I am an Israeli anti-zionist peace activist. Ahmed Abu Artema and I met on different sides of the fence that besieges the Gaza Strip and have been friends ever since. A few weeks ago, we were drafting an opinion piece together. I was preparing to send him my draft when I received news that Israeli warplanes had shelled his home in Rafah in southern Gaza. I panicked and called his phone. It was off.
Ahmed is a Palestinian poet and a journalist. In 2018, he posted a poem on social media:
“I looked up at the birds in the sky, flying through the trees on both sides of the barbed wire fence without being stopped. ‘Why do we complicate simple matters? Is it not the right of people to move freely like birds as they wish?’ What is simpler than this? The birds decide to fly, so they fly.”
In his post, Ahmed asked: What would happen if hundreds of thousands of Palestinians walked peacefully and crossed the fence that separates them from the lands that they had been expelled from in 1948? Ahmed believed nonviolent popular action could help his people regain their rights and free themselves from the world’s largest open-air prison.
Our group of anti-Zionist Israelis would go as close as we could to Gaza to welcome the refugees home. But we were only able to wave at our friends from a distance or speak over the phone. The fence that separated us also separated the Palestinian protesters from their basic rights, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Resolution 194.
The question that Ahmed posed in his post was soon answered: the unarmed protesters were branded as “terrorists” and were met with sniper bullets. The world watched as 214 Palestinians, including children, journalists, medics, and protestors with disabilities, were killed and over 36,100 wounded. UN agencies and human rights organizations reported and denounced this, but nothing was done to stop the killing. No arrest warrants were issued for the killers and those who gave the orders.
In response to the slaughter of demonstrators, Ahmed explained, “Our will for life is stronger than despair. We struggle to live…Palestinians continue to protest every week because we have no other choice, but to escape towards life.”
In Ahmed’s last voice message to me before his house was bombed, he wanted our article to remind people that the history of this genocide did not begin on October 7, but in 1948 — that the world ignored the suffering of Palestinians and only paid attention when it affected Israelis. He said that this is a political, not a military problem, rooted in deep injustice and oppression suffered by Palestinians. He wanted to cite Smotrich’s Plan, an Israeli strategy to effectively complete the expulsion of Palestinians that began with the 1948 Nakba.
The day after Ahmed’s house was targeted, I got an automated message that his mobile phone had been turned on. This meant he was alive! But I soon learned that though Ahmed suffered second-degree burns and was in stable condition, the Israeli Occupation Forces had killed his 12-year-old son Abdullah, his 9-year-old niece Jude, his stepmother, and two of his aunts.
After this, I didn’t hear from Ahmed for a while. At times, I didn’t know if he — or any of my friends in Gaza, for that matter — were alive. Another mutual friend of ours, Khalil Abu Yehye, was killed, together with his wife, two daughters, mother, and brother; their entire family, like so many others, is now entirely wiped out.
Nowadays in Israel, all it takes to be fired, arrested, charged with “supporting terrorism,” and deported is to express sorrow and pain over the killing of children over the bombing of Gaza or expressing any dissent and refusing to be complicit in this genocide. Palestinians with Israeli IDs and in the West Bank are arrested and experience far worse. In the Gaza Strip, a journalist, activist, or influencer accused of “supporting Hamas” may expect to be targeted, like Ahmed was, and have their family destroyed by a missile from an Israeli warplane. Thousands of bodies are still trapped under the rubble in Gaza, but according to current data, we know that at least 68 Palestinian journalists have been killed in the airstrikes since October 7, many of them in their homes with their families.
When I managed to talk to Ahmed again, he sent me a recording for people outside of Gaza, in which he said:
“It is very clear now that Israel is working to displace the Palestinians from their land…Why has Israel killed so far 5500 Palestinian children? Simply because Israel has impunity and will not face accountability. Because Israel is completely backed by the U.S. administration and Western governments. We are not only under Israeli attack only. We are under Israeli and American attacks. We cannot face this horrible Israeli and American genocide campaign alone.
This is the call of all the Palestinian families. The call of thousands of Palestinian children who were killed, including my son Abdullah. Our call is to all free people across the world. Please stop this genocide…stand on the right side of history. Stand with the oppressed and say loudly, ‘No to regimes which are based on ethnic cleansing and massacres’.”
Gaza is being silenced. We must continue to amplify their voices and demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire, unhindered access to aid, and an agreement for the release of all the Israeli hostages and all the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. These are dark times, but we cannot afford to give in to despair. We must follow the example of Palestinians and, in Ahmed’s words, “escape towards life.”