Of anniversaries and Palestine

Summary: a grim week concludes with air strikes on Gaza and rocket attacks on Israel; as the cycle of violence escalates it is worth noting significant anniversaries.

Yesterday 11 May marked the one year anniversary of the murder of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. She was shot in the neck and instantly killed by an IDF sniper while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in Jenin. She was shot even though she was helmeted and wearing a flak jacket with PRESS written across it. Shireen Abu Akleh as her friends and colleagues have noted repeatedly was a dedicated and determined journalist.  She was also very careful in her work, well aware of the risks of covering events in the febrile and frequently violent confrontations that are a daily occurrence in the West Bank.  For that reason she and her colleagues – one of whom, Ali al-Samoudi, was wounded but survived – had placed themselves away from the point of conflict between the army and Palestinian fighters.

In an internal review the IDF admitted only that she could have been accidentally shot by the IDF in an exchange of gunfire.  That was after initially claiming that she had been shot by one of the Palestinians.  The  initial Israeli story had quickly unravelled as independent analysis of various videos showed it to be untrue. A year on and the IDF has closed its investigation without the sniper or the command chain being held accountable let alone any charges being brought.

That is only to be expected. A recent investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has uncovered a telling pattern in the killing of at least 20 Palestinian journalists since 2001 who have died at the hands of the IDF:

All of the above is true in the case of Abu Akleh. What is, perhaps, less expected has been the response of the Biden White House. The veteran Al Jazeera journalist was, after all, an American citizen. On 15 July last year on a visit to Jerusalem President Biden said this:

I hope that her legacy … will inspire more young people to carry on her work of reporting the truth and telling stories that are too often overlooked. The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world. 

As with other Biden declamations – one thinks of his avowed intention to declare Mohammed bin Salman a pariah – this one was followed with very little of substance beyond occasional State Department protestations more notable for their meekness than anything else. And as her family continues to point out, there has been no full and transparent accounting nor in the current climate is there likely to ever be one. As for standing up for media freedom, the freedom that Abu Akleh spent her entire career enabling and that she was killed defending, well that too has proven to be one more of Joe Biden’s empty rhetorical flourishes.

Palestine Nakba 75 Rashida Tlaib
US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib speaks at an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Nakba on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, May 10 2023 [photo credit: Huwaida Arraf]
This year marks another anniversary: the 75 years of the Nakba. In 1948 Palestinians were driven from their homes and towns, their villages and their farmland as the state of Israel was birthed in violence.  With the ongoing, inexorable swallowing up of land in the Occupied West Bank, the seizure of homes and other properties in East Jerusalem, the persistent curtailment of the rights of Palestinians over decades, all of that in violation of UN resolutions and international law the Nakba, Palestinians say, has never ended.

The main enabler is the United States which continues to provide Israel with nearly US$4 billion per annum in military aid. But the UK has proven a great enabler too. The silence from the current Conservative government and the Opposition Labour Party has been little short of deafening, even in the face of the most extreme government that Israel in its 75 years of existence has ever experienced. Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich, senior cabinet ministers who espouse an ideology of racism and hate, revel in the virtual silence that Western governments grant them while encouraging their supporters to take violent action against Palestinians whether living in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank.

Gaza has been bombed repeatedly this week in what Israel calls surgical strikes aimed at senior Islamic Jihad leaders.  The strikes killed the militants as well as their families and other civilians. And the overall Palestinian death toll so far this year is running at five times what it was a year ago. Israelis too suffer the violence: a British-Israeli woman and her two daughters murdered by Palestinian gunmen; rockets in their dozens fired into Israel from Gaza.

In a vicious cycle that seems never ending optimism is in short supply. But at a House of Lords event celebrating the ten year anniversary of PalMusic earlier this week there was hope. It was encapsulated by the flautist Wissam Boustamy who played his elegant and haunting composition And The Wind Whispered (a version of which you can listen to and watch here.) Music like the wind, he said, has no boundaries, nor borders. In music the Palestinian narrative remains strong, defying and transcending the barriers that the state of Israel uses against it.

PalMusic, as its name implies, works to support young Palestinian musicians. You can find details here on what it is doing and how to support its efforts through a donation.

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