All posts by Ramzy Baroud

Israel’s Premature Celebration: Gazans Have Crossed the Fear Barrier

60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on May 15, simply for protesting and demanding their Right of Return as guaranteed by international law.

50 more were killed since March 30, the start of the ‘Great March of Return’, which marks Land Day.

Nearly 10,000 have been wounded and maimed in between these two dates.

‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, White House officials announced, paying no heed to the ludicrousness of the statement when understood within the current context of an unequal struggle.

Peaceful protesters were not threatening the existence of Israel; rock throwing kids were not about to overwhelm hundreds of Israeli snipers, who shot, killed and wounded Gaza youngsters with no legal or moral boundary whatsoever.

8-months old, Laila al-Ghandour was one of the 60 who were killed on May 15. She suffocated to death from Israeli teargas. Many, like her, were wounded or killed some distance away from the border. Some were killed for simply being nearby, or for being Palestinian.

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President, Donald Trump, ushered in a new era of international relations, when she and her companions unveiled the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

She was ‘all smiles’ while, at the exact same moment, hundreds of Gazans were being felled at the border. The already dilapidated hospitals have no room for most of the wounded. They bled in hallways awaiting medical attention.

Ivanka has never been to Gaza – and will unlikely ever visit or be welcomed there. Gazans do not register in her moral conscience, if she has any beyond her immediate interests, as people deserving of rights, freedom and dignity.

At the border, many Gaza kids have been coloring their bodies in blue paint, dressing up in homemade costumes to imitate characters from the Hollywood movie, ‘Avatar’. They hoped that, by hiding their brown skin, their plight and suffering could be more relatable to the world.

But when they were shot, their blood gave them away. They were still human, still from Gaza.

The international community has already condemned Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and declared his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘null and void’, but will it go further than mere words?

Will the international community remain trapped between hollow statements and no action? Will they ever truly recognize the humanity of Laila al-Ghandour and all the other children, men and women who died and continue to perish under Gaza’s besieged skies? Will they ever care enough to do something?

The plight of the Palestinians is compounded with the burden of having a useless ‘leadership’.  The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has been busy of late, demanding allegiance from the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank. Large signs and larger banners have been erected everywhere, where families, professional associations, unions and companies have announced, in large font: the “Renewal of Loyalty and Support to President Mahmoud Abbas.”

‘Renewal’? Abbas’ mandate expired in 2009. Besides, is this what Abbas and his Fatah party perceive to be the most urgent matter that needs to be addressed, while his people are being massacred?

Abbas fears that Hamas is using the blood of the Gaza victims to bolster its popularity. Ironically, it is a shared concern with Israeli leaders, the likes of Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The latter said that Hamas has won the PR war at the Gaza border by a ‘knockout.’

This propaganda is as false as it is utterly racist; yet, it has persisted for far too long. It proposes that Palestinians and Arabs lack human agency. They are incapable of mobilizing and organizing their collective efforts to demand their long-denied rights. They are only pawns, puppets in the hands of factions, to be sacrificed at the altar of public relations.

It did not dawn on Conricus to note that, perhaps, his army lost the ‘PR war’ because its brutes shot thousands of unarmed civilians who did nothing, aside from gathering at the border demanding an end to their perpetual siege; or that, just maybe, the PR war was lost because Israel’s top leaders announced proudly that Gazans are fair game, since, according to Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “there are no innocents in Gaza.’

Ivanka will go down in Israel’s history as a hero. But Palestinian Resistance is not fueled or subdued by Ivanka, but by the sacrifices of the Palestinians themselves, and by the blood of Laila al-Ghandour, who was denied even a celebration of her first birthday on God’s besieged earth.

The US government has decisively and blatantly moved to the wrong side of history. As their officials attended parties, galas and celebrations of the Embassy move, whether in Israel or in Washington and elsewhere, Palestinians dug 60 more graves and held 60 more funerals.

The world watched in horror, and even western media failed to hide the full ugly truth from its readers. The two acts – of lavish parties and heartbreaking burials – were beamed all over the world, and the already struggling American reputation sank deeper and deeper.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have thought he had won. Comforted by his right wing government and society on the one hand, Trump and his angry UN bully, Nikki Haley, on the other, he feels invulnerable.

But he should rethink his power-driven logic. When Gazan youth stood bare-chested at the border fence, falling one drove after the other, they crossed a fear barrier that no generation of Palestinians has ever crossed. And when people are unafraid, they can never be subdued or defeated.

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.

My Home is Beit Daras: Our Lingering Nakba

When Google Earth was initially released in 2001, I immediately rushed to locate a village that no longer exists on a map, which now delineates a whole different reality.

Although I was born and raised in a Gaza refugee camp, and then moved to and lived in the United States, finding a village that was erased from the map decades earlier was not, at least for me, an irrational act. The village of Beit Daras was the single most important piece of earth that truly mattered to me.

But I could only find it by estimation. Beit Daras was located 32-kilometers northeast of Gaza, on an elevated ground, perched gently between a large hill and a small river that seemed to never run dry.

A once peaceful village, Beit Daras had existed for millennia. Romans, Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans ruled over and, even tried to subdue Beit Daras as in all of Palestine; yet they failed. True, each invader left their mark – ancient Roman tunnels, a Crusaders’ castle, a Mamluk mail building, an Ottoman khan (Caravanserai) – but they were all eventually driven out. It wasn’t until 1948 that Beit Daras, that tenacious village with a population of merely 3,000 was emptied from its population, and later destroyed.

The agony of the inhabitants of Beit Daras and their descendants lingers on after all of these years. The tragic way that Beit Daras was conquered by invading Zionist forces has left behind blood stains and emotional scars that have never healed.

Three battles were bravely fought by the Badrasawis, as the dwellers of Beit Daras are called, in defense of their village. At the end, the Zionist militias, the Haganah, with the help of British weapons and strategic assistance, routed out the humble resistance, which consisted mostly of villagers fighting with old rifles.

The ‘massacre of Beit Daras’ that followed remains a subdued scream that pierces through the hearts of Badrasawis after all of these years. Those who survived became refugees and are mostly living in the Gaza Strip. Under siege, successive wars and endless strife, their Nakba – the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48 – has never truly ended. One cannot dispel the pain if the wound never truly heals.

Born into a family of refugees in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza, I took pride in being a Badrasawi. Our resistance has garnered us the reputation of being ‘stubborn’ and the uncorroborated claims of having large heads. We truly are stubborn, proud and generous, for Beit Daras was erased but the collective identity it has given us remained intact, regardless of whichever exile we may find ourselves.

As I child, I learned to be proud from my grandfather: A handsome, elegant, strong peasant with unshakable faith. He managed to hide his deep sadness so well after he was expelled from his home in Palestine, along with his entire family. As he aged, he would sit for hours, between prayers, searching within his soul for the beautiful memories of his past. Occasionally, he would let out a mournful sigh, a few tears; yet he never accepted his defeat, or the idea that Beit Daras was forever gone.

“Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, while we know that it’s a matter of a week or so before we return to Beit Daras?” he told his bewildered wife, Zeinab as they hauled their children to navigate an endless exile.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when my grandfather discovered that his “good blankets” were gone forever, that all that remained of his village were two giant concrete pillars, and piles of cactus.

It isn’t easy to construct a history that, only several decades ago, was, along with every standing building of that village, blown to smithereens with the very intent of erasing it from existence. Most historic references written of Beit Daras, whether by Israeli or Palestinian historians, were brief, and ultimately resulted in delineating the fall of Beit Daras as just one among nearly 600 Palestinian villages that were often evacuated and then completely flattened during the war years. It was another episode in a more compounded tragedy that has seen the dispossession and expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians.

But for my family, it was much more than that. Beit Daras was our very dignity. Grandpas’ calloused hands and leathery weathered skin attested to the decades of hard labor tending the rocky soil in the fields of Palestine. It was a popular pastime for my brothers and I to point to a scar on his body to hear a gut-busting tale of the rigors of farm-life.

Later in life, someone would give him a small hand-held radio to glean the latest news and he would, from that moment, never be seen without it. As a child, I recall him listening to the Arab Voice news on that battered radio. It once had been blue but now had faded to white with age. Its bulging batteries were duct-taped to the back. Sitting with the radio up to his ear and fighting to hear the reporter amidst the static, grandpa listened and waited for the announcer to make that long-awaiting call: “To the people of Beit Daras: your lands have been liberated, go back to your village.”

The day grandpa died, his faithful radio was lying on the pillow close to his ear so that even then he might catch the announcement for which he had waited for so long. He wanted to comprehend his dispossession as a simple glitch in the world’s consciousness that was sure to be corrected and straightened out in time.

But it didn’t. 70 years later, my people are still refugees. Not just the Badrasawis, but millions of Palestinians, scattered in refugee camps all across the Middle East. Those refugees, while still searching for a safe path that would take them home, often find themselves on yet another journey, another dusty trail, being pushed out time and again from one city to the next, from one country to another, even lost between continents.

My grandfather was buried in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp cemetery, not in Beit Daras as he had wished. But he remained a Badrasawi to the end, holding so passionately onto the memories of a place that for him – for all of us – remain sacred and real.

What Israel still fails to understand that the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees is not merely a political or even a legal right to be overpowered by the ever-unfair status quo. It has longed surpassed that into a whole different realm. For me, Beit Daras is not just a piece of earth but a perpetual fight for justice that shall never cease, because the Badrasawis belong to Beit Daras and nowhere else.

Eclipsing Factionalism: The Missing Story from the Gaza Protests

The Gaza border protests must be understood in the context of the Israeli Occupation, the siege and the long-delayed ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees. However, they should also be appreciated in a parallel context: Palestine’s own factionalism and infighting.

Factionalism in Palestinian society is a deep-rooted ailment that has, for decades, thwarted any unified effort at ending the Israeli military Occupation and Apartheid.

The Fatah and Hamas political rivalry has been catastrophic, for it takes place at a time that the Israel colonial project and land theft in the West Bank are occurring at an accelerated rate.

In Gaza, the siege continues to be as suffocating and deadly. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with regional neglect and a prolonged feud between factions have all served to drive Gazans to the brink of starvation and political despair.

The mass protests in Gaza, which began on March 30 and are expected to end on May 15 are the people’s response to this despondent reality. It is not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. The protests are also about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

Inexcusable actions become tolerable with the passing of time. So has been the case with Israel’s Occupation that, year after year, swallows up more Palestinian land. Today, the Occupation is, more or less, the status quo.

The Palestinian leadership suffers the same imprisonment as its people, and geographic and ideological differences have compromised the integrity of Fatah as much as Hamas, deeming them irrelevant at home and on the world stage.

But never before has this internal division been weaponized so effectively so as to delegitimize an entire people’s claim for basic human rights. ‘The Palestinians are divided, so they must stay imprisoned.’

The strong bond between US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is being accompanied by a political discourse that has no sympathy for Palestinians whatsoever. According to this narrative, even families protesting peacefully at the Gaza the border is termed as a ‘state of war’, as the Israeli army declared in a recent statement.

Commenting on the Israeli killing of scores and wounding of hundreds in Gaza, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, repeated a familiar mantra while on a visit to the region: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”

Thus, Palestinians are now trapped – West Bankers are under Occupation, surrounded by walls, checkpoints and Jewish settlements, while Gazans are under a hermetic siege that has lasted a decade. Yet, despite this painful reality, Fatah and Hamas seem to have their focus and priorities elsewhere.

Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, Fatah dominated Palestinian politics, marginalized its rivals and cracked down on any opposition. While it operated under the Israeli military Occupation in the West Bank, it still thrived financially as billions of dollars of aid money poured in.

More, the PA has used its financial leverage to maintain its control over Palestinians, thus compounding the oppressive Israeli Occupation and various forms of military control.

Since then, money has corrupted the Palestinian cause. ‘Donors’ money’, billions of dollars received by the PA in Ramallah has turned a revolution and a national liberation project into a massive financial racket with many benefactors and beneficiaries. Most Palestinians, however, remain poor. Unemployment today is skyrocketing.

Throughout his conflict with Hamas, Abbas never hesitated to collectively punish Palestinians to score political points. Starting last year, he took a series of punitive financial measures against Gaza, including the suspicious PA payments to Israel for electricity supplies to Gaza, while cutting off salaries to tens of thousands of Gaza’s employees who had continued to receive their paycheck from the West Bank authority.

This tragic political theater has been taking place for over ten years without the parties finding common ground to move beyond their scuffles.

Various attempts at reconciliations were thwarted, if not by the parties themselves, then by external factors. The last of such agreements was signed in Cairo last October. Although initially promising, the agreement soon faltered.

Last March, an apparent assassination attempt to kill PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, had both parties accuse one another of responsibility. Hamas contends that the culprits are PA agents, bent on destroying the unity deal, while Abbas readily accused Hamas of trying to kill the head of his government.

Hamas is desperate for a lifeline to end the siege on Gaza and killing Hamdallah would have been political suicide. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure stands in ruins, thanks to successive Israeli wars that killed thousands. The tight siege is making it impossible for Gaza to be rebuilt, or for the ailing infrastructure to be repaired.

Even as tens of thousands of Palestinians protested at the Gaza border, both Fatah and Hamas offered their own narratives, trying to use the protests to underscore, or hype, their own popularity amongst Palestinians.

Frustrated by the attention the protests have provided Hamas, Fatah attempted to hold counter rallies in support of Abbas throughout the West Bank. The outcome was predictably embarrassing as only small crowds of Fatah loyalists gathered.

Later, Abbas chaired a meeting of the defunct Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah to tout his supposed achievements in the Palestinian national struggle.

The PNC is considered the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Like the PLO, it has been relegated for many years in favor of the Fatah-dominated PA. The PA leader handpicked new members to join the PNC, only to ensure the future of all political institutions conforms to his will.

In the backdrop of such dismaying reality, thousands more continue to flock to the Gaza border.

Palestinians, disenchanted with factional division, are laboring to create a new political space, independent from the whims of factions; because, for them, the real fight is that against Israeli Occupation, for Palestinian freedom and nothing else.

Gazan Gandhis: Gaza Bleeds Alone as “Liberals” and “Progressives” Go Mute

Three more Palestinians were killed and 611 wounded last Friday, when tens of thousands of Gazans continued their largely non-violent protests at the Gaza-Israel border.

Yet as the casualty count keeps climbing – nearly 45 dead and over 5,500 wounded – the deafening silence also continues. Tellingly, many of those who long chastised Palestinians for using armed resistance against the Israeli occupation are nowhere to be found, while children, journalists, women and men are all targeted by hundreds of Israeli snipers who dot the Gaza border.

Israeli officials are adamant. The likes of Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, perceives his war against the unarmed protesters as a war on terrorists. He believes that “there are no innocents in Gaza.” While the Israeli mindset is not in the least surprising, it is emboldened by the lack of meaningful action, or outright international silence to the atrocities taking place at the border.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), aside from frequent statements laced with ambiguous legal jargon, has been quite useless thus far. Its Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, derided Israel’s killings in a recent statement, but also distorted facts in her attempt at ‘even-handed language’, to the delight of Israeli media.

“Violence against civilians – in a situation such as the one prevailing in Gaza – could constitute crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court … as could the use of civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities,” she said.

Encouraged by Bensouda’s statement, Israel is exploiting the opportunity to deflect from its own crimes. On April 25, an Israeli law group, Shurat Hadin, is seeking to indict three Hamas leaders at the ICC, accusing Hamas of using children as human shields at the border protests.

It is tragic that many still find it difficult to grasp the notion that the Palestinian people are capable of mobilizing, resisting and making decisions independent from Palestinian factions.

Indeed, for the nearly decade-long Hamas-Fatah feud, the Israeli siege on Gaza and throughout the various destructive wars, Gazans have been sidelined, often seen as hapless victims of war and factionalism, and lacking any human agency.

Shurat Hadin, like Bensouda, are all feeding into that dehumanizing discourse.

By insisting that Palestinians are not capable of operating outside the confines of political factions, few feel the sense of political responsibility or moral accountability to come to the aid of the Palestinians.

This is reminiscent of former US President Barack Obama’s unsolicited lecture to Palestinians during his Cairo speech to the Muslim world in 2009.

“Palestinians must abandon violence,” he said. “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed.”

He then offered his own questionable version of history of how all nations, including ‘black people in America’, the nations of South Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe and Indonesia fought and won their freedom by peaceful means only.

This demeaning approach – of comparing supposed Palestinian failures to others’ successes – is always meant to highlight that Palestinians are different, lesser beings who are incapable of being like the rest of humanity. Interestingly, this is very much the core of the Zionist narrative about the Palestinians.

That very notion is often presented in the question “where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” The inquiry, often asked by so-called liberals and progressives, is not an inquiry at all, but is a judgment – and an unfair one at that.

Addressing the question soon after the last Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, Jeff Stein wrote in Newsweek: “The answer has been blown away in the smoke and rubble of Gaza, where the idea of non-violent protest seems as quaint as Peter, Paul and Mary. The Palestinians who preached non-violence and led peaceful marches, boycotts, mass sit-downs and the like are mostly dead, in jail, marginalized or in exile.”

Yet, astonishingly, it is being resurrected again, despite the numerous odds, the unfathomable anger and unrelenting pain.

Tens of thousands of protesters, raising Palestinian flags continue to hold their massive rallies across the Gaza border. Despite the high death toll and the thousands maimed, they return every day with the same commitment to popular resistance that is predicated on collective unity, beyond factionalism and politics.

But why are they still being largely ignored?

Why isn’t Obama tweeting in solidarity with Gazans? Why isn’t Hillary Clinton taking the podium to address the unremitting Israeli violence?

It is politically convenient to criticize Palestinians as a matter of course, and utterly inconvenient to credit them, even when they display such courage, prowess and commitment to peaceful change.

The likes of famed author, J.K. Rowling, had much to stay in criticism of the peaceful Palestinian boycott movement, which aims at holding Israel accountable for its military occupation and violations of human rights. But she became mute when Israeli snipers killed children in Gaza, while cheering whenever a child falls.

The singer Bono of the band U2 dedicated a song to the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, accused of numerous war crimes, but his voice seems to have grown hoarse as the Gaza boy, Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub,15 was shot by an Israeli sniper while protesting peacefully at the border.

However, there is a lesson in all of this. The Palestinian people should have no expectations of those who have constantly failed them. Chastising Palestinians for failing at this or that is an old habit, meant to simply hold Palestinians responsible for their own suffering, and to absolve Israel from any wrong doing. Not even Israel’s ‘incremental genocidein Gaza will change that paradigm.

Instead, Palestinians must continue to count on themselves; to stay focused on formulating a proper strategy that will serve their own interests in the long run, the kind of strategy that transcends factionalism and offer all Palestinians a true roadmap to the coveted freedom.

The popular resistance in Gaza is just the beginning; it must serve as a foundation for a new outlook, a vision that will ensure that the blood of Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub is not spilled in vain.

The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago

Albert Einstein, along with other Jewish luminaries, including Hannah Arendt, published a letter in the New York Times on December 4, 1948. That was only a few months after Israel had declared its independence and as hundreds of Palestinian villages were being actively demolished after their inhabitants were expelled.

The letter denounced Israel’s newly-founded Herut party and its young leader, Menachem Begin.

Herut was carved out of the Irgun terrorist gang, famous for its many massacres against Palestinian Arab communities leading up to the Nakba, the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their historic homeland in 1947-48.

In the letter, Einstein, and others, described Herut (Freedom) party as a “political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to Nazi and Fascist parties.”

For a letter of this nature to appear a mere few years after the end of World War II and the devastation of the Holocaust is a profound indication of the clear chasm that existed among Jewish intellectuals at the time: the Zionists who supported Israel and its violent birth, and those who took the high moral ground and objected to it.

Sadly, the latter group – although still in existence – had lost the battle.

Herut later merged with other groups to form the Likud Party. Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Likud is now the leading party in Israel’s most right-wing government coalition. The ‘Nazi and Fascist’-like philosophy of Herut have prevailed, and it now engulfs and defines mainstream society in Israel.

This right-wing tendency is even more pronounced among young Israelis than previous generations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of Begin’s party, the Likud. His current coalition includes Russian-born Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, founder of the ultra-nationalist party, Yisrael Beiteinu.

In response to ongoing popular protests by besieged Palestinians in Gaza, and in justification of the high number of deaths and injuries inflicted on the unarmed protesters by the Israeli army, Lieberman argued that “there are no innocent people in Gaza.”

When the Defense Minister of a country espouses this kind of belief, one can hardly be shocked that Israeli snipers are shooting Palestinian youngsters, while cheering on camera as they hit their target.

This kind of discourse – Fascist par excellence – is by no means a fringe narrative within Israeli society.

Netanyahu’s coalition is rife with such morally-objectional characters.

Israeli politician, Ayelet Shaked, has often called for the genocide against Palestinians.

Palestinians “are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads,” she wrote in a Facebook post in 2015. “Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs  … They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

A few months after the publication of the statement, Netanyahu, in December 2015, appointed her as the country’s Justice Minister.

Shaked belongs to the Jewish Home Party, headed by Naftali Bennett. The latter is Israel’s Minister of Education and known for similarly violent statements. He was one of the first politicians who came out in defense of Israeli soldiers accused of violating human rights at the Gaza border. Other top Israeli politicians followed suit.

On April 19, Israel celebrated its independence. “The Nazi and Fascist” mentality that defined Herut in 1948 now defines the most powerful ruling class in Israel. Israel’s leaders speak openly of genocide and murder, yet they celebrate and promote Israel as if an icon of civilization, democracy and human rights.

Even cultural Zionists of old would have been terribly horrified at the creature that their beloved Israeli has become, seven decades after its birth.

Certainly, the Palestinian people are still fighting for their land, identity, dignity and freedom. But the truth is that Israel’s biggest enemy is Israel itself. The country has failed to part ways with its violent politics and ideology of yesteryears. On the contrary, Israel’s ideological debate has been settled in favor of perpetual violence, racism and apartheid.

In the supposed ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, the margin of critique has grown very limited.

It is the likes of Netanyahu, Lieberman, Bennett and Shaked who now represent modern Israel and, behind them, a massive constituency of right-wing religious and ultra-nationalists, who have little regard for Palestinians, for human rights, international law and such seemingly frivolous values as peace and justice.

In 1938, Einstein had contended with the very idea behind the creation of Israel. It runs counter to “the essential nature of Judaism,” he said.

A few years later, in 1946, he argued before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on the Palestinian issue: “I cannot understand why it (meaning Israel) is needed … I believe it is bad.”

Needless to say, if Einstein was alive today, he would have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which aims at holding Israel accountable for its violent and illegal practices against Palestinians.

Equally true, he would have surely been branded anti-Semitic or a ‘self-hating Jew’ by Israeli leaders and their supporters. Today’s Zionists are, indeed, unfazed.

But this painful paradigm must be overturned. Palestinian children are not terrorists and cannot be treated as such. They are not ‘little snakes’, either. Palestinian mothers should not be killed. The Palestinian people are not ‘enemy combatants’ to be eradicated. Genocide must not be normalized.

70 years after Israel’s independence and Einstein’s letter, the country’s legacy is still marred with blood and violence. Despite the ongoing party in Tel Aviv, there is no reason to celebrate and every reason to mourn.

Yet, hope is kept alive because the Palestinian people are still resisting; and they need the world to stand in solidarity with them. It is the only way for the ghost of Herut to quit haunting the Palestinians, and for the ‘Nazi and Fascist’ philosophies to be forever defeated.

Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy

The term ‘media bias’ does not do justice to the western corporate media’s relationship with Israel and Palestine. The relationship is, indeed, far more profound than mere partiality. It is not ignorance, either. It is a calculated and long-term campaign, aimed at guarding Israel and demonizing Palestinians.

The current disgraceful coverage of Gaza’s popular protests indicates that the media’s position aims at suppressing the truth on Palestine, at any cost and by any means.

Political symbiosis, cultural affinity, Hollywood, the outreaching influence of pro-Israel and Zionist groups within the political and media circles, are some of the explanations many of us have offered as to why Israel is often viewed with sympathetic eyes and Palestinians and Arabs condemned.

But such explanations should hardly suffice. Nowadays, there are numerous media outlets that are trying to offset some of the imbalance, many of them emanating from the Middle East, but also other parts of the world. Palestinian and Arab journalists, intellectuals and cultural representatives are more present on a global stage than ever before and are more than capable of facing off, if not defeating, the pro-Israeli media discourse.

However, they are largely invisible to western media; it is the Israeli spokesperson who continues to occupy the center stage, speaking, shouting, theorizing and demonizing as he pleases.

It is, then, not a matter of media ignorance, but policy.

Even before March 30, when scores of Palestinians in Gaza were killed and thousands wounded, the US and British media, for example, should have, at least, questioned why hundreds of Israeli snipers and army tanks were ordered to deploy at the Gaza border to face-off Palestinian protesters.

Instead, they referred to ‘clashes’ between Gaza youth and the snipers, as if they are equal forces in an equivalent battle.

Western media is not blind. If ordinary people are increasingly able to see the truth regarding the situation in Palestine, experienced western journalists cannot possibly be blind to the truth. They know, but they choose to remain silent.

The maxim that official Israeli propaganda or ‘hasbara’ is too savvy no longer suffices. In fact, it is hardly true.

Where is the ingenuity in the way the Israeli army explained the killing of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza?

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” the Israeli army tweeted on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

If that is not bad enough, Israel’s ultra-nationalist Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, followed that self-indictment by declaring there are “no innocent people in Gaza”; thus, legitimizing the targeting of any Gazan within the besieged Strip.

Unfair media coverage is not fueled by the simplistic notion of ‘clever Israel, imprudent Arabs’. Western media is actively involved in shielding Israel and enhancing its diminishing brand, while painstakingly demolishing the image of Israel’s enemies.

Take, for example, Israel’s unfounded propaganda that Yasser Murtaja, the Gaza journalist who was killed in cold blood by an Israeli sniper while covering the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza border, was a member of Hamas.

First, ‘unnamed officials’ in Israel claimed that Yasser is ‘a member of the Hamas security apparatus.’ Then, Lieberman offered more (fabricated) details that Yasser was on Hamas’ payroll since 2011 and ‘held a rank similar to a captain.’ Many journalists took these statements and ran with them, constantly associating any news coverage of Yasser’s death with Hamas.

It turned out that, according to the US State Department, Yasser’s start-up media company in Gaza had actually received a small grant from USAID, which subjected Yasser’s company to a rigorous vetting process.

More still, a report by the International Federation of Journalist claimed that Yasser was actually detained and beaten by the Gaza police in 2015, and that Israel’s Defense Minister is engineering a cover-up.

Judging by this, Israel’s media apparatus is as erratic and self-defeating as North Korea; but this is hardly the image conveyed by western media, because it insists on placing Israel on a moral pedestal while misrepresenting Palestinians, regardless of the circumstances.

But there is more to western media’s approach to Palestine and Israel than shielding and elevating Israel, while demonizing Palestinians. Oftentimes, the media works to distract from the issues altogether, as is the case in Britain today, where Israel’s image is rapidly deteriorating.

To disrupt the conversation on Palestine, the Israeli Occupation and the British government’s unconditional support of Israel, British mainstream media has turned the heat on Jeremy Corbyn, the popular leader of the Labor Party.

Accusations of anti-Semitism has dogged the party since Corbyn’s election in 2015. Yet, Corbyn is not racist; on the contrary, he has stood against racism, for the working class and other disadvantaged groups. His strong pro-Palestine stance, in particular, is threatening to compel a paradigm shift on Palestine and Israel within the revived and energized Labor Party.

Sadly, Corbyn’s counter strategy is almost entirely absent. Instead of issuing a statement condemning all forms of racism and moving on to deal with the urgent issues at hand, including that of Palestine, he allows his detractors to determine the nature of the discussion, if not the whole discourse. He is now trapped in a perpetual conversation, while the Labor Party is regularly purging its own members for alleged anti-Semitism.

Considering that Israel and its allies in the media, and elsewhere, conflate between criticism of Israel and its Zionist ideology, on the one hand, and that of Jews and Judaism on the other, Corbyn cannot win this battle.

Nor are Israel’s friends keen on winning, either. They merely want to prolong a futile debate so that British society remains embroiled in distractions and spares Israel any accountability for its action.

If British media was, indeed, keen on calling out racism and isolating racists, why then is there little discussion on Israel’s racist policies targeting Palestinians?

Media spin will continue to provide Israel with the needed margins to carry out its violent policies against the Palestinian people, with no moral accountability. It will remain loyal to Israel, creating a buffer between the truth and its audiences.

It is incumbent on us to expose this sinister relationship and hold mainstream media to account for covering up Israel’s crimes, as well as Israel for committing these crimes in the first place.

Why Israel Feels Threatened by Popular Resistance in Palestine

Photo by Joshua Tabti | CC BY 2.0

Why did Israel kill many unarmed Gaza protesters and wound over 2,000 on Friday, March 30 and on the following days, when they clearly posed no threat to Israeli soldiers?

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers, many of them snipers, were deployed to the deadly buffer zone that the Israeli army has created between besieged Gaza and Israel, as tens of thousands of Palestinian families held mass rallies at the border.

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” tweeted the Israeli army on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

The tweet, which was captured by the Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, was soon deleted. The Israeli army must have realized that killing children and bragging about it on social media is too cruel, even for them.

Palestinian popular mobilization deeply concerns Israel, partly because it is a PR nightmare. By killing and wounding this number of Palestinians, Israel had hoped that the masses would retreat, the protests would subside and, eventually, end. This was not the case, of course.

But there is more to Israeli fear. The power of the Palestinian people, when united beyond factional allegiances, is immense. It disrupts Israel’s political and military tactics entirely, and places Tel Aviv wholly on the defensive.

Israel killed those Palestinians precisely to avoid this nightmarish scenario. Since the cold-blooded murder of innocent people did not go unnoticed, it is important that we dig deeper into the social and political context that led tens of thousands of Palestinians to camp and rally at the border.

Gaza is being suffocated. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with Arab neglect and a prolonged feud between Palestinian factions, have all served to drive Palestinians to the brink of starvation and political despair. Something has to give.

Last week’s act of mass mobilization was not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees (as enshrined in international law), nor about commemorating Land Day, an event that has united all Palestinians since the bloody protests of 1976. The protest was about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

There are many historical similarities between this act of mobilization and the context that preceded the First Intifada (or ‘uprising’) of 1987. At the time, Arab governments in the region had relegated the Palestinian cause to the status of ‘someone else’s problem’. By the end of 1982, having already been exiled to Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) along with thousands of Palestinian fighters, were pushed even further away to Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and various other countries. This geographic isolation left the traditional leadership of Palestine irrelevant to what was happening on the ground.

In that moment of utter hopelessness, something snapped. In December 1987, people (mostly children and teenagers) took to the streets, in a largely non-violent mobilization that lasted over six years, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993.

Today, the Palestinian leadership is in a similar state of increasing irrelevance. Isolated, again, by geography (Fatah holding the West Bank, Hamas Gaza), but also by ideological division.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is rapidly losing its credibility among Palestinians, thanks to long-standing accusations of corruption, with calls for the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign (his mandate having technically expired in 2009). Last December, US President Donald Trump compounded the isolation of the PA, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in defiance of international law and UN consensus. Many see this act as the precursor designed to further marginalize the PA.

Hamas – originally a grassroots movement born out of the refugee camps in Gaza during the First Intifada – is now similarly weakened by political isolation.

Recently, there seemed to be a ray of hope. After several failed initiatives towards reconciliation with Fatah, a deal was signed between both rival parties in Cairo last October.

Alas, like previous attempts, it began to falter almost immediately. The first hurdle came on March 13, when the convoy of PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. Hamdallah was en-route to Gaza through an Israeli border crossing. The PA quickly blamed Hamas for the attack which the latter vehemently denied. Palestinian politics went back to square one.

But then, last week happened. As thousands of Palestinians walked peacefully into the deadly ‘buffer zone’ along the Gaza border into the sights of Israeli snipers, their intention was clear: to be seen by the world as ordinary citizens, to show themselves as ordinary human beings, people who, until now, have been made invisible behind the politicians.

Gazans pitched tents, socialized and waved Palestinian flags – not the banners of the various factions. Families gathered, children played, even circus clowns entertained. It was a rare moment of unity.

The Israeli army’s response, using the latest technology in exploding bullets, was predictable. By shooting dead 15 unarmed protesters and wounding 773 people on the first day alone, the aim was to discipline the Palestinians.

Condemnations of this massacre flooded in from respected figures around the world, like Pope Francis and Human Rights Watch. This glimmer of attention may have provided Palestinians with an opportunity to elevate the injustice of the siege up the global political agenda, but is, sadly, of little consolation to the families of the dead.

Aware of the international spotlight, Fatah immediately took credit for this spontaneous act of popular resistance. Deputy Chairman, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, said that the protesters mobilized to support the PA “in the face of pressure and conspiracies concocted against our cause,” undoubtedly referring to Trump’s strategy of isolation towards the Fatah-dominated PA.

But this is not the reality. This is about the people finding expression outside the confines of factional interests; a new strategy. This time, the world must listen.

Why Israel Feels Threatened by Popular Resistance in Palestine

Why did Israel kill many unarmed Gaza protesters and wound over 2,000 on Friday, March 30 and on the following days, when they clearly posed no threat to Israeli soldiers?

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers, many of them snipers, were deployed to the deadly buffer zone that the Israeli army has created between besieged Gaza and Israel, as tens of thousands of Palestinian families held mass rallies at the border.

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” tweeted the Israeli army on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

The tweet, which was captured by the Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, was soon deleted. The Israeli army must have realized that killing children and bragging about it on social media is too cruel, even for them.

Palestinian popular mobilization deeply concerns Israel, partly because it is a PR nightmare. By killing and wounding this number of Palestinians, Israel had hoped that the masses would retreat, the protests would subside and, eventually, end. This was not the case, of course.

But there is more to Israeli fear. The power of the Palestinian people, when united beyond factional allegiances, is immense. It disrupts Israel’s political and military tactics entirely, and places Tel Aviv wholly on the defensive.

Israel killed those Palestinians precisely to avoid this nightmarish scenario. Since the cold-blooded murder of innocent people did not go unnoticed, it is important that we dig deeper into the social and political context that led tens of thousands of Palestinians to camp and rally at the border.

Gaza is being suffocated. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with Arab neglect and a prolonged feud between Palestinian factions, have all served to drive Palestinians to the brink of starvation and political despair. Something has to give.

Last week’s act of mass mobilization was not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees (as enshrined in international law), nor about commemorating Land Day, an event that has united all Palestinians since the bloody protests of 1976. The protest was about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

There are many historical similarities between this act of mobilization and the context that preceded the First Intifada (or ‘uprising’) of 1987. At the time, Arab governments in the region had relegated the Palestinian cause to the status of ‘someone else’s problem’. By the end of 1982, having already been exiled to Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) along with thousands of Palestinian fighters, were pushed even further away to Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and various other countries. This geographic isolation left the traditional leadership of Palestine irrelevant to what was happening on the ground.

In that moment of utter hopelessness, something snapped. In December 1987, people (mostly children and teenagers) took to the streets, in a largely non-violent mobilization that lasted over six years, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993.

Today, the Palestinian leadership is in a similar state of increasing irrelevance. Isolated, again, by geography (Fatah holding the West Bank, Hamas Gaza), but also by ideological division.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is rapidly losing its credibility among Palestinians, thanks to long-standing accusations of corruption, with calls for the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign (his mandate having technically expired in 2009). Last December, US President Donald Trump compounded the isolation of the PA, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in defiance of international law and UN consensus. Many see this act as the precursor designed to further marginalize the PA.

Hamas – originally a grassroots movement born out of the refugee camps in Gaza during the First Intifada – is now similarly weakened by political isolation.

Recently, there seemed to be a ray of hope. After several failed initiatives towards reconciliation with Fatah, a deal was signed between both rival parties in Cairo last October.

Alas, like previous attempts, it began to falter almost immediately. The first hurdle came on March 13, when the convoy of PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. Hamdallah was en-route to Gaza through an Israeli border crossing. The PA quickly blamed Hamas for the attack which the latter vehemently denied. Palestinian politics went back to square one.

But then, last week happened. As thousands of Palestinians walked peacefully into the deadly ‘buffer zone’ along the Gaza border into the sights of Israeli snipers, their intention was clear: to be seen by the world as ordinary citizens, to show themselves as ordinary human beings, people who, until now, have been made invisible behind the politicians.

Gazans pitched tents, socialized and waved Palestinian flags – not the banners of the various factions. Families gathered, children played, even circus clowns entertained. It was a rare moment of unity.

The Israeli army’s response, using the latest technology in exploding bullets, was predictable. By shooting dead 15 unarmed protesters and wounding 773 people on the first day alone, the aim was to discipline the Palestinians.

Condemnations of this massacre flooded in from respected figures around the world, like Pope Francis and Human Rights Watch.  This glimmer of attention may have provided Palestinians with an opportunity to elevate the injustice of the siege up the global political agenda, but is, sadly, of little consolation to the families of the dead.

Aware of the international spotlight, Fatah immediately took credit for this spontaneous act of popular resistance. Deputy Chairman, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, said that the protesters mobilized to support the PA “in the face of pressure and conspiracies concocted against our cause,” undoubtedly referring to Trump’s strategy of isolation towards the Fatah-dominated PA.

But this is not the reality. This is about the people finding expression outside the confines of factional interests; a new strategy. This time, the world must listen.

Rim Banna and the Cultural War that Palestinians Must Win

Rim Banna passed away at the age of 51. Her death on March 24, after a decade-long battle with cancer, brought grief to Palestinians everywhere.

Rim, a Palestinian Christian from Nazareth, united the Palestinian people across political and geographic divides.

When she sang for the Homeland, nothing mattered but Palestine. Christians and Muslims, Fatah and Hamas, Gaza and Ramallah, all became one.

Through her soulful and warm voice, she imparted sorrow, yet celebrated life. Her songs ‘Fares Odeh’ and ‘Sarah’ were poetic interpretation of precious young Palestinian lives cut short by Israeli soldiers.

The butterfly will carry you to the back of a cloud

The gazelle will run with you to a hollow of sycamore

The scent of bread will take you, a martyr, to the embrace of your mother

The star said to him, “Bring me to the courtyard of my house”

“Take me to the mattress of my slumber”

Sleepiness climbed up my sides

And settled in my head.”

Music unites Palestinians when politicians fail. In fact, while for years the collective calls for ‘Palestinian unity’ has gone unheeded, Palestinian music has continued to bring Palestinians closer.

Deep-rooted Palestinian culture is what makes Palestinians who they are, a people with a unique and lucid identity, despite 70 years of exile, ethnic cleansing, sieges, numerous borders and wanton killings.

And when Rim sang, her voice penetrated through the seemingly impregnable Apartheid walls, checkpoints, military curfews and unbridgeable distance.

It was during the First Intifada (popular uprising) of 1987 that Rim gained access to the hearts and homes of many Palestinians; initially in Palestine and, eventually, all over the world. Her voice, soft and reassuring, gave hope to those who lived under a 7-years long relentless Israeli military campaign. Israeli tactics, then, aimed at breaking the spirit of the rebelling Palestinian people.

Rim’s music offered new, modern renditions of Palestinian traditional songs, but without erasing the historical and cultural identity of that music.

Her music belongs to the Palestinian music genre of nationally-driven and culturally-centered art form, aimed at reintroducing – and, sometimes, reinventing – the past in a more relatable fashion.

While Israel is doing its utmost to deny and erase Palestinian culture, such cultural icons, as Rim Banna, but also Reem Kelani, Kamilya Jubran and Shadia Mansour, among others, have reasserted Palestinian culture, thus identity, around the globe.

Although a rarely publicized form of resistance, cultural resistance is at the heart of the Palestinian fight for freedom.

Italian thinker, Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned by fascist Italy for much of his life specifically because of his ideas on cultural resistance, had warned of how cultural hegemony is as much the enemy as outright dictatorship.

Palestinians contend with cultural hegemony, not as an academic notion, but as a daily reality.

Israel has spent decades launching and perfecting its cultural war against Palestinians, aimed at erasing Palestinian culture, on the one hand, while imposing its own cultural alternatives on the other.

Oddly, much of what Israel brands as Israeli culture is, in fact, the very Palestinian and Arab culture spanning millennia; from food, to music, to fashion and everything in between, the ‘Israel brand’ is essentially a Palestinian, Arab brand, stolen and rebranded.

But, unlike military and political war, cultural wars are often invisible and incremental. While the Israeli government is now busy replacing Arabic street names with Hebrew ones and outlawing the commemoration of the Nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland in 1947-48 – it also aims at breaking the unity of Palestinian culture altogether.

Historically, early Zionists promoted the false idea that Palestine was a land with no people and that the natives of the land were nomads, passers-by with no cultural roots, no identity, thus no collective political aspirations.

Such propaganda was essential to promote the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. The supposed ‘nomads’ who existed in Palestine eventually evolved to become the ‘refugee problem.’ To this day, Zionists and their rightwing supporters still encourage the cruel idea that Palestinians are an ‘invented people’.

So, when Rim Banna, Reem Kelani, Mohammed Assaf, and numerous others – joined by poets, artists, and other Palestinian cultural warriors – celebrate the traditions, music and culture of their people, they stand at the frontlines of fighting a violent Zionist discourse that has, for over a century, been committed to the total erasure of Palestine.

In her music, Rim fought against the Israeli attempts at the cultural dispossession of the Palestinian people, while humanizing the likes of Fares, Sarah and many others.

This is why many Palestinians wept when Rim died; it is also why millions wept tears of joy when Mohammad Assaf – a refugee from Gaza – won the ‘Arab Idol’ competition in 2013.

It was not merely because Mohammad had a beautiful voice and that he deserved to win, but because of the representation of that thundering, self-asserting voice, his lyrics and, of course, the singer himself.

Assaf is a Gazan refugee. His family was driven from historic Palestine during the violent Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign of 1947-48. He was born in shattat (diaspora) and eventually returned to Gaza, only to live under a hermetic Israeli siege. He broke the siege to participate in the competition.

When Assaf sang, millions watched in wonder as he skillfully demolished all the walls, erased the checkpoints and bridged all the distance. Suddenly, Gaza, Ramallah, Nazareth, Haifa were once more united. Those in diaspora returned. The homeland became one.

Rim too offered that multi-layered representation, which supersedes politics and geography into a realm in which the Palestinian nationhood was made of shared culture, grief, resistance, poetry and hope.

Rim has died, but the generation of artistes she patiently nurtured will continue to sing, to celebrate a culture and a civilization that cannot be tamed by guns or imprisoned by walls.

Rim Banna was the voice of Palestine that can never be muted.