Palestine: Let's stop pretending it's a fair fight

Palestine: Let's stop pretending it's a fair fight
5 min read
29 Mar, 2018
Comment: When it comes to war, we're not only allowed to take sides, it’s positively expected. In Palestine, however, we're told that the occupied are the criminals, writes Amal Awad.
Any discussion on Palestine is unbalanced because the situation on the ground itself is [AFP]
When I travelled into the West Bank a couple of years ago, the passenger beside me on the way from Allenby Bridge treated me to a tour of tragedy, one infused with loss and the butchering of beauty.

As we navigated long and winding roads, he pointed out the Israeli settlements that crowded the hills and fields of Palestine. Beneath a bright blue sky, injustice reigned.

Illegal homesteads that cater to the Israeli population encroach on Palestinian land, and drain it of its resources. Passing by one village, he noted the brown grass of its fields, once lush and green. Its water is used by nearby settlers, depriving local Palestinians of its use.

Furthermore, settlement populations wreak havoc on the peace of those from whom they steal: if it's not nightly raids by the Israeli army, violent settlers have learned that they are above the law and can be as brutal with Palestinians as they wish. Precedent tells them - and the local Palestinians - this, and no-one is intervening to keep Israel in check.

A teenage girl objecting to occupation slaps a soldier and is jailed, and publicly crucified, while, as Mariam Barghouti notes, "justice for Israel has a very different meaning".

"In 2001, Nachum Korman, who clubbed a Palestinian child to death, served eight months, the same sentence Ahed and her mother must serve for defending their home from fully armed soldiers," she writes. "Ahed was armed with her voice and small arms, and her mother with a phone. More recently, Elor Azariya, the soldier who killed Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron, had his 18 month sentence reduced and will be released in May." 

Or it is as Ahed herself declared in court: "There is no justice under occupation."

Ahed Tamimi was handed a similar jail term to an Israeli
who clubbed a Palestinian child to death in 2001 [Getty]

It is so brutally unjust and unfair that it beggars belief. A wall that snakes through the land and cuts people from their own farms, in defiance of international law, remains standing. For all of the graffiti and protest marking its exteriors, the wall, in its heaviness and burden, makes normal life for Palestinians all the more difficult.

But what is even more worrying is that Israel isn't even hiding its ambitions to take over more Palestinian land. The sheer audacity of Israel's settlement-building is breathtaking, but think about it: who is going to stop them? Israel has consistently indicated that it is above international law. That they have special "security" concerns. That they have the US and its bullish representatives - cue Nikki Haley and her fighting words of 'we're taking names' for those who don't support an embassy move to Jerusalem - to safeguard their criminality.

The fact is, despite pouring so much effort into its hasbara propaganda campaigns, Israel cares very little about having outside approval. It cares only that no one gets in the way.

And so, as a young activist, Ahed Tamimi, is finally sentenced - to eight months for slapping a soldier - we approach a place of dizzying confusion. Following a drawn-out courtroom spectacle, in which a teenager became a symbol of heroism and activist power, what happens next? How do we proceed, knowing that Israel has long incarcerated children, wilfully transgressed international laws and terrorised families with arrests in the night?

How do we make the tragedy of lost childhoods and polluted innocence mean something, so that Ahed Tamimi and her co-patriots do not become temporarily symbolic?

Or it is as Ahed herself declared in court: 'There is no justice under occupation'

When the modest level of outrage dries up, what comes next? And what happens to Ahed and all of the future generations for whom she raised a hand?

I ask so many questions, because I have no answers. When Israel builds settlements that are illegal and promote their progress, rather than hide it; when people lose their homes because they decided to renovate or take a vacation and an Israeli family decide to squat in it - and they get away with the theft; when children are arrested in the night and tortured into confessions, scarred for life... Where to now?

Israel is focused on its own growth and future. It's certainly not going to tolerate the normalisation of Palestinians. There is no space to allow sympathy for a displaced, disrupted population, lest Israel be seen as a brutal occupier. The message is that Palestinians do not have a country, despite their nationhood. Consider President Donald Trump's incendiary decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, where he expressed support for Israel and referred to the "Palestinians", rather than "Palestine". No country for the occupied.

It's not a victim. Israel bullies its objectors. And this is why, still, any mention of Palestine and the weasel words flow

Consider how, when Ahed Tamimi and her mother were arrested, and many around the world couldn't help but metaphorically gasp and utter their shock at the disproportionate arrest of a teenager who slapped a soldier violating her space, Israel claimed that actors had been hired to portray the family in a bid to garner sympathy.

Despite its military strength, its wealth and consistent and flagrant abuse of human rights, Israel still peddles a victim narrative.

It's not a victim. Israel bullies its objectors. And this is why, still, any mention of Palestine and the weasel words flow. It's why so many disquieting, uncomfortable or downright aggressive discussions take place. It's an uncomfortable topic and an inconvenient reality. For how to criticise an oppressor who has emerged from its own brutal modern history? How to unpack that the oppressed and brutalised are now enacting atrocities upon those they are oppressing and stealing from?

Being branded "anti-Semitic" is a frequent consequence of criticism of Israel. And it goes a step further: normalising Palestinians, even saying the name "Palestine", will earn you criticism. Recently, when an airline served up a dish and dared to reference its Palestinian roots, the outcry was obese.

Any discussion about Palestine is out of balance because the situation itself is. Rooted in an unjust history, when will the outside world stop pretending it's a fair fight?

Amal Awad is a Sydney-based journalist and author. Her latest book, Beyond Veiled Clichés, explores the lives of Arab women. 

Follow her on Twitter: @amalmawad

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.