A prominent writer and political activist Majed Abusalama is a co-founder of numerous organizations, one of them being Palestine speaks in Germany. Born in Gaza, he is now based between Berlin and Tampere, where he is finishing his PhD about the generation of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
You were born in Jabaliya refugee camp. Is what you see now in Gaza still the place you have known?
Yes, I was raised in Gaza, I went to the UN schools, I lived through the first and the second Intifada. I have seen the development and changes throughout this time. Refugees had at first minimal infrastructure. With time, cities grew larger and more populated. Now Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and with little and limited space people build upwards. Urban development has been restarted after every Israeli aggression.
In 2008 and 2009 Israeli bombardments caused a massacre and destroyed a lot. But people started again, they rebuilt, attempted certain developments to resolve problems caused by the Israeli settler-colonial regime and the military blockade. The 2012 bombardments brought destruction. Then again in 2014 … And in 2020 … With every hint of development, a huge infrastructure collapse and erasure of new and urban memories followed.
This is part of Israeli structural violence. They do not disrupt only our bodies by killing and wounding us they also erase and wound our memories. The images we have of our urban surroundings, of the streets, squares, iconic buildings – they destroy them.
What we see now is the most extreme. Every time is worse, bombardments and the destruction increase. Through the years the severity, pain and intensity have grown. It is a tactic to engineer and manage the people: they bomb more brutally and then they offer a few extra privileges. After each destruction the Israeli construction industry gets better business opportunities. Materials coming to Gaza are mostly from Israel colonial power. This is another ugly side of settler colonialism: they besiege us, bomb us and then they sell us material to build so they can later bomb again. They control the military checkpoints and the fences that surround Gaza and they decide what can come in.
The urban infrastructure and images of Gaza have thus been repeatedly erased through generations. The generation of the Palestinians of the blockade, who are the focus of my research, have been disrupted the most. They have seen the most destruction, bombings and continuous erasures of their homes, towns. They have lost many people, family members, friends … They have had to reproduce them and be in a way reborn multiple times.
But the present destruction is unprecedented?
Yes. It is an extreme peak of excessive violence and what legal experts warn amounts to genocide. The bombardments … especially the carpet bombings mean that there are repeated strikes on a building. This creates an-earthquake-like feeling that shakes bodies and makes hearts skip beats. People are losing family members, neighbours … The number of killed civilians is horrific. Whole families have been wiped out. I have friends who are the sole survivors – orphans. All their family members have been killed. My cousin’s wife and three children were killed. He is left alone. Thirteen years of his life and of building a home have been wiped out by an Israeli bombing.
This makes us draw comparisons with the price our grandparents paid during the Nakba. Gaza will never again be Gaza from before these bombardments, but the looming danger is even greater.
Many Palestinians warn that children connect Israel and Israelis only with bombings, tanks and destruction, the only experience they have with them. The effects of the brutalities reach across generations?
Yes. And this violence can also radicalize. I think this is actually the goal of the present fascist Israeli regime: to grow and embolden hate so that no one ever speaks about one, democratic state solution. It is part of the infrastructure of the occupation – the psychological war. They can legitimate the Jewish-only state if they can convincingly claim that it is not only that Palestinians are not Jewish but that Palestinians can not possibly overcome what Israeli forces had done and are doing to them – after such atrocities it is impossible to live amicably together.
This is Israeli long-term strategy of segregation – using the internalized injustices as a reason for continuous and growing segregation, for more Palestinian bantustans and Jewish superior control over the land. It is what the Zionist project has been about all along.
In response to the present Israeli bombardments of Gaza you have written A letter to Europe from a Palestinian. We witness dehumanization of Palestinians in many Western media, in politics – and we allow it. How does this effect us and will effect our societies?
What is happening is a huge disruption to our societies. The effects are felt and will come on many levels – economic, social, political and communal. Gaza will never be the same. And we as humans will not be the same – I think we are in an increasingly worsening state. The traumas never end. And Israel embeds more and more traumas and extreme experiences, using them as control mechanisms for human management. We have generations of Palestinians who have never had an experience with an Israeli civilian, only with the militarized responses, with snipers shooting peaceful protesters or farmers, with the siege that has made worse the dehumanization that has lasted decades. This aligns them with the rightwing groups in Europe and around the world that spread anti-Muslim propaganda. In their eyes no Muslim movement is a liberation movement, all are terrorists and none can be a partner in democracy.
We are experiencing a dangerous time. People in Palestine, in Gaza are at extreme risk. Reason is at risk. After experiencing or witnessing what we witness daily happening to our families in Gaza – we are changed, damaged.
Our, Palestinian lives are about sustaining hope, which is our moral duty, about sustaining survival and resistance. The situation is extreme but in many ways we have never lived “normal” lives. It is not normal to have to daily respond to and resist Israeli settler-colonial tactics to control and manage people. Yet we try to lead and continue with our “normal” lives. We want to remain human.
However, in the West, now more than ever we are not seen as equals. This time we can read this very clearly although we have known it for 75 years. But sometimes, in the most violent times you see the most humane and heroic faces of people. Like the ones who saved Holocaust survivors or who hid the Jews when Nazis came searching. There are people who put themselves at risk for humanity, who try to stop atrocities. They are the real humans, not those who are silent and neutral. Today the world is at a huge test. While Palestinians are being dehumanized, delegitimized we see how Gazans share the little water, bread, and rice they have so they can survive together. These are the most human actions – to care for and to share with others.
In your present and past activism, you cooperate with Israeli anti-apartheid activists. How difficult and important is this to counter the logic of segregation you have mentioned before that Israel is trying to instill?
It is important to understand that anti-colonial and anti-Zionist Israelis are very few, maybe a couple of thousands. They have very little power in a society that is mostly rightwing. Even liberal Zionists who support a two-state solution are not inclined to Palestinians living with them in a democratic, anti-colonial and anti-facist state.
With anti-Zionist and anti-colonial groups, like Jewish voice for peace, we share this vision and that is why it is important for us to work together. Also, here in Germany. We cooperate because we see the importance of our continuous communication and to prepare the ground for a one state reality, for being neighbours together …
For me the only important reality now is the struggle to dismantle the settler-colonial regime and enable the refugees to enact their right of return – to their homes they had to leave, to the villages their grandparents were forced from during Nakba. The future must be of equality, where no one is superior to the other. I have been trying to contribute to this in the last twenty years. Every time the suppression of settler colonial regime grows also our demands grow. And our moral responsibility grows, which is not exclusive to Palestine but inclusive of all people between the river and the sea. I believe that human liberation is connected to Palestinian liberation but also to the liberation of the Jewish settlers who have been used by the fascist, settler-colonial regime to occupy the land.
In the USA we see growing anti-Zionist, Jewish resistance to the Israeli settler-colonial project. Representing the majority of the Jewish youth they support the Palestinian struggle. We work together, we fight together for equality and for the rights of everybody. We re-see the reality of apartheid and settler-colonial regime. The fascist, right-wing settler-colonial regime can no longer hide its criminality. Anyone can learn and read what Israel is doing. And the continuous crimes against humanity that are committed to sustain the settler-colonial regime and Jewish supremacy put Jewish people around the globe at risk.
Yes, we need to keep open doors and we have to ensure there is a decolonised space for all oppressed and colonized people. They need to be given more space. It is crucial that Palestinian voices and narrative are heard and present. If we talk of liberation, then the most important voices must be of the oppressed and the colonized.
The reality of the occupied Palestine is also that the oppression sometimes comes from the Palestinian political forces, which Israel has coerced into the colonial system of repression. You mentioned the importance of being ready for a one, democratic state reality. How can Palestinian people and society be best supported in this?
Palestinians in Palestine are being put in bantustans. We are dealing with Foucault’s analyses how to manage people through capitalism. People are managed through deprivation. It is politics of death. Of course, there are always ways of reconciliation. And the oppressed are the ones who wish to live in peace the most. We know what it means – because we know what war, loss and dispossession mean. The intergenerational trauma gives us this huge longing for liberation, justice and equality.
But the West cannot ensure these. We need the whole world to stand up and say no to Israel. We need a stop to financing Israel, to arms trade with Israel. Israel’s status needs to reach the status of apartheid South Africa. This is the aim of the BDS campaign – to boycott, disinvest and sanction. These are the tools people have and this is the only way forward. A fascist right-wing regime will not change by itself. We need the revolution by the people. And I think we have solutions. No oppressed and colonized people have stayed oppressed and colonized forever. Liberation has a price and I only hope we will not have to pay much higher price than we have already paid.
South-African apartheid was resisted also by workers who joined the boycotts globally. You have called for this in the case of Palestine and Israel. There are unions in Europe who have supported the Palestinian unions’ call for solidarity, we see solidarity with Palestine among football fans, calls by academics to stop research and academic co-operations. Can this be enough?
A Norwegian example is a good one. Their biggest trade union with over a million members has voted for solidarity with Palestine, to ensure Israel’s accountability, and for the illegal settlements’ products to be banned. Also Belgian trade unions and the fire-fighters in Barcelona have expressed important support. Labour movements speak the same language and workers understand. Palestine is a class struggle, where the elite class is trying to protect its own economic interests. Around the world on the streets in solidarity with Palestine we see the workers, migrants … not the elites. Palestine joins many struggles: anti-imperial, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-class … it also reminds trade unions of their moral identity of internationalism and solidarity. On the streets we understand this.
I have great hope in people, also that they will find a way to ensure the space for the Palestinian narrative to be heard and explain others why this is our common struggle. Western states, all European governments are complicit in war crimes against Palestinians. They trade in arms with Israel and import settlement products. Taxes of Europeans and of workers contribute to Israeli actions against Palestinians. I think labour unions and people are protesting this more and more. And this is a very simple form of solidarity: make sure your tax money is not invested in war crimes.
Do you think legal venues are worth pursuing – the International Criminal Court prosecution and the use of universal jurisdiction …?
I think all venues are worth taking. Everybody can do something, also at their workplace. If a worker knows his or her company works with Israel, he or she should protest. This happened with workers at booking.com and Airbnb when accommodations were offered in illegal Israeli settlements. This is immoral and illegal. Workers held their employers to account, reached out to the BDS movement … some have deleted these offers, written appeals, some have quit their jobs. Capitalist structure is strong, but it reiterates that Palestine is also an anti-capitalist struggle. We see today that corporations are not held to account and we, people have been commodified to serve capitalist interests, which harm people in Palestine, Africa, global South; using people’s resources to gain more wealth. This is a clear global circle of structural violence that must be stopped. Western imperialism must be dismantled at all levels, today. Now.
Your grandparents were among the victims of Nakba. They were forced from villages Bayt Jirje and Isdud, today’s Israeli city of Ashdod. How can we ensure the right of return for all Palestinian refugees without adding to the fear Israeli government spreads against Palestinians? What would return, restitution, reparations and justice mean?
There are Palestinian architects and an important Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, who have worked on this question – is the return possible and how. There are many villages still there and there is enough space for everybody in the land. Return is viable. And settlers know they came from abroad and live on the land that is not theirs, contributing to ethnic cleansing. Reparations should be paid and Israel is a rich enough country and has received a lot of aid – only the military aid from the USA amounts to billions every year and this ongoing genocide on Gaza has cost already over 200 billion dollars, with more aid-money coming to Israel. There are legal and conflict transformation experts who can find a way and set up a system how this can be done.
What Israel is trying to do is construct fear among settlers that they are going to be the next refugees. This brings back fears that go back to Europe, to the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing of Jews from there, how the Zionist have been using this and to the Christian ongoing anti-Semitism against Jews to have them in Palestine. Before the colonization of Palestine Jews lived in all Arab lands. And we understand that a new wrong cannot be justified with the experience of a past wrong. We can achieve justice: everybody who has done wrong should apologize and the international community should facilitate the process with the aim that no one gets hurt. Everybody has to contribute to justice and equality and to collective liberation of everybody in the land. This is what the Palestinians have actually been calling for. We are trying to tell the Israelis, the Jews, the international community that we are ready for a solution that will not make more people refugees. We know the price of being a refugee, of having lost people and home, of resisting a settler-colonial regime and we do not want more harm.
Palestine has always been a diverse community – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha’i, Druze, Sufis … – everybody lived in Palestine together. There were no ethnic problems nor antisemitism, which have always been a European problem. Everybody was just Palestinian. That was historic Palestine. We could have a common land again. And we have enough smart people who can shape a fair and just resolution for everybody. This is the dream.