On my notebooks from school
On my desk and the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name
On every page read
On all the white sheets
Stone blood paper or ash
I write your name …
– Paul Eluard
Edward Said wrote extensively about the necessity of writing the Palestinian narrative. But he also argued, very eloquently, that we were never allowed to do so. Now, we in Gaza have decided to write our narratives, sometimes with blood.
Because they leave a mark on our individual and collective consciousness, we call them martyrs. Those who took up arms or pens — Che Guevara, Ghassan Kanafani, Naji al-Ali, Dalal Mughrabi, Shadia Abu Ghazaleh, Steve Biko, Salavador Allende, Rosa Luxemburg, Patrice Lumumba, to mention but a few — have booked their places there.
But there are others, much younger, unknown to many, who have played a major role in the formation of our consciousness. They visit me every night; I see them in my dreams. I talk to them: I discuss serious issues with them, more serious than any living person can imagine.
At 139 square miles, Gaza is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negroes” of the American south, the black natives of apartheid South Africa. The surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi Israeli cannot coexist with.
The years 1987, 2009, 2012 and now 2014 are signposts on the road to our liberation. But they have also been landmarks in the formation of my own consciousness, not unlike those left by the great martyrs mentioned above. 1987: Ashraf Eid, 15 years old, my cousin’s son/sun. One bullet, shot by an Israeli sniper in Rafah, penetrated his small heart. It was the end of a long fasting day during the holy month of Ramadan. One bullet, the end of Ashraf’s life, a mark on my consciousness.
2009: Maather Abu Znaid, 24, my student. I was teaching my first course, “The Novel,” at al-Aqsa University in 2005 in Khan Younis. I taught two novels, one by Ghassan Kanafani and, ironically, another by the racist writer and Nobel Laureate V.S Naipaul. Students know me to be “strict” and “stingy” in giving marks, but Maather got 92 percent, a mark I rarely award. She graduated with high honors — an intelligent student with big, expansive dreams. She wanted to further her studies, but in Gaza, dreams fly away. During the Gaza massacre of 2009, Maather was targeted and hit by a drone missile as she left her house. Her family is still trying to find parts of her body, if they ever can. That was a dream cut short. One drone missile, end of dreams; another mark on my consciousness.
2009: Forty-four-year old Samir Muhammad was executed with a single bullet to the heart in front of his wife and children. The Israeli army refused to let an ambulance pick up his corpse for eleven days so his family had to wait for the assault to stop before they could bury him. His father, Rashid, told me in agonizing detail how he had the excruciatingly painful experience of looking at, touching, kissing and then burying the decomposed body of his son. Rashid is originally from my parents’ village, Zarnouqa; he knew them well. Samir could have been me. Single bullet: Zarnouqa is not far.
2009: Muhammad Samouni, 10, was found lying next to the bodies of his mother and siblings, five days after they were killed. He would tell you what he has been telling everyone — that his brother woke suddenly after being asleep for a long time. His brother told him that he was hungry, asked for a tomato to eat and then died. A torch in the dark depths of my consciousness.
2009: Ismat, 11, and Alaa Qirm, 12, whose house in Gaza City was shelled with artillery and phosphorous bombs — bombs which burned them to death together with their father, leaving behind their fourteen-year-old sister Amira. Alone, injured and terrified, Amira crawled 500 meters on her knees to a house close by which happened to be my cousin’s home. It was empty because the family had fled when the Israeli attack began. She stayed there for four days, surviving only on water. When my cousin returned to get clothes for his family, he found Amira, weak and close to death. The bodies of her siblings and father were decomposed. Another deep scar left in the depths of my consciousness.
2014: Najla al-Haj, a student at al-Aqsa University, killed with her family, in an Israeli air strike on the home of her family in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. She was talking to her university friends online just a few hours before. Hanadi, another student, as well as my 18-year-old niece Shimo, only learned of her friend’s death hours later when they awoke for suhour, the Ramadan pre-fast meal. Hanadi went immediately to Najla’s Facebook page. The last thing Najla wrote was: “God be with us. Oh, hello martyrdom.” Najla al-Haj died with seven others from her family. One airstrike, martyrdom of an entire family; a signpost on the road back to Haifa.
As I argued in 2012 and 2009, the fact that these Palestinians were not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the black natives of South Africa, they must be isolated in a bantustan, in accordance with the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords. If those corralled into a cage show any resistance to this plan, they must be severely punished — sometimes by a single bullet, sometimes by missiles made in the United States, and sometimes by phosphorus bombs.
How I can contribute to make their deaths a meaningful one is the question that has been tormenting me for years. Being a teacher of resistance literature, two Palestinian novels have also left their mark: Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun and All That is Left to You. In the former, we, Palestinian refugees, are the weaker party: the passive, hiding victims who dare not bang on the walls of the searingly hot tanker truck in which we are concealed.
But in All That is Left to You, Hamid, like me a refugee, is the Palestinian protagonist who chooses to act and become an agent of change. If this brings death, it will be a death which opens up possibilities for a better life to others.
Similarly, the offer that is given to us in Gaza and Palestine today is that we can either have a dignified death as we struggle or we can continue to live in slavery. Those who left a mark on my consciousness made the former choice and allowed us to live. The Palestinian people, and Gazans in particular, have been living an unending massacre since 1948. We can no longer negotiate about improving the conditions of oppression; it is either the full menu of rights, or nothing. And that means the end of occupation, apartheid and colonialism.
Liberation, not coordination
At the end of the massacre of 180 people, the vast majority civilians, in November 2012 , we were told that the end of the massacre would lead to the lifting of the siege. That did not happen. Now, the lifting of the siege is not enough. When this barbaric attack ends with the victory of the Palestinian people, we do not want a Palestinian Authority, nor Oslo accords, nor “security coordination.”
Like the previous massacres in 2009 and 2012, the current one must become a signpost on our long walk to liberation. Liberation is the antithesis of Oslo, and the racist two-state solution. Any revolutionary alternative offered by resistance on the ground must, therefore, divorce itself from all previous agreements.
The end of this genocidal war must necessarily mean the end of Oslo because, simply put, the Oslo accords are the equivalent of slavery as there is nothing to lose but our chains and our refugee tents.
Ashraf, Maather, Najla, Ismat, Alaa, Muhammad and Samir deserve better: a free country in which their names are signposted on the streets of Haifa, Jaffa and Zarnouqa.
Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator from the Gaza Strip, Palestine.