The will to live drives Pales­tini­ans

Un­armed peo­ple un­der seige in Gaza face Is­raeli sol­diers and Trump’s threat to Res­o­lu­tion 194

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Ah­mad Abu Rtemah

Iwas born in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. My par­ents are from the city of Ramle, in what is now known as Is­rael. Like most Pales­tinian refugees, I heard the sto­ries from my older fam­ily mem­bers about be­ing ex­pelled from their homes and land dur­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of Is­rael 70 years ago. Is­raelis cel­e­brate this as in­de­pen­dence. Pales­tini­ans know it as the Nakba — the catas­tro­phe.

No matter how many decades pass, they are never able to for­get the hor­rors they wit­nessed dur­ing their dis­pos­ses­sion and all the vi­o­lence and pain that came with it.

May 15 com­mem­o­rates the evic­tion of Pales­tini­ans from their homes and land and the cre­ation of Is­rael in 1948. The ex­o­dus of 50 000 to 70 000 Pales­tini­ans from Ramle and Ly­dda is also known as the Death March. But the dis­place­ment started much ear­lier and con­tin­ues to­day.

I have never seen my fam­ily’s home in Ramle, and my two chil­dren, aged two and seven, have never seen any­thing be­yond the con­fines of Gaza and the siege. They do not know a re­al­ity be­yond the sound of bombs, the dark­ness of night with no elec­tric­ity and the in­abil­ity to travel freely — or the fact that noth­ing about life in Gaza is nor­mal. The Nakba is not just a mem­ory; it is an on­go­ing re­al­ity. And, although we ac­cept that we all must even­tu­ally die, in Gaza the tragedy is that we don’t get to live.

Over the past six weeks, tens of thou­sands of pro­test­ers in Gaza have breathed life into a place that is slowly be­ing de­pleted of it. We have come to­gether, chant­ing and singing a song we have all longed for: “We will return.” We are bring­ing all that we have left in an at­tempt to re­claim our right to live in free­dom and jus­tice.

De­spite our peace­ful marches, we have been met with clouds of tear­gas and live fire from Is­raeli sol­diers. This is not new to Pales­tini­ans in Gaza.

Since the be­gin­ning of the siege al­most 11 years ago, the task of sim­ply sur­viv­ing each day is a chal­lenge. To wake up and have clean wa­ter and elec­tric­ity is now a lux­ury. The siege has been par­tic­u­larly hard on young peo­ple; the un­em­ploy­ment rate is 58%. What’s worse is that all of this is a re­sult of Is­raeli pol­icy, which can be changed. This harsh and dif­fi­cult life does not have to be the re­al­ity for Gaza.

It is as though dis­plac­ing us was not enough. It’s as if the en­tire mem­ory of Pales­tinian refugees must be con­tained and erased.

For the past six Fri­days, we have stood firm against all the pow­ers telling us to break and die in si­lence. We are march­ing for life. This is the protest of a peo­ple who want noth­ing more than to live in dig­nity — an end to the siege and the right to return to our homes.

I have worried for our safety as we came out in the thou­sands to what Is­rael deems a “no-go zone”. I have thought about the consequences. As I stood with my fam­ily near the Return March square in east­ern Khan You­nis, we were all tear­gassed. It was painful to see the in­no­cence of child­hood be­ing tainted by such a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence.

But what many peo­ple fail to recog­nise is that, whether we are in our homes or protest­ing in the fields, we are never truly safe in Gaza, nor are we truly alive. It is as though our en­tire ex­is­tence, and dreams of ever re­turn­ing home and liv­ing in dig­nity, must be hid­den in the dark.

But this year, af­ter United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael and the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing what he called the “deal of the cen­tury”, Pales­tini­ans have felt an im­mi­nent threat to the le­gal right of refugees to return, de­spite be­ing en­shrined in United Na­tions Res­o­lu­tion 194. It is a col­lec­tive worry that our rights as refugees are in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy and we must re­sist in an in­no­va­tive, uni­fied, rev­o­lu­tion­ary way — one that ex­ists out­side the pa­ram­e­ters of ne­go­ti­a­tions and fac­tion­al­ism — to place pres­sure on Is­rael to re­claim our rights.

Is­rael would have the world believe that we Pales­tini­ans will­ingly left our homes and chose this life of degra­da­tion, with­out ba­sic hu­man rights, and that we brought it on our­selves.

To­day, the Pales­tini­ans of Gaza are at­tempt­ing to break the chains that Is­rael has tried so hard to force us into. We are un­armed demon­stra­tors con­fronting armed sol­diers with peace­ful protest. As a re­sult, it is dif­fi­cult for Is­rael to smear us and jus­tify its bru­tal vi­o­lence, and the world is faced with the re­al­ity that in­no­cent civil­ians are be­ing killed for ex­er­cis­ing their right to protest peace­fully.

The ex­cuses Is­rael uses to jus­tify its poli­cies to­ward the Pales­tini­ans are slowly los­ing their ef­fec­tive­ness, as peo­ple around the world are in­creas­ingly real­is­ing that the true face of Is­rael is that of a bru­tal apartheid regime.

With the Great Return March, Pales­tini­ans in Gaza are stat­ing loudly and clearly that we are still here. For Is­rael, it is our iden­tity that is our crime, but we are cel­e­brat­ing the very iden­tity that Is­rael tries to crim­i­nalise. Peo­ple from all walks of life are join­ing the march. Artists are con­tribut­ing with the tra­di­tional dabke dance, in­tel­lec­tu­als are or­gan­is­ing read­ing cir­cles, en­ter­tain­ers are dress­ing as clowns and play­ing with chil­dren. What has been most strik­ing is the chil­dren — liv­ing and play­ing, their laugh­ter the great­est protest of all.

The UN has warned that Gaza may be un­in­hab­it­able in just two years. Re­sist­ing the fate that Is­rael has planned for us, we are fight­ing back peace­fully with our bod­ies and our love for life, ap­peal­ing for jus­tice.

Still here: Is­raeli troops fire tear gas at Pales­tini­ans at a peace­ful march for their return to their home­land. May 15 com­mem­o­rates the mass evic­tion of Pales­tini­ans from their land. Photo: Ibra­heem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

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