by Mohsina Alam and Mashaal Hussain
"In order for me to write poetry that
I must listen to the birds
and in order to hear the birds
the warplane must be silent"
- Marwan Makhoul
Since October 7th, 2023, violence and destruction by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has plagued the Gaza Strip. Over 20,000 civilians have been killed, with a further 50,000 wounded and left homeless due to indiscriminate bombings destroying entire towns. The death toll is rapidly increasing, and there seems to be no clear end to the violence in sight, especially since the Biden administration bypassed the US Congress to approve a $147.5 million sale for military weapons to Israel. The situation in Gaza is dire, with the British Red Cross stating that "Gaza is in the grip of a human catastrophe."
Israel’s bombing campaign began as a response to attacks carried out by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist political and military group that has been governing Gaza since 2006. On October 7th, 2023, hundreds of Hamas combatants entered southern Israel and raided military posts, kibbutzim (small villages), and a musical festival. Hamas killed an estimated 1,200 people and took an estimated 240 people back to Gaza as hostages. 105 hostages have since been released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement in November 2023. The killings and kidnappings were the most threatening attacks on Israel in more than a generation.
On October 8th, 2023, Israel formally declared war on Hamas. Israel began a sustained bombing campaign on Gaza and has since launched a ground attack as well. They have also blocked supplies of food, fuel, and medicine from entering the territory. Resources are dwindling, and attacks on hospitals mean that injured civilians cannot access the healthcare they need. To date, the UK has continually refused to back UN calls for a ceasefire, instead calling for temporary 'humanitarian pauses' to allow aid into Gaza.
The current violence unfolding in Gaza did not arise randomly. Both Israel and Hamas’ attacks since October are part of a longer story of colonialism and unrest that has haunted the Palestinian region since 1917.
A Brief History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Author Note: This is an extremely condensed and simplified narrative of the history of the Palestinian region to provide a snippet of an overview. There are numerous important events on the historical timeline that have been omitted due to the length of the article. For greater knowledge on the history of the Israel-Palestine historical conflict, please refer to a scholarly reading list that can be found at the end of the article.
During World War I, the Arab population living in Palestine (then referred to as Ottoman Syria) successfully fought and defeated the Ottoman Turks who ruled the area. Following this, Britain took control of the territory, which then came to be known as 'Mandatory Palestine'. Mandatory Palestine was populated mostly by Arabs, with a Jewish minority and other, smaller ethnic groups.
In 1917, the-then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, made a pledge to establish a "national home" in Palestine for Jewish people. This was formalised in a document known as the 'Balfour Declaration'. The declaration was supported by the League of Nations - predecessor of the United Nations - in 1922. In the same year, Britain promised the League of Nations and Palestinians that they would prepare Palestinians for independence. Britain made conflicting promises and failed to deliver on numerous occasions.
Between the 1920s-1940s, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased in waves. Unrest and tensions between the Palestinian and Jewish communities in Palestine escalated on several occasions, involving general strikes and armed conflicts.
In 1947, the UN voted to split Palestine into two states - one Arab state and one Jewish state. This plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by Palestinian leaders, arguing that the partition plans favoured the Jewish minority and that Palestinians who lived in the proposed Jewish territory would face discrimination. In 1948, without resolving the issue of Palestinian and Jewish statehood, Britain withdrew from Palestine, and Jewish leaders declared that the land would become the state of Israel, the new Jewish state.
Israel’s creation was met with hostility from the wider Arab region, who supported Palestinians in their fight to reclaim the land as Palestine. Between May 1948 - July 1949, the Arab armies and Israeli forces were at war, ultimately resulting in Israel occupying most of the historic land of Palestine. Historians estimate that at least 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes and displaced by Israeli forces during this time, which is now remembered as the ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe in Arabic).
Nineteen years later, another war broke out in the region between Israel and numerous Arab armies, resulting in Israel occupying further territory. These included: East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank (the occupied Palestinian territories), the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.
Most displaced Palestinians live in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as the neighbouring Arab states; Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Although they have fought numerous times to return to their homes, the Israeli state has forbidden this return, arguing that the presence of Palestinians in Israel would threaten its existence as a nation. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and Gaza and has created settlements there, despite the UN and UK government agreeing that settlements in occupied territories are illegal.
Israel-Palestinian peace talks were carried out between the 1990s - 2010s, following Palestinian uprisings against Israel in 1987, known as the First Intifada. These peace talks have regularly been met with the continuation of violence and oppression faced by Palestinians living under Israeli rule. Thus, a lasting peace has not yet been possible, bringing us to the present day.
Notable Figures to Remember During the Conflict
One thing Western mainstream media fails to do is show the reality of the situation happening in Palestine, which is why it's essential to follow and hear the unspoken heroes, Palestinian journalists; wearing their press vests while courage runs through their veins.
Over 100 Palestinian journalists have died while showing the world the brutality they face in their daily lives.
It is crucial to be aware of what is happening in Palestine from someone who is a reliable source and is currently experiencing everything firsthand. Here is a list of Palestinian journalists that we should be following:
Motaz Azaiza: GQ Middle East's Man of The Year, Azaiza is a photojournalist who has kept us visually informed, humbled, and haunted by the horrors befalling Gaza.
Plestia Alaqad: Plestia is a young journalist who provides up-to-date glimpses into life in Gaza.
Hind Khoudary: Originally a TV journalist, Khoudary now provides regular updates on her social media channels and is based on the ground in Gaza.
Yara Eid: Eid is a Palestinian journalist based in London who provides daily updates on political happenings and developments as well as glimpses into life in Gaza.
Lama Jamous: A nine-year-old journalist who interviews other children in Palestine and gives us an insight into a youthful perspective.
Ashraf Amra: Amra is a photojournalist providing visual education on the conflict.
While the role of journalists can’t be understated, it is also pivotal to highlight other Palestinians who have provided us with narratives, such as scholars and poets.
The work of key scholars can be found at the end of this article, as part of our reading list. We implore you to read this content to gain a greater understanding of the conflict from the people who have dedicated their lives to providing this knowledge.
Poetry has historically been Palestine's most beloved art form and has been used to express Palestinian society's nationalist struggle and identity. Political poets used poetry, both written and spoken, to share nationalist ideas during crucial moments in the Palestinian liberation/nationalist struggle. After the 1967 war, resistance became the key theme in Palestinian poetry, and the population looked to poets for guidance and leadership.
Again, some poets and their key works can be found in our concluding reading list.
The Ways We Can Attempt to Help
Alongside learning about, reading the works of, and supporting Palestinian creators, there are more actionable ways of directly helping with the conflict.
Most obviously, donating. Even a bit of money can have a significant impact, and by supporting a charity, you are able to not only contribute to a positive change but actively demonstrate your support for Palestine, showing the number of us who are against the genocide.
Some Charities to consider:
- PCRF - https://www.pcrf.net
Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), founded in 1991 by concerned humanitarians in the USA, provides free medical care to thousands of injured and ill children yearly who lack local access to care within the local healthcare system.
- Islamic Relief - https://www.islamic-relief.org.uk/giving/appeals/winter-appeal/?gad_source=1
Islamic Relief USA provides relief and development in a dignified manner regardless of gender, race, or religion and works to empower individuals in their communities and give them a voice in the world.
- PRCS - https://www.palestinercs.org/en
The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is an officially recognized independent Palestinian National Society. It is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
- MAP - https://www.map.org.uk
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is a UK non-profit charity registered organization that works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees.
Boycotting is an effective tool, too. Don’t underestimate the power of avoiding brands; it’s why governments are desperately attempting to find ways to stop it.
It’s true that there is power in numbers, and the more of us who avoid companies funding the war, the less money they have to be able to do so.
Certain people don't believe in the power of boycotting, but it helps. An example is that Morocco is closing down Starbucks stores due to the lack of demand because of the ongoing boycott.
Some brands you can boycott and alternatives:
Alternative: Caffe Nero/Blank Street or, ideally, your local coffee shop.
- Burger King
- Pizza Hut
- Domino's Pizza
Alternative: Nandos/Wingstop or, again ideally, from your local fast-food shop.
The website below gives a detailed list of places you should boycott from and even more alternatives.
Another important thing you can do is keep speaking about the genocide taking place.
Keep using the internet to share updates about what's happening. It seems small to post about it on your Instagram story or bring it up in your conversations, but by doing so, you are allowing more people to learn about the issue.
You may be reading this from the comfort of your own home, unaware of how this impacts you.
To support others means to be united as a world, to have humanity.
Instead of turning our backs on them, we must ensure their stories remain alive.
By sharing articles, reposting infographics, reading poetry, and making the people around us aware, you're not only demonstrating where you lie and nudging others to do the same, but are also educating a wider audience who may not know enough about the conflict otherwise.
Words are a powerful tool. But for words to be potent, they must be heard.
Edited by Emily Duff
The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine - Rashid Khalidi
On Palestine - Noam Chomsky & Illan Pappe
Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory - Lila Abu Lughod and Ahmad Sa’di
The Palestinians - Rosemary Sayigh and Noam Chomsky
The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History - David Lesch
The Question of Palestine / Orientalism - Edward Said
Mahmoud Darwish - Identity Card, Birds of Galilee
Fadwa Tuqan - The Deluge and the Tree, Existence, Enough For Me
Tawfiq Zayyad - On the trunk of an olive tree
Salem Jubran - Singer of Wind and Rain
Jabra Ibrahim Jabra - In the deserts of exile
Reefat Al-Areer – Gaza Writes Back
Mohammed El-Kurd – Rifqa