Why does the story always begin with Palestinians throwing stones?
You have perhaps been witness to a cycle of violence that begins with one-sided bullying and coercion (action) and continues until the victim is forced to respond (reaction). And then the "fighting" begins. But then the victim is blamed for countering the continuing onslaught.
Imagine a scenario: A man is minding his own business. A notorious neighbour is foul-mouthing him incessantly, until at one point the rubber band snaps, and the peaceful recipient of invectives lands a punch on the vulgar mouthorgan. Because the earlier oral filth was regarded as harmless, therefore, by irrational justification, the quiet man could now be attacked with full fury in "retaliation". The story may remind you of the "stones versus bombs" episode somewhere in the Middle East.
Ousted by the Romans from the city of Al-Aqsa (70 AD), the Jews were welcomed back by Hazrat Umar (RA) who ended their centuries-old exile, giving refugee families the right to reside in Jerusalem once again. That was not the last time a Muslim came to their aid.
Flashback to 1947: "The Germans destroyed our families and homes—don't you destroy our hopes," read a banner as a shipload of Jewish refugees arrived on the shores of Palestine.
Ironically, some 70 years later, as a triggering effect to the current clashes, Israel was doing just the opposite—evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah district to allow Jewish settlers to illegally move in, as part of a larger sinister plan to gain majority in Jerusalem by altering age-old demographics.
Incidentally, Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 is not recognised by the vast majority of the international community, nor is Donald Trump's 2018 partisan move to shift Israel's capital to Jerusalem. However, world opinion has not been a deterrent to Israel's expansionism, primarily because of the blind support it continues to receive from some of the superpowers.
In a build-up to the 2021 clashes, Israel had fired the "first shot" long ago with its eviction drives. Palestinians protested by standing up in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah. In retaliation, during Ramadan, Israeli police limited Al-Aqsa mosque gathering and attacked the protesting Palestinians. Ultra-nationalist Jewish extremists worsened the situation by marching, apparently enraged by videos showing Palestinians assaulting ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city. The flaring situation was detonated when armed Israeli forces, wearing shoes, raided the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and beat peaceful worshippers during Tarabih prayers. The Palestinians, including children, protested by throwing stones and burning tyres.
For decades, Israel has been torturing and intimidating Palestinians, forcibly evicting residents from their legitimate homes, demolishing buildings and displacing families, restricting movement, preventing them from working, obstructing elections, inhibiting education, denying healthcare, including for Palestinians within Israel. That's Zionist apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and ruthless violation of basic human rights.
In reference to the savage punishment of Palestinians, American historian and political activist Noam Chomsky once wrote in Truthout: "An old man in Gaza held a placard that read: 'You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.'"
Israel practises unrelenting brutalisation. This time, "they are evicting Palestinian families from their homes that were legally given to them by Jordan who controlled the land" since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel has a habit of assaulting impoverished people, and then blaming them for what follows, such as stone-throwing. Israeli shooting inevitably follows.
Unfortunately, media reports always begin after the Palestinians throw stones, not from the point of Israel perpetuating unlawful eviction. CNN reported on May 11 that "Israel launches airstrikes after rockets fired from Gaza in day of escalation", but it failed to mention that this was after the Palestinians were provoked and Israeli settlers were taking over Palestinian houses which they owned since the 1950s.
The BBC reported on May 17, "Israel conducted dozens of air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Monday, after Palestinian militants fired barrages of rockets at southern Israeli cities." When you fight for your land, you are branded "militants" and "terrorists". Pakistan did the same to Bangladesh in 1971. This labelling has to stop for the sake of world peace.
The conflict is forever a one-sided airstrike by a far superior nuclear firepower against low-tech rockets, because Palestine is not allowed to become a formidable nation—no army, air force, or navy. In the 1990s, Palestine was forced into a trap, also called the Oslo Accords driven by Bill Clinton, which "graciously" provided for Palestinian self-rule throughout most of the West Bank with "a strong police force". In the meantime, Israel became a leading weapons exporter with approximately USD 6.5 billion in annual arms sales (2017).
The Oslo Accords, unbelievably, guaranteed a permanently demilitarised Palestine, where Israel would vet the arms shopping list of the Palestinian police, defend Palestine against external threats, supervise Palestinian airspace, protect the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, and ensure security of Israelis and settlements. (Article XIV)
That is not the recipe for a good, friendly neighbour.
As long as there is occupation, resistance shall not only continue but thrive as well. It is, therefore, inevitable that Palestinians will throw stones and Israel will carry out air raids. Hamas will fire rockets in retaliation for Israeli atrocities, but Israel has a sophisticated interception mechanism. It will bully and kill children because it can—it is 20th in the global Military Strength Ranking 2021.
The Western media blames the reaction, rather than the action. The UK, USA, and French governments, for example, condemn Hamas, but never Israel. They should give top priority to addressing violation of human rights in their foreign policies, making Israel accountable for violating international law.
Meanwhile, world public opinion and diplomatic pressure are mounting against Israel, albeit at a snail's pace, to refrain from carnages. The UN has declared that evicting Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah could amount to war crimes. Speaking on the US Congress floor on May 14, House Democrats questioned the attitude of both the US and the Israeli governments. It's an important step.
Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, an American Congresswoman of Palestinian descent, considers it the USA's duty to "end the apartheid system that for decades has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and racism."
The firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was critical, too: "The President (Biden)… stated that Israel has a right to self-defence... But do Palestinians have a right to survive?" Congresswoman Cori Bush from Missouri was blunt: "We oppose our money going to fund militarised policing, occupation, and systems of violent oppression and trauma." Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts pointed out, "Palestinians are being told the same thing as Black folks in America—there is no acceptable form of resistance."
Words need to be translated into action now. But the wellspring of support also means that despite the deafening Arab silence, there is hope.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is an architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.