A disturbing trend of suicides is taking place amongst young people in the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip due to a suffocating military and economic blockade. In less than 24 hours, 3 men in their early 20s, Ayman Al-Ghoul, Sulaiman Al-Ajjouri and Ibrahim Yasin took their lives. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old girl has attempted to take her life by swallowing huge amount of pills but survived.
I follow these local news in Gaza with great worry over the lives and potential of these people who symbolise the future of our homeland but whose horizons is extremely limited against a backdrop of a brutal process of dehumanisation that goes back to 1948 Nakba when a forth of dispossessed Palestinians sought refuge in the Gaza Strip and their hopes to return has been consistently repressed by Israel.
I especially worry over my youngest brother Mohammed (24) who’s raising a beautiful baby with his wife Asma amid extreme life precarities. Despite being very skilled, he’s jobless, and survives by whatever job opportunity that comes his way, even if it’s underpaid. He had many days when in one day he worked as a barber and a salesman at some retail shop, and an electrician. But most days, there are no jobs, forcing him to be dependent on my mum’s nurse salary which helps the family survive while my father is retired and his only source of income which he gets as a long-serving former political prisoner in Israeli jails, is cut amid financial crisis facing the Palestinian Authority. The sad thing is that my family is doing better than the majority of families for whom a loaf of bread is a struggle.
These suicides are signalling hopelessness due to accumulative violence coming from all directions that left them nothing to hold onto. And while all are undergoing ongoing trauma under siege and military attacks, mental health support is considered luxury, and is not available for the overwhelming majority.
In 2012, when the UN warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020, they undermined the dehumanising reality that haunted the population for decades of oppression under Israeli apartheid. According to a recent report by the UN, 3,601 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and over 100,000 injured during the past decade across the occupied Palestinian territories. Of these, 87 % were killed in Gaza, mostly during the 2012 and 2014 Israeli onslaughts on Gaza, as well as in the Great March of Return demonstrations that started in 2018 to call for ending the siege on Gaza and implementing the right of return to refugees who comprise 71% of Gaza population. Alongside these inconceivable numbers of lives lost and bodies sentenced to life-long disabilities, over 100,000 people were internally displaced as a result of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Gaza or what Israeli officials call, “mowing the lawn.” Only yesterday, Israel bombed several agricultural lands across the Gaza Strip.
The majority of those killed, maimed and displaced are young. Besides, poverty is sweeping the inhabitants of Gaza with unemploylment rates reaching over 50% while much higher amongst young people. 70% of youth under 30 are unemployed, and for women it is almost 90%. A total of 26,500 people in Gaza lost their jobs in the first three months of 2020. Moreover, 80% of private sector employees earn less than minimum wage, according to Gisha who stressed that the unemployment rate “does not even reflect the full extent of the poverty rampant in the Strip”. Meanwhile, even before Coronavirus pandemic has struck the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of an epidemic as 97% of water in Gaza in unfit for human consumption.
I worry as I know the immense violence that Palestinians endure, the multigenerational trauma they carry, and the real pressures they navigate around to survive the life of punishment they are born into, for simply being Palestinians. Collective punishment is a war crime according to the 4th Geneva Convention to which Israel is a signatory. Despite that, Israel continues to act with impunity committing daily war crimes in the occupied terrorises, undermining human rights conventions and International Law. This is happening as the world watches Israel consolidating its system of apartheid across historic Palestine, sentencing Palestinians to a gradual genocide as part of their settler-colonial racist strategies that fights the very existence of the Palestinians on their lands.
When everyday is a struggle for survival, when life smells like death, when even their peaceful protests are turned into bloodshed, the world left them nothing to claim their humanity. Their souls will be haunting Israeli apartheid, its allies that bomb economic and military support into their killing machine of the Palestinians, and everyone who stayed silent while Gaza is suffocating.
End the siege on Gaza. Stop arming Israel. Sanction Israeli apartheid! Free Palestine!
Many thanks for this initiative by James Boswell, a member of Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine who received my letter to MP Louise Haigh and decided to make a post around it, encouraging people to amplify the Palestinian call for justice for Iyad Hallaq and arms embargo on Israel. Contact your MP!
Eyad el-Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, was chased and shot dead by Israeli police officers in occupied East Jerusalem on Saturday May 30th.
At protests taking place in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and in other Palestinian towns, demonstrators hold placards to draw attention to parallels between Hallaq’s death and the brutal killing of George Floyd that happened a few days earlier:
The man [Eyad Hallaq] was unarmed, and had fled the officers in fear, unable to communicate properly because of his disability. He died just a few metres away from his special-needs school, in East Jerusalem. The officer who killed him said he thought Hallaq was a terrorist because he was wearing gloves.
Click here to read the full report entitled “Eyad Hallaq’s Life Mattered” published by English-language Middle East newspaper The National.
Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian refugee and a postgraduate student at Sheffield Hallam. She…
In an interview Christiane Amanpour conducted with Houston Police Chief on CNN, Art Acevedo stressed that kindness and solidarity should lead the way during these dark times, not ignorance.
Houston Police Chief @ArtAcevedo: “Let me just say this to the President of the United States, on behalf of the police chiefs of this country: please, if you don’t have something constructive to say, keep your mouth shut.” pic.twitter.com/z5AJpOO0RO
But will Acevedo agree that this kindness must include breaking the chains of complicity empowering racist ideologies from white-supremacy to Zionism? Will he feel the Palestinians’ immense pain and push to end Israeli and US military collaboration for the sake of all people at the receiving end of their brutality? Will he cut ties with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the deadly exchange of military services they manage between the US and our oppressor Israel?
His words will be merely a performance act if this kindness that he advocates for is not translated into meaningful change.
In December 2018, grassroots organising efforts, using Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) tactics, succeeded in forcing the Vermont State Police, Northampton and Massachusetts police chief to pull out of a police exchange program with Israel, managed by the Anti-Defamation League. This example should be reproduced all over the USA and beyond.
Connecting our struggles for a world revolution
To my black brothers and sisters from Palestine to the USA, your enemy is mine, and my enemy is yours. We must connect our struggles and build meaningful solidarity between us to resist our allied oppressors as a united front.
This means we need to understand each other’s struggles, unlearn imperial thinking that distorted our outlook to the world, connect the dots, and fight this multifaceted common enemy. Zionist systematic erasure of Palestinian natives and US institutionalised racism that targets natives and people of colour communities empower each other. We have to understand that oppression does not exist in a vacuum but is enabled through military, economic and diplomatic collaborations. Breaking this collaboration between them will serve our collective liberation.
Palestinian artist Lina: “no wonder that US police are so brutal in their methods, when they have given & received training from the Israeli Occupation Forces who terrorize Palestinians daily. As Palestinians, we should be 1st to reject all types of oppression.” #BlackLivesMatterpic.twitter.com/c0YMkdhtcC
Any state founded on colonialism, genocidal dispossession of indigenous peoples and slavery is fundamentally insecure. Methods of repression and coercion used against people demanding justice is their expression of their desperation to maintain the status quo. The US repression of #BlackLivesMatter protests and Israel’s systematic oppression of Palestinian resistance is an expression of this fragility that is rooted in their foundational problems. But it is ultimately down to the people if they submit or resist.
The successful anti-apartheid movement in South Africa teaches us that no oppressors ever voluntarily change. They have to be forced into changing through internal and global resistance. And just like the apartheid regime in South Africa, we need to understand how such supremacist powers do not exist in a vacuum, but are enabled, funded, and normalised by an international apparatus of violence, greed, ignorance and submission. If we unite to break this chain wherever we see it, we will eventually prevail.
Palestinian revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani reminded before Israel killed him in 1972 at the age of 36: “Imperialism has laid its body over the world… Wherever you strike it, you damage it, and you serve the World Revolution.” Kanafani was assassinated together with his 17-year-old niece Lamis. Both could have lived if they weren’t Palestinians.
Remember again, that those same Zionist killers, who dispossessed, imprisoned, killed and maimed Palestinians for 72 years, are the biggest recipients of US military ‘aid’, paid by US taxpayers. They also offer military training to many US police departments, and those techniques that brought about the lynching of George Floyd are widely used against Palestinians in the occupied territories, including children. Many of us stood in utter shock after a video that went viral of Al-Tamimi child being forced into a chokehold by an Israeli solider and fought off by Palestinian children and women.
In fact, at least 100 Minnesota police officers attended a so-called counterterrorism training conference in Chicago and Minneapolis, hosted by the Israeli consulate and the FBI. “There they learned the violent techniques used by Israeli forces as they terrorise the occupied Palestinian territories under the guise of security operations,” Steve Sweeney wrote for the Morning Star. Connect the dots.
From Palestine to Minneapolis, racism is a crime
The bottom picture records a Palestinian child from Al-Tamimi Family in chokehold by an Israeli soldier during popular protest at the occupied village of Nabi-Saleh. This was recorded on camera.
Few days after the murder of George Floyd Minneapolis, the Israeli occupation army killed Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, near Al-Asbat Gate in occupied Jerusalem’s old city on the morning of 30 May 2020. His disability makes him like a 7 year old child, and he has hearing and speech difficulties. He was on his way to Elwyn school for disabled people. Israeli soldiers saw him holding a ‘suspicious object,’ they thought it was a gun- he held a cellphone. When they ordered Eyad to stop, he started running out of fear, like a child. The penalty was death sentence. Do you know how many times they killed him? 10 times! 10 bullets. Let this sink in.
Still, after the shooting, they declared a state of emergency in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, looking for a gun of their fantasy and found none. During that time, medics were barred from entering the area as poor Eyad was bleeding to death. Let this too sink in.
If you cried for the pain of many black mothers over losing their children for being black, you should cry for Eyad’s mother.
“What’s his fault? they killed him in cold blood! he’s my only son ..”#Watch | The mother of martyr Eyad Hallaq mourn her son that have been shot dead by Israeli occupation police in occupied Jerusalem!#IsraeliCrimespic.twitter.com/shYpW6zS5r
Listen to her crying with dignity as she demands: “I want justice for my son from the state of Israel.” But will justice be served? Palestinians The aged wrinkles of her face are emboldened with bitter tears over too many young lives being killed systematically and for no reason, for the mere reason of being Palestinians.
The shocking killing of Eyad Hallaq needs to be seen in the context of how Zionist Israeli forces are historically indoctrinated to treat Palestinian lives and bodies as “disposable.” This is part and parcel of a consistent Zionist policy of keeping as few native Arabs as possible on as minimal land as possible, informing Israeli settler-colonial practices against the Palestinians, since the inception of Zionism and pre-state building until today. If this is not racism, then what is it?
Fighting racism entails the understanding that Zionism is racism, and as siding with the oppressed as well as opposing the genocidal colonisation of indigenous peoples, means standing in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
As Angela Davis said, we need to stop accepting what we cannot change, and change what we cannot accept! She herself offers a great example of solidarity and organising across struggle, and we learn from her history of a trend of Palestinian and Black solidarity that became especially powerful during the Civil Rights Movement.
Angela Davis spoke of the Palestinian captive resistance and solidarity with her during her imprisonment in US jails in the early 1970s and beyond, and that’s why she adopts Palestine as her own struggle. My father who was detained by Israel in January 1972 and sentenced to 7 lifetimes for no crime, was amongst those freedom fighters behind Israeli jails who extended a letter of solidarity to Angela Davis which she remembers to this day and reflects on in her talks and writings.
“Palestinian activists have long supported Black people’s struggle against racism. When I was in jail, solidarity coming from Palestine was a major source of courage for me. There has been this very important connection between the two struggles for many decades”
Dr Angela Davis pic.twitter.com/TGK1fs84bm
Being Black shouldn’t be a death sentence. Being Palestinian shouldn’t be a death sentence. Racism, colonialism and all oppressive and discriminatory structures must be abolished if we were to create a just world.
Palestinians like me, living outside our country, fear that the coronavirus pandemic could be the latest nightmare to befall our loved ones back home. As of now there are more than 12,000 confirmed cases in Israel, around 350 in the occupied West Bank and 13 in Gaza, my home.
Having grown up in Jabaliya refugee camp, I know that the types of prevention measures imposed in Europe or the United States cannot be applied in Gaza. “Overcrowding and a lack of living space characterize Jabaliya camp,” as the UN notes. “Shelters are built in close vicinity and there is a general lack of recreational and social space.” Big multi-generational families live under one roof. Houses are separated by shared walls or narrow alleys. Residents are within earshot of their neighbors’ conversations and privy to their daily routines. Social or physical distancing is next to impossible.
There are 114,000 people living in Jabaliya refugee camp, but a similar situation can be found across Gaza, where 70 percent of the population are refugees.
In total, two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, under a tight Israeli blockade for 13 years. Half the population are children. Living conditions are already dire, after three major Israeli military assaults since 2008, along with the impact of the siege. Basic infrastructure and services, including electricity, education and healthcare are already far from adequate.
In 2018, the UN specifically warned of the risk of an epidemic in Gaza due to the degraded sanitation system, and the fact that 97 percent of the water supply is unfit for human consumption. Health experts and human rights organizations are now sounding the alarm that a major outbreak of COVID-19 would be catastrophic, and have called on Israel to lift its restrictions on bringing vital supplies into the territory.
The current crisis offers states and corporations, driven by the desire to accumulate power at the best of times, a unique opportunity to expand and consolidate their control.
Citing the coronavirus emergency, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized the deployment of surveillance technology normally used for “counterterrorism.”
For Palestinians, the pandemic is not a temporary emergency but represents continuity. The occupying power has imposed a never-ending situation of emergency that dates back to 1948, when the creation of Israel uprooted 800,000 native Palestinians from their homes. During the Nakba, our grandparents assumed they would return in a couple of weeks. Today, we observe the birth of a fourth or fifth generation in refugee camps.
Moreover, the use of electronic surveillance by Israel to spy on and blackmail Palestinians is nothing new. What is new here is the use of technologies tested on Palestinians against the privileged Israeli Jewish population who were previously largely shielded from such intrusion.
And while the pandemic is a boon for companies and states seeking to expand their power, it is in the short term a blessing in disguise for Netanyahu. Until a few weeks ago, he was counting his last days as prime minister and facing imminent trial on corruption charges. But for him, the pandemic could not be more timely: a state of emergency which he can manipulate and use to maintain power.
While all focus is on the pandemic, attention is diverted from Israel’s continued military repression of Palestinians. In March alone, Israel detained more than 350 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and Gaza, including 48 children and four women. Meanwhile, prisons where Israel holds some 5,000 Palestinian political detainees, are – like prisons around the world – turning into hotspots for coronavirus. Israeli jailers and at least one released Palestinian are among confirmed cases. At least four other Palestinians were potentially exposed to the virus during interrogation by an Israeli prison worker. This has pushed detainees and their advocates to call for urgent international action to save them from Israel’s systematic policy of medical neglect in its prisons.
It is clear that the “emergency response” to the new coronavirus does not mean a suspension of Israel’s systems of oppression.
In the midst of the crisis, it is hard to think ahead. There’s no doubt that many measures being applied are necessary to save lives, as perhaps a third of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown. But decisions made in these extraordinary times could permanently shape the post-pandemic reality.
Education has gone virtual. Only essential workers are permitted to go to work, while others work remotely and untold millions have lost their jobs. In addition to expanding surveillance via mobile phone, drones are being used to monitor streets and ordinary people are acting as informants against those they suspect of breaking the rules.
When the health emergency is over, will all this become the new normal?
Wartime metaphors are in vogue. President Donald Trump has appointed generals to prominent roles in the US government’s response to what he calls an “invisible enemy.”
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has declared that his country is “at war,” while Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has asserted that “we must act like any wartime government.”
Maybe this language helps alert people to the severity of the threat, but such comparisons sound horrible to survivors of actual wars – including wars that these very leaders have supported or fueled.
Although many countries and companies make fortunes from the business of war, war is ugly. It destroys life and human relations. The laws and conventions that people are used to in peacetime do not apply in war zones. This pandemic is nothing like a war.
During a recent Skype call with dispersed family members in Gaza and Europe, we all joyfully watched as my youngest sister, Tamam, a refugee in Brussels, rushed to her balcony to join her neighbors applauding the efforts of health workers.
This triggered traumatic memories of us huddled together in our home in Gaza, with other families who had escaped neighborhoods under heavy Israeli fire. We sat around a battery powered radio in a blackout, the floor shaking beneath our feet, listening to explosions, houses collapsing and people dying.
Then, we were scared to even look out of the window.
Our family has been shaped by such memories, including my mother giving birth to me during a military curfew on Jabaliya camp. If you broke an Israeli curfew, you risked your life, not just a mere fine.
A chance to reflect
This pandemic is a chance for reflection for people born in safe places, who are used to taking their rights for granted.
Even under lockdown, many still have access to healthcare, housing, education and freedoms that others facing the same pandemic do not.
COVID-19 exploits and exacerbates existing inequalities, globally and within societies.
In the United States, for example, Black and Latino people are getting sick and dying in far higher proportions than white Americans.
The virus provides an opportunity to question and challenge power structures such as capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, which produce this uneven vulnerability. While some commentators have asserted that the coronavirus is a great equalizer, this is clearly not the case.
My family in Palestine hopes that this pandemic reminds people of how connected we all are. We should learn from others who have suffered with life’s uncertainties for as long as they remember because of man-made inequalities that make some people visible as others are rendered invisible.
We should be united for each other’s welfare, not warfare. We should learn from Cuba’s model of solidarity, as it sends doctors to coronavirus-hit countries, while the US tightens sanctions and pressures countries to reject Cuba’s aid.
The virus is teaching us that we can be asymptomatic but deadly to each other, especially the vulnerable. And we are learning that as long as the virus exists anywhere, no part of the world is truly safe.
In short, caring for and helping each other is not just a value to aspire to, but a necessity for our collective survival.
A few days ago, I wrote to my MP Louise Haigh and Tory candidate Gordon Gregory, my potential MP representative in the constituency of Sheffield, Heeley, urging them to #VotePalestine and make sure Justice for Palestine is on their agenda.
“I am a Palestinian researcher and educator, born and bred in Jabalia Refugee Camp in northern the Gaza Strip which has turned uninhabitable according to the UN, due to an uninterrupted Israeli cycle of violence against the Palestinians that manifist more extremely in besieged Gaza,” I wrote introducing myself. “After years of feeling alienated by British establishment, for once I see hope with the policies that the latest labour manifesto supported, most importantly the UN-recognised right of return for Palestinian refugees and arms embargo on Israel. Justice for Palestine is an extremely important issue for not only me and my family who remain in Gaza at the receiving end of Israeli violence and British complicity, but many people in our constituency,” I emphasised before I asked them to participate in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s online survey.
The response ofGordon Gregory, the Tory candidate for Heeley, came as a shock (see screenshot below), stating in one way or another that he wouldn’t represent me, but represent Israel’s systems of colonial occupation and apartheid. Using classic Zionist justifications for its collective punishment of a stateless people, systematically dehumanised and stripped of their basic rights, Gregory blatantly argued that Israel has “no reason to stop occupying.”
Below is my response to Gregory’s email, which should also be in his inbox. I’m publishing it in fear of my words going unnoticed, following his outrageous response which basically declares that I’d penalised from his representation before government if he gets elected!
Thanks for your response. However, although you started by a empathetic statement, the rest is really disappointing and contradictory. You exhibited a classical tactic of blaming the victim and normalising the unacceptable actions of an occupying power against a stateless population who are dispossessed, demeaned, dehumanised and incarcerated since 1948 Israel’s establishment on our ethnic cleansing, facilitated by the British. Your argument feeds into the normalisation of our unprecedented oppression, rationalised by Israel’s right to massacre and dispossess the Palestinians in the name of self-defence. This logic rather supports Israel’s right to oppression.
International law recognises the fundamental rights to self-determination, freedom and independence for the occupied, as well as the right to resist occupation, even through armed struggle if necessary. This applies to the Palestinians who are undergoing the longest standing colonial occupation of our modern history. Even if Palestinians were to “stop the violence” as you suggested and submitted to their enslavement and dehumanisation, Israel will never stop its uninterrupted violence which was devoted to break the Palestinians’ will for freedom and depress their aspirations for self-determination since its pre-state era, and Israel showed consistently and systematically ever since how it is willing to invest everything in its mighty power to do so. It doesn’t take a genius to see who the underdog is, and that such an oppressive system, like South Africa Apartheid, is not sustainable.
How would you justify the illegal military occupation, constant harassment of Palestinians at military checkpoints and the Israeli consistent campaigns of house-demolitions and arbitrary detention? The brutal siege on Gaza, the systematic indiscriminate acts of “mowing the loan” in Israeli parlance as well as the brutal repression of Gaza’s Great March of Return peaceful protests? The ever expanding settlement project and the associated theft of land and ethnic cleansing campaigns (a flagrant violation of International Law and the 4th article of Geneva Conventions)? The systematic racist denial of Palestinian refugees to return to their dispossessed homes according to UN resolution 194 of 1949? Your response unfortunately jumped over too many details to conclude that Palestinians deserve Israeli occupation’s brutality for not passively taking it, which is a typical imperial and short-sighted analysis.
We’re on the verge of witnessing a humanitarian explosion in the besieged Gaza Strip, caused by 7 decades of colonial oppression and acts of collective punishments which is banned under International Law, and you loosely use Hamas’ Zionist card, Israel’s necessary bogyman, to justify Israeli crimes? I expect my MP representative to be more responsible than that. To your knowledge, Hamas was only founded in the late 1980s. Before that, Israel has always needed to demonise the Palestinian natives and manufacture justifications for its illegal and criminal practices dedicated to maintain its apartheid and settler-colonial structures at the expense of our erasure. If you ever humble yourself enough to put yourself in the place of a Palestinian child, punished from their cradle for their identity, you would realise that resistance to oppression is not only a natural response but also a duty.
Living under military occupation is something you will never understand as you were never at the receiving end of this uninterrupted aggression. In fact, Britain was historically the perpetrator of such colonial occupations. The aggression we endure now is Britain’s responsibility which started with 1917 Balfour Declaration which ignored Palestine’s indigenous population and continues to do so in other means whether by welcoming war criminals for official visits or continuing to license arms sales for Israel so they ‘battle-test’ them on us. It would only be logical that you correct what your country committed against us since 1917 but I understand how entrenched imperial and colonial thinking is, and it takes active unlearning and searching within one’s soul to be liberated from such attitudes.
As a refugee and a survivor of many Israeli systematic campaigns of mass murder and destruction, I don’t expect you to understand the colonised perspective but I appeal to your conscience to do the right thing when it comes to Palestine given its urgency! Stop Arming Israel. We want to live in a world where all lives matter and justice and equality prevails.
After 5 years of taking time off the anxieties that come with visa applications, I just applied for one to Tunisia, taking a heavy toll on me. We need to speak more those anxieties and the microaggression that underlines the whole process, which is not only underestimated but normalised. My travel partner Vilius found all the information he needs online in a matter of a quick search, reassuring him of the visa-free privilege he gets for being from Lithuania. But as a Palestinian holder of a UK travel document, it wasn’t straight forward for me. It consumed me.
In a nutshell, the visa process is an unequal system based on the hierarchy of human rights. This hierarchy is rooted in an imperial structure that classifies some as more superior than others. Indeed, it gets more complicated when you put the intersections of race, gender, class, religion and sexual orientation in consideration. But you can safely say that it all depends on the documents one acquires by birth, and somehow these documents dictate your life, you’re either lucky or doomed. In historic Palestine, for instance, those documents decide at which side of Israeli apartheid you stand. While the Israeli apartheid regime systematically violates Palestinians’ human rights, it creates a parallel, privileged life for Israeli citizens and settlers, from which Palestinian citizens of Israel remain excluded in many ways. Similarly, these apartheid policies are reproduced by western and some non-western border agencies based on the imperial premise of ‘shared values’ between Israel and the EU.
When I think of visa, my body becomes overburdened with countless traumas. For most Palestinians, visas represent uncertainty. You’re held in limbo until a further notice. If you’re from Gaza, there are other uncertainties as visa could be obtained, but it could expire while you’re still trying cross to the other side of Rafah Border like what happened to my dad in 2017. And then when you’re out, you’re reminded of your inferiority, both explicitly and implicitly, as you present your document at any border control. You stand on the queue and watch people showing their passports and passing and everything is going smoothly until your turn comes. Then this smooth process is suddenly interrupted because the border police needs to ask you a few ‘casual’ questions that leaves you wondering: Why are you so curious about my life?!
Tunisia wasn’t the first holiday destination I had in mind. I contemplated Bali and invested a lot of effort to get an answer on how to proceed with a visa application- all in vain. The Indonesian embassy has nothing online on the process holders of refugee travel documents needs to undergo to obtain a visa. I called countless times and no one picks the phone, as if no one works there. Then finally someone replied only to tell us that they cannot advise on this issue. I gave up the idea and started contemplating Tunisia as an alternative. That’s when I realised this treatment is not limited to Indonesian embassy. I spent many hours trying to get hold of someone for advice. On the VisaHQ’s online chat, I asked for advice. “We don’t deal with travel documents,” a person replied. “This behaviour is discriminatory,” I replied with frustration, and that was the end of the chat. But I left them the worst review that was available in protest. Meanwhile, I was still spamming the London-based Tunisian embassy’s phone since Friday and literally no one picked the phone. This is probably due to the Eid season but this thought didn’t make it less frustrating. They did eventually reply on Facebook, and explained the documents I need to include with my application and the fees. But really the issues that a holder of a refugee travel document goes though are beyond unacceptable, and those examples are just few amongst many.
At the post office today, I spent nearly two hours trying to make sure that my application is complete. The postman revised the documents for me- I needed him to double check because I cannot afford any mistake. Between every interaction I had with the postman, a sigh would come out of me unintentionally. “Don’t forget to smile,” he said. “It will be fine and you will get the visa.” I smiled to him and said, visas take your smile away. He asked, “where are you from?” I said joking, “I’m a doomed Palestinian, and you?” He replied, “I’m from India but I feel for you. It took me a while to become British but I only needed to become British as my original documents have no value compared with an EU passport.” But the problem is documents of ‘higher value’ doesn’t suddenly turn your skin colour white nor does it protect you from racist policies or negative presumptions.
When I get the visa, I know I’ll be excited about travelling and exploring new places. However, it’s upsetting to be living in a world order that is inherently racist and treats people according to the documents they hold by birth, their skin colour, religion or sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be normalised. And those who are privileged enough to be born free of those anxieties and movement restrictions must not take their privileges for granted and fight with us for equality for all. The hierarchy of human rights should be abolished.
PS: I took the picture of my visa pictures in a hurry. Later I noticed the Arabic article headline of a recently-released Palestinian prisoner Bilal Odeh included in the picture, reading “Memories from prison.” Not to compare but it could be argued that such mechanisms are forms of imprisonments. Most of the traumatic memories I carry with me are attached to Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, where life was another synonym for uncertainty, not only when it comes to a travel visa but pretty much any serious or minimal issue you may encounter in your daily life. And even those of us who managed to break free of that prison, elements of that prison chases them wherever in one way or another. I cannot wait to be able to travel with my Palestinian passport wherever with dignity, free of all forms of violence. Until then I will continue to expose it, individually and collectively!
I recently came under attack by Zionist groups and publications, including the Jewish Chronicle and UK Zionist Federation. Those attacks were routed through my university, Sheffield Hallam, as part of an organized attack on the Palestinian-led movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel, especially in England and Germany. Its purpose is to silence the rights-based movement that has succeeded in threatening Israel’s culture of impunity. It aims to undermine BDS activists’ credibility and in my case, smear my academic reputation.
I wrote about this in length on Jadaliyya. Please read and share wide in solidarity with Palestinian and solidarity activists whose are facing an increasing hostility from Zionist lobbies for daring to protest Israeli longstanding and systematic dehumanisation of Palestinians.
Enjoy the videos below, and support BDS in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
During a #StopArmingIsrael protest during a week of action against DSEI arms fair in September 2017. Photo by David Dinis Photography
My name is Shahd Abusalama and I’m a 3rdgeneration Palestinian refugee, born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp, northern Gaza. I’m standing here with so many Palestinians, born in Palestine and exile, to tell the founding Zionists of Israel who assumed that the old will die and the young will forget, that we will not forget Palestine, and we will never surrender our fundamental rights to exist, resist and return. We stand representative of many indigenous communities who faced various forms of oppression across the history of European colonialism and imperialism, to remind the world that settler colonialism is not a culture of the past, but a current reality that we have lived and defied from America, Australia and Ireland to Palestine.
My grandmother described a peaceful childhood in green fields of citrus and olive trees in our village Beit-Jirja. This life, the tastes, the sounds and the smells remained fixated only in her memories as Beit Jirja was dismantled alongside other 530 villages and towns that were depopulated and destroyed by Zionist thugs in 1948. For Palestinians, the Nakba was never a one-off event that happened in 1948. Israeli colonial oppression has never stopped and many Palestinian communities within Israel, including the people of Khan Al-Ahmar, are still fighting against their ethnic cleansing as we stand here.
My grandparents are present today more than ever as we mark the 71stanniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, for what happened then is why I was born in Jabalia with a gun pointed at my head. During my mother’s labour, Israeli soldiers disrupted her way to Jabalia UNRWA Clinic as they forced a curfew that indoctrinated to shoot any moving being. Shooting to kill was common in the 1st Intifada when I came to life, and is a common practice now.
We saw it in the shooting and maiming of Gaza’s Great Return March protestors who stood with their bare chests against Israeli snipers to claim their humanity and to bring their right of return, an issue that Israel firmly rejected across the past 7 decades on racist grounds, to the centre of political debate. Their cries for justice come amidst US-Israeli attempts to push the right of return and Jerusalem “off the table”. It is time that we call those world leaders what they are: racist trolls. It is time to stand firm in our support of the Palestinian right of return, as without justice, there will be no meaningful peace.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip just survived another a 3-day deadly Israeli attack last weekend, which claimed 25 lives, including two pregnant women, two toddlers and a 12 year old child. While world news was quick to move on after the truce was announced, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip returned to a daily struggle for survival while more deadly violence is expected at any moment. That’s how my family welcomed Ramadan. Following the truce, I heard my parents calling relatives and friends and saying, “glad you survived” before continuing “Ramadan Kareem”.
Imagine living in an open-air prison where there is constant presence of death, and fear of walls falling inwards. This fear of being uncertain about anything, including your own life, even while in your home, is terrifying. This is what 2 million people faced last weekend as they are besieged by Israeli weaponry from air, land and sea, turning Gaza into a laboratory for its lethal arms, which Israel markets as ‘battle-tested’ in notorious arms fairs around the world, such as DSEI which London is hosting again this year.
It is not a coincidence that Gaza comes under attack during Israeli elections over and over again. Those elections are led by criminals using Palestinian children’s blood to win popular support. Meanwhile, the world is about to celebrate Eurovision in Israeli Apartheid on top of an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian land, a show whose whole purpose is to expose Israel’s ‘prettier face’ while deflecting global attention from its daily crimes against the Palestinians. Shame on all contestant countries, all the participants and audiences if they still support Eurovision in Israel while our victims’ blood haven’t dried.
This is nothing new. This is our decades-long lived experience that is normalised by a dominant media discourse that finds it comfortable to avoid addressing the power imbalance between the occupier and the occupied, to remove the context of settler colonialism and reduce it to conflict, effectively demonizing Palestinians and their legitimate struggle against their systematic dehumanization. Our injustice is also normalized by tax payers whose money is paid as military ‘aid’ for Israel, by politicians who suddenly fall short on words of condemnation once the perpetrator is Israel, by international institutions doing buisness with Israel or corporations that enable Israeli crimes, by Muslims of the world who normalise relations with Israel and buy Israeli dates merged with our pains of loss and dispossession, by Zionist Jews and Christians who support the uninterrupted process of ethnic cleansing against the native people of the ‘promised land’ in the name of God.
The best response to such brutality and normalisation is active solidarity!
We have a beautiful demonstration of solidarity today with thousands uniting from different races, religions, genders, professions and cities, to say: we’re not turning our back to the Palestinian people. We know too well that whether Palestine on news headlines or not, Israel is perpetrating violence uninterruptedly.
Every minute, innocent souls are buried, and building that took a lifetime to build are flattened. It is urgent that people of conscience all over the world join in solidarity and resist the collusion of their governments and institutions in this long-standing crime against humanity.
Why bomb Said al-Mishal Cultural Centre? Like many in Gaza, I remain in shock. My tongue cannot find the right words to mourn this erasure of our memories and culture, and my tears cannot take away the heaviness of my heart. It is a living nightmare I share with lots of Palestinian youth in Gaza for whom this centre was not merely a building.
Al-Mishal was one of the very few places in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, which provided us with an escape from the suffocation we endure. Some of my most vivid memories are attached to this place. I recall my frequent gatherings with my friends and family there for a performance or a play and other cultural activities. I recall the times when I performed Dabke at its stage and jumped happily like a free bird as I saw the audience so engaged; smiling, singing along, clapping and struggling to remain seated. I remember the walks we had from there to the beach for a bite or a drink as we watched the sunset.
It was flattened to the ground. The horrific sound of this airstrike still echoes in my head and the pictures of its destruction keep me up at night.
It seized to be in a matter of pressing a button by Israeli Occupation Forces, and with this button, they took our precious memories. They stripped us of one of the very few windows of happiness and relief, which filled our hearts as we met to make culture, to celebrate our culture, to sing, dance Dabke, and laugh. Against all odds, this space existed, but apparently posed a ‘threat’ to Israel that had to be eliminated. The only reason for the destruction of such a building is to make our lives more unliveable.
Gaza’s Said al-Mishal was more than a venue to produce and celebrate Palestinian culture. It was a necessary means of survival for 75% of Gaza’s population who are children and youth; they are isolated in their densely-populated enclave, under a miserable reality, lacking basic human rights and spaces for fun, for creativity, for resistance though art.
Said al-Mishal Cultural Centre is perhaps a very good representation of the Palestinian struggle; produced under extraordinary circumstances, desperate for expression, visibility and recognition but ultimately silenced.
Gaza’s familiar landscape has been undergoing a process of distortion and erasure. In 2014 attack on Gaza, whole neighbourhoods were erased. Buildings that were like landmarks for us, where we used to pass by and meet with friends, were turned to rubble in the phase of a few years. It is nightmare to imagine returning to the place where I spent my childhood and early adulthood after five years of forced absence, and being unable to recognise it, thanks to the terror of mass destruction that Israel inflected on it. Can you imagine not being able to relate any more to your familiar landscapes due to a machine of genocide and destruction? It’s traumatic. What’s more traumatic is that we know that Said al-Mishal Theatre was not the first cultural institution to be targeted and will not be the last unless an international intervention is made.
This crime cannot be seen outside the systematic erasure and elimination of Palestinian existence, history and culture that is happening since 1948 Nakba, when Israeli apartheid was founded. Then, alongside the destruction of Historic Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Zionist militias robbed thousands of books, paintings, musical recordings, and other artefacts from Palestinian homes, libraries, and government offices. This was repeated many times, including in 1982, when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) archive was robbed in the Israeli siege of Beirut. In the wake of the 1982 looting, the PLO research centre director Dr. Sabry Jiryes spoke to New York Times, noting that Israeli troops took away its entire library of 25,000 volumes in Arabic, English and Hebrew, a printing press, microfilms, manuscripts and archives, smashed filing cabinets, desks and other furniture and stole telephones, heating equipment and electric fans.” ”More seriously,” he added, ”they have plundered our Palestinian cultural heritage.” He estimated the material losses at $1.5 million, but instated that what “we have lost are invaluable and possibly irreplaceable.”
All above examples are part of a deliberate Israeli colonial policy that seeks to erase Palestine from historical memory and erase all traces to the indigenous people, their history and cultural identity. This elimination makes it easier to claim a make-believe reality where “Palestinians do not exist,” as Israeli PM Golda Meire once bluntly said in 1969, or that they are a punch of primitive tribes with no culture.
Even if they erase all our traces to Palestine, our bodies will continue to carry the traumatic evidence of these constant Zionist crimes. If they erase our physical cultural heritage, they will not manage to erase our memory. We will remain the living evidence that challenges Israel’s historical myths and angelic self-image, which Israel tries to paint of itself.
Palestinian kids playing on the rubble of Al-Mishal Culture and Arts Theatre following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City, on 9 August. Photo by Ahmad Abu Awad
From the emergency room in Lewisham Hospital in London on Wednesday evening, I called my parents to inform them of a sudden allergic reaction I had to something that remains unknown.
I wanted to hear their voices which never fail to comfort me in exile whenever I experience moments of uncertainty – even though I know that they experience an extreme level of uncertainty at their end, in Gaza.
At that moment, around 11pm Palestine time, my parents would usually be asleep, but I called anyway, and to my surprise, my mom Halima answered quickly. She sounded troubled as she offered a list of instructions to avoid such allergic reactions.
The radio was playing in the background and my dad would interrupt the conversation, and both sounded distracted. Something was wrong.
“Bombings are everywhere. May God protect us and have mercy upon us. If you were here, you would have thought it was the beginning of another full-scale attack,” my mom said.
“The sky lights up and then a massive bombardment is heard, and within seconds another one, and another one, shaking the ground underneath us. The walls feel like they’re falling down.”
My parents just celebrated the arrival of their first grandchild. They called her Eliya, one of Jerusalem’s ancient names. Ever since, she’s been the focus of our conversations.
“Eliya, bless her, is crying non-stop as if she senses the danger. We can hear her screams from here as your brother Muhammad and Asma [his wife] are trying to comfort her,” my mom said in distressed tones. “We are panicking ourselves. Imagine how kids are feeling this terror.”
The anti-allergy injection given to me in the ambulance was making me drowsy, but the impact of her words made me switch back on.
This experience seemed to sum up the parallel realities I’ve lived since since I left Gaza.
Growing up in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, uncertainty defined everyday life. Death is always present, even as you do your most mundane activity in your most secure place.
And yet we learned to face our worst fears and continue to live without internalizing this horror as if it were normal.
That is why resistance was a necessity in the face of this life of uncertainty and dehumanization.
Gaza is only a part of a much larger system of violence, displacement and confinement designed by Israel, and funded and normalized by the so-called international community.
The reality in Gaza is the product of settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, sadistic militarism, supremacist ideologies and moral hypocrisy. It is a showcase of not only Israel’s inhumanity, but that of the world as a whole.
Ever since I was old enough to understand the injustices that surrounded me as a child, I woke up every day questioning how despite its enchantment with human rights slogans, the world allowed this situation to continue.
Thursday morning, I called my family as soon as I woke up. My brother and his wife had a sleepless night with their 2-week old daughter.
My mom, who just got home from work, was eager to have a nap after a restless night. She works as a nurse in Beach refugee camp, at a children’s clinic run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.
But instead she sat on the tiles by the garden door to let her body soak in the coolness, as the lack of electricity in Gaza, except for a few hours per day, means that the air conditioners my family had installed cannot be used.
As she sat there, she told me stories of the mothers who came to the clinic.
“Several women told me that they had a sleepless night with their children crying out of fear,” my mom recalled. “They were clinging to them.”
Others said their children, including older ones, wet their beds.
“May God help them,” my mom said shaking her head. “I raised you all in extraordinary situations, and I worry Eliya is going to grow up in similar conditions, if not worse.”
I was looking at my mom on the phone with one eye, the other glancing at London’s modern skyline from the 11th floor apartment of a friend that looked out on a city and world that seemed entirely undisturbed by what is happening in Palestine.
Our conversation was interrupted by a troubled silence that indicated there was more to be said.
I perfectly understood her without a word being spoken, however. I remember how we barely expressed our emotions as individuals when we were all in the same boat, experiencing the same violence.
We had no choice but to be strong for each other, and support one another to keep moving forward.
Then my mother spoke about how most families in Gaza had lost a loved one, or had someone suffer a permanent disability due to successive Israeli attacks. Amid the catastrophic humanitarian and economic situation caused by Israel’s siege, people are exhausted.
“Our situation is heaven in comparison to other families who are completely dependent on UN aid and do not have even one member with a regular income,” my mom observed.
My mother sounded agonized as she spoke about the overwhelming situation and reflected that the challenges of wartime seem almost bearable compared with the grinding aftermath.
“Precisely!” I said, in an effort to bring some hope into the conversation. “What makes people go to protest near the fence with Israel is that they have nothing to lose but a life of misery.”
“Confronting and throwing stones at Israeli snipers lined up behind the fence is a means of survival to escape this cycle of powerlessness,” I said. I told my mother I thought it was an act of defiance and dignity.
At least 120 Palestinians have been killed during the Great March of Return protests that began on 30 March, more than 20 of them children.
“If only the world outside knew how we experience life. If only they put themselves in our shoes for a second,” I added.
“The times when we lived under physical military occupation were much better,” my mom said, interrupting me. She was referring to the years from 1967 until 2005, when Israel maintained soldiers and settlers deep inside the Gaza Strip, instead of besieging it from the perimeter.
I was confused and asked her to explain.
“We had confrontations then, similar to what we have experienced at the Great March of Return, but from even closer,” she said. “They would use their military power on us but we would have a brief window to express resistance, which was somehow consoling.”
“We would stand in their faces without any fear, despite our knowledge that they would eventually do what they are indoctrinated to do – imposing roadblocks, curfews, house raids and detention campaigns,” my mother explained. “We would stand tall in front of them as they attempted to kidnap your father, or one of your uncles, scream at them and curse them, eye to eye.”
“The Tamimis were every family in Gaza, during the first intifada,” she said, referring to the West Bank family of the teenager Ahed Tamimi, renowned for its role in the village of Nabi Saleh’s unarmed resistanceto Israeli occupation and colonization.
“I remember when the army broke into our house in the middle of the night, soon after your birth, looking for your father. They turned everything upside down and stole your father’s pictures and notebooks,” my mom said. “We did not stand still as they ruined everything. We resisted. We pushed them and threw our belongings which they had broken back at them.”
“But now they just drop missiles at us from their warplanes, gunboats or tanks as we sit in our homes unable to confront them.”
Whenever I talk anyone in my family, they say nothing much has changed, as if time has forgotten about their corner of world.
But time did not forget them completely. They experience time differently: through an innovative form of military occupation which has turned Gaza into a caged laboratory for lethal technologies to be sold later to other countries as “battle tested.”
They experience the progress of time as a regression, with resistance – not accepting their abnormal situation as normal – the only way to break free.
A screenshot of the Guardian coverage of Friday’s Great Return March, where Israel killed 15 Palestinians.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid activists, once said. The Guardian is not even pretending to be ‘neutral’. My analysis highlights the problems within the Guardian‘s coverage, exposes its bias towards Israel, and its serious implications.
The article above lays justifications for Israel and presents Palestinians’ casualties with suspicion. It reads as if written by an Israeli propagandist desperately trying to reduce legitimate resistance to colonial oppression as a ‘Hamas ploy’ in an attempt to whitewash Israeli crimes.
Dubbing Palestinian popular resistance as ‘Hamas ploy’, as described by Israeli officials and repeated widely amongst western media, strips Palestinians of their agency, and downplays the Israeli-imposed dehumanising situation we are subjected to. These demonstrations saw no equivalence in Gaza for a while, whether in terms of public engagement magnitude or generational and gender diversity. All united behind the flag of Palestine.
Slamming Friday’s protests as a ‘Hamas ploy’ is not an exceptional practice. It serves the demonisation of Palestinian resistance, an ideological weapon designed to keep Israel immune of criticism. Israel’s ‘self-defence’ rhetoric, which is predicated on the strategy of blaming the victim and demonising their resistance, serves to deflect attention from the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel.
Land Day’s popular resistance is not coming out of the blue. History teaches us that whenever there was oppression, there was resistance. Palestinians exercised their right to resist, guaranteed by International Law.
Resistance as a natural to colonial power
Various Zionist leaders acknowledged resistance as a natural reaction to colonial power. In 1956, Israeli army Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan noted in his eulogy at the funeral of an Israeli security officer ambushed by Fedayeen (“freedom fighters”) from Gaza:
“Let us not today fling accusations at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza while before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived. We should demand his blood not from the Arabs but from ourselves.”
Even the godfather of the rightist Likud Party mostly in power since 1977, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, conceded in 1923: “Every indigenous people… will resist an alien settler.” Thus, he concluded, “a voluntary agreement (with Arabs) is just not possible”, and “the sole way to such an agreement is through the iron wall”, his metaphor for force or military might. Israeli politics of subjugation against Palestinians have largely followed the iron-wall instructions since, up to and including Israel’s lethal force against Land Day protestors.
Protecting Israel’s image and legitimacy
The Guardian article is problematic in several ways. Take this photo, for example. So many heartbreaking and inspiring pictures came from Gaza protests, reflecting a dynamic multigenerational mixed-gendered protestors. Their choice came in line with a longstanding colonialist representation of Palestinians as dangerous, irrational and violent, and Gaza being “a combat zone” or “enemy entity“. How about a picture from the viewpoint of Israeli snipers shooting live bullets at thousands of defenceless protestors facing one of the world’s mightiest armies with their bodies? That would endanger Israel’s public image however, and would probably put the UK government in an impasse to justify its support of Israel, including its arms trade with Israel which might have led to the killing of 15 Palestinians on Friday and the wounding of hundreds.
The title is another story. Let alone putting the Israeli official line as a sub-title, thus validating it. “Palestinians say”? Can it be more passive and suspicious? Why attribute the report, not the truth? “Palestinians say” presents those facts with suspicion. And why avoid mentioning the perpetrator of these killings? That happened before the eyes of the whole world, and the IDF admitted it. It’s all documented and people saw it happening online through live streaming! What if it was the other way around? Would the Guardian or the BBC dare to frame “Israeli officials say 15 Israelis were killed” as a title? And without mentioning the perpetrator and slamming them as terrorists?
The problematic aspects of this coverage doesn’t stop here. “The protests coincided with the start of the Jewish Passover, when Israel security forces are normally on high alert,” the Guardian reported. These religious connotations are just wrong. As I said in my article published earlier, Land Day is one of the most significant days in Palestinians’ political history. Adding religious connotations distorts the deeply political context behind these protests. Land Day is purely about our inalienable political rights. The right to freedom, justice, equality and return which have been denied since 1917, when Britain, as the colonial power in Palestine, sold its indigenous people’s right to self-determination to the Zionist settler-colonial project in a notorious letter known as the Balfour Declaration.
Complicit in Israeli crimes
Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations called Israeli use of ‘lethal force’ against Palestinian protests a crime. B’Tselem from Israel warned against framing demonstration areas as “combat zones” and against the use of “shoot-to-kill” policy at demonstrators. On Friday evening, B’Tselem stated,
“Armed soldiers and unarmed demonstrators are not “at war.” The illegal open fire regulations and the compliance with them are the reason for the number of dead and injured today in the Gaza Strip.”
Such coverage ignores all these troubling details, including the fact that it is a clear case of injustice defined by an occupier against occupied, NOT equal sides. The Guardian used the word ‘clashes’, which presumes a tit-for-tat between two equal sides, to describe armed soldiers against thousands protesting with bare chests, four times. This is called word laundering, a technique commonly used by Israeli political leaders, news editors, and most mainstream Western media to downplay Israeli crimes and avoid harming Israel’s image.
Serving as a platform to justify Israel’s iron-wall policies against Palestinians, instead of exposing them, makes the Guardian, BBC and other Western media complicit in this slaughter and maintaining this cycle of violence against Palestinians.
My 15-year old cousin Muhammad Abu Loz just got injured by gunfire from Israeli occupation forces at the Great March of Return, east of Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
He was among thousands of Palestinians from all generations who have joined these marches in commemoration of Land Day, protesting against the longstanding Israeli colonial occupation and the denial of our inalienable political rights. Israel met them with 100 military snipers.
My cousin survived, but my grandfather’s neighbor, Muhammad Kamal al-Najjar, 25, was shot dead. He is one of at least 12 people who had been killed by Friday evening.
Four decades later, Land Day remains one of the most significant dates in the Palestinian political calendar – a day commemorated by popular resistance to ongoing Israeli colonial oppression, land theft and systematic policies of erasure.
In Gaza, Land Day demonstrations are held near the Israeli-imposed buffer zone, a strip of land inside the Gaza boundary that eats up 30 percent of the small territory’s farmland.
This buffer zone only tightens the Israeli chokehold over Gaza’s two million residents who are besieged by the Israeli military from land, sea and air.
From the north and east, Gaza is surrounded by Israeli artillery, tanks, snipers and military checkpoints. From the sea it is blockaded by Israeli warships that constantly fire on Gaza’s fishers, and from the south, the Egyptian military collaborates with Israel to maintain the closure of the Rafah crossing, the only lifeline to the outside world for most people in Gaza.
Sick with worry as I followed the day’s events from a distance, I called my mom in Gaza. I knew she had been looking forward to this evening’s celebration of her nephew Abed’s wedding, with drums banging as people joyfully sing and dance dabke.
My mom sounded overwhelmed over the phone. When I asked if the wedding was still on, she said yes.
“But given our neighbor’s devastating loss and your cousin’s injury, the zaffa [the celebratory procession] is canceled and the wedding songs will be substituted with revolution songs celebrating freedom fighters,” she said.
My parents, like other Palestinians, anticipated Israel’s violence today, but for them Israeli violence is constant, so carrying on with the wedding is not as strange as it might sound. It’s a way to show that life goes on. Our daily lives are defined by paradoxes like this.
They also went to the place of protest in eastern Jabaliya yesterday to help set up the “return tents”, a recreation of 1948 Nakba Palestinian refugees’ tents which will remain rooted there until 15 May – Nakba Day – to call for our long-denied right of return to the lands from which we were expelled by Israel in 1948.
That right that remains at the core of our anti-colonial struggle.
This morning, they went to my grandfather’s house, where the wedding lunch was set to take place, not knowing that it would turn into a funeral.
Far from home
Our short conversation left me feeling further detached from my current place of residence in the UK, where the majority of people are spending Good Friday with their families in safety and happiness.
But in Palestine, Good Friday was stained with bloodshed and brutal violence, thanks to Israel.
There is no justification for Israel to open fire against protesters posing no threat whatsoever.
There is no justification for suppressing people whose right to resist colonial oppression is guaranteed by international law. The fact that Israel has been able to continue this brutal violence against Palestinians with total impunity for 70 years reflects a deep-seated moral problem in our world.
My thoughts and feelings on his killing are complex and cannot fully be expressed in words.
Abu Thurayya was actually one of four people killed by Israel on the same day. All were protesting against Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Yet because both of his legs had previously been amputated, the local and international media paid more attention to Abu Thurayya’s story than they do to the experiences of most Palestinian victims.
Many articles on his killing highlighted how Abu Thurraya posed no threat to the Israeli military to argue for his victimhood.
Palestinians killed by Israel usually don’t pose any real threat to that state’s heavily armed forces. Yet the question about whether he posed a threat shouldn’t even arise.
The very question ignores the power dynamics between a soldier serving an occupying power and civilians who have spent their entire lives under occupation. Asking a question about whether a Palestinian poses a threat is a subtle way of putting the blame on the victims.
I have no wish to tell a story of a 29-year-old whose disability did not make him immune to Israel’s lethal weapons. We have lost so many people that our wounds have never healed. Another killing deepens the pain felt in our open wounds.
I know too well the level of dehumanization to which Israel subjects us.
Israel and its supporters openly describe us as a “demographic threat.” Our history and identity, indeed our very existence as a people threaten to destroy all the myths that Israel has propagated in its desperate search for “international legitimacy.”
I know too well that being a Palestinian is enough reason for Israel to kill us.
Why should the specific tragedy of Ibrahim Abu Thurayya suddenly awaken people to Israel’s brutality against Palestinians? There are thousands of other striking examples – children being killed, beaten up (sometimes in front of cameras) and terrorized in Israeli jails – that only received a fraction of the attention being paid in this case.
It troubles me that we seem to have more sympathy for Abu Thurayya than we do for other victims.
Abu Thurayya had to have both his legs amputated after being attacked by Israel in April 2008.
Would we have felt less sympathy for Abu Thurayya if he had been killed in that attack? If so, why? It would have been the same victim, the same family devastated by losing a loved one.
Ibrahim Abu Thurayya was much more than a man who lost both his legs. He emphasized that much himself.
Abu Thurayya kept on working after he was attacked. He washed cars for a living and once said: “Please never look at my disabled body. Look at the great job I am doing.”
Losing his legs, he added, was “not the end of the world and life should go on.”
Abu Thurayya refused to be imprisoned by his disability. He also tried to live as freely as he could within the open-air prison of Gaza.
With his positive attitude, he provided an extraordinary example of dignity and resistance.
Since April 2008, Abu Thurayya had been featured in many news stories. He said a similar thing in each of them: “I challenge my disability, I challenge Israel as well.”
In his own way, Abu Thurayya had won a victory over Israel’s attempts to dehumanize Palestinians.
His story would require a book to do it justice – it is a story that must be placed within the collective Palestinian experience of Israeli colonialism. Yet there are some key components of that story which we must not forget.
He was born a third-generation refugee in Gaza’s Beach refugee camp. As a teenager, he worked as a fisherman. Every day he would venture out in a humble boat in waters patrolled by the Israeli Navy – a force that often uses brutal methods to prevent Gaza’s fishermen from plying their trade.
Abu Thurayya was just 20 when he had to have his legs amputated. He continued defying Israel until the end.
The final instance of his defiance came last Friday. Abu Thurayya stood in Gaza’s soil on the stumps of his amputated legs. He was waving a Palestinian flag, when an Israeli soldier on the other side of the fence fired at him, piercing his head with a bullet.
Abu Thurayya reminds me of Nadia, a character in Letter from Gaza, a short story which Ghassan Kanafaniwrote in 1956.
Nadia was aged 13 when she lost a leg when Israel carried out massacres in Gaza that year. She had been wounded while trying to shield her siblings from Israel’s bombs.
In that story, Kanafani implores that a friend living in California return to Gaza so that he can “learn from Nadia’s leg, amputated from the top of the thigh, what life is and what existence is worth.”
Shortly before he was killed, Ibrahim Abu Thurayya was filmed, saying: “This is our land and we will not give up.”
We can all learn about life from his story. That is why it must be shared, taught and remembered.
Stranded at the Rafah border crossing, Gaza. Picture shot on 29/09/2013
A clip on AJ+ titled, “Save the Children says Gaza has become unlivable for its one million children,” triggered a troubling anger in me. Sounds familiar? A UN report published in 2005 warned that the Gaza Strip could become “unliveable” by 2020.
As a person born and raised in Gaza’s open-air prison until just before Israel’s deadliest attack in summer 2014, this statement evokes numerous traumatic flashbacks. It makes me wonder: Has Gaza ever been liveable since Israel came to existence?
I cannot help but be furious at how the world continues to be blind to the fact that Gaza has already been unliveable for not only a year, or a decade, but for several decades. The disastrous humanitarian circumstances that this enclave has endured do not go back to when Israel officially designated Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’, legitimating the collective punishment of its population. It goes back to when Israel was created and the consequent influx of displaced Palestinians that were crammed into Gaza.
My grandparents were among those dispersed and dispossessed. Right now it just feels too painful to even think of how they coped with the experience of being uprooted from their evergreen villages. Yes, since even then, Gaza has been unliveable. Israeli missiles don’t have to be falling over civilians’ rooftops, killing innocents, for life there to ‘become’ unliveable.
It’s been almost 4 years since I left Gaza, and my memories remain very vivid, despite some memories I wish I could forget forever. I wish I didn’t have to draw examples from them.
A few months before Israel launched its most recent massacre in summer 2014, I remember being so depressed at times that I questioned whether my life was worth living. But I should have only questioned the humanity of the international community and imperial powers that endorsed our dehumanisation. Although I always compared myself with others who were in worse situations in order to be thankful for what I had, my life was unliveable. I remember being upset for missing the graduation ceremony, to which my classmates and I were looking forward, so we could celebrate surviving four years of our BA degree together. To comfort myself, I kept reminding myself of my privilege to have ‘luckily’ received a full scholarship to further my higher education, a dream that we all shared.
But this ‘privilege’ has an enormous toll on me, physically and mentally. Some of its costs accompany me still. For weeks, I persistently tried to cross the Rafah border while focused on my goals, in order to feed my hope and determination. For weeks, I woke up before anybody in the house did. My attempts to cross the border failed so often that I gave up on saying goodbye, and I couldn’t handle the sorrow in my parents’ eyes from having seen me in that situation – trapped, scared and distressed. For weeks, I shared this journey of humiliation with thousands of stranded people, including patients dying, students, children, elderly, and women, all desperately and miserably waiting for their nightmare at the Rafah border to come to an end. I eventually made it out without saying goodbye.
That was neither human nor liveable.
Numerous aspects of life there were unbearable. They still are. Whenever I talk to my family, we rarely engage in a serious conversation. We spend the little time we have – as long as there is power, thus internet – teasing each other and making jokes that usually revolve around electricity. Their humor itself is a coping mechanism that hides immense sorrow and unshed tears. However, being their daughter that knows them so well, I feel the sorrow in their eyes and voices and the topics they choose to share with me – I even feel it in their exaggerated pride of me. They believe that our separation and dispersion is a price for our success, and therefore any symbolic success is overly celebrated among the extended family and even on social media to cope with the trauma of our forced absence. I do feel a heartache when I think of them and of how they’re coping in these increasingly suffocating circumstances. I do feel a stab when I look back and count the years that I had to do without their physical presence in my life. No family should ever live with being forcefully dispersed.
None of this is liveable.
If we are enduring this brutal reality, it is because we love life. We are desperate for an ordinary life, and for that end we have coped somehow with the extraordinary and inhumane situations which surround us. For us, that is a form of resistance, as the other option was succumbing to despair. But our resistance to despair does not make our reality livable.
It’s been forever unliveable. We have expressed our pain and recounted the brutality that we endured before the eyes of the whole world. We voiced our desperation in so many ways, ranging from testimonies, to art and documentary, to armed-struggle against our occupying power, Israel, which has the mightiest military in the world. It doesn’t need an expert or the UN or Save the Children or an international body to testify that Gaza ‘has become unliveable’ or ‘might become uninhabitable by 2020’.
Gaza has been unliveable as a direct result of Israel’s existence, and the whole world has to be accountable for this ongoing dehumanizing cycle of violence that is endorsed by treating Israel as a normal state, which effectively means sentencing Palestinians to eternal misery.
International boycott of Israel is the way forward.
“If we had not resisted through mass hunger strikes, we would have remained like the slaves from the Middle Ages,” my father, Ismail, told me during a Skype call after I forced him to revisit his memories from the 33-day legendary Nafha prison hunger strike that he joined 37 years ago…
On May 27, Palestinians worldwide celebrated the end of the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike that approximately 1500 Palestinian political prisoners joined on April 17. After 40 days of hunger and streets mobilisations, the Israeli authorities were forced to listen to their demands.
This was not the first hunger strike– Palestinian political prisoners sought this means of resistance repeatedly since 1967 to call for an end for Israeli brutal practices against them. It may not be the last strike- the Israeli Prison Service has constantly violated treaties forged with Palestinian detainees as they openly violated other international conventions. However, the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike said it clear and loud, “we will never submit to their oppression. We will always resist even if the tool is hunger.”
Let’s keep in mind that Israeli cycle of violence against Palestinian political detainees as well as civilians had been non-stop since Israel’s existence. Therefore, the fight for justice continues. We should take it as a lesson from Palestinian hunger strikers to never give up.
Chants echoed loudly outside the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, last Thursday. Hundreds had gathered to protest an event featuring the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, in a meeting organized by the SOAS Jewish and United Nations societies.
Protestors could be heard inside the meeting room where Regev was speaking. “They are chanting, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’” Regev said during his presentation, decrying the protestors as “supporters of a hardline, maximalist Palestinian position.”
Regev’s rhetoric was hardly surprising.
Israel and its supporters have been waging a war on campuses to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in support of Palestinian freedom. The global campaign is inspired by the international mobilization against apartheid in South Africa.
SOAS has been a major target as the “first UK campus to back anti-Israel boycott,” according to The Times of Israel.
In February 2015, 73 percent of SOAS students backed an academic boycott of Israel in a school-wide referendum. SOAS is the first campus visited by Regev since he became Israel’s envoy to the UK last year.
In an op-ed in The Times of Israel a day after his talk at the London university, Regev stated he had gone there to put forward Israel’s case, arguing that there was a tendency for academics at the school “to rewrite history and portray Israel as a colonial imposition on the region’s indigenous peoples.”
Regev charged that Israel had been victimized at SOAS – “no Israeli government voice had been heard at SOAS,” an “absence” that “conforms to a troubling trend.” He brandished the anti-Semitism card, condemning SOAS for hosting speakers “notorious for their vociferous hatred of Jewish people.”
The defensive tone of the op-ed, slamming those “falsely portraying the Jews as infiltrators and the Jewish state as imperialist,” suggests Israel feels threatened by the SOAS community and the scholarship its faculty and students put out countering the state’s narrative.
Regev rose to international prominence as an Israeli government spokesperson justifying brutal violence against Palestinian civilians during Israel’s periodic “mowing-the-grass” massacres in Gaza.
Academics were at the forefront of opposition to Regev’s appearance at SOAS. Holding the meeting seemed like “a deliberate provocation,” professor Jonathan Rosenhead argued in an open letter to school director Valerie Amos that was signed by more than 150 academics from SOAS and other UK universities.
“Liaising with the Israeli embassy on such an event, despite the continuation of Israeli policies to deport and ban entry of SOAS staff and students because of their views on Israel, including legally penalizing support for BDS,” the academics state, “is an affront to the SOAS community.”
Thirty-two student societies at SOAS protested the university’s decision to allow what they described as an “official exercise in state propaganda” to go ahead. They called on all students to participate in an “Apartheid Off Campus” day to protest the visit.
A recent UN report found Israel guilty of having “established an apartheid regime” and practicing “demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel.”
“This is a political event not an academic presentation,” student signatories asserted, challenging SOAS’s proposition that an event format that allowed the Israeli envoy’s views to go unchallenged constituted a free debate.
In a separate letter, Palestinian students raised the “very real risk” that attending and voicing criticism at the meeting would put them at risk of being interrogated, detained, or deported and banned by Israeli border agents, especially in light of the country’s new law denying entry to supporters of the boycott movement.
Senior SOAS academic Adam Hanieh, who like Hawwash is of Palestinian origin, was also recently detained upon arrival to Tel Aviv and banned from entering Israel for 10 years.
“The SOAS management would turn our campus into an extension of Israel’s military occupation by allowing students to be monitored and have their rights trampled on,” Palestinian students warned in their letter.
The meeting, protesters argued, “constitutes a violation rather than a defense of academic freedom and of freedom of speech.”
My father -on the right- and I at Gaza beach in the summer on 2013, my last summer in Gaza.
One of my jacket’s buttons fell off today. You might be wondering: “So what? What’s the big deal?” This is not the story. I know people experience their buttons falling off of their clothes the whole time. But for me, this incident opened up a hidden wound that I’ve been struggling to cope with for the past three and a half years.
If I were at home, in Gaza, this button would never fall. You know why? Whenever I bought a new jacket or a shirt with nice buttons on it, my dad would take them and re-sew the buttons tightly, so that there is no chance that I would lose any of them. My dad would do this for all my family members. Given his awareness of my quite extreme clumsiness, he would put extra care in my clothes.
Three years and a half have passed since I saw any of my parents, my heroes. Three years and I’m still counting. This counting hurts, especially considering that Israel and its neighbouring ally Egypt are collaborating to tighten the stranglehold over Gaza, making the reunion with my parents an uncertain issue. My story is one among the thousands of Palestinian families who have been left dispersed due to this brutal siege on Gaza and the ghettoization of the remainder of Palestinian lands by the Israeli colonial occupation.
Skype is now my crouch that I lean on to ease the pain, but Skype doesn’t allow me to touch their skin, or contemplate the new wrinkles that appear on their faces. It stands in the way of feeling the full extent of their unconditional love which I live on its memory to recharge myself. It doesn’t allow me to show how much I love them, in return.
My heart jumps when I think of my parents, or when I see or do anything that reminds me of them. I terribly miss their physical presence around me. Despite the distance and the years that have passed away from them, I see them with my eyes closed, and I strongly feel their presence. I think of them for tranquillity, for peace.
My parent, my heroes, my life without you is exile. You will always remain my home. A reunion is bound to come.
Many pro-Israel propaganda trips for students are indirectly funded by Israel. (StandWithUS)
Student union leaders in the UK and Ireland have been slammed for accepting expenses-paid propaganda trips to Israel.
Palestinian students on Tuesday condemned the trip as a “whitewash” of “Israeli crimes and decades-long oppression of our people.”
A statement signed by Palestinian student groups and unions across Historic Palestine said that “far from being ‘educational,’ these trips focus on giving a one-sided, pro-apartheid vision of our reality here in Palestine.”
She wrote that it was “essential I listen to the voices of my membership and educate myself on particular issues such as Israel and Palestine to ensure that I make informed decisions as a leader.”
But the Palestinian students’ statement said that “participants on such trips have met with Israeli officials, military officers and even visited illegal settlements – actively normalizing their existence despite the breach of Palestinian land rights and international law, which they represent.”
A group of college students has launched a petition calling on the NUS’ executive committee to hold these officers to account.
Malaka Mohammed, a Palestinian activist and PhD student in the UK, commented on Martin’s Facebook page that she wondered “how someone would get educated when they’re going on a sponsored-trip representing one side of the conflict.”
“Would they get you to see Palestinian families who lost their loved ones in occupied territories?” Mohammed asked. “Or those detained for no charge or trial? Or maybe families of over 400 children in Israeli jails? Or those whose lands are confiscated? Or maybe my family in Gaza who lost many of their neighbors and friends? The answer is unfortunately no … You will get educated for sure but on what they want you to see and learn.”
Al Jazeera’s film The Lobby also showed that Richard Brooks, another NUS vice president, had been plotting with pro-Israel activists to overthrow elected NUS president Malia Bouattia, a supporter of Palestinian rights.
The film led to the resignations of Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy, and Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant who plotted the downfall of a senior UK government minister along with Masot.
Investigations have been launched into Strizzolo and Brooks.
Palestine societies in the UK last week wrote a letter to Martin urging her to uphold her previously stated position on BDS. “You risk being part of Israel’s attempt to ‘rebrand’ and whitewash its apartheid system,” they wrote.
The letter says that “standing with Palestine means more than holding flags and verbal solidarity – not only did you fail to live up to your words, but you are using your power and agency to normalize apartheid.”
The trip Martin accepted appears to be part of a wider wave of such pro-Israel propaganda visits of student leaders this month.
Angela Alexander, women’s officer in NUS Scotland, also disclosed in a Facebook post that she joined the same UJS trip.
A screenshot of NUS-USI President Fergal McFerran’s Facebook post on 20 Jan 2017 revealing his presence in an Israeli illegal settlement
And Fergal McFerran, president of the NUS Union of Students in Ireland, unintentionally revealed his presence in an illegal settlement in Israeli-occupied Syria last week.
A posting to his Facebook page on an unrelated subject revealed a location of Kidmat Tzvi, an Israeli colony in the occupied Golan Heights.
McFerran later deleted the post and reposted it without a location specified.
So far, McFerran has failed to publicly disclose his trip, and it hasn’t been made clear whether he was on the same UJS delegation.
“I would not take up such a trip because NUS’s policy is to support the BDS movement,” Asquith posted on Facebook. “These trips are part of a public relations exercise to encourage people to view Israel in a favorable way in the context of the ‘conflict.’ They are open about that purpose.”
Below is the abstract of an academic article I published atKohl Journal. To read the article in full, press here.
Abstract: After a video accidently caught a sexual harassment incident I was subjected to at the Rafah border, my body became the ground upon which the most hegemonic ideological powers operating in Gaza fought for dominance. The video pushed me and my personhood to the margins under the rubric of my “protection” as a woman, an issue that is perceived by the general community as “common sense.” The media discourse that surrounded the incident demonstrates women’s multiple struggles in the Palestinian community and the central role that media and power structures play in defining and reinforcing certain hegemonic discourses, such as patriarchy. However, women have performed uncountable examples of implicit and explicit resistance to reclaim their agency in the face of oppression and patriarchy. In my case, social media tools allowed me to reclaim the original context of the event and expose the patriarchal cultural traditions that reduces women to their bodies and restricts and marginalises them. It also succeeded in paving the ground for more open discussion around the violations the women are subjected to on a daily basis in public and private spheres, and challenged the cultural taboo around sexual violence against women.
This picture features me behind Rafah Border Crossing, protesting against its closure on 29 September 2013
The Technion works in partnership with a number of Israel’s arms manufacturers and has even helped develop a remote-controlled function for the D9 bulldozers that Israel uses to demolish Palestinian homes.
The BDS motion also demands that the University of Manchester sells nearly £15 million ($19 million) worth of shares in corporations linked to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. These corporations include Caterpillar, maker of the D9 bulldozer.
The vote is the result of a long campaign by Palestine solidarity activists in Manchester, who insisted that their tuition fees must not be used to support institutions complicit in Israel’s crimes.
The BDS motion was approved following a poignant speech by Huda Ammori, a British-Palestinian student, who chairs the Recognise Refugee Rights society in the university. She referred to how her own father had to leave Palestine when he was just 6 years old. His family’s home in the Tulkarem area of the West Bank came under attack by Israeli forces in 1967.
“My father was forced out of his house in Palestine,” Ammori said. “The Israeli military shot at him and his siblings. He had to hide under the table, hoping to survive. They ran from the back of their house barefoot and had to hide in caves without any means of survival.
“I wish I had the privilege to say that my grandparents were in Palestine. But I don’t because they were ethnically cleansed. My great grandparents were there. My great great grandparents were there, too. But they [my grandparents] were forced out in order for the State of Israel to exist and to maintain a majority Jewish population – on the ruins of Palestinian refugees.”
“BDS is necessary to strip Israel of its impunity,” she added. “It is necessary to ensure that Palestinians regain their most fundamental human and political rights: freedom, justice, equality and return.”
The vote is particularly significant as the University of Manchester has strong historical links to the Zionist movement. Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist movement’s top lobbyist in Britain during the first half of the 20th century, worked as a scientist in the university. He went on to become Israel’s first president.
Today’s Zionist lobby is dedicating much energy to try and counter the BDS movement. The pro-Israel lobby tries to portray the BDS movement as motivated by anti-Semitism, despite how the movement explicitly condemns all forms of racial and religious bigotry.
Some opponents of the BDS motion in Manchester alleged that it made Jewish students feel unsafe. Ammori stressed, however, that growing numbers of Jews are insisting that Palestinians be granted justice and equality.
“This support is growing because they understand that it has nothing to do with Jewishness but with the Zionist oppressive colonial ideology that enables Israel’s ongoing oppression against Palestinians,” Ammori told The Electronic Intifada.
The BDS work will have to be sustained in the University of Manchester, even if demanding respect for Palestinian rights would appear to be in line with the college’s official commitment to “social responsibility.”
“It’s a great victory but this is only the beginning,” Etisha Choudhury, chair of the Action Palestine society in the university, said. “We are going to celebrate it but also work harder to be stronger and more effective in order to bring about more victories. We still have a massive journey ahead. We will continue until the university divests and cuts ties with the Technion.”
Palestine solidarity activists expect that they will encounter attempts to prevent the BDS motion from being enforced, despite how it was endorsed in a democratic vote. One fear is that the university’s administration will use the argument that cutting its links with Israel will cause “reputational damage.”
Ammori contended that the university would suffer worse damage to its reputation if it kept doing business with the Technion.
“They [the university’s administrators] claim to be socially responsible,” she said. “This is impossible given their association with the Technion, the weapons laboratory of the Israeli military.”
As world leaders were meeting in New York for the UN Migration Summit on Monday, activists transformed Parliament Square, the doorstep of British decision makers, into a graveyard of thousands of lifejackets. These lifejackets had once been worn by refugees that made it to the European beaches. No one knows if they arrived alive or as a lifeless unidentified body.
I am a refugee myself for the second time of my life in the UK; I was born as a third-generation refugee in Gaza’s Jabalia Refugee Camp, and I have recently been granted refugee status in the UK. But I am one of the lucky ones who managed to enter this country on a student visa by airplane and claim asylum successfully. Over the years I’ve met so many refugees who are stuck behind closed borders, putting up with bureaucratic barriers that they experience as a slow death sentence.More than solidarity is needed
When I first saw the display, I was stricken by the children’s lifejackets which made up the majority of them. It evoked the picture of the Syrian refugee child Alan Kurdi, whose little body laid dead at the shores of Turkey. Though his story resulted in a growing movement of solidarity with refugees, this movement hasn’t yet been strong enough to force world leaders to take concrete actions to help these refugees and offer alternative safe passages to such deadly routes.
This graveyard of lifejackets places Alan in context of the 4,176 people who have died or gone missing on the Mediterranean since his death, according to UNCHR. These numbers are most likely to be rising as world leaders are discussing at the UN Migration Summit.
This disturbing scene aims to remind world’s decision makers of the ongoing suffering of tens of thousands of refugees who continue to take such deadly routes as they flee war and persecution. It is a call for immediate actions, based on humanity and solidarity, to put this suffering to an end. Most importantly, it is to emphasize that such decisions are about lives that do not have the luxury of time. These refugees continue to lead a daily struggle for survival.
Untold Stories Behind Numbers
So many stories behind these numbers have gone untold. Rahela Sidiqi, trustee of Women for Refugee Women and an Afghan refugee in the UK, narrated some of these stories that floated on the surface of her memory as she saw this scene. “I automatically remember my friends, my relatives, and so many people who died in the Mediterranean,” she said with eyes open wide as she contemplated the display of lifejackets. “A relative of a friend of mine who was 7-months pregnant died in the Mediterranean as she fled war in Afghanistan. Her husband has gone mad following her death that he couldn’t see any evidence for, except for her disappearance. He gave up on the humanity of world and decided to stay in Turkey, waiting in vain to find the dead body of his wife.”
In her work with Women for Refugee Women, Ms Sidiqi has visited the Calais Jungle Camp to meet vulnerable women stuck at the borders after surviving terrifying journeys. “A lady I met in the Jungle was in the middle of the ocean with her four children when the engine of the boat suddenly went off,” she recalled. “Her only wish to God was not to die in the ocean because she didn’t want her dead body to go missing or unidentified, and to be reduced to a number among the thousands of victims. She survived that terrible crossing, but she is still stuck behind closed borders, in limbo under unlivable conditions, waiting for a safe passage for her and her children.”
We, refugees, are increasingly facing different forms of anti-refugee attitudes from the public and even official bodies in our host countries, including detention, deportation, interrogation. Such ill-treatment is encouraged by the distorted narrative of xenophobia and fear against refugees. This narrative that frames us as a “threat”, “burden” or “problem”, not as an added value to the society. Such a narrative should be discussed at the UN Migration Summit and challenged.
When we think about the alarming numbers of refugees who continue to be forced to undertake such deadly journeys, we must think about their suffering. But also about the utter failure of others to understand, to empathize and to take action.
Ever since the emergence of the Palestinian cause, art has been the visual expression of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Most visual production of Palestinian artists has been strongly tied with the political conditions that Zionist settler-colonialism brought in, shaping every facet of the Palestinians’ daily life. Palestinian artists are not exempt from these conditions. Palestinian art has mostly – but not only – reflected the Palestinian people’s suffering and state of loss and exile that the traumatic events of the 1948 Nakba caused.
The well-known Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Boullata raised some questions regarding Palestinian art that I will try to offer a humble answer for through my drawings.
“How does one create art under the threat of sudden death and the unpredictability of invasion and siege? More specifically, how do Palestinian artists articulate their awareness of space when their homeland’s physical space is being diminished daily by barriers and electronic walls and when their own homes could at any moment be occupied by soldiers or even blown out of existence? In what way can an artist engage with the homeland’s landscape when ancient orange and olive groves are being systematically destroyed? When the grief of bereaved families is reduced by the mass media to an abstraction transmitted at lightning speed to a TV screen, what language can a visual artist use to express such grief? (Boullata, 2004)”
This piece will be a personal reflection on my life journey through the lens of my art that was mainly inspired from experiences instilled in my memory from my life in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.
Palestinian art as a narrative instrument of resistance:
Figure 2: For the Sake of the Sun
Palestinian art, from the twentieth century up until now, has always been a visual reflection of the Palestinian struggle that aimed to depict the reality of the Palestinian people, their hopes and aspirations, their suffering, coupled with resistance. It is also a visual self-representation tool that aims to provide a counter narrative to the hegemonic Zionist misleading narrative of the Palestinian reality, to raise political awareness on the Palestinian issue and urge for mobilisation at an international level.
Speaking of narrative brings to mind the words of Edward Said, the late Palestinian exiled academic and writer, which reminds that, “no clear and simple narrative is adequate to the complexity of our experience” (After the Last Sky 1986: 6).
“To be sure, no single Palestinian can be said to feel what most other Palestinians feel: ours has been too various and scattered a fate for that sort of correspondence,” Said eloquently stated. “But there is no doubt that we do in fact form a community, if at heart a community built on suffering and exile” (After the Last Sky 1986: 5-6).
Certainly, Palestinian art has served as a narrative instrument that is used to challenge the hegemonic Zionist narrative which has been tirelessly trying to erase them. Zionism’s existence was fundamentally based on the negation of the very existence of the Palestinian people, a fact that is implicit in Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir’s infamous quotation that, “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed” (Matar, 2011, p. 84).
Among many other forms of expression, art for many Palestinians was seen as a way to visually participate in writing their own narrative, to express their identity, to empower the Palestinians’ voices, and to move beyond the victim circle to become actors who actively, critically and creatively engage with their surrounding matters.
Over the course of the Palestinian struggle, the Palestinian people increasingly regarded every piece of art that came to reflect their living conditions in the Israeli grip as a means of resistance. Many Palestinian paintings displaying the ‘forbidden’ colors of the Palestinian flag have been confiscated, and many artists faced interrogation or even a prison sentence due their art that was perceived as ‘an act of incitement’. Let us not forget the late Palestinian influential exiled artists Ghassan Kanafani and Naji Al-Ali, whose art and literary production led to their murder.
Reflections on my artwork
Figure 3: Children of Refugee Camps: A violated Childhood
The majority of Palestinians have become politicised due to their complex and intense political reality that shapes every aspect of their lives. I am no exception. Art for me was an expressive tool in which I found empowerment to my voice. It served as my humble tactic to overcome the state of siege and occupation imposed on us, to escape the feeling of helplessness that can be easily felt in such suppressive and oppressive life conditions that the Palestinian people endure which I was born within. It was also a tool that I used to engage politically and socially with the harsh surrounding. While living in Gaza, my art was an attempt to connect not only on an internal level as a part of the Palestinian community, but also internationally through online social networks that I used as a bridge that connects the international community with the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation, which should be addressed as a central global issue.
Since my birth in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, the biggest and most densely populated refugee camp in Palestine, I have never known what life is like without occupation and siege, injustice and horror. Like the child depicted in Figure 3, growing up in Jabalia refugee camp was the window to understanding the Palestinian reality under occupation. Art has been the way I naturally sought since a very early age to describe what I felt was indescribable.
In the context of Palestine under which people endure unbearable living conditions, creativity is a necessary tool for survival and a way towards less depression and better physical and mental health.
Personally, observing the Palestinian children being born in a difficult reality that subjugates them to terror and trauma at very young age was the most painful. Thus, most of my drawings are of Palestinian children whose innocent facial expressions I find most telling. Check Figure 3, 4 , 5, 6 and 7 in the slideshow below:
An ongoing Nakba:
My generation, the third-generation refugees, was already blueprinted with the traumatic events of the Nakba, which for Palestinians, is not only a tragic historical event that resides in the past, only to be commemorated once a year with events that include art exhibits and national festivals among other things. “It was never one Nakba,” my grandmother used to say asserting that it was never a one-off event that happened in 1948. The Nakba is experienced instead as the uninterrupted process of Israeli settler-colonialism and domination that was given continuity by the 1967 occupation, and which every aspect of daily Palestinian life is affected by. Growing up hearing our grandmothers recount the life they had before, the dispossessed lands that most would never see again, has formed the collective memory of the Palestinian people. My grandmother described a peaceful life in green fields of citrus and olive trees, the tastes, the sounds, the smells that remained only in her memories in our village Beit-Jirja which was violently emptied of its inhabitants and razed to the ground in 1948 like hundreds of other villages.
As Boullata described, ‘Today, memory continues to be the connective tissue through which Palestinian identity is asserted and it is the fuel that replenishes the history of their cultural resistance’ (Boullata, 2009, p. 103). Palestinian art has been always perceived as a cultural form of political resistance which often addressed issues related to collective memory, memories of the Nakba, and the lived reality of injustices and oppression endured by Palestinians under the on-going occupation with an emphasis on the people’s resistance in the face of Israel’s brutality as coupled with hope, which in itself is resistance. Art has served as a basic mobilization tool that was gradually perceived, not only by the Palestinian public, but also by the Israeli forces “as emblematic of a collective national identity and crucibles of defiant resistance to occupation” (Boullata, 2004).
Several drawings of mine, such as those featured below, were an attempt to emphasize this hope through the continuity of the struggle from one generation to another. They were my response to several Zionist leaders who assumed that time will make the Palestinian refugees forget about their right to return. The drawings come to assert that they were absolutely wrong. The old will die and the young will keep on holding the key, embracing their legitimate right to return. The key is a symbol of the undying Palestinian hope that return is inevitable. The young generation is perceived as those who will carry the burden of the cause and continue the struggle that the previous generation started until freedom, justice, equality and return to the Palestinian people. Thus, Palestinian children became the symbol through which “We nurse hope” as Mahmoud Darwish said (Darwish, 2002).
From an early age, drawing was not only a tool of expression, but also a way to convey a political message, to call for mobilisation in support of the Palestinian struggle. The power of art lays in the fact that is a universal language to communicate the unspeakable that many people in safety zones cannot fully understand. With the availability of online platforms, it became possible to reach beyond borders and checkpoints to a wider audience.
I was only nine years old when my parents noticed my drawing skills that were limited to black warplanes, pillars of smoke in the sky and crying eyes. This coincided with the eruption of the second intifada in September 2000 when I used to accompany my mother and aunt to the martyrs’ funeral tents to offer our condolences. I used to hate the green colour, as it was associated in my memory with martyrs’ funeral tents, which were disturbingly visible in Jabalia refugee camp’s landscape. The first poem I ever learned to memorize by heart was one by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish entitled, “And He Returned …In A Coffin”. As a nine-year old girl, I stood in front of everyone sitting along the benches in the marquee, looked into the people’s tearful eyes, and in a powerful but shaking voice, I recited,
They speak in our homeland
they say in sorrow
about my comrade who passed
and returned in a coffin
Do you remember his name?
Don’t mention his name!
Let him rest in our hearts.
Let’s not let the word get lost
in the air like ash.
It was moments like these, during the tumult of the second intifada that fundamentally shaped my consciousness about the land and my place in it. Since childhood, the scenes of war, the faces of martyrs, the injured and detained people, the cries and weeping of the martyrs’ relatives over the loss of their beloved, have been chasing me day and night. These scenes pushed me to seek art as a way to express my emotions, to reconcile with my wounds, to reflect on my memories and experiences that many Palestinians share.
Humanising Prisoners’ issue through art
Chains Shall Break
Moreover, being a daughter of an ex-detainee means I have grown a unique attachment to the plight of the Palestinian political prisoners, not only from a political perspective but also from a personal one. My father spent a total of fifteen years in Israeli jails, a part of his original seven life sentences. The stories of resilience, suffering and oppression that I grew up hearing from him about his stolen youth in Israeli jails have made me develop a particular passion to advocate for justice for Palestinian political prisoners who endure inhumane living conditions under the Israel Prison Service which denies them their most basic rights.
However, in spite of its importance, the issue of Palestinian political prisoners and their families who suffer immensely from the pain of longing and separation and are often denied their right to family visits is not given the deserved attention in the political arena. They are not only marginalized, but also dehumanized as whenever they are mentioned in the media discourse, they are mentioned as merely statistics or numbers. Through the drawings below, I attempted to humanize the prisoners’ plight and draw attention to their daily resistance in the face of the oppressive Israeli jailers that treat them as if they are not humans. I tried to depict their determination to break their chains, their resisting spirit in Israeli jails. I also tried to express their families’ pain as they are imprisoned in time, waiting for a day when their re-union without barriers in between will be possible again.
The Pain of Waiting: Imprisoned in Time
This drawing above was an attempt to show how waiting for a reunion between the prisoners and their families is in itself a torment. My mother experienced seeing my father being violently captured in front of her eyes from the middle of their house three times when the first intifada erupted in December 1987. She was a newly married bride expecting her first child, my eldest brother Majed, when he was re-arrested and forced to serve an administrative detention order, an arbitrary procedure that Israel uses against the Palestinian people to imprison people without charge or trial, usually based on secret information that neither the detainee nor his lawyer have access to. The experience was repeated when my elder sister Majd was born, and lastly soon after my birth. My mother has always described the torturous experience of waiting for my father’s release, how she spent days and nights staring at the clock, waiting impatiently to hear some news from him while her right to family visits was denied.
The imprisonment experience repeats itself hundreds of thousands of times across Palestine, regardless of gender or age. I have many family members, friends and neighbours who experienced unbearable conditions that range from physical torture to psychological torture to even sexual torture. Palestinian political prisoners have always resisted the brutality of the Israel Prison Service. They have no weapon but hunger to protest their inhumane living conditions and call for their right to proper medical care, the right to family visits and other basic rights under international law while imprisoned. “Hunger strike until either martyrdom or freedom” is a motto that many prisoners adopted. The drawing below aimed to illustrate the spirit of this motto.
Hunger Until Either Martyrdom or Freedom
Memories of War
The turning point of my life was at the age of seventeen, after witnessing the 22-day massacre that the Israeli occupation forces committed against our people in Gaza in 2008-09. During that dismal period when we remained in darkness amidst the continuous bombing, destruction and mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza, I had a terrible sense of being isolated from the rest of the world. The trauma of seeing such levels of brutality was intense. No one was certain if they would live for another day or not.
One of the most memorable moments is that when one night, I was sitting in darkness, surrounded by my mother and siblings in one small room of our house under one blanket. No voice could be heard, just heartbeats and heavy, shaky breaths. The beating and breathing grew louder after every new explosion we felt crashing around, shaking our home and lighting up the sky. Then suddenly, the door of our house opened violently and somebody shouted, “Leave home now!” It was my dad rushing in to evacuate our house because of a bomb threat to a neighbour. I remember that my siblings and I grasped Mum and started running outside unconsciously, barefoot. For three days we stayed in a nearby house, powerless as we sat, waiting to be either killed, or wounded, or forced to watch our home destroyed.
This merciless and inhumane attack killed at least 1417 men, women and children. I wasn’t among them but what if I had been? Would I be buried like any one of them in a grave, nothing left of me but a blurry picture stuck on the wall and the memory of another teenage girl slain too young? Would I have been for the world just a number, a dead person? I refused to dwell on that thought. Many drawings of mine, such as those below, were inspired from memories attached to this traumatic event whose memories always floated back whenever an attack was repeated. Most importantly, resorting to art was a necessary means that helped me preserve my sanity and overcome harsh traumatic events that I experienced throughout my life in the suffocating blockade of the Gaza Strip.
While living under conditions of ghettoization, occupation and military assault, a continuation of the Zionist domination of the Palestinian land that was dispossessed in 1948 for the ‘Jewish state’ to be founded, Palestinian artists continue to be driven to express themselves in paint, photography, and other visual media, with having the Palestinian struggle for liberation as the central theme for their artwork. Art has offered Palestinians a platform to engage with the politicaly complex reality and express the suppressed voice of the Palestinian people in visual forms that can communicate universally. It was also a way to humanise the people’s suffering that is usually dehumanised in mainstream media and reduced to a dry coverage of abstractions that present them as numbers and statistics. Palestinian art, therefore, has been perceived as a form of political resistance, a mobilization tool, a way to assert the Palestinians’ embrace of our legitimate political and human rights, such as the right to return, the right to self-determination, and the right to live in dignity and freedom.
Bouattia is well-known for her public stances in support of many causes, including the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, or BDS. For years she has successfully campaigned in favor of passing BDS resolutions within the NUS.
She has given many speeches encouraging students to back BDS and observe its guidelines within their campuses – especially the boycott of Israeli academic institutions complicit in abuses of Palestinian rights.
After serving as the Black students’ officer, Bouattia will be the first Black Muslim woman elected president in the 94 years of NUS history.
When the NUS passed its latest BDS motion in June last year, the Israeli prime minister falsely claimed the organization supported Islamic State, the violent extremist group also known as ISIS.
“They boycott Israel but they refuse to boycott ISIS. That tells you everything you want to know about the BDS movement. They condemn Israel and do not condemn ISIS,” Benjamin Netanyahu claimed. He repeated the same allegation on Twitter.
Predictably, right-wing media have recycled this same lie to demonize Bouattia and have also attempted to smear her as anti-Semitic.
But the truth was that the NUS national executive council adopted a resolution at its 3 December 2014 meeting that called for ISIS to be “condemned” as “a reactionary terrorist organization that carries out atrocities” against people of the regions where it operates.
Not only that, but it was Bouattia herself who submitted the motion, speaking in its favor at the meeting where it was adopted with no speakers against it.
The previous September, the executive had rejected a motion on Kurdish solidarity that contained similar language, but its decision had nothing to do with the condemnation of ISIS whatsoever. The resolution was considered flawed because it encouraged students to spy on each other.
The BBC’s website on Wednesday initially claimed that Bouattia had “refused to condemn” ISIS.
After outrage at this false claim was expressed on social media, the BBC appears to have removed that particular lie from the article, but without issuing a correction or apology.
The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported Bouattia’s victory with the headline, “UK student union’s new president supports Palestinian ‘resistance.’” The article repeats and amplifies the false allegations found in UK media that Bouattia is an ISIS sympathizer.
Bouattia anticipated these media attacks.
In her winning election speech at the NUS national conference, she said: “I know many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by right-wing media. You will have read that I am a terrorist, that my politics are driven by hate.”
“How wrong that is,” she said, given her background of having to flee her home country Algeria and seek refuge in the UK.
As a seven-year-old child, she “saw a country ripped apart by terror” and was “pushed to exile by its doing.”
“I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution. I faced it every day,” she said, promising, “I will continue to fight, in all its forms, whoever its targets, whether it is anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia or any other bigoted idea.”
Addressing the prime minister, she said “David Cameron may not like me or our movement, but when we’re strong he’s forced to listen.”
You can watch the rest of her electrifying speech in the video above.
BDS campaigners, including many Jews, are systemically smeared with the false charge of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel media and campaign groups. So Bouattia is no exception in this regard.
Prior to her victory, several UK Jewish student societies sent her an open letter questioning her “past rhetoric” against Zionism.
She replied in an open letter rejecting the accusations and emphasizing that disagreement over “anti-Zionist politics” is “a political argument, not one of faith.”
Bouattia made sure to draw the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, reaffirming that efforts to conflate them “are dangerous and have become the excuse for many racist and fascist attacks up and down the country and in the world, which I am sure we all want to end.”
Bouattia’s activism is driven by her passion towards fighting racism of all forms.
This has been evident in her campaigning, which has ranged from supporting Holocaust memorial day to efforts to combat Islamophobia.
Zionism is a settler-colonial ideology and practice that led to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands. To this day Israel continues to discriminate against Palestinians based on this ethno-religious ideology, especially by refusing to allow refugees to return to their lands solely on the basis that they are not Jewish.
Bouattia was one of the main campaigners behind the recent launch of the Students Not Suspects campaign, which aimed at fighting the UK government’s Islamophobic “anti-radicalization” strategy, Prevent.
She appeared in this recent video that aimed to mobilize students and academics to put an end to Prevent on UK campuses.
Prevent “forces colleges and universities to spy on students,” the video explains. It creates “a climate of suspicion around students’ political and religious view,” and promotes “a culture of surveillance and self-censorship,” which is aimed at silencing students and restricting academic freedom.
“Because of the racialized way that counter-terrorism initiatives are formed,” Bouattia says in the video, “it’s black and Muslim students that are most at risk. And so far they’ve been disproportionately targeted.”
A Facebook page set up by protest organizers stated that “by accepting the ambassador’s visit, Valerie Amos and SOAS as an institution are complicit in … ongoing colonialism.”
A coalition of student societies issued a statement condemning the meeting, saying they considered it “a flagrant violation of the principles of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which the SOAS Students’ Union overwhelmingly voted to support in the largest student referendum ever held at SOAS last year.”
The groups demanded an explanation, and for Amos “to apologize for meeting with Mark Regev … and to accept our invitation to work together on applying the result of the democratic BDS referendum to the university.”
In an emailed response to the student union, Amos said: “I met the Israeli ambassador to follow up on a letter I had sent him about the detention and treatment of a SOAS research student at Ben Gurion airport.” She added that she saw this “as an important part of my responsibility as director.”
But Zeid Shuaib, a Palestinian student at SOAS told The Electronic Intifada that “this visit has a political message. This is an attempt to undermine BDS, and specifically the SOAS community’s relentless support for BDS.”
An Israeli journalist on a visit to the London embassy recently reported on the “war room”-style map which details “the main campuses, the deployment of pro-Israel activists and the location of the ‘enemy forces.’”
It seems likely SOAS students are considered among such “enemy forces.”
But the coalition of student groups protesting the Regev meeting charged the administration with disregarding the result.
“The student societies that supported the BDS referendum have made effort after effort to engage management to ensure that the governance of the university is kept democratic and have only been met with intimidation and aggression,” the groups said.
While Regev was the Israeli prime minister’s chief spokesperson, he relentlessly justified Israel’s wars to the world’s media, including in the UK.
Whether it was the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, or its repeated “mowing the lawn” massacres in Gaza, Regev was there to excuse Israel’s killing of civilians.
SOAS student Roba Salibi said, “we will continue to mobilize and put pressure on the management to turn our BDS referendum result into actions, and ensure that such an offensive and outrageous act does not happen again.”
Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian writer, artist and activist, born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp, Gaza, and now based in the UK. She is one of the co-founders of Hawiyya Dance Company who explore solidarity, identity, cultural resistance through Dabke, the folk dance of Palestine. She is a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University, focusing on Palestinian cinema. She holds an MA in Media and the Middle East from SOAS, University of London, and a BA in English Literature from Al-Azhar University - Gaza.