LOOK closely at the footage of Palestinians protesting against Israeli occupation in recent days, and you will soon notice how young they are. They are representative of a subjugated, deeply disillusioned community of ordinary people who have known nothing but suffering. Students and the unemployed form the majority of those wearing sports kit and jeans as they shout out idealistic slogans focusing on Liberation and Justice.
The most organised wrap keffiyehs – traditional Palestinian scarves – around their heads and use slingshots. Many others, including schoolboys, throw stones with their bare hands. Whether male or female, teenagers or a bit older, all are incensed by decades of brutal military occupation, an oppressive apartheid regime, and the constant threat of instant death or maiming by one of the most powerful and best funded military machines in the world. Their dissent is met with live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and truncheon charges.
Stand-offs with Israeli soldiers take place across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including around the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege for almost a decade. It is extremely difficult for anybody living there to get hold of basic necessities including food, water, energy and medical supplies. Israel controls everything – land, air and sea borders – in a narrow area described by western politicians as an open air “prison camp”. Never mind that such a blockade constitutes an act of war in itself under international legislation.
Around 44 per cent of Gaza’s population of 1.8m is aged under 14, and the median age is 18, compared to a world average of 28. Such statistics stick in your head when you consider how many boys and girls are routinely slaughtered by Israeli offensives. Nearly 600, including many babies, were obliterated by high-tech weapons last summer alone, during an operation given the chillingly misleading name “Protective Edge”.
This asymmetrical conflict has everything to do with Israel’s multi-billion dollar arsenal, paid for in part by western taxes, and its callous determination to portray attack as “defence” as it pursues its aggressive policies. The killing of more than 2200 people in Gaza in 2014 happened in spite of Israel’s much-vaunted “Iron Dome” aimed at repelling outdated rockets.
Illegal land grabs, extrajudicial executions, and the illicit imprisonment and torture of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of children, are barely mentioned. Other profound grievances are caused by the constant unlawful demolition of homes and farms, and daily humiliations at checkpoints. Latterly, the unauthorised Israeli incursions at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have been hugely provocative.
Now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering installing surveillance cameras at the Mosque, and revoking the residency of up to 100,000 Arabs living in East Jerusalem. Both measures fit in with the plans of government colleagues, including deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, whose stated “dream” is to “see the Israeli flag flying at the Temple Mount.” More generally, she wants to extend Israel over the whole of Palestine, arguing that further colonial conquest is something that the civilised world will just have to put up with.
Such extremism is inherent to the Israelis’ flat opposition to the UN resolution passed in 1948 that recognises the right of return of millions of Palestinians displaced from their homes by the terrorism and wars that led to and followed the creation of their state.
Unspeakably barbaric incidents in recent weeks saw baby Ali Dawabsheh and members of his family burnt to death by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The killing of three-year-old Rahaf Hassan and her pregnant mother, Noor, in an Israeli missile attack in Gaza also sparked immense rage.
United Nations admonishments, international law, and war crimes allegations are arrogantly ignored. Instead, the message from Israel and its propagandists – whether politicians, diplomats, or compliant media commentators – is that the Palestinian people and especially young men, are the criminals and aggressors.
All violence is to be deplored, especially fatalities, but to associate every demonstrator with those who are driven to use potentially lethal weapons is to profoundly distort what is actually happening. Lone wolf attackers with kitchen knives, meat cleavers, Molotov cocktails and firearms, or who ram cars into civilians, are portrayed as the norm: the idea is that all Palestinians are bloodthirsty “terrorists” who should be gunned down. As we have seen lately, these shoot-to-kill tactics are often “justified” by knives conveniently being planted next to corpses.
Meanwhile trigger-happy troops support knife and gun-wielding Jewish settlers and other armed Israeli extremists – and indeed stone and Molotov cocktails-throwing ones too – as they take part in punitive missions against Palestinians. Israeli police disguise themselves as Palestinian stone-throwers to infiltrate protests, before shooting demonstrators at close range, including children.
The racism and hatred entrenched in segments of Israeli society is summed up by the standard rallying cry of “Death to Arabs” used by lynch mobs, and also by the inflammatory language of politicians such as Netanyahu, who now accuses Palestinians of being responsible for the Nazi Holocaust.
In fact stone throwing or worse is by no means the only form of resistance. Palestinians share a long and proud tradition of nonviolence against systematic brutality and oppression. The increasingly successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which is based on a call by Palestinians for international economic, political, and cultural pressure on Israel, is a classic example of how effective it can be.
There is not a single historical precedent for a colonised people accepting their fate. The difference nowadays is that Israeli violence is easily recorded – crimes that were cunningly covered up just a few years ago are now exposed by instantly publishable videos. The resistance that follows is similarly available for all to see. It may be ugly at times, but it is as inevitable as it ever was. Throwing stones is without doubt a symptom of what is going on, and by no means the cause. Unless Israel starts to deal with that fact, then its future will become more uncertain by the day.