On the 5th of May 1981, the Irish revolutionary Bobby Sands had a heroic death at the age of 27 after waging 66 days of hunger strike, the culmination of a 5-year protest that included the “dirty protests”, when Irish political prisoners resorted to smearing excrement on the walls of their cells in protest of prison officers’ repression and ill-treatment.
Many parallels could be drawn between the Palestinian and the Irish struggles for liberation. When I read Bobby Sand’s anthology “Skylark Sing Your Lonely Song” (1982), which accompanied my process of painting his portrait, my affinity with the Irish grew even stronger. We both lived under similar systems of oppression, the product of the British imperialism. We both resisted, to use his words, “an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.” Sands rejected for the Irish to be treated like “ordinary” prisoners: “We are not criminals… unless the love of one’s people and country is a crime.” He fought the criminalisati on of the Irish people under British colonial rule, to be regarded as a political prisoner, a fight that my father Ismail and his comrades undertook in Israeli jails in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The courage Bobby Sands and his comrades showed in British prisons resonated over Palestine. My dad was 19 when he was detained and sentenced to 7 lifetimes, each amounting to 99 years of imprisonment, a charge that promised him and many in his position death in jail. Instead of dwelling on this thought, like their Irish peers, they turned prison into a ground of freedom fight. In May 1980, he was counting his 9th year inside Israeli jails which to this day remains filled by thousands of wrongfully persecuted Palestinian men and women whose only crime is the love of their land and people. He was one of 80 Palestinian political prisoners who had been transferred to the then recently opened Nafha prison in the Naqab desert (Negev). Nafha had unbearable conditions, especially designed to break the spirit of prisoners, deemed as the “cream” of the Palestinian prisoners. The prisoners themselves feared that the success of this “disciplinary” action would mean that “all detainees’ achievements prior to 1980 were void” and would create a precedent to be applied to other Palestinians under detention. “So, from day one in Nafha prison, we realised that we had to prepare ourselves to counteract this oppression,” my father said.
Whenever Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike, the Israeli prison authorities have responded by punishing them collectively and inhumanely. The Nafha strike was no exception. Detainees endured various methods of repression and torture, including solitary confinement and force-feeding. Rasem Halawa, Ali al-Jafari and Isaac Maragha were the Palestinian versions of Bobby Sands then; they died as a result of force-feeding in the prison’s clinic during the legendary Nafha mass hunger strike which lasted 33 days. This is only a snapshot into the fight of the free prisoners in Israeli jails, which witnessed the martyrdom of 227 Palestinians and the detention of a million since 1967 Israeli occupation.
My grandparents and their generation of the 1948 Nakba hoped for their children to have a better life, free from any foreign domination. The same with my parents and their generation who were born in refugee camps, like Sands, believed that ‘our revenge will be the laughter of our children.’ Their sacrifices were made to ensure that future generations will not endure such injustices, but the struggle continues, one generation after the other, facing a pariah state founded on settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid, planted in Palestine by the British during their colonial rule on Palestine (1917-1948). To this day, the new state of Israel enjoys unprecedented international impunity under a world order that has been more invested in the material sustainability of Israel than achieving justice for the indigenous people of Palestine.
In this grim reality, the Irish people have continued to be unapologetically allies in our struggle against settler-colonialism, providing a source of hope for the Palestinian people as they constantly reaffirm their solidarity. When Bobby Sands and his comrades died in British prisons, Palestinian prisoners smuggled a solidarity letter to their bereaved families. In 2012, an Irish convoy came to Palestine as several Palestinian detainees were waging battles of hunger strikes in Israeli jails. I met them at Gaza’s branch of the ICRC where we used to gather with families of political prisoners, soon after the Jenin-born Hanaa Al-Shalabi was released and deported to Gaza after a heroic hunger strike against her unlawful administrative detention in Israeli jails, without charge or trial. Then, the families of Irish martyrs and hunger strikers sent back a solidarity letter with hunger striking Palestinian prisoners, and met Hana Shalabi as she was recovering on a hospital bed in Gaza and presented her with an easter Lily.
My painting joins many other tributes to show that Bobby Sands’ memory is still alive in the hearts and minds of many across the world. Sands was absorbed by flowers, birds, the sky and stars, which fed his free spirit in jail. To mark the 40th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike, I painted his portrait with those symbols in mind, to celebrate his revolutionary legacy and the love, solidarity and freedom fights that binds the Palestinian and Irish people.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
The PA’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Taysir Jaradat said that embassy staff found Zayed lying in the garden covered in blood, the Ma’an News Agency reported.
Ahmed, another brother of Zayed, told Ma’an that the killers “threw him out of the embassy’s balcony, killing him.”
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly ordered an investigation into Zayed’s death. Issa Qaraqe, the PA’s prisoners affairs chief, accused the Israeli spy agency Mossad of killing Zayed.
Zayed escaped from Israeli detention 25 years ago and had lived in Bulgaria for more than two decades. In December, Israel demanded he be extradited, so he sought shelter at the embassy.
“Omar’s blood will not be wasted in vain,” his brother Hamza said, adding that those responsible for Zayed’s assassination “must pay the price.”
But the family insists that Israel is not the only one to blame.
Zayed was being “threatened by some individuals at the embassy – especially the ambassador – who demanded him to leave the embassy,” his brother Ahmed told Ma’an. Ahmed also accused security guards present at the embassy of “collaborating” with his brother’s assassination.
Zayed’s brother Hamza told Al-Hadaf that Palestinian Authority ambassador Ahmad al-Madbouh said to Zayed that they would kill him by poisoning his food and that a plane would be waiting to return him to Israel.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine accused the Mossad of murdering Zayed but also blamed “the Bulgarian government and security forces who pursued Comrade Nayef Zayed for arrest and imprisonment for over three months.”
The Marxist group said the PA was responsible “for failing to protect Comrade Nayef Zayed from assassination,” even as “the highest officials of the Palestinian Authority met with the highest officials of the Bulgarian state in Ramallah, with no apparent demands made for our pursued comrade.”
It was reported in the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz that Zayed perhaps “fell from a high floor.” The Israeli foreign ministry said that “although Israel had asked for his extradition, it learned of his death in the media and is currently studying the information.”
Zayed had been given a life sentence by an Israeli military court for his alleged involvement in the killing of an Israeli settler, for which he was arrested in 1986.
Zayed launched a hunger strike in 1990. While being treated in a Bethlehem hospital, he escaped Israeli custody and fled the country.
Zayed reached Bulgaria in 1994, after moving around the Middle East in secret. His wife Rania and their three children are Bulgarian citizens.
On 15 December, the Israeli embassy in Bulgaria officially requested his extradition. He was given 72 hours to turn himself in, but Zayed refused.
Embassies enjoy protection under the 1961 Vienna convention, and Bulgaria recognized Palestine as a state in 1988.
History of kidnapping and assassination
Israel has long targeted Palestinians all over the world. The scholar, resistance activist and novelist Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated by an Israeli car bomb in Lebanon in 1972.
Dirar Abu Sisi, the deputy engineer of the only power plant in the Gaza Strip, was kidnapped by the Mossad while on an overnight train from Kharkiv to Kiev in February 2011.
He was handcuffed and tortured, forced into a coffin and deported by a plane to Israel where he is now held captive.
My martyred uncle Mohammed Abu-Louz and his 2-year-old son
I can almost hear my dad’s voice breaking in tears echoing in my ears when I called him on August 13th 2014 following the murder of our neighbour Hazem Abu-Murad who grew up next door to our home and was like a son for my Dad and his best companion whenever he sat at the front door of our home. Along with five others, Hazem was killed while trying to diffuse an unexploded 500-kilogram Israeli missile in Beit-Lahya. I can still recall the unspeakable shock that my family suffered on the first day of Al-Fitir Eid over the loss of my uncle Mohammed Abu-Louz who was killed leaving behind a very young widow with a 2-year old son and 3-year-old daughter who were too young to comprehend what was going around them and were dressed with new Eid clothes and constantly asking when their father would be back to give them candies and gifts.
I can almost hear my mum’s shaky voice on the phone saying whenever I called, “We’re okay, thank God. Don’t worry.” Continuous bombing rumbled in the background, almost every second. Sometimes, right after I heard the terrifying sounds of explosions, the call disconnected. That would drive me mad as dark thoughts, all about death, destruction and loss, filled my mind. I would try endlessly to call back as panic overcame me. Only when I heard their voices again could I calm down and breathe, or at least sigh as attempts to keep myself together failed. During those traumatizing times, sleep was the last thing on my mind. If I slept, I dozed unintentionally on my computer or my sofa. But I woke from these accidental naps terrified, almost out of breath, thinking that anything could have happened while I slept. I would run to call my family, and could only relax once someone answered the phone. I would break into tears that were a mixture of conflicting emotions: fear, trauma and happiness. Their voices on the phone indicated they were still alive, or not dead yet.
These fears filled me for 51 days and nights, but intensified more as the war grew crazier, more brutal, then beyond brutal. My days and nights merged so I no longer kept track of time. It became meaningless. Food lost its taste. Even rest, though I was exhausted, became undesirable. I spent 51 days in isolation, sitting in front of my computer and phone, watching Al-Mayadeen coverage, and at the same time listening to Palestinian radio channels like Al-Quds, Al-Aqsa and Al-Sha’b online. To keep my sanity, I wrote on social media, sometimes filling my sketchbook with black and white, or marching through Istanbul’s streets with a group of Palestinians to express our anger. We chanted as loudly as we could for justice and holding Israel accountable for its crimes, for stopping the attack on Gaza and the bloodshed. Looking outside my window in Istanbul used to feel like a slap in the face as I saw typical, ordinary days, as if nothing was happening in Palestine and no one was dying almost every moment.
At times, I felt that even though I was privileged to study outside the Gaza ghetto, where the lives of everyone, regardless of age of gender, were threatened by the Zionist murder machine, it was harder to bear than the times I was there, experiencing attacks first hand. But I think that was because I had been there when death was everywhere and bombings surrounded us. I knew what it was like, and that was what made me go mad. We had survived many attacks, but that did not mean we would survive all of them.
The last Gaza massacre was beyond brutal. The Israeli occupation crossed all red lines with its immoral and inhumane measures. Neighborhoods were completely destroyed. Families were wiped out, with not even one member surviving to pass on the stories and ambitions of those who were murdered. But the international mainstream media had reduced this devastating cost that the Palestinian people endured into numbers in its headlines or even between the lines.
A year has passed since the ceasefire was declared after 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, died in front of the whole world as Western powers parroted their commitment to Israel’s right to self-defense. Meanwhile the death toll rose higher and higher. Self-defense against whom? Numbers themselves tell the whole story clearly. 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, a third children, were killed in Gaza, and more than 100,000 buildings totally destroyed, while 73 Israelis, nearly all soldiers, died. This is an occupation against the occupied, not equal armies fighting a ‘conflict.’ Ours are people calling for their legitimate rights, rejecting brutal living conditions that resemble a slow death sentence under a suffocating siege, and resisting oppression that has lasted 67 years by a colonial power that treats them as less than human and continues to deny their most basic rights while attacking their very existence, identity, culture and history.
A year has passed and the piles of rubble remain as cruel reminders of all our people endured during the 51-day onslaught, its devastating aftermath and how little progress has been made since then. Reconstruction has barely begun. Thousands still live in makeshift shelters, leading a life of uncertainty and struggling daily for survival. I am sure every Palestinian, especially those from Gaza, is still traumatized. What we survived during the summer of 2014 will take a lifetime to heal. It will always remain like a scar on our psyche until justice for the victims who died is achieved, and the freedom for which we paid this huge price is gained, until Israel is held accountable, denaturalized and treated for what it is in reality: a settler-colonial state.
But not only Israel is responsible for what our people have endured. It is a responsibility shared by the whole international community, who give Israel a green light to cross all red lines. Israel’s impunity is fortified by a world that not only watches silently, but is proactive in its unconditional support for Israel’s crimes. International solidarity with Palestine has to move beyond mere sentiment to serious political actions that fight the policies of governments who support Israel and all it does.
Do not allow your governments to continue their support of Israel in your name! Have your say! Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a tactic that is growing all over the world and effectively threatening Israel. Empower it more wherever you are and help spread the voice of justice. And always remember that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Reading “With My Own Eyes” by the Israeli lawyer Felicia Langer brought painful scenes to my mind, but my faith in humanity grew deeper. While the Zionists might proclaim “woe to the vanquished,” there were Jewish people in Palestine, such as Langer, who, more profoundly, recognized it was “woe to the victor.” Langer was one who fought bravely against the unjust Israeli system throughout her 23-year career. She defended my father Ismael Abusalama in Israeli courts. He has always spoken about her with admiration and respect for her humanity and firmness.
My father’s story of arrest recorded by Felicia Langer
In her book, she wrote that she met my father on April 6, 1972 in Kafaryouna, an Israeli interrogation center. “Ismael Abusalama, a 19-year-old man who lives in Jabalia Refugee Camp, is a refugee originally from Beit-Jerja.” She mentioned Dad’s cousin who was killed by the Israeli occupation forces after the Six-Day War in 1967. Langer quoted my father’s words, “I saw how children were being brutally shot dead in the Camp’s streets by the Israeli border guards. I witnessed the murder of a little girl who was just leaving her school when an Israeli soldier from the border guards shot her dead. They raid the camp with their thick batons beating up every human. They break into the houses inhabited by women without knocking at their doors. They mix the flour with oil during their aggressive inspections deliberately and without any necessity.”
On page 352, she recorded a painful story of my father’s that she witnessed. While reading it, my heart ached to imagine my father in such brutal conditions. She wrote, “After his arrest in Jabalia Camp on January 1, 1972, they dragged him to the Gaza police center while beating him with batons all the way. They showered him with extremely cold water in winter while soldiers continued to attack him with batons everywhere, and punched him very violently to the extent that he lost his sense of hearing. This continued for 10 days.” She quoted my father saying, “They threatened me with being expelled to Amman and assassinating me there if I didn’t say what they wanted to hear.”
I have no doubt that she tried hard to expose the reality and prove my father and other detainees innocent, but Israel’s unjust judicial system was stronger than her. Her dedicated investigations and defense of the truth didn’t stop Israel from sentencing my father to seven life sentences and 35 years! I appreciate her book, which exposes the injustices of the Israeli occupation and the rotten justice system in Israel. She has always repeated that the aggressor can never win. And I have faith that Israel will never win and Palestine shall be free.
Surprisingly, I only learned this story from her book and haven’t heard it from Dad. When I read that story about him losing his sense of hearing, I asked him about it and he confirmed and continued, “but I was never sent to hospital.”
“Detainees suffer intensively from medical neglect,” he said. “Small health problems can become critical with constant negligence. I thankfully survived, but many others didn’t and were left with permanent disabilities or health problems that led in some cases to their death.”
He stopped for a moment and continued, “Actually, such cases, maybe death isn’t the appropriate word. Murder sounds better.”
Medical neglect is one of the major brutal policies the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) practices intentionally against Palestinian political prisoners which Langer aimed to highlight in her book.
“IPS deliberately aims to harm Palestinian detainees’ physical and mental health in any possible way,” my father repeatedly says and many released prisoners have agreed. Because of this, access to proper medical care has been always on the top of detainees’ demands whenever they go on mass hunger strikes.
Akram Rickawi’s 102-day hunger strike in protest of medical neglect
Akram Rikhawi, whose 102-day hunger strike ended July 22, 2012 , has chosen to shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of disabled and ill political prisoners who grieve daily behind Israel’s bars and suffer its medical neglect. Since his first day of detention in 2004, he was held in Ramleh prison hospital, described by him and many prisoners as “a slaughterhouse, not a hospital, with jailers wearing doctors’ uniforms.”
Akram ended his hunger strike in exchange for an agreement by Israel for his early release. As part of the agreement, Akram was supposed to be released on January 25, 2013. But it’s been more than a week since that date passed, yet we have heard nothing regarding his release. This is more evidence that Israel never keeps any promises or agreements.
Ramleh stands as a nightmare for many detainees because of the inhumane procedures for them to receive a medical check, such as the long hours of waiting, being shackled from hands to feet, being aggressively treated during transfer from jail to hospital, and being treated as inferior by the racist doctors there. Many former detainees I interviewed repeatedly described this procedure as “torment.” One said, “Only when pain becomes intolerable will many prisoners call the IPS to allow them a visit to Ramleh Hospital Prison. They fear the humiliation and torture once their call is met after a long wait.”
On January 22nd, I came home from my last exam of the semester very happy and relieved that I could finally sleep without worrying about loads of studies. I put myself in bed and decided to check my Facebook before I closed my eyes. I saw a video shared by my friend Loai Odeh that turned my happiness into sadness and my relief into distress. My desire to sleep escaped me.
A photo of Ashraf Abu Dhra’ during his funeral (Musab Shawer)
The video’s Arabic title read, “The last words the martyr Ashraf Abu Dhra’ uttered before he fell in a coma.” I had no idea who Ashraf was then. A young man in weak physical shape lay on a hospital bed in the video. While struggling to make his voice as loud and clear as possible, he said, “When I got sick, they only prescribed me paradicamol and released me. When I went to the hospital the medics discovered that I have a severe inflammation. Thank God. My faith eases everything.”
A recently released prisoner fell victim to the IPS’s policy of medical neglect
Then I Googled his name and the ambiguity behind the pronouns he used became no longer ambiguous and learned that Ashraf, a 29-year-old from Hebron, was released recently after a detention of six and a half years in Ramleh prison hospital. Only then did I realize that the pronoun “they” refers to the IPS.
Ashraf was released on November 15, 2012. He spent only ten days outside Ramleh prison hospital at home, surrounded by his beloved family. But those ten days were an extension of the pain he suffered during his imprisonment. Then he fell in a coma until his death on January 21, 2013, which could have been avoided if he had access to better medical care. Israel must be held responsible for the murder of Ashraf.
Ashraf had a long history of medical problems that predate his arrest; he suffered from muscular dystrophy and as a result became wheelchair bound in 2008 during his imprisonment. During his detention he contracted several illnesses including lung failure, immunodeficiency and a brain virus that eventually lead to his death.
Due to the frequent denial of medical treatment by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), Ashraf suffered a slow and painful death that was exasperated by neglect and the prison service’s refusal to provide court-ordered treatment. In 2008, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) submitted a request to the Israeli district court for Ashraf to receive physical therapy. Although the court granted Ashraf this request, the ruling was ignored by the Ramleh prison hospital, who refused treatment claiming that it was unnecessary. Ashraf was held in captivity despite his failing health for the entirety of his sentence, rarely seeing an independent doctor.
Ashraf’s lack of proper medical treatment in his six and a half years violates several international human rights laws, specifically article 56, 91 and 92 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that obliges the occupying authority to provide “adequate treatment” for each detainee and medical care “not inferior than the care provided to the general population.”
Serious actions must be taken before Samer Issawi become the next victim
Learning about the murder of Ashraf Abu Dhra’ made my worry over Samer Issawi double. Samer’s health is rapidly deteriorating due to his historic and heroic refusal of food which has continued 194 days in protest of his re-arrest for no charge or trial. His hunger is gradually taking over his body, but as he said earlier, “my determination will never weaken.”
He started his battle with a promise that he would only retreat from it as a martyr. Samer has tasted the bitterness of imprisonment for 12 years before. But once he was re-arrested in July 2012, with no charge or trial, he decided to rebel to send a message to his captors that they couldn’t decide his destiny. He doesn’t do this from love for death. He loves life, but in the form he has always longed to have, a life of freedom and dignity.
Serious actions are needed as Samer stands at the edge of death. He suffers from severe pain all over his body, especially in his abdomen and kidney. He has double vision, dizziness, and fractures in his rib cage from a brutal attack by Israeli soldiers while he was handcuffed to his wheelchair at a court hearing. This injury has caused severe and persistent pains that leave him sleepless day and night.
We shouldn’t sit idly and watch Samer slowly die. We don’t want to count more Palestinian detainee as martyrs. If Samer dies, it will be a glory for him, but a shame for us. Our silence allows Israel to cross all red lines. Save Samer from being the next victim of medical neglect after Ashraf Abu Dhra’. Act now to rescue the lives of Samer and all hunger strikers.
Jihad’s father, holding Jihad’s picture, celebrates his son’s upcoming release from Israeli prison. (Amjad Abu Asab)
Palestinian detainee Jihad al-Obeidi will be freed on 20 January after 25 years in Israeli prisons. His family has already started decorating their house in Jerusalem with colorful lights and Palestinian flags to celebrate Jihad’s freedom. They are excited to welcome him home and fill his place, which has been empty for 25 years.
Jihad al-Obeidi was charged for affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and accused of trying to kill Israeli soldiers. He was sentenced to 25 years of detention, despite never having attended a trial. He was absent from the court that sentenced him, after he was expelled for refusing to stand for its racist judges.
Jihad wrote to his family that the first place he will visit after his release will be the grave of his nephew, Milad Ayyash. Milad was a 17-year-old boy whose life was cut short in May 2011 as he fell prey to an Israeli criminal who still walks freely somewhere, having escaped from justice by virtue of being an Israeli settler. Milad was killed when the settler’s bullet pierced his chest as Palestinians from the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem commemorated the 64th anniversary of the Nakba.
The Nakba is the gloomiest period in Palestinian history, the year of mass killing, dispossession and systematic ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinians from 513 Palestinian villages. The Zionist entity, what is called now Israel, was built on their ruins.
Killed by settler
Silwan residents were demonstrating outside an illegal settler home in the Beit Yonatan neighborhood of East Jerusalem – the site of yet another eviction by radical settlers attempting to Judaize that part of the city – when a window suddenly opened from the settler lair and shots rang out, leaving Milad to drown in his own blood. (See the photos of Milad’s funeral, taken by Mahmoud Illean.)
Tragically, Milad was born and killed during his uncle Jihad’s imprisonment. Milad never saw his uncle Jihad, as only first-degree relatives are allowed family visits – if they aren’t banned – according to the Israeli Prison Service’s inhumane rules. But Jihad was introduced to Milad through his photographs and his mother’s stories of him, which made Milad feel close to his uncle. Milad was attached to his uncle, as well as the Palestinian prisoners in general, as he is also the son of ex-detainee Saeed Ayyash, released in a 1985 prisoner exchange. Milad’s thoughts travelled to the day when his uncle Jihad would be free. He often shared his thoughts with his mother: “We will be Uncle Jihad’s first destination when he is released, right, Mum?”
The painful news of Milad’s murder broke Jihad’s heart. Filled with sorrow at his murder, Jihad decided to make Milad’s wish true and visit him first. He will visit his grave to show that Israel doesn’t kill our children, it immortalizes them, and that, sooner or later, Israel will be held accountable for all its crimes against humanity.
Solidarity hunger strike
A scaned photo of Loai and his comrades taken in prison. Loai is on the very left. Jihad al-Obeidi is the send from the right.
Loai was one of the hunger strikers who took the sky as their ceiling and trees as their walls, with a surrounding tent to protect them from the sun. He decorated the tent behind his bed with pictures of detainees who he feels most attached to, including Jihad Obeidy.
That motivated me to Google his name. I found a touching video of his parents that shows the torment Palestinian detainees’ parents typically endure, especially for the sake of their 45-minute family visits. The video began with Jihad’s 75-year-old mother introducing herself, saying, “I am Um Jihad al-Obeidi. I was born in Lifta.”
Lifta is a village on the northern fringes of Jerusalem, one of hundreds of Palestinian villages seized by the newly-established Jewish state in 1948. But it is one of the few not to have been subsequently covered in the concrete and tarmac of Israeli towns and roads, or planted over with trees and shrubs to create forests, parks and picnic areas, or transformed into Israeli artists’ colonies. The ruins of Lifta were threatened many times with being bulldozed and turned into luxury housing units.
A sigh, and a moment of silence, followed that sentence, as if Umm Jihad meant to remind everyone that her village is originally Palestinian, and that for the injustice Palestinian people face, we continue to struggle and pay the price of freedom. For many Palestinians, Lifta is a symbol of the Nakba, of their longing for their land and bitterness at their continued refugee status, a physical memory of injustice and survival.
A photo of Um Jihad al-Obeidi, taken from her balcony that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem (Amjad Abu Asab)
Since Jihad was arrested, his mother fell into depression, then became ill with cancer. She went through chemotherapy and four surgeries. However, her longing to see her son again served as her source of strength. Her fear of passing away before hugging her son again never left her mind. She was able to visit him only once every year because her critical health wouldn’t allow her to travel far.
“May God grant us health and patience to see you freed,” Jihad’s mother says in the video, while hugging her son’s picture and kissing it. “It’ll be the happiest moment when you are set free. God willing, I’ll live long enough to hug you, away from Israel’s bars and jailers’ inspecting eyes, and carry your kids.”
Jihad will be free in a matter of few days, but these days feel like years to his mother.
Jihad’s parents, like all detainees’ parents, suffered from the Israel Prison Service’s (IPS) ill treatment, especially during family visits. In Jihad’s twenty-five years of detention, the IPS transferred him between almost every Israeli jail, so that he never enjoyed a sense of stability. They never considered the distance between his jail and his family’s house. For years, Jihad’s parents traveled long distances to reach prisons, then suffered verbal and physical harassment, humiliation, strip searches and long hours of waiting.
Promises and bitterness
“Jihad keeps promising us that he will never let us do anything at home when he is released,” his father said with a slight smile. “He said he will cook and clean and serve us with all his strength, as he could feel how much we tolerate Israel’s torture to visit him. Sometimes in the winter, during family visit, Israeli soldiers used to make us stand and wait outside prison, as the sky snowed over us.”
Despite these family visits symbolizing a lifeline to prisoners and their families, the happiness of uniting and exchanging stories is mixed with bitterness. “Our tears start streaming down whenever we see him behind Israeli bars,” his father said with tearful eyes. “Our hearts ache to observe how he is growing old there.”
Jihad’s parents’ painful story is about to have a happy ending with his release. But thousands of prisoners are still behind Israeli bars, and they and their families continue to suffer. Thinking of other detainees and their families, who share the same pain, Jihad’s mother said, “My son has served most of his sentence, but many others are serving lifetimes. I call on everyone to remember these prisoners and keep following their just cause. Support them so they regain their freedom soon and return to their families.”
My message to Jihad al-Obeidi: this post is dedicated to you, to congratulate you in advance for your physical freedom. Israel has only succeeded in imprisoning your body, but never your mind, nor your determination and everlasting hope for complete freedom.
I’ve always looked at you, and all your comrades who sacrifice their most precious years for the sake of our freedom and dignity, as heroes. You’re the most dignified and the most courageous. Be certain that your people in Gaza are as excited for your freedom as your people in Jerusalem. Israel’s apartheid walls and checkpoints will never manage to make us apart. I know your happiness will be incomplete, as more than four thousands of your comrades remain inside Israeli jails. But we will raise our voices higher and continue to fight until all jails are emptied.
My latest drawing that comes as a response for Ben Gurion who said, “The elderly will die and the young will forget.”
Today, I look back in anger to a gloomy day in the Palestinian history. It happened 95 years ago, long before I could have witnessed it, but I still live its impact daily. Without even a shred of legitimacy, on 2 November 1917, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, promised the leaders of the Zionist movement they could establish their national homeland in Palestine, violating my people’s right to self-determination.
Balfour laid the groundwork for the conspiracy launched against the people of Palestine which led to our Nakba, the mass killing, dispossession, and systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people at the hands of Zionists gangs.
Great Britain is responsible for this atrocity against my people that the Balfour Declaration triggered, for the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians, who with their descendants now number many millions more. It is also responsible for the Palestinians who survived the violence and mass expulsion, and were forced into ghettos within occupied Palestine under a military regime for decades.
An everlasting hope that has no remedy
Last night, I was reading Revolutionaries Never Die, the biography of George Habash, one of the Palestinian leaders who founded the Arab Nationalists Movement, and in 1967, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In his book, he vividly describes the terror he saw inflicted on the people of his town, Lydda in 1948.
He wrote, “June 11, 1948 was the darkest day I ever witnessed in my life. Zionists arrived and ordered us to evacuate our homes … We were forced out of our homes, leaving everything behind under the threat of their weapons. I saw the neighbors fleeing their houses while being watched and threatened with violence. We didn’t know the reason for our mass expulsion. We thought that they planned to gather us in one of the fields to search our houses without having any witness, and then let us go back home. We never imagined that they were actually uprooting us, and that we would never return. Indeed, everything was organized to lead us outside Lydda as soon as possible.”
Not only George Habash thought that the Nakba was the darkest period in Palestine’s history. All the victims of the ethnic cleansing of more than 500 cities, towns and villages shared the same sentiments. I heard my grandparents repeatedly say them. They were expelled from Beit Jerja to the Gaza Strip, and they grasped the dream of return until their last breaths.
I recall my grandmother’s affectionate words when my siblings and I surrounded her once. “I lost my father amidst the panic of that gloomy day,” she said. “I never saw him again, so I realized that he was buried at home. But at the same day I lost him, I gave birth to your uncle Khader. This incident, with all its harshness, symbolized for me the Palestinian struggle, which will end only when we return.”
My illiterate grandmother couldn’t have been more right. The Palestinian struggle will only end when justice prevails, and no one will ever manage to distort this glorious struggle for justice. According to Mahmoud Darwish, “To be a Palestinian means suffering an everlasting hope that has no remedy.” After more than six decades of the Nakba, refugees have never given up hope to return, and they never will. There are those who thought that the elderly will die and the young will forget. We haven’t forgotten. We are still here, the young and the old, suffering the Israeli occupation’s terror and continuing our struggle for justice.
Whoever surrenders their right to return is no longer a Palestinian. To be a Palestinian is to be a revolutionary, born to struggle for all our grandparents possessed, their keys and their faith in our just cause. To be a Palestinian is to love and constantly feel attached to a homeland you never saw.
To be a Palestinian is to live maturely at a very young age, to grow up breathing politics, and to observe how others trade with your life and your rights. To be a Palestinian is to keep cultivating the national principles in your children and grandchildren, and to warn them never to digress or lead the cause in a different direction. To be a Palestinian is to never stop raising revolutionaries who will get what you couldn’t live long enough to accomplish. This is the cycle of the Palestinian life and struggle.
Abbas’ Balfour Declaration
On the anniversary of Balfour Declaration, Mahmoud Abbas came with another declaration competing with Balfour’s.
I felt sick when I first read an article about it. I could imagine Abbas saying this. At the same time, I wished that it could be fabricated news that he had renounced his — and our — right to return to our homes and villages. Then I saw the interview when he uttered those shameful statements, and I couldn’t believe what I heard. I am sure that the majority of Palestinian people and people of conscience worldwide were as frustrated as me.
“As far as I am here in this office, there will be no armed third intifada,” Abbas promised, stressing “never.”
Abbas, you are foolish if you think you can prevent the dignified Palestinian people from expressing their anger at ongoing attacks and violations of their most basic rights, and the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements? You can’t stop them from practicing their legitimate struggle, through all legitimate means, to attain their justice, freedom, and independence.
Did Abbas forget that the first intifada was a nonviolent struggle, and that Israel is the party that turned to brutal violence, especially against children, to crush it? Did he forget that when the second intifada began, Israel fired a million bullets in the first days and weeks to try to crush it and dozens of unarmed civilians were killed in those first days?
Carlus Lattuf’s reflection on Abbas’s declarations
The right to resist is legitimate
Abbas said, “We don’t want to use terror. We don’t want to use force. We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance. That’s it.”
With such a statement, Abbas is ignoring all the sacrifices Palestinians made in their legitimate struggle. Thousands of our people who never carried a weapon were cruelly shot dead or injured, tortured or imprisoned by the occupier. Who then are the “terrorists”?
And of course nobody supports “terrorism” or harming innocent people regardless of who they are. But with such a statement, does Abbas really mean to suggest that all those who used arm struggle to fight for the dignity and freedom of the land and people, are “terrorists,” as the Israelis claim? Was Dad a terrorist? Is this the “president” of Palestine talking, or an agent of Israel? Mr. Collaborator, we will never allow you to defile the names of our martyrs, who paid with their lives as the price for freedom.
I have always been proud to be the daughter of a freedom fighter. I believed Naji Al-Aliwhen he said, “The road to Palestine is neither far or near. It’s the distance of revolution.” Kanafani was one of the most accomplished young Palestinian patriots and intellectuals. At the same time as his pen commemorated the glories of martyrs, awakening people to their national rights, he joined the PFLP’s armed resistance. Kanafani was murdered by Israel’s Mossad.
Couldn’t Abbas grasp how insulting it was to Palestinians for him to use “terror” to describe their struggle? Or did the United States dictate to him to say so? Being ‘nice’ while addressing the ‘democratic regimes’ doesn’t mean giving up your people’s most basic rights guaranteed by UN resolutions.
I feel bad when forced to use UN resolutions and international agreements to justify our right to return and legitimate right to resist occupation and ethnic cleansing and to defend ourselves. Why should Palestinians, as oppressed people, have to use these resolutions to prove the legitimacy of our rights? They were issued only to absorb our anger, as evidence of supposed objectivity, not to be implemented. We, the Palestinian people, don’t want resolutions, we want actions! We want real justice, not just words tossed into the air!
Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle.
It is up to Palestinians to decide if they use that right, or pursue their struggle by other means, but how strange that Palestinians must defend their right to defend themselves, while, Israel, the invader, occupier and colonizer is always granted the right to “self-defense” against its victims! What Abbas seems to be saying is that Palestinians neverhave the right to resist or defend themselves as Israel continues to violently steal what is left of their land. That can never be true.
Giving up the right of return
Abbas crossed another red line, the right to return, also guaranteed by a UN resolution (194). “I am from Safed,” he said. “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there. Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, and the other parts (are) Israel.”
He didn’t only surrender his people’s right to return, he also surrendered his people. He couldn’t have had in mind Palestinians who steadfastly remained in their lands, torn between their Palestinian identity and their cursed Israeli passports, enduring daily harassment and discrimination. He also forgot the millions of Palestinian refugees outside Palestine, many still enduring horrible conditions in their refugee camps in the diaspora.
After hearing Abbas, I allow myself to speak on their behalf to reaffirm that Abbas doesn’t represent us. His declaration ignores the majority of Palestinian people, who still embrace their right to return. It is an individual and collective sacred right, which no one can surrender. Abbas also ignored the historical fact that Israel was established on the ruins of ethnically-cleansed Palestinians villages.
Abbas, I hang the map of historic Palestine around my neck, like it hangs on every wall of many Palestinian houses. Not a day passes without me pointing at my original village, Beit Jerja, while uttering the title of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “I came from there,” with a slight smile. It’s the last thought I enjoy every night as I close my eyes, recalling my grandmother’s vivid description of the green fields of grapevines and olive and citrus trees. We’ll never stop dreaming of a dawn when the Israeli apartheid regime no longer exists, and we return to both see and live there, walking freely through Haifa, Yaffa, Al-Lod, Nablus, Jerusalem, Gaza, Bethlehem, and every inch of historic Palestine.
We, the Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI), have created this boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) video call for students around the world, believing in the power of youth to make a change. We specifically want to support and encourage students to attend the UK Student Palestine Conference 2012 on 23 September at the University of Manchester.
We want people around the world to move beyond just feeling solidarity with Palestine and to actually stand up for justice.
Don’t sit behind your TV screen and watch us getting killed, injured and detained in numbers, and feel sorry. Nothing will get better and Israel will, with impunity, escalate its inhumane practices and violations of Palestinians; human rights. When you watch our people dying while waiting for permits to cross the Israeli apartheid check points and react with feeling depressed, the situation will not change. Silence contributes to making our situation worse.
Silence tortures our hunger strikers inside Israeli jails and makes them go through a process of slow death. Silence contributes to the rising number of ill Palestinian prisoners who die at the Israeli apartheid checkpoints. Silence motivates Israel to terrorize us, massacre our people with their “world’s most moral army.” It allows Israel to attack our fishermen and shoot at our farmers while they work for a living in their lands located close to the “buffer-zone” —the ever-expanding area that separates Gaza from Israel. Farmers are banned from working on 35% of our total agricultural land, severely weakening the potential for economic and agricultural development in the Gaza Strip.
Silence is the reason behind the ongoing blockade on the Gaza Strip for the sixth year. Silence contributes to the Israeli apartheid policies which contributes to the isolation of Palestinian academic institutions. As I say in the video,:
“While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.”
Silence encourages Israel to act as a state above law.
Many governments prefers to just watch Israel violating our rights and committing striking crimes against humanity,. But some do not just watch passively, they are active in their complicity as they continue their ties, including arms trade, with Israel, and thereby contribute to the normalisation of our systematic dehumanisation. However, you, “civil society, must hold them to account, since governments do not. As we, Palestinians, deserve the same rights as anybody else.”
UK students organize for action
A brave group of UK student Palestine activists decided to move and speak up loudly against Israel’s apartheid regime. They organized the UK Student Palestine Conference 2012 on 23 September at the University of Manchester. It aims to encourage students to put boycott, divestment and sanctions at the heart of their solidarity actions.
Organizers are aiming higher than ever:
Together we will form the steps necessary to guarantee that this year our commitment to justice in Palestine exceeds all previous years; our activism brings achievement and that our campaigns bring results. With the rising Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the threat it poses to the Israeli Apartheid system, it is now time that we as students go beyond just being members of our Palestinian solidarity group and become change-makers – on campus and across the UK.
The conference’s goals include:
To Give students the ideas and tools they need to build effective campaigns, particularly Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions efforts.
To Link Palestine Societies with other national and international organizations, so that they have better access to outreach, speakers and resources.
To Develop effective and safe methods of communication between UK student activists.
These goals mean building creative and engaging campus campaigns which seek freedom, justice and equality for all Palestinians; involving new people on the issues; challenging academic discourses; and with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, creating real political and economic pressures while narrating Palestinian identity.
Those passionate activists who organized this conference are taking big strides towards justice for Palestine and they inspired us to send this video message to support their call for students to come to the conference and get involved.
BDS gives Palestinians hope
We want say to all the activists that we want you to double your efforts because every success that the BDS activists accomplish brings us, the Palestinian people, more hope that justice isn’t far away. Every BDS success makes us feel like we made a stride forward towards freedom, justice, equality and return.
The Palestinian call for BDS was inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid and the responsibility that the international community shouldered to fight injustice and inequality, which helped abolish the apartheid regime. “South Africa is leading the way because they know what racism means. With hard work the same can happen at your university.” That’s why we started our video saying, “We, the students in Palestine, believe in you. But we demand more from you this year. This year we hope for results.”
It’s time to push even further to boycott Israel and isolate it until Palestinians enjoy their full human rights. I believe in the power of BDS to help Palestinians regain their rights and exercise self-determination. Without justice and equal rights for everybody, there can never be a just and sustainable peace in the entire region.
The video includes music by Marcel Khalife, who dedicated his life to singing for justice and freedom for Palestine and immortalized our great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, by singing his lyrics that take one’s breath away.
Please share this video and spread it worldwide. Make our voice heard and act. “Make this year, not only about solidarity but change, too. Palestine needs political action from you. This year, we’re counting on you.”
Eid is around the corner. This post is to send best wishes for all Muslims around the world through this slideshow. I did these drawings before Ramadan 2011 so they could be featured in YouthSchool Eid Card project – “Images of Resistance”. Through these images, I tried to portray the excitement and the joy that the children of Palestine have while waiting for Ramadan and Eid. In the same time, I meant to show what it means to be a Palestinian. We’re simply a combination of hope, defiance, pride, love, and anger. We challenge occupation, apartheid and blockade and we continue living, resisting through living. We smile despite all difficulties, a sign of our inner strength that cannot be defeated. All Israel can do through its inhumane practices is to make us more Palestinian. Let’s be hand in hand for the sake of humanity, for justice in Palestine.
Want to order your own set of Eid Cards? Contact YouthSchool right away and they can ship it for you as soon as possible.
“The detainees spend their imprisonment waiting for their families’ visits,” Dad once said, recalling the Israeli Prison Service IPS punishing him by denying him family visits during his 15 years of imprisonment. “Despite all the suffering and humiliation attached to their procedures, family visits are as important to prisoners as the air they breathe.”
Following the capture of Gilad Shalid in June 2006, Israel collectively punished Palestinian political prisoners from Gaza by banning family visits, one of their basic rights and a lifeline between detainees and their families. “Under international humanitarian law, Israeli authorities have an obligation to allow the detainees to receive family visits,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Our detainees’ determination proved stronger than the jailers’ guns. In exchange for ending the one-month mass hunger strike in May, they made Israel comply with the international humanitarian law and reinstate family visits to Gaza Strip detainees after almost six years without them.
On July 16, 48 family members were finally allowed to see to their relatives in Israeli jails for the first time since Shalit’s capture, through barriers for 45 minutes. However, Israel imposed its own conditions on the visits. Only wives and parents were allowed to visit. Detainees’ young children weren’t, “for security reasons.” Fathers must imagine their children growing up without them, or wait for the miracles of their smuggled pictures.
Last Monday, August 6, the fourth group of detainees’ families gathered in front of the ICRC to visit their relatives in Nafha prison. The day before a visit, the ICRC usually announces the names of approved relatives.
Among those who received permits were the parents of detainee Yahya Islaih, who was captured on August 24, 2008 and sentenced to 12 years. His 75-year-old mother and 80-year-old father arrived very early at the ICRC, dressed very traditionally and beautifully. Yahya has not met his parents since his arrest. I used to see Yahya’s mother Aisha in the sit-in tents for political prisoners. She barely missed any protest, despite her advanced age. Last Monday was supposed to be her first reunion with her son in four years. But destiny stood between them.
Aisha breathed prayers of thankfulness that she had been blessed with another opportunity to talk to her son, and see him through a barrier after five years of separation. While sitting in the bus, wishing that time would move faster, she felt the gasp of death and leaned on a neighboring woman’s shoulder.
Later that morning, as I was getting ready to leave for the weekly protest for political prisoners, I read the terrible news. I found it difficult to believe that this had really happened. I thought that we only hear such stories on dramas. But it did happen. When she was so close to meeting her son again, she passed away. Death separated them, just as Israel had for so long.
I left home with tears in my eyes. When I arrived at the protest, people were very quiet. Everyone was in shock. I could read the sorrow in every eye. The elderly mothers of detainees cried while hugging the banners of their sons. Each seemed to wonder, “Will we share Aisha’s fate?”
Amidst silence and sorrow, the 75-year-old mother of detainee Ibrahim Baroud who has been detained for 27 years stood and began shouting. “Enough tears. Tears won’t bring her back to life! Just pray for her soul to rest in peace.” Om Ibrahim Baroud was in the first group issued permits to visit their sons on July 16. That was her first visit to her son, after 16 years banned “for security reasons.” “How would an elderly mother like me threaten their security?” she always complained. “They are simply heartless and merciless, and enjoy breaking mothers’ hearts over their sons.”
After the protest, I went to say hello to her. “Are you joining us for the funeral, Shahd?” she asked, every wrinkle in her face revealing her sadness. “Yes, grandmother,” I answered, even though I hadn’t known of the plan. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go or not. Honestly, I fear funerals.
But when I said yes, she caught my hand so I could help her to the bus, and pushed me forward as if she sensed my hesitance. “When I saw her last Monday, she congratulated me for having visited my son, and sighed while hoping that her turn to see hers again would come soon,” Om Mahmoud said.
When we arrived at the funeral, we learned that Aisha hadn’t been buried yet. She was in a narrow room with two doors. It was crowded with women. They entered one by one from a door, kissed her, prayed for her, and then left through another door. I glanced at the scene, then pushed myself away, trying to postpone my turn. I recalled meeting my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni for the last time as a dead body.
I stood next to a woman who happened to be Aisha’s niece. “Yahya wrote her a letter once, asked her to remain steadfast and know that she would see him again,” she said with tears streaming down her cheeks. “He asked her to wear her traditional Palestinian dress when she comes to visit him again. And she did. After she learned that she would visit him, she was very happy. She ironed her new dress, which she had kept for Yahya’s wedding after his release.” She burst out crying and continued, “But she neither visited him, nor would she ever attend his wedding.”
Finally my turn came. I entered, one foot pushing me forward, the other backward. I saw her body and kissed her forehead. I still can’t believe I did. Traumatized, I returned home in the afternoon and slept. I couldn’t stand thinking of her, nor her son, who would never see his mother, alive or dead again. I felt like I wanted to sleep forever, but I woke up after twelve hours.
Please pray for Aisha’s soul to rest in peace, and for her son to remain strong behind Israel’s bars. Her story is more clear and bitter evidence of the suffering our detainee’s families endure because of Israel’s violations of their basic rights and their families’.
Akram Rikhawi’s family and I at their house in Rafah during the power-cut (by Magne Hagesæter)
The Palestinian football player Mahmoud Sarsak walks freely in Gaza’s streets and alleys, breathing victory among the steadfast people of the Gaza Strip. He acquired his strength to hunger for 96 days from Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Gandhi’s promise came true, and Mahmoud actually won the battle of empty stomachs. Read my account of visiting Mahmoud Sarsak after his release.
Mahmoud was released from the Ramla Hospital Prison on July 10 after he revealed Israel’s crimes against humanity and made it submit to his demands. But his happiness remained incomplete. His thoughts are still in a place he described as “a hospital for torture, not for treatment,” with his comrades he left there, especially Akram Rikhawi, Palestine’s longest hunger striker in history.
About 6:00 pm on Thursday, the 99th day of Akram Rikhawi’s hunger strike, I saw a tweet: “Help us in spreading the truth about Prisoner Akram Rikhawi who might die at any moment #PalHunger”. As I read it, I felt anger at the world’s silence. I called Mahmoud Sarsak to ask for Akram Rikkawi’s home address. He kindly answered, saying, “Come to Rafah and I’ll take you there.”
Excited, I called some friends to join me, quickly got ready, and hurried to Rafah. The one-hour drive to Rafah felt like it took ages. We arrived there around 8:30 to find Mahmoud waiting. “Is it too late already to visit Akram’s family?” I asked him. He shook his head and said, “Their part of Rafah camp is filled with Yibna refugees. They stay up very late, especially Akram’s family. I don’t think they ever sleep!”
Before Mahmoud’s release, the Israeli Prison Service sent him to Akram to pressure him to break his hunger strike. Mahmoud took it as an opportunity to meet Akram for one last time, and to carry messages he wanted to deliver to his family. Akram was very happy for Mahmoud, and had faith that his victory would follow Mahmoud’s sooner or later.
The camp was very dark. I could barely follow Mahmoud’s steps. As we walked through one of the alleys, I recognized our destination from the huge banner of Akram hanging on his house. I could feel his family’s indescribable strength and faith from the way they welcomed us in with hopeful eyes and big smiles. There wasn’t any light in the house, but the smiling faces of Akram’s children filled it with light. Shortly after we arrived, we received word that Friday would be the first day of Ramadan. For Akram’s family, the news held some bitterness, as according to his wife Najah, it is “the eighth Ramadan without Akram.”
We all sat on the rug close to a lantern, the only light in a sitting room filled with photos of Akram. As his wife Najah started speaking, I learned that Akram is the son of a martyr, the brother of another martyr, and has a brother detained in Nafha Prison: a typical Palestinian family’s sacrifices for the sake of freedom and dignity. His father died in the First Intifada, while his brother was killed in the 1990s during a ground invasion by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in Rafah. His detained brother, Shady, became disabled after he refused food for 22 days during the mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons which began this year on Prisoners’ Day, April 17.
Akram Rikhawi has chosen to shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of disabled and ill political prisoners who grieve daily behind Israel’s bars and suffer its medical neglect. He also decided to rebel against the racist treatment that he received at the hands of some Ramle doctors. That was the main reason for his hunger strike. “After more than 100 days on hunger strike, Akram is in a wheelchair and cannot move either his left hand or leg,” Najah said. “Hunger has perhaps overtaken his body, but can’t easily defeat his will.”
“Before he started refusing food,” she continued, “he wrote a few articles on the suffering of sick prisoners and the medical neglect they endure, describing Israeli Prison Service violations against Palestinian detainees. He hoped they would pay his critical health conditions more attention and care. Instead, they punished him for speaking out by placing him in solitary confinement.”
Akram’s family described the Ramla Hospital Prison as “a slaughterhouse, not a hospital, with jailers wearing doctors’ uniforms,” using Akram’s situation as their best evidence. “He was detained at Ramla from the first day of his detention,” Najah said. “Before his arrest, he suffered only slightly from asthma. His health started to deteriorate when he was given the wrong medication.” She explained how this caused him severe health complications. “He had only one health problem, but medical neglect in Ramle Hospital Prison caused him six, including high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic problems, and osteoporosis, sight problems, and queasiness.”
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) previously reported that its doctors had found an “alarming deterioration of Akram’s asthma, which continues to be unstable,” adding that they believed he “has been given very high doses of steroids as treatment, which can cause severe long-term and irreversible damage.”
Najah managed to visit him twice. But since the ban on the family visits for the families of Gazan detainees in 2006, which followed the capture of Gilaad Shalit, they no longer can. “We can neither visit him, nor receive letters or phone calls from him. Our two main sources of information we rely on have been the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and released prisoners, who coincidentally met him after being sent to Ramla because of health problems they suffered.”
My admiration reached its utmost when I learned that Najah was actually the wife of Akram’s martyred brother. “I was a young widow of five children when my first husband Mo’taz was killed with cold blood by the IOF,” she said. “Akram was still single, and decided to take responsibility for his brother’s orphaned children and widow. So he married me. Allah blessed us with eight more children.”
One of Akram’s youngest twin who were born a little before his arrest and knew their Dad from photos.
Then a young woman interrupted our conversation. “I’m Yasmeen, my mother’s eldest daughter,” she said. “My father died when I was four years old. I can barely remember him. But I recall very clearly how tenderly my father Akram raised me. I never felt like an orphan around him. He always treated his children and his brother’s alike and loved us all the same.”
“He was always like a best friend to me,” Yasmine continued. “I was having my high school exams when he was arrested. During my final exams, he used to stay up with me to study. He never allowed me to prepare anything. He would bring food to my room. He used to wake me up for the Fajer prayer. Allah has made everything up to me when he guided Dad Akram to marry my mother.”
“I was the dearest to his heart, and he sometimes teased me, saying that I was the reason for his detention,” she said. “On June 7, he walked me to school in the morning before my exam. He spent the entire trip reminding me that I should have faith in Allah and not worry. Then he headed to Gaza City. On his way home in the afternoon, the IOF stopped the vehicle at the Abu Ghouli checkpoint between Gaza City and Rafah and demanded to see all the passenger’s IDs. After handing over his ID, Dad Akram was immediately arrested. In his first letters from prison, he wrote that his friends had warned him that the situation was worrying, and that he should remain in Gaza. He refused, saying he needed to check how I did in my exam.” Yasmeen said this with a slight smile on her face. After Akram’s detention, she could barely continue her examinations, and finished them with an overall score of 55.
Then a 17-year-old girl walked in, looking very upset. “This is Akram’s eldest daughter,” Yasmine said as the girl sat silently in the corner. “She’s repeating the same experience I had since Dad’s detention. This morning, the high school results were announced. She is sad that she got 75%, while she has been always one of the brightest students. It was difficult for her to concentrate on her studies while expecting that she might wake up any morning to mourn her father’s death.”
The family’s situation was heartbreaking. I listened carefully to their sad stories and struggled to hold my tears. I felt most moved when his wife pointed at her twin youngest sons and said, “A little while ago, they came to me asking what their father looked like. Was he tall or short, fat or slim? Their age equals the years Akram served in detention. They only know him from photos.”
I could feel the family’s anger and disappointment with popular and international solidarity. “What are the human rights organizations, Hamas, the PA waiting for before they move?” his daughter Yasmine asked severely. “Are they waiting for him to return to us in a coffin? Would they be happy for eight children to become fatherless, and five others to be orphaned for a second time? If Dad dies, we will never forgive anyone who could have done something, but chose to look away.”
Don’t choose to look away. Akram Rikhawi is in desperate need of your urgent actions to save his life. It is late, but it is not over. You can still do something, anything, to contribute to his survival.
It was 5:00 pm when I decided to escape my home for a place the power-cut hadn’t reached on June 18. Badia, the restaurant closest to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is always my first option. Whenever I need to leave the sit-in tent to work on my laptop, I get there after walking less than five minutes. I was drowning in stress from my final exams. I had to double my efforts studying, as I had spent more of the last semester worrying about hunger-striking Palestinian political prisoners than my classes.
Even with stress from being unprepared for any exam, it was difficult to concentrate. My thoughts were filled with the revolution of empty stomachs inside the Israeli jails. June 18 marked the 90th day of the hunger strike Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak had launched against his unjustified three-year detention under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law. His hunger for freedom had pushed his life to the edge of death.
I lost track of time while alternating between news Web sites and literary ones for my class. Dad called me, reminding me to return home early. Just before I closed my laptop, I refreshed my Twitter page to see a Tweet saying, “Israel to Release Mahmoud Sarsak on July 10.” I quickly collected my things and ran toward the ICRC, so excited I even forgot to pay my bill.
Hana’ Shalabi in the sit-in tent for Mahmoud Sarsak
Even the smell of the air seemed different when I stepped outside. Freedom filled the atmosphere. The chants I heard from the ICRC at Badia’s entrance made me run. The first person I recognized at the sit-in tent was the heroine Hana’ Shalabi, the ex-detainee who hunger-struck for 43 days to win her freedom, under the condition of expulsion to the Gaza Strip for three years. I ran to her and she hugged me happily, saying, “Congratulations on Mahmoud’s freedom!” Everyone was raising victory signs and singing for freedom. Then a man with a huge tray of sweets arrived and started distributing them.
I arrived home very late to find Dad waiting in the dark garden, looking upset. I didn’t want anyone to spoil my happiness, so I walked toward him chanting happily, “We defeated the jailers!” I was sure he hadn’t heard about Mahmoud, as our power was still cut. “Mahmoud will be free on July 10,” I said while looking at Dad, whose face turned into a smile. “People are still celebrating at the ICRC. Hana’ Shalabi was even there.” I was smart enough to find a way to negate his anger.
People in Gaza waited eagerly for July 10, a day that will be commemorated in the history of Palestine. All Palestinian television and radio channels reported this magnificent event. Thousands of people welcomed Mahmoud by the Erez crossing, the same place he was arrested around three years ago. As the ambulance arrived at the Gaza Strip side of Erez, Mahmoud appeared in its window, holding a football with one hand and waving with the other to the crowd of people excitedly waiting to see him.
Despite hating long drives, last Friday, I was crazy enough to tolerate a one-hour trip to visit Mahmoud’s house in Rafah, knowing he might not even be home. A group of foreign activists joined me in my adventure. “And what if he isn’t there?” my friend Fidaa, a Palestinian-American human rights activist, asked. “We’ll wait for him to come back!” I answered immediately.
We arrived at Star Square, near where the star Mahmoud lives. Thanks to posters and graffiti spread all over the walls of the Rafah refugee camp’s alleys, it was easy to find his house. “The groom just left for Gaza City,” his neighbors told us, but we were still excited to be at the house where “the groom” grew up and to meet his parents, who raised him to be a revolutionary.
Mahmoud’s parents were very friendly and welcoming. His house was small and simple, yet full of warmth and joy. It was crowded with neighbors, relatives, and strangers who, like us, had travelled the Gaza Strip to meet Mahmoud. Many of us had no relation to him, but following his struggle since the early days of his hunger strike made us feel connected to him. Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian hero, has become a symbol of our resistance.
Mahmoud Sarsak’s mother and I at their house in Rafah (Magne Hagesæter)
“Words can’t describe the happiness I felt when Mahmoud regained his freedom after his unjust detention,” his mother told me. “It felt like my son had escaped the grave! But Mahmoud wasn’t afraid of his. He chose a battle that would lead him to either freedom or martyrdom.”
We asked her how she had gotten news about him during his detention. “Of course, three years passed without a single visit, the same suffering that all Gazan detainees’ families have shared since 2006,” she replied. “So we relied on the ICRC for updates on his situation.”
“We were denied any news for an entire year,” she continued. “After that, we were thankfully able to receive letters from Mahmoud through the ICRC for a short period of time, but I can’t read. Whenever we received a letter, his brother Emad would lock himself in a room and cry for hours. After pulling himself together, he would come out and tell me not to worry, as Mahmoud was doing fine and still playing soccer.”
“During Mahmoud’s strike, I was physically and psychologically exhausted. My sons had to take me to the hospital several times. But I felt like I had returned to life once I heard that Israel had agreed to free him in exchange for an end to his hunger strike. I pray for all detainees’ mothers to experience such relief and celebrate the freedom of their sons.”
The house grew increasingly crowded with visitors. So we left to give others the opportunity to talk with Mahmoud’s wonderful mother.
But I couldn’t give up on meeting Mahmoud himself so easily. We had already travelled from the northernpost point to the southern tip of the Gaza Strip looking for him! So I called his brother Emad, whom I had met frequently in the sit-in tent. When he picked up the phone, I told him I had just visited his family with a group of friends, and that we were very happy to meet his parents. He appreciated our visit, and suggested we meet them in a Gaza restaurant. Excited, we accepted his offer.
We arrived at the restaurant by sunset. My heartbeats grew faster as the time for our meeting drew closer. I could see Emad waiting for us by the entrance. He welcomed our group inside and introduced us to Mahmoud, who nicely asked us to join his table. I felt very nervous sitting directly across from him, but proud that I could look him in the eye while speaking to him. He wore two gold medals and a scarf combining the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh.
That’s when we finally made it and met with Mahmoud Sarsak at a restaurant in Gaza City.
“Thanks to Allah for your release,” I said. “How does it feel to be free again?”
“My happiness is incomplete, as the revolution of empty stomachs is still going,” he answered. “My thoughts are with my comrades Akram Rikhawi, Samer Al-Barq, and Hassan Al-Safadi, who are suffering critical conditions in the Ramla Hospital Prison. I was released from there, and know perfectly the medical neglect detainees suffer there. The Israeli Prison Service doesn’t transfer us there for treatment, but for torture.”
His humbleness added a lot to his charm. He kept repeating that he wouldn’t have achieved his victory without the popular and international solidarity he received. “It’s not my victory, it’s yours. I gained my strength and poise from you.” It was obvious that he had lost a lot of weight, but he was still healthy. Joe Catron, an American activist who has met many freed prisoners, said later that he had never seen a recent hunger striker in such good shape.
Mahmoud’s smile didn’t leave his lips the whole time. He paid us all his attention. When I asked him if Gaza seemed different after three years, he laughed and said, “It looks so different to me. Gaza is a very beautiful city despite its small size. I love its beach, its pure air, and its kind people. I missed everything about Gaza. I just missed being home.”
Fidaa asked Mahmoud if he expected to be arrested three years ago when he went to the Erez crossing. “Not at all!” he said. “I was thrilled to achieve a dream to play football in a national team contest in the West Bank, in the Balata refugee camp. When they ordered me to a security meeting, I wasn’t afraid. I expected they would ask me to collaborate with them. I was confident and prepared myself to reject them. I was shocked when they aggressively shackled me.”
I interrupted, asking, “Why do you think they arrested you if you have never participated in resistance?”
“Resistance isn’t only about armed struggle,” he said. “Resistance can be through pen, brush, voice, and sport. We are all freedom fighters, but each of us has his or her own weapon.” His eloquent, passionate answer impressed us even more than we already were.
“Sport is a form of non-violent resistance,” he continued. “Being a representative of Palestine’s national football team makes me a threat to Israel. I’ve always been passionate about building Palestine’s presence in the sports world. I represented Palestine in several football matches locally and internationally, and had the honor of waving its flag wherever I played.”
The more he spoke, the more I admired him, especially when finally I asked him what had changed in his character after his imprisonment. “My faith in our just cause has become deeper and stronger,” he replied. “My determination to unveil the Zionists’ inhumane and fascist practices, and their violations of our basic human rights, has become my reason to live.”
The time grew late, and we had to end our amazing conversation. Mahmoud Sarsak is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I will remember every word he said as long as I live. According to him, we all contributed to his victory. Let’s unite to achieve more victories for Akram Rikhawi, Hassan Al-Safadi, and Sammer Al-Barq. Make them reasons for your life, and fight injustice any way you can.
A drawing I did for a campaign against harassment of women that a youth group I am a part of is doing.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Inspired by this saying, I did this drawing. This drawing is dedicated to all women around the world. Let’s all revolt against the our societies’ degrading views of us. Let’s revolt against our societies’ conventions that restrict us and stand in the way of our creativity and effectiveness. The girl in the drawing is me and you. I refuse to be seen as merely a body. I refuse to be harassed. I am not a doll. Beyond this body, there is a human. Women are humans, just like men. We have equal rights. No one is superior to another. No one should violate our rights to live the lives we want, not the lives our societies impose on us. We deserve respect. Respect our humanity.
“Samer will get engaged!” My friend Loai said with a big laugh. “Oh my God! Really? When?” I burst out with an endless list of questions and exclamations in my head.
Samer Abu Seir is an ex-detainee who was released in Shalit’s prisoner exchange and deported from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip. Getting married should not be surprising for a single man at the age of 46. However, Samer is one of the few released prisoners who was cautiously considering getting married especially after he spent more time in the Israel jails than he spent outside. I remember when I first met him and asked him how long he had been detained and he answered me sarcastically, “Nothing! It was only a matter of 24 years passed like a blink of an eye.”
He always thought that he needed time to keep up with the updates of the outside world that occurred without him noticing. He always felt that he needed to be accustomed to seeing the blue sky, the green trees, the crowded buildings, walking on Gaza’s beach and feeling its breeze smoothly hitting his cheeks, instead of being under that dark-gray ugly ceiling, in a narrow jail, and between the same four surrounding walls where neither sunshine nor air could sneak in.
“What was the reason behind this sudden decision?” I asked. “His 83-year-old mother is in a grave situation,” Loai replied. “He rushed this just to make her happy, so if she dies, she can rest in peace.”
Samer has grown up fatherless. He lost his father when he was a little child when he was away in Jordan. His widow mother had raised him along with his other two brothers and two sisters by herself. He thinks the whole world of her. She is a symbol of motherhood who had raised her children on the noble values of love, dignity, and sacrifice for Palestine. She believed that there is always a price for everything you fight for, and she has instilled these beliefs in her children. Samer and his family have paid the price in many ways. The simplest example of pain that he has always endured was that his family never gathered for a meal. There was always at least a member missing.
Samer had always suffered the ban of family visits for long periods, especially during his detention in solitary confinement for 3 years and a half. These times were the most difficult that Samer lived inside prison as he constantly kept thinking about his mother and fantasizing how her wrinkles beautifully spread in her beautiful loving and peaceful face. The family visits were his only connection with the outside world. Once a family visit ended, he eagerly waited for the next one.
Moreover, Samer had always led unsettled life in prison as he was moved around to every one of Israel’s prisons. Samer’s constant thinking of his mother made it more painful for him to tolerate such inhumane practices of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). Samer’s mother never let that or any of the humiliating actions she received from strip searches and insults hold her away from having 45-minute meeting with her son through a barrier between them.
Even after Samer was released, she didn’t stop suffering. She handled the pain of Samer’s 24 years of imprisonment without complaining, and then she kept suffering the pain of him being forcibly deported away from her. This is another violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits deporting people within or outside the occupied territories.
While thinking about Samer’s motive to get married, I recalled his cute old mother who arrived to Gaza almost a week after the prisoners’ exchange, challenging her age and deteriorating health condition. Last November, I joined my family to a celebration of freedom where almost no one was taking seats, all people were happily performing Dabka, the folk dancing of Palestine, and waving Palestinian flags as revolutionary songs were playing loudly in the background.
Samer’s mother dancing celebrating her son’s freedom
There, my eyes fixed on an elderly woman wearing the Palestinian traditional dress. She could barely walk or stand but her happiness gathered all the strength inside her to dance slowly and erratically. My eyes were following her with joy and wondering who she was. I asked Dad about her. “She is Samer’s mother. Wherever you see her, she is dancing. When she gets out of the car, she dances. when someone visits her at home to congratulate her with her son’s freedom, she dances. Look how happy she is!” Dad answered smilingly. “She reminds me of your grandmother who was just like that when I was set free. All the Gaza Strip would hear of my freedom because of her. She’d be dancing and singing songs of freedom wherever she went.”
Samer was enthusiastically going to officially get engaged today’s evening and let his mother declare his engagement from Jerusalem through Skype. But destiny stood against his intentions of making his mother happy. Sadly, this morning he woke up on hearing the news of his mother’s death and what was to supposed to be a wedding turned out to be a funeral.
I am thankful that at least she lived long enough to celebrate her son’s freedom. This reminds me of another story I wrote last December of a mother of two former prisoners who have been deported from Hebron to Gaza, and who died a week after she arrived to Gaza and wrapped her two sons between her arms once again. Please say a prayer for Samer and his family.
My amazing parents met after Dad’s release, fell in love, and got married. I’m proud I’m their daughter. ( Nathalie Beser)
Twenty-seven years ago, my father’s eyes saw the sun after being in the dark of Israeli prison for 13 years. On 20 May 1985, my father regained his freedom.
“I was sentenced for seven lifetimes plus 10 years and I thought that this prison, Nafha, would be my grave. Thank God I didn’t stay that long there, and I was set free to marry your mother and to bring you to this life,” my father told me, smiling. He considered the 13 years of misery as not that long. Yes, it’s not that long if compared with the life sentence to which he was bound if the deal to exchange Palestinian and Israeli prisoners didn’t happen.
I can’t recall that Dad ever showing any regret or sorrow for how the precious years of his youth were stolen from him. His prison experience is instead his song of life. He believes that it is his treasure, the reason behind his rich culture and beliefs, his strong character, his intimate friendships, and the reason why he values life. I’ve always been proud that I am my Dad’s daughter, and I’ll always be. He is a mix of experience and knowledge.
The story of the exchange deal all started when Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine captured three Israeli soldiers (Yosef Grof, Nissim Salem, Hezi Shai) in revenge for thousands of Palestinian prisoners kidnapped by Israel without any apparent reason. After a long process of negotiations, both sides struck a deal that Israel would release 1,250 prisoners in return for the three Israelis that Jibril held captive. My father was included in the deal, and fortunately, he was set free. Among the prisoners released were the Japanese freedom fighter Kozo Okamoto who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1983.
History repeats itself
History repeats itself. On 18 October last year, we experienced a similar historical event with a swap deal involving the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was arrested by the resistance in Gaza while he was on top of his war machine (an Israeli tank). Just like what happened with Shalit, the capture of three Israelis caused uproar in the Israeli public opinion and international media at that time, but the thousands of Palestinian prisoners behind Israeli bars were not noticed, except for by the resistance fighters that have always forced Israel to meet some demands regarding the Palestinian prisoners.
When I deeply think about these events and the way the international media reacts, I get angry at how unjust this world is. Why did the world make a big deal of Shalit and the three soldiers when they were attested by the “terrorist” Palestinians while thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are left behind in Israeli jails enduring all forms of violations and torture and the world chooses to look away?
My father told the story with tears struggling to fall. He was staring at a picture stuck on the wall of his room; a painting that my father drew during his imprisonment of flowers blooming among barbed wires. “I cannot forget the moment when the leader of the prison started calling off the names to be released,” he said.
Among the prisoners was Omar al-Qassim, a leading member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Al-Qassim was asked to read the list of the names loudly. He was so excited at the beginning hoping that his freedom would be restored. Every time he said a name, a scream of happiness convulsed the walls of prison. Suddenly, his face’s features started to change. He became reluctant to speak because he noticed that his name wasn’t among the names. This was another incident of psychological torture that the prison’s manager committed against him. But he left him no chance to make fun of him. He withdrew himself silently and went to his prison to continue with his resistance. Sadly, he died in a horrible narrow cell after 22 years of resistance, pride and glory.
The tears of happiness and sadness mixed together. The freed prisoners were happy to regain their freedom but they were upset at leaving the other prisoners in that dirty place where the sun never shines. “We were like a big family sharing everything together. We all handled the same issues that we were united to fight for,” my father said. “Although I am free now, my soul will always be with my friends who are still suffering in there.”
My father has always said that “prisoners are the living martyrs.” He also described Israeli jails as “graves for the living.” Let’s unite and use all the means available to help 4,653 Palestinian political prisoner have fewer years of suffering. We share this responsibility as we can’t leave them as prey for those criminal jailers. Their freedom will be a triumph for humanity.
Note: Read this in Italian here. Many thanks for Emanuele Qalitry for translating it!
An old photo of the photo besieged insid the Church of Nativity in 2002
On May 10, 39 Palestinians from Bethlehem completed eleven years of deportation from their precious homes. On the very same day, eleven years ago, they were expelled from the Church of Nativity after a siege by the Israeli Occupation Forces that lasted for 39 days: 26 men went to Gaza, 13 to Europe. Since that tragedy, which marked another form of ethnic cleansing, this day has been called ”Deported Palestinian’s Day”.
Since the last swap deal in October, hundreds of Palestinians have joined this category, as 203 ex-detainees were convicted to indefinite deportation. Moreover, ex-detainee Hana’ Shalabi was recently deported from Jenin to Gaza after hunger striking for 45 days to protest having been re-detained after midnight by a huge, aggressive force of Israeli soldiers, and held under administrative detention on February 16. Israel has intensively deported people from the West Bank to either the Gaza Strip or countries such as Turkey, Syria and Qatar. Israel offered administrative detainees Bilal Diab, Thaer Halahla, and Jafar Ez Al-Din Qadan, all on hunger strike for over two months, deportation to Gaza, but they refused this horrible offer and bravely insisted on continuing their battle of empty stomachs against Israel’s injustices and violations.
Mr. Fahmi Kanan and other Palestinians including deported ones from the church of Nativity marching on Deported Prisoner’s Day calling for ending their exile.
On May 10, hundreds of people from all generations marched to the sit-in tent for Palestinian political prisoners in Gaza to share the continued suffering of the deported Palestinians. The experience of exile, with all its pain, repeats itself hundreds of times in Palestine at the hands of Israel, as it openly violates the same Geneva Convention it ratified in 1951.
One of the people I am very proud to have met through the weekly protest for Palestinian detainees is a deportee from the Church of Nativity, Fahmi Kanan. Fahmi has been a good friend of mine, despite our difference in age: He is 43 years old, while I am only 20. He makes sure to attend every Gaza activity organized in solidarity with the Palestinian detainees and their families.
I remember very well Mr. Fahmi’s touching words when I first met him and asked him about the reason for his dedication to the detainees’ cause. “I have never lived a settled life,” he said. “First, I was born in a land under occupation. Secondly, I lived the hard life of detention inside Israel’s prisons five times, each under administrative detention. I was only a 17-year-old teenager when I was first detained. Thirdly, when I’m not detained, wherever I walk within the Palestinian territories, I’m ‘wanted’ and chased by the Israeli Occupation. Fourthly, I was one of the people besieged inside the Church of Nativity in 2002, then deported to Gaza. Our sufferings take different forms, but all of them result from one thing – Israel.”
Afterward, I learned that Mr. Fahmi is the spokesman for the people deported from the Church of Nativity. Having a shared passion for a just cause, Mr. Fahmi and I get along well. He always brings his kids with him to the protest for detainees. I’ve gotten to know him as a person, not merely as a political activist. I believe that children are reflections of their parents. In Mr. Fahmi’s case, his children are outstanding reflections. I always tell him, “If I ever have a child, I’d like to raise her or him the same way you did.” I see a bright future for Palestine through his kids who are, despite their young ages, very well-educated about Palestinian issues.
On the second day of Eid al-Adha last year, I saw him with all his kids in the weekly protest for detainees outside the International Committee of the Red Cross. When I asked him how his family in Bethlehem was doing, he replied, “I was on the phone with Dad this morning, greeting him for Eid. He is getting older. He fears that his death will be soon as he suffers from some health problems. My heart aches when he tells me that he wishes he could see his grandchildren before he dies.” I asked his 11-year-old son Nasr whether he was enjoying his Eid or not. He replied with a sad look on his face, “I feel like it is the same as any other day. All our relatives are in Bethlehem, and Eid without family is tasteless.” His words touched me very deeply.
Two of Mr. Fahmi’s cute kids, Nasr and Israa, and I in a park in southern Gaza during Al-Adha Eid last November.
When I shared with Mr. Fahmi what his son told me, he answered, “My kids were raised without their grandparents or relatives around. The times I was questioned about them are countless, especially during our traditional and religious feasts. But thankfully, they are smart enough to understand that this is one of the prices that Palestinian people pay for being merely Palestinian. And they are proud!”
Yesterday, Mr. Fahmi made a moving speech that showed the humanitarian aspect of a deported Palestinian’s suffering. “The hardest times in a deported person’s life are the times of need,” he said. “Today, we should remember Abdullah Dahoud, one of the 39 deported from the Church of Nativity. Sadly, he could not be among us today. He died of sorrow over his mother and sister, who passed away without him seeing them for one last time. When he was once asked about his fondest wish, he said, ‘I wish I could read a verse of Qura’n next to my mother’s grave.’”
Palestinians consider the United Nations a partner of the Israeli Occupation because of its silence. Security Council Resolution 607 “[c]alls upon Israel to refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories” and “[s]trongly requests Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by its obligation arising from the Convention.” But when it comes to reality, the UN chooses to take no action against Israel’s violations. We, the Palestinian people, don’t want resolutions, we want actions! We want real justice, not just words tossed into the air!
A hunger striker’s son in Gaza’s sit-in tent carrying a sign reading “I am in solidarity with Palestinian detainees”–By Mjd Abusalama
The sit-in tent for Palestinian political prisoners has been moved from the International Committee for the Red Cross to a central park near the statue of the Unknown Soldier in the middle of Gaza City. It is one of the few green places and thus one of the most lively places in Gaza, where people escape from their dark houses and seek fun and relief, or to simply waste their times observing others. However, the sit-in tent is now used differently, to send messages of solidarity with our Political prisoners who have been on a mass hunger strike since April 17, and to show anger with the Arab and international community and all human rights organizations, which keep calling for human rights, democracy and justice, but when it comes to our prisoners, they do nothing but watch them dying and remaining helpless.
The solidarity is taking many forms, such as lighting candles, making marches, creatively performing plays, songs, poetry and Dabka, joining a symbolic hunger strike. In Gaza’s sit-in tent, 50 men and 45 women have joined a symbolic hunger strike in solidarity with the detainees since May 2, including prisoner’s wives, parents, sisters and former prisoners. Those people have been protesting day and night. The tent is their shelter as long as the revolution of hunger is going inside Israeli prisons. Having been in the solidarity tent daily, even more than in my house, I’ve witnessed most of the cases among hunger strikers whose health conditions got deteriorating. Several cases were sent to hospital for low or high blood pressure and so many people fainted or emotionally collapsed. Ambulances and doctors never leave the tents anymore as if they have full time job at the tent.
While observing the hunger strikers getting paler as more days pass, I can’t help but think of our heroes, our prisoners behind Israel’s bars and compare. The strikers here have access to water and salt and they also have a small dish of yogurt and soup per day. But our prisoners have nothing but water and salt, ‘in case it’s not confiscated by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).’ Strikers here can rest or sleep whenever they feel like it, but our prisoners keep being transferred between sections and prisons by the IPS attempting to exhaust them. Loai Odeh, a former prisoner who is also now on a hunger strike in solidarity, emphasizes that the IPS mercilessly prevents the strikers from resting, with these words he wrote recalling his experience of hunger strike during the campaign of disobedience. “Soldiers burst into strikers’ rooms aggressively as if they were confronting armed fighters on a battleground, not hunger strikers with feeble bodies that can barely stand. Knowing that strikers are intolerant of noise, soldiers break into their rooms with loud screams and initiate a hand search in a way that one feels that he’s being beaten rather than searched.”
Loai Odeh and Abu Hosny Al-Srafity in the sit-in tent
While making the daily tour to show support and admiration to the hunger strikers in the tent, I was surprised to see Abu Hosny Al-Srafity wearing the strikers’ t-shirt that distinguishes them from others, and which beautifully designed with the Palestinian flag with “we’ll live dignified” written on it. Abu Hosny is a 66-year old detainee’s father whom I met since I started going to the weekly protest in the ICRC for political prisoners. Whenever we meet, we greet each other and have a short and informal conversation, but never had a real one that would make me feel like knowing him intimately. Finally, I had this conversation with him after I said “You, too?” out of surprise reacting to seeing that t-shirt.
“Absolutely!” He powerfully confirmed. “We took this step because we consider ourselves as partners in this battle of dignity but our hunger strike remains symbolic at the end of the day. It equals nothing of our detainees’ enormous suffering under the Israeli oppressive regime. They aren’t only hungry for food, they are hungry for dignity, justice, and freedom.”
He refused to let his age be a barrier in front of standing with his son Ali who was detained for 10 years and still has six to go. Doctors keep pressuring him to break his hunger strike but he refuses saying that “my life isn’t any more precious than that of my son.”
Our conversation was still in the beginning. What came next was heartbreaking. I was amazed at his high spirit and his determination but this profound chat we had clarified to me where he got that strength from.
“Ali is the only son left.” He said. “Left?” I interrupted. Then he moved his below to take a photo he kept below and started explaining. “I had three sons. My oldest son Hosny and my youngest Mohammed were killed and the one in the middle is behind Israel’s bars.” I felt raged and asked how. “In 2004, I was sitting with my wife chatting alone about the terrifying sounds of warplanes that occupied Gaza’s sky. We knew an attack was coming. Then a loud expulsion was heard and shook the land below us. We were in indescribable panic. My wife prayed, “May Allah stand with the mothers of the targeted people.” Then she answered the phone that informed her about the assassination of her oldest son, having no idea she was praying for herself.”
It was very hard to keep control of my emotions after hearing that tragedy. I continued looking directly at his eyes that were full of sorrow and listened silently. “Wait. The next story is even more shocking.” He said. “I was on my way home from a family visit with my wife and my seven-year-old son Mohammed in 1994. We were close to the eastern line, near Naheloz settlement. While standing in the street and waving for cars to take us back home, we suddenly glanced an Israeli car and a jeep driving too fast toward us. We got confused and scared. They intentionally smashed my son under their wheels, hit my wife and badly injured her and kept driving fast toward the settlement. It was horrible. It all happened so quickly that I couldn’t rescue my son who froze out of fear in front of that heartless driver who killed him and didn’t bother to even look back.”
Abu Hosny stopped talking to see my reaction but I was too shocked to utter any word after hearing that horrible incidents. His voice narrating the stories of the murder of his two sons kept replaying in my ears, and my tears kept flowing and the features of shock didn’t leave my face. He saw me in that condition and softly tapped on my hand and said, “Don’t be sad, my daughter. As long as we’re living on these holy lands of Palestine, we’ll never get fed up giving any sacrifice. These unjust and unsecure lives we’re leading are the source of our inner strength and determination. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t see me now hunger striking in solidarity with my son, the living martyr, with hope to celebrate his freedom soon.”
Let’s pray to all detainees’ families to celebrate the victory of their detained sons in their battle of empty stomachs against the armed merciless jailers and pray that this victory will result in allowing them to visit their sons after over 6 years of family visits’ ban. Let’s support our prayers with taking serious actions.
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 candidate at Sheffield Hallam University, focusing on documentary films that address the Palestinian refugees in Gaza. 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.