Human Rights Day is celebrated on 10 December to remember the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The irony of that year is not lost on the people of Palestine, for whom 2018 has been yet another trying year. The Great March of Return protests were met with deadly violence by the most powerful army in the region. Donald Trump made good on the pledge of former US Presidents by giving the nod to Israeli sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem. The US also opted to wreck UNRWA’s efforts to bring relief to the besieged enclave of Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps. Despite all of this, though, there have been growing signs of hope, which could prove to be the start of a pushback against the attacks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump on the Palestinians and their legitimate demands for self-determination.
The year has also witnessed the continued abuse of Palestinians’ human rights and ongoing discriminatory policies against the people directly. They suffer from draconian collective punishment, with the situation in Gaza becoming “unliveable”, as predicted by the UN a few years ago.
In fact, seven decades after the 1948 Nakba, when Palestinians were forced to flee in their hundreds of thousands in the face of the aggression of the nascent Israeli state, the embodiment of their human rights seems as remote as ever. Millions of Palestinians are still displaced and the legacy of the 1948 Catastrophe is now not only being erased but also, disgracefully, justified. The ideas put forward by a leading Israeli historian, Benny Morris, are gaining ground amongst Israeli politicians. He has described the Nakba as “breaking eggs” because “you have to dirty your hands.” Ever since 2011, Israel has banned any commemoration of Nakba Day in an attempt to wipe out the collective memory of Palestinian suffering.
This year, it has been the Palestinians in Gaza who have borne the brunt of the occupation’s violence. Since 30 March, the repression of the Great March of Return protests has included shocking violence by the Israeli occupation forces. The peaceful protestors drew on the example of Martin Luther King Jr and demanded the implementation of the legitimate right for Palestinians to return to their homeland — decades after the Nakba and a UN Resolution gave them the same right of return that all refugees have — with unarmed men, women and children marching to the nominal border with Israel. They were met by live fire from Israeli snipers with orders to shoot to kill: to date, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed during the weekly protests, with more than 18,000 wounded. The casualties have included women and children, disabled people, medical staff and journalists.
Israel’s occupation and decade long siege of the Gaza Strip has left its population lacking in employment opportunities, food, clean water for drinking and washing, and a continuous electricity supply. As such, the protests were intended to do more than simply demand rights; they drew attention to a siege which has devastating effects on ordinary human beings.
Netanyahu has sought to paint the protests as being driven by economic frustration; he is not entirely wide of the mark. This is, after all, happening within the context of Israel obliterating Gaza’s civil and business infrastructure in its 2014 military offensive, while the siege itself has turned Gaza into what is, in effect, the world’s largest open air prison.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is at crisis point, with the territory predicted to be unfit for human habitation by 2020. In fact, with just 3 per cent of water safe for human and animal consumption, and the ongoing siege leading to food shortages, some say it has already reached that stage. Gaza’s people remain trapped by the near total blockade, which is regarded as illegal in international law. The EU and US and their allies do little, if anything, to deter Netanyahu’s coalition government from maintaining the siege; indeed, they’re part of it.
Washington has repeatedly blocked Kuwait’s attempts at the UN to investigate the violence against the Great March protestors in Gaza. In Britain, meanwhile, the government has repeatedly sought to avoid reviewing its policy of arms sales to Israel.
Israel has this year passed its widely condemned, racist Nation State Law, which legitimises discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens — one-fifth of the population — and other minorities. This law is added to the existing 60 discriminatory laws in Israel which undermine its claim to be a pluralistic society. The Israeli occupation authorities extend such discrimination into the occupied Palestinian territories, discriminating against the Palestinians with regard to access to water, roads and land in the West Bank where military law is applied to them; Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements there have access to Israel’s civil judicial system.
Israel, it seems, is allowed to act with impunity as far as the US and Europe are concerned, so civil society has had to take action. The worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing. There have been meaningful victories this year, including Airbnb’s withdrawal from settlements in the West Bank (but not occupied East Jerusalem); British Quakers’ decision to divest from companies involved in the occupation of Palestine; Ireland’s decision to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements; the shift by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress towards BDS; and many universities around the world adopting BDS as formal policy.
We have also seen acts of solidarity from members of Britain’s opposition Labour Party. There was a plethora of Palestinian flags in evidence at the 2018 party conference, and it is committed to banning the export of arms to Israel should it win the next General Election.
The split between civil society and governments is widening and many politicians are having to downplay their relations with the Israeli government. There is clear momentum in terms of civil action to protect the Palestinians and their struggle for justice. Let us hope that by Human Rights Day 2019, further progress will have been made and the people of Palestine will be that much closer to freedom and justice.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.