Australia will always be my home. My professional ambition is to work in the field of human rights by completing short-term contracts where I report as a program specialist on program fidelity and consult on M&E assurance in the field of education for children and young people. But home is where I am building a stronghold of friends and family, where I love my job and have a stable routine, where I get the chance to go for weekends away hiking and camping, where I feel secure and free. I used to feel trapped in a dead-end job, living with people I did not really get along with and so I would imagine ideas of escape to somewhere else, but it was my life that I needed to change and not my location and right now I can say that Australia is a wonderful place.
I am currently visiting Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem working with young people and exploring and developing my skills, but the restriction to my movements, the fear of even going for a long walk on my own, the sight of teenagers holding weapons and toddlers roaming the streets on their own barefoot in dirty clothing sends shivers down my spine. Only this morning, a young boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the neighboring Dheisheh refugee camp. Unfortunately, I had a meeting at the Walled Off Hotel with a friend and on my way back I turned the corner to find young people protesting the fatal attack and were throwing stones at the Israeli Sniper Tower in Bethlehem, one hitting my arm by accident as it ricocheted off the wall from the building beside me as I suddenly found myself caught in between the clashes.
My visit to the camp has given me direct access to see how unfortunate the circumstances are for these young boys and girls, all of whom have very limited opportunity to find work or to study, their movements curtailed because they have no money and are confined behind restrictions of the Israeli occupation, continuously belittled and degraded and where their chances of exploring their creativity or other skills remains extremely narrow. To escape that feeling of powerlessness, many turn to crime and form attachments to religious and political ideologies that give them a sense of purpose such as becoming a shahid or martyr dying for their faith, which enables an escape from their unhappy situation by imagining themselves a part of something bigger.
It is whole populations being imprisoned within extreme socioeconomic conditions, internally displaced from their homes and feeling the tension of the constant threat of attack, with overcrowding, poor infrastructure and restricted access to food and water. 42.5% of the population of Palestine are refugees, with UNRWA figures showing a total of 5,340,443 (2017) registered Palestinian refugees across Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the total increasing when considering worldwide refugees located in other countries. Since 1948 when Israeli forces expelled and displaced Palestinians from their homes known as the al-Nakbah and further perpetuating totals following the 1967 war that ultimately led to occupation of regions in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians remain the longest and one of the largest displaced refugees in the world.
Article 12 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights discusses freedom of movement both internally and the ability to leave, where one shall not be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. Further to this, the right to self-determination is enshrined in principle within Art 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, whereby previous to this in the Atlantic Charter by Roosevelt and Churchill, it claimed that “[N]o territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.” The charter itself in addition to this right clarifies how the principle of self-determination also concerns other territories that assume responsibility to ensure that measures are taken to assist and promote international peace and security so that the interests of the inhabitants are recognised or enabled (Art 73). Israel, on the other hand, has set aside their obligation and indeed continues to disable the conditions necessary for Palestinian self-determination.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who I see as a leader who has done nothing but destroy the remaining prospect for any two-state solution in the region, is chairman of the right-wing Likud Party and current Prime Minister of Israel and the party while supportive of improved Arab-Israeli relations has a strong opposition to Palestinian statehood. The party continuously undermines any potential peace settlements as seen with Netanyahu’ clear and unambiguous statement that Israel will remain in the West Bank with or without a peace deal that unnervingly clarifies an indefinite occupation in the region. The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions of A, which is effectively controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is comprised of about 18% of the territory and are separated by Israeli controlled checkpoints that Palestinians would need to travel through to get to other areas even within Area A. Refusal to pass is common as is the constant humiliation and treatment given to Palestinians at these checkpoints. Area B is even more complex, with limited Palestinian control and more exclusivity to Israeli security forces over Palestinian authorities, and Area C is under full control by Israel making up almost 60% of the West Bank’ territories. Palestinians living in Area C are often mistreated and have limited – if any – access to drinking water, and any Palestinian homes built in areas controlled by Israel are demolished. Even within that, Hebron is further divided into H1 controlled by PA and H2 by Israel where within 20% of the city are illegally built Israeli settlements. Palestinians control a small percentage of the land with a much higher population density and limited resources, comparatively to Israeli occupied territories making up the largest with the smallest population of Israeli settlements.
Criticism of Israeli policy and government is not anti-Semitism and it should not be a tool to assist solidarity and easily dismiss facts. I am not against Israel as a State, on the contrary, but the facts are that there have been continuous attacks and a blatant disregard to international law that clearly showcase Israeli discrimination against the Palestinians, largely confirmed by the recent legislative changes that now sanction discrimination as constitutionally acceptable. The Nation-State Law is not only dangerously discriminatory and intentionally alienates the Arab community of Israel, but any sensible person can see that it is in contravention of basic human rights and has clear ideological roots that borders an almost radical ultra-nationalism in the political spectrum. For instance:
1 (c) – The actualisation of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
This ridiculous statement claims that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the region and is characterised as forcible suppression of Palestinian rights.
3 – The unified and complete city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel
This remains a contentious issue since Palestinians also claim Jerusalem to be their political capital and the division between East and West Jerusalem is clarity of the ongoing issues. Donald Trump’ recent move to transfer the US Embassy into the region caused widespread protests as it became a reference to the ownership of Jerusalem by Israel. Since the UK originally declared Jerusalem to be an international zone, the west of Jerusalem was taken in 1948 during the war and the east in 1967.
4 (a) Hebrew is the language of the state.
The Arabic language will be removed as an official language and regulated, though afforded “special status” that really means nothing.
7. The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.
This promotes the already highly disputed issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, something Netanyahu has eagerly promoted. Prior to the development of Israel as a State, questions about what Israel would actually look like given the largely diverse Jewish communities across Europe – particularly Russia and Poland – where religion is heavily involved in state affairs or conversely to be more secular as promoted by mainly those from the United States continues even today. It is an unanswered civil question that can almost be seen between the residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The illegal settlements built in occupied territories in contravention of International Law perpetuate feelings of antagonism and hostility that the Israelis themselves are creating and members of revisionist Zionism continues to remain skeptical to any concessions with Palestine, the assassination of Israeli leader Yitzak Rabin clarity of this deeply hostile Othering that almost suggests that the history and pain from a very long and terrible past continues to be present and unresolved today. Have Israeli citizens found forgiveness for what they have experienced in the past, or do they still believe and fear that everyone is and will always be against them and willing to destroy them? The fear and hostility, the aggression and political adaptation of a far-right nexus are all suggestive of a collective pathology that needs to be addressed, but in saying that when states like Iran scream nuclear annihilation it only enables and justifies Israeli hostility. Everyone deserves to protect themselves. However, the religious or biblical justifications that mobilise such authority in the region where Rabbi’s have recently initiated confirmation of this privileged position by mobilising over 1,000 Israeli settlers to try enter into Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in yet another blatant disregard to the cultural identity of Islam to the Palestinian people.
To focus on what reconciliation looks like following a history of violence that included genocide against the Jewish people and the psychological effects from such a long history of discrimination and violence has to current political affairs may contribute to a better understanding of how to promote and build peace. Laws that segregate communities and isolate diversity only perpetuate the problem as it reinforces and encourages illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine. In addition to this, to promote peace and non-violence amongst the Palestinians who themselves have faced a recent history of violence, occupation and other gross violations of their human rights need to also find forgiveness in order to repair and sustain a state strong enough to build the framework for self-determination. What this forgiveness looks like is difficult to see right now, but I am confident to never give up hope that there will be peace.