Explaining Israel’s oppression: cruelty, evil, apartheid and colonisation

Feb 1, 2023
Khalida Jarrar with MK Ayman Odeh Head of the Joint List after the Israeli authorities released her.

On January 27, Israeli forces kill 10 Palestinians in Jenin, including two youths and an elderly woman. The following day a lone Palestinian gunman shoots dead seven Israelis as they leave a synagogue in a settlement in East Jerusalem.

In response to the murdered Israelis, the US ambassador to Israel refers to the synagogue attack as ‘a horrific act of violence’, but with no reference to the fates of Palestinians in Jenin.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald pictures Palestinians in Gaza celebrating the killings outside the East Jerusalem synagogue but the responsible journalist finds no space to record a member of the Jewish Power party in the Israeli parliament, Almog Cohen, congratulating soldiers on their massacre in Jenin, ‘Nice professional work by the fighters, keep killing them.’

Tit for tat rhetoric is matched by the tit for tat bloodbath as though the only choice for an occupying force is to dominate, steal and kill, and Palestinians’ option to retaliate with violence is the only means of defence.

In terms of promoting the human rights of Palestinians, which could contribute to security for Israelis, there are other ways of thinking and campaigning. There are life saving alternatives to current and impending bloodbaths.

On the same weekend as the killings in Palestine/Israel, a Palestine Solidarity Conference in Melbourne crafted ways to resist the Israeli government’s oppression of Palestinians and to resist the takeover of what is left of their lands. Resistance requires an international community to outlaw a decades long military occupation and to energetically support Palestinians’ rights to self determination.

Such change can revolve around careful use of words to depict events in Palestine, and could influence politicians’ attitudes in Australia and elsewhere. Change in previous dominating but false narratives about there being ‘no partner for peace’, plus repetition of Israel’s defence against encroaching Arab Muslim forces, should affect governments’ policies towards Israel. But that change requires analysis dependent on key words: cruelty; evil; apartheid; colonisation. Concern over assumptions about ‘negotiation’ and the means of ‘de-colonisation’ would also need to be re-interpreted.

Words convey what readers and listeners hear, what they perceive and how they might judge. Cruelty is nurtured by labelling people as less than human, a stigmatisation used to justify a sixteen years long siege of Gaza. People depicted as less than human can be killed because no-one will be held accountable. Not confined to Israel, such cruelty dehumanises people as unworthy, a priority in the domestic and foreign policies of many governments.

Evil catches every aspect of a seventy years long military occupation now reaching a climax in Netanyahu Ministers’ insistence that they are about to finish the Zionist 1948 project to expel all Palestinians from ‘the biblical lands of Israel.’ By Zoom from Palestine, a brave human rights activist Khalifa Jarrar told the Melbourne conference, ‘I can’t leave my home without danger of being shot. I’m hemmed in by five hundred checkpoints. Only by being here can you see how evil it is.’

Describing Israel as an apartheid state is a statement of conviction, not to be inhibited by caution. Israel’s 2018 Basic Law proclaimed the supremacy of Jews, ‘in the promised land of Israel’ including the whole of the West Bank. Despite the existence of an unashamed apartheid state being confirmed by successive UN inquiries, by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, politicians in democracies, including Australia’s, remain frightened to refer to apartheid Israel, lest they be called anti-Semitic. Depicting Israel as an apartheid state has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

In a settler colonial state such as Australia’s, the experience of being colonised should be easy to understand. Tap into Australian history and ask First Nations Peoples to explain. In the US, young Jewish American citizens are denying the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism which they now see as expressions of white colonialist supremacy. A few years ago, it was difficult to speak openly of the common record of violent colonisation in Australia and Israel. Now that record can be proclaimed constantly and linked to western governments’ 1960s concessions that the rights of previously colonised peoples to self determination should be respected, they should be free.

In perceptions of violence, as in Israel’s daily murder of Palestinians followed by an almost no alternative but violent response, appeals are repeated that warring parties should return to the negotiating table. ‘Negotiation’, however, has become an illusory word. Palestinians with no economic, military or economic power have nothing to negotiate, bar respect for their rights to self determination, yet these are non-negotiable. As an alternative to taken for granted respect for ‘negotiation’, Melbourne conference participants recommended, ‘be careful how you use this word.’

To decolonise Palestinian lands conveys an objective which addresses the violent consequences of Zionism preceding the 1917 Balfour Declaration, pursued thereafter through world wars, and the subsequent colonial settler invasion and possession of Palestinians’ lands and lives. In common with the compelling connotation of the words cruelty, evil, apartheid and colonisation, it should not be difficult to promote the merits of de-colonisation.

Torrents of words, such as those used to argue about ways to challenge universities’ adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, do little to convey understanding or oppose fearful, lazy support for that constraining statement. By contrast, Amer Zahr, a Palestinian American activist academic, advised Melbourne participants not to be sucked in by the alleged complexity of arguments about the divisive nature of Zionism. ‘Get to the point, keep it simple.’

That advice can be followed by repeated use of key words to depict Israeli violence and to highlight an international community’s responsibility to acknowledge and promote Palestine’s rights to self determination. To think, speak and write simply and with urgency about macabre events in Palestine, can start now.

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