On this bloody international battlefield over truth, where thousands of Palestinians now die, Israel has lost. It is in possession of the most powerful and entrenched lobby in America that terrorises its now abject political class – most recently frightening the senate into unanimously voting in favour of its current aggression. In Britain, the BBC and a prime minister that have shamed and revolted the citizens they serve. It has tireless advocates and apologists manning editorial desks and television producers’ offices. It is ranked among the world’s top military powers.
Yet with all of this, it has lost, and the Palestinian cause has been made that much stronger. This is because the entire world has been able to grasp, very precisely and intimately, exactly what Palestinians have been facing day in day out for decades. The temporary safety of an Unrwa girls’ school in an overcrowded refugee camp, with its pile of children’s clothes and mattresses blood-soaked from long-range missiles; dusty roads filled with the debris of collapsed residential buildings, under which entire families groan and fall silent.
We learn what will happen immediately after Israeli soldiers die, or a ceasefire is about to come into force; the harbinger of new massacres. People shelled as they flee, exhausted ambulance workers murdered as they come to assist those wounded and dying; boys killed watching the World Cup in a beachside cafe, or simply fooling with a ball in the dunes by a hotel; overflowing makeshift mortuaries, where parents hold their children’s hands and kiss their foreheads one last time. In Gaza, as in Jenin, Karameh or Beirut, wherever the Palestinian people have been on their feet from 1947 to 2014, you will find this same story.
Today with images, eyewitness reports and videos sent direct from the killing fields of Gaza, anyone in the world with a phone, a laptop or even just a neighbourhood cafe with a television can experience the hourly atrocities that a high-tech occupying army is capable of imposing. They can experience the effects that the latest warships, tanks, drones, fighter aircraft, heavy artillery, endless American money, and British and US armaments can have on a hostage people.
Following the second world war, in revulsion at the suppression of civilian populations by occupying armies, the international law of armed conflict (the fourth Geneva convention) banned outright many of the practices being meted out with impunity in Gaza – shelling residential neighbourhoods or refugee camps and villages; the mass destruction of civic infrastructure, industry, essential utilities, schools, mosques, churches, hospitals, churches, ambulances, cemeteries, entire neighbourhoods. In Gaza, such things are now laid to waste. People watching are brought to the history they learned at school, when heroes fought against military occupation, when they were educated to celebrate the valour of resistance to military rule. So they understand collective punishment as the war crime that it is, and its sinister purpose.
The shocking ability for anyone and everyone to witness much of the merciless carnage as it happens has also made crystal clear its logic. No matter what Israel or its defenders say, this is not about self defence, or tunnels, or rockets, or Hamas. It is, rather, a brutal colonial war waged on an imprisoned, blockaded, and besieged people who do not care to live on their knees.
These war crimes are what we Palestinians face whether we surrender or whether we stand. As one of the most ardent philosophers of freedom Jean-Jacques Rousseau pointed out, when explaining the uselessness of one people trying to subjugate another and expecting submission: “There is peace in the dungeons, but is that enough to make them desirable?” For the Palestinians, it is our story that can now be clearly seen: a decades-old struggle for freedom, and of united resistance to our collective destruction. And in this long and hard battle, a terrible beauty is born. It is a story replete with bravery, with sacrifice, with a grand collective spirit, of hearts full of grief and of love.
Collective spirit is tangible everywhere you find Palestinians. The very unity Israel set out to destroy by launching this war has manifested itself on a popular level both inside Gaza and outside of it to an unprecedented degree.
The head of the Catholic churches in Gaza, on seeing the demolished mosques over that terrible weekend of Eid, calling the people to bring their minarets and set them on the roof of the churches to pray with them together, as one people; young protesters at the biggest demonstration of the occupied West Bank in decades, shot in the head at Qalandiya with live bullets by snipers with silencers, with others rushing to take their place; in Hebron, old men walking out alone in front of the young protesters who were being fired on at point blank range; families hurrying to give blood, to volunteer; the united Palestinian delegation made up of all the political factions at Cairo, demanding with one voice the lifting of the siege to free our people; and above all those who are defending our streets and neighbourhoods, heads held high.
These gestures, which illustrate a people standing , have brought people across the world shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians in anger at what they see, but also in love for that universal freedom so precious to all people, and to honour the universality of human dignity in the face of such ugliness.
Nelson Mandela, who left prison without renouncing the armed struggle, declared that South Africa would not be free until Palestine is free. He understood that a struggle for justice always unites ordinary people and always isolates oppression and injustice.
Each minute, more people raise their voice for embargoes, sanctions, and boycotts; more send support to Palestinians; more Latin American countries send Israel’s ambassadors home; more ministers resign on principle; more people speak up freely for, and with, the Palestinians in their epic battle for freedom. Israel has lost. The demonstrators’ chant that went out from Saturday’s march of more than 150,000 in London, from protests in cities across the world from South Africa to Santiago, shows that while the Palestinians resist they will never be alone, and that Palestine and its people will one day be free. Their chant has echoed straight to Gaza: “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.”
Karma Nabulsi is a fellow in politics at Oxford University.