Testimony from a Gaza resident about Palestinian divisions, understanding and the role of internationals in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The following is the transcript of a talk given at the AICafe in Beit Sahour on 16 June by a resident of the Gaza Strip, who has requested to remain anonymous. Transcribed by Emma Flesche.
Thank you all for attending my talk tonight, I really appreciate it. I am not a politician, nor do I work in the government. I am a regular man from Gaza who works with children. What I am about to say is only a reflection of what I’ve seen, it is only my opinion. I see that there are mostly foreigners here tonight, and this makes me sad. I wish more Palestinians would come, as I feel they are the ones who need to know what is happening.
I want to start with the beginning of last year’s Israeli aggression – because it was an aggression, not a war. After the attack, everyone I’ve met has asked me how I felt during the attack. I don’t know how to describe it. It is very difficult for me to describe our feelings while we were being chased by bombs with nowhere to go. We had very high hopes of the Palestinians and international community – they are our only hope. We wanted someone, anyone, to take action, to awaken people’s consciousness and to say, “Stop! That’s enough.” I will not talk about the number of martyrs and those wounded, we all know this from the media. This is still very hard to talk about. It is more important to talk about Gaza as it is now, a year after the aggression. To be honest, during my visit here in the West Bank and 1948, I have been very frustrated. I feel like you have let us down.
In the beginning, there was a moment where we felt close to each other. I am sorry to say this, but we did, and we felt like all Palestinians stood together in resistance. The resistance movement, whoever they were, published a declaration about their motives, which included the release of prisoners in Israeli jails. We rose together for the dignity of the Palestinian people – we were standing with each other, supporting each other. It was a very beautiful feeling, to stand with our brothers in the West Bank and 1948. Where did this solidarity go? It is a pity that after the aggression ended the solidarity disappeared. One year later, I want to tell you that none of the displaced people have returned to their homes. The few who did were those whose houses were only partially destroyed and who had the money to repair them. The rest are in temporary accommodation provided by the international community, which claimed it would rebuild the houses, or they live in hospitals and schools. The shelters are of very poor quality; many of them were destroyed in winter. As a Gazan I was very frustrated to visit the West Bank now. I wanted to come here to see what it is we are dying for.
My goal in coming here was to help my brothers understand our lives and situation. In Bethlehem, I have heard many speak highly of the resistance rocket that landed in Beit Sahour last summer. They tell me they were happy to see it, and said “Welcome, Gaza!” Is this all you know about Gaza?
I want to direct this to the Palestinians in the West Bank. We all curse the Palestinian Authority. We lack proper leadership, and we need to be honest about this with each other. But we also need to realise that this leadership will not come out of the blue. We must change it ourselves. There is a long-standing division between us, ever since the UNRWA decided to stamp the cards – you’re a refugee, you’re a Gazan, you’re a Jerusalemite. As a small child, I remember standing in lines waiting for flour and sugar rations. At the end of the line, we have to smile in pictures with our foreign saviours. We had our own refugee schools and clinics. Internal divisions exist even within Gaza, and it creates suffering.
I want to talk about the real division. Where are the people of the West Bank? We all know that Ramallah is not the whole West Bank, and that the Snowbar bar is not the whole of Ramallah. Where are you while people are sleeping in the streets and in the schools? Of course, the main reason is the occupation, and this aggression last summer is the garbage of the occupation. How much longer must we take this? What is happening in the West Bank currently is an attempt to become, economically, like Europe. Life is now about loans, buying a house and car, having regular vacations. While we were waiting for the support of countries like France and Italy, they were too busy with their daily lives and loan repayments. This is a political agenda, and it is being transported here. Even Palestinians are too busy to care about the cause. Many Gazans, too.
Recently, people have been talking about establishing an independent state in Gaza. This is a natural development because of the many aggressions and the siege. However, today I went to a shop close to the Al-Aqsa mosque to buy something that said “Free Palestine.” The owner of the shop was very welcoming, but he was very worried about the rumours of this independent state. When I looked around the shop I saw that he was selling many items which said “Shalom from Israel”, “Israel is Peace” and so on. I felt so ashamed and disgusted to be there and wanted to leave immediately. You’re not just selling a shirt, you are selling an identity. He told me that if there is a state in Gaza, Jerusalem will be next. Can we tell these people that bombs were dropped over so many neighbourhoods, over my own neighbourhood, and that I know of a woman who was forced to leave her three year old behind because she had a baby? He died, by the way. So can I report this to her brothers in Jerusalem? Shall I tell them that our brothers in the West Bank know nothing about us?
We talk about this last aggression as if there were no previous attacks on Gaza in 2008 and 2012. These attacks have already been forgotten, and we will forget this one, too.The truth is that we never stopped crying through these attacks, and we will never be able to stop crying. Every man, woman and child witnessed many heartaches. If I was to talk about each one, we could fill up articles and books.
It is important to me that we do not compare suffering. It is not acceptable when people in 1948 tell me, “So what, so you saw some people dying? We died a thousand deaths every day.” It is not acceptable when someone tells me “we suffer more than you because of the settlers in Hebron.” People in Gaza are still suffering. People lost so many family members and friends. And those who were wounded are still suffering today, especially those who became disabled as a result of the aggression. The lifestyle in Gaza has become so much more expensive because of the siege and the bombing of the tunnels. Only a few tunnels are left and they mainly smuggle cigarettes through them. Hamas has been forced to impose high taxes to try and run the country, and only a few goods that have been approved by the Israeli government can be imported to Gaza. There are restrictions on metal, as it has the potential to be used in tunnels and rockets, and the price of wood has skyrocketed because of its use in tunnels. We wanted to use wood for children’s toys, but it is so expensive. Goods are divided into two categories – essentials and luxury. Luxury goods include clothes and food.
I want to say one final thing to the internationals. Honestly, it is fine that there are many foreigners here tonight. I want to emphasis that the situation is still the responsibility of the international community. The fact that they are not doing their duty means they are supporting the occupation and violations against the rights of the Palestinians. Don’t take it the wrong way, I say this out of love – we do not need anyone to tell us how to fight or how to talk. You are not doing us a favour by doing this. I have met internationals who seem to consider themselves more Palestinian than actual Palestinians, and who feel they can do whatever they want. They are not listening to what the Palestinians want. This behaviour is part of the problem, not the solution. You must understand that other places need them, even their own countries. They can do much more in their own countries to support the Palestinian cause and others in need. This is my message to the internationals and the activists in Palestine.
I want to close by saying enough with the theories and speeches, the right to return and all of this. I want to ask my brothers to think and learn their lessons. I know you cannot come and see it with your own eyes; I’ve waited five years for this visa to the West Bank myself. But what are our alternatives? Where is the revolutionary feeling of 1987? I ask of you to talk about us, and to keep in touch. It is the least we can do. In Italy, I heard of a group of Israelis who live close to Gaza and want to establish a dialogue between themselves and the Gazans. If even Israelis are saying this, why can’t we do that in the West Bank? I am not necessarily for negotiations, but I do support talking to good people, wherever they may be from.
More from AIC at their official website.