Letter from Palestine: “I am either dead or I am muted”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116823″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]I can’t remember the first time I heard the slogan “No voice is louder than the voice of the intifada”.

I was born at the peak of the intifada (uprising) in which this slogan first appeared, in 1988. I became more aware of it during the second uprising, at the start of the millennium when the slogan re-emerged.

When I chose the topic of my dissertation in sociology on the impact of a prevalent ideology in determining the options of sociological research in Palestinian universities, I found that the slogan summarised how the existent national ideology works against critical visions in social sciences and tries to silence them. After research, I found that the slogan was a modification to a slogan that existed during phases of tyranny in Arab countries in the last century, namely “No voice is louder than the voice of the battle.”

Ever since I was born, I’ve been living through the “battle” in which no other voice should prevail. This is what happens when you live in a conflict that has not been resolved for more than 70 years. I live in Ramallah in the West Bank, an area that is subject to Israeli military occupation according to the UN since 1967.

There have been national movements that worked towards ending the occupation but these were transformed into an authority that signed a peace agreement with Israel and that hasn’t led to peace. Instead, there were understandings reached that resulted in administrative and security coordination.

At various times, this led to calm periods full of economic opportunities and cultural activity that were supported internationally. It seemed as if the battle’s voice receded or faded away. Yet the national authority maintained the battle discourse, which must remain above all others.

Years ago, on the wall of an oil press, in the village of my maternal grandparents, I read a slogan that shocked me: “You are either a mine that explodes under the feet of the enemy or you shut up.” Underneath was the signature of a leftist faction. I realised that I faced two choices: I am either dead –because I am a mine that explodes under the enemy’s feet – or I am muted.

In 2016, when I wrote my novel A Crime in Ramallah, I was subject to a dual-pronged attack.

The first manifested itself legally through the public prosecutor and the Palestinian Authority (PA), who confiscated my novel from bookstores and libraries, issued an arrest warrant against me and detained the distributor of the novel.

The second was of a popular dimension in social media, which fed on the prevalent ideology and its logic. This incident highlighted the reality relating to freedom of speech in the areas controlled by the PA, through legal tools on the one hand and national tools connected to the prevalent ideology on the other. Accusations were hurled against me regarding public morals in the current law, along with charges of treason and insulting national symbols that are prevalent in the discourse of the “battle”.

The current laws in force in PA areas remain a topic of legal argument. These include the penal code of 1960, which is a regressive law with an abundance of violations to freedom of expression and speech in addition to violations of political freedoms, freedom of sexual orientation and freedom of women.

Further, the law is vague and can be maliciously misinterpreted. The arrest warrant was issued against me on this basis. Efforts to amend the law or enact a contemporary law that allows for even minimal freedom of expression have all failed.

In 2018, the electronic crimes law was issued which violated freedom of the press and online expression and statement. It included harsh penalties that had an impact on writers, journalists, artists and everyday people who have become hesitant to merely criticise the authorities with a post or tweet on social media.

Recently, and at an unprecedented level, major social media outlets have started censoring Palestinian content. Accordingly, I cannot write anything about the occupation and its practices in Arabic without the threat of my account being restricted or removed.

Due to the weak algorithms of these sites in the Arabic language, the context thus becomes irrelevant. So merely mentioning certain words might result in the restriction or cancellation of my account. Two options here remind me of the graffiti on the wall I previously mentioned: I either shut up or become non-existent in this cyberspace.

Today as I write these words, I am unable to freely express my thoughts on both sides of the “battle.” I fear that many began surrendering indeed to the truth that there is no voice above its voice, and I worry that I am one of them.



Report finds challenges to digital freedom in Palestine

(Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The internet is a vital platform for Palestinians to express themselves, but web access and targeting of social media users, bloggers and journalists remain big challenges, according to a new report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA).

“The internet and the broad tools of communication made available by the social networks gained great importance specifically in the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, who have been under firm siege by the Israeli occupation forces since 2006, and for the Palestinian people in general due to the dispersion they have experienced since the Nakba of 1984 [sic], and now they can communicate with their relatives and friends in the different parts of the world quickly and immediately”, said Mr. Mousa Rimawi, MADA’s general director.

The report states that 67% of Palestinians polled by MADA in 2012 believe Facebook contributes to the promotion of freedom of expression.

However, the latest figures quoted show that internet penetration in Palestine is at 32.1%; 34.3% in the West Bank and 27.9% in the Gaza Strip. Lack of infrastructure due to the Israeli occupation and high service charges are the biggest blocks to access, the report finds.

The report also highlighted threats to journalists working in Palestine. Examples included the imprisonment of Al Quds TV reporter Mamdouh Hamamrah for posting an image deemed to be offensive to President Mahmoud Abbas, and the arrest of journalist Esmat Abdel Khalek for a comment she made on Facebook demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority.

“Violations against journalists and citizens simply for expressing their opinions lead to the strengthening of self-censorship, which is incompatible with the idea of ​​having the social platforms that is suppose to make it easier for citizens and journalists to express their opinions”, said Riham Abu Aita, a MADA spokesperson.

The article was edited on 30 September at 12.00 pm to acknowledge an error in the quote from Mr. Mousa Rimawi, which gives the year of the Nakba as 1984, it took place in 1948.

PAST EVENT: 15 Sept: Freedom Theatre – films and discussion from Palestine

Date: Thursday 15 Sept
Time: 5.30 – 9pm
Venue: Free Word Centre, EC1R 3GA
Tickets: Click here (valid for both parts of the evening, £5 / £3 concessions)

Index on Censorship, Article 19 and Culture + Conflict present an evening focusing on The Freedom Theatre, the extraordinarily inspirational and courageous cultural initiative based in the Jenin Refugee Camp on the West Bank.

The artistic director Juliano Mer Khamis was assassinated in Jenin on 4 April 2011, but the theatre continues its work. We are privileged to welcome film-maker Ahmad Alaraj from the Theatre, who will present Arna’s Children and a series of short films. He will appear in conversation with the new director of the Free Word Centre, Rose Fenton, co-founder and former co-director of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT).

The evening will be in two parts, with a single ticket, which is valid for both.

5.30 – 7.00: Arna’s Children (2003, 84 min) directed by Juliano Mer Khamis and Danniel Danniel, a documentary about the children’s theatre group established by Arna Mer-Khamis, Juliano’s mother, an Israeli Jewish political and human rights activist. This moving film, which won Best Documentary Feature at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, follows the lives of Arna and the members of the theatre.

7.30 – 9.00: Ahmad Alaraj of the Freedom Theatre will present and discuss four short films about the continuing work of the Theatre today with Rose Fenton: the challenges it faces working with young people in Jenin and the transformative effect it has on their lives. There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion with Ahmad.

Food and refreshments will be available.

Palestine: Jenin Freedom Theatre faces another attack

The Freedom Theatre in Jenin’s refugee camp came under attack by the the Israel Defence Force in the early morning of 22 August. Having been notified that soldiers were surrounding the theatre, Acting General Manager Jacob Gough arrived at the scene, where he was confronted by armed soldiers. He was detained following his attempts to get closer to the theatre. A security guard was also physically attacked and his home was raided by soldiers, who reportedly fired live ammunition in an attempt to disperse the crowd that had gathered around the house. This is the third time the theatre has been targeted in the last month. In April, its general manager Juliano Mer Khamis was gunned down by an unknown assassin.