A Wake-up Call
Irrepressible Palestinian children… But smiles of happiness may turn to tears of frustration when they grow up to find their dreams dashed in a country ravaged by decades of military occupation… where lands and resources have been stolen, education curtailed, freedom cancelled and travel made almost impossible.
How will they build a career or raise a thriving family? Separated from friends and relatives, amenities and opportunities by encroaching barriers, roadblocks and checkpoints, excluded from their Holy City, and stripped of heritage, economic prosperity and even healthcare, they seem destined for a life of despair in what Chomsky calls “the dungeons that are left”.
This is not an academic book. It’s a wake-up call, a snapshot of the situation in Palestine through ordinary westerners’ eyes. Our reasons for writing it were fourfold…
This horror story needs to be told. The British and American public seem to know little about the Arab-Israeli conflict even though it is central to world peace. Palestinians hope visitors to their tortured land will speak to the outside world on their behalf. And the trampling of human justice in the Holy Land, of all places, is an affront to civilised people.
Having begun, a fifth reason soon made itself felt: the indifference of the West’s political élite and media. They avoid honest debate and suppress the truth, even to the extent of burying a critical Foreign Office report. Many seem to regard Israel as exempt from normal standards of behaviour. Worse, they turn the sanctions screw on an already abused and impoverished Palestinian people, pushing them to the edge of a humanitarian crisis and collapsing their fragile economy.
There’s no such thing as “Radio Free Palestine”, as far as we know, except on the other side of the world in California. But there ought to be. Somewhere in the Middle East or Europe a “Free Palestine” station should be broadcasting its heartrending message, its cry for justice… loud and clear… to the so-called civilized world.
Of course the Occupation – and resistance to it – has to be seen in historical context… how the real trouble started in 1897 when Theodore Herzle organised the first Zionist Congress with the express aim of establishing Eretz Israel, a Jewish homeland, in Palestine. And how Zionist leaders like Chaim Weizmann canvassed British politicians, who were persuaded to the idea.
How, after World War One, Britain the occupying power and the mandated government in Palestine, made free with Arab lands and paved the way for a Zionist takeover that has infuriated Arabs and blighted East-West relations ever since.
And how, in 59 years, the Israelis have become past-masters in the art of land theft, ethnic cleansing and subjugation, perversely earning the approval of western leaders in the process.
What I saw during my visits to the West Bank in 2005 and 2006 made me angry. What has happened back home is even more disturbing – US, British and EU politicians ganging up to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority and collectively punish the people, while still at pains to sidestep their responsibility to call Israel to account.
And the contemptible spectacle of Israel’s high-tech military machine venting its fury on the helpless citizens of the Gaza Strip, smashing their infrastructure and reducing their lives to an even deeper shade of hell… all because Israeli leaders cannot accept that hardline Hamas is now the Palestinians’ chosen government.
We are accustomed to the White House aiding and abetting Israel’s unlawful expansionism and shielding them from criticism. Now EU ministers inexplicably reward Israel with trading privileges while the Separation Wall steals another 10% of Palestinian territory, including the richest agricultural land and nearly all the water.
In short, Britain has joined the US and Israel in a conspiracy of injustice. No-one I have met, knowing the situation on the ground, agrees with the idea that “recognising” a brutal, armed occupier is a right or proper precondition for receiving aid. Israel exists; and one has to accept the fact. But recognition must be earned, usually by good conduct. And when has Israel ever “recognised” Palestine? The question on most people’s lips is, why won’t the civilised world put pressure on the Israeli regime to comply with UN resolutions and international court rulings and withdraw to its pre-1967 borders?
So far, the Israelis’ definition of the situation and their pretence that the Occupation is for security reasons have been allowed to prevail. Now, at last, there are calls for the situation to be re-framed in terms that reflect the truth.
Most people in the west, who readily identify with Bethlehem, would have been appalled to hear the organisation Open Bethlehem reporting that over 70% of its population now live below the poverty line and unemployment has soared to more than 60%.
“Once a prosperous middle class town, Bethlehem has been economically suffocated and the post-election sanctions have brought the local population to the brink of disaster.”
And this chilling warning from The Economist only added to the sense of foreboding:
“After millennia of violent conquest and reconquest, Jerusalem, centre of pilgrimage, crucible of history and the world’s oldest international melting-pot, is changing hands once more, but with a slow and quiet finality.”
A girl who worked for the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah emailed me:
“Our daily life and work, believe me, is getting worse. We haven’t been paid for months… Some of my colleagues can’t come to work anymore because simply they don’t have money for the transportation. On Thursday we made a protest in front of the entrance of our ministry demanding the international community to end up this isolation and asking for our salaries. The mothers are bringing their babies and kids to work everyday because they can’t pay for the kinder-yards or the baby sitters. I don’t have kids but both my parents work also in the PNA….”
A few weeks later her emails stopped. A knock-out blow, then, for this family and heaven knows how many others. Her words, on top of all the other distress calls, were the spur to finishing the book as quickly as possible.
© Stuart Littlewood 2007