It’s 1968 and I am sitting in the Royal Albert Hall in London with young and old sobbing; tempers are high as some people start chanting Allahu Akbar. As a ten-year-old, I was feeling sad and angry. Yes, this was just after the arson attack on Masjid Al-Aqsa in occupied Jerusalem. My local Masjid in Halifax had organised a coach to attend the conference. Fifty-three years on and the golden Dome of the Rock still glitters in the midday sun, but the mood is sombre and grey. Here I reflect on what the world can do; what the Palestinians can d; and what the world’s Muslims can do.
As I write these words, a ceasefire has just been announced between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. The Israeli military offensive against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is due to come to an end at midnight on Thursday (UK time). Until the clock strikes twelve, it looks as though the bombs are still going to be dropped according to reports coming out of the besieged enclave. This is the latest stage of an issue that has been unresolved since 1948.
That is when 700,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes at gunpoint by the forerunners of the Israel Defence Forces when the occupation state was created in Palestine. It was the beginning of the world’s worst ongoing refugee crisis, the Nakba (Catastrophe). For the past 73 years, those Palestinians and their descendants have been oppressed and terrorised by Israel’s military rule and occupation.
As a settler-colonial state, Israel seeks to push back its still undeclared borders to take as much Palestinian land, with as few Palestinians living on it, as possible. The ethnic cleansing continues. Over the past few weeks, innocent Palestinians have been harassed and attacked by illegal settlers in occupied Jerusalem; some of the Palestinian families have been ordered to move out of their homes to allow settlers to move in. Moreover, worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque have been attacked by Israeli police firing tear gas and stun grenades. Eleven days ago, the Israelis turned their war machine on the Gaza Strip and launched another massive military offensive on the largely civilian population. Hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children have been killed and wounded. The world has watched in dismay, unable to do anything to stop the massacre; “slow genocide” is how one Israeli historian has described it. Muslims around the world are furious and frustrated at the inaction of their leaders; they are helpless, disunited and lacking in wisdom.
We thus turn to the Almighty and plead for justice for those who are oppressed. The Majestic Quran exhorts the “Believers find strength in patience and prayer – surely Allah is with those who are patient and do not say of those who have been killed fighting in Allah’s way, that they are ‘dead’; rather they are living, though you do not feel it. We will certainly test you partly with fear and hunger and partly with loss of wealth, health and crops; but give good news to those who are patient and who, when they are struck by misfortune, say, ‘We belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return.’ These are the ones who shall be blessed and kindly treated by their Lord, they alone are the guided” (Surah Al-Baqarah: 153-157).
What started as demonstrations against ethnic cleansing in the unlawfully occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has been turned into a bloodbath by Israel. Despite its claims to the contrary, Israel’s targets are civilians as well as the so-called “terrorists” of the legitimate resistance groups. Doctors and their medical facilities have been blown up, the roads to the only major hospital in Gaza City, Al-Shifa Hospital have also been targeted, making it impossible for ambulances to carry the victims of the Israeli bombs for treatment. Old and young alike have been affected, with at least 65 innocent children being killed. What we have witnessed are war crimes and crimes against humanity happening in real-time.
The world must make Israel abide by international law; it cannot be allowed to act with impunity any longer; it must know that there will be consequences for its illegal actions. Muslims have a duty to stand up for what is right and condemn what is wrong, even if it is against ourselves. We must use everything in our power, not least social media, to offer our support for the Palestinians and encourage others to do the same. Raising awareness does make a difference; witness the powerful statements in both the House of Commons and House of Lords yesterday by MPs empowered by information gleaned from social media. We need to send them our thanks, which will encourage them and perhaps others to speak out more loudly and more often, insha’Allah. We can also offer much needed humanitarian support by sending donations through our own charities; every little helps and really does make a huge difference on the ground.
The people of Palestine don’t want war and violence, but nor do they want to live under a brutal military occupation that robs them of their dignity and the opportunity to live normal lives of the kind that we enjoy. They have hopes and aspirations for their children, just as we have for ours. What we do here can be reflected in what they are able to do there. The test facing the Palestinians is the hardship and, yes, bloodshed. Our test is what we are doing to help them? Are we ready to pass that test? After refuelling our Iman during the Blessed Month of Ramadan, we should be up for the task in the days, weeks and months ahead, insha’Allah. Bismillah; let’s do as much as we can.