When I left Palestine a few weeks ago, I left behind more than the place I had come to call home, its generous people I had come to call family, and all the warm, exotic sights, smells, tastes and sounds of a world that revived my spirit, conscience, passion and will to live.
I left my heart behind. Driving away toward Tel Aviv, the Palestine I know and love began to fade into the background, as I quickly made one last mental map of the geography of occupation around me, evident in the carefully-plotted demarcations separating “us” from “them.” A world compartmentalized; the settlements, gates, trenches, and watchtowers confine my heart, leaving a caustic pang in my gut as I continued driving on my way through modern-day apartheid.
After passing an extensive security inspection at the checkpoint a mile outside of Ben Gurion Airport’s main terminal, my family and I were permitted entry into the airport where we stood in line, along with all the other Muslims, Arabs, and people of color, waiting and watching our baggage unpacked and inspected for the second time around, continuing to answer the same questions for the tenth time from the tenth person.
Watching every last thing unpacked and inspected with a chemical sniffing device, I realized that Palestinians are not the only ones strangled and imprisoned by this system of oppression and constant fear of existential threats. Israelis are too. Behind barbed wire and power-operated gates controlled by guard towers and security cameras, their lives have been reduced to the state of animals trapped behind metal cages in the zoos they’ve built themselves on the bloodshed and demolition of others.
A life consumed by fear, intimidation, and oppressive censorship not only dehumanizes the oppressed but the oppressor as well. As I watched the guards meticulously leaf through and swab the pages of my books for bomb residues or any other suspicious evidence, I pitied the ethnocentric hysteria and racial profiling creating Israel’s most dangerous threat and worst enemy: itself.
In recent days, hundreds of activists from all around the world flew in to Ben Gurion Airport. Dozens have been deported and dozens more are in detention for nothing more than accepting an invitation from Palestinians to visit them in the West Bank in a peaceful challenge to Israel’s apartheid.
They have refused to be bullied into omitting where they’ll be going or who they’ll be seeing. They won’t play the “tourist card” or hide their affiliation with a noble cause in exchange for a stamped visa by an oppressive state.
Standing on the side of justice is never something to fear, and to ultimately be liberated from our oppression, we must first have the courage to liberate ourselves from the inferiority complex that has debilitated us too long. And when we do, the look on the oppressor’s face will no longer strike fear into our hearts or nail us to the spot. Their voices will no longer petrify us, and we will no longer be uneasy in their presence or be made to feel guilty for crimes we did not commit.
If defending the lives of children, traumatized by being shot at while flying kites, by having to witness their families massacred right before their eyes, and by having their childhoods stolen before ever beginning for the crime of being born Palestinian, makes us criminals and terrorists, then so be it.
When the arrogance and mania of an occupier drive it to controlling the fate of innocent civilians suffering from renal failure, cancers, and diseases eating away at any semblance of the lives they’ve had to live under occupation by depriving them of necessary and proper medical treatment, then it becomes quite clear who exemplifies terrorism.
And when the life of one Israeli soldier held prisoner in Gaza continues to be deemed more valuable than the lives of 1.6 million people, half of whom are children, robbed of the basic necessities and freedoms we take for granted every day, then what we really should fear is the fear that has too often caused us to be silent or submissive in the presence of such oppression.
From those who continue to strengthen and expand the movement to free Gaza from an illegal, sociopathic siege; those partaking in popular resistance in the West Bank, to those who’ve been detained and criminalized for giving a voice to the voiceless, pro-Palestinian solidarity activists worldwide are no longer afraid of a state that is well on its way to global pariah status.
So whether or not a flotilla is ever granted permission to sail to Gaza by weak, opportunistic states, whether or not activists are denied entry by insecure bullies, and whether or not the hearts of corrupt leaders and sycophants at the UN, in Ramallah, Washington or Tel Aviv ever bleed for the injustice caused to the Palestinian people, the struggle has already succeeded in creating ripples that cannot be stopped as they grow into waves.
We’ll continue to circumvent media blockades, counter colonialism’s constant pursuit to distort and disparage through hasbara (propaganda).
True fighters needn’t impose suffering and misery on others through diabolical weaponry or fabricate the truth to maintain a sense of false security. They’re not driven by an obsessive need to maintain a sense of victimhood to victimize others, nor do they need to perpetuate paranoid fabrications to create external enemies out of anyone showing the least bit of dissent or resistance — like flotillas carrying letters and eighty-seven year-old Holocaust survivors.
They fight with the most basic and powerful of weapons, and that’s humanity. Palestinians and devoted activists have broken far more than an illegal blockade; they’ve broken through and exposed decades of propaganda and disfigured reality that allowed the world to stand by while people are persecuted and maimed. And millions of people all over the world have come to identify with the Palestinian struggle as a symbol for the struggle for freedom everywhere.
With every punitive, illegal measure it takes, Israel succeeds in exposing its rabid practices to the world, strengthening exactly what it set out to destroy and suppress in the first place — our resistance and will. And if for a second, any doubters think the Palestinian people, who have endured almost every type of inconceivable crime against humanity for 63 years now, are just going to concede, roll over and die, they have another thing coming.
Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists on land and sea, armed with humanity and hope, will continue to break sieges of lands and minds. With conviction and the audacity to dream, we’ll reclaim justice for Palestine with fire and spark in our hearts and eyes filled with hope.
Come hell or high water, we’ll never lose sight and never give in. Our time of standing on the sidelines waiting for hegemonic states and cowardly puppet organizations to come and rescue us has ended. We won’t wait around to ask permission to take back our self-determination and inalienable right to live with dignity. That ship has sailed, and it will arrive on the other shore.
Dina Elmuti is a graduate student in social work in Illinois concentrating on relief and social services, human rights and health/mental health social work.