Yara Alagha on the situation in Palestine; the importance of language, Israeli settler colonialism and ways we can help the cause.
For many families who returned to their homes in the early hours of Friday morning in Gaza after the ceasefire, there was little or nothing left of their homes after eleven days of relentless Israeli bombardment. In the occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police are still cracking down on worshippers in Al-Aqsa mosque, triggering an escalation in violence after Israeli occupation forces raided the holy site during the sacred month of Ramadan.
The media has become less an observer of these events than an actor in it, playing a huge role in how people receive and comprehend what is currently happening to Palestinians.
It is important to note that the twelve families in Sheikh Jarrah facing forced expulsion in a case filed against them by Israeli settler organisations, which includes a total of 129 Palestinians, 46 of which are children, is not a “property dispute” nor is it a regular legal “eviction”. Since the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israeli policy has focused on keeping a ratio of 70:30 Jews to Arabs in the city which later adjusted to 60:40 after authorities declared it unattainable. This is done through different ways, including settlement reconstruction axing Palestinian neighbourhoods, home demolitions and revocation of residency rights. Sheikh Jarrah is an example of this.
Discussing it in such ahistoric and apolitical terms implies it is no more morally or legally significant or disreputable than a dispute between a landlord and tenant in Dublin. It very gravely underplays Israeli practices of systematic discrimination and apartheid crimes, as is reported by Human Rights Watch.
Similarly, the use of the word “clashes” obscures the nature of the violence that took place in Gaza, transferring partial blame onto the Palestinians. The implication of this term is a “conflict” between two parties who have a degree of equality in terms of violence and aggression.
This is simply not the case.
We only have to analyse the human cost of recent events to see that all power and responsibility rests with Israel. 243 Gazans were killed including 66 children and 39 women by Israeli attacks. At least 1,710 were wounded and at least 10,000 displaced in Gaza, according to the UN. The Israeli death toll stood at 12 at most recent count. To further highlight the disparity, this number is less than the number of family members that were killed from the Al-Qawlak family. The 16 members of the Al-Qawlak family, including four children who were among those who were receiving treatment for trauma by the Norwegian Refugee Council, were all killed in a single blast.
These numbers exclude the 15 Palestinians killed in the West Bank. Collateral damage does not exist in Israeli warfare. We know this because Israel’s Iron Beam system is a directed-energy weapon air target system that uses laser-guided mortar to strike their targets. All deaths were deliberate.
This year, the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip will have lasted 54 years. After all these decades, the term “occupation” becomes erroneous and irrelevant. Colonisation is not a term we often hear used to describe state of affairs and political structures in the present day, it is more often associated with past events. Which is why scholars and academics have frequently used another term when writing and describing Israel: settler colonialism.
Historically, settler colonialism is described and seen as the movement of Europeans creating new “white” nations where indigenous people once had their own land. These newly established nations could only be created if settlers applied two tactics. Elimination; getting rid of the indigenous by all means, and dehumanization: creating a system whereby the indigenous are seen and treated as inferior and not afforded the same rights as the settlers
In South Africa, this was seen as apartheid. In the year 1948, the Zionist movement, sponsored and supported by Britain, implemented the same tactics and logic in the establishment of the Israeli state. To make way for the state of Israel, the state of Palestine and the Palestinians would then be subjugated to an apartheid regime and an operation of ethnic cleansing that has continuted to the present day. Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosim of Israel’s wider apartheid practices and reflects its attempts to reduce the Palestinian population and ultimately, de-Arabize Palestine and eradicate Palestinian peoplehood.
So what we saw in Gaza and East Jerusalem is not unprecedented nor did the events stem from a “property dispute”, it is the product of a 73-year-old apartheid regime that inherently views Palestinians as being substandard and unworthy of equal rights. The Gaza strip and the 15 year besiegement is proof of this. In what other democracy in the world would an entire population of two million people be subjected to a land, air and sea blockade?
We know from prominent human rights organisations that the deteriorating humanitarian conditions have made life in Gaza uninhabitable, with a 2017 UN report describing the suffocating and isolating blockade as being “unlivable” by 2020. The conditions are unconscionable, breeding one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, with 51% of the population unemployed and relying on rations and humanitarian aid to make ends meet. This is a conservative estimate especially in light of recent Israeli bombings with Israel targeting and destroying more than 525 economic and commercial establishments including 50 factories. Despite Gaza’s health facilities already being overwheled with scarce medical supplies and access due to the blockade,recent Israeli bombings have damaged six hospitals, nine primary health care centres, and a desalination plant that supplies clean water to 250,000 people, the United Nations has reported. Gaza’s main Covid-19 laboratory and the Palestinian Ministry of Health offices have also been hit. Two prominent doctors: the internal medicine consultant Ayman Abu Alouf, who was leading the Covid-19 team at Al Shifa hospital, and the health ministry neurologist Moeen Al-Aloul, were killed.
An entire generation has grown up isolated from the world. The only contact the besieged people of Gaza have with the international community is the missiles that are funded by US taxpayers, that are a permanent feature of Gaza’s sky.
Palestine has long occupied a place in Irish consciousness with a unique transnational solidarity resulting from historic parrallels between the Irish and Palestinian struggle under settler colonialism. Seldom mentioned in historic analysis of the inception of the Israeli state is the nature of how British settler colonisation of Ireland features in the establishment of the state of Israel. When the British empire sponsored the Zionist movement in Palestine, the British governer of Jerusalem under the mandate, Sir Ronald Storrs, described the creation of Israel serving as a “a little loyal Jewish Ulster” in the Middle East. The powerful political narrative binding the Irish and Palestinians derives from a direct correlation in the occupations and colonial projects both nations were subjected to.
This “little loyal Jewish Ulster” should continue to occupy the hearts and minds of the Irish public; remembering the legacy of the brutal occupation that has had devastating impacts on Ireland and our Irish identity. However, words of condemnation and flying the Palestinian flag will not dismantle the apartheid, we need to continue to mobilise the Government to take meaningful action and sanction the state of Israel for its apartheid practices and crimes against humanity. Ni neart go cur le cheile.
Yara Alagha is a Palestinian-Irish parliamentary researcher in Seanad Éireann. She regularly visits the West Bank and is familiar with the realities of the Israeli occupation. She is a board member for Amal Association, a not-for-profit that works on advancing minority rights in Ireland.
This is a list of things any concerned citizen in Ireland can do:
- I would firstly begin by strongly suggesting you support the BDS campaign, a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality which withdraws support for Israel and Israeli companies involved in violating Palestinian rights. The Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) have led this campaign here in Ireland and more information can be found here: https://www.ipsc.ie/bds-the-background
- If you’re an academic in Ireland or abroad please consider signing the Academics for Palestine pledge here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdpNEjHhOgkJ00fN9IxAEL8EsJla7_cKwMT6hIM0RlLY3bmDw/viewform. This is in response to the call from Palestinian civil society for an institutional academic boycott of Israel, which pledges not to engage in any professional association with Israeli academic, research and state institutions and with those representing these institutions, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.
- Please also find credible local and international charities with emergency appeals that provide assistance and aid to Palestinians in Gaza that you can donate to below.
- Palestine Red Crescent: https://www.palestinercs.org/?langid=2
- Doctors without Borders: https://www.msf.ie/occupied-palestinian-territory
- Islamic Relief’s Gaza Emergency Appeal: https://www.islamic-relief.org/resurgent-hostilities-open-psychological-scars-for-already-besieged-gazans/
- Support Najah’s Local Emergency Meals Campaign: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/mrs-najahs-kitchen/
- Palestine Relief and Development Fund: https://www.interpal.org/support-palestine/
- I would also suggest writing and lobbying your local TDs and each Government party spokesperson for Foreign Affairs with the action points listed in the Trocaire’s letter. Feel free to use a personalised email which will ensure it’s not written off as spam or visit https://www.trocaire.org/petitions/demand-action-on-gaza/ which will generate and send an email to your TDs automatically.
- Join the online campaign using hashtags such as #SaveSheikhJarrah #SavePalestine #FreePalestine #AlAqsaUnderAttack to amplify the Palestinian cause.