How do I encompass every horror I went through that night? How do I even get down onto paper my anxieties and fears? And what do I tell my family and friends back home about the realities Jewish students face on campus?
UCL Friends of Israel and Kings College Israel Society and Camera held a joint event for Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig to come share his work for COGAT, an intermediary unit in the IDF between the Palestinian Territories, Israel and other local and international NGOs.
Ten minutes before the event was to begin, I stood outside the main doors of the venue with a list of people’s names to check before they were allowed in. All of a sudden, a group of about 50 anti-Israel protesters appeared in front of us all. They held Palestinian flags, wore keffiyehs, and chanted aggressively in our faces.
All I could help think about was the hate in their eyes and the way they looked at me with such disgust. They did not know me at all and yet they were ready to act in such a way that made me scared for my well-being.
What happened next is hard for me to write about, but in doing so I hope to raise awareness for the true nature of these protesters that claim they are doing so in the name of “human rights”.
For the first time ever, I was assaulted. I was severely pushed against the main doors by the back of a protester. She held me there for up to two minutes. I screamed. I screamed for help. I screamed for her to move. I screamed that I could not breathe. Yet she stood there. She stood and revelled in the fact that she was able to cause me such distress. But for what? What was she aiming to achieve by doing so? Did my screams mean nothing to her?
Another girl came and spoke to her in Arabic, and finally she took the smallest step forward. But I was past the point of consolation. Liora Cadranel, co-president of the UCL Friends of Israel Society, saw me in the distance and helped get me out. I stood outside of the building, overcome with fear. I could not stop shaking and crying. I had a small panic attack. I tried getting it together, I really did, yet something in me told me not to. I could not hold it in, but maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it is time that after all the hate Jewish students have absorbed these past years, that we stop holding it in. That we show our emotions and stand up for justice when it deems fit.
The protesters saw my reaction, they saw my red eyes, and loved it. It was a sign for them that they were winning. People surrounded me, walked past me, and I could not take it anymore. What was the point of all of this? Hen Mazzig is a peace activist. His army service was aimed at lessening the conflict on the everyday life of Palestinians. With his work for StandWithUs, he helped share his story of hope and coexistence. Yet he, and students that hosted the event, attracted the worst sort of hate possible.
These Palestinian protesters were not here in the name of peace or free speech. They were here to intimidate us to cancel the event because an Israeli was on campus. It was good they behaved in such a way because we were now more determined than ever to have this event pull through. As the protesters stormed into the room screaming and chanting, we were able to secretly get hold of another location. Discretely, we had to leave the site in small groups so as to not attract attention from the protesters. We inconspicuously got across the campus, looking back every few minutes to see if were were being followed.
Naomie Bouaziz and I were able to rush people into the venue and close the door every few minutes in case we were caught. There were moments when we saw protesters run around trying to find where the Jews went. They were hunting us down. I cannot believe I even have to say that. I am truly shaken every time I recall those moments because I felt betrayed and vulnerable. I felt like a dog being chased. I felt like people were out to get us. I felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany, a Jew in Soviet Russia, a Jew in the Crusade’s Jerusalem. When will we finally be free?
We got as many people inside as possible until we were caught. I screamed for the doors to be locked, and was left outside to guard the door with Naomie and two other Jews alongside campus security. Over 100 people gathered to scream out the evil that is Israel. How dare they question the right to exist of the world’s only Jewish country and liberal democracy in the Middle East? How dare they call me a killer whilst its their own people that are being taught the tactics of terrorism? How dare they call for the annihilation of the only Jewish state, whilst it’s our own country that has absorbed thousands of refugees seeking shelter.
As I stood outside the door desperately trying not to react towards the hate being thrown at me, I could not help but think about my own family’s story of persecution. For generations in Afghanistan, they were treated as second class citizens. Without proper respect and consideration, they were seen as animals. They were not given equal rights, and wore insignia identifying them as Jews. My grandma always spoke about the days she missed Hebrew school because of the men that would be alongside the path shouting hateful abuse and shoving the children. She left Afghanistan to seek a better life for her family. How can I call her to explain that her granddaughter now understands what it must have been like?
The protesters got too violent outside so security quickly got us into the room. What I saw truly broke my heart. A group of Jews and pro-Israel activists were gathered in a circle trying to hear Mazzig speak above the wails and chants coming from all over. We were locked in surrounded by people who wanted our destruction. When he finished, we all applauded feverishly. Not only because of his fantastic speech, but because we achieved what the Palestinian society sought to destroy. We allowed free speech to prevail amidst a whirlwind of abuse.
But soon we found ourselves stuck. Where do we go now? How do we get out?
Someone piped up that we should sing the Israeli national anthem of Hatikvah, and we sure did. As the protesters screamed through the adjacent windows, Jews and pro-Israel activists in the room countered hate with what we knew best- song. We sang ‘The Hope’ with such unity it brought tears to my eyes. We stood together and refused to allow those that hate us to bring us down. There is a line in the anthem that goes, “as long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart…then our hope — the 2,000-year-old hope — will not be lost”. Those words truly resonated with me in that moment, for we never lost hope. Not back then, and not now. I do not know how it started, but all of a sudden a group of us girls started dancing. We held hands and ran around in a circle, both with strangers and friends, united as one.
Soon the time came to escort everyone out. Mazzig dressed in security gear and got escorted out with campus security and was told to keep on running. The Jews that were left inside had to wait until a police officer came in and explain how the commotion outside was violent and that we need to stick together and be careful, to essentially not let a fight break out.
The doors opened and we were hit by everyone screaming “shame”. Repeatedly, and with fists raised in the air, and with cameras in our faces, the words, “shame shame shame” followed us all the way to the main gates of UCL. Such shaming of Jewish students was reminiscent to the shaming of Jews in Nazi Germany. Our heads were bent forward, eyes downcast, and hands were held for support.
The student body, faculty, and union should be disgraced that this was able to happen. The community as a whole should stand together and condemn the unbelievable shut down of our right to freedom of speech on campus. Such a disregard for liberal values must be taken seriously, or else Jewish and pro-Israel students will feel even more let down and betrayed by a society that historically has taken us in. The provost of UCL must act immediately. I am calling for the suspension of UCLU’s Friends of Palestine Society until their actions have been dealt with in a suitable and justified manner.
A quote that has uplifted me over these past few years of hardship goes as follows, “Ela Shebechol Dor VaDor Omdim Aleinu Lechaloteinu V’HaKadosh Baruch Hu Matzilenu Miyadam” — in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.
So let them try and intimidate us, let them behave like animals, but my people know fear and hatred all too well, and we will overcome.