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'Desperate for Rights, Freedom and Dignity'

02/12/2015 10:20 GMT | Updated 30/11/2016 10:12 GMT

To mark the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, I interviewed Sohaib Zahda from the Hebron nonviolent activist group Youth Against Settlements. EAPPI stands in solidarity with all Palestinians and Israelis working nonviolently to bring about a just end to the occupation.

Tell me about yourself

My name is Sohaib Zahda. I was born in the city of Hebron, or al Khalil, as my people call it. I am a member of Youth Against Settlements, a grassroots organisation made up of 50 members in Hebron. We are a nonviolent group of activists which works to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. We document human rights violations, organise campaigns to raise awareness of the situation for Palestinians here, and provide young people with new skills - such as media engagement - which will give them something to live for.

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Sohaib Zahda of Youth Against Settlements [Photo:YAS]

Has your family always lived in Hebron?

My family has lived here for many generations, and we have a history of nonviolent activism. During the riots of 1929 when Palestinian Muslims attacked the Jews of Hebron, my grandfather hid his Jewish neighbours in his home, protecting them from the massacre.

What is it like now for young people living in occupied Palestine?

Since the days of my grandfather, Palestine has changed. We are a young society. 35% of us are between 15 and 30 years of age, and another 40% are under 14. This new generation lives a life deprived of the one thing they most desire: dignity. They are a generation born after the first intifada [in 1987], a nonviolent resistance movement, to which Israel responded by enacting severe policies to subdue Palestine, policies that continue to this day. They have witnessed the confiscation of land, the ongoing mass construction of Israeli settlements, and the suppression of Palestine during the second intifada (2000-2005). With each of these, they feel their freedom--and their dignity--further compromised.

What is the general opinion of the ruling authorities in occupied Palestine?

The Israeli authorities failed to consider the toll this policy of persecution would take on their own civilians. The Palestinian security services in Gaza and the West Bank aid Israel in oppressing us: from raiding the houses of activists resisting the occupation and living in areas under Palestinian Authority (PA) control, to arresting and torturing Palestinian activists. The PA's coordination with the Israeli authorities has undermined the trust between the PA and the Palestinian people and has failed to uphold the dignity of our people.

Are young people involved in politics?

It is impossible not to be involved in politics. The Palestinian youth are a new Palestinian generation, one which carries inside it the bitterness of ongoing history. But it's not only Israel who has betrayed them. The PA failed to invest in the future of the Palestinian youth, failed to create a development strategy to improve the lives of the next generation. The PA implemented programmes in public schools and universities that inhibit the ambitions and culture of the youth causing the creation of a new Palestinian disconnected from their sense of self.

The Palestinian youth lives with no dignity in the present, and no hope for their future. This generation has a new language, new mannerisms, new rules of conduct, new ways to connect and communicate. In their despair, with nothing to live for, they find their only expression to be initiating and inventing the new knifeo-phobia (fear of knives). By instilling the fear of a knifing, they fight back as a reactive revenge for all that they have endured during their lifetime.

I do not support the murder of any civilians. But we must understand the source of the new knifeo-phobia. It is a reaction against the occupation, an attempt to give an unforgettable lesson to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, delivered by a youth desperate for rights, freedom, and dignity, with nothing to live for.

With all that you have said, how have you and YAS been able to continue your nonviolent activism?

We have coordinated nonviolent activities. For example, two weeks ago we had a peaceful demonstration at the checkpoint between H1 [the Palestinian-controlled area of Hebron] and H2 [the Israeli-controlled area] where thousands of people were holding flags and banners and chanting. There was no violence at all from the Palestinians, but the Israeli army responded with teargas and sound-bombs. They fight peaceful demonstrations with violence. Nonviolent activism for the end of the occupation is essential. It's about finding something to live for.

This article was originally published on the EAPPI UK & Ireland website at www.eyewitnessblogs.com.

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