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).
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?
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”.
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’