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A conversation with Palestinian activist Issa Amro.

  • May 10 2023
  • Elisa Fuenzalida
    is a researcher and cultural worker. She has directed research projects such as El futuro era tu cuerpo, Ensamblajes del Cuidado and Afectos en Re-existencia. She is coordinator and co-curator of the Cátedra Decolonial Anibal Quijano at the Museo Reina Sofía, co-editor of the journal Arts of the Working Class and mediator in the citizen laboratory platform Redes por el Clima.

For decades, Palestinians have lived through daily Israeli military and colonial violence. Yet this brutality only makes European headlines when an event of spectacular severity occurs, either because of its intensity, or simply because it has unfolded in front of a key witness. In February 2023, Pulitzer Prize winner and New Yorker journalist Lawrence Wright was conducting a live interview with Issa Amro in Hebron when an Israeli soldier assaulted the Palestinian activist, knocking him to the ground despite the journalist’s documentation, an attack that quickly became viral. 

This was far from the first time that Issa has been the target of Israeli military force: his body bears the score of countless past assaults. But despite being the subject of armed provocation, Issa has opted for nonviolent resistance as his strategy of struggle; a method inherent to the rich history of Palestinian protest. 

Elisa Fuenzalida: It seems that violence as spectacle continues to dominate the Western media narrative of Israel-Palestine. Among the various tactics that Palestine has used in the face of apartheid and military occupation, how do Palestinian activists distance themselves from a narrative of victimhood in order to find recognition?

Issa Amro: A few years ago, we initiated the Youth Against Settlements project. The goal of this collective is to encourage Palestinian teenagers, women, and families to tell stories through the strategic use of recording devices, like cameras. Another successful project we’ve used to diversify the narrative promoted by Europe and North America is called Humans of Hebron. In it, the inhabitants of the city document their own lives beyond the occupation. Both projects are focused on creating and exploring holistic narratives, rather than one-line accounts or testimonies that can be taken out of context. We want to go beyond the testimony of violence and capture our dreams, sufferings, desires, circumstances, and life stories in the way that we observe and narrate them. In that sense, social media has been instrumental in diversifying the type of stories that receive attention.

How do these initiatives come to terms with the history of the Palestinian struggle or other instances of nonviolent resistance in the territory? 

I.A.: I am inspired by the nonviolent Palestinian civil disobedience initiatives of the 1980s and the people in my community who participated in them: neighbors, everyday people, and women leaders who remain unknown to the mass media. One of my heroines is the American-Palestinian-Israeli activist Huwaida Arraf, who has been practicing nonviolent resistance for over twenty years. She was one of the initiators of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. There was also a civil disobedience movement in Beit Sahour, a town not far from Bethlehem. Local Christian and Muslim families  burned their IDs, refused to buy Israeli milk, and resisted by raising cows themselves. And yet, what the popular European and American narratives highlight and report is violent clashes between Palestinian and Israeli soldiers and settlers, thus creating a stigma that does not represent the strategic way in which we have been disobedient in the face of the brutality of the occupation for a long time. 

What is your relationship with other struggles in the Middle East, such as the Kurdish resistance?

I.A.: I fully support the Kurdish objectives and those of any nation that is oppressed and fighting for its emancipation. I know for a fact that the majority of the Kurdish people are against both the Israeli occupation of Palestine and any relationship with Israel. So far, we have not had the opportunity to receive their delegations and, of course, it is not easy for me to travel to those territories, so I do my best to meet with Kurdish representatives every time I leave Palestine, like very recently, when we had the opportunity to meet at the UN at the Human Rights Council.

What are the points of convergence with other anti-colonial struggles, such as the Mapuche or the Zapatista?

I.A.: It goes beyond ideals. Whenever you see a conflict in India [1] or Latin America [2], you will find Israeli presence through military training, weapons, or surveillance companies. There are similar elements of land-grabbing, militias, and dictatorship between Latin American and Palestinian colonial processes. I am well aware that Israel is exporting our oppression to other dictatorships. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the relationship between Latin Americans and Palestinians is historical, and their support of us is quite explicit in their voting pattern in the UN. For me, the only barrier to creating intersectional bonds is the language. But other than that, I am very interested in rebuilding the grassroots relationship that the communities had in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Speaking of the UN, during your recent visit in March of this year, you pointed out that Israeli authorities have labeled you as an "anarchist." Needless to say, this moniker is illogical given your commitment to the struggle for Palestinian statehood. What forms of governance do you see in the future of a self-determined Palestine?

I.A: Anarchism is a very respectable ideology, but it is not mine. In fact, I have many anarchist friends with whom we often discuss models of government and self-governance. The problem is that Israel's use of the term is far removed from its actual political value. Far too often, the “anarchist” label is used to dehumanize us. My interest in future of a self-determined Palestine is both very simple and very difficult—a democratic and secular state based on the votes of the people and their right to freedom of belief, expression, and movement. We want to end the occupation, build a democracy, and decide our models of governance ourselves.

What is your opinion on a potential collectivization of leadership as opposed to the single leader model, which has characterized Palestine over the past decades?

I.A: I don't agree with the single leader model. The Palestinian Legislative Council should be able to vote, and our organizations should have a steering committee with equal rights and equal power for many people, not just one. Sadly, we are not there yet. Israel and many other countries are forcing us to accept Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of the Palestinian National Authority. But since he is not enabling elections or any type of reforms, what we have is a form of governance that is controlled by corruption, dictatorship, and human rights violations. Because we are prevented from creating our own NGOs and political parties [3], the Palestinian National Authority has become a contractor of the Israeli state. 

What do you think would be the role of agriculture in an autonomous Palestinian state?

I.A: Agriculture means autonomy and independence from the Israeli market. Unfortunately, we don't have access to the land. In October 2022, we had an olive harvest campaign—one of the most important occasions of the year, uniting Palestinian families from different backgrounds. The olive tree represents the Sumudour legitimacy to the territory. As we began to harvest the olive trees, we were repeatedly attacked by Israeli settlers, and received no protection from either Israeli soldiers or police. 

How do you face the challenges of climate change from a territory in a state of colonial occupation?

I.A: We have no access to information about how climate change affects us, control over our resources, or an independent say in how we relate to nature. Israel controls everything. To give you an example, Israel is outsourcing its plastic factories to our borders. Palestinian farmers don't have water because Israel has simply decided not to provide them with it [4]. Climate change is one more challenge on top of what we face under occupation. 

What does the word “peace” mean from a position of resistance like yours?

I.A: Peace is freedom, justice and self-determination without any kind of concession. That is, not to be treated like animals that are granted shelter, food, or little financial support, but as a nation, with full human and political rights.




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