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A letter to Europe from a Palestinian

Dear Europeans,

I, like millions of Palestinians, am living through the worst nightmare of yet another round of mass death and destruction unleashed on our people – something you would often simply call “an escalation” of the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

As I write these lines, al-Ahli Hospital was bombed, killing hundreds of children, men and women, who had sought safety on the premises of the hospital. Hours earlier, the news of the death of my friend Mohammed Mokhiemar, his wife Safaa, and their three-month-old baby Elyana reached me.

They were killed after evacuating with other families to the southern part of Gaza, following Israeli orders. They and 70 other Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes.

The only word I can think of that comes close to what I feel right now is “qahr” in Arabic; it is not just pain, anguish and anger. It is the feeling passed on through generations, accumulated more than 75 years of ethnic cleansing, mass killings, injustice, oppression, colonisation, occupation and apartheid. It is a feeling ingrained in every Palestinian, something we have to live with all our lives.

It is a feeling I was born with to a family of refugees in the Gaza Strip. My grandparents hailed from the village of Isdud (now Ashdod) and the village of Bayt Jirja, but were forced to settle in Jabalia refugee camp, just about 20km (12.4 miles) away from their homes. Qahr was probably the first emotion I read on my mother’s face as a baby – a young mother worried about her infants surviving the Israeli onslaught on Gaza amid the first Intifada.

Qahr was what I felt when the Israelis first raided our home, and when they first arrested my father, who was subjected to repeated arbitrary detention without trial or charge. Qahr was what overwhelmed me when I saw Israeli soldiers open fire at peaceful Palestinian demonstrators. Qahr was more powerful than the pain I felt when I, too, was shot.

Qahr defined every assault Israel launched on Gaza, killing, maiming and devastating my family, friends, neighbours, and fellow Palestinians in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2020, and 2021.

Today, as I watch what is unfolding in my homeland, I feel qahr, but also deep indignation and frustration. The reactions of your leaders, dear Europeans, to what is going on have yet again revealed selective solidarity, moral failure and a dark double standard.

On October 11, when more than 1,000 Palestinians had already been killed by indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, offered unconditional support to Israel. “Europe stands with Israel. And we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself,” she said, making no mention of the complete blockade Israel had imposed on Gaza, cutting off electricity, water, and the supply of food and medicine – what legal experts define as a war crime.

Just a few days earlier, her colleague, Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi had said, “The scale of terror and brutality against #Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual”, announcing the suspension of all aid to the Palestinian people, in a clear act of collective punishment. The decision was reversed, but the damage had been done: all Palestinians had been painted as “brutal terrorists”.

Of course, there was no official European reaction to Israeli officials calling Palestinians “animals” and “sub-human” and the genocidal implications that such language carries; hardly surprising, given that Israeli settlers’ marches in which they shout “kill the Arabs” were never condemned either.

But there has been a concerted effort to censor and prevent diaspora Palestinians and their European allies from mourning and demonstrating solidarity with the people of Gaza, as various European states have imposed protest bans and police forces have harassed and beaten demonstrators.

European politicians from across the political spectrum – including many liberals and greens – have joined the campaign of collective dehumanisation of Palestinians. Yet, these same individuals have been more than forthcoming in support of Ukraine in its struggle against Russian occupation.

According to them, Ukrainians have the right to resist, Palestinians do not; Ukrainians are “freedom fighters”, Palestinians are “terrorists”. Ukrainian lives lost to indiscriminate bombardment of civilian homes and infrastructure are worth mourning, Palestinian lives lost in the same circumstances are better ignored – or worse justified as Israel exercising its “right to defend itself”. This European double standard is truly deadly.

That European leaders and politicians are taking the moral high ground right now and labelling us, Palestinians, “brutal terrorists” is quite rich, especially considering the pre-history of what is going on.

Let us remember that on your continent, dear Europeans, wild, brutal anti-Semitism raged for centuries, resulting in bloody pogroms, mass killings, expulsions, dispossession and harassment of European Jews. When a movement emerged within the Jewish community calling for a mass exodus to Palestine, European anti-Semites encouraged it.

One of them, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour signed a pledge in 1917 that the British government would support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, on the lands of the indigenous Palestinian population. The Holocaust, the peak of European murderous anti-Semitism, was followed by European countries unanimously backing the creation of Israel in a United Nations vote. More than half of the world – still under colonial rule – could not vote.

The indigenous Palestinian population, of course, was not asked whether it wanted to pay the price for European anti-Semitic brutality. The following year, Israeli militias ethnically cleansed more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in what we call, the Nakba, the catastrophe.

As American writer James Baldwin aptly put it in a 1979 article reflecting on this reality: “the state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews; it was created for the salvation of the Western interests … The Palestinians have been paying for the British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ and for Europe’s guilty Christian conscience for more than thirty years.”

It has been 75 years of this “guilty Christian conscience” now, dear Europeans. One has to wonder if ever you would ever feel guilt for your complicity in what is happening to us, Palestinians.

It should not be that difficult to look critically at the brutality Palestinians have been subjected to, and ask yourselves if it is right. It should not be that difficult to open a history book and read and learn about what has happened in Palestine and understand our struggle for self-determination and return. It should not be that difficult to read the myriad of United Nations resolutions reaffirming our rights – to resist, to be free of occupation, to return to our homeland.

It is a disgrace to talk about human rights, equality and democracy and then fail to question the brutal policies of a country that engages in settler colonisation and apartheid.

In the first six days of the war, Israel dropped 6,000 bombs on the densely populated Gaza Strip. That, according to experts, is the equivalent of a quarter of an atomic bomb. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 3,000 people were killed, including more than 1,000 children; but we really do not know the true death two as many people remain under the rubble with no one to pull them out.

Last week, Israel ordered more than 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate their homes under continuous bombing. The images of Palestinians leaving their homes and making their way through the rubble towards illusory safety have reminded us of the Nakba. Among them are my family, who left with heavy heart our partially damaged house, which they spent their lifetime building.

As I write these lines, I fear at any moment receiving a message about the death of my family: Ismail my father, Halima my mother, Mohammed my brother, Asmaa my sister-in-law, and my most beautiful nieces Elya (6 years old) and Naya (2 months).

I want you to remember their names. I would not let them become mere numbers if they get killed.

I would not be fearing for their lives today, dear Europeans, if it were not for your support, silence and complicity in Israeli crimes and the economic and political backing Israel receives from the European governments that you elected.

A day will come when Palestine will be liberated. It will be a day of reckoning. You will be asked, while Israeli occupation and apartheid were crushing Palestinians, what were you doing? What will you have to say for your inaction then?

There is still time for you to spare yourself the shame of being on the wrong side of history. As bell hooks said, “Solidarity is a verb”. Are you acting now to stop the genocide in Gaza?

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

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