Last month, I came under attack by Zionist groups and publications, including the Jewish Chronicle and UK Zionist Federation. Those attacks were routed through my university, Sheffield Hallam, as part of an organized attack on the Palestinian-led movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel, especially in England and Germany. Its purpose is to silence the rights-based movement that has succeeded in threatening Israel’s culture of impunity. It aims to undermine BDS activists’ credibility and in my case, smear my academic reputation.
These attacks came after starring in a couple of videos, Cultural Boycott and Madonna Don’t Go, which London Palestine Action made to advocate for the Palestinian call to boycott Eurovision on the basis of its “art-washing” of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.
Let us start with where Eurovision physically takes place: the ethnically cleansed village of al-Manshiya, one of 531 Palestinian villages and towns completely destroyed and depopulated of their native populations in 1948 to make way for Israeli apartheid.
At the time of Eurovision, Palestinians were commemorating their seventy-first anniversary of the Nakba, a week after another Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip that claimed twenty-five lives, including two pregnant women, two toddlers, and a twelve-year-old child. Less than an hour’s drive from the Tel Aviv Convention Centre which hosted Eurovision, two million Palestinians remain caged in the Gaza Strip where minimal means of survival are denied.
I was born and raised in Jabalia refugee camp, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight camps which house its majority-refugee population (seventy percent) whose original lands reside so close yet so far thanks to Israel’s denial of their Right of Return. This denial is brutally evident in Israel’s use of lethal force against the ongoing Great March of Return protesters in wide daylight before the contestant countries in Eurovision who ignored the context of apartheid to enjoy its glitz and glamor. Outraged at their complicity, Dr. Haidar Eid questioned in his last cultural boycott appeal from Gaza: “Why are you pretending not to see the colonization of Palestine? How does it feel to sing so close to so much human misery and suffering?”
On a positive note, the Boycott Eurovision campaign has caused Israel major political and financial losses and massively distorted the “prettier face” it wished to disseminate through Eurovision. This was due to BDS’s revealing what Israel desperately wanted to veil. I am proud to have contributed to the BDS success, but this comes at a price.
The videos that featured me went viral with hundreds of thousands of views on social media platforms. That made Israel's supporters angry enough to dig into my old tweets with the intention of pulling out something that could discredit the liberation causes I represent.
The Jewish Chronicle published two articles, one online, and a shorter print version two days later, accusing me of anti-Semitism over a tweet I made in 2012 when I was barely twenty years old. The irrational wave of hate and racism kept flooding my way, despite deleting the tweet, recognizing its unintended offensive content, and clarifying that in my whole life in Gaza's prison until September 2013, I had never interacted with any Israeli Jew outside the framework of the ongoing wars which cost us horrific human and material loss.
Nowadays, thanks to Israel's devotion to conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism to quell any criticism and protect itself from accountability, false accusations of anti-Semitism can lead to devastating consequences, especially for Palestinians. My brother Majed, for example, is facing criminal charges in Germany over BDS activism. Ironically, he is being persecuted alongside two Israeli anti-Zionist activists, Stavit Sinai and Ronnie Barkan, for protesting the visit of Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), a war-criminal member of the Israeli Knesset, chair of the anti-BDS lobby, and head of the Israeli mission to the European Council, to the Humboldt University in Berlin in June 2017. However, unlike his Israeli comrades who are privileged with the position of being white Israeli Jews with dual citizenship, my brother is vulnerable.
His vulnerability has increased after the German parliament passed a non-binding anti-BDS resolution on 17 May, labelling BDS as anti-Semitic with the intention of criminalizing a human-rights-based movement rooted in international law and UN resolutions. Stavit and Ronnie recognised this difference and commented, “We do not come as equals before the law.” My brother belongs to a stateless community, comes from the world's largest open-air prison to which he cannot return due to Israeli sea, land, and air blockade, and resides in Berlin on a temporary visa. His offense is protesting Israel’s decades-long dehumanization which he grew up with since the day he was born Palestinian, enabled by the likes of Lavie who are busy fueling more aggression against us while claiming victimhood and escaping justice. This is brutality.
Israel's culture of impunity assumes they can continue committing a gradual genocide against our existence, without us fighting back to reclaim our humanity and hold them accountable. If we “dare to dream,” to use Eurovision’s slogan this year, we face Israel’s multi-faced violence, which chases us wherever we go, even when we physically break free of Israeli systems of oppression to Europe. And unfortunately, the Israeli narrative continues to enjoy Western bias despite growing resistance from believers in global justice across the world. As a result, our suffering and yearning for freedom and justice is left unheard and unseen in the mainstream. Meanwhile, Israel and Western governments are criminalizing the BDS movement, which has given us an empowering non-violent tool to tackle those intersecting international systems of oppression against us, and a solidarity tactic to break this chain of complicity.
In September 2018, following an article I published on Al-Jazeera protesting the IHRA's anti-Semitism definition which potentially makes calling Israel a racist endeavor a criminal offense, a person who identified himself as Vienna's “only Jewish criminal attorney at law” and wrote to my university, accusing me of anti-Semitism. In his long email, he claims that I “do not understand” what apartheid and anti-Semitism is. He forgot that I know what these are not only from textbooks but from a first-hand experience of being born a Palestinian woman of colour, something that drives my passion and actions against injustice and all forms of racism. If anyone looks at the Palestinians' traumatic encounter with Zionism throughout the past century, they would come to the conclusion that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 reached in 1975, which equated Zionism with colonialism and South African apartheid, and determined Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” He refused to see how Palestinians experience Zionism and ended his letter by advocating for Israel’s travel bans against BDS activists and human rights organizations, saying,
It might be acceptable to boycott just those activists who preach for the boycott of Israel. So please tell this student not to come to us, not to enter our community. She is not welcome here. We do not want to see her. We do not want to hear her. She can stay wherever they want to, but please let her stay away from us.
He used the word “her.” However, this student has a name and identity, and it is me he wants disciplined. Moreover, Israel’s travel bans do not apply to me. As a refugee, Israel already denies us our inalienable right to return as guaranteed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1949, its choking siege on Gaza which paralyzed movement and life there, has left us unable to even return to our refugee camps.
There was nothing in my article that supports this attorney's claim. In fact, the article was an optimistic reflection on Theresa May's visit to Robben Island, where a journalist embarrassed her by questioning what she did to end apartheid in South Africa, knowing that her party slammed Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned there for decades, as a terrorist and called for his execution. My article simply promised the Palestinians the same destiny which South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement had sought–liberation. This attorney’s complaint ignored my history as a Palestinian refugee and survivor of Israel's ideologically-racist oppression, instead turning resistance to that oppression into a crime. Targeting me though my academic aspirations was his best tactic.
Those attacks against my brother Majed and me are not solitary, nor are we uniquely targeted. This Zionist-led witch-hunt has targeted many Palestinian and solidarity activists. Palestinians see this organized attack as another form of the dehumanization that we have experienced without interruption amidst the continuing denial of our legitimate struggle for freedom from Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism, which for many has not simply meant living a precarious life, but having one’s life at stake. We do not forget that Israel has a brutal history of detaining, torturing, deporting, and assassinating Palestinian activists.
The latest attack followed the footsteps of Vienna's attorney in targeting me as an academic and through academic institutions, challenging my right to speak rather than my ideas. The Jewish Chronicle identified me as a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University. However, I have not mentioned my academic affiliation in any of the videos’ promotions, and simply identified as a Palestinian activist and artist. A few twitter trolls engaged in the smears that JC launched by tagging Sheffield Hallam twitter account without involving me. I eventually found out after the UK Zionist Federation tagged me and Sheffield Hallam University in the same tweet that reduced me to an anti-Semite. Like that attorney, many overlooked my history as belonging to a people undergoing an anti-colonial struggle and whose right to resist is guaranteed by international law.
Several Saturdays ago, I stood before the Not Eurovision Party for Palestine audience ready to recite a poem by heart, entitled Palestine, before I joined my Dabke Dance Company Hawiyya to perform our folk dance Dabke. I was supposed to co-host the party but I stepped down at the last minute due to anxieties sustained after this smear campaign, and decided to limit my participation to Hawiyya’s performance. However, as I started to recite, I lost the words. However, the support I got from that crowd empowered me to continue–it was eventually a massive success. Yet I acknowledge my mental and physical exhaustion due to a combination of over-work, over-worry about my family’s precarity in Palestine and being dehumanized in exile by hostile media representations, UK-Israel arms trade and the persisting denial and demonization of our struggle.
Nonetheless, the support I received after I denounced this cyber-attack in a statement was overwhelming. I may be vulnerable due to my Palestinian identity, my history of trauma, my UK refugee residency, and being far from my family who are locked in Gaza. I belong, however, to a much bigger family of solidarity, for whose dedication to our struggle for justice I am forever grateful. My statement concluded with a promise:
As a Palestinian woman resisting Israel’s occupation, racial supremacy and apartheid, I shall continue to reject Zionism as a racist ideology while firmly condemning anti-Jewish bigotry. Our struggle is against all forms of oppression and racism. We target complicity, not identity.
Until justice prevails.