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CurrentMiddle East

A Shift in Protests Against Israel Recognises the Impact of Colonial Violence

Colonisation is a process, and the only way to defeat it is by building momentum through a process that strikes at normalisation. 

Israel’s colonial violence over the evictions at Sheikh Jarrah drew international attention, as did the aerial bombing of Gaza which destroyed residential areas in the enclave and rendered more Palestinians internally displaced. This time, however, there was a promising shift in global activism that needs to be nurtured and expanded.

In the past, activism was tied to specific Israeli human rights violations – the issue of Palestinian prisoners, the pending colonisation of Khan Al-Ahmar, the US unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and, more visibly, the periodical bombing of Gaza during which Israel uses the area as a weapons testing ground. The problem with such bouts of activism was the focus on the immediate violation and the absence of Israel’s colonial context. 

Taking the same route as the UN with regard to Israel’s violations is not an effective way to sustain pressure against Israel, and to influence a different political approach. The issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, for example, is ongoing, and many detainees are forgotten because they don’t bear the name of influential prisoners, such as Ahed Tamini for example, during her incarceration in 2018, or Samer Issawi, who sustained a long hunger strike in protest of administrative detention in 2013. 

Raising awareness about selected individuals beats the common purpose of the Palestinian aim of liberation. This year, however, two influential statements concerning Israel’s colonial apartheid practices have played a role in shaping and challenging the mainstream perception of Israel.

The first was the Israeli non-governmental organisation B’Tselem designating Israel an apartheid state. Coming from within Israel itself, the international community took note, despite the fact that Palestinians have been making such admissions since decades ago.

More recently, Human Rights Watch issued a report in which it assessed Israel’s violations and termed its practices as apartheid. These designations were incorporated in the more decent protests worldwide which were sparked by Israel’s recent aggressions. 

Additionally, Palestinians across all of colonised Palestine came together in mass protests against Israel’s violent display of power. Suddenly, Gaza was no longer an isolated phenomenon, and the residents of Sheikh Jarrah were not isolated in their struggle to retain their homes.

For decades, Palestinians have been fragmented, first by dispossession and diaspora, and later through the different human rights violations faced in different areas – the collaborative Israeli-Palestinian Authority violence in the occupied West Bank, the discriminatory practices and surveillance of Palestinians living in Israel, and the illegal blockade that has contributed to the Gaza’s unliveable label, albeit now discarded by the UN as the prediction date – 2020 – has passed.

Palestinians returned to the roots of organised protests which sustained its initial opposition to the beginnings of the Zionist colonisation process between 1936 and 1939. 

Internationally, activists complemented the Palestinian people’s efforts. Just as Palestinians united in the struggle against colonial violence, protests worldwide added the colonial context to the immediate Israeli aggressions that captured media attention and UN alienation. It was not just about Gaza or Sheikh Jarrah, but a recognition that decades of impunity have deprived Palestinians of their land and their political rights.

In the aftermath of the prominent aggressions, activism needs to continue fighting the normalisation of Israel’s colonial violence. One way to achieve this aim is to refrain from waiting for cues – in terms of when the UN decides it is time to issue its perfunctory statements, or when Israel oversteps its limits. Colonisation is a process, and the only way to defeat it is by building momentum through a process that strikes at normalisation. 

The international community has failed Palestinians politically, therefore activism must dissociate itself from the shackles imposed by the UN, in the form of routine commemoration or reminders of the Palestinian struggle. Activism must unite with the Palestinian people, and further their struggle while keeping their voices at the helm.

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