Gaza: The militarised and ethnically motivated persecution of a people

It is the sort of barbarity that engulfs a country which is built upon a disproportionately unfair system

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces near the settlement of Beit El and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces near the settlement of Beit El and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP

 

I recall feeling an immense sense of pride as I sat in the Palestinian ministry of higher education’s meeting room, listening to representative Jonathan Conlon announce the Ireland-Palestine scholarship programme back in 2019. Ireland had given me much, and now it was extending that same courtesy, once again, to my fellow Palestinians.

Finding funding for Palestinian students was always a struggle, organising a trip abroad was nigh impossible, and any exposure to the Irish culture was done within the confines of literature. In one fell swoop, the Irish State had given dozens of students a sense of hope – something I try to do daily.

For some time now, I have been contemplating a move to Ireland to regain a sense of normalcy. Little things, like helping my wife apply for a visa irked me. The need to cross through Jordan and put up with Israeli security every time I sought to travel became increasingly annoying. Paying €1,000 for “foreigner” insurance in Israel and obtaining the necessary security permits just to get vaccinated – well before my countrymen – disgusted me. But these are all, of course, problems of the Palestinian privileged.

Images of death

In the back of my mind, there were always the memories of the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005. I recall scrounging for bullet casings – my collection was the envy of every kid in the neighbourhood. The bullets that slammed through my bedroom window were those of the highly prized Israeli M16s, not the common Kalashnikov ones. I remember two old ladies wrestling over a particularly dazzling tank shell that had successfully made it through the stairwell of one house, and into the living room of the other. The question of ownership was of great importance and pride. But mostly, I remember my mother throwing herself on top of me when the shooting started. I remember becoming irritable and getting into fights. I remember looking forward to another round of gunfire, as it meant getting a day off school.

These memories pale in comparison to the current reality of Palestinian children today. For every bullet I had scrounged, they have witnessed an airstrike. For every image of death I was sheltered from as a child, they witness a mangled body. For every missed school day I longed for, they lose a school. For every shining ray of hope I was offered, life teaches them cynicism. How I wish I could distil this reality into a simple, digestible sliver of information every time I hear the pledge for a two-state solution.

Palestinians are a people who are accustomed to the process of life and death. Every time the situation escalates, we wonder when the return to the regular status quo will happen. I doubt that this is one of those times. The recent turmoil that has engulfed the region is a different beast. It is quite simply, the international death knell of the two-state solution, for those who had previously been deaf to it.

Human rights

Though Gaza is suffering most, the current violence is not contained to any Palestinian or Israeli area. It is happening on both sides of “the Green Line”. It is the sort of barbarity that engulfs a country which is built upon a disproportionately unfair system that privileges a group over another. It is the murder of George Floyd on a daily basis. It is not a civil war; it is sanctioned, militarised and ethnically motivated persecution of a people. Something the Irish are extremely familiar with.

Ireland has certainly done its part in fighting for the basic human rights of others. It is more vocal than its European counterparts in its defence of Palestinians and their right to exist. And though it is a tiny nation, it is a cultural and moral giant in today’s world of fake news, doublespeak and injustice.

I believe it is time that Ireland rethought its position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. By upgrading the status of its representative office in Ramallah to a full-blown embassy or ideally establishing such an entity in Jerusalem, Ireland can courageously lead the way in the European Union by rejecting the current status quo and encouraging more drastic and immediate solutions.

Though such a move would be mostly symbolic, it would breathe hope into the souls of a people who have none. While it is true that such an action would reinforce the narrative of a two-state solution, it would also manifest severe political pressure on the ground. And perhaps that is the kind of pressure needed to bring us one step closer to whatever light is at the end of this awfully long tunnel.

Alex Musleh holds joint Irish-Palestinian citizenship and is a lecturer at Bethlehem University

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