A week after I flew out of Palestine, Gaza is under attack.
By Sunday evening, 44 deaths were reported by Palestinian health authorities, 15 of which were children. More than 300 Palestinians were wounded over three days of onslaught where 1100 projectiles were fired from the Gaza strip. Homes were demolished, family businesses were destroyed, sons and daughters perished. And yet, for the fortnight that I was in Palestine working with a human rights NGO, according to Israeli law, it was me who was the ‘terrorist’.
In October of 2021, the Israeli state labeled six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist operations. This designation enables the Israeli state to limit the function of these organizations by suffocating funding and charging staff with terrorist offenses. One of these organizations is Al-Haq, established in 1979 to “document violations of individual and collective rights of Palestinians in the OPT. . . to end such breaches by way of advocacy before national and international mechanisms.”
I joined Al-Haq as a volunteer during my stay in the West Bank, getting a firsthand glance into the realities of Palestinian existence under occupation, the nuances of navigating such an uncertain context, and the frustration of operating under arbitrary legal and political systems.
On August 7 in the midst of the Gaza strike, 1,700 far-right Israeli settlers broke into the sacred Al Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of occupation forces. But, when I stepped foot in Ben Gurion Airport, I was held aside for three hours for having a Muslim name and being born in a Muslim country.
Hospitals in Gaza are struggling to run generators due to fuel import restrictions imposed by Israel, limiting their ability to tend to wounded Palestinians. But, I was committing an offense by working for an NGO advocating for access to humanitarian supplies and allowing critically ill patients to access treatments outside of the war zone.
Hours after the ceasefire was negotiated, Israeli occupation forces demolished the homes of two Palestinian prisoners and nine Bedouin community structures. But, when I went to observe an Israeli quarry mining Palestinian resources on annexed land in Salfit, I was ushered off Palestinian territory by the armed Israeli military.
Because I was a ‘terrorist’.
My two weeks in Palestine were a diluted encapsulation of the daily lived realities of Palestinians. While I was afforded respect due to my foreign passport and as a ‘terrorist’ only by association, Palestinian citizens live under constant villainization by Israel to enforce a securitized regime that allows the occupying state to authorize extreme actions under the guise of ensuring safety.
Since former President George W. Bush’s notorious “War on Terror”, the label of terrorism has come to carry enormous weight. When invoked, it warrants all forms of intervention and international support. But it’s time we evaluate what actions qualify as terrorism and who is a terrorist.
According to the 2016 Counter–Terrorism Law that the Israeli state used to justify its designation of the six Palestinian NGOs, a terrorist act includes a criminal offense, a nationalistic motive, the intent to provoke fear, and causes serious harm.
The Israeli tirade in Gaza over the past few days checks all of the above in my books.
– Shireen Faisal is an undergraduate student studying Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. A prospective international human rights lawyer, Shireen is passionate about international dispute resolution and humanitarianism. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle