June 14, 2023
Apartheid, not conflict: for another narration of Palestine
Insight by Christian Elia, Q CODE MAG
Decolonizing Narrative is a cycle of seminars and public events on freedom of expression, human rights, public interest journalism organised by Voice Over Foundation. The aim is to support new paths of narrative and in-depth articles that focus on people's rights and stories.
For a long time, forgotten conflicts were discussed, as was only right. Activists* and journalists*, international institutions and politicians fought to draw the attention of the media and public opinion to those situations - in the world - where there was suffering, to make it known, to try to change things. In this sense, and in many others, the Palestinian issue remains unique. Because it cannot occur to anyone to deny that Palestine and Israel are often in the 'headlines'.
But how do we talk about it? What narratives are layered into what with obstinate, crass and incorrect stubbornness one continues to call conflict?
This is one of the questions at the centre of the first event in the Decolonising Narrative cycle: “Shrinking Spaces: Freedom of Expression and the Protection of Human Rights in Palestine”, which was held on 18 April 2023 at the Faculty of Political Science of the State University of Milan with Professor of History of International Relations Piero Graglia, Giovanni Fassina and Laila Sit Aboha of the European Legal Support Center - ELSC, an independent organisation that defends with free legal advice and assistance, associations, NGOs, groups and individuals campaigning for Palestinian rights in continental Europe and the UK, Sarah Abdel Qader from The Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy - PIPD, and Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Occupied Territories. What narratives need to be decolonised? Which spaces are shrinking?
An issue that is both topical and long-standing. Because the Palestinian issue is not forgotten, but is the victim of a unique case of resemantisation. When it comes to Palestine, facts and figures are often manipulated. But what are these facts? The first is the most serious of all: the Palestinian people, according to the 1973 UN definition, approved in 1976, live in a condition of apartheid. This is confirmed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who have carried out, and continue to carry out, independent research. Expelled from their land and homes, divided and segregated by laws, walls (700 km long and up to 8 metres high) and check-points, living in a constant state of fear and insecurity, impoverished by the situation imposed on them: this is the daily life of Palestinians in the West Bank, while the Jewish-Israeli population is privileged by the authorities in every aspect of daily life.
Facts and figures. The Palestinians, before 1948, were 70% of the population and owned 89% of the land. Then, after 800,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948, there were 6 million refugees, internal and external, after the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967. How much land remains for Palestinians today? Less than 40% of the West Bank, because illegal Israeli colonies occupy the rest, creating a system of fragmentation, segregation and dispossession of the Palestinian population. And these are the pillars of the apartheid concept. And Gaza? Evacuated by the occupation in 2005, today 2 million people live there, under Israeli military blockade since 2007, in a land where by now 56% of the population is destitute, 90% have no access to safe drinking water, 47% are unemployed, according to data from UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees) and the World Health Organisation. If the population of Gaza is enclosed in that open-air prison that recalls, 'the perfect prison', the Panopticon theorised by Jeremy Bentham, in the West Bank Palestinian civilians suffer restrictions on freedom of movement, subjected to different legal statuses, some to martial law and military courts, with no possibility of obtaining building permits: there are 150,000 Palestinians living under the constant threat of demolition.
And finally, there are the 1.3 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and cannot live in 68% of Israeli cities; they vote, they have parties and MPs, but until 1966 they were subject to an ad hoc regime. Now they have citizenship, but not nationality, unless they convert to Judaism, which is in any case forbidden. And since 2002, family reunions between members with different legal statuses are not possible. As of today, there are 4236 Palestinian detainees, 352 of them minors, without a charge and without seeing lawyers. From September 2000 to February 2017, 4868 Palestinians were killed outside of armed conflict, 1793 of whom were minors.
These are the facts. Yet the narratives are far from this account of reality. As the mainstream press demonstrated in February 2023, during the attack on Gaza as part of the military operation Operation Shield and Arrow: there is no 'clash', there is no 'conflict', because semantically a sense of being informed is produced that is deeply distorted. There is an occupation, there are bombings or rocket attacks, which produce collective and indiscriminate punishments that would not be accepted anywhere else in the world. Just think of that right to resistance, enshrined in international law, which no one is afraid to recognise for the Ukrainian people. Palestine, the Palestinians, live in a permanent state of exception, as if the universal principles that are recognised for all do not apply to them.
The conference was an opportunity to analyse the narrative dynamics that have been orbiting the Palestinian issue for decades, but particularly since 2000. From a legal, media, humanitarian point of view. Not only should the narratives be decolonised and reported on in terms of facts and data, but also the right to criticism. As an unconditional reflex, linked to different factors, even criticism of Israeli policies is branded as anti-Semitism. A unique phenomenon, once again. Who would dream of imagining as racism criticism of the Italian government for its handling of migrants, or the French government for its pension reform, or the Russian government for its aggression against Ukraine. Yet Israel, through ad hoc apparatuses and through a global network of supporters, accuses of anti-Semitism anyone who - by opinion or by work - lines up facts and data. What has always been contested are the policies of Israeli governments. Nothing against the Israeli people, least of all Jews in general; it seems absurd to have to mention this, but it happens every day - as ELSC has documented - that ordinary citizens lose a job or are prosecuted for anti-Semitism just for a post on social media in which they criticised the Israeli government. Israeli political authorities, from Ben Gurion in 1948 to Benyamin Netanyahu today, have implemented discriminatory laws, policies and practices that privilege the Israeli Jewish population over the Palestinian one. If we do not start from here, to eliminate human rights violations and to rewrite what happened in the past, there will be no possible solution, but it will remain a daily drama for millions of Palestinians who - besides suffering apartheid and occupation - will also be denied the right to memory and reality.
Photo Credits: Giacomo Fausti