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Let’s learn from a disabled Professor how to Protest against Israel

The rainfall of Israeli bombs keeps falling on Palestinians, while the Nations of the World remained busy in watching the semi-finals and final of the football world cup. The current wave of Israeli violence against Palestinians started after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Various contingents of Israeli soldiers were deployed for three weeks in the search for the three adolescents. The Jewish teens’ bodies were found in a field.

All of Israel was in an uproar which soon degenerated into a Saturnalia of racist provocation, which deepened day by day. Israeli Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks competed with each other in blatant racist denunciations, repeating the official line ad nauseam and adding their own nauseous commentary every day, round the clock. The weeks-long Israeli search in the West Bank enthused anger among Palestinians. As per Palestinian Prisoner’s Society, the Israeli forces arrested a total of 1071 Palestinians including 34 Palestinian members of parliament, during their search operations.

The security services of the Palestinian Authority collaborated with the Israeli security services and played a major role in discovering the identity of the two alleged kidnappers. Palestinian President, Mahmud Abbas, condemned the kidnapping unambiguously in a meeting of the Arab world. He was tagged as a ‘traitor’ by his own confidants. Israel on the other hand, called him a ‘hypocrite’. Israel blamed Hamas for the Jewish teenagers’ deaths, an accusation which the group has denied.  Two days later, a Palestinian teenager was abducted and killed in Jerusalem, raising tensions further.

The Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, based in Geneva, has issued a statement based on the number of bombing raids by the Israeli military over the past six days, saying that the bombs have been hitting Gaza at, on average, one every three minutes. CNN has reported that by the afternoon of 14 July, the death toll from nearly a week of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza had reached 185 – all of them Palestinians – with at least 1,385 wounded. United Nations has reported that 70% causalities are of civilians including children.

The current Israeli attack on Palestinians has seen a significant increase in targeting of civilian and civilian institutions by the Israeli army. The Israeli forces have targeted the schools, water pipelines, and waste water treatment plant and refugee camps. Israel has also targeted power lines in Gaza city, Rafah and northern Gaza, leading to a power loss. United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s reveals that there are now 17,000 refugees taking shelter in 20 schools in Gaza, and Israeli airstrikes have damaged civilian buildings, including clinics, schools and warehouses. Mosques have also been hit in the strikes.

The UN Security Council unanimously urged Israel and Hamas to return to the ceasefire agreement of 2012. UN, Secretary-General Ban ki-moon has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians”. But Netanyahu has clearly stated in a parliamentary committee, last week, that a ceasefire with Hamas was “not even on the agenda”.

The mighty United States, watches the whole crises as a mute bystander. President Obama has called the Israeli Prime Minister, but his incitement doesn’t seem to have yielded any visible result. He has reaffirmed Israel’s ‘right to self-defence’ and pleaded to ‘de-escalate violence’. In other words, Obama asked Israel to kill but kill selectively. The responses of the Arab World have been fairly muffled. One of the major reasons is the antagonism of Saudi Arabia and Egypt towards Hamas. Arab League, whose history has been dominated by the Palestinian issue, has yet to meet to discuss the recent crisis. Arab League has formally validated a 2002 Saudi plan for peace – based on Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders. However, the split between the PLO and Hamas in 2006 weakened the Palestinians and wider divisions since the start of the Arab spring uprisings in 2011 have damaged the cause even further. Jordan has condemned what it called “barbaric aggression” against Gaza, but, like Egypt, is unlikely to risk its peace treaty with Israel.

While the world’s conscience appears to be sleeping over the Israeli aggression, it reminded me the silent protest of the world renowned scientist Professor Stephen Hawking. Professor Hawking who is the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge was due to head the fifth ‘Facing Tomorrow’ conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in June, 2013. Professor Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  The former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Former President of USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev and Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair were scheduled to attend the same conference. Professor Hawking, however, boycotted the prestigious presidential conference in protest over the state’s occupation of Palestine. Tim Holt, the media director at the University of Cambridge initially said Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns. The university’s volte-face came after the Guardian presented it with the text of a letter sent from Hawking to the organisers of the high-profile conference in Jerusalem. Professor Hawking in his letter of 3rd May, 2013 to Israeli president’s office clearly stated, “I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

Professor Hawking’s decision to throw his weight behind the academic boycott of Israel met with an angry response from the organisers of the Presidential Conference. The Israeli ambassador to UK, Daniel Taub, called it a ‘great shame’. Conference chairman Israel Maimon said, ‘The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper’. Comments on Israeli social media were overwhelmingly opposed to Hawking’s move, with a small number engaging in personal abuse over his disability. Professor Hawking’s public repudiation followed by prominent singers, artists and writers, from Brian Eno to Mike Leigh, Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich, all of whom have publicly rejected invitations to perform in Israel. Professor Hawking’s initiative also threatened Israel to be regarded as a pariah state. The tight lipped kings, dictators and utilitarian democratic leaders of the Muslim World should learn a lesson from the courage of Professor Hawking who is entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device.

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