OPINION: Think globally, act locally to bring Palestinians justice
- Credit: Patrick Ward
It looks like a ceasefire has finally taken hold in Gaza, but we've been here before.
I was reporting from Gaza in 2009. It was not long after Israel had invaded during Operation Cast Lead, which left thousands dead and tens of thousands injured and homeless.
We were filming the surviving members of the Samouni family in an area south of Gaza City called Zeitoun. It was a wasteland. Only weeks before there had been houses, farmland, schools and clinics – now it was flattened. Tank tracks were still imprinted onto the roads. The survivors slept in shifts under makeshift tents.
A school teacher, Mohammed, told us that the Israeli solders had ordered around 100 locals to assemble in a house. After some time, three of them left to find food. They were shot dead. Soon afterwards, soldiers used artillery on the house, killing 20 of those inside. Fifteen of them were children. Some 48 members of the Samouni family were killed that day.
“We are simple people, we are farmers,” Mohammed told us, still unable to comprehend what had happened.
A small boy, perhaps seven years old, came to speak to us. He kept pointing to parts of his body as he spoke in Arabic. He was showing us where his father had been shot dead in front of him. I hid behind a video camera, but images of that innocent little boy burned into my dreams for weeks.
We interviewed a woman in her half-destroyed house.
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She was clutching a toddler with burns on his head. She told us that a rocket had blown a hole in the roof, and through that was dropped white phosphorus – a chemical weapon that burns when exposed to air. That cruel weapon killed her husband and three of her children. The army then threw a grenade through the door and took over the house to use as a base. In her bedroom we saw graffiti they had left: “We aren’t sorry. Nice underwear.”
Everywhere, young girls and boys stood watching us, bolt upright, fists clenched and arms stiffly to their sides. They had been through hell and were wary of outsiders. Some showed us bullet cartridges and fragments of shrapnel. Today, some 40pc of Gazans are children, and 65 of the 232 deaths there at time of writing have been under 18. What might this make the surviving children want to be when they grow up?
These people were subjected to the most inhumane treatment imaginable. And, as is the case today, they were mostly banned from leaving Gaza.
Its borders are blocked in both Egypt and Israel. Food, medical supplies and drinking water are prevented from entering.
My friend and I waited for several days at the Egyptian border attempting to get in. But journalists were generally not allowed through. I think it was only our persistence that granted us entry. As we saw in the recent bombing of the Al-Jazeera and Associated Press offices, Israel are wary of the world seeing the result of their onslaughts.
And this is to say nothing of the everyday apartheid Palestinians face across the occupied territories: the checkpoints, the raids, the detentions, the settlements.
The past few weeks brought back these memories. They also brought back the anger at how the situation is often reported. We heard of “rockets being exchanged between Hamas and Israel” (we are talking advanced US-made military hardware hitting homes, schools and hospitals against homemade rockets largely shot down by Israeli defence systems), and of Israel “defending itself”.
If we want lasting change and real justice, we need to think globally and act locally.
The several hundred people who stood in the rain outside the Forum in Norwich on Saturday, May 15, in solidarity with Gaza gave me hope. I sent photos of the protest to my friends in Palestine and it gave them hope too – as did the 100,000 marching through London.
They knew they were not alone – all around the world people were taking a stand. And that includes in Jerusalem, where thousands of Jews and Palestinians marched together for peace – in a reminder of the value of unity and the stupidity of antisemitism.
Our government said little other than “scale it back a bit, but keep buying our weapons”. Under pressure, President Joe Biden, that great liberal hope after Donald Trump, pushed for the ceasefire after 10 days of talking about Israel’s right to defend itself from the people it has colonised. Why didn't Palestinians have that right?
But the power of international solidarity made a real difference, and is key to Palestine's future. Apartheid in South Africa was defeated, in part, through international protests and boycotts. Apartheid in Palestine can be defeated in the same way.