To be twenty years old in Palestine
A debate with three young Palestinians at the Faculté Ségalen
(the Segalen University)

A correspondent of the Dialogue Review attended a meeting held at the West Brittany University in Brest on November 6th, 2014, called by the following organizations: AFPS, UNEF, LDH (1) . Here is his report of the meeting.

Between 150 and 200 people came to the Arts Faculty's lecture hall to listen to three young Palestinians. O. is a young female student from Gaza living in Paris, P. comes from the West Bank and M. introduces himself as a Palestinian Jew . They each addressed the meeting in turn to explain what is behind the Israeli–Palestinian conflict we hear so much about.

P. is a student living in Bil'in, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, east of the Green Line, the demarcation line between Israel and the West Bank.

“My village was split by the apartheid wall, Israel's West Bank barrier. In 2004 we saw a bulldozer attacking our land. They were taking hold of our land to build their wall. Our actions against this move are all non-violent, which highlights even more crudely the violent character of the Israeli occupation and incursion.

“My village has 2,000 inhabitants. More than 1,300 have been wounded on at least one occasion, and 600 have spent from 3 months to 3 years in jail. We have also had to pay fines ranging from 300 to 20,000 euros.

“Fortunately we enjoy widespread support. We managed to have the route of the wall pushed back. We were happy, but we did not get back the whole of our land, only a quarter and at what a cost!

My cousin was killed by an Israeli grenade in 2009 and his sister, my cousin, died in 2010 after inhaling the phosphorus contained in the tear-gas grenades thrown by the Israeli army during demonstrations at the site of the wall. The army has ruthlessly handled us. They use different gases in their grenades on each occasion, so that they cannot be sued for crimes against humanity. They also use cannons sending 30 small grenades at one go. In fact, it looks as if they have been testing their war material on us. We are their guinea pigs. We need to pull down the walls of silence!

Then P. showed a moving film he himself shot: the mother of his cousins, the ones who had been killed in front of the wall, decided to recycle the grenades that had been used there. She put flowers in them, and in the very places where they had died she laid out a garden displaying the grenades decorated with flowers. She said: They are shooting us down with lethal grenades, I am responding with flowers, symbols of peace. My children didn't deserve such fate.

O. comes from Rafah in Gaza and is a student in Paris. She has not seen her family, still in Gaza, for three years. She explained:

“I came to France on a scholarship. Since I arrived, I have lost touch with my family and friends still in Gaza. I can't go back to Gaza because of the checkpoints on the border with Israel or Egypt in the south, though obviously it is Israel that is in total control. You might wait for months at the border and be unable to cross the frontier.

“You probably think that I'm lucky to be living in France, far from all the atrocities, but that's not the case. I can't see my family or talk to them. I'm always wondering if they are all right, if they have enough to eat, or simply if they are still alive.

“They live in a refugee camp south of Rafah. You can hardly imagine their conditions of life... They have no electricity, no drinking water (only once a week) and no contact with the outside world. Don't call that living! When a shell falls on a house, it destroys ten other houses nearby. The people have to rebuild everything by themselves. The Israeli state robs us of our land, of our water.

“In Gaza the people are in a prison but the media don't explain what's happening. Palestinians in the West Bank can't get in touch with Palestinians in Gaza. Why this blockade? How long has it been going on? For months? For years? I don’t know, we've always been at war. We've always been occupied. We can't get used to such a situation.

“We are really talking about an occupation. We are an occupied people! Occupier, occupied: the difference is crystal-clear. I can't understand why the problem cannot be resolved. In South Africa, they did succeed in changing the state of things.

“The French government is not about to exert pressure; it's up to you to change things.

I'm tired of all this. I'm tired of waiting for the UN's goodwill. They 're not doing anything and on top of that, we are supposed to thank them! Sweden has recognised the state of Palestine. I put my hopes in France. I know you, too, will be able to get things moving. Crimes against humanity should be punished.

M. is a young Jew who calls himself a Palestinian Jew . As a conscientious objector he refused to do his military service. He belongs to a group that advocates a democratic state on the whole of Palestine.

I'm what you call a dissident. This is enough to get me two years' imprisonment. In Israel the whole society is militarised. There is military control over the minds. In early childhood you are conditioned. In secondary school they take you military to bases. Teachers in uniform teach us “civic rights and we also have to wear uniforms. In Israel, military manipulation begins at nursery school and it goes on till you die. The only history you are taught is that of Zionism and I have refused that.

Before the 1948 war my village, 3 kilometres north of the Gaza Strip, had a name. It has been destroyed. Today, like many other villages, it is called a kibbutz, to show it is part of the Zionist Israeli movement. I remember, each time Gaza was bombed, lots of soldiers simply came to our kibbutz to have a rest. Through its mere existence, Israel is a crime against humanity. On my national identity card, there's the word “Jew ; but Jew is not a nationality –it’s a religion!

“This an apartheid regime. Palestinians have to live under military law while Israelis live freely under civil law.

“Israel is fascist. The Palestinians of Gaza cannot marry the Palestinians of the West Bank. 95% of the Israeli population approve of the Gaza massacre and do not want Arabs to have the same rights. They support the military and terrorism. Things are not easy, but we don't give up.

I'm campaigning for the boycott of everything that comes out of Israel. Every week we demonstrate against the construction of the wall. We denounce Zionism.

An official of the France-Palestine Association explained that theocracy and democracy are incompatible. She said that 90% of the water in Gaza was not potable, not fit for drinking.

We then put questions to our three guests.

Our exchanges were very important, as they highlighted the fact that for those three young Palestinians the solution was a single secular and democratic state on the whole of the historic pre-1948 Palestine.

Question: It is often said that some Israelis are leaving Israel, is that true?

M.: It is true that some are leaving. We are in a sick and a fascist society. 95% of the state funding goes to security. It is therefore getting difficult to live in Israel.

Question: Is there unity among the Palestinians of Gaza and those of the West Bank and also with those who live in Israel?

M.: There is no cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis; it's almost impossible, we have different opinions. We have our own campaigns. On the other hand, we have strong relationships with the Palestinians of Israel and there is a common understanding between the Palestinians of Gaza, of the West Bank and Israel. We agree on everything. We have no physical contacts, but Arabs actively support one another through social networks, etc. Our identity unites us.

Question: In your opinion, what could be a fair way of partitioning the territory?

O.: Historic Palestine (before 1948). What would be fair is a return to the pre-1948 map. It is the only fair solution (greeted with warm applause) .

M.: For me, the solution is a democratic state. No matter how we achieve it. The important thing is justice, the same rights for all. One state: a return to the pre-1948 borders (renewed applause) .

O.: Everybody knows the name Palestine. Everybody knows where it is. We must go back to that point: historic Palestine. The name Israel appeared afterwards, with the idea that for Israel, Palestinians are the other people, not like us, they can therefore be treated as we wish. A return to the bases is the only solution. It was the United Nations that partitioned the country. I heard my father say: They knocked down our house twice, but even if they knock it down ten thousand times we're going to stay here. In France they don't show you the proper pictures either. They want you to believe that Palestinians are born with a gun in their hands. In the end they want you to believe that it is Palestine that is occupying Israel!

M.: The United Nations is very keen on Zionism.

Question: to achieve a one-state-solution, a secular state is needed. Do you think it is possible? And what about the relationships between Fatah and Hamas?

O.: We were secular before you were. We all used to live together. My grandmother had Jewish neighbours. We were living on good terms together. The problem is not secularism; we have no problems with religion. The problem is political; it is the occupation of our land! There will be no justice in the world as long as Palestine is not free.

P.: Do you know the origin of Zionism? Ben Gurion came to Palestine to use the Jewish religion against the Arab majority, the people who were living there before the 1948 ethnic cleansing. Later on it was Israel that destroyed the unity that existed between Fatah and Hamas. When relations between Fatah and Hamas were resumed, they started to bomb Gaza.

Question: What do you think of the phrase Impunity for Israel, sanctions for Palestine ? And what do you think of the recognition of the state of Palestine by Sweden?

M.: Israel is seeking impunity by referring to the Holocaust. And for them the Holocaust concerns the Jews only. The Israelis hide behind that historic event because for them it is a different matter. But the fact the Jews had to go through such suffering does not mean that they have the right to inflict such treatment on Palestinians.

What is the meaning of the recognition of Palestine by Sweden? It is necessary to know what they have in mind, of what state they are talking about. Anyway, it's worthless if Israel is still in control.

P.: Our passes bear the inscription Palestinian Authority . Palestinian Authority is not the same as Palestine.

When the debate was over we distributed and called for the endorsement of the appeal launched by the Workers Party of Algeria and the UGTA (General Union of Algerian Workers) for the unconditional, total and immediate lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )