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Palestine
DannyWhatmough.com
3rd January, 2013

It is now more than a month since I returned from Palestine. And I’ve been meaning to write a final post, but it has proved difficult.

How do you sum up such an experience?

In the first post I wrote when I arrived, I talked about the vivid contrasts that exist everywhere. For a visitor, making contrasts is an obvious and easy thing to do. It helps to give a clear sense of the uniqueness of this place.

Contrasts are easy to find too now I’m back. Today, I went for a run. I could move freely. There were no soldiers, no checkpoints and no hostile settlers.

For me, this freedom is a basic human right. Something we should all be able to count on.

Whatever your political, religious or ideological viewpoint, I challenge anyone to visit Palestine, experience this lack of freedom, and fail to feel immense solidarity with the Palestinian people.

There is no doubt that life for ordinary Palestinians is better than it was a few years ago during the Second Intifada. Better, but still not good enough.

What sort of a life is this?

When eight year olds have to walk past checkpoints and soldiers on the way to school? When farmers have their crops destroyed and their sheep poisoned? When a mother is locked in an Israeli jail for three days because she is distraught at her son’s wrongful arrest? When your house is a concrete prison? When you’ve been forced to live in a refugee camp for over half a century? When your town is surrounded by 30-foot walls? When you don’t have a passport and aren’t allowed to visit your family, 30 kilometres away?

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continue reading: Palestine: fighting against a resigned future...

19th November, 2012

Sitting here in Tel Aviv – complete with air raid sirens and explosions – it is perhaps a good moment to reflect on the current hostilities between the Israeli government and militant factions in Gaza.

Despite the threat of missiles, things are relatively calm here. Every rocket aimed towards the city has been intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system. In fact, in Israel altogether, the death toll stands at three since the escalation began.

In Gaza, things are very different. Israel has been quick to point out that, since the start of hostilities, Gaza has fired 580 missiles into Israel, with many intercepted by Iron Dome. But we must ask: what has gone the other way? Israel says it has hit over 1,000 targets in Gaza – how many missiles does that equate to?

The death toll amongst Palestinians is climbing towards the 100 mark, many of them are women, children and innocent civilians – the result of Israel’s so-called “precision attacks”. On Wednesday, according Yousef Munayyer, writing in the Daily Beast, more Palestinians were killed in Gaza than the total number of Israelis that have been killed by missiles from Gaza during the last three years. A proportional response?

According to Haaretz, Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, was quoted as saying: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” Make of that what you will.

These numbers are important. Loss of civilian life is unforgivable, no matter which side you are on. And terrorism is wrong. Full stop.

It’s interesting that when terrorism is mentioned in this conflict, it’s only in relation to “Palestinian attacks” (note too that it is the Palestinians that ‘attack’ and the Israelis that ‘defend’). But what about the terror that ordinary civilians in Gaza feel? And not just in the last few days but for many years before?

Why there is such animosity from Palestinians? The answer is simple. While Israelis sit in Tel Aviv drinking fancy cocktails in the chic bars and restaurants and lounging in the sun on the beach, Gaza is – as academic Noam Chomsky put it recently – an “open air prison”. And the prison guards are the IDF.

Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza have faced Israeli occupation since 1967. This occupation is illegal under international law (UN resolution 242). Palestinians are terrorised on a regular basis and live their lives as second class citizens. There are numerous examples of human rights violations by Israel and contraventions of Geneva Conventions. The US and the rest of the world seem happy to look elsewhere.

In Hamas-controlled Gaza (Hamas – a party that Israel helped to take power in the 80s when it suited, but would rather you forgot about that) things are even worse. Gaza is a tiny area of land, home to 1.4m squashed Palestinians, many of them refugees.

There is a sad reality in this region that many are afraid to confront. Can you imagine what your response would be to continued and sustained occupation? Your response to your inability to cross borders, to travel freely? Your response to being unable to visit your friends and family just a few miles away? To restrictions on trading, on buying goods, on setting up a business? To being unable to build or extend your house? To continued military attacks on your city? To the deaths of innocent friends and family members?

What would your reaction be? How would you feel as the world looks the other way while international laws are broken?

So who’s at fault? Who is to blame for this conflict? Israel would have you believe that its actions are purely self-defence. So ask then about two incidents that occurred towards the beginning of November that you won’t find publicised on Israeli Twitter accounts – the killing of a small boy and a mentally unfit Palestinian male by the IDF in Gaza? Ask about the extra-judicial assassination of Ahmed Jaabari (someone who was actively working towards a ceasefire) that significantly stoked the flames of the fire.

This timeline shows that no side is blameless, despite what the media would have you believe. Is this what you mean by Gaza being fully responsible, Mr Hague?

It’s worth just commenting on the role of the international community while we are at it. Be in no doubt about the position of the US government. This is a country that for over half a century has backed Israel financially, militarily and diplomatically. It’s a country that sends over $3bn in “aid” to Israel every year – in terms of foreign aid, it has been beaten only in recent years by the money spent on Afghanistan. If only the recession-plagued American public knew this dirty little secret that the US-Israeli lobby does everything it can to keep quiet. The rockets being sent to kill whole families in Gaza should have American flags on them – just as much as the Gazan rockets should have Iranian ones.

The fact is it doesn’t really matter who started the violence this time round because this current conflict is a total waste of time and of human life. Israel has been trying to use its military power to “defend its citizens” and “root out terror” for the past 64 years. It doesn’t work.

Of course, my bias is obvious. I’ve spent the past month in Palestine, with Palestinians. All I would say to that is do some reading around. Don’t rely on the mainstream media and state-sponsored rhetoric. Check out what others have to say. You could do a lot worse than by starting with this film looking at the role of the media and Israeli propaganda in the Middle East crisis.

The ultimate irony of this entire situation is that Israel’s actions will do the complete opposite of what it says it is looking to achieve. It will incense Palestinians and other Arab states. It will increase the likelihood of militant cells. It will make Israelis less safe in their own homes. It will potentially threaten the entire Israeli state.

And it will certainly kill more Palestinians and make their lives even more unbearable.

It will move the entire concept of peace in the Middle East further and further away. Is this really what Netanyahu and his right-wing government want?

As Munayyer states: “Why, then, would Israel choose to revert to a failed strategy that will undoubtedly only escalate the situation? Because it is far easier for politicians to lie to voters, vilify their adversaries, and tell them ‘we will hit them hard’ than to come clean and say instead, ‘we’ve failed and there is no military solution to this problem.’”

Israel’s politicians are showing again that restraint, diplomacy and compromise isn’t in their DNA. Whether that is seen through IDF violence, the building of more settlements in the West Bank or even the entire illegal occupation itself.

Until this attitude changes, citizens – on both sides of the border – won’t be safe. But don’t hold your breath.

continue reading: A different narrative on #gaza...

17th November, 2012

My central reason for coming to Palestine has been to teach music in schools, community centres and refugee camps in the Nablus area.

The aren’t always music volunteers here and so the classes start and stop as and when someone arrives. That, combined with the Eid holiday that hit in my second week here means that I haven’t actually done as much teaching as I might have expected.

But the teaching I have done has been great. In particular, my lessons twice a week in Balata Village – just next to the Balata Refugee Camp. On Tuesday I said goodbye to the kids for the last time. I don’t think I’ll win any awards for my teaching abilities – let alone my ability to communicate with them in Arabic, but they seemed to enjoy it.

Balata

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continue reading: Musiqa fie Nablus...

15th November, 2012

Today I left Nablus and the West Bank for the last time. It’s been an eventful week in many ways, punctuated by lots of goodbyes. I’ll try write more about some of the things I’ve been up to, but probably won’t post anything until I get back to the UK.

I’m currently sitting in Jerusalem having caught a lift with a friend from Nablus this morning, a little bit weary after partying last night! Jerusalem feels quite tense today after the incidents in Gaza. I’ve already seen one bomb disposal unit deployed on Jaffa Street.

I’m soon going to catch a bus to Eilat (a 5 hour ride right to the southern tip of Israel). I then cross into Jordan tomorrow morning to visit Petra. Tomorrow night I stay in Aqaba before making the long journey up to Tel Aviv on Saturday where I’ll stay until my flight back to the UK on Monday afternoon.

continue reading: Farewell to Nablus...

12th November, 2012

Originally an Israeli Zionist, Arna Mer-Khamis wouldn’t immediately strike you as an obvious supporter of the Palestinian cause. And yet, her life took an unexpected turn when she joined the communist party and met and then married a Palestinian.

In the late 80s, during the Second Intifada, she found herself in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, where she established a small community theatre in the town’s large refugee camp called The Stone Theatre – named after the stones that the young people of the camp would throw at Israeli army vehicles.

Arna’s drama classes included many of the camp’s children and gave them hope in a hopeless situation.

In 1995, just after the end of the Intifada, Arna died of cancer. A few years after her death – during the Second Intifada – many of the children she had worked with were martyred in the Battle of Jenin – a clash that in later years (after the full scale of Israeli terror was slowly revealed) has become known as the Jenin Massacre.

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continue reading: The Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp...