Women like Samantha have been key to the resistance for Palestine in Britain

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to support ­resistance in Palestine—and to condemn Israel’s brutality. Young Muslim women not only make up one the biggest forces on these demonstrations, they are also often leading them.

They are furious at the horrors in Palestine. But they are also enraged by the West’s Islamophobic portrayal of Palestinians and those who resist alongside them. Protests from Glasgow to London, and many points between, have become places in which Muslim women can show they power—and face down the racist and sexist stereotypes so often used to deride them. 

Imaan and Cedrah are both students at the University of Leicester. Frustrated that no one on campus had organised protests in solidarity with Palestine, they decided to do it themselves. “This was our first time organising a protest,” said Imman. “We had posted on the group chat for our university’s Islamic Society (Isoc) and asked if anyone agreed with calling for a protest for Palestine.

“About 20 people liked the post, but no one said anything else. Then we were walking to class and saw a woman wearing a keffiyeh scarf at a bus stop. We were wearing one as well, so we started talking. She convinced us to organise a protest. 

“We got the Islamic society involved, we got the Socialist Workers Student Society involved and invited other societies.” Cedrah added, “We postered around the city centre and around De Montfort University. We spoke to people about what is going on in Palestine. We constantly pestered people to share it on social media.”

Around 500 people turned up to protest last Wednesday. Imman said it was the time to take a stand. “Since I was a child, I’ve been attending protests, but what is happening in Palestine is making me want to organise them. It’s made me want to do more.” 

Both Imman and Cedrah said they were angry about the right wing media’s attempts to demonise Palestinians. But they added that many young people are learning about Palestine through social media. “Social media is a completely different experience than the mainstream media,” Imaan added.

“People on TikTok and platforms are trying to expose the truth of what’s going on, and a lot of young people are listening.” Both women also hate the racist ideas pushed by the media and politicians about Muslim women. 

“They like to say we’re oppressed. But me and my friends are active, we speak out, we’re at the protests,” said Imman. Cedrah added, “We already had the courage to speak out before the protest. We’ve made some allies now, and we both agreed organising the demonstration was character-building. We will be organising another one.” 

‘Standing up in protest will make people listen’

Jana and Areej are school students from London. Both helped to steward a vigil in central London following the massacre of over 500 Palestinians at the al Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza last Tuesday. 

Jana, who is Palestinian, said she needed to use her voice because those in Palestine and other Arab countries aren’t given one. “I have family in the West Bank, cousins that work in Tel Aviv and family near Gaza. It’s always been personal for me,” she said. “But even if I wasn’t Palestinian, as a Muslim, as a human being, it would have been important to me.”

Areej added, “It’s so important to raise awareness because the media isn’t showing the reality of what is happening in Palestine. As humans we have to do this. “It’s our responsibility to get the message out there. You hear conversations about Palestine at school, and some people are quite lost.”

Jana explained that more people standing up and speaking out can encourage more to join in. “When people like students stand up and protest, more people will begin to think, ‘Why are they doing this? What’s really going on? That will help them to want to know the truth about what’s happening in Palestine.”

Jana also raged against the media’s selective coverage of Israel’s brutal regime. “The only reason why there is so much media coverage is because Israel got attacked,” she said. Areej added, “It’s been happening for the past 75 years. The only time Palestinians want to fight back, that’s when they want to put this in the media.”

Both women firmly stated that what’s happening in Palestine isn’t a fight between Muslims and Jews.  “Everyone is so quick to say that Muslims are in the wrong,” said Jana. “But Palestinians aren’t only Muslims. They are Christians and Jews as well.

“Jewish people come to protests, and they fight alongside us. It’s Zionism that’s the problem. This fight has never just been about religion. It has always been political.”

The government wants us to keep our eyes and mouth closed’

Rania is a Palestinian journalist originally from Gaza now living in Britain. Since arriving in Britain, Rania has been subjected to Islamophobia, sexism and intimidation for showing support for her homeland. “When I first came to Britain, I was sitting on a seat on the train. A woman started shouting at me because she didn’t have one,” Rania explained.

“I didn’t speak much English then, but I knew she was attacking me because I was wearing a hijab. She kept saying, ‘Go back to where you came from’. I remember thinking in my head that British people like you took my land from me. Britain took the dignity and the very souls away from me and my family when it signed away Palestine to the Zionists.

“It seems like the least you can do is give me a seat.” Rania said that the Palestinian uprising in 2021 was a difficult time for her. “I was seeking asylum and lived in a very bad hotel. We weren’t allowed to bring our own food in, and the conditions were awful. 

“At the same time, I was watching Israel trying to destroy Gaza. I never imagined the problems I would face in Britain. I never thought I would be treated with such hatred and racism, and so I thought I’d rather be back in Gaza—I’d rather die with my family back home.” 

In the last week, Rania has been intimidated and scrutinised by those who wanted her to stay silent about Palestine. “I was asked to speak to students at a college about my career as a journalist around a month ago. I was then emailed by a manager. She said someone had complained about something I posted on Facebook about Gaza. But she wouldn’t say who had an issue with it.” 

Rania said the university took back its invitation for her to speak. “I questioned it, and said they were happy for me to speak, but not about what is happening in Gaza now. “To that I said I would turn up with my Palestinian flag, my Palestinian dress and a map.

“They also told me I wasn’t allowed to show pictures of some of my journalist friends who Israel had killed because it might scare the students. They even told me that I should try and make a big thing about how I had issues with Hamas. I did have issues with Hamas when I was back in Gaza, but Hamas is not my enemy. Israel is my enemy.”

In the end Rania was allowed to speak to the students. “They agreed with me about Palestine. I knew the teachers were watching everything I said.” Rania added that incidents like this have happened repeatedly to her since she arrived in Britain. 

“The government wants us to keep our mouths and eyes shut,” she said. “I got a call from a friend who told me that I shouldn’t post anything about Gaza or I could be barred from getting citizenship. I have struggled in this country. I’ve been so alone and far from home. But I will keep speaking out and telling the truth about what’s happening in my homeland.”

‘We must keep fighting—and be clear about why’

Samantha is the chair of the Redbridge Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a member of the NEU education union. Samantha began fighting for Palestine after taking part in the movement against apartheid in South Africa.

“We have a small but passionate group in Redbridge. We have organised great protests against brands, including Puma and Barclays, that support the Israeli state.” Samantha added that years of fighting for Palestine have made her confident in her arguments. She said that she isn’t easily intimidated by those who want to stop her from speaking out. 

“The charge of antisemitism has made people fearful of speaking out, but I think that’s where we need to have our arguments together,” Samantha explained. “Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two very different things. But you need to be able to explain that to know where Zionism comes from and why Israel is a racist state.”

Samantha said that she has already noticed the Tories and media are targeting young Muslim women who speak out for Palestine. She says as a result activists must continue to protest and keep up the pressure. “It wasn’t easy growing up in the 1980s as an Asian girl,” she said.

“I experienced racism daily, and as a Muslim woman, especially if you wear a scarf, there is always fear. After the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 I was doing my shopping in Ilford and a white British man came up and called me a murderer.  

“This all goes along with what women experience every day. We are always expected to be mindful of ourselves and to make the right decisions to keep ourselves safe. But it hasn’t stopped me fighting. And it shouldn’t stop anyone else fighting either.”

Samantha says young people “have a duty” to fight for Palestine. “They also have a duty to tell the truth about Palestine. I went to Palestine last year, and one thing that shocked me was when I went to Jaffa Port in Israel. It’s a beautiful historic port with 5,000 years of history. 

“In that history the word Palestine is never mentioned in any signs or tourist information. It’s a complete erasure. That’s what the Israeli state has already tried to do. We must keep fighting but also make the right arguments about why we are fighting.” 

Some names have been changed

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