Majd, you have recently taken on the role of Coordinator of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC). This has not only raised your profile in Palestine/Israel, but also internationally so we’d like to get to know you.
I understand that you’re from Palestine ’48, is that right?
Yes, I am categorized legally as a Palestinian citizen of Israel. In fact, when I usually share with people where I am from – the Triangle region – I get one of two responses; either people have no idea where that is, or people only know the stereotypes of my community: violent, tribal and conservative. As a matter of fact, my close friends usually tease me about being quadruple marginalized as a Palestinian from ’48 disconnected from the wider Palestinian struggle, as an Arab living in the troubled Triangle, as a resident of Qalansuwa, and as a member of a small peasant family.
On the other hand, my mother is from an esteemed family from Nablus, and due to the nature of my parents relationship and professions, they met and established their lives in East Jerusalem where I was born and raised in my early life.
What were the early influences in your life and how did they shape you?
Like many Palestinian families, mine placed immense value in our pursuit of education. As such, I was placed in a private Christian school, being the only option next to the public education system. There, I understood the true meaning of identity diversification as the school attracted students from different social strata’s, multiple nationalities, and different religions.
However, in my personal experience the world was chaotic. The day Ariel Sharon went to the Al-Aqsa Mosque sparking the Second Intifada, I was there. On the one hand, I had family members from the West Bank going to trial and receiving multiple life sentences for their political involvement and acts of resistance during the Intifada. On the other hand, I was losing cousins to organized criminal activity in the Triangle. And to top it all off, our house in East Jerusalem was exactly in the area where the apartheid wall separates parts of Jerusalem to the West Bank. Therefore, our neighbourhood was a military target, so me and my family were confronted, stopped, and frisked regularly by the IDF and the police. I joined my friends as we relentlessly expressed our dissent to oppression, and this led to multiple violent interactions with the military forces.
In this the setting, my school as a formal institution leaned strongly towards ‘normalizing’ a ‘mad’ reality and we were encouraged to ignore what was happening in the streets. As a youngster, I didn’t find a platform to help me understand all these intricacies and complexities. For a long time, I was unable to translate my feelings of rage, frustration, anger, and dissent, and I was made to believe that they were all destructive. Much of this changed when I went to university.
How did you find yourself studying at Bard College, New York?
At the age of 15, I was ‘academically adopted’ by a former mentor of mine, who flew me to London to finish my secondary education. While there I was exposed to some activist groups and I came to understand how large the world is. I was then offered a scholarship at Bard College, where I received an honours degree in International Law and Human Rights. I was extremely fortunate to be enrolled in this program, as it was the first professional setting that allowed me to understand my complexities, and formulate my ideas using concrete language. I was also fortunate enough to be accepted to the international program at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po). This experience allowed me to strengthen my international activism. I was involved in organizing some political events including the Russell Tribunal, Paris.
Was that where your studies ended?
Through my studies, I became enthralled with the South African struggle against
apartheid, and I wanted to understand the connection to the Palestinian struggle. I was accepted to work as a researcher for the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC), a South African think tank based in Johannesburg. It focused on producing and disseminating political research on the Middle East to the South African Government and the public. In my capacity there, I covered the war on Gaza 2014, and I was able to complete my research study of comparing the pillars of the liberation struggle in South Africa and Palestine. While there I had the opportunity to be exposed to many initiatives and activists and I discovered a growing desire to return to Palestine to work in the Triangle, with one goal in mind: organize the community and the youth and initiate political, social and cultural events.
Tell us more about what life is like in the Triangle. We don’t hear very much about it in our news.
In general, Palestinian towns in ‘48 and but especially within the Triangle, suffer from serious social, political, economic and communal failures. The Triangle is known as a hub of organized crime in Israel; in the last year alone, 93 Palestinians have been murdered through Arab on Arab crime with numbers continuing to rise. Civil society is nearly non-existent in the Triangle and where it does exist, initiatives tend to be poorly managed, ineffective, and unsustainable.
I became a prominent member of the Committee against House Demolitions in Qalansuwa, and I established the Qalansuwa Youth Movement (AL Hirak Al Shababi). This was to respond to the immediate threats facing the town, namely Israel’s policies of house demolitions. Our collective actions included organizing mass protests and demonstrations for Land Day, against criminal activity, for a cleaner environment and other social issues. Our most recognizable event was a 10,000 people strong march in 2017 and organizing the biggest ‘car march’ from the north to Jerusalem. And then I was recommended to lead Tishreen where I worked for 3 years.
Yes, I’ve heard of Tishreen Alternative Space which is in Taybe. So, you became the General Director?
Yes, and my aim at Tishreen was to shape Palestinian society in the Triangle that would be characterized by social solidarity and unity that is sensitive to and concerned with social issues. This was done through mobilizing citizens to become agents of change.
I focused on creating spaces for young activists to formulate their own voice and be empowered to bring it to the centre of public concern. One of the strongest tools I found was cultural expression. I believe it is imperative to inspire and promote Palestinian artistic expression which is a tool for stimulating public dialogue on topics that are currently considered taboo. Arts - representational, communicative, and descriptive - are not only autonomous to the social, political, and economic realms but are also a form of asserting identity within any discourse.
My experience in organizing was also significantly solidified through my participation in a course for political education with the MST (Landless Workers Movement) in Brazil. This experience not only gave me concrete and theoretical knowledge but allowed me to analyse and situate the Palestinian struggle within the global imperialist context.
Can you summarize the situation for Palestinian youth? Again, we hear little about them and we need to know more.
In all parts of Palestine, youth – our nations real asset - are marginalized and lack real and tangible opportunities. This spans from poor educational infrastructure, to lack of resources to pursue educational ambitions, to lack of employment opportunities, to dire living conditions etc. More so, today's youth are also very much polarized from political activity, mainly because none of the political frameworks that exist offers a discourse that speaks to the youth, let alone provides them the chance to participate and take an active and leading role in shaping our collective reality. In addition, generational trauma of political blackmailing has meant that many Palestinian families encourage their children not to participate in political activity. Coupled with today’s significant emphasis on neoliberal policy, many Palestinian youths are convinced that they should pursue an individualist and a-political lifestyle – an illusion that further adds to the disintegration of the Palestinian collective. I make no distinction between individual success and social responsibility.
Nevertheless, in the last 10 years, political Palestinian youth have demonstrated their competency and resilience multiple times; namely in facing the Prawer Plan in the Negev and organizing the March of Return in Gaza, among others. Many of them are yearning for an alternative political setting in which they can contribute and develop; a project that they are partners in designing and pursuing for a brighter future.
So, was that desire behind what attracted you to your involvement in the One Democratic State Campaign?
Like many other Palestinians, particularly youth, none of the existing political formations represents me or my political aspirations, both inside and outside of the Green Line. The reason being their normalization to the status quo, legitimizing Zionism and accepting the partition of Palestine. I don’t believe that the Palestinian struggle is a “conflict” between two nations, nor is it a struggle for geographical borders, or economic compensation. It is a struggle for justice, a struggle for decolonization, a struggle for liberation and emancipation. As such, the only progressive, humane, and political ideology that translates my aspirations is the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC).
I believe that we cannot continue to expect different results if we employ the same old strategies. Therefore, it comes naturally to me that a political vision which suggests we return to the original problem - in our case of settler-colonialism which has created a situation of apartheid - and proposes a real and tangible solution, is the only way forward. My interest in the ODSC is also inspired by its inclusiveness of Palestinians and Israelis alike, and more importantly, positions itself as a progressive alternative ideology not only in Palestine but the region as a whole. There is something refreshing and exhilarating about the prospect of influencing a grassroots reformulation of our struggle with the potential to ultimately change the existing situation.
How are young Palestinians responding to the call for one state and has the Israeli government’s desire to formally annex great swathes of the Area C affected added urgency to the call for one state?
Almost all Palestinians today feel that we are at a political threshold, with many impatiently anticipating a new variable to change the equation. The so-called “deal of the century” made concrete by the Israeli government’s move to annex much of the West Bank has done nothing but accelerate people’s hope for an alternative. It did indeed add urgency to our call, and we in the coordination committee of ODSC are currently developing concrete action plans to move forward with our project. We want to establish ourselves effectively as the “go to” project for Palestinians and radical/liberal Israelis alike.
Good luck, Majd, and thanks! We want to stand with you in this, lending our support to ODSC and as you say the liberation of all peoples in that area.
The Triangle region is a concentration of Palestinian towns and villages within the state of Israel adjacent to the Green Line. It includes Kafr Qara, Ar’ara, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Umm al Fahm, Qalansuwa, Taybe, Kafr Qasim, Tira, Kafr Bara and Aquila.