Archive for the ‘Spotlight’ Category

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.

Palestinian orphans in solidarity with Hana Shalabi

March 7, 2012

Also find my piece on Khader Adnan published earlier on The Electronic Intifada; you can also find this one here.

Palestinian children paint in solidarity with Hana Shalabi. Photo credit: Maram Humaid

Whenever my feet carry me to Hana Shalabi’s solidarity tent, my eyes fall, before anything else, on a piece of paper attached to huge banner wherein Shalabi grins at those coming to wish her a quick release. That small white piece of paper read “20” today.

The battle of empty stomachs continues. An empty stomach against an entire criminal system; a young woman against armed soldiers; the ones whose orders are higher than any conscience they might possess. Shalabi is a “terrorist,” how dare you defend her?

By Israel’s warped standards, I’m a terrorist too. Perhaps standing with a “terrorist” degrades my status from a student, activist, daughter, friend, call me anything, to a terrorist. Perhaps all of those who support Shalabi’s cause are terrorists, even those Israelis who are clear to be against administrative detention and who have described it as one of the most anti-democratic laws in Israel.

Call the kids I met today as terrorists too. It will make no difference; they have always been treated like a threat, like terrorists, and maybe eventually killed.

Fifteen orphan children

I was surprised to see fifteen orphan children belonging to al-Amal Orphan Association in the tent earlier today. The association is known for the services it provides for orphan children in Gaza. Homeless orphans find a home, school and a caring family in the association.

“Many of the orphans who live in the association’s dwellings are sons and daughters of families that were murdered during Operation Cast Lead” said Raji Shenaino, a member of al-Amal’s board of directors.

The children were there to express their soft emotions on a huge piece of cloth held to a wall right opposite Hana Shalabi’s solidarity tent. Each child held a brush and watercolors and painted something on the cloth. The kids painted doves, olive branches, Palestinian flags, suns inside which Hana’s name was written; and phrases like “I’m with Hana Shalabi,” “yes for freedom, no for oppression,” and things like “we are all Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi.”

I asked eleven-year old Nour Yasseen, an orphan, why she came to the tent. “Because of freedom” she said, twisting with something of a shy smile on her face. “Whose freedom,habibti?” I asked, trying to pull words out of her tiny mouth; “Hana’s” she replied, “I hope she comes back.”

Donya Felfel, eight years old, told me that she was in the tent to “visit” Hana and that she hopes “she comes out of prison to play with her sisters and mother.”

“I want Hana to know that we will not forget her and that we stand with her; I want to tell her that the administrative detention will go,” said Yasser al-Nabulsi, fourteen years old, also an orphan.

The way these children expressed their solidarity with Hana Shalabi proves that even Palestinian children, no matter how young, cannot escape the politicization of their lives. Yet they are hardly “being taught to become suicide bombers,” an myth constantly invoked by Israel and its supporters.

A powerful message

Unlike the picture anyone is most probably going to draw of an orphan, those orphans are quite different.

“We wanted to send a powerful message,” said Maram Humaid, a young activist and organizer of the painting event, “that despite the fact that the children are orphans, they do not wait for the world to stand in solidarity with them; instead, they themselves speak up in solidarity with others; this is a powerful message for everyone around the world to know, that the Palestinian children are not weak.”

Censored

The drawings and paintings the children came out with today reminded me of the paintings that were censored by Israel’s lobbyist groups a few months ago in the US.

It did occur to me to wonder whether the paintings were going to be banned from being displayed had they been sent to the US.  Perhaps doves are anti-Semitic and violence-inciting in the sickening criteria of the Apartheid state and its supporters.

Palestinians and desensitization: is it the time for a third intifada?

January 21, 2012

Also published on my blog on The Electronic Intifada 

Palestinian refugees queuing at UNRWA to receive subsidies. Photo credit: Lara Aburamadan

The more I tread through Gaza’s roads, the more I get trapped into a web of complexities. “Do not be too political” I whisper to myself. I try too hard but I fail. Cars, buses, food; all stamped with Hebrew calligraphy. To me, given my Hebraic illiteracy, the stamps represent one thing: a calligraphic occupation.

It is me grappling with a bunch of irritating realities in a city of over-expressive details. Even the few coins I tucked into my pocket this morning are stamped. Israel’s warships continue to dot the sea and there at the far end of my sight lies the untouchable: my mother’s ethnically cleansed home of origin, Almajdal (Ashkelon nowadays).  Ashkelon is a glowing Israeli city that is close enough for the people of Gaza to see, yet, never to reach. When it comes to us, the inferior demographic bomb, Ashkelon is nothing better than a kill-on-the-spot zone.

I was fourteen years old when Israel “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005.  At the time, I was too naïve to fathom the reasons behind and consequences of such political move. Years later, I would conclude that it only helped desensitize us to the occupation by reducing the level of direct physical interaction between us, the people of Gaza, and Israel’s facts on the ground. The people of the West Bank, on another hand, paid the price; house demolitions soared and new settlements were built up to redeploy thousands of rooted-up settlers.

UNRWA

International agencies, especially those concerned with the refugees such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), are, deliberately or not, helping keep us from being in flagrant touch with the injustices of Israel’s occupation. The majority of Gaza’s refugees depend on the UNRWA for subsidies, work, even medical treatment and schooling for their children.

A year ago, during the Gaza-based Israeli Apartheid Week, we hosted a Palestinian refugee known as Hajj Abu Hezaima.  Hajj Abu Hezaima witnessed the ethnic cleansing of his village, Zarnouga in 1948. Tears rolled down the old man’s face as he told us his story. Like many refugees, the Hajj had worked at the UNRWA for several years, and in the end, he made an important remark: “The refugee problem could be solved; but the UNRWA is cementing it.”

The UNRWA, just like any other UN-controlled agency, is dominated by Israel’s most powerful ally: the US. More than a year ago, when John Ging was still in charge of theUNRWA, he told me that in order achieve a lasting peace with Israel, we must opt for and fully support a solution based on diving Palestine into two states. When I asked him about the fate of refugees, he said that we must “sacrifice” in order to achieve peace.

Now, close your eyes and imagine Gaza, without the UNRWA.

Palestinian refugees, whether inside Palestine or in the Diaspora, constitute the vast majority of the Palestinian population everywhere. Those who continue to live in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere are those who suffer the most due to the harsh conditions under which they are forced to live. Now if the UNRWA and UNRWA-like agencies disappeared, the majority of the Palestinian population, the refugees, will lose the last straw. They will suddenly be exposed to the untamed brutality of Israel’s Aryan-akin practices. With no subsidies, clothing or appropriate schooling to speak of, Palestinian refugees everywhere will flood the streets realizing that the time has come for the long-awaited return.  A third intifada?

Everyone is doomed

But everyone in the Palestinian society seems to be doomed.  The non-refugees are highly dependent on foreign aid and the fate of their families is hanging at the PA’s “appropriate” handling of what Israel deems as its “security.”

Now that Saeb Erekat is back to the table, he, once again, is placing us in a falsified context where the oppressor and the oppressed project themselves as equal parts. This settlement-expansion process i.e. peace process, is further expanding the gap between the Palestinians and their leadership.

Ma’an News Agency presented a poll on its website wherein 68.7% regarded the current Amman negotiations as “pointless” with only 20.3% regarding them as “a positive step toward peace.” Eleven percent voted for “harmful to national reconciliation efforts.”

Negotiations have more than once proved to be useless. In fact, they proved to be damaging to the very essence of the Palestinian popular struggle i.e. the Right of Return.

A third intifada

I was born to a Gazan father and a refugee mother who has never experienced life in refugee camps. My grandfather was a lucky man; when Zionist gangs expelled him from Ashkelon, he took everything he needed to start a life in Gaza without being convicted to any of the thousands of UN-distributed tents. I have always been ashamed of myself finding it embarrassing not to have been raised in a refugee camp, or, at least, of not having a touching story to share and write about.

There in the folds of three-room shacks, in the eyes of barefoot kids weaving through stench-smelling alleyways, in the angry melodies of the first and second intifada, lies, in utter anguish, the third intifada.

In every non-refugee house, deprived of representation, constantly looked at as the “spoilt” who sacrifices “the least” shrieks the bitterness caused by a life of uncertainties.

People everywhere are born to be free. Enslavement is not only illegal because it causes human miseries, but because it essentially opposes the sound human nature that views fellow human beings as brothers and sisters not as slaves or second-class citizens. Unfortunately, Israel is singling itself out of this category.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, more Palestinian land has been expropriated and the Nakba never ceased. The Palestinian leadership, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, proved to be politically disabled; a broken record at best. Israel’s Apartheid is breaking new grounds passing new racist laws every day. World leaders are becoming more biased than they have ever been turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Isn’t it the time for a popular Palestinian revolution in the form of a third intifada?

Blogging in Palestine: My Interview on Truth and Justice Radio – Boston

October 11, 2011

Two days ago, I was interviewed on This Week in Palestine, a US-based radio segment.

I was asked to discuss various topics including the reason behind the increasing number of bloggers in Gaza, life under Hamas and under the occupation, the UN bid, and several others.

To listen to this interview, kindly click here.

A European Union in Palestine

September 21, 2011
You can also find this piece on my blog on The Electronic Intifada.
More of my views over the PA’s statehood bid are expressed on New York Times and The Daily News Egypt.

Olive tree facing Israeli buffer zone.

My story as someone who writes (writer is too good a title for me), emerged from a very small chaotic class some seven years ago. I used to think of myself then as a lion-hearted correspondent who puts on a bulletproof vest and maintains her feet in the middle of ferocious Israeli tanks. I used to imagine my high-pitched tone reporting live-streams that appear as Breaking News on thousands of TV screens.  Somehow, I had been playing and re-playing videos of al-Jazeera’s reporters in my naive head all the time.

Thanks to Israel, which is the heart of most of my pieces, I received an unexpected e-mail from The Electronic Intifada editors, asking me to start blogging for the website about a week ago. I bounced up with joy and dashed out of the room to announce the news. While my mother labored to produce an over-ecstatic expression, my younger sisters looked at me from the corners of their eyes and rolled them back to their half-filled dishes.

Israel, without which my correspondence dreams wouldn’t have existed and because of whom I blog today, seems to have brought us, too, a mirage called “the State of Palestine.”

Last Friday, my eyes almost pierced the TV and shot my outdated president, Mahmoud Abbas, a scornful look. With his nose crinkled and a grey broom crawling out of his nostrils, he vowed to resume negotiations with Israel only if he was guaranteed full membership in the unwelcoming bosom of the UN. My mouth exploded with curses and I pulled off my rotted socks, balled them, and hurled them at him. Skillfully, they landed on his face. “I wish you could feel it, expired tuna!” I muttered.

He, in his neat suit and air-conditioned home in Ramallah, will agree to discuss “issues” like borders, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem had his dream of a Palestinian state broke out into reality. How would it be possible to reassess borders when he claims that the state of Palestine will be based on the “indefensible” 1967 lines? How credible is his alleged commitment to the Right of Return when millions of neglected refugees are not even being consulted on their fate?  I can clearly see the two faces of the PLO.

When I close my eyes and think of a state, something similar to France winds up my head. A smile escapes my memory and molds itself out on my face. I rejoice at the memory of my legs as they sprinted from Lille (in France) to Brussels, two months ago, unhindered by security-concerned soldiers or humiliating checkpoints.

The complexity of the entire world seems to have crippled off my brain the day I put one leg in Brussels and the other in France. I couldn’t believe that both Gaza and France march over the very same planet.  When I came back to Gaza, I often thought of a Palestinian version of the European Union uniting us with the West Bank, Jordan, and Egypt. I did not dare, however, to divulge such alien thoughts to any of my friends.

But one’s eyes cannot but open. And when they do, reality creeps over my body and snatches everything alien from the air. The state they want me to embrace is one disconnected and disjoined by a racist wall. A state on less than 22% of historic Palestine through which illegal settlements snake and swallow up water and other natural resources. Something that one can call a bantustan. Indeed, something I, we, the majority of Palestinians, cannot afford.

One hour following Abbas’ speech, last Friday, I, Huwaida Arraf, the co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and another Palestinian girl were interviewed on BBCWorld Have Your Say. Three Israelis were also brought in to the show to present their views over the PA’s statehood bid.  I flared up when one Israeli suggested that “a One-State solution means the elimination of Israel.”

Ahead the episode, I had been told that it would be more of a discussion than an interview. But I found myself muted when I died to squirt at the Israeli as he blurted out with lies and baseless information. Arraf, also told me on twitter that she had been gagged at some point.

Coincidently, a few days ago, I was stirred by a comment from someone on a recent piece on my blog accusing me of “yearning for the eradication of Israel.” I think I should learn to accustom myself to such sort of accusations every time I speak in favor of a One State.

Palestine is not Nazi Germany, and the eradication of Israel is not what Palestinians seek to achieve. It is not always right to use statements from history and try to identify them with the present. When Israeli Jews tend to play with history and assume a widespread anti-Semitic fanfare, this is because it serves their vile purposes not because it applies to reality.

The world we were born into did not provide us with many options. Everything is a difficult decision. Sometimes it’s either you travel tomorrow or miss the scholarship forever simply because it was an extraordinary opening of the Rafah Crossing that is not likely to occur more often.   Even if it was your brother’s wedding or the birth of your first child.

Many people here subsist on charities and many live in uninhabitable shacks. There are times when hundreds of frameless bodies and the fractured dreams they carry dive in sewage to the knees.  They would invite neighbors to join them on the rooftops in order to avoid mosquitoes, a scorching weather and an intolerable smell. On better occasions, when the only misfortune is a “normal” power outage, refugees pack the rooftops under the dim light of the moon to share stories and smoke hookah. The lamma (friendly gathering) has always compensated for their wrenches and searing pains.

A refugee’s ultimate dream is to go back to the land on which his ancestors lived respectable lives and feed from the olive groves they cared for. Sometime back into history Palestinians and Jews lived side by side, shared meals, weddings and religious ceremonies. There were times when Palestinians and Jews hoped for a better future alongside each other. Sometime before the state of Israel was created and before hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced across the countries to never return.

350 Meters Away from the Israeli Border.

February 25, 2011

Also published on The Electronic Intifada.

A couple of days ago, after midnight, I was surfing the web to learn more about the missiles that had been fired at Be’er Sheva causing damage in the region while no casualties were reported according to Haaretz. What was really surprising, the article’s headline said: “Gaza militants fire missile at Be’er Sheva for first time since Gaza war.” The headline provoked in me these two questions: Why do Israelis have to stress on first times after every such incident? Are they trying to drag the attention away from their “every-time” missiles?

Just a few minutes later, a number of Apache helicopters began to hover heavily in the sky. A sound of an explosion was soon heard; and since I live opposite to Al-Shifa hospital –the biggest hospital in Gaza- I was able to see about three ambulances speeding away to evacuate potential casualties. According to Palestinian news agency Ma’an two Palestinians were injured in southern Gaza and one unconfirmed death was reported.

I was extremely irritated by the air-strike because the next day, I and Silvia, an activist with the ISM (International Solidarity Movement), were supposed to go to Khuza’a, a small village to the South near the Israeli border, to record a video call for massive Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Apartheid Israel. I knew it was going to be dangerous to go there especially after the attacks and that my father would ask me in the morning to stay at home.

I woke up at 8 o’clock and had to argue with my father for a while until he said in the end: “You want to go? Fine! But you will have to be at home within a moment if they targeted Khuza’a!” My father is a surgeon and during the 2008-2009 war on Gaza, he had been through a lot treating the injured and running one surgery after another in the overcrowded hospital, sometimes on a freezing floor. That’s how I usually translate his categorical concern about me and my family.

Due to the argument, I arrived to where taxies gather at 9:10. Silvia, an Italian, was already waiting for me and I had to apologize for not being on time. It was incredibly normal with the taxi drivers, as if no raids had taken place a few hours ago. Some drivers were calling for people who were heading to Rafah, others were calling for Deir Al-Balah, and we ,among others, took the microbus taxi heading to Khan Younis -a small city from which we would catch up for a Khouza’a-heading taxi.

Microbus


On the way Silvia called Yamen, a friend of hers who lives and works in Khuza’a at the Village Improvement National Center and who is basically a civil engineer to guide us through the village. I was amazed that almost everyone in the microbus and later in Khuza’a thought that I’m a foreigner! Silvia suggested that this was because I was speaking English with her and because of the color of my eyes and hair.

Within 30 minutes, the bus dropped us in Bani Suhaila street in Khan Younis, where we took another taxi that carried us to Khuza’a, particularly to Yamen’s workplace. And with me, Silvia, Yamen and his sister Layal walking out of his workplace the journey began writing its moments down on the papers of destiny.

Silvia, Yamen, Layal

One who doesn’t know Khuza’a and enters it for the first time, knows a lot about it once his eyes fall upon its wide green acres, its rural buildings and from the horizon one can know a lot about the occupation.

In Khuza'a

Horizon

350 meters away from the Israeli border, one realizes that he’s a likelihood target, realizes from the proximity of the watchtowers that he has to think well before he acts so as not to become a suspect. And because I was aiming my camera at their towers I was almost in full danger and under no mercy but the mercy of the live ammunition that could be fired at me at any moment! I’m now recalling back the voices of Silvia and Yamen, asking me to step down from the rubble where I was standing, telling me that what I’m doing is not necessary and that it can cost me my life.

Israeli Watchtower

That is how you interpret Khuza’a; a fecund Palestinian woman with her tanned skin and raven hair, smells like olive trees and apple pears, yet, she is raped…

There, drawing our footprints on one of Khuzaa’s unpaved roads, we passed by a fence through which we saw two old women weeding out grass that had overgrown due to the rain.

Talking to the women

-“Hello” I said to the women raising my voice to make sure that they can hear me.

-” Hello to you” the women replied.

- “Can I come in?” I asked.

-“Yes, you’re very welcome,” said one of the women moving towards the fence’s locked gate to open it for me.

Opening the gate

Silvia and Yamen waited for me on the road; they were used to the village. Silvia had come here many times and Yamen already lives in the village.

The women were kind to me and generous. They were funny and extremely curious; they kept asking questions about my nationality, where I live, my work, and what I was doing in the village. They asked me to take pictures of them and offered me tea, but Silvia and Yamen were waiting outside and I had to leave promising that next time I will have my tea with them.

Joining Yamen and Silvia again, Yamen suggested that we visit the Al-Najjar family, a family that has “so many stories to tell and whose house lies really close to the borders” as he said. On the way we passed by a school which was the only remaining school in the village after the Israeli brutal attack on Gaza.

It took us 15 minutes on foot until we arrived. There, a woman (Um Anas) greeted us very kindly while other women brought plastic chairs to the balcony. Um Anas sat on the stairs and two others sat on the threshold stoop. I asked Um Anas to come and sit instead of me assuring her that I’m fine with the stairs and that I don’t feel tired. She refused to take my place saying she knows that we in Gaza City always sit on chairs and that she’s a farmer and farmers always sit on the ground!

Wafaa, a member of the family appeared a while later. Wafaa told us her story… She is 16 years old, she was shot in her knee two years ago just after the war while going to school in the early morning. “I was just going to school when they shot me, I was 14 years old, I know I can walk but I wish I could run like I used to before” she said and Silvia’s video camera recorded. I asked her if she’s willing to continue her studies after high-school, she said yes and that she wants to become an artist.

Silvia videoing Wafaa

She then invited me to see a portrait of her brother who was killed by the Israelis. Wafaa wept while telling his story. “He was out with his friend, the dinner was ready and we were waiting for him when we suddenly heard a gunshot, we went out and it was him lying dead on the red ground.”

Tea is a ritual in Khuza’a, whenever you knock a door they won’t let you out unless you drink a cup of tea. We had our tea with the family; it was very sweet, contrasting in its taste, the sour taste of the stories that infiltrated each sip. “They bulldozed 25sq.m. that belong to us, they turned our land into a road for their tanks” Um Anas said with a whiff of pain in her eyes.

Um Anas on stairs

We spent one hour in their house then we thanked them for their generous hospitality, promised to visit again and left.

We continued to march, the sun was vertical and I had to take my jacket off and cover my head with it. We met a man on the road, he was cutting the good tomatoes from a heap of branches.

Silvia, Me, Yamen

-“Come take pictures of me and give me money” the man shouted.

-“I have only 20 Shekels in my bag” I replied.

-“20 Shekels now but at the end of the month you’ll get $1000″

- “We are just volunteers we don’t get paid” I answered.

The man laughed and so did we.

But fun doesn’t last long in this village. We were soon videotaping a man whose house had been completely destroyed during the war and who still lives with his wife under the rubble.

Behind the man: his house. Silvia recording

Zooming into the house

We were physically and emotionally tired after listening to all these stories and after meeting families who live under abject poverty line incapable to feed their children.

Another interesting thing about the Country is how they make use of rubble taken from the Israeli settlements after they withdrew from Gaza. The following picture explains two walls that were positioned here strategically to prevent the gunshots coming from the border from murdering the people who live in the houses lying behind these walls.

Yamen and a friend who joined us later

And that’s a picture of a very cool old woman, talking to someone on her cell phone. When I asked to photograph her, she laughed loudly as if I was telling a joke. “She wants to photograph me” the woman said to the one on her phone.

That woman, with her traditional Palestinian embroidered dress was the last one we met in the village of green fields, and here with the sound of her laughter still ringing  in my ears, one fact remains true for generations and generations to come: it is the land for which we shall revolt and resist until victory is ours. And from here, it is obvious why boycotting Apartheid Israel has become a necessity and a patriotic obligation for every Palestinian and everyone who views him/herself as a defender of Human Rights.

 

Future Alleys – BDS in Palestine

November 9, 2010

Sitting face to face to my computer screen typing the words you might read or might be reading at the moment, I had nothing but a confused mind. It has been a month since I last updated my blogging site.  That October was not normal like the Octobers I have experienced in my former 18 years. I was too idle to do anything. I ignored my university references, my novels, and my political books. I was too lazy even to attend many of my important lectures or check the websites I used to surf through!

I spent the month wandering through the streets contemplating the faces of those human frames walking the streets back and forth in the same rhythm of life! Each face told a story and each pair of eyes evoked a notion within my vague thoughts. Among the faces was a tanned boy pacing after anyone his black eyes fell upon, he begged each to pay him NIS 1 (The Israeli currency used by the Palestinians) for a cheap chewing gum he offered.

It irritated me watching his esteem being stabbed by the pathetic language he used to attract the sympathy of his potential customers. When my turn came, he started repeating the same tape he had repeated a thousand of times to every single passerby, I was already discontented by the carelessness the government showed towards the neglected strata of the society. “Sell, do not beg!” I told him. “I do not beg” the boy murmured and walked away leaving me with my great feeling of shame and sorrow for not being able to help him but to have hurt his esteem even more.

“My life isn’t easier than his” I thought. “I’m loaded with my heavy dreams, ambition and future aspirations”.  A van interrupted the roaming of my mind. The paints on the van expressed the Tnuva brand (An Israeli Company for dairy and cheese products). But what difference would that van make to the people who are loyal to Tnuva? I’m sure it cheered them up! Those filthy Zionists are sneaking into the economies and are exploiting the blindness of the populace and the complicity of the governments. They are seeking a worldwide Zionist-led economy.

Now, back to the moment of myself face to face to the screen writing this and having written the above, I remembered an article I read today’s morning on Ynetnews admitting that Spanish fashion chain Javier Simorra opened its first store in Israel recently, at Tel Aviv’s Ramat Aviv Mall, and that some NIS 1.5 million (about $410,000) were invested in the flagship store. And yet we insist on raising funds on behalf of our arch-foe Israel.

Another article on the same website said that Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has just inaugurated a Jewish school in Baku. I flashed back to that boy who did need an education center for him and for hundreds of fellows living under abject poverty line. I concluded that the event was not “religious tolerance” as mentioned in the article but was another blatant treason and a Zionist instrument under a Jewish cover toward a new propaganda project, campaign and systematic program to poison and inject venom into the clean minds.

A couple of months ago in a former piece published in my blog, I tried to invoke the idea of launching a BDS movement across the Palestinian territories. During that period and up to this date I have gained quite an impalpable support to the issue, though I worked incessantly to provoke the rage against the settlement construction in Jerusalem, and the excavations being held day and night on the sacred soil of the Holy Land.

Huge matters seem to be absurd when heard for the first time and seem not to  ring a bell! But I know that the most prominent movements in the world were initiated by one or more freethinkers who did believe in the universal law of attraction and in triumph itself.

 

I tell you son, I have witnessed your blood being traded for a can of juice.

September 21, 2010

I’m at a marketing lecture at the university, it’s blazing hot, and I can’t seem to be concentrating!

“The golden rule: The customer is always right the customer is a king!” – My eyes read on the whiteboard. “Can you explain it for us, Rana?” the words crept out from the lecturer’s fat lips with her blue marker pointing at the statement. “Yes” I replied nonchalantly, “It says that companies seek the highest satisfaction for their customers”. Her hazel eyes beamed suddenly, “pretty close!” she commented and went on detailing the purpose of marketing lucidly.

I rested my head on my grip and my elbow on the shabby green desk against the wall. Finally, the long-awaited words hurled out of her mouth “We’ll continue on Wednesday, have a good day!” “We’re eventually released,” Said one of my colleagues, ironically. “I thought it was going to last forever!” replied another, and we all burst out laughing.

I felt my tongue dried up, I had no wish but for a can of  fresh juice. I hurried down to the campus, and in a few moments I was staring at the façade of the fridge in the Galaxy Supermarket. Those were rows of Coca Cola cans with Hebrew letters printed on the metal round bodies.  There on the left were the “Prigat” plastic bottles: a very popular Israeli-produced juice with a number of flavors and very attractive colors. Pineapple flavor, strawberry if you prefer, apple if you like or maybe you want the taste of the oranges. Even the water bottles were imported from Tel-Aviv.

This disgraceful mawkish view put me out of my nerves, and what pulled my mind out of my head was the feeling that I was compelled to testify tens of students from my university among them my own friends paying shamelessly to the so-called state of Israel and stupidly ignoring the fact that they are nourishing the occupation and perpetrating crimes against humanity and babies in cradles! I stepped out of the pro-Zionist Galaxy supermarket, and went to the next, thinking I was not going to see the same dirty behavior, but unfortunately I did, and the same echoed at the third pro-colony supermarket.

Dear Gazans, dear colleagues, dear friends,

Your anti-Palestinian, anti-patriotic actions are bestial, brutal and lunatic. I despise you and despise you dramatically. If you give up half an hour of your precious time supporting the bloodshed, you’ll get to know about the Boycott Divestment & Sanctions Movement against Israel (BDS) that is growing and gaining more and more attention each day in the West. This movement was initiated by grassroots, school and university students FOR OUR SAKE, for the sake of  justice, and the ending of the imposed siege which is being nourished by YOU.

Dear you, whoever you are, paying currency for the so called IDF,

You’re a traitor and you don’t deserve your Palestinian identity. You’re proving that your land is not of your concern. You’re signing a selling contract of the Palestinian land. You’re a hoodlum and a heavy load on the shoulders of Palestine. Remember those who were slaughtered on the Turkish Flotilla, and remember that you paid for the bullets their troops used to massacre them.  Stand up for a moment please and remember that 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians including women and children, were killed in three weeks.

I suggest, that we think again and remember the horrific images of the last war on Gaza. It’s time that we start a BDS movement in Gaza and the West Bank. Devote some efforts, some money and some time to the movement. Or at least let us save the innocent blood and boycott the Israeli products so we don’t trade the blood of our children for a can of juice. It will be extremely harsh to tell our sons: “I tell you son, I have witnessed your blood being traded for a can of juice.”

Memory Drafts – Farah Abu-Haleema

September 3, 2010

On a very hot day, in August 2009, me and nine other participants were preparing our equipment for a full-day field shooting using Canon digital cameras which were distributed to us during a photographing workshop, supervised by an Italian photographer, Giacomo Pirozzi.

We were divided into small groups. Me, Lara, Abdullah and Homam were group (D). We were asked to choose two or three places to go to and come back with a story. We agreed on going to the port where we can shoot stunning photos of  boats and fishermen under the good light of the early morning sun. And we agreed that we should go to the old gold Souq (Souq in Arabic means a small market or shop) and make use of the old views and the lovely golden light, and finally we decided to go to Al-Salateen neighborhood; a moaning neighborhood that had been severely infected in the last war on Gaza, it was obvious to each of us, that the best story can be found there.

We first went to the port as planned and then to the Souq, captured wonderful images of happy faces, and heard the narrations about the ancient Souq.

But in Al-Salateen everything was different.

Walking through the unpaved streets, our camera lens could see nothing but sad faces and ruined homes, or homes without doors due to the abject poverty and the very low standard of living that added a sour taste to each corner in the region. A piece of cloth was the only door!

Stopping before one of those houses, still concreted, we met a tousled-hair little girl, she was sitting alone on the doorstep of her clothed-door house.
– Hello sweet-heart, what’s your name?
– My name is Basma
– Beautiful name, and how old are you?
-I’m 7
– Wonderful, my name is Rana and these are Lara, Abdullah and Homam, and we all would love to take some photos of you. Can we take a permission from your parents?
– But my father is a martyr! He died in the war!

That left us speechless. It was the first time we had such kind of conversations. We blamed ourselves for asking about her parents! We should have asked only about her mother!

Later on, we continued our way in silence. As we paced, we were witnessing and our cameras were documenting! And then we met our fate! A man in his 50’s stepped up to us while taking shots to a little boy, and asked: are you journalists?
Abdullah answered: No, we’re trainers from Unicef and we showed him our blue shirts with the Unicef logo printed on them.
Abdullah continued: Would you please lead us to a family which has a story to tell about the war?
The man replied: There’s the Abu Haleema family, they have ten martyrs among them children.

And he led us to that house, or what should have been a house! There, Mahmoud Abu-Haleema, a guy in his 20’s welcomed us after we introduced ourselves and the Ngo we’re coming from.
Their house said it all! Black burnt walls, smashed windows, and water and electricity tubes appearing out from inside the walls! We were astonished.

After chatting for a while, and leaning on a wall he started telling his story, how a phosphorous bomb targeted the house, and fused 10 bodies among them two boys, Zaid and Hamza, 10 and 8 years old.
And how he had to carry the bodies to the hospital during the heavy rain of shells on the neighborhood. How he had to carry heads and hands and legs separated from the bodies!
Mahmoud had to keep his tears, a man must not cry! And we had to keep our tears too, if we cry he will cry too!

Interrupting the resounding silence that surrounded us, Mahmoud said: “let me introduce the rest of the family”! A woman dressed in green, Farah (3 years old), and Ali (6 years old) came in! We shook hands, but it was extremely hard to chat a little with Farah and Ali! Make them smile or even speak!

Ali was on his bicycle moving it forward and then backward, not happy, and afraid of us! Farah, was leaning on a wall, staring at us and putting her finger in her mouth. The woman (about 40) began to speak; she said: “Can you see this? Come closer, can you see Farah? Look at her chin! They targeted her!” And she suddenly uncovered Farah’s t-shirt. There, under the happy green color of Farah’s t-shirt was a white bandage all around her body! And then the woman, uncovered the bandage slowly. What I’ve seen under the bandage can never be erased from my memory. Farah’s chest and belly were no more a chest and a belly! They were scars, and a disfigured skin. I started shooting and shooting and shooting and so did Abduallah and the others! It was easier to see this through the camera than our own eyes!

A storm was in my heart, head and blood.  My tears had the right to explode like a bomb but how could I do this in front of a little girl! Everything was strange and I could remember nothing after that, except myself in the car speechless, looking out through the window and crying heavily. I was wondering who the hell am I to not feel the pain they feel?! Who the hell is me to come and take photos of them?!

I realized that I wanted to become a journalist since I was 13 years old, but after that incident I had something else to say and to believe in. It’s not that I want to become a journalist, that is my duty to become a journalist and to expose the crimes.

And then one day, a year after that workshop, I became a friend of a writer on Facebook, there on her site, was a picture of a little girl with a little smile on her face. That was Farah! And from the caption I found out that she’s receiving medical treatment in the USA and staying with a woman that’s taking care of her.

After regaining my conscious I e-mailed my friend, asking about the physiological situation of Farah, if she’s social, if she speaks, or if she’s happy. And when she said that she’s fine and she’s one of the most active girls and attached photos of her playing and dancing, all I did was comparing her face in the attached photos and her face in my photos, how she was, and how she is!

If   that workshop changed my life, it put me face to face to the person I want to become!


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