In Gaza, the bombs had names on them

Again but differently, that terrifying open-ended escalation.

In 2014, Israel’s final, gratuitous act in Gaza was its bombing of two residential apartment buildings.  In 2021, it is their opening gambit.  They have picked up where they left off – but it’s different this time.  UNRWA which sheltered 293,000 displaced people in 2014 has been gutted by Trump while Gaza’s health, water and other essential infrastructures have been hollowed out by Israel through the years.  Where will people go for shelter?

This time, there is Covid on one side.  Israel has vaccinated its military and systematically refused to meet its legal obligations to vaccinate the Palestinians whose land it occupies.  Gazans in distress, in relatives’ homes, in hospitals, will be unable to socially distance.

It is different within Israel, too.  Rockets are reaching further and causing casualties. There is an uprising in Lod.  I dread the violence, everyone’s violence.  I am afraid for my family, I am worried and sad for everyone.

Still, I cannot understand this unless I distinguish between the equal rights of civilians to safety, and the grossly unequal Israeli regime that has placed them all in such danger.  With that distinction, I know there is no way back to the status quo ante, because the status quo caused this. 

Generations of settler-colonial occupation, racially differentiated laws and life prospects, forced expulsion and violence with impunity – that was the status quo. Palestinians have abruptly overturned it.  Rejecting the forced expulsion of families from Sheikh Jarrah and incensed by the paramilitary violation of their sacred space, 80,000 Palestinians faced down the soldiers and prayed at Al Aqsa Mosque.  With that, the status quo was over.  There is no way back.

So I sit with my fears, I dream about a post-racial society that has dealt with its crimes, and I send my best to clear-eyed strangers.

But I will not sit still while Gaza is under bombardment.  That is different.  The wall makes that different.

Two million people are trapped within an illegal blockade, crowded together in a pandemic, lacking reliable supplies of clean water or electricity.  Most of all, they lack any way to move to safety.  You cannot protect civilians behind a wall.  I know this.  I was part of the UNRWA emergency response team that could not keep displaced Palestinians safe enough from Israel’s bombardment in 2014.

My heart is racing today as it used to race then.

Gaza is so small that the bombs have names on them.  First the sound smacks into your chest and the earth shudders, and a moment later the curtains flap inward from the rushing air.  You turn to each new pillar of smoke and dust and flame, and you ask, “Who do I know there – which of my friends lives there?  Who have I lost?”  And even if you don’t know anyone in that neighbourhood, the density of Gaza means that the bomb had someone’s name on it.  Someone has lost.

No matter how many bombs fall, you do that every time.  You peer into every pillar of smoke and strain to know who is gone.  The number of explosions does not blunt a single one of them.

And then neighbours race toward the rubble and the fires.  Neighbours come to dig with a shovel or with their bare hands, to search for survivors or to carry the remains of their friends and families for burial.  When the other sounds abate, you hear the screams of relatives who are tormented by their wait.

The wall, the blockade makes Gaza different.

Occupied people are legally protected people.  The law makes their protection our responsibility, and the people of Gaza need us to live up to our responsibility right now.

So speak up.

Vaccination without discrimination

Vaccination without Discrimination

Our post last week called out the spurious charges of antisemitism used by NZ Jewish institutions to deflect attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  They were deflecting attention from Israel’s illegal policy of not providing Covid-19 vaccinations to the Palestinian people who live in the territory it occupies. 

We called on the Israel Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Jewish Council to cease labelling speakers for Palestinian rights as antisemites.  Our human equality is not antisemitic.  It isn’t anti-anyone. 

In response, some readers replied that they thought the NZ Jewish Council represents all NZ Jews.

Indeed, the NZ Jewish Council records its mission thus: “The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry. Its objective is to promote the interests, welfare and wellbeing of New Zealand Jewry.” 

However, calling the organisation a the representative is different from being representative in practice.

As we understand it, NZ Jewish Council members are chosen by a number of regional Jewish councils.  The NZ Jewish Council members seem to be appointed through a series of indirect institutional processes.  Members of Alternative Jewish Voices who belong to synagogues, some for many years, have never had any sort of direct say in who should be on the Council.  Jews who are not members of a synagogue don’t appear to have any voice in these processes at all.  The NZ Jewish Council does not attempt to elicit, include or represent the spectrum of views within the Jewish community.

We came together as a collective to demonstrate that the Jewish community is diverse in every sense, including our politics.  The ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. 

As with any other diverse community, more voices need to be heard. 

Having condemned the name-calling, it remains to address the urgent issue of Covid-19 vaccinations for Palestinians living in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967.  Newshub reported on the name-calling, as if a social media scrap could stand in for the larger issues.  It cannot.

Israel’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been touted internationally as a success.  It is essential to situate that claim within the framework of law and ethics.  But why – why does it always need that context?

When we write, we ground the occupation in law and human rights as well as morality, for two reasons.  First, the law and the overwhelming preponderance of international institutions agree on the framing of this issue (Donald Trump’s administration being the major outlier).  Occupation happens within a legal framework, not a difference of opinions.  We want the media to incorporate that factual context. 

Second, the laws of occupation and human rights are ours to uphold or abandon.  Law and justice make the rights of Palestinian people everyone’s business, and we call once more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Manuta to make it New Zealand’s business.

Why do we say that NZ has a particular responsibility to Palestinians? The situations of occupier and occupied people are not equivalent.  They have different obligations and protections.  The violence and the losses of this occupation are grossly one-sided.  The law recognizes this imbalance when it protects the occupied people, but the law relies on others to bring it to life and impose penalties.  If we New Zealanders wish to live in a world of laws, a world more aspirational than that of Donald Trump and his beneficiary Netanyahu, we need to take up our responsibilities. 

To understand the obligations of states toward occupier and occupied people, see Part III of this report on “Accountability, Impunity and the Responsibility of the International Community,” written by UN Special Rapporteur and associate law professor, S Michael Lynk.

States’ responsibilities are prominent in the media right now, because Israel is vaccinating Jewish citizens and some Palestinians within its borders at a great rate.  In the occupied West Bank, Israel is vaccinating its Jewish settlers in illegal settlements, but not the Palestinians on whose land those settlements have been built. 

Israel is not providing vaccine to the blockaded Gaza Strip, although Gaza’s suffering is most acute and its options are disastrously limited. Behind concrete walls, 9373 people are crushed into each square kilometer.  2.05 million people are facing Covid without reliable supplies of clean water or electricity – or vaccines.  More than 47,500 cases of Covid have overwhelmed Gaza’s medical services.   Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping them in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  The Al Shabaka Policy Network writes this week that Gaza as “confronting total collapse … arguably in a state of post-collapse.” 

What is Israel’s responsibility?  UN human rights experts said this week:

“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 160,000 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territory have tested positive for the coronavirus … with more than 1,700 deaths…. [A]s the occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘to the fullest extent of the means available to it’, to maintain health services in the occupied territory… [T]he occupying power is required under the Convention to facilitate relief schemes ‘by all means at its disposal’.  Even if relief consignments, including ‘medical supplies’ are provided by others, Article 60 states that such consignments ‘shall in no way relieve the occupying power of any of its responsibilities’…

“The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue…. International human rights law… applies in full to the occupied Palestinian territory… The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful…. [T]he Oslo Accords cannot derogate from [the law’s] broad protections.  The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended.”

Israel’s responsibility is unconditional and non-negotiable.  And the morality?  Ask yourself how we would regard a policy to vaccinate and care for Pakeha New Zealanders.  It would be repugnant, and to us, it is just as repulsive to know that an occupied people, an ethnic group, are being left susceptible to contagion, illness and death. 

Palestinian people are not beyond our reach.  Their rights are our responsibility.

We call on the media to report this story more appropriately and more prominently.  When the experience of occupation is grounded in human rights, settler-colonial wrongs, and the equal value of human lives we recognise it as being our business.  Those experiences resonate with us and link Palestine to our own work on Aotearoa’s colonial legacies and contemporary racism. 

If those are issues that you care about, then Palestine is your issue, too.

Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?

Ask them at  j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz and n.mahuta@ministers.govt.nz

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg Tami Louisson

Sue Berman Sarah Cole

Jeremy Rose Lynn Jenner

Letter to the Prime Minister concerning Gaza and Covid-19 from Wellington Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices

We are pleased to work with Wellington Palestine on this urgent letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

To the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern

Dear Prime Minister,

An appeal to intervene on behalf of the people of Gaza.

While Aotearoa New Zealand has been patiently managing the long tail of our second COVID-19 outbreak, the occupied Gaza Strip first identified community transmission of COVID-19 on August 24.  Today there are more than 1200 cases in its crowded cities and refugee camps.

We, the citizens of Aotearoa NZ, are failing a community in immediate danger. Why is Gaza our responsibility?  

The UN General Assembly and Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committees of the Red Cross, human rights and legal NGOs all agree that International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation apply in full throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  Occupied people are legally protected people.  The duty of states like New Zealand, and one of the first duties of the occupying power, Israel, is to uphold the rights of the occupied people of Palestine. 

Gaza has been battered for a month, as Israel responds to individual acts of Gazan protest:

August 11, Israel closed the one entrance for goods into Gaza

August 13, they cut off fuel supplies.

August 16, they militarily closed Gaza’s fishing waters.  

From August 17, Gaza had insufficient electricity to pump water into Gazan homes.

On August 18, Gaza’s only power plant shut down for lack of fuel so that Gazans have had only a few hours of electricity each day.  

On August 19, sewage treatment had to cease without electricity. 

Israel began bombing Gaza on August 6, and they sustained the bombardment night after night. 

S Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and an associate professor of law noted this week,   “Israel remains the occupying power, and international law – including Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – strictly forbids the use of collective punishment by the occupier.”

On August 24 COVID-19 was found in the community of Gaza. In the same week that Israel reported its highest-ever use of electricity for air conditioning to combat a heat wave with temperatures up to 48C, Gazans lacked electricity to refrigerate food during their lockdown. Hamas and Israel have now agreed to resume some fuel shipments. 

The International Crisis Group is warning that “A major outbreak in Gaza would likely be disastrous.”  It is the responsibility of the occupying power to ensure Gazans’ equitable access to quality health care, but blockaded Gaza has been structurally deprived of the resources to fight COVID-19.  S Michael Lynk adds, “This blockade has no meaningful security rationale. It inflicts great misery on the two million civilians in Gaza, while imposing little harm on any security targets.”

COVID-19 makes this long-standing misery into an immediate threat.

We, New Zealanders of Muslim, Jewish and other identities, urge our government to uphold the laws and conventions that it signs in our names.   If we want to live in a world of laws and human dignity, we must show up together when law and dignity are violated.

Today,  we call on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to please fulfil our obligations to protect the occupied people of Palestine and restore their equal human rights — especially their urgent right to medical care and COVID-related supplies.  Let New Zealand join the 138 states that already recognize the State of Palestine, and let us speak up for a just solution to the military occupation of Palestine, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Your sincerely,

Marilyn Garson (Alternative Jewish Voices) and

Neil Ballantyne (Wellington Palestine)

Also signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices: Fred Albert, Jeremy Rose, David Weinstein, Sarah Cole, Marilyn Garson, Asher Goldman, Sue Berman and Prue Hyman

http://ajv.org.nz

Also signed on behalf of Wellington Palestine by Laura Agel, Nadia Abu-Shanab, Gill Bailey, Neil Ballantyne, Carl Bradley, Biddy Bunzl, Shahd El-Matary, James Fraser, Jenny Hawes, John Hobbs, Gillian Marie, Jeanie McCafferty, Ben Peterson, M. J. Pittaway, Aida Tavassoli, Adri van Lith, Kate Slankard-Stone and Samira Zaiton.

http://wellingtonpalestine.nz

CONTACT

Marilyn Garson e: shma.koleinu.nz@gmail.com

Neil Ballantyne e: neil.ballantyne@wellingtonpalestine.nz