We are not all Palestinian

Posted on 09 July 2012

Al-Ma’sara is a small village south-east of Bethlehem. Like so many parts of the West Bank, its lands are being taken by Israel: for expanding settlements and for “security”, which is either for the wall or a euphemism for providing a no-man’s land between settlements and Palestinian villages or towns.

As is the case in other areas, Friday is the day of demonstration against the continued aggressive expropriation of Palestinian land.  Al-Ma’sara residents have been actively protesting for six years.

Mohammad Brijia  is one of the key organisers of the Al-Ma’sara Popular Committee. We went on Friday to join the demonstration and spent some time with Mohammad, finding out more about the activities of the villagers. His energy and belief is boundless, as is his mother’s.

Along with us in Mohammad’s home was a guy from Poland: K’s mother is Polish but his father is Palestinian. His grandparents fled their village nearby to Jaffa and his father was born in Jordan. K’s identity as a Palestinian wasn’t formed until he was a young adult, along with his elder sister, which I have found with many second and  third generation Palestinians born in the West. Since then they have been very active in Poland, forming a very successful solidarity group.

He wanted to interview Mohammad so J translated for him. It was interesting listening to the questions and answers. He wanted to know:  just  how ‘popular’ is the popular struggle? Much of the conversation concentrated on the small size of the demonstration, at which there were as many soldiers as protesters, and more internationals than locals.

Mohammad had many reasons for why this is. He explained that they have been protesting for six years, so it is hard to maintain the momentum over such a long period of time as people tire or become bored. There is also fear. Fear of losing what they still have, fear of prison, fear of causing more trouble for the village. Some people have said, “Why do you do this, we don’t want trouble.” People like Mohammad are targeted by the occupation forces: he has, of course, been imprisoned for his non-violent activities. During this time, his mother took over the role of leading each week’s demonstration.

Compared to other West Bank communities, Al-Ma’sara’s land problems don’t seem so bad. The land taken is only owned by one person, not many, and is relatively small, around eight dunams. But the problem is significant to the village because of the proximity of the settlements in the area. Bethlehem is surrounded by settlements and most of its land has been taken to provide for these illegal colonies. Bethlehem district, including its arable lands, once measured 31 square kilometres. In 2010 it was just 5.7 square kilometres. And more land is taken day by day, for the wall and for the settlers.

Mohammad also talked at some length about the role NGOs can play in. He spoke about how people becoming involved with organisations can corrupt them.  They get used to the money, the opportunities for travel and privileges these bring. It’s certainly a big industry here, but Mohammad does not see it as a good thing as it becomes divisive in the community. Money corrupts, no matter where it’s from.

His mother joined us and her views were equally as enlightening. I have spoken with so many people over the years and have heard countless stories that make me upset or angry, or an equal measure of both.

She told us of a project she and some other women in the village have started, a reaction to the Israeli junk foods (sweets and savoury snacks) that their children have become accustomed to. Each day the group makes fresh fruit juices, homemade cakes, popcorn and little sandwiches to sell to the children. It’s as much a way of boycotting Israeli products as it is providing fresh and healthy alternative snacks to the local children. But NGOs are not interested in these kinds of initiatives so it’s impossible to get any support. I have heard “normalisation” mentioned time and time again this week. Yet another way to try and control what Palestinians can and cannot do

She also spoke about politicisation and how her life experiences and choices have all been shaped by politics and the occupation. For those who’ve not been born under occupation, I think it is impossible to truly grasp what it means and how it affects every single aspect of every moment of your life, from the moment of your birth until the day you die.

“We are all Palestinians” is often chanted at demos, and written on placards or t-shirts, but this is not true. A soldier at a checkpoint will not treat an international in the same way that he would a Palestinian. A Palestinian cannot travel freely, and is often treated differently wherever they may go. That is if they can even get a visa. To live in a condition where even the most simple of choices can be taken away from you, there is no freedom of anything. You can be imprisoned, beaten and tortured for your beliefs, your thoughts, your identity. Palestinians born under the occupation have their lives shaped and controlled in every conceivable way. We are not all Palestinians.

2 responses to We are not all Palestinian

  • Mary says:

    You are so right. Everything good here….loving the Saad Plaza!

  • admin says:

    thanks!! glad all well :)

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