Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Israel's tyranny over Palestine an abomination

Binyamin Netanyahu has sent more than 2,500 soldiers into the West Bank
Binyamin Netanyahu has sent more than 2,500 soldiers into the West Bank

At the time of writing searches continue for the three Israeli teenagers missing, presumed kidnapped, in the West Bank. Gil-Ad Shaer (16), Naftali Fraenkel (16), and Eyal Yifrach (19) are reported to have been hitching from school to their homes in Gush Etzion, a group of settlements housing 70,000 Israelis, when snatched by unknown assailants.

Binyamin Netanyahu has sent more than 2,500 soldiers into the West Bank, ostensibly to try to find the missing teenagers, but, in the view of many, also, and at least as importantly, to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinian people and deal a blow to the "unity" Government formed last month by the moderate Fatah and the militant Hamas.

Hamas has denied involvement. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas said last Saturday: "The missing settlers ... are human beings like us. We must return them to their families."

On NBC's Meet The Press the following day, Netanyahu dismissed Abbas's statement with scorn. He must meet three conditions to demonstrate good faith, said Netanyahu: eschew statements suggesting that Israeli behaviour is one of the reasons (Abbas has never said the only reason) for Palestinians supporting militant groups; back Israel's efforts to capture the kidnappers, and kick Hamas out of the Government.

The Israeli operation has involved the closing off of entire Palestinian areas. House-to-house searches are under way. Agency reports tell that Israeli military vehicles are currently patrolling towns including Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Qalqilya, Jenin, Salfit and Ramallah – all in an area regarded by the overwhelming majority of countries, including the countries of the EU, as Palestinian territory.

But there is no debate anywhere in EU or Nato countries about intervention, sanctions, no-fly zones or any other strategy for protecting the people of the area.

Oppression of Palestinians didn't begin with the disappearance of the three teenagers. Geneva-based independent NGO Defence of Children International (DCI) says that 196 Palestinians aged 18 or under were imprisoned in April. Of these, says DCI, around 100 were 15 or under.

DCI says that, of 40 cases they have examined in detail, 34 involved youngsters aged 17 or under. In the 13 years since the second intifada, 1,518 Palestinians under 18 have been killed by Israeli occupation forces: on average, one every three days. In the same period, more than 9,000 Palestinian children have been seized and taken away.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said this week: "(The Israelis) are telling the Palestinians, 'We can do whatever we want and get away with it. We can enter Ramallah or anywhere else and kill people with impunity'."

And so they can. Just as they can smear anyone standing up for Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic. In the same way, some years ago campaigners for the release of Irish people wrongfully convicted of terrorist offences were routinely denounced as supporters of the organisations which had actually carried out the atrocities.

Some of us recall being told that, in writing and speaking for the release of Gerry Conlon, Paddy Hill and others, we were belittling the memory of those who had perished at the hands of the IRA in Guildford, Woolwich and Birmingham.

It was against the background of continuing unacceptable Israeli actions that the Presbyterian Church in the US, following the lead of the Quakers, the Mennonites and the pensions board of the United Methodists, voted last Friday to get rid of its stock in Caterpillar, Hewlet-Packard and Motorola Solutions – companies supplying services to the forces of occupation.

Right on cue, the Israeli embassy in Washington characterised the Presbyterian initiative as "driven by hatred of Israel".

Lobbyists for Israel dismissed the role in securing the Presbyterian vote of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) – "a fast-growing network of rabbis, cantors and rabbinical students", according to its website.

JVP director Rabbi Alissa Wise had led inter-faith prayers for the success of the resolution. They were, inevitably, described by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as "self-hating Jews".

These developments reflect the fact that the minority of Israelis and of Jews of the Diaspora who have taken up the fight for Palestinian rights seems to be steadily growing. Therein lies one source of hope for the future.

Every decent person will join in demands for the release and return to their families of Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal. In the interests of peace and security for all in the region, we should look then at the wider picture and raise our voices in protest against Israel's abominable treatment of the Palestinian people.

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