I write this week’s blog with a heavy heart and a difficulty to know where to start. Events in Israel and Palestine have taken such an unexpected course over the last week that our heads and hearts are reeling with news that continues to pour in from all directions.
There are several different battles being fought at the moment: in the sky, on the streets of Israel, in West Bank towns, in Sheikh Jarrah and on the international borders. Each of these poses a different threat to different people.
The one that has most media attention is the battle in the sky. Since last Monday, Hamas has fired over 3000 rockets at Israel. 10 people have been killed in Israel and the cities of Tel Aviv and southern towns like Ashkelon, Ashdod and Lydd have repeatedly faced attack, with regular sirens and people becoming very acquainted with their bomb shelters.
One of the most chilling aspects, for which I am rendered speechless with disbelief, is that last Wednesday Hamas said it was ready to enter into a ceasefire, but for Israel the job wasn’t done yet. As long as Hamas continued to fire at Israel, they would have a blank cheque to obliterate Hamas (and Gaza and the civilian population as collateral damage) under the safe cover of a ‘self-defence’ that the US supports.
Each day the death toll in Gaza rises and it feels so painfully avoidable. As of this morning, 188 people have died in Gaza, including 55 children. It makes me feel sick to hear Netanyahu say that ‘it will take time’ to end the bombing, as this points towards a calculated attack to wage ultimate devastation on Gaza. It is so far from self-defence, that it makes fools of those who have bought this thinly veiled act of terror. The wide disparity in the death rates alone between Israel and Palestine should tell people that this isn’t a war being fought on a fair basis.
The next frightening thing from the past week, has been the spillover of trouble on to the streets the length and breadth of Israel and Palestine. In every area of the West Bank people have come out to show solidarity with the Gazans and to stand up for their own rights. This has been met with police violence. Similarly, in every town and city across Israel, Jews and Palestinians have entered into spontaneous attacks on each other. Every night for the past week social media has been awash with videos of a stabbing here, a lynching there, a person shot dead, a mass riot, shops and buildings being torched, and it already feels dangerously out of control. There is a sense that the state is so focussed on maintaining the ‘war’ with Gaza that they have taken their eye of the ball in maintaining order elsewhere.
On Saturday it was reported in Haaretz that some Jews in Haifa were marking out Arab homes with red paint. Muslim leaders were telling people to remove religious insignia from their homes. A friend I asked said ‘I can tell you that it’s not safe for Palestinians inside Israel to go around and carry on their daily lives’. People are afraid that they will be attacked for their religion and that feels barbaric, especially in a country that arose out of religious persecution.
Then there is Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem. Only 6 of the 3000 rockets fired this week were directed at Jerusalem so that threat doesn’t hang over us at present. Instead, the area near where the houses due to be evicted are, has turned into a hotspot that now rivals most checkpoints. When last week started, Ramadan was still underway, so the protests were largely confined to after the breaking of the Ramadan fast (iftar) around 1930. By mid-week groups had started gathering in the area earlier. On Friday, there were reports of Israeli settlers arriving in buses, and videos circulated of settlers loose in the neighbourhood and brandishing firearms. And just yesterday, a Palestinian from a nearby refugee camp, drove his car at a group of nine Israeli police officers who were milling around at the checkpoint, injuring seven. He was shot dead at the scene.
The combination of the police using live ammunition, armed Israeli settlers roaming around, along with deep fear and in some cases, hatred, within communities, is creating a toxic atmosphere where it feels like anything could happen and very few people feel safe anymore.
Most of the international community that I speak to here, feel a deep frustration that that they can’t do enough to help. It is hard to know how to make our presence useful and another fear is that we start to become a source of blame.
If you are reading this from around the world there are a few practical things you can do to help:
- Many Palestinian solidarity groups are organising peaceful protests – you can usually find details on Facebook about what is happening near you.
- There are several emergency appeals for people in Gaza that can you donate to. Both UNRWA and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) are worthy causes.
- You can write to your local politicians, asking them what your Parliament is doing to help resolve the crisis. In the UK, MAP have a good template you can use for this.
- Israel and Palestine is one of the world’s most complicated conflict areas to understand. It helps to talk to people, don’t be afraid to ask questions and read some different articles to get some different angles on the story. Informing others and spreading awareness is a great thing to do.
- And if you live here, take a break from social media occasionally. Too much information is sometimes not helpful. Connect with others and stay safe!
If you have other ideas of practical things that people, either in Jerusalem or further afield can do to help, then please get in touch. All ideas welcome!
To end on a positive note, this also feels like a moment of possibility and change. Palestinians are uniting in a way they haven’t in a long time, as highlighted in this great article by our bookshop friend Mahmoud. I said it last week, but a return to normal will not be enough this time.