Standing up for justice: an activist’s guide on Palestine
In recent mainstream media coverage of the cross-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, it’s easy to get a convoluted story filled with holes and inaccuracies. This is where activists, people of conscience, and purveyors of social justice have an opportunity to reclaim the narrative.
Here in our own backyard, Chicagoans of all types recently rallied together to condemn the attacks on Gaza and to call our United States government into question.
If you’re new to what’s happening or to the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict you may not know where to begin and get lost in the fray of political semantics.
Here’s some advice: start with the facts.
Some basic talking points
1. This conflict is not an even playing field. The conflict is by no means a war; Palestinians don’t have an officially recognized army. Israel, however, does have an army – which is arguably one of the strongest in the world. Additionally, the U.S. government assures Israel a qualitative military edge in the Middle East. Each year, Israel who also holds undeclared nuclear arsenals, receives more than $3 billion in unconditional military aid from the United States, and is the sixth largest weapons exporter in the world.
2. Look at the big picture. The most recent attack on Gaza is not an isolated incident. This attack is a product of an ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine. Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and Israel continues to annex Palestinian land until today. Israel violates international law by forcible acquisition of Palestinian land and remains in violation of several United Nations resolutions – namely; Resolution 242 (obligating Israel’s withdraw from the territory occupied in the Six-Day War); and Security Council Resolution 383, (demanding Israel to comply with Resolution 242. These resolutions were supported by the United States.
3. Get into specifics. Gaza is a tiny strip of land about 140 square miles with 1.7 million people (11,600 people p/ sq. mile. (UN Relief and Works Agency) Refugees from 1948 and 1967 – 1.1 million people – constitute about 75 percent of the total population & half of them living in refugee camps. Gazans are collectively punished for exercising their democratic right to choose their political leadership and as a result the entire population is put on “diet.” Gaza Strip is the world’s largest open-air prison. Israel can neither export nor import any essentials (food, medicine, etc.) of life. The border crossings from Gaza into Israel remains closed and the Rafah crossing into Egypt is opened only sporadically.
Frequently asked questions
The additional frequently asked questions list below is adapted from the Jewish Voice for Peace’s Israel/Palestine 101 Fact Sheet.
Q: What is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict really about?
A: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is, in essence, a conflict over territory. Although religion plays a role in defining the identities of the parties to the conflict, and for some Jews, in justifying their claims to the land, the conflict is not, fundamentally, a religious conflict.
Q: What exactly is “the occupation”?
A: In 1967, Israel defeated the neighboring Arab countries in a war that lasted only six days. At the end of that war, Israel had captured the West Bank (which includes the Eastern half of Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. (It also captured the Sinai Peninsula, but this was later returned to Egypt as part of a peace accord that holds to this day). Some of this territory was annexed, specifically the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
The rest of the West Bank has been under a military occupation ever since. This means that the Israeli army has complete control over these areas. Palestinians in these regions have no guarantee of civil rights. They have no government of their own other than what Israel will allow. Israel can impose total curfews on any part or all of the territory. This prevents people from traveling to work, to market or to see family members. It can prevent medical care from reaching people, and people from reaching hospitals.
Gaza retained a Jewish settler population and was under total military control until the Israeli government unilaterally withdrew soldiers and some 8,000 settlers in 2005. Israel, however, has retained full military control over Gaza’s borders, airspace, and coastline, thus retaining “effective control” and thereby meeting the official definition of occupation. (See more about Gaza withdrawal and closure below.)
In addition, Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of its own citizens in these lands, in defiance of international law. Click here to download an introduction to the settlement issue.
Q: Are Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel treated equally?
A: No. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel are entitled to vote and participate in Israeli political life, and several Palestinians are members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), they do not receive the same treatment as the Jewish citizens at the hands of the government. Israel still applies 20 laws that privilege Jews over Arabs. For example, the 1950 Law of Return grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while denying that same right to Palestinians. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom ensures that Israel is the state of the “Jewish people,” not its citizens. This law was passed in 1992 to serve as a “bill of rights,” as Israel does not have a written constitution.
Human Rights Watch has compiled an extensive study of Israel’s policy of “separate, not equal” schools for Palestinian children, finding that “Government-run Arab schools are a world apart from government-run Jewish schools. In virtually every respect, Palestinian Arab children get an education inferior to that of Jewish children, and their relatively poor performance in school reflects this.”
Nearly 25% of Israel’s population is not Jewish. As many as 100 Palestinian villages in Israel, many of which pre-date the founding of the state, are not recognized by the Israeli government, and are not listed on maps and receive no services (water, electricity, sanitation, roads, etc.) from the government. More than 70,000 Palestinians live in these unrecognized villages. Meanwhile, hundreds of new Jewish towns have been established on lands confiscated from Palestinians.
Q: Haven’t Jews and Arabs been fighting for thousands of years? Is there really an answer?
A: In fact, Jews and Arabs have been fighting for only about a century. While Jews were facing repeated expulsion and persecution in Europe, Jews in the Muslim world, though still facing some problems, were faring much better. Jews, as People of the Book under Islamic law, were entitled to legal protections and certain rights. To be sure, they were not the equals of Muslims, and there were incidents of anti-Semitism in many parts of the Muslim and Arab world through the centuries, some of them serious. But both the severity and the frequency of these were far lower than in Europe.
There is no doubt that the ongoing and brutal conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the neighboring Arab states, has created a great deal of hatred on both sides. But it is simply false to say that history shows that Jews and Arabs cannot live together. They have before, and, in a modern, secular state, may well be able to do so on a much more equal footing than existed in the past.
Q: What do Palestinians seek?
A: Palestinians, depending on where they live, face different challenges and thus have different concerns. However, what they all have in common is a basic desire for freedom and equal rights.
Palestinians living in Israel seek rights that are equal to Jewish citizens of the state as well as self-determination. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip seek an end to the Israeli military’s domination of every aspect of their daily lives – whether through direct military occupation, as in the West Bank, or control from without, as in the case of the Gaza Strip – and rights to freedom and national self-determination, equal to those of other national groups. And Palestinian refugees and others living in exile want the right to return to their homes, if they so desire, or to receive compensation and support for resettlement, just like other refugee populations in the world.
Q: What is Israel’s separation wall or barrier?
A: In October 2003, Israel began construction on a “separation barrier” in the occupied West Bank, justifying it on security grounds. The barrier consists, in places, of a wall twenty-five feet high, razor wire, trenches, sniper towers, electrified fences, military roads, electronic surveillance, and buffer zones that sometimes reach 100 meters in width. Much of the wall will be built on lands confiscated from Palestinian landowners within the West Bank – not within Israel’s own territory. Many Palestinian homes, business, orchards, and other valuable assets in the route of the wall have been destroyed.
The wall was also the subject of a case before the International Court of Justice. The ICJ ruling, announced in July 2004, held that the wall is illegal, must be dismantled, and ordered Israel to compensate Palestinians damaged by the wall’s construction. It also called upon third-party states to ensure Israel’s compliance with the judgment. Although an advisory opinion, and therefore not binding on the parties, the ICJ judgment is an authoritative statement of the status of the wall in international law. In the course of the opinion, all fifteen judges of the court found Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, to violate international law.
What you can do
Write an article. There’s a lot to the expression, if you want something done right, do it yourself. For the case of Palestine, this couldn’t be more true. There was barely a whisper in the U.S. national media about Gaza being bombarded with missiles by Israeli forces. But unsurprisingly the focus was on Israel being attacked by Hamas, leaving reports of Gazan casualties slipping through the cracks. In addition to all this, the media has successfully framed the conflict as Israel’s right self-defense against Hamas. The assaults are not given any context whatsoever and there isn’t a mention of the greater issue of the occupation. There is a frightening lack of balanced coverage of this conflict which is leaving the public incredibly misinformed.
Question biased media. Journalists have codes of ethics and standards for their reporting which in any other context is given scrupulous attention. Covering Israel and Palestine is not an exception to the rule. As readers and consumers of news, you have the right to demand accurate, truthful reporting untainted by bias, slants, or gap-filled “facts.” Contact editors, producers, and columnists about biased reporting and respond to them.
Educate the public. Knowing full well that the public can’t rely on the media for an accurate representation of the realities of the conflict, it’s up to you to contribute inform the uninformed. Distribute literature or start a blog. Organize events with experts on the subject of Palestine and all the factors at play. Contribute to different media outlets.
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). It’s no secret that the U.S. uses taxpayers’ dollars to fund Israel’s Defense Force. Billions of dollars are used to make tanks, bullets, and drones are used directly to kill innocent civilians in Gaza. The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, and is coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), established in 2007. BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.
You’re not alone
What’s happening in Gaza is not only a Palestinian issue, or even a U.S. issue. People across the world are standing up to condemn the attack and continued occupation of Gaza and Palestine. Immediately after the attacks protests were held in over 30 countries around the world.
Helpful resources on the recent Israeli assault on Gaza:
Ten Things You Need to Know About Gaza
FACT SHEET: Israel’s Use of Disproportionate Force & Casualty Comparison
REFERENCE SHEET: Israel, Gaza & International Law
U.S. Military Aid to Israel
AMP’s Talking Points for Israel’s assault on Gaza
Reporters Without Borders
Stop pretending Israel’s massacre in Gaza is part of an even battle between Hamas and the Palestinians
Gaza under attack: Stories from on the ground
It’s Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves
Palestinian right to fight occupation not only moral, but legal as well
Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison
Gazans are ‘ho-hum’ about the deaths of relatives – NYT’s Rudoren
The ‘both-sides-are-awful’ dismissal of Gaza ignores the key role of the US
How Israel shattered Gaza truce leading to escalating death and tragedy: a timeline
Timeline: Israel’s latest escalation in Gaza
5 lies the media keeps repeating about Gaza
Middle East Children’s Alliance
Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
Al Awda Organization
Jewish Voice for Peace
Badil – Resource Center for Palestinian residency and refugee rights
Students for Justice in Palestine
American Muslims for Palestine
Institute for Middle East Understanding
International Solidarity Movement
Reporters Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders
By no means are these comprehensive lists. We might have missed some very important organizations, websites, and people (there are many out there!). We welcome submissions to add to this list. Please contact us at email@example.com.