Blogbox | Activism

Voices in Solidarity with Palestine from Prishtina

By - 15.03.2024

We understand the consequences of silence, so we refuse to remain silent. 

It was the middle of October. I was enjoying the first day of my week off, while also brainstorming issues to cover when I returned to my job as a journalist. My thoughts were filled with a flurry of ideas that simultaneously created anxiety and extinguished it. So, the usual.

The flow of the day was disrupted by the news that a war had begun in Gaza.

It was scary. It is scary whenever war is mentioned, no matter where it is, in which part of the world, in the Middle East or in the borders of your country. War anywhere in the world becomes more frightening in a context like ours. Our growth has been marked by stories about the war we experienced and perhaps also by the impossibility of properly facing what happened.

On that ordinary day, which did not remain as such, the thought of what could happen next was even more frightening. I could only imagine, as in any war, those who would suffer first and most would be innocent civilians.

Days passed. It happened exactly as I had thought. In fact, it didn’t require thinking long and hard. It was enough just to know a bit about the decades of oppression, murder, forced displacement, brutal violence, persecution, segregation and apartheid that the State of Israel has perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is enough to know that Gaza, for almost 20 years now, has been considered an “open air prison” where the Israeli state keeps two million people trapped in an area of 365 square kilometers. To put this into context, Kosovo, which also has a population of about two million, is a total of 10,887 square kilometers.

Perhaps many people cannot even imagine this.

The days went by. October ended alongside the increasing inhumanity that the Palestinian people were experiencing and the world continued as usual. My dedication to investigating events in Kosovo as a journalist and my commitment to activism continued as well. The subjects I covered ranged from the inhabitants of a village in Kamenica dealing with mining, to the unfair socio-economic reality that Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian citizens face to the women in Kosovo who daily face the risk of femicide

There is an elderly woman who, in order to survive, sits on a broken chair, in the cold and sells handicrafts in the Green Market. Every day she inhales the harsh smell of garbage that surrounds her workplace. It takes more than one person to push that garbage away. It takes many hands to start removing a pile of problems. We cannot face the challenges that lie ahead of us alone. It takes many hands to push away another’s pain and in recognition of that, we stand in solidarity. 

While reading “The Gaza Monologues” at a Palestine solidarity meeting, I learned more about the resilience of Palestinian women. Throughout the years of oppression, they would dress in their best clothes, so they would be well dressed if death found them. It was hard to keep my serenity in this moment. I’m talking about the mental balance between anxiety and passion that is needed to engage in activism. This balance is needed when pains are weighed against each other, which in essence, can sound cruel.

An elderly woman who sells goods surrounded by garbage deserves to have her problems heard. But in my head, what was happening to the civilians in Palestine outweighed everything else I was dealing with here in Kosovo.

This got me thinking about my place in the world. And then, in a less abstract way, about my position, not only as a journalist, but as an activist in a small country like Kosovo. Here, the weight of others’ pain matters very little in the scales of those who are responsible to find solutions.

I thought about what could have happened here as well. It was a likely fear that prompted the 1999 military intervention in Kosovo, an intervention that occurred while massacres were still happening and some had already happened. A fear that was justified by what had already happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. In Kosovo, the intervention happened because of an example, a precedent, because of a “Never Again” that came only after the murder of thousands of civilians in Srebrenica, in the eyes of the world.

In these circumstances, I thought how, while the echo of “Never Again” may have faded, it does not justify our silence. In fact, it should make our voice even louder and more determined. Solidarity keeps hope alive. Palestinians need the hope of freedom today more than ever. As of March 2024, the Israeli state has killed over 30,000 people so far, fading Palestinians’ hopes every day.

A quiet voice is better than silence

On October 27, 2023, a few days after the start of the war in Gaza, in an effort not to align with oppression, a group of activists gathered at the Termokiss social center in Prishtina to prepare for the first march in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The atmosphere was dim. Everyone shared information about what they had seen on social media. “5,000 people killed, half of them children,” said one activist. “Did you see the pictures of a mother carrying the body parts of her children in a bag?” asked another. As we painted another banner, we knew that maybe we couldn’t make a difference. Nevertheless, we didn’t lack solidarity.

We thought to ourselves, but also to each other, that it seemed as if we were doing nothing and how we wouldn’t be able to change anything. But, on the other hand, it seemed to us that even doing something had become obligatory. For many of us, the connection between what is happening in Palestine and the memories of the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, whether firsthand or narrated by others, strengthened this sense of duty.

So, on October 28, 2023, the first march was held. People took to the streets. They called for the freedom of the Palestinian people. While some could barely hold back their tears, others had already started crying.

The march was over. On social media, some suggested that it was a group of religious extremists who had protested for Palestine — a state that has not recognized Kosovo. It was an attempt to delegitimize the solidarity for the innocent lives that were being lost, by geopolitical framing or by labeling the marchers as an “extremist group.”

But the march, like our solidarity, was deliberate. There were people standing up against oppression — based on sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, race and any other identity marker. It was an attempt to stand up against oppression everywhere, just as people all over the world do when they find themselves in front of state structures that are still calculating whether it is better for them to remain silent or to talk.

After the first march, as Gaza continued to be invaded, we continued to gather.

Despite the gloomy situation, faced with a small number of participants and online comments trying to diminish the importance of our effort, there were moments of pride. One of these moments was hanging the Palestinian flag on the Grand Hotel in the center of Prishtina, alongside that of Ukraine, which has fought a large-scale Russian invasion for two years now.

Activists sewed a flag reading “Free Palestine” and hung it on November 12, 2023, two weeks after the first march. This was the date on which Kosovo’s men’s football team played Israel in Prishtina in a Euro 2024 qualifying match.

On that day, strict security measures and a sense of control could be felt everywhere in the capital.

The Kosovo Police hastily removed the Palestinian flag as part of the order they were trying to impose that day and the Ukrainian flag was once again left to hang alone. They acted like they didn’t want anyone to know it was there in the first place. However, the flag hung long enough to spark hope in me — this flag, which the police were trying to deny us, was hung in Prishtina. It hung in the center of a country far away geographically, but with people who were trying to be close to the Palestinian people.

The flag’s disappearance did not destroy our determination.

Palestinian songs and poems followed and candles were lit to remember more than 13,000 Palestinian victims by November 6, 2023.

I was among ten or fifteen other people. About two million others, many of whom have experienced firsthand the danger that comes from remaining silent in the face of war, did not come out to protest.

Then, on November 16, another march followed in Prishtina’s main square. Then, on the 21st, the movie “Gaza Fights for Freedom,” directed by Abby Martin, was shown. This film shows footage of the Great March of Return, where Palestinians protested demanding the return of millions of refugees to their villages and towns which today are within Israel’s borders. The protesters also demanded an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In those demonstrations, around 200 Palestinian protesters were killed and thousands were injured. For the screening of the movie, the activists translated the subtitles into Albanian.

On February 15, 2024, I took the streets again to stand in solidarity with Palestine. It was the third or fourth time. I was among ten or fifteen other people. About two million others, many of whom have experienced firsthand the danger that comes from remaining silent in the face of war, did not come out to protest.

The solidarity events continued, but the number of participants decreased, as did the number of people that joined us marching on the streets. The thought that we would not be able to change anything still preoccupied our minds. Yet, we did not stop.

The number of people does not determine the importance of the cause — if it was like that, the protests against femicide, against racism, against homophobia, would end.

What is more worrying is my country’s attitude, which, purposely or not, trivializes my activism by hastily removing the Palestinian flag so that nobody could see it and installing unusually strict security measures for a football match, all the while being passive, if not completely silent in the face of what is happening in Gaza today.

The human capacity to feel empathy is limited. It is impossible, even physically, to feel for every person who feels pain in the universe. Perhaps to many, the voices from Kosovo seem inaudible in Gaza. Perhaps for some, Gaza is overshadowed by other priorities on their scale of problems. Perhaps, some are simply indifferent.

But there is a glimmer of hope that some will come out when they see others coming out on the streets. There is a glimmer of hope that this voice, which in the big and powerful world may seem worthless, will reach somewhere, will become a source of hope for someone. Herein lies the work of activism. Sometimes doing political activism requires you to stand for the right even in solitude, or in the company of few people. It requires you to speak, even if only your voice echoes back.

That voice could be heard somewhere. That voice will be heard somewhere.

Feature Image: Collage by Atdhe Mulla with photos from Anita Nikaj / K2.0

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