On Fighting For Freedom
By Mohammed Massoud Morsi
I remember the imaginative force of childhood, the now lived in the imagination of the future. Although at times unknown and scary, I’ve found some sort of freedom there, what my father expressed to me once: ‘do what you fear the most – and you might just reap an unimaginable reward’. However, I am beginning this piece in the past. My mind, is an artefact that when remembering to remember, calls upon experiences which allows my body to speak a language we call emotions. As a writer, to harness the wisdom of these experiences, I must look beyond these feelings, often sad, traumatic and tragic, to discover what I believe to be – the truth – what I imagine to be unbelievable. This is not a political analysis, about hopeless American or Israeli policy changes nor is it a piece about the legality of established institutions that serve the interests of the powers who founded them. This is about who we are, what we imagine ourselves to be and how I believe the future for Palestinians and Israelis alike, can be a bright one – that I believe we are able to define ourselves by a vision of how we’d like that future to look like, instead of remembering to remember – and focus on – what is past.
The Palestinian question is not only a question about Palestine. It is a question about us all, about why we must resist the agenda of dehumanisation, sweeping across the world. In Australia, those attempting to reach the country’s shores are treated like prisoners. In Europe, Italy’s and Greece’s inhumane treatment of refugees is questioning our global conscience as a humanity. In America, families are separated against any basic human decency – forget about rights. The state of Apartheid imposed on the Palestinian people by the oppressive occupation of the Zionist Israeli state, is a window to questions that matter to all of us. There are strong comparisons to the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. Different for the Palestinian question, is the propaganda imposed by a largely corporate media and the online social sphere in which information is widely manipulated or falsified by both sides. The petrifying effect of this is the strong, yet false sense of connection felt in having a mutual enemy. Knowing that you hate the same people or the same ideas, has created a dangerous belief system, not invested in solving conflict but merely stating whether you are either with us or against us – or with them.
The Palestinian question is not only a question about Palestine. It is a question about us all, about why we must resist the agenda of dehumanisation
In the case of Israel, governments of both democracies and plutocracies across the world, knowingly support a brutal regime that does not hide its agenda: ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. The killing of innocent civilians, systematic displacement, torture of children and flouting disregard of the United Nation’s game-rules, is indisputable evidence of in particularly the west’s failure to respect its own institutions. Not so long ago, mainstream journalists hammered home the imperative need to invade Iraq and save ‘the world’ from the impending threat, imaginary weapons of mass destruction. These crusaders with their selective compassion remain silent, when the causes do not reflect their interests. In that sickening moral duplicity, democracy ceases to exist.
The terror of war and occupation which take away the freedom people genuinely aspire to, are also taking away parts of the freedom westerners believe to be given in their free but now not-so-free societies. The creeping-in of control and the widespread use of propaganda promoting enemy intimacy is dehumanising and objectifying, developing these physically invisible, yet emotionally powerful dividing lines that only serves to separate our humanity further and further away. Our yearning for a shared human experience is being exploited for everything else than its original intention – real connection – a willingness to hear each other and find solution to the challenges facing us. In particular, the Palestinian question has been shifted from the power of the people, to the performance of the speaker. It is dehumanising and prevents the forming of hope that can be extended through to workable visions.
The greatest gift to our lives lie within ourselves. This simple, yet powerful statement, stand almost as an opponent to the manufactured form of apathy that has brought about the sense of separation felt across the world today, causing conflict and rapid destruction of the habitat we depend on for our survival. A global vision for humanity, a place in the future which we can identify ourselves with, is desperately needed. In the same way, the lack of a clearly united and defined vision for the Palestinians stands against change just as much as the clear fanatical vision of their Zionist oppressors. As an alternative, in South Africa, the vision for the fight for freedom was well defined: ONE MAN, ONE VOTE. One democratic state where laws apply for all, regardless of religion, gender or colour. There is no denying though that the Palestinian people are denied a contiguous space in any shape or form in which they can form their vision. On top of that, the obvious collusion with the Israeli Apartheid regime, the global apathy – or perhaps fear – of imposing any sanctions. Eddy Grant sang: ‘But maybe pressure will make Jo’anna see, how everybody could have live as one.’ But why is there hardly any real political pressure when it comes to Israel? Why aren’t singers raising their voices for justice for the Palestinian as they did for black South Africans? Do you remember Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Run-D.M.C., Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Melle Mel, Keith Richards, Jackson Browne, and another 40+ artist who contributed to the hit ‘Sun City’? Today the Palestinians and supporters of their fight for freedom and the end of the occupation has to pledge artists to not support the Apartheid regime in Tel Aviv.
Through my mentoring of young writers in Gaza, lengthy personal conversations, WhatsApp messages and emails, I have asked what it means to be Palestinian, what national identity means to the new generation and most importantly, who they imagine themselves, Palestinians – to be in the future? What is the basis of identity? Is it formed in the concepts of nationality or political ideology or is it a concept itself, formed through the repetition of tradition which we translate into the identity of culture? Has the identity been so encrusted in the fight for freedom that the Palestinian identity is now based on a set of tragic restrictions – more than basket of joyous rituals? And what about the relationships with the other Palestinians? Some Gazans told me they feel ‘more’ Palestinian than those living in the West Bank, Ramallah and East Jerusalem, that their emotions were largely the result of living their life under siege. They also expressed disappointment with and questioned the difficulty in open dialogue about those and other arrays of emancipating questions the Palestinian people are familiar with, and must find answers to amongst themselves – urgently.
Do we find identify in collective joy or collective pain and is the sense of belonging in our hatred for the enemy true or false? Dehumanisation of the enemy is the first step in any conflict and it is a challenge we face as human beings, to allow amongst ourselves the differences of our species. It is sadly an integral part of conflict, to point out the wrong doings of the enemy, and unite around the satisfying feeling that brings. Who are we? Who are they? But it is a false sense of belonging, because underneath the face of dehumanisation, there lies an inherent pain and suffering that we all share. It is much easier to label an enemy, collectively, for their wrong doings than to take responsibility for ourselves. That is the very definition of blame. We do not allow ourselves to sit with it – though it is the key to understanding why we fight, why we believe we are better and need to oppress others – or oppress ourselves.
In Gaza in 2014, a nine-year-old boy was buried. His name was Hamada. He loved surfing and wanted to become a champion one day. He was a fan of the Australian surfer, Kelly Slater. He was full of life until the day it was taken from him in his sleep. The bomb came through the roof, cut off Hamada’s head and tore his body open. At the cemetery, his father, temporarily deranged, shook the body and yelled. “Why are you burying my son? Are you sure he is dead? Are you sure?!” He kept shaking the body, kept repeating his cry. It was not until the uncle passed on the body to someone else, and took the father’s hands that he erupted in the tears of grief. As did every single person in that cemetery. What his father did thereafter, was what we would all do when we feel pain; we cause more of it. This pain, as in Fathi’s case – is so devastating, we lose sight of who we are. Hatred consumed him and in exchange for his life, he had his revenge. Twenty Two Years To Life is one of the stories told in the trilogy of novels, The Palace of Angels, which through fiction, deals with these questions.
In 2006, I worked in Southern Lebanon where I asked fighters about their motives. They shared a commitment of resisting injustice, resisting the foreign invasion and most importantly, resisting rejection of their identity. None of them were religious fundamentalists. They operated effectively within the structured network of Hezbollah and leaned to leftist political views but were by no means extreme. Their goal was peace and not revenge. They joined the fight because they believed it was the only way their children would be free from oppression. I suggested there could be other ways but a laughing reply stood out: ‘Of course – but let us know when they begin treating us like humans!’
We must understand that those who support the continuation of oppression, those who allow the oppressors impunity, those who support the waging of war, support troops being sent to foreign places to kill – are all equally responsible. However, if we truly look at ourselves as human beings, we will in a larger holistic picture find, that those who don’t fight are not separate from those who do. We are all of us responsible for war. Fighting for freedom is rooted within our very nature, a dream that lives within us all. It should be clear that the more we deny it to others, the more we deny it to ourselves.
We are all of us responsible for war
My parents taught me that the game-rules can be changed. As a photographer and journalist, the path I had chosen turned out dramatically different from the one I had envisioned to begin with: one of making a difference. I had aspirations of helping others in their pain, one I related to by the experiences of my own life. Instead I found I was nothing more than an incapacitated observer of both life and death, of light and dark. The apathy in watching others fight for their freedom, often against a concealed self-brutality, is escaping the darkness of humanity – embracing it would allow us to fight it. We cannot say it doesn’t matter to us if we’re not part of it. Some are silent, fearing the loss of their own freedom, but the more they allow oppression elsewhere, the more they find themselves in a constrained society that has absolutely nothing to do with the freedom they believe they have. We are prisoners until we relinquish ourselves of this mindset, for none of us are truly free – until the concept of all of us matters. We must fight for a freedom that includes all people and we must do so by asking ourselves how we wish to govern ourselves or be governed, how our vision for the future looks like? Are we bullies towards each other? Or are we humans being who truly act in the interests of everyone, not just ourselves – whoever we imagine us to be?
Meeting Adnan and Linah, the Palestinian commuter and the female Israeli soldier who fell in love at Qalandia checkpoint, seemed almost bizarre at first. I had to question myself – could I fall in love with a woman who was my enemy? Who believed I only wanted her dead? Who did not see me as an equal? Over time, a long time, I discovered how much courage the two of them truly had, and that courage is contagious. Adnan, a man, Linah, a woman also discovered that going against the common ideology, comes at a high price. However, if we don’t challenge the common narrative, we deprive ourselves the chance of connecting and we are simply left with an unspoken agreement to hate the same people. Look at the world today; as a humanity we have become fragmented and disconnected, although being able to interconnect like never before. Presenting an opposing view has almost become synonym with merciless rejection. The Palace of Angels is the story of Adnan and Linah, the final story in the trilogy of the same name.
I’m believe in advocating, resisting and fighting, in standing up for one’s beliefs. That we must never stop doing. But we must question our beliefs and make sure they are built on respect and high moral ground. Nelson Mandela made sure, no matter the brutality of the white minority, he did not degrade or diminish them. His response to his people being degraded and diminished was presented with firmness, dignity and respect – he set an example for resisting injustice. If we dehumanise the other side, even in response to being dehumanised, we lose our identity. For the Palestinian question, the BDS movement is currently the most noteworthy organisation as it uses peaceful and respectful means to challenge the Israeli leadership and its allies, at the same time making it clear that the fight for equality and the end of the occupation is urgent. With a clearly defined vision for the future: reaching a point where change can be negotiated equally, suddenly becomes a possibility. We could view it as an international institution that provides leaders a position from which to support the quest for equality, end the arms trades and assert political action towards the Apartheid regime in Israel. It is not difficult to imagine how such pressure could pave the way for real change. The biggest question is of course, when this will happen?
If we dehumanise the other side, even in response to being dehumanised, we lose our identity
We only have a short fragment of time in which to live, learn to be human and then return back to where we came from. In that fragment of time, I believe, we must strive to create and recreate ourselves to be better human beings. In order to have the foundation to be able to do that, we must work towards a more conscious and just society that prescribes freedom through inclusion of difference. In the Palestinian question, it is not difficult to imagine a completely different reality with inclusive ideologies; not Apartheid and archaism. The time has come to begin focusing on those possibilities instead and redefining identity in co-existence and not in the intimacy of hatred for the enemy. It is not impossible. We must as a humanity find ourselves a worthy cause, one that breathes with the importance of dealing kindly with one another and the borderless air of our common home. The Palestinian questions is to me the most urgent case of writing a new chapter, one that returns us to a true sense of what it means for us and for our children to fight for freedom. What is past is dead, we must look to the future and envision the turning of a page – reaping a reward we are unable to imagine, right now.