Palestinians deserve better than fraudulent narratives
If your solidarity amounts to a mild shopping inconvenience, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate
Friends and family mourn Jamal Affana (15) after he was killed by an Israeli sniper last month. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
In the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Is our weekly football game is about to start. For an eclectic group of men, the football pitch is an escape. It is the great leveller. A place to mask the everyday reality. Over the course of my time in Palestine my Arabic has been honed on the pitch.
I speak broken Arabic while others speak broken English – sometimes to comedic effect. But on Wednesday past, nothing was lost in translation when my friend, a highly skilled orthopaedic surgeon, recounted his recent work in Gaza.
We have all read accounts of what is happening and formed our opinion based on these. A population’s anguish becomes sanitised as it becomes quantified. Personal narrative is lost amid the constantly shifting discourse of the “conflict”.
Nothing is more powerful than the forensic articulation of trauma first hand. Sixty-two unarmed Palestinian protesters were killed on Monday, May 14th. However, many remain in a vegetative state, the result of “targeted” and “surgical” shots to the head.
During his stint in Shifa hospital, my friend reckons he worked on approximately 100 surgeries, with a team of 15 others. They worked around the clock, catching sleep whenever possible, between shifts.
“The work during the 2014 war – when they massacred 2,300 of us, was easier, Brendan. We couldn’t do anything when people arrived to the hospital then – they were already dead. . .”
These words will stick with me forever, not least because they were delivered with the absence of emotion. Shots to the feet, ankles, knees, hips. Men/boys who would have been looking forward to the forthcoming World Cup and kicking a ball in the evening no longer have the relative “luxury”. Doctors noted the use of bullets designed to explode on contact. Half-completed operations, hospitals chronically under-resourced, under-staffed, the result being the development of infection.
Palestinians get murdered whether they protest peacefully or not
Israeli and US media narratives are predictable. Those of us working in Palestine disregard them. What is increasingly more spurious is the proliferation of “equivalency” views put forward by those determined to pursue what Steven Salaita would suggest as the “civil” tone, seeking counter viewpoints where none patently exist. Some of the points put to me recently include:
1. Those shot included 50 known supporters of Hamas.
Hamas regularly claim the lives of “martyrs” to inflate a sense of their popularity. International law only permits the use of lethal force when life is immediately under threat. Most of those shot were 300 metres from the fence posing no risk to anyone (including, recently, 21-year-old medic Razan al-Najjar).
2. Those protesting were coerced into joining by the Hamas government.
Says who? This point completely refutes any sense of agency. Palestinian youth are not simply pawns in Palestinian macro-politics.
3. Palestinians should pursue non-violent resistance solely as the counter is more senseless death.
Palestinians get murdered whether they protest peacefully or not. More than 13,300 Palestinians have sustained injuries during protests for human rights, dignity and freedom, since Yom al-Ard (Land Day in Palestine, March 30th), with 121 being killed. As one of my closest friends here (another excellent footballer) noted: “We may as well die trying to be free; they are going to kill us either way. . . As Palestinians we die, but should learn to die quietly. . .”
If your criticism directed towards Palestinians who refuse to embrace solely peaceful means of resistance is uttered in the same breath as the Israeli use of deadly force, then like it or not, you have engaged in equivalency.
Worse, those who call on Palestinians to pursue solely “non-violent” means to achieve their aims are in fact the same people undermining the very basis of Palestinian non-violent struggle, repeatedly refusing to endorse the academic and cultural boycott.
If your solidarity amounts to nothing other than a decision to stop buying Israeli peppers and mint in your local supermarket – in essence a mild shopping inconvenience – then maybe it is time to re-evaluate.
It is a personal decision as to how you wish to support Palestinian non-violent resistance, but the framework is there and it isn’t for internationals – those who can dip in and out at will – to choose the parameters.
Academics and politicians must look critically at their language. Reflect on the way they publish, critique the organisations they work with, look at grants and opportunities they promote, and please, for the sake of all, stop referring to a one-state or two-state solution, as if it is some great hope.
Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne is assistant professor of conflict resolution, Trinity College Dublin