Freedom only truly exists as a whole

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The following speech was given at the ‘Freedom Festival’ held on May 5, 2019 in Leeuwaarden, Netherlands. 

I was born free.

At least that’s what I was told.

In diaspora far from my roots. Far from the language my mother would sing to me while growing in her womb. Far from the stories of empires and freedom fighters my father would read to me while tucking me into bed.

In a world were freedom of choice is measured by the variety of goods.

And were freedom of speech only reaches the walls of our privilege.

In a world where the fetishization of materials become our interpretation of love.

Where the exclusion of ‘otherness’ becomes our meaning of safety. And our growing ignorance and ongoing indifference our key to happiness.

I grew up believing that all this made me free. Until I turned 6 years old. This was the day when I Iearned that my freedom is connected to classism, race and most of all being born on the privileged side of the world.

Core and periphery.

Oppressor and oppressed.

Colonized, decolonized or simply benefiting from the hands of the exploiter.

Daliah Vakili
Daliah Vakili

It was the first time I’ve visited my mother’s homeland. ‘The holy land’ – she would call it with a bitter-sweet smile. She would talk about olive trees, the landscape, historical monuments, the world’s famous ice cream of Ramallah. I was too young to comprehend the pain in her voice whenever she would speak of breathing in the air of freedom that would run from the river to the sea.

What I’ve seen in her homeland was anything but holy. The olive trees she would speak of were surrounded by checkpoints that would limit our freedom of movement from A to B controlled by armed men and women who screamed at us in a foreign language that was not my mother’s tongue.

The historical monuments were accessible to anyone but us, the other indigenous people of the land, reduced to second-class citizens deprived of our rights to look back to our historical roots. Turning my relatives whose family tree can be traced back hundreds of years on the ground of this holy land into stateless souls, suppressing their existence, erasing the stories of my grandparents, suppressing the legacy of their voices by taking the ones away of their grandchildren. The landscape my mother spoke of was dried out, as the occupation controls the accessibility of water supply – water, the main source of life as they say, only available for a few hours a day for farming, washing, drinking. Only a few hours per day to maintain the minimum amount to exist.

Humiliation, tears, begging of mercy from children who were separated from their parents, echoed in my head day in and day out.

And then came the day I’ve witnessed my first execution. An innocent walk to the ice cream shop ended the salesman’s life in front of our eyes. ‘Why’, I would ask my mother while seeing his lifeless body lying in his own puddle of blood. ‘Just like that’, she would reply. Just.Like.That.

The things I’ve seen through the eyes of a six-year-old in only a couple of weeks, reflect only a bracket of the reality of what a Palestinian child has to endure. The terror, the fear, the deprivation of self-determination and human rights shapes the true colours of their upbringing. And when they resist they’re being labelled as perpetrators. And when they’re being killed, their life-less bodies are demeaned as collateral damage and turned into justification for colonial expansion.

Twenty-six-years later the situation worsened as ever. The grounds of the holy land are now surrounded by a wall, the view of my relatives only goes from brick to brick, their freedom of movement is limited to a tiny piece of land, their sacred monuments became fully unattainable – as well as the accessibility to their capital Jerusalem. A place that is only 30 minutes away but became forbidden territory. Banned for life.  Robbed of their home, their identity and culture. Justified with biblical claims, framed by a self-entitled colonial agenda of foreign invasion hidden behind the premise of ‘being the chosen people’.

For the past 11 years Israel has imposed an unforgiving siege on the Gaza strip. Like an open-air prison no one can escape, and no one can enter – ‘Gaza has effectively been sealed off from the world’ (MEMO, 2018), and is populated by almost two million people, squeezed together on the ground of one-quarter of the size of London.  According to the UN over 1.3 million inhabitants of Gaza are refugees who were violently expelled from their homes in 1948, the very same year when the state of Israel was established and with that the existence of Palestine erased from our history books for good.

So why do Palestinians protest every Friday with rocks, burning tires or empty handed – shouting to the fully armed occupation forces who shoot mercilessly at unarmed protestors?

  • Because their freedom of movement is limited. They’re dependent on a permit by the Israeli authority. Those in medical need are often rejected permission to travel within their own country. Which results in a high death toll of Palestinians who were rejected medical access outside Gaza. Being shot at and denied treatment. Left to die.
  • Because their resources are limited. And their economy is strangled.  According to the WB their economical growth decreased from 8 % to 0.5 % in less than a year.  Israel prohibits the entry of raw materials and goods into Gaza, which makes reconstruction impossible. In a place that has been violently attacked for the last decade.
  • Because Gaza only receives 6 hours electricity a day. Sitting in darkness for the remaining 18 hours.
  • Because 96 % of the water in Gaza in undrinkable as its contaminated by chemicals from fertilisers from Israeli settlements. A population slowly poisoned to death.
  • Because according to the UN Gaza will be uninhabitable in 2020.

2020 is in one year. In exactly one year part of my homeland will be uninhabitable. Yet, I am being silenced when I speak of Genocide.  Technicalities on discourses seem more essential than the eradication of my people.

As a person of colour, a woman, and a human rights activist I am often involved in political discussions. And with whatever fact, figure or evidence I try to support my arguments on ethnic cleansing, most opponents try to silence me with the same question:

But what about Hamas?

In 2014 – more than 1,462 civilians were murdered of which 495 were children.

But what about Hamas?

In 2010 –Israel launched a white phosphorus attack that burned 759 civilians alive of which 344 were children. We all know the famous photograph of a Vietnamese child in the 70ties who runs from the white phosphorus attack launched by the US, stripped naked, screaming for its life.  344 Palestinian children were screaming for theirs. Unheard. As their burning flesh remains invisible to the world.

But still they would ask me; but when does Hamas finally stop?

In 2018 – more than 29,000 unarmed protestors were injured, 111 limbs have been amputated, 300 people were brutally killed. Hamas was neither present nor part of these protests. Over three hundred people have been massacred on live-stream, that could be easily followed on every social media channel. My friends would desperately fill their Instagram stories with screams, flying limbs, bloodsheds and dying civilians. Hoping to show the world their reality. But remained invisible.

A United Nations inquiry has found Israeli forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by targeting unarmed children, journalists and the disabled in Gaza.

Yet everyone turns to me and says ‘they haven’t seen or haven’t heard’. And if they have seen or heard they’d still shrug their shoulders and claim ‘it’s complicated.’

Which makes me wonder: ‘How can anything be framed as complicated when the absence of morality is so obvious?’

Equality is an absolute value.

Justice is an absolute value.

According to Kant, the notion of ethical objectivism claims that each of us can know right from wrong. And that justice or equality is not a matter of subjective perspective. And that each of us have objective moral duties.

Would any of us, here in our privileged bubble, accept justice or equality as such if only a bit of it was provided and the rest taken from us? No. We would call both injustice and inequality by its name. So why don’t we do the same when it is done to others? What does it say about our moral duties as human beings on this shared planet?

It almost seems to me that our range of privileges determines our subjectivity of our ethical values. As long as we benefit, we see justice in everything and as long as we have the opportunity to maximise and generate profit, we see equality for all.

But when it comes to our own lives, our rights to exist or anything that could harm our development we would not accept a nuance. So why does everyone expect a nuance on the Genocide of my people?

Would it be ethical to demand from a victim to understand the side of her rapist?

So why is it ethical to demand this from me, when the roots of my being, the ground of my land is being raped and exploited for over 71 years?

Why is past colonialism condemned and modern colonialism justified?

Why is past Apartheid condemned and modern Apartheid legalized and globally accepted?

The Holocaust was legal.

Slavery was legal.

Segregation was legal.

Legality is not a guide for morality.

And legality does not necessarily comply with justice.

Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing. Rocks against tanks. Obedience and comfort zones often blind us and inhibit our striving for change and social justice.

Shouldn’t it be our moral responsibility to question structures that don’t provide equality, justice and freedom for all?

When I call for resistance I don’t necessarily demand for your presence on the street. I ask for your solidarity in the simplest ways. I ask you to consider boycotting products that actively contribute to social and global inequality. I ask you to consider using the endless accessibility on information and educate yourself on current issues. I ask you to consider sharing articles, videos and different type of sources that shed light on human right abuses and other forms of injustice. I ask you to consider listening to the less privileged and marginalized, to acknowledge their struggle and offer your voice when theirs isn’t heard.  I ask you to consider to extent your empathy further than a burning monument in Paris and to use your privilege into a tool that strives for change.

My Jewish sister Stavit Sinai, an offspring of Holocaust survivors, who demands human rights and justice for Palestinians, once said to me: ‘I did not choose to be born Israeli. Feeling guilt won’t help anyone. Instead I choose to feel responsible. To fight for equality and justice for all.’  Her words have taught me a valuable lesson: You can’t choose whether you’re born privileged or not. But you can choose who you want to be when it comes to morality.

And morality means to stand with the oppressed and hold the oppressor accountable.

I understand that it is not always easy to stand up for something that does not directly concern us. I also understand that we all deal with our own demons and struggles. But what we need to understand is that when looking away we make ourselves complicit.

Nelson Mandela once said ‘we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.’

Most of us who are here today were born free. At least that is what we have been told.

We compare our level of freedom to others, but are not willing to share – treating it as limited resourses, as there would not be enough freedom available for everyone.

But how can we feel truly liberated without the freedom of our siblings? Aren’t the chains of our ignorance turning us into mental slaves of a system that prevent us from making a change?

There is no such thing as part freedom. Freedom only truly exists as a whole.

Same as our earth only exists as a whole.

May the next liberation festival celebrate the freedom of all oppressed nations, from our indigenous to black siblings, our sisters and queer siblings, may we stand united against the forces of injustice and create a world where striving for equality becomes our moral duty.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.

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A sensitive and touching description of the oppression being endured by one of the indigenous people in the holy land at the hands of the other. Vakili notes when she advocates for freedom, invariably the question comes up. “What about Hamas?” She explains further and the question again, “But what about Hamas?” After further considerations, they say, “It’s complicated”. Students of the conflict, which the great majority of Americans and their political representatives are not,… Read more »

“Israel has the right to defend itself” Any rights Israel might once have had (only in the arrogant eyes of those who considered it legal for foreign powers to dispossess an indigenous populace against their expressed will) were extinguished by its flagrant breaches of even the minimal guarantees it agreed to – the right of return of refugees, the wholesale theft of real estate to mention a couple. As it happens, there is no defense… Read more »

→ I did not choose to be born Israeli. Feeling guilt won’t help anyone. Instead I choose to feel responsible. To fight for equality and justice for all. Precisely the right attitude. She is not to blame for being born Israëli, just as noöne is to blame for being born Yankee, Canadian, or Australian (just to mention a few of the major settler-colonial populations). But she would be to blame if she merrily reaped the… Read more »

Beautiful piece by Daliah Vakili. It is heartening to see young Palestinians express themselves in such a powerful and eloquent way. Palestine’s struggle for freedom and equality and establishing the truth of the Nakba needs poets, philosophers and historians.
The State of Israel’s desperate attempts to bury the Nakba shows how much it is on its way to becoming a totalitarian state with a similar future as Apartheid South Africa.

“And then came the day I’ve witnessed my first execution. An innocent walk to the ice cream shop ended the salesman’s life in front of our eyes. ‘Why’, I would ask my mother while seeing his lifeless body lying in his own puddle of blood. ‘Just like that’, she would reply. Just.Like.That” “I understand that it is not always easy to stand up for something that does not directly concern us” you are very generous… Read more »