Free Palestine, Free Gaza

The conflict between Palestine and the Israeli state has a long history. It can most notably be linked to the Balfour Declaration, which was issued by the British government in 1917. It declared support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which at the time only had a small Jewish population. There were proposals to partition the land for the Jewish state in 1937 & 1947. The influx of Jewish settlers after WWII, the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 and the move to push Palestinians from their land brought resistance from Palestinians and surrounding Arab states. This led to numerous wars and violent conflicts in Palestine, bordering countries and the region. The Israeli state has since continued its expansion into Palestinian territories through the use of illegal settlements and forced evictions of Palestinians. Israel maintains strict control of Palestinian movement in West Bank settlements, and Gaza has been called the biggest open-air prison in the world due to the heavy restriction on people and goods going in and out of the Israeli occupied area.

In 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza in response to an ongoing conflict with Hamas. The Israeli bombing operation led to the deaths of around 2200 Gazans and wounded around 10,000, including over 3000 children, while the Israeli death toll was 67 soldiers, 5 civilians and 700 wounded. Global protests erupted in cities all over the world in response to Israel’s excessive violence and its blatant disregard for the lives of civilians and children.

I photographed and interviewed protesters in New York City. I also was able to remotely interview activists in Gaza and the West Bank. My interview with the Gaza activist took multiple meetings due to the Israeli government shutting off Gaza’s electricity. Voices documented from the movement were published in my Elements of Oppression blog that was created at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement to amplify the voices of people who have been affected by systems of oppression. Below are the voices from the 2014 movement.

“I hope that this world deals with me like any ordinary person around the world, as a Palestinian who has his own nationality and independence, so I can travel everywhere I travel through my Palestinian passport without any troubles, without people considering that I’m a terrorist, without people considering that I’m a beggar or homeless or as someone who does not have a homeland…I’d like to see the world give the hand of help for Palestinians and to rebuild Palestine and strengthen our economy, so we can become a great nation. If I obtain my freedom or not, I have this wish that I see the world standing beside oppressed and innocent peoples and giving them their rights. People gather to defend those innocent people who suffer from terrorists and war criminals like ISIS and Zionist Israeli leadership and dictatorship systems such as Syria and Yemen. If this happened, the world would live in peace as the war and the blood-shedding would stop forever.”

 “I think as long as people continue to side with each other, as long as we choose a principled position—not one that’s just based on our own struggle—but a principled position against oppression, as long as we stop fearing controversy, it’s possible.  As we’ve seen with Syria, a lot of people didn’t speak out because the controversy surrounding it, but when you have a principled position against oppression regardless of who it is, regardless of who’s perpetuating it, whether it’s white colonialists or whether it is an Arab dictator, if you choose a principle and stick to it, we will overcome it. The power in the people is massive, and this is coming from a very cynical person. I grew disenchanted with everything at one point, but when you think of the power in the people and you think of the struggle, struggle does not rise merely from anger. It rises from a massive amount of love for humanity and a massive amount of love to live. That is the drawing force. It is not merely anger. That is something we have to understand as well.”

“There are things that come to mind right away. There’s all kinds of diseases that we can cure. Famines don’t have to happen. I hope that we’re capable of reversing the effects of climate change and other ecological disasters that capitalism has done to the planet. I imagine it’s possible…I actually think that we’re capable of a world based on society being about enriching people. I think about what it would mean to not have borders in every sense, not only to learn much more about places around the world but to actually be able to go all around the world freely. That would be transformative for human society. Then, we can have more of a global society. I think that it would unleash human potential that at the moment is totally suppressed. How many people who are incarcerated right now may be the ones to come up with the ecological solutions to climate change? Or to produce all kinds of amazing art? Or just to have really rich personal lives, which would be tremendous. I think that so much is possible. I think there’s more possibility then we can imagine if we overcome this deeply oppressive society.”

“I want to have kids when I get older, and I want them to live in a society where they don’t ask me why there are kids that have a different skin color than them. I want them to live in a world where children are born, and they don’t care. They just play with each other because they’re all free. When I was in high school, I ask my sister why my teacher treated me different from everyone else. I don’t want my kids to have to ask me that question. I want them to live in a world where the system is actually in everyone’s favor. I want them to grow up in a society where they can actually make it, where they don’t have to work ten times harder than the white kid sitting next to them in class, where everyone can equally work as hard and everyone can equally be as successful as they want to be regardless of skin color, regardless of faith or gender or ableism. That’s the world I can only hope to see before I die.”

“I don’t know how to answer these big questions about the future. I just would say that it would be great if we could eliminate the sources of racism and eliminate the sources of oppression, gender, race, ethnicity or whatever word you use to describe those kinds of injustices. Do I think we’ll have a perfect world? Of course not because human beings are not perfect. As Kant’s saying goes, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made.” People are not going to create a perfect society. There’s always going to be tension. There’s always going to be problems to resolve, particularly when there is scarcity of resources. But as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And so all we can do is try to struggle and defend those principles of equality whenever and wherever we can, particularly when people being denied their rights are calling out to the world for solidarity. And you can’t do that as an activist on the basis that you’ll be successful, that someday you’ll achieve this Utopian existence. You can only do it on the basis that it’s the right way to live life.”