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Why can we not be like birds, roaming freely?

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We are proud to share a message today from Ahmed Abu Artema, the person whose vision for a peaceful mass protest led to the Great March of Return in Gaza.Ahmed’s description of why Mondoweiss matters gives us the courage to ask you again: can you help us meet the current challenge? If you and other supporters give $100,000 by December 31–just ten days from now!–generous donors will match it with an additional $100,000.

Please donate today in honor of Ahmed Abu Artema and the Great March of Return. A gift of $40, $75 or whatever amount you can manage will make a difference! And of course, if you’ve already made a gift this month, please accept our thanks.

I want to share with you the significance for me, a Palestinian human being, of walls and fences; birds and airplanes; and the power of voices to disrupt the stifling silence of collective punishment. I am writing today because Mondoweiss journalists have helped me challenge those walls—get closer to the freedom of a bird or plane in flight—by respecting, reporting, sharing and amplifying my voice and so many others.

Ahmed Abu Artema in Washington, DC. Photo by Allison Deger.

I wrote on Facebook in January 2018, calling for demonstrators and international media to march peacefully to—or beyond—the border with Israel. I urged my people to challenge with our bodies and our voices the wall that prevents our movement. Israel’s fences and walls keep us from our villages, our homeland and indeed from freedom itself. The Facebook post went viral. And since March 2018, tens of thousands of Gazans have massed at the border week after week in the Great March of Return, and to this day we continue to express our demands without violence.

I believe the solution is near and possible, far more so than we imagine. It requires, above all, courage to take initiative and adopt a new perspective—but also, the ability and channels to speak out and be heard.

Ever since I was a little kid, my memories have been tied to the fence and the wall. I was born in Rafah, a border city between occupied Palestine and Egypt. It was originally one city, but was split into two parts following the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel. Hundreds of families were split by construction of a separation fence—and one of them was my family. As a boy, I used to go to the fence with my father in order to talk to my aunts on the other side by megaphone.

One of my aunts lived in a refugee camp in Palestinian Rafah while her daughter lived with her husband in Egyptian Rafah. One day in 1993, during a curfew imposed by the Israeli army, my aunt received news that her daughter on the Egyptian side of the fence had suddenly passed away.

My aunt went out running to the fence, just meters away from her home. An Israeli officer tried to stop her, saying “Go home.” My aunt kept walking and sadly said, “My daughter died, I need to see her.” She got to the fence and stood there watching while her sisters on the other side brought her daughter’s corpse for her to pay her final respects. Her only farewell to her child was through a fence—no hug, no last kiss.

Like all youth in Gaza, Alaa Shahin faces very limited prospects for employment, travel or a life with dignity. Nevertheless, he chose to celebrate his wedding at the Great March last year. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Israel claims that it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but the reality has not changed substantially. Severe restrictions prevent people from leaving or entering Gaza, and control the movement of essential goods. Because of Israel’s control, the vast majority of young people in Gaza have never left this narrow place even once. They have never had the chance to get acquainted with other cultures.

You and the rest of the world need to know both the searing pain of personal stories like that of my aunt and the broader overview of generations imprisoned and deprived. We need to educate those who, thank God, will never experience the constricted world of Gaza in person; and journalism is crucial in conveying our reality.

When I was twenty-eight years old, I traveled for the first time through the Rafah crossing. When I arrived at the airport in Cairo, I stood staring up at the sky. The only planes flying in the Gaza sky are Israeli war planes, so for me and all those I lived with, the sight or sound of a plane is linked to bombardment and death. Standing there in the Cairo airport, I felt for the first time what people the world over feel. Watching planes land and take off, I understood for the first time: A plane may symbolize life and human activity as well, not always death.

My longing for freedom from the heavy reality of the blockade and the walls of separation is awakened, of course, not only by planes. Standing near the Israeli separation fence east of Gaza, I watched pretty birdies flying free on both sides of the fence hundreds, perhaps thousands of times through my life. No one stops their freedom. I saw it again in early 2018, and felt all the sadness and anger yet again. I expressed my feelings on Facebook: “Why can we not be like birds, roaming freely? Why do Palestinians die in this besieged little prison? Why don’t we go knock on the walls of the prison?”

The Palestinian public interacted and sympathized with this post because it touched their deeper feelings. The idea turned into a large mass movement called the Great March of Return in which tens of thousands of Palestinians participated. We came to the border, and we spoke out. We raised our voices to call for justice. And we did it in such numbers that the world had to hear.

The Great March of Return in Gaza. Photo by Ashraf Amra

The Great March of Return in Gaza. Photo by Ashraf Amra

The Israeli response to the peaceful demonstrators is evidence of just how powerful our voices can be; the reaction was violent and bloody, extreme actions in order to keep Palestinians under occupation and apartheid. The Palestinians want freedom and dignity, and Israel cannot abide the voices that call for those fundamental rights. That is why publishing our voices, our demands and our stories is an essential part of the struggle.

Millions of Palestinians remain isolated from the world behind the Israeli walls, and are still victims of the policies of displacement, occupation, and settlement. Israel wants the Palestinians to die silently, and it wants the world to accept the policies of displacement, occupation and racism that it is practicing as normal. But we will not be silent; we will continue to broadcast our voices to the world.

Mondoweiss does a great job of communicating the voices of the persecuted oppressed people in Palestine. We need voices aligned to people who are fighting for freedom; we need these partners in our struggle to persist and continue strong.

Do not allow the Palestinian people to be killed twice, once in their land and once in the absence of their voice. Please, if you share my vision of a just future for Palestine, support the noble work of Mondoweiss. I am thankful for their help ensuring the world hears Palestine’s voice.


Ahmed Abu Artema

Born in Rafah, Gaza Strip, in 1984, Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian refugee. An independent Gaza-based writer and social-media activist, he has written the book "Organized Chaos" and numerous articles. He is one of the original founders and organizers of the Great Return March.

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6 Responses

  1. Generalist on December 21, 2019, 4:37 pm

    I’m excited to share with our readers a brand-new video of Ahmed discussing the future of Gaza. Check out to hear Ahmed’s thoughts in an interview in Prague yesterday.

    And thanks to all who are helping meet our year-end goal!

    –Generalist, aka Tova Perlmutter on behalf of Mondoweiss

  2. gamal on December 22, 2019, 6:30 am

    “The earth is closing on us, pushing us through the last passage, and

    we tear off our limbs to pass through.

    The earth is squeezing us. I wish we were its wheat so we could die

    and live again. I wish the earth was our mother

    So she’d be kind to us. I wish we were pictures on the rocks for our dreams to carry as mirrors.

    We saw the faces of those to be killed by the last of us in the last defense of the soul.

    We cried over their children’s feast. We saw the faces of those who’ll

    throw our children Out of the windows of the last space. Our star will hang up in mirrors.

    Where should we go after the last frontiers? Where should the birds fly after the last sky?

    Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air? We will write our names with scarlet steam.

    We will cut off the head of the song to be finished by our flesh.

    We will die here, here in the last passage. Here and here our blood will plant its olive tree.”

  3. brent on December 22, 2019, 11:30 pm

    Abu Artema, “I believe the solution is near and possible, far more so than we imagine. It requires, above all, courage to take initiative and adopt a new perspective.”

    It is encouraging to read this message of hope amid all the tragedy. Certainly, we do not know the future but “equality under the law” prevailed upon the racism in America and over white supremacy in South Africa. Violence wasn’t as powerful as civil rights. Thankfully the Black Panthers didn’t fire their rifles.

    I would like to have insight into what stands in the way of Palestinian citizens rallying the goodwill and political success that would logically flow from a determined campaign for civil rights and for equality under Israeli law. Such a campaign would inform if a secular democratic state could resolve the overall conflict or whether an independent state was a necessity.

    Hopefully, Palestinian citizens do not entertain the perspective or goal of pushing Israelis out of occupied land by force as that could only be accomplished after America went down or its politics came to embrace the concept…. both very long shots that would leave lots more tragedies in the wake.

    • bcg on December 23, 2019, 1:55 pm

      “I would like to have insight into what stands in the way of Palestinian citizens rallying the goodwill and political success that would logically flow from a determined campaign for civil rights and for equality under Israeli law. ”

      Administrative detention. Any Palestinian who is caught with a cellphone or Facebook message calling for equal rights will be thrown in the cooler or beaten or maybe some problem with their “building permit” will be discovered.

    • echinococcus on December 23, 2019, 1:59 pm


      Hard to decide if you are writing with a scandalous measure of cluelessness, really believing that human societies are guided by logical reasoning and factual evaluation of interest in terms of dollars and cents, or if you are one outstanding Ziopaganda operator out of earlier times.

      Hard to decide if you are pretending in good faith that there is no “determined campaign for civil rights and for equality under Israeli law”, as if it hadn’t been running for seventy-plus years! Of course it never stopped. There is no reason it cannot run in parallel to affirming the full rights of the occupied people.

      If you can’t see that almost all other acts of protest, including the tentative boycott (including its modern avatar, the institutionalized BDS), the terrorist actions of the 70s, people’s resistance with the Intifada, etc. all were helping pierce the wall of silence around the civil rights and equality campaign. Or trying to.

      But then “equal rights”, although desirable, have nothing to do with justice, and that must be acknowledged from the start. Everyone but some slow brains knows, of course, that justice cannot be done “before America went down or its politics came to embrace the concept”. Duh.

      The problem being that occupied, colonized peoples do not just give up and lie down when you throw them a lump of sugar. That’s not how it works in history. The lump of sugar is always welcome but if you cannot immediately see how revolting, how vomit-inducing, how makes-one-want-to-burn-something are the very words “equality under Israeli law”, you’re just as desperate a case of naïveté (one hopes) as all those who keep parroting “liberal” Zio themes.

      At the end of the day, colonized peoples keep trying everything to get justice, even if it will strangle them. Do you think that France didn’t try giving citizenship to all, etc. etc. before the war of indepence exploded in Algeria? Just one example among many…

      • brent on December 24, 2019, 12:07 am

        I have been watching for a few years now and wondered about Gaza, WB, Jerusalem, and Israel, up to the Lebanon border, the Golan…Jenine, Airel, during the First Intifada. I have subscribed to Haaretz for many years. Not to say I am not clueless. I’ve always sought criticism and will for sure welcome your feedback to the points I raised in my original comment.

        I’ve long seen America as a system of competing interests where any party, even children or farmers can lose if the game is not played well. Americans seldom do what is right simply because its right. Usually, they are confused about what is right.

        I was around for the civil rights movement in the South, met King once. Saw the power structure prevailed upon through the use of placards, marches and political argument. It didn’t just happen, it took work and determination for several years to shame the system into compliance. Also, it greatly benefitted from the goodwill and dignity of Jews who were likely the backbone of the movement.

        Don’t overlook that success was achieved in no small part due to the fact Black Panthers heeded King admonition about the danger of irresponsible tactics that would negate the power of non-violence. Successes of the Black Lives Matter campaign could be more elusive if demonstrators made it a practice of throwing rocks at the Ferguson police. There are hidden rules to the game of politics. This, of course, will make no sense to one promoting coercion and conflict.

        I’ve always thought it shortsighted to make specific demands of a superior power that has no interest in resolution. They can win by doing nothing.

        Good point equal rights do not equate to fairness. However, it is a good place to begin seeking justice. Please note I’m specifically advocating for citizens of Israel to challenge the law they live under and believe doing that will have positive future implications. Seeking equality negates the “drive into the sea” and “the right to defend itself”nonsense and invites many more Jewish allies. It was the PLO’s opening proposal.

        Perhaps you are right, “At the end of the day, colonized peoples keep trying everything to get justice, even if it will strangle them.” Most people come to realize they can’t help one who can’t help themselves so I hope I’m misunderstanding your last paragraph.

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