Palestinians must court public opinion

If things are to change in Palestine, the world needs to know about life under occupation

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour after submitting documents to join the International Criminal Court. Evan Schneider / AP Photo
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A new year has brought new threats of familiar hardships for the Palestian people. As the most cruel of punishments for the Palestinian Authority daring to apply to join the International Criminal Court, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended payment of about Dh467 million in monthly tax revenues. This effectively means, as Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, has said, that this month, his "people will not be able to pay for their schools, hospitals, medical supplies, milk and bread". The Israeli cabinet has also threatened to pursue the "large-scale prosecution" of war-crimes charges against Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and other senior leaders in courts in the United States and other jurisdictions. Given the heartbreaking realities of life for most ordinary Palestinians, who are forced to endure daily collective punishment from the government in Tel Aviv, Mr Netanyahu's callousness and hubris is breathtaking.

The only hope for the Palestinians lies in tactical thinking. The tide of world opinion is turning. Israel, which for decades has successfully portrayed itself as the victim in an unfair geopolitical game, is slowly but surely coming under fire for its despotic treatment of the people under its control in the occupied territories. The Palestinians are a people stripped of land, opportunity and dignity, but not without hope. That hope is being fuelled by many individuals and countries, if not by the United Nations Security Council, which last week voted against the passage of a draft resolution that set a deadline for the end of occupation. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is gathering strength, putting pressure on those who do business with Israel. Several parliaments, including those of France, Ireland, Sweden and Britain, have voted to recognise the independent state of Palestine. These are small but significant steps forward.

The challenge for Palestinians is to resist the urge to take up arms. Instead, they must use the pen – or the keyboard – as a weapon and tell their story to the world. They should invite cameras and reporters into the homes where children starve and the hospitals where patients are dying for lack of the most basic of medicines. The Palestinians can win in the court of public opinion. With enough people speaking out, governments will listen and things can change.