AJDS eyewitness account: Human rights on the West Bank

linda_briskman_2.jpgProfessor Linda Briskman is the Chair of Human Rights Education at Curtin University in Western Australia. She is currently on academic study leave in the UK. These are her own views.
In a refugee camp in the West Bank, I observe a group of children play-acting to the mirth of onlookers. Three small boys masquerading as Israeli soldiers feign the merciless beating of other Palestinian child actors. In the childhood make-believe worlds with which I am familiar, guns are disallowed and children are protected from the violence permeating television and movie screens. But the lived reality in Palestine is not a world of Barbie dolls and the Wiggles. Here childhoods are lost as a third generation experiences the diminishment of fulfilling lives in the camps.

On this visit to Nablus, I hear numerous stories outside the camps of the constant and brutal erosion of human rights. There is hardly a Palestinian who does not have a narrative about the impact of the uneven distribution of economic and social rights including barriers to the fundamentals of water, health, housing, employment and education, as well as the erosion of civil liberties. Driving alongside the Separation Barrier/Wall (declared illegal by the International Court of Justice) I see graffiti that should be a wake-up call to the Jewish diaspora: Silence is Complicity.
When I was in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the partial moratorium on settlements was over. I was confronted by the erection of Israeli flags high on the hilltops as the colonists continued building apace. At the same time, the Jewish flotilla attempted to dock in Gaza to draw attention to the Palestinian plight. The presence of 82-year old Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskowitz is testament to the growing opinion of Jews and non-Jews that the Holocaust narrative must cease to justify a racist state. The malevolent attacks on human rights by the occupiers is surely reaching boiling point. The Wall and the checkpoints reinforce the separation between peoples and limit the chances of invoking a shared humanity. With Israelis banned from Palestinian cities and, under a restrictive system of permits, most Palestinians unable to enter Israel, what hope is there for dialogue between ordinary people striving for peaceful coexistence? How is it that security concerns can trump human rights and how much longer can we expect Palestinians to hold out for justice?
During my visit, resentment against Israel was palpable and Jews living in the comfort of the West, cannot continue to be blinded by how such resentment is transforming into anti-Israeli sentiment by the international community. Israel needs to take heed of the writing on the wall literally and metaphorically. The behaviour of Israel does not reflect the tenets of a Judaism of justice that most of us have been raised to believe in.
There are competing forces within and outside Israeli society. Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg who aroused deep divisions with his book The Holocaust is Over: We must rise from its ashes has announced the establishment of a new political party Shivyon Yisrael [Equality of Israel]. This grouping has the simple but noble aim to bring together people committed to the values of human dignity, peace, freedom, justice and equality. At the same time, according to a report in the Guardian, Israel is engaging in a public relations drive to recruit members of the public in the UK and Europe to act as advocates for its policies. This may well signify that Israel is running scared. Alongside this we should contemplate the influence of Diaspora Jews, an increasing number of whom chant the mantra “Not in my name”.
New York academic Peter Beinart tells us that policies that result in subjugation of Palestinians are losing traction with young people in the United States. We need to be mindful that not only is there increasing support for an Israel that proclaims human rights for all, but that the years since the Holocaust have slipped by and are not necessarily to the forefront of the consciousness of young Jews outside Israel. There is an increasing gap in many countries, America and Australia among them, in the values of the Jewish Zionist establishment and the alternative Jewish voices.
In England I am struck by the number of Jews who speak out against Israel through civil society organisations that condemn the malevolence of a racist regime, including the inherent racism associated with the notion of a Jewish state. European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) brings together representatives from eighteen Jewish peace organisations in nine European countries, including the UK, centred around the theme of “Don’t say you didn’t know” set down in Amsterdam in 2002. This slogan resonated after I attended the London session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in November, where my eyes were opened to the accounts, including by Israelis, of corporate complicity with the Israeli regime in the Occupied Territories. But the most frightening testimonies were from the witnesses who exposed the development of military and security equipment, often used against the Palestinians, that is backed by governments and corporations outside Israel. Silence is indeed complicity. And so too is failure to act.
Although Diaspora Jews may feel powerless in the wake of Israel’s political, military and propaganda might, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is increasingly taking hold for Jews and non-Jews alike and is a powerful antidote to Israel’s public relations exercise. Although Israel still has powerful world leaders on its side, most notably in the United States, there is increasing evidence that there is a push in many countries to halt unconditional support for Israel until it complies with international obligations and principles of morality and decency. It is perhaps only a matter of time before Israel is seen as a pariah state with the regrettable offshoot that diaspora Jews will be tarred with the same brush.
As the UK group War on Want points out, the situation is not an intractable conflict between two equal sides but is ‘an occupation by a powerful military state, armed and supported by the West against an impoverished, stateless and displaced people’. Regrettably the horrors of the Holocaust are now pitted against terms such as ethnic cleansing, colonialism, domination and apartheid.
There is an active civil society in Israel, which works tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians and is garnering increasing support. But these courageous activists need the backing of diaspora Jews to put pressure not only on Israel but their own countries in order to achieve justice for Palestinians and to end the increasing litany of human rights abuses. Only then can the lost childhoods in the refugee camps be restored.

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