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Travel Diary: From the War in Ukraine to the Struggle in Palestine

The La Izquierda Diario International Network travels through the Middle East with Santiago Montag, an activist and journalist who writes for the international section of our newspapers. In this chronicle he writes about how the war in Ukraine is seen from Palestine, the escalation of violence on Palestinians the past few weeks, and the possibility of a rebellion coinciding with Ramadan.

Santiago Montag

March 18, 2022
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A Palestinian man waves a Palestinian flag as he watches a helicopter over head.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, there has been a prominent battle of media narratives. The global cameras focused their attention on the ensuing conflict, painting the picture of a “monstrous enemy” that the “democratic” forces should face, according to the Atlanticists (United States and Europe), who create their criteria for “democracy” according to their own interests. In other words, in this kind of discourse on “democracy,” these actors paint a reality according to Western idiosyncrasies. This is very well explained by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in this article: who can be evacuated as refugees, when a bombing is justified or not, who is suitable to be accepted as a refugee, etc. This is how the conflict in Ukraine has allowed the state of Israel, an important ally of the West, to take advantage of the heightened politicization to more aggressively occupy and colonize Palestine. There is no such thing as coincidence in these instances.

Repression has increased in Palestine since Russia set foot in Ukraine. Indiscriminate killings of youth and children; repression in the streets, the policy of demolition (and forced self-demolition) of houses; settler attacks; raids at night and even during the day.

A neighbor from Sheik Jarrah (a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem), who fights every day not to be evicted from her house, assured me that “this is not normal.” She continued, ”We used to have one or two killed per month at most, which is terrible, but lately we have that number per day in the country. In our neighborhood we have constant settler attacks, and this Friday we will hold a protest against that.”

Israeli soldiers have shot dead more than a dozen Palestinians in the West Bank since March began. Both in the north, Jenin and Nablus, where armed Palestinians resist the violent occupation, and where some are killed at night during night raids. In addition to the killings, so far about 45 young people have been imprisoned. In the south of Bethlehem, a young man was killed because he was scared of the soldiers and ran away.

Recently, Yamin Jaffal, a 16-year-old boy, was shot to death in Abu Dis. The next day youth took to the streets in protests over his death. In Hebron a 13-year-old boy was killed last week, and three others were wounded yesterday by live bullets, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in that city. In Jerusalem two youths were killed by soldiers in the Old City allegedly for attacking them, yet the harassment, interrogations, and arrests that Palestinians face daily at Damascus Gate are never considered attacks. In the Aroub refugee camp in Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers recently conducted raids in broad daylight. In the same way, settlers in outposts in Hebron steal land from shepherds whom they attack day after day. The same situation is experienced every day in the desert of Al Naqab (or Negev).

Clashes in the Bab al-Zawiya Area of Hebron

These are just some of the events that the Palestinian people have been facing during the past days under the systematic racist policy of Israeli colonization and military occupation. A Palestinian pastor recently said that “Israel is doing this now while the world is looking toward Ukraine.” And it is true. Although Israel does not need the attention to be elsewhere, as demonstrated last year while dropping bombs on the Gaza Strip.

No country withdrew its embassies from Israel, and none dared to condemn the bombings. Some even blamed Hamas for defending itself. The systematic violations of human rights against the Palestinians so far have not been a reason for any kind of economic sanctions as is being applied to Russia, which is committing a reactionary and condemnable invasion for which the United States and the European Union are also responsible.

No one condemns the unspeakable atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. We can mention a few of Israel’s abuses: the immense separation walls with watchtowers and barbed wire, identical to those of a maximum security prison; the difficulty of moving around in a territory similar to an archipelago; the mistreatment during searches (even of children) and checkpoints that function as customs offices in your own territory, which are controlled by soldiers; the separation of families; the logistical blockade that prevents human and economic development; the difficulty of building loving and family relationships; the judicial apparatus prepared to divide, force, suppress, and strip Palestinians of their rights; and a long et cetera.

And while some 10 million Palestinians live in refugee camps struggling and demanding to return to their land since they were displaced starting in 1948 with the Nakba, the State of Israel opens its doors to Ukrainian refugees. A quarter of a million are expected to arrive from Ukraine to Palestinian land, not because of solidarity, but as a way to deepen colonization and change the ethnic composition in the region. While Europe kills, locks up in refugee camps or denies entry to millions escaping from wars and interventions started by these governments in the Middle East, closing its doors for refugees from Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq or Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation and humanitarian disasters.

Ramadan and the Next Revolt

Something is brewing in the Palestinian streets. The day-to-day repression is overwhelming. Not only physical attacks but also life under apartheid is becoming unbearable on different levels: social, economic, and psychological. The territorial division imposed by the state of Israel makes it impossible to carry out unified demonstrations of force, and the resistance is diverse. Some resist with arms despite the refusal of the Palestinian Authority, which functions as a repressive arm of Israel in the West Bank. For others, like the residents of the H2 area, which is fenced off like a ghetto, their very existence is a form of struggle.

The withholding of the bodies of Palestinians murdered by the state of Israel generates anger. They also know that the funerals turn into protests, like the one in Abu Dis or Hebron, or into a general strike as we saw in Hebron. In Jenin, demonstrations are equally strong. Especially every Friday (a holy day for Islam) in the various territories, but mainly at Damascus Gate and on the esplanade of the mosques where the emblematic Al Aqsa, another symbol of resistance, is located. In Mukabbir, a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, there was a recent general strike against the policy of demolishing houses.

I commented to a feminist activist, “Every Palestinian I talk to tells me that this Ramadan there will be a new uprising like last year. What do you think?” Smiling, she replied, “I don’t think so, I hope so. I just can’t stand this situation anymore.”

The Shin Bet internal security and intelligence service (a kind of Israeli FBI), according to its investigations, believes the next three months could be explosive, involving clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in several regions, including East Jerusalem. They do not even rule out a confrontation in Gaza.

The same was said by neighbors in Sheik Jarrah. “The holy days are turning into days of resistance, and this Ramadan combines many holy events for Islam, in addition to the one-year anniversary of those killed in Gaza.” This diagnosis is due to the confluence of Jewish and Muslim holidays on Land Day, March 30, when Palestinians commemorate the police killing of six people protesting Israel’s expropriation of Arab land in 1976. Ramadan begins on April 2 or 3. Passover begins on April 15, bringing with it the Priestly Blessing ceremony at the Wailing Wall and more Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount. This is in between some religious celebrations that last year were the main triggers for the clashes that culminated in the Palestinian general strike and the Israeli offensive on Gaza, leaving almost 300 dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

In addition to the potential for more violence, the economic impact that the war in Ukraine will have on the Middle East is also worth examining. Since the conflict broke out, the price of food has increased, as well as oil and gas. Israel imports much of its food from Ukraine and Russia, but for the moment supplies have not been cut off. Palestinians receive the lowest wages under Israeli occupation. Thirty percent of them are unemployed (the percentage exceeds 40 percent among women) or subsist on herding sheep or goats, or growing olive trees, many of which are destroyed by the settlers; some also get by selling traditional items. These economic contradictions could be an important factor behind the accumulated anger among Palestinians.

The Zionist project builds a secular nationalist narrative linked to the Jewish religion, which is why many take up religious symbols as weapons and property titles to justify their violent acts against the Palestinians. One human rights activist recently told me, “They want to make this look like a religious issue. They treat us as if we were Al Qaeda. But this is a territorial conflict. This is the colonization of Israel and its establishment as a state since 1948.”

The religious Zionist settlers are supported by the state of Israel in every “outpost” (illegal in their own legality) in the West Bank as well as in the neighborhoods of Sheik Jarrah, Silwan, and others. The army protects them. They are in the army. The Israeli state provides them with social services, etc. It is a feedback loop to push for a surrender of the Palestinians supported by the United States, Europe, and all the countries that have links with Israel, including Argentina.

But the resistance is strong. The youth are mobilizing and organizing despite the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, who are seen as collaborators. A young activist said, “We have not expected anything from this leadership for years. We can only continue to mobilize despite the enormous political, social, economic, and spatial division that we suffer.” A woman from the encircled city of Hebron, who was imprisoned 25 times, illustrated the current Palestinian spirit: “These are our homes, this is our land, we will never give up.”

You can follow Santiago’s journey on Instagram here.

First published in Spanish on March 11 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Maryam Alaniz

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