Photograph: Copyright Amos Trust / Mark Kensett

Some time ago I bonded with a woman on Twitter over a shared commitment to the struggle for Palestinian human rights and self determination. My memory is unreliable these days, but I’m quite sure we connected around the siege of Gaza in 2014, when more than 2,000 Palestinians were slaughtered during a 51-day Israeli blitz in which the most lethal and sophisticated weaponry in human history was unleashed on 1.8 million civilians trapped on the most densely populated piece of land on earth. She quit Twitter not long after, finding the atmosphere poisonous, but we’ve managed to keep in touch via email.

We’ve never met and she and I don’t swap much personal information, but from our exchanges I gather that she is an ordinary Brit, a regular churchgoer – earnest, compassionate and driven by a sense of moral clarity – with no personal connection to the region. Nonetheless, the dispossession of the Palestinians and their ongoing oppression, alongside the refusal of her own government to stand up for international law and condemn egregious human rights abuses, captured her attention and like me she is now a committed advocate.

We are only occasionally in touch but last week she made contact to share a video of the ‘Just Walk to Jerusalem’, a 147-day pilgrimage organised by the Amos Trust, in which she and dozens of others walked all the way from London to Jerusalem. (And yes, they really did walk.)

Readers of my blog might recall that the Amos Trust was the organisation that teamed up with Palmusic to present a concert I attended at St James’s Piccadilly, featuring a string quartet of Druze Palestinian siblings. Inspired by the event, I went on to support Palmusic by sponsoring two students in its Open Hebron music programme.

The ‘Just Walk’ was conceived to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and press the UK government to ‘change the record’ on Palestine. But this morning it seems to have taken on a new meaning thanks to Donald Trump’s wrecking ball Middle East foreign policy, which reached its nadir with yesterday’s announcement that the US will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For those of you who don’t know, Jerusalem has been divided into (Arab) East and (Jewish) West since it was annexed by Israel in 1967, and its status has always been among the thorniest issues in already fraught ‘talks’.

I confess that while I woke up this morning still feeling the shock of Trump’s announcement, I remain uncertain what to think. Yesterday, many commentators – including those who should know better – performed last rites on the ‘Middle East peace process’ and the ‘two state solution’ both of which have in fact been sustained in a permanent vegetative state for decades. Indeed, this so-called process and its imagined solution exist now only in the minds of a few fantasists and the cynics who feed their delusion that some ‘status quo’ was being maintained. The briefest glance at a current map of the West Bank confirms the truth of the matter which is the aggressive daily expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, enabled by the bloated budget of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry which is tasked with stalking and smearing anyone who objects. In short, the ‘status quo’ was not static at all.

Others claimed that it finally exposed America as a dishonest broker in the conflict. For those wilful naifs, apparently Barack Obama’s $38-billion top up in military aid to Israel, the requirement that Texans seeking hurricane relief funding sign declarations against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, the well-funded war on Palestinian advocacy on US university campuses (as well as those in Canada, the UK and elsewhere), and countless other displays of America’s ‘Israel first’ policy hadn’t provided enough evidence that US affections were already spoken for. Besides, it’s not clear why the “Potemkin peace process” which Hillary Clinton promised her pro Israel donors according to the Podesta email leaks, served the cause of Palestinian equality and human rights any better. Curiously, the US media were more interested in skewering Julian Assange over the leaks than pondering the implications of Clinton’s cynicism, dishonesty and admission of bias.

So yes, today we know where we stand and it’s where we’ve stood for a long time: silent witnesses to the erasure of the Palestinian people, the colonisation of their history and culture, the theft of their land and resources and collusion in the ugly pretence that the Palestinian thirst for justice is actually a thirst for blood. In short, the threadbare but familiar colonialist narrative dressed up as ‘different’ this time, with anyone who disagrees being ruthlessly silenced.

In that sense, I suppose, the ‘Just Walk to Jerusalem’ means as much today as it did yesterday, and will tomorrow. Here is their video:

Just Walk to Jerusalem 2017 from Amos Trust on Vimeo.

And here is a more in depth look at their journey. Just Walk to Jerusalem 2017


Although I’m fast losing count of the names and number of Palestinians executed in the occupied Palestinian Territories over the past few weeks, this news story / obituary from Muftah about Hashem Azzeh lodged itself in my consciousness when I first read it a couple of days ago, and has stayed put ever since. Amid the insanity of summary executions, Washington Post claims of Palestinian blood lust, maps published then hastily withdrawn by MSNBC after a furore from the usual subjects, and Bibi’s latest lunacy, this man’s unwavering decency and courage stopped me in my tracks.

A few years ago, when my sister was very ill with breast cancer I had a conversation with my American step-mother about the horrors of that disease to which she had lost several close friends. In a moment of bitter, ghoulish humour, we joked about whose suffering we would be less moved by than that of the remarkable women we knew who’d been affected by it. Of course, we’d never wish such a fate on anyone but the news of this man’s horrific death brought to mind how we choose to live, who we choose to be and what we leave behind. It strikes me that Hashem Azzeh squeezed every drop of decency and humanity out of the indecent hand he was dealt.

To the mainstream media in this country, Hashem Azzeh is just another dead Palestinian. Fortunately, those of us with the energy to navigate the rabbit’s warren of alternative news sites online have the privilege of getting to know him a little, posthumously.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Hashem was not someone who could be cowed or silenced by fear. Even after being sentenced by the IDF to house arrest for several years, a punishment that caused him to lose his medical job with the UN, Hashem did not stop advocating for the liberation of his people.

He managed a psychological support group for members of his community, encouraging them to speak about the trauma that was a part of their daily lives. Together with his wife, Nisreen, he created a social enterprise for Hebron’s young Palestinian women, helping them to learn skills and earn money to support themselves and their families.”

Read more here: IDF Kills Hebron Peace Activist, Hashem Azzeh

In killing Hashem Azzeh, the Israeli government has undoubtedly removed a thorn from its side. But Hashem’s work does not end with his life.

Thanks to (tireless) Ben White for bringing to my attention the letter excerpted below (I couldn’t find a reblog option so I’m including a link to the full text). You certainly won’t read it in the British newspapers, or hear about it on the BBC. Hats off to the brave souls who signed it, and affirmed the observations I made here a couple of weeks ago about the tradition of Jewish dissent.

“This letter is from active British Jews to the organisations that purport to speak on our behalf…

Now is the time for people across the world to stand together in unity, and call for peace in the region, condemning all violence as counter-productive, evil and a chilul hashem (a desecration of the name of the Eternal One). To take what are presented as uniquely Jewish troubles and lay them at the door of the Palestinian Mission in London creates a wholly unnecessary ‘Us vs Them’ narrative, which cannot possibly foster the good relations necessary for peace.

When Jewish organisations, who claim to represent the voice of British Jewry, say only that “#IsraeliLivesMatter”, it shames us as people who care about the lives of everyone in the region. When Jewish organisations use the loss of human life to pursue a political agenda, they tarnish our reputation as an ethical people. Our texts tell us that any loss of life is like the end of a world. Death, then, is not the basis for a campaign: especially a campaign which appropriates and offensively belittles the #BlackLivesMatter slogan on which it is (ironically) based.”

Read the full text here.