France says conditions not right to recognize Palestinian state

MANILA: In 2023, Jehan Alabadla, 22, was in her senior year at the Islamic University of Gaza, where she was set to graduate from the school’s biotechnology program.

She was forced to flee her home in November — weeks after Israel started its deadly onslaught on the Gaza Strip — to seek shelter in the Philippines, her mother’s native country, leaving behind her Palestinian father and half-siblings, who now liv, displaced, in tents. Alabadla speaks with them whenever she can, but it is not easy as communication lines have been destroyed.

“It is really hard, this is not the life I was used to in Gaza,” she told Arab News.

“With the war, it’s like my life has stopped. Right now, my priority is to save a bit, help my dad in Gaza, as well as my siblings because they’re still so little. It makes me cry because they’ve gotten so thin.”

Alabadla is one of nearly 150 Filipino-Palestinians evacuated from Gaza by the Philippine government — many leaving their homes, livelihoods, and often also loved ones.

She shared the story of her hometown and family in Gaza with over 1,000 people who gathered at the University of the Philippines on Sunday, for an event meant to support the evacuee families and bring them closer to the community.

Among them was also Zenith Abudalal, who returned to the Philippines with her Palestinian husband, children, and grandchildren.

She recalled their harrowing experiences in Gaza amid the Israeli attacks which since October have killed more than 36,000 people, wounded more than 80,000, and destroyed most of the enclave’s infrastructure.

As Philippine authorities were trying to bring her family to safety, they had to walk 8 km to the border with Egypt. Holding white flags, they were instructed to focus on their path, not to stop, not to look to their sides, not to react when Israeli soldiers called them.

“We walked. Our streets were filled with the dead. Severed limbs, heads, bodies,” she said. “We just prayed hard so we can reach our destination … It was so difficult.”

The stories have given the Filipino audience a new perspective, where until now, their knowledge has been dominated by pro-Israeli narratives that utilize the Holocaust and World War II and have for decades marginalized Palestinian voices.

“We often hear about the plight of the Jews, but the Jews or Israelis are not the only victims … The Palestinians have been driven off their land for a long time,” said Alexa Villano, a resident of Quezon City.

Manila-based writer Michiko Manalang, who brought her parents to the meeting, said that the refugees’ stories made them see things differently.

“I think the event gave them a different emotional truth, especially after knowing that some young women there were without parents or other loved ones, either because they’re still stuck in Rafah, or they were killed in the invasion,” she said.

“I feel that the world is waking up to the reality that community is where it’s at, and I think that can really change how we live. I feel we cannot go back to the way we lived before.”

Consolidating the refugees and the variety of their experiences is what the event sought to highlight.

“We are hoping with this kind of awareness comes the acceptance from a wider Filipino community,” Darwin Absari, professor at the UP’s Institute of Islamic Studies and a co-founder of the Moro-Palestinians Cooperation Team, told Arab News.

“In terms of raising awareness, I think we have somehow reached it. One thousand is still a small number for us, but those people who went there kept on sharing. So that multiplies. Janine Gutierrez went there with her mom Lot Lot. Aubrey Miles also promoted our event,” he said, referring to celebrity Filipino actresses.

There was an increasing awareness among Filipino politicians too, despite their strong links with the US and its ally, Israel.

Samira Gutoc, a former legislator in Mindanao, said that some were now — unlike before — convinced that the attacks on Gaza should stop, as they have been seeing more and more content giving a human face to the stories told about Palestine.

“And this is not an antisemitic campaign,” she said. “The content is really about human lives and people who care for lives. We have to stand up for human life.”

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