Today’s agreement of a ceasefire was met with celebration, but it will do nothing to end Israel’s ethnic cleansing. We must continue to support Palestinians, writes Ziad Al-Qattan.

Today’s agreement of a ceasefire has been met with celebration, but it will do nothing to end Israel’s ethnic cleansing. We must continue to hold them accountable and to support Palestinians, writes Ziad Al-Qattan.

Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque are being pounded with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Nine more bodies are pulled out from under the rubble in Gaza, including that of a three-year-old child. Right-wing Jewish extremists are plotting their next violent lynching on Telegram chat groups.

These are the scenes unfolding in the wake of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which was brokered late on Thursday night, putting an end to eleven horrific days of violence and killing. However, Gaza remains under siege. Ethnic cleansing in occupied Jerusalem continues. Palestinians in Israel’s segregated cities are living in fear. And Palestinian refugees the world over remain in exile. There is no ‘calm’, ‘peace’, or ‘reconciliation’. Just a temporary respite from one of the most intensive bombardments of Gaza we have seen in decades. And for Palestinians, the struggle is far from over.

It would be deeply naive to claim that the Hamas-Israel ceasefire, as fragile as it is, will somehow bring an end to the disastrous situation we currently find ourselves in. And doing so completely misunderstands what the past month of unrest in Palestine is fundamentally about.

Sparked by the forced expulsion of seven Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, and the brutalisation of worshipers in the Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, millions of Palestinians have taken to the streets in an inspiring wave of popular protest. In the midst of weeks of bloody demonstrations in which more than 700 Palestinians have been arrested, and the bombardment of Gaza which killed at least 232 civilians, on Tuesday, May 18, Palestinians held a historic general strike in the name of ‘dignity and hope’. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, they appealed to the international community to finally put an end to Israel’s oppressive regime of domination through meaningful solidarity: namely, boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

For two days, builders, doctors, pharmacists, teachers, and Palestinians from all walks of life abandoned work, gathering together for open-air concerts, poetry readings, and speeches. Groups of young men and women paid condolences to families in mourning, some of them total strangers. If only for a few days, all social divisions were suspended in an extraordinary moment of solidarity and care. This show of unity amongst Palestinians everywhere was a rare and special moment, and one which has breathed life back into the national movement.

A few days earlier, on May 15, I joined 150,000 people in London to march on the Israeli embassy in solidarity with Palestinian friends and family back home. We were also commemorating the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba, the year in which over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by Zionist militias, hundreds of villages razed and depopulated, and an entire society destroyed. Those Palestinians who refused to leave their homes in 1948 became citizens of the newly born State of Israel. Today, they number two million, but face over 65 discriminatory laws which relegate them to second-class citizens. 

In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians have been living under military occupation since 1967, where illegal Jewish-only settlements ghettoise them in ever-shrinking parcels of land. Living in exile, Palestinians made refugees in 1948 and their descendants are prevented from exercising their Right of Return by Israel, which allows any Jew to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen but denies Palestinians the same right. 

Historically and today, Israel’s policies in all territories it controls have one single aim: to erase any Palestinian presence on the land and to maintain Jewish political, economic, cultural, and demographic supremacy. When Israel cannot expel Palestinians outright, it aims to confine as many of them on as little land as possible, suffocating their daily existence, depriving them of their rights, all the while expanding its settlements and pillaging the country’s resources

It is this systematic oppression that Palestinians are currently protesting and will continue to do so. Just as the protests for Black lives were not only George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, our uprising is not only about the expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, or the bombing of Gaza, but about an entire system of oppression across all of our indigenous homeland, one which amounts to the crimes of apartheid and persecution, as confirmed by Human Rights Watch’s recent report. Palestinians back home are not going to stop fighting for these freedoms because Israel has ceased its carpet bombing of Gaza, and we will continue to fight until all Palestinians, everywhere, are free.

Conversely, there is something particularly disturbing and frenzied about Israel’s attempt to crush the current uprising. Led by the most right-wing government in its history, Israeli leaders frequently incite racial violence against Palestinians, openly advocate for mass deportation and ethnic cleansing, and call for the execution of protesters. And this is not only rhetorical: last week Jewish settler mobs dragged ‘suspected Arabs’ out of their cars and homes, beating them to near-death live on Israeli TV. Israel is getting more brutal, not less, and its conduct more disturbing each time the violence resumes. Just this morning, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu threatened “a new level of force” in Israel’s next round of attacks. 

Israel gets away with its atrocities by virtue of unconditional US support and military aid, and any effort to introduce sanctions or prosecute Israeli war criminals in the past has been brazenly vetoed in the UN Security Council. The British government, too, has aided and abetted Israeli war crimes with over £400 million in arms sales to Israel in the past five years alone. Many of the F-35 warplanes which have been pounding Gaza were produced in British factories, as were the Israeli drones showering protesters in the West Bank with tear gas. 

Beyond this, it is the vast economic, political, and military ties between our two countries that make Israel’s continued offensives on the Palestinians possible. When we purchase ‘Israeli dates’ farmed in the occupied Jordan valley, or Soda Streams produced in illegal Jewish-only settlements, or cheer on artists participating in Eurovision while only a few kilometres away in Gaza people are caged in the world’s largest open-air prison, we too are complicit in the violence that we are seeing now.

For our supporters in the UK, now more than ever before is the time for accountability. There is really only one way to deal with an apartheid state like Israel: answer the calls from Palestinians to cut or suspend our military, political, and economic ties with the state in order to bring about a change in the political order. Not only is this the only practical way forward, but it is also the only meaningful form of solidarity with our struggle. Without accountability, without economic cost, Israel will continue to oppress the Palestinians and to violate international law with impunity, as it has for more than 70 years.

And so at this critical moment, when Palestinians are rising up everywhere, the support of the international community is imperative. There is no quick solution to the horrors we are seeing, but it is clear that we must continue to protest, to educate friends, family, and the workplace about the realities of apartheid and oppression, and, most importantly, to refuse complicity in Israel’s brutal regime through boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

Follow Ziad Al-Qattan on Twitter.

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