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Handala: The Palestinian Struggle for Freedom


Handala symbolises the ragged-clothed child living inside all Palestinians, who is unable to grow up under occupation and away from his homeland. Basel Hindeleh dives into the recent attacks on Gaza and Jerusalem and his hope to return to a free Palestine one day.

Yafa, Palestine.

That's where I should tell people I am from when they ask.

Instead, I hesitate, before I inevitably decide to give the shortest long version of my life story: "I was born in Australia, but my parents decided to move back to Jordan when I was two, and that's where I grew up, but my family is originally from Palestine."

Their response; silence and a blank face. Geography of the Middle East is not a strong suit for many. Deflated, I sigh, “Israel?”

I have just helped the occupation erase Palestine off the map. Reduced the region into warped Western colonial notions. Edward Said, the Palestinian-American founder of post-colonial studies, would be ashamed.

My story is not unique.

Millions of Palestinians worldwide are tired of having to justify their existence to people who have only heard of Palestine in the context of “Middle East Conflicts.” We are tired of having to look at the fractured reflection of our collective image and explain how this is not a “complicated issue” or a “historical conflict going back hundreds of years.” So, we get complacent and give in, rather than going through the ordeal of explaining. But those who are still living under occupation cannot give in and are screaming for our attention.

Recently, online coverage of the ‘evictions’ in Sheikh Jarrah forced us to listen. Israeli settlers under the protection of Israeli forces had attempted to forcibly remove families from their decades-old homes in East Jerusalem. These actions were in breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of an occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies, and according to a statement by the United Nations violates international humanitarian law and “may amount to a war crime."

This is not the first time this has happened.

It is part of the decades-long effort to ethnically cleanse Palestinians; carving out the Palestinian Occupied West Bank into many enclaves completely cut off from each other.

Israeli forces had already been blocking Muslim worshippers from accessing Al-Aqsa Mosque during their holiest month of Ramadan, when they chose violence and raided the third most sacred Muslim site. Hundreds of worshippers were surrounded by Israeli forces; violently attacked with rubber bullets and sound grenades. International media diminished these asymmetrical displays of aggression and power to 'clashes.' The photos and videos going viral on social media told a different story.

Activists began sharing footage, artworks, and informational graphics of what was happening on the ground. Momentously, Palestinian voices were being heard and given an opportunity to share their stories. The myths of a levelled conflict based on land disputes were finally beginning to shatter. The narrative was shifting, and honest public discourse was starting.

However, little action was taken to stop the escalation of violence.

When these provocations, backdropped by the West Bank's ongoing occupation, the ruling apartheid system in Israel, and the fourteen-year siege on the Gaza strip led to Hamas firing rockets at Israel; they responded with disproportionate force. This is when the world really started paying attention, and mass media began reporting. The long-standing narrative of “violent Palestinians attacking defenceless Israelis” was creeping back up. The media’s manufactured consent that has cultivated years of complicity began rearing its head. Headlines disregarded the context and undeniable power imbalance and instead chose to settle for the routine neutrality of “conflict” and “fighting.” What was not expected, was the growing criticism directed towards the media for inaccurate reporting.

The United Nations, fearing a war, unfairly called on “both sides” to stop the fighting, but failed to act itself. The United States gave weak calls for de-escalation and refused to condemn the killing of children. They blocked three Security Council resolutions and announced that Israel had a right to self-defence. The United States also approved $735 million dollars in weapon sales but saw ground-breaking congressional pushback led by prominent democrats Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American congresswoman. This is all on top of the $3.8 billion they unconditionally send to Israel annually.

Missile exchanges lasted for eleven days before an Egyptian-brokered unconditional ceasefire was reached. Gaza was decimated, with homes, hospitals, and media buildings reduced to rubble.

230 Palestinians, including 65 children were killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced. Entire families were wiped off the civil registry while others mourned their loved ones instead of celebrating Eid.

There were 12 Israeli deaths, 2 of whom were children.

For now, things are back to the way they were. Palestinians enduring under military occupation and being systematically discriminated against. Citizens, including children and journalists, routinely detained and interrogated, traumatising the young and threatening the old. While Israel continues its campaign of illegal displacements and demolitions, mere days post-ceasefire, not only targeting Sheikh Jarrah, but also other neighborhoods in Jerusalem, such as Silwan.

But this time, it's a little different; the Hasbara propaganda pushed by the Israeli government, with all its obvious white, pink, and other colour-washing distraction attempts, which is propagated through other world powers, no longer controls the narrative.

Palestinian voices – despite constant social media censorship – are finally being heard. Politicians are speaking out on house floors without fear of retribution. The biased framing that exists in the media is clear and many are becoming aware of the injustices. The deadly status quo is no longer accepted.

In a show of international solidarity firmly rejecting settler-colonialism, hundreds of thousands of people of every age, gender, and creed around the world are protesting. Here in Sydney, ten thousand people went out to the streets to mark 73 years since the Nakba, or 'catastrophe' in Arabic, took place. Collectively, we raised the Palestinian flag, chanted for justice, and called for the end of the ongoing atrocities being committed against innocent Palestinian men, women, and children.

As Ghassan Kanafani, a renowned Palestinian journalist and author, once said in a 1970 interview with the ABC's Richard Carleton, "It's not a conflict – it's a liberation movement fighting for justice."

We must now not give up nor forget, and as we go through our lives we must not shy away from discussing Palestine. Literature is wide-ranging and resources are plentiful; all that is necessary is to open our hearts and minds.

My hope is that this is only the beginning of a free Palestine, one that I may revisit not as an Australian, with the privileges of an Australian passport, but as the grandson of four Palestinians who fled their homeland in 1948 and never went back.


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