On Tuesday, March 20th City College of San Francisco’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine will host Ziad Abbas, co-director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, an organization that made recent headlines for its heroic dedication to showing the artwork of Gaza’s children in the face of censorship, and the amazing Maia water project, which brings water purification systems to schools where 95% of the water is undrinkable.
Abbas’s lecture, titled “Cultural Resistance of Marginality: a Personal Perspective on the Untold Stories of Palestinian Refugees,” will place his own experience growing up in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank in the context of the marginalization of this narrative within the peace process, while showcasing the potency of the refugee experience in Palestinian culture.
Despite attempts by Zionists to erase any reference to the 1948 ethnic cleansing that resulted in the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians, known as the Nakba, or catastrophe, refugees continue to fight for the recognition of their legitimate right to return to their places of birth enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and UN General Assembly Resolution 194. This steadfastness is reflected in Palestinian culture in various ways, from the ubiquity and resonance of symbols like the key (a reference to Palestinians’ rightful ownership over homes that were taken over or destroyed), and cartoonist Naji Al-Ali’s character Handala, the refugee child, to the work of celebrated poet Mahmoud Darwish.
The refusal of refugees to allow their narrative to disappear stands in marked contrast to a concerted effort by the Israeli government to cover up the nation’s violent birth, specifically through the Nakba Law. This piece of legislation “grants the finance minister the power to reduce the budget of state-funded bodies that openly reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or that mark the state’s Independence Day as a day of mourning” because these things “undermine its existence.” In essence, the government penalizes those who reject the merits of religious supremacism, and most importantly, ethnic cleansing. [As an aside, what does it say about the legitimacy of a state if it is so enfeebled that the recognition of reality “undermines its existence?”]
In a wider sense, criticism of Israel that focuses only on its violations of human rights within the context of the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza -rather than seeing these abuses as simply an extension of a brutal policy which began in earnest with irregular Jewish forces pushing more than 100,000 inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes before Israel even declared its independence, and continues to this day with the Judaization of East Jerusalem and the ever-expanding settlement project- has the same effect as the Nakba law in that it erases the origins of the conflict altogether, taking the experiences of refugees along with it.
This is precisely why any solution that addresses only the occupation (as most articulations of the two-state solution tend to do), leaving out the question of the Right of Return for refugees and the status of Palestinians who were able to escape the cleansing and remain within the borders of Israel, is on its face incomplete. Here, the failure of the two-state solution gives those in the solidarity community an opportunity to shift the conversation back to its rightful starting point -1948, and the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, which must be acknowledged for there to be any kind of lasting peace.
To this end, in our mission to bring justice to Israel and Palestine, voices like Abbas’ must be amplified.
If you’re in the area, please stop by to hear him speak. The event will be at the City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus, located at 50 Phelan Avenue, and held in room 203 of Batmale Hallat 6:45. There is no charge to attend. We hope to see you there!