The reality of self-isolation, border restrictions, financial instability and the fear of losing loved ones is weighing on us all hard. It’s something our generation, our parent’s generation and even some of our grandparents’ generation has never experienced.
Up until now we have been blessed with the freedom to move as we please, to travel, to access food and medicine with ease. We generally expect that our loved ones will live long and healthy lives. With the global threat of coronavirus, these day to day securities are being threatened.
This article is not about coronavirus, but I can’t help but feel that this pandemic has brought us the closest we have ever been to sharing the day to day reality of what Palestinians have faced for decades. But, on top of this, Palestinians land is being illegally taken, their homes demolished, their children harassed, pepper sprayed and shot at, and civilians are being illegally detained. Most importantly, they are being killed – in attacks that are illegal under international law.
Those living in the West Bank are doing so under what can only be described as deeply racist conditions. Governments are elected based on blatantly racist policies with Prime Ministers consistently and openly flouting racist statements. Past Prime Ministers have repeatedly dehumanized Palestinians. Current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, described the wall being constructed at the border of Gaza as necessary to “defend ourselves against the wild beasts”. Friends who have visited Palestine and come face to face with the Israeli defence force soldiers describe their inherent racism, where soldiers as young as 17 simply see Palestinians as inhuman. How else could they pepper spray children?
Palestinian cities, towns and villages are separated by close to 500 ‘closure obstacles’, which the Israeli defence force use to control Palestinians movements. In 2000, construction of a massive wall began. It is now more than 712 km long and directly affects more than 78 Palestinian villages where people have lost access to their means of survival – fields, businesses and jobs. It is deemed illegal under international law. There are over 150 illegal Israeli settlements, housing half a million settlers on Palestinian land in the West Bank. There are 300,000 illegal settlers in East Jerusalem. Israel continues to move into Palestinian land, forcefully evicting people and demolishing homes. There are Israeli roads, joining illegal settlements, that Palestinians are not allowed to use. Shockingly, even coronavirus has not slowed Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes – daily reports of such continue.
Life is worse for Palestinians in Gaza. Despite Israel removing it’s settlements, Gaza has remained under siege. Most of the 1.8 million citizens have never left its 360 square kilometre border, a third of the size of Auckland. Gazans cannot move between Palestinian territories without permits granted by the Israeli Government. These are only granted in exceptionally rare circumstances, splitting families. Electricity is limited to between 5.7 and 12 hours per day. Half of all Gazans seeking exit permits to treat essential medical conditions are denied, causing needless death. Essential drugs are not allowed in, and the UN estimates that 46% of essential drugs are at zero stock levels. Fishing, a major source of income, is highly regulated by the Israeli government with an allowance of fishing only six miles from the coast. There were 593 access-related shooting incidents by Israeli forces towards Palestinian fishermen in 2018. Unemployment sits at around forty percent.
On top of all of this, Gazans have faced multiple attacks from Israel, killing thousands of Palestinians. At least 1500 Palestinian children have been made orphans. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN have all documented war crimes committed by Israelis forces in these attacks. For example, the illegal firing of White Phosphorous and the dropping of one tonne bombs into densely populated neighbourhoods. Rebuilding has been seriously hindered due to the ongoing Israeli blockade. An Oxfam report indicated that due to ongoing siege, it could take more than 100 years to rebuild what was lost. Gaza is known as the world’s largest open air prison.
If the rapid global spread of coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that the world is no longer divided. We live our lives surrounded by different cultures, and we have assimilated parts of these cultures into our daily lives. Our campus is diverse and our international friends here are no different to the people living in countries that often feel very far away. To stand back and know that an entire country of people are being violently oppressed by colonial powers, motivated by racism, is not okay. Doing so is being complicit.
It’s not until we feel empathy for those affected by such oppression that we act. Please think about how the current global pandemic and its implications is making you feel and consider the permanent reality for Palestinians.
Ellie Wernham, coordinator of Students for Justice in Palestine