“I am Palestine. I EXIST” – campaign video

Who are the PEOPLE in the video?

The individuals in the video are from 10 different countries, nine of which are from countries that still haven’t recognized Palestine as a state; England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, Greece, the USA, Norway, Germany and France. The tenth is a representative from the Palestinian diaspora.

Who is the AUTHOR behind the text?

The author currently lives on the West Bank and prefers to stay anonymous for the sake of his and his family’s protection.

Under which CIRCUMSTANCES did the text come about?

The text was written about six years ago when the author was 18 years old. It was during a time where clashes between the Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian civilians had intensified. The author followed the news reporting in frustration as Palestinians were always portrayed as the wrong doers. The text is thus a reaction to the media’s misrepresentation of the conflict, as experienced by the author.

Should the text be taken literally?

Yes and no. The text is not a fact-sheet but rather an emotional and a humane reflection that nevertheless takes its point of departure in a personal experience of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Can the statements be backed up by statistics and testimonies?

Indeed they can. By means of a variety of credible sources, our intention with the outline below is not only to provide an explanation of what is meant behind each statement, but also to provide a deeper understanding of the issues the author touches upon in his text.

My name is Palestine. I have been under occupation since 1948.

Although Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip dates back to the Six Days War in 1967, Palestinians usually note that the occupation of their land began already with the war in 1948 when Israel declared itself as a state and Palestinians were expelled from 513 villages in what is referred to as the “Nakba”  – or “the catastrophe”.

Yet, others pinpoint that the occupation of Palestinian land began even sooner – as Britain ruled Palestine up until 1948. At the 100th demarcation of the Balfour Declaration, this perception became part of the separation wall:

According to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Palestine is a classic case of settler colonialism: “the only way you can force people to leave a place in which they have lived for hundreds of years is by using force. They decided very clearly, as is documented in my book, to ethnically cleanse Palestine […] It is not easy to apply such terms as colonialism, ethnic cleansing and ethnic genocide when you talk about Israelis or Jews. You usually, in this country, hear about the Israeli Jews as victims – not as victimizers.”

Creating a Jewish state in Palestine was a deliberate, drawn-out and violent process, as confirmed by historians, political scientists and journalists. Approximately 13,000 Palestinians were killed in 1948, with more than 750,000 expelled from their homes.

Since then, my people have been killed almost every day

Israel’s war of independence which took place between 1947 and 1949  is what the Palestinians and most of the region call “al Nakba” – or the catastrophe. During this time period, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes. In a documentary by Al Jazeera covering “al Nakba”, it is reported that by April 1949 over 13,000 Palestinians had been killed; over 30,000 injured; and more than 400 villages and 11 cities had been destroyed. According to the American activist and writer, Alison Weir, much of the violence had taken place even before Israel had declared independence – and before even a single Arab army had joined the conflict.

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From 1987 to 2017, Amnesty International has documented that the average of Palestinians killed amounts to 340 per year. In a speech by the former Secretary General, Salil Shetty, it is reported that the oftentimes unlawful killings committed by Israeli security forces amount to no less than 10,200. The author’s statement above can thus sadly be backed up by actual data.

From mothers losing their unborn children

Ever since the beginning of the occupation, there has been a lot of miscarriages due to misuse of power – sometimes deliberately, other times it has simply been a side effect of living in a war zone – e.g. due to the restraints on Palestinians’ freedom of movement. For many Palestinians, it is impossible to reach a hospital without having to cross an Israeli checkpoint and oftentimes, ambulances are stopped so that women are forced into giving birth in unsafe environments. In the period between 2000 and 2005, 67 Palestinian women were forced into giving birth at Israeli checkpoints – 36 babies died.

As the author explains, mothers are usually not part of demonstrations; they are simply bypassers or they just happen to live in an area, where clashes occur on a regular basis. The author’s own mother had two miscarriages herself – the first miscarriage took place after she had been hit by a rubber bullet when passing by a checkpoint; the second took place after exposure to tear gas.

When the Israeli army does not publicly disclose the chemical components of the tear gas it uses, it is difficult to determine what impact frequent exposure to tear gas might have on people’s health. In an international study however, some women reported miscarriages shortly after being subjected to tear gas. In the conclusion, the researchers pointed out that the use of tear gas appeared to be excessive, indiscriminate and nearly impossible to avoid.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee given last November, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl raised a number of issues, inter alia, the use of tear gas with the comment: “When Palestine refugee mothers are forced to seal their infants in closets while clouds of tear gas saturate their shelter, the situation has gone too far.”

To elders being dragged out of their homes, beaten up brutally, knocked down on their knees and lined up to be killed

At the beginning of the occupation and the start of the 1948 war, elders were allegedly taken from their respective homes and a lot of them were killed. According to the author, this was done in an attempt to take out the leaders of the people and deprive the younger generations of the voices of wisdom and guidance – in particular, those who called on the younger generation to resist. Others were taken to prison or simply thrown out of their villages alongside their families.

Freelance journalist and founder of the If Americans Knew research institute, Alison Weir reports: At least three quarters pretty much of the entire Palestinian population was forced off their land – violently forced through extremely violent means including a number of massacres. Much of this violence and I believe half the massacres occurred before Israel had even declared independence.”

In a documentary by Al Jazeera, it is reported that during the first three months of 1948, Jewish paramilitary groups carried out dozens of attacks on Palestinian cities and villages – some of which were carried out by special units of Jews disguised as Arabs. Sami Kamal Abdul Razek, a Palestinian refugee recalls how “[t]he Jews used to sneak into villages at night and plant explosives to blow up homes. So, we started to carry the rifle and take turns to guard the village.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz brought in 2017 a news article in which a number of testimonies shed light on the massacre that took place in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin in 1948. Whereas Yehoshua Zettler, the commander of the operation, denied that his people carried out a massacre in the village, he commented: “I won’t tell you that we were there with kid gloves on. House after house […] we’re putting in explosives and they are running away. An explosion and move on, an explosion and move on and within a few hours, half the village isn’t there anymore,” he said.

Prof. Mordechai Gichon, a lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, who was a Haganah intelligence officer (pre-independence army), had been sent to Deir Yassin when the battle ended. He recalled: “There was a feeling of considerable slaughter and it was hard for me to explain it to myself as having been done in self-defense. My impression was more of a massacre than anything else. If it is a matter of killing innocent civilians, then it can be called a massacre.”

In yet another testimony, Yair Tsaban, a former Member of the Israeli parliament and government minister, reported that he had seen inhabitants shot in the back and dismissed the claims of some of participants in the action that the locals had been hit in exchanges of fire: “An old man and a woman, sitting in the corner of a room with their faces to the wall, and they are shot in the back,” he recalled. “That cannot have been in the heat of battle. No way.” Other former military officers came forward in a similar fashion, describing deliberate attacks targeting innocent civilians and their homes which cannot be justified in warfare.

Parents lose their children, wives are left widowed and children are left orphans

All wars are bloody and include casualties. According to research done by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, a total of 9,600 Palestinians and 1,251 Israelis were killed from 2000 to 2018.

In the period from 1 January to 6 November 2017, Human Rights Watch reported 63 casualties, 14 among these were children, at the hands of the Israeli security forces. 3,494 Palestinians were reportedly injured in the same period in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, a number which included protesters and bystanders alongside suspected assailants and members of armed groups.

The highest fatality toll in 2018 was, according to the UN, recorded on 14 May 2018, when 42 Palestinians were killed.

In 2017-2018, Amnesty International reports that Israeli soldiers, police and security guards killed at least 75 Palestinians from the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and five Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Some of those were shot while attacking Israelis or suspected of intending an attack. “Many, including children, were shot and unlawfully killed while posing no immediate threat to life. Some killings, such as that of Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an, shot in his car by police in Umm al-Hiran in January, appeared to have been extrajudicial executions.”

My people live in a constant state of fear. At any minute, their front door may be kicked down by Israeli soldiers and no one knows what will happen next

Approximately 23,500 Palestinians remained displaced following the 2014 conflict, as reported in an Amnesty International report covering the violent, unlawful acts perpetrated by Israel against Palestinian civilians. 75 Palestinians and 5 Israeli Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli soldiers from 2017 to 2018; more than 400 Palestinian administrative detainees were reported at the end of 2017, among more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in the same period.

Israeli authorities use violence and terror to control the indigenous Palestinian population while maintaining a culture of impunity, which leaves the Palestinian people in this constant state of fear. The excerpts below show not only a glimpse of this reality, but simultaneously serve as testimonies to the impact the violent conflict has on people’s psyche.

In a testimony provided by former Israeli soldier Adar Aviam, we get a glimpse at routine tactics used by the Israeli military in harassing Palestinian civilians: “Demonstrating presence is, at least where I served, it was routine. I mean, once in a while we demonstrate a presence, and the way I understand it, a demonstration of presence is an action without a specific intelligence alert or specific security objective of arresting or setting up an ambush along a certain route. It’s more like making your zone seem more prepared, more alert. And what is it, in practice? It’s walking around, and making noise, shooting, taking empty magazines and just shooting them. Throwing stun grenades, detaining people for no reason, pretending to inspect them and taking their details. Things like that whose final objective is to intimidate or show that the company is serious controlling the region and you can never know where they’ll be, the soldiers are everywhere (…) We’d arrest people and pretend to take pictures, we took their phones, took kids and told them we were taking their details. We’d say, next time you throw stones here at the refugee camp, I’ll come to your house.’’

When asked “How is life like growing up under occupation, the young human rights activist, Ahed Tamimi answers: “Imagine going to your school and finding a checkpoint so you are prevented from going to school because of this checkpoint or from going to your university or work. Or imagine that every day the military enters your town and keeps firing gas and bullets and you’re constantly afraid that someone will be killed or that they will detain someone. There is a constant fear that you will lose someone in your family. The occupation is extremely difficult. To look at the settler who is on your land, while you’re barred from it, it’s really so difficult.”

In the testimony by Eman Abdelhadi, currently a resident of the USA, we get a glimpse of some of the traumas following whole Palestinian families fleeing from the military terror they have been exposed to: ‘’When I was a kid I remember watching footage from the Intifada. I used to have these dreams that Israeli forces would come to our house in mid-Missouri dragging us from our homes and lining us up and executing us, which is a crazy dream for a 12-year old to have. It was the first introduction to realizing that I was in the category of human being whose life didn’t matter. Palestine was the lens through which I saw the world from such a young age. I learned about it as this fundamental injustice that affected me and people that I love. My grandparents lived in Jerusalem up until 1948. They were forced to flee. They really thought there were going to go back. My grandmother had the key to her house for the rest of her life.’’

Children, mothers and fathers may never return home because they have been taken away by the Zionists

Israeli authorities use administrative detention routinely to incarcerate Palestinians without trial and without disclosing the offense supposedly done by the detainees, by invoking issues of national security. Detainees lack judicial proceedings and often face indefinite periods of incarceration without being charged, tried or convicted. The Middle East Monitor estimated that the Israeli authorities issued more than 52,000 administrative detention orders from 1967 to 2018. In 2017 alone, Israel issued 1,119 orders, while already by the end of June 2018, B’Tselem reported 446 administrative detainees.

According to a report covering 2017 to 2018 by Amnesty International, apart from administrative detention, unlawful imprisonment and even killings are used to target Palestinian civilians, including human rights activists and journalists criticizing the violence perpetrated by the Israeli regime. 75 Palestinians and 5 Israeli Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli soldiers from 2017 to 2018; more than 400 Palestinian administrative detainees were reported at the end of 2017, among more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons in that same period.

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You may wonder whether is it really important and whether there is a distinction at all to be made between Jews, Israelis and Zionism? In the view of the author, and many other Palestinians for that matter, there is certainly an important distinction to be made between the different terms. We believe so too, and we are willing to defend and explain the use of this word!

According to Al-Jazeera’s definition, Zionism stands for a political ideology developed in the 19th century which called for the creation of the state of Israel in historic Palestine. The Zionist movement encouraged the Jewish mass migration from Europe to Palestine in the first half of the 20th century. According to its critics, Zionism has functioned much like colonialism, due to its violent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and its illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The term Zionism is based on ancient religious mythology and is highly valued by monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity, which share a heritage of supra-natural beliefs, in which Zion is viewed as the holiest, perfect city designed for the people of God. The Israeli politicians sharing in the Zionist ideology are criticized for using this religious background as pretense for the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, as in, they make the claim to an ancient geopolitical space which in modern-day society has no legal standing, and is in breach of international law.

The young female Palestinian human rights activist, Ahed Tamimi sums it up quite well: “There’s a huge difference between Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is a religion – you know, it’s just like Islam, it’s just like Christianity. But Zionism that’s the occupation, that’s the killing, that’s what closes checkpoints, that’s what detains innocent people. That’s all Zionism that’s causing this conflict with Palestinians.”

My children are seen as terrorists because they throw stones at the Zionists’ tanks and drones

Children in the occupied territories are most commonly prosecuted for stone throwing. Stone-throwing is de facto a form of resistance among Palestinian protesters, and children are predominantly among those arrested for this offense.

The picture of Faris Odeh, a 14-year old Palestinian boy throwing a stone at an Israeli Defense Force tank in the Gaza Strip 29 October 2000 was taken by a photojournalist from the Associated Press. Faris Odeh and the picture assumed iconic status within the Palestinian territories as a symbol of opposition to the occupation.

According to the Israeli Penal Code, as of 2015, if proof of harmful intent is brought to court, the stone thrower can be convicted to 20 years in prison. In absence of such proof, the sentence can amount to 10 years of imprisonment.

It is reported that approximately 1,000 people are brought to court for stone throwing every year, the majority of which are Palestinian children. Additionally, the parents are penalized as well by being deprived of national benefits, such as food and income allowances, in stark contrast to the treatment of Israeli children who receive more lenient sentences for more serious offenses.

According to data collected by the Defense for Children Palestine, 2,074 children were killed from 2000 to 2018 as a result of Israeli military and settler presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. According to their research, approximately 500-700 children Palestinian children are detained and prosecuted, most of them for stone throwing. 2018 statistics pointed to 47 child fatalities, 273 detainees and 11 children in solitary confinement.

The media have made us look like terrorists and my people as the enemy; the Zionists as the victim...

According to If Americans Knew, an independent research and information-dissemination institute, which focuses particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, U.S. foreign policy regarding the Middle East, and media coverage of this issue, news on the Israeli-Palestinian violent conflict are distorted, showing bias against the Palestinian population. Based on their research, a tentative conclusion can be formed on the fact that press coverage is not only distorted but that the entire issue could actually be underreported or misreported, a fact corroborated through personal testimonies of the Palestinians.

Additionally, the Israeli authorities are seeking to hamper the dissemination of photographic evidence pointing to their violent methods on social media networks and other communication channels. In June 2018 the Israeli Parliament began working on a bill that will allow the authorities to issue sentences of up to 10 years of imprisonment for acts of recording and publishing videos of Israeli soldiers with the intention to harm national security.

Already, the situation in Israel is obstructed. According to the overview of the state of civil society in Israel provided by CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists: “Security-oriented state policies enhance the power of the army and undermine human rights protections.”

For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has documented the institutional discrimination, repression and systematic rights abuse characteristic of Israel’s half-century occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On 7 May 2018, the Israeli authorities revoked the work permit for Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch in Israel and Palestine, and ordered him to leave Israel within 14 days. According to Shakir: “It shows Israel’s growing intolerance to those who criticise its rights record.”

... and somehow they have managed to make it look okay to take over the home, land and resources of innocents

In June and August 2017, the Israeli authorities dismantled and seized 96 solar panels and six caravans to be used as classrooms, both provided as humanitarian assistance and funded by international donors, in Jubbet ad Dhib, an Area C community in southern Bethlehem.

By means of legislation, the Israeli authorities tear down schools, animal pens, homes even tents in Area C under the pretense that these are  “illegal constructions”. Israeli-issued building permits are nearly impossible to obtain. As showcased below, whenever a building structure is demolished, it usually has far-reaching consequences: in 2016, 1,601 individuals were displaced as a result of Israel’s demolitions.

To make matters worse, the Israeli authorities have advanced new legislation that will significantly limit the ability of individual and human rights organizations to challenge the demolition or seizure of Palestinian properties in Area C and East Jerusalem. Under a new law, fines imposed on individuals charged with building without a permit can reach up to NIS 400,000 rather than the previous penalties of tens of thousands of shekels.

On the 5th of July 2018, UN officials called for an end to West Bank demolitions and respect for international law.

I AM PALESTINE. I exist. My people exist.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has reported about 750,000 refugees in 1950 when it started its operations, a number that has spiked to 5 million in the present day. A Palestinian refugee worthy of the Agency’s services is defined as a person “whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed the mandate of the Agency, most recently extending it to June 2020, due to the lack of a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Palestinian refugees live in 58 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The refugee camps are plots of land leased by the host government where refugees have the right to use the land as residence. The living conditions, however, are hardly decent, due to increased poverty and lack of basic infrastructure – and in some places, the Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens.

Based on population estimates from 2011, there are 5.9 million Jewish Israeli citizens free to live throughout Israel and 60 percent of the occupied West Bank. In comparison, only 1.3 million Palestinians enjoy citizenship status in Israel, and they are barred from living in 68 percent of all towns in Israel. 4.2 million Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip, facing numerous geographical and political limitations in mobility.

Whereas the Israeli law “The Law of Return” from 1950 gives every Jewish person in the world the right to obtain citizenship in Israel – and thus “return” or perhaps more accurately, move to a country, they may never have had any connection to, the Palestinian diaspora, counting more than 5 million, is denied this right, despite the fact that it represents a human right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to that country.

And though I don’t exist in the media and in the eyes of the Zionists, though I don’t exist on the map, I exist in the heart of millions around the world.

The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right. We believe the Palestinians deserve this and all other human rights to be upheld too. The occupation of Palestinian territory has lasted for 51 years. The oppression, segregation and dissemination of the Palestinian people has lasted even longer and continues to this day. By acknowledging Palestine as a state, the people of Palestine should be allowed to return to their homeland and live in peace with their neighbours.

Inam Abbas, a young Palestinian refugee from Al Ama’ri refugee camp encapsulate the importance of recognition:  “When we will have our state, everything which is called refugee will be deleted from the dictionary. Because we will not be refugees anymore, we will be living in our own state. All the world will know us – not just as a people living in the West Bank […] We will be known as Palestinians living in Palestine – in a place, in a state on the map called Palestine.”

But how far are the Palestinians from statehood and self-determination?

On the International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People, on the 29th of November 2012, Palestine was admitted as a non-member observer state in the United Nations. The international community backed the bid with an overwhelming majority of 138 nations voting in favour of upgrading Palestine’s legal status. Only nine countries voted against: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, USA, Panama, The Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru and Micronesia.

Today, 137 out of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognized Palestine as a state. Amongst the states that have traditionally stood in opposition to Palestinian statehood is that of the USA and the United Kingdom, countries that were both instrumental in the creation of modern-day Israel.

This year’s Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Professor George P. Smith, a longtime advocate for Palestinians rights, recently called on his government in the United States to end arms sales to the Israeli military. Stephen Hawkins compared the killings that took place during the war on Gaza in 2014 with what took place in South Africa during Apartheid: “it cannot continue”, he said. Calls for peace may indeed come from outside the political system.

This year, the so-called BDS movement was nominated by an elected member of the Norwegian Parliament for the Nobel Peace Prize. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law: it upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.  BDS is today a global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. According to the movement itself, it is leading a tidal change in support of justice for the Palestinians.

No one knows what the future will bring – but one thing is certain, after 51 years of the occupation, the Palestinian struggle for freedom continues.