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Palestinians in occupied territories need protection

The international community must safeguard Palestinians in East Jerusalem

November 9, 2015 2:00AM ET

At least 76 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed in ongoing violence in the occupied East Jerusalem that began in September. The clashes began after dozens of Jewish settlers backed by Israeli security stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Palestinians oppose efforts by far-right Jewish groups who want to divide the holy site and build a Jewish temple there.

Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Old City say they have no one to safeguard their basic human rights. They are asking for an international force to protect them. On Oct. 24, the Jerusalemite Women’s Coalition, a group of women’s rights organizations and feminists, called for international protection, citing increased violence by Israeli settlers and the Israeli army. It is urging the international community to defend Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

“We, the women of occupied East Jerusalem, are politically orphaned,” the group said in a statement. “Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have been abandoned, subject to the discriminatory policies of a violent state and its security and police apparatus.” The Palestinian Authority cannot protect them in East Jerusalem, and Israel looks out only for the safety of the Jewish community.

Some Palestinian analysts have also called for an international force to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories. “It will ensure that lives are placed above politics and defend a besieged population nearing its 50th year under brutal occupation,” Diana Buttu and Nadia Hijab wrote in The Nation last month. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, has similarly called on the Security Council to provide protection for Palestinians in the Old City.

The feeling of estrangement and displacement is not limited to East Jerusalem. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupation, settlement expansion, political repression, collective punishment and denial of access to places of worship have brought Palestinian society to a tipping point.

Palestinians are increasingly becoming fed up and hopeless. “If you are suffocating someone with a pillow, you cannot expect that person to passively welcome asphyxiation,” Vijay Prashad, the director of International Studies at Trinity College, wrote in Counterpunch last month, referring to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. 

Despite the mounting Palestinian causalities, the U.S. media and lawmakers have focused mostly on the violence against Israelis and blame the violence on Palestinians. On Oct. 28, Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., introduced a bill, backed by 50 members of Congress, “expressing solidarity with the people of Israel in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and condemning the Palestinian Authority for inciting an atmosphere of violence.” The move echoes the Israeli government’s public statements on the latest Palestinian uprising.

Palestinians are calling on us not simply to witness their suffering but also to do something about it.

In addition, presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently wrote an opinion piece in Forward enumerating her previous actions and her promises to support Israel. In it she condemned the violence taking place in the Old City and elsewhere; however, she only mentioned Israeli victims and conveniently ignored the large number of Palestinians who have died at the hands of the Israeli police and military.

Such one-dimensional narrative dehumanizes and ignores the plight of hundreds Palestinians who have been maimed or killed, including those summarily executed. Moreover, it decontextualizes the crisis, which portrays Palestinians as intrinsically violent and motivated by hatred toward Jews.

Palestinians are protesting nearly 50 years of occupation. “Young Palestinians do not go out to murder Jews because they are Jews,” Amira Hass, the Haaretz correspondent for the occupied territories, explained on Oct. 7, “but because we are their occupiers, their torturers, their jailers, the thieves of their land and water, their exilers, the demolishers of their homes, the blockers of their horizon.”

Unfortunately, most in the U.S. media have ignored the pleas of Palestinians who are living under these dire circumstances. There are international bodies and conventions that are supposed to protect civilians in conflict zones. For example, U.N. Resolution 1325 expresses a particular concern about the safety of women and children, urging “all parties to armed conflict to respect fully international law applicable to the rights and protection of women and girls, especially as civilians.” The U.N. has urged both sides to de-escalate the situation and respect the status quo of holy sites, but it has yet to publicly discuss the calls for international protection.

The international community’s continued silence amounts to indifference. The U.N. and other relevant actors must heed the desperate plea of Jerusalem’s women and help end the injustices and bloodshed in the occupied territories.  

Security for the Israelis will be short-lived without meaningful guarantees for the safety and well-being of Palestinians. Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are calling on us not simply to witness their suffering but also to do something about it.

Zeina Azzam is the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the fund.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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