Late last night, I was invited to participate in an action organised by pro-Palestinian students at the MCAST campus in Paola. Specifically, I was asked to follow students into the campus to exercise their right to protest European Parliament President Roberta Metsola’s pro-Israel stance.
The eyes of the whole world are currently watching as what is left of Palestine is pummeled to the ground by the full might of the Israeli army. For 75 years, we’ve all collectively looked away while Palestine and its inhabitants were systemically erased. Lines and borders were drawn over their soil, smashing straight into their houses, obliterating neighbourhoods, bit by bit.
After Hamas launched a full frontal offensive on 7 October, the rest of the world stopped looking away and suddenly became conscious of the evils of terrorism in Palestine again. Never mind the ongoing 75 years of terrorism sponsored by the Israeli government and every arms supplier in the US, the UK, and virtually every other seller on the planet of course – no, it is only when Palestinians fight back that our saintly governments suddenly spring into action.
Instead of looking away, this time, the Western world decided to join in. The Western world gave its blessing to Israel so its government could finally finish what it had started so many years ago. Metsola was among the first to fly to Israel and shake hands with some of the most openly hateful, criminally genocidal political figures in an apartheid state that was designed by ruthless British colonisers with a Zionist agenda.
It is for these reasons that I accepted the invite to assist these students and document their act of defiance.
I entered MCAST surreptitiously because I knew for a fact that I would not have been allowed to enter the premises unless Metsola’s team gave the school their go-ahead. In fact, a Malta Today journalist was not allowed to enter, and Malta Today were later told that the press was not invited to this event. I know for a fact there were at least two press photographers hovering around Metsola’s entourage, but neither of them were on duty as journalists.
Generally speaking, the worldwide coverage of Israel’s ongoing genocidal campaign has been shorn of critical voices who support Palestine and are calling the occupation for what it is. Journalists on the ground have been kicked out, killed, or injured in the line of duty. Internet in Palestine is mostly unavailable, and food, water and other essentials are in extremely short supply, meaning people are forced to focus on their basic survival first and foremost.
Overall, Israel’s presence is not only overbearing and devastating through the boots it has on the ground. It is also overbearing on the battlefield of public perception, and has far more sophisticated means at its disposal to influence public opinion than a country under siege like Palestine ever possibly could.
On this same battlefield of public perception, demonstrators like the students who made their voices heard at MCAST today face an uphill battle. People who show support to the Palestinian cause are evidently being marginalised by the powers that be, and today’s direct action was a clear example of this.
I interviewed one of the students who participated in today’s action to understand what their intent was, and why the action was important to them. Given that I was present throughout the whole action, I can confirm the veracity of this account.
When I asked the student (who preferred not to be named) about why they decided to stage this action, they described how “sickening” it was to watch as Metsola, a Maltese politician who shot to EP stardom, expressed such unabashed support for Israel when more than 8,800 Palestinians have already been killed in less than a month.
“Roberta Metsola is a Maltese person. We can no longer treat this situation as one which Maltese people have nothing to do with so we’re powerless to do something about it,” the student said.
“One of the most influential EU leaders is Maltese, so I felt that we have more power than we think we may have because of the fact that Metsola still has a political career that is locally based. I don’t know how she has the gall to come here, about three weeks after she was in Israel, to try and do some quick PR and smile and shake hands with students,” they added.
The whole direct action was planned in practically less than 24 hours. The students who participated in today’s action sought each other out as lone pro-Palestinian voices in an otherwise dry landscape, with Moviment Graffitti activists providing support to facilitate the logistical aspect. A handful more people slowly trickled in, quietly dispersing into smaller groups when they felt like they might attract too much attention.
When Metsola and her extensive entourage walked past the square in which the demonstrators were waiting, they promptly pulled out their placards and began loudly asking Metsola to declare whether she is okay with having Palestinian blood on her hands. Her entourage, likely taken aback by the sudden outpour of anger, ensured distance was kept between her and her detractors. Metsola did not react to the protestors’ questions, and simply kept walking towards the library.
“I thought that the fact that she didn’t look me in the eyes was quite cowardly, like she refused to hear us. She kept walking with a smile on her face, just trying to ignore it,” the student said, visibly disheartened.
“After talking all that talk about Israel, she is not even brave enough to meet her critics – critics in the country that she is representing in the European Parliament, and she refused to talk to us,” they added.
I asked this student about whether he thinks that they might have had a better chance of speaking to Metsola if they tried official channels so they could set up a formal meeting. The response is a categorical no, they think: why would she meet students, some of whom are Palestinian and have family and friends who are either suffering or already lost to them, after she gave her sigil of approval to Israel’s efforts to wipe them out?
What’s the point, they argue?
“We wanted her to know that there are students that oppose her actions on the political main stage, and that she should feel unwelcome when looking for photo-ops with students. She has blood on her hands, and she must feel that she is accountable, it is not just back to normal,” they emphasised.
After Metsola and her entourage went straight into the library building, security guards attempted to convince the demonstrators that Metsola would be coming out of an exit known as gate nine.
“We thought that she would come back and meet us. In fact, one of her staffers told us that she would definitely talk to us. They kept saying that she would speak to us, but that what we were doing was not the right way to do it,” the student said.
However, the group decided not to take their word for it, and one of them voiced concern over the possibility that Metsola’s entourage might attempt to exit out of the underground car park instead. So, they split up – a few of them went ahead to the car park while the others waited anxiously outside the library to see whether the president of the European Parliament really was too embarrassed to come out to speak to a couple of students or not.
The gate nine exit scenario did, in fact, turn out to be a ruse. One of the students who went to the car park informed the others that Metsola’s head of security – a police officer who later insisted on ID’ing me when he realised that I am a journalist and that I had no formal permission from the institution to even be there – was in fact in the car park.
“Her security guard confronted us, along with her staffers and MCAST security. They essentially kept telling us that we had no right to make our thoughts known in that space, trying to silence us,” the student said.
“You were with us as a journalist documenting the whole thing – the police ID’d you. We were told not to take photos. Her staffers took photos of at least one of the students who was there. It was definitely hostile. Her personal security guard kept implying that he couldn’t trust our motives and that we were there to harm her in some way. In fact, he told me specifically ‘I don’t know if you’re here to hurt her,'” they added.
After an initially tense conversation, Metsola’s head of security warned students to stay behind a line that was about ten metres away from where Metsola was about to make her hasty exit, warning everyone not to cross it. When challenged to state what would happen if anyone did so, the head of security stated that “he would then have to do his job” without elaborating any further.
Shortly after, two rental vehicles pulled up, with the larger one parked in between the students’ line of sight and Metsola’s entourage.
“They were trying to silence us while trying to make her look as good as they could in that situation,” the student argued.
“I think it was very embarrassing for her to enter through the main gate smiling at people and showing off how in touch with the community she is but instead had to leave in a rush through an underground car park,” they added.
When asked to sumamrise what today’s message was all about, the students were quite clear that they would settle for no less than the end of the occupation itself, and that they are using “the privilege” of still having a voice to stick up for those who, like the Palestinians, have had their voices, their homes, and their very lives snatched away from them with impunity.