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Mohammed Al-Azza tells Dublin why Aida camp resists occupation

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On Wednesday night I attended a talk and photo exhibit in Dublin Ireland, given by Mohammed Al-Azza. Al-Azza is a 24 year old photo journalist who lives in the Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank. He was in Ireland as part of the Lajee Cultural Tour. Lajee is a youth center founded in 2000 in the Aida Camp to serve the young people. It is where Al-Azza learned photography and film making. The camp is 7.5 km south of Jerusalem, on the northern edge of Bethlehem. Last year Al-Azza was shot in the face while photographing Israeli soldiers policing the camp. He was hit with a rubber tipped bullet below the right eye. After 3 surgeries, he is in good health except for some disfigurement. [Above, his presentation at the Palestine Center last December.]

Al-Azza’s talk was based on his photographs of life in the camp of 6000 refugees. Al-Azza, who spoke in halting English, said almost nothing about politics. The one political comment he made—which drew applause—was that when he was 15 he threw stones at the IDF because it “was good for my heart…I have a right to resist.”

Most of Al-Azza’s photographs were of daily life in the camps—women cooking, children playing, dancers dancing. Some photographs needed no explanation, e.g. the Israeli apartheid wall, topped with barbed wire and periodic gun towers, that is built on two sides of the camp.

One photograph is of the entrance gate to the Aida camp with a giant key mounted on the top. Keys have become an important symbol in camp life. Al-Azza told us that the people, including his grandparents, who left their home in Palestine in 1948, expected to return in a week or two. They left most everything in their homes, but took their keys so that they would be able to get back in when the fighting was over.

A photograph across the separation wall shows large pots for catching rainwater on the rooftops of Palestinian dwellings in the foreground. In the distance, across the field, is a large Israeli settlement. The rooftops of the Israeli settlements do not have pots. The Palestinians need the pots for water because in summer they sometimes go as long as a month without water. The Israelis, who are allocated about 83% of the available water in the West Bank, do not need pots.

At the opening of his talk Al-Azza showed film clips of three young men who were supposed to accompany him on the trip. The clips filmed at night from a rooftop are eerie. They show each of the young men being escorted in turn through a wide flood-lit thoroughfare. The young men had been arrested the day before the trip to Ireland and are now in jail. None of the three has been charged with any crime as of this writing. Al-Azza was himself arrested last year but was released after several weeks, although he has to return to court periodically for a review of his status. A questioner asked Al-Azza if his friends who did not make the trip—one of whom was a dancer with the Lajee troupe– were arrested to stop them bearing witness about life in Palestine. Al-Azza said he didn’t know but that it was possible. The question of why they were arrested, however, didn’t seem to interest him. He told us that the justice system in the occupied territories was a “play.” When you are arrested you get interrogated again and again. The IDF are looking to get something on you so that they can imprison you.

Al-Azza told us that IDF forces frequently arrive unannounced at the camp, often at night. Most families have had their homes broken into by the IDF. More than three in four of the men in the camp have been arrested, more than the 40% that is average for Palestinian men in the West Bank. On the separation wall are portraits of 26 men who are incarcerated in Israeli prisons. One was recently released having served 23 years in prison.

Al-Azza described the many challenges of camp life, particularly the frequent incursions by IDF and the killings, 25 since the second intifada. Only last month a child of 14 was killed. Most of those who died did so because they could not get medical attention as there are no medical facilities in the camp and freedom of movement, even for a medical emergency, is not usually granted.

At the end of the talk, Al-Azza was asked why the Israelis hate the Palestinians. He answered that the Israelis want the Palestinian to leave, that they want the land. But he also spoke of the strong community spirit–”sumud”–or steadfastness. He said he could leave but would not. And that others in the camp could leave but would not.

The Israel/Palestine problem is not going to be solved by ridding the occupied territories of Palestinians; the only solution is a political one in which Palestinians have the rights of citizens. The camps may be grim but the spirit of sumud is alive.


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5 Responses

  1. pabelmont on April 19, 2014, 4:39 pm

    In a much more mild and attenuated way, we who espouse Palestinian rights in the USA and UK and elsewhere exhibit “sumud”. We are mostly not at risk politically or in danger of death or disfigurement. Our lands are not being stolen. Our society has not been scattered in some ways and crowded in other ways. And our motivations are not as strong.

    The Palestinians, who have experienced all these things, give us courage to continue by their steadfastness.

    As for the Israelis, it seems to me that they are not in danger (other than self-made) of being killed or disfigured or having their property stolen (or even much danger of having it reclaimed by its more proper owners). Israelis as such have not had their societies scattered and are not in danger of having their societies either scattered or crowded (except in the sense that they might be required to evacuate illegally settled lands).

    The Palestinians offered to make peace along the green line in 1988 and thereafter, and have not so far as I know ever rescinded these offers. If there is no peace, the Israelis can thank their leaders and the settlers for it.

    • puppies on April 19, 2014, 10:40 pm

      @pabelmont – “The Palestinians offered to make peace along the green line in 1988 and thereafter, and have not so far as I know ever rescinded these offers.”

      I’ll call this a shameless lie again. The “Palestinians” who offered to make peace along the green line were not habilitated; the Palestinian people was not even given the opportunity, thanks to the violation of the PP by both the Zionist entity and GB, to even have a representative government to officially present their reception of the absurd “offer”; those who signed Oslo manifestly are traitors in every sense of the word, as we very painfully learned during the war against Nazism. Maybe in the eyes of a large majority they aren’t, or again they are, traitors; there is no way to have a representative body independent of the Zionist and related USUK-Imperialist armed threat when sitting in occupied Palestine.
      Not only can we call this a flagrant lie; it is also a lie repeated in the full knowledge of all the objections, unacknowledged and undiscussed objections, by very many highly respected Palestinians and Palestinian organizations.
      Also, this habit of lightly making a gift of other people’s rights where the most brazen of the locals fear to tread is very probably Zionist propaganda.

      Looks like you are not listening to Palestinians you don’t like –those who risk it all:

      ‘ I always knew and believed that the PA was an arm of the occupation. But you can’t just have those thoughts, you need to go through the full experience of the confrontation and practice to demonstrate your thoughts.’

      “It’s all about the facts on the ground and the Zionist project is going underway as it always has—successfully.”

      “Its deeper than that because we are not objecting to just the negotiations and their failures and their success,” he said. “We’re against the whole thing: recognizing Israel, the two-state solution. We’re against all of it in principle. Because we are against the existence of Israel in principle.”

  2. just on April 19, 2014, 5:59 pm

    “He answered that the Israelis want the Palestinian to leave, that they want the land. But he also spoke of the strong community spirit–”sumud”–or steadfastness. He said he could leave but would not. And that others in the camp could leave but would not.”

    The Israelis want it ALL, and will continue to commit any and all crimes to achieve their hideous goals. They want no reminders nor rejoinders to their horrific behaviors… ergo, cleanse the land of the indigenous people, by hook or by crook. But the Palestinian people have “right” on their side, and will live to tell their history to their children, and grandchildren. We need to have the very same steadfastness in supporting them and theirs, and to spread the truth. The “Key” is a wonderful remembrance and symbol — a call to remember, and to never forget, and to always support a thoroughly just peace and freedom for the Palestinian people.

    Many thanks, Geoff. (I cannot get the video to play– I’ll try again later, and look forward to it!)

    • on April 19, 2014, 10:24 pm

      good place to give a talk like that, to irishmen who were long oppressed by the greatest invading colonizer known to man, the english. he probably gained quite a sympathetic ear and who knows, maybe some rebel oppression fighters too.
      the english are facing an historic succession vote from the scots come september from their 700 year old control and are petrified the irish will join their brothers in scotland in a new ‘battle of bannockburn”.
      they’ll be wars all over the world soon

  3. Citizen on April 19, 2014, 9:04 pm

    Speaking of civilized, educated men of some influence, why is it that there is no record in a google search of Dick Cavett ever saying anything about Israel or the Palestinian situation? We recently looked back at some oldies, like Buckley and Allen from the later 1960s, nothing to look back to with Cavett. I ask, because Cavett’s still around, recently interviewed by Imus on his show. He seems so aware, still bright, and educated, so evenly disposed…. Of course Imus is a total ignoramus on the issue–he recently hosted Goldhagen in his latest endeavor, and sucked Goldhagen’s ass, but somehow I don’t think Cavett is. What’s Cavett waiting for?

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