We need to talk about THAT Zoom chat: The arrest of the Gaza peace activists

Disclaimer: I have not referred to the organisation in question by name, and I am not going to quote or go into detail about exactly what was discussed in the Zoom chat, as I do not wish to get anyone into even more trouble. I have only named individuals who have already been named in the press.
It’s Monday night. I’ve not been sleeping properly, but the invite to a Zoom chat with peace activists from Gaza has propelled me to stay awake. I’ve apologized in the Facebook event that I am not well, so might be a little late, and could everyone forgive me for my awful appearance. I had complained to a friend beforehand about how it was going to last two hours, questioning whether it would be worth it, and how I would manage to stay awake for the entire duration. I come in, drunk with fatigue, not knowing what to expect, and thinking that I would only stay half an hour to an hour at most, to hear the jist of what the group do. 
Yet, as soon as I sign in, and see the faces of the grinning activists, my worries disappear. The ecstatic smiles of a group willing to engage with Israelis, Jews, and people like myself from outside just wanting peace in the region, warms my heart immediately, and everyone in the chat is immediately at ease. 
The activists go on to tell us of their work in the region, of how they don’t hate Israelis, and of how they are trying to educate the youth in Gaza, trying to gear their focus towards hobbies and interests, so that they don’t become victim to the martyrdom culture running rife in the region. 
The Israelis ask questions, not only about the activists work in the region, and their relationship with Hamas, but also about what they do for fun in Gaza, what music they are into. One activist apologises for her cat mewling in the background, and I type in the group chat-box that I have two naughty cats, so I understand what it is like. The activists give honest answers to all of the questions, and try and give us a picture of what life is really like for them. It is truly informative. One Israeli learns the meaning of the word “Haram” after it comes up in one of the answers, and I add to the chat-box that it means forbidden. Other chat participants also help everyone out by adding their titbits, it’s all one big cooperation exercise. 
It turns out that I have stayed for the whole two hours and then some. The chat ends with the hosts thanking us all for participating, thanking the activists for taking part, and the activists ask for everyone’s audio mute to be taken off, and for a good while, we are all making heart symbols with our hands to the camera, singing in Arabic or Hebrew to each other, or in my case, showing our cats to the camera. 
It was a beautiful coming together of both sides, opening up a dialogue, and reaching out for peace. 
Yet, Hamas do not seem to think that this is a positive. Rather than seeing this as a brilliant opportunity to show that dialogue can happen between those on either side of the border, it was seen as treachery.  
Activists that participated in the chat, were arrested and accused of “holding a normalization activity with the Israeli occupation” and a statement released, stated that “Holding any activity or contact with the Israeli occupation under any cover is a crime punishable by law and a betrayal for the people and their sacrifices”.  
Family of the main organiser, Rami Aman, have said that he answered a summons from the security service early Thursday and that they have not heard from him since. 
Hamas spokesperson, Hazem Qassem, praised the arrests, saying “The relationship with the Zionist occupation is only a continuing fight until it is forced out of all Palestinian lands”.  
In my opinion, it would seem, that despite well-meaning Western activists calling for a free Palestine, in Gaza at least, citizens are trapped by a governing body that does not wish for any dialogue of peace, but to maintain the cult of hatred. An organisation designed to give the children in Gaza a future for life in the name of peace, are being penalised by an organisation designed to give the children in Gaza a future for death in the name of war and hatred. This is a perfect example of what I have said in a previous post, that we in the West need to scrutinize what we are legitimising when we blindly follow the “Free Palestine” bandwagon. 
I would like to end this, by saying that I have Rami and another activist on Facebook, as I added them following the Zoom chat. I have sent a message asking them to contact me ASAP to let them know that they are safe, and I will update this post once there is some news from them. 

About the Author
Zara is a half British and half Pakistani ex-Muslim and Roman Catholic convert, who became interested in Arab-Israeli issues after visiting both Israel and Palestine to see both sides of the conflict. She has lived among and worked in the Jewish community, and is a Conservative Party activist. She is also a member of North London Friends of Israel.
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