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Arab American News: “Palestinian activist tours U.S., explains pain and suffering”

by Danielle Smith

For the past month, Palestinian activist Fida Qesta has toured the United States speaking about Nonviolent Resistance and the occupation of Palestine. After her stops in Detroit, Port Huron, Grand Ledge, Lansing and Ann Arbor, she will head to venues in New York. Her speaking tour in Michigan was sponsored by the Michigan Peace Team, a group affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Qesta said that she joined the International Solidarity Movement soon after she learned about the death of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year old American student who was killed on March 16, 2003. Rachel was murdered when an Israeli military bulldozer ran her over while she was trying to stop the demolition of a home in Rafah. Fida said that Rachel’s story meant a lot to the people of Rafah, to know that an American was risking their life for the Palestinian cause.

Qesta said, “I started working with ISM and then the Michigan Peace Team in Gaza. I was a Palestinian Coordinator in Rafah. It was a way I could share my experience with the world.”

Qesta’s family is one of the original tribes of Rafah. She is a Muslim woman of deep faith and prayer. She is courageous and full of hope. Presently she is a student of Languages at the Islamic University of Gaza.

In January of 2004, Israeli forces destroyed her family’s home, and they have remained homeless until this past February. Fida has served as an interpreter for MPT’s violence reduction teams in Rafah.

Qesta said, “My goal is to educate the American people about Palestine and explain what the reality truly is on the ground. I want to share the Palestinian experience with Americans.”

Two years ago Qesta was just trying to survive another day of the Israeli occupation, but the IDF was unrelenting.

In January of 2004 Qesta endured the tragic and senseless demolition of her home. Qesta wrote about it to her friends in the U.S. She said that writing helped her because she felt the truth was being told. She talked about January 2004. She said that the IDF came into Rafah again with fresh attacks. They demolished her neighbors’ homes. Tank tracks were everywhere and their loud engines screamed up and down the streets. A neighbor frantically ran to her house and told her family to leave now. Yet they couldn’t believe that their home would be demolished that night until the tanks rammed her home. Qesta ran out in her nightgown. Trying to keep up, her mom collapsed and just couldn’t get up again. She told Qesta to keep running and to leave her, but the Fida dragged her to a safer place.

In an interview with The Arab American News Qesta said, “The question I get the most is about Hamas being in power. The Palestinian people voted for Hamas and Hamas won the election. They were democratically chosen and that must be respected. The Palestinian Authority (P.A.) had corruption and they were not helping the people in need. They lost the people’s trust. The P.A. didn’t build houses for their people. We waited and waited and they just stole the money. People want an honest government and people believe Hamas will do good things. The American government needs to give Hamas a chance to show itself. They need to respect this democratic decision.

“Hamas’ slogan was ‘Rebuilding and Change,’ and I believe this was why they won. Now thousands of people are homeless and these families have no money or aid for any rebuilding. Since the beginning of 2004, my family had to move from house to house seven times. We had to rely on friends and family for shelter. I have two brothers, four sisters and my parents. It was hard because every house had new rules and it was never like your own home. People want help.

“America people can’t ignore the situation in Palestine. I think if they only knew what was really going on, they would help. Every year American taxpayers give Israel five billion dollars. And look at the poor Americans in this country. Your country needs this money more than Israel. The Israelis have money. The money just goes to weapons and causes more problems,” said Qesta.

Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Committee Against House Demolitions said, “House demolitions have become the hallmark of the Occupation. Indeed, since 1967 Israel has demolished almost 12,000 Palestinian homes, leaving some 70,000 without shelter and traumatized. The systematic demolition of Palestinian homes is an attack on an entire people, an attempt to make the Palestinians submit to a mini-state – or worse, an “autonomous” set of islands under Israeli control. We need to struggle against the Occupation so that both our peoples will eventually enjoy the fruits of a just peace. ”

Qesta has enjoyed her time in the USA and said, “This is my first time in the United States and I can’t believe how big it is. It is a huge country with beautiful trees and most of the people I’ve met have very big hearts. I think average Americans need to understand that they need to give Palestinians a chance.”

Michigan Peace Team (MPT) empowers people to engage in active nonviolent peacemaking. It has been the only NGO able to repeatedly gain entry to Rafah. MPT had several peace-team members in Rafah during the 2004 incursions that demolished more than 2,500 homes .