation security services to refer to the tense security situation, then these aggressive actions of settlers against Palestinians can lead to devastating consequences. The army and the public security are aware that if “extra fuel leaks on to the fire,” it will be very difficult to stop the ongoing escalation of settlers against the Palestinians.
The ongoing settlement attacks against the Palestinians can be traced back to 1891 when the Jewish settlement project began. In the ensuing years the settlers showed extreme hostility ad cruelty toward the Arabs. They attacked them without justification and beat them in a humiliating manner for no reason. They were proud to do so and there was no one to stop the tide of this dangerous trend.
Coinciding with the continued violence of settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank and complicity of the occupation forces with them, some Israeli voices, although few, have called for curbing the military policy adopted by the occupation army and stopping the “soft hand on trigger” policy because it is enough to increase the number of Palestinian victims.
These Israeli voices do not necessarily express their keenness to save the blood of the Palestinians, but they fear of what they call “the genie coming out of his bottle,” and then the transition of the security situation in the West Bank to a point of unprecedented escalation, which may burn everything with it. Therefore, these voices are calling for changing the way in which occupation soldiers work in the occupied territories, especially the West Bank.
Having engrained in its soldiers the “soft hand on the trigger” policy, the Israeli occupation now seem unable to change the mindset of its soldiers. Perhaps the General Staff is responsible for that, although it pretends to hold its breath when any new Palestinian death occurs. The result is that “the genie has come out of the bottle” and the only way to return it is to fundamentally change the Israeli political conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories, which they have turned into a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment.
On the other hand, there are genuine Israeli fears that occupation will eventually destroy the very fabric of Israeli society by turning its soldiers into a group of killers shooting at every moving object without endangering their lives.
These Israeli voices believe that their army have no strategy or tactics to engage in battle. They are, at best, proficient in offending the Palestinians and disrupting their daily lives. They claim that the Palestinians threaten their lives so they continue to beat them while they are handcuffed in military vehicles. When they reach their bases, they continue to beat them and tie their guns to the bodies of their detainees. All this occurs while their detainees are still handcuffed, blindfolded and subject to insults.
In the circumstances, all the disclosures about initiating security and criminal investigations by the Israeli Military Police must be seen as attempts to pull the wool over the public’s eyes; even after the formation of security and military criminal investigation committees. Although these investigations may result in the arrest of some soldiers and the extension of their detention, they are, nevertheless, ample measures that will not deter others from committing similar abuses.
The rule that the Israelis refuse to recognise is that for every action there is a reaction. Hence any violations committed by the occupation army against the Palestinians are met with retaliatory offensive operations against these soldiers. Notwithstanding, the occupation army continues its crimes against the Palestinians despite the bloody prices paid by its soldiers and settlers. Clearly the ongoing wave of settler violence is pushing the territories toward an explosion from which there is no return.
Haaretz’s investigative report – ‘Classified Docs Reveal Massacres of Palestinians in ’48 – and What Israeli Leaders Knew’ – is a must-read. It should be particularly read by any person who considers himself a ‘Zionist’ and also by people who, for whatever reason, support Israel, anywhere in the world.
“In the village of Al-Dawayima (…), troops of the 8th Brigade massacred about 100 people,” Haaretz reported, though the number of the Palestinian victims later grew to 120. One of the soldiers who witnessed that horrific event testified before a government committee in November 1948: “There was no battle and no resistance. The first conquerors killed 80 to 100 Arab men, women and children. The children were killed by smashing their skulls with sticks. There wasn’t a house without people killed in it.”
The Haaretz report of nearly 5,000 words was filled with such painful details, stories of Palestinian elders who could not flee the Zionist invasion and ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine (1947-48), who were lined up against various walls and massacred; of an older woman being shot point-blank with four bullets; of other elders who were crammed inside a home and shelled by a tank and hand grenades; of many Palestinian women raped, and other devastating stories.
Quite often, historians refer to the way that Palestine was ethnically cleansed from its native inhabitants by making this typical assertion regarding Palestinian refugees: “.. those who fled or were expelled from their homes”. The reference to the word “fled” has been exploited by supporters of Israel, by making the claim that Palestinians left Palestine on their own accord.
It was also Haaretz that, in May 2013, reported on how Israel’s founding father and first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, had fabricated that very history to protect Israel’s image. Document number GL-18/17028, which was found in the Israeli military archive, demonstrated how the story of the fleeing Palestinians – supposedly at the behest of Arab governments – was invented by the Israelis themselves.
Sadly, as Haaretz’s latest revelations prove, Palestinians who chose to stay, due to their disability, age or illness were not spared, and were massacred in the most horrifying way imaginable.
But something else struck me about the report: the constant emphasis by delusional Israeli leaders, then, that those who carried out the numerous grisly murders were but a few and that they hardly represent the conduct of an entire army. Note that the ‘army’ in reference here are Zionist militias, some of whom operated under the title of ‘gang’.
Moreover, much emphasis was attached to the concept of ‘morality’, for example, “Israel’s moral foundations” which, according to those early ‘ethical Zionists’, were jeopardized by the misconduct of a few soldiers.
“In my opinion, all our moral foundations have been undermined and we need to look for ways to curb these instincts,” Haim-Mosh Shapira, then-Minister of Immigration and Health, was reported by Haaretz as saying during a meeting of the government committee.
Shapira, who represented the voice of reason and ethics in Israel at the time, was not contending with Israel’s right to be established on the ruins of colonized – and eventually destroyed – Palestine. He was not questioning the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinians or the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands during the Nakba, either. Instead, he was referencing and protesting the excesses of violence which followed the Nakba, now that the future of Israel and the destruction of Palestine were assured.
This branch of ‘humanistic’ Zionism, that of selective and self-serving morality, continues to exist to this day. As odd as this may seem, the editorial line of Haaretz itself is the perfect manifestation of this supposed Zionist dichotomy.
Needless to say, very few Israelis, if any, have been held accountable for the crimes of the past. 73 years later, Palestinian victims continue to cry out for a justice that continues to be deferred.
One might find this conclusion a bit harsh. Zionist or not, one may protest that, at least, Haaretz has exposed these massacres and the culpability of the Israeli leadership. Such assumptions, however, are highly misleading.
Generation after generation of Palestinians, along with many Palestinian historians – and even some Israelis – have already known of most of these massacres. In its report, for example, Haaretz refers to “previously unknown massacres”, which include Reineh, Meron (Mirun) and Al-Burj. The assumption here is that these massacres were ‘unknown’ – read unacknowledged by the Israelis themselves. Since Haaretz’s editorial line is driven by Israel’s own misconstrued historical narrative, the killings and destruction of these villages simply never happened – until an Israeli researcher acknowledged their existence.
Walid Khalidi, one of Palestine’s most authoritative historians, has been aware, along with many others, of these massacres for decades. In his seminal book, ‘All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948’, Khalidi speaks of Al-Burj, of which the only claim to existence is now “one crumbled house (…) on the hilltop.”
In reference to Meron (Mirun), the Palestinian historian discusses what remains of the village in detail and precision: “While the Arab section of the village was demolished, several rooms and stone walls still stand. One of the walls has a rectangular door-like opening and another has an arched entrance”.
This is not the first time when an Israeli admission of guilt, though always conditional, has been considered the very validation of Palestinian victimization. In other words, every Palestinian claim of Israeli misconduct, though it may be verified or even filmed on camera, remains in question until an Israeli newspaper, politician or historian acknowledges its validity.
Our insistence on the centrality of the Palestinian narrative becomes more urgent than ever, because marginalizing Palestinian history is a form of denial of that history altogether – the denial of the bloody past and the equally violent present. From a Palestinian point of view, the fate of Al-Burj is no different than that of Jenin; Mirun is no different than that of Beit Hanoun and Deir Yassin is no different than that of Rafah – in fact, the whole of Gaza.
Reclaiming history is not an intellectual exercise; it is a necessity, yes, with intellectual and ethical repercussions, but political and legal, as well. Surely, Palestinians do not need to re-write their own history. It is already written. It is time that those who have paid far more attention to the Israeli narrative abandon such illusions and, for once, listen to Palestinian voices, because the truth of the victim is a wholly different story than that of the aggressor.