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.