//Occupation and Decolonization: Diving deeper into the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Occupation and Decolonization: Diving deeper into the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

As if the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were not destructive enough, chaos erupted anew between Israel and Palestine over the past month. Tensions rose after an Israeli court promulgated a decision to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah to give way to settler groups. As of May 24, 2021, Israel’s air attacks and bombing campaigns resulted in the death of 279 Palestinians, including 66 children and 39 women, along with 1,900 who suffered injuries. Twelve people died on the Israeli side, including two children. 

Various political analysts argue that what is happening in Palestine is ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is defined as the mass killing or expulsion of an unwanted religious or ethnic group in a particular geographical area. Palestinians mark the 15th of May every year as the commemoration of Nakba. From 1947-1949, Israeli forces and Zionist militias violently destroyed and depopulated 530 Palestinian villages resulting in the expulsion, displacement, and even death of over 750,000 Palestinians. 

In a process called “Judaization,” Israel is carrying out a systematic process to drive away Palestinians out of occupied Jerusalem. This includes the implementation of Jewish-only settlements, revocation of residency rights for Palestinians, and movement restrictions. 

Oscar-nominated Palestinian film “The Present ” debuted on Netflix last March, is a poignant presentation of everyday life in occupied Palestine. The short film tells the story of a Palestinian man and his little daughter in the West Bank to buy a refrigerator as a birthday gift to his wife. For a day, the man and his daughter experience illegal detention and police brutality in checkpoints. The recent attacks in Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa mosque spotlight the everyday suffering of Palestinians for the whole world to see.

The Gaza Strip has endured four mass bombings in 12 years. This endangers the lives of over 2 million vulnerable and unprotected Palestinians. The debilitating health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the suffering of Palestinians, whose population is consist of 70% refugees, 56% live in poverty, 64% of the youth are unemployed, 80% are reliant on international aid, and 100% of 2.5 million Palestinians living in perpetual Israeli siege, violent occupation, and continuous bombing campaigns (Adalah Justice Project/So You Want To Talk About). 

According to Mark Muhannad Ayyash, a sociology professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada, Israel has brazenly defied international law and violated the human rights of Palestinians with impunity for decades. 

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 of 2016 declared that Israel’s settlement activity amounts to a “flagrant violation” of international law and is not clothed with legal validity. It ordered Israel to stop such activity and fulfill its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to Amnesty International, “Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied Palestinian territory and displacing the local population contravenes fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”

Furthermore, Amnesty International also aver that aside from blatant violation of international humanitarian law, Israel’s continued acts in establishing settlements are tantamount to war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. According to the International Court of Justice, Israel is obligated to apply the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, along with other treaties to which it is a state party to people in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Despite this, year’s worth of documentation by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other NGOs record various violations perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. This includes violations of the right to life, rights to liberty, security of the person and equal treatment before the law, right to access an effective remedy for acts violating fundamental rights, rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, rights to equality, and non-discrimination, right to adequate housing, right to freedom of movement, rights of the child, right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, right to water, right to education, and right to earn a decent living through work. 

Ayyash has taken note of the erasure of Palestinian identity and sovereignty as a project being undertaken by Western European and North American media. He mentioned the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), who immediately issued an official apology after using Palestine on air last year. This non-recognition of Palestine, which is not only an act of turning a blind eye to various human rights violations being perpetrated in occupied territories but also a refusal to acknowledge the existence of Palestine itself, is the epitome of the eradication and erasure project. Ayyash also laments the presentation of Palestine as a mere “problem,” conveniently ignoring the social, economic, cultural, and political factors that drove it to its current state. 

As violent settler-colonialism and state terror continue, Israel is slowly fulfilling its dream of “Greater Israel,” an exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people. This entails an intensification of the violent expulsion of Palestinians. As disillusionment with the two-state solution grows, along with Israel’s adamant proliferation of an apartheid state, various civil society groups, scholars, activists, and organizers advocate for another alternative: creating a single decolonized state encompassing the territories of historic Palestine. Ayyash summarizes the several proposed models into three fundamental principles:

  1. The decolonized and de-racialized state will no longer be defined as exclusively Israeli/Jewish and will also not be exclusively Palestinian.
  2. The new state will grant equal citizenship to all the land inhabitants regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.
  3. All Palestinian refugees will have the right to return to their homeland as full citizens.

A small number of Israelis have also joined the call for a single decolonized state. Proponents recognize that for this to be realized, both Israelis and Palestinians have to make sacrifices and undergo difficult challenges in their sense of identity, nationality, home, and history. However, according to Ayyash, this is still preferable to the alternative: an unending vortex of hatred, violence, and oppression in the decades to come. 

Ayyash has also taken note of a significant component of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the fear barrier which prevents people from tackling the issue. Labeled as a “complex” subject, people often stop short of discussing the topic, suggesting solutions, and demanding accountability and justice. Ayyash claims that this fear is “based on lived experiences of torture, imprisonment, maiming and killing, daily humiliations and dehumanization, loss of income, livelihoods, homes, dignity, freedom, and rights.” 

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is indeed a complex issue, but this does not merit being silent about it. For the oppressed people to advance from inaction to action, this fear barrier must be dismantled. After all, it is through speaking up, taking action, and standing our ground that we change the world for the better.