Science under Occupation
By Mahmoud A., Ali A., and Jenen H.
With the ongoing atrocities in Palestine and the heavy personal and professional challenges confronting us, we share our experiences both as Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, and as medical students at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, Cuba. Despite the illegal US blockade on Cuba, ELAM has for sixty years educated and trained doctors across the world to serve humanity. We are grateful to be calling in from ELAM.
Here, we present the many ways science and scientists are connected to the Palestinian struggle. What is it like to do clinical and basic research under occupation? What is the relationship between scientific research and militarism? We hope to begin the discussion on the connections of science to the ongoing oppression and the struggle for liberation in Palestine.
We thank Science for the People for inviting us. Below is the edited transcript of the hybrid event on November 25, 2023.
The Israeli occupation built its alleged state on the land of Palestine 75 years ago. Since the beginning of Jewish immigration to Palestine until today, European and American countries have always supported the Israeli occupation. The support here is through weapons first, and technology that empowers, and research and development second. The Israeli occupation state has become the most developed country in the Middle East in terms of military industry, cybersecurity, and medical technology. But this civilizational overlay has a very dark side. As history tells us, the colonizer cannot live and prosper without being at the expense of colonized people. Here of course I am referring to the Palestinian people.
I was born into a family that had long been known for its love of education. My grandfather was born in 1916 at the end of World War 1. He witnessed British colonialism, participated in the war against British colonialism, and completed his education in schools that had been in place since the period of Ottoman and then British rule. As for his children, they all participated in defending Palestine in the first and second Intifada and completed their education in universities of Palestine and Jordan. Then we, the third generation after colonialism and the second after the occupation, came in a period when this cancer matured in our country and began to control every inch of it. I find myself along with all my relatives, family, and friends as fifth class citizens. We cannot protect or ask for protection for our homes from a 20-year-old settler coming from a Western European or African family. Then, as my ancestors taught me, our knowledge is the first weapon and the only way to life. I completed my education and chose medicine as a specialty. Like the rest of my classmates, I was chosen for a medical scholarship at the Latin American University of Medicine, which constitutes one of the few opportunities for outstanding students from Palestine to complete their studies abroad. On the university campus we were providing knowledge, safety, and most importantly, a little freedom, which I have never experienced under the occupation in Palestine.
Being a human is all you need to be a supporter of Palestine.
Let’s talk a little about Israel’s use of technology as a weapon against the Palestinian people. To make this easier, I will divide it into three categories.
First, what the occupation prevents Palestinians from obtaining. Palestinians are prohibited from using any new technology without the permission of the occupation authorities, as they control all of Palestine’s borders including airports (after the occupation destroyed all the airports that existed before 1946), railway lines (that connected Medina in Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian city of Tulkarm, extending to Lebanon), and maritime borders (except Gaza, which has instead been under a land and sea blockade since 2006). Palestinians are prevented from importing 4G and 5G mobile networks, as the only provider is an Israeli intermediary that forces them to use Israeli networks. Palestinians are prohibited from boycotting Israeli goods or inciting against them. We are prohibited from giving the call to prayer in our mosques. We are prohibited from importing anything that a 20-year-old Israeli custom agent feels would threaten the Zionist state, which most of the times becomes a weapon to prevent Palestinians from working, such as banning paper printing machines, metal printing machines, and 3D printing machines.
Israel places high taxes on all imports from outside the Occupied Territory, cutting the Palestinian Authority’s share, and increasing the prices of goods in the market. As we are forced to depend on Israeli products, living in Palestine, for example in the city of Ramallah, has become one of the most expensive in the Middle East.
This total control of technology also encircles the Palestinians digitally through all social media platforms, through economic relations with companies such as Meta, Microsoft, and Google, which provide Israel with all information about the Palestinian people, depriving Palestinians of their most basic rights, which is the right to expression and privacy, as they’re not able to share what they feel without endangering their lives.
In addition, the image of a terrorist Palestinian citizen who rejects peace with Israel is propagated through Hollywood movies, the press, and free channels that are under the control of Zionist capital such as CNN and BBC, which support the Israeli occupation more than they support their own nation. Indeed, it is forbidden and unacceptable to criticize the occupation and its crimes on these media channels and anyone who does will be expelled. Therefore, when a Palestinian like me travels in accordance with the will of his ancestors, the Indigenous people of the country, to seek education, he is exposed to discrimination and inferiority in every country he entered from Jordan to Turkey to France, and he only feels safe and welcomed in Cuba.
The Palestinian is a human being; he has the right to live freely without restrictions; he has the right to determine his fate without exposing his life and the life of his family to harm; he has the right to live. This was a simple glimpse of what the Palestinian people live in their daily lives. I ask you to research and try to learn even a little about us, know our story and always remember us. Being a human is all you need to be a supporter of Palestine, to counteract Israeli propaganda and confront them with the facts.
Thank you very much!
Mahmoud A. is a second-year medical student from Hebron, Palestine. He has served as the President of ELAM’s United Palestinian Student Parliament.
I would first like to thank you for this opportunity, for giving us a voice, for giving us the chance to speak about what we have been going through in Palestine and in Cuba, which are different but in a way quite similar.
“Science-washing” is such an important point. Israel has always used the power of washing, not only science-washing, but pink-washing, green-washing, sport-washing, which they have taken advantage of for decades now.
Speaking of science-washing: many universities in Israel are established in settlements, which are illegal by international law and by the Fourth Geneva Convention. But they are still accredited by the International Association of Universities.
We all love science obviously, but the way Israel is looking at science, it is more important than people’s lives. They’re showing this to the world, obviously with the development of their weapons.
“These new rounds that Israel used have caused injuries I have never seen before. In some cases, the limb appeared intact, but during surgery I could not distinguish between bone and soft tissue.”
I have testimonies from doctors in Gaza speaking about some of the weapons being used on people in Gaza before and also during the current war. One of these weapons is called the Iron Sting. It is designed to engage targets “precisely” in both open areas and urban environments. The Israelis claim that by using this weapon they reduce the possibility of collateral damage and prevent injuries to non-combatants. This is completely false, because today is day 50 (since October 7), and we’ve had more than 20,000 people killed in this war, and more than 8,000 children.
Other weapons they’ve been using are the rubber coated metal bullets and artificial intelligence powered robotic guns. Nabilen Shawa is a surgeon working in Gaza since 1978 and having treated many Palestininans wounded by Israel—especially during the Great March of Return in 2018. Shawa described, and I quote, “these new rounds that Israel used have caused injuries I have never seen before. In some cases, the limb appeared intact, but during surgery I could not distinguish between bone and soft tissue.”
There is a whole theory about why Israel attacks Gaza repeatedly. I think this is the sixth war—or aggression, because when civilians are against a state with a nuclear arsenal, I would not call that a war. The theory is that actually Israel is testing weapons in Gaza in each war. Everytime there is a new weapon, including this time. Ahmed El Mokhallalati is a plastic surgeon at Al-Shifa hospital. He described these wounds as very deep third and fourth degree burns, where the skin tissue is impregnated with black particles throughout the skin thickness, and all of the layers of the skin underneath are burned down to the bone.
So the theory says: these wars are used as a test, to test the weapons on real lives, to test on “the field” before they sell them. We know that Israel is ranked in the top 10 in weapon export worldwide. Buyers like to buy those tested by the IDF/IOF. And Israel not only sells the weapons but also the ideology that comes with it. This is a really important point to highlight.
Israeli propaganda uses circular reporting, as multiple media circulate misinformation among them. Most of the media outlets are run by Zionists, and so I remember seeing so many anti-Palestinian comments when this war started. Islamophobic comments have been circulated so much from made up stories.
There is a saying attributed to the writer Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Nevertheless, I’m so happy and grateful to see how the international community and communities all over the world actually now begin to research about Palestine and Gaza. Now some of them are beginning to know the truth. I’m so happy that the truth finally wears shoes.
Another example of science-washing is this investigation that was presented in 2014, which revealed horrifying information that had been kept under wraps for decades: that Israel has the biggest skin bank in the world.
The investigators collected testimony from that skin bank, and they asked where the skin and organs come from, and their testimony said that it never came from Israeli settlers, it never came from the Israeli army, it came from Palestinians! It came from immigrants, and from international workers. I don’t know if you are familiar with this. When Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons sentenced to life—or say for 40 years, 30 years—if they die inside the prison, and let’s say they die for natural reasons (even sometimes for mysterious reasons), their body is still kept inside prison until they finish their sentence. So let’s say if your sentence is 10 years and you die in 5, your family members cannot get your body to give it a proper burial until you have finished your 10 years. There are testimonies from Palestinian families who got their family members’ bodies back, and they noticed [missing organs].
Israel ranks 33rd out of 55 countries in organ transplantation, and has the largest skin bank as I mentioned, in the world. But also Israel ranks third in the world for refusal to donate organs. Israelis refuse to donate. [Where did they get the organs?]
As I always say to people, to my friends, to my international friends who I meet here and there: if you don’t believe me, if you don’t believe the Internet, please visit Palestine if possible. They can visit Palestine and see the truth with their eyes.
Thank you again for this opportunity and I hope I have given an insight into what’s happening and elaborated a little bit on science-washing. I think science actually can be good: treating people as we medical students/scientists do. We chose this road to help people. Yet there are other scientists who choose the road of profiting from science: making weapons to kill people [and harvesting organs]. I always hope that as good scientists, we take the upper road and do science to save the people, and reject the other way.
Ali A. is currently a fifth-year medical student from Jericho, Palestine. His family was originally from a village called Jimzu, which was depopulated by Israel in 1948.
I am from Gaza, having gone through my studies in Gaza and through many wars like in 2014 and 2019. The war that affected me the most was 2014, because it was the longest at 51 days.
I notice that in every war, the Israeli army focuses and concentrates on wrecking schools and education centers. For example, in this current war, they destroyed all the universities that students go to, like Al-Azhar University and the Islamic University which are big universities with a large student body from Gaza. So, they directly attack education.
I always say, as a Palestinian student who took an opportunity to study abroad, while we are away from danger, we have to give an opportunity to other people at home to make their lives easier and we have to actively try and make their lives better. For example, as someone who was given this opportunity, the least I can do is to finish my education in Cuba and go back home and help.
We as Palestinians, who are trying to defend our land and make people aware of what’s happening in Palestine, must continue to educate and live.
As a small aside, I know that the wages back home will not be as pleasing, but living to serve my country will make my conscience rest easy.
To be honest, when this war started, it was very difficult for me to study. It was hard for me to get out of the mental state I was in, especially with all the videos that we see. After seeing how much one’s country struggles, one understands God’s blessing that one is able to learn and give back to one’s country. Realizing that I am blessed and appreciating the blessing, I have tried to not let the war affect me and to keep my education going.
I, like many students here, lost my house. And our siblings at home have stopped their studies. But as the people of Gaza and the Palestinian people in general, our lives don’t stop, because we are the owners of the land. Whatever happens to us, we have to continue because we have to reclaim our land.
The Israelis are continuing their education, they have their propaganda and telling themselves that the land is theirs. We as Palestinians on the other side, who are trying to defend our land and make people aware of what’s happening in Palestine, we must continue to educate and live.
I don’t think I have anything else to say, thank you very much for listening.
Jenen H. is a medical student in ELAM and originally from Gaza. Her presentation in Arabic has been translated.
Special thanks to Arianne, a medical student in ELAM from the United States; Noor Al-Sharif for participating in the panel discussion online; Michael Shannon and Mostafa Shagar for transcription and translation.