Friday, July 28, 2006

Update from Gaza and Lebanon

Its difficult blogging from way over here. I feel impotent, a far-and-away observer, distant and a little too comfortable. and I don't like it. its so easy to get lost here in your own little world, whatever that world is; its not wonder the average American knows-and cares-so little about the outside world; Between the longest work hours on the planet and corporate-controlled media in the hours you do have to yourself, I don't blame them in some ways. That, and insanely expensive health insurance. More on this later.

News from back home: Yassine's parents were able to flee to Syria, where he has two Aunts in refugee camps there. His brother's stayed behind in Baalbeck to guard their home, lest the refugee camps, too, become "accidental targets". His sister and her family are still in Tyre in the south, and communication is on and off with them.

From Gaza: things are grim. We speak regularly with my father's cousin, who tells us that because of the closures, vegetables are being dumped on the local markets, with tomatoes selling for 3 shekels a box (less than a dollar). the problem is, there is no refridgeration=no electriciy, adn we are talking about high summer; so people can only buy what they can cook, and eat, that day.

and another email from Fida about life in Rafah under siege, verbatim:

Life here awful , I cant believe it , is this Gaza ? I can't even imagine what's going on , no body out help or even feel what's going on , its horrible... people every day killed and no body say look to these Palestinians or Lebaneses.

The food , the water , the electricity , all of this awful , I came back with some money and I thought I will help a lot but I gave them to some families and now I'm looking to these families and looking to my hands and there is nothing I can do .

its awful at all .

I feel its night mare . I cant believe it .

I came back and thought I can do some thing , but the Israelis destroyed more and killed more , and now in Rafah a lot live in the schools after they lost there houses.

I don’t want to cry again but its some thing never stop .

I feel so sad .

You know ? We have the electricity for 12 hours a day now , and the water 2 hours every 4 days , not every day . can you imagine this ?

Can you believe it ? can you believe 3 families all of them killed , no body stayed alive , can you imagine ?


Friday, July 21, 2006

Pictures from Rafah Crossing

Direct from Fida, who recently was able to make it into Gaza, shortly before the border was re-sealed.

Also, a brief update from Lebanon: the phone lines have been on and off lately, but we were able to get in touch with Yassine's family in Baalbeck, who were being shelled as we spoke to them. Things are very grim there, and the gas stations-whic his family rely on for income (re-selling fuel to Palestinian refugees in the camp, since palestinians are not allowed to own bussinesses or work in major professions). Yassine's oldest sister and her family are stuck in in the South in Tyre, adn with majore the roads destroyed, they are unable to evacuate.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

More than one way to get home! (Alternatively: of Love, Borders, and Desperation)

I've spoken a little bit about the situation at the Rafah Crossing-Gaza's only outlet to 1.4 million Palestinians in previous posts. Israel has hermetically sealed it, along with other commercial crossings further north, since the end of June and the capture of the Israeli soldier.

That move left over 2000 Palestinians, including many elderly and sick people who go to get treated for cancers and other complicated illnesses whose treatements are unavailable in Gaza, in Egypt; Many thousands of others have been waiting in al-Arish, or Cairo, including my friend, and tragic bride, Yasmin. She flew in to Egypt to meet up with her fiance and travel together to be married with their families in Gaza. HE beat her to Gaza; she waited for late luggage to arrive and was consequently sealed out. Now, he cannot get out, and she cannot get in; they missed their wedding date, of course, as she sits helplessly awaiting some good news that will allow her to reunite with her husband-to-be.

Included among those 2000 on the border itself was colleague and activist Fida Qishta, with whom I spoke in NY and Connecticute earlier last month. She flew into Egypt just as the border was shut down, and met up with her family at the border town, who had just left Gaza to meet up with her, when the border closed.

Yesterday, a group of armed Palestinians resorted to exploding a hole in the crossing to allow the people through, including Fida. I heard from her today by email, and here is what she briefly had to say:

i just got home yesterday , so that was the best . hope you doing good , you can send your friends and tell them that i got home , i will try to send you some pictures i got at Eygpt crossing. How is Yousuf , hope doing well .
will send you soon . i have here 75 msn , and i have to reply all of them . i miss you so much , i told my mum a lot about you and she wants to see you when you get home inshallah safe .

love , fida

Friday, July 14, 2006

From bad to worse: the downpour continues

Things are bad in Gaza. Very bad. Not to mention of course in Lebanon, where Yassine's family lives, in the Wavel refugee camp in Baalbeck, Hezbollah stronghold.

They, of course, along with all of Lebanon, are blockaded by an air and sea, so Yassine has sort of become a double-refugee now: he can go back neither to Palestine, nor Lebanon. It brings back very bad memories for him, having grown up during the civil war there, and narrowly escaping mass slaughter at the hands of Syrian-backed, Israeli-advised, Phalangists in the Tel Zaatar camp, where his family originally lived, and where his uncle went missing.

Of course, what's happening in Lebanon provides some uncertain relief for Gaza residents, where 82 Palestinians have been killed in the past 12 days, 22 of them children.

I was finally able to reach my Aunt who is doing an amazing job updating her blog under such duress, and who recently published an op-ed about the situation in the Boston Globe. She was dazed and anxious, but had her wits about her. They had not gotten electricity in 24 hours when I spoke to her; people have been standing in long lines to purchase candles.

and of course, Rafh is still closed; 8 people have died waiting to get home. Egypt, following Israeli orders, is refusing to open the gates.

The nights are turning into days, and days into nights, as the sonic booming shocks them awake, shattering windows and terrorizing the population. The stress is taking its toll, but to quote my Aunt, though they are not living with ease, they are living with resolve.

Medicines are also running dangerously low. And to add to the misery, Israeli tanks have blockaded northern Gaza, where my Aunt lives, and where our house is, from southern Gaza, where my 84 year old grandmother lives on her own.

I think of them every day. I still cringe when I see news helicopters; or fireworks; or thunder; Today we had a thunderstorm, and the thunder was so loud it scared Yousuf, who thought it was gunfire and shelling, as I tried to assure him he was safe. But I wondered, inside of myself, does safe have an address?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

In Memory of Ismail Shammout

Amdist the ongoing Gaza attack, which has converted Gaza into hell-land (my cousins today told me they are only getting one hour of elctricity a day, IF they are lucky...) a Palestinian treasure has left us. Famed Palestinian artist Ismail Shammout passed away on July 4. He was argulably one of the most influential Palestinian artists and most experssive of the Palestinia psyche. A bio follows-worth the read, especially for those not familiar with his work (it can be accessed on

"Self Portrait", 1985

Interstingly, Shammout actually taught my mother art in Khan Yunis when she was growing up (actually they got private lessons from him!), where he was forced to flee at a young age from his native Lydd at gunpoint by Israeli terrorist gangs. She remembers him as a patient, kindred spirit. May he rest in peace.

(bio by U.S. based Palestinian artist Samia Halaby)

Ismail Shammout died July 4. How painful that Palestine was not there
around his bed; but all he worked for our lives.

"The Olive Tree", 2005

Born in Al-Lydd in 1931, Ismail Shammout had the good fortune as a youth to
study with Dahoud Zalatimo. Remarkably, at the age sixteen he persuaded his
reluctant father that he could earn a living making art. His father, even
more amazingly, provided him with materials and a space to work. It was then
1947, only one year before the Nakbe.

Shammout was seventeen when on July 13, 1948, he was evicted from his home
along with the majority of the population of Al Lydd. They were ordered at
gunpoint to leave their homes, surrounded by armed Zionist gangs and overseen
by sharpshooters on roofs. They were herded into the town squares and thence
forced eastwards into the wilderness. On the way, they were molested by
Zionist thugs who at gunpoint stole their valuables and confiscated the little
water or food some of them had. The painful march took three to five days to
complete. Many perished. With his family, he ended up in the refugee camp of
Khan Younis where he painted the suffering of women and children, and the
agonies of long lines for food and water. Shammout organized his first exhibit
in 1950 in this very refugee camp.

Shammout's career as an artist and popular hero of Palestine began with his
1953 exhibition of oil paintings in Gaza of the catastrophic march through
wilderness. The exhibited paintings objectify and socialize a pain that had
simmered on a private level. Refugees in Gaza saw themselves reflected in
Shammout's work and felt relief. An immense attendance of the general
population in Gaza, including those living in refugee camps, overwhelmed Shammout,
then studying in Egypt. This stunning response to the show was a hint of the
bottled up hope for liberation. In response, Shammout committed his life's
work to Palestine and the art of liberation.

His life and that of his wonderful wife Tamam Al-Akhal, spiraled around
Palestine. With every move forced on them by Zionist aggression, they relocated
somewhere not far from the center of their love. This denied center of the
heart, Palestine, was finally visited years after the Nakbe. Of the many
people who remember this visit, a most touching one was a description of Shammout
meeting with Zalatimo, his first teacher and inspiration. In June of 2002,
Fadwa Zalatimo, daughter of the great artists Dahoud Zalatimo, said to me
that when Zalatimo was near death, 47 years after their involuntary separation,
Shammout traveled to Jerusalem to visit Zalatimo. She remembers it as an
event of great emotion. "It was mutual admiration between them," said Fadwa.
"They -- Ismail and Zalatimo -- met after the long separation. He [Shammout]
kissed his hands and thanked him and they both cried."

"Tel Al-Zaater 1976, in Shelter", 1976

"For the Coming Joy", 1987

Shammout’s studio was the place we went to as one goes to the source, a
wealth of information and documents, a place of quiet, a place for thought and
art, a place of gentleness, and above all a cultural storehouse of Palestine.
Shammout is the builder of the Union of Palestinian artists, the builder of
international exhibitions, the builder of young artists, the builder of
galleries, and not least of all the historian of the liberation movement of
Palestinian art.

He lives in my memories as that tall young man with intense eyes whom I
first met in 1979 on the streets of Beirut. An image of night black hair flying
in its own revolution impressed visually his intense message on my
thourghts. Now that he is gone, the burden of his legacy weighs on all Palestinian
artists, as we too shoulder the art and culture of Palestine, though we are
scattered and suffering news of the latest attacks on Shammout's Gaza.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Support ethnic cleansing for only $150!

Been extremely busy with my most recent move down South, unpacking and all that entails, amdist a flurry of radio interviews across various public station throughout he country (in one local station, I was barraged with callers who kept referring to me as part of the "so-called" Palestinian people...).

Amidst all that, I continue to call back home with great concern; family and friends have been without electricty for going on a week; they receive a few hours of electricity a day, sometimes not at all, from the government's generators. Some, like my Aunt and my cousin's wife, use that time to recharge their laptops and blog about what's happening here and here (the latter started as a family blog, but has evolved, according to the author, who is my friend and relative, into something of a war journal). The food in the fridges has rotted, and many stores have shut down. Check out my Aunt's blog for a particularly chilling account of the terrorizing sonic boom attacks.

So anyways, amdist this al, I'm getting very little sleep thinking of what's going on back home. so in my restlessness, I'm flipping through the television channels-and realize we have free cable, probably left over form the previosu tenants. I don't usually watch much TV, or at least try not to here, because the substance-or lack thereof-is so deprssing to me. Then lo and behold, I come across a channel, some sort of religous channel, speaking about the historical persecution of Jews; it talks about the bravery of Schindler in rescuing many Jews and the gratitude they showed; then, the man goes on to tell the audience that they too can be as brave as Schindler; that for the trivial sum of $150 they can "save" a "persecuted Jew" in Russia, and all over the world, and bring them to Israle; his heartfealt call is followed by an encouraging statement from Christian Zionist preachers, "God's plan is unfolding in our lifetime, and you can be a part of it! Bring the children of Israle back to the Promised Land!".

Uh huh.

Now, I wonderd, does this grand plan ential the displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians? hmm. Maybe they shoudl include that in the small print.