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“I Lived All My Life as Collateral Damage,” Says Palestinian Activist

Activist Majed Abusalama calls for strikes and mass action across the globe to stop Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.

A woman carries a dead body of a child to the morgue of the Suheda al-Aqsa Hospital as Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip continue in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on October 14, 2023.

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Ezra Yachin, 95, is one of more than 300,000 army reservists Israel has mobilized since Hamas launched a surprise on Israeli targets last Saturday. Yachin will not see combat, but “has been motivating soldiers,” according to media reports. “Be triumphant and finish them off and don’t leave anyone behind. Erase the memory of them,” Yachin told Israeli soldiers, in a video that has since gone viral. “Erase them, their families, mothers and children. These animals can no longer live. Every Jew with a weapon should go out and kill them. If you have an Arab neighbor, don’t wait, go to his home and shoot him.”

On Tuesday, far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that his ministry would purchase 10,000 rifles to distribute to “arm civilian security teams” in border towns near the Gaza Strip, in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and in “mixed Jewish-Arab cities” in Israel. “We will turn the world upside down so that towns are protected. I have given instructions for massively arming the civilian security teams,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement.

Meanwhile, bombs continue to fall on Gaza, where Israeli officials have ordered an evacuation of some 1.1 million Palestinians from northern Gaza. The U.N. has demanded that Israel rescind its catastrophic evacuation order. “Forcible population transfers constitute a crime against humanity, and collective punishment is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” said Paula Gaviria Betancur, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons. “It is inconceivable that more than half of Gaza’s population could traverse an active war zone, without devastating humanitarian consequences, particularly while deprived of essential supplies and basic services,” said Betancur.

According to a statement from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), “Clean water is running out in the Gaza Strip, after its water plant and public water networks stopped working. People are now forced to use dirty water from wells, increasing risks of waterborne diseases. Gaza has also been under an electricity blackout since 11 October, impacting the water supply.” Three water desalination plants, previously producing 21 million liters of drinking water per day, have halted operations. Israel has cut off food, water and electricity as part of a “complete siege” of Gaza. “We need to truck fuel into Gaza now. Fuel is the only way for people to have safe drinking water. If not, people will start dying of severe dehydration, among them young children, the elderly and women. Water is now the last remaining lifeline. I appeal for the siege on humanitarian assistance to be lifted now,” said Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General.

According to Al-Jazeera, “At least 2,215 Palestinians, including 724 children, have been killed and 8,714 others wounded since the conflict’s escalation. In the past 24 hours alone, 324 Palestinians have been killed and 1,000 others have been wounded in Israeli air raids in Gaza, according to the health ministry.”

Thousands of Palestinians are attempting to comply with Israel’s order to evacuate northern Gaza — a directive that some have characterized as a “death march.” Many Gazans have welcomed displaced Palestinians into their homes. “In every apartment, there are 20 to 30 people staying together. And there are more calling relatives and friends to ask whether there is space where they are. I’m staying in an apartment with three other families,” Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed reported from Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. But Gazans fleeing to Khan Younis have been granted no reprieve from Israel’s ongoing bombardment. Israeli warplanes struck a four story building in Khan Younis on Saturday. According to Youmna ElSayed, neighbors could be seen mobilizing, attempting to pull victims from the rubble.

MSNBC reported on Saturday that Israeli airstrikes had struck three convoys of Palestinian refugees who were fleeing northern Gaza, killing at least 70 people.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has stated that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza. “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Herzog said at a press conference on Friday. “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”

Using Herzog’s logic, one could argue that the 1,200 Israelis who were killed in a surprise attack by Hamas were all responsible for the apartheid conditions, mass bombings, torture and occupation waged by the state of Israel, but the idea that an entire people can be guilty and deserving of collective punishment has always been applied selectively in Israeli and U.S. politics.

On Friday, I spoke with Majed Abusalama, a Palestinian activist and writer living in Berlin, who grew up in Gaza, about the ongoing violence. When asked about the distinctions being made between Israeli civilians and Palestinian civilians, Abusalama told me, “I think I lived all my life as collateral damage. All my family lived as collateral damage.” Abusalama explained that Palestinians have never been granted the status of innocence, or been viewed as worthy of survival. “We have never lived at all as civilians. We were always targets and collateral damage of Israeli bombardments of our towns and so on.”

Abusalama talked about the realities of having grown up in Gaza and how the suffering imposed upon Palestinians is at the root of this crisis. “We need to understand that those people are in an open air prison and a military siege,” he said. “[Gaza] has been bombed and bombed and bombed, and I’m one of those who has been bombed and bombed and bombed.” Reflecting on his own survival, Abusalama added, “I don’t know why I’m standing here today. I just know that I’m lucky that I can speak today.” Abusalama grew up in refugee camps in Gaza “feeling the intensity and the power of the Israelis’ settler colonial regime and soldiers and military.” Abusalama talked about the constant fear of arrest, kidnapping and murder that he and other Palestinians faced, saying, “Many of my friends have actually been shot, and myself have been shot … because at the end of the day Israel does see us as they said, human animals.”

Abusalama worries for his father and uncles, who are still in Gaza, as bombs continue to fall. “Many of my uncles didn’t want to leave the house because they think this is another Nakba,” he said.

Abusalama lamented the invisibilization of Palestinian humanity amid the recent violence and called on people of conscience, around the world, to take action. “I think people should do whatever they can,” he said. “Everybody should act today the same way we acted during the Vietnam War. I think people should be striking for full rights for Palestinians.” Abusalama compared the Palestinian struggle to other struggles that have united people in protest around the world, and called for strikes and mass action demanding “full equality and a full self-determination of Palestinians [and] a return of lands.” He urged those who have already protested and spoken out to continue doing so. “Keep calling for Palestinian rights and keep exposing Israel’s crimes against humanity. Expose the apartheid that is the base of everything.”

Despite feeling that many people have failed Palestinians and “failed themselves, failed their history, [and] failed their humanity” by refusing to denounce apartheid and Israel’s ongoing acts of genocide, Abusalama says that we must be resolute in demanding freedom for Palestine. “Let’s hope that equality, justice, dignity and freedom can actually be courted by everyone, not by one group over another group now,” he said. “And it has to be now. The time is now. And I think if it’s not now, it will never change. We will have to witness another time like this in our life.”

To learn more from Majed, you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, or check out his articles in The Electric Intifada, Al Jazeera and elsewhere.

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