Our fear of criticizing Israel makes us complicit in a devastating year of Palestinian suffering

(Jamal Awad - Flash90)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

/  December 20, 2022

I am on edge as I write this. Like other journalists, I know the invective that will come my way. There will be attempts to smear me and some invitations will be cancelled. It happens every time I write on Israel’s systemic oppression of Palestinian people.

Maybe this is why much of the media is wary of covering what has been the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2015. UK, US and EU politicians focus entirely on anti-Semitism – real and intensely painful for countless victims. But they wilfully overlook the violent words and acts of the Israeli government and army of illegal settlers. There is worse to come as Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power with a radical right-wing coalition. Recently, in this paper, Donald Macintyre warned readers about Israel’s racist totalitarians.

They have now moved to curtail the independence of the judiciary. The Jerusalem Post warns that they will “pass bills that they want even if they trample on peoples’ rights”. The far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir is to become national security minister. This appalling man who has backed a group that the US designates as “terrorist” and was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Arabs.

On Sunday, Israel deported the French-Palestinian human rights lawyer, Salah Hamouri. They had held him, without charge, since March. He lived in East Jerusalem. France has condemned the deportation. Israel doesn’t give a damn about the opinion of other nations, not even staunch, loyal allies.

A beautiful new Netflix film, Farha, tells the story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl living through the Nakba in 1948, when Palestinians were violently expelled by Zionists with the backing of Britain and its wartime allies. Hardline Zionists want the film banned. Nakba denial has hitherto successfully suppressed that history. Arab friends tell me photographs and written testimonies are being destroyed by Israel, because Israeli right-wingers want to uphold the myth that the land it is occupying has always belonged to Jewish people. Fair-minded Israelis try to defend Palestinian rights and memories, but power is gravitating to extreme nationalism and revisionism.

Expect even more Israeli intolerance and censorship and nauseating appeasement by the Tories and Labour and client journalists. They need to understand that globally, Palestinians have more support than ever before. You saw some of that during the World Cup, as the Palestinian flag was boldly unfurled by various football supporters and even English fans shouted “Free Palestine”.

Oh, I can hear teeth grinding. Zionists will be indignant and asking why I don’t condemn Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan? I have done so many times and will so again. Whataboutery is a tactic used by many interested parties and governments to shut out uncomfortable truths. Best not to get diverted by it.

Here are some salient facts. In 2022, 27 Israelis were killed by Palestinian militants and more than 118 Palestinians lost their lives. Around 30 of them were children. Furthermore, according to the Global Centre for Responsibility to Report, “violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians reached the highest level ever recorded, with over 490 attacks that included physical violence, shooting with live ammunition, torching of fields and livestock, theft and vandalization of property […] Israeli security forces have also perpetrated widespread abuses and deadly attacks against Palestinians.” There is evidence of torture, arbitrary detention, collective punishment and daily violations of human rights.

The Israeli government believes it can do whatever it chooses because worthy individuals and international bodies do not hold it to account. Such indulgence has been catastrophic for Palestinians and also profoundly damaging to Israel.

In early December, my husband and I went to an informal supper at a Palestinian friend’s home. Guests included Israelis and British Jews. We mourned Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al-Jazeera journalist killed this May by Israeli soldiers. Everyone rightly remembers and honours Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times foreign correspondent murdered by Bashar Al-Assad’s men in Syria. But Abu Akleh, a brilliant journalist too, dies without the same respect and honour.

Her family and Al-Jazeera have just jointly submitted an investigative report to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. It is a bold move, but I fear Israel is above international law and, in Britain, more influential than it has ever been. Several Jewish Labour Party members have reportedly been expelled from the party because they are pro-Palestinian. Even more unacceptably, the flawed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which the Government has instructed universities to adopt, has already been used to inhibit legitimate criticism of Israel.

Pro-Israeli establishment figures are too dense to realise attempts to control public sympathies are backfiring. More and more people today within and outside Israel oppose that state’s oppressive, apartheid policies and its betrayal of Jewish history. As the late Dr Israel Shahak, a holocaust survivor, said: “The Nazis made me afraid to be a Jew and the Israelis made me ashamed to be a Jew.”

I ask Tory and Labour MPs who say they are proud of being “Friends of Israel”, is it this Israel you are celebrating? If so, what do you do with your conscience?

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes a weekly column for i