Ahmed Abu Artema is the Palestinian writer, refugee, nonviolent advocate, and visionary who inspired the Great March of Return. In March, he will share his experiences with people in cities across the U.S. as part of the AFSC speaking tour “Hashtags to headlines: How the Gaza Great March of Return challenged the world.”
What were the original goals of the Great March of Return?
The Great March of Return is focused on the right of all Palestinian refugees worldwide to return to their homes. There are more than six million Palestinian refugees worldwide. These refugees never forget their right to return. Since 1948, the refugees have kept the keys and papers to their homes which prove their ownership. The Palestinian refugees never lost their hope to return.
This march is not the first protest for our rights. In 2011, there was a call for Palestinians to come together and demand our right to return. The protests occurred in many locations -- in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel. Tens of thousands Palestinians protested.
On Jan. 7, 2018, I posted on my Facebook page a call for the Great March of Return. I said, “What if 200,000 Palestinians protest along the fence peacefully?” On March 30th, Palestinians of all walks of life came together and gathered peacefully along the fence to demand: We want to return! We want to live in dignity!
We want to return to our homes. We have a bad life in Gaza. We are dying slowly here in Gaza. The Israel siege made the life inside Gaza unliveable. So the people have no choice. Their only choice was to knock on the doors of the prison and make their voices heard around the world. This is why the popular participation in this march was been so big.
It has been nearly a year since the Great March of Return began. What do you think should happen now?
Israel has not lifted the inhuman siege on Gaza. The situation has continued to get worse over the year. Life has become increasingly difficult. The people have no choice but to continue their struggle for life and freedom. The struggle will continue because the conditions of this inhuman life continue - no clean water, electricity, health care, freedom to move, overcrowded schools, and more basic rights are denied to us. We struggle for a normal everyday life.
The protests will continue; some techniques may change, which is normal. But the reasons behind the march do not change, the situation is only getting worse. As the poor living situation continues to exist, one should expect there will be more and more waves of struggle. The Palestinian refugees still are not able to return. We continue to live under occupation and the crimes continue against our humanity.
On the tour in the United States, who are the voices from Palestine that you will convey to the American people?
I try to convey the voices of all Palestinians. All Palestinians agree they want freedom, they want dignity, they want justice, they want to return to their homes.
What are you looking forward to seeing and learning about on your U.S. tour?
I am here to take and give. I am eager to gain knowledge and witness the ways people in the United States struggle for freedom and dignity. I would like to give the people in the United States more knowledge about Palestinians, how we live and how we suffer under the occupation. Hopefully we are able to talk together about ways to end the injustices we all live under.
I look forward to learning more about the United States society and the many cultures and lifestyles of the diverse U.S people who live in the United States. I want to share experiences of other people’s quest for justice here in U.S. I think the ways people experience injustice is similar worldwide.
What do you hope Americans will do to support Palestinians who continue to live under military occupation in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem?
I hope the people from around the world will unite to support the freedom and justice for all peoples. The Israeli state today in practice is a racist system. It practices indiscriminate killing, racial profiling, and military occupation against the Palestinians. We live under apartheid. Israel is able to do this with the support from the American government, from the tax money that Americans pay.
We hope the American people demand that their government cut military aid to Israel. The billions of dollars in U.S. military aid is used to kill innocent Palestinian people and take over more of our land. I feel that it is important for Americans to support justice and human values.
During my time here, I hope that the people I meet will listen to the information I share about the injustices that Palestinian people experience. And that people will come together to demand freedom and justice.