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Forced eviction of Palestinians by armed Israeli solidiers.

Gaza: “the world’s largest prison”

Akbar Hussain

Akbar Hussain

WE WERE utterly shocked, traumatized and devastated to witness the heinous scenes in the “world’s largest prison” – Gaza, Palestine, held captive by the Israeli army. The occupied land, which has now become a tiny enclave, has been surrounded by Israeli forces.

For almost two weeks, sound grenades were fired, wounding many civilians and innocent worshippers attending the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. Many came to pray peacefully on a very significant night in the blessed month of Ramadan. Yet the Israeli army ended the dignity of that sacred night.

Both sides have now agreed a ceasefire, but the Israeli army has already caused too much destruction. The attack looks as if it was a weapons’ testing exercise for Israel, allowing them to show their strength by killing innocent civilians, including children, in Palestine – as they have done very frequently in recent years.

World leaders have once again turned a blind eye towards Israel, supplying them with more weapons to empower them to commit more atrocities. In their eyes, the blood of Muslim victims has no value. Unfortunately, the invasions of Iraq and Libya, the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, the genocide in Burma, and the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China do not bother these leaders. The President of the United States, Joe Biden, said that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” What about Palestine? Don’t they have any rights to protect their own territory and people from the oppressor?

When will all this end? The ceasefire will temporarily pause the tension on both sides. However, we want to see long-term solutions to this historical crisis once and for all. World leaders could have played a pivotal role in stopping all kinds of injustices and contributed much to establishing global peace, and we must ask ourselves why they held back.

The current situation escalated when Israel wanted to evict families from Sheikh Jarrah village in East Jerusalem, claiming the authority of a court ruling. They attacked worshippers and raided the Al Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians responded by throwing stones and petrol bombs at the attackers, which was followed by Hamas launching rockets from Gaza to protect Palestinians and Al Aqsa from Israeli occupation.

In response, Israel has killed men, women and children and destroyed houses, schools, centres, hospitals, power stations, roads, shelters and media buildings. It has blocked the delivery of aid, targeting so called “Hamas secret tunnels”, and it has continued heavy bombardments in the area where Gazans live with their families.

More than 90,000 people have been displaced in Gaza and fled from the borders because of the attack. Fatalities reported by the Israeli side consists of ten adults and two children. In comparison, at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, were killed in the last eleven days of Israeli bombardment, according to Al Jazeera.

These figures do not include the fatalities committed by Israel in previous years. It is almost becoming a ritualistic annual spree of killing coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan. Israeli forces continue to carry out these brutal attacks, being merciless to the poor Palestinian people. They continue their illegal settlement programmes and occupy Palestinian land, little by little, ousting families, killing innocent people, demolishing their homes, spreading violence, shooting shipping boats and farmers, rejecting calls for peace and violating the UN resolutions countless times.

Gaza is dubbed the “world’s largest prison” but, even worse, it is denied even the most basic of human rights. They do not have a connection with the outside world. The Israeli authorities have put so many checkpoints on Gaza’s borders. People cannot travel freely from Gaza to other places. There are two different types of infrastructure in that area: one ordinary road for the poor Gazans, and the other one is a well-built road for Israelis. Palestinians are being treated like a second-class citizens.

Campaigning for human rights in Palestine.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Gazans are suffering from a lack of basic amenities like electricity and having access to fresh water, which is a regular reoccurring problem for them. There are no functioning airports in Gaza. Israelis have caged them in – barring all access points, be they by air, land or sea.

Lauren Booth is an English broadcaster, journalist and activist holding a VIP Palestinian Authority passport. She visited Gaza in 2008 and wrote about the suffering and plight of the Palestinian people which she herself had witnessed in the Daily Mail (3rd Oct, 2008). The Mail introduced the story by saying, “Never has so much bile been written about Lauren Booth since she broke through the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and found herself unable to escape. Here, in a passionate reply to her critics, she describes everyday life in the ‘world’s largest prison’ from a unique Gazan perspective, ‘cut off from her home and children after six weeks… and with no idea of what each day will bring.” Booth wrote, “Gaza is a 25-mile by seven-mile strip of land between Israel and Egypt, home to 1.5 million Palestinians and occupied by Israel for 38 years.”*

In 2005, the Israelis pulled out of Gaza, but the Israeli state still controls the area. A year later they designated it a no-go zone after the surprise election of Hamas. It is where BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was kidnapped last year and held for 114 days. He was one of the last international journalists based full-time in Gaza after most western news agencies had deemed the area too dangerous. Some aid agencies have since withdrawn staff.

Riah H. Abu El-Assal was the Israeli Palestinian Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem from 1997-2007. During a visit to the UK in 2006, he attended a seminar on the Palestine issue. On a second visit in 2008, he attended an event called “Global Peace & Unity Event”. He works tirelessly to promote his vision of peace in the holy land. It is said that he was the secret force behind the Oslo peace talks. Bishop Riah is a promoter of a 25-year plan to form an Israel-Palestine confederation to end the conflict in the Middle East.**

During Ramadan, Muslims fast – but in Palestine people are fasting every day because of the lack of food and water. Bishop Riah emphasised the need for justice for the Palestinian people. If there is no justice in Jerusalem, there will not be any peace in the world. Muslims in Palestine are not only suffering but also the Christian community is a victim of this crisis. Therefore, he urged the UK Christian community to help them.

Standing up for the “caged birds” in Gaza.

In 2015, I watched a short film on the atrocious conditions of life in Gaza, Where Should the Birds Fly? at a meeting organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Richmond. It’s all about the hardship of life, seen through the eyes of two young Gazan women, Mona Samouni, and the filmmaker, Fida Qishta. Mona Samouni commented, “Here in Gaza we are like caged birds. We can’t fly or breathe or sing. We are locked in a cage of sadness and sorrows.”

Fida Qishta is a Palestinian camera operator, editor and filmmaker. She was born in Rafah City, south of Gaza. Where Should the Birds Fly? is her first feature documentary film. “Fida has documented the horrific Israeli invasion and bombardment of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. She and her crew of young videographers kept their cameras rolling for months, recording the struggle of the people of Gaza to maintain some sense of normalcy in the midst of absolute chaos in the world’s largest prison camp, sealed off on all sides by Israeli and Egyptian walls, barbed wire and military checkpoints.” (Witness Palestine Rochester)

People are demonstrating all over the world against the occupation and for Palestinian freedom. “Palestinian lives matter”, “free Palestine”, “you are not alone”, “stop genocide”, “stop funding Israel”, “stop arming Israel”, “hands off Al Aqsa”, “stop ethnic cleansing” – these slogans are being chanted by the mob showing obvious solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Regardless of religious and ethnic background, race or colour, Muslims, Jews, Rabbis, Christians and people from all walks of life are spontaneously supporting the campaign for a free Palestine. Nelson Mandela said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to raise our voice for the freedom of Palestine.

It is an obvious injustice to Palestinian people who have been striving for their land for so long and have not been given the freedom to live harmoniously with others. Dr Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”. The world would be a more peaceful place to live in if justice is established in this region.

Dua (prayer) is a very powerful tool to Muslims. In all circumstances we can make dua to our Lord Allah (SWT). Therefore, we should continuously supplicate and make dua for all oppressed people including the Palestinians. Second, we can convey the message of justice to others; invite people to join in dawah activities; engage with communities and work together for common good; protest against oppression; and help the people of Palestine. We do not know when the end of this campaign will be, but it is the duty of all Muslims to be united and stand steadfast for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted in different parts of the world.

We hope that Palestine will be free one day. The ceasefire does not mean that Israel will stop the settlement projects and give the Palestinian people their rights. World leaders should find long-term viable solutions for Palestine. It should be a two state solution, based on the restoration of 1967 borders. As the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Riah H. Abu El-Assal, suggested, “the two nations should work towards the establishment of a confederation with a common currency, open borders and even a shared head of state.” Whatever it is, we want to see Palestinian land freed, no more occupation, no more blockade, no more settlements – give back all occupied land to Palestinians. We want to see the Al Aqsa Mosque (the first Qibla) free from Israeli control and most importantly we want to see Muslims, Jews and Christians living harmoniously with dignity in Jerusalem – a land for all Abrahamic faith.



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