Friday, January 26, 2007

Hamas in power: one year on

I was asked to record an essay for the BBC's World Update program, which aired yesterday (and which unfortunately I can never find archives for )to give my thoughts on the election of Hamas, and my recent visit, one year on.

So instead of providing you the lost link, I'm pasting the text of what i said short-handed for Radio..thnx to my amazing friend Amy. I have it recorded on my computer somewhere but I'm not sure how to link that to here, I am SO behind on this technology thing, I need help immediately!!

Visiting –and leaving-Gaza is never an easy task; especially when you spend half your time waiting at the border to enter in the first place.

My experience was particularly jarring this time around. The magnitude of change I saw and felt was not just political; it was in the people themselves.

The Gaza I knew only a few months earlier had changed so starkly and so quickly that it was almost indiscernible.

Everywhere there was a sense of misery, hopelessness and abandonment. It was there in the frowns and even smiles of every man woman and child.

Just one year ago around this time, it was the elation that was unmistakable.

That night in January the surprise election results were announced. The looks on people's faces will be forever seared in my memory. The looks of disbelief and astonishment and jubilation; and those, most importantly, of hope.

For arguably the first time in their history, Palestinians felt they had actively changed their lives for the better, voting out the corruption that had beleaguered them for years.

But the gritty hopefulness of those days is long gone, having since hardened into something more angry and empty and sad.

Sanctions were quick to be enforced. The borders were shut. The people encircled and became impoverished beyond precedent. Gaza was plunged into darkness.

What is most alarming is how all of this unfolded with such purpose and yet with so little protest.

Before our very eyes, global powers have colluded to create a strip of land more isolated than North Korea itself. In so doing, they have sentenced Gaza's residents to a living death in the world's largest internment camp.

Gaza has been cast away into the abyss, its residents left to fend for themselves. They are completely severed from their counterparts in the West Bank and Jerusalem; completely severed from the outside world.

It is the first time in history, according to the UN’s John Duggard, that an occupied people have been subject to international sanctions, especially sanctions of this magnitude and rigor.

The result is this: Gaza is gradually declining into anarchy and its entire social, political, and economic fabric is unraveling.

And it is this complete decay of whatever semblance of normalcy they had left that makes Gazans more afraid than ever before.

Order no matter how corrupt or ruthless or artificial it may be, is for the most part predictable and safe.
And now it is disorder that is being intentionally fuelled in Gaza's dusty streets.

It is more than a mere power struggle. It is a fight for both political legitimacy and the pen that will write history. Who will continue the national historical narrative of the Palestinian struggle?

And then there's that other story: the one about a people forgotten in all of this. Who will relay their narrative?

The strawberry farmer who has no harvest to look forward to this year; the hospital-bound grandfather who went blind waiting to leave Gaza; the child who has stopped asking when the borders will re-open, and when he finally can return home.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Our story on NPR

I was interviewed by Dick Gordon for his show, "the Story", on NPR this week. It was a very lengthy and intense interview, which of course had to be cut down, but what aired at least is available here under the title "A Home in Palestine": Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian journalist who divides her time between Gaza and Durham, N.C. She was in Gaza City this December when violence broke out between the two factions. Dick talks with Laila about the prospect of civil war in Gaza. He also hears what it's like to raise a child under occupation. Laila has a son, 2 ½ year old Yousuf, who is just now beginning to question what the fighting is all about.

We talked a lot about the big questions of identity and existence and homeland-and how and why one develops an attachment to the land, and whether it is even a choice sometimes, especially for Palestinians.

Of course we also discussed raising a child under occupation and then recent events and what I make of it all. A lot was cut out, namely a lengthy discussoin we had about how to characterize the Hamas-Fateh fighting. In the end, I think it boils down to more than a power struggle; I think at its base, it is a fight for legitimacy and for the national historical narrative of the Palestinian struggle-will it be a secular nationalist narrative, one that Fateh considers itself the "founding father" of, and which eventually degenerated into the story of a bunch of decrepid old men that are trying to desperately revive that vision? or a more recent and quicker Islamic nationalist narrative, that, whether or not one agrees with it, threatens to unravel the entire "history" of the Palestinian struggle and recent "peace making" efforts? I dunno. something ot think about.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

the hiatus explained

Yousuf and I left Gaza rather suddenly at the end of December to join Yassine for the holidays. As with my arrival, it was extremely abrupt. My bags were packed and we just waited for a phonecall from the taxi driver, which he said could come at any moment.

It came at 1:30am two weeks ago, not at all unexpected when the Israelis inform the Palestinians side of Rafah's opening only a few hours ahead of time. So a very sleepy Yousuf and I took our bags and drudged off to the border, where we waited in the taxi in a very chilly Rafah from 2:30 am until 10 am, when the Europeans arrived and it officially opened. Only two busloads were allowed through before the border closed again, and we barely made it out (very barely-we nearly got left out of our bus had it not been for the bravery of one passenger, who whisked Yousuf away from my arms through the window of the bus, just as I jostled my way in amidst a few hundred others).

I then took it upon myself to take a holiday not only from work, but from blogging as well (that and was busy with Yousuf and his two cousins, 5 and 2).

Coming back, as usual, was very surreal, as if I have just dropped into some alternate universe, which, as Gaza, is in its own vaccum, but in an entirely different way.

There is so much to blog on, and I will continue to do that, and update you on my latest articles, of which there are a few.