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As Food Aid to Gaza Is Cut, Palestinians Demand Freedom Instead of Charity

Cuts made to Palestinian food aid by the United Nations have lent even greater urgency to our liberation struggle.

Palestinian children hold banners during a demonstration against the reduction in UN food aid allocated to the Gaza Strip, in Gaza City, on June 6, 2023.

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Palestinians in Gaza already grappling with an ongoing, 16-year-old land, sea and air blockade imposed by the apartheid state of Israel are now being served another harsh and devastating blow. In May, the United Nations World Food Program announced that due to a “severe” shortage of funds, it is being forced to discontinue assistance to more than 200,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom reside in the besieged Gaza Strip.

This news comes as Palestinians fight for their lives under a barrage of Israeli military attacks, the most recent on May 9, in which 15 Palestinians were killed.

Since 2012, the United Nations has warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020, and it is not wrong. Over 2 million people living on the tiny strip of land are experiencing a weak economy with double-digit unemployment rates, ongoing power shortages, and insufficient resources to meet the basic needs — food security, clean water, and access to health care and medical supplies — of their loved ones.

And while increasing the severity of food insecurity will undoubtedly contribute to the perpetual state of trauma Gazans face, our outrage should be directed at Israel’s continuing oppression and systematic discrimination that forces Palestinians to rely on charities like the World Food Program.

To be certain, Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip do not want a free handout. We want freedom.

This year alone, the relentless and bloody escalation of the U.S.-funded Israeli violence has killed more than 100 Palestinians. And while we grieve, tell their stories and hold the names of the martyred in our hearts, we continue to condemn and expose the structural violence that crushes their day-to-day lives. Numbers alone cannot capture the horror of settler-colonial violence that includes land theft; home demolitions; the closure and criminalization of six human rights organizations; and the detention, torture and dehumanization of Palestinians. Hiding in plain sight is the devastating toll the occupation has on the mental health of Palestinians — children in particular. According to a 2022 report published by Save the Children, 80 percent of children living in Gaza are experiencing psychological distress including depression, grief and fear.

Although the measure to cut food aid is another economic and political attack on Palestinians, it will not shake our will and determination.

But even under these dire and oppressive conditions, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and historic Palestine continue to resist Israel’s settler-colonialism and military occupation.

This year marks the 75th annual commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, or Catastrophe, when more than 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes and ethnically cleansed from their lands in 1947-48. Most of the displaced Palestinians sought temporary protection and refuge in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as neighboring Arab countries, and there is not a Palestinian refugee alive today who does not dream of their return.

This year’s Nakba commemoration ushered in a wave of intense violence stoked by Israel’s racist and extreme far right government. As Electronic Intifada reports:

The Israeli military, police and armed civilians killed more than 50 Palestinians during May, which witnessed yet another deadly and destructive attack on Gaza. At least 33 Palestinians in Gaza were killed during five days of intense cross-boundary fire that began when Israel launched a surprise attack by assassinating three Islamic Jihad leaders in their homes. …The UN’s human rights office said that at least 13 civilians, including seven children, were killed during the Israeli offensive.

These killings did not go unnoticed by the international community, however.

Global solidarity efforts for justice in Palestine have grown dramatically over the last two decades, and amid the attacks this May, Palestinian and solidarity organizers in the U.S. and beyond were bringing people together to rally for Palestinian liberation.

Palestine Solidarity Organizing in the U.S.

To rally international concern and action over the ongoing attacks on Palestinian communities, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) hosted Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, grandson of South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela, this spring for a mini tour in the U.S.

During this “Nakba 75” tour of six cities, hundreds of people poured in — and not just Palestinians, but freedom-loving people from the Black liberation, immigrant rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQI rights, and other social and racial justice movements who experience the pain of discrimination and systemic racism. Attendees came together in community to grieve the loss of over 15,000 Palestinians murdered, to recite the names of the 531 villages destroyed by Israeli militias, and to reaffirm our commitment to the liberation of Palestine.

While addressing the crowds, Mandela drew parallels between the Palestinian and South African liberation struggles. He shared the fearless strategies and tactics employed to defeat the white supremacist, apartheid system in South Africa, and then likened them to the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, urging those in attendance to follow the bold actions organized by USPCN. Mandela referenced USPCN’s numerous campaigns and projects that challenge and confront the illegal occupation of Palestine, specifically the #BoycottSadaf campaign, the organization’s contribution to BDS work; defense of Palestinians and allies against repression; protests and direct actions against Zionist institutions and individuals; political prisoner advocacy; and events that promote Palestinian art and culture.

He also reaffirmed the thawabet, or principles, that guide USPCN’s work, which include self-determination and freedom for the Palestinian people, the right of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to the original homes and lands from where they were exiled, and the right to resist Zionist occupation and colonization of all Palestinian and Arab lands. These are principles that Palestinians refuse to surrender.

As seen by the diversity of people and organizations that attended and supported the Nakba 75 tour, global solidarity efforts for justice in Palestine have grown dramatically over the last two decades, and U.S. engagement in the region continues to come under question.

Organizations like USPCN, and working people, academics, artists, politicians, and so many others worldwide are challenging the expansion of the U.S.’s political, financial, military and diplomatic support of the apartheid regime. As of March 1, 2023, the U.S. has supported Israel to the tune of $158 billion, almost exclusively used for military activities that perpetrate human rights abuses, including the killing of protesters, land grabs, home demolitions, and the imprisonment and torture of children.

U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum has reintroduced a bill, Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R. 3103), in the new Congress, which, if passed, would protect the rights of Palestinian children and their families by prohibiting Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars to imprison children, build illegal settlements or annex Palestinian land. While passage of H.R. 3103 is crucial, so is challenging right-wing lawmakers who are introducing anti-BDS legislation that serves to stifle freedom of speech and stigmatize and criminalize those who participate in BDS and other forms of activism.

Another vicious attempt to ban and censure criticism of Israel is the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) definition of antisemitism. The new framework, introduced by anti-Palestinian groups, heavily focuses on Israel. This distorted definition is widely interpreted as part of an intensifying crackdown on criticism of the Zionist state and a propaganda tool meant to demonize and penalize those who call attention to Israel’s human rights abuses. In a predictable turn, the Biden administration said the U.S. “embraced” the IHRA document.

So, while Palestinians living in Palestine are putting their bodies on the line to win freedom from the racist, settler-colonialist, apartheid regime, Palestinians and our allies in the diaspora are fighting disastrous and oppressive conditions aimed at blocking activism.

Israel and the U.S. have actively engineered the crisis faced by our people in Gaza, so although the measure to cut food aid is another economic and political attack on Palestinians, it will not shake our will and determination. Instead, it will fuel our ongoing battle for liberation and justice.

The Palestinian position has been consistent from the start: We do not want or need charity. We want solidarity, justice, liberation and the Right of Return.

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