Sunday, August 09, 2009

We've moved!

We, physically, have moved to Columbia, MD, but more pertinently, finally...yes finally (drum roll pls) my blog has moved to a new location!

By the time you read this third sentence you should be re-directing to the new site, but in case is:

Its still under developed, but I certainly hope you will find the new design easier to navigate. Suggestions always welcome!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lift the Closure-Give Life a Chance!

Ah-the Shalit deal. On again. Off again. On again-and now, off again (according to Haaretz and Hamas both, it never existed to start with).

As though Shalit were the end all be all of the Palestinian problem. Nevermind the 1.5 million Palestinians trying to survive under siege. Nevermind the 11 thousand palestinian prisoners in israeli jails.

In any case, it appears that there was perhaps something in the works-and in an attempt to pressure Hamas to sign on, Egypt (already sealing Rafah Crossing in collusion with Israel for going on two years now) has hindered passage through Gaza's only land crossing to thousands of Palestinians yesterday and today. This, despite an announcement that they would open the crossing for 72 hours. Collective punishment.

Of the some 5000 Palestinians registered to cross, only 250 were allowed out of Gaza on the first day (a total of 5 buses), and only 4 buses scheduled to depart today.

My parents-on bus # 16, are waiting along with thousands of others. They registered to travel over 2 months ago, and keep checking whether their names have appeared on the list of the lucky on the website of the Ministry of the Interior, but nothing is ever guaranteed in Gaza.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mapping the Arab Blogosphere

Last week, I was invited to participate in an event on Arab Blogging held by the US Institute of Peace and Harvard's Berkman Center on Internet & Society: “Online Discourse in the Arab World: Dispelling the Myths,”

The panel discussed a report just issued by the center: Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent

The case study was part of a series of studies produced by the Internet & Democracy Project, a research initiative at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, which investigates the impact of the Internet on civic engagement and democratic processes.

THe study identified a base network of approximately 35,000 active Arab blogs (about half as many as the the Persian blogosphere in their former study), created a network map of the 6,000 most connected blogs, and with a team of Arabic speakers hand coded 4,000 blogs.

Interestingly, Palestinian blogs signalled relatively low on the radar; it appears there bridge bloggers and social networking sites or online forums figure more prominently.

Among the interesting Key findings:

1) the Arab Blogosphere is mainly a country-based networkkas opposed to political ideologies and topical issues, such as reformist and conservative politics, religion, poetry, etc.

2) Arabic bloggers are predominately young and male. The highest proportion of female bloggers is found in the Egyptian youth sub-cluster, while the Syrian and Muslim Brotherhood clusters have the highest concentration of males.

so I am proud to say I represent the "old" (ok, 31, not so old) and female contingent! which interestingly seems to be predominant in Palstine.

3)Personal Life and Local Issues are Most Important

4) YouTube: Arabic bloggers tend to prefer politically oriented YouTube videos to cultural ones. Videos related to the conflict in Gaza and the throwing of shoes at George Bush in Iraq are popular across the entire blogosphere, while clips related to domestic political issues are linked to more heavily by the various national clusters.

5)Anonymity: Arabic bloggers are more likely than not to use their name when blogging, as opposed to writing anonymously or using an obvious pseudonym. However, female bloggers are more likely to blog anonymously than males.

6) Human Rights and Culture: Human rights is also a popular topic of conversation across the Arabic blogosphere—much more common than criticism of Western culture and values. Among cultural topics, poetry, literature and art are more discussed than pop culture (music, TV, movies).

7)Arabic Media Ecosystem: Bloggers link to Web 2.0 sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia (both English and Arabic versions) more than other sources of information and news available on the Internet. Al-Jazeera is the top mainstream media source, followed by the BBC and Al-Arabiya, while US-government funded media outlets like Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra are linked to relatively infrequently.

The full report can be found here:

Gaza Bonanza: the nuts and bolts of the ongoing occupation

A chilling inside view of how the continued occupation and blockade of Gaza works-the nuts and bolts. This is what i mean when I say that living in Gaza is living in a place where everything-down to the food you put on your table and when and whether you can move is subject to Israeli control.

The same Israeli Ministry of "Defense" unit- COGAT, also operates in the West Bank.

Last update - 10:55 15/06/2009

Gaza bonanza

By Yotam Feldman and Uri Blau

Every week, about 10 officers from the Israel Defense Force's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit convene in the white Templer building in the Kirya, the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv, to decide which food products will appear on the tables of the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Among those taking part in the discussion are Colonel Moshe Levi, head of the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO), Colonel Alex Rosenzweig, head of the civil division of COGAT and Colonel Doron Segal, head of the economics division. These officers decided, for example, that persimmons, bananas and apples were vital items for basic sustenance and thus permitted into the Gaza Strip, while apricots, plums, grapes and avocados were impermissible luxuries. Over the past year, these officers were responsible for prohibiting the entry into the Gaza Strip of tinned meat, tomato paste, clothing, shoes and notebooks. All these items are sitting in the giant storerooms rented by Israeli suppliers near the Kerem Shalom crossing, awaiting a change in policy.

The policy is not fixed, but continually subject to change, explains a COGAT official. Thus, about two months ago, the COGAT officials allowed pumpkins and carrots into Gaza, reversing a ban that had been in place for many months. The entry of "delicacies" such as cherries, kiwi, green almonds, pomegranates and chocolate is expressly prohibited. As is halvah, too, most of the time. Sources involved in COGAT's work say that those at the highest levels, including acting coordinator Amos Gilad, monitor the food brought into Gaza on a daily basis and personally approve the entry of any kind of fruit, vegetable or processed food product requested by the Palestinians. At one of the unit's meetings, Colonel Oded Iterman, a COGAT officer, explained the policy as follows: "We don't want Gilad Shalit's captors to be munching Bamba [a popular Israeli snack food] right over his head."


Besiege the Siege at the Rafah Gate

6 months after Israel's brutal attack against Gaza, the siege stand unrelenting; Rafah has been open a total of ZERO days for normal traffic during the course of the past two years, according to GISHA; and only a day or two every couple of month for "humanitarian purposes"; This month, a group of people-mothers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, students, continue to wait at the crossing in a makeshift camp dubbed "Rafah Camp", to get through; Here is an update from the Intl Movement to Open Rafah Border:

June 21, 2009

The International Movement to Open the Rafah Border

Rafah Crossing-Rafah, Egypt

In the ninth day of a sit-in camp at the Rafah, Egypt border gate, the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) rejects President Obama's rationale for the siege of Gaza and the limited access through the Rafah gate. In his address to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last month, US President Obama said that arms shipments to Hamas must stop.

"The Rafah gate is not a point of transfer for weapons, but a throughway for Palestinians and commerce," said Paki Wieland of Northhampton, Mass, USA. "Through our extensive interviews we have heard again and again, from aging parents, families, and students, that they want to visit with family in Gaza, attend weddings or return home; this is so normal," continued Ms. Wieland, " and when they are denied, the emotional stress and economic strain brings sadness, anger, and devastating despair.

"The technology is available to monitor for potential weapons shipments through Rafah," said Don Bryant of Cleveland, Ohio, USA. "This siege is just an excuse to strangle Gaza to death," he said.

The IMORB will continue the sit-in and fasting at the Rafah gate indefinately. On a daily basis, IMORB challenges the closed border and escorts people seeking entry to Gaza.

One Palestinian-American family from Texas USA has been waiting over two weeks, like hundreds of others, to enter Gaza. "This is so humiliating," said the Texan mother of four.


Paki Wieland (002) 018 735 8621
Nada Kassass (002) 012 250 4611

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Carter in Gaza

Former Pres. Jimmy Carter visited Gaza a few days ago, which six months after its invasion has yet to receive a repreive from the criminal siege. The situation, he said, is unique in history, and a terrible human rights crime. Speaking in Gaza June 16 at a graduation ceremony for some 200,000 students who took a special UNRWA Human Rights curricula, Carter talked earnestly about the absurdity of the Israeli closure regime:

..."Last week, a group of Israelis and Americans tried to cross into Gaza through Erez, bringing toys and children’s playground equipment - slides, swings, kites, and magic castles for your children. They were stopped at the gate and prevented from coming. I understand even paper and crayons are treated as ’security hazards’ and not permitted to enter Gaza. I sought an explanation for this policy in Israel, but did not receive a satisfactory answer – because there is none...."


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

8 Nos, but Nothing New

“8 no’s, but nothing new”. This is the reaction I hear over and again from Palestinians refugees here in Lebanon’s Wavel Refugee Camp, where 4 generations wait to return to the homeland from which they were brutally evicted over 60 years ago, in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s so-called landmark policy speech.

This is for from those who even bothered to listen.

The United States and Europe saw his speech as a move towards recognizing two-states (while dismissing the right of return, a divided Jerusalem, an end to settlements, and the list goes on), and thus, some sort of advance towards peace; others suggested it was a step backward.

Both analyses are flawed. One confuses a call for a Palestinian ghetto as a call for a sovereign, viable Palestinian state. The other is based on the assumption that progress was made over the past (few) decades vis a vis Palestinian statehood.

The speech was full of rosy conjectures. The word” peace” was repeated 45 times.

Tellingly, the word occupation was not mentioned once. Neither, for that matter, was international law. Or Freedom-except in the context of facilitating some freedom of movement only after Palestinians give up their rights to move freely.

“Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire” he explained, citing 3 “immense” challenges that stood in the way (the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace).

In fact, it is an illegal, draconian, and malicious occupation that have stifled peace and that continues to pose the biggest threat to Israel’s security.

In his speech, Netanyahu called for negotiations without preconditions while simultaneously imposing the conditions that would make a just and viable peace impossible: an undivided Jerusalem, no right of return, no sovereignty, continued settlement expansion.

The demands to recognize Israel as a Jewish state- annuls the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were systemically and violently expelled in 1948 in what is now Israel-a right enshrined in international law and at the heart of the Palestinian struggle.

Such a state one would promote, subsidize, and allow Jewish only immigration and rights as it does now while denying native inhabitants this same right.

Nations are quick to dismiss the Palestinian right of return as Israel’s end, but equally quick to facilitate the return of Darfur, Kosovar, or East Timor refugees in recent years.

This demand also consolidates Israel’s racist Apartheid like policies, and would dismiss in one fell swoop the rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel, who make up 20% of the population.

It is effectively saying: we have the right to discriminate against you, to take any measures we deem necessary in order to sustain the Jewish majority. Measures that have already been suggested in the Knesset, like a loyalty oath, even population transfer.

Then there is talk of the illegal settlements. New settlements aren’t the issue. Who needs new settlements if Israeli loophole policies in recent years have provided ample room for expansion?

Currently, the illegal annexation barrier, together with settlement-related infrastructure (including settler-only roads, army bases, closed military zones, and over 600 checkpoints) consume 38% of the West Bank, annexing land and livelihoods, dividing villages, towns, and families from one another and tearing apart the very fabric of Palestinian social and economic life.

So, we have not moved forward. But we are certainly a step backwards from the heyday of Oslo, some might say. The fact is, during the Oslo years from 1993 to 2000, four under Netanyahu’s reign, the the Israeli settler population expanded by 71 percent.

Such policies are already being implemented in Jerusalem, where land theft and demolitions continue daily, and where Palestinian Christian and Muslim residents are subject to draconian laws that would strip them of their residency rights there if they fail to renew their ID cards regularly -made all the more impossible a task by the closure regime and the Apartheid wall.

Netanyahu’s vision of a Palestinians states is one bereft of the very factors that make a state sovereign: effective control over land, sky, and sea, among other things.

But this should come as no surprise. Israel’s long-standing policy has been one of re-packaging the occupation and postponing viable Palestinian statehood indefinitely by rendering it impossible.

It is a goal summed up by the late Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling as politicide: a gradual but systematic attempt to cause their annihilation as an independent political and social entity.

In tune with this policy, no where in Oslo is there mention of a Palestinian state, only limited self-rule.

Netanyahu’s own Likud party’s charter flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Neither is the Hamas the issue, with whom Netanyahu foreswore talks. They were not even elected prior to 2006. Not even existent prior to 1987. But they enjoy broad support among Palestinians; they were rightfully elected in free and fair elections encouraged and unhindered by the United States and Israel respectively, despite con; and they are deeply entrenched within society; they are a reality with which Israel must come to grips.

And long before Hamas, Israel was similarly destroying civilian infrastructure, assassinating Palestinians, closing borders, de-developing the economy, and sowing lawlessness and chaos in Gaza; all punishment for not being “cooperative” enough; “moderate” enough; tame enough.

All of this, of course, is leaving aside the 1.5 million human beings consigned to a life of living death by Israel and its allies-and by allies I also mean the Arab world. Closed in on all sides, deliberately deprived of the most basics rights of life.

Even after the so-called disengagement from Gaza-the landmark event that supposedly reigned freedom unto Gaza and its people, Israel continued to maintain effective control over Gaza’s borders, her air, sea, sky, even the population registry; continued to impose a longstanding siege.

This despite warnings from experts about the dire consequences that would ensue by not guaranteeing movement and access to people and goods. Gaza faced poverty and unemployment unprecedented in 40 years since Israel’s occupation as a result.

But by Netanyahu’s estimates, this is peace. Gaza is the model-the vision- for what a so-called Palestinian state would look like.

Netanyahu talked idyllically of a peace in which a tourism-driven economy would draw millions to Nazareth and Bethlehem. He forgot to mention the caveat that tourists will first have to face an Apartheid barrier twice the size of the Berlin wall, navigate a Kafkaesque matrix of Israeli administrative control, and, if they carry the wrong color ID, scale sewers if they desire to visit a family member across the way in East Jerusalem.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Action Alert: Demand That Saudi Authorities Divest From Alstom NOW!

Action Alert: Prevent Alstom From Building The Haramain Express Railway! End Saudi collusion with Israeli apartheid!

Saudi Arabia awarded French company Alstom a multi-million dollar contract for the construction of Haramain Express Railway, to link the holy cities of Makkah and Madina. Alstom is in violation of international law for its part in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail, which will link illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (including East Jerusalem) with the city of Jerusalem. The construction of the light rail is part of a wider Israeli policy to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from Jerusalem and turn permanent the illegal occupation of the city.

The decision by the Saudi Arabian authorities is in violation of its own international commitments. The Arab League barred member states from dealing with companies involved in the construction of Jerusalem Light Rail project. The Saudi contract sends a signal of approval for Alstom's actions in Jerusalem and highlights the lack of integrity of the Haramain project: the Saudi Arabian government has chosen to link two of Islam's holiest cities by sponsoring the colonization of another.

Across the world a divestment campaign is taking pace against Alstom and its partner company Veolia, with victories in Sweden and France. In 2006, Dutch ASN Bank took the responsible decision to divest from the project. Alstom and Veolia are accused by Palestinian civil society, represented by the BDS National Committee, BNC, of complicity in grave violation of international law and Palestinian rights for their role in the JLR project. Despite the pressure, the two companies have refused to end their participation in the project. With construction at an advanced stage, Alstom and Veolia are guilty of actively colluding with Israeli apartheid.

Demand That Saudi Authorities Divest From Alstom NOW!

1 - Write to the Saudi Railway Organization and to the Saudi Arabian diplomatic representation in your country demanding immediate cancellation of the contract with Alstom.
Saudi Railway Organisation contact details (;
karni@; (Vice President)
shafqatrabbani@; (Project Manager)
salim@; (Project Manager)
sohail@; (Project Engineer)

Saudi Arabian diplomatic representations worldwide:;
Please bcc us on your correspondence: saudialstomdivestment@;

2 - Sign the petition:;

3 - Write about this issue in your local media. Discuss it in your local mosque and community centers. Participate in actions for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.

Find Out More:

The Case Against Veolia and Alstrom:
GulfNews: Company in Saudi rail project linked to Israel

Divestment campaign gains momentum in Europe

Veolia looses 3.5 billion EUR contract in Sweden

PLO takes Veolia Transport and Alstom to court in France

Legal action in France against Veolia and Anstrom

Time to hold Veolia to account

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians From Jerusalem:
Ethnic Cleansing in East Jerusalem

Civic Coalition to Defend Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem

Israeli House Demolitions in Jerusalem Slideshow

Policy of Residency Revocation of Palestinians in Jerusalem

Global Movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Images of Palestine in exile

Images from the Wavel Camp in Baalbeck, Lebanon; here Palestine is always within reach, but the residents of the camp can never grasp it, can never meet it; like night and day-there is a brief time where the two overllap-by way of a visitor from abroad; the spouse of a camp resident, with Palestinian Authority papers, and so on.

View from the rooftop of Yassine's house in the Wavel Refugee Camp, Baalbeck.

Life interrupted

Well, here we are, still in Lebanon…nearly two months after attempting to get into Gaza.

I tried, and failed, to get an Egyptian visa from here. So I am slowly facing the fact that I will not be able to return to Gaza, at least not now.

I have torn off my limbs at the final frontier, but there is no passage for the stateless. Where do you reside when you do not exist?

Identity and citizenship remain abstract, tightly bound concepts that we carry in a small satchel around our necks, ready to present and explain in dizzying detail at a moment’s notice, or ready to be hung by equally as fast:

Where are you from? What do you mean? What answer do you want to hear? Don't let my accent fool you! or my scarf!

Citizenship, then: I leave this blank empty, for here I do not exist

National of: Palestinian Authority (an authority over ?)

So then you cannot enter… (this changes based on the political climate)

Parents place of Birth: Gaza City.

My place of birth: Kuwait, (but wait…there’s more. I lived there for just one year; then Saudi Arabia, then Bahrain)

Place of permanent residence: Gaza, with a footnote (a residence I cannot reach, a permanence that is illusory; does this still count? Did I pass the test?)

Husband’s nationality: Palestinian refugee residing in Lebanon (but not since 1993); but NOT Palestinian Authority- this honor is reserved to those with hawias, identity cards (the better to track you with my dear); he has never been to Palestine (only smelled and touched it through an intermediary; does this count?)

My father goes to the Ministry of Civil Affairs maybe once a week. Here, Palestinian passengers register to leave Gaza through Rafah. But the wait is anywhere from 2-4 months or more. He registered nearly 1.5 months ago, but is in no immediate rush to leave. Nevertheless, he goes to check on his status anyway. He wants to come visit my brothers and I in the United States (when I return) since I cannot make it to Gaza.

The Ministry updates travelers on the status of their request via web. This is perhaps the only convenient and “modern” aspect of the entire process. When the Egyptians announce the border will open, a few days beforehand, a list of “lucky names” appears on the ministry’s website.

You are assigned a bus number. My father’s is 66, but it has yet to appear. During the last opening, they made it to bus 20.

“What does that mean?” I ask of the curious numbers. “Are you at least guaranteed passage eventually?” Rafah’s onerous procedures change almost yearly, and it’s hard to keep track.

“It simply means you have a seat on a bus from Gaza to the border. The rest is up to the Egyptians. Maybe 40% of people are turned back” he explains.

Most travelers go to the Ministry in person anyway, like my father, some on an almost daily basis. The last time my father went-a few days ago, he described the heart wrenching scenes to me:

There was the newly wed, separated from her husband; the newly engaged, separated from her fiancé for over a year; and then there were those who were simply bawling and begging: for some small miracle; to someone who had no “authority” over anything in the end of the day; to somehow clear the brackets of all the unknowns and get right to the source of the equation; to make things work.

In Gaza, life is interrupted on an hourly basis, in an infinite number of ways.

The most mundane of them are often the cruelest. They go unnoticed.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

In Baalbeck

Well, we aren't in Gaza, but we did manage to make it to Lebanon after more days of drama (this time, involving Yassine's refugee passport requiring a British transit visa-though we did not even pass through British immigration, but i digress).

We are currently in Wavel Refugee Camp in Baalbeck, enjoying cool mountain weather, spheeha Baalbakia (meat pastries), lots of sumptuous sweets (try an avocado shake mixed with pistachios, honey, and topped with fresh clotted cream and chocolate syrup!), and most of, seeing Yassine's family.

Yousuf got his beautiful locks sheared off before I could utter a word-he was whisked away by his grandmother who said this just wouldn't do :) ! He is running around the camp like a sheep who found its flock.

Noor is enjoying discovering new things too- she bottlefed a baby lamb, and coated herself in ashes from top to bottom as she explored the roof of the building!

The net connection is painstainkingly slow here so will have a post with pics later in the week once we make it to Beirut inshallah.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I was born Palestinian

"Its not very comfortable in there is it?" said the stony faced official, cigarette smoke forming a haze around his gleaming oval head.

"Its OK. We're fine" I replied wearily, delirious after being awake for a straight period of 30 hours.

"You could be in there for days you know. For weeks. Indefinitely. "So, tell me, you are taking a plane tomorrow morning to the US?"

It was our journey home that began with the standard packing frenzy: squeezing everything precious and dear and useful into two suitcases that would be our sustenance for the course of 3 months.

The trips to the outdoor recreation store- in preparation for what I anticipated to be a long and tortuous journey across Rafah Crossing to Gaza. The inspect repellent; the mosquito netting; the water purifier; the potty toppers for my kids and the dried fruit and granola bars and portion sized peanut butter cups. This time, I wanted to be ready, I thought to myself-just in case I got stuck at the Crossing. The Crossing. My presumptuousness is like a dull hit to the back of my head now.

In addition to all the packing of suitcases, we were also packing up our house- my husband was finishing up his residency at duke University and set to start a medical fellowship at Johns Hopkins in July. In the meantime, we were "closing shop", putting our things in storage, selling the rest, and heading overseas: me to Gaza, he to Lebanon to visit his family.

Eventually I was too meet him there (assuming i could get into Gaza, and the, assuming I could get out). Yassine is a third-generation Palestinian refugee from the village of Waarit al-Siris in nothern historic Palestine; he was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and holds a Laizze Passe for Palestinian refugees. Israel denies him return to his own home- or even to the home of his spouse in Gaza. So when we go overseas, we often go our separate ways; we cannot live legally, as a unit, as a family, in our own homes.

I hold a Palestinian Authority passport. It replaced the "temporary two-year Jordanian passport for Gaza residents" that we held until the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid '90s, which itself replaced the Egyptian travel documents we held before that. A progression in a long line of stateless documentation.

It is a passport that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry to my own home. This is its purpose: to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those with no identity.


We finished packing as much as we could of the house, leaving the rest to Yassine who was to leave a week after us, and drove 4 hours to Washington to spend a few day sat my brother's house before we took off.

First, we headed to the the Egyptian embassy.

Last year, my parents were visiting us from Gaza City when Rafah was sealed hermetically. They attempted to fly back to Egypt to wait for the border to open- but were now allowed to board the plane in Washington. "Palestinians cannot fly to Egypt now without a visa, new rules" the airline personnel explained, "and no visas can be issued until Rafah is open" added the Egyptian embassy official.

They were in a conundrum, aggravated by the fact that their US stay entry stamp had reach passed its six-month limit. Eventually, they got around the issue by obtaining an Egyptian tourist visa, made easier by their old age, which they used to wait in Egypt for one month until Rafah Crossing opened again.

I did not want to repeat their ordeal, so I called the embassy this time, which assured me the protocol had changed: now, it was only Palestinian men who were not allowed to fly to or enter Egypt. Women were, and would get their visa at the Egyptian port of destination. I was given a signed and dated letter (April 6, 2009) by the consul to take with me in case I encountered any problems:

"The Consular Section of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt hereby confirms that women, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, and who hold passports issued by the Palestinian Authority are required to get their visa to enter Egypt at Egyptian ports and NOT at the various Egyptian consulates in the United States on their way to the Gaza Strip for the purpose of reaching their destination (i.e. Gaza Strip)" it read.

With letter and bags in hand, we took off, worried only about the possibility of entering Gaza- the thought of being able to enter Egypt never crossing my mind.

2 long-haul flights and one 7 hour transit later, we made it. I knew the routine by heart. Upon our arrival, I was quick to hit the bank to buy the $15 visa stamps for Yousuf and Noor's American passports and exchange some dollars into Egyptian pounds. I figured it would help pass the time while the lines got shorter.

I then went and filled out my entry cards-an officer came and filled them out with me seeing my hands were full, a daypack on my back, Noor strapped to my chest in a carrier, Yousuf in my hand...

we then submitted our passports, things seemed to be going smoothly. Just then the officer explained he needed to run something by his superior. "You have a Palestinian passport; Rafah crossing is closed..."

"I promise it will just be 5 minutes" he assured me. But that's all i needed to hear. I knew I was in for a long wait. It was at this point I yanked out my laptop and began to tweet and blog about my experience (full progression of tweets here courtesy Hootsbuddy). At first I thought it would simply help pass the time; it developed into a way to pool resources together that could help me; and ended as a public awareness campaign.

The faces were different each time. 3 or four different rooms and hallways to navigate down. They refused to give names and the answers they gave were always in the form of cryptic questions.

The first explained I would not be allowed entry into Egypt because Palestinians without permanent residency abroad are not allowed in; and besides- Rafah Crossing is closed he said (my response: so open it?). I was told I was to be deported to the UK first. "But I had no British visa" I explained. I was ordered to agree to get on the next flight. I refused-I didn't come all this way to turn back.

I was escorted to the "extended transit terminal". It was empty at first, save for a south Asian man in tightly buckled jeans and a small duffel bag that spent the good part of our time there there in a deep sleep. During the day the hall would fill up with locally deported passengers- from villages of cities across Egypt, and we would move our things to the upper waiting area.

Most of the time was spent in this waiting area with low level guards who knew nothing and could do nothing.

At different intervals a frustrated Yousuf, fully caped in his black spiderman outfit and mask, would approach them angrily about "why they wouldn't let him go see his seedo and tete?" and why "they put cockroaches on the floor". When we first arrived, he asked if these were the "yahood", his only experiences with extended closure, delay, and denial of entry being at the hands of the israeli soldiers and government. "No, but why don't you ask them why they are are allowed through to sunbathe and we aren't to our own homes?"

"Rabina kbeer" came the response. They were impotent. God is great.

There was very little time I was given access to anyone who had any authority. I seemed to be called in whenever the new person on duty arrived, when they were scheduled for their thrice daily interrogation and intimidation, their shooting and crying.

Officers came and went as shifts began and ended. But our status was always the same. Our "problem", our case, our issue was always the same. We remained, sitting on our chairs, with our papers and documents in hand, waiting, and no one the better.

Always waiting. For this is what the Palestinian does: we wait. For an answer to be given, for a question to be asked; for a marriage proposal to be made, for a divorce to be finalized; for a border to open, for a permit to be issued; for a war to end; for a war to begin; for a child to be born; for one to die a martyr; for retirement or a new job; for exile to a better place and for return to the only place that knows us; for our prisoners to come home; for our home to no longer be prisons; for our children to be free; for freedom from a time when we no longer have to wait.

We waited for the next shift as we were instructed by those who made their own instructions. Funny how when you need to pass the time, the time does not pass.

"You need to speak with whose in charge-and their shift starts at 10 am". So we pass the night and wait until 10. "Well by the time they really get started its more like noon". So we wait till noon. "Well the real work isn't until the evening". And we wait until evening. Then the cycle starts again.

Every now and then the numberless phone would ring requesting me, and a somber voice would ask if I changed my mind. I insisted all I wanted to do was go home; that it was not that complicated.

"But Gaza is a special case, we all know that" I was told.

Special, as in expendable, not human, not entitled to rights special, I thought.

Unfamiliar faces that acted as though though I was a long-lost friend kept popping in and out to see me. As though I were an amnesiac in a penitentiary. They all kept asking the same cryptic question "so you are getting on a plane soon, right?"

First, a gentleman from the Palestinian representative's office that someone else whose name I was meant to recognize sent. " It'll all be resolved within the hour" he promised confidently, before going on to tell me about his son who worked with Motorola in Florida;

"Helping Israeli drones do their job?"

"That's right!" he beamed.

An hour came and went, and suddenly the issue was "irresolvable", and I was "a journalist up to trouble".


Friends and family in Egypt, the US, and Gaza, worked around the clock with me, calling in any favors they had, anyone they knew, doing anything they could to get some answers and let me through. But the answer was always the same: Amn il Dawla (State Security and Intelligence) says no, and they are the ultimate authorities. No one goes past them.

Later a second Palestinian representative came to see me.

"So you are not going on that second flight are you?"

"What are you talking about? Why does everyone speak to me in question form?"

"Answer the question"

"No, I came here to go to Gaza, not to return to the US"

"Ok that's all I needed to know; there is a convoy of injured Palestinian with security clearance heading to the border with some space; we are trying to get you on there with them; 15 minutes and it'll all be resolved, we just need clearance, its all over" he assured me.

Yousuf smashed another cockroach.

We were taken down a new hallway. A new room. A new face. The man behind the desk explained how he was losing sleep over my case, how I had the while airport working on it, ho he had a son Yousuf's age; and then offered me an apple and a bottle of water and told me istaraya7i, to rest, a command I would hear again and again over the course of the 36 hours.

Is this man for real??? an apple and a bottle of water? I thought to myself, my eyes nearly popping out of my face.

"I don't want your food. I don't want to rest. I don't want your sympathy. I JUST WANT TO GO HOME. To my country. To my parents. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND?" I screamed, breaking my level-headed calm of the past 20 hours.

"Please don't yell, just calm down, calm down, everyone outside will think I am treating you badly, c'mon, and besides its 'ayb (disgraceful) not to accept the apple from me".

"'Ayb?? What's 'AYB is you denying my entry to my own home! And why should I be calm? This situation doesn't call for calm; it makes no sense and neither should I!"

A distraught Noor furrowed her brows and then comforted me the only way she knew how: by patting me on the back with her little hands and giving me a hug. Yousuf began to cry.

"C'mon lady don't have a breakdown in front of your kids please. You know I have a kid your son's age and its breaking my heart to do this, to see him in these conditions, to put him in the conditions, so please take the plane."

"So don't see me in these conditions! There's a simple solution you know. LET ME GO HOME. Its not asking a lot is it?"

"Hey now look lady" he said, stiffening suddenly into bad cop, his helpless grimace disappeared.
"Rules are rules, you need a visa to get in here like any other country, can you go to Jordan without a visa?'

"Don't play the rules game with me. I HAD APPROVAL FROM YOUR EMBASSY, FROM YOUR CONSUL GENERAL, to cross into Egypt and go to Gaza; and besides how else am I supposed to get into Gaza???" I shouted, frantically waving the stamped and signed document in front of him as though it were a magic wand.

"So sue him. Amn il Dawla supercedes the foreign ministry's orders, he must have outdated protocol."

"The letter was dated April 6, that is 2 days ago, how outdated could it be?? Look- if I could parachute into Gaza I would, trust me. With all do respect to your country, I'm not here to sight-see. Do you have a parachute for me? If I could sail there I would do that too, but last I check Israel was ramming and turning those boats back. Do you have another suggestions?

"What is it you want lady- do you want to just live in the airport? is that it? Because we have no problems letting you live here, really. We can set up a shelter for you. And no one will ever ask about you or know you exist. In any case you don't have permanent residency abroad so our government policies say we can't let a Palestinian who does not have permanent residency abroad"

"I have a US Visa- its expired but my extension of status document is valid until the end of June. and besides- what kind of illogical law is that? you aren't allowing me back home if I don't have permanent residency abroad?"

"I don't read English please translate.."

"You see it says here that my status is valid until June 30, 2009"

"Good, so then we CAN deport you back to the US" he said, picking up the phone and giving a quick order for the Palestinian convoy of injured Palestinians heading to the Crossing to go on without me, my only hope of returning home dissipating before my eyes at the hands of a barely literate manipulative enforcer.

"You just said if i have permanent residency abroad I can go home, now you say I can't, which is it??"

"I'm sorry you are refusing to go on the plane. Take her away please."

We were ushered back to the extended waiting area, back to our roach ridden premises that had become our home, along with a newly arrived Luxembourgian and French couple and their two children who had failed to produce their passports and were being sent back home. Here I was, about to be deported away from home, over prepared, with my documents and signed papers, from consulates and universities and governments; and they, used to traveling passport-free the EU, being sent back home because they had only an ID card.


It wasn't long before a new guard came to us, and request we follow him "to a more isolated room". "It will be better for you- more private. All the African flights are arriving now with all their diseases, you don't want to be here for that! It'll get overcrowded and awful in here."

Given the the well-wishes that preceded my last interrogation about the "uncomfortableness" I may endure, I somehow had a feeling where we were headed.

We were asked to bring all our luggage and escorted down a different hallway; this time we were asked to leave everything behind, and to give up our cameras, laptops, and mobile phones. We took our seats in the front of a tiny filthy room, where 17 other men (and one Indonesian woman was sleeping on the floor in the back, occasionally shouting out in the middle of her interrupted sleep) of varying nationalities were already waiting.

A brute man-, illiterate by his own admission, took charge of each of files, spontaneously blurting out vulgarities and ordering anyone who so much as whispered to shut the hell up or get sent to real prison; the room was referred to as "7abs", or a cell; I can probably best describe it as the detention or holding room. a heady man with a protruding belly that seems at odds with his otherwise lanky body was the door guard.

Officer #1 divided up the room into regions: the 5 or so south Asians who were there for whatever reason-expired paperwork, illegal documentation- were referred to as "Pakistan" when their attention was needed; The snoozing, sleep-talking woman in the back was "Indonesia"; and the impeccably dressed Guinean businessman, fully decked in a sharp black suit and blue lined tie, was "Kenya" (despite his persistence please to the contrary). There was a group of Egyptian peasants with forged, fake, or wrongly filed Id cards and passports: a 54 year old man whose ID said he was born in 1990; another who left his ID in his village 5 hours away, and so on.

By this point, I had not slept in 27 hours, 40 if one were to count the plane ride. My patience and my energy were wearing thing. My children were filthy and tired and confused; Noor was crying. I tried to set her cot up, but a cell within a cell did not seem to her liking and she resisted, much as I did.

We took the opportunity to chat when officer #1 was away. ""So what did you do?" asked Kenya, the Guinean.

"I was born Palestinian" I replied. "Everyone in here is being deported back home for one reason or another right? I bet I am the only one being deported away from home; the only one denied entry to my home."

Officer #1 returned, this time he asked me to come with him "with or without your kids". I brought them along, not knowing what was next.

There was two steely-eyed men on either end of a relatively well-furnished room, once again inquiring about my "comfort" and ordering-in the form of a question- whether I was taking a flight that morning to the US.

Noor began making a fuss, bellowing at the top of her lungs and swatting anyone that approached her.

"She is stubborn. She takes after her mother I see" said the man.

Soon we were escorted back to the waiting area. I knew there was nothing more I could do. We waited for several more hours until my children exhausted themselves and fell asleep. I bathed them in the filthy bathroom sinks with freezing tap water and hand soap and arranged their quarters on the steel chairs of the waiting room, buzzing with what seemed like a thousand gnats. Thank God for the mosquito netting.

Eventually, dawn broke, and we were escorted by two guards to the ticket counter, our $2500 flights rerouted, and put on a plane back to Washington.

I noted on one of my tweets that I would be shocked if my children's immune system survived this jolt. It didn't.

My daughter vomited the whole flight to London as I slipped in and out of delirium, mumbling half Arabic half English phrases to the flustered but helpful Englishman sitting next to us. I thank him wherever he is for looking after us.

Whatever she had, Yousuf an eye caught in the coming days-along with an ear and throat infection.

Eventually, we reached Dulles Airport. I walked confidently to the booth when it was my turn.

What was I going to say? How do I explain this? The man took one look at my expired visa, and my departure stamps.

"How long have you been gone?"

"36 hours" I replied bluntly.

"Yes,I see that. Do you want to explain?"

"Sure. Egypt forbade me from returning to Gaza".

"I don't understand- they denied you entry to your own home?"

"I don't either, and if I did, I wouldn't be here."

With that, I was given a a stamp and allowed back inside.

Now that we are warm; clothes; showered, rested and recovered from whatever awful virus we picked up in the bowels of Cairo airport, I keep thinking to myself: what more could I have done?

“The quintessential Palestinian experience,” historian Rashid Khalidi has written, “takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint: in short, at any one of those many modern barriers where identities are checked and verified.”

In this place, adds Robyn Creswell, “connection” turns out to be only another word for separation or quarantine: the loop of airports never ends, like Borges’s famous library. The cruelty of the Palestinian situation is that these purgatories are in no way extraordinary but rather the backdrop of daily existence."


Monday, April 13, 2009

Darwish therapy: Athens Airport

Yassine sent me this prose poem of Darwish's while I was in Cairo airport, which he published just after the siege in Beirut. He describes the revolving door nature of Athens Airport and airports in general-which change their residents each day, while "we remain in our seats." Time stands still for the Palestinian.

From Robyn Creswell in an article she penned on Dariwsh for Harper's in February:

"The poem describes an entire community—an intellectual, a clerk, a militant, a lover—all trying to carry on their everyday tasks in that international limbo. In this place, “connection” turns out to be only another word for separation or quarantine: the loop of airports never ends, like Borges’s famous library. The cruelty of the Palestinian situation is that these purgatories are in no way extraordinary but rather the backdrop of daily existence."

Athens Airport -Mahmoud Darwish

Athens airport disperses us to other airports. Where can I fight? asks the fighter.
Where can I deliver your child? a pregnant woman shouts back.
Where can I invest my money? asks the officer.
This is none of my business, the intellectual says.
Where did you come from? asks the customs' official.
And we answer: From the sea!
Where are you going?
To the sea, we answer.
What is your address?
A woman of our group says: My village is my bundle on my back.
We have waited in the Athens airport for years.
A young man marries a girl but they have no place for their wedding night.
He asks: Where can I make love to her?
We laugh and say:
This is not the right time for that question.
The analyst says: In order to live, they die by mistake.
The literary man says: Our camp will certainly fall.
What do they want from us?
Athens airport welcomes its visitors without end.
Yet, like the benches in the terminal, we remain, impatiently waiting for the sea.
How many more years longer, O Athens airport?

(Translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

getting deported away from home

quick post to let everyone know after 36 hours I am being deported- away from my home. more later

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Our pause in Cairo Airport

We have been stuck in Cairo airport for nearly a day now. We are neither being allowed entry or exit by Egyptian authorities, who insist that as long as Rafah Crossing is closed, they are under strict orders not to allow Palestinians in.

This is despite a signed letter of consent I received personally from the Egyptian consul-general in Washington the day of my travel from the US.

To quote the Egyptian officials here in the airport "so sue him".

I tried to plead that it was not my fault Egypt was in the way of my home- that if I could,I'd parachute in; that i simply wanted to go back home.

For now, we wait and sleep on the roach ridden floors of the transit hall as our own "Borders" film (a classic Syrian satire by iconic actor Dreid La7am about a man who is stuck between the borders of two fictional countries who speak the same language) unfolds.

We cannot return to the US b/c my visa has expired and I was planning on renewing it in Beirut where I was to meet up with Yassine after my Gaza stay.

And we are not beig allowed entry to Cairo because Rafah is closed.

No one seems to have an answer, other than whast was told to me this morning. No one knows where my file is or what is going to happen. I have an off again on again wifi signal, and tryig my best to keep updates on twitter @gazamom.

The only certainty is uncertainty.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Success of BDS

It is always difficult to quantify the success of a grassroots activist movement. It is particularly frustrating in the case of the anti-Israeli Apartheid BDS movement. Enter this short piece form the Jerusalem Post about over one-fifth of Israeli exporters suffering losses as a result of the boycott. Progress is slow, but the abnormalization of Occupation and highlighting its Apartheid-like nature is the way to go.

Local exporters are losing foreign markets and customers because of the global economic crisis and a growing anti-Israel boycott of locally made products following Operation Cast Lead, the Israel Manufacturers Association said Sunday.

"In addition to the problems and difficulties arising from the global economic crisis, 21 percent of local exporters report that they are facing problems in selling Israeli goods because of an anti-Israel boycott, mainly from the UK and Scandinavian countries ," said Yair Rotloi, chairman of the association's foreign-trade committee.

A survey conducted among 90 exporters from a variety of sectors found that 53% had lost foreign markets and customers as a result of the global economic crisis. In addition, 62% said they were having trouble collecting payments from foreign clients, while 49% said their customers have asked to pay in installments.

Foreign customers had forced 66% of Israeli exporters to cut prices because of the economic climate, the survey showed.

Twenty-nine percent of exporters reduced business travel abroad by more than 30%, 11% cut it 20%, 6.5% reduced it 10% and 43% reported no change. Twenty-six percent of exporters said business visits by their foreign customers had declined .

Monday, March 30, 2009

Palestine Children's Festival in Gaza

Gaza's College for the Applied Sciences presents the Palestinian Festival for Childhood and Education April 5-9- the largest annual children's event in Palestine!

We attended the festival a few years ago-when Yousuf was about 2 at the time, and I hope we will be able to make it through Rafah in time for this year's.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lessons from South Africa: a Duke event

Prof. Dugard is a personal friend of ours and comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge- Duke is lucky to have him this year, though few people are aware of it. He was also the predessor of Richard Falk, having authored a number of excellent reports on the situation in the OPT-and is credited with coinign the oft-quoted phrase "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key". I encourage those residing in the Triangle area to come to this event!

People-to-People Foreign Policy: Lessons from South Africa-and their Relevance to the Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination

An Open Public Discussion led by Professor John Dugard

John Dugard is one of the world's leading experts on international law and international human rights law. South African by birth, he was a vocal critic of the Apartheid regime. He has since gone on to play an influential role in a variety of human rights causes. He has twice served as a Judge Ad Hoc for the International Court of Justice. From 2001 to 2007 he was UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian territories. He will help lead a public discussion about how pressure from everyday people and civil society impacted the struggle against Apartheid, and what these tactics of protest can do for the struggle for Palestinian self-determination. Tuesday March 317 p.m. Rm. 107 Friedl Bldg.124 Campus DriveDurham, NC 27701.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Remote control death

An excellent article was published in the Nation and co-authored by good friend Darryl Li, a consultant with Human Rights Watch, after a recent fact-finding mission to Gaza. The title: "Remote-Control Death". It deals with the now all-too familiar drone technology employed over Gaza, and investigates how "discriminate" they really are (hint: not very), and suggests that no weapon better symbolizes Israel's indirect occupation of the Gaza Strip.

What resonated with me the most was the line that was attempting to describe the so-called paradox that is Israel's "relationship" to Gaza ("indirect occupation" or as i like to call it, remote-control occupation); how, despite the fact that Israel has disclaimed responsibility for Gaza, it continues to control every aspect of life there, down to what Gazans can eat and when they can turn on their lights:

"Since removing its military bases and settlers from Gaza in 2005, Israel has disclaimed any responsibility as an occupying power for the well-being of Gaza's populace. But even without permanent garrisons, Israel continues to control Gaza's economy and infrastructure, from its borders and airspace to its power grid and monetary policy. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, tightened in mid-2007 after Hamas took over Palestinian Authority institutions, has created immense hardships on Gaza's civilian population. And just as Israel's control of Gaza's borders allows it to dictate from a safe distance what Gazans can eat, whether they can turn on their lights and what kinds of medical treatment are available to them, drones give Israel the ability to carry out targeted attacks without having to risk "boots on the ground."

This is Gaza. This is Occupation.

On that note, we are leaving to Cairo April 6, in hopes of making it across Rafah shortly thereafter.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Goodbye MOTO! Goodbye Apartheid!

Join the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (NYCBI) as they launch their city-wide boycott of Motorola!

Monday, March 30
7:45-9:30 am
Motorola’s NYC Headquarters
335 Adams St., Brooklyn

(A,C,F to Jay St./Borough Hall, 2,3,4,5 to Borough Hall, M,R to Court St./Borough Hall or to Lawrence St./Metro Tech)

Why Boycott?
In the wake of Israel's recent assault on the people of Gaza and the US government's complicity in the attacks, we as people of conscience in the US must challenge Israeli policies. Hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations have called on the world to work on campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and New York is taking up the call!

Why Motorola?
Motorola USA and its wholly owned subsidiary Motorola Israel develop and provide equipment to the Israeli military and settlers, including bomb fuses, military communication systems, and surveillance systems for the wall and settlements. Similar practices by Motorola during South African apartheid prompted a successful boycott against them. Let’s do it again!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Canada in 8 days

Well, we're back, and I think finally caught up on sleep after a tour that saw us through 8 different cities in as many days. As I noted to a friend who suggested I was "amazing" for doing this trip with both kids in tow: some call it amazing...some call it insane. Thin line.

I should say I feel a little guilty-ever since I've begun twittering, I've found myself devoting less time to blogging. Its like I'm cheating on my blog! I admit it-I'm having an affair with Twitter!

Back to our trip:

We began our whirlwind in Buffalo, NY where I was invited to speak at the University of Buffalo fundraiser for Gaza-during which an iconic Palestinian painting by Ismail Shamout, "Victory Dance", was auctioned off.

From there we flew to NYC for the night, and the following morning to Edmonton, Canada in Alberta for my first speaking engagement as part of a national (and apparently global event-40 cities worldwide) Israeli Apartheid Week. It was Edmonton's first IAW and was very well organized.

It was also the coldest city of the lot- also the city where Noor had the pleasure of experiencing her first snow (sheer joy for the first 40 seconds-until her fingers began to go numb!).

Yousuf took the opportunity to go sledding (on a cardboard box- an hour before our flight out-see action shot below!).

We were hosted by an extraordinarily devoted local group of activists-whose house I fear sustained permanent damage as a result of my offspring (who would have thought a 14 month old could do so much damage?)

From there we moved on to Calgary, where I addressed a packed auditorium on the realities of the "Gaza Zoo*", emphasizing throughout my talks the consistency and constancy with which Israeli policies have played out there-regardless of who has been in power. Policies I suggested were aimed at deliberately forestalling any prospect for viable Palestinian statehood-something never explicitly outlined in any agreement.

We were again met by an enthusiastic group of organizers there, who saw us off to our third stop, Toronto, where IAW was launched in 2005. I caught up with old friends there-including my nursery school teacher, Um Bashar, now retired (whom I had not seen for 28 years!).

Toronto had the most packed crowed. I spoke there with fellow journalist and photographer Jon Elmer, who was in Gaza reporting at the same time I was and who gave a moving presentation.

One picture in particular stands out in my mind- of a clearly distraught mother nevertheless tutoring her child-on a cardboard box outside their demolished home.

Toronto was also the city where I was interrupted in the middle of my presentation by staunch zionists.

From there I went on to Kingston, where we celebrated Yousuf's 5th birthday (and not a picture to prove it! (HINT HINT TO EVERYONE WHO TOOK SNAPS AND PROMISED TO EMAIL THEM!! :)) and finally, Montreal, where I was met by the organizer of the tour, the tireless Laith Marouf and his lovely family (below, a cheeky Yousuf poses next to little Yafa, Laith's daughter, atop of Mont-Royal). After my speech there, a woman stood up to the microphone and made a comment that really touched me. She told me was a native Canadian/aboriginal and that she was married to a Palestinian. They frequently discussed the similarities between their plights. But she reminded him-and me- how lucky we were to at the very least have preservfed our language and our culture. She tearfully explainedh how her native language has essentially been lost, save for a few words, through the brutal segregation and elimination of her people and their social fabric.

I should take this moment to mention that IAW is not your ordinary awareness week. In its few years of existance, it has been met by staunch resistance and a hateful campaign attempting to vilify it and its organizers by status quo defenders and hypocrites on all levels-a testimony to its significance and its success.

Posters of the event were banned on certain campuses, and donors urged to condition their funding of universities on banning the week. Even top-ranking politicians have gotten involved-including a former professor of mine at the Kennedy School (now head of Canada's Liberal Party) who I am sorry to say I ever took a course with.

From a recent oped in the National Post on the subject, "the poster announcing Israeli Apartheid Week was banned at Carleton, University of Ottawa and Wilfred Laurier University. B'nai Brith took out advertisements urging university presidents to ban Israeli Apartheid Week. Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have denounced the event. Jason Kenney also threatened to pull funding from immigration settlement programs administered by the Canadian Arab Federation on the basis of their record of advocacy for Palestinian rights"

On our way back to the, I was stopped briefly for a secondary security screening. As the two immigration officers were taking care of my paperwork, one asked if I had just come from Palestine after seeing my passport. I told him no, that I hadn't, and that the borders to Gaza were sealed in any case.

"No one can get out either?" asked the second officer.

"No one" I replied. "And if they manage to, it is somewhat of a miracle".

"Damn, if I wasn't allowed out of here, I think I'd kill someone!" he snapped.

Then, some uncomfortable laughter and acknoledging nods.

That, in short, was a briefing on our trip to Canada! I wish I had more photos but my batteries went dead and everyone who promised to send shots they'd taken never came through :(

In roughly 3 weeks we are packing up our things-again-this time leaving Durham for good and moving upwards, literally: Yassine will start his Cornea fellowship this July in Baltimore, but in the meantime, the kiddos and I are heading (make that: attempting to head) to Gaza while Yassine will go visit his family in Lebanon.

As usual we will have to play things by ear and gamble on when and whether Rafah Crossing might open to Palestinian residents. Will definitely be blogging and tweeting between now and then and all along the way.

* Gaza Zoo is a reference to the term coined by good friend and scholar Darryl Li in a piece he wrote for Adalah describing the Gaza Strip: a situation where the freedom of animals is never up for discussion; rather, the objective is to tame them through careful regulation of leash and diet.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Oh Canada! @Gazamom

Our journey began in Buffalo, NY where I gave a talk at a fundraiser for PCRF put on by the University of Buffalo Arab Students Organization.

Now am in Edmonton, Canada for the first in a series of talks I am invited to give here.

Quick note to say you can follow my travles on Twitter @Gazamom

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gaza and pain in the distance

Some excellent Puerto Rican press coverage of my talk (note: for non-Spanish speakers, you can use Google translate tool to read the articles).

"Gaza o el dolor en la distancia" by RUTH MERINO MÉNDEZ


Una periodista en Gaza by Ana Teresa Toro

I thought this line was particularly entertaining:

"El-Haddad, who to the naked eye responds to the stereotype of Muslim women veiled and submissive attitude, but as soon as begins to talk shows full mastery of the stage" =) b/c you know that's me, oppressed Muslim woman.

My Canada speaking tour

so my posts will be a bit further apart for at least the next two weeks...I'm doing some more travel starting Friday: first, to Buffalo, NY, and then a week across Canada with Yousuf and Noor in tow. For anyone interested, here is the schedule:

Edmonton, Alberta
Monday, March 2 @ 7pm
University of Alberta. Telus Center for Professional Development, Room 150
111 Street and 87 Avenue

Calgary, Alberta.
Tuesday, March 3 @ 6:30pm
University of Calgary. Cragie Hall Rm 119

Toronto, Ontario.
Wednesday, March 4 @ 7pm
Gaza: Breaking the Siege
University of Toronto. Walberg Building, Room 116
184-200 College Street.

Kingston, Ontario
Thursday, March 5 @ 6:30pm
Queens University.

Montreal, Quebec
Friday, March 6 @ 6:30pm
Concordia University, Room H-937
1455 de Maisonneuve west

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

de Gaza a Puerto Rico!

ok, so where to begin. We recently returned from our 8 day trip to Puerto Rico. I'm still moping about why I am back in dreary Durham as opposed to warm and welcoming Puerto Rico, and that has somewhat hindered my progress in blogging about my experience there (that, and one too many late night dinner parties hosted by the burgeoning Palestinian community there...suffice to say, I am all kharoofed out for the season!). Honestly, we need a vacation from our vacation!

The purpose of the trip was to give a talk at Sacred Heart University (Universidad Sacredo Corazon)'s Center for Freedom of the Press.

The talk took place the evening of Monday, February 9th, following a day of interviews with local press, including this one in WAPA TV Puerto Rico, by journalist Julio Rivera-Saniel (notice my incessant arm-flailing-as though there were an invisible fly I were trying to swat), and a very thoughtful lengthier piece in his personal blog (he actually got all the details of my seemingly nonsensical life correct so I must give him some credit!!).

In short, it was a tremendous success. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the reception I got and by the unprecedented attendance- organizers estimated that up to 1000 people showed up, and 500 others had to be turned away for lack of room (both in the parking lot and the two rooms that were filled to capacity). Never in the history of the Center have so many people showed up to an event.

It was clear the people of Puerto Rico were thirsty for knowledge about the Palestinian conflict, and have a deep sense of the injustice of it all. What was even more remarkable was the diversity of the attendance: traditionally, I was told, it is the Independentista, supporters of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, or Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) that make up about 5% of voters only, who would attend such functions, relating on many levels to the Palestinian situation and their struggle for statehood (but as one man later pointed out to me-

"In your case it's not only the struggle for sovereignty but also a struggle to obtain a minimum of Basic Human Rights."

Another NY blogger of Puerto Rican heritage added:

"The Taino (the indigenous of Puerto Rico) welcomed the first European invaders. In exchange, the Taino were greeted with an unrelenting Holocaust. After 500 years of systematic efforts to destroy the Taino, it's only recently that a Taino identity is beginning to re-emerge. Unfortunately, we have so little left. The land was taken and our customs and language were obliterated. But slowly bits and pieces of our lost heritage--along w/DNA evidence--are helping us reclaim our true heritage. However, progress is hindered by the propaganda of Puerto Rico's ruling families--which are of European heritage--that the Taino were eliminated."

He also related the the similar experiences of Mexican-AMericans in Texas.

Back to the talk-participation was across the board I was told. People from all backgrounds and level of knowledge appeared. I was particularly touched a Puerto Rican man of Taino heritage who brought his young 8-year-old daughter with him (she later asked for my autograph :)).

The talk was without incident, barring an eruption at the end by an Israeli right-winger who -in true Zionist fashion- occupied the podium, took over the microphone and demanded to be heard, before being asking to respect the Q&A procedures.

We spent the rest of the week in the welcoming hands of the Puerto Rican Palestinian and Muslim communities. They make up roughly 5000 inhabitants on the island. Most of the Palestinians are third generation, descendants of immigrants from villages surrounding Ramallah. Many work in the pharmaceutical industry that is the underpinning of the Puerto Rican Economy (and inf act Palestinians own the second largest chain of pharmacies there, El-Amal). Many started out in Columbia or New York and ended up in Puerto Rico, where their amicability and forgiving business habits helped them gain favor with the locals.

On Sunday we were invited to speak to the the Farouk Mosque in Vega Alta, a suburb of San Juan. It was stunning, located on a hill top surrounded by banana and grapefruit trees, overlooking the freeway and the rest of the island. In attendence were also a group of native Puerto Rican Muslims.

We did manage to sneak out and enjoy ourselves for at least two days. We took a ferry to the island of Culebra just off the coast of Puerto Rico, where we spent one rainy day indoors as well as exploring the gastronomical topography of the island, witch oregano, belladonnas, star fruit trees, and all, and ended up making up our own rice pudding recipe with local hibiscus leaves, star fruit and fresh coconut and passion fruit fruit juice (courtesy of the juice man across the casita from where we were staying). We spent the next day on the stunning Playa Flamenco.

Earlier in the week, we had an opportunity to view an outdoor photography exhibit, "Earth From Above", by artist-activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, of 150 four-foot by six-foot aerial photographs of the Earth and our world (in case you are wondering, that's a photo of a man taking a nap on an enormous pile of freshly picked and bundled cotton- not a cauliflower).

Yousuf practiced his own photography skills- snapping a revealing (I'm kidding) photo of my legs, and a vendor selling peeled oranges on the main promenade in Old San Juan.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Egypt arrests blogger, Gaza activist, Philip Rizk

Sorry this is a little late in coming...been consumed with my travel to San Juan and preparations for the conference I'm speaking at (and on top of that did not have internet access until today)...I have just learned that my good friend and fellow blogger, journalist, and activist Philip Rizk, has been arrested by Egyptian secret police-thugs.

I cannot even imagine Philip in the hands of these torturers, he is one of the most low-strung, peaceful people I have met (especially given that he lived in Gaza for some time, which can tend to make people a nervous wreck!)

I first met Philip, who is a dual German-Egyptian citizen, in Gaza City's Dira hotel through a mutual friend who told me he had just moved to town working on aid projects with Canon Andrew White, special envoy to the Middle East for the Archbishop of Canterbury. I remember clearly- a then 18 month old Yousuf was wreaking havoc in the restaurant-tugging at the tablecloth when we were unsuccessful in distracting him with the indoor playground.

In any case, Philip began a blog after that titled "Tabula Gaza" to which I have a link below.

He was arrested a few days ago during a rally north of Cairo held as part of a series of rallies organized by the Egyptian Popular Committee in Solidarity with The Palestinian People in commemoration of the breaching of the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt one year ago on January 23rd, 2008 and in a bid to End the Siege on Gaza.

Here it is worth noting of course that Philip is not alone in his arrest. Every day dozens of Egyptian activists are arrest, taken to undisclosed locations, and tortured by the Egyptian secret police. As recent as last week, more than 50 members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization were also detained after a recent Gaza rally, and more than 500 in the past month.

All hail Mubarak...this is what the United States means when it says it wants to work with "moderate leaders" in the Middle East. Democracy at work people.

For more on Philip's case (and others in Egyptian penitentiary) check Egypt and Beyond blog (notable is the "Mafia with a License" piece by Sarah Carr), Ben White's blog, and for a detailed account of the kidnapping, see Inanities blog.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Remembering a time

Yousuf keeps bringing up Gaza and his grandfather. Little things will evoke memories of his time growing up in Gaza-fragments he continues to piece together in a sort of non-linear way from a time he can barely remember yet is so hauntingly familiar: the turtle we found trying to cross the road from the beach inland that we securely re-located to my father's farm (do you think it has a new family now? is it still there?); the time he burned his bottom in the ice-cream shop across the street when my mother accidentally sat him on a container of boiled corn-(hey don't call child protective services-it was an accident!)

Today, it was an old manual camera. My father bought it for him from a garage sale during a visit here last year. I dusted it off after Yousuf said he wanted to take his own pictures when we go to Puerto Rico next week, where I am going to be delivering a lecture at the Center for the Freedom of Press in San Juan.

The camera elicited a host of questions and a conversation I can only pretend to answer with any certainty.

"Mama...inshallah we'll see them again. But what if they are shot before we go? And how will we get across if the border is still closed?" he asks, knowing full-well from years past that going to Gaza is not as easy as hopping on a plane from point A to point B.

"It will all be ok I promise, don't worry too much about such things. Leave that to me and take some pictures of the present, so you can remember your happy times."

Every time I rub his little almost-5-year-old head after he wakes up from an afternoon nap, when his face is still warm, I remember how we huddled together in my bed in Gaza as our windows shuddered from nightly shelling.

He belongs to that place, and he belongs to this time. He belongs to that time, and he belongs to this place.

A Gazan feast!

I wanted to post these pictures because they made me smile- seeing my parents glowing faces, happy and well-rested, in front of our kitchen table back in Gaza City with a spread that is truly "Gazan feast": traditional suppertime staples like dagga (a famous tomato-dill-hot chili salad), olives from my father's farm, and hearty locally baked wheat-bran bread, in addition to zibdiyit gambari (spicy shrimps baked in a Gaza earthen clay pot), tangy stuffed grape-leaves, and imtaball (aka baba ghanooj) topped with pomegranate seeds (the influence of Yafa, the native city of the dear woman who helps my mother). It was a meal they prepared for my good friend Darryl who was visiting Gaza on a human rights fact-finding mission. He took these pictures of them-before lapsing into a food coma on the way back to his apartment. Word is that his whole team ate the leftovers he took back with him!

Israeli ambassador gets the shoe

...and apparently, it hit the intended target this time around. From an eyewitness attending the lecture:

Sweden: Shoe hits Israeli ambassador

A shoe was thrown at Israel ’s ambassador to Sweden, Mr. Benny Dagan, when
he was giving a speech at Stockholm University today. The shoe hit its
target. It was followed by two books and a note pad, all hitting the
severely embarrassed ambassador.

The two protesters, a young woman and a young man, shouted “Murderers!”
and “Intifada!” while pelting Dagan with the objects. They are currently
under arrest, suspected of assault and public disturbance.

The lecture was organised by the Foreign policy association at Stockholm
university. The ambassador was supposed to talk about the upcoming
elections in Israel , but turned quickly to issues of Hamas and Iran and
developed a lengthy defence for Israel ’s recent actions in the Gaza

Some 20 minutes into the lecture, a woman stood up in the audience, threw
a red shoe at the ambassador and shouted “Murderers!”. The shoe hit Dagan
in his stomach. Another protester then joined in and hurled two books and
a note pad.

Dagan was dumbstruck and paralysed, but returned to his lecture shortly
after a few minutes – only to face shouts and other verbal protests from
the audience. The meeting ended in chaos, while the two protestors were
taken to custody.

The boycott movement in Sweden has gained momentum during the last weeks,
not the least since Veolia lost its Stockholm metro contract, worth some
3.5 billion euro a year, after a long campaign against the company’s
notorious involvement in the Jerusalem tram project. The movement is now
taking aim at the Davis Cup tennis match between Sweden and Israel
scheduled in Malmö 6-8 March.

ISM didn’t participate in the action, but was at the meeting.
International Solidarity Movement-Sweden:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Seeing is not like hearing

Yesterday my father joined friend and local activist Fida Qishta and members of the ISM Gaza to visit the site of the al-Daya home- a four-story house that was leveled by Israeli forces on top of its occupants. My father told me there were still four unburied bodies underneath the rubble.

They then went to visit the area where the Samouni clan lived-some 15 houses, citrus groves olive trees, two green houses, and one chicken pen (with about 10, 000 chickens), a water well, cattle and other animals- ALL were eviscerated from existence. The only surviving animal was a donkey. The poor beast was shot in the neck but survived nonetheless with a battle scar and a bandage on his wound.

He sent me the following pictures (my father, not the donkey), of all that remains of the village; its residents showing their hospitality nonetheless as they served them coffee warmed on a small wood-fired grill. In another picture, surviving family members anxiously accept water donations from a truck.

"Seeing is not like hearing" he told me bluntly of the devastation they saw, the livlihoods that were destroyed, and the life that was extinguished.