Saed Abu Hijeh, an intense Palestinian human geographer, poet, and radio host, greets us in his garden in Nablus, explaining that this is where is mother, well known peace activist Shaden Abdel Qader Al Saleh Abu-Hijleh, was assassinated by Israeli soldiers in 2002 while sitting on her veranda embroidering. His father Dr. Jamal Abdel Al Kareem Abu-Hijleh was also injured and Saed was hit with broken glass. He still keeps the fractured glass door taped, as if this tragedy happened yesterday, and a larger than life portrait of his mother is one of the few paintings in his living room. The case of his mother’s murder is now working its way through the Israeli court system. Saed says he was not granted a permit to go to court and now is in the ludicrous and maddening situation where he has to get a permit to get a permit to go to court to testify. She bled to death in his arms.
Educated in Iowa Universities, Saed teaches at Al-Najah National University in Nablus and is the founder of the Center for Global Consciousness. Our delegation and several university students sit in a circle in his bare living room and he begins to talk. The siege of Nablus lasted eight years with repeated Israeli incursions and Palestinian resistance, but now things are calmer, “the economic peace of Netanyahu.” I have heard this from others; if the noose is loosened a bit, the checkpoints within the West Bank are relaxed, the economy improves just enough, then Palestinians will not complain about everything else and there will be less talk of resistance. This is sustained by cooperation between the PA and the US (General Dayton training PA security in Jordan) and the financing of the security system. There are now 60,000 people working in all kinds of security, policing, intelligence, etc, and “they are fed and happy” while Jewish settlers continue to attack Palestinians with impunity. He points to the Jewish settlements of Bracha and Yitzhar and the villages of Iraq Borin, Awarta and Agraba as examples of continued settler violence.
With a burning intensity he explains that this cannot continue; 62 years of ethnic cleansing have led to both an “apartheid state” and a “settler colonial state.” When he examines what to do, he reviews the unsatisfactory results of both armed struggle and negotiations, and believes that boycott, divestment, and sanctions are the only options left. He is clearly angered that “Israel feels above the law,” the US constantly appeases the Israeli government, Obama “couldn’t stop a single house in a settlement…we are massacred by American weapons, we need to pressure the US.” He also notes that the European Union has done nothing to stop Israel from sabotaging the two state solution. He now sees the goal of this struggle as a democratic, secular state. Saed has been politically active since he joined student demonstrations against the occupation at the age of ten. He stops to show us his wounds; in 1982 at the age of 15 he was seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers when they opened fire on a student demonstration in Nablus. He lifts his shirt to reveal a large abdominal scar.
His students are passionate and articulate as well, schooled in the isolated and violent world of Nablus after the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, stimulated and outraged by the massacre in Gaza, and committed to the BDS struggle as their form of resistance. In 2007 they started to develop a free zone on campus, with removal of Israeli products, and they have been working on educating their peers. Like student activists in the US, they complain of the apathy of their fellow students, who just want to study and graduate. They are unaffiliated with any political party. Although they are now able to travel more freely within the West Bank, they still fear daily continued attacks and arrests. They note that some factories in settlements have moved within the border of ’48 Israel to avoid the boycott. Their goal is encourage a boycott of all Israeli products whenever there is an alternative.
Saed takes us on a walk through Nablus which includes a cemetery near the old campus of the university, crowded with graves, including Saed’s mother and many friends and relatives. Since 2000, 1/5 of the Palestinians who have died are from Nablus. The old city is pock marked with bullet holes and evidence of tank activity and tributes to the deaths of “martyrs.” He personally has witnessed five targeted assassinations, including cars being blown up in front of him. He used to love walking in the hills of Nablus, but for years he has been afraid he will be shot. He is deeply committed to the memory of his mother, whose name in Arabic means, “a young gazelle that is now strong enough to walk independently next to her mother.”
We have dinner together where he reflects on his political passion, his desire to slow down and find a wife and a normal life, and the burning injustices that he continually confronts. His only release is prayer and I notice he is constantly rubbing his prayer beads. He also compulsively feeds us, stopping for sweet hot slabs of kenafe, sesame cookies, and then giving us all prayer beads as well. Like many Palestinian men, he has been jailed five times, “whipped by the only democracy” in the Middle East; his analysis is both smart and blunt, “I am here to save the Jews from Israel.” The distinction is critical for him.
Over the years I have heard Palestinian civil society activists like Saed, many having experienced tremendous personal trauma and loss, deeply committed to nonviolent resistance. Repeatedly I hear a general consensus that the two state solution is no longer possible. The actions of the Israeli government have created a Greater Israel with enclaves of Palestinian cities and villages, “full-fledged apartheid.” In addition, the steady growth of the settlements and the brutality of the occupation have earned Israel the dubious distinction of a “settler colonial state.” It is time to open our eyes to these painful realities and urgently join forces with activists who are committed to nonviolence.