As Jews in the UK, we write in horror, fear and outrage. Barely a week has passed since we organised a vigil to mourn the lives lost in Hamas’s ghastly massacre - Jewish, Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel, as well as migrant workers - and the Gazans already being slaughtered in Israel’s retaliatory and reflexive violence.
We are not blind to the dreadful symbolism of the events of October 7th, which have raised the spectre of our community’s historical trauma. Yet we refuse to let this pain be weaponised to justify further bloodshed. The drastically worsening situation in Gaza prevents us from keeping silent. This Thursday night, we joined Na’amod’s Jewish-led protest against our government’s absolute support for the Israeli state as it metes out mass destruction, devastation and death to innocent civilians. Vague appeals to upholding international law ring hollow when schools are reduced to rubble or when children are killed by IDF airstrikes as they try desperately to access clean sources of water.
Israel’s intensification of its 16-year blockade of Gaza into a “complete siege”, denying civilians access to vital supplies, amounts to collective punishment, a war crime. The attempt to forcibly displace over 1 million people in an active war zone is “a death sentence for the sick and injured”. It is a crime against humanity. Without guarantee of return, Palestinians rightly see it as part of the ongoing Nakba, the catastrophe of ethnic cleansing that they have been subject to since 1948. We do not see today’s violence outside the context of years of systemic oppression under Israel’s regime of apartheid and illegal occupation. With the media’s eyes on Gaza, armed settlers continue to ramp up their exterminatory violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank with impunity.
We take inspiration from those Israelis who, even in their profound grief, have found the courage and empathy to oppose their government's brutal escalation of violence. Their state is cracking down on all criticism of the war, primarily targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel, and fomenting a McCarthyite atmosphere in public institutions. Right-wing legislators in Israel are seizing the moment to draft repressive regulations against the spreading of any information that "undermines the morale of Israel's soldiers and residents''. Anti-war protests are dispersed, with police threatening that anyone “who identifies with Gaza” can be “escorted there on buses”. Dissenters also face a vigilante far-right that has been emboldened by the ascendency of Jewish supremacist political leaders. This week, the left-wing, ultra-orthodox Jewish journalist Israel Frey was forced to go into hiding after right-wing activists threw flares and tried to break into his apartment, threatening his life and his family.
Israel is not the first country to exploit a state of emergency to accelerate a repressive political project that would spark more resistance in other circumstances. What has been striking in this moment is the zeal with which Western governments have rushed to stifle expressions of solidarity from their own citizens. In France, a blanket ban on pro-Palestine demonstrations is being fought over in the courts; in Germany, repression of support for the Palestinian cause predates even the current crisis. In the UK, a ban on public bodies from boycotting Israel – or even the Occupied Territories – has further narrowed the space for democratic processes of placing pressure on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
These citizens are able to see clearly through the fog of war and the equivocations of international leaders that an extreme right-wing government at the helm of an occupying power is now accelerating its project of subduing “once and for all” an occupied population. The gloves off, murderous rhetoric of Israeli politicians should leave no space for ambiguity. It has prompted 800 scholars worldwide to echo Israeli historian’s Raz Segal’s warning that what we are witnessing is “a textbook case of genocide”. This is not a word we use lightly.
Blind and retaliatory force has done little to ensure the collective safety of Israelis and Palestinians, as the horrors of October 7th reminded us. Many Israelis have lost trust in a government that has all but abandoned the families of those held hostage by Hamas in the delirium of its punitive military campaign. They are led by a corrupt politician whose shameful priorities left families in the south of Israel exposed to unfathomable violence. Rather than an ill-fated repeat of past crimes, we are calling for an immediate ceasefire, urgent humanitarian assistance and a political solution to lift the siege on Gaza, negotiations to release the civilians held hostage by Hamas, and an exchange deal for captured soldiers and Palestinian prisoners. This can only be the first step. Only the pursuit of full rights and equality for all those in Israel-Palestine can bring a true end to the catastrophic devastation, fear and suffering that people in the region are experiencing now.
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