A Long Walk to Freedom

So last night I watched the new film Mandela: A long walk to freedom and what a brilliant film it was. (Don’t worry, I won’t give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet!)

All throughout the film I could not help but relate it to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and notice the mutual struggle of the native South Africans under apartheid rule and Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Watching this film really was an emotional rollercoaster for me. (And I have to admit I did cry a good three times…Thank God for my pocket tissues!)

As the film takes you through Mandela’s fight for freedom, there were times where I felt perhaps the best thing for the Palestinians would be for us to be revolutionaries and fight for our country, for our land, for our Palestine. To be more like Mandela’s wife as portrayed in the film who channels her anger and frustration at the apartheid system to encourage people to use violent means to bring it down (although this never actually worked). At one point in the film, she gives a speech and declares, “although we may not have AK47s, we have stones and we have our hands.” Sounds a little like the Palestinian struggle, no?

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[Palestinians’ daily struggle through Israeli checkpoints]

Just as it happened in South Africa, maybe we need more bloodshed, more martyrs and more people resisting Israel for us to gain international support and awareness. Palestinians deserve the right to self-determination and the right to determine their own future in the very land that they come from, no?

Then as the film went on, I noticed how Mandela spent more than 25 years locked up in prison, sacrificed his family and his life for his country and then turned around at the end of it all and publicly declared his forgiveness to those in power, I could not help but admire him for his grace, humility and devotion to peace.

Mandela represented hope for the black people in South Africa. He was an advocate of peace and non-violent resistance as a means of achieving freedom and was lucky enough to live the downfall of apartheid and see his people liberated.

So the film made me think, are the Palestinians fighting the right battles?

I have long heard people (Palestinians and Arabs especially) refusing to accept the existence of Israel (some even refuse to say the word by the way). People talk about how Palestine belongs to the Palestinians and will always belong to them (including the cities that are now in Israel), referring to Tel Aviv as Tel al-Rabi (the name it used to be called when it was a Palestinian village) and publicly declaring their denial of Israel’s existence.

But does this actually lead anywhere?

Realistically, are we ever going to get Palestine back?

Are we ever really going to be able to rightfully return the homes back to the millions of Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon?

Or is this just the less painful way, to stay in denial and pretend like Israel doesn’t exist? Is that what they mean when they say ignorance is bliss?

The Palestinian people have certainly paid a heavy price for Israel’s existence and continue to suffer a great tragedy at the hands of the occupation. But from what I can see, it takes a great deal of courage to accept the painful reality that Israel isn’t going anywhere, especially when it has gained the support and backing of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America.

Ever since my trip to Palestine three years ago, I have felt a strong connection to my homeland, a feeling that has been ingrained in me ever since and it has been a constant Ping-Pong game in my head.

Am I turning my back on my country if I accept Israel exists? Or am I just avoiding accepting the reality of the situation and obfuscating any possible solutions for the Palestinians through wishful thinking?

My family has directly suffered at the expense of creating a homeland for the Jews. My grandmother used to share tales with us of how they fled their home in Jaffa in 1948 with only a few possessions and the key to their home. My grandfather told her not to take any more because they would be coming back as soon as things had settled down. Years later, my grandparents both passed away having never returned back to their home.

So I understand the frustration. I understand the struggle and I understand the unfairness of it all. I am after all a second generation exiled Palestinian. I just question whether we are fighting the right battles and what help it will really do for us if we continue to live in the past.

Inspired by a man of wisdom, should we reconsider what we are fighting for?

Nablus; a city surrounded by settlements

A friend of mine is visiting from the US and I decided to take her on a trip to Nablus. It is her first visit to Palestine so I thought it would be nice to take her to a few cities to give her a taster of what life is like here. The girl grew up in Oceanside; a town on Long Island, New York where Orthodox Jews make up the majority of the population and so I knew being here was going to be a huge shock for her.

On our way to Nablus, we passed two Israeli border crossings guarded by soldiers that looked no more than our own age. They were carrying huge guns and looking suspiciously at all the cars driving past. The first question my friend asked me was, “Why are there Israeli checkpoints between Palestinian cities?”

Thankfully we were not stopped, although this came as no surprise considering I was sat in the front and both my friend and I could easily pull off being European tourists. Once we had gotten through the checkpoints and arrived in Nablus, I took a picture of one of the very first things we saw.

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Nablus is a city entirely enclosed by settlements on both the East and West side. The Palestinians live within the U-shaped valley and on the tops of the two hills are settlements. These illegal settlements are placed strategically so they can close in on the Palestinians and most of the settlers hold weapons for ‘safety’ purposes. Wow do I just laugh every time I hear someone justify Israel’s actions using the term ‘safety’.

The apartheid wall? Oh, that’s for ‘safety’ purposes.

Palestinians banned from riding motorcycles outside of cities? Oh, that’s for ‘safety’ purposes.

Settlers required to hold guns? Oh, that’s also for ‘safety’ purposes.

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[Jewish Settlers]

For those of you that have been to Nablus or decide to go, when you’re in the city just look at the very tops of the hills around you and you will just about make out the settlements. I can’t help but feel sad and frustrated whenever I see these illegal settlements.

Did you know the settlers in the Yitzhar settlement in Nablus are known to be one of the worst and most aggressive settlers in the whole of the West Bank?

Settler attacks in Nablus happen on a regular basis because the settlements are built close to Palestinian communities, but the Israeli authorities rarely prosecute these attacks. Just last week, Jewish settlers attacked a school in Nablus, smashed the glass, destroyed 5 Palestinian-owned cars and burnt down olive trees in a local village. Funny how they choose to destroy olive trees right before the olive harvest season when Palestinian villagers go to pick olives in preparation for Eid celebrations.

On our drive to Nablus, we had to pass more than one checkpoint guarded by Israelis. We were driving in a Palestinian car (you can tell these cars because the number plate has a white background and green numbers) and so we are not allowed to drive on the ‘Israeli’ roads. Israel built by-pass roads to connect Israeli settlements in the West Bank, separate from the roads the Palestinians use. Why?

Well of course, it is for ‘safety’ purposes.

Having spent the whole day walking through the Old City and seeing some of the old historical sites in Nablus, I couldn’t help but notice the two Palestinian refugee camps we walked past. Balata refugee camp, the one by Jacob’s Well and Joseph’s Tomb (two Jewish sites) is the biggest camp in the whole of the West Bank and is home to over 30,000 Palestinians. Most of these refugees were kicked out of their homes in Jaffa and Lydd in 1948 – these cities are now part of Israel.

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[Palestinian refugees in Balata]

Do you know a small portion of the refugees in Balata do not even hold any identification papers? They do not have refugee status neither do they have Palestinian ID. Legally they are citizens of no country, they are nobodies. People with no land and no identity.

The camp they live in is so overcrowded that people literally live on top of one another. It makes me sad to see the dire conditions that these people live in, especially when you contrast it with the living standards in Israel and the settlements around the West Bank.

The refugees in Balata are human beings, who once had beautiful homes like you and I in cities by the sea. Can you imagine one day being kicked out of your own home without warning and never being allowed to return?

Having been in Palestine for almost 2 months now, I still cannot seem to grasp how people think the occupation is a controversial topic. I cannot tell you how many times my American friend mentioned to me, “I cannot believe what I am seeing, this is crazy!” I should probably also point out that she has no attachment to the land; she is neither a Palestinian nor an Arab and yet she is still outraged by what she has seen.

There is barely any controversy at all when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This ‘peace process’ that everybody keeps talking about is just a distraction while Israel finishes its ethnic cleansing process. Don’t believe me?

Then why is that you will not find one Palestinian who is pro-Israeli, but many Israeli Jews stand against the actions of their own state? Doesn’t that say something?

Palestine is a beautiful place and its people here are even more beautiful. I can only hope that one day the truth will get out in time to change these horrifying circumstances.

On a side note, I had the BEST knafeh of my life in Nablus. Hope the picture doesn’t make you too jealous.

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Eid Mubarak everyone!

A New Way of Thinking

While the Jews in Israel celebrate their independence every year in May, Palestinians remember it as the time when hundreds of their villages were destroyed, civilians were massacred in huge numbers and more than 800,000 men, women and children were displaced from their homes (including my grandparents).

Palestinian_refugees[Palestinian families dispelled from their homes; 1948]

60 years down the line and Palestinians are still living under occupation. Of the total Palestinian population 45% of us are refugees (and that doesn’t even count the unregistered refugees) – that’s around 5.3 million people worldwide.
5.3 MILLION.

Each year we lose more of our land and more children are born detached from their Palestinian roots. Ask any diaspora Palestinian about their origins and you’ll find each one has a more complicated story than the next.

Now lets not dwell on the past because what’s done is done. Fast-forward to the year 2013 and the solution for the future.

Clearly our chances of establishing our own Palestinian state have long been eroded. There are now over 550,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank most of who are living in Jerusalem. What are we supposed to do with these Jewish settlers – throw them out? What about the millions of refugees? What about the question of Jerusalem – is it our capital or theirs?

Too many questions and no one to answer them.

For me it’s very simple. Just as we do not deny the persecution of the Jews and their struggle for freedom for hundreds of years, the Palestinians should be given that same acknowledgment of suffering.

If we were given the same civil and political rights as Israelis and treated equally, we could all live under one roof. We could learn and teach one another. We could have citizens speaking both Hebrew and Arabic. We could be one people living under one rule of law. We could have a government comprising of both representatives of Palestinians and Israelis. It would mean an end to the brutal occupation that discriminates against Arabs and shuns their rights and it would mean an end to Israel’s unsustainable ‘iron fist’ policy. It would be mutually beneficial.

Heck, if they wanna call the country “Israel” then fine we will call it “Israel” – so long as we are not discriminated against for being Palestinian. We did not choose to be Palestinians, just as Jews did not choose to be Jewish.

But no, maybe I am too idealistic. Zionists would never let that happen. The idea contradicts their dream to create a homeland for the Jews, a purely Jewish state. The idea contradicts their desire to ethnically cleanse and destroy our national, cultural and geographic connections to the homeland.

So what do we do?

We continue to resist and fight the occupation.

Israel wants new generation Palestinians and the diaspora to forget and lose our attachment to the land, they do not want us to fight and they do not want us to remember our identity.

I vow to never be one of these people.

I am Palestinian and I do not forget.