Israeli forces are punishing Palestinians living in the open-air prison that is Gaza with airstrikes. Since fighting commenced on 10 May, the much smaller Hamas forces have responded with rocket fire.
Sixty five Palestinians and six Israelis have been killed. And the UN is now warning of a full-scale war.
The conflict was sparked by rising tensions in East Jerusalem over Ramadan, as Israeli police attempted to shut down Damascus Gate to Palestinian civilians. And in retaliation for overcoming the blockade, Israeli forces attacked Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque on Monday.
The unrest has further been compounded by High Court action taken by Israeli settlers trying to bring about the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, where they’ve been living since the mid-1950s.
Today, in apartheid Israel, Palestinians are relegated to second class citizens under the nation’s law. The Netanyahu government continues to illegally annex Palestinian land in the West Bank. And Gaza has been paralysed by an Israeli-enforced land, sea and air blockade that began in 2007.
Palestinian Hamas forces fired their initial rockets from Gaza on Monday, after Israel refused to end its day-long crackdown on civilians in East Jerusalem that saw over 700 wounded.
However, the wholesale onslaught unleashed by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – with his cabinet having announced a fresh military operation upon the beleaguered Gaza Strip – is understood to be something of revenge for the Israeli defeat in Jerusalem.
Settler colonial politics
“This is a military operation by an army ranked one of the world’s highest due to its sophisticated equipment,” explained BDS Australia convenor Hilmi Dabbagh. “Now it’s waging a war against a small strip that has been under siege for 14 years. If this is not a war crime, then what is?”
“It is an open assault, with civilians, including kids, as the main victims,” the Palestinian man told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “No one knows how it will escalate or end.”
Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, with over 2 million people living within 365 square kilometres. It’s infrastructure and economy have been devastated by the decade and a half-long commercial blockade. And its fresh water supplies are severely depleted.
Dabbagh explained that part of the crackdown on Palestinians has to do with “Netanyahu’s crisis in forming a government”. Now heading up a transitional government, the Israeli strongman has been struggling to form a majority coalition over four elections commencing in late 2019.
Another thing that’s made the Israeli leadership “lose its reasoning” is the solidarity West Bank and Gaza Palestinians are showing to those in Jerusalem, as well as the outpouring of global support for the Palestinian cause despite the failure of mainstream media to legitimately cover events.
“Just as an example, today there is a tweet by the Black Lives Matter movement that expresses full solidarity with the Palestinians,” Dabbagh added. “This is big and important.”
Civilians triumph in Jerusalem
The holy month of Ramadan commenced on 12 April this year. And as they have been doing for the last three years, Israeli security forces were harassing Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli police initially blocked Damascus Gate, which provides access to al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Jerusalemite young girls and boys gave the Israeli security leaders their biggest shock this year,” outlined Hilmi, “as they were steadfast in their resistance, which forced the Israelis to retreat and remove the security barriers outside the Damascus Gate area.”
The BDS convenor stressed that the images of civilian children defying Israeli soldiers had humiliated the Netanyahu government. And this led to the deployment of heavily armed forces at holy places within the Old City, which failed to succeed in getting Palestinian worshippers to leave.
“So, the occupation forces stormed into the mosques with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets,” he continued. “Hundreds were injured, with several young men losing their sight as the forces were aiming at their heads.”
Save Sheikh Jarrah
The Nakba, or catastrophe, saw over 750,000 Palestinians forcibly displaced from their traditional homes.
This colonising project commenced on 15 May 1948, which was the same day that the state of Israel came into being.
As Dabbagh tells it, the Palestinian families living in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah are Nakba refugees who moved into the neighbourhood in 1956, when the area was ruled by the government of Jordan, and they possess legitimate ownership documents for their properties.
Following Monday’s unrest, Israel’s High Court has postponed a ruling on a case brought by Israeli settlers seeking to see four Palestinian families evicted, as they claim the land was bought by Jewish organisations in the 19th century.
As UNSW lecturer Dr Lana Tatour told the ABC on Tuesday, the nation’s laws protect such claims from Israelis citizens, while failing to recognise similar assertions from Palestinians locals.
“Israeli politicians are very open about their plans for Jerusalem, in terms of replacing its Indigenous Arab citizens with Israeli settlers,” Dabbagh stressed. “It’s more evidence of the ethnic cleansing that has never stopped since the 1940s. As you know, ethnic cleansing is a war crime.”
The silence from Canberra
Scott Morrison made some half-hearted remarks about both Israel and Palestine showing restraint on Thursday.
In 2018, the Australian PM conducted some blatant pro-Israeli posturing in regard to recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel seemingly in an effort to score points in a local NSW byelection.
Our nation has a long history of voting against any UN condemnation of Israeli actions against Palestinians.
US political commentator Noam Chomsky has put Australian support for Israel, along with that of the US and Canada, down to all four nations being settler colonial states.
“The very one-sided Australian government position when it comes to this colonial project is disappointing to every free thinker and human rights advocate,” Dabbagh made clear.
BDS Australia is the local chapter of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which facilitates individuals, companies and governments in taking a stand to uphold the human rights of Palestinians by withdrawing financial support from Israeli entities.
“Australia is considering strengthening trade with Israel, while three prominent human rights organisations, including one of the biggest in Israel, and UN agency ESCWA, are saying Israel is an apartheid state,” Dabbagh concluded.
“Does this government really represent the views of the wider Australian community that says by its vast majority that Palestinians deserve to have their own state?”
The Save Sheikh Jarrah, Free Palestine, Commemorate Al Nakba rally is taking place at Sydney Town Hall at 2 pm on Saturday 15 May
Main Image: screenshot of footage shared by Gaza Now, which was taken inside al-Aqsa Mosque while it was under attack by Israeli forces
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.