The recent killings of peaceful Palestinian protesters, children and journalists by Israeli military snipers marks a turning point in the movement against Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestine.
Weekly nonviolent protests by thousands in Gaza over the past month, known as the Great March of Return, have resulted in dozens dead and hundreds injured by the live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas of Israel’s military. As a result, the ground is shifting in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land, reflecting the urgency of the human rights violations taking place there, and the ongoing efforts of the Palestinian-led movement for justice, freedom and self-determination.
In the United States, during this season of bourgeoning movements for women’s rights, gun control and black lives, people are starting to understand the commonality of injustice, inequality and state-sponsored violence around the world. With a younger generation committed to racial justice, social equity and human rights, attitudes towards Israel’s occupation of Palestine are shifting, even as many mainstream Jewish organisations remain silent.
Recently, Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman faced accusations of antisemitism from Israeli officials and calls for revoking her citizenship for rejecting an invitation to travel to Israel to receive an award from the Genesis Prize Foundation, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel”.
Portman said she declined to attend the ceremony in Israel due to distress over “recent events” (referring to the killings of Palestinian protesters) and because she “did not want to appear as endorsing [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Jewish-American comedian Sarah Silverman spoke out in support for Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian girl who was imprisoned for slapping an Israeli soldier and has since been called the “Palestinian Rosa Parks“. As both Portman and Silverman are known for their support for Israel, their unexpected reactions to and protests of Israel’s actions showed that there is a shift in Jewish-American attitudes towards the occupation.
Meanwhile, Durham, North Carolina became the first US city to ban police training in Israel, while students at New York’s prestigious Barnard College’s students voted to divest from Israel. Several US lawmakers such as Senators Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have voiced their opposition to the shootings of Palestinians attending the Great March of Return, as Jewish millennial activists from IfNotNow have faced arrest for shutting down congressional offices as they tired to make elected officials take a stand.
Israel cannot justify a system protecting rights for Jews only, any more than apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow America were able to maintain a country for whites only, as pressure, protests and boycotts ultimately forced change.
There are signs of change in Israel as well. An Army Radio broadcaster said he is “ashamed to be Israeli” in light of the military’s killing of Gaza protesters. Some Israeli soldiers stationed in Gaza during the attacks on protesters have reportedly reached out to Breaking the Silence, the dissident Israeli group that publishes soldiers’ testimonies that are highly critical of the occupation.
B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights NGO, has urged Israeli soldiers to refuse to fire at unarmed Palestinian protesters. Meanwhile, a new Jewish-Arab movement called Standing Together started working towards transforming Israeli politics and invigorating a fractured left.
Every movement for justice and equality has its turning point, in which the violence perpetrated against it provides clarity to the greater society, if not the world community, regarding the moral bankruptcy of the oppressor’s cause.
During the US civil rights movement, such flashpoints included Bloody Sunday – the brutal attack by police on civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 – and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which claimed the lives of four black girls in 1963.
In apartheid South Africa, the turning point was the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, in which Afrikaner police opened fire on thousands of black protesters, killing 69 and wounding 180. Another turning point came 16 years later, when South African police killed as many as 700 black students in Soweto who were protesting compulsory Afrikaans instruction.
The Palestinian movement for justice and equality reached a similar turning point when Israeli soldiers chose to fire upon thousands of unarmed, non-violent protesters. Israel can no longer justify a system protecting rights for Jews only, any more than apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow America were able to maintain a country for whites only, as pressure, protests and boycotts ultimately forced change.
Palestinian Arabs are now the majority population in the land that encompasses Israel and Palestine, and yet they are second and third-class citizens at best, and at worst, landless refugees made captive in their own home.
Israel is an apartheid state whose government apparently has no intention of providing full and equal rights to Palestinians in a democratic one-state solution, or allowing Palestinian independence through a two-state solution. Israel is continuously expanding its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, Gaza is an open-air detainment camp in which the prisoners cannot escape, and US President Donald Trump has placated his white Christian nationalist base and made way for the “rapture” by taking Jerusalem off the table.
Decades of a dehumanising occupation have also conditioned the hard-right leadership in the nation of refugees, that is Israel, to brand African refugees as “infiltrators” and “monkeys” who are a threat to the country’s Jewish character and existence.
Justifying his Trumpesque border fence with Egypt, Netanyahu has called African migrants a greater threat than “Sinai terrorists”. All this despite the fact that Ethiopian Jews, just like Palestinians, are facing discrimination and violence in Israel on a daily basis.
Article II of the United Nations’ Genocide Convention defines genocide as any of the following, with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part: “(a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Israel, a nation created in the wake of the Holocaust, should take this definition to heart as it assesses how it treats Palestinians.
No longer can the Israeli government pretend Palestinians are not human, or invisible, or will simply go away. Israel cannot justify the misery it visits upon Palestinians through the military occupation, the killing and imprisonment, the restrictions on movement, the demolition of homes and the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian land any longer. Reactions to Israeli military’s latest killing and maimings of nonviolent Palestinian protesters are proof that the Palestinian movement for justice has passed a turning point and change is coming.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.