This year marks the year of Palestinian anniversaries — many of them awful and arrogant — but some them courageous and exemplifying the strength of our people. One hundred years ago, this year, the colonial arrogance of Arthur Balfour — who, through the stroke of a pen — had declared Palestine the “homeland” to others, thereby beginning the start of Zionism’s colonial onslaught in Palestine. We have now entered into the 70th year of our dispossession; 70 years since the first massacres against us; 70 years of transforming Palestine from a Palestinian Arab nation by stealing 78 per cent of our homeland and 70 years of turning us into refugees or into strangers in our own homes. This year, sadly, also marks 50 years since the start of Israel’s Phase Two of colonisation of our land, when Israel completely took over the remaining 22 per cent of our homeland.
As a Palestinian living in Palestine, I find myself having to explain to many what life is like living under military rule, for most people cannot fathom what it is like to live without freedom. Simply put, it is a life of being terrorised daily; of living in fear and uncertainty and of enduring oppression at the hands of another human being.
Our days are marked with uncertainty as to whether we will live to see the next day for Israel routinely and randomly kills Palestinians. This year alone Israel has killed more than 97 Palestinians and injured 800, including children. Our days are marked with uncertainty as to whether we, or our loved ones, will be imprisoned by Israel: An estimated 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners, including 500 who have been held without charge or trial, 21 parliamentarians and 300 children. Our days are marked with uncertainty as to whether our homes will remain standing. This year alone, Israel destroyed 173 homes and an additional 875 last year. Daily, we watch as our land gets eaten to make way for more Jewish colonies, more Israelis-only roads, and more military bases. I often wonder, ‘What do the Israeli soldiers, operating the bulldozers and the assault weapons, think? Do they sleep soundly at night or do the sounds of children’s cries, as they rummage through the rubble, looking for a toy, keep them up all night?’
SPECIAL COVERAGE ON BALFOUR DECLARATION:
Ramzy Baroud writes: How Britain became an obstacle to peace
Fawaz Turki writes: Dear Mr Balfour, your Zionist wrongs will be corrected
Mahmoud Abbas writes: Why Britain must say sorry for a century of injustice
Fadi Esber writes: How Truman paved the way for Jewish occupation
In the West Bank, we live behind walls, behind checkpoints and roadblocks, unable to get from one place to the next with any certainty. Israel’s checkpoints — the majority of which are inside the West Bank — look like prisons, with people crammed in like animals, waiting at the mercy of a 19 year-old Israeli soldier who is more interested in his Facebook feed than in seeing that the elderly, the sick, mothers, children and workers are treated humanely.
All of this, however, pales in comparison to live under military occupation and blockade in Gaza. There, Palestinians are now living on less than four hours of electricity per day, caged in an open-air prison unable to leave. Goods entering into the occupied Gaza Strip are strictly controlled by Israel, as is the airspace and even the sea. Gaza’s water supply is so contaminated that 95 per cent of it is unfit for human consumption.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dream of simple acts: Of being able to visit the holy sites in occupied Jerusalem (a few short kilometres from Ramallah and Bethlehem), or Nazareth, or to access the sea in Yaffa or Haifa, for all of these places require special “permits” issued by Israel. And yet, through this all, Palestinians have survived — no thanks to world powers that continue to pander to Israel and continue to demand that Palestinians living under a brutal military regime remain quiet as Israel continues its brutality.
But this year also marks 30 years since the start of the first Palestinian uprising, through which Palestinians made it clear that we will no longer accept Israel’s military rule but rather that we want to be free in our homeland.
As Israel celebrates, yes celebrates, 50 years of the denial of Palestinian freedom, 50 years of stealing another’s land, 50 years of home demolitions, 50 years of imprisonment, 50 years of trying to turn a Palestinian Arab nation into a “Jewish state”, we can and must send Israel a message: We hope that this is your last birthday and by pushing to hold Israel accountable will ensure that this happens.
Diana Buttu is a lawyer and a former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.