Guest post: The Forgotten Struggle of the Occupied Golan Heights

October 15, 2013

While most of the Arab Golan community is preoccupied with the ongoing battle in Syria, another struggle affecting their own occupied lands is only few kilometers away.

In February 2013, the Israeli Ministry of Energy and Water (headed by Uzi Landau) granted a subsidiary of an American company, Genie Israel Oil and Gas[1], a three-year exclusive petroleum exploration license covering around third of the total occupied territories (396.5 square kilometers), located in the Southern part of the Golan. It is the first license to be awarded in the occupied Golan since the 90s when then, the defense minister Yitzhak Rabin claimed that exploration permits might be harmful to the “peace” process with Syria[2].

Ever since the Naksa (1967 war) Israel has carried out numerous illegal activities on Syrian land. The forcible transfer of civilians and the destruction of property have led to the mass depopulation of Syrian citizens from their own land. A foreign ethnic group, namely, Israeli-Jewish settlers, has gradually replaced the Syrian population. Today, about 20,000 (and growing) Jewish settlers are living in 33 illegal settlements in the Golan, and make use of the land’s natural resources such as mineral water, natural lakes and arable lands expropriated from native Golan citizens[3].

Israel’s exploitation of occupied natural resources is a clear violation of article 55 of the Hague Regulations among other provisions of International Humanitarian Law such as the Geneva Convention and Customary International Law. Yet, according to the Who Profits report[4], at a similar case from December 2011 regarding mining operations in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Israeli High Court of Justice validated the excavating of natural resources in the West Bank. The legality of the Israeli quarries in the occupied West Bank was challenged by the Israeli organization Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, through a petition in 2009. However, the Israeli High Court concluded in its verdict that the Israeli quarries in the occupied West Bank are legal and do not violate international law.

In addition to the Israeli economical involvement and violation of international and humanitarian law, both in the region as a whole and in the occupied Golan in particular, the American company Genie energy is headed by former minister and military commander Effie Eitam the colonel who in 1988 “followed the orders” of Yitzhak Rabin who discreetly told the Israeli army to break the bones of Palestinians rising up during the first Palestinian intifada, by ordering his troops to beat Ayyad Aqel (from al-Bureij refugee camp) and his brother to death. Effie was also a previous minister of housing and construction who worked hard to accelerate settlements in the occupied Golan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Having these facts present, Syrian community in the occupied Golan stands nonetheless with its back turned to Israeli violations, scattered between proposition and opposition of Assad’s regime, which in no doubt shapes the socio-political sphere of the Golan, yet abandon the Israeli exploitations happening on the Golan’s behalf.

It takes one hour to travel by car from northern Golan to its south whereas it takes only several minutes to recognize the enormous Israeli exploitation of land and resources happening there. The dramatic and rapid escalation of events happening in other countries in the region, keep the situation in the Golan deserted, undocumented and subsequently unexposed while the violations and exploitations are in fact still ongoing.

Image

[Photo idea by Amru Abu Saleh, directed by Nihad Awidat].

Special thanks to Yara Sa’adi.

Aamer Ibraheem,

Master student of Gender studies at Tel Aviv University,

Occupied Syrian Golan.


[1] See company details by Who Profits http://whoprofits.org/company/genie-israel-oil-and-gas

[2] The Marker, by Haaretz.com (Hebrew)  http://www.themarker.com/dynamo/1.1706455

[3] Al-Marsad for human rights in the occupied Golan

Entering Palestine through narrative: my grandmother’s memory

August 24, 2013

Read this post in the Electronic Intifada.

nakba

A few months ago, I tried to analyze an encroaching feeling of dislocation in my Palestinian identity.

My long-held conception of what makes a homeland and what it felt like to have one was suddenly interrupted over dinner in Turkey. Ever since, I have been trying to explain how this sense of dislocation was formed and molded over the years.

What strikes me most as I trace my family’s past is the degree to which my sense of myself has been shaped primarily by colonial encounters.

For years, my grandmother’s stories offered a cocoon within which I could enjoy a Palestine that is now so distant in time and physically unknown to me. I would feel anxious and somewhat galled each time she mentioned a village or place I had never heard of before.

In her living room, a large photo frame of her grandfather in a tarbush – a fez – and enormous arched mustache, hangs on the wall.

Her grandfather, Daoud affendi (the Turkish term used for a gentleman of social standing), was a Turk who served as an officer in the Ottoman army in Syria and Palestine, a “pious” man as she often describes him. His son, Yusuf, looked after the family’s property until 1948.

Having been a man of wealth and status himself, Yusuf married a well-off Damascene woman, Ruqaya al-Naamani. This explains something I always felt intrigued by but, for some reason, never asked my grandmother about; my grandmother’s Arabic dialect was never totally Palestinian – it was Syrian – and she always cited proverbs in Turkish.

What fascinates me at this stage is precisely the power structure that made marriage lineages between natives and colonizers possible. An answer to this, I think, lies in the relatively narrow cultural differences between the Ottomans and Arabs.

For one, both peoples were predominately Muslim, and even linguistically, many common phrases between Arabic and Turkish can still be found today. Another answer could be the higher social class from which my great-grandmother came. Historically, the wealthy have been more willing to compromise questions of national concern for social or financial gain.

This marriage, which in 1936 produced my half-Turkish, half-Syrian grandmother, Nadra, was given a Palestinian chapter when Yusuf decided to join the Palestinian guerilla groups in their resistance against the Zionist colonization of Palestine. It was 1948 when, in Gaza, Yusuf was finally killed.

My grandmother’s memories of the period before 1947 are largely personal, characterized by social events such as the istiqbal – the women-only reception that a woman of a certain class might hold at her house every week.

She recalls certain individuals with whom she visited and socialized. Her reminiscences also include movements between Gaza, Jerusalem, and Jaffa, and tools for bread-making such as the babour, an ancient portable stove that was common across Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.

Amid all the violence and rage that swept Palestine in those years, an intimate bond between one man and one woman was being woven. My grandfather, Akram, a refugee from al-Majdal – now called Ashkelon in present-day Israel – doted on a pretty young woman who lived nearby: Nadra. Soon, Akram and Nadra decided to get married.

These intimate details that took place in the aftermath of 1948 are damning evidence of the existence of an entire people whose lives, their very marriages, have been shaped by yet another colonial event in Palestine, this time it was the Zionist ethnic cleansing of more than 500 Palestinian villages and towns, known as the Nakba.

The May 1948 declaration of the “State of Israel” and the fledgling image of Israel as “young” and “powerful” impressed the West which was quite jubilant to have finally rid itself of the Holocaust burden. Israelis, meanwhile, were very keen on moving away from victimhood to “heroism.”

As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe reminds us in his excellent book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the Irgun – a Zionist militia – used posters that featured what he refers to as the “new Jews.” As Pappe notes, these posters depicted “muscular” men aiming their rifles at “Arab invaders,” beside slogans such as “Brothers in Arms” and “The Fist of Steel.”

The net result of all this was the appalling disappearance of Palestine and Palestinians as a country and a people. “In any case,” writes Palestinian author Ghada Karmi from her exile in the UK, “no one in England seemed to remember Palestine either. It is remarkable how quickly the word went out of general use.”

In her breathtaking memoir In Search of Fatima, Karmi also reflects on her personal experiences in England. She remembers that while sometimes she had to hide her origins, when she did not have to Palestine was often mistaken for other countries. “Did you say Pakistan?” Karmi quotes someone as saying when she named “Palestine” as her country.

If a history as complex and incredibly rich as that of Palestine can vanish from people’s consciousness, then this is a brutal reminder that unless the Palestinian narrative is recognized and fully acknowledged, nothing, especially the discredited “peace process,” can stop Israel’s continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

To Israel’s chagrin, the September 1970 hijacking of planes made it inevitable that the existence of such people as the Palestinians would have to be acknowledged. Israel, therefore, had to find a way to address the Palestinians without compromising its official narrative.

All of a sudden, the Palestinians emerged as terrorists, barbarians and anti-Semites bent on the destruction of Israel. That these Palestinians were forced out of their lands by this Israel did not seem to hold any truth. Palestinians were reduced into static Arabs frozen in time and space unable to move on and develop.

The only way to deal with these barbarians, therefore, according to the orientalist discourse adopted by Israel, is force. The kind of logic that Israel continues to fully employ explains why the Palestinian point of view is deliberately belittled if not completely ignored.

Narrative forms my sense of belonging to the Palestine I am unacquainted with. My grandmother’s memories are in stark contrast to Golda Meir’s notorious claim that the Palestinians, as a people, did not exist.

Nadra’s recollections empower my imagination to transcend borders, checkpoints, barbed wire and allow me to roam the olive groves, attend weddings and get a glimpse of people who are my ancestors.

This time a new dimension has been added to my identity; somehow, I too am the product of a marriage, perhaps a love story, between a colonizer and colonized: Ruqaya and Yusuf. Yet, this past, continues to be systematically denied.

Rediscovering Palestine through narrative and writing it down is, I believe, crucial to ensuring that Palestine is not erased.

When memory and reality meet: on my identity

April 26, 2013

Published on the Electronic Intifada

Image

Two passports of two Palestinians: one from Gaza and another from the 1948 ethnically cleansed territories.

 

When everyone complained about our Palestinian Authority-issued passports many years ago for, humiliatingly, they would say, not bearing “Palestine” on their covers instead of the words “Palestinian Authority,” I used to think of it as so trivial a matter as arguing on the best way to cut potatoes.

In the years that followed, however, I became increasingly aware that whether or not papers and documents define who we are, these labels and designations pose an array of questions that are, I think, personal, political and philosophical.

At the same time, I have grown exceedingly intolerant of the irreconcilable fact that while I was born, and have always lived, in Gaza, I am also Palestinian, meaning that I come from Palestine too. And while I have always sung for the watan, the homeland, every day in the morning as a schoolchild and every now and then as something of an adult, it only existed in the form of images that I managed to extract from the texture of memory bequeathed to us through oral and written biographies and more recently through the experiences of acquaintances in the unreachable parts of Palestine.

When I think about Gaza, it never comes down to me as a watan. It is just Gaza, strictly so. In fact, whenever I hear or read the word watan, I instantly associate it with those faraway places in Palestine that I have never ever seen. Strangely, however, they always feel closer and warmer to me than Gaza, my birthplace. The faces I visualize are not those of my family and friends here, but of others I have learned to know through their writings, commentary and, somewhat randomly, through some encounters with other Palestinians abroad.

When I attempt to analyze and explain the resentment I feel toward Gaza, it seems to me, perhaps unconsciously, that I am constantly at a bitter war with myself, fiercely rejecting the assimilation of Gaza into my idea of a watan. “Gaza is not Palestine, it is not my homeland,” an inner voice insists lest I slip into the awfully wrong definition of myself as a Gazan rather than Palestinian.

Romanticism is what one risks here. “Memory and its representations,” writes Edward Said in Memory and Place, “touch very significantly upon questions of identity, of nationalism, of power and authority.” Since I have no vivid memories of Palestine as my grandmother does for example, I am only left with the representations of, let’s say, her memories of a conservative adolescence in Jerusalem. These representations, presumably the immediate product of memory, are what form my sense of identity. Thus, as Said argues, although memory is not necessarily authentic, it is, nevertheless, useful.

But even identity, deeply rooted as it may be in memory, history, and the representations of these, is put at stake once one is finally confronted by its realities. About a month ago, I happened to be in Turkey for a program for which I received an invitation. There, in a continent as far away as Europe, I experienced my first-ever encounter with Palestinians from every inch of Palestine; from the 1948 ethnically-cleansed territories, Jerusalem, the West Bank, as well as the Diaspora.

I remember once sitting at a dinner table, generously dotted with tasty Turkish dishes and Palestinian-like pickles, along with three young women from Jerusalem who also made it to Turkey for the program, through Ben-Gurion Airport of course. Taking a mouthful of food between every few sentences, we talked generally about politics, life and work.

It was only when the young women started discussing events that took place on Share’ Yaffa, a famous street in Jerusalem known as Jaffa Road, that I started to feel like an outsider to the conversation. I sat back, and, with utter discomfort and agitation, I listened carefully, trying to gather what this road is like and where in Jerusalem it is located. The more the road was mentioned and passionately spoken about, the further I felt from myself, and worse, my Palestinian identity.

That day, my inability to relate to Share’ Yaffa forced me to question my perception of what a homeland is, a term I have for long taken without a grain of criticism. The watan I have always claimed I belonged to felt so distant and foreign. How is it that one belongs to what one has never seen, to something that exists as mere images that hang in the air only to fade away in the blink of the eye?  Am I Palestinian or Gazan? My passport is not the same as that of Palestinians in Jerusalem, it is different from that of the Palestinians of the “dakhil” — the inside — today’s Israel and there are millions of Palestinians in the diaspora with “foreign” European or American passports, or more commonly no passport at all. We don’t even use the same airports. The schizophrenia one feels in one’s identity causes sudden bouts of anger and discontent that are so difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile.

The dislocation of the collective Palestinian identity in line with Israel’s policies of separation was very evident throughout the program, which lasted for five days. I vividly recall how during the first two days, whenever I walked into the dining room, I saw, to my astonishment, geography.  At one table, Palestinians from the West Bank would be sitting together, casually chatting and laughing as if this is how it should be, as if this is how it hasalways been. The same went for the other groups, each sitting on a separate table, but, ironically, without Israeli checkpoints in between.

As the program drew to a close, many confessed to having come with preconceptions about others coming from a town different from their own. That the concept of Otherness is being virtually implemented within the Palestinian society itself is not only tragic but also bears the seeds of a fragmented identity that will further detach the people from each other and annihilate any sense of unity.

The various identities we came with did not melt into one completely; the barriers only lessened. The wounds these identities sustained were too deep to be overcome in five days. I averted any kind of interaction with anyone who came from Gaza; far from it, I spent the days mingling with, and talking to, only those who came from the watan I have strongly established in my consciousness. Gaza remained just Gaza.

Sometimes I regret not having allowed myself to accept Gaza alone as my homeland. The loss of the homeland is a terrible experience. It is the irreconcilable schism between the person and the feeling that they have an identity.

“You’re a lowlife. And will always be a lowlife. Palestinian trash” Twitter user says to me during “Pillar of Cloud.”

December 12, 2012

Throughout the so-called “Operation Pillar of Cloud” that began on November 14th 2012 and lasted until November 21st 2012, pro-Israel apologists launched another wave of hatred in the cyberspace.

Here are screenshots of some of what I received on my personal Twitter account, timed and dated. I tried to link the screenshots to their users but it seems to me that those apologists either disappeared from Twitter or deleted their posts.

I leave it for you to decide.

photo (10)

photo (9)

photo (5)

photo (7)

And gloating over the murder of women and children

photo (2)

photo (8)

Note the violent language used: “nuke,” “wipe off.”

photo (4)

IMG_20121116_182017

Text message my dad received on his phone from the Israeli terrorist army on November 16th. It says: “Stay away from Hamas elements, the next phase is coming.”

More than 150 people were  killed and 1,000 wounded in this offensive the majority of which are women, children and non-combatant men. Glory to those who were mercilessly murdered, wounded, and to those who survived.

How we used social media to spread facts about Operation Pillar of Cloud

December 11, 2012

Before you start off, here’s the link to the full list of my audio-recordings of sounds of explosions, drones, ambulance sirens and apaches that I compiled throughout the offensive. And here is my interview on CNN (a debate with an Israeli reservist):

Since a ceasefire agreement brought a measure of calm back to our lives in Gaza, I have been trying to collect and recollect my thoughts and emotions.

Throughout the latest eight-day long Israeli offensive on Gaza, now known as “Operation Pillar of Cloud,” I had been unable to sit down and calmly tap my commentary or even intuitive thoughts on the attacks.

Instead, I had been involved in social media-based reporting or citizen journalism. I’m not a doctor nor a resistance fighter, just an undergraduate student of business administration at a local university. In fact, I can hardly remember the number of times I cursed and mocked myself for not having enrolled in some first-aid course. What on earth was I thinking?

Gaza is “bliss”

But I was born in Gaza and have lived here my entire life. Although I managed to travel a number of times, I have never stayed out of this tiny, densely-populated enclave for longer than a month. For many, this may sound like something one would ooh and aah over. I, however, find it bliss.

This notion was emphasized last week, when many of my Twitter followers told me that they saw “nothing” of what we Gazans were reporting in their respective state-funded or national media. The first step I took when I decided to cover the attacks was that I would put my views and sentiments aside in order to be “credible.” I couldn’t.

Covering the attacks on Gaza without tapping my own views felt more like being a mainstream journalist striving to keep the image “balanced,” “unbiased” and “appealing” to everyone. It felt more like betraying the blood being mercilessly spilled by all kinds of warfare anyone can imagine, the screams that remained unheard under the rubble until they were silenced by the force of nature.

So by Thursday, 15 November, the second day of the Israeli attack, I surrendered to the fact that I could be credible without being “mainstream.” All attempts to split myself between my real self, an ordinary Gazan who belongs to and shares the feelings of this country, and a “balanced” journalist failed miserably. So I began voicing my “extreme views” (as Haaretzinsisted on calling them) alongside real-time news, publicly and unabatedly.

An unbalanced situation

Since my childhood, I have always dreamed of becoming a journalist, of pursuing a career in one of the most well-known news corporations. However, as I grew up and became more involved, journalism was no less than a huge disappointment.

Bearing witness to the mainstream reporting of last week’s events was a cruel slap across in the face whose effect shall always remain. I was and still am very sickened by the amount misrepresentation we received.

Seeing our rights and blood being sold out as “collateral damage,” as having “caught in crossfire” means one thing to me: I no longer feel the urge to become a journalist of the kind BBC, CNN and others prefer.

After all, this is an unbalanced situation: a US-backed occupation and an occupied people doing everything to liberate their land. How can any reporting be “balanced” when reality itself is so unbalanced?

Mainstream media contact me

I still wanted, however, to make it to the mainstream with the very sentiments my tweets involved. To do this, I took it upon myself to tweet confirmed news only. I was thinking that if I tweet –- and retweet – news and pictures that would be later on proved false, I will lose the opportunity of penetrating the mainstream barrier.

To my great surprise BBC, Al Jazeera English, CNN, The Sunday TimesThe Guardian or some of their journalists, either followed or contacted me.

Aided by a media contact list of citizen journalists in Gaza we collaboratively compiled and distributed, it became much easier for us, the people on the ground, to tell and share our experiences from our different perspectives. Indeed, even to win the cyberspace war.

Recording the sounds of destruction

Looking at my room back then with wires splayed all over the place, with the radio rumbling, bombs exploding nearby, phone ringing, windows rattling, I cannot but feel grateful to this country that taught us to love it and endure its boredom and difficulties.

I was teetering between my window, where I hung the iPad out to record sounds of explosions, and Twitter where I posted updates. Because I live just across the road fromGaza’s largest hospital, sirens and screams blended with the relentless buzzing of Israel’s unmanned drones were our everyday lullaby.

Most of the news and tweets that came out engaged only one of the five senses: the sight. The sounds were lacking despite them being at the heart of the experience. In fact, there are countless incidents where the glass on entire buildings exploded as a result of the deafening noise that accompanies the raids. Many people were injured while lying down on their beds as a result of glass pieces falling down on them.

So it came to me that what if I engage the ears, too? Navigating through what I had previously learned in a social media course, audioboo.fm was the right tool. This way, all followers of the worldwide trending hashtags of #Gaza and #GazaUnderAttack could hear real-time soundtracks of the explosions, sirens, screams and cries while reading the live updates pulsed in by young citizen journalists.

Despite the challenges, reaching the world, from Gaza

The number of views and shares I received on these audio-recordings was enormous. Mainstream media outlets embedded them into their live blogs and articles. Meaning, those who do not have Twitter or Facebook accounts were still able to access and listen to these recordings. In many occasions, the recordings were aired on local radios around the world.

However, this was not without challenges. We had to find a way to keep the world updated while the electricity and therefore the Internet are out. Our friends and colleagues in the West Bank offered to tweet on our behalf if we send them the updates through the mobile network.

Using these techniques, we were able to keep in touch with the people who were eagerly following our posts and updates.

Solace and freedom of movement in cyberspace

Being young and Palestinian at the same time means that you should be aware of the resources available around you. Otherwise, you will isolate yourself and your people. After all, Israel is doing everything in its power to further cut Gaza off from the outside world. Since we have limited access to books and travel, we find solace in cyberspace.

There, in the virtual world, we can move freely from country to country and find the information we need. We can establish and expand our networks and as was the case last week, counter mainstream propaganda that is constantly portraying us as the aggressors or “terrorists.”

Despite all the strength and perseverence you try to show, there is always that moment when you’re no longer able to hold back the tears you have suppressed.

That is when you fall short of the strength and preservation of others. A stroll around Gaza says it all. Out in the streets people are cleaning up the rubble, sweeping away dust and glass, extinguishing the fires that remained, and fixing the blown out doors of their homes.

This article was also published on the Electronic Intifada

 

 

Podcast: Live from #Tahrir Square, and 43 Days Later

August 11, 2012

On June 24th, Mohammed Morsi was announced as Egypt’s first ever civil president. Luckily, on that specific day, I was in Tahrir square celebrating with thousands of Egyptians. To me, seeing Morsi win over Ahmad Shafiq, a Mubarakist icon, deserved a celebration. I was tweeting the rapture that swept the crowds live from the Square and a few hours later, a journalist working with the Wire Radio contacted me on my Twitter account asking for an interview. Kindly click here to listen.

43 days later, on August 5th, 16 Egyptian boarder guards were killed in Sinai along the border with Israel-Egypt-Gaza. Although the assailants have still not been identified, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) accused the people of Gaza of being behind the attack and declared the Rafah Crossing (the only way out for the besieged people of Gaza) and underground tunnels  “indefinitely” closed.

On August 8th I published an op-ed on The Electronic Intifada commenting on the incident and obvious farce behind it. To read, kindly click here. Two days after publishing (yesterday), Nora Barrows-Friedman of The Electronic Intifada interviewed me on EI’s weekly podcast. To listen, kindly click here.

Thanks!

خربشات من مصر – الجزء الأول

June 27, 2012

(١)

“ألف ليلة و ليلة” هكذا غنت كوكب الشرق و أنا على متن طائرة مصر للطيران المتوهجة إلى تونس. الأيام التي قضيتها بمصر كانت فعلا واحدة من حكايات ألف ليلة و ليلة. هنا على ” كورنيش” النيل بين الزمالك و ميدان التحرير و بالقرب من ” ماسبيرو” تحديدا يقف حبيبان من عامة الشعب كلاهما يتأمل المياه التي تلونت بفعل الأضواء المنبعثة من السفن و القوارب السياحية المختلفة. من قال أن باريس فقط هي مدينة الأنوار؟ نهر السين و بغض النظر عن “برج إيفل” الباهر لا يتلون. هنا الشرق او المشرق كما يسميه المستشرقون و هنا عاشت الراقصة ” كشك هانم” التي كتب عنها إدوارد سعيد.

(٢)

جلست البارحة مع بعض الأصدقاء في قهوة شعبية اسمها “بورصة” و هي كما قيل لي من أشهر المقاهي المصرية التي طالما اجتمع فيها المثقفون من عامة الشعب. قالوا لي أن كثيرا من خطابات مبارك كانت تسمع هنا و أن كثيرا من “الجزم” رفعت في نفس المكان بعد خطاب مبارك الذي سبق تنحيه. فاجأني هناك سيدة عجوز ترتدي ثوب مصري شعبي اقتربت من طاولتنا و بدأت تنثر حبات فستق على الطاولة و معها نثرت دعواتها؛ “ربنا ينولك اللي ببالك” قالت و هي تطبطب على كتفي. كان ذلك معناه أن علينا أن نعطيها بعض الجنيهات القليلة مقابل الفستق و الدعوات. لعلها استحقت أكثر من جنيه او اثنان او خمسة، لا أذكر تحديدا. صبي صغير لفت انتباه الجميع حين بدأ يصرخ و يقول كلمات لم أفهم منها شيئا، هو الآخر كان يقدم عرضا و لكن بطريقة غير ” فستقية” إن صح التعبير، رغم أنني أعرف أنه لا يصح. المهم أن هذا الصبي كان يحمل أسياخ نيران يدورها قليلا في الهواء ثم يطفئها في فمه مثل هؤلاء الذين تراهم في” آربس جوت تالنت” إن كنت من متابعيه. بحماس “الأجنبي” الوقح قمت بالتقاط صورة له إلا أنه سرعان ما جاء يطالب بحقه بعد انتهاء العرض.

(٣)

“الشرطة في خدمة الشعب” و خلف هذه اللافتة يجلس شرطي نائم.

(٤)

في التاكسي و في طريقي من المقطم الى مكتبة ” الديوان” في شارع ٢٦ يوليو في الزمالك حيث سألتقي بأحد الأصدقاء سألني السائق أي طريق عليه أن يسلك، قلت له بلهجتي الفلسطينية “بعرفش أنا مش من هان” عندها منح السائق نفسه دورا جديدا و هو دور المرشد السياحي. “بصي إحنا دلوقتي هنعدي كوبري ٦ اكتوبر و هو أكبر جسر في مصر” و بعد قليل قال “و ده بقى طريق صلاح سالم اللي كان بيتقفل كتير أيام الثورة.” في هذه اللحظة بالضبط كنت أفكر بأمرين: الأول و هو قول السائق ” أيام الثورة” و كأنها ليست مستمرة. فمعظم الشباب الذين تحدثت معهم في التحرير يوم انتصار الدكتور محمد مرسي على منافسه من النظام المخلوع أحمد شفيق أكدوا أن الثورة مستمرة حتى إسقاط الإعلان الدستوري المكمل و معه التخلص من عسكرة الدولة التي يعمل عليها المجلس الأعلى للقوات المسلحة بقيادة المشير حسين طنطاوي. الأمر الثاني فكان خوفي من أن يستغل السائق جهلي بالشوارع فيسلك طرق طويلة فيطلب مني أن أدفع أكثر؛ و هذا فعلا الذي حصل.

(٥)

البارحة أيضا ذهبت إلى مسرح روابط الذي اختتمت فيه احتفالية فلسطين للأدب التي أقيمت في غزة في مايو الماضي. في الطريق، و مروراً بشارع طلعت حرب، قال لي أحمد -أحد أصدقائي المصريين- أن المسرح يشبه الكراج و ليس أبدا مثل ما يمكن أن يكون بمخيلتي. للأسف كان المسرح مغلقاً و لم أتمكن من رؤيته. أما ما كان جميلاً فهو فوجود سارة و سلمى و أحمد و المقهى المجاور لروابط.

(٦)

“إزاي إزاي إزاي أوصفلك يا حبيبي إزاي” ما زالت أم كلثوم تغني و ما أزال أنا بالطائرة.

كتبت يوم 26/6/2012

Hajj Othman tells his Nakba story

May 8, 2012

Kids in Deir Albalah refugee camp. Photo credit: Lara Aburamadan

He clicked his prayer beads shoving a heavy breath out of two enormous nostrils that, I imagined, tumbled over a thick mustache before joining the air. In fact, it looked more like a broom than a mustache. His voice was cluttered and laden with years. He is seventy one. I almost closed my eyes, taking in as much aura as my lungs allowed. It was a mixture of baked cookies, stench, and coffee.

A young woman sneaked out of a clay-and-cement shack holding a tray of coffee close to her chest. She bent down and placed it on a plastic table in the middle of a circle of which I, Hajj Othman, a friend of mine and her father formed the contour.

A few strands of hair slipped out the young woman’s yellowish headscarf and landed on her forehead. She raised two perfectly arched eyebrows as if summoning a thought from the air but instead of speaking, she lowered her eyes, and nervously pushed the strands back into the hijab.

Tfaddal, please help yourself” she finally broke the silence, serving the first cup to her grandfather, the Hajj.

“The guests first, seedi, darling” the grandfather rumbled, tenderly tapping her shoulder.

I never drink coffee except in funeral ceremonies where sugarless coffee becomes an arbitrary ritual; but her seemingly dim character and slight smile made me too vulnerable to reject anything. “Bless your hands, it is very well-made” I said, sipping the bitter liquid. “And your hands” she said, her face perking up.

I was in a meter-wide space between two shacks, one of which belonged to Hajj Othman; in an alleyway in Deir al-Balah refugee camp. To me, it was a fulfillment of a dream I had for so long denied myself. For so long I had been scared by the thought that I might look like an intruder who did not belong to this fragment of history.

Hajj Othman Sa’d Aldeen al-Habbash was born on 29 June 1941 in a small Palestinian village west of present-day Ashkelon known as al-Jura. On November 4 and 5 1948, the village was mercilessly depopulated of its native inhabitants who numbered just under 3,000 in 1948. Just like the rest, Hajj Othman, seven years old at the time, fled to Gaza.

“The Jews told us to grow crops and promised to export them for us; we waited and the crops rotted,” he recounted, rubbing his head, as if to stimulate the memories. “They imposed heavy taxes knowing that we would never be able to pay them, and once the due date had come, and we couldn’t pay, they mortgaged our lands and eventually confiscated them.” He arched his head towards the ground, clicked his beads for seconds and said: “Egypt sold us. King Hussein sold us.”

“I left my schoolbag at my house in al-Jura, we thought it was temporary. They raided us from their planes. Eighty-six were murdered in a matter of few minutes.”

The air was too dense by now; a rusty faucet at the turn of the alleyway was dripping. Two men approached us; we stood up and hoisted the chairs over our heads to make some space for them to pass. Alleyways.

“We were poor and scattered in tents; we mixed flour with powdered milk for food,” pause, a heavy breath, and a resumption: “I remained barefoot for many years. When I first enrolled in an agency [UNRWA] school, they handed me a pair of shoes. I embraced them, I couldn’t believe I owned them.”

I sank in my chair grappling with a tear quivering on the rims on my eyes. I was too immersed in my pain, too selfish to notice the reactions of my friend, and her father. He embraced his shoes.

Hajj Othman caressed us with a gentle gaze and smiled. When his smile stretched to take over the rest of his face, magnificent lines gradually appeared on the corners of his eyes. Without much resistance, my face adhered and loosened into a smile.

“I used to smoke four packets a day. My wife begged me to quit smoking but I never listened to her;” he said in between bursts of laughter, “when the agency replaced the tents with shacks, I hurled the last packet I had that day on the rooftop and I never smoked again.”

Hajj Othman told us about his village’s sycamore. He told us about his grandchildren. I thought of the young woman who served us coffee. “Not a single moment does my country skip my thoughts,” he boasted. “It is the same for my grandchildren; they miss al-Jura even though they have never seen it. They know exactly how it looks like.”

In a refugee camp, everything has a meaning; colorful laundry dangling from overworked lines, a boy leaving traces of Falafel behind his steps, two girls locking their arms and running their tongues over cheap ice-cream, a mother calling her son a “devil,” or a grandfather clacking his prayer beads, just like Hajj Othman. Everything has a meaning.

We were immersed. I, my friend, and her father. The air, in addition to baked cookies, coffee and sewage, was saturated with dormant anger. It was there in the “we shall return” graffiti, in the “Palestine is more precious than our blood,” and in the youthful faces, alas killed, staring down from posters perching on top of iron pillars or glued to walls.

750,000 native Palestinians were expelled during the Nakba and 531 villages were destroyed so that the “State of Israel” could come into being. “Kill the Arabs” read their graffiti, and so they did in Deir Yassin on April 9 1948; so happened in “Operation Mopping-up” in the Galilee. For those who owned lives in the Galilee — indeed all Palestinians — were “cockroaches” according to Raphael Eitan, the 1976 Israeli Chief of Staff.

The Nakba never ceased. We were treated like “cockroaches” during so-called Operation Cast Lead. And we are the “cockroaches” on a hunger strike in Israel’s cells. But we will always remain the “cockroaches” who pray, laugh, and fall in love. Nevertheless.

Also find it on the Electronic Intifada

On Mona Eltahawy’s “Why Do They Hate Us?”

April 26, 2012

The Orientalist imagery on Foreign Policy

I wonder what Edward Said would have said about the Orientalist imagery that accompanies Mona Eltahawy’s recent publication had the man been alive.

But let’s put this argument aside for a moment and take a closer look at the long-time controversial feminist’s publication. “Yes, they hate us” she claimed on Foreign Policy’s “Sex edition,” spurring hundreds of online readers to either commend her for fearlessly speaking the “truth,” or launch a hostile wave of criticism demanding that she steps down from her self-appointed position as a spokesperson for Arab-world women.

Indeed, Eltahawy’s argument that the reason behind Middle Eastern and North African oppression of women is “hatred” is a simplistic one that ignores the social, cultural and political contexts in which these women live. But not only that. Eltahawy went as far as to say that it is the Islamic philosophy that enables men to “hate” and hence “oppress” and “sexually harass” women.

While this is true for certain groups that practice religious exploitation to justify crimes against all sectors of a society, including women of course, the Arab world, especially prior to the outbreak of the Arab Spring, had long lived under the rule of secular authoritarian governments who took no issue with their “security apparatus” committing sexual harassments here, virginity tests there and in some few cases rape crimes.

Judging from my own experience as a Middle Eastern woman who lives under an Islamist rule in Gaza Strip, and who had previously lived under the rule of the secular Palestinian Authority, sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, was more prevalent under the later than is the case with the former.

Lamentably, Eltahawy made no mention of hate crimes that happen to take place in democratic countries such as the United States. Only one month ago, Shaimaa Alawadi, an Iraqi-American Muslim, was beaten to death in California. A note left by her murderer reportedly read: “Go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist.”

Nowhere in the publication does the reader note any indication to the fact that violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon that is rooted in both the Arab and Western worlds alike. Nor does she make any effort to explain why women organizations can be easily found in almost every country around the world. Although she never makes it explicit in her four-page long argument that the man of the West, unlike his Arab counterpart, cherishes and respects women, one can read her piece once to find that this implied meaning is as clear as the egregious illustration that accompanies the story.

The illustration is that of a nude woman fully covered in a black body-paint with the purposeful exception of her eyes. This sort of Orientalist imagery not only sexualizes the niqab – the Arab face veil- but the very anonymous creatures underneath too. Portraying the Arab woman as an exotic object, completely owned by the Arab man’s sensuality, or “hatred” as Eltahawy prefers, reduces us, the women of the Middle East and North Africa, to nothing more than static creatures devoid of voice or even a defined personality.

“Why the Orient seems to suggest not only fecundity but sexual promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies,” Said writes in his Orientalism, “is something on which one could speculate”

What is the purpose of presenting, actually representing, an Arab costume as something sexual if not to emphasize the same reductive dogmas that have long persisted since the eighteenth century? Why, from all women across the globe, were the Arab ones selected for discussion, if not definition, by a mostly western audience if not to falsely “prove” that the Arab world remains in need for the western euphemism of colonialism and neo-colonialism; in this case, enlightenment.

By being originally Arab, Mona Eltahawy not only misrepresented us, she also confirmed our already-distorted image in the eyes of her western and westernized readers. “Why,” a non-Arab may ask, “would an Arab woman lie about the very society from which she descends?”

It is not fair, however, to indefinitely blame Eltahawy for everything she writes and says. Whether we agree or disagree with her views, we are obliged to respect her freedom of speech. I ask her, however, not to generalize when she uses personal pronouns such as “we.”

On a different note, one cannot but be affected by the societies in which they grow up. It is worth noting, nevertheless, that the degrees to which our societies impact our persons and modes of thought vary in relation to other variables like the schools we enroll in, the friendships we make and the very cultural patterns of our families. Mona Eltahawy is no exception.

When the Arab world rose up and toppled decades-long dictatorships, women, men, children, adults, healthy and disabled together took part in the demonstrations in a unified call for human rights, democracy and gender equality.

I see myself in Afghanistan’s “backwardness”

March 27, 2012

When I was young, I used to ask my mother why foreigners leave their countries to a “very boring” place like Gaza. “Work,” my mother used to say, unable to resist a frown that quickly turned into a half-smile; “they have work to accomplish, plus Gaza is a very beautiful place to live in, habibti.”

Noticing her irritation and slight grit of her teeth as she pronounced “habibti,” a feeling of shame would entice me to pinch her hand until she demanded I stop.

Many years later, inconsolable contempt seemed to replace my naivety as my eyes took in TV-released images of the second Palestinian intifada. I sat on the edge of the living room’s table and peeked at my parents’ alarmed expressions. Young boys were throwing barrages of stones at armored military jeeps and the Israelis responded to them with open fire.

“Cowards,” my dad suddenly roared, his expressions set ablaze; “look at our boys! They are fighting with bare chests but the dogs are hunting them as if they were mice! Get out of your jeeps if you dare, bastards!”

I would listen attentively only to recall my father’s words each time an intifada-like confrontation erupts in the many years to follow. The cowards who hunt down our boys from armored military jeeps are the same cowards who destroyed Jenin back in 2002. The same ones who felt nothing but “a light bump to the plane” as they ruthlessly dropped all kinds of bombs on Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods in 2008-2009. And you tell me if they are any different from the uniformed thugs who mercilessly attack peaceful demonstrations in Nabi Saleh and Beit Hanoun in the West Bank and Gaza respectively.

My contempt reached its peak as I watched pretentious imperialist heroes in posh outfits and shining shoes unreluctantly reducing death to alluring euphemisms. They made everything of death but death itself. A death dried-out of its natural horror, gravity and enchanting drama. Our charred flesh is nowhere to be found but in cheap categories like “collateral damage” or the “unintentional drifts” of rogue, drunk, deranged, or mad soldiers –it doesn’t really make a difference to those slaughtered and to their families- carrying out the “legitimate” mission of “surgical killings.” And if a child is murdered, excuse the murderers, but the kid fell prey to the horridness of some carefully-planned “human shield.”

Are they not invading our lands to modernize us? Are they not harassing our women in the name of liberty? Are we, the uncivilized people of color, not in need for development? And they, the wealth-loving businessmen, exploit our resources for whose sake but ours?

The anonymity of the sixteen slain Afghan civilians, nine of whom were playful children a few days ago stirred up every remaining tranquility I have ever possessed. I know Arye, Gabriel, and Miriam, the innocent Jewish children who wrongfully paid in blood for the crimes of Israel — so their murderer claimed. Their ages I have repeatedly read everywhere; six, three and eight, respectively. The Afghans remain the unseen shadows of an oppressive life. I know all about Mohammed Merah, the terrorist, who executed their breaths in France. But how different is Mohammed Merah from Robert Bales, the madman,who set fire to the beds of young, nameless Afghans, in their sleep?

Even death has been deformed into ethnocentric classifications. And death, unable to digest the crushed of the world, drops them into lesser classifications. As if the flames that seared Afghan flesh never existed, as if their flesh were trash, Bales is felt for and cared about. World Empires, we are told, would have held him accountable but alas, the man, on a humane mission to modernize the Afghans, who spend their lives in cloaks and use their fingers to eat, did not know he was committing an atrocity. Merah’s first name, unlike Bales, is Mohammed; he is an Arab, a Muslim, a perfect candidate to be designated and then marketed in the same Orientalist outfit as a terrorist.

I, a Palestinian, identify with the miseries of the people of Afghanistan and see myself in their “backwardness.” For every slaughtered Afghan child of any age, a Palestinian version is easily found. Every sexually harassed  Palestinian woman, finds a similar victim in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Pakistan. It is a world that follows abhorrent ideologies wherein industrial interests and ethnoreligious convictions rule.

Israel is not different when compared to the US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. Both commit ugly crimes and both invest extensively to manufacture subservient puppets to accomplish what they cannot do otherwise. Hamid Karazi, the Afghan president, together with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, are American and Israeli productions respectively. Both are excellent when it comes to condemnations and “serious” ultimatums and demands that usually go unmet.

The eyes through which I have come to see the world were not an option. I live in a country where refugee camps are packed with human throngs as if they were sardines. The indignities saunter with scorn before my eyes. And as I walk, drooped with the grief of the night, massacred Palestinian fighters grin at me from huge posters. Anger shakes tears out of my body; I was spared again. I selfishly think of myself, being unable to set foot in Jerusalem; lacking the courage to knock on the iron gate of the buffer zone, slap a blue-eyed soldier of my age, force him out of my way, and make it, on foot, to Jerusalem.

I look at death as if it were my brother. It breathes down my neck, and I breathe in its face. I have seen it in Israel’s crimes. I see it now as darkness encrusts Gaza every single night. There is no one to console or temper the humiliation of mothers giving birth publicly at checkpoints. And of course, nobody to pacify the anger of a man, clinging to a dented radio in a refugee camp, as if the morning broadcaster is always about to announce that the long-awaited return is no longer a taboo.

Dear readers,
For updates on Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week, kindly check out my coverage here.
Also find the above article on the Electronic Intifada.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 18,473 other followers