Karma Nabulsi: The pain of being Palestinian (wherever you live)

We are informed of the atrocities in unbearable detail, hour by excruciating hour
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The Independent Online

This summer I found myself meeting British people from all walks of life - none of them Middle East "experts" - who spoke of their feelings of helplessness as they watched the war in Lebanon. They spoke of their rage and despair at being unable to do anything more than witness the mass killing of civilians by the Israeli aerial bombardment on their televisions. They found themselves unable to comprehend their Prime Minister's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire. They watched US planes loaded with "smart bombs" heading for Israel, and landing to refuel in a Scottish civilian airport. They then saw the results of these bombs in the the senseless slaughter of children.

Last Friday they were told by this paper that next door, in Gaza, a similarly disproportionate destruction and killing of civilians has been taking place - is still taking place - but that they aren't being informed of this in the mainstream media. The Independent's front page on Gaza was a watershed moment in reporting on the conflict in Palestine and Israel. For it made a direct connection between the type of coverage that the conflict attracts and the perpetuation of that conflict. It highlighted the media's complicity.

Even when events in Palestine are reported, the Government ignores them - in Ramallah this weekend Tony Blair made no reference to the incursions in Gaza; the imprisonment of dozens of elected parliamentarians; the 10,000 political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails; the blockade, siege, and starvation in Gaza; the Israeli settlement expansion announced last week; the policy of collective punishment and what can only be described as the terrorisation of a people, in order to get them to surrender their claim to liberty. The further act of violence is how persistently these daily Israeli actions vanish into an eerie oblivion. The media have played a critical role in this.

But Palestinians all over the world have been witnessing what has been happening in Palestine. Each of us is intimately connected to the place and we find ourselves informed of the hourly atrocities (whether we want to be or not) in unbearable detail, through phone calls, e-mails, internet postings, local reports, all of which we follow together, as one, hour by excruciating hour.

Having lived in both worlds, I know it is easier to bear these moments deep inside the Palestinian polity than to observe them from far outside. This is the chief characteristic of contemporary Palestinian identity: the vast prison camp and daily killing in occupied Palestine is reflected and perpetuated in the concealed Palestinians' prison camp of dispossession and exile.

What little the West knows of the Palestinians is their predicament inside the occupied Palestinian territories (23 per cent of historic Palestine as it existed up until 1948); yet most Palestinians live outside: the Palestinian people were expelled in 1948, and have been enduring a precarious life as refugees for over half a century, many without identity papers, without permission to work or own property in some countries in the Arab world, without the ability to go home, without the main UN resolutions implemented - not one - all these years later.

Palestinians number over 9 million, and most of us live outside historic Palestine. Yet even the reality of Gaza is not understood - more than 70 per cent of Palestinians currently living there are refugees, driven out of their farms and villages in in 1948. This is why it is the most densely populated place on earth: farmers' children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, pushed, then crammed, and now hemmed into a prison just miles away from their land. All resistance to this illegal state of affairs is described as terrorism by the Israelis. This mischaracterisation goes largely uncorrected by those experts, politicians, and pundits who know better.

Although the people of Palestine still wait for the world to hold to its promise of 1947 and restore to us the formal sovereignty that was taken from us by force, Palestinians everywhere, both inside and outside, are still citizens of that Palestinian polity. In London they are organising food parcels, in Australia, medical equipment for the hospitals in Gaza, in universities across the world Palestinian students have been central figures in organising protests.

So it was inspirational to see the response of ordinary British people to the war in Lebanon. It gives us encouragement in our quest for freedom. People wrote articles, letters and weblogs, protested, staged demonstrations; many took part in a vigil at Prestwick airport. When the Government abnegated its role, people everywhere took up civic responsibility themselves. It provided the best demonstration of British democracy that anyone would wish to see, illustrating the timeless fact that here - as in Palestine - when people speak truth to power they remain free.

The writer is a Fellow of St Edmund Hall and lecturer at Oxford University