London protest for Gaza, part 2

Tank Green/ January 5, 2009/ Palestine and Israel

I’m trying to think of the best way to start this. I can’t just write about the demo yesterday, because it’s not just about the demo yesterday. Every time I think or do anything about Palestine / Israel, it is always connected to my visit.

In Culture in the Plural, Michel de Certeau notes that unless a group can convince wider society of the importance of its stance, it is doomed to merely be a ‘cultural’ issue forever. A folkloric and marginal matter that does not affect (or has no importance for) wider society, and is therefore politicly impotent. The group will remain at best a curiosity, always marginalised, with its voices mainly unheard. Of course, de Certeau was talking about the Bretons and the Basques, but his point is relevant for all those outside of mainstream hegemony who are trying for some kind of political impact.

As I previously said, I didn’t pay too much attention to the Palestine / Israeli conflict before I went there. The conflict had no part of the motivations which made me decide to go with my classmates; I just wanted to see things that were in the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an. I just wanted to see really old things that were important to some people. So, it was a purely educational trip made by a study of religions student. I didn’t really want to get too involved in the conflict, because it was all so confusing: so many people saying so many things from so many sides. (Well, two sides anyway.) There was always a counter-argument to any argument, and history seemed to go on forever. All the words were so heavily biased and laden with emotion, that I didn’t know what to think or believe. So I chose to not really think too much about it at all, which is an enormous privilege dangerously enjoyed by billions in the west.

Outside of the Bethlehem wall with a distant poster saying: 'Peace be with you' by the Israeli tourism ministry. Do you even think about the words ‘Occupied Territories’? What does the phrase mean to you, if anything? You read and say these words all the time, but it doesn’t conjure up any reality, does it? It’s just a strange, empty phrase people use instead of Palestine.

In my life, what do I occupy? I occupy my house, for starters. I occupy my bed at night, and I spend my days trying to occupy my time with as much beauty as I can. I want to be occupied in the evenings with reading and writing, and talking great images into reality with my friends. I’m occupied with good things, with things I like; and so importantly, I want to be occupied – it is a goal.

If there is one thing that you must understand, Palestine does not want to be occupied. For a Palestinian, to be occupied is not a goal, it is not a good thing: it is prison and it is death. It is, in fact, not the filling-up of a life with beauty, it is the emptying of it. It is the ending of freedom and the beginning of imprisonment. It is terror, it is starvation, it is the lack of opportunity, it is the enormous gap between the reality of the situation as it is, and any attempt at description, even by the most sympathetic of persons. To be occupied, for a Palestinian, is to have been born guilty and to live the sin of your existence behind bars.

Outside of the Bethlehem wall with a poster saying: 'Peace be with you' by the Israeli tourism ministry. Look at those first two pictures. Look at them. I am gritting my teeth and I am so angry because both sides of that wall are Palestine, but the wall complete with army snipers, belongs to Israel. Look at a map and find Bethlehem. If you use Google maps, you will discover that ‘Bethlehem’ calls up the Pennsylvania town and that ‘Bethlehem Palestine’ does not exist; the way to get to the place we want is to call up ‘Bethlehem Israel’. I am disgusted again, my blood burns. On the map you will see that Bethlehem is within the 1949 borders; the borders do not run through it, but rather lie in a distance which no longer exists.

I was so shocked when I saw the walls for the first time. I was shocked to really and truthfully see what it meant to be occupied for a Palestinian, although what I saw in Hebron was truthfully much worse. But there it was, the Bethlehem wall and much like Tzipi Livni’s recent strange, barefaced lie that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, here was another strange, barefaced lie: ‘Peace be with you’ from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. I mean, really? Did they think we wouldn’t notice the wall with its matching accessories of guns and army if they pretended it wasn’t there? That if they pretended it didn’t exist, we would be kind enough to not bring it up? I sense a British influence here.

Inside of the Bethlehem wall with graffiti saying 'give them justice and they will reward you with peace.'You can condemn the Palestinians all you like: you can condemn Hamas, you can condemn Arafat, you can condemn all of the so-called ‘suicide bombers’, you can condemn each and every one of the Palestinian people (and you do, by the way, we all condemn them to death each and every day that we do nothing), but at the end of the day, Israel has always made the first move. Israel has always committed the first crime because it will not end the occupation. The sheer fact of occupation means that Israel is always and forever the initial aggressor, and will be until it withdraws its armies and peoples and walls from Palestine.

Photo of a 'Free Palestine' placards during a pro-Gaza protest in London. They won’t of course. I sincerely believe that Israel has no intention of a peaceful two-state coexistence. They are too far in now, there are too many Israeli ‘settlements’ (another word sticky with dishonesty) within Palestine which are populated by the type who would rather kill and be killed than leave. Too much of what should be Palestine has been taken and turned into Israel. As I said before, there is no such thing as Palestine but rather Israel and two ghettos; two concentration camps filled with with even smaller ghettos; two hell-holes inhabited by a people denied their basic human rights by a foreign army. I ask again for you to read Tony Judt’s stunning essay, which is, as far as I can see, the only real answer to this Palestine/Israel conflict. And I would like an answer, I would like for the bloodshed to end.

So when I saw what it meant to be occupied for a Palestinian, I understood that you can never condemn a people for rising up against a foreign army which imprisons them. If you don’t agree with that statement, you do not understand. You have not understood. You are stubbornly refusing to imagine that your country has been invaded by a foreign force and you are daily stripped of your land, your possessions, your home. You are refusing to imagine that you will never see some of your friends and family again, even though they live close by; you are refusing to imagine what it would feel like if you were outside of your country when the invasion happened and you were never allowed to return. If you do not agree with that statement it is because you are confusing the end of occupation with the end of Israel. And with your confusion what you actually do is call for the end of Palestine. We are all complicit in this.

Photo of a 'Jews against the war' placards during a pro-Gaza protest in London.To go back to de Certeau: in order for the Palestinians to receive any form of justice, the world must be convinced that it concerns them. I don’t know how to do that because nothing you read or watch can even remotely prepare you for the reality of the situation. Nothing I can ever say to you will ever convey the sheer desperation of a Palestinian life and the tense terror that is an Israeli’s life. The desperation of Palestine is beyond every horrific adjective I can muster up in my puny brain. And so I don’t know what to do to make the world understand that it does concern us, all of us, but I know that the only solution is for all of us to care.

Yesterday the police told the organisers that there were 55,000 people on that march. 55,000 people. Over the megaphone the organisers said, ‘with all due respect to the police, that means there are closer to 100,000 people.’ The police always want you to feel that you are alone.

Whenever you see pictures in the ‘papers’ of the protests, they tend to be of angry Muslims, as if angry Muslims are all who were protesting. However, alongside the angry Muslims were lots of calm Muslims, lots of ‘secular’ folks, and lots and lots of Jews. The Haredi were also out with us, which made me really happy because it was Shabbat and so they likely will have walked into town. Most of them live near me, so I suspect they walked six miles just to get there and to tell the world that they too care about the Palestinians. I am so happy for that.

Abstract image of a giant Palestine flag being carried during a pro-Gaza protest in London.As well as wanting to make you feel isolated and alone, the police also want to provoke you. They want to make you prove them right which is why I really shouldn’t have been shocked with their actions outside the embassy. I left shortly after 5pm because I knew that things had a large chance of going wrong: the police were dressed in riot gear and clearly itching for a fight.

The police make you hate them, you know. They accuse you of all kinds of things without ever opening their mouths. My job means that I am registered in police stations all over London, and overwhelmingly I have had pleasant experiences in this capacity. However, moments yesterday and last Sunday made me hate them, hate the way they make all kinds of pre-emptive assumptions and create an atmosphere and situation which ensures we will always prove them right.

They filmed us, you know. There were three of them on top of a roof by the Israeli embassy and they were filming us. What kind of country is this, when to exercise your right to free speech and peaceful protest, you must also submit to surveillance and have your face indelibly recorded as somehow hostile or problematic? John Stuart Mill is surely turning in his grave at this farce of a democracy which daily seems to be shrinking into a police state. It disgusts me that to voice dissent means to submit to a criminalisation of, at least, my image. ‘Shame on you’ we shouted, so loud, and to more than just Israel this time.

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