Shahd Abusalama is a young artist from Gaza, who’s been attending for two years the blog in English language Palestine from My Eyes, in which she alternates her drawings and articles, on the daily life in the Gaza strip, closed since 2007 by the siege imposed by the Israeli occupation. We talk via Skype in a Saturday afternoon, after she gets through her university exams.
The subtitle of your blog is “peaceful resistance in the form of drawing and writings from Gaza, Palestine”. Can you explain it?
I believe that both my articles and drawings are part of a very powerful form of resistance, because they are a way to spread awareness on Palestine, emphasizing the human dimension of the Palestinian cause. My articles are different from a journalistic style, that usually consider lives as merely statistics and ends in dehumanizing Palestinians. Instead, there is a human story behind every person, that deserves attention and to be listened. I try to tell it through my eyes, for example when I meet a former prisoner who tell me his story, or families telling me what they suffered, the restrictions imposed by Israeli jail to increase their oppression and deny any basic human right guaranteed by the law and the international agreements. With my articles I try to make one feel the feelings of a mother whose son is in prison and she cannot visit him for at least ten, twenty or twenty-five years and the daily sufferings inside the jails of the Israeli apartheid.
Why did you choose the English language for your blog?
The use of English is a weapon to spread awareness in the international community and is a means to fight the ignorance that is on Palestinian cause. I believe that there is the need of more awareness in the world to fight the injustice in Palestine, this could make shorter our way to justice, as it happened in South Africa. The black would have not defeated the apartheid regime without an international pressure that was put in practice for example in the boycott campaign. As Martin Luther King said: “Injustice, everywhere it happens, is a threat for justice in every place”. Martin Luther King is an icon inspiring anyone who stands up and face injustice, as that who suffered the blacks in America, so these persons might support Palestinian people fighting and help them, because they are nothing but humans who wants their rights, to live in freedom, security, peace and equality. These are our rights.
Israeli occupation and the siege on Gaza hit every aspect of the everyday life, can you describe us the consequences particularly on creative and artistic activities?
Occupation and siege hit the population in every aspect of life, in the education, health, infrastructures. From the closing imposed since 2007 more than 450 patients died for not receiving adequate treatments outside Gaza, we often have in the hospitals shortage of medical resources, particularly during the attacks.
Education and cultural life are hit, for example is very difficult for students to participate in cultural exchange programs, artists in Gaza does not have the opportunity to participate in international exhibitions and programs. Israel is making of Gaza a ghetto separated from the rest of the world. Just yesterday I was reading an incredible story about a student from Gaza who did not have the permit to reach the Czech Republic after he had win a scholarship for a master, an incredible but typical story for every student from Gaza who try to go abroad. There is no airport in Gaza, the only ever built in Palestine worked for just two years then it was demolished by the Israeli occupation forces in 2002 and we remained with just two ways out from Gaza: the Erez crossing, controlled by Israel, but is almost impossible to pass through it unless you have a special coordination from the American embassy, and the Rafah crossing, but also here there are many difficulties, you have to ask for coordination to the embassies and sometimes to obtain it you have to pay an incredible amount of money. All these injustice are collective punishments inflicted on the population and, as United Nations reports said, inhuman.
Is there an active cultural life in Gaza, are there galleries, bookshops, music halls?
Sure, there are many books available in Gaza, but obviously they are very expensive because of the siege. Why is it not permitted to the young to participate in cultural exchange programs? This would help so much to be open-minded, to know more about other cultures, to have more freedom. Here we have many artists, you can not imagine how many we have, why they can not show their works and let them be known abroad? They can just, sometimes, take part in conferences via Skype or make videos with their works. Palestinian young people and artists are trying to challenge the siege with the internet, the social media, because we want to know, we are people who love life, we want to communicate with other people in many forms. My blog too is a way to challenge the siege: I can hardly travel and go abroad, personally showing my works about Palestine, but I can do it with the internet, through my blog I can break the siege and show the injustices we suffer on a daily basis.
Many of the subjects of your drawings are children, looking directly in the eyes the observer. Do you think children are an effective way to express what you see?
Children are a symbol of innocence and they also are the most hard hit in Palestine, the most suffering in this situation of fear, insecurity, terror. Then, children represent for me the continuity of the struggle and so a reason of hope, for the continuing of the research for justice, freedom, security. To draw children is a way to emphasize how, despite the generation of Nakba is slowly dying, the struggle of Palestinians does not finish. Children are those who will continue the fight, as we all do, on the basis of our national principles such as the right of return, my grandmother is died without seeing realized her dream of return, but maybe I will, and if I won’t succeed in this, maybe my children will. It is a struggle that will never end, until justice will prevail.
A post on your blog that really affected me was more of a personal post, about your birthday, and you ended it with the wish to celebrate it, next year, in a free Palestine. So it is a hope that goes on, despite all?
In our lives, my life, there is plenty of hope. This is what feeds my motivations, what pushes me to go on, to keep fighting to overcome all the difficult situations, without hope we could not go on.
You made two intense portraits of Vittorio Arrigoni, one of which is in the video clip of the hip-hop band from Gaza Darg Team, in the song Onadekom, dedicated to him. What did represent Vittorio for Palestinian people and for Gaza in particular?
Vittorio was the human, a real human being for us, a fighter who was ready to sacrifice his life for other persons who were very far from his country and to fight for their life, their rights of freedom, justice, dignity, he was a symbol of courage, very honest. He had faith in our claim for justice and he showed it in many ways, going with the farmers in the buffer zones. Israeli soldiers shot every time, but he insisted to go there to defend the right of the farmers to work on their lands, to give them an international support, even if with the killing of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, in the past years, everyone knows that when soldiers shot they do not distinguish an international from a Palestinian. When he went with the farmers he knew that maybe he could never come back, but he did not stop doing it because he had hope, and he thought that by going with them there it would have been less dangerous for all. when he accompanied the fishermen, who are not allowed to fish beyond three miles in our sea, he knew that Israeli soldiers could shot or arrest him, but he had faith and he was ready to sacrifice his life for what he believed in. If there would be more people like Vittorio maybe we would live in a better world.
Once you wrote on your blog that you can not separate your personal life from the political life, because all your life is political. Can you explain it?
Every aspect of our personal life is connected with our struggle and our sufferings because of the occupation. A family that stay together for dinner for example is forced to talk very often of something connected with the occupation, with Palestine, maybe they do it in the darkness because of the shortage of electricity, the continuous blackouts are one of the main consequences of the siege. There were also many accidents caused by generators, or fires caused by candles, lighted because there is no electricity. We do every day campaigns, also by the social media, recently on the prisoners on hunger strike, we go every week in a tent in front of the Red Cross, where is a sit-in of solidarity with prisoners. It is not possible to separate personal life from political life. As a student sometimes I have to travel and every time is a torment, for the situation in which we find ourselves in every time at Rafah border, with coordination and all the rest. We laugh at the fact that we do not breath air, we breath politics. Politics and struggle are the main aspects of our lives.
translation in collaboration with Emanuele Boccianti