Yesterday marked the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I spent it reflecting on my own family, scattered between Palestine, Jordan, Qatar and Ireland. Free to meet almost anywhere in the world; except in our homeland, where it is impossible for my family to even make the short journeys from Gaza and Hebron to see each other in our capital Jerusalem. My family is a small example of the fragmentation and everyday cruelty wrought upon Palestinians by the Israeli state. And as I reflect this year, it is hard to escape the feeling that my people’s situation – whether they live under Israeli rule between the river and the sea or in exile from their homeland – is now worse than ever.
It is hard to have hope when I look to political discourse in Israel, where a shocking level of blatant nationalistic chauvinism and anti-Palestinian racism have become normalised. Binyamin Netanyahu is returning to power, flanked by figures previously considered deplorable even by Israel’s already warped political standards. Far-right theocrat Itamar Ben-Gvir, once convicted for incitement against Palestinians, is poised to be the national security minister overseeing both Israel’s police and its prisons where thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languish, 160 of them children.
Meanwhile, Bezalel Smotrich, a settler and nationalistic extremist, looks likely to end up in control of the ‘civil administration’ that oversees the occupation of the West Bank. A rapid expansion of illegal settlements, increased ethnic cleansing such as we see in Masafer Yatta, and some form de jure annexation all seem likely outcomes.
I despair when I think of my sister in Gaza where, following yet another round of Israeli attacks, two million people remain imprisoned in a tiny coastal enclave, besieged on all sides, in conditions the UN calls “unlivable”.
Hope wanes when I think of my aunts and cousins living in the crazy city of Hebron, where a few hundred illegal Israeli settlers effectively control the lives of some 200,000 Palestinians. This year has seen the highest number of West Bank Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces in more than a decade, tragically including 34 children.
Israel has also clamped down on Palestinian civil society, banning seven highly respected human rights groups, defaming them as “terrorist organisations”. This cowardly attempt to silence civil-society voices and cut Palestinians off from the international community has been rejected by nine EU states, including Ireland.
Yes, it is hard to have hope when we know that the international community’s response to all of this will simply be to continue business as usual. But we Palestinians always have hope. It nourishes us in the darkest of times. And if we look closely we can see the hope’s embers being kindled.
Palestinians have for decades asserted that Israel is an apartheid state. In the past two years ground-breaking reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the leading Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, alongside two UN special rapporteurs on Palestine have all have found that Israel’s regime of control over Palestinians constitutes apartheid.
In response, grassroots apartheid free zones are popping up all over Europe. Eight Irish local councils have voted to endorse the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, Cork City Council’s vote last month being the most recent. Almost 1,500 Irish artists, musicians and cultural workers have answered the call from Palestinian civil society and added their names to the Irish artists’ pledge to boycott Israel.
As a Palestinian, I am privileged to live in Ireland. Here, unlike in certain other countries, being Palestinian is not something to be hidden away but is welcomed and celebrated. There is a special bond between our two peoples.
Yet we remain disappointed by the actions of the Irish Government which, along with the European Union, continues to embrace and reward Israel. Despite the Dáil’s historic acknowledgment last year that Israel has de facto annexed areas of Palestine – an international crime – no action has been forthcoming. The Occupied Territories Bill to ban trade with illegal settlements remains frozen under a succession of flimsy pretexts. The Government now says it will not even use the word ‘apartheid’ because it does not find it “helpful”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said last week that “Ireland is one of the most credible voices on the planet” in relation to Palestine. I’m sorry, Minister, but there is a big credibility gap between Ireland’s words and deeds. Action – real and meaningful action that holds Israel to account for its international law violations and human rights abuses – is absent.
Hope sparks: taking inspiration from our predecessors in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, tomorrow will see the launch of a new Irish anti-apartheid campaign of 16 civil society groups – including Trócaire, Amnesty International, ICTU, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Sadaka and the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign – that aim to push our Government to take the necessary action to help end Israel’s apartheid policies.
Ireland helped to end apartheid in South Africa. We can do so again. Hope’s flame lights the way to liberty – and Palestinian families such as mine will enjoy freedom, justice and equality in our homeland.
Fatin Al Tamimi is a director of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign