Snippets from BLM San Diego’s Instagram Story and BLM UK’s Twitter posts about Palestine

Tomorrow marks 2020’s halfway point, and believe it or not this little article actually has some more alarming news for you. 2020 has been a time warp, and a rough year for many. None of us knew that we’d be needing to spend this much time at home, or that outside would be illegal, or that some Hollywood celebrities would be singing Imagine from their mansions at the start of a pandemic, but here we are. On the positive side, 2020 has normalised discussions about white supremacy and settler colonialism. It’s unfortunate that it took this many innocent people dying for us to have these very necessary conversations, but this is where we found ourselves.

As someone who’s been familiar with injustices from an early age, 2020 has helped me learn to express more of what’s on my mind without emotionally burning myself out. Discussing current affairs with those who choose to not participate in these topics can be extremely taxing. Until last month, it had been completely a-ok for folks to hide behind their privilege and shut down information that’s foreign to them, as a defence mechanism. The new normal is different, and the Black Lives Matter movement has made it crystal clear that the world needs tangible change. Throughout this article, I utilise the standards of this new norm to introduce you to why I believe July 1st will be an especially shitty day.

Land will be stolen & homes will be demolished

The main reason that July 1st 2020 absolutely sucks, is because Israel will be starting its annexation (theft of land) of the West Bank (Palestine). While the vast majority of the world, including the UN, oppose this, it will be happening. Under international law, it is illegal for countries to annex occupied territories acquired by military force. This is a devastating day for the Palestinians who are suffering a blow to their dreams of self-determination. The plan is simple: steal more land, cement apartheid, and expand settler-colonialism.

Tomorrow, I have family and friends who will lose the rights to their own land that they’ve lived on for generations. They will lose access to water and agriculture resources, and they will face threats from even more illegal Israeli settlers. It’s estimated that 110,000 Palestinians will be affected by this, further formalising a system of apartheid. Neighbouring Palestinians in other parts of the swiss-cheese-like map currently experience a 1.4% construction permit approval rate from Israel.

The annexation will force people to become refugees in their own land (living in open air prisons under constant military occupation) or further adding to the already large population of 7 million Palestinians worldwide who are forbidden from returning to their ancestral homes. If a person resists and ends up killed, they’d be part of the large death toll of over 10,000 Palestinians (since the year 2000). For those who die, there’s a good chance Israel will refuse to return their body to their family. If you’re curious about how many Israelis have been killed in that period, the same source has information on that.

For more info:

Many EU countries have called for sanctions against Israel if this happens and many Rabbis have opposed it too. The Black Lives Matter movement has been opposing the horrible plans as well, but it looks like it’ll be commencing tomorrow anyway.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s key for me to remind you that there is a difference between being antisemitic and choosing to boycott an apartheid state. Just as I’d expect you all to remember that not all Muslims are extremists and don’t necessarily represent the views of the governments they live under, it should be recognised that Judaism as a religion and heritage are separate from the Israeli government. 127 Jewish scholars last year condemned the French Parliament’s motion equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism: “Anti-Zionism is a legitimate point of view in Jewish history, and it has a long tradition, including in Israel.” It has also recently been made legal by the European Convention of Human Rights to boycott against Israel.

The European Convention on Human Rights: “Today’s landmark decision sets a significant precedent that should stop the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to target activists campaigning against human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians,” Marco Perolini of Amnesty France said in a statement.

A resource I’ve come to appreciate which was recommended by my Jewish friends is the Jewish Voice for Peace.

Being a Member of the Palestinian Diaspora

Baq’a, Jerusalem — 1943 — حي البقعة: A Dajani family portrait in front of their Baq’a home that belongs to Dr. Mahmoud al-Dajani. My grandmother is the one sitting down, 2nd row, with a bow in her hair. Source

My Grandmother, Leila Dajani, was born in Palestine in 1935. She is from Baq’a, Palestine (now Geulim, Israel). In 1947, her family fled to Egypt to avoid the terrors of the war with Israel. They returned four years later to find that they had lost everything (this was during the catastrophe that is referred to as Nakba). Fun fact: There was an Israeli documentary in 1980 about how Israelis looted my grandmother’s home. The documentary was then banned by the Israeli authorities. If you haven’t heard of Nakba before, it’s important that you read this short and comprehensive article by Vox about it.

My grandfather, Yahya Wahbeh (yup, my namesake) grew up in the Moroccan Quarter, Palestine. In 1948, my grandfather’s family, along with everybody in their neighbourhood who had lived there for generations, were expelled from their homes by soldiers. This Wikipedia article contains details about the demolition of the 135 homes in the Moroccan Quarter and the 650+ refugees that resulted.

The Moroccan Quarter was 800 years old. For those of you who have had the privilege of visiting Israel (occupied Palestine), and specifically the Western Wall Plaza, that plaza you stepped into is where the Moroccan Quarter was. Yes, my grandfather’s home and neighbourhood have been destroyed to build one of the most popular tourism sites in the city of Jerusalem. His family then moved to Bab Huta.

My grandparents wedding in Jerusalem (the first hotel wedding in the city)

My grandparents met when she was at a hospital. Yahya was one of the very few paediatricians in Palestine and they had heard about each other through nurses and doctors. They got married in 1957, and theirs was the very first hotel wedding in Jerusalem. Yahya continued to work as a doctor while Leila helped orphans and the poor.

Committee of One — A book about my grandmother’s work in Palestine and Jordan, helping refugees
Committee of One — A book about my grandmother’s work in Palestine and Jordan, helping refugees
Committee of One — A book about my grandmother’s work in Palestine and Jordan, helping refugees

For this next part, I’ll be quoting a book that has been written about my grandmother by an American author, Patricia Martin Holt. Patricia met my grandmother on a visit to Jordan and as her bio says: “When I married a retired hydrologist, I had no idea how our travels to the Middle East would change my perspective. Initially interested in the fine crafts of the area, I was led to Leila Wahbeh. The day I met her was the day my life changed forever.”

I’ll quote the book’s pages 31 & 32: “At about one o’clock in the morning of October 28. 1968, Leila was awakened by the sound of roaring engines. She peered through the curtain and saw several army jeeps with Israeli soldiers jumping from them, some of whom were gathering in the front garden while others spread around the house. She awakened Yahya, who dressed quickly and ran to the balcony. The doorbell began ringing insistently. Yahya and Leila opened the door, and a soldier pushed his way in, followed by several more behind him. The first soldier told Yahya he was wanted for a short time at army headquarters. When Yahya asked why, he was told only to hurry, and that he would know everything soon enough.”

My grandfather’s passport

He was instantly deported to Jordan, and my father, who was the eldest at 10 years old, was woken up by his mother at dawn to be told the bad news. The Israeli authorities had been taking other doctors to jail or deporting them, so the children feared that Yahya would be one of them. “It was a perilous time. A war was going on. Leila had to manage all aspects of the family’s life. Her youngest child was three years old.” Leila was left with their 4 children.

The people of Jerusalem had been demonstrating in the streets calling for his return, and Leila actively tried to bring him back but to no avail. After almost 2 years, the family moved to Jordan to join Yahya.

Picture from a book showing endowments for properties in Jerusalem

Fast forward to 1992, when I was born in Jordan. Although I am Palestinian, I have never been to Israel / Palestine, but I am always eager to learn about my heritage. One of the things I’ve learned is that the Wahbeh last name used to be Shiki Miki. I also thought that was hard to believe until I was shown this picture. I’ve also learned that there’s a mosque in Jerusalem that’s owned by my family. Upon googling that Mosque today, I came across news that it seems to be a popular site for illegal settlers to attack:

I’ve also learned that my father’s uncle – a man whose family has been in Jerusalem for 800 years – has been struggling to keep his hotel.

I wrote this to share some harsh realities that are not covered by the media. To tie this back to the important fight that the Black Lives Matter movement is facing, wouldn’t it be great if the US, another settler colonial state, decreases its military aid to Israel, in order to focus on its own problems? $1.5 Million per day over a 10 year period is surely excessive. Perhaps spending less of that sum on a country that has given contraceptives to its Black immigrants without their consent? Or is that too radical?

A day in the life of my father, Zaki, as a 1 year old in 1959: Left: His uncle was visiting them that day from London, UK and this picture is of him carrying Zaki near my father’s home at the time in Bethlehem. Right: They later went to visit family in Bab Huta, Jerusalem. The lady looking at him on the left is his mother, Leila.
The Moroccan Quarter in 1917 (New York Times Photo Archive)
What a beautiful photo. The Moroccan Quarter in 1917 (New York Times Photo Archive). Source: Reddit.
An instagram post by @thepipd

While I was writing this, I reached out to my cousin Zeena in Ramallah, the West Bank to share what I had drafted. She mentioned that I should emphasise that the occupation has been happening for 72 years, almost consistently. July 1st is simply a more organised version that is backed by the US, but Palestinians experience this on a regular basis. This can be demonstrated by the evolutionary map I’ve attached above.

Canada Day

Now that we’ve finished looking at the country that has more human rights violations than the rest of the world combined, I’ll be switching to the country that has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. It sounds peaceful, doesn’t it? July 1st is Canada Day, and as a result of Palestinian dispersion, I am now a Canadian citizen. A few years ago, Canada Day used to be a fun day of celebration for me, where I would go out with my university friends, singing ‘Oh Canada’ and painting my town red and white.

Came across this very fitting meme on Facebook

It wasn’t long until I learned the harsh reality of what the day commemorates. Canada was also built on stolen land. Its laws are 150 years old whereas indigenous people have lived here for 15,000 years. The truth is, the injustice still emanates to this day. The country continues to invade indigenous territories and delays taking actions on genocide of missing and murdered women. 50% of those in the foster care system are indigenous, and Canada continues to criminalise the poverty which they forced their people into. Many people think that it’s only our neighbours to the south who have a shameful past but that is unfortunately not the case. Canada is actively racist, and continues to engage in genocide. Canada constantly pushes white supremacist, colonialist and imperialist agenda. Canada is also complicit in the annexation of land in other places, including… Palestine.

Thank you.

Please feel free to share and continue these very necessary conversations. You can find me on Instagram: @thelastturtle.

Additional Readings:

  • Dajani family members and the 800-year history in Jerusalem:
  • How to help human rights in Palestine:
  • Palestinian food and why it’s so important to Palestinians:
  • Instagram page for Canadians of all backgrounds working for justice & peace in the Middle East:
  • In other news, in China… We’ve got work to do, everyone.

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