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In Opinion

Jordan is the young members’ officer for Unison’s Derbyshire branch in the East Midlands region. Jordan visited Palestine with a Unison delegation organised by PSC in April 2016. A full report from the delegation is available here. It was his first time visiting Palestine this is a blog of his experiences and reflections since the trip.

Towards the end of my visit to Palestine we, me and my Unison colleagues, visited the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem to meet Nabil Al Kurd – a Palestinian grandfather who lives in the house he’s owned since the 1950s with all 12 members of his family

In this small and modest house the family acts as a microcosm of the  brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine. In 2009 a group of young Israeli men violently forced their way into Nabil’s home and took over half of it, the front rooms have been occupied ever since.  Separated by just one locked internal door young Israeli men take shifts to live in half of Nabil’s house – while Nabil and his family continue to live in the back.

These Israeli men do everything they can to make life as miserable and worthless as possible for this Palestinian family: graffiti, loud music, rubbish, aggression and violence.  Nabil has even been attacked by their dogs.

Nabil (on the left) tells the group about his experiences since the Israeli settlers took over half of his home in East Jerusalem
Nabil (on the left) tells the group about his experiences since the Israeli settlers took over half of his home in East Jerusalem

At the heart of this is a 12 year old granddaughter – too young to remember life before the settlers arrived, her life defined by violence and hatred. Afraid of her own home; scared to go to school; unable to properly sleep and petrified of what the men on the other side of that door might do next.

What has the Israeli state done about this?  Well the courts did give Nabil two options: leave his home that he’s lived in since the 1950s or pay rent to the men who occupy it.

The situation for Nabil is horrifying but it’s important to remember, of course, that this is an extreme example of what the occupation of Palestine has done to the mind-set of the Israeli occupier.  If the Israelis in question thought of Nabil’s granddaughter like an Israeli granddaughter they wouldn’t be occupying her home, let alone supporting a military occupation of her homeland.

Two teenage Israeli conscripts in Hebron
Two teenage Israeli conscripts in Hebron

As humans, we do have an incredible capacity for empathy.  But empathy is dependent on a shared sense of humanity.  And what I learned in Palestine was that once that sense of humanity is destroyed it’s possible for large numbers of people to tolerate and support near limitless suffering.  It was like standing at night on a hill and suddenly a firework goes off and you can see everything clearly for a brief moment.  Visiting Nabil’s house it all became clear; it was obvious how the occupation and discrimination just go on.

The Israeli government has demonised and dehumanised the Palestinians and it was truly frightening to see firsthand the consequences.  This lack of shared humanity allows for the killings, the bombings, the house demolitions, the arrests, the absence of workers’ rights, Palestinians dying at checkpoints in the back of ambulances– all possible because not enough Israelis see Palestinians as fellow human beings.  It was beyond what I ever expected to see.  But perhaps not so surprising when many of the Israeli soldiers we saw were just teenagers carrying out compulsory national service.

I understand if reading this you think: “It’s so depressing, there’s nothing we can do.” Well there are two reasons why you’re wrong.

We met the Coalition of Women for Peace – an organisation of Israeli and Palestinian women that campaign to end the occupation.  We heard from young Israeli women who had refused to join the Israeli army because they didn’t want to be part of the occupation.  They had potentially faced prison sentences, life-long un- or under-employment and even alienation from their families.

These Israeli women could have lived comfortable middle-class lives but the sacrifices they made offered me a huge source of hope that a sense of humanity can spread across Israel.

Omar Barghouti, to co-founder of the BDS movement, talks to the Unison delegated in Ramallah

And there is something we can do – we can campaign for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel until it adheres international law.

We met Omar Barghouti who is the co-founder of the campaign for BDS in Palestine.  He told us how successful BDS has been in raising awareness of the occupation and forcing major multinational companies to pull out – Sodastream, Orange, CRH (Irish cement company), G4S and Veolia to name a few.

If people like us all around the world who care about Palestinian rights join this campaign then the occupation will end.

If visiting Palestine means anything to me then it’s this: we must all see our complicity and take responsibility for making change. Like many people my pension invests in the occupation and that makes me partly responsible for what I’ve seen. It means I’ve got a moral responsibility to do something about it – and you do too.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author

A full report from the Unison delegation is available here.

Children cycle in the gaze of Israeli soliders by the wall which cuts Hebron in two
Children cycle in the gaze of Israeli soliders by the wall which cuts Hebron in two
Children in East Jerusalem wave from the ruins of a demolished building
Chicken wire protects the Palestinian’s in Hebron from the rubbish and rocks thrown by the settlers who live above them