Protester in support of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jabalia camp, Gaza Strip, Palestine – April 24, 2021. Photo: Ramez Habboub / Shutterstock.com
Yet another day waking up with more devastating news from Gaza. What do you tell a friend, who just lost six family members at once, and has not had the chance to hug them in 10 years because he left Gaza and cannot return because it is under blockade? What do you tell a friend whose teenage son has chronic anxiety after having already lived through four bombing campaigns in his short life?
But I am required to keep my emotions for later, retain my tears and put on a face so that I can do my part in trying to speak, write and tell the world about what is happening.
We Palestinians are exhausted. We are mourning our dead, comforting our friends, confronting teargas and grenades, but at the same time we are also expected to educate the world about our plight.
The world’s perpetual narrative around what is going on in this territory of 27,000 square kilometers between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, compels us to talk about our brutal reality, sugar-coating and contextualizing it in long and dry analyses, in the hope to be listened to without being labeled as “biased” or “emotional.”
Now that the violence has been felt by the powerful, by Israel and the Israelis, and now that their reality — which is normally oblivious to Palestinians — has been shaken, the world who had forgotten about us suddenly cares again. The spotlight is on. The daily violence of apartheid, humiliations, extrajudicial killings does not make the “news,” as we have learned all too well over the years. Our humanity remains to be proven. And here we are again, with our daily steadfastness and resistance, gathering in our thousands to pray, to rebuild the villages that were destroyed several times over, with the young men throwing stones.
The uprisings and brutal violence of the Israeli forces did not start a few weeks ago and the unfolding of events is not sudden nor happening in a vacuum. Palestinians on social media are echoing the words of the Black community in the United States by saying that “we can’t breathe since 1948.” Palestinian have been suffocating under 73 years of a settler colonial regime that treats us as a security threat and a demographic problem, tries to erase our identity, our collective rights and our very existence in our homeland.
This is not a “conflict,” these are not “clashes” or “tensions,” nor a “war” between “two sides” with diverging interests, religions or races. Words matter. Such terminology and narratives erase the extreme asymmetry of power, the domination and the privileges, meanwhile creating a false equivalence that contributes to the denial of reality. Palestinians wherever they live, in Jaffa, in Gaza, in the West Bank or in Jerusalem, are born with inferior rights to Israelis and have been deliberately fragmented and subjugated to a sophisticated bureaucratic regime maintaining them unfree: it is called apartheid.
They will tell you that Hamas is the problem, but the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and 1967, the military occupation and its regime of arbitrary arrests and rights denial were there long before Hamas even existed.
The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, whose community has successfully organized to alert the world about their plight through social media and popular protests, has become a powerful symbol for the fight against Israel’s supremacist project all over the territory, which aims to annex maximum territory with a minimum of Palestinians.
Jerusalem has been effectively annexed since 1967, and Israel has maintained a legislative, political and infrastructure arsenal that aims to entrench the permanent dispossession of Palestinians, and maintain what they explicitly recognize as a “demographic balance” of 70 percent Israelis and 30 percent Palestinians.
Several mechanisms have been put in place to actively push Palestinians out, ghettoizing them in confined spaces and replacing them with Jewish settlers in the heart of the city.
For example, Israel has taken over land and houses using discriminatory laws that prevent Palestinians from obtaining building permits, or reclaim their properties lost in 1948, or preventing Palestinian refugees to return. They have also instrumentalized archaeology and tourism to take over specific Palestinian neighborhoods. In 2020 alone, the year in which we were all battling with a global pandemic, Israel has demolished 146 Palestinian structures in Jerusalem displacing 346 people.
In 2003, Israel also started building an eight-meter high wall that has sealed off off one third of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population from the city, in neighborhoods like Kufr Aqab where Palestinians live in a state of limbo.
Palestinian Jerusalemites also have a different ID from Israeli citizens. They are considered “resident” in their own country; aliens that can be deported and lose their right of residency. Since 1967 and the annexation of the city, this has led to more than 14,000 people being expelled from Jerusalem.
This May, while racist settler mobs who chanted “death to Arabs,” brutalized people and vandalized property were protected by the police, peaceful protests at Damascus gate and Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred place in Islam, were brutally attacked by the Israeli state. This is not a religious issue: this is decades of impunity and emboldening institutionalized racism and supremacy of one people over another where religion is a but a symptom, not a cause.
All these policies and patterns that deliberately fragment, segregate and dispossess are manifesting themselves in various forms for the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, the Palestinians in Gaza and the Palestinians in the West Bank.
As all united Palestinians from the River to the Sea observed a general strike on May 18, mobilizing in the thousands in the streets all over Palestine, we are inspired by our people, who, despite years of fragmentation and political disfranchising are determined to rebuild their unity from the ground up. We will continue to fight injustice and draw inspiration from so many of the people around the world whose struggle for freedom inspires us in return.
My grandparents, Soumaya and Mustafa, who had to flee their village Az-Zeeb in 1948, were refugees in Lebanon and could never see their homeland again before they died. Up to this day, I am not allowed to be in my homeland as a Palestinian, and can only visit using the privilege of my foreign passport, as a visitor in my own country. What has unfolded in the past days, the energy I felt in the streets, is giving me energy and hope that our generation will finally be able to live in freedom and dignity.