The Solidarity of Friendship; Q&A with Ayesha Usmani
By Divya Osbon
Habfa stands for Hackney Beit Sourik Friendship Association. It aims to build links between Beit Sourik in Palestine and the London borough of Hackney, facilitating exchange between local people in both places as an act of solidarity and to raise awareness of the Palestinian struggle for Human Rights. Currently, it is organised by two local Hackney women, Ayesha Usmani and Sally Haywill.
On Friday 7th March, they are holding a fundraiser to pay for the fares of 16 visiting Palestinian women who have come to the UK as part of the Women in Action programme, organised by Cadfa and funded by Youth in Action. The women will be at the event in Dalston, Hackney, talking about their everyday lives in Palestine. There will also be music and a 3 course vegetarian meal (click here for tickets).
I went to meet with Ayesha ahead of their welcoming a group of 4 Palestinian women to Hackney.
Q: Having lived in Hackney now for most of your life, do you feel it has a particularly strong history of political engagement and activism?
A: Historically, As Hackney was just outside the boundaries of the City of London, many dissenters would leave the City and settle in Hackney, one example being Mary Wollstonecraft, a women’s rights activist in the eighteenth century. Hackney is also part of the East End where many immigrant communities have historically settled, and immigrants naturally have to organise themselves in order to get the resources they need. For me, I’ve always loved Hackney because I feel like I’m closer to the rest of the world. I feel comfortable. When I walk down the street, I don’t feel people looking at me and thinking, ‘which country is she from?’
Q: What are the issues that the young people of Beit Sourik face? And how does this affect their experience of coming to London?
A: The young people come here and they see democracy in action. They see what it’s like to be able to walk down the streets and not have people in military uniform with guns stopping them. They see young people having opportunities and aspirations, and being actively involved in making a difference in their communities. This gives them the possibility to know other realities, and maybe get them exposed to alternatives and ways of building community organisations.
Q: What are they/you hoping will be the outcome of this particular exchange?
A: If you talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict, there is a very strong stereotype that Palestinians just want to fight. It’s really important for ordinary people from here to meet ordinary people from there, and [see that] this ordinary person who’s a school teacher or an office worker - all they want to do is live in peace…Specifically, we’re hoping to gain some ongoing communication with the women in Beit Sourik.
Q: The visit falls over International Women’s Day (March 8th). What is special about it being a women’s group visiting?
A: Well the way I see it, the Palestinian people as a whole have their struggle, but the women have their own struggle as well. Some people say that the economic struggle for equality comes first, before we fight for gender equality, but I don’t think we should have to wait until the ending of capitalism before we fight for women’s rights. All forms of oppression should be challenged now and that’s what brings more people into the struggle for social justice. So the Palestinian women…they also have their battle against sexism. And for them, sometimes the fight for women’s rights is more immediate, and it’s more tangible for them to be able to see successes.