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‘We Beyond the Fence’–Why I partnered with an Israeli journalist to share stories from Gaza

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This commentary is produced as part of the Gaza-based We Are Not Numbers project.

After the 2014 war in Gaza–in which the Israeli military targeted and killed my oldest brother, the person I most admired–I wrote about the impact of his death on my parents and myself. To Israel, he was a militant, but to me, he was my best friend and I can still see him when I close my eyes. 

And yet, nearly six years later, I am partnering with an Israeli journalist to share my story and the first-person narratives of other young Palestinians in Gaza in Hebrew, the language of my oppressors. I co-manage the site, “We Beyond the Fence,” with Yuval Abraham, who works for Israel Social TV, a nonprofit, independent media organization promoting social change, including a more equal society. We launched on December 20, 2019.

Although he is working for change within Israel and I have grown to trust him, I know many see our partnership as unnatural. Yuval found me through We Are Not Numbers, an organization founded by Pam Bailey that publishes perspectives on life in Gaza. The contributors range in age, but most are under 25 and have lived through three wars. Yuval reached out to Pam with a request to interview me six months ago for a story on the Israeli elections. I agreed, although I initially had hesitations.  

Most of the Palestinians I know in Gaza are understandably wary of talking to Israelis, much less Israeli journalists. We live in what is virtually an open-air prison, and the Israelis are our wardens. This is the only real exposure we have to Israelis, and it is not a pleasant one. 

That began to change for me, however, in the fall of 2014. Just months after the murder of my brother, I was fortunate enough to meet Pam and help her establish We Are Not Numbers—a project for which I later became Gaza manager. It exposed me to many other points of view, as well as journalists from around the world. Those interactions cracked open the prison walls for me. We Are Not Numbers showed me the value of talking and sharing with everyone willing to listen—including those from the country that is our occupier. 

A picture taken on January 13, 2019, shows the beach of Gaza city during a stormy day. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour/APA Images)

A picture taken on January 13, 2019, shows the beach of Gaza city during a stormy day. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour/APA Images)

I know most Israelis will not be willing to listen to Palestinians from Gaza. In 2014, a poll from the Israel Democracy Institute found that 95 percent of Jewish Israelis supported the war, with nearly 60 percent saying the degree of deadly force was justified. (Israeli forces killed 2,251 Palestinians in that assault, of whom 1,462 were civilians and 551 were children. In contrast, 67 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians in Israel were killed.) 

My interview with Yuval about the Israeli elections lasted less than 15 minutes. It quickly transitioned into a discussion about what ordinary people can do to bring about change and end the conflict that divides us.

Yuval and I share a belief in one state that guarantees equal rights for everyone. Through my conversations with Yuval, I come to realize that while the number of open-minded Israelis seems small, the potential is larger. Translating the stories published by We Are Not Numbers into Hebrew offers unfiltered content straight from Gaza to all Israelis willing to try to understand.

Ahmed Alnaouq. (Photo: Facebook)

To get the project underway, Yuval asked for volunteer translators on Facebook. In less than a day, more than a hundred Israelis asked to join our team. We introduced them to our mission and guidelines to ensure the original writers’ voices and intent remained intact. 

Pushback followed in the form of online attacks from Israelis opposed to our project. Even so, I was surprised at the volume and strength of supporters and at the positive news coverage. My optimism in a future with equal coexistence deepened. It was a turning point for me. 

Some Palestinians believe any involvement with an Israeli is a form of collaboration and thus a betrayal of our people. Others have warned me that I could be perceived as a security risk because of my work with Yuval. There is a fear in Gaza that the Israeli intelligence agency, known as the Shabak, could exploit such interactions to recruit collaborators or gather harmful information. Last year, Israeli undercover agents were exposed in Gaza posing as humanitarian workers, leading to a deadly shoot-out. Distrust runs high. However, I am willing to take this risk because I now know we have allies who are trying to change Israel from within, and we must work together if we want a more humane future.

Palestinians have suffered over the last 70 years and there are no signs of improvement. The international community has failed Palestinians (and Israelis). Numerous United Nations resolutions and an international court ruling have not resulted in any progress toward ending the occupation or ensuring the rights of Palestinians inside Israel. Violent resistance also has failed: Gazans have endured three major wars and we are still where we started. According to the UN, 2020 is the year when our home will become “unliveable.”  

I believe it is time to take risks. This project is what I can do, what Yuval and his fellow volunteers can do, what Gazan and Israeli youth can do, to accelerate the day when we will achieve a just peace. 

As 2020 opens, I have hope in my heart.

Ahmed Alnaouq

Ahmed Alnaouq, former project manager of We Are Not Numbers, is currently studying for his master’s in journalism in the UK, thanks to the prestigious Chevening Scholarship.

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  1. Misterioso on January 23, 2020, 8:50 am

    “Go to Gaza and Cry ‘Never Again’” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, January 23/20

    “It’s very important to remember the past; no less important is to be cognizant of the present without shutting one’s eyes. The dozens of statesmen who arrived in Israel yesterday may remember the past, but they’re blurring the present. In their silence, in their disregard of reality while lining up unconditionally alongside Israel, they not only betray their roles, they also betray the memory of the past in the name of which they came here. To be the guests of Israel without mentioning its crimes; to commemorate the Holocaust while ignoring its lessons; to visit Jerusalem without traveling to the Gaza ghetto on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – one can barely think of any greater hypocrisy.

    “It’s good that kings, presidents and other notables came here in honor of this remembrance day. It’s deplorable that they’re ignoring what the victims of the Holocaust are inflicting on another nation.

    “The city of Yerevan will never witness such an impressive gathering to commemorate the Armenian holocaust. World leaders will never come to Kigali to mark the genocide that happened in Rwanda. The Holocaust was indeed the greatest crime ever against humanity, but it was not the only one. But Jews and the state of Israel know well how to sanctify its memory as well as using it for their own purposes.

    “On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, world leaders are the guests of an Israeli prime minister who, on the eve of their visit, called for sanctions – believe it or not – on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is a legacy of the courts that were set up to judge the crimes of World War II.

    “On this Remembrance Day, world leaders are coming to a prime minister who is trying to incite them against the court in The Hague. It’s hard to think of a more galling use of the Holocaust, it’s hard to conceive of a bigger betrayal of its memory than the attempt to undermine the court in The Hague only because it wishes to fulfill its role and investigate Jerusalem. The guests will hold their silence on this issue as well. Some of them may be persuaded that the problem is in The Hague, not in Jerusalem. Sanctions on the court instead of on the occupying state.

    “One must never forget the Holocaust, obviously. One must also not blur the fact that it was directed against the Jewish people. But precisely for this very reason one must not ignore the conduct of its victims toward the secondary victims of the Jews’ Holocaust, the Palestinian people. Without the Holocaust they would not have lost their land, and would not be imprisoned today in a gigantic concentration camp in Gaza or living under a brutal military occupation in the West Bank.

    “When today they recite ad nauseam ‘never again,’ one should cast one’s eyes honestly to the south and east, only a few kilometers away from the memorial hall at Yad Vashem. There’s no holocaust there, only apartheid. No annihilation, but a systematic brutalization of a nation. Not Auschwitz, but Gaza. How can one ignore this on International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

    “It’s hard to believe that it didn’t occur to even one world leader who came to Jerusalem to travel to Gaza after the ceremony. If one of them had the courage to do so, he or she would be honoring the memory of the Holocaust no less than by visiting Yad Vashem. There aren’t many places around the world where the words ‘never again’ should resonate as much as within the confines of this huge ghetto, created by the state of Holocaust survivors. Not to go to Gaza and see what’s happening there? Not to identify with the fate of two million human beings who’ve been locked in a concentration camp for 14 years, one hour away from Jerusalem? How is that possible? Not to cry ‘never again’ in Gaza? How can they not?

    “A few leaders ostensibly balanced their visit here with a brief and ceremonial visit to Ramallah, including a photo-op with Mahmoud Abbas, who is also a target of Israel’s protests. This kind of visit has no significance. Ramallah does not determine the fate of the Palestinian people. It is determined in the government compound in Jerusalem and in the defense establishment compound in Tel Aviv. One needed to come to Israel today to remind the world of the Holocaust, but of the silence as well. Against this silence one should also cry out: Never again.”

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