They almost killed my grandmother

March 15, 2012

I spent the most part of my childhood in my grandmother’s arms. My mother was striving to get her bachelor’s degree and my father had to make a living. Whenever I look at my teta,my grandmother, a feeling of shame creeps over my senses; but I compensate for that when I bow before her, kiss her right hand twice, and place it on my forehead; a tradition that has always compelled teta to cite the most embarrassing prayers I could ever get.

“May Allah grant you a blessed life with a loving husband; a husband that will take care of you and keep you in his eyes,” she says, as I walk out soaked in embarrassment.

When I was a child, she crafted a huge swing between two enormous tree trunks that have stood in her garden for many years. It is either that I was so little or that the swing was so huge that I could fit into swing with my body comfortably stretched on it. In cold nights, she wrapped me with a blanket and fixed it around my tiny body with some thick string she tore up from an old, no longer useful shirt. Teta used to, and still believes, that nothing should be placed in garbage; in modern jargon, I’m confident enough to say that she is the most environmentally-friendly person I’ve ever met.

I used to be fat until my mother successfully finished her degree. Teta has a remarkable theory: food is the best way to manifest your love towards someone; so the more she feeds you, the more you are sure of the amount of love she assigns to you. She had knitted blouses and scarves for me. Handmade products, another theory, “are better than those of fraudulent vendors who mix oil with water and use inferior threads to make outfits.”

I almost lost her

I almost lost my grandmother last Sunday. I almost lost a piece of my heart.

The assassination that claimed the lives of two resistance leaders in Gaza four days ago took place in a densely populated area. It happened right in front of my grandmother’s house.

I live quite far from my grandmother and I did not even hear the explosion when it happened. I was alone in the house, leafing through the pages of some book I found in a drawer I do not usually open. My parents and sisters decided to enjoy the holiday (Fridays are holy days in Gaza) and went out for a drive.

I was enjoying the silence when the phone rang. Teta shrieked on the other end.

“I was praying. They bombed. Blood. Glass was going to kill me. Fire.” Her voice was drenched in horror — the peace and tranquility of her voice faded away.

I hardly held the phone. My hands shook and I slammed the phone down.

I don’t know how, but I suddenly found myself standing in a crowd — a circle inside where blood, some piece from a car, and human carnage were piled. Fire engines, police and ambulances suddenly flooded into the scene quickly. People were wild, and the road was covered with very small pieces of glass. I stood still — I was the only girl in the crowd, and in no time somebody dragged me out of the crowd and told me I should go home. He was right; I saw what nobody should see.

I suddenly remembered why I went there. I was there to see my grandmother. Her door was wide open, her house small pieces of glass became carpets and not single window survived the attack. Her curtains caught fire but they extinguished themselves by themselves.

My heart sank.

When my eyes fell on my teta, she seemed too calm for me to believe that she is the same woman who was screaming on the phone. She even made her usual irritating comments about mesaying I seem to lose more weight every time she sees me and suggesting that I should go eat. Minutes later young men started to flow into the house offering to help and replacing the window-less frames with large plastic bags. I asked my teta if there was anything she needed, but she told me she was fine and started to list the kinds of food and fruits available in her fridge.

Through the plastic bags, I peeked at the road and saw the car had disappeared and the blood had been hosed down with water.

My mom called me many times on her way to teta but I assured her that she was completely fine and asked her not to worry. Late at night, I along with my family drove back home.

The other day, Saturday, relatives told us she was a little strange during their visit. Rather than pinning her headscarf she pinned her lips, and didn’t even feel it. She spoke to them a lot about the assassination and repeated herself time and time again. But they assured us it was because of the shock and everything was just fine when they left.

On Sunday, teta slipped in the bath, and in the afternoon my mother went to check on her. She called her name but there was nobody to answer. She looked for her in each room only to find her lying on the floor mumbling and drenched in sweat. Mama called the ambulance and my teta only got worse. Her muscles cramped, wild noise flowed out. Moments later she threw up foam and fluids and raised her forefinger to spell out the Muslim testimony to the oneness of God, a ritual Muslims are encouraged to do, when possible, in their last breaths.

My mom, hopeless, in utter anguish and pain, seeing all this happening before her eyes, clung to teta, whined, knelt, and asked teta not to go.

Air from heaven suddenly seeped into teta’s hospital room. A doctor rushed in and inserted a cannula intravenously.

Teta began to regain her consciousness slowly. She blinked, her eyes flickered back to life and in almost ten minutes she began to speak. Today, teta is alive because she is the strongest woman I have ever seen. From death she came back to life.

I saw her die. Israel shocked her to death. I almost lost both my mother and grandmother. I almost lost my sanity.

Everything my teta went through is Israel’s fault. Israel kills indiscriminately. And I can’t but think of those who lost their twelve-year old son. The other boy who went to school and never returned.  The sixty five-old man who was murdered. Are they all terrorists? I’m tired; I have asked this question hundreds of times but never received anything but condolences. Action is required.

Also published 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?

Palestine, my grandfather’s figs and olive groves.

December 7, 2011

This article was also published on The Electronic Intifada and The Great Book Robbery which I highly recommend you to visit.

Gaza – A church and a mosque that have shared a wall for hundreds of years. Photo Credit: Ruqaya Izzidien

We Palestinians have nothing to cherish more than our roots and ancestral identity. To us, olive trees and the shade in which our grandparents rested or lovers used to secretly meet weave together sweet pre-dispossession memories.

My grandmother’s depleted voice can’t but play and replay the same ecstatic melodies of a womanhood (before 1967) spent between Gaza and Jerusalem, or actually, between Gaza and an Israeli officer and from there to Jerusalem. She would repeat to me again and again how smoothly (compared to now) she and her Jerusalemite relatives could visit each other. According to her, the most difficult part was to find a carriage.

I would nod my head, sip my tea, and contemplate her face. It is really difficult to imagine that the young adventurous woman who could “smoothly” go to and enjoy Jerusalem is the same one as my wrinkled grandmother. Later, I would be struck by the fact that she is eight decades old. Eight decades! Older than the Nakba? Yes.

One of my grandmother’s clearest memories of the few years prior to the Nakba is one of a British officer who stood before a Palestinian crowd that happened to include my grandmother. According to her, everybody was there to celebrate the inauguration of a new British-established school in Gaza.

My grandmother narrates: “Can you see me, Rana? I can see the officer in front of eyes now. I remember him yelling and cheering until he uttered these words: ‘Today we are your guests, but tomorrow you will be ours.’” A deep breath and she continues: “we were too naïve to fathom the demon snoring in his speech.”

My grandmother, therefore, is a living evidence of the irrefutable fact that Palestinians had forged lives in Palestine until Zionist gangs, like the Hagana, Irgun and the Stern Gang, to name a few, viciously drove Palestinians out of their lands.

They destroyed our villages, but not our heritage

In our schools and families, we are raised to identify ourselves with our heritage and the villages or towns from which we originally descend.

It is neither surprising nor is it phenomenal when a seven-year-old boy knows exactly which Palestinian village or town is his home of origin and offers a brief but accurate description of his grandfather’s stolen or destroyed house, even if he’s never been allowed to visit himself.

Our heritage is not only the black or red checkered kufiyyeh scarf and the traditional embroidered dress; it is a scent wafting carried on the breeze from olive groves, vines and figs. Alas, everything was and continues to be subject to Israel’s relentless attempts to loot a deep-rooted Palestinian culture.

To us, especially the young, books are our solace from a life of turbulence and uncertainty. We are more attached to the characters of some novel than to the bombs falling down from the sky. Yet, Israel doesn’t allow that. Every single book I have was smuggled to me by one of my non-Palestinian friends who travel a lot.

Furthermore, more than 6,000 Palestinian books are now languishing on the shelves of Israel’s National Library indexed with the label AP or “Absentee Property.” Those “absentees” are Palestinian refugees whose dream and right to return have been denied for so long.

Israel, however, can never loot a culture of nonviolence and stone-throwing. Frankly speaking, without massacring and dispossessing tens of thousands of Palestinians, Israel could have never come to existence in the first place.

It is almost impossible to imagine a decked-out Israeli soldier picking up a stone to hurl it at Palestinian protestors in Nabi Saleh or Beit Hanoun in the West Bank or Gaza, respectively. On the same note, it cannot be possibly pictured that Palestinian protestors would riddle Israeli “guards” with rubber bullets, tear gas or live ammunition.

Heritage of tolerance

Walking through the roads of Palestine attests to a history of religious tolerance. With Christmas coming soon, Palestinian florists and gift shops, mostly owned by Muslims, are adorned with Christmas trees, Santa Claus costumes and glowing lights. Here, Muslims and Christians are neighbors and friends. Every Christmas, Muslims visit their Christian neighbors and offer warm hugs and outings together.

I was educated in a Christian school; I clearly remember my Christian classmates fasting during Ramadan with us or at least, avoiding eating in front of us. Christians here, despite being a minority, celebrate Eid with us. They even go get new outfits every Eid as is the Muslim custom.

Even the construction testifies to warm relations and deep respect. In the old part of Gaza, you will find a Orthodox church that shares a wall with an ancient Turkish mosque. Both the church and the mosque have stood there for hundreds of years.

Prior to the Nakba, the above situation applied to relations with Jews; but when the Israeli state was established on 15 May 1948 and declared a “Jewish-state,” Jews were separated from Muslims and Christians. Even those Jews who were not affiliated with the Zionist movement had to be separated.

Palestinians do not come from Mars, but we are constantly alienated and our demands swept off to corners like dust.

I lost faith in the so-called “international community” a long time ago. I don’t even know whether I have ever had any sort of trust in it.

None of the UN resolutions that could have brought us fragments of justice have ever been implemented. The 1947 UN resolution on the partition of Palestine (181), however, was upheld and implemented. This resolution served nobody but the Zionist movement and therefore the perpetuation of our misery.

The cultural war Israel has fueled is aimed at de-Palestinianizing the Palestinians and those who choose to stand on the right side of history. This is why the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) exists. Israel has cultural obligations to meet and must be pressured into complying with them. Until it does, the campaign will not stop.

Zionist “Tourists” Harass Palestinian Residents in Hebron

November 22, 2011

Source: AIC

If you’re beaten up, harassed, or verbally attacked for no reason, know that you’re in an area under Israeli colonial control. Indeed, one must find this irrational. Physics suggest that “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” This could apply to most life cases too. When you’re in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or Israel, however, you obviously “provoke” a reaction by simply being Palestinian.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across an article on The Alternative Information Center (AIC) titled: “1000 Zionist tourists descend on Hebron, harass Palestinian residents.”

According to the article, the “tour” is part of an annual event to “celebrate the reading of the Torah portion detailing Abraham’s biblical purchase of Hebron land” and which will provide you with “the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime.”

Interestingly, the “tour” started at Hebron’s Shuhada Street, a once busy district of Palestinian markets Israel had closed and against closure of which Palestine solidarity activists in San Francisco disrupted a shopping district back in February 2010.

This allegedly “religious event” included harassing and intimidating a handful of Hebron residents and the arrest of two Palestinians and seven international activists. Israeli soldiers with machine guns strapped to their bodies patrolled the streets of Hebron forcing Palestinians to the sidelines seemingly to “protect” the “tourists” from any potential “terrorist attack.”

The article explains:

“In what In what was advertised by the Hebron Committee as “the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime,” throngs of young, mostly American males clapped and chanted ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (‘The Nation of Israel lives’) and other nationalistic chants, while  Palestinian residents were forced to the sidelines of their own streets and kept there by soldiers.”

Instead of being respectful to or at least mindful of the religious beauty of the city, tourists attacked Palestinian shops smashing commodities and terrorizing residents.

Mohammed Awawdeah who sells souvenirs in the old city is quoted in the article as saying the following:

“He came and broke my stuff,” Awawdeah says. “I told the police but they are not here for us, they are here for the settlers…I am not even angry for my stuff, I’m angry at the soldiers who let them do this.”

Surprisingly, young tourists held M16 rifles and intimidated international activists. One can only wonder what role rifles have to play in a “religious event.” From the article, I took the following:

One activist relates that “as we were walking, a group of young American Jewish boys got into an argument with us. They became threatening towards us, and one of them had an M16 around his waist. They told us they would break our camera, they told the nearby Palestinian shop owner they would burn down his shop, they told me I would be dead on the floor…”

Palestinians whether in Israel or the Occupied Territories are constantly treated as relative-humans never enjoying the “privileges” exclusively granted for Israeli Jews.

When deliberate intimidation, racial discrimination, and violations of human dignity are protected by a state that claims to be a democracy, Israel, massive campaigning and broad-range Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities become the moral obligation of every individual and institution around the world.

This article can be also found on The Electronic Intifada.

Released Prisoner: “The freedom of a people and the freedom of a land are inseparable”

October 21, 2011

Photo credit: Lara Aburamadan

 When dawn marches over the hills of Palestine and the sun begins to cast its light over lemon, olive and orange trees, dusty narratives of hard-working peasants escape their time and ride in the air through history to our lungs. A scent from the past caresses our hair; we stretch our limbs, slip our feet into cheap slippers, yawn, and rise up to make our dawn prayers.

My mother turns on the lights and takes away my pillow and blanket, realizing that tough procedures are the only arrangements that can hold me bound to her non-negotiable wake-up decree. I pout and produce a frown, but my face loosens into a half-smile when I lean into my window and watch houses, no matter how shapeless, as they lighten up in a gradual manner. I feel relieved; mom is not the only one who likes to bother.

And I pray the way Palestinian poets do, asking God to bring us the next dawn along with freedom, and I repeat myself every day with every bothering motherly call. One day, I woke up to 477 freedoms.

Since the day I was born, I have never lived anywhere but in Gaza. And throughout my life here, I have never seen the people as ecstatically chaotic as they were on Tuesday. It looked like every house had a wedding to celebrate — like in every street a sahra (pre-wedding party for the shabab) was taking place. I, being a girl, couldn’t afford to dance down the roads or atop dilapidated vehicles. But I did join the dance at home in accordance with the shabab innovative dancing. Girls in Gaza have always argued that the way our shabab dance is way more joyful than ours. It is for this reason that we spare no effort to imitate their acrobatics when no elderly onlookers are present.

Visiting a released prisoner

One released prisoner, Hazem Alaydi, has a story of his own that was published earlier on The Electronic Intifada. Yesterday’s morning, I had the honor of paying him a visit.

The expression “what a small world” finds no more suitable place to be expressed at than the small, internationally unrecognized Gaza Strip.

I happened to be a Facebook friend of Fidaa Elaydi, the released prisoner’s niece in the US and the author of the EI article. On the day of the release, I stumbled upon her profile to find dozens of congratulations and a status stating that her uncle Hazem had been released. I also found out that he is a resident of the Deir al-Balah refugee camp along the coastline of the Strip.

Coincidently, a week ago, I and my friend reached a deal with her father to take us on Thursday to this particular refugee camp. I have always craved to write a story about life in refugee camps and Lara, my friend, is a photoholic.  When I knew about the niece-uncle relationship of Fidaa and Hazem Alaydi, a surge of excitement swept my body and I found myself contacting Fidaa, telling her what I was up to and asking for her uncle’s address. Fidaa asked me to deliver him a note she had written and to bring him silk flowers.

The next day, I woke up at 8:15 in the morning, late enough to jump off my bed and dash to my wardrobe. I snatched ruffled trousers and a fine blouse, then picked up Fidaa’s note and tucked it in my pocket.

Lara and her father, Ammo Saud, were to pick me up at 9:00. I was struck by the fact that I hadn’t yet bought the flowers. In no time I called a taxi and asked him to take me to the florist. Unfortunately, the shop was closed; I resorted to a nearby supermarket and purchased a tray of sweets.

The moment I returned home, Ammo Saud and Lara arrived. I boarded the car and we drove to the camp. I was overcome by excitement and reverence. It did not feel normal being on my way to a released prisoner, someone who sacrificed enough to be condemned by Israel.

Fidaa gave me this description to her uncle’s house:

It’s RIGHT off the beach and next to a Nadi [club] (I’ll ask a relative what the Nadi is called) and I’m sure there is plenty of graffiti on the wall to tell you exactly which house it is. (When I was in Gaza last year, it said “beit il aseer” [the house of the prisoner] but I’m sure that’s been replaced!”

The irony is that the house was neither RIGHT off the shore nor next to the club. We drove according to her description but found nothing to suggest a prisoner’s house. We eventually asked people around and they directed us to the right address.

But she was right about the graffiti, and she could not have been more accurate when she suggested that last year’s graffiti must have been replaced.  The first thing I saw when we reached the house was a green welcome tent and a still-concrete wall that read something like this: Greetings to the released prisoner from the occupation’s jails, Hazem Elaydi.

Foolishly I shouted “this is it!” as if it was not too obvious to state.

The door was wide open and we stepped in; a young man approached, welcomed us, and we introduced ourselves and our purpose.

He disappeared in a circle of men then came back with Fidaa’s uncle.

Ammo Saud took him in his arms and they practiced the four-kiss welcome ritual. I handed him the tray and the note. He unfolded the small paper, brought it closer to his eyes, and read. I followed his face. His eyes narrowed and grew moist, his shoulders drooped, and silence encapsulated us all. A few minutes later, Hazem raised his head and allowed a smile that exposed a map of a prison on a man’s face. Israel had convicted Hazem Alayadi to four life sentences and seventy five years without a fair trial.

A recent article on Ynet introduced a comparison between the jail terms of Gilad Shalit and those of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The article claims that “In Israel, close relatives of Palestinian inmates are allowed to visit every two weeks. In addition, Palestinian detainees are allowed to hug children aged up to 8” and it goes further to suggest that “Palestinian inmates are entitled to regular medical treatments, including dental work and eye exams” and that: “Palestinian prisoners are given three full meals a day.”

Surprisingly, Alaydi was never allowed any these privileges. Instead Alaydi told us that he was neither allowed visits nor letters nor phone calls. The food that used to be served to him was “indigestible” and so he and his inmates had to pay to get meals from the canteen. A prisoner needed an approximate minimum of 1,000 NIS ($350) every month to survive. Solitary confinement was widespread and many of the released prisoners lost their minds as a result of serving years in solitary confinement with only one hour a day in the sun. Even outdoors both their hands and legs had to remain shackled all the time.

“The most difficult feelings were during the war on Gaza; we were mesmerized by the TV all the time, drowned in bitterness and pain. They deprived us of many things. When I was released I was offered figs. It was the first time I had figs since the day I was imprisoned [in 1991]; figs were forbidden. They do not deprive us of things because they pose a danger; they do so because they want us to experience deprivation,” said Alaydi.

“Solitary confinements are implemented because they want us to lose our mental balance. They want us lose our minds so that in case we’re released, we wouldn’t be capable of engaging ourselves in normal life,” he added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross declared many times that they had not been able to visit jails to make sure jail conditions meet ICRC standards. The Israeli publication Ynet is widely acknowledged to be radically anti-Arab and hypocritical.

Palestinians, no matter how thrilled, still wake up every dawn to make their poetic prayers. We still have more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners condemned to the harsh conditions of an apartheid state. Hazem Alayadi’s words are probably the best way to end this article:

“We left our comrades behind and they’re suffering. The day we received the news of the deal tears mixed with happiness. We were happy but also sad that our brothers with whom we lived over a decade will not be freed with us. The freedom of a people and the freedom of a land are inseparable. We are under occupation and our ultimate goal is to free the land and the human who sacrificed for this land.”

This article can also be found on The Electronic Intifada

The released Palestinian “terrorists”

October 18, 2011

Also published on my blog on The Electronic Intifada

More of my views over the Shalit exchange deal can be found on a radio interview here. I also took part on BBC’s radio segment World Have Your Say, to listen to this interview kindly click here.

Facebook photo

As soon as released Israeli captive Gilad Shalit arrived in his parents’ bosom, Israel seems to have embarked on yet another propaganda campaign aiming at shifting international criticism from the illegal Israeli practices enforced upon the Palestinians, to the Palestinian prisoners released earlier today.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech today called the freed Palestinian prisoners as “released terrorists.”

Obviously, Netanyahu and those who are concerned about the re-involvement of Palestinian prisoners in future “terrorist activities” seem to have forgotten about the $3 billion Israel receives every year from the US in support of Israeli warfare.

On another route, the risks Israel will have to deal with are much less than those of the Palestinians. When Palestinians take part in a military attack against Israelis, they serve years, or decades, in Israeli jails and suffer from torture, solitary confinement, as well as having to pay for the meals they eat. Israeli soldiers who murdered a mostly civilian population in late 2008 and early 2009, however, still enjoy impunity and breathe fresh air.

To say it in short: the world must still be concerned about the security of the Palestinians who are constantly dehumanized, terrorized and discriminated against; unlike Israel who possesses nuclear weapons and enjoys the support of largest world powers.

The Israeli boy, Gilad Shalit is said to be suffering from “minor injuries” or at least this is what his father says. Surprisingly, when interviewed on Al Masry Al Youm, a neutral Egyptian television, before being handed over to Israel, he appeared to be healthy both mentally and physically. His father, however, did not speak of “malnutrition” as some Israelis tend to publicize.

Palestinians, on the other hand, welcomed the released prisoners in a celebratory spirit that has not been seen here for quite a long time. Since the early hours of the morning, Palestinians took to the streets and to major squares in preparation of a huge celebration that had been organized by Hamas. Even families who still have sons, daughters or relatives in prisons have joined the others to share them the delight.

Ululations could be heard from surrounding houses and national music was aired in the streets all the time. Up to this moment, while I’m writing this, I can still hear people singing loud along the road. Even cars were adorned by flowers and posters of the released fighters can be seen everywhere.  Parades of hooded men, ordinary people, including prisoners’ families lead every free prisoner back home. Handshakes, friendly hugs, tears and sweets are also part of the overall picture of today’s celebrations.

The same pictures are reoccurring in the West Bank. We, the young people, have turned twitter into a party. People from all over the world are joining us and congratulating the move.

Zionists, unfortunately, but expectedly, tried to distort ecstasy and lower morale. One Israeli “leftist” for instance accused me of demonizing Israel when I exposed the harsh conditions under which Palestinian prisoners languish. Pardon me, “leftist,” but Israel has been demonizing itself as early as 1948. The systemized Apartheid for example, cannot be angelic.

Now considering Mahmoud Abbas, who also welcomed the released prisoners in the West Bank, a lot can be said in regard to his speech.

A worth mentioning point in his speech is this: “After God, your freedom [prisoners] is thanks to the martyrs whom we pray for.”

Of course it’s right to thank both God and the Palestinian martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Palestine. But without the efforts of Hamas who captured the Israeli soldier, the prisoner swap deal couldn’t have existed. Mahmoud Abbas did not address Hamas in his speech at all; not even once. A Hamas representative, however, took the stage directly after Abbas concluded and addressed his “efforts” in securing the deal. In a few words: Abbas who has nothing to do with the deal was addressed by Hamas, while Hamas who has everything to do with it was not addressed at all.

Mahmoud Abbas also said the following: “Future negotiations will be based on the 1967 lines, settlements must stop, and prisoners are priority.”

It is really pathetic that Abbas still believes in negotiating with Israel.  First, he knows very well that negotiations have always failed to achieve settlement moratorium and will continue to do so; second, a state based on the 1967 lines does not secure basic Palestinian rights; third, he is outdated and doesn’t represent the majority of Palestinians who are refugees scattered across the world.

Criticism of the deal in the Palestinian society is far less than that in Israel. Although Palestinian leaders like Marwan Barghouthi were not included in the deal, and although most of the Palestinian prisoners are still condemned to harsh conditions, 1027 released prisoners  is a significant number that deserves to be celebrated especially when considering the fact that many of them were convicted to life sentences.

For us, the Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank, our struggle does not end here. The prisoner swap deal is just another beginning to our struggle for peace, justice and freedom.  And we shall never rest unless all of our prisoners are freed again.

We are determined to live and spend our lives working hard to deserve the honor of being Palestinians. We will continue to learn, teach, and to boycott Israel.

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.

Ten Years after the Twin Towers Collapse, Gaza Has Something to Say.

September 16, 2011

Gaza 08/09

Twin Towers 2001

Being Muslim nowadays is difficult. But being both Gazan and Muslim can be of a disastrous impact. As many here see it, Islamophobia is a term invented by racist groups whose purpose is to point an accusation finger at a certain people –Muslims- each time an “act of terrorism” strikes the world. This is an odd generalization that is simply not true.

“The war on terror” that manifested itself in the uncurbed words of George W. Bush –former US president- immediately following the September 11th attacks on New York’s Twin Towers did not spare Gaza.

With Hamas taking control over the Strip in 2007, biased media outlets began waging propaganda hurricanes to influence the world see Gaza a zone of terror where criminal armed gangs seek to wipe Israel off the map. They also took advantage of the Sept. 11th attacks by concocting stories about purported collaboration between Hamas and al-Qaeda. To the west, both Hamas and al-Qaeda pose danger to humankind. Khaled Meshaal, a prominent Hamas political leader, said in an interview done in Syria for US public TV that Hamas is a resistance group that fights Israeli colonization only as opposed to al-Qaeda that is involved in international terrorism.

Backed by the US, in late 2008, the war on Gaza was launched. Twenty two days of relentless aggression against a mostly-civilian population was justified as necessary operation to uproot terrorist infrastructure throbbing through this densely populated area.

In Gaza, Islamophobia features itself through motherless and childless nights many kids and mothers have to swallow. Since Israel proclaimed Gaza a den where terrorists need to be cleansed, hundreds – not to exaggerate- of such innocent lives have been claimed.

One could lean into his window in the morning to look out on an impoverished refugee camp or smear his morning coffee when inhaling sewage-drenched air. It is always obvious that Israel has suspected every standing figure of hiding terrorists no matter how shapeless or worn out these figures seem to be. And more, in disregard to how huge the banners reading “School” or “playground” for both schools and playgrounds are equally suspected whatsoever.

Mohammad Suleiman, 21 years old Gazan blogger thought of the reasons behind this Islamophobia: “If we want to talk about the reasons, of course they are many: some have to do with Zionist agenda and securing the state of Israel against not all Palestinians but all Arabs and Muslims”. But he is optimistic: “I think there is a growing awareness now in Europe in regard to this although Islamophobia reached astonishing levels in the US due to the role of AIPAC and other Zionist groups.”

The truth, although surprising, is that the majority of Gazans, if not all of them, are trying to find solutions where Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and harmony together.  While one part hopes to fulfill this dream by opting for a Two-State solution, the other supports One State. I, the writer, have lived in Gaza all my life, and it never happened that I encountered someone who wants to “wipe Israel off the map”. Even if such minority exists, it’s worth mentioning that in Israel itself, there are people who wish to wipe Palestine off the map.

Here is what Eman Sourani, 22 years old, and a One-Stator thinks: “The issue isn’t about getting rid of people but of Apartheid. We need to end the Israeli Apartheid that is based on Zionism”.

A few weeks ago, in a summer camp in Norway, dozens of young Norwegians were sprayed with bullets to end lives of over seventy and wound several others. International press and social media suddenly began blabbering about Muslim perpetrators who were labeled -as usual- as “terrorists”. A few days later, the perpetrator turned out to be just an “extremist”. Indeed, to describe a Norwegian, lighter term becomes a necessity.

This incident and this manipulation of language brought back the pictures of the September 11thattacks. In Gaza, young bloggers began raising many questions.

“If the person who killed 70+ people in Norway was a Muslim, the Press would have declared him as terrorist. For now though, he is just an ‘Assailant ‘, ‘Attacker’ (Reuters), ‘Gunman’ (BBC, CNN & Al Jazeera). Looks like ‘Terrorist ‘ is a name reserved for Muslims? The US Dept of State calls it an ‘Act of Violence’, not an ‘Act of Terrorism’”. Samah Saleh, 22, updated her Facebook status.

Samah is a Muslim, but she’s not a terrorist. She’s a medical-school student and one example of thousands of successful young Muslims in Gaza.  Actually, thousands of students graduate from Gaza-based universities every year.

Extremists and terrorists exist within every community regardless of their sects, religions and beliefs. Criminals cannot represent every individual and religion in a given society, but rather the influences that surrounded them as they grew up. Evidently, this singling-out of a people and unreasonably putting them in an isolated category is nothing but an act of racial discrimination.

Shaimaa al-Waheidi, 23, a recent graduate argues that there is lack of understanding in regard to religions especially Islam: “USA and everyone should understand that all religions are innocent from the people’s crimes. For me, as a Palestinian citizen, I feel very sorry for the families of September 11th victims”.

“These attacks insulted us and insulted our religion. Our religion is a religion of peace and we are against these attacks.” Agreed Lara Abu-Ramadan, 19, a writer of Arabic prose. “After the attacks on the World Trade Center, Muslims were treated like terrorists in Europe. Before I traveled to France this year, I had fears that people might be offensive to my Hijab, but they were better than I had imagined despite some scornful looks I received. Sometimes these looks made me feel weird; it hurts being treated this way” she described.

But have the attacks affected the lives of the young people of Gaza?

Sahimaa and Mohammad, both mentioned earlier, had something to say: “I think the September 11th attacks haven’t really affected my life as a Muslim because I do believe that the USA government had already shaped its constant vision about Islam before the attacks happened” said Shaimaa.  Mohammad’s answer was a bit different: “They might affect me in person, but I think I can help fight back these prejudices and misrepresentations”.

The current assaults on Gaza, unlike what took place on September 11th 2001, are not being covered by Western media.  Three children among six civilians were massacred and yet nothing has been reported. These children killed and women injured are not different from women and children killed and injured on Sept.11th. In either case, the victims are non-combatant civilians and more importantly, not terrorists. Western media, let’s face it, reports discriminately. Blind eyes and deaf ears are always turned toward those who seem to be less important in the eyes of outwitting politicians whose game of power determines victims and murderers in total disregard to the truth.


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