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What are the Palestinians to do to secure their rights now that they are not entitled to self-defence?

Israeli police use tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse Palestinians who were standing at Al-Aqsa Mosque's gates to prevent raids by extremist Jews, in East Jerusalem on May 10, 2021 [Eyad Tawil / Anadolu Agency]
Israeli police use tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse Palestinians who were in Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem on 10 May 2021 [Eyad Tawil/Anadolu Agency]

Over the past few days, our TV screens have been filled with wall-to-wall coverage of the Israeli attacks on Palestinians across historic Palestine in which they have not distinguished between residents of Jerusalem, Jenin, Lydda or Gaza. While Palestinians try to survive the most horrendous onslaught in Gaza, and as they call for help from the so-called international community to end their suffering once and for all, the calls have fallen on deaf ears. The countries supposedly holding democratic, humanitarian and universal values responded with a resounding dismissal of the application of these values to Palestinians, or at least their governments have.

Take the examples of the US, Britain and France, to name three permanent members of the Security Council. Each has put out statements in response to recent events, but only after the Israeli attacks moved to Gaza, and each has claimed that Israel has a right to self-defence. As Western leaders and officials floundered to justify why self-defence is not a right that the Palestinians also have, US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said: "The broader principle of self-defence is something we stand by on behalf of Israel and every other country."

His remark used the excuse that the US does not recognise Palestine as a "country" as justification that the retaliatory measures by Palestinians in Gaza were not acts of self-defence by one part of a nation to support another. In fact, he saw them as terrorist acts. The values and rights of a whole people were dismissed by the US Department of State spokesperson as if they were somehow invisible.

The values the Palestinian people hold do not intersect with universal values; they go way beyond the formal values that Western democracies claim to hold. Anyone who has visited Palestine and interacted with Palestinians will attest to that, as they do to me when they brief me on their visits to Palestine. The generosity, hospitality and kindness they experience are second to none.

Beyond experiencing the values that the Palestinians hold dear, visitors then shake their heads and tell me that they cannot believe what Israel does to them and how they can continue to be positive, smile, to manoeuvre around the occupation and how precious education is to them. Every September, Palestinians compete to buy the best uniform, the most in vogue backpack for the young children and to put them in the best schools. As they reach university age, they look to find the best universities and aspire for them to become doctors, engineers, lawyers, and to be highly successful. They also aspire for their children to reach the highest level of education, producing an extremely high level of attainment of PhDs. Socially, they want them to marry and raise children and to keep the family name going.

Readers will say, "but that is what any society would want – to have a happy, successful generation that will contribute to the wellbeing and success of the state," except that the Palestinians are having to do this under a brutal occupation by the settler-colonialist apartheid state, Israel.

The Zionism Discourse on Palestine Crumbling: Israel is an 'Apartheid State'

The Zionist movement had its eye on Palestine in the 19th century and lobbied Britain to facilitate this. It succeeded in extracting the Balfour Declaration from it and to see this promise included in the British Mandate on Palestine, resulting in the 1948 occupation of 78 per cent of the land and the expulsion of 750,000 peaceful Palestinians to neighbouring countries. Rather than Palestine becoming independent and free like other countries in the region, the child of Zionism, Israel, was born, and the Palestinians were never free, particularly after Israel captured the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine in 1967.

If proof was needed that Palestine, prior to the British mandate coming into effect in 1920, was a vibrant, economically significant and peaceful land, then the recent Al-Jazeera documentary Palestine 1920 is an important record for dismissing this myth.

In recent reports by B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch, Israel has been accused of the crimes of apartheid and persecution in the way it controls the whole of historic Palestine. This is added to its policies of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing, exemplified by planned evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, 73 years after its creation.

Palestinians, therefore, unlike other people, must navigate occupation, settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid on a daily basis. The events, since the Sheikh Jarrah campaign was launched earlier this year with a simple hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, have exposed the unjust and criminal policies of Israel that impede the Palestinians' ability to enjoy normal lives, to live like any other people in safety, security and dignity.

The international community pushed the Palestinians to accept the existence of Israel on their land through terror, by recognising it and pursuing a two-state solution through negotiations to achieve this. They went along with this in the hope that peace and independence will come by focussing on negotiations. They enticed them to sign the Oslo Accords as a means of reaching independence on the remaining 22 per cent of the land. The futile negotiations have yielded nothing. Instead, Israel has used them as cover to expand and entrench its theft of Palestine in pursuit of greater Israel. When US President Trump moved to pressure the Palestinians to adopt the "deal of the century", he wanted them to finally succumb to Israeli demands, but they stood fast.

The United Nations Security Council effectively has six – not five – permanent members as the US shares its veto with Israel. Over sixty resolutions that might have delivered some justice to the Palestinians have been adopted over the years, but none were implemented. If they call for peaceful boycotts of Israel until it adheres to international law, Israel labels this as "political" terror. If they pursue Israel in the courts, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), they are accused of "legal terror".

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They are continually pushed to return to the negotiating table for a two-state solution, which many believe is now unachievable because Israel has destroyed the prospect through deliberate policies to sabotage it, especially through illegal settlement construction. If they call for the refugees to return, as is their right, they are accused of wanting to destroy Israel. If they call for one democratic state from the river to the sea, they are again accused of wanting to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. If they peacefully march from Gaza to attain their rights, they are accused of rioting and are killed for their bravery.

All these peaceful means of the pursuit of their rights are off the table as far as Israel and its allies are concerned. But if the Palestinians fire a rocket in retaliation to Israeli attacks in Jerusalem, especially the deliberate attacks and break-ins at Al-Aqsa Mosque, that is not labelled as "self-defence", but "terror" instead.

As Palestinians commemorate 63 years under military occupation, dispossession and Israeli state terrorism, and as children are blown to bits by US-sponsored weapons, it is time for the so-called international community to answer these questions: what are the Palestinians to do to attain their rights like any other people? How can they defend themselves against Israeli oppression, occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid in a way that the international community would find "acceptable"?

My message to the "international community" is this stop "expressing concern". Stop "condemning" settlements. Stop labelling Palestinian resistance as "terrorism". Begin to see the Palestinians as a people that not only hold on to the universal values that you embrace, but that you fail to observe. Recognise that you have failed the Palestinian people by extending immunity to a rogue state. If you cannot help the Palestinians achieve their rights, then leave them to decide how they can do this. Israel should not be free to "defend itself" when Palestinians are not entitled to the same right when attacked. End the hypocrisy or shut up.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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