Published by Mediterranea's board | 21 / Jun / 2024

Mediterranea with Palestine: being an instrument of non-violent resistance

What we will do

Yesterday the operational phase of the project "Mediterranea with Palestine" began, with the arrival of the first activist of Mediterranea Saving Humans in At-Tuwani.

In February 2024, Mediterranea Saving Humans carried out a fact-finding mission alongside Operazione Colomba and Youth of Sumud. Since then, it has worked constantly questioning how to be present and operational in the West Bank.

Dozens of activists have participated in specific training and offered their availability to allow us to be among the international realities that in Palestine and in particular in Masafer Yatta (the rural area south of Al Khalil/Hebron) document and oppose the continuous human rights violations carried out by the occupation forces, i.e. Israeli settlers and institutions.

The project involves a field rotation of two activists every 12 days until mid-September. During this time the activists will experience the reality of a rural area that has resisted under Israeli occupation for more than 50 years.

Over the next three months, we will therefore be in the village of At-Tuwani to support the Palestinian civilian population through interposition against the Israeli occupation forces and to ensure the presence of a constant international observer. Our role will be to support and participate in the work of Youth of Sumud e Operazione Colomba with the common goal of fostering and supporting the development of the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement and the survival of the community (about 1,200 people in 10 villages) continuously harassed by the occupation forces, which have already forced part of the population to leave and have provoked several episodes of high violence.

In this sense, as Mediterranea, we choose to be an instrument at the disposal of a population that has decided to implement a form of bottom-up and non-violent resistance. We are therefore not going to impose our own project, but to become an integral part of a ten-year journey that originated with the people of At-Tuwani and in which we find a reflection of our identity as an organisation. Mediterranea has decided to stand side by side with the civilian population, consistent with what it is doing even now in some of the unfortunately numerous contexts in which human rights are being denied.

For decades, the Palestinian people have suffered systematic oppression by the Israeli occupation forces. This consists of widespread actions of violence, supported by institutions part of what has increasingly become an apartheid apartheid regime. Actions that take the form of what is in fact a slow but steady territorial conquest with the ultimate goal of enacting ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian population and finalising the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe and diaspora) process.

After the unjustifiable 7 October massacre by Hamas against the Israeli population, in which more than 1,200 people lost their lives and 253 were taken hostage, the reaction of the State of Israel was inhuman and murderous.

The death toll, as a result of attacks by the Israeli armed forces, reached 37.084 victims as of 6 June and this untenable situation has undoubtedly been exacerbated in the West Bank as well.

In recent months, our community has confronted each other on several occasions; the escalation of violence has led us collectively to share, albeit with different sensitivities and different interpretations, a unanimous urge to express ourselves as an association and to act to stand by those who are oppressed, as Mediterranea always chooses to do.

Palestine has never seen us operate as an association until now, but many our activists have in the past been directly active, both individually and within social realities, alongside the struggle of the Palestinian people.

Deciding to be there for these first three months means becoming an instrument of resistance from below and an instrument in turn of those who have been on the ground supporting it for 20 years.

The Palestinian context and the international response

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reports that the entire population in the Gaza Strip is enduring acute levels of food insecurity: half are suffering from catastrophic food insecurity and between now and July, an additional 92% of the population could be slipping into very severe levels of malnutrition; the World Health Organisation (WHO) already reports deaths of minors for this reason.

In its Order No. 192 of 26 January 2024, the International Court of Justice took precautionary measures against the state of Israel, which was accused by South Africa of violations of the Convention against the Crime of Genocide.

On 20 May 2024, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court alleged the existence of war crimes by Israel and Hamas, asking the Court to issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, Ismail Haniyeh and Diab Ibrahim Al Masri.

Recall that the United Nations General Assembly, meeting at the level of heads of state and government, established in Resolution 60/1 of 16 September 2005 that '(...) The international community, through the United Nations, also has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity'.

Regarding the West Bank, according to reports by OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), from the beginning of 2023 to date, there have been over 4,500 incidents, including house demolitions, land confiscations, violence, theft and damage. These attacks have resulted in serious human rights violations and have made daily life increasingly difficult for many Palestinian communities, who are increasingly forced, directly or de facto, to abandon their land and homes.
At the same time, Italy continues to export arms to Israel, despite the ongoing conflict situation. In fact, 'in the last quarter of 2023, Italy exported weapons and ammunition to Israel worth €2.1 million, making it the third largest country in terms of volume of business, after the United States and Germany. In December alone, now in the midst of bombardments by the Israeli army and air force on the Gaza Strip, with catastrophic consequences for the civilian population, Italian exports reached 1.3 million euro, marking the peak of the period (against 233,025 euro in October and 584,511 in November)'.

Italy and Europe not only benefit from export earnings but also use Israeli technology and know-how to patrol land and sea borders.

It is no coincidence that Israel is one of the third states that supplies the most war material and technology used to reinforce an increasingly worrying process of militarisation of European borders and states.

The case of the 'Heron' drones, produced by two Israeli companies and supplied to Frontex to detect and repel people on the move, is the most striking example of this type of agreement. And even in this case, the big Italian war companies, with Leonardo s.p.a. in the lead, continue to do business with Israeli companies complicit in the violent occupation in Palestine.

Maintaining a constant state of occupation, salaries, water, electricity and gas for 700,000 people, and salaries and resources for military and police forces has an enormous cost, which the State of Israel can only bear thanks to the complicity of our government as well. As citizens of a country that is a member of the European Union and part of NATO, we risk being co-responsible for the choices made by our governments that endorse these crimes and for the silence of our institutions, as well as for the normalisation of relations with Israel and companies based in the occupied territories.

Although in different contexts and with different dynamics, it is clear that the objective of the Israeli state is to deprive Palestinian women, men and children of all rights and drive them out of their lands with all forms of violence and oppression.

If in the Gaza Strip this purpose takes the form of genocidal actions (bombing, attacking and starving the civilian population, targeting convoys and humanitarian personnel, executing innocent and unarmed people in cold blood), the policy of the State of Israel is expressed in the West Bank as a regime of permanent discrimination and a slow and constant ethnic cleansing, which on 7 October only accelerated, exacerbating the dynamics of oppression that the occupation forces have been implementing for decades against the Palestinian population.

West Bank

According to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the West Bank is divided into three areas, A, B and C:

Area A: this area is under complete control of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), both in terms of security and civil administration. It comprises approximately 18% of the West Bank, including the main Palestinian urban centres such as Ramallah and Nablus.

Area B: In this zone, the PNA has civilian control, but security is shared between the PNA and Israel. It covers approximately 22% of the West Bank and includes many Palestinian towns and villages.

Area C: this area is under complete Israeli control, both civilian and military. It covers about 60% of the West Bank and includes Israeli settlements, agricultural lands and strategic development areas, as well as most natural resources.

The Masafer Yatta area and the village of At-Tuwani are located in Area C.

The West Bank towns and villages in Zone A are effectively isolated, surrounded by a sea that decides to open or close at will, selecting for whom to let the water flow and to whom to turn off the taps on the basis of passport and prejudice.

Since 7 October, the situation, already very difficult for the civilian population, has also severely deteriorated in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, due to constant army incursions and assaults by armed Israeli settler militias.

Attacks by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank resulted in 517 civilian casualties, including women, children and the elderly. Also according to OCHA data, there have been more than 4,500 incidents of violence perpetrated by settlers against the Palestinian population in the past year in the West Bank, an increase of 78% from the previous year, and an average of 3 Palestinians injured every week in 2023. The continued expansion of Israeli colonies in the West Bank (over 10% of Israel's total population of approximately 700,000 people), which has further increased since 7 October 2023, has resulted in increased oppression and discrimination of local Palestinian communities, forcing many men, women and childrenǝ and communities to leave their homeland. The Israeli government has also announced the construction of thousands of new illegal housing units.

At-Tuwani and Masafer Yatta

Throughout the West Bank, but particularly in the area of Masafer Yatta (also partly arbitrarily designated as a 'firing zone', i.e. as a "closed military zone" theoretically reserved for firing exercises, precisely in order to justify further land grabs), settlers systematically act in order to make the everyday life of the Palestinian community impossible with the aim of, on the one hand to prevent access to and enjoyment of sources of livelihood (preventing the olive harvest, constantly threatening and attacking shepherds and flocks, killing goats and sheep, poisoning fields, damaging electrical cables and pipes), and on the other hand to directly target and frighten people (hitting children on the way to school, threatening, injuring and, in the most serious cases, killing civilians). A large part of the local Palestinian population has property titles recognised by the State of Israel to their homes and land, and therefore the settlers, with the connivance of the institutions, use every means to illegally occupy Palestinians' property and then define further borders and eventually drive them out of their homes in various ways from planting an Israeli flag, which by the occupier's 'laws' cannot be touched, to accusing the Palestinian population of non-existent crimes, planting border posts from one day to the next to create new illegal boundaries and demand their legitimacy (consider that only after three years that a piece of land is not cultivated does the State of Israel directly acquire possession of it).

When the Israeli army and police, who are responsible for security in Area C even for the Palestinian population, are called to intervene in crimes committed by settlers, they generally either do not intervene at all or instead sanction the Palestinian population, accusing them of creating problems and believing the lies of the settlers who claim they were the victims of an attack.

The 'Sumud' (Perseverance in Arabic) carried out by the Palestinian civilian population and particularly of At-Tuwani is a struggle for all of us. A struggle that means affirming that no one can, just because they have the power, occupy another person's land, drive them out of their home, prevent them and all their children from studying, growing, playing, living.

Youth of Sumud and the non-violent resistance movement of At-Tuwani and the hills south of al-Khalil (Hebron), are fighting for all of us, every day going out to cultivate olive trees, grazing flocks, accompanying their children to school, sleeping with the most affected families, documenting and denouncing the actions of the occupying forces every day, drinking tea together every day, planning what is, in the words of the community that carries out these actions every day, the true Resistance: to continue to exist.

Today, Gaza fills the news and our social networks, but while it is impossible for us to intervene directly in a besieged enclave at the moment, we want to and can be present in support of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, responding to their request to work alongside Operazione Colomba, which for 20 years has been the only international organisation that shares its daily life with the community in the hills south of Hebron 365 days a year, implementing practices of non-violent interposition and using their 'privileged' passport (as internationals, for example, one can only be arrested by the police, not by the army or paramilitary forces of the colonies), their cameras, their voices, their presence alongside the children who go to school, the shepherds, the farmers, in courtrooms to testify to the falsity of the settlers' statements.

In a context of global civil war, in which so many local conflicts are characterised by high levels of violence, mostly affecting the civilian population, non-violent resistance is a choice of desertion.

Deserting a worldview in which death is a political tool, people are just dehumanised numbers and human rights violations are just collateral damage.

As Mediterranea, almost 6 years ago we decided to buy a ship and desert at sea. Now we renew this choice to desert in a very different context, alongside Youth of Sumud, who made this choice knowing full well what the consequences were, and Operazione Colomba.

We can and must act.

The possibility of a person drowning without anyone being able to witness it, without anyone having done anything to help them, is a denunciation that a border and a passport affirm the superiority of one human being over another. This bases our society on the possibility of some people enjoying their rights at the expense of the suffering of others, making it acceptable to use force to oppress others, endorsing the assumption that we are not all equal.

We are therefore answering a call to learn how to 'exist to resist', to learn how to make a community live with few resources, to study and educate ourselves without light and the internet, to find a way to respond to a rifle when disarmed.

We do not have the luxury of believing that any of these things do not serve us personally and our communities. The struggle waged by the Palestinian people is the struggle of each of us.

The struggle for freedom of movement, so evident at sea, becomes equally explicit in the image of a Palestinianə child who has to stop his sheep from grazing the grass in his field where it is greener, because the settlers otherwise attack the shepherds. This struggle is also for the dignity of all of us, the struggle for the affirmation of a right to be human that is more important than any nation and any law of states, and which international law today, moreover, largely recognises, in the face in particular of an illegal and illegitimate military occupation that has lasted for decades.

With our presence in At-Tuwani, we will try to remind everyone once again, in our own small way, that freedom of movement and the fundamental rights of every human being must be universal, otherwise they are not rights but privileges, and that their respect precedes and goes beyond any rule imposed by individual states.

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