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It will take more than sympathy to save refugees from drowning in lifejackets

This article was first published at Media Diversified on 21 September 2016. 

As world leaders were meeting in New York for the UN Migration Summit on Monday, activists transformed Parliament Square, the doorstep of British decision makers, into a graveyard of thousands of lifejackets. These lifejackets had once been worn by refugees that made it to the European beaches. No one knows if they arrived alive or as a lifeless unidentified body.

I am a refugee myself for the second time of my life in the UK; I was born as a third-generation refugee in Gaza’s Jabalia Refugee Camp, and I have recently been granted refugee status in the UK. But I am one of the lucky ones who managed to enter this country on a student visa by airplane and claim asylum successfully. Over the years I’ve met so many refugees who are stuck behind closed borders, putting up with bureaucratic barriers that they experience as a slow death sentence.

More than solidarity is needed

When I first saw the display, I was stricken by the children’s lifejackets which made up the majority of them. It evoked the picture of the Syrian refugee child Alan Kurdi, whose little body laid dead at the shores of Turkey. Though his story resulted in a growing movement of solidarity with refugees, this movement hasn’t yet been strong enough to force world leaders to take concrete actions to help these refugees and offer alternative safe passages to such deadly routes.

graveyardThis graveyard of lifejackets places Alan in context of the 4,176 people who have died or gone missing on the Mediterranean since his death, according to UNCHR. These numbers are most likely to be rising as world leaders are discussing at the UN Migration Summit.

This disturbing scene aims to remind world’s decision makers of the ongoing suffering of tens of thousands of refugees who continue to take such deadly routes as they flee war and persecution. It is a call for immediate actions, based on humanity and solidarity, to put this suffering to an end. Most importantly, it is to emphasize that such decisions are about lives that do not have the luxury of time. These refugees continue to lead a daily struggle for survival.

Untold Stories Behind Numbers

So many stories behind these numbers have gone untold. Rahela Sidiqi, trustee of Women for Refugee Women and an Afghan refugee in the UK, narrated some of these stories that floated on the surface of her memory as she saw this scene. “I automatically remember my friends, my relatives, and so many people who died in the Mediterranean,” she said with eyes open wide as she contemplated the display of lifejackets. “A relative of a friend of mine who was 7-months pregnant died in the Mediterranean as she fled war in Afghanistan. Her husband has gone mad following her death that he couldn’t see any evidence for, except for her disappearance. He gave up on the humanity of world and decided to stay in Turkey, waiting in vain to find the dead body of his wife.”

In her work with Women for Refugee Women, Ms Sidiqi has visited the Calais Jungle Camp to meet vulnerable women stuck at the borders after surviving terrifying journeys. “A lady I met in the Jungle was in the middle of the ocean with her four children when the engine of the boat suddenly went off,” she recalled. “Her only wish to God was not to die in the ocean because she didn’t want her dead body to go missing or unidentified, and to be reduced to a number among the thousands of victims. She survived that terrible crossing, but she is still stuck behind closed borders, in limbo under unlivable conditions, waiting for a safe passage for her and her children.”

We, refugees, are increasingly facing different forms of anti-refugee attitudes from the public and even official bodies in our host countries, including detention, deportation, interrogation. Such ill-treatment is encouraged by the distorted narrative of xenophobia and fear against refugees. This narrative that frames us as a “threat”, “burden” or “problem”, not as an added value to the society. Such a narrative should be discussed at the UN Migration Summit and challenged.

When we think about the alarming numbers of refugees who continue to be forced to undertake such deadly journeys, we must think about their suffering. But also about the utter failure of others to understand, to empathize and to take action.

Art in Palestine: A narrative and mobilisation tool and a necessary means of survival

Reflections

Figue 1: Reflections

Introduction

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:

For the Sake of the Sun

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).

صورة

I’m Palestine

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

Violated Childhood

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:

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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).

 

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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.

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 Humanising Prisoners’ issue through art

chains shall break

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

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 freedom

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.

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 Conclusion

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.

 

 

UK student union elects Palestine campaigner president

This article was first published at The Electronic Intifada.

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Malia Bouattia (center, holding flag) celebrates passing a 2014 pro-BDS union policy. (NUS NEC)

Anti-racism activist Malia Bouattia was elected president of the UK’s National Union of Students at their conference Wednesday.

Bouattia is well-known for her public stances in support of many causes, including the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, or BDS. For years she has successfully campaigned in favor of passing BDS resolutions within the NUS.

She has given many speeches encouraging students to back BDS and observe its guidelines within their campuses – especially the boycott of Israeli academic institutions complicit in abuses of Palestinian rights.

After serving as the Black students’ officer, Bouattia will be the first Black Muslim woman elected president in the 94 years of NUS history.

Smears

When the NUS passed its latest BDS motion in June last year, the Israeli prime minister falsely claimed the organization supported Islamic State, the violent extremist group also known as ISIS.

“They boycott Israel but they refuse to boycott ISIS. That tells you everything you want to know about the BDS movement. They condemn Israel and do not condemn ISIS,” Benjamin Netanyahu claimed. He repeated the same allegation on Twitter.

Predictably, right-wing media have recycled this same lie to demonize Bouattia and have also attempted to smear her as anti-Semitic.

But the truth was that the NUS national executive council adopted a resolution at its 3 December 2014 meeting that called for ISIS to be “condemned” as “a reactionary terrorist organization that carries out atrocities” against people of the regions where it operates.

Not only that, but it was Bouattia herself who submitted the motion, speaking in its favor at the meeting where it was adopted with no speakers against it.

The previous September, the executive had rejected a motion on Kurdish solidarity that contained similar language, but its decision had nothing to do with the condemnation of ISIS whatsoever. The resolution was considered flawed because it encouraged students to spy on each other.

The BBC’s website on Wednesday initially claimed that Bouattia had “refused to condemn” ISIS.

After outrage at this false claim was expressed on social media, the BBC appears to have removed that particular lie from the article, but without issuing a correction or apology.

The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported Bouattia’s victory with the headline, “UK student union’s new president supports Palestinian ‘resistance.’” The article repeats and amplifies the false allegations found in UK media that Bouattia is an ISIS sympathizer.

Smears

Bouattia anticipated these media attacks.

In her winning election speech at the NUS national conference, she said: “I know many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by right-wing media. You will have read that I am a terrorist, that my politics are driven by hate.”

“How wrong that is,” she said, given her background of having to flee her home country Algeria and seek refuge in the UK.

As a seven-year-old child, she “saw a country ripped apart by terror” and was “pushed to exile by its doing.”

“I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution. I faced it every day,” she said, promising, “I will continue to fight, in all its forms, whoever its targets, whether it is anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia or any other bigoted idea.”

Addressing the prime minister, she said “David Cameron may not like me or our movement, but when we’re strong he’s forced to listen.”

You can watch the rest of her electrifying speech in the video above.

Anti-racist

BDS campaigners, including many Jews, are systemically smeared with the false charge of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel media and campaign groups. So Bouattia is no exception in this regard.

Prior to her victory, several UK Jewish student societies sent her an open letter questioning her “past rhetoric” against Zionism.

She replied in an open letter rejecting the accusations and emphasizing that disagreement over “anti-Zionist politics” is “a political argument, not one of faith.”

Bouattia made sure to draw the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, reaffirming that efforts to conflate them “are dangerous and have become the excuse for many racist and fascist attacks up and down the country and in the world, which I am sure we all want to end.”

Bouattia’s activism is driven by her passion towards fighting racism of all forms.

This has been evident in her campaigning, which has ranged from supporting Holocaust memorial day to efforts to combat Islamophobia.

Zionism is a settler-colonial ideology and practice that led to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands. To this day Israel continues to discriminate against Palestinians based on this ethno-religious ideology, especially by refusing to allow refugees to return to their lands solely on the basis that they are not Jewish.

Islamophobia

Bouattia was one of the main campaigners behind the recent launch of the Students Not Suspects campaign, which aimed at fighting the UK government’s Islamophobic “anti-radicalization” strategy, Prevent.

She appeared in this recent video that aimed to mobilize students and academics to put an end to Prevent on UK campuses.

Prevent “forces colleges and universities to spy on students,” the video explains. It creates “a climate of suspicion around students’ political and religious view,” and promotes “a culture of surveillance and self-censorship,” which is aimed at silencing students and restricting academic freedom.

“Because of the racialized way that counter-terrorism initiatives are formed,” Bouattia says in the video, “it’s black and Muslim students that are most at risk. And so far they’ve been disproportionately targeted.”

The video also mentions two cases previously reported by The Electronic Intifada: the academic conference on Israel at Southampton University which has been banned two years in a row, and the Bath University conference on conflict in the modern world which was subjected to UK and Israeli government monitoring last year.

Bouattia’s election is a sign of changing times in the UK student movement.

Back in 2009, the then president of NUS Wes Streeting not only campaigned against BDS, he went so far as to join an Israeli government anti-BDS working group in Jerusalem which slandered the nonviolent civil society movement as “evil.”

Now a right-wing MP in the Labour party, Streeting Wednesday reacted to the election of the first non-white NUS president in the union’s history by claiming that the “NUS is lost.”

Students protest SOAS director’s meeting with Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev

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On Wednesday, Mark Regev tweeted his picture with SOAS director Valerie Amos after what he called “good meeting”.

Students at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, protested on Thursday over an unannounced meeting between their institution’s director and Mark Regev, the new Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Previously the Israeli prime minister’s spokesperson, Regev is a familiar face on television screens where he has often defended military attacks on Palestinians.

He started his new role as ambassador in London on Monday.

On Wednesday, Regev posted on Twitter a photo of himself posing with SOAS director Valerie Amos, after they had had what he termed a “good meeting.”

Dozens of students gathered outside SOAS Thursday chanting: “BDS go! Amos and Regev no!”

Students also protested outside Amos’ office, calling for a free Palestine.

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.”

Apology demanded

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.”

Boycott

In February last year, SOAS students celebrated a huge victory after a referendum to endorse an academic boycott of Israel.

An overwhelming 73 percent voted in favor.

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.

Relentless

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.”

Escaped political prisoner assassinated by Israel in Bulgaria, say family

An escaped Palestinian political prisoner has been assassinated in Bulgaria, say his family.

Omar Nayef Zayed was found dead inside the Palestinian Authority’s embassy in Sofia on Friday.

Omar’s brother Hamza told the news publication Al-Hadf that Omar’s wife was informed by the PA that an unidentified group raided the embassy and murdered Zayed.

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.

PA involvement?

“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.”

Fled occupation

Israeli media on Friday made unsubstantiated insinuations that Zayed had committed suicide.

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.

The burning of Palestinian toddler: not an exception, but a result of Zionism

Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha burned to death in an arson attack by Israeli Settlers

Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha burned to death in an arson attack by Israeli Settlers

Overnight on Friday, 31 July, a group of masked Jewish settlers threw firebombs through a window of the Dawabsha family house in Kufr Douma, near Nablus. They fell in the bedroom where the whole family had been sleeping peacefully, setting the house on fire. The arsonists left graffiti, reading “revenge” and “long live the Messiah”, alongside a Star of David on the walls as their footnotes to this atrocious attack. They then fled, according to local witnesses, to the illegal settlement of Ma’aleh Ephraim, where approximately 1,800 armed settlers live under the security of the Israeli occupation forces.

18-month-old Ali Dawabsha was found a charred body. The rest of the family, Ali’s parents and his four-year-old brother, survived the fire with critical injuries. The aftermath inside the house is horrifying: utter destruction and black walls, burnt clothes and photos of the family laid on the ground, among them Ali’s smiling photos and his tiny white bib reading “Good morning Mama”.

This Israeli attack is another crime in the never-ending Nakba the Palestinian people have endured since Zionism’s inception. Ali is another Mohammed Abu Khudeir, who was burnt alive by a group of settlers in Jerusalem on 2 July 2014. He is another Palestinian child falling prey to the Israeli murder machine, as Palestinians commemorate the first anniversary of Israel’s 51-day offensive on Gaza, which it called ‘Operation Protective Edge’, during the summer of 2014. Over 2,200 people were brutally killed, mostly civilians, including 551 children.

This morning Israeli leaders rushed to feign humanity and condemn the arson, calling it a “terror attack”. The Times of Israel reported that Natanyahu expressed his “shock” at what he called a “horrific, heinous act”, before saying, “The State of Israel deals forcefully with terror, regardless of who the perpetrators are.” It also reported that Netanyahu’s remarks were echoed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the Israeli Defense Forces. At the same time, heavily armed Israeli forces spread across the West Bank to employ collective-punishment policies against Palestinians and prevent any rage from being expressed. As I write this, several injuries to Palestinians were reported after Ali Dawabsha’s funeral.  Update at 11 pm: One of the injured people, 14-year-old Laith al-Khaldi just passed away.

As a Palestinian who is well-informed about the history of bloodshed and dispossession inflected on Palestinians who collectively bear the trauma of our encounter with Zionism, and one who carries the memories of many brutal Israeli attacks on Gaza, this claimed “shock” didn’t hit me. It rather outraged me at Israel’s crocodile tears and pretentious humanitarianism, despite its brutal military occupation of West Bank, the continued expansion of its illegal settlements, the suffocating siege of the Gaza Strip that remains in ruins after Israel’s genocidal war last summer, and its ongoing assertion of itself as a “Jewish state”, not a state for its citizens, as it discriminates against 1948 Palestinian citizens of Israel, or what its leaders call a “potential fifth column”.

The world should not look at today’s appalling incident as a singular event. It is another link in the Zionist settler-colonial mentality which always sees Palestinians as an existential threat, dehumanises us and constantly views us as inferior and marginal. Israel cannot absolve its responsible for these settlers’ acts, nor pretend they don’t represent its own warped morality.

Israel is the one to blame, not only because it encourages illegal settlements to expand, arms settlers with advanced weapons and further protects them with its “defence” forces, but also because these actions are an extension of the longstanding Zionist enterprise that, as much as it sought to dehumanise Palestinians, in return dehumanised Israeli society. This is evident in the Israeli cultural discourse, which celebrates Israel and portrays it as a “heroic,” while ignoring the political and humanitarian costs “others” endure due to its “successes”. The persistent portrayal of Jews as “victims,” facing “hostile” and “terrorist” Palestinians, also feeds this mentality. Even Israeli children’s books are exploited to demonise Palestinians and Jew as victims against terrorist “Arabs”.

Today’s attack cannot be decontextualized. It is deeply connected to Israel’s celebrated “War of Independence,” which declared Israel as a Jewish state after a systematic process of ethnic cleansing that ranged between massacres, like that of Deir Yassin, to psychological violence, and made almost a million Palestinians refugees. These acts of terror reproduce the same mentality that led to the Kafr Kassim massacre of 1956, whose perpetrators were pardoned and freed after a year. An Israeli border police unit, for no reason whatsoever, opened fire at Palestinians returning from their farms, unaware of the new military curfew imposed on their village. The gunfire killed 49, almost half of them children. It is also the same mentality that led to the second mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1967.

According to an Israeli soldier whose testimony appeared in Haolam Haze, 10 October 1967:

We fired such shots every night on men, women and children. Even during moonlit nights when we could identify the people, that is distinguish between men, women, and children. In the mornings we searched the area and, by explicit order from the officer on the spot, shot the living, including those who hid or were wounded, again including the women and children.

And again, it is the same attitude that blames Palestinian civilians in Gaza for the collective punishment against them and periodic attacks that are, by Israel’s own dehumanising description, nothing more than “mowing the lawn” . The last Gaza attack was only the latest episode in this ongoing war of alleged “self-defence”.

The arson attack should be seen within this context of the Zionist state’s history of negating Palestinians and relentless attacks against our very existence. Most international media covered it as “unique” before emphasising Israeli leaders’ condemnation of it, suggesting that it was not representative of the state. It is absolutely representative and should be received with outrage, not against setters’ violence, but against their host regime that has been built and lives on terror, yet continues to be celebrated in the West’s political and cultural discourse, feeding its impunity. We should demand not just denunciation of this atrocious attack against 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha, but delegitimization of Israel and its Zionist ideology that produces and endorses such violence, and has long justified it morally and politically.

A year after Gaza attack, the world must stop supporting Israel’s crimes

My martyred uncle Mohammed Abu-Louz and his 2-year-old son

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, 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 the silence of 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.”

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