Sheikh Jarrah, the latest flashpoint of violence between government-backed Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents, is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that’s named after Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi. He was the personal physician to Saladin, an Islamic general whose armies liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century. Jarrahi’s tomb still rests in Sheikh Jarrah. All these years later, violence continues there — although it is now much more one-sided.
As of press time, at least 230 Palestinians have been killed within the last two weeks due to Israeli aerial and naval bombardment in Gaza alone, with 60 of these casualties being children. In Israel, 12 people were killed as a result of rocket fire from Hamas. Even this roughly 19-1 ratio does not tell the full story — Gaza is a relatively tiny stretch of land (about the size of Detroit), but it hosts more than 2 million people. The vast majority are refugees or descendants of refugees who fled other areas of Palestine during the 1948 Nakba, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by Zionist militias, hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed and Palestinian history was erased.
Gaza is also under a land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. It receives only two to four hours of electricity per day (its only power plant was also recently denied fuel by Israel), and 98% of the groundwater is undrinkable. It really is difficult to think of Gaza as anything other than an open-air prison, and it is also difficult to think of the situation in Palestine as anything other than a form of apartheid, a conclusion that both the Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, have reached.
As a result of the latest bombardment of Gaza — similar attacks occurred in 2008, 2012 and 2014, actions that Israeli analysts often refer to as “mowing the grass” — hospitals, schools and the territory’s only coronavirus testing facility were damaged. Gaza’s largest bookstore as well as several high-rise buildings, including the one hosting the press offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera, were completely destroyed. Additionally, the head of internal medicine and coronavirus response in Gaza’s main hospital, Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, was killed in an Israeli airstrike that also killed 12 members of his extended family.
Israel claims that it is targeting Hamas’ military facilities, but this claim grows more difficult to believe as civilian infrastructure is destroyed and bodies pile up. Even Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who, like a number of his predecessors, is nauseatingly pro-Israel, said he had not received any evidence backing Israel’s claim that Hamas made use of offices in the building housing AP.
In the face of all this injustice and carnage, one might ask where the United States stands. Unfortunately, as is known to anyone familiar with the conflict, the United States is and has been Israel’s staunchest ally for years, supporting it heavily both militarily and diplomatically. In response to the recent violence in Gaza, the United States blocked four otherwise unanimous attempts at a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. Thankfully, there is now a ceasefire in place as of press time, though it is unknown how long it will last.
Nonetheless, no ceasefire will ever solve the root of this entire conflict, which seems to be the violent and continuous dispossession of Palestinians from their ancestral homes and their complete and utter dehumanization by Israeli schools, religious institutions, media organizations, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli government itself.
To the blue-check liberals on Twitter who believe that Uncle Joe will solve this: You are in for a rude awakening. President Joe Biden is ostensibly Israel’s biggest cheerleader and seems to have no problem with the wholesale slaughter of women and children to achieve military objectives.
You don’t have to believe me; believe the words of Menachem Begin, who served as Israel’s sixth prime minister. Describing Biden’s response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Begin explained that during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on the subject, Biden said “he’d forcefully fend off anyone who sought to invade his country, even if that meant killing women or children.” Of course, Israel was the invader here, but it is likely all the same for Biden.
To UC Berkeley, whose recent message reeks of bothsidesism: Your statement is not much more than an abstract “violence exists” declaration. You make no effort to convey the disproportionate casualty rate, the reason behind the violence or, indeed, an explanation of anything, really. The statement reminds students of available mental health resources as if mental health counseling will be enough to help a student whose family has been evicted (read: ethnically cleansed) from their home or bombed out of existence in Gaza. It would have been better to issue no statement at all.
I long for the UC Berkeley of old, the UC Berkeley that hosted Martin Luther King Jr. at Sproul Plaza, the UC Berkeley that opposed apartheid and divested from apartheid-linked companies, the UC Berkeley that was on the side of the oppressed and the marginalized. I hope that UC Berkeley is in there somewhere, but given the campus’s ties with Israel, I’m afraid that is false hope. Are you in there?
Demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinian suffering have swept up cities around the world. Much like these brave protesters and even braver activists in Palestine, we must also be brave and resolute in our defense of the oppressed. As Nelson Mandela said in 1997, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
This op-ed was written by a recent graduate of UC Berkeley who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.