- Interview by
- Harrison Stetler
In September, renowned Palestinian activist Mariam Abudaqa arrived in France for a speaking tour. She’d come to speak as a feminist organizer — and was even invited to the National Assembly by left-wing party La France Insoumise. But Abudaqa quickly became embroiled in France’s debate over Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, and the crisis in Gaza caused by Israel’s retaliation. On October 9, the parliament’s president blocked the move to have her speak at the National Assembly. One week later, seventy-two-year-old Abudaqa was arrested at Marseille’s Saint Charles train station — and ordered to remain under house arrest until her eventual expulsion from France.
Amid the French state’s general clampdown on Palestine solidarity, the interior ministry justified Abudaqa’s expulsion on the grounds of her membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group included on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations. The order also claimed that Abudaqa’s presence was of “a nature that will stoke tensions, hatred and violence between communities and cause serious problems for public order” and was dangerous given “the growing terrorist threat in France.”
Yet, last Friday, an administrative judge threw out the order for Abudaqa’s expulsion, ruling that “the interior ministry has seriously, and in a manifestly illegal way, infringed on [her] freedom of expression and movement.” In Gaza, Abudaqa is a leading feminist and Palestine liberation advocate. She spoke about the crisis in Gaza with Jacobin’s Harrison Stetler. Dana Katkhoda translated from the Arabic.
You’ve been in France since the onset of this latest crisis. As someone who’s so engaged with Gazans and in the Palestine liberation movement, what has it been like to watch this unfold from so far away?
First off, I’m glad to be able to convey the voices of my family and loved ones in Gaza. But I feel so powerless to watch all this slaughter on TV. I get calls from people back home and I feel great pain. I have been burning from the inside: I cannot sleep and cannot eat. It is so hard when a human being loses what matters to them most: their family, their parents, their home.
What is happening now is a crime. But it’s not a normal crime — it’s one that cannot be fathomed. It is above what anyone can imagine.
That is why the world needs to wake up. What is happening now are crimes against humanity. There is no way that a human being can see what they are seeing now in Gaza and accept it. There is no way they can be silent in the face of these crimes, or be neutral, or side with the oppressor. Our people are oppressed and have been for seventy-five years — massacred, expelled, blockaded. But we are still standing — because we have the right to justice. Because this is our land.
Have you been able to stay in contact with family, friends, and comrades back home?
I am in contact with them, but because there is no internet or electricity, I just write to them and wait till they respond. Thirty-one members of my family have been martyred. Yesterday [Tuesday, October 24] four more were martyred. My brother called me yesterday and told me that our homes are all in rubble. My own home has been destroyed.
I am in contact all the time because otherwise I would die! It helps to just hear one word from them. My contacts in the West Bank have been telling me that there is a support movement for my case in France. On top of all the pain that they are experiencing, they are worried about me!
Every minute there is something happening, and I want to make sure that they are okay. We do not know what is going to happen. But I try to stay in contact, read the names of the martyrs and their pictures from Palestinian news outlets, and my heart aches.
Your expulsion from France was thankfully suspended by a judge, but can you describe your experience from your initial arrest and detention on October 16?
The France that I came to was a place that I had read a lot about — a great country, with freedoms including the freedom of speech and the freedom to have different opinions. Unfortunately, and without any reason, I was not allowed to speak my truth and they put me under house arrest.
But is it possible for me to not voice my opinion as my country is being burned to ashes? Is it possible that while my family is dying, I not speak about it?
The reasons they gave are not valid. They said I belong to a terrorist organization called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. We are not against Jews, or Christians or Muslims. We are against the occupation, and therefore what happened to me is bizarre.
I’ve been to many other countries, and I never saw this kind of treatment. I am a feminist and I fight for women’s rights. People in the West speak incessantly about women’s rights and children’s rights, but I guess that just doesn’t apply for us Palestinians. They canceled my visa, and thankfully when I got a lawyer, I won the case.
A person should be able to express their opinion and speak the truth. The truth is not something to be afraid of. The fact is that even if you do not agree with someone’s opinion, you still need to listen to them. This is what is meant by pluralism: that human beings are able to express their opinions regardless of what they are. And with all the experiences I’ve had in my life, I know that I will stay resilient because I am Palestinian. One day, the truth will rise, and those who spoke the truth will have won.
Israel is trying to sell its bombardment, siege, and expected ground invasion of Gaza as a war with Hamas. Figures in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have spoken of the desire to end Hamas’s rule and “change the equation” in Gaza. What does this really mean?
This is all lies. We can see the images coming from Gaza, and yet much of the world prefers to stay blind. Palestinian resistance is not about Hamas. Palestinian people have been living under seventy-five years of occupation, violence, and dehumanization. The world has promised us that it is our right to exist on this land, and they acknowledge us. We have embassies all around the world, yet we are an occupied state.
What are they waiting for us to do? To give up and hand over the flag? For Israel to keep murdering us and for us to keep watching them do it? This is not right. Hamas is part of the Palestinian people, but not all Palestinian people are part of Hamas. Look at the people dying in the West Bank — in Nablus and Jenin or under the blockade of Gaza. All our people are living the agony of occupation, poverty, unemployment, and siege.
The conflict has been going on for how many days now? Hospitals have been bombed and are no longer working. They’ve destroyed Muslim and Christian places of worship. They’ve destroyed schools and shelters. All of that has to do with Hamas? Is Hamas a hospital? Or a church?
In seventy-five years, what has international law done for us? The whole world sees that what is going on is unjust, that international law applies elsewhere in the world but not in Palestine. There is no meaning to international law if this is allowed to happen in Gaza. When thousands of Palestinians are getting murdered with white phosphorus and under thousands of bombs, they still tell you that we’re the terrorists.
Who are the terrorists? Is it the occupier or those that are being occupied? If they want peace, then the problem in Palestine must be resolved in accordance with international law. We do not want anything except our freedom. We aren’t against anyone. We are not the terrorists. We are a people who want their freedom and sovereignty.
While there has been an outpouring of solidarity for Gazans from populations across the Middle East and beyond, governments in Europe and the United States are not calling for a cease-fire. Instead, they’ve given the green light to Netanyahu’s punitive war. What do people in the West not understand about this crisis?
While I think that the great majority is behind us, [Western] governments have different objectives. Zionism comes from Europe, let’s not forget. Whoever wants to feign neutrality, call for a two-state solution, and then stand by the occupying forces is really taking a side. They are complicit in these war crimes. The silence of the international community is what has made the occupation stronger.
Therefore, we are not surprised. The truth is coming out though. The attack on Gaza is shattering the status quo. The world sees what “solving” the Palestinian problem means to Western governments: erasing it. But our people will keep holding on. What is happening to us is being exposed. We do not need them to send us money or aid in exchange for being murdered and the violence against us. We want our freedom, and we want what international law says is our right.
Gaza is still standing. Why? Because what is happening in Gaza is the truth. This truth, no matter how much time passes, will stay our truth. Our victory is not only for Gaza, but the whole of Palestine, and to all the free people of the world. The danger of fascism affects us all and we want to protect the world from that. We do not aim to harm anyone, yet we do not want a fake peace.
There is a genocide happening to the Palestinian people. Those who know of the horrors of the past should not be the ones committing these horrors against us. There will come a day when they will wake up to the catastrophe that they have created.
You came to France to speak with activists about your work as a feminist and activist back in Palestine. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, what do people in Gaza most need from the solidarity movement abroad?
Political support and exposing the truth — these are the two most important things. What we need isn’t so much about humanitarian aid, but political. We need support from the youth, labor, and feminist movements — for them to mobilize for the sake of their counterparts in Gaza. We’ll need a campaign to rebuild Gaza and legal and human rights support for the prisoners in the occupation.
We need every possible voice to support us — whether from the art world, or the worlds of sports, business, and politics. When our people know that they have support from abroad, they do not feel that they are fighting alone. I would say every voice is important. We need people to come and see and document what is happening: to expose the lies that are being told by the occupation.