From the Michael Slate Show

Gaza Unsilenced—Interview with the Editors

August 3, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Refaat Alareer: and Laila El-Haddad, editors of Gaza Unsilenced, were interviewed on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica radio. Alareer is also the editor (and contributor) of the short story collection Gaza Writes Back. This is a rush transcript of the interview.

Michael Slate: When I read the book, I’m sitting there thinking, it’s such a powerful book, but then you step back and think about what were the origins of it. Why this book in this form right now?

Laila El-Haddad: I think part of it is—I’ll speak on both of our behalfs—we were driven by a sense of responsibility. We felt obligated as Palestinians from Gaza, but just generally as people of conscience, to be able to document what happened and what’s become a cycle that continues—what’s become a cycle that continues to happen, or which continues to be done to Gaza, in a format that does justice both to the victims and those who continue to suffer. And for me it’s this ongoing process, being able to narrate the Palestinian story and to provide a space for people to―on their own also—use their voices to be able to share what’s happening and give them agency in a sense. And that’s not to say that the book is exclusively contributions of Palestinians from Gaza, but you get the picture.

And it was also a collective in a sense. There were all these incredible contributions and analysis and voices during that time, more than in any previous assault. And I think we wanted to be able to harness that and put it all in one space for people to read in a cohesive manner, to make sense of what it is that was done to Gaza, and to try to be able to read this in a way that you could say, “Oh, it didn’t just happen in response to whatever, or it wasn’t because of the rocket attacks.” You’ve got to paint a picture that’s a bit more comprehensive. So there’s a lot of different elements involved. But we thought it was just something that needed to be done.

Michael Slate: Now you both had some deeply personal reasons for doing this as well. Refaat, what about you?

Refaat Alareer: We’re living the third anniversary of the Intifada, and today is the first anniversary of the death of my brother Mohammad, about whom I wrote two pieces in the book, and who was one of the reasons why I was involved in this book. A year ago, the Gaza Strip was bombarded and shelled almost every second. Bullets were pouring. Shells were raining. People couldn’t find any place safe. Even their own houses were not safe for people, because Israel decided to flex some muscles and to teach those innocent people staying at their home a lesson. People also hear about the Shujai’iya massacre, where in less than five hours, Israel killed more than 150 people and injured 2-300 people. My own brother Mohammad was at that time at home, and Israel was—I mentioned this in my article, that Israel ordered everybody to leave, no matter who you are or where you are in Shujai’iya, you had to leave your house and there was no reason why you would stay behind, whether you were disabled, whether you couldn’t leave, whether you just decided to stay at home and be in the peace and comfort of your own house. So Israel was kind of treating mobile signals and just striking houses because they emitted a mobile signal.

The loss of my brother is one of the most difficult things that ever happened to us, to the family. We are a huge family, and again, that doesn’t mean losing one family member was easy. So in the book I wanted to give a voice and a face to my brother, as well as to the 2,500 people Israel murdered [in the assault on Gaza]. And also, if you go through the book and see the variety of articles about attacking the economy, the infrastructure, the mosques, and almost every aspect of life. So we’re trying to give voices to the humans Israel murdered and the people who were made disabled and homeless by Israel. And we’re also giving voices to the universities, the hospitals themselves, to speak of the Israeli atrocities against everything in Gaza.

Michael Slate: One of the things that was really interesting in what you described. I want to know what you can tell people about Gaza today. Describe Gaza. Describe for people how it can be what it is. There’s a chapter in your book that’s called, “Destitute by Design: Making Gaza Unlivable.” That’s referring to the Zionist approach, their scheme for Gaza. Can you talk about that a little?

Refaat Alareer: In so many ways, Gaza is a very beautiful place: Good weather, good food, good people, good everything. It’s a place where if we just take care of it, if we just don’t have an occupation, would be one of the best cities on the Mediterranean. So when we speak about the crisis in the Gaza Strip, we can’t speak about this without Israeli occupation, which by the way did not cause the destruction and slow death to Gaza only eight years ago when they imposed the siege on Gaza. The crisis started the first moment Israel occupied Gaza and decided to besiege the people of Gaza and decided to allow particular people in and particular people out, and even imports and exports. So we’re living here about 50 years of slow death of Israel strangling the people, smothering every aspect of our lives. Now in the first intifada and the second intifada, the siege was tightened. And it became horrible in 2006 when the Palestinians elected Hamas to represent them.

The situation after the war is a lot worse. Because we’re speaking here about a medieval siege were very, very few people are allowed out, and you can’t even come back to Gaza. You can’t export; you can’t import; you can’t buy books; you can’t have building materials. When I speak about this, I speak about the tens of thousands of houses that Israel destroyed last summer. The problem is a lot more horrible. We still have many people homeless. Some of them are still living in new, UN-run schools. Some of them are still living in caravans, exposed to the heat, to the cold, exposed to everything out there.

Michael Slate: Laila, would you have anything to add?

Laila El-Haddad: What we meant by that phrase, “Destitute by Design,” is that there’s been this ongoing process by which Israel has explicitly aimed to destroy Gaza’s productive sector, and specifically, since the imposition of sanctions following the election of Hamas, and even before that, the disengagement from Gaza, which happened before the elections in 2005, the disengagement in which Israel dismantled the settlements and the military structure within Gaza, but then retained control over Gaza and its sovereignty from the outside. Since that process, Israel has very deliberately aimed to make Gaza destitute, to impoverish its people and to destroy the productive sector and self-sufficiency in general. The way that it’s accomplished that is by preventing the import of things like construction materials, cement, fertilizers, parts for water sanitation or filtration, all components and things you’d need to rebuild, or just generally build, factories, schools and things like this, companies or whatever. The list changes on a continuous basis. It’s also a near-complete ban on the export of items, where before, Palestinians, especially farmers in the agricultural sector, a very important part of the Palestinian economy, would export their tomatoes and cucumbers and fish and so forth to the West Bank, to Jordan; strawberries, flowers and other items to Europe even, furniture and so on and so forth. When you look at the types of things that are banned from import and from export, and of course a very major thing that’s prevented from entering and exiting is people. We think just in terms of goods, but there’s a near-total ban on the movement of students to be able to travel from Gaza to study in the West Bank and Birzeit and in other universities in Jerusalem and Israel. It was revealed sometime I think in 2009, there was a leak and one of these government officials actually revealed that the goal of the blockade is what’s known as no development, in other words, targeting to debilitate the productive sectors, preventing any chance at prosperity, but at the same time not making things so bad that it would create an all-out humanitarian media outcry. So the objective isn’t just to starve everyone or to kill everyone. No, it’s actually much more sinister. I spoke to the director of the UN field operations in 2007, and he said, no one in Gaza is starving, but everybody is hungry. And he said they shouldn’t be. But it’s very deliberate. So the things that are allowed in, the calories are calculated to determine exactly how much everyone eats. So it’s sufficient, but it’s never enough, ever. And beyond food, that’s what the blockade is about, right? People don’t have food? No, there’s food, but they’ve made everyone sort of dependent on the aid and on the handouts and so forth, that that’s become the primary concern and nobody can move beyond that. Nobody can pursue higher education freely, or move freely or be able to rebuild or prosper, all these types of things that would move them beyond complete destitution, to be able to be self-sufficient and prosperous.

So that’s what that chapter is about. It’s tracing and talking about this history through the different assaults, through cast lead and pillars of cloud and through last year’s assault as well. When you look at the so-called targets, beyond families that were massacred and eviscerated, the institutions and the buildings and the farms and the dairies and the chicken pens. Why destroy these things? Because you want to be able to send a message to say, look, we’re not just going to keep you penned into Gaza, and we’re not going to just show you that at any moment we can kill you if we want, but we’re also going to destroy the things that help you live, that make you, you. It’s a pattern that you see repeating itself.

Michael Slate: As you’re talking, I can’t help but think, there’s a genocidal aspect to this. People will look at all the things you’re saying and say, well they’re attacking Gaza because Hamas is in power. They’re attacking Gaza because this happened and that happened. But there actually seems to be a much more planned out, mapped out thing that has a whole genocidal edge to it. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. The historian Ilan Pappé has spent a lot of time trying to analyze the genocidal roots of a lot of the assaults on the Palestinian people today. Can you talk about that a little in connection to this?

Laila El-Haddad: For me, when people ask, well, why, I say it’s because they refuse to be silent. They refuse to go along with this master plan and be puppets. And the moment that they aberrate from this plan, and no longer are willing collaborators, or willing participants in their own imprisonment, that’s when Israel says, OK, it’s time to punish you and put you back in your place. Don’t you dare think that you can resist or say or do anything that is against us. And this plan that I’m talking about is a continual one of dispossessing the Palestinians of their rights, of their freedoms, of their land, while retaining control over them. So it’s maximizing control over the land, with as little Palestinians as possible. That’s accomplished, of course, through various methods, be it disengagement, be it direct or indirect transfer, bantustanning the Palestinians, creating the separation barrier and annexing as much land as possible.

Refaat Alareer: When we speak about genocide in Gaza or in Palestine in general, we usually have Zionist trolls saying, no, no, no, genocide means killing all the people and you’re still alive, and the population of the Gaza Strip in particular is increasing. This is a joke because it’s distracting from what’s going on in reality. If genocide means the killing of all people, then there has never been a genocide, because we still have Jews, we still have Armenians, we still have Bosnians, etc. But there is a systematic, and there has been a systematic method, as Laila said, an Israeli method of impoverishing Palestinians, of keeping them starved but not dead. But if you look at again the geography, the politics, life and reality on the ground, it is genocide, because Palestine is shrinking, the West Bank is shrinking. We have more and more Jewish settlers coming to the West Bank, occupying Palestinian houses, destroying Palestinian houses, uprooting Palestinian trees. I know people in the Gaza Strip who had to plant their farms, their trees at least five to seven times in the past 20 years, because Israel would uproot their orange trees, olive trees. Can you imagine yourself spending 20 years caring for your trees and then having to just plant them again and again every couple of years. And if we speak of the economy here, we are being strangled; we are being exterminated in so many ways. You don’t have to be alive to be dead. It’s like the walking dead. When you can’t travel, it’s your death. When you can’t go to pursue your education, your business, when you can’t travel for fun. That’s a kind of metaphorical death we’re speaking about here. And again, I always like to emphasize that this didn’t start with Hamas coming to power because even before Hamas, Israel was occupying Palestine, and killing Palestinians and harassing us, because again, they blame Yasser Arafat, and then they blame the PLO and they blame the Palestinian fighters, and then they blame the Arab fighters. So Israel would always create an enemy, would make somebody an enemy so that they continue their crimes and their occupation.

Michael Slate: It’ interesting because in the introduction to the book you both point out this idea of the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, famously saying of Gaza that it equals the history of an entire homeland. That seems to be what you’re pointing to.

Laila El-Haddad: Yeah. Absolutely. To understand the Palestinian condition, the Palestinian story, look to Gaza. And I say that because frequently people are like, oh, Gaza’s always in the news, or what’s the big deal with Gaza, or why always the focus on Gaza? And it’s not to say there aren’t other horrific crimes being perpetrated against Palestinians elsewhere, in the diaspora, in Lebanon where I am now, in the West Bank or elsewhere within historic Palestine. But I think it’s sort of the grossest manifestation of those crimes. You see in Gaza and the policies that these kinds of sinister and systematic policies, ethnocidal policies. You see those in Gaza and then you can understand by extension the rest of the Palestinian story and how they play out vis-à-vis Palestinians elsewhere.

Michael Slate: One of the things that comes up a lot is this thing about the truth of Operation Protective Edge. Just the name is hard to say. The truth of that and how severe this was. There’s a point in the book that talks about how the firepower used in this assault on Gaza was the equivalent of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It’s just mind-boggling to think of this, and I wanted to ask you about that. In order to carry that out, there does have to be a certain amount of dehumanization of the Palestinian people.

Refaat Alareer: Yeah. Protective Edge, or Destructive Edge, if you can’t say the word “Protective,” came after a long process of an Israeli campaign of misinformation and demonization of the whole Palestinian people and the people of the Gaza Strip in particular. The Israelis were ready. The Israelis were well prepared politically, media and everywhere. One of the polls showed more than 90 percent of Israelis supporting the massacres in the Gaza Strip. So the amount of weapons used, shells and bombs and missiles, and the size and the type of weapons used in the Gaza Strip against unarmed Palestinians, defenseless people, and the fact that the majority of those killed and injured were unarmed civilians and mostly in their own homes. The fact that we have 552 kids by Israel in 51 days shows that Israel has been preparing for this and shows that Israel again is giving a kind of example: This is how we treat people who don’t abide by the occupation law. This is how we do to people who want to resist. This is how we do to people who don’t just want to stay on their knees all the time. And at the same time, I don’t know why, but this usually reminds me of the videos of ISIS we see. ISIS is using people as propaganda to market their sick ideologies and to recruit people. And Israel is doing the same. Israel used the attack on Gaza to promote their weapons and their drones and their Iron Dome to people in India and America—even in the Arab world maybe—and at the same time to promote their ideology, to attract those people who come to Israel from Australia, America, Canada or Europe, to join the Israeli Army, like showing them that, yes, we have men who shoot without being held accountable. You can come and be part of this killing campaign. There’s a strong similarity here between ISIS and Israel using defenseless unarmed people as part of their propaganda and marketing strategies.

Michael Slate: There’s the constant accusations that the Palestinians are using children as human shields, and it flows right from what you’re saying about the whole idea of all this going on and the Zionists are using it to justify their assault on the Palestinian people and this idea of presenting this very sick stuff like, really, they’re putting the children up so they can get sympathy and they’re using them as human shields and then they’re shooting at us and that’s why we have to be so brutal.

Refaat Alareer: Like you said, this came after a long process of Israel demonizing the Palestinians, depicting them as people who love death, who want to die, people who don’t care about their own lives. When you do this, for decades and decades, no matter what you say about those people, your supporters and your trolls are going to believe it, and they’re going to push this in our faces every time you’re being accused of committing crimes. If you want to commit a crime, the easiest thing is again to blame the victim. What are the accusations? Hamas is using tunnels. Hamas is using civilian houses. Palestinians are using their own kids as human shields.

The human shield thing is also part of the book because we know it’s a very crucial issue to attack. There has been no shred of evidence that Palestinians use their own kids or their own people as human shields. Western journalists—there were hundreds of journalists in the Gaza Strip. Not one of them reported a child or family being used as a human shield. And it’s not about those journalists seeing or not seeing. As Palestinians we refuse to be used by anybody as human shields. It’s not that we are mindless stupid people that can be controlled by Hamas or by Fatah or by anybody.

The fact from the ground again is that Israel has used Palestinians and has been using Palestinians as human shields. There is evidence from the Gaza Strip during that attack of Israel using Palestinian houses, Palestinian schools, Palestinian infrastructure, using Palestinians in Gaza as human shields to attack Palestinians and kill more. So it’s a kind of defense mechanism. But at the same time, it’s Israel trying to avoid the accusation that it kills and targets civilians, and at the same time trying to put us on the defensive so that we don’t accuse Israel of using Palestinians as human shields. And there’s two things I want to refer people to. Number one, there’s an article by Max Blumenthal, in which he speaks about how Israel is using its own civilians as human shields. The other thing is the testimonies and reports by the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence, of how the soldiers themselves were saying that we were killing Palestinians at random, we were killing Palestinians for fun, we were targeting houses just for the fun of it. These are again clear-cut evidence that Israel wanted to kill as many people as possible, and then they would say, Palestinians are using their kids as human shields.

Michael Slate: We’ve talked about the role of dehumanizing the Palestinian people in Gaza and in Palestine as a whole and how essential that is to what they’re able to do in terms of even the Zionists launching their all-out attacks, their military strategy that involves basically rolling over everyone and everything that is Palestinian, and particularly the people. But in order to get over with this, internationally, and also just to perpetrate this across the country, there has to be, and they’ve taken up, this whole campaign of dehumanizing.

You’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but I want people to know—what does it mean to say they’re “dehumanizing?” How do they do that? What does it mean? What does it look like?

Refaat Alareer: To be dehumanized is to be deprived of everything that makes your life decent or worth living. To be dehumanized is to not be allowed to live as a human being. But also to be dehumanized is to be attacked every time, to be isolated every time. I’m talking about maybe 11 years. To be described as a tourist every time, to be described as savages. When you analyze the discourse used by some Israeli politicians and some Israeli Jewish rabbis, you will be stunned how the superiority, the Israeli superiority, in terms of language and discourse, which is again, by the way, very similar to the Nazi propaganda—the chosen people. So that’s one: The Israelis are the best. They have the best army, the most moral army in the world. The Israelis are civilized. They are chosen by god. And on the other hand, Palestinians are savages. They are horrible. They’re terrorists. If they’re not killing Israelis and butchering them, they are trying or planning to do so. So that’s why an Israeli saying is “A good Arab is someone who has been dead for 40 years.” And this dehumanization, it started a long, long time before the occupation and the colonization of Palestine, when they claimed that it’s a land without a people. This is the very essence of the dehumanization. So we’re not there. And we were there. Palestinians were living in Mandate Palestine at that time. But erasing this people gives them the chance to mobilize for their goals. And when they came to Palestine, they invaded from Europe, and Russia and everywhere to Palestine, it was like, “Oops! There are people here. What should we do?” And then Plan B is, “Let’s dehumanize those people. Let’s describe them as savages, as terrorists. Let’s show the world that we are the victims. And they are the victimizers. When you follow, for example, Fox News, or some pro-Israel Zionist from Europe, or people who just in general justify the crimes and the massacres against Palestinians in Gaza, in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, Hebron and so many other places—when you see those people justifying their crimes, you realize how horrible the dehumanization is. Because when Palestinians were being butchered, when 2,500 people were killed, some people were still cheering for Israel—“Kill, kill, kill!”—were wanting for Israel to kill even more people, to destroy more. This insanity is the result of a systematic dehumanization that started probably 100 years ago. This craziness—sometimes when I am alone with myself, I say, “Oh my god! How could this be justified?” It’s very easy. You just dehumanize people. And sadly, this is something that the Nazis did to the Jewish and other people they hated during the Nazi era.

Michael Slate: The justification for what happened throughout the modern history of Palestine, especially in terms of the Zionists coming onto the scene and the imperialists of all sorts pushing to actually set that Zionist state up as a way of getting a firm foothold and an ally in the Middle East—I want people to understand that this isn’t just talk. What was the toll of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last year?

Refaat Alareer: We’re speaking here about 2,500 people murdered in 51 days. We’re speaking about more than 5,000 people injured, and at least half of them are disabled for life. We’re speaking about 500 kids murdered. We’re speaking about 1,000 kids disabled for life. We’re speaking about 350 kids orphaned. We’re speaking about tens of schools destroyed by Israel. We’re speaking about the infrastructure almost destroyed in so many areas, in border areas in Gaza. We’re speaking about whole neighborhoods that were targeted at random, but in a systematic way, where for example, people who live near the border got their houses destroyed and bulldozed for no apparent reason. Maybe people will get some kind of understanding when they read Breaking the Silence, testimonies about how the Israeli Army acted in the Gaza Strip. Operation Protective Edge sent Gaza Strip—they wanted to send us to the Dark Ages. Indeed, they destroyed the only power plant we have in Gaza. After the war we’re still suffering from electricity shortages. Nowadays we only have it for four to five hours a day, which is really hard. In Protective Edge we speak about Israel displacing tens of thousands of people, and destroying 10,000 to 12,000 houses, totally destroying them, rendering homeless tens of thousands of people. Again, we speak about the hospitals and the clinics. There was a report of an Israeli soldier saying that one of our commanders—occupying, invading commanders—was killed when the resistance attacked the invading Israeli soldiers and then two days later, we decided to destroy a clinic, just because we wanted to destroy a clinic because we wanted to take revenge in memory of our commander. Please, I want you to read these testimonies, and invite others to read these testimonies, because some people think, no, this is Palestinian propaganda. It’s like Palestinians are demonizing Israel. But these are about a hundred Israeli soldiers who spoke anonymously to this famous Israeli organization about the crimes they committed. And believe me, we have so many people in the West, in America, who read these reports and were like, shocked because nobody can do this. When you shell a house, because it’s orange. It’s unfathomable how dehumanized we were to them. There were two women who were killed because they “walked in a way that resembled terrorists.” I don’t know what that means. Are all Palestinians walking in a way that resembles the way terrorists walk? And how do terrorists walk? It’s outrageous. It’s crazy. But that’s what’s going on. And these are Israeli soldiers speaking about the crimes they were committing in the Gaza Strip.

On the other hand, we have the Palestinian resistance, who stood up to the Israeli invasion, who stood fighting back, resisting, like all free people would resist an invading power. The Palestinian resistance refused so many times—and there is evidence of this—to engage with Israeli settlers or Israeli civilians, to attack them, and they always said, and they declared this so many times, that our war is with the invading soldiers, the people who are attacking us. When you look at the numbers, we have about 75 Israelis killed during the attack. Seventy of them were soldiers who were killed inside the Gaza Strip. They were invading. They were military targets.

Michael Slate: One of the chapters in the book is called, “The Pen, the Keyboard and the F-16, creative resistance in the digital age.” I wanted to talk to you about that. One, I know you teach literature and writing, but also the chapter brings out something that was really exciting about the methods and forms that the Palestinian people developed to speak out and to actually wage the struggle on a different front, and on a front that is brand new to the times. One of those things was the use of social media, which just was a mind-blower, to see what happened to that. And then the art. Could you speak first to the use of social media and the difference that it made in getting the truth out.

Refaat Alareer: During the war, I was in Malaysia doing my PhD. I had Internet 24/7, and I spent almost 20 hours every day on Twitter. Because as a Palestinian, I strongly believe in the power of social media to help us convey the message and keep people up to date with what’s going on. It’s not only that Palestinians are using social media. It’s that people around the world came to social media to get in touch with Palestinians and to break all the barriers of official media. In the book we mentioned how, I think it was CNN that aired footage of a Palestinian house destroyed and a Palestinian woman trying to salvage something from the house, and saying this is an Israeli woman after an attack by the Palestinian resistance. Because people realized, so many of them realized that they’re being fooled, they’re being blinded by official media, by mainstream media, they decided to get directly in touch and to speak to Palestinians on Twitter and Facebook. So, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr and YouTube. They were all used in an amazing way by Palestinians. I was all the time on Twitter. People spent hours and hours and days on Facebook, sharing pictures, sharing videos, sharing news, sharing stories, humanizing the Palestinians, giving them voices and faces. When Palestinians did this, we weren’t only about numbers and news and Israel killed this and that and that number and this number.

There was an amazing group of artists who used the smoke of the Israeli bombs and they turned them into art.

Michael Slate: I was going to ask you about that smoke art photography.

Refaat Alareer: That was like seeing this life art. It’s a way of life. That’s the beauty of not only the Palestinian struggle but also all struggles, all oppressed people under occupation or colonization. They come to challenge these accusations, challenge the acts of dehumanization and show the world that we love life, we want life, we want a decent life, we insist on life. This is a fight for, yes, independence, but it’s also a fight to lead a better life, a fight so coming generations can live a better life than the one we are living. So, the art, the people who were recording videos, people who were writing poetry, writing fiction, doing whatever they could so they can expose Israeli criminality and show how Palestinians deserve, and must have, the ability to determine their own life and future.

Michael Slate: Photography has always been a very important part of any war coverage, but when it actually came out and it was put into the hands of how many thousands or tens of thousands of people who took photos and could get them up and out. And those photos began to appear in newspapers and in books and in whatever—television or whatever—and without the sort of editorial cutting of the photo to shape it a different way, but to really bring out the true story with a very powerful and very broad and wide sweep to it.

Refaat Alareer: We have so many amazing photographers in the Gaza Strip, and they are courageous. Those people are among the most courageous people I have seen. They would go out to expose Israel, they jeopardize their own lives, put their own lives in danger. I mentioned the toll of Protective Edge. Eighteen journalists were killed by Israel. Can you imagine, 18 journalists, people who are clearly marked as media or as print or as journalists. But again Israel chose to attack those people because Israel knows what it means for the truth to get out, and what it means for Palestinians to speak out.

Those journalists in general and those photographers in particular, they are very courageous. The pictures that were getting out, by the second, hundreds and thousands of pictures because we understand that a picture is more powerful than a thousand words, and how these pictures were used later on by artists who gave them a universal touch, and how these pictures were used by journalists and by writers. There’s a very famous story of a little kid being taken by a medic, and the kid didn’t want to let go of the medic, and he kind of clutched to the medic’s neck. A friend of mine, Belal Dabour, his article was featured in the book, The Human Toll. The boy who clung to the medic, a boy whose house was destroyed, almost all of the family members were killed. He had nobody to hold to except that medic. And that particular story was probably the most widely spread story on the Electronic Intifada. That’s because of the power of the story, but it tells us something very important. It tells us that people wanted to know the story behind the pictures. So the top story in 2014, on the Electronic Intifada was this particular story by a friend of mine, Belal Dabour, who is also a physician, who was live-tweeting, writing and reporting from Al-Shifa Hospital.

So the pictures, the art, the variety of what Palestinians were doing, the videos and the articles and the pieces and the poetry. Everything shows our pursuit of truth and justice. We want to achieve this by all means effective.

Michael Slate: The effects of the siege and the blockade today, beyond 2014, what’s the effect today?

Refaat Alareer: The effect is that your life is kept on hold. The effect is that you lose a lot on life chances. In 2005, when Israel was still in Gaza, I wanted to go to do my MA in London, and Israel sends me back. I lost one year of my life waiting for a chance to travel. When Israel left, I did my MA. In 2010, I got the very prestigious Fulbright scholarship to do my PhD in America. Imagine what that would do for me individually, professionally, and the impact of spending two or three years in America and coming back to Gaza.

But again, Israel did not allow me to travel. I was not allowed and I lost this chance of having a PhD from a university in the United States. After the war, I came back to Gaza to spend time with my wife and kids and my family after what they have been through, and I’m stuck. I came here last September and I’m stuck. I have been trying to leave the Gaza Strip to just go and finish my PhD.

That’s only on the individual level. You lose years and years, and with this time, sometimes you lose hope, you lose faith. It’s again a process of pushing Palestinians to despair. And the same thing applies to [those who] want to build houses, universities who want to bring books, students who want to bring books. It’s unimaginable. Usually when I give and answer to this question, I say that you have to live in Gaza or Palestine for 30 years to realize how hideous this occupation is and this siege is. When you can’t buy the stuff you want to buy, when you can’t go and marry the person you want to marry. I know people who want to go to the West Bank. As Palestinians in Gaza, 99 percent of us cannot go to Jerusalem, cannot go to pray in Jerusalem, cannot go to the West Bank, cannot go and study at a Palestinian university on the other side of the wall or the border.

Living that is horrible. And having to live with that is also horrible. Having to go on in life and you know that you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You can’t do so many things, all because you have the wrong genes, only because you’re not Jewish, only because you’re Palestinian.

Michael Slate: Is the military repression still going on? Is there actually rebuilding of the neighborhoods that were demolished?

Refaat Alareer: After the ceasefire that came after 51 days of bombing, it’s been like 11 months now, or 10 months. Israel has violated the ceasefire at least 500 times. Almost on a daily basis, Israel shoots at farmers, shoots at fishermen, rolls into border areas in the Gaza Strip. Some people tracked about 500 Israeli violations. How sad that we don’t read about this in the news. At least two people were killed by Israeli fire. At least 20 people were injured by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip. So, it’s a truce, where Palestinians—it’s like somebody was saying, when it is a ceasefire, Palestinians cease and Israelis fire.

The siege, like I said, continues. The slow death continues, because not one single house was built. Our family house and six flats were destroyed and we haven’t been able to build one flat because Israel does not allow building materials. Even houses that were partially damaged, most of them were not fixed, because you don’t have the money, and you don’t have the building materials to do so if you have the money. So the situation is for so many, me included, a lot worse than it was during the war, because nobody is paying attention. Nobody is paying attention. There was a report by Oxfam saying if it continues like this, Gaza is going to need at least 100 years to be built again, and that is just outrageous.



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