Nearly two months in NYC at the brilliant Center for Constitutional Rights on a Pegasus Scholarship from the UK. I have been keeping a work diary and a record of personal reflections, but today I felt inspired to start writing again.
We had a lunch seminar with the fantastically inspiring Fayrouz Sharqawi from Grassroots Jerusalem a brilliant Palestinian organisation based in Jerusalem.
She discussed the challenges faced every day by Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem. Simply to do basic things. To have a house; to have a house that may or may not be demolished at some point; to have a job; to be able to travel to your job; to have a school to go to; to be able to go to university without being tear gassed; to have free access to your own farmland- the list is endless.
She talked about Israel’s ‘centre of life’ policy, a tool deliberately designed to forcefully displace Palestinians. Residents have to prove their ‘centre of life’ is in Jerusalem. So when the authorities come knocking on your door, without notice after midnight and you’re not there, you risk losing your home.
The example Fayrouz gave was, if you studied medicine for instance at Al Quds university, your degree isn’t recognised by the relevant authorities to practice in Jerusalem, so you have to travel outside of Jerusalem for work. This takes hours because of the separation wall and checkpoints, forcing you to rent somewhere nearer to work.
Voila, you’re stripped of residency in Jerusalem because it is no longer your ‘centre of life.’
Another example of Israel’s displacement policy is demonstrated by the fact that only 11% of the land is for Palestinian recreational construction, despite them constituting approximately 40% of the population. In recent years, 94% of applications for building permits made by Palestinians were rejected, forcing them to build homes ‘illegally’ rendering them liable for demolition.
Land confiscations, house demolitions and the consequences of the separation wall, deemed illegal in international law, are just a few of the tools that are being used to change the geographic and demographic nature of Jerusalem. Ultimately, this is part of a systematic policy designed to appropriate Palestinian land and isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank with the goal of establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Despite the ongoing occupation and persistent violation of human rights, Palestinians continue to resist through their existence. Grassroots Jerusalem founded in 2011, is a hub committed to Palestinian led struggle and liberation. With 80 community organisation partners, they act as a hub for Palestinians to build networks, organise, mobilise, and ultimately to unify in their resistance to the occupation.
When asked about partnering with Israeli organisations, Fayrouz’s response could not have been more poignant. Grassroots Jerusalem do not engage in ‘normalisation’ (that is to say normalisation of the status quo) and therefore do not work with Israeli organisations. She stated that real life power relations and politics are replicated within Israeli and Palestinian partnerships in doing this kind of work. Who truly ends up making the decisions in such ‘partnerships?’
Her response reminded me of some of the issues explored in Malcom X’s autobiography by Alex Haley that I am currently reading. Particularly, the notion of ‘separation’ as opposed to both ‘segregation’ and ‘integration.’ It is interesting to consider the methods through which oppressed people perceive they can achieve their freedom. A choice only they can legitimately make.
She emphasized that Palestinians need to empower themselves. Freedom cannot be found through the oppressor.
In her view, Israelis sympathetic with the Palestinian plight need to address the deep rooted issues in their own society first i.e. challenging the views Israeli youths have about Palestinians. It is not for them to ‘save’ Palestinians.
In the same vein, Grassroots Jerusalem is committed to and are working towards a self-sustainable funding model which would mean they would not be reliant on international donor funding. She explains such funding comes with a number of restrictive conditions and unsurprisingly- a political agenda. As if to say “here is a million Euros for your cause, but you need to work for your liberation in ways we dictate.”
Fayrouz spoke with passion and fire. For me, she embodied the same Palestinian spirit I was blessed to find in refugee camps in Lebanon, in Jerusalem and the West Bank; highly principled, resilient and fierce.
When she was asked how people like us can help, she said the two key things are solidarity and tangible support. Not forgetting BDS.
Get involved. Renew your commitment to a free Palestine.