Tell it to a judge: why Gaza needs to be heard in a court of law

Tell it to a judge.

I am not Palestinian but I was a witness to the assault of 2014.  I want its alleged war crimes to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Those warriors who were ‘brave’ enough to direct an assault on a trapped populace should be brave enough to account for their choices in a well-lit courtroom. 

Why is a court of law important?

Because the menace that underpinned the assault of 2014 is still present: the dehumanization of Palestinians.  Walled off and vilified, anything can be done to the people of Gaza. A trial will amplify their story of being under intensive attack behind a wall.  Let Gazans tell their story.

Because people will still be living with the memory and the imprint of this war.  The body remembers the singed smells that linger on your skin, the sight behind your eyelids of neighbours racing toward rubble to rescue neighbours, the sound of children with chattering teeth. The drifts of white dust in the corners of window sills.  The screams of people in the streets, seeking shelter before nightfall –  but there is no shelter behind a wall.

Because courts prosecute individuals, not nations.  Individuals make choices, and are accountable.  Individual responsibility lets everyone else get beyond blaming whole states. Someone wrote the doctrines, chose the weapons and the targeting parameters and the order of battle.  They should be judged for their handiwork. 

Because of the 18,000 homes destroyed, the 100 family homes targeted in the first week, and the millions of tons of rubble that altered the very landscape of the Gaza Strip.  In 51 days, Gazan forces fired roughly 6000 rockets and artillery shells while Israel’s armed forces acknowledge dispatching 5000 tons of munitions to fire at a trapped populace.  The tonnage and the stated doctrines of disproportionate force like the Dahiya Doctrine await judgement.

Because someone knew that the UN shelter-schools were filled with displaced Palestinians. They knew, because I told them.  As a member of the UNRWA team operating those shelters, one of my tasks was to confirm the pre-existing protections of each flagged United Nations school building that was sheltering displaced people.  Over and over they were told. Those schools were clearly marked on military maps. Everyone knows their location and their signature colours. Someone in Israel knew and fired at them anyway. Seven times they fired, killing 44 Palestinians and injuring 227.  Let those people explain their actions to a judge.

Because the earth trembled with the tonnage of bombs that the IDF used to destroy the homes of 92,000 Palestinians in Shuja’iyya, and because of the quieter killings in Khuza’a.  The stories of Gaza’s neighbourhoods need to be heard and responsibility assigned.

Because of the 73 medical facilities, the ambulances and every other illegal target. Because of the civilian infrastructure destroyed, the water pipes and the power plant, and all the gratuitous hardship that Gazans endured.  The lesson of the war, they said later, was that Israel no longer saw any civilians in Gaza at all.  A court must restore Gazans’ civilian status and protections.

Because of the 293,000 displaced Gazans who endured such trying conditions in 90 UNRWA shelters – because there was no safer place behind that wall.

Because 6,000 airstrikes and 14,500 tank shells and 35,000 artillery shells equates to 100,000 kg of explosives every day, day after day. Israeli forces killed 2251 Gazans including 1,462 civilians, a third of whom were children.  The human consequence of the IDF’s choice to inflict such massive violence must be heard.  Battlefield explosive weapons must not rain down upon crowded cities with impunity again. 

Because beneath those bombs in Gaza, the minutes were interminable.  There was nowhere to flee, no way to help, nothing to do but wait for the next bomb through nights when there were more bombs than minutes. Let a trial record and weigh the harm of those 51 merciless days and nights of minutes of witness.

Because some debased Israelis sat on hillsides eating popcorn. They watched the bombs land on human beings and homes as if it were entertainment.  Around the world, many, many others turned away and did nothing.  Perhaps both sets of people will be shaken to realize that they were enjoying, or averting their eyes from, a crime.

Because what is demonstrated in Gaza with impunity today, is normalized elsewhere tomorrow at the expense of other inconvenient human beings. The assaults upon Gaza are relevant even here, because New Zealand is buying military robots that were tested on the trapped people of Gaza and the West Bank.  Is this who we aspire to be?

Because as a Jew, I have heard the rationales for that massive violence. “It’s necessary.” “Kill all the little snakes.”  “This time we’ll finish the job.”  Now I want to hear the evidence and the verdict on this ethno-nationalist project of ours.

Our world must not value human life so differently when the life is Palestinian. Because our lives are of equal value, Gazans must be heard in court. 

Marilyn Garson

The missing link: why we endorse the One Democratic State Campaign

The missing link: why we endorse the One Democratic State Campaign.

B’Tselem and others have called on all of us to reject Israel’s regime of ethnic power. 

Yes, but then what? Reject it in favour of what?

When we write, when we seek to mobilize opinion and pressure, we are limited by the fact that the action we seek has not yet been articulated.  Do something, we urge, but – do what?  The action is not ours to direct from this distance.  

Human rights give us half of the solution. Our international ownership of human rights law makes the distant injustice in Palestine our business. Rights outline the minimum standard for any dignified, just political plan of action.   But – then what?  Rights show us our doorway, but they do not show us a programme of political action beyond the threshold. 

The impasse arises partly because the aging, locked leaders of Israel and Palestine speak as if one people or the other is going to go away.  They seek an absolute win, rather than imagining the hard work of transformation.  At times, international activists bash away on the same basis.  Meanwhile, Israel’s settler-colonial project is deadlocked and normalizing.  This normalization is not peace, it is a violent inertia.

So, now what?

Because we reject the violent inertia, we welcome one long-awaited political programme of work.  At last, here is a call to action.

Jeff Halper’s book, Decolonizing Israel / Liberating Palestine, is constructive, inclusive and it assigns an appropriately limited role to international activism. Jeff Halper is an Israeli Jew and a longtime activist against Israel’s demolition of Palestinian houses. He is also part of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), a political programme of decolonization that envisions one de-racialized polity from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  Several such projects have been working to fill the void of political imagination.

The ODSC is a Palestinian-led initiative.  Palestinians and Israeli Jews are working together, to imagine what decolonization means in practice, to ask whether it’s possible for such unequal communities to become one society.  The detailed definition of that society is a work in progress, not a finished product.  We endorse their kaupapa and their mahi – their guiding principles and their work.  

The ODSC mandate and principles can be found here.

In a word, the ODSC regards the entire space from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea as needing transformation from settler colonial inequality to a single de-racialized community.  Citizens will bring their own identities to that community, wherein they enjoy a single citizenship with equal rights.

Just as we in Aotearoa-NZ retain our cultural identities while sharing non-sectarian institutions, a single civil society and a joint political future; so will the diverse citizens of this future polity.

Inclusion is not false equivalence.  Decades of settler colonial dispossession, violence and oppression need redress.  Refugees have a right to return, to be compensated and proactively included in the future state’s economy, society and decision-making.  Conversely, as they surrender their privileged role as colonizers and their power as the occupying military, Israeli Jews can be ‘politically reborn’ as citizens of an equal society.  The shape of that polity and economy will be determined by all of its citizens. 

To endorse the ODSC project is to endorse their ongoing work.  As non-citizens of Palestine / Israel, we generate external pressure to demand the work of transformation, but we do not vote and we have no veto.

We choose to support the ODSC as Jews, noting several features of its understanding of Palestine / Israel.

  1. This is a project of transformation, from settler colonialism to a decolonized, de-racialized community.  Everyone from the river to the sea needs to re-imagine a shared society where identity is not a source of privileged political power.  That formulation welcomes Muslims, Christians, Jews and others, while it rejects ethnic nationalism.
  2. Re-imagining is not false equivalence and it is not obliteration.  Decades of colonization need redress. Citizens who acknowledge that can enter into dialogue accountably, without being required to suppress or disavow their identities.  That is a realistic, generous form of inclusion.
  3. Palestinians can not be asked to enter into dialogue until redress, return and proactive integration restore their status and place.  Then civil society can become a critical, shared space where equal citizens imagine a shared future.
  4. The ODSC vision can disarm the present impasse wherein Israelis are told that the price of oppression is preferable to the risks of peace.  No less, it must reassure Palestinians that a sovereignty can be shared with their colonizer.  ODSC understands that security is not zero-sum, it is social.
  5. As a realistic programme, ODSC acknowledges that Israel is not a source of transformation now. Indeed, it reports that Israelis have removed themselves from the politics, and accepted the costs, of occupation.  ODSC calls on distant advocates to unsettle the status quo and require the political programme of work to begin.

When we look at the sphere of advocacy in Aotearoa-NZ and beyond, we notice additional strengths of the ODSC programme as a call to action.

  • An inclusive vision must overtake people whose vocabulary is only negative.  Battery, vitriol and insult are not a political programme. We, here, also suffer from the advocacy of absolutes.  We also hear voices who seem to imagine only a zero-sum victory.  We need to learn the ‘bridging narratives’ that give each other some way to say yes, and start conversations.
  • Our role is limited.  We endorse, we influence government policy.  We press for change.  We own and uphold the framework of rights that sets dignified minimums to make that change.  We rebalance the sanctions for inaction and the rewards for change.  However, we are neither citizens nor negotiators.  Our idealized outcomes are not their problem.
  • We Diaspora Jews can learn from the ODSC transformative programme of work. We, here, also create a politics of insecurity and justification. We let ourselves be told that disagreement is antisemitic, and that our safety lies in separation rather than engagement. We allow progressive politics to end where the occupation of Palestine begins. We have our work cut out for us here, too.

Aotearoa-NZ should be speaking to the long work of re-imagining decolonization.  We have a voice to bring to this work. We are beginning to understand that transformation is all-encompassing and uneven.  Our experience and our glimpses of a decolonized, shared community are worth offering to projects like the ODSC.  In order to do that, we need to look beyond the endless conflict management, the occupation impasse of which our government has become part.

We wish participants in the One Democratic State Campaign all the wisdom and imagination they need.