- 25 May 21
Karim Assaf currently lives in Jenin, Palestine with his maternal grandparents. The 21-year-old is studying for a Bachelor of Law at Birzeit University, working as an intern for the Law for Palestine organisation.
After finishing high school three years ago in Amman, Jordan, Karim decided to acquire a degree in Law from Birzeit University. Given his upbringing, it's unsurprising that he hopes to become heavily involved in the field of international law.
"It's of crucial importance when it comes to preventing humanitarian catastrophes. I strongly believe that law needs to be fully independent from political interests," Assaf tells Hot Press. His emotional and physical ties to Jordan, which remains home to an estimated three million Palestinian people.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has registered 2.2 million Palestinians - though the total number is assumed to be closer to the three million mark.
"I grew up in Jordan, and I lived there for 18 years," Karim says of Palestine's neighbour.
"I have strong connections with the Jordanians and their culture. I’ve never been discriminated against or seen as a foreigner throughout my life there. By nature, it's a hospitable and a friendly nation for everyone that sets foot on it - even tourists feel like they’re natives to Jordan."
Speaking to Karim as a law student and Palestinian, it's clear that universities are seen as a threat by Israeli Defence Forces and political leaders, who are aware that such sites breed activism.
How traumatic is it for you to speak about the experiences of Palestinian people?
The occupation has already wiped out all aspects of life in Palestine, as we suffer every day from discrimination, murder, theft of land and homes and apprehensions.
Travelling between cities in the West Bank is a menace, you could risk getting shot at by IDF personnel or settlers for simply driving on a road that leads to a settlement, even if you didn’t know. Military checkpoints and outposts increase the travelling time by triple. I’ve never been in a volatile situation while travelling in the West Bank before – thanks to God’s providence - but everyday I keep hearing about Palestinians being attacked, arrested, or killed while on the move.
Freedom of speech is a myth, we can’t express our opinions or protest something without being arrested or summoned for questioning. The IDF conducts administrative detentions 24/7. Students at my university are regularly arrested for joining political parties, organising symposiums, or even providing assistance to other students.
It is enough to look at the devastation that is happening in Gaza. I don’t know which is worse, the dreadful pictures and videos of corpses and body parts being pulled from stone rubbles, or people saying their farewells on social media before getting eliminated by airstrikes.
How different is the recent violence to the past three Israeli wars in Gaza?
The Israeli government passed a law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in 2018, implicitly defining Arabs as second-class citizens. The government has largely ignored festering problems in the Arab community, including longstanding discrimination and poverty. The situation gets even worse at the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip where Israel’s tone of atrocities has escalated in recent years.
Clashes with the IDF began in Jerusalem at the start of Ramadan, tensions continued to rise until it covered the entirety of historical Palestine. In addition, the current situation has acquired a tremendous amount of worldwide support and media coverage exceeding previous transgressions, because it was preceded with the forceful eviction of 28 families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem, which highlighted the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Gaza is not facing the occupation by itself this time, as all of the Palestinians in historical Palestine are enduring the occupation’s hostilities. The current conflict has united all Palestinians despite the restriction of movement imposed between them.
Are you aware of how the Western world conveys the narrative?
It’s a shame. The Western world deems us as savages and terrorists, while Israel receives all the justification for its atrocities against us. Western leaders often voice the occupation’s "right to self-defence", but absolutely shun the Palestinian right to live with dignity. In 2019, the USA provided $3.8 billion in foreign military aid to Israel. The latter also benefits from about $8 billion of loan guarantees. Almost all US aid to Israel is now in the form of military assistance that is being used to expand the Palestinian hardship.
Supporting Palestine and condemning Israel has become antisemitic to the Western world. The definition of antisemitism has been corrupted by the Israeli government to routinely justify its crimes. Calling Israel a settler colonial and apartheid state is not antisemitic, it's a fact. The crimes of states do not become excusable based on their self-identification as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists.
Most supporters of Israel thrive on generating paranoia, they believe in the sustained victimhood of Israel and will not hesitate to twist facts to claim that opposition to Israel's crimes does not stem from a place of empathy and concern for human rights, but from loathing of Jews themselves. This mindset is near-impossible to change; it's inflated by state propaganda that everyone in this world wants to kill them and the only way for them to survive is to maintain a degenerate ethnostate.
Are you aware of the Irish public's support for Palestine?
Knowing that at least one Western country is backing our cause is absolutely heartwarming. Successive Irish governments in have voiced their support to the Palestinian cause within Europe, especially the EU. In 1980, Ireland was the first EU member to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. It was also the last to allow Israel to open an embassy, in 1993. Irish NGOs continue to work actively to gather public support for Palestinian rights. Ireland represents one of the most organised and effective chapters of the international Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin once described the Irish policy of supporting Palestine as its acceptance of the PLO’s “right to destroy the Jewish state.” A totally blatant comment that only reflects the xenophobia grafted inside the Israeli mindset. The Palestinian cause is not Islamic or Arab, but rather a humanitarian issue that requires the support of all conscientious people in the world.
Irish solidarity gives us hope to continue our struggle against the occupation for our unalienable and just rights.
How do you think the West conveys Palestine's history, such as Al Nakba?
They know about the Nakba ("The Catastrophe"), they just pretend that it has never happened - no matter how many facts and sensible logic are presented.
Most of the West understands only what it wants to hear with no regard to the historical facts and accounts. They often praise Israel for being the only democratic nation in the Middle East, little do they know that occupation, abuse and marginalisation of Palestinians isn’t democracy, it’s apartheid in its ugliest form, and it saddens me to see people believing lies and forged narratives.
We’re humans. We need basic human rights such as living in prosperity, safety, dignity and having not to deal with evictions and settling, not to be stopped for searches conducted by IDF soldiers every few metres we walk. The Western media plays a huge role in this misinformation, consistently portraying Israel as the victim of Palestinian violence, and that it has the right to defend itself against the people it occupies.
The contradiction is present on the ground, there’s no need to research the whole topic, its enough to look at what we’re going through in order to realise that we’re being denied the simplest of human rights that are supposedly protected by international and humanitarian conventions.
What is your hope for the future of Gaza and Palestine?
To end the occupation. For Palestine to be entirely free from the systematic oppression. Our desire is to live normally and peacefully like the rest of the world, but the occupation doesn’t want us here. We’re trespassers to them.
Ireland can help by reminding the world of our cause and protesting Israel’s horrific crimes against Palestinians in all of historical Palestine and the diaspora.
Israeli goods must be boycotted. That is applicable by withdrawing support to Israel's apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights. Banks, local councils, pension funds, charities and universities must withdraw all investments from Israel.
World leaders are to be reminded of their legal and moral obligations to end Israeli apartheid and not aid its maintenance, by ending military trade and free-trade agreements. They can also impose sanctions and severe diplomatic ties with the occupation state, as it must be held accountable for all of its crimes against humanity in accordance with international laws and norms.
The Hot Press Palestinian Voices series aims to platform activists, campaigners, lawyers and members of the public with emotional ties to Gaza and Palestine. For more information on the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, visit ipsc.ie.
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