A view on the Palestinian protests: In the midst of tragedy there is hope

Celine Jabr, MAP’s Advocacy and Communications Officer in the West Bank, gives a personal view of the ongoing protests in Palestine and Israel, and how Palestinians are imagining a future free from fragmentation and repression.

As I write this, Israel is continuing its efforts to forcibly displace Palestinians from their homes across East Jerusalem. Much of the world’s attention has focused on attempts to illegally expel families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Hundreds of Palestinian residents of Batn Al-Hawa neighbourhood in Silwan also face the threat of dispossession in similar circumstances.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel continues to displace Palestinians from their homes, appropriate their property, and assault protesters who are challenging these policies. This dispossession preceded Israel’s bombardment of Gaza which killed at least 252 Palestinians, including 66 children, and has continued since the ceasefire.

"We are aching not just from the recent destruction in Gaza and expulsions in East Jerusalem, but from decades of Israel’s systematic fragmentation of the Palestinian people." 

Freedom of assembly and expression are fundamental rights, and protest is an essential tool to challenge abuses and uphold Palestinians’ dignity. For weeks, Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel have protested Israel’s bombardment of Gaza; assaults on Palestinians in Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque; and attacks on Palestinians inside Israel. On 19 May, these connected protests came together, with Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Israel mobilising themselves together through a general strike.

The events which spurred these protests can all be seen as part of an ongoing Nakba (meaning ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic), which refers to the forced dispossession of two thirds of the Palestinian population in 1948, a straight line of injustice which Palestinians have been enduring for the past 73 years. We are aching not just from the recent destruction in Gaza and expulsions in East Jerusalem, but from decades of Israel’s systematic fragmentation of the Palestinian people. But the unity of Palestinians wherever they live – from Haifa to Akko; from Nazareth to Jerusalem; from Ramallah to Bethlehem; from Hebron to Jenin – is filling us with strength.

Israel has consistently met Palestinian mass protest with excessive force. Terrifying footage has showed Israeli security forces not only brutally attacking protesters in occupied East Jerusalem, but also storming into homes, and intimidating, beating, and arresting Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinians across the West Bank have been injured since the beginning of May, and dozens of attacks on health workers have been reported. More than 1,550 people have been arrested, including dozens of children. Inside Israel, police forces have not only failed to protect Palestinian citizens from attacks by “extreme right-wing and vigilante groups”, but have reportedly also provided them backing.

As a Palestinian who was born and raised in East Jerusalem, I grew up with entrenched feelings of fear throughout my childhood, adolescence, and during times of political tension. Throughout my childhood, I feared armed soldiers checking my school bus on our way to school. In my adolescence, I feared losing my home, I feared speaking Arabic or playing Arabic music in public spaces, I feared getting attacked for simply looking like a Palestinian. These feelings of insecurity have never disappeared, they only grow with us as we grow older. Palestinians fear losing the rest of their lands, their space, their identity, their chances of a better future for them and for the coming generations.

Palestinians feel unsafe and unprotected as Israel inflicts violence on us in all shapes and forms through ongoing dispossession and displacement, including the illegal expansion of settlements; the denial of return for our refugees inside and outside of Palestine; the continued erasure of our identity and heritage; and through continued attacks on civilians.

But despite the tragedy and pain, Palestinians are able to imagine a future of unity. We continue to strive to live in freedom and dignity, and to reaffirm our unity as a single people in the face of fragmentation.

If you are in the UK, you can urge your MP to take action to protect Palestinians by ending impunity through our campaign here.

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Photo: Israeli police inside the Old City of Jerusalem. From a series of photos commissioned by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). (Credit: Richard Gray).

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