The spirit of youth across the Green Line

It has been quite a while since I found anything to make me feel a bit more optimistic about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but just before 2017 closes, two actions by young people provide a chink of light.

The first is Ahed Tamimi, at 16, already a veteran of defiant protests against the Israeli occupying forces in the village of Nabi Saleh. She was recently handcuffed and arrested in the middle of the night in an operation involving 30 soldiers. The day before, Israeli soldiers had used tear gas to quell protests in the village, and Ahed was in an altercation with two well-armed soldiers in front of her family home during which she kicked and slapped the soldiers. During the raid soldiers confiscated the family’s phones, computers and laptops and were violent towards Ahed’s 14 year old brother who was refusing to surrender his phone.

Ahed’s courageous defiance has made her a symbol of the renewed resistance that has mushroomed in the Occupied Territories after Trump made his deliberately provocative announcement over Jerusalem, with the connivance and encouragement of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Her act of defiance has now been supplemented by 63 other teenagers, only these are youngsters on the other side of the Green Line: young Israelis publicly declaring through a joint letter that they will refuse to be drafted into the Israel army,

 

The letter they sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the Defence and Education ministers, stated: “We have decided not to take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people… The ‘temporary’ situation has dragged on for 50 years, and we will not go on lending a hand… The army is carrying out the government’s racist policy, which violates basic human rights and executes one law for Israelis and another law for Palestinians on the same territory… We refuse to be drafted and to serve in the army out of an obligation to values of peace, justice and equality, with the knowledge that there is another reality that we could create together”.

The resistance by Ahed and her family (other family members have been arrested and detained) is receiving considerable media coverage here – as it should. The subversive and politically challenging action of the 63 Israeli teenagers, so far, has not beyond a few  Israeli newspapers. Unfortunately, that is part of a pattern. Many courageous actions by Israeli human rights and anti-occupation activists face a news blackout in the West. And unfortunately many pro-Palestinian campaigns from outside do little to amplify the important struggles by Israeli oppositionists.

Activists here need to recognise that the actions of these oppositionists are as crucial to the injustices of the Palestinians being resolved as the daily acts of resistance in the Occupied Territories. Continued Palestinian resistance in the face of 50 years of occupation, daily humiliation and human rights abuses, testifies to the strength of the Palestinian people – much of it continuing despite political impotence. But the military balance of forces are weighted massively against them. An Israel, armed to the teeth, will not be pushed back from its Occupation by military force. The hope must be that continued resistance finds an echo within Israel that can challenge the pillars that maintain the status quo in Israel from within. Refusal to join up for Israel’s army is a powerful statement of intent that should be celebrated and amplified by all who are seeking positive change. This week young people on both sides of the Green Line have been leading by example. All power to them.

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Hebrew graffiti in Tel-Aviv calling for the release of Ahed Tamimi and all political prisoners

 

 

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Time for humanity to win through

IMG_4289Home for a family of Afghan refugees with two young children we met in Dunkirk this afternoon. They have been here in a makeshift camp since October. A few tarpaulins, a small tent and an improvised kitchen stove. They invited us to sit on their “sofa” – a few stacked up planks which they place a thin mattress on. The police raid it every week and destroy their home, chuck it out as rubbish, and so they start making it again. The authorities want to prevent any permanent camp being established.

The father, in his mid 30s with very good English, tells IMG_4297us of their former lives in Afghanistan, where he worked in building and construction, and how they fled from a situation of complete lawlessness and constant danger where local mafias rule the roost. His wife – who doesn’t speak any English – looks desolate and dejected. Despite their desperate circumstances their children are energetic and look well cared for.

There are 150 or so refugees camped in similar makeshift ways here, in fields, and between trees. Conditions are less than basic. Quite a lot of rubbish is strewn about, and human faeces.

The refugees here are mainly young men in their teens, twenties and thirties, though there are also some families and at least one pregnant woman – all with impressive survival skills. It is a cold December day when we visit and, as the temperature is starting to drop further, many of the men are huddled around a generator which they are using to charge their phones. It is their only means of staying in touch with their far-away families and with the events of the world. A charity, “Mobile Refugee Support”, comes in every afternoon for a couple of hours with its generator, some who have already charged their phones start small fires to warm themselves

IMG_4285.jpgWe have come here on a visit organised by Stand Up To Racism, working in conjunction with Care4Calais.  We get on the coach in central London at 6.30 in the morning and are moving by 7am. Our coach is full, with the largest number among us being young people, many of them students. The coach hold is also full with vital supplies based on a list provided by Care4Calais collected by the people on this visit from among their friends and local communities. A very impressive amount of money has been raised too by them.

IMG_4276 (1)On the way some of the participants come to the front of the coach to say why they are coming on this visit and what they have been doing. One student from Queen Mary University in the East End tells us that her parents are Afghan refugees. Others talk of raising money in their workplace, even from workmates who are not convinced about the argument for growing the number of immigrants and refugees. Their humanity wins through and they are starting to think more about the issues.

We stopped first outside a Care4Calais distribution warehouse in Calais here we were briefed by long-term volunteers and allocated roles for when we get  to Dunkirk. some will spend the afternoon litter-picking, others distributing pack of supplies sorted in the warehouse into bags. We are spending time with this particular family at their “home” before coming back to the main area of the makeshift camp and mingling and chatting to the refugees there.

We met refugees from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Somehow they maintain their spirit,IMG_4299 their sense of humour, and their hope.  We hope that the sleeping bags, food, and clothing that our visiting group brought will be of practical use. We arrive back in London at 10pm. It is very cold and we are thinking of the people we met and how they are coping in the night.

Congratulations to Care4Calais for all they do, and for Stand Up To Racism for partnering with them and arranging this visit. We came back determined to take up the arguments about refugees within our communities,  and to challenge the daily media assault on a set of human being whose current situation compounds the traumas they have already lived through in their young lives.  The visit will undoubtedly strengthen us in communicating the urgency of stepping up  pressure on our government to let in refugees, and enable them to use their skills and obvious resilience for their own benefit and the benefit of us all.