Imad Karam and Mohammed Ghalayini: Gaza testimony

Imad Karam

I was born and brought up in Gaza. I’ve lived in Britain for the last 22 years. My whole family is in the north of Gaza today. More than 70 of my relatives have died. The latest one is Malak, 10 years old, who is still under the rubble. She’s my niece. All my sister wants is to say goodbye to her daughter. My family lost 11 homes so far – only a tiny proportion of what other families have endured. It is an honour to introduce a fellow Gazan, Mohammed Ghalayini, based in Manchester. He was in Gaza visiting his family on 7 October. He stayed until December, when he left through Egypt.

While in Gaza, living what everybody else was living, Mohammed helped set up a media project called Amplify Gaza Stories, relaying to the world the testimonies from families suffering the horrors of Israel’s war. Back in the UK, he and the Amplify Gaza Stories team have been raising funds to support starving families in Gaza.

Mohammed Ghalayini

I am very sorry to hear about the family, Imad. Each person in Gaza has a similar loss and a similar story. It is an honour to be with you in Bush House today. As a child in Gaza in the early 1990s, I used to listen religiously to the BBC World Service. It’s a habit I picked up from my grandmother during Operation Desert Storm. Being in Bush House gives me pangs of nostalgia for an institution that I used to respect. I am more sceptical of it now. 

Today, this genocidal attack is the most pressing issue. I was in Gaza for 65 days from October to December. I witnessed a medieval siege carried out with 21st century technology. I mourn between 100 and 200 of my parents’ families and countless friends and relatives like my cousin Hamam Ghalayini, shot at point-blank range in the house where he and his family were sheltering. I think of my friend Sahbir, praying at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, the hospital recently been inundated with wounded from the bombing of the UN school in the Middle Area. He was praying there, visiting a friend. A missile attack took his leg. And my friend Khaled, a newly qualified nurse. When the Israeli attack began, he volunteered at Al Shifa Hospital and remained there until March when the last Israeli assault on the hospital happened. He was ordered to leave with others. Quadcopter machine gun fire killed him as he fled. Add to this the wholesale destruction of Gaza’s institutions from universities to hospitals, schools, the parliament building… No one has been spared. I have seen or heard about the destruction of every home I have known in Gaza. My father’s IVF practice, preeminent in its field, was damaged beyond repair. He employed 50 people and they supported hundreds of dependents. That’s the way it is in Gaza. 

 I hope to contribute usefully to this discussion about peace with justice and how to get there. By asking how representative current political institutions are, and thinking about the diaspora and the power that we wield here, partly in the burgeoning protest and direct-action movement that has real clout.

 We face huge challenges when it comes to Palestinian self-determination. Let me take us back to the first intifada. I remember standing on the pier of Gaza’s harbour with my friend Nisreen, wondering about freedom and liberation. I asked her “Who do you think is going to liberate Palestine?” She said “Abu Ammar”. Yasser Arafat. In my childhood naïveté I accepted that the PLO under Abu Ammar would do that. They held our faith in that respect. 

Fast-forward a few years to Abu Mazen and Abu Ammar signing the Declaration of Principles at the White House. Even then the thread was starting to unravel. This limited autonomy in Gaza and Jericho First didn’t feel like the liberation of Palestine. But there was some hope. I came of age politically in the 1990s, when the Oslo process was floundering. The hope was short-lived. The Palestinian political leadership signed away the Palestinian struggle by deferring it to be resolved in final status negotiations, and they sidelined important players in the Palestinian body politic. That was a fatal mistake.

 Like Imad, I have lived in the UK for 20 years. It was meant to be short-term study here and then return. But the deteriorating situation in Gaza meant that career progression took precedence. There was nothing to go back to. In September I traveled back intending to resettle. Then came 7 October. I left our apartment in Gaza with just a few clothes. In a tale as old as ‘48, I thought we’d be back in two weeks. We set up Amplify Gaza Stories, which continues.

 I had requests for media appearances to “tell the Palestinian story”.  It was clear that they wanted a sanitised version, just the human story without the politics. A producer said “You’re not here to comment on politics. You’re here just to tell us what life is like”. I answered “Unless we talk about politics we can’t talk about life in Gaza”. I needed to talk about the hypocrisy of political powers and how the strategy of containment of Palestinians had led us to the stage that we were in. They really wanted to remove Palestinian agency, with Palestinians at worst being treated as these violent antisemites and at best as pawns on a chessboard of wider political interests. The Palestinian leadership were the weaker party in the region, subservient to the interests of others. 

What next for Gaza and the West Bank? How can we transition from the genocide we have now to a just and lasting peace? Ben-Gvir and Smotrich want to do in the West Bank what they’re now doing in Gaza. Talking about the day after, British politicians speak of good Palestinians – the ones that submit to what Israel and the West want. We need equality, self-determination, justice. Without that, we can’t have peace. I’m looking for a one-state solution, where there isn’t Jewish supremacy over everyone else. Will that be hard? Yes. What would be even harder and worse would be the continuation of the status quo. 

The control systems that Israel puts in to dominate Palestinians are like the systems that control fission in a nuclear reactor. Very complex systems designed not to fail, but every human designed system will fail. When it fails, we’ve seen the consequences. 

There is a need for true Palestinian agency, representing the full diversity of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and abroad. Palestinians in the diaspora have been leaders of the direct action movement: a massive disruptor of those complicit with genocide. It’s a power base to be reckoned with. The PLO came out of the Palestinian student movement in the 1950s and 60s. Now a PLO 2.0 may come out of movements such as Palestine Action disrupting companies like Elbit and Barclays in the UK. The main branch of Barclays in Manchester was shut down for five days. The complicity needs to be made more costly to bring about change. We Palestinians are not going to be given this agency; we need to seize it. Frederick Douglas, an African-American freed slave, said “Power concedes nothing without demand”. That demand is coming from different sides. I ask you to support Palestinians seizing agency, letting peace prevail for all between the river and the sea. 

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