Analysis is important because it is the context for the lives and deaths of Palestinians. They should live on every page. And every time you read about ‘apartheid in the West Bank,’ say under your breath ‘and the Gaza Strip.’ Although the West Bank is more visible, Tareq Baconi calls Gaza ”the very embodiment of Israel’s settler colonialism… the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.”
I lived in Gaza 2011 – 2015. There, the walls become the horizon and concrete delineates the earth. I loathe those choking walls. I don’t give a rat’s ass who built them. That they were built for Jewish benefit confers a responsibility which I accept, but it does not make this a story about us. I intend to dismantle those walls, with my pen and with my fingernails if need be, because two million people are trying to breathe behind all that concrete. They are the point of the story.
Behind those walls, even the air and the dust have been made dangerous. Concentrations of heavy metals are accumulating in Gaza’s environment and in the bodies of its people, as a result of the weapons that the IDF has chosen to use in repeated bombardments. Gazans are now born with more birth defects and non-communicable diseases. They develop more cancers, and they die an average of nine years younger than Israelis. This is what is means to devalue life.
Gazans know they are being slowly poisoned, but where should they go? I remember visiting the UN Al Fakhoura school during the 2014 war. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN allege the illegal use of white phosphorous shells in that schoolyard in 2009. Imagine the chemical burns, and then imagine bringing your children back to the same place to shelter from the next bombardment – the very place that could not keep you safe last time.
That is what it means to read that Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping [Gazans] in a territory it continues to actively destroy.” It means having no safe place to bear and protect your children.
And each time I read that Israelis in illegal West Bank settlements enjoy the rights assigned by Israel’s civil law while Palestinians live under military law, I think back to August 2, 2014.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was nearly a month old and a quarter of a million people had been shoehorned into 90 UNRWA shelter-schools (soon there would be 293,000). The houses of 92,000 Palestinians had been obliterated in Shuja’iyya, and many of the homeless had been squeezed into Jabalia’s already bursting shelter-schools. In the pre-dawn of July 30, the Jabalia Elementary A&B Girls School was itself shelled. Around 3000 Palestinians had taken shelter in the building, which was clearly flagged and legally protected as a United Nations installation. The shells killed 16 people while they slept or prepared for prayers, and injured 99 more.
On August 2, I went with Bob Turner, then-Gaza director of UNRWA and my employer, to meet with the head of UNRWA’s Jabalia shelter operations. We drove through a cratered landscape, everything the colour of concrete dust. Our colleague was an older man, slumped and unsteady from exhaustion. Day and night, he had made himself present and visible, mediated local politics and intervened in every clash, harranged me for supplies, listened and resolved disputes among Jabalia’s 80,000 shelter residents. His hands, his jowls, his voice all trembled from lack of sleep – but he was in his element. He could not stop the bombs but he could personally impose order over chaos on his patch of ground. He could maintain civility in under-supplied shelters that held as many as 100 people per classroom.
When we left, I fretted to Bob, “He’s going to have a heart attack. Any minute.”
Bob agreed and added with admiration, “You want to try to stop him? He’s unbelievable – he is holding that together.”
His name is Khalil el-Halabi and he held that together. He survived Israel’s military bombardment, only to encounter Israel’s military courts.
In June 2016, Khalil’s son Mohammed was arrested by Israelis. They charged Mohammed with diverting millions of dollars of donor funds to Hamas, although neither his employer, their auditor nor the Australian government could find any financial irregularities to answer for. Journalists have investigated the absurdity of this case of not-missing money. Mohammed has not been told the details or the identity of his accuser – although he has been brought from Israeli jails into Israeli courts 154 times over a period of four and a half years. He remains in detention, his children remain without their father, and Khalil and his wife remain without their son. If anyone in Israel has evidence that a crime has taken place – let alone evidence that Mohammed committed it – they have not made that evidence known.
“Mr el-Halabi’s arrest, interrogation and trial is not worthy of a democratic state,” say the UN Special Rapporteurs. “What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians.”
Mohammed el-Halabi’s 155th court appearance is scheduled for January 31, 2021.
Khalil behind a blockade wall, and Mohammed behind bars – this is what apartheid injustice has meant to the el-Halabi family. Their experience is egregious, but it is hardly unique.
Mohammed is detained alongside the Palestinians that Israel holds in ‘administrative detention’, which is imprisonment without charge. According to Defense for Children International, 500 – 700 Palestinian children pass through Israeli military detention each year, mostly for throwing stones. Then there are Palestinians criminalized by joining any of over 400 illegal political organisations; a list which includes every major Palestinian political party.
This is what it means to control lives and award rights and privileges ethnically. It has gone on so intergenerationally long that ‘occupation’ no longer names it, because occupation is a temporary status.
Further, the end of occupation would not constitute the transformation that Israel / Palestine needs. That calls for a decolonizing vision like the one state project, which imagines a de-racialized community of Palestinians and Israelis.
The series of recent publications calls us to action, to generate the pressure for transformational change. So read them, but peer through their analysis to see the lives that are being lived today, on every line of every page.
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