I travelled to Palestine on 6 December 2017 to attend an event called Women and Liberation Struggles: Palestine and the Global South, held at the Birzeit University, Palestine’s most prestigious academic institution and an important centre for different forms of resistance since the Israeli occupation. The event consisted of a photography and art exhibition, a film screening and a seminar program with the objective of exploring past and present relationships between feminist histories, to create dialogues about women in liberation movements across the world and thus re-think strategies for the present and future challenges of the anti-colonial struggles in Palestine.
As a feminist, an activist and a hummus lover, the trip itself promised to be extremely interesting and enriching. But I never expected that, while being at an altitude of 39,000 ft. Over the ground, Donald Trump would decide to publicly recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and officially announce the relocation of the U.S Embassy in that city. The outrageous intervention of the U.S. with its political weight before the international community represents another step of Israel’s strategy for “making facts on the ground”. As they did it with the illegal settlements, the construction of the wall, among others. It is harder to challenge something if it is already physically there.
When I landed in Tel Aviv, protests had already started. And so began a journey that would help me understand, not only how misrepresented the oppression of Palestinian people is in the median by making it seem like a two-sided conflict rather than asymmetrical violence. But also to identify, as Latin American, that our history and present in relation to imperial powers and the way they affect our everyday life, have much more in common with Palestine that we would think of. If we trace back the threads of powers historically disrupting our territories, especially during the Latin-American dictatorships, we can easily find the connections. And of course, more recently, the hate speech that Trump has been promoting against Mexican and Central American migrants in the U.S. and the impacts of abrupt policy changes on the lives of thousands of families, decisions that serve nothing better than electoral purposes.
As a woman coming from the northern border of Mexico with the United States, I am used to experiencing the securitization of migration institutions as a tool for discrimination and violation of human dignity. I was travelling to Palestine with my aunt, a Mexican anthropologist and scholar, who was invited to the event at Birzeit University to talk about the struggles of Indigenous Women within movements for Social Justice. Well, the Israeli migration in the airport did not like that. They kept her separately for around 3 hours in a small room, they interrogated us as if we were criminals. As cut from the same cloth, I could recognize the same intimidating strategies from the US border police, those voice tones and questions designed to make you feel so threatened and powerless that your body automatically adopts a position of submission as a surviving instinct. Who cares about our time or your rights. They own your body.
Five hours later, at 5 am, we had finally made it through. A Palestinian taxi driver, Abdullah, was waiting for us to take us from Tel Aviv to Ramallah, the administrative capital of Palestine in the West Bank. The modern highways and the “first world” infrastructure from Israel changed drastically when crossing to Palestinian territory, but even there, roads and streets were completely militarized by Israeli forces, thus civilians live under Israeli martial law.
The daily transit dynamics are one of the most basic human rights violations: Abdullah, as thousands of other Palestinians, despite being born and raised in Jerusalem, does not own full citizenship, but rather a “residency permit” that allows him to live there under strict conditions. To go from Ramallah to Jerusalem, they need to pass through military checkpoints. Our delay in the airport got him in trouble if he wanted to arrive in time for work: he had to get to the checking point before the peak hour, which starts at 5:30 am. The distance between the two cities is 15kms, but because the queues start in the early morning, it would take several hours to cross. There are more than 100 different checkpoints across Palestine, some of them fix, some others “itinerant”. Every day, people are forced to plan their lives around it, preparing not only for the waste of time but also for the systematic discrimination, degrading treatment and arbitrary inspections from Israeli police when trying to transit within their own lands.
After Donald Trump’s statements, three days of rage were declared in Palestine. On 8 December, along with professors of the Birzeit University, we attended the demonstrations outside the Damascus Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem. On one side, police and military forces prepared and armed to the teeth. On the other hand, the protesters: Palestinian groups of people, gathered, singing protests in Arabic language, with nothing but their collective being as defense. In an attempt to protect themselves from police brutality: an impressive amount of journalist and camera-men doing the media coverage, ready to register any act of violence. I was also surprised to notice quite many elderly women leading the demonstration. Groups of young volunteer paramedics backing up here and there. Paradoxically, it was like a David and Goliath scene.
Soon, the violence broke out. The power imbalances in the clashes between Palestinians and institutional forces was heartbreaking. They had nothing compared to the police, but at the same time everyone knew what to do, it was a collective work. They have been resisting and fighting in uneven conditions for many years now. They have developed an arousing culture of protesting. The children of the stones: kids throwing rocks to the police. I saw how they took one of the kids and started to brutally beat him up with batons when a group of elderly women made a circle around him to protect him. One of the professors I was with joined the human shield. Police in big black horses trying to break it up. Women would chant even harder. More than a political act, it was a collective moment of revindication for dignity.
I am not romanticizing the protests, as the human costs are devastating, at the end, the kid was taken away by the police and who knows what consequences of torture he will face. But it was an intense projection of what the popular resistance is about, the one that is made day by day, where the unbearable living conditions and struggles of Palestinians are overshadowed by the dimension of interests of those deciding over their territory: Netanyahu, Trump, Hamas, the Security Council.
Mexico refraining from voting on the UN resolution to condemn the U.S decision on Jerusalem and, more ridiculously, the Guatemalan government’s decision of moving its embassy, is an example of how memory, justice and solidarity are bridges that need to be built from civil society. The Mexican people stand with Palestinians in these times of walls, segregation and more sophisticated forms of oppression. It is the 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and her family in Nabi Saleh, recently arrested by the Israeli army for protesting and confronting the military, that shouts out to the world the inhumanity of a system that allows world powers to disrupt their lives and dignity and use them as checkers on their economic and geopolitical interests.