A Conversation with Anas Abuzaina; Co-Founder of Southampton’s ‘Students for Palestine’

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The Cypriot-Palestinian academic Anas Abuzaina may have a confusing heritage, but his message is clear; Palestinian men, women and children are living in a world of oppression and violence. Emma Low speaks to Anas, PhD student and co-founder of Students for Palestine (Southampton).

Taken over the Easter break 2012 in Gaza

The rain is thundering down on Southampton on a dark November evening as Anas Abuzaina and I make our way into a familiar coffee shop to dry out. Anas has spent much of the afternoon on campus with thirty other students in a silent stand for Palestine; “so many people stood in the rain for four hours”, he says looking genuinely warmed by this thought. Students for Palestine (Southampton) was founded over the summer by Abuzaina and a group of other students. Their aim is to raise awareness of the issue and states group is “non-religious; we don’t have any certain ideologies we just want to raise awareness about the Palestinian issue, about the Palestinian suffering.”

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced by Mohamed Kamel Amr, the Egyptian foreign minister, and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday. The ceasefire marks the end of eight days of fighting in which over 160 lives have been lost. A total of 161 Palestinians were killed during the eight days of Israeli air strikes; the majority of the deaths were civilian including the deaths of 33 children. Six Israelis also lost their lives. As I run through the death toll, Abuzaina sits back and explains, “like every ceasefire.. it will be okay for a couple of months, then Israel will assassinate someone and the Palestinians will  fight back –  it might escalate like the last couple of weeks, it might not.” So is this ceasefire doomed from the outset, a plaster to temporarily patch up the gaping wound in Middle Eastern relations?

A little boy peeks around the corner of his home in a Palestinian refugee camp.

The terms of the ceasefire may see some improvement in the quality of life for the residents of Gaza, with crossings set to open allowing some food and fuel through. But Abuzaina argues “This is just making the symptoms better, it’s not fixing the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the occupation, the apartheid”. Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s Islamist President has played an important role in mediating the current ceasefire and has proven to be a source of stability. But will the ceasefire be “an important step towards lasting peace” as William Hague hopes? Abuzaina looks dubious “everyone is trying to promote [a two-state solution]but I don’t believe this will ever happen, for two reasons. First of all, the Palestinians would never agree. The second thing is that even with 78%  of the land, Israel is still not happy”.

Both Israel and Hamas were quick to claim victory when the ceasefire was announced, but with over 160 people dead, is anyone victorious in this situation? Abuzaina agrees “it’s not important who is victorious” he says, “the most important thing is that civilians are not dying anymore on both sides”.

A residential building hit by airstrike, killing 12 Palestinian civilians.

The cold hard truth is that atrocities are occurring on a daily basis in Gaza and the West Bank. There may not be constant airstrikes raining down upon the landscape, but the Palestinian people are being allowed to live in appalling conditions, without access to basic amenities, healthcare and minimal food available. Israeli checkpoints, which pepper the West Bank, provide a stark reminder of the oppression concealed behind the wall that snakes between Israeli and Palestinian land. Israel is in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions including resolution 194 the “right of return” which sought to address the right of refugees who had fled Palestine to return to their homeland, and resolution 446 which declares that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory have “no legal validity”. The United Nations has repeatedly highlighted the “dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinian civilian population” and yet, still the world looks on.

Abuzaina is optimistic that the entrenched global passivity is shifting; “luckily, thanks to new social media, [which]is not controlled by a body… Anyone can make media and now people see through facebook and twitter what is actually happening. Because people are making the news – normal people like you and me.”

We are coming to the end of the interview and Anas’ latte is long finished. We relax back into our chairs after a long and intense discussion. Does he believe that the student population appreciate the history and recognise the severity of the conflict? “Everyone is busy with [their]own life. People, they don’t want to get involved in any political movement. They are too busy with their courses”.  But Students for Palestine has attracted a lot of attention “we have about 200 members and there is growing interest,” he says, “[students]want to know more, they are tired of the media.. they just want to learn.” And why does he think that the society has received such vehement support? “Most of [the active members]think that it is a just case – what’s happening to Palestinians is a shame, it is against humanity, against liberty and they want to say no to oppression, to occupation.”

What’s happening to Palestinians is a shame, it is against humanity, against liberty and they want to say no to oppression, to occupation, to apartheid.

Abuzaina

So how can students access more information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? “I encourage people always, not to take the information from one source. Just be objective, read all points of view, compare the facts” Abuziana explains, noting down a series of films, writers and websites that he would recommend. The Students for Palestine society invite thought-provoking speakers throughout the year to present talks to University students and staff. They are organising a convoy to Gaza in the Easter break this year and will be inviting 20 students from Southampton to join them for the educational and humanitarian visit. Abuzaina visited Gaza on a convoy last year, what stirred him to return to Southampton and promote understanding of the conflict here? “For me to be in one piece of my land, it was very important because I don’t want to forget the struggle and the suffering that my father and his parents had and the suffering of all the Palestinian people,” he explains “we want people to feel what it is really like to be Palestinian”.

 To find our more about “Students for Palestine Southampton”, search for the group on facebook or go to www.sotonpal.org.

Other recommended sources of information include books by the writers Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Robert Fisk; as well as the films: ‘Occupation 101’, ‘Road To Apartheid’

 

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Discussion8 Comments

  1. avatar

    I’d be very interested in reading a representative from the university’s jewish society’s views on this…

    Luke Goodger
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    Its strange, but for once the Wessex Scene wasn’t pushed to have both sides of the argument even if this is clearly an opinion rather than fact..

    http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/politics/2011/05/12/focus-on-israelpalestine-the-myopia-of-anti-israel-rhetoric/

    I wrote an article on it last year and got a response from my friend Gilonis, which you can find here http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/politics/2011/05/13/focus-on-israelpalestine-a-response-to-luke-goodger/ .

    This article is ridiculously one sided, but it is an interview.

    Also i think it misrepresents the political situation if you think the Jewish society will necessarily have a different view, they may be Jewish but they aren’t Israeli, that is a distinction that must be made.

    Alexander James Green
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    Luke, we don’t have to push for both sides of every opinion article we have…that basically nullifies the point of opinion. It’s just if someone want to write something disagreeing with something; they should feel free to do so.

    But yes, I agree there is an inherent bias within the article – mainly due to the interviewee I imagine – thus that it why it has been placed in opinion rather than just politics.

    Personally, I agree with much of it though

    Luke Goodger
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    Well thats not what Gilani said! But not that i agree with having to have both arguments up right away anyway. Just saying thats what David Gilani said!

    Anas Abuzaina
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    Everything mentioned in this article is based on facts after visiting Gaza and talking to people there. If you think it is biased, please go and talk to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and see how the Israeli occupation and aparthied -for 65 years- are affecting their lives in every single aspect.

    Luke Goodger
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    This is why the conflict persists, i dont support either side, because either side does not listen to the other. If i talk to Gazans i would hear what is written here, if i talk to Israelis i would get the other side. You cant be blind to either argument and the Gazans have their right to freedom. BUT its all about balance, and im sure you will agree that the Israelis have their greviences too, no matter who you support, otherwise you aren’t what you are when you say ‘we don’t have any certain ideologies,’

    Kahiye D
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    It is an opinion article so there will be some inherent bias, but that does negate the facts on the ground. Condemn the rockets but also condemn the areal and naval bombardment of gaza. Condemn ahmendinejad alleged threat to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, but also condemn statements made by the interior minister saying “we will send Palestine back to the middle ages” or Michael Ben Ari who called for the genocide of gazans. The undoing of the state of Israel will not be the hate they perceive their neighbours harbour against them but the occupation. The occupation cannot be expected to breed love and peace, only peace can.

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