By: Leena Saleh
On Sep. 28 students, guests, and activists gathered at DePaul’s Student Center for the screening of “Occupation 101.”
A thought-provoking and powerful documentary film on the current and historical root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Occupation 101′ presents a comprehensive analysis of the facts and hidden truths surrounding the never ending controversy and dispels many of its long-perceived myths and misconceptions.
One audience member remarked during the Q and A session, “This is the first time I’ve seen it and I’m shaking right now,” she said trying to keep her composure.
Mohamad Ballan, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, led the discussion and posed the question: “What’s the most significant thing about this film, why should Americans see it?” Guests answered that it creates a sense of empathy, has surprisingly revealing statistics and that Americans being the source of
funding need to see this.
It states the U.S. has given more aid to Israel in the last 50 years than it has to sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined.
The film covers a wide range of topics including the first wave of Jewish immigration from Europe in the 1880′s, the 1920 tensions, the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the first Intifada of 1987, the Oslo Peace Process, Settlement expansion, the role of the United States Government, the second Intifada of 2000, the separation barrier and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as well as many heart wrenching testimonials from victims of this tragedy.
Also surprising to some was the fact that 80 percent of the people in the film were Israeli.
Shirien D., former president of SJP DePaul, also explained that a very important factor in the American population’s support for Israel lies in the connection they feel with Israel and the U.S. being democratic nations, possessing similar ideals. In reality, however, Israel is in fact very undemocratic and proof of this is the simple fact that Israelis don’t have the right to protest or free speech. Simply attending a rally in Israel can consequentially land you in prison. Demystifying Israel’s image and exposing its oppressive reality is the key to opening the eyes of the American public.
Some audience members felt helpless after watching the film and the conflict unfold before
them. “What do you do when your state politicians are supportive of Israel?”
Ballan’s answer was simple. “Mobilize.”
He explained that the solutions are there and organizing and going to your representatives and protesting what’s happening is the answer. Holding similar events, making the public aware, and utilizing every possible resource are all methods to oppose the conflict, primarily the U.S.’s role.
“This isn’t an option for us. It’s an obligatory duty,” said Ballan.
24 Hours in Gaza—9/29/10
In DePaul’s SAC, guests gathered for SJP’s 24 Hours in Gaza event featuring Sanah Yassin, Thaer Ahmad, and Isa Hamdan? All three activists
Dr. Laila Farah, a professor of Women’s Studies at DePaul, opened up the event with an introduction putting everything in its proper context.
“Today’s talk back is important because of Israel’s continuous attempts to imprison the people of Gaza,” said Farah. “We are trying to make the connection between people in solidarity and the conditions of people in Gaza.”
She also referenced the recent FBI raids in which activists’ homes in Chicago and Minneapolis were raided by the FBI. “It’s important for people to realize this suppression of human rights and justice is a continuum. Over there is over here.”
Sanah Yassin, a local activist who just received her Bachelor’s in Secondary Education from UIC and is teaching high school history, was the first speaker.
“When you’re trying to change a policy that some of the most powerful people of the world support, it’s not going to be easy,” said Yassin.
Yassin vehemently told her audience of their journey to Gaza revealing all the obstacles along the way. Travelling from Turkey to Syria, Jordan, and back to Syria, getting stuck in Jordan and then facing violence in Egypt.
According to Yassin, U.S. vehicles weren’t permitted to enter Gaza and while being held at the Egyptian border for 24 hours Egyptian law enforcement began throwing stones at the activists. Yassin received a blow to the head from a stone and a 16-year-old girl, the youngest activist among them, was beaten with a baton, injuring her badly. The activist began to pray for their safety.
“The government of Egypt, the way they treated us was absolutely atrocious,” said Yassin.
Yassin after making it to Gaza struggled when meeting families and hearing their stories, mothers who witnessed their children die before them and the horrible conditions in which they lived.
Yassin and the other activists were able to participate in the convoy because of sponsors who donated funding for their tickets and traveling expenses. With over 500 people on the convoy, all of different nationalities, faiths, and traditions, Yassin said it was especially inspiring to see so many women involved.
“I was happy to see there was a significant amount of women, on the convoy, especially in the Middle East who are overcoming other barriers, inspiring people on a global level.”
For Yassin meeting the female students in Gaza was especially moving. One of which was a 16-year-old girl who had an older brother of 19 who was killed. While helping in an ambulance truck it was bombed. He survived but was shot after stepping out of the exploded vehicle. “That is the extent to which Israel shows regard to human life,” referenced Yassin.
Above all the factors of the issues prevalent from their trip to Gaza, Yassin emphasized one she thought was the most important.
“People don’t focus enough on the psychological implications of this occupation,” said Yassin. “The people of Gaza as a society aren’t growing. It continues to decline the society is completely stagnant and declining.”
Next to speak was Thaer Ahmad the Outreach Coordinator for Viva Palestina.
After being introduced Ahmad stood up claiming, this “stuff gets him rowdy”, so he can’t do it sitting down. This was his second time visiting Gaza with the convoy and his experience was enough motivation to want to continue.
“It’s such a powerful experience, it changed my life.”
“I can stand here and tell you how many people died but do you know their names? We have to educate ourselves. This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Ahmad.
Ahmed described the activists’ struggle to get into Gaza. They, according to Ahmed were delayed from entering Gaza and police began to push and shove activists which caused fighting to break out. Activists were beaten and had stones and batons pummeling them. Ahmed was struck twice with a baton on his shoulder and hit in the back of the head with a rock.
Ahmed posed the question he thought at the time, “Why did we just fight each other? I don’t understand it; it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Finally being able to enter Gaza Ahmed described encounters with civilians. One striking story was about a young boy who showed him the bullet hole marks on the surface of his abdomen. The boy thought it was his fault and was embarrassed and ashamed of his scars.
“I wanted to let him know it wasn’t his fault. I wanted to let him know he could rule the world if he wanted to, he could be president of Palestine, of anything!”
Ahmed elaborated on the strong presence of the Israeli narrative which dominates the discourse in the US. and the Orientalist lens through which the West is educated about the Middle East. One example is a book titled the Spirit Catches You, which was required summer reading for Ahmed and his fellow classmates at Rush Medical school. The book described travelers immigrating from Thailand to Laos and a mention of an Israeli mother running away from a Palestinian terrorist.
“It’s everywhere, the dehumanizing of the Palestinian people,” said Ahmed. “We need to educate those around us and personalizing it can make a big difference.” “Strike up a conversation about it in the classroom or workplace or wherever, highlight the struggle of Palestine, of Gaza.”
“I don’t care about Hamas or Fateh. I just want to live as happy a life as possible and that is determined by the freeing of the people of Gaza. As human beings, as citizens of the US, I need people to stop dying. They eat, love, sleep, laugh, and smile just how I smile.”
Isa Hamdan another activist who participated in the convoy and a medical student relayed his own experience through a medicinal perspective.
The word Gaza in Arabic means ‘to be strong,’ explained Hamdan, and the Hebrew word used for Gaza is Hashim which means ‘strong one.’ The convoy was comprised of people of all faiths Muslims Christians, Jews and atheists and together they helped deliver aid to Gaza.
Hamdan described the aid they were allowed to bring with them with the help of sponsors like AMP (American Muslims for Palestine) and others including two X-rays, patient dilators, incubator autoclaves and a three-month supply of Albuterol.
Hamadan explained that one problem which sometimes prevents donors from agreeing to send such equipment is this sentiment that these high-tech machines will be obsolete in Gaza. Gazans will not know how to use them or have the means to use them. With his visit to Gaza as evidence Hamdan countered this argument.
“The people in Gaza have the intellect they just lack the resources. The siege is crippling their sustenance,” said Hamdan.
They used all of this medicine within four days and are in need of so much more. Hamdan explained that using a convoy to deliver medical aid rather than transporting it from West Bank is a means of producing a divestment from Israel which would gain funds for providing transporting services.
Apart from divestment, Hamdan described all of the way activists and supporters can continue to fight for the cause including getting informed, staying informed, and a resistance to being compliant to violations of international law.
“As for what Gazans desire activists to do I provide more medical aid, continue wholeheartedly with the BDS movement and for the elder generations, they ask to be kept in our prayers,” said Hamdan.
Pointing a finger at his own community Hamdan said, “I see Jewish activists doing more than my fellow Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Economically Gaza is also struggling terribly, according to Hamdan. Gaza used to produce more citrus than it could need but the Zionists uprooted all of their trees and plants.
“You don’t have to be Palestinian or Muslim to take the side of Palestinians. You just have to be human,” said Hamdan.
The one part of his trip which struck him was the resourcefulness of the people of Gaza and what they were able to do with the little they had, such as making houses out of debris and mud, recycled remains of concrete to rebuild. The weakened infrastructure of Gaza is still the primary and most dismantling struggle they must contend with according to Hamdan.
Hamdan reminded his audience to keep the people of Gaza in their prayers to get informed, to be objective, articulate, and to continue to support Palestine.
Audience members encouraged to ask questions after the presentations posed the question, “How do we start the dialogue?”
Ahmed answered, “Have the courage to talk about it, take that leap and assert yourself.”
Dr. Farah also responded, “Make connections about what’s happening in the US, by looking at the systems of oppression that interlock together. The US has a sense of being removed from everything, we need to change that.”
Yassin answered, “Giving people resources about investment and what divestment is and linking issues like the economy to Americans is a start.”
The audience was left with a broader scope and knowledge of Gaza and the struggle surrounding it, internally to externally. They were also provided with ample methods of action with which they could engage.