At 6:55pm on 23 March, Palestinian Resistance fighters launched an unguided missile from the Gaza Strip that crashed into an open area near Be’er Sheva. There were no reports of any casualties or damage. Israel then waited until the small hours of the following morning to respond, hitting Gaza with ten missiles launched in five separate air strikes between 2:20am and 2:55am. An explosion over Gaza was reported as Israeli fighter jets and attack helicopters carried out the raids. For children, especially, night-time air raids are traumatic and, although each jet fighter does at least move away quickly after air strikes, the noise made by circling attack helicopters adds an ominous extra sense of terror.
This Palestinian missile-firing was not the first this year. There was also one on 19 January. That was the day when Israel committed 13 Gaza ceasefire violations, with the Israeli Navy opening fire on and pursuing Palestinian fishing boats, while shelling by the Israeli Army damaged houses and wounded a resident. Up to and including 24 March, apart from the two Palestinian missile-firings already mentioned, the only other Palestinian violation was on 17 January. On that day, Israeli forces encountered armed resistance when they began laying waste to Palestinian land, after making an incursion into an area east of al-Farahin. Israel committed a total of 113 violent ceasefire violations over the same period, an average of well over four each day.
Never calling Israel to account
James Cleverly, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, describes himself as “a proud friend of Israel, and one which has stood up for Israel when it faces bias and unreasonable criticism”. The problem, for Cleverly, is that he is unable to deny Israel’s egregious human rights violations when questioned in Parliament. When asked about abducted Palestinian children routinely detained by Israel for interrogation, being held in solitary confinement for an average of more than 14 days, Cleverly could not deny it, lamely commenting: “We remain committed to working with Israel to secure improvements to the practices surrounding children in detention and regularly raise this with the Israeli Ministry of Justice.”
When questioned about what steps he thought could be taken to prevent the destruction by Israel of Palestinian schools and other infrastructure in the West Bank, Cleverly answered, “the UK opposes Israel’s proposed demolition of a Palestinian school in al-Maleh and calls on Israel to reconsider its plans to do so.” Following this weak response, the question was again raised, this time he answered by saying he had raised concerns with the Israeli Ambassador to the UK “about demolitions of Palestinian infrastructure, including the potential demolition of schools.” Our Five-Eyes partner’s Foreign Affairs Minister appears to reflect a determination by the Western Alliance never to call Israel to account.
Appeal to humanity
Israel’s control over Gaza is callous. On 22 March, 14 Westminster MPs tabled a Parliamentary motion, calling upon the House to condemn the “inhumane practice” of routine withholding of passes for parents to accompany their children who need medical treatment outside the Strip. Physicians for Human Rights testified that it had, since January 2018, assisted over 130 children, including breastfed babies, who needed to leave Gaza for medical treatment but whose parents were refused permission to go with them. Profound concern was expressed at “the serious psychological and physical implications for the children and the violation of their right to health.” The organisation shares its concern with Physicians for Human Rights Israel, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Academy of Pediatrics and the International Society of Social Pediatrics and Child Health. As far back as 2012, the UK Government backed a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) report that condemned constant breaches by Israel of its commitment to the Convention.
In spite of news media silence and powerful support from vested interests, ever more people are beginning to see through Zionist propaganda. In the US, Israel’s most ardent ally, a recent Gallup poll shows a small majority of Democrats now favour putting more pressure on Israel than upon Palestinians. Politicians are speaking out: Last December, two US lawmakers denounced the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy, Ali Abu Aalya, by Israeli forces. More US lawmakers urged Israel, as an Occupying power, to vaccinate Palestinians, while 17 House Members called for ‘continued pressure’ on Israel to meet its obligations under international law. These developments should serve to encourage our own lawmakers, those who care about justice and human rights, to raise these issues and break the silence. In the US it has been acknowledged that changing public opinion takes time to gain an appropriate influence on policymakers. The same could be said for New Zealand but, as in the US, it is certain that there is a demographic shift. The move to pressure Israel is coming more from younger and more progressive lawmakers and voters. One important principle that is gaining support is that of equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians.
Zionism – from Israel’s perspective
The decades of daily suffering inflicted upon the people of Palestine never stops. It is happening right now – relentlessly. Plainly, the Zionist state is totally unperturbed by its Western allies‘ occasional, diplomatically-framed appeals. Why does Israel behave in this way? The answer can be found in the purpose of its founding ideology, Zionism. A no doubt well-meaning article, The growing issue of anti-semitism in New Zealand, by the New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon and Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, notes that “critics of Israel often condemn ‘Zionists’, but Zionism has different meanings.” Fair enough – so what is Zionism to the Israeli regime?
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published an on-line article of explanation entitled Zionism, written by Professor Benyamin Neuberger. Bearing in mind that Israel commits its war crimes while, at the same time, claiming to represent all Jews, worldwide, the article begins by defining Zionism thus: “Zionism is an ideology which expresses the yearning of Jews the world over for their historical homeland – Zion, the Land of Israel.” The author also tells us that the essence of political Zionism can be found “in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (14 May 1948).” On behalf of the multiplicity of ethnicities with cultural links to Judaism, the Declaration asserts: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people”, going on to claim that “After being forcible(sic) exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.” This statement leaves no room for the feelings of Jews who do not identify with the concept and who actually oppose what the Zionist regime is committing in their name. Particularly offensive to them, is the view expressed that “Central to Zionist thought is the concept of the Land of Israel as the historical birthplace of the Jewish people and the belief that Jewish life elsewhere is a life of exile.”
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs article goes so far as to accept hatred towards Jews as inevitable, insisting that the only place where Jews can be safe is Israel and that they will never be safe in their homelands. Referring to what he calls the “Jewish problem”, the author asserts the Zionist view that “a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, with a Jewish majority, is the only solution.” Neuberger dismisses the Palestinian people, writing that, in the late 19th Century, “the Arab population of Palestine was sparse and apolitical.” The author admits that what he calls “a clash between two peoples” is, on the one hand, the Zionist perception of the land of Palestine as Jewish “by virtue of their historical and spiritual connection” and, on the other, opposition to that from “Arabs because of their centuries-long presence in the country.” This sad dismissal of an indigenous population’s homeland identity merely as “a presence” reveals Zionism’s inherent racism. Such contempt is not solely confined to native Palestinians, as other victims of Zionist terror in both Lebanon and partly Israeli-Occupied Syria will attest. Finally, casting aside Jews opposed to Israel’s criminal violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs article falsely asserts: “Jews everywhere accept Zionism as a fundamental tenet of Judaism, support the State of Israel as the basic realisation of Zionism and are enriched culturally, socially and spiritually by the fact of Israel”.
Paul Hunt and Meng Foon say: “We will do all we can to ensure anti-semitism is given proper attention in the government’s National Action Plan against Racism.” Just as the authors say, “the word ‘Zionist’ needs to be clarified and understood”, so too does the term ‘anti-Semitism‘. They appeal to everyone who discusses Israel and Palestine to avoid hateful language, emphasising that we should not be “anti-semitic, anti-Arab, racist, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic”. It would have been more straightforward to have simply written ‘anti-Jewish, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic’.
On 26 March, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism was published by JDA. In New Zealand, Sh’ma Koleinu (hear our voice) Alternative Jewish Voices (NZ) welcomed the declaration with the important observation: “We are losing the language to distinguish between debate and racism.” There can be no doubt that use of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ has contributed mightily to the confusion and uncertainty surrounding Zionism‘s purpose and practice. Zionism wins when goodhearted humanists continue to accept the term ‘anti-Semitism’ as meaning solely hatred and prejudice towards Jews. As the ideology’s chief victims are the Palestinian people, Zionism must itself be ‘anti-Semitic’. Clearly, exclusion of the Palestinian people is the very essence of political Zionism.
Right of Return – justice, peace and reconciliation
Meng Foon and Paul Hunt quite rightly say in their appeal, “don’t assign responsibility for Israeli policies to all Israelis (let alone Jews).” In Israel, among a number of anti-Zionist movements, Zochrot (“remembering” in Hebrew) has, since 2002 been working to promote acknowledgement and accountability for the ongoing injustices committed by Israel in the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, the Nakba. Zochrot supports the Palestinian right of Return “as an extended and multidimensional process, which includes not only the physical return of refugees to this country, but also their appropriate and dignified integration in an equal, joint Palestinian-Jewish society.” Zochrot says, “Return does not mean expelling Jews from their homes, but the very opposite: The mutual existence of Palestinians and Jews in the country.” On Land Day, 30 March, Zochrot led an action and tour to expose destroyed Palestinian villages, with a number of Jewish National Fund (JNF) sites visited to re-discover their names, hidden within and beneath JNF forests and parks.
Action in New Zealand
A petition organised by the human rights organisation, Wellington Palestine/Pōneke Parihitini was presented to Parliament on 25 March, calling upon the New Zealand Government to use all available means to pressure the Israeli Government to end the detention and abuse of Palestinian children. It also called on our Government to publicly make clear its intention to join international pressure in the demand for Israel to act in accordance with international juvenile justice standards and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Wellington Palestine also reminded the Government to acknowledge that Israel is the only country in the world to automatically prosecute children in military courts. It is reasonable to expect Meng Foon, Paul Hunt and the New Zealand Race Relations Commission to support the petition, ensuring that it be given proper attention in the Government’s National Action Plan against Racism.
Zionism is the biggest obstacle to peace and respect for international law – and not only in Palestine. It is time to recognise its racially-biased purpose and direction. Militaristic, racist regimes rise and fall but Zionism has now ruled for more than 70 years, thanks to the support it has been afforded by an abundance of powerful allies. That has to change – Israel must be made to answer for its atrocities – without that, the suffering will continue. It is time for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission to recognise that the Palestinian Right of Return is anathema to Political Zionism which, undeniably, defies humanitarian rules-based international relations. It has to be realised that, requiring the defenceless Palestinian people to seek a ‘negotiated’ settlement with the foreign power that militarily dictates every aspect of their lives, is to hand the Zionist regime, undeservedly, all it desires.