From Lebanon to Gaza

October 28th, 2009 | Posted in Palestine
    interview with Lebanese activist Natalie Abou Shakra by Stefan Christoff


    Photo: Zoriah (c) Destruction in Gaza after Israeli bombing winter 2009.

Politicians and activists across the Middle East, from Beirut, to Casablanca, express open solidarity with the Palestinian people, however not often do social activists make the direct trip to Gaza.

In 2008 Lebanese activist Natalie Abou Shakra joined the Free Gaza movement, traveling to Gaza on the movement’s SS Dignity, which broke the Israeli siege arriving on the shores of the Gaza Strip in 2008 with medical and humanitarian aid in open defiance of Israel’s military blockade on Gaza.

Later humanitarian missions organized by the Free Gaza movement into Gaza were physically blocked or attacked by the Israeli military, cumulating with the arrest of 21 human rights activists on the Free Gaza movement’s boat Spirit of Humanity in July 2009.

Natalie Abou Shakra speaks on her experiences living in Gaza, on the growing global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid, while also addressing the contemporary political situation in Lebanon today.

Stefan Christoff: Can you offer your reflections on the Israeli bombings in Gaza last winter and how the war impacted popular opinion on Palestine globally?

Natalie Abou Shakra: Gaza 2009 was a turning point in the Middle East and also for international solidarity with Palestine, which has been growing since the twenty-two day Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.

After the first and second Intifada, the intensity of Palestinian sacrifice culminated with more than 1400 Palestinian martyrs killed in the latest Israeli massacre in Gaza, due to this sacrifice liberating Palestine is now closer.

Today, we learn from the South African experience under apartheid. As a people who experienced violent settler colonialism, the South African struggle is important for Palestinians to learn from.

In South Africa, Europeans settlers claimed to be creating a country on empty land in southern Africa, similar to the colonialist Israeli narrative, but in reality the indigenous black South African population was displaced, massacred and finally forced into Bantustans.

In Palestine, European colonizers came to colonize the land and ethnically cleansed the native Palestinian population, creating two prisons, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which is now divided between over six-hundred Israeli military check-points.

Israel’s attack on Gaza moved people around the world to join the Palestinian solidarity movement and also has brought greater prominence to the accurate comparison between apartheid in South Africa and Israeli apartheid today in Palestine.

Stefan Christoff: Can you reflect on why it was important for you to travel to Gaza as a Lebanese citizen, traveling from a country that has also experienced a long history of Israeli military aggression?

Natalie Abou Shakra: I think that breaking the siege in Gaza is the responsibility of every Arab citizen. Using my citizenship is actually excreting power on my own government to act for Palestine.

As a representative of Lebanese civil society, as a person who believes in civil resistance I decided to go and I lived with the honourable people of the Gaza Strip for around eight months.

Stefan Christoff: Can you offer your thoughts on the relationship between Lebanon and Palestine politically today?

Natalie Abou Shakra: On the similarities between Lebanon and Palestine, while until today Lebanon experiences Israeli aggression, there are still regular violations of Lebanese airspace and cross border incursions. The people from southern Lebanon and the southern Beirut suburbs have been suffering from Israel due to attacks on Hezbollah, an armed resistance to Israel in Lebanon.

Israel and the U.S. do not wish to have a resistance in the Arab world that threatens their ambitions as to the Middle East region. Certainly Israel wants to destroy such kind of resistance, from Hamas to Hezbollah.

As a Lebanese coming back from Palestine, having experienced life in Gaza, the largest prison on this planet, I am today trying build links between civil resistance in Palestine and in Lebanon.

Stefan Christoff: Wondering your thoughts on contemporary social issues in Lebanon, given your direct solidarity work with Palestine.

Natalie Abou Shakra: Both Lebanon and Palestine, geographically, are both products of colonial divisions of the region by European powers. I don’t believe in Lebanese nationalism because politics in Lebanon is based on sectarianism, loyalty is to the religious sect and not to the nation.

Also today Lebanon has also an apartheid situation, in respect to minorities in the country, from the foreign workers, mainly from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but also the Palestinians who live in refugee camps, all minorities who lack basic rights.

Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are Bantustans as well, in that the Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working in over seventy professions, while civil rights such as access to health-care and education are inaccessible to Palestinians.

Also Lebanese women can’t transfer her nationality to either her husband if he isn’t Lebanese, so then also the children will not get Lebanese nationality.

So in Lebanon, we also do suffer under an apartheid system as described by Gilbert Achcar.

Stefan Christoff: In Gaza you worked to try to build awareness and grassroots support for the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israeli apartheid, can you talk about your work on the BDS campaign?

Natalie Abou Shakra: As BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activists we see a parallel between the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and today in Palestine.

To accomplish liberation for Palestine we must focus on building the BDS movement globally, in mosques, in churches within grassroots groups, trying to move the masses through our political resistance.

Also we must focus on the six million Palestinian refugees worldwide, who did not have a say in the last Palestinian election or what is happening now in Palestine politically but who are part of the Palestinian struggle as well. Also the Palestinians living in 1948, inside Israel, are also living under an apartheid system.

Finally the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza have also become victims to their unworthy political leadership at the Palestinian Authority (PA). After Gaza 2009, the building of the apartheid wall, the massive expansion of settlements in the West Bank we have now less than 50% of what the West Bank and the PA continues to negotiate. Today creating a two state on the historic land of Palestine is just not feasible and also will not guarantee the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees to return.

Stefan Christoff: Can you reflect on visiting Gaza, wondering how you felt as a Lebanese who also experienced Israeli bombings, everyday in Beirut you can pass-by the remnants of Israeli destruction; the 2006 war still is heavy in people’s hearts. How did you feel as a Lebanese visiting Palestine?

Natalie Abou Shakra: Actually traveling to the historic land of Palestine was a childhood dream. It was an honour to be there, to stand by the Palestinian people through their suffering, to live that experience. Being in Gaza really lead me to understand what dignity means, what is really means to stand-up for your rights, for your land and for your identity as Israel continues to try to wipe you off the map.

In Beirut in 2006 Israel began wiping people off the map in the southern part of Beirut and also in southern Lebanon, which was ethnic cleansing. Although in Lebanon in 2006 we had an open border with Syria and the government in Damascus is supportive of the armed resistance, a major bonus for the Lebanese resistance. Gaza was at war with Israel and totally sealed off from the outside world, creating a totally different situation than in Lebanon in 2006.

Lebanon in 2006 was not a final victory, although it was a victory for the Lebanese people as Israeli couldn’t erase Hezbollah in Lebanon, as they couldn’t with Hamas last winter in Gaza.

The presence of Hezbollah and other resistance organizations in the region, in Iraq and also in Palestine, makes it certain that Israel faces an existential threat.

Globally today we are seeing major momentum for Palestine through the BDS movement.

Dock workers in South Africa have participated in the boycott against apartheid Israel, refusing to handle Israeli products. Trade unions in Ireland and Scotland have decided to boycott Israel, while Venezuela and Bolivia have kicked out the Israeli ambassadors. Now, what should happen is the Israeli ambassadors must be kicked out of Jordan and Egypt, this will happen sooner or later.

After the killing of over 400 children, around 1400 martyrs in Gaza this winter, there are no more negotiations. Today, the fiction of a two state solution has been shot into pieces by Israel.

Natalie Abou Shakra is an activist from Lebanon and is affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement and Free Gaza Movement. Natalie defied Israeli orders for Lebanese citizens not to go to Gaza and was able to get in with the Free Gaza movement’s SS Dignity on the 20 December 2008.

1 Comment »

Thanks for this inspiring statement. It is shocking that after one successful boat trip to break the Israeli siege, subsequent attempts were thwarted by brute force and the arrest of international human rights workers, their imprisonment in Israeli prisons, and then their expulsion from the area. The most shocking part of this is the silence of the Obama administration who are theoretically committed to human rights.
Clare Brandabur

Comment by Clare Brandabur — November 1st, 2009 @ 2:26 AM

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