Palestinians are people and not weapon-wielding savages

Since the birth of the Palestine-Israel impasse in 1948, the Israeli government has managed to criminalize the entire Palestinian population as a means of justifying its brutal occupation of Palestine. Embedded in the Israeli state of mind is the very crude and misinformed idea that all Palestinians are armed – if not with guns, with rocks, and if not with rocks, with death-wishing prayers. To eliminate them would be to guarantee security for Israel, even if it comes at the expense of innocent Palestinian lives.

Case in point: Operation Cast Lead. In twenty-two days of air strikes, ground raids, and tank shelling, Israel made a target out of every Palestinian caught within the Gaza Strip’s borders. But their crimes against humanity would not be left untold. Almost two years after the invasion, Israeli soldiers continue to come forward with witness testimonials detailing the army’s indiscriminate action against the Gazan population – civilian or not.

One soldier tells of the murder of three clearly unarmed family members.

The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away.
Anonymous Israeli soldier

When asked if the sharpshooter felt any remorse for having killed an innocent mother and her two children, the soldier continued:

I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given… The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way.
Anonymous Israeli soldier

Ah, but they can’t.

A similar tragedy involved an elderly woman no more than 100 meters from the site of a recent house raid. An Israeli commander ordered his company to fire even though she posed no legitimate threat. One witnessing soldier said during an interview that Israeli soldiers were trained to believe they “should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.” No weapons were found on the woman’s body.

Although Operation Cast Lead is one of the more publicized situations glorifying Israel’s indiscriminate attitude towards Palestinians, sixty-two years’ worth of Operation-Cast-Leads exist. Earlier this week, an Israeli tank fired at three Palestinian men who were allegedly too close to the Gaza border. An internal investigation into their deaths published days later revealed that none of them were militants or had any past involvement in militant activity. Even though they hadn’t committed a crime, they were criminals by default. Ultimately, though, the families of the killed grandfather, his grandson, and his friend are left to pay the price for an unjust analogy between Palestinian and armed militant that grips the minds of Israeli soldiers and those they claim to defend.

But the Israeli army isn’t the only force using the guise of national security to label Palestinians as armed hostiles. For approving and funding at least 123 checkpoints densely dotting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip’s border, the Israeli government is just as guilty as the army. Each and every Palestinian attempting to travel through a border crossing or checkpoint is forced to endure physical searches, abuse, and humiliation while soldiers take every unnecessary and inhumane measure to confirm that a bomb isn’t concealed in a schoolgirl’s backpack or that a “Hamas operative” isn’t hiding underneath an elderly woman’s traditional falahi dress.

A young Palestinian man is forced to publicly remove his clothing while waiting to cross through an Israeli checkpoint. Photo credit: AFP

During these torturously long waits, some gave birth and many more died, including a 63-year-old man with severe heart conditions. All he needed was basic medical attention but soldiers needed to confirm his frail body wasn’t carrying a sixty pound rocket propeller.

And then there are the citizens of Israel. Since late 2000, ninety-six Palestinians were killed by the Israeli public. That means ninety-six funeral services, ninety-six lost sons and daughters, ninety-six civilians minding their own business, and ninety-six instances where ‘the only beacon of democracy in the Middle East’ failed to uphold humanitarian law.

Fourteen-year-old Nivin Jamjum was one of the first civilian casualties of 2002. During a lazy Sunday afternoon, Nivin and her older brother Marwan heard gunfire and riotous yelling outside of their house. Fearing for the safety of his family, Marwan rushed down to lock the iron gate. Nivin ran ahead of him to lead the way.

I suddenly heard two shots. Nivin fell down the stairs. She didn’t scream. Blood started flowing on the stairs and on her clothes.
Marwan Jamjum, B’Tselem

The same thing happened to Yehia except that he was a few years older than Nivin and had his back turned to the settlers chasing after him.

Ask any of the settlers why they attack unarmed civilians and they’ll regurgitate Israel’s national excuse: To be Palestinian means to threaten our existence. It’s either them or us.

But is it really? Is there really no difference between a schoolgirl carrying a sack of textbooks and an armed militant carrying a sack of grenades? Has it become impossible to tell the difference between a family beach-gathering and a militant debriefing? Is it that hard to spot the difference between an uncle holding his infant niece and a man holding a rifle? Is it no longer possible to tell the difference between an armed soldier and an unarmed civilian while peering through rifle scopes belonging to the world’s fourth strongest and most advanced army?

Next to the body of her dead father, Huda Ghalya screams in distress after watching an Israeli shell land on her family during a picnic. (Screenshot)

Palestine isn’t a country of criminals nor is Palestine a country of arms. Palestine isn’t a country of hostility nor is Palestine a country of rogue combatants. Palestine is actually a country of blooming youth and talented adults. It’s a country of devoted husbands and wives. It’s a country of competitive teenagers trying to invent the next generation of solar powered cars or a life-saving technology for the blind.

Palestine is a country of human beings – civilian, unarmed, and innocent human beings – whose lives are just as valuable as those surrounding them. Trying to ‘disappear them’ by pelting them and their families with bullets and phosphorous bombs isn’t going to bring security to Israel. Pretending they’re all threats will no longer justify an occupation that’s lasted way too long. The world must recognize that Palestinians are people and not weapon-wielding savages. Then, and only then, will there be progress towards peace and security.

Sami Kishawi

Sami Kishawi is a student at the University of Chicago. He’s been active with SJP for a little over one year. He blogs at Sixteen Minutes to Palestine.

The Human Rights Glove Doesn’t Fit on Netanyahu

by Shirien D.

The first statement to come out of the meeting between President Obama and Israeli PM Netanyahu last week was Obama’s condemnation of the deaths of four Israeli settlers in Hebron, who were shot by Palestinian snipers. Hamas’ military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the deadly shootings. But so did an unknown group, the Haq Brigades. The official Hamas political party insisted it played no role in the shootings and claimed that the shootings and the talks are not related. [1] Who is to blame and whether or not it has to do with the renewed peace talks remains unclear, although the Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank and arresting Palestinians en masse for the crime.

“These people have no respect for human life and trample human rights into the dust and butcher everything they oppose,” said Natanyahu, standing alongside Obama at a White House press conference. Rhetoric by Obama and Natanyahu point to one thing that many American politicians and mainstream media pundits have been saying for decades: peace won’t happen until the Palestinians denounce violence.

These out-of-context statements are problematic and make many baseless assertions. One is that if there is no peace, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians. Because apparently, Israel is doing everything right. Secondly, they ignore the fact that Israel has murdered and committed human rights violations against Palestinians throughout the history of the conflict, at a far greater proportion than any Palestinian has. Mr. Netanyahu, did you forget the systematic ethnic cleansing and massacres done by the State of Israel itself? Maybe it’s just me and Goldstone, but personally, I don’t think dropping white phosphorus chemicals on Palestinians in Gaza is in accordance with human rights. Oh, and what about the daily murders, beatings and harassments of Palestinians by Israeli settlers? Yeah, the settlers that are illegally settling Palestinian land. Mr. Netanyahu, I encourage you to take a good, long look in the mirror before you speak of human rights. But then again, you’ll probably become a self-hating Zionist.

U.S. politicians and media commentators occasionally ask “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” That’s easy, Israel expelled him. In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to Israeli occupation[2]. There have been countless others like Awad. In fact, Palestinians have been using organized non-violent resistance in different forms since the 1930s[3]. The First Intifada is a case in point. Violent resistance started becoming more prominent during the Second Intifada in 2000. However, since then, violent tactics have been disappearing, as non-violent resistance has become the preferred weapon of choice in Palestinian society. Today, demonstrations, hunger strikes and sit-ins occur on a weekly basis across Palestinian towns and villages like Bi’lin, Ni’lin, Silwan, Shiekh Jarrah, Budrus and Beit Omar, just to name a few. Hell, even Hamas, notorious for preaching violence, is beginning to embrace non-violent tactics [4].

Jody McIntyre (left) with Rani Bornat (right) at a demonstration in Bilin. Photo by: Hamde Abu Rahme

Israel is cracking down hard on this non-violence, often physically attacking and detaining demonstrators. Last month, when I visited Palestine, I met Musa Abu Maria, a non-violent activist of the Palestinian Solidarity Project. This peaceful, humble and soft-spoken man was arrested and tortured numerous times for organizing protests to protect the crops of Palestinian farmers. Many other leaders of Palestinian NGOs are harassed and arrested frequently by the IDF; it has become expected.

The fact of the matter is that non-violent struggle is a far greater threat to Israel than any violent resistance. Non-violent resistance is a powerful tool, gaining respect and support internationally. So it comes as no surprise that Israel responds with violent military action to suppress it. This past May, the Mavimara flotilla full of international peace activists delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza was an innovative, creative and symbolic non-violent act of resistance. When Israel decided to massacre these unarmed civilians in international waters, it opened people’s eyes. Those who died on the Flotilla certainly did not die in vain. Their brave actions had a huge impact by showing the world just how inhumane Israel can be. Non-violent techniques are much more effective than the armed resistance that gives Israel the excuses to disproportionately massacre thousands. Palestinian violence does wonders for Israeli PR, and Palestinians on the whole are certainly aware of this. The recent actions of these snipers do not represent the largely non-violent Palestinian movement that is thriving today.

Israel doesn’t want non-violent resistance. What Israel really wants from Palestinians is pacifism and submission. That’s the only way to continue the occupation. U.S. politicians and media commentators asking the question “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi”? not only discounts the indigenous non-violent resistance movement of Palestinians, it also screams hypocrisy. The U.S. government gives billions of dollars in military aid every year to help Israel continue its occupation, but turns around and tells Palestinians not to fight back with violence. U.S. leaders advocating non-violence is like the Tea Party preaching tolerance. It’s just ironic.

To those who preach non-violence to Palestinians, I encourage you to visit Palestine. You will see the daily assaults by the IDF and the Israeli settlers that Palestinians must endure without returning the same violence. Palestinians don’t need the U.S. to tell them how to react to Israeli occupation. Given their circumstances, they have been handling themselves just fine. What they need most from the U.S. is to stop supporting and sending the weapons to the country that murders, imprisons, tortures and occupies them, committing human rights violations everyday. If Obama really wants a change, maybe he should start the next meeting with such a statement.


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