In a year of protest and political moves, Israel, with the support of the US, made diplomatic and legal advances, while Palestinians were left to fend for themselves and fight for their basic human rights.
70 years on from the Nakba, thousands of Palestinians stood up in protest of the illegal Israeli occupation and oppression. Almost 300 Palestinian lives were taken in 2018, and more than 25,000 suffered injuries at the hands of the Israeli Defence Forces.
But the Palestinians are resilient. Seven decades of Israeli oppression has not wilted them. This does not mean, however, that they are immune to the pain and suffering caused by a regime seemingly unaccountable to international laws, UN conventions and basic decency.
The western corporate media, which has increasingly been skewed toward the Israeli narrative does not portray nor fully reveal the dire circumstances and everyday difficulties experienced by Palestinians.
‘Great Return March’ deaths surpass 250
The ‘Great March of Return’ movement, initially planned to last for six weeks started in March 2018. However, it has continued throughout the year with protests held every Friday in several sites along the Gaza border. The campaign is protesting against illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine and the occupation of Palestinian territory both in Gaza and in the West Bank. Protestors are demanding Israel to:
- the right of Palestinian refugees (now in Gaza and elsewhere) to return to their land, which was illegally seized by the Israeli government through military force in 1948 and 1967;
- end the siege on Gaza’s air, land and sea that have enforced since 2007.
Israeli soldiers have killed more than 250 and injured more than 18,000 unarmed demonstrators in weekly non-violent border protests since they commenced on Palestinian Land Day, 30th March 2018. Their use of deadly force, including live ammunition, explosives and tear gas, against unarmed civilians in a deliberately targeted manner, is a direct violation of international law and human rights conventions. Yet no charges have been brought against the Israeli authorities for their brazen contraventions by the International Court of Justice.
The total number of Palestinian deaths caused by Israel in 2018 now amounts to 289. One in five of these were children – the youngest an eighteen month-old baby.
US Embassy moved to Jerusalem
May 14th proved to be the most deadly day for Palestinians in 2018, with clashes on the Gaza border resulting in at least 58 Palestinians being killed and more than 2,700 injured during protests in response to the US embassy’s controversial relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The official opening of the new American embassy came just months after President Trump’s highly controversial announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, thereby upending decades of US foreign policy and drawing unanimous opposition from the rest of the UN Security Council. No other international member state recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, nor have their embassy located there, given its status as a contested city in which Palestinians have resided for generations and centuries.
This troubling development demonstrated Israel’s disregard of international conventions, firstly through its undivided claims to Jerusalem as its capital. Second, treating Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants, thereby denying their right to live freely in the city in which they were born or have been resident in before the formation of Israel. These policies are seen as clear signs of Israel’s attempts to strengthen its colonisation of Jerusalem and prevent it from being part of any future Palestinian state.
The international community remain largely silent despite these obvious violations, alongside Israel’s continued building of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian Land Research Center, the construction of 1,073 housing units was launched in illegal settlements in the first half of 2018, with plans for over 1,000 more illegal settlement units in the West bank approved in August by the Israeli government. Since the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, it is estimated that between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis have moved into 196 government-recognised Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory – all of which are in violation of international law.
The on-going construction of settlements has resulted in the targeted demolition of existing Palestinian infrastructure, with buildings, structures and whole villages, like Khan al-Ahmar, being removed, destroyed or, in other words, ethnically cleansed. In fact, according to UN OCHA figures, 457 Palestinian structures were demolished in the West Bank this year and a total of 5,774 structures demolished by Israel since 2009.
New Israeli laws expose inequalities and human rights abuse
In July, further evidence of Israel’s ambitions to marginalise Palestinians and Arabs was demonstrated with the passing of its controversial ‘nation state’ law, characterising Israel as principally a Jewish State.
Labelled by some as a hate crime with racist undertones, which clearly aims to discriminate against its Arab citizens and other minorities. The law also downgraded the Arabic language, declaring Hebrew as Israel’s official language and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.
Palestinians and Arabs that have long experienced differential treatment as second class citizens in their homeland are now subjected to a law which seemingly justifies this discrimination. Furthermore, and to the uproar of many Jewish groups, Israel seeks to defend its ethnically unequal policies and behaviours by brandishing any criticism of the state as anti-Semitism.
Israel is notorious for developing laws and policies to suit its own interests, frequently at the expense of human rights and international laws. In July, Omar Shakir, the Country Director for Human Rights Watch was expelled after his work permit was cancelled by Israeli officials on the basis of his alleged support for boycotts of Israel. The decision drew condemnation from HRW and Amnesty International given the fact Israel is obliged to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and to non-discrimination on grounds of political opinion.
Israel also attracted international criticism for its handling, arrests and detention of hundreds Palestinian minors. This was most vividly captured in the case of teenage Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested and sentenced under terrorism charges in January. Tamimi’s case attracted global publicity and exposed Israel’s absurd handling of unarmed Palestinian protestors and the sentencing of minors, often for the most frivolous of offences, in a manner seeking to spreading fear. Ahed, who was released from prison in July 2018 after serving an eight month sentence, drew praise from many quarters for her bravery and resistance and has vowed to continue fighting against occupation and for the equal rights of Palestinians.
The Blockade of Gaza enters its twelfth year
The occupation and enforced blockade of Gaza, by land, sea and air, which has now existed for eleven years, continues to yield increasing levels of starvation, misery, human rights abuse and bloodshed. Food security, severe power shortages, water sanitisation, and access to healthcare and medical treatment remain huge concerns for almost 2 million people cramped into such a small place. This shocking state of affairs, in what can only be described as the world’s largest open-air prison, is a damning indictment on the world we live in today.
So as many people around the world will be reflecting on the events of 2018, the many achievements, shortcomings, and memories, spare a moment for those locked in a life of misery with no way out. What of their year? What of their goals and resolutions for 2019? Surely freedom must remain at the top of the list.
What lies ahead in 2019?
In a year filled with protests and political planning, the Palestinian plight continues; its people endure persistently and peacefully demonstrate. The passion for their unrelenting struggle to achieve their dignified right to freedom and regaining their own land continues on a daily basis.
The great effort of Palestinian activists and supporters goes a long way to making sure the daily suffering of the Palestinian people does not go unnoticed. It is a crucial endeavour, be it through raising awareness or revenue, and must continue so that the Palestinians are not left like lambs to the slaughter.
Campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement made a difference throughout 2018. BDS showcased the impact of ordinary people can have in both raising awareness of the realities of what is happening in Palestine, and provoking action from leading and public figures, groups and states. The recent story about Bahia Amawi, a school teacher in Texas who lost her job because she refused to sign a contract containing a pro-Israel oath is an example showcasing the countermoves being made by Israel in this regard.
The need for support from ordinary individuals is more urgent than ever as the UN World Food programme, cutbacks in international aid means more than 360,000 impoverished Palestinians are at risk of starvation in 2019.
Do you want to help protect the human rights of Palestinians? Find out how you can get involved.