AROC and Art Forces “Arab Liberation Mural” celebrates and honors the lives of six Arab leaders: Rasmea Odeh, Mehdi Ben Barka, Naji Diafullah, Leila Khaled, Basel Al Araj, and Yasser Mortaja. Created in collaboration with AROC’s youth program, AYO, and local and international artists, the mural manifests and expresses the resilience and resistance of the Bay Area community to attacks on freedom and liberties of Arab, Muslim, people of color, immigrants and refugees.
The mural serves to inspire and educate with an audio program that the viewer can call to hear interviews and descriptions of each person portrayed in the mural as well as the meanings of the mural’s images and translation of the iconic Tunisian poem “The Will to Life”.
The people were chosen for the mural because of their exemplary bravery and courage in speaking truth to power:
Rasmea Odeh (1947- ) , a Palestinian woman leader and former political prisoner who has spent her life empowering women in Palestine, Jordan and Chicago. For more than 20 years, Rasmea led the Arab Women’s Committee of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, where she provided urgently needed social services and organized 700 immigrant women to be active members of the Arab community. In 2013, the US government targeted and arrested Rasmea, accusing her of falsifying information on her citizenship application 20 years earlier. This was part of a nationwide sweep against immigrants, Arabs and activists. Rasmea was deported from the US in September 2017. Despite unimaginable circumstances, Rasmea continues to speak out against the unjust attack on her and her community.
Mehdi Ben Barka:
Mehdi Ben Barka (1920-1966) was a Moroccan activist and educator. He was the first Moroccan to receive a degree in mathematics in an official French school in 1950. He then taught mathematics in a local high school, and at the Royal College. Mehdi got involved in politics, and worked to challenge the French occupation of Morocco. On 22 November 1963, Ben Barka is sentenced to death by the French colonial government for calling upon Moroccan soldiers to refuse to fight with the French against Algeria in the 1963. Ben Barka first went on exile in Algiers, Algeria, where he met with Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral, and Malcolm X. As the leader of the Tricontinental, Ben Barka was seen as a major figure in the Third World movement, and supported revolutionary, and anti-colonial actions in various states. Just before his death, he was preparing the first Tricontinental Conference scheduled to take place in Havana, Cuba, from 3 -13 January 1966.
Leila Khaled (1944 – ) is a Palestinian woman who lived through the 1948 forced displacement of Palestinians from their homelands. As a toddler, she became an internally displaced refugee. As a young adult, she became an active leader in the struggle against racism and colonialism. She became a leading figure in Third World liberation struggles when she engaged in direct action that raised awareness about the plight of Palestinians on an international platform. As a woman, and and activist, she revolutionized the role of Arab woman in the struggle and came to exemplify the strength and historical role of women in social justice struggles. She is famously quoted in her biography for stating, “They live where we should be living while we float about, exiled. They live in my city because they are Jews and they have power. My people and I live outside because we are Palestinian Arabs without power. But we, the graduates of the desert inns, we shall have power and we shall recover Palestine and make it a human paradise for Arabs and Jews and lovers of freedom.”
Basel Al Araj:
Basel Al-Araj, (1984-2017) was a 31-year-old activist and intellectual in Palestine. Basel believed in making knowledge accessible to everyone. This requires reaching out to people, speaking to them directly in a language that does not alienate them – without being simplistic or patronizing. He had been targeted by Israeli occupation forces after being released from Palestinian prison, having been detained without charges or explanation for five months, during which he joined a hunger strike amid reports of torture and mistreatment. After targeting him for months, in March 2017, Israeli forces surrounded his house in the outskirts of the Qaddura refugee camp and shot and killed him. Al-Araj was known for saying, “If you want to be an intellectual, you have to be engaged. If you don’t want to be engaged – if you don’t want to confront oppression – your role as an intellectual is pointless.”
Nagi Daifullah (1949 – 1973) was a Yemeni migrant to the United States and union organizer with the United Farm Workers. He was a strike captain during the 1973 grape farmers’ strike organized by Cesar Chavez. Daifullah spoke Arabic, English, and Spanish, and was integral in not only organizing the Yemeni community but also transcending ethnic and linguistic barriers between workers. At the time, Yemeni farm workers were the latest group (as of 1977) to come to California and be exploited by state growers. An active UFW member, he provided important leadership for workers on strike at Farms near Arvin and Lamont, California. Daifullah was killed in August, 1973 at the age of 24 by Kern County police when one officer beat him in the head with his flashlight and then dragged him so that his head continued hitting the pavement. Over 7,000 people attended Daifullah’s funeral. He has been honored across the US including in San Francisco and Orange County and at the the Arab American Museum at Dearborn, Michigan. Daifalluh was one of the most important Arab trade unionists in the United States.
Yasser Mortaja (1987-2018) was a photojournalist killed by Israeli forces who shot him in his abdomen – below his ‘PRESS’ flack jacket, while he was out covering a border protest as part of The Great March of Return. Dr. Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesperson of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, said that photojournalist Yasser Mortaja, 31, died of a gunshot wound he sustained while documenting the protest. He was wearing a Press vest and was clearly performing his duty as a journalist when he was targeted by the Israeli sharpshooters stationed at the military base on the Gaza border.