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Life as a young British Palestinian activist in the UK

People hold placards and banners which read support for Palestine as they march towards the US embassy to celebrate Jerusalem day in London, UK on 18 June 2017 [Tayfun Salcı/Anadolu Agency]
People hold placards and banners which read support for Palestine as they march towards the US embassy to in London, UK on 18 June 2017 [Tayfun Salcı/Anadolu Agency]

Being a young activist and having to balance activism with studies can be overwhelming, but it can also be fun. Why fun? Because it allows you to meet so many likeminded individuals throughout your activism journey.

My name is Leanne Mohamad and I am a 17-year-old British Palestinian activist living in the UK. My activism journey began at the age of 15 after speaking about Palestine in the Jack Petchey Speak out Challenge which my English teacher nominated me for. This competition enabled year ten students to speak out about any subject that they felt strongly about; I decided to speak about Palestine. I submitted a speech, entitled "Birds Not Bombs" and it won, with applause and without any objection from my audience. Personally, I really wanted to spread the message of the reality of Palestine and the hardships my people face on a day to day basis.

After winning the Jack Petchey Speak out Challenge Redbridge regional final, I was extremely proud of my achievement, but this happy moment was then hijacked by online trolls who were out there to discredit me after my video went viral. They bombarded my school's Twitter account which had to be shut down. They then went online and created videos labelling me the "good little ISIS girl", in reference to the terrorist group Daesh. Surely receiving so many vile messages of abuse makes one feel saddened and downhearted, like I did, but the support was very much uplifting, overwhelmingly from so many I did not know. The issue was turned to the police and although I was advised to close my Twitter account, I was not ready to lose.

With pain comes learning and with the support of my family and my friends, I rose to the challenge. I was determined not to fall, they were not going to win and it's proved that they helped me to be heard further than I could imagine, so I'd like to thank them. Nobody will ever silence me and I will shout louder about the plight of my people.

That was the beginning of my activism journey. Now at the age of 17, I am so grateful to have received many speaking opportunities, both locally and internationally, to have my voice reach out further in the fight for human rights.

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Being only 17 and speaking at such conferences and events has allowed me to make connections and build relationships with so many inspiring individuals and activists whose footsteps I aspire to follow. However, one aspect that upsets me after witnessing the turnouts at most events is the lack of engagement with young people. We young people are the future and we are also the power of the future. Whatever we take up and start today will impact change for tomorrow.

Being a young activist in the UK however, is completely different to activism abroad and especially in Palestine.  Can you imagine being woken up at three in the morning to the noise of Israeli occupation forced banging on your front door? That is what happened to 16-year-old activist Ahed Tamimi in Palestine two days ago. She was forcibly taken away from her parents by Israeli occupation forces. She is a prominent young child activist advocating against Israel and for human rights; as a result she has been detained.

Living in the West, where being detained without reason is illegal, I feel a duty to advocate for her rights as

when injustice becomes law, activism becomes a responsibility.

I will carry on speaking out with my personal thoughts and beliefs as I believe everyone should. Freedom of speech is something each and every one of us is entitled to. When I look to the people around me today, there is freedom of speech, yet they're afraid. It saddens my heart that it is this way. We are entitled to freedom of speech in the UK and we can never be detained for speaking out about Palestine and for human rights as Palestinians can in the occupied territories. That is why we must use our voices and especially in the West.

I believe young people should be a voice and not an echo whilst also being voices for those who are voiceless. Age is just a number and if you really have a passion to strive for change, being an activist is what you must become.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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