“Let us all be the voice of the Palestinians, let us all speak out until we get justice and freedom for the Palestinian people.”
Louise Regan reports on two recent solidarity delegations to Palestine.
In October and December 2022, I returned to Palestine, the first time since February 2020 due to Covid19. On both visits I was with other trade unionists, most who had not visited before and who were there to learn more about the situation, and to meet with individuals and organisations to deepen their understanding.
For Palestinians 2022 was the deadliest year since 2006. The monthly average of Palestinian fatalities increased by 57 per cent when compared with 2021. In the first half of October alone 15 Palestinians, including six children, were killed by Israeli forces during search-and-arrest operations, exchanges of fire, or in confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
In October we visited Nablus, a beautiful city in the West Bank. Nablus had been under curfew for several days and entry in and out was severely restricted. We have good links with the cultural centre in the camp and although there was clear evidence of clashes at the entrance to the town we made our way in with no problems. During our time in the camp it was clear that the situation was stressful for them.
As we left several armed vehicles arrived and we were questioned about the purpose of our visit. The following day four young Palestinians were killed in the camp – these were young people with hopes and dreams, young people who just wanted to enjoy their life but who are now gone forever.
We also visited Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem. Aida is the most tear gassed place on earth. The families there live under the eye of numerous military watchtowers and regular incursions in to the camp not only firing tear gas and skunk water but also arresting young people in the middle of the night. At the edge of the camp is the Lajee centre set up in April 2000, the centre is a sanctuary for the children and young people of the camp.
They have developed an outdoor play area, football pitch, a nursery and gym and they run music, dance and creative workshops. On the roof of the centre there is a garden area with a hydroponics greenhouse where they are growing and distributing fresh herbs and vegetables.
In December we met with representatives from Addameer and DCI Palestine. Two of the human rights organisations who have been categorised as terrorist groups by the Israeli state, a political decision with no evidence or justification being presented. Both organisations, along with four others, have had their offices raided and documentation and computers stolen.
DCI Palestine advocates for child prisoners. Most Palestinian children are arrested during the night in armed raids on their home. They are blindfolded, shackled and taken in military jeeps to detention centres where they face interrogation and torture. They are tried in military courts and regularly forced to sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language they do not speak. Their crime – throwing stones – a crime for which they can face up to ten years in prison or twenty years if they hit a vehicle. Addameer advocates for political prisoners who face administrative detention, a system put in place during the British mandate, where they can be detained without charge or trial for an indefinite amount of time.
I have visited Palestine many times and I am always in awe of the people, their sumud ‘steadfastness’ and their resilience against the oppressive regime under which they live. The ongoing occupation, the human rights abuses they face on a daily basis limiting their ability to work, to access their own lands and family, to attend medical appointments or even go to school are all truly shocking and something that once you have seen you cannot un-see.
On the 2nd November 1917 British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration which stated:
‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’
These 67 words written over one hundred years ago led to not only the mass expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homes and land but also the ongoing occupation, control and intimidation of the Palestinian people until this day.
During the last year important reports by B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have all been released calling Israel an apartheid state. During all my visits I have witnessed apartheid in action – from the restriction of Palestinians freedom of movement, the segregation and control of their daily lives to the dispossession of land and property.
On one of my first visits to Palestine I was told that Palestine was being built out of existence. What I witnessed in October and December – the huge settlement expansion, the new settler only roads cutting through the Palestinians land and the escalating house demolitions and evictions means that the reality of this statement is coming ever nearer.
In Sheikh Jarrah when one of our union members cried after hearing about the plight of the families there – the Palestinian father we were meeting with said “we thank you for your tears but we don’t need tears – we need voices – go back and tell people what you have seen – tell them our story as we are voiceless.”
Let us all be the voice of the Palestinians, let us all speak out until we get justice and freedom for the Palestinian people.