Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Humanity lost

We stood and we waited and we cried and we returned back to Egypt yesterday, and again today. Us and thousands of others.

It was anguish. Anguish and misery and desperation personfied in every woman, man and child.

One hour turned into two, then three, then five, as we stood shielding our eyes from the piercing midday sun on Wednesday, when we were told the Crossing would be opening for a few hours.

Some wailed in exhaustion, others fainted, still others cracked dry humor, trying to pass the time. We stood, thousands of us, packed together elbow to elbow like cattle, penned in between steel barriers on one end, and riot-geared Egyptian security guards on the perimeter, who were given orders not to allow anyone through until they hear otherwise from the Israelis-and to respond with force if anyone dared.

Many of the people had been waiting for more than two weeks to cross back into Gaza, sometimes making the trip to the crossing several times a day upon receiving word of its imminent opening.

"We have been waiting for 15 days now. Only god knows when it will open-today, tomorrow, the day after?" said 57-year-old Abu Yousuf Barghut, his shrapnel-riddled arm trembling by his side.

His tearful wife, Aisha, added: "God knows we only went to seek treatment for him and to come right back. And now we are stuck and waiting us in Gaza are my four children. This is the most basic of rights-to be able to return to our homes, and we are even denied that."

"The only way anyone will actually pay attention to our plight is if one of us dies here, and even then, I'm not sure the world will care," stammered one young man, Isam Shaksu, his eye heavily bandaged after having received an corneal implantation in Jordan.

In July, seven Palestinians waiting to be let into Gaza from Egypt died waiting to cross Rafah.

After the hours and the sun, one would have thought the black steel gates ahead of us were the gates to Heaven, but in fact they only led to more masses, more waiting, more hell.

There is something you feel as you stand there, and sometimes squatted, for hours at a time, waiting to be let through the Egyptian side of Rafah Crossing. It is something of your humanity slowing drifting away. It is gradual, but unmistakable.

And you are never quite the same again.

There were mixed Israeli orders-first to open the crossing for three days, starting Wedneday, yesterday; then breaking news at 11pm retracted that order, and by Wednesday morning, another about-face saying that the border would in fact be opened. By the time we arrived, it was 11am, and already somewhere around 2000 has amassed in front of the gates. And no one was budging.

Yousuf waited along with us, asking incessantly "When would the crossing open??", and begging me to pose the same quetion to the Egyptian officers manning it. Everytime he'd see the gate budge open he would get excited and yell "Its open!! Its open!!". And everyone would heave a heavy sigh.

When we finally did make it inside the “Second sector” of the Egyptian side, the relief was overwhelming-we had moved 50 metres!! And we could wait another four hours if it meant we’d finally be allowed through. But instead we faced yet another uncertain wait; it was like some sadistic game with no certain ending.

As we waited, we saw members of the Palestinian athletic teams heading to the Asian games after a two week delay.

We also saw Ismail Haniya on his way out to his Arab tour. He stopped to mingle with the desperate crowds, some hailing him, some complaining about how long they had waited.

We finally learned that the crossing had been closed this entire time, and the Egyptians were only allowing people through to give them some hope to cling on to-and to prevent the masses from rioting, which has happened before.

We thought once he’d passed, we’d be allowed through. But it is then we learned that Mahmud Zahar had crossed earlier that morning-carrying suitcases full of $20 million.

The European Monitors were not pleased. How could he not declare the money, and how could he have the audacity to try and bring in money to feed his peole in the first place??

They filed a "complaint" with the Israelis, who immediately told them to shut down the crossing, without giving a reason, leaving thousands-including Yousuf, my parents and I, stranded.

My mother and Yousuf had gone ahead of my father and I-and our bags-into the terminal, and Yousuf fell asleep in the mosque. It was then that the officers had informed us the crossing was no longer operational-and everyone who was inside, even those who had already made it as far as the Palestinian side, would have to go back.

we pleaded with an Egyptian Officer: “It took us 6 hours to get as far the inside of the terminal, please let us through”.

“Big deal-it took me ten hours to get here from Cairo," he retorted, as I reminded myself they get paid a measly 180 Egyptian pounds a month and couldn't care less.

Another officer was more sympathetic.

“What you lot have to understand is that no one gives a damn what happens to you-you could sit here and suffocate for all they care. You are simply not human enough for them to care.”

When is it that we lost our humanity, I wondered? And when is it that the humanity and desperation of a people, waiting desperately to be let through to their homes, was less important than the call of duty? And that a government was made to choose between feeding their own people, or giving them passage to their homes?

Inside the terminal, the scenes were dizzying. Already disoriented form lack of sleep and little food, I looked around in awe. It was nothing short of an interment camp, and I lost myself somewhere between the silent anguish of old men, aching, teary eyed-women on the verge of collapse, and children, some strewn across the floor in exhaustion, others who were sick, in wheelchairs, wailing...

We returned to Arish, exhausted and sleep deprived, only to find that all of the apartments were occupied by returning passengers. The only flat we found was one without hot water and leaky ceiling pipes, but we couldn’t care less. By 9pm we were all out.

The next morning, we left again to the border-where we had left our suitcases-despite word from taxi drivers that the crossing would not open. We waited again, this time for only 5 hours, until we decided it was an exercise in futility.

Everyone was looking for answers-some answers, any answers. When would the crossing open? Was there hope it would open today? If so, what time? Should we wait, should we return to Arish? Nobody knew.

Every now and then someone would make a call to some secondary source they knew in Gaza or on the border, and rumors would spread like wildfire across the masses. “At noon-they say at noon there is a possibility it will open! Patience, patience!”.

And then we wait some more.

One man, frustrated, took his bags and began to push them back on a trolley and out through the throngs of exhausted passengers.

"Where the hell do you think you're going??" bellowed one of the Egyptian officers.

"To Jerusalem! Where do you think??" he snapped.

It was nearing the end of our long day, and overcome by exhaustion, we didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

A friend in the UN told me the Europeans had left their posts after yesterday’s “incidents” and thus the Palestinian side of the crossing has shut down indefinitely now.

And so now, we return to square one. Back in Arish, waiting, as ever, for the border to open.

Monday, November 27, 2006

false alarm!!!

Just when we were getting excited....

We turned on Palestine TV this evening to read some breaking news out of Gaza, reporting that the Rafah Crossing will in fact NOT be opening tommorow, Tuesday, despite earlier reports to the contrary.

A friend who contacted the EU representatives stationed in Rafah confirmed the bad news, and thinks it might be because of reports in Haaretz that Ismail Hanniyeh was due to leave tommorow for a 3 week tour to different countries, and that the Israelis may have "intervened" to stop him.

Makes perfect usual...

According to Palestinian wires, there are over 3200 people waiting to cross, many directly in the border itself...

Our wait continues.

Good tidings...

We've given up trying to call the "ma3bar hotline"-a direct line to some bored-stiff Egyptian border official for the latest news. Inevitably, the answer is always "no 'instructions' from the other side yet."

But today finally came the call we were waiting for-my cousin from Gaza phoned to tell us the border is opening tommorow-for three days only, in both directions! My neighour in Gaza City confirmed it by MSN messenger.

My mother says its because she finally cooked a meal yesterday insteading of us always eating out in case the border opened.

of course, they are still all rumors until we hear for certain from the border...

We bid farewell to al-Arish tommorow morning...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What Yousuf's been up too...

As we continue our wait, Yousuf of course waits along with us. Kids are remarkably agile, more than we give them credit for. Of course for Yousuf, this is the second time in his young life he's had to wait for such a long time for the border to open (the last time, he was a tender 8 months). No that doesn't mean he doesn't notice what's happening around him-say something once, and he picks it up. He's remarkably intuitive that way, I think he gets that from his father ;)

Now he's taken to the habit of asking us regularly "when will the border open? I want to go to Lazza?" (yes, Lazza...he still has trouble pronouncing the "Ghain".

He provides the lot of us (my parents and I) a bit of comic relief when out of the blue, or when he has just woken up, stammers "you know, I think today is the day. I think they will open the crossing today" when of course he has not idea what he's going on about.

In the meantime we've tried to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for him-walks on the beach and playing in the sand with my father, taking him on tacky manually run park rides, and his favorite of all, the one that gets him jumping up and down: riding the public bus, jam-packed with people of every shape and color, to downtown. Who knows...

We've also finally chopped off that mane of his-people were beginning to confuse him with a sheep!

Yousuf drinking Tamarind juice in the souk

Yousuf's "before" and "after" pics....

comments section...

Ok, something's obvioysly amiss in the comments section and I'm not sure how to fix it-I did a test run and no comments are being posted. I'm going to try to disable moderation to see if that works, then contact blogger. Any suggestions welcome!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Still waiting...

We are still waiting in Arish. I've lost count of the days now. The latest talk on the streets forecasts that Monday will be the day it opens. But I’m skeptical. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the Israeli decisions are without rhyme or reason.

As part of a video diary I’m filming about my journey across Rafah, I phoned the Israeli Army spokesperson’s office, and the Israeli Ministry of “Defence” in order to get some answers (though not expecting any). Not surprisingly, they both put me through hoops, forwarding me from one office to the next, each insisting they were not responsible for the crossing. I finally reached a woman who said to email her my “question” and that she would get back to me. She never did.

Sometimes I wonder if Peretz-or whoever it is that makes that ominous decision-just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or forgot to call in the opening of the crossing that day, or what. But as a friend put it “there is no right side of the bed”. The arbitrariness of it all, whether waiting for the border or a checkpoint to open- and the absoluteness of the decision-the fact that no one, no one can tell you what is happening or ultimately make anything happen except Israel, is simply maddening. I guess that’s the point.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The politics of uncertainty

It’s our third day in Al-Arish, and still, no word about the border. Everyone is suddenly a credible source on when the border will open, and anxious ears listen to whatever they dish out.

One local jeweller insisted it would open at 4pm yesterday-a suggestion that the taxi drivers laughed off; they placed their bets on Thursday -but Thursday has come and gone, and still no sign of the border opening; the woman staying in the flat next to us-a Syrian-Palestinian bussinesswoman also waiting to enter Gaza, says she has "credible information" it will open in a matter of "days". Atyiya, our taxi driver, say HE heard it wouldn't open until the Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj), a few weeks from now. A border official we call every morning at 5am says only the Israelis know for sure.

How is it that when waiting for passage through borders, time is suspended, yet somehow, the rest of the world goes on living? How is it that all sense of time and belonging and life come to a standstill here I cannot understand.

We’ve packed and unpacked our bags a dozen times. My mother finally gave in and opened hers up in a gesture of frustration-and maybe, pragmatism. It seems like a bad omen, but sometimes things work in reverse here: last time we were stuck for 55 days in Egypt, the day we decided to buy more than a daily portion of food, the border opened.

But every night, it’s the same ritual. We pack all our things, sleep early, and wake up at 5 to call the border.

As an Israeli friend put it, "uncertainty" is used as part of the almost endless repertoire of occupation.

In the end, security is all that matters and all that ever will. As Palestinians, we’ve come to despide that word: Security. It is has become a diety more sacred than life itself.

It used to be that anyone with an Israeli-issued travel permit or visa could cross Rafah into Gaza-but never refugees of course. Since the Disengagement last year, all that has changed.

With few exceptions (diplomats, government delegations, UN staff, Red Cross, press with Israeli issued cards) no one besides residents of Gaza carrying Israeli-issued IDs can come in. No foreigners, no Arabs, no West Bankers, not even spouses of Gazan residents, or Palestinian refugees, can enter Gaza now.

Our identity has come to be defined by restrictions and borders and permits and limits. That is the nature of the Occupation. “If you are from Gaza, you cannot travel to the West Bank; you cannot travel to Jerusalem; you cannot use Allenby, il-Jisr, or Erez, or any of the airports. You cannot obtain travel permits for your or your spouse. Nor family reunification. You cannot obtain identity cards. You cannot fly, you cannot fish, you cannot move, you cannot breathe, you cannot live.” If you meet all these cannots, then you know you are from Gaza.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The waiting game

We’ve been in Al-Arish 48 hours now. Our journey, not including the days spent in Doha, has spanned more than 5 days now.

We’ve rented a small beachside vacation flat here. They are cheap-cheaper than Cairo, and certainly cheaper than hotels and are usually rented out to Palestinians like us, waiting for the border to open. Its low season now, and the going rate is a mere $12 a night. In the summer, rates jump to a minimum of $35 a night. We can afford it. But for many Palestinians who come to Egypt for medical treatment, and without large amounts of savings, even this meager rental fee can begin to add up.

We went downtown today to buy some more food. We are buying in small rations, “just in the case the border opens tomorrow”. I feel like we've repeated that rephrain a hundred times already. I go and check my email. I feel very alone; no one cares, no one knows, no one bothers to know. This is how Palestinian refugees must feel every day of their lives.

Even those in Gaza and the West Bank. We discriminate. There are “muwatineen”-residents, and “lajieen”, refugees. And the refugees on the outside, in Lebanon and Syria and all over cannot vote in our elections (while Iraqi refugees did in their elections). They feel abandoned, even by their own government.

I read the news, skimming every headline and searching for anything about Rafah. Nothing. One piece about the Palestinian football team; another about the European monitors renewing their posts for another 6 months. We do not exist.

If you are “lucky” enough to be stuck here during times of extended closure, when things get really bad-when enough Palestinians die on the border waiting, or food and money are scarce enough for the Red Cross to get involved, then maybe, maybe you’ll get a mention. And people will remember there are people waiting to be let through. To be possessed once again; to be reclaimed and returned to what? To something that is neither here nor there. Full of pessoptimists and absurdity and people who wait. Waiting their entire lives. What has Gaza become after all?

But now, even though Rafah has been more or less closed for more than 6 months- with an occasional day of opening every few weeks, it is no longer newsworthy. Such is the state of the media- what is once abhorred becomes the status quo and effectively accepted.

So now we are back in the flat. We sleep, and wake up, and wait for the phone to ring for some news. Every time we receive a knock on the door-we rush to see if the messenger brings good tidings. Today? Tomorrow? A week from now?

No, it’s only the local deaf man. He remembers us from last time, offers to take out our trash for some money and food.

We sit and watch the sunset. What does it know of waiting and anticipation and disappointment-a million times in one day?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Border of Dispossession

After returning from Doha on Sunday, my family and I drove off to the Egyptian border town of al-Arish yesterday-a five hour drive from Cairo, and a 30 minute drive from the Rafah Crossing. Al-Arish is the closet (and largest) Egyptian town to the border.

During times of extended closure, like this summer, and last year, it becomes a Palestinian slum. Thousands of penniless Palestinians, having finished their savings and never anticpating the length of the closure, end up on the streets. The storeowner and taxi drive relay story after story to us from this summer.

In response, and under Israeli pressure, the Egyptian police no longer allows Palestinians driving up from Cairo past the Egyptian port city of al-Qantara if the border is closed and Al-Arish becomes to crowded. "They turn it into a ghetto. That, and the Israelis didn't want them blowing up holes in the border again to get through."

We carried false hopes last night, hopes transmitted down the taxi driver’s grapevine, the ones who run the Cairo-Rafah circuit-that the border would open early this morning. So we kept our bags packed, slept early to the crashing of the Mediterranean-the same ones that just a few kilometres down, crashed down on Gaza's beseiged shores.

But it is 4, then 5, then 6am, and the border does not open. And my heart begins to twinge, recalling the last time I tried to cross Rafah; recalling how I could not, for 55 days; 55 days during which Yousuf learned to lift himself up into the world, during which he took his first fleeting steps, in a land which was not ours; 55 days of aloneness and displacement.

The local convenience storeowner tells us he hears the border may open Thursday-“but you know how it is, all rumors”. No can be certain. Some say tommorow, some say Thursday-but in the end, no one ever knows. Even the Egyptian borders officials admit that ultimately, the orders come from the Israeli side. Its as though they take pleasure as we languish in the uncertainty. The perpetual never-knowing. As though they intend for us to sit and think and drive ourselves crazy with thought.

Even the Palestinian soccer team has been unable to leave Gaza because of the Rafah closure, to attend the Asian games. No one is exempt. Peasant or Pro-football player, we are equally vulnerable.

So, as always, we wait. We wait our entire lives, as Palestinians. If not for a border to open, for a permit to be issued, for an incursion to end, for a time when we do not have to wait any longer.

Why is so frightening about borders-and particularly Rafah- that it drives chills down my spine? They are after all crossings like any others I tell myself. What divides one metre of sand from the next, beyond that border? It is exactly the same. It is history and occupation and isolation that changes it.

For Palestinians, borders are a reminder-of our vulnerability and non-belonging, of our displacement and dispossession. It is a reminder-a painful one-of homeland lost. And of what could happen if what remains is lost again. When we are lost again, the way we lose a little bit of our Selves everytime we cross and we wait to cross.

So it is here, 50 kilometres from Rafah’s border, that I am reminded once again of displacement. That I have become that ‘displaced stranger’ to quote Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. Displacmenet is meant to be something that happens to someone else, he says. How true. To refugees that the world cares to forget. Who have no right of return. Who return to nowhere and everywhere in their minds a million times. When the border closes, we are one day closer to become that.

Of course, that, is Yassine, who cannot even get as far as I-cannot even get as far as Egypt, to feel alone. He feels alone everyday, and is rejected everyday, finding belonging in other, non-static things: family, love, work.

But the Palestinian never forgets his aloneness. He is always, always reminded of it on borders. That, above all, is why I hate Rafah Crossing. That is why I hate borders. They remind me that I, like all Palestinians, belong to everywhre and nowhere at once. The Border of Dispossession .

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The face behind the voice

This one is for all those Arabic-speaking readers out there. You know that guy with the really annoying, nasal voice on Aljazeera that does all the voiceovers and translations for english-speaking guests? Well, we finally met yesterday. He was kind enough to give me the grand tour of the Arabic studio (which is much smaller and less grandious than the new english studio). His name is Muwafaq Tawfeeq, a really brilliant guy, and an Iraqi who lived in the UK for a good part of his life, and has been with Aljazeera nearly since its inception. And he admits, jokingly, that everyone tells him the same thing about the way his voice sounds.

More on my Arabic channel tour later-but I also do want to mention for all those curious-famous Algerian anchorwoman Khadeeja DOES arrange her own clothes and hijab before going live-studio fashion/makeup don't do it for her. :)

Aljazeera v Aljazeera

I mentioned earlier that at the last moment, Aljazeera International was officially changed to Aljazeera English. Apparently, this is due to some (ongoing)tensions between the Arabic and English channels. The former thought calling the english Channel "international" implied that the Arabic channel was somehow not, and also seemed to suggest a sort of ideological departure from the "spirit of Aljazeera" (its sort of creepy...I really feel having hung around here for the past two days that this "spirit" is becoming somewhat of a diety, and the "Code of Ethics", plastered up in dozens of formats all over the Arabic studio, is the holy book).

Arabic channel folks still seem a bit suspicious and resentful of the english channel-of everything from their demeanor to their ethnic makeup to their choice of words during news casts. I think its only natural to feel threatened, and my sense is that that though it might take time, it will soon pass.

Tommorow I'm off to Cairo and then Gaza in the evening. But do promise more pics and commentary on my trip over here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

That's Aljazeera English, thank you

So its official. I am in Doha-yes I made it, amdist the swarms of Asian Games particpants and fans, and by some miracle of God (that involved a bit of networking and lots of unaccounted for help), but not without a lot of hubub, especially in Doha Airport and uninteligible hushed whispers, from which I managed to decipher "Palestinian Authority???).

That, and the fact that the name of the new Channel is Aljazeera English (AKA-AJE) NOT Aljazeera International. I always thought this sounded to similar to CNN International-could this be why? I'll have to do some digging and get back to you on that one.

My time at the channel-both Arabic and English-today has been fabulous. Got the grand tour and-all very opulent and sort of surreal to be at the center of it all. Most of the empoloyees are very down to earth, and many have joined because they honestly feel they can do something different with Aljazeera. And in the end, even they think its cool to pose in front of the Aljazeera logo outside ;). I also learned the hard way that being the world's fifth most influential brand does not translate into great cafeteria food.

Its late so I'll try to upload more photos-and provide more detail about the channel, tommorow.

Ground Zero.

The brilliant website staff (you know, the ones missing out on the glitz and glamour) hard at work on the second floor

Russell Merryman, the website Editor-in-Chief, and my boss, smiling after a sleepless week in the runup to launch

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Aljazeera International launches!

Finally, the day we have all (ok, maybe not all...but certainly those following news of AJI's imminent launch..or those who have been working tirelessly for the pilot of the english channel-the english website, for three years!!) has arrived!

Aljazeer International officially went live a few minutes ago, and while the Cairo apartment we're renting here does not carry the frequency, the first few minutes I saw on Aljazeera Mubashir channel looked very promising. Their motto is "setting the news agenda", which I rather like- and out of the first set of news pieces they headlined, something like 2 or 3 were out of Africa-a welcome change for a continent too often overlooked in today's global media.

The new version of the english website has also launched, and is a dramtic and welcome change from the dinosaur version of years past.

Still holding out hope to be there tommorow !!

on comments and (missed) launches

Ok, so obviously, something was up with my comments section-moderation was off and I wasn't being notified of my comments, so things went a little haywire without my realizing it-my apologies for that, and for my lack of response.

I also obviously will not be attending the launch of Aljazeera International in Doha tommorow due my visa -or lack thereof-situation. However, I still hope to be able to make it there by Thursday, and perhaps then can give an update.

For now, the Cairo zoo beckons Yousuf...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Aah, the power of Citizenship! (aka: born Palestinian, born cursed)

Some people are just more trustworthy than others. You know what I'm talking about, right? More honest, more amenable; the friendly, happy-go-lucky, type that cause no problems. To the Gulf States, this means rich Westerners that they just lovvve to let into their countries' fancy resorts so they can spend spend spend, and tan their future skin away. Others, however, well-are not so trustworthy.

Take Palestinians for example. The moment you see someone holding that ominous, forest green Palestinian passport or travel document, you know there's trouble on the horizon; you know to be afraid-very afraid.

Because Palestinians are stateless, and, by extension, squatters; whoever they are, wherever they go, they will squat, seek jobs, and eventually citizenship, if they can find a way-and if they don't, they'll simply become beggars or a huge burden on the economy. Even if they live in the US or Europe-or even Mars, this notion still applies. Even if they are brain surgeons or Astronauts or millionaires-it doesn't matter, they have palestinian written ALL over them-and it wreaks from miles away.

Such is the case with most Arab countries and their treatment of Palestinians, and my all-too-familiar experience trying to get to Doha today for the launch of Aljazeera International. Its hard enough finding a flight or hotel reservations in Doha now with the Asian Games being hosted there, but I was almost laughed out of the airport when-upon being prompted to present my visa- I told them that my editors suggested I obtain one in the Doha airport, and this would be no problem.

I know what all Palstinians with travel documents out there are thinking: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Well, I wasn't I guess. Silly me, for one microsecond I actually thought the Qataris had changed their policy towards us plague-infected Palestinians, that maybe it had become a little more humane; that maybe they'd seen the err of their ways, and had actually realized that I obvoiusly did not intend to come and seek residence in Doha or disturb the precious balance of their economy since my son was staying behind in Cairo with my parents, and my husband was in the United STates.

But no. no no no no. Again and again I was told: You are Palestinian! So when I attempted to switch my ticket from Egypt Air to Qatari Airways-with whom I heard I stood a better chance, I was literally told: "You might stand a chance at obtaining a visa if you had any nationality EXCEPT Palestinian."

And that exception does not include Israelis-who can obtain a tourist visa in the Qatari airport. Or of course Americans, like Yousuf. That's right: my rambunctious little 2 1/2 year old can go to Doha, no problems, no questions asked. But me? Or his father-a Harvard educated Opthalmologist in training? Keep dreaming.

Silly me. I should have thought of the consequences of being Palestinian when I was a little embroyo in my mother's womb. To quote her, 25 years ago, when she was likewise stopped in Cairo Airport (egypt now allows entry only to Palestinian females en coming in en route to Gaza, but Palestinian males must be escorted directly to the border, without stopping in Cairo) and denied entry because she was Palestinian (and pregnant with my young brother):

"How is it my fault that I was born Palestinian?"

Monday, November 13, 2006

Welcome to the neighbourhood, Hiba!

We're in Egypt now, after a very long trans-Atlantic flight (Yousuf was as well-behaved as an angel) where we'll wait for the border to open and then take off to Gaza, God willing.

But I'd like to introduce you all to a new Gaza blog (drumroll please...): My friend and neighbour (and reader!) in Gaza City, Hiba Zayan, has finally acted on my advice to put her thoughts as Gazan simply trying to survive, and taking it all in, into words. She has started a new blog, Contemplating from Gaza, and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome her to the Palestinian (and global) blogging neighbourhood! I hope it is long and fruitful-and do not let the naysayers deter you.

Hiba's few starting entries are gripping and poetic-she has a saliently melencholic way of capturing that feeling we all have inside of us as Gazans-the one that eats away at our very existence. Here's a taste:

"How can Gazans deal with the negative stress they face on a daily basis while their problems trespassed, long ago, coping with continuous stress to coping with changes in their personalities , tolerance, and manners to the worse as a result of being exposed to negative stress. It is not about not being able to perform your duties. It is rather about a legacy of fear and anxiety transported to our children and the next generation."

"Day dreaming and story telling for me have become the woman yelling on the radio local channel for help because her house is surrounded by soldiers. It became the work colleague who could not survive a heart attack in Beit Hanoun when his house was brutally broken into. I think that the colors of this quilt of imagination 'metaphorically speaking' are getting more and more mingled by the image of two women falling in a march while others are running under a merciless sky. The thing is that I can not stop thinking or imagining for that matter but I think that is the last worry a Gazan has."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gaza or bust

We're beginning our journey back to Gaza tonight-but first of course we have to fly in to Cairo; from there I will make a brief detour to Doha where I will be attending the *gasp* launch of Aljazeera International on November 15 (yes, finally!).

More as we go.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Darwish therapy: A State of Siege

As I try to come to terms once again with what is happening in Gaza, I came across another fabulous poem by my favorite Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who so eloquently can put to words the feelings we all have as Palestinians, which boil inside of us, sometimes never finding an audience or outlet, sometimes drowning us with their complexity and force and unrequitedness. It was fwded around by Palestinian artist Emily Jacir.

The siege is lying in wait.
It is lying in wait on a tilted stairway
in the midst of a storm.

We are alone. We are alone to the point
of drunkenness with our own aloneness,
with the occasional rainbow visiting.

We have brothers and sisters overseas..
kind sisters, who love us..
who look our way and weep.
And secretly they say
"I wish that siege was here, so that I couldŠ"
But they cannot finish the sentence.
Do not leave us alone. No.
Do not leave us alone.

Our losses are between two and eight a day.
And ten are wounded.
Twenty homes are gone.
Forty olive groves destroyed,
in addition to the structural damage
afflicting the veins of the poem, the play,
and the unfinished painting.

(Mahmud Darwish, A State of Siege, 2002, translated by Ramsis Amun)

Massacre in Gaza: I remained silent, for I was not Palestinian

"Withdrawing" implies, in whatever vague and euphemistic sense, an end, or at least, a waning of hoslities. But today I woke to discover that the Israeli Army has perpetrated a massacre on a scale unseen in Gaza for a long time: so far, 22 dead: Eight children; seven women. All members of the same family. Please imagine 22 members of YOUR family, dead, in one fell swoop, and that the deaths are brushed aside as unfortunate mistakes from an otherwise morally superior, well-intentioned army. There can BE NO good intentions deriving from an Army ordered to fire heavy-grade artillery shells within 100 metres of civlian areas. None.


And I am sick to my stomach. I am sick of hearing the "we regrets" and "sorries" and the empty promises of investigations that never materialize and whose only purpose is to exhonerate the accused. I am sick of the well-intentioned "moral" Army of "defence" routine, that only attempts to attack 'militants', as if to imply the entire occupation is justified if sustained by this absurdist rhetoric. I'm just sick of it all. Sick sick sick.

We want an end to the occupation. Period. To quote Peace Now, instead of apologizing, STOP YOUR WAR against us. So much energy and enthusiasism devoted to death and destruction and debilitation and asphyxiation and occupation-so little devoted to ending it all.

If you are in Israel, go join Peace Now's demonstration TODAY (Wednesday) at 17:00hrs opposite the Defence Ministry on Kaplan St, Tel Aviv.

If you are not, make some noise. CONTACT YOUR GOVERNMENTS. Tell them you won't stand for the slaughter of innocents-dont' recoil in the comfort of your couch, assured that such tragedy is distant and does not affect you. It affects all of us when humans become less human, when their blood becomes worth less than ours.

And remember:

"They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out."

Let us add to the famous poem:

"Then they came for the Palestinians, but I remained silent, for I was not Palestinian".

Saturday, November 04, 2006

To Exist is to Resist

As I returned form Norway, I had to come to grips with more bad news from back home.

It appears Israeli and American attempts to cause an internal revolt against the Palestinian government has so far been unsuccessful, so they've gone ahead with the second, seasonal "operation" against Gaza (since "Summer Rain" brought no relief, they've decided to try to provide some shade through "Autumn Clouds").

In Norway, one of the panel's I was invited to speak on was titled "creative resistance in Palestine". We discussed the various, alternative forms that resistance has taken in Palestine from the traditional armed resistance.

In the West Bank village of Biliin, that resistance takes the form of weekly, creative, nonviolent protests against the Wall that is swallowing the villagers lands and livlihoods. On the internet, that form can also take blogging. In Gaza, where any resistance is met with much more brutal responses, and where we fight against an enemy we see only by way of F-16s, gunships, tanks, and distant snipers, creative resistance becomes much more difficult.

But last week in besieged Bait Hanun, the women showed there is another way-and they paid for it with their lives.

After the death toll rose to nearly 20 in one day, they went to the defense of the men holed up in the local mosque, with no arms, risking their lives under the direct fire of Israeli armoured vehicles.

Two died, 16 were injured. See video here and gripping BBC video report here (you can see the women running defencless, and the army firing at them, and two of them falling down).

The hail of fire did not deter them-they continued to march, over and beyond the barriers erected by the Israeli Army, directly in front of past the tanks. Hail to people power-and specifically, women power. See my Aunt's blog for more details about the ongoing Beit Hanun siege.

At times like these, I am reminded of the powerful slogan I saw in a picture of the Wall in the West Bank that says: "To Exist is to Resist".

To me, it really captures how it is like to be in Gaza in such times, or to be Palestinian-simply being able to keep your wits about you, and survive under such conditions, is in and of itself a form of resistance.