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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Israel’s Massacre of Palestinian Civilians Should Spark Horror—and Action

It is long past time to end the blockade on Gaza -and to reckon that the one-state reality in which Palestinians and Israelis live.

by Ian S. Lustick     18 May 2018     The Nation

Gaza teargasPalestinian protesters run for cover from Israeli tear-gas grenades along the Israeli-Gaza border in Khan Younis, central Gaza Strip, April 6, 2018. (Mohammed Talatene / picture-alliance / dpa / AP Images)

The barrier enclosing the two million Palestinians “living” in the Gaza Strip is not a border between two countries, as the media have insistently called it. It is a wall erected by Israel to make the suffering of those living inside the Gaza ghetto as invisible as possible to those living outside it.

Israel has told Gazans that anyone attempting to breach this wall and escape from Gaza will be shot. Anyone approaching it will be shot. And that is precisely what has happened over the weeks of protests by Palestinian refugees seeking to highlight their seventy-year exile from land they can see just beyond the wall. Scores of Palestinians have been killed, including journalists and children. Thousands more have been injured by live fire, with many losing legs and arms to amputations. Alongside this, there has been a report of one Israeli soldier hurt by a stone.

There are many words for what this is. Palestinians speak of heroism, resistance, dedication, and martyrdom. The Israeli government calls the shoot-to-kill and shoot-to-injure policies “self-defense.” Individual soldiers call it “following orders.” Israeli human rights groups, meanwhile, call the policy ordered by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “grossly illegal.” My grandmother would have called it a shanda (Yiddish for a “disgrace”). But whether it is heroism or self-defense; whether the orders to shoot are legal or illegal; the mounting Israeli gun violence the world has been forced to witness along the Gaza ghetto wall is, without a doubt, disgusting. For any human being, no matter what their political views or ties to Israel or to Palestinian Arabs, the continuous mass shooting of Palestinian civilians is, or should be, emotionally and spiritually intolerable. 

That it is psychologically and politically possible for Palestinians to continue sacrificing themselves in this way testifies to the desperation of their circumstances; that it is psychologically and politically possible for Israelis to murder and maim so many men, women, and children trying to escape from the ghetto within which they have been concentrated, or just trying to attract the world’s attention to their suffering, is a tragic and humiliating stain on the Jewish state and the Zionist movement that created it. It is also entirely self-defeating for a state struggling against efforts to “delegitimize” its existence.

To be sure, there is always Israeli hasbara, or propaganda, to help those seeking some way to suppress the revulsion and pain that any decent person must feel at the stories coming out of Gaza. This hasbara insists that the protests are nothing more than a cynical Hamas publicity stunt. It tells us that armed Hamas terrorists are hiding themselves among the demonstrators, using the miserable masses to conceal their efforts to kill Israelis. Who could doubt this? When the British ruled Palestine, the underground Jewish army prided itself on hiding arms factories in grammar schools and synagogues. And as we know, in any besieged ghetto there will be ghetto fighters, and they will be treated as heroes by those on the inside, and terrorists by those on the outside. But if there are certainly men of violence among the masses of protestors, let us not forget that alongside the many Israeli soldiers who surely suffer some pangs of conscience, there are some, as we have seen on videotape, who high-five one another for using fancy sniper rifles to put big holes in human bodies hundreds of yards away. 

As for those in charge of the security policies of the current Israeli government, they know all too well what they are doing, what horror they are inflicting. The security hawks that staff leading think tanks and Israeli government ministries regularly speak of the need to “mow the lawn” in Gaza, to keep the population there on a “strict diet,” and to “manage the conflict” by using purposefully inflicted suffering to sear into Palestinian hearts the belief that resistance is futile. When Israel adopted its policy of enforcing a hermetic seal around Gaza in 2007, a political geographer at Haifa University named Arnon Soffer offered his full-throated endorsement, but added that it would eventually mean, not shooting armed men, but “putting a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to climb over the security barrier.” “If we want to remain alive,” he said, by which he meant if Israel wants to remain a “Jewish” state, “we will have to kill and kill and kill.”

The struggle for a two-state solution is not moribund; it is dead. This is true even if the pretense that negotiations could succeed remains a useful excuse—a way for Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States, and the peace-process industry to exploit or ignore the deepening oppression of the current one-state reality. As documented by the Israeli military, there are now more Palestinians under the control of the Israeli state than there are Jews. Indeed, for all intents and purposes the Palestinians of Gaza and of the West Bank are already within the Jewish state. They are citizens of no other country, no other recognized state. As measured by how much impact the State of Israel has over the intimate details of their lives, and indeed over whether they will live at all, they are as much inhabitants of the State of Israel as black slaves were inhabitants of the United States or as Africans in the Bantustans were inhabitants of apartheid South Africa. The five-decade occupation of the West Bank and the dozen-year blockade of Gaza, combined with regularly inflicted violent punishment, just mark differences in the way the Israeli state governs different populations in different regions.

In this sense, there is no longer any reason for Israelis to fear the Palestinian call for return as a “threat” to the ideal of a Jewish democratic state. After all, what did that ideal actually mean? It meant a state that was controlled by Jews, for Jews, but which could front itself as a democracy with equal rights for all. However, no state that uses the kind of mass incarceration, heavy and constant surveillance, collective punishment, and bloody violence against those under its control that Israel does against Palestinian residents can any longer front itself as democratic. Nor can it be reasonably argued that allowing refugees from Gaza to settle in the underpopulated areas surrounding the Gaza Strip would be a greater danger to Israel and its Jewish inhabitants than letting the Gaza time bomb tick until it explodes.

The truth is, no matter how much Israelis try to deny or distance themselves from the suffering their government is inflicting on the people of Gaza, their fates are intimately intertwined. Consider Ashkelon, an Israeli city on the Mediterranean coast thirteen miles from the Gaza Strip. Before the expulsion of its population to Gaza after the 1948 war, it was the Palestinian town of Majdal. Israel (with the complicity of the Palestinian Authority) has reduced the amount of electricity allowed into Gaza so that it is available for not more than four hours. For two million people that means real misery, but it also means that sewage treatment plants cannot operate properly, contributing to the fact that 97 percent of the drinking water in Gaza is contaminated. Experts warn of cholera and other epidemics that are liable to be unleashed in Gaza and spread beyond the wall surrounding it. Meanwhile, Ashkelon’s desalination plant, a facility that provides Israel with 20 percent of the its drinking water, has had to shut down on a number of occasions because of sewage from Gaza flowing into the area’s waters, while the city’s beaches have been closed because of fecal matter washing up on the shore.

In the long run the solution to the human catastrophe that is the Gaza Strip will be to fully integrate its population into the society whose state controls it. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, that state is Israel. But the immediate requirement is to end the brutal blockade that immiserates it and drains all hope from its inhabitants—a direction of policy advocated by many Israeli military and security experts. Only by doing so can life there can be normal enough to convince ordinary Palestinians in Gaza that it is worth more than what happens to them when they try to escape.


The Day of Shame   

by Uri Avneri      Gush Shalom  19 May 2018

My answer was, without hesitation: I would have stood near the border fence and demonstrated, risking my life and limbs every minute.

How am I so sure?

Simple: I did the same when I was 15.

I was a member of the National Military Organization (the "Irgun"), an armed underground group labeled "terrorist".

Palestine was at the time under British occupation (called "mandate"). In May 1939, the British enacted a law limiting the right of Jews to acquire land. I received an order to be at a certain time at a certain spot near the sea shore of Tel Aviv in order to take part in a demonstration. I was to wait for a trumpet signal.

The trumpet sounded and we started the march down Allenby Road, then the city's main street. Near the main synagogue, somebody climbed the stairs and delivered an inflammatory speech. Then we marched on, to the end of the street, where the offices of the British administration were located. There we sang the national anthem, “Hatikvah”, while some adult members set fire to the offices.

Suddenly several lorries carrying British soldiers screeched to a halt, and a salvo of shots rang out. The British fired over our heads, and we ran away.

Remembering this event 79 years later, it crossed my mind that the boys of Gaza are greater heroes then we were then. They did not run away. They stood their ground for hours, while the death toll rose to 61 and the number of those wounded by live ammunition to some 1500, in addition to 1000 affected by gas.

ON THAT day, most TV stations in Israel and abroad split their screen. On the right, the events in Gaza. On the left, the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

In the 136th year of the Zionist-Palestinian war, that split screen is the picture of reality: the celebration in Jerusalem and the bloodbath in Gaza. Not on two different planets, not in two different continents, but hardly an hour's drive apart.

The celebration in Jerusalem started as a silly event. A bunch of suited males, inflated with self-importance, celebrating - what, exactly? The symbolic movement of an office from one town to another.

Jerusalem is a major bone of contention. Everybody knows that there will be no peace, not now, not ever, without a compromise there. For every Palestinian, every Arab, every Muslim throughout the world, it is unthinkable to give up Jerusalem. It is from there, according to Muslim tradition, that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, after tying his horse to the rock that is now the center of the holy places. After Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem is the third holiest place of Islam.

For the Jews, of course, Jerusalem means the place where, some 2000 years ago, there stood the temple built by King Herod, a cruel half-Jew. A remnant of an outer wall still stands there and is revered as the "Western Wall". It used to be called the "Wailing Wall", and is the holiest place of the Jews.

Statesmen have tried to square the circle and find a solution. The 1947 United Nations committee that decreed the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state – a solution enthusiastically endorsed by the Jewish leadership – suggested separating Jerusalem from both states and constituting it as a separate unit within what was supposed to be in fact a kind of confederation.

The war of 1948 resulted in a divided city, the Eastern part was occupied by the Arab side (the Kingdom of Jordan) and the Western part became the capital of Israel. (My modest part was to fight in the battle for the road.)

No one liked the division of the city. So my friends and I devised a third solution, which by now has become a world consensus: keep the city united on the municipal level and divide it politically: the West as capital of the State of Israel, the East as capital of the State of Palestine. The leader of the local Palestinians, Faisal al-Husseini, the scion of a most distinguished local Palestinian family and the son of a national hero who was killed not far from my position in the same battle, endorsed this formula publicly. Yasser Arafat gave me his tacit consent.

If President Donald Trump had declared West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and moved his embassy there, almost nobody would have got excited. By omitting the word "West", Trump ignited a fire. Perhaps without realizing what he was doing, and probably not giving a damn.

For me, the moving of the US embassy means nothing. It is a symbolic act that does not change reality. If and when peace does come, no one will care about some stupid act of a half-forgotten US president. Inshallah.

SO THERE they were, this bunch of self-important nobodies, Israelis, Americans and those in-between, having their little festival, while rivers of blood were flowing in Gaza. Human beings were killed by the dozen and wounded by the thousand.

The ceremony started as a cynical meeting, which quickly became grotesque, and ended in being sinister. Nero fiddling while Rome was burning.

When the last hug was exchanged and the last compliment paid (especially to the graceful Ivanka), Gaza remained what it was – a huge concentration camp with severely overcrowded hospitals, lacking medicines and food, drinkable water and electricity.

A ridiculous world-wide propaganda campaign was let loose to counter the world-wide condemnation. For example: the story that the terrorist Hamas had compelled the Gazans to go and demonstrate – as if anyone could be compelled to risk their life in a demonstration.

Or: the story that Hamas paid every demonstrator 50 dollars. Would you risk your life for 50 dollars? Would anybody?

Or: The soldiers had no choice but to kill them, because they were storming the border fence. Actually, no one did so – the huge concentration of Israeli army brigades would have easily prevented it without shooting.

Almost forgotten was a small news item from the days before: Hamas had discreetly offered a Hudna for ten years. A Hudna is a sacred armistice, never to be broken. The Crusaders, our remote predecessors, had many Hudnas with their Arab enemies during their 200-year stay here.

Israeli leaders immediately rejected the offer.

SO WHY were the soldiers ordered to kill? It is the same logic that has animated countless occupation regimes throughout history: make the "natives" so afraid that they will give up. Alas, the results have almost always been the very opposite: the oppressed have become more hardened, more resolute. This is happening now.

Bloody Monday may well be seen in future as the day when the Palestinians regained their national pride, their will to stand up and fight for their independence.

Strangely, the next day – the main day of the planned protest, Naqba Day - only two demonstrators were killed. Israeli diplomats abroad, facing world-wide indignation, had probably sent home SOS messages. Clearly the Israeli army had changed its orders. Non-lethal means were used and sufficed.

MY CONSCIENCE does not allow me to conclude this without some self-criticism.

I would have expected that all of Israel's renowned writers would publish a thundering joint condemnation while the shooting was still going on. It did not happen.

The political "opposition" was contemptible. No word from the Labor party. No word from Ya'ir Lapid. The new leader of the Meretz party, Tamar Sandberg, did at least boycott the Jerusalem celebration. Labor and Lapid did not even do that.

I would have expected that the dozens of our brave peace organizations would unite in a dramatic act of condemnation, an act that would arouse the world. It did not happen. Perhaps they were in a state of shock.

The next day, the excellent boys and girls of the peace groups demonstrated opposite the Likud office in Tel Aviv. Some 500 took part. Far, far from the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated some years ago against the price of cottage cheese.

In short: we did not do our duty. I accuse myself as much as I accuse everybody else.

We must prepare at once for the next atrocity. We must organize for mass action now!

BUT WHAT topped everything was the huge machine of brain-washing that was set in motion. For many years I have not experienced anything like it.

Almost all the so-called "military correspondents" acted like army propaganda agents. Day by day they helped the army to spread lies and falsifications. The public had no alternative but to believe every word. Nobody told them otherwise.

The same is true for almost all other means of communication, program presenters, announcers and correspondents. They willingly became government liars. Probably many of them were ordered to do so by their bosses. Not a glorious chapter.

After the day of blood, when the army was faced with world condemnation and had to stop shooting ("only" killing two unarmed demonstrators) all Israeli media were united in declaring this a great Israeli victory.

Israel had to open the crossings and send food and medicines to Gaza. Egypt had to open its Gaza crossing and accept many hundreds of wounded for operations and other treatment.

The Day of Shame has passed. Until the next time.