(Following is the transcript of a speech made by the author in New York, 7 April 2001 – Al-Awda Rally)
“They stripped me of everything; Except a heart, a conscience and a tongue”, these are the words written down by famous Palestinian poet Tawfiq Zeyad.
For Palestinians, the search for home is a struggle. A struggle against injustice inflicted upon Palestine and its native Arab population. Home is not a map, nor a birth certificate. It is, as Mahmud Darwish wrote: “your life and your cause bound up together”. It is the essence of being a Palestinian.
Today, we must face the tragic fact that Palestinians are still not free. The life of a Palestinian is still sadly crippled by the chains of eviction, occupation and discrimination.
Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically detained and tortured thousands of Palestinians, and it has waged a war against a civilian population.
Even when the world spoke of peace, the brutal occupation remained in place. It continues to kill and maim, it continues to oppress and exploit.
How many more Palestinians need to be killed before the world opens its eyes?
If cruelty is individual, then silence is collective.
Fifty-three years ago, 12-year old Fahimi Zeidan lived with her family in the Palestinian village Deir Yasin. On the 9th of April 1948, Zionist forces entered her home, ordered Fahimi’s family to line up against the wall and started shooting.
Fahimi, two sisters and brother were saved because they could hide behind their parents. But all the others against the wall were killed: her father, mother, grandfather and grandmother, uncles and aunts and some of their children.
Unfortunately, this cruelty against Palestinian children has not stopped.
On the night of the third of October, six months ago, 18 months Sarah Hassan was shot in her head with live ammunition by an Israeli settler and died in her mother’s arms.
The next day, Israeli soldiers had no mercy with 9-year old Mohammad Abu A’asi in Gaza, neither were they threatened by him. They shot him dead from behind.
Ten days later, an Israeli soldier who was posted in a watchtower at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem did not prevent his finger from touching the trigger of his M16 killing 14-year old Mo’ayyad al-Jowareesh at close range, as he walked beneath the tower on his way to school. He was shot in his head.
Why is Palestinian childhood being confiscated? Didn’t they take enough of our past and present? Haven’t we yet lost too much to take from us the very childhood and future of our children?
More and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human values.
A space in which children are killed and maimed. A space in which children are starved and exposed to extreme brutality. Such unregulated terror and violence speak of deliberate cruelty. There are few further depths to which humanity can sink.
There is a willing sadism on the part of the occupier, a perversity filtered down through their commanding officers, Israeli war criminals in a war cabinet.
Every day the occupation produces crimes against humanity and dignity. Therefore, do not listen to anyone who says that you must give up the struggle against occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
It is only those who support apartheid and oppression who can argue that the Israeli government should be rewarded for the small steps it has taken since Oslo was signed.
Today, we are here because you took the humane decision that you could not ignore the inhumanity represented by the Israeli apartheid system.
The reward the Palestinians of this world seek, is the end of occupation and apartheid and to finally return home. That prospect will only become reality as a result of struggle, including the struggle represented by international pressure.
All of us must therefore refuse to be demobilized.
“Be the change you want to see in this world”, as Mohatma Ghandi once said. You are allies in a common struggle to bring freedom, return and peace to Palestine.
Starting with the return of exiles from the African National Congress (ANC) to post-apartheid South Africa, millions of refugees from Kosovo and Bosnia returned to their homes. The same international standards must apply to all refugees regardless of their national, social, religious or ethnic origins.
When does the world comes to see that those who have been driven out by aggression or fear, just want to return home? When does the world comes to see that Palestinians are equal human beings who just want to continue their daily lives and that of their children on the lands that are owned by their parents and grandparents?
It is our responsibility towards the children in Shatila and Dheishe, Balata and Yarmouk, Jabalya and Baq’a, to defend these rights. They should have the freedom to find their happiness at home.
Let us continue to march forward together, on our way back home, and to finally taste the sweetness of liberation and freedom.
Political power is more fragile than we think. Ordinary people can be intimidated for a time, can be fooled for a time, but they have a deep-down common sense, and sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them.
People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy. Small, individual acts, when multiplied can transform this situation.
It will be a proud day for all humanity when we are able to say that occupation is no more, that apartheid is no more, that discrimination and ethnic cleansing are no more.
Today is not the only day we make our voices heard, we will continue to make our voices heard until the day we are allowed back to our homes.
After the end of apartheid in South Africa, today, it’s our turn to do the surprising.
Let me close with the words of Tawfiq Zeyad:
We owe it to our ancestors and our children. We will return home.