And how you can help.
As you’re no doubt aware, over the last few weeks tensions between Israel and Palestine escalated to tragic heights. The 11 days of fighting saw hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children, killed.
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It’s a complex topic, and the situation isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon, but it’s important to have an understanding of what happened and why it happened. So let’s (briefly) break it down.
How did this start?
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, Britain took control of Palestine. (Sound familiar, Australia?) The land was home to an Arab majority and a Jewish minority. Tensions grew when Britain was asked by the international community to set up a national home in Palestine for Jewish people.
This was driven by the Zionism movement, an ideology that Judaism is both a nationality as well as a religion and has a right to its own country as a result of anti-Semitism across the world. But it’s important to remember that Palestine was mostly an Arab region at the time, and the Palestinian Arabs did not accept this move.
During the Holocaust, many Jewish communities fled Europe and sought refuge in Palestine. Palestinians believed that the Jewish population were invading settlers, attempting to take over the land. With religious tensions rising, in 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted for Palestine to be split into a Jewish state (Israel) and Arab states (Gaza and the West Bank), with Jerusalem to become an international city.
The Jewish leaders accepted this while the Arab leaders didn’t. In 1948 Britain left the state after being unable to resolve the conflict, and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel. After many Palestinians objected this move, a war followed.
What’s happening now?
Since the British left in 1948, decades of fighting and unsuccessful peace talks have occurred. Politically, Israel is ruled by a right-wing coalition government while the West Bank of Palestine is controlled by the political party of Fatah.
At the United Nations in 2018, 146 countries voted in favour of allowing the State of Palestine to act like a full member of the UN during meetings in 2019, and three countries voted against it – Israel, the United States and Australia. As of 2019, 138 countries have created bi-lateral agreements with Palestine, recognising it as a valid state. Australia currently does not recognise Palestine as a state.
So what provoked this recent outbreak of fighting? Firstly, a little context. Israeli laws state that if a citizen can prove that a property was Jewish-owned before the 1948 Arab-Israel war then they can claim it as their own. This is what began to happen in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. On May 2 this year, the Jerusalem District Court ordered six Palestinian families from their generational homes as Israelis began settling in the area.
In protest, thousands of Palestinians went to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and were blocked by Israeli police. This also occurred during the holy month of Ramadan. Violence from the Israeli police erupted and on May 11, in retaliation to an Israeli airstrike, Hamas sent over 100 rockets into Israel.
Israel fired back by dropping an air raid on Palestinians in Gaza with hundreds injured and 35 people killed. It’s important to note that Israel has historically been (and continues to be) at an advantage for two reasons.
Firstly, it uses a defence system known as the Iron Dome which can intercept and eliminate rockets that are fired into its air space, and secondly, it’s funded by the United States. This is why the casualties in Palestine are much higher than in Israel.
On May 17 Israel sent more than 50 warplanes for a 20-minute attack on the Gaza Strip and hit 15 kilometres of an underground tunnel network and nine homes of Hamas’ commanders. The United Nations announced that the area was on the “brink of a full-scale war” and that de-escalation was “an absolute must”.
On May 22, after 11 days of fighting and pressure from US president Joe Biden, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. Both sides have claimed victory, but the situation isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon.
How has Australian media responded?
In an open letter from Australian journalists, news outlets were criticised for failing to include Palestinian’s perspectives in their coverage of the events. Across Australia, people have spoken out about what they perceive as an unfairly pro-Israel agenda in the Australian media, and over 20,000 people signed an open letter condemning the ABC for its silence on Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.
This biased reporting of events is something that Palestinian-Australian ex-journalist Jennine Khalik also spoke about at length in a feature for Pedestrian TV.
So who’s spoken out?
While many influential people have chosen to stay quiet on this issue, a handful of celebrities have made statements with the most vocal of the lot being Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid. This is incredibly important when many social media companies are reportedly silencing Palestinian voices.
Bella has shared multiple posts and resources on her Instagram account including pictures of her Palestinian grandparents who became refugees in 1948.
Bella’s famous siblings Anwar and Gigi Hadid have also made statements on their social media accounts. Gigi’s partner Zayn also stated that he stands with Palestinians. The singer has been vocal on this issue for years with tweets supporting Palestine from 2014 being resurfaced this past week.
Actress and body positivity activist Jameela Jamil has shared multiple stories on Instagram and called for a ceasefire on Twitter. Dua Lipa showed her support for Palestine by reposting this Bernie Sanders tweet on her Instagram account as well.
How can you help?
While a ceasefire has been agreed to, humanitarian assistance and medical support are still needed for Gaza’s overburdened health sector. To help those affected, a number of charities are asking for donations. Australian charity Care has a donations page on its website to help Palestinian territories while Medical Aid for Palestine and Palestine Children’s Relief Fund are also accepting funds.
There have been Free Palestine protests around the country since the fighting broke out, and the Australian Friends of Palestine Association is regularly announcing more if you wish to show solidarity for Palestine.
It’s important to remember that this is a complex yet unequal political situation. It’s essential to read widely and help where you can without engaging in anti-Semitic or Islamophobic rhetoric.
If you want to learn more about the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, check out Al Jazeera’s interactive timeline here.