In 2019, when Notre-Dame de Paris caught fire, the world grieved at the harm caused to the marvellous monument. The potential damage to a beautiful monument, and all that it stood for meant support poured in from across the globe, monetary or otherwise. It was heartening to see the world collectively grieve over the monument. Naively, I had believed the world cared, so I was astonished to notice not a peep about the ugly aftermath of the attack on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by the Israeli forces, during the holy month of Ramadan, in the middle of a prayer.
The Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims. It is designated a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The mosque is 986 years old, compared to Le Louvre’s age of 228. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two sites. The damage to one was unintentional and garnered the world’s support, while the other was deliberately breached and attacked while it sheltered thousands of people, praying and celebrating their holy festival. When the police stormed the mosque, they fired ammunition and rubber bullets. They killed four, wounded over two hundred and shattered the beautiful centuries-old stained glass windows.
The tragedy of the Al-Aqsa violence is devastating. Sadly, it is nothing new nor out of the ordinary for the Palestinians. When I started writing this article, it began as an informational piece detailing the violence and the history of loss that frames the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, while reading about the details of the attack and the world’s response, I came across questions that I believe have reshaped the discourse. A most prominent one was if it’s anti-Semitic to criticise Israeli forces and government for their actions. The attention given to this question amazes me. The vast majority of people crying discrimination to justify and protect Israeli actions are confounding.
When we condemn illegal and hostile Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the senseless violence unleashed by one of the strongest and well-funded militaries against a group of people armed with rocks, we do not criticise them on the grounds of their religion. We criticise and protest because their actions are similar to that of a coloniser following a system eerily similar to the apartheid against the Palestinians. Perhaps, I oversimplify the issue; the formation of Israel is a huge part of Jewish history. But I believe that in this scenario, we transcend religion and identity. I do not believe that the horrific and vile treatment of Palestinian people can be attributed to anything other than the Israeli government’s greed and plan to colonise a land that does not belong to them.
Another compelling argument that I came across during my research was if it is the Israeli government alone to blame for the situation of Palestine. The answer is no. The world and a majority of global superpowers are equally responsible for the persecution of Palestinian lives. It is not surprising to know that the USA is Israel’s biggest ally; it provides foreign aid, supplies and advanced military weapons even when Israel does not exactly need them and has built diplomatic relations with a majority of Islamic countries. The rest of the world bolsters Israel’s spirit by maintaining neutrality. France has been the only country so far to actively mention the term ‘Apartheid’ in the context of Israel. The other global superpowers, including Russia and India, have called for a ceasefire while actively discounting the argument that a ceasefire between Hamas and Israeli forces does not protect the Palestinian people from horrific treatment and displacement.
The displacements of Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah (Jerusalem) form the centre of the conflict this time. The displacements highlight the systemic discrimination of Palestinians. Forced evictions, unlawful arrests and police brutality are the tip of the iceberg in this instance. While the displacements were halted because of the violence in Al-Aqsa and the clash between the Hamas and Israeli forces, the recent ceasefire between the two has reignited the fear of eviction for Palestinian residents.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has decided to probe the human rights violations in Gaza and the West Bank after 24 member nations voted in favour. Perhaps it is pessimistic of me to believe in the futility of such a probe. Violence and human rights violations have marred the Israel-Palestine conflict for decades. We are yet to see tangible efforts made to keep Israeli forces in check. And yes, the probe may yield results and proofs to hold Israel accountable, but it would not be enough.
Israel’s attack on Palestinians is a double-edged sword. Palestinians will be hurt irrespective of the probe’s result. If it will not be the bullets, it will be the forced evictions. If it will not be the missiles, it will be poverty and unemployment. If it will not be the police, it will be hunger and homelessness. The situation is, and it seems, will remain tantamount to death by a thousand cuts, and it will be innocent Palestinians that will continue to bleed. I have always thought the phrase “the world is watching” to be a sufficient reminder of the international community’s power to hold governments accountable; I never felt the need until now to amend it to say: “The world is watching, but will it do anything?”
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