Find a solution to Palestine occupation NOW
Today marks exactly three weeks since the violence broke out in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories of Gaza and the West Bank. At least 500 hours of horrific violence preceded the crucial United Nations General Assembly vote yesterday. There are several reasons why citizens and states need to continue to care and act.
1,400 Israelis have died. Most of the deaths occurred during the first few days after 7 October. In retaliation, Israel has dropped thousands of bombs on Gaza’s populous neighbourhoods daily. Over 4,700 Palestinian civilians, 40 per cent of them children, have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank. Over 14,000 have been injured and 1,200 have been detained in Israel itself. One million are internally displaced, 1 in 4 are food insecure or starving, shelters are overstretched, and there are only five days of medical supplies left. With the ground offensive launched yesterday, the death and destruction toll can only increase in full glare of the world.
Despite state intimidation and disruption, the global public movement for an immediate ceasefire is growing louder and bolder in several capitals including Tel Aviv and Washington DC. Comparatively, the House on the Hill and Harambee Avenue have been surprisingly mute. Apart from a few tweets in the first week, the clarity of the Kenyan Presidency and nation’s diplomats positioning on climate change and other conflicts is conspicuously missing. Both have been publicly silent on whether humanitarian corridors and emergency assistance are necessary, whether war crimes have occurred, and a ceasefire is now overdue. Perhaps we need to also ask whether there is now a ban on assembly for Kenyans horrified by the violence?
Last Friday, hundreds of Kenyans peacefully marched across Mombasa to call for an end to Israeli bombardment and Palestinian self-determination. A few days later, police raided 200 adults and children who had gathered, randomly arresting three participants and a Palestinian flag in Nairobi. The three and the flag were unconditionally released after representation by the Kenyans 4 Palestine network, Amnesty International Kenya, and Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan. This week, the Kenya Human Rights Commission attempted to notify the Nairobi Police of a planned procession to Parliament. Allegedly, the commander simply tore up the notification and handed it back.
A glance at the US-Kenya Trade Partnership Agreement available online suggests why what is not happening, may be happening. Page 15-16 explicitly binds the Kenya Government to “discourage actions that directly or indirectly prejudice or otherwise discourage commercial activity solely between the United States and Israel or …politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.”
In the current context, this is deeply worrying. Is this clause behind the active police disruption of all public calls for a ceasefire? Is a US trade agreement being allowed to undermine our constitutional right to free expression, assembly, and association? Would American citizens allow this level of conditionality on their government? Have we sold our sovereignty for the trade and investment opportunities?
Public dialogues and assemblies are vital for civic participation. In times of crisis, they provide ways for people to express their grief and manifest their support. Displaying flags, signs and banners is a legitimate form of public expression.
Arresting citizens in our streets, seizing Palestinian flags or shutting down MPs is discriminatory. It risks escalating and inflaming tensions rather than addressing and diffusing them. Failure to provide three-day notification does not also absolve the National Police Service from their obligation to facilitate public activities and to protect participants. The state needs to rethink and exercise rather than betray its legal obligation to protect and facilitate everyone’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Given all we have seen, few believe that the imminent ground invasion of Gaza will protect civilians or pursue purely military objectives. The world’s moral conscience faces its greatest test. Let our silence not embolden or our hatred fuel further death and destruction. It is time for a military ceasefire and a lasting solution to the occupation of Palestine.
This article was also published in the Saturday Standard 28 October 2023