I have been struggling to put my thoughts into words about the war between Palestine and Israel. I spent many days feeling sad and scattered. I am a middle aged Indian woman living in Europe; I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim or Christian. As a climate justice activist, why do I care so much about this war?
The attack on the Jabalia refugee camp helped me find the words. It was in this very same camp that Palestinians started the Intifada (uprising/rebellion) against the Israeli occupation back in 1987 using a variety of tactics from protests to boycotts, civil disobedience to force.
As a 14 year old, I didn’t really understand what was going on; while there are many differences to the Palestinian struggle and that of India’s movement for independence, my father explained that they are both based on people rising up to resist occupation and oppression; he explained that the UN split Palestine to make room for a Jewish state in 1948 and succeeding wars with Israel and its Arab neighbours resulted in Israel expanding its borders and occupying Palestine since 1967, now known as the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). I remarked that Israel was good and had been victims of the Holocaust. My father countered by telling me that suffering the ills of colonial rule didn’t stop India from occupying Kashmir and denying them the right to self-determination. The scars of oppression are unfortunately not enough to keep an oppressed group from oppressing another.
Although my grandfather had told us many stories about what resistance looked like, the history of how India got independence seemed so far away. Watching the Intifada unfold on television made me feel how oppressive colonialism is. Palestinians cannot move freely and since 1967 there have been 230 Israeli new settlements encroaching on Palestinian land, which are considered illegal by international law.
An increasing number of human rights groups and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 have pointed out that the situation in Palestine is apartheid, which is defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as ‘’inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. Despite living under a single territorial unit, Palestinians and Israelis are treated differently in every aspect of daily life. The laws, rules and regulations are not the same for both groups. Examples include, Palestinians not being able to move about freely between Israel and the OPT, Israel’s policy to keep the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank separated, and declaring that self-determination within Israel as unique to the Jewish people. This is the context of the attack from 7th October. It was gruesome and I cannot imagine being taken hostage or knowing that my parents are hostages. The context doesn’t in any way justify the attack and must be condemned, but it is explainable.
When we turn our eyes toward genocide, it is important not to use this term lightly. Yet 800 scholars, including Israelis, have warned of an impeding genocide. These aren’t activists, but people who spend their days studying the erasure of peoples in the past, why this happens and how to prevent it. The statement of the Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, “we are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” indicates that the dehumanisation has been taken to a new level, making killing of civilians easier and more acceptable. To call out settler colonialism, apartheid or genocide by Israel is not antisemitic. Rather it means one is taking the lessons of the Holocaust seriously to never again allow genocide. Never again is now.
When I compare the struggle for climate justice and a free Palestine, I see so many parallels. Extracting and burning oil, coal and gas is rooted in colonialism. Fossil fuel companies and countries destroy homelands to power development and make profits, while leaving a mess behind. Climate change divides us into the haves and have nots. Who suffers the worst consequences, who has access to resources to cope? While the Netherlands will be able to build walls and dykes to protect its citizens from rising seas, parts of Bangladesh will disappear. Will rich countries secure safety for their citizens, while preventing safe passage of climate refugees because they are considered expendable? So many have already died from climate change and we don’t even register it. Will climate genocide reveal itself as the slow death of the languages, traditions and cultures of people who were least responsible for the climate crisis?
What we see in the climate crisis and Palestine is an imbalance of power that has already killed so many; both of the struggles are a classic case of David vs. Goliath, rooted in justice. Maybe it is naive, but I have hope that the cycle of violence will be broken, because as the great American poet Maya Angelou said ‘’the truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.’’