By Ramzy Baroud
In the Winter 2012 Edition of Palestine News – published by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK – and more specifically on page 5, there is a photo of an old man.
With a white beard, gray, traditional jalabiya, a black belt and an old blue jacket, he could be any Palestinian’s grandfather. In the photo, the man holds broken branches of his olive trees, maliciously destroyed by Jewish settlers in the village of Qusra, in the West Bank.
The old man’s name was not provided. He could be Mohammed, George or Ali. A Muslim or a Christian. His village, Qusra is located south of Nablus, but that too matters little. It could be a village bordering Jerusalem, Ramallah, or Jenin.
Throughout the years, many men and women in his village must have posed with the remains of their ancient olive trees, conveying a look of sorrow or despair, hoping that maybe, their collective, yet muted cry for justice will bring to an end to the heinous and perpetual crime under which they all suffer.
According to the accompanying report, the destruction of Palestinian olive trees by settlers -under the watchful eye of the Israeli occupation army – has cost farmers over $500,000 in 2011. “Oxfam, the Union of Agricultural Work Committee (and others) estimated that olives collected in 2011 would produce half of the oil of the 2010 harvest.” But it is not exactly the financial burden that settlers are targeting in their constant rampages throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. They know well that the land is a source of income to about 100,000 families, but also a source of empowerment to the white-bearded old man, and millions like him. They ultimately aim is to break the bond that unites the native inhabitants of Palestine since time immemorial. But will they succeed?
Suheil Akram al-Masri is a 26-year-old Palestinian political prisoner, who was hospitalized on March 02 just hours after his release back to his village of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. Al-Masri had reportedly fallen unconscious after 13-days of being on a hunger strike, in solidarity with female prisoner Hana Shalabi, who went on a hunger strike on February 12.
Hana’s story is troublingly typical. She has spent 25 months under what Israel calls ‘administrative detention,” a bizarre legal system that allows Israel to hold Palestinian political activists indefinitely and without charge or trial. She was released in October 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange deal, only to be kidnapped by soldiers in the most degrading fashion a few months later.
Hana, like Khader Adnan who had recently ended the longest hunger strike ever staged by a Palestinian prisoner, decided that enough was enough: life without freedom and dignity is a life not worth living. Hundreds of Palestinians, including Hana’s aging father, joined her hunger strike and quest for freedom.
But neither Hana’s case, nor that of Khader are isolated by any means. Charlotte Kates, who is active with The National Lawyers Guild recently wrote, “Imprisonment is a fact of life for Palestinians; over 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank have spent time in Israeli detention or prisons. There are no Palestinian families that have not been touched by the scourge of mass imprisonment as a mechanism of suppression.”
Considering that, and keeping in mind the protracted state of siege and incarceration experienced by a nation under military occupation that holds no regard for international law whatsoever, Hana is every Palestinian woman. Khader is every Palestinian man, as the old man of Qusra is every Palestinian farmer. The “Order Regarding Security Provisions” governing the occupied territories grants the Israeli military “the authority to arrest and prosecute Palestinians from the West Bank for so-called ‘security’ offenses.” There are 2,500 such military orders, including one issued in August 1967 which deems any acts of influencing public opinion as “prohibited ‘political incitement’, and under the heading of ‘support to a hostile organization,’ prohibits any activity that demonstrates sympathy for an organization deemed illegal under military orders.”
Palestinians are thus governed by laws without internationally recognizable legal frame of reference. There is no need to examine the Fourth Geneva Convention on prisoners, on rights of occupied nations, on torture, on the forceful seizing of property or even on road traffic. None is relevant here. Israel is governed by its own logic, however absurd and inhumane.
It is this very logic that would allow Israel to justify the detention of Gaza patients seeking medical treatment outside their besieged area – which lacks critical medical equipment and life-saving medicine. (Most of Gaza’s hospitals currently operate on generators provided by emergency fuel supplied by the Red Cross, according to the Guardian, March 1.)
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) issued a statement on January 23, protesting an exceptionally disturbing practice, which has been used by the Israeli military for many years: interrogated Palestinians seeking surgeries in West Bank or Israeli hospitals.
Bassam Rehan, 25, from Jabaliya refugee camp was one such victim, who was detained as he tried to pass through the Erez crossing. PCHR was concerned that Rehan would be subject to torture as he was due to undergo surgery in the West Bank, according to Maan News. It was not a haphazard concern, of course, as other patients were exploited and tortured in the past. “Targeting patients, exploiting their need for medical treatment at hospitals in Israel or the West Bank and blackmailing them constitute serious illegal actions,” PCHR’s statement read.
Such stories don’t begin or end here. But the continuation of this terrible and convoluted episode raises questions about the lack of will to bring this injustice to an end; about our moral responsibility, even culpability, in allowing Israel to treat people – the natives of this ancient ‘holy land’ in so degrading a way.
There is little point in counting on Barack Obama, Stephen Harper or David Cameron to exact justice for Palestinians. How could they, when their governments continue to facilitate and arm the occupation of Palestine, finance the illegal settlements, ensure the continuation of the siege on Gaza and block any attempt, even if symbolic, to indict the unlawful, violent and Apartheid-like practices of the Israeli government?
But to whom can the unnamed old man of Qusra, Suheil, Hana, Adnan and Bassam turn for justice? To whom can they appeal for rights? And from whom should they expect solidarity?
One thing is sure in all of this: Palestinians will continue to resist with or without an international awaking to the injustice underway. The old man will try to replant a new olive grove, Suheil, Hana and Adnan will continue their quest for freedom or will die trying. A whole new generation will carry the torch from the previous one, replant, rebuild and hunger for freedom.
But we, the silent multitudes must not accept this paradigm of supposed immoral certainty as a must. It is our silence that empowers Israel’s crimes, and our morally-challenged leaders who continue to speak of the ‘unbreakable bond’ between them and an Apartheid regime; it’s the lack of accountability that makes them shed their last shred of humanity in fear of lobby pressure, or in seeking lobby support.
It is time that we redefine our relationship to the Palestinian struggle. We are not helpless outsiders; we are enablers of this moral travesty that translates into untold daily suffering of millions of people. Our silence is a blank check to the groveling politicians to continue to plead at the feet of the ever-demanding pro-Israeli lobby.
Ordinary Palestinians need true solidarity, not preaching of violence and non-violence; they have utilized the latter for nearly a hundred years. They need us to morally divest from Israel, as opposed to standing half way between the oppressed and the oppressor. They need us to overcome our tendencies of intellectual elitism or any sense of moral ascendancy. They don’t need of us to play the role of the lecturer. They need us to truly listen. To genuinely comprehend. To earnestly act.
This is not a conflict concerning religion. It is not about politics. It’s about rights. About people with history so rooted in the land, their land – for, who else has planted the ancient olive groves of their ancestors? They need us to remember their names, their stories, and to constantly consider that behind the headlines there are people with faces, with untold courage and humanity, aching for justice and lasting peace: Suheil, Hana, Adnan and Bassam and millions others, some passed away and others are yet to be born.
Before we speak of ‘solutions’ to the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict,’ I believe that we must first resolve our own dilemma by divesting, first, morally, then by every other mean, from an occupation that runs counter to any true conception of true humanism.
It was Desmond Tutu who once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Where do we stand from this conflict, on the side of the armed Brooklyn settler, and the US-armed Israeli soldier? Or on the side of the bearded old man holding tightly on his broken olive branches in a mix of despair, yet hope, however slight, that someone somewhere cares enough?
The choice is yours, but the consequences of your choice could redefine history.
(Based on talks delivered by Ramzy Baroud at Israeli Apartheid Week conferences in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta, Canada – March 5, 6 2012)