Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Too complex? I'll make it simple for you.

 Yasmin Ahmed
(LSE SU Palestine Society)

Last Monday (20th February) marked the start of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual international series of events held in cities and campuses across the globe with the aim of highlighting the apartheid nature of the state of Israel and to raise awareness about the daily struggles that are faced by Palestinians as a result. 

As such, the Palestine Society marked this week by reenacting an Israeli checkpoint on Houghton Street, with the aim of highlighting one of the many obstacles that are systematically designed and implemented by Israel to degrade and restrict the lives of Palestinians. The response to our stunt was overwhelmingly positive, with numerous individuals including staff and non-LSE passersby expressing their appreciation and solidarity with our efforts and the message we were manifesting.

However, this was all completely ignored as attention was immediately diverted away from the very distressing and brutal reality in Palestine to “Violence on Houghton Street”, following the bombardment of the stunt by four students who decided to throw water bombs towards us, with one missile hitting a member of the society directly in the face. In the aftermath of the shameful yet very telling attack on the checkpoint reenactment and on members of the Palestine Society, and as an attempt to rationalize and thus excuse the deplorable behaviour of the attackers, we were accused by the Israel Society of trivializing a very “complex situation for both sides” and that we shouldn’t have been surprised about the attack because we had “intimidated Jewish students” by holding “oversized guns”. Too complex? I’ll make it simple for you.

According to a September 2011 report compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHAOPT), there are currently 522 roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank. This is in addition to an average of 495 ad-hoc ‘flying’ checkpoints that were put in place in every month of 2011 which further obstructed movement across the West Bank. As a result of this, 200,000 people from 70 villages are consequently “forced to use detours between two to five times longer than the direct route to their closest city”. And it doesn’t stop there. According to MIFTAH, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, between September 2000 and April 2011, 401 Palestinians died at checkpoints as a result of preventing medical personnel at Israeli checkpoints, and there were 32 stillbirths at checkpoints.

Furthermore, the 62%-completed “security fence” that Israel is currently building ‘along’ the West Bank has 80% of its route built inside the West Bank, on Palestinian territory. Why do we call this “fence” an Apartheid Wall? Because in actual fact, it is a 26 foot concrete wall which serves to isolate Palestinian communities and families in the West Bank and entrenches the annexation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlements, which were deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 and are considered by the international community as a flagrant violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which stipulates that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. 

This is not a distortion. This is not disputed. And it is certainly not complex. These are quite simply the facts. Our stunt, described as a “disgusting simplification” by the Israel Society, doesn’t even begin to come close to fully highlighting the pain, suffering and humiliation that Palestinians are put through every single day as result of checkpoints, the wall and the continued occupation of their land. If staging a mock checkpoint and holding oversized guns was offensive and intimidating for some, then how should they be feeling about the fact that there are hundreds of actual checkpoints guarded by IDF soldiers armed with real guns that Palestinians are greeted with on their way to university, work or to the hospital? 

What happened this week on our campus does not indicate a need nor a desire for dialogue. The attack on the stunt was a clear-cut case of inexcusable bullying, physical intimidation and a shameful interference with the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. Moreover, the assault was particularly offensive to the Palestinian students who were involved in the stunt, some of whom are from Gaza, who have lived through and witnessed the utter criminality, terror and injustice imposed upon their families by Israel. To come to study in the UK and suffer this degree of intimidation and bullying from supporters of Israel on our campus is appalling.

If this incident has taught us anything, it is that when confronted with the reality of an unjust, illegal and inhumane set of state policies that systematically discriminates against Palestinians and seeks to strip away every shred of their dignity, those on the side of the oppressor are left with no ammunition. Except for water bombs. 

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