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Ashraf Ashkar: Demand justice for all in Israel and Palestine

Most of us have been watching the news about what is going in Gaza and Israel for the past few weeks, or at least know that there is a war going on, again! When I moved to Morris with my family three years ago, I was surprised how many people are interested to know about my home, Palestine; where I grew up most of my life. People are curious to ask me about this important place every time I mention the word Palestine, Bethlehem or Jerusalem, but surprisingly not many were interested to talk about the conflict and the political conditions.

When the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is presented, especially in the past few weeks, it appears as a conflict between two parties: Israel vs Hamas or Israel vs the Palestinian Authority with almost no context of the political conditions of last six decades.

It has been extremely hard for me to watch the news of the horrific destruction of properties and the murder of innocent civilians especially in Gaza. Most of us don’t know that Gaza is about 147 miles square with 1.8 million residents with nowhere to go for the past seven years due to the siege imposed mainly by the Israeli government. According to OXFAM, 80 percent of Gazans depend on humanitarian aid with a poverty rate of almost 40 percent. More than 92 percent of the water is not fit for human consumption and those figures have been rising due to the Israeli siege that limits the amount of food, supplies, water pumps, fuel and materials for infrastructure.

In mid June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank and found dead about a week later. Without any prior investigation, the Israeli military closed down cities and towns in West Bank in their search for the missing teens, five Palestinians were killed in the process including a far relative of mine, and over 350 Palestinians arrested with no charges. There is no justification for the kidnapping and the murder of the three Israelis, because it was a crime. This all happened while Israeli government was preparing for an attack on Gaza. When it comes to Palestinian deaths, which has reached over 650 people (majority are women and children) in Gaza, the crime is simply justified and unfortunately accepted too, even when a hospital or a UN school is bombed. Israeli Defense Forces strategist back in 2009 talking about how to justify military attack on civilians through this tactic: “The people who go into a house despite a warning do not have to be taken into account in terms of injury to civilians, because they are voluntary human shields. From the legal point of view, I do not have to show consideration for them. In the case of people who return to their home in order to protect it, they are taking part in the fighting.”

Human Rights Watch has called Israel’s air attacks against Gaza that “have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians” violations “of the laws of war.” The organization stated: “Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes.”

As of today, 13 Israelis were killed (three were civilians). According to the United Nations, of the Palestinian deaths, at least 650 (approximately 80 percent) have been civilians, including at least 150 children. At least 25,000 children traumatized by the death or injury of a family member, or loss of a home, require specialized psychosocial (PSS) support. Israel’s attacks against Palestinians in Gaza are not narrowly targeted against military targets, but are having devastating impacts on civilians.

I am certain Israelis feel unsafe at these times too, but there are no words that I can put together to explain the injustice, discrimination and the system of oppression put by their government for the past six decades against Palestinians and minorities. Until we all start question the Israeli government policies and demand justice for all, no one is going to be safe and what we are seeing today will happen again.

I’m tabling at East Side Park with my family and friends from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. most days of the week. Everyone is welcome to stop by with questions or to join us in solidarity.