I came from a small city called Gaza. It’s just 360 square kilometres. For 22 years, I saw nothing beyond this area. The only interaction I had with outsiders was with the Israelis. They launched one war after another, dropping bombs, firing missiles and targeting us with artillery from the sea and the ground. Even when there is no actual war going on, the Israeli drones do not leave the sky and become part of our daily lives.
I am from the generation who grew up under what is called the “peace process” between the Palestinians and Israelis but, as I grew up, I became more pessimist every time a “peace” meeting occurred, because at the same time Israeli settlements on Palestinian land continued to expand. As I left the besieged Gaza Strip to Egypt by something of a miracle, the first place I saw on the way from Gaza to Cairo Airport was a desert. This deserted, empty place shocked me, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I had lived in Gaza traumatised by one war after another. Now I could see the results.
Even when there is no actual war going on, the Israeli drones do not leave the sky and become part of our daily lives
A year after I left, another war took place, the most horrible of them all, leaving 2,251 dead. It included a massacre in my birthplace, Shujaia, eastern Gaza. Imagine being away from home and reading in the news about the death of your neighbours and friends. It was probably the most difficult moment of my life. I could not reach my family easily, but I knew that corpses were in the streets of my home. The loss was huge: more than words can describe or I could face. It was beyond me. I could not go back to give them a last hug. The Israeli government continued their war. A neighbouring family stayed under the rubble for two days while the Israeli forces prevented the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from pulling them out. The spokesperson of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mark Regev, appeared on several programmes, defending the Israeli army. I don’t understand how the killing of 315 children and wounding 3,374 others– of whom 1,000 were left permanently disabled– is excusable.
I chose to protest Regev’s presence here because he is a representative of a settler-colonial state that continues to oppress and suppress my people, ignoring UN resolutions and international law. Regev is, of course, an ambassador, but it is worth noting the extensive security put in place for his appearance at Exeter. Some security would be predictable, but the amount deployed in this case for a basically private event suggests an excessive fear of protests and debate.
Regev’s response to our protest was not unexpected. To claim that our protest is hurting the Palestinians was yet another level of supremacy, based on blaming the victims. He didn’t realise that some of us are Palestinians. How would he know the extent to which his government is restricting our freedom of movement? I have not seen my family since I left Gaza in 2013. Human Rights Watch documented 54 cases of patients in Gaza who lost their lives last year as they were denied exit for treatment by Israel. Travel out of Gaza is currently 1% of what it was in September 2000.
I chose to protest Regev’s presence here because he is a representative of a settler-colonial state that continues to oppress and suppress my people
The reality on the ground is dire. But we can make a change. Only when this colonial state that Regev represents is put under international pressure will a solution be achieved. This pressure will not come from Regev’s PR missions but from people who are committed to peace, justice and equality in Palestine – as exemplified, for instance, by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.