FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Gaza, Stonewall: Izzy Mustafa on Why People Rise Up

Photo courtesy of Izzy Mustafa.

Every Friday since March 30, 2018, in what’s known as the Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza come to the Israeli border fence to protest nearly twelve years of a blockade that has made Gaza into what’s often called the world’s largest open-air prison. They also come to invoke UN Resolution 194, their right to return in peace to their homes, from which they were expelled in 1948 when Israel was created. Last year alone, some 189 Palestinians – including children, journalists, and the disabled – were killed at the border, most by Israeli live ammunition; 23,000 have been injured. One year later, the protests continue. Why?

Izzy Mustafa is a Palestinian-American trans man who grew up in New Mexico and moved to New York, where he works at the Adalah Justice Project. Two years ago, I interviewed Izzy about Islam and Gay Pride. Recently, I interviewed him about the Great March. I started by asking him what he’s been doing lately.

IM:   I’ve been going back and forth between here and Palestine. I was in touch with folks in Gaza. It’s as if my mind’s been in both Gaza and New York City. When the Great March began, I reached out to journalists, bringing pictures, stories to push out onto social media, to help lay the context of what the Great March of Return is about.

SD:   What is the Great March about?

IM:   For the first time in decades, Palestinian civil society has come together in this mass mobilization to demand their human rights. Because the circumstances in Gaza are dire. Gaza is one of the most impoverished places in the world. Since 2007, people are not allowed to move in or out of Gaza freely. They’re limited to only four hours a day of electricity. In Gaza, 95% of the water is unclean and unfit for drinking. People know that they need to bring their demands to the world because nobody is listening.

The banner everyone walks under is the banner of freedom and justice and return. Men, women, children, grandparents, students, teachers – you have bricklayers, shop owners, every segment of Palestinian society in that March. Because everybody is impacted by this horrific siege.

SD:   How has this affected you personally?

IM:   On April 6 of last year, a week after the first Gaza mobilization, I helped organize a protest in Union Square to let people in New York City know what was happening in Gaza. Hundreds of people came out. It was a very emotionally driven protest.

I asked Palestinians from Gaza to tell their stories. One of them was a really good friend. She was a journalist herself when she was in Gaza two years ago. We were on the train to the protest and both of us were on WhatsApp. Right before the Union Square stop, we got this message about a journalist in Gaza we were working with. It said he was shot in the stomach by Israeli snipers. He was being rushed to the hospital.

I told her, “He’ll be OK. He had a Press vest on.”

We got to the protest, and she started to speak. She said something like, “My friend Yaser Murtaja is currently in the hospital. He was shot. He was wearing a Press vest. He’s somebody who’s dedicated to bringing the story of Gaza to the world.”

As she was speaking, a man from Gaza came up to me and said, “Yaser is dead.” And my heart dropped.

Then I had to go up to speak. My friend had gone into the crowd and as I was speaking I was looking for her, because I knew she was going to find out the news. Three minutes into me speaking, I see my friend rush toward me. She grabs me with tears in her eyes. “They killed Yaser. Yaser is dead.”

Yaser Murtaja was like a brother to her; she grew up with him. He died at 31, without ever leaving Gaza. He made a film about her family – it’s going to be screened here in April. But in that moment, I made a commitment to help amplify the voices from the ground in Gaza to U.S. audiences.

SD:   A few years ago, a UN report said that by 2020 Gaza would be unlivable.

IM:   Gaza is already unlivable. You have rising death rates from starvation, poverty, from not being able to go to a decent hospital, suicides because people can’t find jobs. People are putting their bodies in front of these snipers because they know they have nothing to lose. What’s the last step in creating an unlivable situation? It’s the breaking down of a population’s social fabric. Soon, because there’s so much anger and desperation and lack of power, Israel is going to watch Palestinians in the Gaza Strip cannibalize themselves.

SD:   You’ve worked with Ahmed Abu Artema, a poet and journalist in Gaza, who was one of the organizers of the Great March. He believes in “peaceful resistance”?

IM:   Ahmed Abu Artema is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. Yeah, he helped make the Great March essentially peaceful. Just by being Palestinian, people mark us as terrorists, mark us as violent people, as savages, barbaric. Palestinians knew that, in order to appeal to the international community, they had to march in a peaceful way for the world to see us as somewhat human.

SD:   What about differences between Palestinians who support Hamas as opposed to other groups?

IM:   I think most of the population, whether on the West Bank or in Gaza, are becoming jaded with political parties and leadership that claim to represent Palestinians. Fatah and Hamas aren’t the legitimate leaders of our people. They create this media idea that it’s an equal playing field, that the occupier and the occupied are equal because there are two governments. But there’s really one legal regime – Israel, which controls everybody. Any uprising has to come from the grassroots, has to come from the most vulnerable, the most marginalized. Palestinian refugees in Gaza are that.

SD:   Do you see new political groups forming now?

IM:   I think it’s more like a change of spirit. What’s great is you can be Palestinian and be in an organization that works on queer rights. Actually, we should be working toward other struggles – other forms of liberation, as well as our own. That’s how you build communities. You work with other people who might not understand your background but do understand oppression; understand we’re all in this life together. Whether you’re an indigenous queer woman from the Navajo Nation or a Palestinian queer in Palestine…

SD:   If there was one thing you could say to the U.S. queer community, what would that be?

IM:   We’re all human. If you see my humanity as a trans person, you should also be able to see my humanity as a Palestinian. And, as a queer person in the U.S., you should understand the importance of mass mobilization. The tradition of Pride comes from Stonewall, when people rose up. In Gaza people are rising up. So we must stand with each other; stand for liberation for everybody. Gaza isa ticking time bomb and if we don’t do something now, in my opinion, we have failed all humanity.

© Susie Day, 2019.

References

Gay City News Izzy Mustafa interview, 2017.

UN Resolution 194, Right of Return (“refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…”):

23 to 8, UN rights council adopts report accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza.

189 Palestinians in Gaza killed.

23,000 injured “U.N. Finds Israel Intentionally Shot Children, Journalists & the Disabled During Gaza Protests

Union Square, April 6, 2018 protest.

Yaser Murtaja:

https://theintercept.com/2018/04/09/gaza-protest-yaser-murtaja-journalist-israel-palestine/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/07/hundreds-funeral-palestinian-journalist-gaza

https://wearenotnumbers.org/home/Story/Yasser_Murtaja_becomes_hero_for_Gaza_journalists_under_fire

Murtaja film screening, April 6, NYC:

Between Two Crossings: A Film by Yasser Murtaja (US Premiere)

2015 United Nations report Gaza Unlivable in Five Years.

Ahmed Abu Artema:

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/stop-funding-israel-gazas-ahmed-abu-artema-tells-new-yorkers

Abu Artema Speaking in NYC March 14, 2019:

https://peoplesforum.org/event/how-a-vision-sparked-a-movement-the-great-march-of-return-with-ahmed-abu-artema-interviewed-by-amy-goodman/

EXTRAS.

Commemoration of one-year anniversary of Great March:

https://www.facebook.com/events/302727097056500/?ti=icl

Israel Starts Building Massive Fence on Gaza Border:

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/feb/3/israel-builds-gaza-strip-border-fence/

UN condemns Israel:

https://www.democracynow.org/2019/3/19/headlines/un_condemns_israel_for_use_of_lethal_force_on_gaza_protesters

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 12, 2019
Nino Pagliccia
Bolivia and Venezuela: Two Countries, But Same Hybrid War
Patrick Cockburn
How Iran Back Forces Are Taking Over Iraq
Jonathan Cook
Israel is Silencing the Last Voices Trying to Stop Abuses Against Palestinians
Jim Kavanagh
Trump’s Syrian See-Saw: From Pullout to Pillage
Susan Babbitt
Fidel, Three Years Later
Dean Baker
A Bold Plan to Strengthen and Improve Social Security is What America Needs
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Trump’s Crime Against Humanity
Victor Grossman
The Wall and General Pyrrhus
Yoko Liriano
De Facto Martial Law in the Philippines
Ana Paula Vargas – Vijay Prashad
Lula is Free: Can Socialism Be Restored?
Thomas Knapp
Explainer: No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights
Wim Laven
Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?
Colin Todhunter
Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer
Binoy Kampmark
Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later
Akio Tanaka
Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica
Nyla Ali Khan
Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque
Yves Engler
Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President
November 11, 2019
Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider
Class War Violence: Centralia 1919
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
“Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits
Peter Linebaugh
The Worm in the Apple
Joseph Natoli
In the Looming Shadow of Civil War
Robert Fisk
How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces”
Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership
Naomi Oreskes
The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All
Fred Gardner
Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission
Howard Lisnoff
The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance
Nino Pagliccia
The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections
Kim C. Domenico
To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal
Marc Levy
Veterans’ Day: Four Poems
Weekend Edition
November 08, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution
Sarah Shenker
My Friend Was Murdered for Trying to Save the Amazon
Rob Urie
Left is the New Right, or Why Marx Matters
Andrew Levine
What Rises to the Level of Impeachability?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Enter Sondland
Matthew Hoh
And the Armies That Remained Suffer’d: Veterans, Moral Injury and Suicide
Kirkpatrick Sale
2020: The Incipient Bet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Growing Ecological Civilization in China
Conn Hallinan
Middle East: a Complex Re-alignment
Robert Hunziker
Ignoring Climate Catastrophes
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Repatriate the Children of the Jihad
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Neoliberalism’s Children Rise Up to Demand Justice in Chile and the World
John McMurtry
From Canada’s Election to Public Action: Beyond the Moral Tumor of Alberta Tar-Sands
Pete Dolack
Pacifica’s WBAI Back on the Air But Fight for Non-Corporate Radio Continues
Steven Krichbaum
Eating the Amazon
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail