It is time to talk about Palestine.
It has been almost 70 years since the Nakbah (‘the Catastrophe’) of 1948, in which more than 700,000 Palestinans fled their homes, marking the beginning of an ongoging program of ethnic cleansing that has largely gone unnoticed in the West. This may be a controversial positon (indeed, any criticism of the State of Israel is controversial, and allegedly anti-Semitic) but it is not without support. Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on occupied Palestine, found that Israeli policies are coloured by “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”
The crimes of Israel often pass into the realm of the unimaginable. For instance, in the 2008 assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli politicans contrived a starvation policy that limited humanitarian aid into the region. While health officials determined that 170 truckloads of food were required each day, the policy only permitted the entry of 67. In the words of Dov Weisglass, chief-of-staff under Ariel Sharon, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
In February, Amnesty International released a report finding that the Israeli Defence Force had “displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity.” The IDF doesn’t seem to have heeded this criticism. Only last week, B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights NGO, reported on the extrajudicial execution of a 14-year-old boy by live fire. Yusef a-Shawamreh was not guilty of any crime, nor did he possess a threat to Israel or its citizens. He was simply crossing through a breach in the Separation Barrier (deemed illegal under international law by the International Court of Justice in 2004) into farmland owned by his family to pick edible plants. For this crime he was shot at and killed.
I do not have the space here to detail all of the crimes that Israel has committed against the people of Palestine, but I will make one thing very clear: opposition to these crimes against humanity does not entail oppositon to the existance of the State of Israel, nor does it involve hatred of the Jewish people. This is reflected in the existance of Jewish groups like B’Tselem, Matzpen, and Jewish Voice for Peace, among others, which are committed to exposing and combating Israel’s egrigious human rights violations.
I find it dumbfounding that we are so quick to condemn human rights abuses in Russia, for example, but tiptoe around the question of Israel for fear of causing offense.
The greatest affront we can commit is not to the sensitivities of Zionists, but to the very ideals of humanity. The facts stand, and they have been repeatedly reaffirmed over decades by groups like Amnesty International, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch. We cannot, and we must not, overlook these crimes. We must not shy away from them, lest we become complicit in our silence.
The late Palestinian poet and national hero, Mahmoud Darwish, spoke of “a time to test the teachings: can helicopters be turned into ploughshares?” If we are to see that time come, we must not turn a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians.