“How can a community bear that kind of grief?”
Dinah Mulholland, the press and campaigns officer for the Labour Party in Ceredigion, and a member of UNITE the Union, recently visited Palestine, as a delegate for UNITE. The purpose of the trip was for Welsh activists to learn more about the Palestinian struggle for statehood and how to support it. On a Sunday evening, Dinah recounted her experiences of her humbling visit to Palestine.
To understand the current tensions, we must understand the complex history of the region. Israel was founded after the Second World War and the horrendous persecution of the Jews in Europe. The country includes the regions of Jewish culture and history from millennia ago; it includes holy sites such as the Western Wall. But, it’s not only Judaism which has its roots traced in this fertile land; many Muslims and Christians have lived there for millennia.
Yet, the land on which Israelis live today used to belong to the Palestinians. Palestinian land was taken in order to found the new state of Israel. And over time, Israeli Governments have expanded their borders to engulf Palestine, and drastically reduce the land available to Palestinians. This occupation of Palestinian land has severed civilians’ access to essentials such as food, water and trade. There are refugee camps, but many of these camps have existed since the beginning of this occupation, from 1948. Unlike temporary camps, these are solid buildings, which go to show the normalisation and continuation of this crisis.
Furthest to the left, we see the original United Nations plan for the border between Israel (white) and Palestine (dark grey).
The extent to which Israel has occupied Palestinian land is shocking and breaks many international laws. Palestine is a shadow of its former past, its people are separated into small pockets and Israeli occupation wears down protesters.
Palestinian land in the West Bank has been illegally settled by Israelis; hills above villages are taken, used as military outposts, and built on to the detriment of the Palestinian communities. Dinah stated that “Israel does not need more land. Israel is actively encouraging economic settlers. Israel wants to consolidate its occupation and to extend its territory by these means. It also wants the resources that certain areas of territory provide, such as fertile land and gas and oil fields.” Palestinian houses are not seen as valid by the Israeli authorities, they don’t have the correct paperwork. This means that entire towns, which predate the creation of Israel, can be bulldozed to make settlements. Across Palestine, temporary housing can be seen. Houses are built over a night, which harks back to the Tai Unnos that were seen in Wales during the 1800s, they don’t belong in today’s world.
Dinah described the politicisation of water that is rife in Palestine. During the dry period, water is turned off for a couple months a year and diverted to the Israeli settlements instead, where there is flaunting of water with pools, lush gardens and fountains. In order to survive the water shortages, Palestinians fill black, water tanks on their roofs. Yet, it seems that not even a basic human right like water is safe. According to Dinah, the Israeli military has ‘weaponized’ water, spraying chemicalized ‘skunk’ water into the water tanks of Palestinian protesters, making it unsafe to use.
You would imagine that faced with these conditions, Palestinians would be fueled by hate. But, Dinah painted a different story, she explained that there was a “resigned tolerance” of the occupation. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t resilient, but “the problem is that the occupation is so entrenched, it’s difficult to have a sense of objective resistance to it”. Those that do resist are punished in the most appalling ways. So, the Palestinians “must be careful as to how they resist, not impulsive, but calculated non-violent resistance is key”. Yet, this is difficult, as “the Israelis are so successful because they are inside the psyche of the Palestinians”. I said that this sounded like George Orwell’s 1984, Dinah nodded before continuing, “but there is hope of change [in Palestine]”.
The people of Palestine have hope, but what is it that they believe will fix their situation? They call it BDS, “the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law”. This Palestinian-generated movement is gaining international support and can now be developed in Wales by activists like Dinah. In their eyes, non-violent protest and Non-Cooperation, backed by sanctions and boycotting is the best way forwards for Palestinians. Palestinians said “BDS, BDS, BDS” to every activist who asked what they could do.
Strangers on the street asked the activists to spread the message of BDS at home. But, there must also be pressure from within Israel. Despite attempts to suppress it by the government who’ve passed laws banning boycotting of Israeli goods, ICAHD (Israeli Committee against House Demolitions) activists are volunteering to end the destruction of Palestinian homes and showing to the world the sort of change that is needed, co-operation and understanding.
Finally, Dinah Mulholland said that she was shocked by “how much ordinary people in that situation are able to tolerate and still keep their humanity, sensitivity and respect”.
Visit http://www.bdsmovement.net for more BDS information.
Ambulance picture is by Boris Niehaus (www.1just.de) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.