Determined Palestinian youth pledge to fight for liberation

On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, Al Jazeera spoke to Palestinian youth about their hopes for the future.

Palestinian wave national flags as they march in a rally marking the 74th anniversary of the "Nakba" or "catastrophe"
A Palestinian girl takes part in a rally marking the Nakba in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Occupied East Jerusalem – Seventy-five years after Palestine was ethnically cleansed and Israel was created by the Zionist movement, young Palestinians say that Israel’s creation came at their expense, and that the Nakba — or catastrophe — is a process of dispossession that never ended.

More than 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948 when Israel was created, an event Palestinians call the Nakba and mark each year on May 15. Israelis celebrate it as their “independence day”.

The three million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, 40 percent of whom are refugees from the areas that became part of Israel in 1948, face near-daily killings, nightly military raids into their homes, arbitrary arrests, home demolitions, denial of residency, and the theft of their land for Israel’s 200-plus Jewish-only colonies.

The Gaza Strip, where some two million Palestinians live, has been rendered uninhabitable as a result of a suffocating, 16-year blockade, where Israel controls who and what is allowed to enter and exit, and at least six large-scale military assaults that have killed thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of children.

Within Israel, also referred to by Palestinians as the 1948-occupied territories, the 1.8 million Palestinians are living as an involuntary minority in a state for Jews. The majority of Palestinian cities were ethnically cleansed in 1948, and the residents vastly disenfranchised. Palestinians inside Israel suffer from development restrictions on access to land and natural resources, poverty, and a political and security vacuum that has created a phenomenon of internal crime that takes lives on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees outside the border of the country stand as the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world. There are at least six million Palestinian refugees today living in 58 refugee camps across the 1967-occupied Palestinian territories and neighboring countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, Al Jazeera spoke to eight Palestinians between the ages of 20 and 35 about what they think of the situation on the ground and their hopes for the future.

Zainab Abu Kishek, 23, Lydd (Lod), Israel

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Zainab Abu Kishek says poverty, crime and discrimination in Lydd ‘terrorises you over who you are and your cause’ [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

It’s very difficult to see their “independence” celebrations in Lydd. As someone living in a “mixed city”, you have Jewish neighbours, you know them, you work with them and study with them, but you see that there is something deeper here. They have taken your land, your country, killed your loved ones, and they are celebrating. They are celebrating our Nakba and our pain. This is how we live.

Nothing can be acceptable or legal if it comes at the expense of another people, of me and my people, my grandmother and my grandfather.

In Lydd today, there is poverty, there is crime and shootings on a daily basis, and there is unbelievable discrimination that terrorises you over who you are and your cause and nationalism, so it pushes you away from this completely.

I think very few people are patriotic in Lydd. I think there are inbuilt systematic policies in Lydd that try to make people ignore and forget who they are and what their cause is. It’s about how I can secure food for my children today, and how I can protect them from both the police and also from our neighbour who can shoot us. This is the situation in Lydd. It’s very difficult.

After the events of May 2021 [when historic protests erupted in which Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories, and even refugees, mobilised and marked a turning point in Palestinian unity], there became a lot of political and national awareness. People began to realise that it is not by coincidence that there are so many killings in Lydd. They understood that this is part of a wider systematic policy against us as Palestinians.

Momen Sbeih, 22, Bethlehem, occupied West Bank

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Momen Sbeih says, ‘We are living in a fictional state – a state under occupation’ [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

In the last few years, there have been people martyred in our neighbourhood. One of my friends, Mohammad Ghneim, 20, was killed. Another youth, Mohammad Salah, 15, was killed. They were both shot in the back, for no reason. There were no confrontations when they were killed.

I live in the area of Khader in Bethlehem at the top of a hill. Twenty metres (66 feet) away from our house, there is the separation wall and there is a military checkpoint. The soldiers and their jeeps are there every day, all day.

When I am sitting on the balcony with my family, the soldiers are there watching over the whole neighbourhood with their weapons pointed at us. When there are confrontations with youth, stun and tear gas grenades would fall into our balcony.

We are talking about organised, militarised violence. It’s an army, but it practises the violence practised by gangs, on a daily basis. Those who carry out crimes here are dressed in military uniform and they are not held accountable or punished.

The ease with which the occupation army can reach you cancels out any feeling of safety you are supposed to have. They come and raid your house at 3am. There is nothing to deter them and there is nothing you have to protect yourself from them.

We are living in a fictional state – a state under occupation. There can be no Palestinian state under occupation. Is it just about taking pictures of the pretty buildings and nice malls in Ramallah? At the end of the day, I’m going to stand at a checkpoint to go from one area to another.

Talal Arouqi, 30, occupied Gaza Strip

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Tareq Arouqi says Gaza is the largest prison in the world [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

On May 14, 2018, I was shot [by the Israeli army] in the thigh, leading to lacerations in the bone.

It was the day when they carried out a massacre in Gaza during the Great March of Return protests. We were standing as a group. Everyone was there that day – men, women, children, families – everyone. They started shooting at us indiscriminately. We fell as a group. I fell with five or six other people. Someone was shot in the head, someone in the limbs. We all had different injuries.

I spent 11 to 12 months in treatment and I was considered someone with a disability. I couldn’t eat on my own, I couldn’t get dressed on my own. The bullet paralyzed my entire body.

I decided to participate in the protests because at the time I was a fresh graduate. The Gaza Strip is besieged and we are under occupation. There is no income, no opportunities for travel, no horizon for 25- or 26-year-olds – like thousands of other young males in the Strip. We wanted a solution to our problems, no matter what happens. We wanted to break the siege. We wanted to get our voice to the entire world. Gaza is the largest prison in the world.

On a personal level, I do not think that this state should have any metre of control over any part of this land. They came – occupied, stole, killed, arrested, and destroyed our society – from our ancestors to this generation.

How do they celebrate independence when they basically wiped out an entire people and country? Stole our lands, our rights. It is so ironic.

Majd Abu Sharar, 21, Hebron, occupied West Bank

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Majd Abu Sharar says, ‘If we want liberation, we all have to fight at the same time’ [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Everywhere you go, you know there are people who have been injured, or are being harassed by the army, or there is a martyr.

Anytime you want to go from one place to another, you have to cross checkpoints. All you see are soldiers, people pointing their weapons at you. It’s normal for us to spend five hours at a checkpoint, a whole day on checkpoints.

We live in a village called Fuqeiqis in Hebron. Settlers built a settlement on our lands called Negohot, on the hill next to my grandfather’s house. My uncle has sheep. The settlers bring the army and prevent my uncle from grazing his sheep on his lands, while they graze their sheep on our lands.

We deserve liberation. That’s our natural right, but I still can’t imagine it. If we are liberated, the first thing I think of is how the Palestinian political factions will fight over control. The occupation created this division. They want us to think that we are better off under their control because we don’t know what is good for us.

I think our awareness, with every generation, is increasing. The May 2021 events showed us that we can stand together and gave us some hope for the future.

If we want liberation, we all have to fight at the same time, so that Palestine as we know it can come back.  There is no such thing as Palestine being only the West Bank, or only Gaza.

Shaher al-Azzami, 34, Lydd (Lod), Israel

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Shaher al-Azzami says discrimination against Palestinians in Lydd became much more evident after the events of May 2021 [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Even if Israelis are here and want to remain here, they are welcome, but I don’t believe they should be the ones in control. We are the owners of this land, this country.

The creation of Israel caused the Nakba, they caused destruction and de-development. Today, they try to constrict us as much as possible, and they try to portray us as an irrational people, while they are the ones who have a right to this land.

The discrimination we live under became very apparent after May 2021. They [Israelis] came out with weapons, batons and attacked people. I was one of the Palestinians attacked. The state, the police, protected and supported them – three or four people would walk and police on horseback would be behind them.

I don’t think their [Israel’s] plans for the future include any kind of peace. I don’t think it will be a peaceful fight. I think that there will be a bigger uprising than the one that happened in May 2021, and I think it will be the decisive and final one. We have youth and they are becoming more aware.

Eyad Abu Sneineh, 24, occupied East Jerusalem

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Eyad Abu Sneineh was arrested multiple times by the Israeli army [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

The occupation exposes us to daily arrests for months and years. They demolish our homes, and they refuse to give us permits to build homes. All the basic living conditions that any human would demand are forbidden here.

The political state of affairs today is very difficult, in light of the occupation and even the presence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) today. The PA is not helping us as a Palestinian people, whether it wants to or not.

The Israeli occupation ethnically cleansed the people and lands in the 1948 areas [Israel], just like it is trying to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem and the West Bank so that they can put Israelis in our place.

Nour Alayan, 27, occupied Gaza Strip

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Nour Alayan is a radio news presenter in the besieged Gaza Strip [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Today in the Gaza Strip, you feel like you are living between four walls. We dream of at least being able to smell the air in the rest of our country. To just visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and our holy sites, even for only an hour.

Israel is preventing us from moving between Palestinian areas; it prevents us from living in peace. We are under siege, and have been through consecutive assaults.

Even if Israel was recognised internationally as a state, we as Palestinians do not recognise it as a state. It is the Nakba that we remember on May 15 every year. You feel the longing and the pain when your grandmother talks about their dispossession in 1948.

The youth are the ones who are trying to defend the Palestinian cause today, in light of the fact that the political factions have forgotten the cause.

We call on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the [1993] Oslo Accords and security coordination with Israel, and to leave the Palestinian people to defend themselves.

The international community is trying to make the two-state solution work, but I think our rights as Palestinians, including to speak, are being swallowed. Our right to defend our country – to say this is one country, Palestine, and not two – is being disregarded, but we will never cease fighting and resisting for our homeland.

Fayrouz Atayqa, 26, Naqab (Negev), Israel

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Fayrouz Atayqa and her family were displaced from their village in the Naqab area in 2006 [Courtesy of Fayrouz Atayqa]

I lived through dispossession in 2006, when they came and demolished homes in our village and demanded that the entire village move because our homes don’t have building permits that they have to issue for us. They displaced us about 300 metres (100 feet) away from our original village, and until today the authorities are refusing to hook us up to regular services such as access to electricity or water or even paved roads, while the Jewish communities around us have everything.

They continue to demolish Palestinian homes every few years in our areas. They want us to live in cities, which we as Bedouins do not do. We refuse. We don’t want to leave our area and our lands.

I always ask myself, will we still be here in 10 years? Will they displace us from our lands? Will they transfer us to another country?

The state [Israel] promises you security, freedom, freedom of expression, but you see the opposite. We have so much crime, daily shootings and killings, and they don’t do anything about it, and they constantly want to displace us. You feel like a stranger in your country, your house.

I think everyone has a right to live in freedom, and they [Israelis] can be here in our country, but them having rights and existing on top of us and our lands is not right.

They come to our lands and displace us, and a few years later, you find that there are big modern buildings in the place of our villages, built for Jews. We see no equality. Just as Jews get security, homes, lands, jobs, we should get our rights as well.

Additional reporting by Maram Humaid in the Gaza Strip.

Source: Al Jazeera