Said M. Hamad is the chief representative for the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada
War is upon the Palestinian people again. As in all wars, it is the innocent who suffer. According to Defense for Children International, 14 children aged 15 and under were killed in Israeli airstrikes this week, including four toddlers. Their families, and many other Palestinian families, are in mourning today.
These children did not have the luxury of an ‘iron dome’ to intercept incoming Israeli missiles, nor a siren giving them 15 seconds to take cover from an impending Israeli airstrike, or even a bomb shelter in which to take refuge.
Israel’s campaign against the people of Gaza has deliberately targeted Palestinian families in their homes and living rooms. At the time of writing, 88 Palestinians had been killed (about half were women and children) and more than 600 injured.
Palestinian refugees in Gaza have endured unimaginable hardships over the decades, but the last seven years have been some of the hardest. Israel’s blockade has been a campaign of collective punishment far worse than the more than 400 tonnes of explosives it has dropped on Palestinian homes in its most recent escalation.
The Palestinians of Gaza are banned by Israel from importing even the most basic construction materials. There is a desperate shortage of food and fuel. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 per cent of children suffer from some form of malnutrition. Infrastructure and services are crumbling. Hospitals are over-crowded and crippled by a shortage of medical supplies. Aircraft are not allowed to land, nor boats allowed to sail into the open seas.
To any thinking person it should be clear that there is no moral difference between killing a child with a drone and killing him through a deliberate policy of starvation. Israel has been ruthlessly strangling the people of Gaza.
In the West Bank, the economic situation is less dire, but the humiliations of the occupation are equally unbearable. Our land has been confiscated to make room for people belonging to the ‘right’ religion. We have been herded into isolated Bantustans and are routinely attacked by extremist settlers protected by Israeli forces. Our human rights are in a permanent state of suspension: our homes and our persons are violated, we are detained without charge or trial, and our children are injured and killed with impunity.
These are fundamental acts of aggression against the Palestinian people. Yet despite the denial of Palestinians’ most basic national and human rights, our unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas has recognized Israel, pledged to honour all previous agreements, and renounced terrorism. The Palestinian people and the international community understand that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict, even if we are all still waiting for Israel to clue in.
Sadly, Israel isn’t on the same page. The Likud Party charter, the ‘DNA’ of Israel’s governing party, flatly rejects Palestine’s right to exist. No Israeli government has ever recognized Palestine’s right to exist. At the root of this non-recognition lies a malignant hatred for people belonging to the ‘wrong’ religion in a land that Israel covets for a single ethno-religious group to the exclusion of the rights of others.
Israel has a right to defend itself. But so does Palestine. No people on earth would tolerate a policy of military occupation and economic strangulation as the Palestinians have endured. We have a right to resist. But the majority of Palestinians understand that this right must be exercised peacefully. Those among us who don’t only invite further oppression.
Over the short-term, we welcome U.S. President Barack Obama’s offer to mediate a ceasefire. But no truce will hold unless the fundamental cause of the conflict is resolved. That cause, the root to which every branch of violence can be traced, is the occupation. Bring down the wall, end the blockade, return our land, let the refugees come home, and above all, let the Palestinians govern themselves in an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Otherwise we will all continue to be crushed under the wheel of violence.