UNARMED resistance has a long history in the struggle for a Palestinian homeland. And it has taken many Palestinian lives, too. As the resistance enters its 70th year, new forms of non-violent resistance are taking shape.
One such form of “defiance” is the “The Beautiful Resistance”, introduced by the Alrowwad Cultural Arts Centre in Aida Camp in Bethlehem. It is a “call to arts” for Paletinian children, says Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder and director of the centre that describes itself as a “home of hope, dream, imagination and creativity”. This inspirational Palestinian theatre director is showing children “how to say no to the ugliness of occupation and violence” through performing arts, as the centre puts it, in its website.
He provides children with a creative environment where they learn how to use artistic expression to convey their hopes and dreams for a homeland they wish one day to call their own. Through disciplines such as theatre, photography and filmmaking, Palestinian children are groomed in artistic activities such as acting, dancing and singing, pursuits that Dr Abusrour sees as providing “hope in such times of despair”.
A year ago this month, a group of young dancers and rappers from Dheisheh refugee camp in occupied West Bank were on tour, bringing music, hip-hop and dabkeh folk dance to audiences across the United States. The young Palestinians were on a mission to make the world aware of their plight through the arts.
Last week, seven thousand people took part in the Palestine Marathon 2018 in the Bethlehem area of West Bank. The annual event, which has been running for six years, aims to highlight to the world the 500 obstacles of checkpoints, roadblocks and other hurdles that stand in the way of the free movement of the Palestinians.
Education, too, is fast becoming another weapon in the armour of Palestinian non-violent resistance against Israel.
Bridge Palestine of welfare organisation Taawon is one such education programme. It brings together outstanding 10th grade students from different parts of Palestine for a three-year academic journey that teaches them, among others, critical thinking, leadership and research skills. Bridge Palestine aims “to create a core group of students who are well-rounded educationally and culturally and to link them with scholarship foundations that offer funds to continue their higher education abroad”. Many of the programme’s alumni and alumnae have gone on to be students at Stanford University, King’s College London and University of Manchester.
The late Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned scientist was known for his support for Palestine. Last year, he asked his millions of Facebook followers to contribute financially to the Palestinian Advanced Physics School, a physics lecture series for Master’s students in the occupied West Bank.
He also publicly congratulated Hanan Al-Hroub, a Palestinian woman who won the Global Teacher Prize for 2016. In a society torn apart by conflict where children are regularly exposed to violence, supporting children who suffer from psychological trauma, is her main aim.
Palestinian women are among the most educated in the region. Iqbal-Al Assad, a Palestinian Muslim woman who holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest doctor in the world, is a good example. After graduating from Cornell University (Qatar campus) in 2014, she started her medical school when she was only 14 years old. She then went on to the Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, to become a paediatrician. Her dream is to open a free clinic for Palestinian refugees.
Another beneficiary of a good education is Mohamad Zakaria, 43, a holder of 13 degrees. He is among the 10 most educated persons in the world. Of the 13 degrees he holds, eight are Master’s, three Bachelor’s, one Doctorate and one Vocational Training degree. He has a number of published scholarly research papers and articles to his name.
Being born in Lebanon where Palestinians are not offered a nationality, ID or ownership rights, Mohamad has taken education to be his only passport.
Mohamad’s journey of study allowed him to meet and deal with people of diverse backgrounds and nationalities, which gave him the opportunity to be a fine Palestinian envoy. He never ceases to explain the story of Palestine and its cause to international audiences.
Ahed Tamimi, the teenage girl who was filmed kicking and slapping an Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank, is perhaps the most famous Palestinian. Portrayed as the modern-day Joan of Arc, Ahad has become an icon of the resistance struggle. Many Palestinians have applauded her courage and adopted her style of non-violent resistance.
The new generation of Palestinians are aware of the injustices perpetrated against them and their people. Frustrated with the lack of political will from their leaders, many Palestinian youths have taken upon themselves to generate new, creative ways of non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation.
Land may be lost, but their education will remain with the Palestinians as a symbol of their pride and identity, even in someone else’s land.
Dr Paridah Abd Samad, a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak, is a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow.