‘Existence is resistance’ is a slogan that you often hear about Palestine. It sounds catchy, but what does it actually mean? Since 1948, the Israeli project has effectively been to remove Palestinians from their homeland and create an Israeli-Jewish majority – often spoken about in Israeli politics today, with their concern for ensuring the ‘demographic majority’. The project is to erase Palestinians and their existence from the land.
In November 1947 violence broke out, with Israeli militias removing Palestinian families from their homes at gunpoint all over the country. When some refused to leave, such as in Deir Yassin, they were massacred. By May 1948 the Israelis felt they had made enough progress in expelling Palestinians that they made an official declaration of independence for their new State of Israel. In response, as a symbolic gesture surrounding Arab countries ‘invaded’ the new Israeli state, supposedly in order to protect their fellow Arab Palestinians. Their ‘invasion’ was a charade, with some of their armies, such as the Jordanian, specifically instructed not to fight. Only the Iraqi Legion actually fought, hence Palestinians around Nazareth and Umm-al Fahm – where the Iraqi Legion were deployed – were not removed from their homes. Elsewhere, all over Palestine, most Palestinians had been removed. As a result, the state of Israel, with its Jewish democratic majority, had been successfully created.
This was, however, not enough for Israel. Roughly a third of the country still had a Palestinian demographic majority – areas known as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As stated, the Israeli project is to remove Palestinians in order to create a Jewish demographic majority around the whole of Palestine – or what’s considered ‘Israel’. Israeli politicians always considered the Palestinian-majority areas of Gaza and the West Bank as territories that one day would belong to Israel, and within them, have a Jewish demographic majority. This is why today, for example, the West Bank is referred to as Judea and Samaria within Israel, why maps of the country in Israel do not show the borders of the West Bank, etc.
So the Palestinian majority areas of Gaza and the West Bank were always under threat. Whilst Israel had successfully removed nearly a million Palestinians in 1947-48, Gaza was left under Egyptian control and the West Bank under Jordanian control. However, after the complete Israeli victory in the Six Day War (1967), these areas were occupied by Israel.
Under Israeli occupation, the settlements started. ‘Settlements’ are Jewish-exclusive Israeli colonies built on land confiscated from Palestinians. Palestinians are removed from their homes, which are usually demolished, and the vacated land is used for a new Israeli colony. The Israeli government creates all kinds of incentives for Jewish Israelis to move to the settlements around the West Bank: settlers are exempted from paying tax, have all their utility bills paid for, and have ample space to build large houses (compared to say, the cramped conditions of Israeli cities like Tel Aviv). Since 2005 Israel has actually withdrawn its settlements from Gaza, but this only accelerated settlement building over the West Bank. The settlement building is effectively a continuation of what started in 1947-48. Again, the Palestinians are removed from their homes and replaced by Jewish Israelis. The difference between the settlement project and the war of 1947-48 is only a difference of style; the latter was violent and fast, whilst the settlements are a slow and gradual process of removal.
This is what ‘existence is resistance’ means: for Palestinians to just exist, to live, is itself resistance to the Israeli project which seeks to remove them from where they live, to remove their existence.
The settlement process, to create a Jewish demographic majority, is perhaps most aggressive in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is considered the key prize in Israel, with Israeli politicians often talking about how important it is for a ‘united’ Jerusalem, under full Israeli control, to be the country’s capital. Naturally this means removing the Jerusalemite Palestinians from the city they’ve lived in for thousands of years. Palestinians in Jerusalem thus live under constant threat from removal, of housing demolitions, of eviction notices, and of course, violence from the Israeli security forces.
It’s in this context that the ‘Burj Al-LuqLuq Centre’ operates. It is a kind of social centre where Palestinians can go and play sports, use computers, and do arts and crafts, among other things. It mostly caters to children, who after school, instead of just going home, can go and play football or learn karate. This might not sound spectacular, as these are fairly basic activities that people in Britain can do with ease in their everyday lives. However, in the context of living under siege, where you are under constant threat of removal, being able to use space in Jerusalem to just do things like play football or join a ceramics class really means something. It asserts a Palestinian presence within the space. Jerusalemite space is constantly contested, with Israelis seeking to control the space, to remove Palestinians from the spaces they live. So the Burj Al-LuqLuq gives Palestinians a space to occupy, to play football and make art; to live just like anyone else
There are limits to the centre of course. Many Palestinians don’t feel fully comfortable there, as it’s still on occupied land; it’s under siege and that has an obvious effect on people’s ability to feel comfortable there. The other issue that comes from the centre being under siege is that what it can do is limited. The centre’s coordinator told us that if they were going to talk about the occupation in Jerusalem, the Israelis would come and shut down the centre in two hours. If they were to declare their support for a political party, the Israelis would come and shut down the centre in ten seconds.
But even seemingly non-political actions are punished. As explained, the very existence of the centre, in occupied Jerusalem, is an act of resistance. Palestinian children playing football, occupying space in occupied Jerusalem, is an act of resistance. It is political. And as a result it is punished: three months ago, the centre’s football coach was arrested and imprisoned in administrative detention. (this is the legal loophole Israel uses to imprison Palestinians without trial and for an indeterminate period of time). It is not known when he will be released – it could be a matter of weeks, months, or even years. Of course, occupation of physical space is itself an issue in Jerusalem, so the Israelis recently came to the centre’s small greenhouse and slapped a demolition order on it, because it is supposedly a domicile, and Palestinians of course are not allowed to freely build domiciles in Jerusalem. The building is just a small greenhouse, but this issue is indicative of the whole dynamics at work, and the punitive nature of the Occupation as a whole.
In this context, the centre is a site of bravery and resistance, and should be celebrated.