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Ibrahim Abu Thurayya: an icon of dignity and defiance

Ibrahim Abu Thurayya

Shot moments before his murder, Ibrahim Abu Thurayya, showed us again how he challenged his occupier and disability. Photo credit: Mohammed Baba

How should I mourn the death of somebody who – like so many others – has been killed simply for being Palestinian?

Ibrahim Abu Thurayya was shot dead by Israel along Gaza’s boundary with Israel last Friday.

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.

Seven others were killed in that attack. It took place during an Israeli invasion of al-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza.

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.”

Positive attitude

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.

This article was first published at Electronic Intifada.

Has Gaza ever been liveable?

Standed at Rafah border and protesting against its closure

Stranded at the Rafah border crossing, Gaza. Picture shot on 29/09/2013

A clip on AJ+ titled, “Save the Children says Gaza has become unlivable for its one million children,” triggered a troubling anger in me. Sounds familiar? A UN report published in 2005 warned that the Gaza Strip could become “unliveable” by 2020.

As a person born and raised in Gaza’s open-air prison until just before Israel’s deadliest attack in summer 2014, this statement evokes numerous traumatic flashbacks. It makes me wonder: Has Gaza ever been liveable since Israel came to existence?

I cannot help but be furious at how the world continues to be blind to the fact that Gaza has already been unliveable for not only a year, or a decade, but for several decades. The disastrous humanitarian circumstances that this enclave has endured do not go back to when Israel officially designated Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’, legitimating the collective punishment of its population. It goes back to when Israel was created and the consequent influx of displaced Palestinians that were crammed into Gaza.

My grandparents were among those dispersed and dispossessed. Right now it just feels too painful to even think of how they coped with the experience of being uprooted from their evergreen villages. Yes, since even then, Gaza has been unliveable. Israeli missiles don’t have to be falling over civilians’ rooftops, killing innocents, for life there to ‘become’ unliveable.

It’s been almost 4 years since I left Gaza, and my memories remain very vivid, despite some memories I wish I could forget forever. I wish I didn’t have to draw examples from them.

A few months before Israel launched its most recent massacre in summer 2014, I remember being so depressed at times that I questioned whether my life was worth living. But I should have only questioned the humanity of the international community and imperial powers that endorsed our dehumanisation. Although I always compared myself with others who were in worse situations in order to be thankful for what I had, my life was unliveable. I remember being upset for missing the graduation ceremony, to which my classmates and I were looking forward, so we could celebrate surviving four years of our BA degree together. To comfort myself, I kept reminding myself of my privilege to have ‘luckily’ received a full scholarship to further my higher education, a dream that we all shared.

But this ‘privilege’ has an enormous toll on me, physically and mentally. Some of its costs accompany me still. For weeks, I persistently tried to cross the Rafah border while focused on my goals, in order to feed my hope and determination. For weeks, I woke up before anybody in the house did. My attempts to cross the border failed so often that I gave up on saying goodbye, and I couldn’t handle the sorrow in my parents’ eyes from having seen me in that situation – trapped, scared and distressed. For weeks, I shared this journey of humiliation with thousands of stranded people, including patients dying, students, children, elderly, and women, all desperately and miserably waiting for their nightmare at the Rafah border to come to an end. I eventually made it out without saying goodbye.

That was neither human nor liveable.

Numerous aspects of life there were unbearable. They still are. Whenever I talk to my family, we rarely engage in a serious conversation. We spend the little time we have – as long as there is power, thus internet – teasing each other and making jokes that usually revolve around electricity. Their humor itself is a coping mechanism that hides immense sorrow and unshed tears. However, being their daughter that knows them so well, I feel the sorrow in their eyes and voices and the topics they choose to share with me – I even feel it in their exaggerated pride of me. They believe that our separation and dispersion is a price for our success, and therefore any symbolic success is overly celebrated among the extended family and even on social media to cope with the trauma of our forced absence. I do feel a heartache when I think of them and of how they’re coping in these increasingly suffocating circumstances. I do feel a stab when I look back and count the years that I had to do without their physical presence in my life. No family should ever live with being forcefully dispersed.

None of this is liveable.

If we are enduring this brutal reality, it is because we love life. We are desperate for an ordinary life, and for that end we have coped somehow with the extraordinary and inhumane situations which surround us. For us, that is a form of resistance, as the other option was succumbing to despair. But our resistance to despair does not make our reality livable.

It’s been forever unliveable. We have expressed our pain and recounted the brutality that we endured before the eyes of the whole world. We voiced our desperation in so many ways, ranging from testimonies, to art and documentary, to armed-struggle against our occupying power, Israel, which has the mightiest military in the world. It doesn’t need an expert or the UN or Save the Children or an international body to testify that Gaza ‘has become unliveable’ or ‘might become uninhabitable by 2020’.

Gaza has been unliveable as a direct result of Israel’s existence, and the whole world has to be accountable for this ongoing dehumanizing cycle of violence that is endorsed by treating Israel as a normal state, which effectively means sentencing Palestinians to eternal misery.

International boycott of Israel is the way forward.

How my father survived a hunger strike in Israel

“If we had not resisted through mass hunger strikes, we would have remained like the slaves from the Middle Ages,” my father, Ismail, told me during a Skype call after I forced him to revisit his memories from the 33-day legendary Nafha prison hunger strike that he joined 37 years ago…

This article was originally published on Al-Jazeera English. My father Ismail and I at Gaza beach

On May 27, Palestinians worldwide celebrated the end of the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike that approximately 1500 Palestinian political prisoners joined on April 17. After 40 days of hunger and streets mobilisations, the Israeli authorities were forced to listen to their demands.

This was not the first hunger strike– Palestinian political prisoners sought this means of resistance repeatedly since 1967 to call for an end for Israeli brutal practices against them. It may not be the last strike- the Israeli Prison Service has constantly violated treaties forged with Palestinian detainees as they openly violated other international conventions. However, the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike said it clear and loud, “we will never submit to their oppression. We will always resist even if the tool is hunger.”  

Let’s keep in mind that Israeli cycle of violence against Palestinian political detainees as well as civilians had been non-stop since Israel’s existence. Therefore, the fight for justice continues. We should take it as a lesson from Palestinian hunger strikers to never give up.


Israeli ambassador talk at SOAS an “exercise in state propaganda”

This article was first published at the Electronic Intifada.


Chants echoed loudly outside the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, last Thursday. Hundreds had gathered to protest an event featuring the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, in a meeting organized by the SOAS Jewish and United Nations societies.

Protestors could be heard inside the meeting room where Regev was speaking. “They are chanting, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’” Regev said during his presentation, decrying the protestors as “supporters of a hardline, maximalist Palestinian position.”

Regev’s rhetoric was hardly surprising.

Israel and its supporters have been waging a war on campuses to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in support of Palestinian freedom. The global campaign is inspired by the international mobilization against apartheid in South Africa.

SOAS has been a major target as the “first UK campus to back anti-Israel boycott,” according to The Times of Israel.

In February 2015, 73 percent of SOAS students backed an academic boycott of Israel in a school-wide referendum. SOAS is the first campus visited by Regev since he became Israel’s envoy to the UK last year.

In an op-ed in The Times of Israel a day after his talk at the London university, Regev stated he had gone there to put forward Israel’s case, arguing that there was a tendency for academics at the school “to rewrite history and portray Israel as a colonial imposition on the region’s indigenous peoples.”

Regev charged that Israel had been victimized at SOAS – “no Israeli government voice had been heard at SOAS,” an “absence” that “conforms to a troubling trend.” He brandished the anti-Semitism card, condemning SOAS for hosting speakers “notorious for their vociferous hatred of Jewish people.”

The defensive tone of the op-ed, slamming those “falsely portraying the Jews as infiltrators and the Jewish state as imperialist,” suggests Israel feels threatened by the SOAS community and the scholarship its faculty and students put out countering the state’s narrative.

Broad opposition

Regev rose to international prominence as an Israeli government spokesperson justifying brutal violence against Palestinian civilians during Israel’s periodic “mowing-the-grass” massacres in Gaza.

Academics were at the forefront of opposition to Regev’s appearance at SOAS. Holding the meeting seemed like “a deliberate provocation,” professor Jonathan Rosenhead argued in an open letter to school director Valerie Amos that was signed by more than 150 academics from SOAS and other UK universities.

“Liaising with the Israeli embassy on such an event, despite the continuation of Israeli policies to deport and ban entry of SOAS staff and students because of their views on Israel, including legally penalizing support for BDS,” the academics state, “is an affront to the SOAS community.”

Thirty-two student societies at SOAS protested the university’s decision to allow what they described as an “official exercise in state propaganda” to go ahead. They called on all students to participate in an “Apartheid Off Campus” day to protest the visit.

A recent UN report found Israel guilty of having “established an apartheid regime” and practicing “demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel.”

“This is a political event not an academic presentation,” student signatories asserted, challenging SOAS’s proposition that an event format that allowed the Israeli envoy’s views to go unchallenged constituted a free debate.

Anti-BDS law

In a separate letter, Palestinian students raised the “very real risk” that attending and voicing criticism at the meeting would put them at risk of being interrogated, detained, or deported and banned by Israeli border agents, especially in light of the country’s new law denying entry to supporters of the boycott movement.

That law was recently used against Kamel Hawwash, an engineering professor at the University of Birmingham.

Senior SOAS academic Adam Hanieh, who like Hawwash is of Palestinian origin, was also recently detained upon arrival to Tel Aviv and banned from entering Israel for 10 years.

“The SOAS management would turn our campus into an extension of Israel’s military occupation by allowing students to be monitored and have their rights trampled on,” Palestinian students warned in their letter.

The meeting, protesters argued, “constitutes a violation rather than a defense of academic freedom and of freedom of speech.”

In exile, something as small as a button can ignite a hidden wound


My father -on the right- and I at Gaza beach in the summer on 2013, my last summer in Gaza.

One of my jacket’s buttons fell off today. You might be wondering: “So what? What’s the big deal?” This is not the story. I know people experience their buttons falling off of their clothes the whole time. But for me, this incident opened up a hidden wound that I’ve been struggling to cope with for the past three and a half years.

If I were at home, in Gaza, this button would never fall. You know why? Whenever I bought a new jacket or a shirt with nice buttons on it, my dad would take them and re-sew the buttons tightly, so that there is no chance that I would lose any of them. My dad would do this for all my family members. Given his awareness of my quite extreme clumsiness, he would put extra care in my clothes.

Three years and a half have passed since I saw any of my parents, my heroes. Three years and I’m still counting. This counting hurts, especially considering that Israel and its neighbouring ally Egypt are collaborating to tighten the stranglehold over Gaza, making the reunion with my parents an uncertain issue. My story is one among the thousands of Palestinian families who have been left dispersed due to this brutal siege on Gaza and the ghettoization of the remainder of Palestinian lands by the Israeli colonial occupation.

Skype is now my crouch that I lean on to ease the pain, but Skype doesn’t allow me to touch their skin, or contemplate the new wrinkles that appear on their faces. It stands in the way of feeling the full extent of their unconditional love such that I live on its memory to recharge myself. It doesn’t allow me to show how much I love them, in return. 

My heart jumps when I think of my parents, or when I see or do anything that reminds me of them. I terribly miss their physical presence around me. Despite the distance and the years that have passed away from them, I see them with my eyes closed, and I strongly feel their presence. I think of them for tranquillity, for peace.

My parent, my heroes, my life without you is exile. You will always remain my home. A reunion is bound to come.

UK student leaders slammed for Israel trip

This article was first published at the Electronic Intifada.

Many pro-Israel propaganda trips for students are indirectly funded by Israel. (StandWithUS)

Many pro-Israel propaganda trips for students are indirectly funded by Israel. (StandWithUS)

Student union leaders in the UK and Ireland have been slammed for accepting expenses-paid propaganda trips to Israel.

Palestinian students on Tuesday condemned the trip as a “whitewash” of “Israeli crimes and decades-long oppression of our people.”

statement signed by Palestinian student groups and unions across Historic Palestine said that “far from being ‘educational,’ these trips focus on giving a one-sided, pro-apartheid vision of our reality here in Palestine.”

The call came after Shakira Martin, a vice president of Britain’s National Union of Students, last week annouced her intention to accept the trip on Facebook, a day before her departure.

She wrote that it was “essential I listen to the voices of my membership and educate myself on particular issues such as Israel and Palestine to ensure that I make informed decisions as a leader.”

But the Palestinian students’ statement said that “participants on such trips have met with Israeli officials, military officers and even visited illegal settlements – actively normalizing their existence despite the breach of Palestinian land rights and international law, which they represent.”

A group of college students has launched a petition calling on the NUS’ executive committee to hold these officers to account.


The NUS has repeatedly voted in favor of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Martin herself voted in favor of BDS in 2015. “I’m proud to support peace and justice for Palestine,” she said in her 2015 election speech, “because everyone has the right to free education and not military occupation.”

Malaka Mohammed, a Palestinian activist and PhD student in the UK, commented on Martin’s Facebook page that she wondered “how someone would get educated when they’re going on a sponsored-trip representing one side of the conflict.”

“Would they get you to see Palestinian families who lost their loved ones in occupied territories?” Mohammed asked. “Or those detained for no charge or trial? Or maybe families of over 400 children in Israeli jails? Or those whose lands are confiscated? Or maybe my family in Gaza who lost many of their neighbors and friends? The answer is unfortunately no … You will get educated for sure but on what they want you to see and learn.”

Martin’s trip was organized by the Union of Jewish Students, a staunchly pro-Israel organization which receives funding from the Israeli embassy in London, as revealed by a recent undercover documentary.

Al Jazeera’s film The Lobby also showed that Richard Brooks, another NUS vice president, had been plotting with pro-Israel activists to overthrow elected NUS president Malia Bouattia, a supporter of Palestinian rights.

Normalizing apartheid

The film led to the resignations of Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy, and Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant who plotted the downfall of a senior UK government minister along with Masot.

Investigations have been launched into Strizzolo and Brooks.

Palestine societies in the UK last week wrote a letter to Martin urging her to uphold her previously stated position on BDS. “You risk being part of Israel’s attempt to ‘rebrand’ and whitewash its apartheid system,” they wrote.

The letter says that “standing with Palestine means more than holding flags and verbal solidarity  – not only did you fail to live up to your words, but you are using your power and agency to normalize apartheid.”

The trip Martin accepted appears to be part of a wider wave of such pro-Israel propaganda visits of student leaders this month.

Angela Alexander, women’s officer in NUS Scotland, also disclosed in a Facebook post that she joined the same UJS trip.

screenshots of NUS-USI President Fergam McFerran's Facebook post on 20 Jan 2017 revealing his presence in an Israeli illegal settlement

A screenshot of NUS-USI President Fergal McFerran’s Facebook post on 20 Jan 2017 revealing his presence in an Israeli illegal settlement

And Fergal McFerran, president of the NUS Union of Students in Ireland, unintentionally revealed his presence in an illegal settlement in Israeli-occupied Syria last week.

A posting to his Facebook page on an unrelated subject revealed a location of Kidmat Tzvi, an Israeli colony in the occupied Golan Heights.

McFerran later deleted the post and reposted it without a location specified.

So far, McFerran has failed to publicly disclose his trip, and it hasn’t been made clear whether he was on the same UJS delegation.

A third NUS vice president, Shelly Asquith, last week disclosed that she declined an “all-expenses-paid trip to Israel on account of my role” in NUS. The offer was made by StandWithUS, a strongly pro-Israel group which has received Israeli government funding.

“I would not take up such a trip because NUS’s policy is to support the BDS movement,” Asquith posted on Facebook. “These trips are part of a public relations exercise to encourage people to view Israel in a favorable way in the context of the ‘conflict.’ They are open about that purpose.”

Women Revolt: Between Media Resistance and the Reinforcement of Oppressive Gender Structures

Below is the abstract of an academic article I published at Kohl JournalTo read the article in full, press here.

Abstract: After a video accidently caught a sexual harassment incident I was subjected to at the Rafah border, my body became the ground upon which the most hegemonic ideological powers operating in Gaza fought for dominance. The video pushed me and my personhood to the margins under the rubric of my “protection” as a woman, an issue that is perceived by the general community as “common sense.” The media discourse that surrounded the incident demonstrates women’s multiple struggles in the Palestinian community and the central role that media and power structures play in defining and reinforcing certain hegemonic discourses, such as patriarchy. However, women have performed uncountable examples of implicit and explicit resistance to reclaim their agency in the face of oppression and patriarchy. In my case, social media tools allowed me to reclaim the original context of the event and expose the patriarchal cultural traditions that reduces women to their bodies and restricts and marginalises them. It also succeeded in paving the ground for more open discussion around the violations the women are subjected to on a daily basis in public and private spheres, and challenged the cultural taboo around sexual violence against women.

This pictures featured me stranded behind Rafah Border Crossing on 29 September 2013

This picture features me behind Rafah Border Crossing, protesting against its closure on 29 September 2013