The first political conversation that I ever had was at the age of four. I remember myself sitting in in the porch of our village house in Hanine, south Lebanon, together with my mother. It was a sunny day, and we were resting in the shade of our fig tree. The peaceful flow of natural sounds and sun rays was only disturbed by the thrumming noise of helicopters coming from behind the surrounding hills. My mom wanted us to go back inside, to which I objected. She then said, “ Dyab, the Israeli helicopters are coming nearby, it is safer to be inside”. I remember asking her why? Why is it safer? And my mom answered “because these are wicked men, and they might shoot at us”. Few months later, the wicked men did shoot at us.
After blockading our little village for more than 50 days, the Israelis and their local collaborators attacked and occupied it. I remember that we had to make a run for our lives, me and my mother, who was carrying my six months old baby brother on her arm. We were running uphill together with other neighbours, trying to reach a safe place, but the soldiers spotted us and started shooting. As bullets were whizzing above our heads, some of our neighbours were hit, few centimetres away from me, I saw people falling. I remember the feeling of horror and I recall telling my mother that I was so afraid, and also feeling so ashamed about it. The occupiers then committed a massacre killing some 20 civilians, and then expelled the rest of us by force. They ethnically cleansed us.
In my book “between two worlds” that was published in 2003, I extensively told the story of these hard times, but also of the other times when we had to run for our lives in order to escape Israeli bombs and snipers. Three times, our house was burned, plundered or both. Three times, we lost a house and a life and became refugees in our own country.
I lived under Israeli occupation between 1982 and 1985, as a teenage student. I was systematically stopped and harassed and beaten, by Israeli soldiers. But luckily, the Lebanese people resisted occupation and defeated it. We did not negotiate, we did not beg, and we did not have any illusions. As a people, we fought back and made the price of occupation unbearable to the occupier. Eventually this led to the liberation of our country in May 2000.
After 24 years, we returned to our destroyed village, and we rebuilt our destroyed house in the same spot. We even planted a new fig tree at the porch. If you visit us today, you will think that all these events never took place. It all looks so idyllic and so eternally calm. But we know better.
A deep understanding of what Israeli occupation means, and of the tactics and strategies used by it, is something that remains with me, and with a whole generation who experienced the occupation. This experience is not something you can let go. Sure, you do rationalise part of it, so that you can canalise the emotion that it entails and transform it into a form of awareness instead of a perpetual torment. And in that process you grow. But it remains part of who you are. So for me, whenever I am discussing "Israel", I am not just expressing some prejudice based on some faulty information. I am not expressing an ideological position based upon a dogmatic view of the world. My opinions, and positions regarding Israeli occupation in Palestine, and beyond, are based on first-hand experiences of that occupation and of the violence that goes with it. And considering the fact that the occupation of Palestine is of colonialist nature, and is therefore much more extreme in its forms and dynamics, than the occupation of Lebanon, I am aware that what I have experienced under Israeli occupation is nothing compared to what Palestinians do experience today under Israeli colonial rule and occupation. If resistance was legitimate in Lebanon, then it is even more so in Palestine.
But then comes de Standaard with some abstract notion of the limits of the debate as they define it. A notion that is inconsistent with international law that guarantees the right of occupied peoples to resist occupation, by all means available to them, including armed struggle. That notion of debate is also inconsistent with how de Standaard itself, on its own pages, gave and gives a structural podium to apologists of illegal violence against the Iraqi people, and the Palestinian people. It falls apparently within the boundaries of the debate to justify large scale illegal warfare causing tens of thousands of civilian innocent deaths in Iraq 2003 by columnists of de Standaard, but it is not within these boundaries of the same debate to defend the right of occupied peoples to resist illegal occupation. That newspaper might as well call itself “the double standard”.
But what is more disturbing to me is the fact that my right as a victim of Israeli violence --and of crimes against humanity because that is what ethnic cleansing is-- to have a hard stand against the regime that was responsible for the crimes that were committed against me, my family and my people, is not recognised.
It demands a lot from me to openly speak or write about this. I am aware of the vulnerability of showing the victimisation that is part of my heritage when it comes to the relationship to "Israel". This is not easy, even more so because Arabs are often accused of having a victim mentality, as if these experiences are unreal, or fabricated, and as if our memory is invented. But how can we have a debate on this without recognising the human aspect and the emotional aspect? How is it even moral to subtract this dimension from the whole equation?
Turning the debate into a pure political or judicial one is in this case not only reductionist, it is also an onslaught on our humanity and our collective memories as people who suffered and suffer under Israeli violence, occupation and oppression. Within this logic, my narrative, even when it falls under international law, is considered inferior to that of the oppressor and violator of international law. My solidarity with a people that is undergoing the same fate and the same wrath at the hand of the same oppressor, is not recognised in its human dimension and is reduced to some dogmatic predisposition or even racial stereotype.
I am not only banned from what de Standaard defines as "the boundaries of the debate". By claiming that I violated these boundaries, the newspaper is instigating a criminalisation of my stance, and portraying it as being rooted in a blind form of support of violence and even in racial hatred. I am being dismissed as being anti-Semitic, hence racist, like Marie-Cecile Royen claimed in Le Vif, while in reality I am defending resistance against a racist colonial occupation.
This is not neutrality, and it is not respectability, this is bluntly taking the side of the oppressor and disregarding my humanity and my legitimate right to both defend resistance under international law, and to express my subjectivity and emotions as a human being that has a memory and a valid life experience as a victim of violence, and not a perpetrator of violence. This is politically disputable, but above all, it is morally flawed, since it does not only dismiss me as an opinion maker, it also dismisses me as a human being.
At this time when dehumanising people who look like me is trending, and is building up a momentum towards a new historical drama, I cannot help but feel that the decision of de Standaard to end collaboration with me is linked to the same historical dynamic, and is therefore much more problematic and more dangerous than it seems.
(This is a weekly column written by Dyab Abou Jahjah, and powered by the common force of people)