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Gaza Is a Prison Under Siege. This Is My Letter to the World Outside.

Ahmed Abu Artema, a founder of the Great March of Return, on facing Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza.

A Palestinian man carrying a child runs following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 14, 2023.

Gaza Is a Prison Under Siege. This Is My Letter to the World Outside.

Ahmed Abu Artema, a founder of the Great March of Return, on facing Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza.

A Palestinian man carrying a child runs following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 14, 2023.

Part of the Series

I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

—Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1964

Letter From the Gazan Prison

I say to moderates in the United States and Europe that you have to go to the root of the problem in Palestine. Unfortunately, the world for decades didn’t care about the suffering, the genocide and the oppression of Palestinians. But just when Israel screamed, all the world suddenly awakened and started to talk as if the events started just on October 7.

We cannot read a book by starting with the last chapter, logically one must start reading from chapter one. So, when we seek justice, we need to understand the background, the root of the problem.

The Palestinian people aren’t targeting the Jews, despite what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, and what U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken said when he visited Israel, this is completely wrong. Jews were living peacefully in the Arab countries before 1948. From then until now, Jews live normally in some of the Arab countries.

Our problem is that we are under a colonial power. The Zionist movement, when they came to Palestine in 1948, committed genocide. They committed ethnic cleansing against the native people. They treated us as if Palestinian people didn’t exist, they said Palestine was “a land without a people” and this is still the situation now. Just a few days ago, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli minister of defense, said that Israel is dealing with “human animals.”

In saying this, Gallant doesn’t mean the fighters of the political factions. He means the Palestinian people, all of us. And Netanyahu told the people, not the fighters, but all the people of Gaza, 2.3 million residents, a majority of which are women and children, to leave now. What does this mean?

This clearly means genocide. We see what’s happening now. Backed by the United States administration, backed by the Western governments, we are seeing an extension of the genocide Israel started in 1948. They are planning to forcibly displace the Palestinian people.

Israel’s problem is not with Hamas. Israel’s problem is with Palestinian existence itself, this is clear. We pose this problem for Israel because it is a colonial state that was and is based on denying Palestinian existence. I will give two examples.

The first example is that now Israel is demonizing Hamas and saying to the world that their problem is with Hamas. They are lying. Sometimes they make comparisons between Hamas and the Nazis, other times they claim similarities between Hamas and ISIS. But Hamas was established in 1987. Before 1987, there was no Hamas. But before 1987, there were refugees. There was an occupation. There were prisoners. There were massacres. There were illegal settlements. There were human rights violations. The problem of Israel didn’t start with Hamas.

Another example: today in the West Bank, Hamas is barely present. But in the West Bank there are illegal settlements. From the beginning of 2023, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. While Hamas is not there, the colonial state of Israel is, Israeli oppression is. So we have to face the root of the problem bravely. The root of the problem is that Palestinians have faced oppression for decades. They are living under colonization, they are living under the apartheid. This is according to reports from groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. All those groups and organizations describe Israel as an apartheid state.

The people in Gaza were already dying. Now we are dying by missiles, but before October 7, we were dying by the conditions that Israel deliberately created when it deprived us of everything.

So it’s unfair to focus on the result and ignore the background, to ignore the root of the problem. The problem didn’t start on October 7. What was it like before October 7?

Gaza is a very narrow place, a very miserable place. Two-thirds of the people, the residents of Gaza, are refugees. This means that two-thirds of the people of Gaza are originally from the towns and villages behind the fence that the Palestinians broke on October 7. They live behind that fence. I am personally from the village of al Ramla. My grandfather was forcibly displaced from there. It is now in what became Israel, and he came here to Gaza. And for 16 years, since 2007, Israel has imposed a near complete blockade against the people in Gaza.

The blockade meant that hundreds of thousands of the people died in Gaza because the Israeli authorities denied their access to the hospitals, to the medical services in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, in the other cities of occupied Palestine. Many Palestinian youth in the last few months have fled Gaza in dangerous ways, taking boats into the Mediterranean. Seeking a place where they can get their basic needs and rights. Many died in the sea.

This is not normal. It is because of the Israeli blockade. The Israeli blockade means there are no jobs. There is no future for the next generation. There is no chance for life. There are no ways for the youth to get their basic necessities.

So the people in Gaza were already dying. Now we are dying by missiles, but before October 7, we were dying by the conditions that Israel deliberately created when it deprived us of everything. It deprived us of the freedom of movement. I am 39 years old. I can’t visit Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Aqsa is only a two-hour drive away. But I can’t visit. Why? Israel has deprived me of this because I am Palestinian.

What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is worse than apartheid. They are displacing us. They are committing genocide against us. So the people in Gaza feel deeply that there is no hope, that there is no future; because of Israel. With all of this how can the world expect that Palestinians living in this blockade, under these conditions, will always be a polite, a peaceful people based on their standards?

The resistance is an attempt from the oppressed people to show the world that we are here, to simply say “we exist.”

Imagine that you put a human being in a room and close the door and deprive them of food, of their freedom of movement, of medicine, of everything, violate them, and humiliate them time and time again. Then if they try to break the door, you say to the world, look they are a terrorist, barbaric, a “human animal.” This is exactly what Israel is doing, completely backed by the United States. They have put us in inhumane conditions, humiliated us, deprived us of everything.

They deprive us of the most basic thing, of freedom and dignity. And then when Palestinians become angry, Israel says to the world: “look, they are targeting the Jews. They are terrorists. We want to kill them. We want to massacre them.” This is such profound hypocrisy.

I helped organize the March of Return in 2018, and I personally wrote the principles of the Great March of Return. The principles of the Great March of Return stated that we are completely peaceful, an unarmed protest.

Our protest demanded the implementation of international law. As refugees, we demand our right to return to our villages. And we marched nonviolently to voice that demand. And yet, what was the result? The result was that Israel deliberately shot at us, unarmed protesters, killing at least 270 of us, and wounding and crippling thousands.

What was the message? Israel’s message was that you as Palestinians, you should not struggle by peaceful ways. This is the message of Israeli violence. So when you deprive the Palestinians of everything, when you kill them when they try to scream peacefully, then you don’t have the right to blame the Palestinians when they try to say to the world “we are here.”

The issue is not to see it as this avenue of struggle or the resistance. I think the most important point is what is the resistance? The resistance is an attempt from the oppressed people to show the world that we are here, to simply say “we exist.” The Israeli colonial state denies Palestinian existence itself.

So if the people of the world are serious about seeking peace and justice, they should look to the suffering of the Palestinians, at its origin, how everything started. People should not focus only on the reaction, but on the roots of the problem.

To that point, I think it’s important to mention Palestinian prisoners. There are at least 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Some of those prisoners have been there for 40 years, four decades. Thousands of the prisoners are held under what is called administrative detention. This means they are confined without charges and without a trial. Hundreds of them are women and children. Many lost their mothers, their fathers, their loved ones. Family members died without the prisoners being able to meet them at all.

So we must ask the question: Why is this happening? We must not only focus on the events of October 7 that are used by Israel as justification so that they may commit the genocide against Gaza that is occurring today. The question should be how everything started. And by getting to the root, we get closer to finding real justice.

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