“Life for Palestinians in Israel is complicated in every respect”
Basma Fahoum — an activist with the organization Who Profits from the Occupation? — recently sat with The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof and discussed what it means to be a Palestinian in Israel and her the ongoing efforts for her community to realize their rights.
Adri Nieuwhof: Can you please introduce yourself?
Basma Fahoum: I am a 22-year-old woman and a Palestinian citizen of Israel. I was born in Nazareth.
AN: Can you discuss what it means for young Palestinians to live in Israel?
BF: I think that life for us very complicated in every aspect. Everything is something you have to think about the whole time. If you go to the supermarket, the grocery or any shop, you wonder about the person selling the goods. Does he support my case? Does he hate me? Hate Arabs? On the one hand we feel part of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian nation. On the other hand our identity card is Israeli. We speak Hebrew. We know Israeli culture. Everything is very emotional.
AN: Are there differences in how young Palestinian women and men experience life in Israel?
BM: Of course, there are differences between women and men. The Palestinian community in general gives more legitimization to young men to do what they want. It is a very patronizing society. Women have less freedom. For instance, renting an apartment is difficult, also because I prefer to live with women. For men it is more acceptable to work, to move to another city, to live by yourself. That is all less acceptable for a young woman.
AN: How did you become involved in activism?
BF: My participation in the activism of the Coalition of Women for Peace is because of Who Profits from the Occupation. I have always taken part in many activities. I saw the importance of the work of Who Profits and that is why I began volunteering for the project. I believe the occupation is illegal, it is inhumane and unacceptable to my ethical beliefs. Even if I wasn’t a Palestinian, the situation would make me angry and want me to take part in ending it. We have tried many ways. I participated in a demonstration against the occupation in Tel Aviv [after the attack on the Freedom Flotilla] with 10,000 participants.
Many people want to change the situation. Change will not come without powerful measures. And power in the 21st century is money. The Israeli economy is dependent on the occupation. Therefore I see that harming the industries in the occupied West Bank and making it unprofitable to be there is a very powerful means to make them see that they should stop. Last night on Israeli television, there was a ten-minute report on Israeli’s supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and the academic boycott. The journalist went shopping with a woman who does not want to buy settlement products. The journalist said he found it difficult to broadcast it, because he sees himself as patriotic. And then the news came that the Pixies canceled their concert. They [Israelis] feel they are becoming an outcast, unaccepted.
AN: What was the response in Israel to the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla?
BF: On the same day there were two demonstrations in Tel Aviv, one outside the ministry of defense. Many people came and were outraged. The same day there was a protest outside the embassy of Turkey in Tel Aviv. [Journalist] Max Blumenthal made a video of the protest. It showed that people are so mislead by the media and propaganda, and do not know the facts. In general, in Israel they support their combat soldiers. On the Israeli left it made some people depressed to see to the level of inhumanity they can reach. I think Israel has shot itself in its own foot, and made people in the world see how savage it is.
AN: What is your dream for the future?
BF: My dream is ending the occupation, ending the humiliation of the whole society, lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip, where innocent people are locked in a big cage, and their rights are violated. The other part of my dream is equality in Israel, for men and women, Palestinians and Israelis, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopians, refugees and immigrants. My dream is not the state of segregation where there is democracy for some and less for others. I want a solution for the Palestinian refugees and justice for everyone.
AN: Do you think the Who Profits? database of information on how companies benefit from the occupation is useful for activists?
BF: Of course! The database is very useful. It is up to date with reliable information. For every activist who wants to inform herself or himself, www.whoprofits.org is a very good means to be informed. We are conducting new research and new companies are added all the time. We find the companies in various places, for example on field trips to settlements and industrial zones, and we gather information on the Internet.
AN: Any other activities we can expect?
BF: Yes, last month we started a new initiative with some friends. Last November the United Nations declared 18 July to be International Nelson Mandela Day to mark his contribution to freedom. It is also Mandela’s birthday. We, as a group of activists against racism, segregation, occupation and all kinds of injustice, are hosting a party in Tel Aviv to celebrate the freedom we don’t have, and the freedom our brothers and sisters don’t have.
System Ali, a hip-hop group from Jaffa performing in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English, will join us. Also the Ethiopian/Israeli group Kalkidan will be there, and Samira, a young Palestinian female performer, and the Ambassadors, a group of immigrants and refugees will play African music. And we will have a DJ. We want many people to come. Grassroots activists will introduce the artists and tell the audience what we can learn from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The activity is not related to an organization, it is about people who want to raise awareness about apartheid, who want to show that apartheid is here and what we can learn from South Africa. It will be a great event. If I can’t dance, it ain’t my revolution!
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.