I spent the last few days of the Israeli attack on Gaza and the first couple of ceasefires in Jerusalem among family and friends. My first impression upon arrival was of an extremely tense atmosphere between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. They were clearly not mixing as freely as they had on my previous visits, each fearful of intimidation or attack by the other. Many Palestinians had lost jobs working for Israelis and serious attempts to boycott Israeli goods and services had started.
Those were largely led by children, so moved and angered by the murder of fellow Palestinian children in Gaza, that they were insisting their parents refrained from supporting the economy of the killers. They pointed to boycotts abroad and said “how can we continue to buy Israeli,products when people around the world are boycotting them”?
The evenings saw regular clashes between Palestinain youngsters and Israeli occupation forces. Access to Alaqsa mosque was restricted on many occasions, causing anger and discontent. The memory of the murder -by Jewish terrorists- of Mohammed Abu Khdair was still fresh in the minds of Palestinians. He was brutally beaten and burnt alive not far from where I was staying. This made it particularly poignant for me. The family held a peaceful memorial service at his home in Shu’fat but the mourners were attacked by Israeli forces which confirmed that far from their self declared label as a ‘the most moral army in the world’, they were petty, violent and immoral.
Friends and family were glued to their TV screens, watching in particular Gaza’s Alaqsa TV and Beirut’s Almayadeen for accurate reports of the fighting, interspersed with analysis on Israeli TV.
There was a general sense of shock at the lack of condemnation and serious attempts to halt what the locals perceived as an attack not only on Gaza, but on the whole Palestinain population, as arrests and intimidation continued in the West Bank. They asked “where are the Arabs”? “They have not even condemned this murder and destruction”. They asked why Egypt was not opening the Rafah crossing and why the West had supported Israel in what it called ‘self defence’. “Can’t they see the pictures of the dead? Can’t they see the children being brought to Alshifa hospital in pieces”?
What was different about this particular savage attack on Gaza by Israel, was the growth and ease of access to social media. Israel could not hide the results of its atrocities as images and videos were shared instantaneously.
But they were not the only images being shared. Images from protests around the world were being shared, particularly those which took place in London. The images from the protest of the 9th of August, were particularly heartening to them. The image that people saw and shared was that taken from an elevated point at the start of that protest, at the BBC headquarters. It was jaw dropping. They contrasted this great image with the lack of similar images from Arab capitals. People here had seen images of previous demonstrations and had heard about the resignation of Baroness Warsi, which the media they have access to in Palestine had covered extensively. But there was still a sense of resigned disappointment that the sacrifice the Palestinians in Gaza had made, including the resistance groups, was not met with the resounding condemnation of the actions of the occupier that was required.
The last story that broke from the UK during my visit was that of the Government considering a review of arms sales to Israel. I was taken aback by a question from a thirteen year old relative of mine who asked “uncle, is it true that Britain gives Israel strong weapons to kill the Palestinians in Gaza? Really is it true”? I paused for a moment and felt ashamed to answer yes. But I explained that not only adults but children like him marched in London to put pressure on the British Government to end its military trade and cooperation with Israel. I promised him that this would continue. The children here are smart and articulate. He looked at me and said “inshallah”!
It is extremely difficult to predict what will happen next. Instead of an end to the military occupation, talks are now about a truce in Gaza. This suits Israel. It does not want to negotiate and certainly is against the creation of any entity that is called Palestine. Even in the current talks about a truce, it is looking for a staged alleviation of the siege. This means it remains in control of the lives of almost two million people. It likes that and has grown accustomed to it. This also means that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have no hope of immediate adequate shelters and other basic needs such as water, electricity and food.
As I left Palestine, I looked at Israeli Jews around me and wondered how they can go about their normal lives as if the occupation does not exist. They are living in denial and badly need therapy as a nation. They, not their Government are occupiers of another People. They send sons and daughters to oppress and kill. They look down on Palestinians as inferior human beings. They elect extremist anti-peace politicians that want to annex the remainder of Palestine and build a temple on the site of Alaqsa.
The Palestinians also need therapy. Therapy to deal with a decades-long occupation and humiliation. Therapy to cope with the lack of control of their daily lives and their destiny. They need help to understand how their just cause which has moved public opinion so markedly over the past decade has not moved western Government policy in their favour. They need help to understand how Obama and Cameron have stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel during its war on Gaza on the pretext of ‘self defence’. How could they see the horrendous death and. Destruction, the murder of children and not see what a monstrosity we have just witnessed. They need therapy to understand why even their Arab brothers have this time abandoned them.
The two sides face a real deadlock. It seems intensive therapy is needed to help them take step back, accept that they share a destiny and to formulate a way forward that truly helps them prepare a better future for their children, free from segregation and hate.