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“Our Will of Life Is Stronger Than Despair”: Palestinian Ahmed Abu Artema on Israeli Attacks on Gaza

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Israeli forces killed four Palestinians, including three teenagers, at a mass demonstration Saturday on the first anniversary of the Great March of Return in Gaza. Israeli soldiers used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets on the protesters. As tens of thousands of Palestinians came out to demand an end to the ongoing siege of Gaza and the right to return to their ancestral land, we speak with Ahmed Abu Artema, the Palestinian poet, journalist and peace activist who inspired the Great March of Return and helped organize it as a cry for help. Artema was frustrated by Israel’s more than decade-long land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, upon which it has waged three wars in the past 10 years.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. At a mass demonstration Saturday on the first anniversary of the Great March of Return in Gaza, Israeli forces killed four Palestinians, including three teenagers. Israeli soldiers used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets on the protesters. Tens of thousands of Palestinians came out to demand an end to the ongoing siege of Gaza and the right to return.

Well, for more, we go to Ahmed Abu Artema, the Palestinian poet, journalist, peace activist who inspired the Great March of Return and helped organize it as a cry for help. The former student of nonviolent resistance wanted the movement to follow the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Artema was frustrated by Israelis’ more than decade-long land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, upon which it has waged three wars in the past 10 years. I interviewed Artema recently when he came to New York City, after he traveled around the United States talking about the situation in Gaza. I asked him about the Palestinian nonviolent movement and the massive weekly protest marches.

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: When I and some of my friends invited to the March of Return, a lot of people answered this call, because it was a scream for life. It expressed the will of life in our hearts, Palestinians’. The Palestinians in Gaza are actually in a real prison. They live in a real prison. And they are without any of the basic conditions of the human life. And before that, 75% of the Palestinians inside Gaza, they are refugees. That means their origin villages and towns are beyond the fence, the Israeli fence. So, when tens of thousands of Palestinians share in the March of Return, they want to say that we never gave up our right to return. This is our normal right, and this right based on the United Nations Resolution 194.

And from other side, they wanted to say that we want life and nothing but life. We are actually here inside Gaza prison. We are dying. We are dying because of no medicine, no food, no work, no jobs, no factories. Hundreds of factories were destroyed in the last 10 years by Israeli attacks. So, these people search of hope. They want hope. They want dignified life. The March of Return is a scream of life. It’s a knock on the door. When there is a person inside a prison without food, without medicine, then he hasn’t any choice but to knock the door, to try to escape towards the life. This is exactly what the Palestinians made in Gaza. They said to Israel, our will of life is stronger than despair. So we continue. We want to struggle. And we struggle for life. We struggle for humanity. We struggle for justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the siege is.

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: Yeah. Gaza Strip is a very narrow place. There are 2.2 million Palestinians live inside Gaza. Seventy-five percent of them are refugees. This fence separated us from our villages and towns, where Israel expelled us out from there in 1948. So, the Palestinians believe in their right to return to their homes. They never gave up this right since 70 years. Until now, the Palestinian refugees kept their keys, the keys of their homes in their origin cities and towns. And they are waiting for that day that the justice will be achieved and they can return to their homes.

When I went there, near the Israeli separation fence, with my friend Hasan, then my friend Hasan pointed to the fence and said to me, “Ahmed, look, this is the fence, separated us from returning to our homes.” And that night I posted on my Facebook that the birds can—I saw the birds can cross freely and can move freely between the two sides of the fence. What if we, as humans, decide to move freely? The why is Israeli soldier will shoot us as if we commit a crime? It’s our normal right, our human right, to move freely. So, we should break this fence. Then, after that, I wrote another post that I suggest 200,000 of Palestinians share in unarmed protest to demand their normal right to return to their homes and to live with dignity like the other peoples. This fence symbolized—this Israeli fence symbolized for the occupation and the prison and for the killing our normal rights to move, to live normally.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe the situation on the ground in Gaza, how it’s affected by the siege, by the blockade, which, by the way, Israel insists it’s not engaged in.

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: Yeah. The life inside Gaza is very hard. According to the United Nations reports, Gaza is unlivable place in 2020, just next year. So, imagine inside Gaza the people live without electricity for 16 continuous hours. And the youth live there. The majority of the youth inside Gaza, they never traveled even one time all their lives. So, I’m lucky compared to the rest of my people, that I finally was able to leave Gaza and to travel. The majority—

AMY GOODMAN: This is your—this trip to the United States, this is your first time in the United States?

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: Yeah, it’s my first time.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been trying for years?

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: Yeah. I just traveled one time, in 2012, after the Egyptian revolution, from Rafah crossing, for Egypt. But this is my first time to board a flight and come here to United States. And the majority of Palestinians inside Gaza, they never saw a plane in the sky, a plane which carry passengers. Yeah, we see a lot of planes, but it’s the Israeli warplanes. That means to us as a symbol of killing and horror. We don’t see the planes which symbolize to the life and to the human progress.

And the people inside Gaza without medicine, without medical services, without jobs, because the Israeli occupation forces destroyed completely hundreds of industrial factories in 2008, 2012, then 2014. The youth inside Gaza, they cannot be able to see the hope, to see the future. So, what can we expect from these people? These people, when they protest, they protest because they want to make their voices heard to the world, that we want life, that it’s our normal life, to live normally.

AMY GOODMAN: And so people are protesting. They’re engaging in this weekly mass protest. And you’ve been met by massive response of the Israeli military.

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happens in these Friday protests around the fence.

AHMED ABU ARTEMA: Yeah, yeah. Some people asked me, and some journalists asked me, “Why the Palestinians continue their protesting despite the high—the high price of victims and injured people?” I answer them, the Palestinians are continuing their protesting, because this is their only choice. They haven’t other choices. They try to escape towards the life. So, the people—when the people shared in the March of Return, in this protest, they came near the fence that separated them from their villages and cities, and the people collect peacefully.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ahmed Abu Artema, the Palestinian poet, journalist and peace activist who inspired the Great March of Return. Israeli forces have killed more than 200 Palestinians, and according to the UNHCR, as many as 26,000 Palestinians have been wounded in this year of the march. The U.N. says Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by targeting protesters in Gaza with lethal force during this year, including children, journalists and the disabled.

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