Alex Kane: Hello, and welcome to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. I’m Alex Kane, your host today and a Senior Reporter at Jewish Currents. Today, we’re gonna be talking about Gaza, the coastal territory bordering Egypt and Israel that has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 and subjected to periodic Israeli aerial bombardment. The latest Israeli attack took place early last month. It was at least the fifth major Israeli military assault on Gaza since 2008. These bombardments have killed thousands of Palestinians, a majority is civilians. And even when there’s no active bombing campaign, the slow strangulation of Gaza continues in the form of the blockade. Fishermen, for instance, who venture out past an Israeli imposed limit are shot at or arrested, their boats confiscated. Palestinian farmers are trying to get to their land near the fence separating Gaza from Israel are routinely shot at and sometimes killed. The entry and exit of goods, of course, is tightly controlled by Israel, which has led to a devastated economy and an unemployment rate of about 50%. That’s some of the recent contexts we’re going to be talking about.
And I also wanted to get into a little bit of the recent history of Gaza, or at least the history since 1948. Of course, Gaza is a territory where the majority of its over 2 million people traces roots not to Gaza, but to Historic Palestine, in present-day Israel. From 1947 to 1949, about an estimated 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes by Zionist militias, and following Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Israeli army, many of them ended up in Gaza.
To talk about all of this and much, much more, I’m so happy to be joined by two guests. One is Khouloud Balata, a lecturer, poet, and writer from Gaza who has written two wonderful pieces for Jewish Currents on life in Gaza. If you haven’t checked them out, I highly encourage you to read them by searching “Khouloud Balata Jewish Currents,” or you can check out our show notes, where there will be links to those. The other guest is Miriam Marmur, the Director of Public Advocacy for Gisha–Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the leading Israeli group focusing on Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Khouloud and Miriam, thank you so much for coming on our podcast.
Miriam Marmur: Thank you. Great to be here.
Khouloud Balata: We’re happy to be here.
AK: It’s kind of tough to know where to start on such a complicated and massive topic. But Khouloud, I was going to ask you: How does the blockade intrude on your life?
KB: Well, so when I’m talking about 2022, I’m talking about the year that marks almost 15 years of land, sea, air blockade against Gaza. That means that I spent more than two-thirds of my life under occupation. I can’t actually recall, vividly, what life was like before this blockade. But I do remember that life wasn’t as stressful as it is now. There are a lot of examples, in fact. I lost my grandma because of the occupation, because of the blockade. She was having cancer, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she was waiting for her permission to leave through Israel to go to Jerusalem to receive treatment. But that didn’t work out. So I lost her because of the blockade. Another thing is that I’m a nerd, you know, I’m a quite a nerd. I do study a lot. I do read a lot. So one of the issues is that we don’t have electricity. So I was using candles to study, to read, to do all these things. And by time, my sight was deteriorating, you know?
AK: Can you tell us a little bit more about that? I mean, it’s such a basic fact of life for so many Americans and for so many Israelis. Like people would freak out in the United States if there was no electricity for hours on end. What is that like for you?
KB: Well, we’re used to it now. The strange thing is that when we have electricity for more than eight hours, this would be strange. This would be awkward. When I’m talking about electricity, I’d like to refer to a catastrophe or a disaster that happened to describe, I guess. In 2016, three small children were burned to death because of the candle they were using to set their bedroom alight or something like that, and they got burned to death. So of course, we use candles because we can’t afford buying batteries, or being provided for a generator, for example, because that would cost a lot of money. So we use candles.
AK: I wanted to ask one more sort of personal question. I mentioned earlier that most Palestinians in Gaza are refugees and that many of them trace their family roots not to Gaza, necessarily–although I think some do–but to lands within present-day Israel. And I wanted to ask you about your family. Were they originally from Gaza? Are they refugees who were expelled during the Nakba?
KB: Unfortunately, we were refugees who were expelled during the Nakba. We were from Hiribya originally. However, we were expelled to Gaza.
AK: Miriam, I want to turn to you. You’re a policy expert but I’m also curious, before we get into that side of things, if you could explain how you got into this line of work, advocating for an end to the Israeli blockade and documenting the blockade.
MM: So I started working at Gisha about five years ago. Before that, I was a student. I was living in Jerusalem and actually became involved in work against the occupation, basically trying to stand in solidarity with Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and raise awareness around the harm caused by the occupation, and the way Israel practices the occupation in Jerusalem specifically. So to kind of try and raise awareness around that issue among Israelis. I’m an Israeli, I’m a Jew. I was born in Israel and grew up in what I would call liberal, Zionist home. It became kind of clear to me in later years, and when I was a student, that, to me, the most important thing that I can do as an Israeli, or the thing that I feel is very central to me and my identity, is to oppose this regime and the ways in which it harms Palestinians. So I came into that kind of activism as a student, and then moving on from that, I was looking for a way to further engage with these kinds of questions. When I came to Gisha, I didn’t know very much about Gaza. It was something I remembered from earlier years, of course–the disengagement from Gaza was something that is kind of central in a lot of Israelis’ memories–but I didn’t know very much about this strip of land. So in my time at Gisha, I feel lucky enough to have learned a little bit about life in Gaza, and specifically about the ways in which Israeli policy impact various aspects of life in Gaza.
AK: Obviously, at Gisha, I mean, your job is to explain Israeli policy and how it impacts Palestinians in Gaza. But you can’t go to Gaza, right?
MM: That’s correct. I’ve never been to Gaza myself,
AK: Because Israel–since what, 2007 I want to say? Or even before that?–has barred all Israelis from going to Gaza.
MM: That’s correct. I think it was actually after the disengagement, basically, that Israelis could no longer enter the area. And then in 2007, when the Israeli cabinet declared Gaza a hostile entity, those restrictions were entrenched even further. So like me, a lot of the people working at Gisha have never been to Gaza. We have a field coordinator and researcher who is part of our team who is a Gaza resident himself. So a lot of our communication with him is similar to the situation that we’re experiencing now. We kind of depend on intermittent electricity and internet supply, but we communicate with him daily. So yes, he’s in many ways the most meaningful connection that I have, or the most everyday connection that I have to what life in Gaza looks like on the ground.
AK: Before we go on further: What is Gisha? I sort of mentioned it, but I mean, a little bit more about what Gisha does. And also, how is Gisha’s work received, or not received, by the broader Israeli public?
MM: Gisha is a human rights organization in Israel. The organization was founded in 2005, a little bit before the implementation of the disengagement plan. So the disengagement plan was a decision reached by the Israeli government to remove the Israeli settlements and military installations from within the Strip. It was kind of a one-way decision by Israel to exit from Gaza, essentially. And the people who founded Gisha understood that even though Israel would be physically removing itself from within the Strip to a certain extent, this would not actually spell the end of Israel’s control over life in the Strip, and that this control which Israel still has today, through its control over movement of people and goods to and from the Strip, would also come with certain legal obligations to protect human rights of Palestinians living in Gaza. So that is kind of the historic premise, and also the idea that Gisha is founded on and what we do to this day.
The main area of our work is that we give legal representation to mainly Palestinians in Gaza, but also sometimes Palestinians outside of Gaza who are basically faced with this labyrinthian bureaucracy that has been set up by Israel to control Palestinians’ movement, who are trying to obtain a permit to exercise their basic right to freedom of movement. So what Gisha does, we basically try to assist residents of Gaza within this bureaucracy. First of all, on the administrative level: what they need to do in order to apply for a permit, and in which narrow circumstances Israel even deems them eligible to apply for a permit. And then, in certain cases, we also file petitions, either against Israel’s decision to deny people permits, or Israel’s decision to impose what it calls security blocks on people who’ve applied for permits. So that’s kind of the, I’d say, the main area of our work.
Another important aspect of our legal work also has to do with exposing Israel’s policy vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip. So in the first years of the closure of the blockade, after Gaza was declared a hostile entity by the Israeli government in 2007, in the first years, Israel wasn’t really releasing any information about how it was deciding what and who to let into or out of Gaza. So there was very, very little information available to anyone. And it was obviously very hard to understand what was the logic, like how decisions were being made about what to let in and who to let in, and also what goods could exit, etc. So another aspect of Gisha’s legal work over the years has been to demand that Israel expose these procedures or this kind of the thinking behind its decision-making process. And we do that through a lot of freedom of information applications and also petitions. And it was through these kinds of petitions, in Gisha’s earlier years, that Israel’s procedures–that are still kind of uses to this day–were even exposed. And now that these procedures have been exposed, it makes it more possible to assist people legally who are trying to obtain permits under these very stringent procedures. And it also creates a little bit more space in which there can be public debate about the kind of repercussions of these policies, about what they mean and whether they’re justified. So obviously, that is something that we at Gisha would hope to see more of.
There’s sadly, I would say, little debate going on to that effect, certainly within Israeli society. I think that too has kind of changed over the years. There were certainly years in which Gaza had been repressed in the minds of a lot of Israelis, to a certain extent, and you could really see very, very few mentions of the Gaza Strip, even in mainstream Israeli media and that kind of thing. Nowadays, we see these kinds of cycles: There are times when Gaza is more in the center of people’s minds or attentions–again, I’m talking about within Israeli society–and there are times where attention is kind of directed elsewhere.
But going back to your earlier question, Alex, to understand how Israelis typically think of Gisha’s positions or the work that Gisha does, I think the question can be divided into what people actually know and what people are willing to acknowledge, as I said. Because of those earlier years in which very, very little information was made available about what the policy actually was vis-a-vis the Strip, and because of the way that Israeli authorities still conduct themselves to this day, which is characterized by a lack of transparency about decision making, there are people who don’t really understand what Israel’s policy is. They may know that there is a blockade or closure, but they don’t necessarily understand what Israel does or doesn’t allow. So for instance, I can be talking to a friend or someone I’ve met here in Israel, and they might start off the conversation expressing the need to close off Gaza in order to protect Israel. But then, if I were to kind of say, “But don’t you think that a student from Gaza should be allowed to enroll in a Palestinian University in the West Bank?” They might be very surprised that that’s actually an element of Israeli policy.
And then there’s another question, which is what people are willing to recognize and acknowledge. And I think that there is a certain level of collective denial, not about the situation in Gaza itself, but about how Israel ties into that. So I think people these days, they can be aware that there is a very dire humanitarian situation in the Strip, that there’s an economic crisis, but there’s a question about how much they associate that situation with Israeli policy and decisions that are being made by Israel every day. I think that this mimics the approach of the Israeli government, that there is certainly this kind of dissonance; okay, so people see that there’s this disaster, but they’re not necessarily willing to accept that this disaster is in any way connected, or a product of, Israel’s decisions.
KB: You guys are doing really a great job at Gisha because I heard a lot about your accomplishments and everything. I actually have a have a question here: As a humanitarian organization, how is the work you do tolerated by Israel government, in general? I mean, is it really accepted? Do you face any challenges? Do you face any troubles?
MM: Thanks a lot for that question. In general, Israel tries to silence critique of the occupation. So organizations that are working to expose the crimes and atrocities that happen under the occupation, are not warmly welcomed. Israel has also taken steps that also make it harder for organizations that are doing this kind of work to fundraise and to contact Israeli decision makers. So there’s all kinds of attempts to make it harder for organizations doing this kind of work, in kind of a shrinking of what’s called democratic space, even within Israeli civil society, and all sorts of obstacles that are mounted to try and prevent this this work. We, as a legal organization, at Gisha, we are basically advocating for human rights that are guaranteed by international law and also by Israeli law, to a certain extent. In some cases we are effective, and we see that there’s change or movement in Israel’s policy, but obviously, the ongoing reality that you know well, Khouloud, is one of ongoing occupation and closure. So that has stayed constant, even when we and other human rights organizations are able to achieve certain results.
AK: There’s been a lot of news recently, of course, about in the West Bank, Israel’s attack on Palestinian civil society and human rights groups. So there seems to be related processes going on, but with quite fundamental differences in how they’re expressed within Israeli society. There seems to be some limits on what they can actually do. I mean, I’m sure the Israeli government would love to not have to listen to Gisha, but they can’t do that within proper Israel. But in the West Bank, they’re raiding all of these human rights groups and shutting their offices and closing them down. So it’s just quite a stark difference in reality, it seems to me.
MM: Absolutely. Thank you for bringing that up, Alex. That’s certainly also very important to mention in the context of what I was saying before; there’s certainly a huge difference between what we face and the kind of obstacles that we face compared to Palestinian civil society. I’d also add to what you’re saying about the recent measures against the organizations in the West Bank, which were designated as terror groups by Israeli authorities. There’s also another element that is related to Gaza, and that’s to do with the connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank. So another part of society that is harmed by the sweeping movement restrictions that Israel implements between Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank, are, of course, Palestinian civil society organizations, some of which may be split between Gaza and the West Bank and whose workers can’t even meet in most situations, they might want to brainstorm together or just have a meeting together. But that is not something that they can do. So that’s another thing to remember in the context of how Israel harms Palestinian civil society.
AK: And would you say that that’s a central element behind Israeli policy, of that severing of the connection between the West Bank and Gaza? Are there other factors that Israeli policymakers surface, to say what the aim of the blockade is?
MM: If we’re trying to understand how Israel tries to justify the closure on Gaza, there are, of course, the security arguments from the very beginning. Well before Israel imposed or tightened the closure on Gaza in 2007, there were movement restrictions between these areas that Israel explained as something that was needed to protect its security. And that is something that we see applied again and again, both very broadly–the closure is needed for security reasons–and also in very specific decisions–so that this person can’t travel because of security reasons. And what is obvious about the way that that is applied is that it isn’t necessarily that Israeli authorities are asking themselves if every single person or every single truckload of cucumbers does actually pose a security risk to Israel or to Israelis, but rather, there’s this kind of general idea that restricting movement or minimizing movement to the greatest possible extent, by Palestinians between these different areas, that this in some ways serves what Israel views as its own security goals, beyond the security argument.
There’s obvious political motivations. It is clear that the way Israel applies movement restrictions serves specific goals; the ways in which movement restrictions are applied specifically between Gaza and the West Bank, it’s not this kind of symmetrical picture. It is much harder, generally speaking, to move from Gaza to the West Bank than it is to move from the West Bank to Gaza. And the way in which Israel applies these movement restrictions is done in order to, first of all, isolate Gaza, kind of cut it off from Israel in the West Bank, and secondly, in order to minimize the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank and to further its de facto annexation of huge areas in the West Bank. So that is one goal that we see as served by the way Israel applies its movement restrictions.
Another is as a means of pressure and punishment. Statements made by Israeli officials over the years refer to this idea, that by restricting movement between these areas and by tightening movement restrictions to the point of closure, that this was in some way–we can have the de facto authorities in Gaza while helping the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But as we see, the movement restrictions that Israel applies that are very sweeping in nature, they do actually constitute collective punishment which is illegal under international law. And it’s also clear that the way Israel applies this pressure is basically serving one central goal, which is to maintain its control and to maintain its occupation over these areas.
And then the third thing that I would add at the end is–and this kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier about the way I think that many Israelis think of Gaza–the State of Israel does not consider itself responsible for anything happening at Gaza, okay.? And this is, again, to do with the disengagement myth. So once Israel removed its military installations and settlements from within the Strip, many Israelis believe–and this is something that we see apparent in the way Israeli officials talk about it as well–that Israel has no longer any relationship or any responsibility for anything that happens in the Strip: We came out and now it’s no longer our problem. I think that that’s the main thing that we see in how Israel makes decisions, that it’s not that Israeli officials are sitting around and trying to strike a reasonable balance between Israel’s security needs and the rights of Gaza residents, because Israel doesn’t think that it’s responsible to protect the rights of Gaza residents in any way. Which again, as an occupying power, or so Gisha argues, Israel is actually obligated to strike that balance. And the closure policy, the blockade on Gaza, certainly doesn’t strike a reasonable balance in that sense.
AK: It’s quite the argument to make when Israel’s the power that controls what gets in, what gets out, what people get in, what people get out. And, of course, there’s frequent Israeli bombardment. I mean, last May captured a lot of attention because of its connections to Israeli forced-displacement policies in Jerusalem, and how Palestinian political groups in Gaza responded to that. Then, of course, just last month, Israel launched a three-day assault on Gaza. Khouloud, I wanted to talk about the Israeli bombardment. You wrote two articles for us, both of which are really incredible. One about Ramadan, in Gaza, amidst Israeli bombs. And the other about last month’s aerial attacks. Where do you come up with your ideas for how to write about these attacks,
KB: I’m just inspired from what this reality is about. You know, as a Gazan, I survived five wars. After the end of each campaign, it always feels like I’m still breathing by chance, that the fact that I’m alive is unbelievable. It’s hard to believe that I’m still alive. We’re talking about massacres of civilians, of children. Sometimes we’re not really able to know where these bombings are taking place, or who the victims were, because sometimes no electricity is there and it’s hard to know the news. And then during nights, especially during nights, when it’s war time, that’s another story, because there are a lot of shocking scenes for the air. If I’m talking about me here, I’m being enveloped in my blanket, my heart leaping into my throat, my body shivering, my eyes are glued to the ceiling, because I’m anticipating my turn. Because it might be my turn this time, just as it’s happened to other civilians before me. It’s really hard during nighttime. The night, it takes longer than expected sometimes, especially at that time, and the sun does not seem to rise.
And then we’re talking about the end of the attack, and now people are homeless, some have lost their entire families. And I just wish I could speak about post-traumatic stress disorder, but it’s just chronic, you know, because these attacks are systematic. We are under occupation here. It’s physical occupation, but they are also occupying us virtually, in a sense. They close and block pro-Palestinian and Palestinian activists’ pages on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram. They minimize our outreach to the world. They do whatever it takes to silence us. They announced they would deem a certain content published by a certain activist as sensitive, so that to minimize its outreach. They deny us reporting the reality of what’s happening, the massacres of children. So we’re experiencing physical and virtual blockades at once. So it’s really important to write. There is actually a quote by Chinua Achebe that says, “Until the lions have their own stories, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” So this is why basically I write. The act of writing, I believe, is the strongest form of resistance. And here I’d like to thank Jewish Currents again for offering me this opportunity to voice my writings. So thank you.
AK: Thank you so much for sharing that. I wanted to ask you also, like with a population subjected to such continuous trauma, how do people decompress?
KB: Right. So, you know, basic rights here–electricity, employment–these are for future dreams. We are trapped here. So the amount of frustration and suffocation we are experiencing is sufficient enough to drive us insane. Nonetheless, we are alive. We still have weddings, you know? We celebrate special Islamic and religious occasions, we celebrate the graduations, for example, we sing, we dance, but in fact these things doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re happy, you know? Because imagine being caged and you have wings, but they’re useless. Now you have one of two options: either to goodbye to living because you can’t fathom the reality you’re suddenly living under, or to fight and adopt certain coping mechanisms to strive. Okay. Now as Gazans, the majority are, I would argue here that the majority are in favor of the second choice, which is adopting certain coping mechanisms, which are the things that I said earlier. And in fact, I’d like to mock here my choice of the word “choice,” like as a second choice, because we’re denied the choices.
AK: Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that. It’s really an eloquent way of describing what I think for so many people is unimaginable. And of course, for you, it’s reality. We’ve been talking about the blockade, and then I kind of switched the conversation over to the bombardments, but obviously, they’re part of the same policy. But also, I’m wondering how do they intersect. Like there’s a blockade where Israel controls what gets in and out, but they’re bombing facilities in Gaza and harming infrastructure in Gaza. And after the bombing stops, there’s talk of a rebuilding process in Gaza. So how does the blockade limit the ability of Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild infrastructure and their homes and their lives?
KB: You know, recently, it was shocking to discover that houses demolished from the 2014 war are still not constructed till this very moment.
MM: Wow. The main factor when it comes to reconstruction is often movement of goods. Israel’s policy in recent years, since 2010 more or less, is that everything can go into Gaza other than materials or items that Israel defines as dual use. Dual use materials is actually a definition recognized in international law. But Israel actually defines a huge number of materials and types of equipment that aren’t necessarily internationally recognized as dual use goods. The goods that Israel defines as dual use, many are needed for reconstruction of homes and also of things like Gaza’s water and sewage systems. There are certain types of goods that Israel defines as dual use that effectively never come into the Strip, and others come in in a very limited fashion. So that’s one of the main factors that are impacting the reconstruction efforts. Movement of people is another thing that obviously impacts it. And I’d say the third factor is to do with, as you say, Alex, this kind of ongoing reality of rounds of attacks and of hostilities, which mean that there is a certain level of donor fatigue, I might call it when it comes to rebuilding Gaza, because it is so clear that this is part and parcel of Israel’s policy towards the Strip, to every few years attack its residents. There’s a certain level of exhaustion that we see on the funding level, which also of course impacts the ability to rebuild homes, and schools, and infrastructure. And Alex, the one other thing that I thought we might touch on is the Egypt question.
AK: Yeah, I think in a lot of online discourse about the Israeli blockade, whenever it comes up for discussion, many of Israel’s defenders are those sympathetic to Israel who say, “Well, isn’t it also true that Gaza shares a border with Egypt? Shouldn’t you also blame Egypt?” I wanted to ask you if you could explain exactly what Egypt’s role is in the blockade, and what can cross refer the border between Egypt and Gaza.
MM: So travel via Rafah Crossing is limited to Egyptian criteria, and in order to travel through Rafah you’d also need to pre-register with Hamas Ministry of Interior. But basically, the main categories of people who are allowed to travel through Rafah are Gaza residents who have foreign residency or passports, patients who have referrals for treatment in Egypt, and individuals with steady work or family visas for third countries who are going to transit through Egypt. So that’s the first thing to remember. It’s not that anyone can travel through Rafah Crossing. There’s also, people who don’t meet criteria can pay hundreds of dollars to Gaza-based travel agencies, who basically act as brokers that may enable people in certain situations to travel via Rafah, even if they don’t meet Egyptian criteria. But that is obviously an option that is unaffordable for many, if not most residents of the Strip. So that’s again, important to remember, that not everyone can move through the border between Gaza and Egypt.
When it comes to goods, the ingoing volume of goods from Egypt to Gaza has grown in recent years, and the supply from Egypt is certainly significant. But the other important thing to remember about Salah al-Din on the Egypt/Gaza border is that there basically isn’t any exit of goods. You can send goods out of Gaza via Egypt; Israel basically controls the ability to sell products from Gaza. You know, in the recent year or two, I think there’s very, very limited exit of metal scraps or something like this. But basically all other goods that obviously Gaza needs to sell in order for its economy to be functional somewhat, they all have to go through Kerem Shalom, which is controlled by Israel. And then there’s also what I’d say is the main issue, is that travel and movement between Gaza and Egypt doesn’t connect Gaza to Palestinians, and Israel, and the West Bank. Gaza is part of the occupied Palestinian territory. People mainly need to access places in Israel and Jerusalem and in the West Bank. That’s where people’s families are. That’s where the Palestinian academia, civil society organizations, all these things exist in this space. And the stringent movement restrictions between Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank prevent that life from happening,
AK: Khouloud, I was wondering: You’re speaking to an audience mostly of Americans, particularly American Jews in the United States. What message do you want to send to policymakers and regular people in the US and around the world about what young people like yourself in Gaza want and need?
KB: Well, I think the main message I want to deliver here is that there is a very urgent need to end the blockade, because the suffering is really, it’s not bearable. It’s not bearable. It’s so difficult. You know, we’re talking about basic human rights. They’re not attained here because of the blockade, because of what’s happening, because of Israel policy.
MM: I would second what Khouloud just said. The blockade, the closure on Gaza has to end. It must be removed so that people like Khouloud, people living in Gaza, can live and can be free. But it also has to end because I don’t think, as an Israeli, I am actually served by these policies. I don’t think they’re actually keeping me any safer. And I don’t think that they’re actually offering me or my future generations any hope. It’s a situation that has to end. You know, it’s not just that certain movement restrictions can be alleviated or that a certain permit quota can be slightly expanded. We need to completely change the approach to Gaza, and not just to Gaza, to Gaza as part of the occupied Palestinian territory and the mechanisms of control over Palestinians living in the space.
KB: In my latest, “A Butterfly in Gaza,” I was saying that we in Gaza, we’re deprived of our childhood as we’re introduced to the suffering of our family and those around us at a very young age. I can’t really remember clearly how was life before the blockade, but I do remember one thing: that we had a happier family. I had a happier family myself. I had a happier father, who was really able to attend to all my needs. Now, my dad is really stressed most of the time because of the economic embargo, because of the financial situation. As a household, as a family of seven, it’s really hard for him to meet all these needs. So I just feel sorry for my family. And I’m sorry for myself, because I was deprived of the inner child inside me at a very, very, very young age.
AK: Thank you so much. It’s been so illuminating. I wanted to invite both of you, if there’s any last thing that you didn’t get to say that you think is vitally important.
KB: Miriam, I was wondering: Do you have a certain criteria for helping people out of Gaza? Or do you just do it for whoever asks for it? Or how does it actually work? How does the policy work?
MM: The general policy on movement of people is that nobody can move. And then there are a very specific, narrow criteria that Israel establishes for circumstances in which Palestinians in Gaza can apply for a permit to travel to Israel, the West Bank, or abroad via Erez and Allenby Bridge Crossings through Jordan. The very, very narrow criteria, it includes mostly what Israel calls humanitarian exceptions. So that’s actually people that want to travel to a first-degree relative only, and only in the case that their first-degree relative is either getting married, or is very, very sick, or has died. So those three circumstances are the main or only circumstances under which Palestinians can apply for movement that allows them to visit family, for instance. So that’s one example for the types of situations in which Gisha can assist people who are trying to obtain a permit, because even if you’re a Palestinian and in Gaza and you meet one of those very narrow criteria, that does not actually ensure you a permit. Because of the bureaucratic violence that is inherent in Israel’s permit regime, it’s actually very complicated to obtain the permit even if you do meet that criteria, which is where we try to step in and kind of help people. There are also other criteria, but sadly, it’s kind of subject to the very narrow possibilities that Israel makes available for Palestinians to travel. So another kind of aspect of our legal work is trying to challenge those very stringent restrictions.
KB: You know, I was really wondering because I’m truly hopeful that I could make it to Jerusalem. However, I know a lot of people who applied for a permit, but they got rejected for certain reasons.
MM: It’s such a narrow, insufficient, terrible system. And there’s really very few options. But we do also have a line that people can call. We have intake coordinators that can explain further about whether or not it may be possible for us to assist. But of course, the overall situation is one of very, very little movement. I’m sure you know better than me.
AK: I feel like we could probably talk for another hour, but I just want to end there. And I first want to say thank you so much Khouloud and Miriam for coming on and explaining in such detail what Israel’s policy toward Gaza is. And thank you all for listening. Before you go, we have a special segment for you from Palestinian Think Tank Al-Shabaka’s podcast, Rethinking Palestine, which is available wherever you get your podcasts. The segment features Al-Shabaka Senior Analyst, Yara Hawari, interviewing Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti on the dynamics of Palestinian armed resistance to Israeli repression in the West Bank. Barghouti focuses on the city of Nablus, where Israeli forces have carried out a series of extrajudicial executions targeting Palestinian fighters in recent months. Israel has attempted to crush the rise of a new generation of Palestinian armed resistance fighters who grew up during a time of increased Israeli repression. In recent months, Israeli soldiers have carried out near-daily raids in the northern West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin, killing scores of Palestinians and making 2022 the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2015.
* * *
Yara Hawari: I want to hone in on what’s been happening on the ground a bit more. Mariam, since the assassination of Ibrahim Al Nabulsi, a renowned resistance fighter, you have been an analyst reporting on the aftermath of what the Israeli regime has dubbed Operation Break the Wave. Can you tell me a bit about what you have seen?
Mariam Barghouti: So what Israel is doing in terms of trying to crack down on Palestinian resistance in all its shapes and forms–even to the point of just the imagination of liberation–but in places like Nablus and Jenin, what you witness is this constant confrontation, specifically with the Israeli military. So these are areas that aren’t just purely surrounded by settlers or settlements, that exposure of the colonial project is through the lens of this brute military force. So what we’re seeing is this continued growth of Palestinian resistance in different forms and manifestations that are in accordance with the current generation. So the generation of today will not fight the same way that generations in the past had thought. But nonetheless, what I’m witnessing, at least in Nablus, is there’s this tendency to also confront and fight back in a very visible way.
So people like Ibrahim Al Nabulsi, who didn’t even make it to his 19th birthday, was walking around with the rifle on his back, very proud. And it’s as though he was bearing the responsibility, but it’s also very telling of how, whether you are known publicly or unknown, that you are targeted. So there’s no point in even trying to really go underground. On the contrary, the point is to showcase that if this colonization continues as it is, then it will be met by Palestinian resistance. In the end, who wants to live an undignified life? Especially a younger generation that has been exposed to different realities around the world in light of increased communication with technology development.
YH: A lot of people might not have heard of Ibrahim Al Nabulsi before last week. I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about him, and why it was so important or significant for the Israeli regime to assassinate a 19 year old.
MB: I’m really glad you brought that to light, the fact that he wasn’t really known until the targeted assassination attempts that have increased in the past couple of months. So targeting Ibrahim Al Nabulsi, who was a resistance fighter reported to be part of al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, which is the armed wing of Fatah, became known as this confrontational resistance fighter, especially to the Palestinian residents in the Old City. But Al Nabulsi’s story kind of goes further back in the timeline of contemporary history. So in March and April, Israel officially declared there’s this escalation of Operation Break the Wave, and that means Israel will continue intensifying its provocative military raids and invasions on Palestinian cities, in order to also push resistance fighters further out so that they can target them and assassinate them. And this will be part of the escalation dominance, which is a military strategy. And Operation Break the Wave was noted by Israeli ministers and officials as one which will be hundreds of operations across Palestine.
So what we saw in the first week of August, between the 5th and the 7th, is part of Operation Break the Wave, which was technically meant to target resistance in the West Bank. So we saw Gaza becoming the battleground for a dynamic in the West Bank. And it shows you how the Israeli military and settlers are trying to constantly provoke Palestinians, despite being a nuclear regime and then nuclear power. And Al Nabulsi, who has grown up under the brutality of a military siege–this is a kid that was born in 2003, peak curfew hours where no one was allowed to leave their home, the Israeli military demolished parts of the Old City and Nablus in ways that are so savage and brutal that they’re even destroying historical artifacts across the city, to completely erase any existence of not just Palestinians, any other reality or community that is not the current Israeli one that’s still being constructed and built.
Ibrahim, at 16, became involved in confrontation with Israeli settlers. First it was Israeli settlers, a few years ago, that began raiding Joseph’s tomb and Joseph’s Well near the Old City. And you know, as a child, where your entire childhood is under the mercy of an army and settlers that show and have no mercy whatsoever, means that you will necessarily come to a recognition that, “Okay, I need to do something.” So as confrontation of youth increased towards the settlers that were raiding the city, the presence of settlers actually decreased. And I think this is part of why also he became a target, is that there was an effectiveness to the confrontation of Palestinian resistance. If it’s not at the level that is required in terms of liberation, but there was effectiveness, and we really can’t take away from that either. And this is what made him a target along with his comrades, starting the assassination trend back in February 8, where Ashraf Mubaslat, Adham Mabrouka and Mohammad Dakhil were killed in extrajudicial assassination. And these were all comrades of Al Nabulsi.
So if he’s only witnessing brutality as a child, and then the targeted assassination of his comrades, who were the sole reason that city saw any inkling of protection against the military, then naturally, he’s also going to be emboldened and showcase his face, right? And I think that’s what triggered also the Israeli military commanders to focus on him, because he was so loved in his community. He was so kind, and he didn’t do it–from what I gathered, at least from the testimonies of people there–he didn’t do it for the fame, he did it for the necessity, for the need of it. And I think that was something that was very respected.
And what Israel will do is it will constantly not just kill resistance fighters, but any symbol of resistance. And we see that in the way they also target cultural spaces, and the way that they target poets like Dareen Tatour, in the way that they target journalists as well, constantly. And in the way they’re trying to criminalize, for example, six Palestinian civil society organization whose primary mission is to document Israeli violations. So it’s kind of a trend that folds into itself. And Al Nabulsi, who again, didn’t make it to 19, was so aware of these dynamics. Just because someone isn’t naming it through the language that we understand and policy, but they inherently know that this is a systemic structural oppression, and that they also have the right to say no, and to act on that. And I think this is what made him a target, essentially,
YH: Mariam, you really clearly describe the context to all of these Israeli regime maneuvers, and also outline very beautifully in the story of Ibrahim Al Nabulsi. So I just want to take us back for a moment, because you mentioned the Israeli military tactic of escalation dominance. I was wondering if you could explain what that is for our listeners.
MB: So there’s this military strategy that was developed first by the US, and it’s called escalation dominance. And what that means is that as a military power, you provoke an escalation or an escalatory response by intensifying your assault and your attack on a group, with the knowledge that response from opposing actors will place them at a disadvantage. So it’s actively, kind of provocatively pushing Palestinian resistance and pushing Palestinian lives to the limit of recognizing that this is not the way to live, you cannot live under these realities and dynamics. So they heighten it gradually. And it’s part of the shock and awe doctrine that was explained very beautifully and well by Naomi Klein, another award-winning journalist who delves into the way this is used, especially in capitalist systems, in order to continue the market trade. Let’s not forget that Israel relies heavily on exporting, as well as importing weapons that it tests on Palestinians first, as lab rats. So what they do is they ensure their dominance in the equation, and they push for escalatory behavior. And that is de facto seeking the killing of an entire population by recognizing the disadvantages that we’re at.
Ibrahim Al Nabulsi fought back with a rifle, a very outdated rifle, against one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. When Israel raids Palestinian towns and villages, the youth often respond with stones and Molotov cocktails. So to ensure dominance is to also consistently drain and shock Palestinian communities. And this is not just on Israel or the Israeli regime. This is on the entire international community that is complicit, and we need to look at them as accomplices. The US is an accomplice, especially considering that Biden, for example, came to visit Palestine in July, and this is after the declaration of Operation Break the Wave, which means he was briefed and informed–if not him, then the other delegations that came from State Department. So you can tell that what Israel is doing is basically burying Palestinians and making Palestinians dig their own grave so that it can illustrate itself as triumphant, or illustrate itself as it’s fighting a terror cell or terror organization, this very ambiguous term that has lost its meaning. Israel has been terrorizing Palestinian children, youth, and adults for decades now. I think it’s an organized terrorist party or association at a collective level, including its courts.
YH: Mariam, where do you think Palestinians are now, following this assault on Gaza and these extrajudicial killings of resistance fighters?
MB: I think that generally Palestinians are tense. I think we’re also terribly afraid, but also very empowered in recognizing that, despite the constant attempts by the Israeli regime to bring down the Palestinian spirit and yearning to be liberated, that it still persists. In terms of Gaza, there needs to be an immediate breaking of the siege that should have happened 15 years ago, when it was first started. And I think what we’re recognizing now–and it’s something actually that I believe was miscalculated, thankfully, by the Israeli regime–is that rather than being divided, Palestinians are being unified. So now you can hear, Gaza for example, speak about the fate of the West Bank, the West Bank speak about and fight for the fate of Gaza. Same thing with the Historic Palestine. Palestinians that have been marginalized, those that have been treated as second- and third-class citizens, by design of the system, are also reclaiming the right to be Palestinian and to live in Historic Palestine as Palestinians.
But more than this, what I’m also noticing is that as long as there’s a single Palestinian breath, that resistance will rise. And a lot of–for example, in the West Bank, one of Israel’s rules during Oslo was to demilitarize the West Bank. The only people that were left with arms are those from the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, who are also recognizing an increased authoritarian regime that, de facto, no Palestinian authority, whether the PNA or otherwise, can function and operate with the Israeli colonial power over its head. So what we’re realizing is that the arms are also changing function, that what was meant to hush the Palestinian Authority is now turning against them because in the end, the new generation of Ibrahim Al Nabulsi–the new generation of Wasim Abu Khalifa, who was assassinated yesterday, also in Nablus, whose father was an officer in the Palestinian Authority–they don’t know the history of the Oslo Generation. These are people that grew up under 2000s, in 2003, when the apartheid wall was being built, and it’s now almost complete.
So it means nothing to them, any of the agreements that were done before. What means something is the reality on the ground. And the reality on the ground dictates that if you want to live a dignified life, then the Israeli regime must go, period. You cannot live under apartheid, you cannot live under repression, and a population that is no longer saying “Death to Arabs,” but actively intensifying that as practice. 2022–and we’re not even done with the year–has shown more than five times the killings by Israel than we saw in the same time period last year, when Palestinians were being chased and led in Haifa, in Jaffa with butcher knives by settlers chanting “Death to Arabs.” So I think what we’re seeing is fear but that’s because we’re perpetually terrorized by this regime, but also resilience, unity, and defiance. And Gen Z really understands the value of being able to live life, not to just hope for it and wish that, “Oh, maybe my fifties will be free.” No, the question being posed now is: Why on Earth are my teen years not free? Why on Earth is my childhood not free, or my adult life? And I think that’s what’s being pursued very actively and visibly.
YH: Thank you, Mariam, for that. I think we will have to leave it here. But thank you again so much for joining me on this episode of Rethinking Palestine.
AK: And that’s our show. For more analysis from Al-Shabaka, you can check out their website at Al-Shaba.org, and subscribe to their podcast, Rethinking Palestine, wherever you get podcasts. And thank you so much for listening to On the Nose, Jewish Currents’ podcast. Subscribe to our show and check out all our articles at JewishCurrents.org. We’ll see you next time.