‘Under siege for 75 years, Palestinians have refused to surrender’

February 27, 2024
3 people sitting
Michelle Berkon (right), with 'Palestine Under Siege' film maker Jill Hickson (left) and Sydney-based Palestinian activist Ahmed Abdala at the film screening. Photo: Isaac Nellist

Following a recent screening of the new documentary, Palestine Under Siege, hosted in Gadigal/Sydney by supporters of Green Left, local Jewish activist Michelle Berkon presented the following response to the film.

* * *

The film’s title, Palestine Under Siege, prompted me to reflect on how we describe what’s been going on in historic Palestine for 75 years.

It is said that Palestinian citizens of Israel live in a democracy. Yet Israel has scores of laws that discriminate against non-Jews. Palestinians are prohibited from access to state land. They can’t get building permits. They can’t move into Jewish neighbourhoods or apartment buildings. They can vote, but representatives must serve Israel as a Jewish state.

The 2018 Nation State Law specifies that in Israel only Jews can exercise self-determination. Clearly this is not a democracy.

It is said that Palestinians in the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, live under occupation. Yet Israel engages in all of the behaviours prohibited to an occupying power by international law: forced transfer, collective punishment, reprisals, destruction and seizure of personal property, taking hostages, detention without charge or trial, transferring its civilian population into occupied territory, and theft of cultural property. Clearly this is not an occupation.

It is said that Palestinians in Gaza live under blockade. Yet, in international law, blockade is an act of war, subject to rules of military intent and proportionality, and may not be waged against civilians. Israel restricts food, medicines, medical equipment, access to medical treatment, educational materials, sanitary products, mechanical and construction materials, cloth, children's toys, agricultural materials, fuel etc. It has destroyed Gaza's capacity to produce electricity and drinking water, and imposes both sustained and random restrictions on their supply from Israel. Clearly, this is not a blockade.

Not democracy. Not occupation. Not blockade. Palestinians are all effectively under siege. Historically, if a besieged population didn't surrender, they were massacred or dispersed. For 75 years, Palestinians have refused to surrender, and the siege grows ever tighter. Whether by racist legislation, state-sponsored settler thuggery, or overt military action, Israel's intentions are clear.

Finally, I think we should also reflect on how we understand Palestinian resistance to this relentless siege.

The Palestinian people have always resisted erasure. All diplomatic and political efforts to secure a place in their homeland have failed, leading inevitably to various acts of armed resistance, which have been ruthlessly and disproportionately suppressed.

In 1987 the Palestinans began a large-scale civil disobedience campaign, the First Intifada. Israel said "Break their bones."

In 2000, they began the Second Intifada. Israel said "Kill them."

In The Great March of Return, with unarmed protesters hundreds of metres away behind barbed wire, IDF snipers killed over 260 people and inflicted life-changing injuries on tens of thousands.

On top of this unrelenting oppression and provocation, the Palestinians have been treated with contempt. They have been duped and ridiculed, maligned and abandoned. Every move has deepened their oppression. The faces of my Palestinian friends and comrades in their current unbearable grief and fear attest to the shocking trauma that lies at the heart of the Palestinian experience.

So, when we talk about the Palestinians, our language should reflect the brutal reality, in all of its myriad forms and insidious scope. Palestine has indeed been under siege for 75 years.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.