Jabalia before the bombing – Source: Suhair Karam


Jabalia city is in northern Ghazzah, four miles from the fence line with Israel, two miles inland from the beach. Once upon a time you used to be able to travel in a straight line down a boulevard, Salah Khalaf, to get to the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Today, the road is destroyed and impassable, the beach is littered with spent ordnance and Jabalia suffocates under a poisonous black cloud. Drones fly overhead, missiles and tank shells can be heard exploding every few minutes. The city and her people are being brutalised.   

But this city inspires as much as it suffers, for within her walls is Jabalia refugee camp. The camp, approximately half a square mile, is home to Palestinians displaced from towns and cities across historic Palestine over the last seventy-six years. Prior to October 7th 2023, the camp’s population was estimated to be 120,000. The city-within-a-city had schools, food distribution centres, health clinics, its own water wells, and a library. Ingenuity, initiative, and independence marked the camp as somewhere special despite Israel’s ongoing subjugation of the Ghazzah Strip.  Most notably, Jabalia camp was also the epicentre of the first Intifada (a term referring to ‘shaking off’ the burden of colonialism).

The First Intifada

First Intifada Archive – Source: Hana Hussain

On Tuesday December 8th 1987, an Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) truck ran into four Palestinian construction workers from the Jabalia camp, killing them instantly. The incident was viewed as part of a series of violent attacks on Palestinians, and triggered a five-year revolt which included protests, marches, strikes and clashes with the IOF across occupied Palestine. The intifada spread internationally with acts of solidarity in Amman and Cairo, while the term itself entered the lexicon of grassroots resistance movements. 

Israel responded as all occupying forces do, with immense violence, but the intifada maintained its steadfastness until Palestine’s main political body, the PLO, assured the population they had secured a path to nationhood under the Oslo Accords. The PLO had in fact been duped, and the Palestinian people cheated. However, Jabalia had earned its place in resistance history. 

Bloodied Jabalia

Jabalia bombing – Source: X/@AnasAlSharif
Jabalia Hospital – Source: X/@RamAbdu

Jabalia camp was targeted early during Israel’s Ghazzah genocide, with the first attack on October 9th 2023. There would be four further attacks in October culminating with the deadliest one on October 31st, when the IOF pummelled the camp for twenty-four hours with munitions delivered by air, land, and sea, all under the watchful eye of US and British surveillance aircraft. It was an eyewatering collection of weaponry against a civilian population. The result, while distressing, was predictable: 195 Palestinians slaughtered, 120 missing assumed dead under rubble, and almost 800 wounded and needing medical attention. The IOF would attack the camp – less than half a square mile in area – a further thirty-five times between November 2023 and April 2024. 

But the IOF weren’t done. On Saturday 11th May 2024, they launched another offensive, which remains underway, and includes a vicious ground invasion.

University of Surrey

Source: Surrey Students for Justice in Palestine

Two thousand miles from Jabalia is the University of Surrey campus. Its low-hung buildings and swathes of green lawns are reflective of a prestigious learning institution – it currently ranks twelfth nationally, fourth for student satisfaction and ninth for sustainability. The student body is approximately 15,000 with two-thirds studying at undergraduate and one-third postgraduate. 

The university’s mission is progressive and bold: it strives to advance and disseminate knowledge, to shape the world for a better future and provide solutions to global challenges. These are heroic ambitions, and one assumes predicated by sincere and brave assessments of where to apply its intellectual rigour and scholarly attention. And yet, the university is mute with regards to the decade’s biggest rupture in geopolitics and human rights – the genocide in Ghazzah.

We felt it was really bad that the university hadn’t put anything out.”

It’s early evening and I am speaking with Tom. He is driving, on speakerphone, and compellingly articulate about his frustrations with the university’s lack of action. There is an incomprehensible silence about what is happening in places like Jabalia and Khan Yunis and Rafah. As a student he felt let down, and so with a few others wrote an open letter to the university.

In January we asked the university to acknowledge what was happening in Ghazzah and support a ceasefire, to offer specific assistance to impacted students and to disclose any investments in weapons manufacturer BAE Systems.”

The university side-stepped a response claiming it was ‘apolitical.’ Further viewing of their website undermines this assertion of ‘neutrality’. The university proudly boasts of its equality, diversity, and inclusion work, it has a Race Equality action plan, has implemented the Athena Swan Charter in support of gender equality, and operates a broad series of LGBT+ initiatives and training. On these issues, the university has clearly taken a political position in support of human rights, social justice, and quality of life. On apartheid, war crimes, civilian massacres, genocide, and the general right for Palestinians to just exist, the university seems less inclined to act. I am left wondering why.

Kim, another student, recounted how in February she and others organised rallies and leafleting and placed posters around the university highlighting what was happening in Palestine.

Source: Surrey Students for Justice in Palestine

Since then Tom, Kim and others have organised die-ins and banner drops, raised money for Medical Aid for Palestine and held a vigil for February’s Flour Massacre when 112 Palestinian civilians were butchered and 750 wounded after the IOF opened fire on them as they were waiting for food aid.

Every time we do anything we have to notify campus security, who aren’t particularly supportive. On occasion individuals wearing keffiyehs were stopped and asked where they were going. Signs and posters are frequently taken down and removed. On one occasion we were asked to take down a whiteboard that listed the three demands from our open letter.” 

At the beginning of May, students penned a second open letter to the university. It again sought acknowledgement of human rights breaches in Ghazzah, as well as divestment from any entities that support the occupation of Palestine and the creation of a scholarship programme specifically for Ghazzans. To date there has been no response.

Source: Surrey Students for Justice in Palestine

We are marking what’s happening in Ghazzah. We have an action every two weeks and we continue to pursue the three demands we have asked of the university,” said Tom.

Source: Surrey Students for Justice in Palestine

The Privilege of Being Apolitical

I leave the campus travelling along the entrance driveway, passing the university’s signature stainless steel stag. It all feels so proper, orderly. I understand why the university wants to extend this to the world, to bring a level of thoughtfulness and deliberation to how societies think, learn, and evolve.

For a moment I’m excited – then I realise the university is only prepared to extend such privilege to a few – they exclude as much as they involve. Their mission is deployed with deliberate precision, as is their silence. Not speaking against genocide is not apolitical, it is cowardice because when you witness wrongdoing and say nothing, do nothing, you are making a political gesture. Claiming anything else is nonsensical and intellectually flawed.

A few hours later I receive a series of messages from Ghazzah. One is particularly haunting. It is footage of a mother kissing her child’s hand. The child’s head is missing. In genocide there is no apolitical.

Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian commentator and journalist living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. She has lived experience of persecution, oppression, and apartheid.  In 2017 she explained to the world: “The First Intifada showed that if we stay silent, we lose.”

It appears Tom and Kim were listening.

[Tom and Kim are pseudonyms. Both are full time students at the University of Surrey.]

©2024 Sul Nowroz – Real Media staff writer