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On the occasion of the 76th anniversary of the Nakba.

  • May 14 2024
  • Hebh Jamal
    is a Palestinian journalist based in Germany.

76 years of colonization, of forced exile, 76 years of refugee camps, of occupation, of apartheid. However, this month also marks 76 years of resilience, 76 years of a liberation struggle. Despite facing extreme circumstances, the political and revolutionary thought within the Palestinian community has continued to evolve. This thought process underscores how individuals, while being part of a singular group with a common history, can still have diverse experiences. Regardless of whether they are living in the camps of Lebanon, in Gaza, or in Kuwait, these individuals all share a common agreement on the principles of liberation and identity.

As articulated by Edward Said, we Palestinians are struggling for our self-determination, yet we have no place, no physical terrain on which to conduct our struggle. Said writes in the book, The Question of Palestine, that we are Arab, and yet, not simply Arab. We are exiles. And yet, tolerated guests in some countries of our exile, we can speak at the United Nations of our problems only as observers. 

No national group has seen its oppressor speak for so long (and so loudly) about the group’s political and cultural non-existence, even while this “non-people” demonstrates against, declaims, and fights its oppressor daily.  We exist. Yet we have failed to truly exist. It is through this dichotomy that the definition of what it means to be Palestinian is formed. 

To be a Palestinian means to exist ‘despite…’.  Despite the efforts at our annihilation, despite efforts of our displacement, and efforts of our silencing. 

I want to tell you about a motif in Men in the Sun, my favorite story written by Ghassan Kanafani.  Kanafani concludes his novel with the death of three Palestinians who have paid a smuggler to take them from Iraq to Kuwait in hopes of a better life. Instead, they die hiding in a water tank under the blazing sun at a routine checkpoint inspection that takes longer than usual. Their lifeless bodies are then thrown in a garbage heap. As the smuggler drives off, he asks: ‘Why didn't they knock on the sides of the tank? Why didn't you knock on the sides of the tank? Why didn't you say anything? Why?’  Many, including myself, have interpreted this ending as a plea to the rest of us by Ghassan Kanafani to remember our liberation struggle while focussing on ourselves and our safety as individuals. He wanted us to break the chains of atomized thought and not be passive about our situation, about our exile, and the genocide taking place against our people, sometimes underwritten by our tax dollars.The end of the novella is a plea to demand for the reality as a Palestinian to change, to stay, to face the brunt of state repression, to say something, to knock on the sides of the tank. 

Last year, I gave a speech here in Berlin on the question of whether Israel was a democratic state, especially since there were pro-democracy protests going on in Israel at the time. What I said then, and what I will say now, is that Israel, backed by US and European allies is unequivocally a fascist settler colony, and has been ever since its inception. 

My family’s village of Jimzu, in the Lydd district of 1948-Palestine, was ethnically cleansed on July 9th of the same year, under Operation Danny. Lieutenant Moshe Dayan, who later became Israel's Defense Minister, gave the order to conquer all of Lydd and Ramla, as well as all of the villages that populated the region. Dayan's intention from the start was to depopulate Jimzu and the surrounding villages: ‘Torching everything that can be burned’.

My great-grandfather, Issa-Al Jamal, snuck into his village after the military operation was over. He recalled that the remains of dead people were scattered all around the village, unburied.  It was as though their bodies were dismembered by wild dogs, my great-grandfather said.  My great-grandfather made it a point to remember Moshe Dayan’s words. In fact, he read Theodor Herzl’s diary which stated that the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor Arabs must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. We made a point to remember how the Israeli Jewish National Fund went even further by destroying our homes, then planting trees on top of our cemeteries. Its director, Yosef Weitz, said: ‘It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples. If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us. The only solution is a land of Israel without Arabs.’ [1] Last year, well before October 7th, I wrote that the call for genocide has always been said out loud; it has been just masked by a neo-liberal facade, because democracy and freedom are available for some. 

What we are seeing now is that Israel has entered its final stages of fascism, conducting a genocide against 2. 2 million people. This fascism is no longer discrete nor circumspect. Rather, it is loud, violent, and televised. The destruction of my ancestral home of Jimzu 76 years ago and the murder of 44,000 people derive from the same political thought, ideology, and colonialist framework. However, I have to be honest: Even I did not anticipate the sheer horror of what is taking place, both in Gaza and here in Germany. 

Later on in this conference, on Sunday, [2] you will hear the stories of my husband and his family who are trying to survive the barbarity of this genocide - if they are not already murdered by then.  One of the people my husband will speak about his cousin Sama, whom he lived with. Sama Abdelhali was murdered on February 9th in her home in Deir al Balah. She was killed alongside her brother, mother, grandfather, and 20 other members of her family. She was someone I cherish deeply.  At only 14-years-old, Sama wanted to see the world. She wanted to be a doctor. She loved little kids and took care of my son, Malik the whole duration of our stay in Gaza back in 2022.

To have the mental capacity to understand that her life was cut short due to the German-funded bombs and at the same time not be able to say that Israel does, in fact, murder children like Sama is almost too much to bear.  Never in my life did I expect the possibility that contextualizing, explaining, or protesting the realities of the Palestinian people could be a criminal act. 

In 2008, when Germany decided to categorize Israel's national security as their reason of state, it preemptively signed off on the murder of Sama and 14,000 children like her. Germany turned preemptively into the propaganda wing of the Israeli state itself. What happens in Germany is that Israel solves a unique problem for the German state. A country that killed 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust now needs to emerge and prove itself to the free world as reformed, changed, and democratic. Instead of facing their history of colonization and the politics of dehumanization that made the Holocaust possible, Germany took a shortcut, unconditionally supporting a foreign state that claims to be representative of Jewish people worldwide. To take this shortcut, to believe in the mission of Zionism, they first have to silence, censor, sideline, and criminalize the Palestinian identity, and its supporters, in ways no other country except the State of Israel has done before. 

We are a pesky nuisance that gets in the way of Germany’s tactical response to the Holocaust, which is, of course, manifested as material and ideological support for Israel whatever the cost. This state instead aims to control Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists, and drag them into the world of condemnation politics. A clear trap that we cannot fall into. These authorities are not asking you to show empathy for other people. It is an attempt to silence, censor, and obstruct conversations that lead to the liberation of the Palestinian people. This is how words become dangerous. Protesting becomes dangerous. Attending a congress becomes dangerous. Even Jewish people themselves become so if they dare to question, criticize, or fight back against Israel and demand their identity not to be conflated with Zionism, a political, ethno-nationalist, and colonialist ideology. We’ve witnessed our comrades in Judische Stimme, whose bank accounts were frozen by the Sparkasse in the latest attempts to sabotage this conference, being targeted. I want to thank my Jewish brothers and sisters who are fighting alongside us in this pivotal and historic moment in our collective histories. 

This apartheid realm is creeping in on every single one of us. This morning I was informed that the police wrote a report about me due to my invitation to this congress and included my work as a journalist in my social media posts on, and before, October 7th attempting to contextualize and explain what was happening around us. For this police state, context is the enemy. However, what truly perplexes me is that the police had to scroll through hundreds and hundreds of posts detailing evidence of Israeli massacres. Posts about the reality of my husband’s family, posts about their murders, the destruction of our home, the raids and bombings of hospitals, schools, and infrastructure that exist in Gaza in order to be able to make their case against me, to be able to write this document:  ‘Even if no clear anti-Semitic content can be identified on her public internet presences,’ the police report says, ‘some publications could still be identified that, on the one hand, were seen as advocating the actions of the Palestinian resistance  and demonzing the state of Israel which should be evaluated.’ Constantly, the state aims to speak on our behalf, instead of actually listening to what we have to say. 

As a non-German speaker, my vocabulary can be limited, as I may not know enough of the language to clearly articulate myself in the grocery store or to speak to a server in a restaurant, but I do know words such as “Volksverhetzung”, “Existenzrecht”, and, of course, you can’t forget “Anzeige” - we received a lot of those. 

This last point may raise a laugh, but the level of insecurity of this police state, to the point where the most basic semblance of free speech can feel like a threat, is alarming. On Friday, I went to a protest. After it was over, on my way home, I quickly realized that I was being followed by undercover police. I demanded to know why they were following me and they responded by saying that they just wanted to see what I do. I acted casually at first, and then laughed about it with my friends, some of whom are here. We managed to get away from them and I returned home safely. However, it was once the hours went by that I truly understood the extent of this interaction. My family is dying. I went to protest this reality and was intimidated and treated as a criminal. In all honesty, I broke down that day, as I realized that we are not only demanding an end to this genocide, but fighting the state that is bent on psychological warfare against activists and supporters of the Palestinian people. All in an attempt to scare and silence us into submission. 

The title of this talk is of attempting to understand 76 years of colonization and asking what the situation is on the ground in Gaza, trying to understand what we are doing here right now in Berlin at the Palestine Congress. Our presence here is the result of 76 years of colonization. It is an attempt to answer questions of how we move forward, break free, and fight for material, substantial change in our homes. 

In 2017, I had the privilege to speak on the same panel as Angela Davis in New York City. On this panel, we attempted to tie the liberation struggles of Black people in America enmeshed within the prison industrial complex with the realities of Palestinians living under occupation. It was during this panel that I was first exposed to connecting international movements to Palestinian liberation. It was there that I saw that the security systems that are used against Black activists in Ferguson, Missouri were manufactured by state-owned companies in Israel, and arms sold to India from Israel were used to occupy and to control Kashmir. And it was there I realized that those same weapons used to kill Palestinians were used by the Myanmar government to conduct a genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. It is not that there is some international conspiracy that implicates Israel. Not at all. What I understood listening to Angela Davis is that oppressors assist each other in controlling their populations, and western hegemony is built through subjugation. It is an eternal cycle of keeping the dawn from coming.

In ‘Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement’ (2016), Angela Davis states that regimes of racial segregation were not disestablished because of the work of leaders, presidents, and legislators, but rather because of the fact that ordinary people adopted a critical stance in the ways in which they perceive their relationship to reality.  Social realities that may have appeared unalterable, and impenetrable came to be viewed as malleable and transformable. And, people learned how to imagine what it might mean to live in a world that was not exclusively governed by the principle of white supremacy. This collective consciousness emerged within the context of social struggles.

Here in Germany, the reason why there are hundreds of police outside, and inside, is an intense state effort to prevent us from transforming this malleable social reality. The reason we’re followed home by undercover police, beaten at protests, and doxxed by the media is that we have developed a collective consciousness against the principle of white supremacy. And it’s because we understand how genocides of the past were allowed to happen that we can confidently take a stand against the genocide of today. The dehumanization, the othering, the miscategorization, and slandering of a people first leads to their dispossession, and then eventually leads to their deaths.

We are not attending an academic conference here today. We are resisting in one of the most powerful ways possible. We are facing the brunt of state repression head-on. And, today, finally, we are knocking on the sides of the water tank. 


The Palestine Congress, organized by a broad coalition of Palestinian, Jewish, German, and international activists, was scheduled to commence on April 12, bringing together lawyers, journalists, eyewitnesses, and academics from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Hebh Jamal, a Palestinian journalist based in Berlin, was scheduled to speak as part of the introductory framework for the talks entitled ‘What is the Goal of the Palestine Conference & Palestinian History’. She was the only speaker who successfully completed her speech before the police raided the event and electricity was shut down. 

Transcribed by Elisa Fuenzalida.



    [1] Morris, B. (1989). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    [2] The speaker Hebh Jamal is referring to is Abdallah Abdelhadi. His conference did not take place, as the Palestine Congress was disrupted by the police at the end of Hebh Jamal’s address, one minute and a half after the start of the previously recorded video projection of Salma Abu Sita´s speech.



    Cover: The Islamic marriage document, miraculously preserved amidst the rubble in Khan Yunis, Gaza, belongs to Hebh Jamal. (2024). Courtesy of the author. 



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