Many people around the world already know that Israel’s line that it is merely defending itself from Palestinian militants is wearing thin even with their American friends. You would have to go back thousands of years in history to decide who started it, when it started or who is to blame, so let’s park those for now and instead consider: who is playing fair?
Israel has always been a ridiculously over-militarised state, where coming of age means being handed a serious looking weapon aged 18 and enlisted for nearly three years of mandatory military service. As a resident here, we are used to seeing young people (practically kids!) with big guns on public transport, guns in shopping malls, guns in children’s play parks and it is unnerving, but what has changed is that those guns are now being fired much more readily and indiscriminately.
The force being used in Gaza is utterly shocking and despicable, and Israel’s continued reluctance to enter into a cease fire suggests that they want to wreck ultimate devastation there that goes far beyond the targeting of known Hamas operatives. Women, children and let’s not forget innocent men, continue to die daily in ever growing numbers. Today’s figures show a death toll in Gaza that is 17 times more than in Israel – 219 people compared to 12 and there are no immediate signs that things will ease up anytime soon. I find this incomprehensible, especially that it is taking place only 60 miles away from where we live.
Yesterday Palestinians from across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel took part in a large Day of Strike to protest the common cause of freedom for Palestinians wherever they live. It was a show of solidarity that many found uplifting despite the violence that overshadowed it.
In East Jerusalem crowds gathered at Damascus Gate and then walked to Sheikh Jarrah. Around 4pm the loud explosion sound from the stun grenades started and sirens screeched around the area. Like many people, I was at home with my kids, feeling useless, but unable to get involved, and closely following events on social media whilst also trying to remain upbeat for the kids.
Several friends passed on first-hand accounts of what was taking place. The police policy now seems to be to disperse all crowds forcefully simply for their presence rather than their actions. To do this, the police liberally use stun grenades, tear gas, the horrible Israeli invented skunk spray and water cannons. I heard this week, that someone we know stepped out of their house one evening to see what was going on, to find a line of police officers approaching. He raised his hands and stepped back but was still shot with a stun grenade, leaving a painful burn on his leg.
Yesterday my husband left his office and saw some young guys on the street watching smoke rise from the fires taking place in Sheikh Jarrah a few streets below. Suddenly a group of police ran around the corner and started chasing the guys away, shooting grenades at them. They didn’t shoot at my husband, even although he was guilty of the same crime of watching and existing, that the others were.
An hour or so earlier a friend was on a nearby street when she encountered a 15 year old girl who had been shot by police in her leg and back with rubber coated steel bullets. The girl said that she had seen the skunk lorry approaching and started running away which is when she was shot twice. An angry red welt bruised her back. The Palestinian Red Crescent, who provide emergency healthcare, reported that at least 25 Palestinians were injured in Sheikh Jarrah and around Damascus Gate with rubber coated steel bullets yesterday.
These are isolated incidents of a tiny scale compared to the widespread use of force that is used elsewhere and is often more barbaric and requires little or no justification. Yesterday in the West Bank four Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli police.
It is hard to imagine the feeling that many Palestinians face, of not only having little confidence in the police to protect them, but worrying that the police may attack them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or for daring to exercise their right to protest. There is a lot of sadness and anger in Sheikh Jarrah at the moment and our thoughts remain with those in Gaza that continue to suffer the highest levels of brutality. More and more, there are calls that this has to be a moment of change, and that the Palestinians will not be silenced by force. We all want to see an end to the violence and suffering but not for it to be cycle that will continue repeating itself. Enough is enough, and dramatic change is now needed to restore a new order here.