(This is the author’s second diary of her life in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. Her first is Palestine to Sheffield: One month away from home)
An amazing month drew to a close after a string of new experiences…
“Palestine” in My Debate
I started my month with a really inspirational debate with a British friend about Palestine. She has been quite lucky as she visited my country many times. In her latest trip last year, she spent one month in five major cities I have never been allowed to visit; Jenin, Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem and Ramallah. She showed me some photographs of these places, provoking the stinging nostalgia of my grandmother’s face and our beloved home town of Jaffa. I felt a strange mixture of emotion; first the tears that came with each picture, followed by a stinging feeling of jealousy and ultimately frustration at the thought that others are permitted to tread where I am forbidden. It is not just any place, with a luring skyline or exotic beaches, but the simple charms and fragrances of a land that I and my ancestors were born in. Our very right to exist is denied from the most fundamental level. I couldn’t forget how happy she was when describing each photograph and her future plans to visit. It is a complex feeling that grumbles in the pit of my stomach, leaving me raw and saddened at the plight of all us Palestinians who simply had no choice.
One of the films I watched in November was “Tears of Gaza”. I was so glad to witness the enthusiasm amongst the audience. The film shown is a good example of documentaries exposing the brutal consequences of the current apartheid, seen from the perspectives of Palestinian children in Gaza.
Though I have witnessed the last two wars in Gaza the film was unique enough to tell me more. The film narrated the story of a house targeted by an Israeli airplane to the north of Gaza killing at least 15 civilians; mainly children. And those who were not killed were asked to go to AlFakoora School which is taken as a refuge. Unfortunately the UN-run school was hit and 43 citizens were killed including 14 students. It reminded me of the tragedy of the Samouni family, where 70 members of the same family were killed in one day; one hour; one moment. “You just wake up with no family; with no parents or friends and for reasons but being Palestinian.”, a surviving family member once told me.
The film ended with a story of a friend of mine, Amira, 16 years old. “We were sitting at home chatting; then someone came and knocked on the door. My father went to see who he is. Just then we heard a sound of an explosion. I, along with my sisters, went to the door and we did not see our father. There was a lot of smoke and we could not see anything. So we walked out in the street, shouting at him. We did not find him. Then we went back to the entrance of the house. The smoke cleared up and we found our father corpse by the house. We started to call him and shake his body, but there was no response. No answer at all. He was dead. Yes dead. I am now with no father or even a family. I stayed by my father trying to wake him up for about 15 minutes. Then I lost hope and went back into my house. I lost consciousness. When I woke up the next morning, I was not aware of my leg injury. I was bleeding and could not resist fainting. I ended up with no leg.”
Jaffa and Sheffield
I met Ben White when he came to visit Sheffield where his family lives. I’ve known him a long time since before coming here. Last month he messaged me two days before he came and we met and talked about lots of issues related to BDS, Palestine, my journey through Egypt and his visits to Palestine. It was an inspiring meeting.
It was November 2nd when I climbed the highest hill in Sheffield. Few days after, I climbed Ben Lomond Mountain which is of 3,196 feet to thank God that I am in the UK pursuing my study in politics and international law and to thank all activists who help Samer Issawi get his freedom. I saw a really beautiful scene at the top. Upon our descent my friend and I couldn’t help but compare the beauty around us to the hills of our hometown Jaffa. My friend then told me about a cake named after my city. We bought it. Yummy!
Because I am outside Gaza, it only took a few days before I managed to get a blouse and some Jaffa oranges from a place quite close to my family house there. Jaffa to Ramallah to London then Sheffield, I could not describe how it felt when I, for the first time, tasted the oranges of my home. How strange that with the simple of taste of an orange I could be brought back to the bitterness of what the world’s political leaders have conspired to inflict upon innocent and blameless people with ordinary lives and woes, just like any person walking the streets of Sheffield. Studying politics, it is sometimes hard to see how decisions made by individuals who have no concept of our suffering can be the same people to determine the dark fate of millions of Palestinians, all in the superficial and erroneous justifications that are repeated day in, day out. Counter-terrorism, counter-strike, self-defense. Today’s and yesterday’s politics knows no cleverer game than to feed on the fears of ordinary people, whose instincts are to believe the simplest and morally delineating form of narrative. The power of political maneuvering is the manipulation of basic instinct. Its motivation? The acquisition of greater power. The colonial times are barely at an end.
“Remember, remember the fifth of November. Make sure you celebrate Bonfire Night in style at a spectacular London fireworks display!” This was a sentence I read somewhere in Sheffield.
Bonfire Night is also known as Fireworks’ Night or Guy Fawkes’ Night. It is mainly a British tradition dating back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I. To this day, it is customary for the cellars in the Houses of Parliament to be searched by the Yeoman of the Guard before each State Opening of Parliament.
I was quite excited and happy waiting for this night that reminded me of the sounds of bombs and military airplanes in Gaza. It might seem an unsuccessful choice of connection but at least personally speaking I could not but think of the last aggression on Gaza once hearing firework sounds.
Membership of Unite the Union
I got a free membership in Unite the Union which is the largest trade union in the UK with millions of members. My first appearance will be on a debate about the role of women in political struggle. Isra W. Almodallal, the first spokeswoman of the government in Gaza, will be one of the good examples I am keeping in mind when tackling the issue of women participation in political life in Palestine. As a woman and a feminist from Gaza, I truly believe that I have spaces of freedom that other women around the world could not have. I was allowed to travel wherever I want and choose the clothes I want to wear with no one asked me to abide by his/her roles.
A full week lecturing in Bradford, Birmingham, London, Sheffield and Manchester during Right to Education Week added a special flavor to my month. Hundreds joined my workshops. I talked about my own experiences of education under Occupation and the repressive measures used by the Israeli army. Then some talks were followed by a Panel discussion of questions and answers on the Academic Boycott of education/research institutions complicit with Israel’s occupation of Palestine. For the first time in my life, I met with Zionists who asked me and the other speakers lots of questions, especially in Birmingham University. And I think that we dealt very well with their queries.
Nov 15th Israeli Ambassador Visit to Sheffield
“Felt really positive about today. Presence of the Israeli ambassador coming to University of Sheffield, to speak in SheffMun conference, having to be hidden right to the last minute because of the strength of the opposition to the Zionist state. Disruption inside resulting in management acquiescing to Abdi-aziz, the previous president of Sheffield student union, giving a speech on the same platform to highlight the daily crimes committed by Israel to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and colonised land inside of Israel. Finishing with the ambassador, in cartoon style, trying to sneak out the back jammed into a Uni-owned Skoda before again being stopped by Palestine solidarity campaigners. Oppression breeds resistance, existence is resistance.” Olly Clay, vice president of Palestine Society in Sheffield University, said.
I have been asked by dozens of societies in Sheffield Student Union about my view on the Israeli ambassador’s visit to Sheffield. I was really offended firstly because I was planning on attending SheffMun conference and to deliver my own presentation. Given that I came to know about the ambassador’s talk two hours before the start of the conference, I made up my mind not to join. I couldn’t sit in the same place as someone who kills and detains my people. I found it offensive and disrespectful, and felt that the students should have been informed about his presence beforehand.
In addition, inviting the Deputy Ambassador to Israeli contravenes the Students’ Union’s policy for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian territories. The policy was voted for by students en masse in 2004, 2007, 2009 & 2012.
In response to Maryam, an Israeli student writing an article for Forge press, a student from Palestine Society, K.O, said that if you are annoyed because of the difficulties you have faced on your way to Israel and of the strict airport checks you have experienced, thousand other Palestinian refugees scattered all over the world have been dreaming for years to visit Palestine. The land that we know about only from the stories narrated to us from our parents and grandparents who lived there before being displaced. Those refugees have not been granted the permission to visit Palestine (let alone live there) simply because all the Palestinian youth are seen as potential terrorists in the eyes of the Israeli authorities. That is why it is only through supporting such non-violent struggle (BDS) we can end the occupation and we can all enjoy a just and equal life. O. also mentioned Britain is a free democratic country and no one can force anything on anyone, a “luxury” that millions of Palestinians inside and outside Palestine are not allowed to enjoy!
The BDS movement is targeting institutions and companies that are complicit in the Israeli occupation, and those that support the illegal settlements that have been assembled on confiscated Palestinian lands. It is in no way intended to target or harm any specific religious group. This has been explicitly stated in the movement’s literature and by all BDS advocates. In fact, the BDS movement has supporters and activists from all religious and non-religious backgrounds including of course the Jewish community. This is because the cause that the BDS is calling for (i.e.: ending the illegal occupation, fighting injustice and discrimination and ending apartheid) is a universal humane cause that resonates with the teachings of all religions and humane ideologies. Therefore, I call for the support of all students and non-students, and ask everyone to join the BDS movement!
I do not think I can add much to what K.O said.
Right to Education (R2E) Week in Sheffield
As every bit in Sheffield is unique, the time of R2E week was set a week later than the rest of the universities in Britain. Lots of exciting events took place in Sheffield. There was a night with a poetry evening organised by Palestine Society. Arabic and English translation of some of the best Arabic poems had been recited accompanied by breathtaking violin and Oud playing.
After a national tour of half a dozen cities talking about what it is like to be born, grow up and be educated under a violent military occupation, I was introduced by SU President Ally Buckle in the student union Auditorium to tell hundreds of students about my journey to Sheffield.
The feedback I got for my talk is not only wonderful but also inspiring. I love that many of my classmates attended the event and now know more about Palestine. It is just amazing that words can make this dramatic modification in people’s view. Life is not that difficult to be changed. The Palestinians deserve a better life full of peace and justice and you all can take part in creating a better future for us all.