Middle East Eye / May 17, 2021
People around the world are seeing Israel for what it really is: a settler-colonial, apartheid state. Now is our chance to end this system.
Walking in the streets of Jerusalem this Ramadan, and seeing Palestinian protests and Israeli brutality and repression, has tormented me as much as it has inspired me.
I have seen hundreds of armed, combat-ready Israeli soldiers imposing metal barriers at the entrance to the Damascus Gate plaza, to prevent Palestinians from gathering after long days of fasting; Israeli police cars with flashing sirens; armoured vehicles equipped with skunk water cannons; and the Israeli surveillance apparatus everywhere. On top of this, marauding settler gangs, protected by Israeli police, have taken to the streets chanting “death to Arabs”.
Jerusalem, the city where I was born and where I live, has become a military base, run by racist Jewish supremacists. Israeli forces routinely torture and intimidate Palestinians, attempting to deprive us of the will to continue to stand up against Israeli oppression.
I have witnessed Israeli occupation forces dragging Palestinian youths at Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem. They beat them without mercy. These scenes repeated themselves at the entrance to the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where hundreds of Palestinians are threatened with ethnic cleansing.
We, the rest of the Palestinians in the streets, have been sprayed with large quantities of skunk water just for existing. Israel wanted to use Ramadan to take another crucial step towards the expulsion of our people and the takeover of our land.
Ongoing ethnic cleansing
This weekend marked 73 years since the Nakba, when the process of ethnic cleansing started with the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. But our Nakba never truly ended, as Israel’s ethnic cleansing is ongoing.
The violent takeover by settlers of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and the current wave of attacks against Palestinian shops and homes by racist mobs and police, are evidence that Israel has maintained the same policy it began when Zionist gangs massacred and expelled Palestinians 73 years ago.
At the core of Zionist settler-colonialism are Israel’s attempts to Judaize Jerusalem by displacing its Palestinian residents and replacing them with Jewish settlers, and to efface Palestinian cultural and religious heritage by attacking Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of our holiest sites.
During Ramadan, when Palestinians feel more than ever their connection with Jerusalem and its holy sites, Israel aimed to break this linkage, delivering a fatal blow to Palestinians’ right to their city.
But Jerusalem, and particularly Sheikh Jarrah, is only the most visible representation – a flashpoint of the Zionist settler-colonial project. Displacement echoes throughout Palestine, from Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley to the Naqab. Israel’s intent is clear: to annihilate our aspirations to freedom, justice and equality, and to show our annihilation to the world.
Israel’s establishment wanted to fulfil the promises of the Trump administration, starting from the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They were emboldened by a series of normalization agreements with the Arab world, and they knew the Palestinian Authority was not prepared to defend its people. They thought us leaderless, disillusioned and defeated.
They miscalculated badly.
Over the last few weeks, our people have taught Israel – and indeed the world – an important lesson. One simply cannot subdue the human drive for freedom, justice and equality.
This is written on the faces of the young protesters who are being arrested. They reveal no fear or intimidation. Rather, in their faces, I see only genuine, righteous rage and the determination to protest.
It took Palestinians in Jerusalem two weeks of constant protests, enduring excessive Israeli violence and dozens of arrests, until they were able to remove the metal barriers set up by Israeli occupation authorities at Damascus Gate. At the same time, Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, bolstered by support from across the country, came together in a display of unprecedented unity and defiance to protect their homes and identities.
The upsurge in Israeli violence against Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, where hundreds of Palestinians were injured, was an act born of exasperation – one of many failed efforts to clear the way for Israeli settlers to invade.
Today, Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, regardless of the legal framework subjugating them, are united. Their protests are no longer only about Sheikh Jarrah or Jerusalem; rather, they challenge the entire apartheid system. This is an uprising against our ongoing Nakba and the denial of our right to self-determination. It is a struggle for dignity.
Holding Israel accountable
Governments around the globe are still mired in rhetoric and policies that shield Israel from accountability. Repeated calls for “de-escalation” only reinforce the myth that there are two equal sides in this conflict. This complicit cover-up of apartheid and settler-colonialism, this conflation of oppressor and oppressed, is what empowers Israel to escalate.
What matters now is that we recognize Israel for what it is – a settler-colonial, apartheid regime – and hold it accountable for its crimes.
The good news is that people around the world are seeing through the propaganda. Images of Israel’s brutal bombings in Gaza, the chaos at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the looting mobs and police brutality speak all too clearly.
People can hear us yearning for freedom, justice and equality, as we remind the world that we haven’t been able to breathe since 1948. Israel can no longer hide the chilling reality of the racism at the heart of its apartheid regime.
People are coming out into the streets and speaking out on social media. Even mainstream media are allowing Palestinian voices to be heard, sometimes. It is in our hands – in our collective courage and efforts for solidarity – to speak truth to power, and to end Israeli apartheid and the occupation of Palestine.
Jamal Juma was born in Jerusalem and attended Birzeit University, where he became politically active