Ever since the emergence of the Palestinian cause, art has been the visual expression of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Most visual production of Palestinian artists has been strongly tied with the political conditions that Zionist settler-colonialism brought in, shaping every facet of the Palestinians’ daily life. Palestinian artists are not exempt from these conditions. Palestinian art has mostly – but not only – reflected the Palestinian people’s suffering and state of loss and exile that the traumatic events of the 1948 Nakba caused.
The well-known Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Boullata raised some questions regarding Palestinian art that I will try to offer a humble answer for through my drawings.
“How does one create art under the threat of sudden death and the unpredictability of invasion and siege? More specifically, how do Palestinian artists articulate their awareness of space when their homeland’s physical space is being diminished daily by barriers and electronic walls and when their own homes could at any moment be occupied by soldiers or even blown out of existence? In what way can an artist engage with the homeland’s landscape when ancient orange and olive groves are being systematically destroyed? When the grief of bereaved families is reduced by the mass media to an abstraction transmitted at lightning speed to a TV screen, what language can a visual artist use to express such grief? (Boullata, 2004)”
This piece will be a personal reflection on my life journey through the lens of my art that was mainly inspired from experiences instilled in my memory from my life in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.
Palestinian art as a narrative instrument of resistance:
Figure 2: For the Sake of the Sun
Palestinian art, from the twentieth century up until now, has always been a visual reflection of the Palestinian struggle that aimed to depict the reality of the Palestinian people, their hopes and aspirations, their suffering, coupled with resistance. It is also a visual self-representation tool that aims to provide a counter narrative to the hegemonic Zionist misleading narrative of the Palestinian reality, to raise political awareness on the Palestinian issue and urge for mobilisation at an international level.
Speaking of narrative brings to mind the words of Edward Said, the late Palestinian exiled academic and writer, which reminds that, “no clear and simple narrative is adequate to the complexity of our experience” (After the Last Sky 1986: 6).
“To be sure, no single Palestinian can be said to feel what most other Palestinians feel: ours has been too various and scattered a fate for that sort of correspondence,” Said eloquently stated. “But there is no doubt that we do in fact form a community, if at heart a community built on suffering and exile” (After the Last Sky 1986: 5-6).
Certainly, Palestinian art has served as a narrative instrument that is used to challenge the hegemonic Zionist narrative which has been tirelessly trying to erase them. Zionism’s existence was fundamentally based on the negation of the very existence of the Palestinian people, a fact that is implicit in Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir’s infamous quotation that, “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed” (Matar, 2011, p. 84).
Among many other forms of expression, art for many Palestinians was seen as a way to visually participate in writing their own narrative, to express their identity, to empower the Palestinians’ voices, and to move beyond the victim circle to become actors who actively, critically and creatively engage with their surrounding matters.
Over the course of the Palestinian struggle, the Palestinian people increasingly regarded every piece of art that came to reflect their living conditions in the Israeli grip as a means of resistance. Many Palestinian paintings displaying the ‘forbidden’ colors of the Palestinian flag have been confiscated, and many artists faced interrogation or even a prison sentence due their art that was perceived as ‘an act of incitement’. Let us not forget the late Palestinian influential exiled artists Ghassan Kanafani and Naji Al-Ali, whose art and literary production led to their murder.
Reflections on my artwork
Figure 3: Children of Refugee Camps: A violated Childhood
The majority of Palestinians have become politicised due to their complex and intense political reality that shapes every aspect of their lives. I am no exception. Art for me was an expressive tool in which I found empowerment to my voice. It served as my humble tactic to overcome the state of siege and occupation imposed on us, to escape the feeling of helplessness that can be easily felt in such suppressive and oppressive life conditions that the Palestinian people endure which I was born within. It was also a tool that I used to engage politically and socially with the harsh surrounding. While living in Gaza, my art was an attempt to connect not only on an internal level as a part of the Palestinian community, but also internationally through online social networks that I used as a bridge that connects the international community with the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation, which should be addressed as a central global issue.
Since my birth in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, the biggest and most densely populated refugee camp in Palestine, I have never known what life is like without occupation and siege, injustice and horror. Like the child depicted in Figure 3, growing up in Jabalia refugee camp was the window to understanding the Palestinian reality under occupation. Art has been the way I naturally sought since a very early age to describe what I felt was indescribable.
In the context of Palestine under which people endure unbearable living conditions, creativity is a necessary tool for survival and a way towards less depression and better physical and mental health.
Personally, observing the Palestinian children being born in a difficult reality that subjugates them to terror and trauma at very young age was the most painful. Thus, most of my drawings are of Palestinian children whose innocent facial expressions I find most telling. Check Figure 3, 4 , 5, 6 and 7 in the slideshow below:
An ongoing Nakba:
My generation, the third-generation refugees, was already blueprinted with the traumatic events of the Nakba, which for Palestinians, is not only a tragic historical event that resides in the past, only to be commemorated once a year with events that include art exhibits and national festivals among other things. “It was never one Nakba,” my grandmother used to say asserting that it was never a one-off event that happened in 1948. The Nakba is experienced instead as the uninterrupted process of Israeli settler-colonialism and domination that was given continuity by the 1967 occupation, and which every aspect of daily Palestinian life is affected by. Growing up hearing our grandmothers recount the life they had before, the dispossessed lands that most would never see again, has formed the collective memory of the Palestinian people. My grandmother described a peaceful life in green fields of citrus and olive trees, the tastes, the sounds, the smells that remained only in her memories in our village Beit-Jirja which was violently emptied of its inhabitants and razed to the ground in 1948 like hundreds of other villages.
As Boullata described, ‘Today, memory continues to be the connective tissue through which Palestinian identity is asserted and it is the fuel that replenishes the history of their cultural resistance’ (Boullata, 2009, p. 103). Palestinian art has been always perceived as a cultural form of political resistance which often addressed issues related to collective memory, memories of the Nakba, and the lived reality of injustices and oppression endured by Palestinians under the on-going occupation with an emphasis on the people’s resistance in the face of Israel’s brutality as coupled with hope, which in itself is resistance. Art has served as a basic mobilization tool that was gradually perceived, not only by the Palestinian public, but also by the Israeli forces “as emblematic of a collective national identity and crucibles of defiant resistance to occupation” (Boullata, 2004).
Several drawings of mine, such as those featured below, were an attempt to emphasize this hope through the continuity of the struggle from one generation to another. They were my response to several Zionist leaders who assumed that time will make the Palestinian refugees forget about their right to return. The drawings come to assert that they were absolutely wrong. The old will die and the young will keep on holding the key, embracing their legitimate right to return. The key is a symbol of the undying Palestinian hope that return is inevitable. The young generation is perceived as those who will carry the burden of the cause and continue the struggle that the previous generation started until freedom, justice, equality and return to the Palestinian people. Thus, Palestinian children became the symbol through which “We nurse hope” as Mahmoud Darwish said (Darwish, 2002).
From an early age, drawing was not only a tool of expression, but also a way to convey a political message, to call for mobilisation in support of the Palestinian struggle. The power of art lays in the fact that is a universal language to communicate the unspeakable that many people in safety zones cannot fully understand. With the availability of online platforms, it became possible to reach beyond borders and checkpoints to a wider audience.
I was only nine years old when my parents noticed my drawing skills that were limited to black warplanes, pillars of smoke in the sky and crying eyes. This coincided with the eruption of the second intifada in September 2000 when I used to accompany my mother and aunt to the martyrs’ funeral tents to offer our condolences. I used to hate the green colour, as it was associated in my memory with martyrs’ funeral tents, which were disturbingly visible in Jabalia refugee camp’s landscape. The first poem I ever learned to memorize by heart was one by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish entitled, “And He Returned …In A Coffin”. As a nine-year old girl, I stood in front of everyone sitting along the benches in the marquee, looked into the people’s tearful eyes, and in a powerful but shaking voice, I recited,
They speak in our homeland
they say in sorrow
about my comrade who passed
and returned in a coffin
Do you remember his name?
Don’t mention his name!
Let him rest in our hearts.
Let’s not let the word get lost
in the air like ash.
It was moments like these, during the tumult of the second intifada that fundamentally shaped my consciousness about the land and my place in it. Since childhood, the scenes of war, the faces of martyrs, the injured and detained people, the cries and weeping of the martyrs’ relatives over the loss of their beloved, have been chasing me day and night. These scenes pushed me to seek art as a way to express my emotions, to reconcile with my wounds, to reflect on my memories and experiences that many Palestinians share.
Humanising Prisoners’ issue through art
Chains Shall Break
Moreover, being a daughter of an ex-detainee means I have grown a unique attachment to the plight of the Palestinian political prisoners, not only from a political perspective but also from a personal one. My father spent a total of fifteen years in Israeli jails, a part of his original seven life sentences. The stories of resilience, suffering and oppression that I grew up hearing from him about his stolen youth in Israeli jails have made me develop a particular passion to advocate for justice for Palestinian political prisoners who endure inhumane living conditions under the Israel Prison Service which denies them their most basic rights.
However, in spite of its importance, the issue of Palestinian political prisoners and their families who suffer immensely from the pain of longing and separation and are often denied their right to family visits is not given the deserved attention in the political arena. They are not only marginalized, but also dehumanized as whenever they are mentioned in the media discourse, they are mentioned as merely statistics or numbers. Through the drawings below, I attempted to humanize the prisoners’ plight and draw attention to their daily resistance in the face of the oppressive Israeli jailers that treat them as if they are not humans. I tried to depict their determination to break their chains, their resisting spirit in Israeli jails. I also tried to express their families’ pain as they are imprisoned in time, waiting for a day when their re-union without barriers in between will be possible again.
The Pain of Waiting: Imprisoned in Time
This drawing above was an attempt to show how waiting for a reunion between the prisoners and their families is in itself a torment. My mother experienced seeing my father being violently captured in front of her eyes from the middle of their house three times when the first intifada erupted in December 1987. She was a newly married bride expecting her first child, my eldest brother Majed, when he was re-arrested and forced to serve an administrative detention order, an arbitrary procedure that Israel uses against the Palestinian people to imprison people without charge or trial, usually based on secret information that neither the detainee nor his lawyer have access to. The experience was repeated when my elder sister Majd was born, and lastly soon after my birth. My mother has always described the torturous experience of waiting for my father’s release, how she spent days and nights staring at the clock, waiting impatiently to hear some news from him while her right to family visits was denied.
The imprisonment experience repeats itself hundreds of thousands of times across Palestine, regardless of gender or age. I have many family members, friends and neighbours who experienced unbearable conditions that range from physical torture to psychological torture to even sexual torture. Palestinian political prisoners have always resisted the brutality of the Israel Prison Service. They have no weapon but hunger to protest their inhumane living conditions and call for their right to proper medical care, the right to family visits and other basic rights under international law while imprisoned. “Hunger strike until either martyrdom or freedom” is a motto that many prisoners adopted. The drawing below aimed to illustrate the spirit of this motto.
Hunger Until Either Martyrdom or Freedom
Memories of War
The turning point of my life was at the age of seventeen, after witnessing the 22-day massacre that the Israeli occupation forces committed against our people in Gaza in 2008-09. During that dismal period when we remained in darkness amidst the continuous bombing, destruction and mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza, I had a terrible sense of being isolated from the rest of the world. The trauma of seeing such levels of brutality was intense. No one was certain if they would live for another day or not.
One of the most memorable moments is that when one night, I was sitting in darkness, surrounded by my mother and siblings in one small room of our house under one blanket. No voice could be heard, just heartbeats and heavy, shaky breaths. The beating and breathing grew louder after every new explosion we felt crashing around, shaking our home and lighting up the sky. Then suddenly, the door of our house opened violently and somebody shouted, “Leave home now!” It was my dad rushing in to evacuate our house because of a bomb threat to a neighbour. I remember that my siblings and I grasped Mum and started running outside unconsciously, barefoot. For three days we stayed in a nearby house, powerless as we sat, waiting to be either killed, or wounded, or forced to watch our home destroyed.
This merciless and inhumane attack killed at least 1417 men, women and children. I wasn’t among them but what if I had been? Would I be buried like any one of them in a grave, nothing left of me but a blurry picture stuck on the wall and the memory of another teenage girl slain too young? Would I have been for the world just a number, a dead person? I refused to dwell on that thought. Many drawings of mine, such as those below, were inspired from memories attached to this traumatic event whose memories always floated back whenever an attack was repeated. Most importantly, resorting to art was a necessary means that helped me preserve my sanity and overcome harsh traumatic events that I experienced throughout my life in the suffocating blockade of the Gaza Strip.
While living under conditions of ghettoization, occupation and military assault, a continuation of the Zionist domination of the Palestinian land that was dispossessed in 1948 for the ‘Jewish state’ to be founded, Palestinian artists continue to be driven to express themselves in paint, photography, and other visual media, with having the Palestinian struggle for liberation as the central theme for their artwork. Art has offered Palestinians a platform to engage with the politicaly complex reality and express the suppressed voice of the Palestinian people in visual forms that can communicate universally. It was also a way to humanise the people’s suffering that is usually dehumanised in mainstream media and reduced to a dry coverage of abstractions that present them as numbers and statistics. Palestinian art, therefore, has been perceived as a form of political resistance, a mobilization tool, a way to assert the Palestinians’ embrace of our legitimate political and human rights, such as the right to return, the right to self-determination, and the right to live in dignity and freedom.
The PA’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Taysir Jaradat said that embassy staff found Zayed lying in the garden covered in blood, the Ma’an News Agency reported.
Ahmed, another brother of Zayed, told Ma’an that the killers “threw him out of the embassy’s balcony, killing him.”
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly ordered an investigation into Zayed’s death. Issa Qaraqe, the PA’s prisoners affairs chief, accused the Israeli spy agency Mossad of killing Zayed.
Zayed escaped from Israeli detention 25 years ago and had lived in Bulgaria for more than two decades. In December, Israel demanded he be extradited, so he sought shelter at the embassy.
“Omar’s blood will not be wasted in vain,” his brother Hamza said, adding that those responsible for Zayed’s assassination “must pay the price.”
But the family insists that Israel is not the only one to blame.
Zayed was being “threatened by some individuals at the embassy – especially the ambassador – who demanded him to leave the embassy,” his brother Ahmed told Ma’an. Ahmed also accused security guards present at the embassy of “collaborating” with his brother’s assassination.
Zayed’s brother Hamza told Al-Hadaf that Palestinian Authority ambassador Ahmad al-Madbouh said to Zayed that they would kill him by poisoning his food and that a plane would be waiting to return him to Israel.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine accused the Mossad of murdering Zayed but also blamed “the Bulgarian government and security forces who pursued Comrade Nayef Zayed for arrest and imprisonment for over three months.”
The Marxist group said the PA was responsible “for failing to protect Comrade Nayef Zayed from assassination,” even as “the highest officials of the Palestinian Authority met with the highest officials of the Bulgarian state in Ramallah, with no apparent demands made for our pursued comrade.”
It was reported in the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz that Zayed perhaps “fell from a high floor.” The Israeli foreign ministry said that “although Israel had asked for his extradition, it learned of his death in the media and is currently studying the information.”
Zayed had been given a life sentence by an Israeli military court for his alleged involvement in the killing of an Israeli settler, for which he was arrested in 1986.
Zayed launched a hunger strike in 1990. While being treated in a Bethlehem hospital, he escaped Israeli custody and fled the country.
Zayed reached Bulgaria in 1994, after moving around the Middle East in secret. His wife Rania and their three children are Bulgarian citizens.
On 15 December, the Israeli embassy in Bulgaria officially requested his extradition. He was given 72 hours to turn himself in, but Zayed refused.
Embassies enjoy protection under the 1961 Vienna convention, and Bulgaria recognized Palestine as a state in 1988.
History of kidnapping and assassination
Israel has long targeted Palestinians all over the world. The scholar, resistance activist and novelist Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated by an Israeli car bomb in Lebanon in 1972.
Dirar Abu Sisi, the deputy engineer of the only power plant in the Gaza Strip, was kidnapped by the Mossad while on an overnight train from Kharkiv to Kiev in February 2011.
He was handcuffed and tortured, forced into a coffin and deported by a plane to Israel where he is now held captive.
Palestinians in Gaza City have launched a solidarity hunger strike in a sit-in protest outside the Red Cross. (Ahmad Abu Hussein)
Our Palestinian detainees have been battling the Israel Prison Service (IPS) with their empty stomachs since 24 April, embarking on the longest-known mass hunger strike in the history of the Palestinian prisoners movement. Hunger is the only remaining weapon they can use against the IPS and its well-armed Israeli occupation soldiers.
They launched this hunger strike to call for an end to their detention with no charge or trial based on secret “evidence” submitted to a military court that is kept from the detainees and their lawyers — an unjust policy that Israel calls administrative detention. One hundred and twenty administrative detainees launched this mass hunger strike which grew to involve nearly three hundred prisoners, according to the rights group Addameer.
Our dignified prisoners are striking in protest of Israel’s violation of an agreement reached with the IPS after the 28-day mass hunger strike that ended on 14 May 2012. According to that deal, the use of administrative detention — the key issue behind the hunger strike – would be restricted and administrative detention orders would not be renewed without fresh evidence being brought before a military judge. However, Israel did not abide by the agreement and has continued its practice of arbitrary administrative detention.
Administrative detainee Ayman Tbeisheh from Dura village near Hebron in the occupied West Bank has exceeded one hundred days of refusing food in protest of his administration detention orders which have been continuously renewed since his last arrest in May 2013, according to al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. Tbeisheh has spent a total of eleven years in Israeli jails, including nearly five years under administrative detention.
According to Addameer, Tbeisheh first began to refuse food on 22 May 2013, immediately after his four-month administrative detention order was confirmed in a military court. He suspended his strike after 105 days, when he thought he reached a deal with the IPS. But this was soon broken as his order was again renewed, despite his deteriorated health.
Ayman Tbeisheh told Palestinian lawyer Ibrahim Al-Araj, who managed to visit him during his previous hunger strike, “I will continue this open hunger strike until I put an end to the ghost of administrative detention that keeps chasing me.”
Soon after he regained some of his physical strength, he re-launched his hunger strike on 24 February 2014. Tbeisheh has since been placed in Assaf Harofe Medical Center where he lays shacked to a hospital bed that may become his deathbed at any moment.
Ayman’s condition is no different than the rest of administrative detainees whose hunger for freedom and dignity drove them to launch the mass hunger strike that has been continuing for 51 days. Eighty hunger strikers have been hospitalized as a result of their ongoing hunger strike, but they persevere in this battle for dignity.
My father, who spent a total of fifteen years in Israeli jails, calls force-feeding “a death penalty.” He participated in the Nafha prison mass hunger strike in 1980 which lasted for 33 days. He was subjected to force-feeding and thankfully survived. But his comrades Rasem Halawa from Jabalia refugee camp and Ali al-Jaafary from Dheisheh camp were victims of this murderous practice that aimed to break their hunger strike, and were killed after being subjected to force-feeding.
The Israel Prison Service escalates its oppression of the hunger strikers as their health constantly deteriorates. They put them in windowless isolation cells, keep their hands and legs shackled for tens of hours, deny them family and lawyer visits, and they even deny them an access to salt, which is necessary for their survival.
A smuggled letter from Israeli jails written by the administrative detainees who are on hunger strike.
Below is my translation of a letter our administrative detainees managed to smuggle on 8 June to call upon humanity and people of conscience for popular and international support of their battle for justice. The ex-detainee Allam Kaaby read it during a press conference in front of the sit-in tent erected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza in solidarity with our Palestinian prisoners’ open-ended mass hunger strike:
Despite the chains and the prisons’ bars and walls, this is a will from those who are standing at the edge of death to the guards of our homeland, Palestine.
After leaving the isolation cells which are no longer able to tolerate our pains, illnesses and corroded bodies, from our hospital beds to which we are shackled by chains and guard dogs, from amidst the jailers who keep watching our heart monitors that may announce our death any moment, from the edge of death, we send our call which could be the last for some of us. It might be the time to announce our will before we embrace our people as dignified martyrs. Our call is our voice, our scream, our will. We are the administrative detainees who are heading towards immortality, towards embracing the sun of dignity which might mark at the same time, the end of the battle for dignity. We raise our voice, hoping that it will reach our revolutionary people.
First, we call upon you to intensify your support of the hunger strikers who are not yet martyred; the fighters who fight our fascist enemy with their bodies deserve from you a stand of loyalty that prevents the continuation of our bloodshed which will never stop until the achievement of our just demands.
Second, the pains of hunger damaged some of our organs but some organs must be still in tact. As death is waiting for us, we declare that nothing will stand in the way of our sacrifices, even death. Therefore, we donate our functioning organs to the fighters, poor and oppressed people who are in need. We are waiting a visit from the International Committee of The Red Cross to endorse these donations.
Third, we call on you to stay faithful to our blood and the blood of all martyrs who sacrificed their souls over the course of our Palestinian struggle. Faithfulness is not just through words, but through revolutionary practice that knows no hesitance nor weakness.
Fourth, hold on to our historical and legitimate rights and never give up an inch of Palestine, from the river to the sea. The right to return is the bridge to our historic rights. These rights cannot be restored without resistance, which is the only language that our enemy understands.
Fifth, don’t fail prisoners who remain alive after us, as those who sacrifice their freedom as a price for their people’s freedom deserve freedom rather than death.
To our dignified people in Palestine and diaspora, to the free people and freedom fighters worldwide, we will let our screams be heard despite the darkness of Israeli jails, which are graves for the living. To people of dead conscience worldwide, our Palestinian people will continue the struggle until victory. We bid farewell with smiling faces.
Reading their words which embrace pain and disappointment must make us all ashamed as we watch them die slowly. Changing our profile pictures to a picture that shows solidarity with their battle for dignity cannot do them much help. We have to move beyond superficial solidarity to serious actions that will bring meaningful change to them. Act before we count more martyrs among Palestinian heroes behind Israeli bars. Their death would be our shame.
A drawing recently done by the Palestinian artist Doc Jazz
“It doesn’t matter if he goes to Gaza,” said Zahra Sharawna, Ayman Sharawna’s mother. “To be freed is the most important thing.” I understand how these words could come from a mother who fears for her son’s life. She, driven by her motherly emotions, simply wants him to live, even if many Israeli apartheid checkpoints separate her from him. But I must question was that actually the victory that Ayman Sharawna’s hunger strike aimed to accomplish, to get out of prison alive regardless of release conditions? I don’t think so.
A Palestinian’s fight has never been about oneself. It has always been a collective resistance of different forms, for the sake of collective justice for all Palestinian people. Some national principles identify our struggle for freedom. Every Palestinian revolutionary should be armed with them. One is embracing our right to return as the most sacred and ultimate goal.
“One whose hands are in water isn’t like one whose hands are in fire.” This traditional saying always comes to mind when I encounter a complicated situation many people would find it easy to judge superficially. I am not in a position to imagine the kind of inhumane pressure to which Ayman Shrawna was subjected. However, being a daughter of a former prisoner who served 15 years, and having intensively read and heard many ex-detainees’ prison experiences, makes me better able to guess.
But still, I was shocked to hear that the man who remained steadfast for nearly eight months of hunger strike, who tolerated all the pain and pressure attached to it, succumbed to such blackmail, to be expelled to Gaza for at least ten years in exchange for his release. This wasn’t the victory of which I personally expected to hear. I reacted to the news with a shocked face and stony eyes, unable to shed a single tear.
Emotionally, I could celebrate and agree with Ayman that “both are my people, whether in Gaza or Hebron.” But I can’t help listening to my inner worries. I believe that our emotional reactions and stances will only serve the Israeli occupation’s long-term goals: turning the Gaza Strip into a ghetto isolated from Palestine, and expelling as many people as possible from the occupied territories in the West Bank and ‘48 Palestine. My fears that this will open the gate for Israel to intensify its systematic policy of ethnic cleansing against more Palestinian political prisoners left me unable to taste the victory in Ayman Sharawna’s release.
These worries flooded my mind, but Samer Issawi’s statement on deportation lessened my stress and cultivated hope instead. His opinion was just what I expected, wonderful and strong from a stubborn man of dignity and poise, who continues his hunger strike of nearly seven months and doesn’t give up his principles for the sake of his own physical relief. He is aware of the long-term aims behind the inhumane practices of the Israeli occupation. He believes that his detention, a violation itself, cannot be fixed with a further violation.
According to him, this hunger strike isn’t a personal battle; rather, it’s a collective one. He refuses to be released with the condition of deportation, even within our historic Palestine.
Fawwaz Shloudi, a Palestinian lawyer, managed to visit Samer Issawi after many attempts and asked him whether he will ever agree to be deported to Gaza in exchange for his freedom. Samer answered:
Regarding the Israeli occupation’s offer to deport me to Gaza, I affirm that Gaza is undeniably part of my homeland and its people are my people. However, I will visit Gaza whenever I want or feel like it, as it is within my homeland, Palestine, which I have the right to wander whenever I like, from the very north to the very south. I strongly refuse to be deported to Gaza as this practice will just bring back bitter flashbacks from the expulsion process to which our Palestinian people were subjected during 1948 and 1967.
We are fighting for the sake of the freedom of our land and the return of our refugees in Palestine and the diaspora, not to add more deportees to them. This systematic practice by Israel that aims to empty Palestine of Palestinians and bring strangers in their place is a crime. Therefore, I refuse being deported and I will only agree to be released to Jerusalem, as I know that the Israeli occupation aims to empty Jerusalem of its people and turn Arabs into a minority group of its population. The issue of deportation is no longer a personal decision, it is rather a national principle. If every detainee agrees to be deported outside Jerusalem under pressure, Jerusalem will eventually be emptied of its people.
I would prefer dying on my hospital bed to being deported from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is my soul and my life. If I was uprooted from there, my soul would be uprooted from my body. My life is meaningless away from Jerusalem. No land on earth will be able to embrace me other than Jerusalem. Therefore, my return will be only to Jerusalem and nowhere else. I advice all Palestinians to embrace their land and villages and never succumb to the Israeli occupation’s wishes. I don’t see this issue as a personal cause that is related to Samer Issawi. It is a national issue, a conviction and a principle that every Palestinian who loves his homeland’s sacred soil should hold. Finally, I reaffirm for the thousandth time that I continue my hunger strike until either freedom and return to Jerusalem or martyrdom! (original translation by author)
International law prohibits the expulsion and transfer of people in occupied territories, be it deportation to another country or forced relocation within the occupied territory. Security Council Resolution 607 “calls upon Israel to refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories” and “strongly requests Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by its obligation arising from the Convention.” But these words, as history proves to us, are merely words. We have experienced enough empty words and conventions and “international human rights laws” that do NOT apply to us, as if our humanity is in question.
If the United Nations and the all the world’s governments keep of taking this submissive stance on Israel’s crimes and watch, reacting only with silence, we should NOT normalize their violations even if it costs us our lives. People like Samer Issawi teach us how to stand firm and not compromise our rights. Thank you, Samer, for teaching us how meaningless life is without freedom and dignity.
We, the Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI), have created this boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) video call for students around the world, believing in the power of youth to make a change. We specifically want to support and encourage students to attend the UK Student Palestine Conference 2012 on 23 September at the University of Manchester.
We want people around the world to move beyond just feeling solidarity with Palestine and to actually stand up for justice.
Don’t sit behind your TV screen and watch us getting killed, injured and detained in numbers, and feel sorry. Nothing will get better and Israel will, with impunity, escalate its inhumane practices and violations of Palestinians; human rights. When you watch our people dying while waiting for permits to cross the Israeli apartheid check points and react with feeling depressed, the situation will not change. Silence contributes to making our situation worse.
Silence tortures our hunger strikers inside Israeli jails and makes them go through a process of slow death. Silence contributes to the rising number of ill Palestinian prisoners who die at the Israeli apartheid checkpoints. Silence motivates Israel to terrorize us, massacre our people with their “world’s most moral army.” It allows Israel to attack our fishermen and shoot at our farmers while they work for a living in their lands located close to the “buffer-zone” —the ever-expanding area that separates Gaza from Israel. Farmers are banned from working on 35% of our total agricultural land, severely weakening the potential for economic and agricultural development in the Gaza Strip.
Silence is the reason behind the ongoing blockade on the Gaza Strip for the sixth year. Silence contributes to the Israeli apartheid policies which contributes to the isolation of Palestinian academic institutions. As I say in the video,:
“While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.”
Silence encourages Israel to act as a state above law.
Many governments prefers to just watch Israel violating our rights and committing striking crimes against humanity,. But some do not just watch passively, they are active in their complicity as they continue their ties, including arms trade, with Israel, and thereby contribute to the normalisation of our systematic dehumanisation. However, you, “civil society, must hold them to account, since governments do not. As we, Palestinians, deserve the same rights as anybody else.”
UK students organize for action
A brave group of UK student Palestine activists decided to move and speak up loudly against Israel’s apartheid regime. They organized the UK Student Palestine Conference 2012 on 23 September at the University of Manchester. It aims to encourage students to put boycott, divestment and sanctions at the heart of their solidarity actions.
Organizers are aiming higher than ever:
Together we will form the steps necessary to guarantee that this year our commitment to justice in Palestine exceeds all previous years; our activism brings achievement and that our campaigns bring results. With the rising Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the threat it poses to the Israeli Apartheid system, it is now time that we as students go beyond just being members of our Palestinian solidarity group and become change-makers – on campus and across the UK.
The conference’s goals include:
To Give students the ideas and tools they need to build effective campaigns, particularly Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions efforts.
To Link Palestine Societies with other national and international organizations, so that they have better access to outreach, speakers and resources.
To Develop effective and safe methods of communication between UK student activists.
These goals mean building creative and engaging campus campaigns which seek freedom, justice and equality for all Palestinians; involving new people on the issues; challenging academic discourses; and with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, creating real political and economic pressures while narrating Palestinian identity.
Those passionate activists who organized this conference are taking big strides towards justice for Palestine and they inspired us to send this video message to support their call for students to come to the conference and get involved.
BDS gives Palestinians hope
We want say to all the activists that we want you to double your efforts because every success that the BDS activists accomplish brings us, the Palestinian people, more hope that justice isn’t far away. Every BDS success makes us feel like we made a stride forward towards freedom, justice, equality and return.
The Palestinian call for BDS was inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid and the responsibility that the international community shouldered to fight injustice and inequality, which helped abolish the apartheid regime. “South Africa is leading the way because they know what racism means. With hard work the same can happen at your university.” That’s why we started our video saying, “We, the students in Palestine, believe in you. But we demand more from you this year. This year we hope for results.”
It’s time to push even further to boycott Israel and isolate it until Palestinians enjoy their full human rights. I believe in the power of BDS to help Palestinians regain their rights and exercise self-determination. Without justice and equal rights for everybody, there can never be a just and sustainable peace in the entire region.
The video includes music by Marcel Khalife, who dedicated his life to singing for justice and freedom for Palestine and immortalized our great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, by singing his lyrics that take one’s breath away.
Please share this video and spread it worldwide. Make our voice heard and act. “Make this year, not only about solidarity but change, too. Palestine needs political action from you. This year, we’re counting on you.”
“The detainees spend their imprisonment waiting for their families’ visits,” Dad once said, recalling the Israeli Prison Service IPS punishing him by denying him family visits during his 15 years of imprisonment. “Despite all the suffering and humiliation attached to their procedures, family visits are as important to prisoners as the air they breathe.”
Following the capture of Gilad Shalid in June 2006, Israel collectively punished Palestinian political prisoners from Gaza by banning family visits, one of their basic rights and a lifeline between detainees and their families. “Under international humanitarian law, Israeli authorities have an obligation to allow the detainees to receive family visits,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Our detainees’ determination proved stronger than the jailers’ guns. In exchange for ending the one-month mass hunger strike in May, they made Israel comply with the international humanitarian law and reinstate family visits to Gaza Strip detainees after almost six years without them.
On July 16, 48 family members were finally allowed to see to their relatives in Israeli jails for the first time since Shalit’s capture, through barriers for 45 minutes. However, Israel imposed its own conditions on the visits. Only wives and parents were allowed to visit. Detainees’ young children weren’t, “for security reasons.” Fathers must imagine their children growing up without them, or wait for the miracles of their smuggled pictures.
Last Monday, August 6, the fourth group of detainees’ families gathered in front of the ICRC to visit their relatives in Nafha prison. The day before a visit, the ICRC usually announces the names of approved relatives.
Among those who received permits were the parents of detainee Yahya Islaih, who was captured on August 24, 2008 and sentenced to 12 years. His 75-year-old mother and 80-year-old father arrived very early at the ICRC, dressed very traditionally and beautifully. Yahya has not met his parents since his arrest. I used to see Yahya’s mother Aisha in the sit-in tents for political prisoners. She barely missed any protest, despite her advanced age. Last Monday was supposed to be her first reunion with her son in four years. But destiny stood between them.
Aisha breathed prayers of thankfulness that she had been blessed with another opportunity to talk to her son, and see him through a barrier after five years of separation. While sitting in the bus, wishing that time would move faster, she felt the gasp of death and leaned on a neighboring woman’s shoulder.
Later that morning, as I was getting ready to leave for the weekly protest for political prisoners, I read the terrible news. I found it difficult to believe that this had really happened. I thought that we only hear such stories on dramas. But it did happen. When she was so close to meeting her son again, she passed away. Death separated them, just as Israel had for so long.
I left home with tears in my eyes. When I arrived at the protest, people were very quiet. Everyone was in shock. I could read the sorrow in every eye. The elderly mothers of detainees cried while hugging the banners of their sons. Each seemed to wonder, “Will we share Aisha’s fate?”
Amidst silence and sorrow, the 75-year-old mother of detainee Ibrahim Baroud who has been detained for 27 years stood and began shouting. “Enough tears. Tears won’t bring her back to life! Just pray for her soul to rest in peace.” Om Ibrahim Baroud was in the first group issued permits to visit their sons on July 16. That was her first visit to her son, after 16 years banned “for security reasons.” “How would an elderly mother like me threaten their security?” she always complained. “They are simply heartless and merciless, and enjoy breaking mothers’ hearts over their sons.”
After the protest, I went to say hello to her. “Are you joining us for the funeral, Shahd?” she asked, every wrinkle in her face revealing her sadness. “Yes, grandmother,” I answered, even though I hadn’t known of the plan. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go or not. Honestly, I fear funerals.
But when I said yes, she caught my hand so I could help her to the bus, and pushed me forward as if she sensed my hesitance. “When I saw her last Monday, she congratulated me for having visited my son, and sighed while hoping that her turn to see hers again would come soon,” Om Mahmoud said.
When we arrived at the funeral, we learned that Aisha hadn’t been buried yet. She was in a narrow room with two doors. It was crowded with women. They entered one by one from a door, kissed her, prayed for her, and then left through another door. I glanced at the scene, then pushed myself away, trying to postpone my turn. I recalled meeting my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni for the last time as a dead body.
I stood next to a woman who happened to be Aisha’s niece. “Yahya wrote her a letter once, asked her to remain steadfast and know that she would see him again,” she said with tears streaming down her cheeks. “He asked her to wear her traditional Palestinian dress when she comes to visit him again. And she did. After she learned that she would visit him, she was very happy. She ironed her new dress, which she had kept for Yahya’s wedding after his release.” She burst out crying and continued, “But she neither visited him, nor would she ever attend his wedding.”
Finally my turn came. I entered, one foot pushing me forward, the other backward. I saw her body and kissed her forehead. I still can’t believe I did. Traumatized, I returned home in the afternoon and slept. I couldn’t stand thinking of her, nor her son, who would never see his mother, alive or dead again. I felt like I wanted to sleep forever, but I woke up after twelve hours.
Please pray for Aisha’s soul to rest in peace, and for her son to remain strong behind Israel’s bars. Her story is more clear and bitter evidence of the suffering our detainee’s families endure because of Israel’s violations of their basic rights and their families’.
It was 5:00 pm when I decided to escape my home for a place the power-cut hadn’t reached on June 18. Badia, the restaurant closest to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is always my first option. Whenever I need to leave the sit-in tent to work on my laptop, I get there after walking less than five minutes. I was drowning in stress from my final exams. I had to double my efforts studying, as I had spent more of the last semester worrying about hunger-striking Palestinian political prisoners than my classes.
Even with stress from being unprepared for any exam, it was difficult to concentrate. My thoughts were filled with the revolution of empty stomachs inside the Israeli jails. June 18 marked the 90th day of the hunger strike Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak had launched against his unjustified three-year detention under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law. His hunger for freedom had pushed his life to the edge of death.
I lost track of time while alternating between news Web sites and literary ones for my class. Dad called me, reminding me to return home early. Just before I closed my laptop, I refreshed my Twitter page to see a Tweet saying, “Israel to Release Mahmoud Sarsak on July 10.” I quickly collected my things and ran toward the ICRC, so excited I even forgot to pay my bill.
Hana’ Shalabi in the sit-in tent for Mahmoud Sarsak
Even the smell of the air seemed different when I stepped outside. Freedom filled the atmosphere. The chants I heard from the ICRC at Badia’s entrance made me run. The first person I recognized at the sit-in tent was the heroine Hana’ Shalabi, the ex-detainee who hunger-struck for 43 days to win her freedom, under the condition of expulsion to the Gaza Strip for three years. I ran to her and she hugged me happily, saying, “Congratulations on Mahmoud’s freedom!” Everyone was raising victory signs and singing for freedom. Then a man with a huge tray of sweets arrived and started distributing them.
I arrived home very late to find Dad waiting in the dark garden, looking upset. I didn’t want anyone to spoil my happiness, so I walked toward him chanting happily, “We defeated the jailers!” I was sure he hadn’t heard about Mahmoud, as our power was still cut. “Mahmoud will be free on July 10,” I said while looking at Dad, whose face turned into a smile. “People are still celebrating at the ICRC. Hana’ Shalabi was even there.” I was smart enough to find a way to negate his anger.
People in Gaza waited eagerly for July 10, a day that will be commemorated in the history of Palestine. All Palestinian television and radio channels reported this magnificent event. Thousands of people welcomed Mahmoud by the Erez crossing, the same place he was arrested around three years ago. As the ambulance arrived at the Gaza Strip side of Erez, Mahmoud appeared in its window, holding a football with one hand and waving with the other to the crowd of people excitedly waiting to see him.
Despite hating long drives, last Friday, I was crazy enough to tolerate a one-hour trip to visit Mahmoud’s house in Rafah, knowing he might not even be home. A group of foreign activists joined me in my adventure. “And what if he isn’t there?” my friend Fidaa, a Palestinian-American human rights activist, asked. “We’ll wait for him to come back!” I answered immediately.
We arrived at Star Square, near where the star Mahmoud lives. Thanks to posters and graffiti spread all over the walls of the Rafah refugee camp’s alleys, it was easy to find his house. “The groom just left for Gaza City,” his neighbors told us, but we were still excited to be at the house where “the groom” grew up and to meet his parents, who raised him to be a revolutionary.
Mahmoud’s parents were very friendly and welcoming. His house was small and simple, yet full of warmth and joy. It was crowded with neighbors, relatives, and strangers who, like us, had travelled the Gaza Strip to meet Mahmoud. Many of us had no relation to him, but following his struggle since the early days of his hunger strike made us feel connected to him. Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian hero, has become a symbol of our resistance.
Mahmoud Sarsak’s mother and I at their house in Rafah (Magne Hagesæter)
“Words can’t describe the happiness I felt when Mahmoud regained his freedom after his unjust detention,” his mother told me. “It felt like my son had escaped the grave! But Mahmoud wasn’t afraid of his. He chose a battle that would lead him to either freedom or martyrdom.”
We asked her how she had gotten news about him during his detention. “Of course, three years passed without a single visit, the same suffering that all Gazan detainees’ families have shared since 2006,” she replied. “So we relied on the ICRC for updates on his situation.”
“We were denied any news for an entire year,” she continued. “After that, we were thankfully able to receive letters from Mahmoud through the ICRC for a short period of time, but I can’t read. Whenever we received a letter, his brother Emad would lock himself in a room and cry for hours. After pulling himself together, he would come out and tell me not to worry, as Mahmoud was doing fine and still playing soccer.”
“During Mahmoud’s strike, I was physically and psychologically exhausted. My sons had to take me to the hospital several times. But I felt like I had returned to life once I heard that Israel had agreed to free him in exchange for an end to his hunger strike. I pray for all detainees’ mothers to experience such relief and celebrate the freedom of their sons.”
The house grew increasingly crowded with visitors. So we left to give others the opportunity to talk with Mahmoud’s wonderful mother.
But I couldn’t give up on meeting Mahmoud himself so easily. We had already travelled from the northernpost point to the southern tip of the Gaza Strip looking for him! So I called his brother Emad, whom I had met frequently in the sit-in tent. When he picked up the phone, I told him I had just visited his family with a group of friends, and that we were very happy to meet his parents. He appreciated our visit, and suggested we meet them in a Gaza restaurant. Excited, we accepted his offer.
We arrived at the restaurant by sunset. My heartbeats grew faster as the time for our meeting drew closer. I could see Emad waiting for us by the entrance. He welcomed our group inside and introduced us to Mahmoud, who nicely asked us to join his table. I felt very nervous sitting directly across from him, but proud that I could look him in the eye while speaking to him. He wore two gold medals and a scarf combining the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh.
That’s when we finally made it and met with Mahmoud Sarsak at a restaurant in Gaza City.
“Thanks to Allah for your release,” I said. “How does it feel to be free again?”
“My happiness is incomplete, as the revolution of empty stomachs is still going,” he answered. “My thoughts are with my comrades Akram Rikhawi, Samer Al-Barq, and Hassan Al-Safadi, who are suffering critical conditions in the Ramla Hospital Prison. I was released from there, and know perfectly the medical neglect detainees suffer there. The Israeli Prison Service doesn’t transfer us there for treatment, but for torture.”
His humbleness added a lot to his charm. He kept repeating that he wouldn’t have achieved his victory without the popular and international solidarity he received. “It’s not my victory, it’s yours. I gained my strength and poise from you.” It was obvious that he had lost a lot of weight, but he was still healthy. Joe Catron, an American activist who has met many freed prisoners, said later that he had never seen a recent hunger striker in such good shape.
Mahmoud’s smile didn’t leave his lips the whole time. He paid us all his attention. When I asked him if Gaza seemed different after three years, he laughed and said, “It looks so different to me. Gaza is a very beautiful city despite its small size. I love its beach, its pure air, and its kind people. I missed everything about Gaza. I just missed being home.”
Fidaa asked Mahmoud if he expected to be arrested three years ago when he went to the Erez crossing. “Not at all!” he said. “I was thrilled to achieve a dream to play football in a national team contest in the West Bank, in the Balata refugee camp. When they ordered me to a security meeting, I wasn’t afraid. I expected they would ask me to collaborate with them. I was confident and prepared myself to reject them. I was shocked when they aggressively shackled me.”
I interrupted, asking, “Why do you think they arrested you if you have never participated in resistance?”
“Resistance isn’t only about armed struggle,” he said. “Resistance can be through pen, brush, voice, and sport. We are all freedom fighters, but each of us has his or her own weapon.” His eloquent, passionate answer impressed us even more than we already were.
“Sport is a form of non-violent resistance,” he continued. “Being a representative of Palestine’s national football team makes me a threat to Israel. I’ve always been passionate about building Palestine’s presence in the sports world. I represented Palestine in several football matches locally and internationally, and had the honor of waving its flag wherever I played.”
The more he spoke, the more I admired him, especially when finally I asked him what had changed in his character after his imprisonment. “My faith in our just cause has become deeper and stronger,” he replied. “My determination to unveil the Zionists’ inhumane and fascist practices, and their violations of our basic human rights, has become my reason to live.”
The time grew late, and we had to end our amazing conversation. Mahmoud Sarsak is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I will remember every word he said as long as I live. According to him, we all contributed to his victory. Let’s unite to achieve more victories for Akram Rikhawi, Hassan Al-Safadi, and Sammer Al-Barq. Make them reasons for your life, and fight injustice any way you can.
A hunger striker’s son in Gaza’s sit-in tent carrying a sign reading “I am in solidarity with Palestinian detainees”–By Mjd Abusalama
The sit-in tent for Palestinian political prisoners has been moved from the International Committee for the Red Cross to a central park near the statue of the Unknown Soldier in the middle of Gaza City. It is one of the few green places and thus one of the most lively places in Gaza, where people escape from their dark houses and seek fun and relief, or to simply waste their times observing others. However, the sit-in tent is now used differently, to send messages of solidarity with our Political prisoners who have been on a mass hunger strike since April 17, and to show anger with the Arab and international community and all human rights organizations, which keep calling for human rights, democracy and justice, but when it comes to our prisoners, they do nothing but watch them dying and remaining helpless.
The solidarity is taking many forms, such as lighting candles, making marches, creatively performing plays, songs, poetry and Dabka, joining a symbolic hunger strike. In Gaza’s sit-in tent, 50 men and 45 women have joined a symbolic hunger strike in solidarity with the detainees since May 2, including prisoner’s wives, parents, sisters and former prisoners. Those people have been protesting day and night. The tent is their shelter as long as the revolution of hunger is going inside Israeli prisons. Having been in the solidarity tent daily, even more than in my house, I’ve witnessed most of the cases among hunger strikers whose health conditions got deteriorating. Several cases were sent to hospital for low or high blood pressure and so many people fainted or emotionally collapsed. Ambulances and doctors never leave the tents anymore as if they have full time job at the tent.
While observing the hunger strikers getting paler as more days pass, I can’t help but think of our heroes, our prisoners behind Israel’s bars and compare. The strikers here have access to water and salt and they also have a small dish of yogurt and soup per day. But our prisoners have nothing but water and salt, ‘in case it’s not confiscated by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).’ Strikers here can rest or sleep whenever they feel like it, but our prisoners keep being transferred between sections and prisons by the IPS attempting to exhaust them. Loai Odeh, a former prisoner who is also now on a hunger strike in solidarity, emphasizes that the IPS mercilessly prevents the strikers from resting, with these words he wrote recalling his experience of hunger strike during the campaign of disobedience. “Soldiers burst into strikers’ rooms aggressively as if they were confronting armed fighters on a battleground, not hunger strikers with feeble bodies that can barely stand. Knowing that strikers are intolerant of noise, soldiers break into their rooms with loud screams and initiate a hand search in a way that one feels that he’s being beaten rather than searched.”
Loai Odeh and Abu Hosny Al-Srafity in the sit-in tent
While making the daily tour to show support and admiration to the hunger strikers in the tent, I was surprised to see Abu Hosny Al-Srafity wearing the strikers’ t-shirt that distinguishes them from others, and which beautifully designed with the Palestinian flag with “we’ll live dignified” written on it. Abu Hosny is a 66-year old detainee’s father whom I met since I started going to the weekly protest in the ICRC for political prisoners. Whenever we meet, we greet each other and have a short and informal conversation, but never had a real one that would make me feel like knowing him intimately. Finally, I had this conversation with him after I said “You, too?” out of surprise reacting to seeing that t-shirt.
“Absolutely!” He powerfully confirmed. “We took this step because we consider ourselves as partners in this battle of dignity but our hunger strike remains symbolic at the end of the day. It equals nothing of our detainees’ enormous suffering under the Israeli oppressive regime. They aren’t only hungry for food, they are hungry for dignity, justice, and freedom.”
He refused to let his age be a barrier in front of standing with his son Ali who was detained for 10 years and still has six to go. Doctors keep pressuring him to break his hunger strike but he refuses saying that “my life isn’t any more precious than that of my son.”
Our conversation was still in the beginning. What came next was heartbreaking. I was amazed at his high spirit and his determination but this profound chat we had clarified to me where he got that strength from.
“Ali is the only son left.” He said. “Left?” I interrupted. Then he moved his below to take a photo he kept below and started explaining. “I had three sons. My oldest son Hosny and my youngest Mohammed were killed and the one in the middle is behind Israel’s bars.” I felt raged and asked how. “In 2004, I was sitting with my wife chatting alone about the terrifying sounds of warplanes that occupied Gaza’s sky. We knew an attack was coming. Then a loud expulsion was heard and shook the land below us. We were in indescribable panic. My wife prayed, “May Allah stand with the mothers of the targeted people.” Then she answered the phone that informed her about the assassination of her oldest son, having no idea she was praying for herself.”
It was very hard to keep control of my emotions after hearing that tragedy. I continued looking directly at his eyes that were full of sorrow and listened silently. “Wait. The next story is even more shocking.” He said. “I was on my way home from a family visit with my wife and my seven-year-old son Mohammed in 1994. We were close to the eastern line, near Naheloz settlement. While standing in the street and waving for cars to take us back home, we suddenly glanced an Israeli car and a jeep driving too fast toward us. We got confused and scared. They intentionally smashed my son under their wheels, hit my wife and badly injured her and kept driving fast toward the settlement. It was horrible. It all happened so quickly that I couldn’t rescue my son who froze out of fear in front of that heartless driver who killed him and didn’t bother to even look back.”
Abu Hosny stopped talking to see my reaction but I was too shocked to utter any word after hearing that horrible incidents. His voice narrating the stories of the murder of his two sons kept replaying in my ears, and my tears kept flowing and the features of shock didn’t leave my face. He saw me in that condition and softly tapped on my hand and said, “Don’t be sad, my daughter. As long as we’re living on these holy lands of Palestine, we’ll never get fed up giving any sacrifice. These unjust and unsecure lives we’re leading are the source of our inner strength and determination. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t see me now hunger striking in solidarity with my son, the living martyr, with hope to celebrate his freedom soon.”
Let’s pray to all detainees’ families to celebrate the victory of their detained sons in their battle of empty stomachs against the armed merciless jailers and pray that this victory will result in allowing them to visit their sons after over 6 years of family visits’ ban. Let’s support our prayers with taking serious actions.
Unlike Monday, Tuesday was a happy day. On Monday, I woke up with eyes full of tears after I fell asleep to a tragic story, a story that was not heard widely, but happened in Gaza. Three kids lit up a candle to escape the darkness that filled their house in Al-Bureej Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip and slept. As the candle burned out, the candle of their lives was extinguished, too.
Nadin, Sabry, and Farah came to this life, to the bosoms of their parents, after 17 long years of medication and Blastocyst operations. Monday night was their last in the blackness of Gaza. They died in a blink of an eye, in a fire that turned the dark sky red, leaving their small, charred bodies behind. Their parents were shocked from the biggest calamity in their lives, but continued to thank God that a son survived. Their story offered another tragic episode of suffering and pain from Gaza’s siege and its fuel and electricity crises. But it also proved how inspirational and strong Palestinian people are.
On Monday morning, the news was still fresh and hard to believe. Tragic stories of all kinds end up seeming normal. People here have learned to look back with anger, but keep going. So I had to go on, as life has had to keep moving in Gaza no matter how many obstacles we face. I had to attend my French class, even though I wasn’t in the mood to study.
I sat silently, then started drawing, seeking some relief. Our lesson was on how to say “I wish” in meaningful French phrases. I was there, but actually absent. Suddenly, one of my classmates joked that her only wish was for electricity to stop cutting off. While laughs could be heard from every corner of the class, the three kids’ deaths came to my mind. I got emotional, raised my hand, and said, “I wish these power-cuts would end so kids like Sabry, Nadin, and Farah wouldn’t die because they had to light candles in their dark rooms.” My intense emotions made me need to speak Arabic, even if that wasn’t the reason for the class. I knew many of my classmates had slept early, because of the blackout, and wouldn’t have heard about it.
Laughs turned to silence. My professor, who has a four-year-old daughter, didn’t have a response, and his face turned sad. He stayed silent for a little while, then allowed me to leave the class, as he saw that I wasn’t in control of my emotions. But he surprised me with a call that night, one of the kindest I’ve ever received. “I kiss my daughter every morning before she leaves for her kindergarten, and I felt terrible after hearing that story, imagining a morning could come without kissing her again. I couldn’t imagine how that family can handle losing three kids at once,” he said. “Let’s pray that God helps this family. And let’s make these stories build stronger people out of us, and try to find the bright side and stay optimistic, hoping and working for a better future with more light.”
I always feel blessed to have this great man as my teacher and friend. That day, I felt this blessing even more. He made my day. Then many beautiful and happy incidents happened.
My youngest sister, Tamam, and my eldest brother, Majed, surprised us with their arrival back in Gaza after spending a month in Europe representing Palestinian youth in some events there. The house had felt empty without them. I missed them a lot during their absence and they filled the house with happiness on their safe return.
Tuesday was very special. My family is very close, but I guess Tamam is my closest sibling. She is two years younger than me and studies at Al-Azhar University, like I do. Since her first day in university, we went to school together. It felt lonely to wake up in the morning and find her blankets well tidied on her empty bed. It didn’t feel right going to school without sharing a taxi, and without joking with her during our shared breaks. But on Tuesday morning, everything returned to normal. Having her around makes me happy to an extent she doesn’t realize.
Tuesday brought more happiness as I took the opportunity for a long break between lectures and visited the sit-in tent in front of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). The shortage of taxies caused by the fuel crisis offered me with a beautiful walk to the ICRC. At 10 am, the weather was almost perfect, and the Gaza streets seemed tempting to walk on, and very full of life. The drivers’ constant honking in the streets, for any reason or none, used to bother me. But on Tuesday, it made me smile. I enjoyed it as if I was listening to music.
From 50 meters away, I realized that the sit-in tent was gone. But I kept walking, as I could see a crowd of people in the front of the ICRC. As I got closer, I realized that they were the same people whom I always meet in the solidarity events held there. There were former detainees and mothers, wives, and daughters of current prisoners who are still held in Israel’s prison. This event was organized in anticipation of April 17, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.
I was lucky to join the event from the start without having heard of it. It was very different than the ones we usually have. It included people like Om Ibrahim Baroud, whose son has been in prison for 27 years, a mother who had four sons in prison at one time during the First Intifada, the Intifada of Stones, along with her husband, and whose house was demolished twice by the Israeli occupation forces, and who hasn’t been allowed to see her son for 9 years. People like Om Ibrahim Baroud were tired of chasing the human rights organizations and speaking endlessly for their relatives. Tuesday, they stood with pride and bright smiles full of hope, holding white doves. I felt overwhelmed with happiness watching them let these doves fly free in Gaza’s blue sky. I don’t know where they settled, but hope they convey our message to our prisoners that they are never forgotten and to the world that Palestinian people are real people who dream of living freed and dignified, like free birds.
A convoy of great Irish solidarity activists joined that event. I could tell they were very moved. Two of them were detained inside British prisons during 1980s. They joined Bobby Sands’ hunger strike, and witnessed his death after 66 days of starvation for the sake of freedom and dignity for the Irish people. “I can’t forget the photo that I saw during my imprisonment of a Palestinian women calling for our freedom,” one of them said. “She didn’t have any relation to us, but she was one of the oppressed, so she stood for the oppressed. When I was freed, I promised to dedicate my life for the sake of humanity, for the oppressed, for Palestine, and to support Palestinian political prisoners until a dawn comes bringing freedom to all of them.”
I can’t describe the positive energy, optimism, and cheerfulness I felt with all these incidents happening one after another. My happiness doubled as I visited my new female heroine, Hana’ Shalabi, who challenged these oppressors with her empty stomach for 43 days and defeated their illimitable tyranny. I couldn’t believe I was sitting next to her. I was actually speechless from her inspiring strength and will. No words could express how much admiration and appreciation I felt for this Palestinian woman. I felt sorry that she was forced outside her land, Jenin, to Gaza, away from her family. But I was thrilled at her high spirit, enthusiasm, and determination to recover so she could be the tongue of detainees until the last breath of her life.
“I was released on the condition of deportation to Gaza for three years,” she said smiling. “I don’t trust Israel, though.”Then a released prisoner, who was deported from Bethlehem in 2002, interrupted, saying, “Previously in 2002, the people who were besieged inside the Church of Nativity were deported to Gaza, but promised that it would be for two years. It’s been eleven years now, and we still can’t return.” “Thankfully, every part of Palestine is my home, Gaza will be my home, and its people are my family,” Hana’ continued passionately. I am so sad that she has to deal with this situation, but feel very lucky and proud to have her among us.
This is the spirit of Palestinian people. No matter how much Israel escalates their attempts to depress us, their plans are bound to fail and turn against them. They can’t break our dream to live in freedom and dignity. Their inhumanity does nothing but increase our humanity and make us stronger people, ready to take the challenge, to fight with all means to gain what we have always deserved: justice, freedom, and equality.
“We didn’t cry during farewell!
For we didn’t have time, nor tears, Nor was it farewell
We didn’t realize that the moment of farewell was farewell
So how could we cry?”
Said Taha Muhammad Ali, one of the leading poets on the contemporary Palestinian literary scene, describing his expulsion from his homeland. He was 17 years old, old enough to remember the gloomy day when he was ethnically cleansed from his original village, Saffuriya, together with most of its inhabitants and more than 600,000 Palestinian from 512 other village, during the 1948 Nakbha. But in 1949, Taha returned to Nazareth, making it his home.
However, my grandparents and hundreds of thousands couldn’t. They had fled to Gaza. They thought that it would be a matter of two weeks and then they would be back. But ever since then, they lived and died in Gaza’s refugee camps.
Ethnic cleansing has continued in many forms. On March 30, 1976, more Palestinian land in the north was confiscated so that Jewish settlements could be built on its ruins. But Palestinian people rebelled against the Israeli occupation and confronted its forces. A popular uprising took the form of marches and a unique general strike that provoked the Israeli occupation forces, causing their murders of six heroes, together with the wounding or detention of hundreds of other people. Their only crime was that they refused to give up their land and protested non-violently, but powerfully, against dispossession.
It is significant as the first time since 1948 that Arabs in Israel organized a strong response to Israeli policies as a Palestinian national collective. That’s why this day was etched in the history of the Palestinian struggle and ever since, Palestinians have commemorated March 30 as “Land Day”, to emphasize our embrace of Palestinian land and our rejection of the criminal occupation and its illegal settlement.
We are about to observe the 47th anniversary of Land Day. As I welcome this immortal day, a flood of memories flows through my mind. I can’t remember my grandfather well, as he died when I was very young. But I can very clearly recall my memories of my grandmother, who played a key role in forming the person who I am.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky! ”
Only when I got older did I learn that lullabies are songs sung to kids until they fall asleep. I never slept to a lullaby. Yet I can’t count the times I slept while listening to my grandmother telling her favorite, most touching story, the story of Nakba, the story of her raped lands. Unlike other kids around the world, the Nakba was my lullaby.
“Behind every great man there is a woman.” This proverb could not find a better example than my father. He always said, “I have God in the sky and my mother on the ground.” She had been always his role model and the reason he embraced resistance as his choice during his youth. Now his resistance is centered on planting his patriotic values and his love for the homeland in his children, in us, so we, the third generation, carry on demanding our people’s stolen rights.
I vividly recall how her steady, wide eyes struggled with tears every time she narrated that story. She must have repeated it thousands of times, and I am sure she would never have stopped if she were still alive. My siblings and I heard it many times. And, every time, her wrinkles evoked the same feeling, her voice shook the same way, calmly flowing with memories, then suddenly rising in anger as she said the same proverb: “The homeland is ours and the strangers fire us.”
“Your grandfather used to go every day to a high hill in north Gaza called Alkashef,” I remember her saying. “People used to see him sitting on the top, pondering his raped homeland, Beit Jerja, and crying.” Their wound was too deep to be healed or forgotten.
In Beit Gerga, my grandparents were farmers, living for the glories of the land as the majority of Palestinians did then. Every single day after their expulsion, they said, “Tomorrow we will return.” They were simple and uneducated people who didn’t understand the political games of Israel and its allies. They died before smelling their precious sand again.
The generation of the Nakba is dying. But another revolutionary generation was born, the generation of Intifadas, to which my parents belong. My father has always described his resistance, and his 15 years of youth inside Israeli prisons, as “the price of homeland and the cost of freedom and dignity.”
I love sitting with elderly people who witnessed the Nakba to listen to their stories, even if they are mostly alike. They remind me of my grandmother and my memories of her, which I cherish very much. Jabber is another example of a man born from a great woman’s womb. He is my father’s friend who was released in the same 1985 swap deal. He devoted his life to raise awareness about the daily human rights violations committed by the Israeli Occupation against our people, and he now heads the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and always prioritizes the political prisoners’ issue.
I met Jaber’s mother once in a festival for the prisoners released in the Shalit exchange. His mother does not know her own date of birth, but assumes she is in her 80s. I heard her telling the story of when her son Jabber was sentenced to two lifetimes. She described how she stood, proudly and strongly, and confronted the Israeli court for being unfair to her son, then started singing for Palestine, for resistance. “I didn’t cry nor scream,” she said. “If Netanyahu is hardheaded, we are even more so. We’ll never stop resisting. Resistance will continue until we restore out rights. I had four sons in prison at that time, and I walked to prison every day for 15 years hoping to meet them.”
She made me proud to be the daughter of a Palestinian mother when she said, while pointing to her breast, “My milk was fed to my sons, the milk of our homelands.” She continued firmly, “As long as there are Palestinian women giving birth and bringing up new generations, we will breastfeed them the milk of our homeland, we will breastfeed them with toughness and resistance.” Then she smiled and said that she told a CIA officer the same thing while looking at him in the eye, adding, “The land of Palestine is for her people, not for you!”
Palestinians have spent more than six decades sacrificing, paying the price of freedom for themselves and their lands that were stolen by the Zionist entity. You can rarely find a Palestinian family from whom none were killed, or have experienced imprisonment or deportation, or have had their houses demolished or lands confiscated. Not only people have paid the price for the freedom of the lands, but even the trees, stones, and even sands.
Israel continues to build more and more illegal settlements on what is left of our lands. They openly violate all international agreements, but no agreements, nor human rights organizations, can limit Israel’s daily violations and crimes against Palestinians and their lands. That’s why the Palestinian resistance will never die. Many more Land Days will happen, and they will be celebrated in one way or another, every day of every coming year, inside or outside the occupied lands, until we restore our stolen rights.
For this 46th anniversary of Land Day, I’d like to share a poem with you. I wrote it last May, speaking for every Palestinian refugee whose nostalgia grows with every passing day. This is to emphasize our spiritual attachment to our stolen lands, from which our grandparents were ethnically cleansed, and to stress our right to return.
My village, in which I didn’t live a single day
Has been living inside me everyday
Since I was born, I grow and my nostalgia
Grows more and more till it tears me up
It wasn’t me who chose to live far away
And neither my grandparents did
They were beaten, cleansed and dispossessed
Into tents of exile their souls were left
Gone with their olive groves and citrus fields
Leaving a wound to never be healed
Since my grandparents fled away
They thought they would return the next day
They died, but no need to sigh
As, their heritage, their songs and memories persist
They say that elderly people die
And after that the young will forget
But no way
Until return, Palestinians will resist
Our tears of hope will never dry
And when we return to our homelands
From ashes, trees will rise high
And white doves will over fly
And we’ll caress with our bare hands
Every precious berry of sand
This dream might not happen soon
But it absolutely will one day
If you didn’t read the first part of my story, kindly press this link to read it first.
I left Gaza at 10:00am and arrived in Jordan by sunset. The weather was freezing. I couldn’t wait to climb into the warm taxi that would drop me near the Marriott Hotel, where the reunion was held. I wrapped my body with my kuffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian checkered scarf, and slept. The hour-long drive passed without my notice. When we drew near to the hotel, the driver woke me up. I rose quickly to the window and took in my surroundings. The place exceeded my expectations. I was truly tired, and very sleepy and hungry, but as I saw the beauty around me, I felt refreshed and excited once again.
As I entered the lobby, my first glances fell on my friends, who were the main reason I decided to attend the reunion. I spent all my time in the US with them. Seeing them again filled me with happiness. After an hour of greetings and exchanging stories, the time came to check into my room. A hotel worker helped me with my luggage and showed me my room. Once I got in, I left the responsibility for my luggage to the worker and eagerly hurried to the balcony.
I stood motionless, with my eyes wandering around my surroundings. I had ever seen a landscape that so deserved to be painted. I was captivated by the beauty of the big garden behind the building. Dim lights spread nicely amongst the colorful trees, flowers and swimming pool. Behind the beautiful backyard, the Dead Sea lay peacefully. It was cold and the sky wasn’t very clear, so more beauty lay hidden behind its dark clouds. I had never seen the Dead Sea before then, but my parents had told me many times about its breathtaking beauty. They used to tease me and my siblings, since they had gotten to swim there and walk on Jericho’s beach, while we couldn’t. The movement restrictions got more intense during the latest couple of decades of the Israeli Occupation. I smiled while remembering these memories and wished they were there.
The next day, during our break, everyone else preferred to stay inside to avoid the cold winds. But I didn’t want to let that hold me back from meditating on the beach of the Dead Sea. So I put my jacket and my kuffiyeh on and eagerly went to the closest point to the shore. As I got closer, my gaze grew longer and my heart beats got faster. I lost my breath as I saw the wind forming small waves, tenderly wetting the golden sand, and hitting the rocks, colors and sizes, that lay on the shoreline.
It was a bittersweet feeling to be on the other side of Jericho. I could see Jericho’s hills in the horizon line. I was so close yet so far away, since Israel’s apartheid regime deprives me as a Palestinian from Gaza from reaching it.
The reunion schedule was very busy. We had tasks to accomplish and workshops and lectures to attend. One was about democracy, which is not my favorite to discuss. I was obliged to sit and listen to a professor whom I didn’t like. I argued with him once, about Israel and Palestine, when I briefly met him after he defended Israel’s crimes and illegal existence and occupation by saying, “I believe in Israel’s right to exist.” I remember our heated discussion about that, which left him trapped. Then he became mad and tried to get himself out of the debate by raising his voice. After his speech about “democracy,” we were given a chance to share our points of view and tell stories of democracy in our homelands.
I had been waiting anxiously for the moment to speak up, so I raised my hand. “In 2006 in Palestine, we experienced this democracy,” I said angrily. “We had a democratic election, which Hamas won. But because the result of this ‘democracy’ didn’t satisfy Israel and its friend America, they imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip as a collective punishment for everyone, whether they voted for the ‘terrorist’ Hamas or not.”
The professor didn’t like what I said, but I went on speaking. “I don’t think democracy exists in reality. There is no such thing. In fact, this definition should be replaced in the dictionaries with HYPOCRICY.” He interrupted me by saying that I should give others a chance to speak. I stopped, but could no longer listen to more hypocrisy and left.
On the fourth day, we had an exhibit. Posters by all participants, briefly describing the projects they were planning to implement in their home countries to seek change, were hung on the walls. Having a passion for art, I decided to focus on artists in Palestine. For more regarding my project, you can see me presenting about it here.EQxqnvWhnGQ
That was basically the end of the reunion. Only then did I have a chance to enjoy the beauty of the Dead Sea again. The weather became a little better, but was still cold. A single day was left for me in the Dead Sea, and this opportunity might not come again. Therefore, I joined a group of my friends who decided to challenge the weather and swim for the same reason. We encouraged each other to go crazy and take the plunge. I dyed my skin with the famous Dead Sea mud -— it looked scary. Then I slowly and carefully got into the water. It was torture before my body adjusted to the coldness of the water. Suddenly I found myself floating and oh my God! It felt like heaven. It seemed like I had no control over my body. But I felt safe and peaceful in the bosom of nature.
I was scheduled to leave the hotel on March,5 to Amman. I enjoyed its archeological sites that speak of the history and culture of the Roman Empire. I went to many interesting places like the Roman theater and the citadel. I had a great time with my friends there, but I also felt homesick, especially after I heard about the Israeli attacks on Gaza that had resulted in 15 martyrs by then. Watching these attacks from outside is different than being inside. I felt so much panic. I was very worried about my family and my people, and wished I could be there, sharing their difficult times.
11 March is the day when my permit in Jordan went invalid. Thus, my awesome Jordanian friends offered to drop me at Allenby bridge to go through more checkpoints on the way back to Gaza.
My journey in Jordan ended like that but another journey, or risky adventures, inside the occupied lands started. To read more about come tomorrow!
Representitives of General Union of Disabled Paelstinians arrived to the red cross on Wedneday with a bannar combines Khader’s photo with Gandhi’s to send a strong message to the world and Gandhi’s grandchildren (Tamer Hamam)
On Wednesday’s afternoon, as usual, I was sitting in the tent in solidarity with Khader Adnan. There were a few people there but I am always not satisfied with the number of people joining the protest for this person who is dying to live, this legend that no hunger, pain or pressure could break his determination to live free and dignified. Every day my dissatisfaction gets greater as I wake up without hearing of his release.
Around 2 pm, the number of people usually declines and that means that there are not many things to do. Making sure that I’d be one of the last people who left the tent, I stayed there thinking of Khader’s health, which is deteriorating as time passes. Time couldn’t matter more than it does now. According to a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, who was able to visit Khader the night of February 14, for his fifth medical examination since his arrest, Khader is under a very direct threat of death. All of his muscles, including his heart and his stomach, are under threat of disintegrating, and his immune system could cease to function at any moment. Khader’s body is at high risk of sudden heart attack or total organ failure, which would cause imminent death.
I was busy brainstorming about what I would do next to raise the awareness about his case and get people to move. Suddenly, 3 physically disabled people including a woman entered the tent on a cart designed for people with such disabilities, attracting all eyes on them. Each one was sticking a Palestinian flag to their carts and brought a beautiful banner combined with photos of Khader’s with Mahatma Gandhi’s. What can be more meaningful, expressive, touching and true than the message this banner delivers? Those disabled came to send a message to the whole world in general and India in specific on behalf the General Union of Disabled Palestinians (GUDP).
Impressed by this scene of solidarity, silence overcame the place, but all eyes kept following those three amazing humans. Awny Matar, one of the three and the head of GUDP in the Gaza Strip, moved his cart forward and stretched his arm to collect the microphone. While the audience was captivated, Awny’s voice filled the place with these words that was worth my efforts to translate it to you:
The decision of the Israeli military court of our brother Khader Adnan’s case is an illegal and racist one. It has failed all the efforts that were done by whoever tried to contribute. The Israeli courts still refuses to follow the rules and the international and humanitarian demands and still sticks to the prejudiced system of administrative detention, which contradicts human rights. Khader Adnan continues his illegal detention in Zeif hospital in Safed after two months on hunger strike.
In accordance to Yasir Arafat, Abu Ammar said “this revolution is not only the revolution of Palestine but it’s also of every free human around the world.” Thus, we, the General Union for Disabled Palestinians, announce February the 15th as patriotic, democratic and international day of solidarity with the detainee Khader Adnan.
We appeal to the grandchildren of Mahatma Gandhi generally and our brothers in the General Union of Palestinian Students in India specifically to do whatever they can to help Khader Adnan be freed. We should remember what our role model of peace Gandhi said and put it into serious and practical actions. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
What the hero Gandhi and his supporters did using peaceful resistance, Khader Adnan is doing with his battle of hunger striking since December 17. We proudly declare Khader Adnan as the Gandhi of 2012.
Our brave prisoners have always challenged the policies of repression and injustice and confronted with their bare chests and their empty stomachs all forms of torture and persecution that were exercised against them. It’s important that you know that there are more than 50 disabled Palestinians behind Israeli bars, despite their permanent disabilities caused by the Israeli occupation. Moreover, more than 250 children are held captive by Israel, committing scandalous violations of their rights, since their arrests have led to varying brutalities, from tying hands and legs, preventing them of sleep and taking breaks and standing a military trial, violating the fourth article of Geneve agreement. They exercise all these inhumane actions against prisoners including children and disabled under what they fabricate as the emergency law.
Isn’t that an obvious evidence of Israeli Occupation’s condemnation against children and disabled detainees? However, we have complete faith that those who paid their freedom as a price for all our freedoms will be free with their heads held high to celebrate their people’s glories and steadfastness.
Khader Adnan, the Gandhi of Palestine, equals Gandhi, the founder of the Indian country, in his battle of empty stomach and peaceful resistance. We strongly call for Gandhi’s grandchildren and the Arab league to stand with our people’s issues, especially the prisoners’ issue, and to put the release of Khader, detained children and the disabled on the top of your priorities in the international, Arabic and Islamic forums to rescue our prisoners’ lives, and most important, Khader’s life.
We should learn from Gandhi when he said “when a slave decides to no longer be a slave, his chains break down. Whatever crime or wound, no matter what the cause, that is made against another person is a crime against humanity. And depriving a person of his natural freedom is worse that starving the body.”
In conclusion, we appeal to every free human around the world not to forget Palestinian prisoners inside the unjust Israeli jails while making your breakfast, or returning home peacefully.
I just returned from a wedding, a wedding that I waited for fervently since I met its groom in October, 2011. Oh October, how many nice memories you brought me and how many amazing people you introduced to me. Allam Ka’by, today’s groom, was one of them and has become a close friend. Feeling blessed to meet this person, I want to briefly express my thankfulness for the day that resulted in us meeting. October 18, the day of the first stage of Gilaad Shalit’s swap deal, was a remarkable memory in Palestinian history. It marked victory. This day is printed in my mind like no other day. How could I forget the day that brought freedom to 447 Palestinian’s, of which Allam was one?
In the 20 years I’ve lived in Gaza, I never witnessed a day as happy as this. Festivals were held in every corner. It felt like not only people were celebrating. The sky, the trees, the buildings, everything was celebrating freedom. It was a day of unity, a day of compassion. Happiness was shared all around Gaza. Even those families who weren’t lucky enough to see their relatives in prison that day were so happy; excited to meet the released prisoners to hear news of their relatives. They joined the celebration with a high spirit and greater hope that soon freedom would also be coming to their beloved ones, who are still locked behind the Israeli bars. “My son wasn’t released, but at least this swap deal brought me news about him from his fellows that calmed the fire burning inside me during all nine years I haven’t been allowed to visit him,” said Om Ibrahim Baroud, a mother of a prisoner who’s serving his 26th year in jail.
My first meeting with Allam Ka’by
Allam Ka’by spent aound 15 years in total in Israeli jails, but sadly, the day of his freedom was celebrated away from his family. He is originally from Balata Camp in Nablus, but Israel forced him to separate from where he was raised up, where his family lives and his new wife, Manar, used to live. He didn’t have his own family to receive him but we, residents of Gaza, welcomed him to the bosom of our homes with so much love and admiration that he considers himself as living at home. Since he was set free, the Hamas government has taken care of Allam and his comrades who were deported to Gaza, and they have granted them with good accommodations.
Allam first lived in a hotel overlooking the beautiful beach of Gaza, where we first met. In fact, it was the second, but I like to consider it as the first as the real first time didn’t give any of us a good impression about the other.
By the end of a festival held for the released prisoners, my friend, an American activist living in Gaza, asked me to help him with translation of an interview he had organized with one of them, who was actually Allam. He was in a hurry and Joe wasn’t fully prepared to start the interview as quickly as Allam wished. I kept asking Allam if he could please wait for five minutes. But 5 minutes in reality took maybe 15 minutes that Allam could no longer wait and he left us disappointed. It was almost a fight that turned out to be a sweet memory to laugh at when Allam and I remember it. So the second meeting, which was a coincidence, fixed the wrong impression caused by lack of preparation. It was our first meeting because it was when I first had the honor to get to know him closely.
He recognized me as he met me and then gently started apologizing for the clash we had when we met first. I remember very well how we peacefully sat in the hotel’s lobby and I felt magic about him that made me feel as if I knew him for ages. He had the art of attracting people’s ears to listen to him without any boredom. I lost the track of time while hearing his heroic and inspiring stories from his experience of imprisonment.
Allam started with cherishing his childhood memories in every corner of Balata Camp, which were shorter than any child around the world should enjoy. Israel deprived him from fully living it innocently. At the age of 15, the first Intifada, called the intifada of stones, his childhood’s innocence was brutally killed. The Israeli Occupation arrested him for being a stone thrower. His harmless stone that could cause armed Israeli soldiers no harm resulted in him being jailed for almost 5 years. They ignored that his detention was a crime against him and is a scandalous crime Israel still commits against children, violating International Law and all humanitarian agreements.
Allam’s experience as a child detainee and then as an administrative one
However, Allam looks back at his raped childhood positively, giving the gratitude for the educated, courageous and dignified man he is now, “they don’t know that they actually created a man of me so early by detaining me at such a young age.” His dark cell witnessed the torment and the humiliation he endured, but it also witnessed his unbreakable strength as he challenged the Israeli jailers’ inhumanity and brutality. He summed up his early struggle as a teenage in a sentence: “my early imprisonment taught me how I should let myself live in a prison but never let the prison live inside me.”
When he was 15, he wasn’t really aware of the situation and he used to question a lot about the occupation and all the crimes endured by Palestinians. Inside prison, everything became clear to him and he realized the significance and the meaning of resistance. He realized how his sacrifice of his years of prime was even worthless in relative to his precious land and his dear people. After his illegal and inhumane detention, he was set free at the age of 20 with a great passion toward his homeland and his people.
Then, he spent two years free on his occupied land before he served more than a year of administrative detention in 1997 with no charge or trial, but under secret evidence that can’t be shared by the detainee or his lawyer, to learn more about the cruelty of the Israeli heartless jailers. Upon his release, he joined the PFLP party as a means of resistance.
Allam met the love of his life amidst struggle
With no previous intention, he fell in love for the first time with a beautiful girl from his camp Manar, and unintentionally made another person involved in his rugged life of struggle. Because the most precious things we own, even our souls, are valueless in comparison to our freedom and dignity, in Palestine, the sacrifice has ended up meaningless and tasteless. All our lives represent a medley of sacrifices that started to feel like a routine we are bound to live with.
The second intifada started, the intifada of Al-Aqsa. Allam got engaged to the love of his life but that didn’t make his life any easier. Between his love for Manar and his love for the land, he got torn. But he couldn’t stand idly by.
"Stick to the Path of resistance" written with Allam's blood
In 2003, Allam and his childhood friend Ameer were trapped in a building in one of Nalus streets by intensive forces of Israeli armed soldiers. They were attacked and in the same time a call for them to succumb and hand over their weapons was spread all around the city through loudspeakers. They chose confrontion and death with dignity rather than surrender making one of the most heroic and epic battles in the history of struggle in occupied Nablus. Their confrontation lasted for 9 hours, proclaiming that “surrender isn’t one of morals, but the sacrifice of souls for the sake of dignity and freedom is.”
Their limited repertory ran out and they got badly injured but never raised the white banner. Before the IOF raided the building, Allam wrote on the wall with his blood “stick to the path of resistance!”
I can’t express how emotional he made me feel after hearing this story right from his mouth. I was looking at him with all admiration feeling thankful for that God was merciful enough to make him survive even though that wasn’t his plan. I felt so grateful that I could see him in a good health and what was more, “FREE”. I knew he would become someone close to me, someone to trust. I wasn’t wrong.
“And what happened with your fiancée?” I interrupted trying to add a cheerful topic. “Who would have ever believed that I’d be free after being sentenced to 9 life sentences?” He said while laughing sarcastically with glittering eyes and continued, “after I got arrested, I never thought of a possibility that I’d ever be free. Thinking that holding one captive is better than two, I decided to set her free. I divorced her.”
Allam and Manar have reunited in Valentine’s Day
Then my face turned sad. I expected that Manar gave up and married another but I was surprised that he was still smiling with hope. “She refused to marry any other person and convicted herself to be either with me, or single forever. We have discussed our reunion since my release!”
Since his release, they have fought the barriers that Israel built in their way to meet at one point. They won over it. She arrived from Balata Camp to Gaza last Saturday and made the Valentine’s Day be the day that witnesses their deep and passionate love that no occupation nor apartheid could kill. Absence diminishes small loves but increases great ones. In their case, over ten years of absence has made their love greater. I can’t tell you how beautiful they were in the wedding, like two love birds. I could tell from their eyes that they were like living a dream. They didn’t pay attention to the crowd of people who came from every part of the Gaza strip to witness their successful love story that has overcome all obstacles. Be happy Allam and Manar forever and bring revolutionary children just like you and keep teaching the world about Palestine, the land of love and struggle.
As I realized today’s date, the 4th of February, a stream of memories flooded into my mind. Today, last year, marked my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni’s last birthday I spent with him.
I remember it was a nice, rainy Friday. I felt happy to be rich, having just gotten my $1,000 share from YouthSchool for my work on the Gaza 2011 calendar “All I Want Is Peace”. My best friend Adie Mormech, an English activist who spent a year in Gaza working with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), reminded me that it was Vik’s birthday. That day, Vik missed the Friday lunch, to which he always looked forward. I knew about Vik’s stress regarding his father’s deteriorating health, and that it was a reason he didn’t join us for lunch. He would always say “Zaki”, delicious, as his gentle but funny way of thanking Mum for the food that was fondly ranked by “his majesty” as the best in Gaza.
Having not seen him, and being worried about him, I decided to surprise him by going to the ISM office where he and the other ISMers (Adie, Inge, Vera, and Silvia) were gathering. It was already night when I left home for Mazaj, the cake shop Vik preferred, and it was raining heavily. But it was worth getting wet for the sake of Vik’s smile and the fun I expected to have when I arrived at the office. I got the cake and hurried with excitement to meet Vik and my other friends. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the greetings that his friends from Italy had told me to send him, and to put the smile on his face that always sent warmth and happiness to everyone around him.
Vera, an ISM activist from Germany, welcomed me as I knocked on the door. When she saw the excitement on my face and the cake I carried, she whispered, “It’s not the right time for a party now. Vik is sad.”
My happy features turned sad. I left the bag by the entrance and went to look for Vik. He sat in the living room alone as Vera had told me. The curtain that separated the two sitting rooms, which were open to each other, was pulled down. I felt like even the house looked sad. I wanted to check on Vik, though. After asking him if I could come in, I sat next to him on the purple couch for a couple of minutes of silence. “I hope you’re OK,” I said while pressing his hand. “I’m worried for my father,” he said. “He’s going to have an operation that might reveal a terminal illness.”
He knew that if it did not go well, his father would not have long to live. As I remember this, I think of how ridiculous and unpredictable this life is. Back then, who would have ever expected that Vik would die before his father did?
Vittorio was torn between two concerns at the center of his life: his attachment to Palestine, and his father and family’s need for his support. Each thought was more pressing than the other. Then suddenly, “Strong Vik” could no longer control his tears. I couldn’t believe that I was seeing Vik cry. Vik has been always a symbol of strength, humanity, and inspiration for me. He always will be. At the time, I felt confused and didn’t know how to act. With spontaneity, I hugged him, as I thought getting a hug in such difficult times might help more than my words. I cried along with him, too.
Then Vik learned about the cake I brought. He didn’t want to disappoint me and all my plans. He reached deep inside himself for strength to bring smiles back to the faces of his friends, smiled at me, then shouted to all the others, “Yalla, let’s have some cake”. That’s how caring Vik was; he always wanted to be a reason for everyone to smile, but never for anyone to cry. He could easily shift the atmosphere from gloomy to so happy, so much that I didn’t want to go back home.
I remember my memories from your birthday last year and oh, dear Vittorio, you can’t imagine how much I wish I could tell you how much I miss you and joke with you like we used to do. I miss you even though I strongly feel your presence with me, like you never left us. Every Friday that has passed without you, I’ve wished you would come for lunch, your smile lighting the room as you walked through the door.
I wish you could see my drawing that’s dearest to me. It’s your portrait that you always nagged me to make, but never got to see. I am certain that no matter how many more drawing I have produced and will produce, yours will be my favorite. Not only because of my skill, and the love that I put into it, but because, somehow, part of your beautiful soul attached itself to this painting.
As you look down from paradise, on all of us here, I offer you this drawing. I hope it brings you as much joy as you always brought us. I miss you Vittorio. I love you, Vittorio. You will live forever in my heart and in the hearts of all Palestinians, who owe you so much. We’ll keep celebrating your birthday every year and you’ll continue to inspire us, adding more humanity to the world. Rest in Peace, dear Vik. Stay human!
Palestinian political prisoners are not only numbers
Last night, a new friend of mine noticed that I try to highlight the issue of Palestinian political prisoners in my writings. That led to a long chat about my interest in bringing out their stories. I started by describing how being the daughter of a former detainee has inspired a passion toward my homeland and the feeling of having a duty toward my people, especially our forgotten prisoners, within me.
I told him how attending the weekly protest with prisoners’ families in the Red Cross has turned to be a psychological cure for my own pains. It’s true. Sometimes I feel very sad, but as soon as I see a prisoner’s mother, wife, or daughter smiling, my spirit strangely rises. Interacting with the prisoners’ families and listening to their stories, full of suffering and pride, has created a warm relationship between us. They have become an important part of my life, and a reason to live.
I’ve always criticized the way prisoners are presented as numbers. Reports often show them as mere statistics, omitting that behind these figures there are humans desperate for dignified life and justice. Humanizing their issue by making their stories heard has been the main goal of my writings, with faith in humanity preserving my hope that their stories may wake the sleeping to take action.
Unconsciously, my life has recently centered on Khader Adnan. He is an administrative detainee who has been on hunger strike since December 17 to protest his illegal detention without trial. I have followed updates about his continuing hunger strike, his silence, his deteriorating health, the ban on his family visiting him, and the Israeli Prison Service (IPS)’s indifference and neglect of his situation. Gaza has held many events in solidarity with him and his family, who are terrified that each new dawn could bring news of his death.
Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza
Families of prisoners and martyrs are protesting against Ban Ki_moon for his refusal to meet them.
From Khader Adnan’s story, which has repeated itself thousands of times in Palestine, to news about United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza, anger and frustration have dominated my mind.
Representatives of families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and martyrs’ families wanted to join the delegation that would meet Ban. Civil society figures made intensive efforts to ensure that this would happen so he could hear about their demands and long years of suffering. However, Ban simply refused to meet these people, who wanted his support and protection for their violated rights. An angry crowd, having heard of his repeated visits to former Israeli prisoner Gilaad Shalit, hurled shoes and stones at his convoy as it entered Gaza Thursday morning.
I watched the video of the prisoners’ families throwing shoes and stones. Honestly, it filled me with joy and pride in my people. I thought that it might make the Palestinian people look bad in front of the international community. But I would have only one response for those who might define Palestinians as mere throwers of shoes against diplomats: Those shoe throwers included angry relatives of prisoners who have endured terrible conditions at the hands of merciless Israeli jailers. They are frustrated with Ban’s biases toward Israel, and have witnessed more than enough of Israeli brutality, tyranny, and violations of their simplest rights guaranteed by international law and the Geneva Conventions. Those people have been filled with anger by more than five years of living under a closure imposed by Israel, and declared illegal by UN bodies. They haven’t been allowed to visit their relatives in prison since Hamas was democratically elected, boycotted by the UN, and marginalized as a terrorist organization.
Om Ibrahim Baroud joined the angry crowd that welcomed Ban “disrespectfully”
Watching the video, I saw Om Ibrahim Baroud join the crowd that greeted Ban. Baroud is the 75-year-old
Om Ibrahim Baroud, a prisoner’s mother wearing a white scarf, is hitting Ban Ki-moon’s convoy with a stick
mother of a political prisoner who has spent 26 years in Israeli prisons, and for 26 years, she has never stopped calling for the freedom of her son. Despite her age, she has joined every hunger strike prisoners launched since her son was detained, and has never missed a protest for Palestinian political prisoners. She always says, “I am not only the mother of the detainee Ibrahim Baroud, but of all the prisoners and oppressed. I’ll keep calling for their freedom as long as I am alive”. Last Monday at the weekly protest in the Red Cross, she limped because of a pain in her leg, but was still fasting in solidarity with Khader Adnan and all prisoners. She spoke for the prisoners to the media, appealing to every human right organization to witness the suffering of Palestinian detainees and act.
In the video, she was angry as never before, gathering all her physical power to hit Ban’s convoy with a stick. Her strength has always impressed everyone who knows her. “I know I am for Ban, nothing more than a mother of a ‘terrorist’”, she told me on the phone with rage. “Why would he bother to listen to me? He must know that I am the mother of a human being who deserves dignity even in detention. And I am a human who deserves to be heard”.
No one should blame this mother, who has been deprived of wrapping her arms around her son for 26 years. No one should blame her after she witnessed countless Israeli attacks on Gaza, especially the 2008-2009 war. She saw the phosphorous bombs, banned by international law, falling on civilians who took shelter in the Al-Fakhoura UNRWA School after fleeing their homes. She lives near it. Don’t blame her when she explodes with anger after hearing of Ban Ki-moon’s thanks to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak – the architect of the 2008-2009 war – for his “generosity” towards Gaza; his generosity in redeeming the world of 352 children whom, if they hadn’t been killed, would have grown up into terrorists to threaten the holy security of Israel. Don’t blame her or any Palestinian when UN did nothing against Israel for the war crimes Israel committed even at UNRWA sites. Instead, they are biased toward Israel, while we have been terrorized daily by the Israeli Occupation ever since it was illegally established through ethnic cleansing.
But I’ll allow myself to speak on behalf of Palestinians and say proudly: “We make no apologies!” And I add: “The PLO doesn’t represent us.” Palestinians aren’t the ones who should apologize. The one who should apologize is who keeps talking of human rights, yet sees human rights continuingly and openly violated by Israel, but does nothing, instead covering up Israel’s crimes against humanity. Actually, thousands of apologies wouldn’t suffice to heal the long, bleeding wounds that Palestinians suffer from the long course of Israel’s occupation and existence.
First, I’ll introduce you to a drawing that I didn’t upload in my blog before. It’s actually one of my favorites and I hope you like it. I think it fits with the next section of the entry. Palestinians went through a lot, starting with ethnic cleansing to the series of violations of their rights, to the daily attacks on their land and their people, and so on. However, Palestinians maintain their determination believing in victory, justice and peace. They always have a bright look full of hope towards a better future where humans are treated like humans, even in their crying eyes. I meant to highlight some symbols in the wood “background” such as 48, the key, and the map of historical Palestine, to convey a message that we will not give up. Despite many people thinking that these are only illusions, and that one-state solution is not feasible, I still believe that just peace will inevitably come along.
While preparing my assignment for the translation course at university, and being busy with translating texts from Arabic into English and vice versa, I came across an Arabic poem entitled: “They Asked Me”. I fell in love with this poem and I tried to look up its author, but I found nothing. It describes Palestinians and their long decades of struggle against the Israeli Occupation. I see the strength of Palestinians, especially prisoners, portrayed in this poem very simply. It embodies their dignity, challenge and steadfastness in front of the tyranny, oppression, humiliation, injustices committed by the Israeli Occupation. I think it is worth the time it took me to translate it. Enjoy.
They shut my mouth up and ordered me to “utter”
They hit me and asked me why I suffer
They broke my teeth and demanded to hear “laughter”
They insulted my family and asked me to be, of the situation, “understanding”
They shut my course and told me to “learn”
They set me on fire and told me “move forward”
They have left me homeless and said that I was “fantasizing”.
And as I screamed the truth, they questioned why I was “attacking”,
And invited me to a discussion where I was threatened to be “executed”
After all the difficulties I had been through in order to get myself out of the big prison of the Gaza Strip, I made it to USA.
I spent the first week of the program in Gaza against my will. My hope of leaving had gradually been fading until I received a call informing me that I would be leaving through Erez on the 26th of June after a whole week of pain trying to pass Rafah border. I was in Gaza physically but not mentally. My mind was constantly with the people who would become my second family soon after my arrival. I was daydreaming of life in USA and I couldn’t wait till I arrived there. I thought I was so unlucky that I missed a week in my life there but in fact I was such a lucky girl. What had been waiting for me was beyond my expectations.
At 8 am, on the 26th of June, my adventure had started. I had passed through Erez and Jerusalem, and somehow I was able to convince my driver to take me by the old city. I wasn’t allowed to leave the bus till I arrived Allenby Bridge in Jericho, but my driver had sympathy for me and he allowed me to have one hour there even though he took a risk by doing that. I actually exceeded the limited time I had as walking in the old streets of Jerusalem and visiting all the holy sites, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, stole my mind. I was jumping in the streets and singing out loudly like a nut. Can’t blame me for that! I had to go back to where we agreed to meet in order to get dropped off by Allenby to complete my way to Amman, while wondering why it must be so difficult for me to go to my capital city and why I have to go through all these complex procedures in order to travel.
I had arrived in Amman by 6 pm and had stayed with a very nice woman whom I knew through Facebook as she was supporting the sales of my calendar, Gaza Calendar 2011. I spent a short but unforgettable time in Amman. My plane was scheduled to leave at 5 pm on the following day. I had to travel to Dubai’s airport and then to Washington DC.
I couldn’t believe myself when I took my first step out of the plain in Washington DC airport after a 12-hours-non-stop flight. I was even more excited knowing that only a couple of hours separated me from joining the MEPI family. But I should learn that excitement sometimes works in the wrong direction. I was walking the airport with a look full of excitement, smiling to everyone I encountered, and ended up sitting in a gate that I thought it was the right one, but realized had been the wrong one two minutes after my flight to Philadelphia took off. It was actually kind of funny. I didn’t know how it had happened, but I guess for someone who had taken a 12-hour non-stop flight, sitting between two elderly people who kept snoring the whole trip, it is normal to run out of batteries. My flight was rescheduled for me. It was by then a bit sad as almost nothing remained to meet my MEPI family, but it turned out to require four more hours of waiting. Then I cried like a baby until I fell asleep, only to wake up just as my flight started boarding and return to the same excitement I had before.
“Nothing happens without a reason” – this is something that I started to believe in very deeply. I met wonderful people on that flight that left an impact on my vision for my future. Some of those people belonged to a church group who were volunteering in Zambia fighting hunger and poverty there. By the end of the trip, it felt as if I was one of them. They didn’t leave me tell they made sure that I got my luggage and everything was ok with me. Soon after, they formed themselves as a circle and held each other’s hands and included me. Then they made a prayer with their eyes closed to give thanks for their safe arrival. I am Muslim but I joined them while they were doing their prayer and it felt good to me. I believe that religions shouldn’t create gaps between people. To whatever religion we belong, we are all humans at the end of the day and what we share is more than how we differ from one another.
As I was walking toward the exit expecting to see somebody to drive me to Newark, Delaware, I saw the coordinator of MEPI program in the University of Delaware, waiting for me and holding a paper with my name written on it. After glancing at him, I ran to him and I hugged him as if I knew him already. I was just so excited about starting my journey. He drove me to Delaware where my MEPI family was waiting for me excitedly.
Meeting my MEPI family was so special to me. Thinking of them constantly before the time came and following their Facebook posts from Gaza made them already a part of me, even before I met any of them. That made it easier for us to get along. We were together all the time. We used to leave each other at bedtime, only to dream about the next day. Every day made us more connected and more caring about each other. I felt a real family overwhelmed with love, passion, and care around me. We would laugh together and cry if anyone started to shed a tear. They maybe didn’t know to what extent each one of them affected my personality, but at least I know that they will keep their own place in my heart forever. My colleagues were from 14 different countries of the Middle East and North Africa. We had many differences but those differences didn’t keep us apart, they only made our family more interesting. We had fun laughing at each other’s accents and sharing our cultures. The loveliest part was the staff members. They are such great people who accompanied us all the time to make sure that every day would be better than the previous day. They were there to educate us, to help us doing our homework, and to cheer us up whenever we felt down. They dedicated themselves to supporting us in every way they could. Such giving and loving people are rare to find. They have left an enduring impression on me. I feel so proud having had a chance to be close to such wonderful people with amazing characters.
The real wealth is not measured with money but with how many close relationships you form. Therefore, I consider myself to be very rich as I have many real friends that I can trust for the rest of my life.
Apart from making friends, for a Gazan, who got used to seeing gray all around and not much green, it is delightful to see some views of nature. This is another thing I loved about America. I never got bored wandering around in the streets as the huge trees with fireflies that seemed like Christmas tree lights made me full of joy and inspiration. I would go for a walk ifI felt rough, but that was never a way for me to relax in Gaza. I never minded long drives, too. My head would keep swinging from one window to another in order not to miss any views. We would pass by huge lakes that took my breath away, or a group of geese, or sometimes we would see deer standing by the woods.
I felt so fortunate had having a chance to let my eyes enjoy pondering nature there and meeting many interesting people, some of them were great professors who are so passionate about the Palestinian cause. They became excited about setting up a meeting with me as soon as they know I am a Palestinian living in Gaza.
I also enjoyed talking to people that I encountered by chance. Palestine was my favorite topic to talk about whenever I had a chance. It was funny as most times I spoke to anyone, she or he would ask me where I am from, and then I would reply with a smile on my face, “I’m from Palestine.” Then most people would ask, “Pakistan?” and I would say again, “no! PaLLLLestine” to make sure that I make the pronunciation of letter “L” as clear as possible. But this actually didn’t make any difference to some of them, as they would either ask “where is that?” or “what’s that?” My answer would be “Do you know Israel?” They would show all the expressions of confirmation they can and then I would say “well, Israel is in Palestine” to leave them with exclamation marks on their faces. And then they would be confused, which would be the responsibility that I enjoyed the most, to explain what I meant with history as my only evidence.
It was a bit sad that many people didn’t recognize my country. I say MY COUNTRY as I’ll never lose hope that it is going to be a country one day. Sometimes I got emotional seeing maps with Israel written in bold on the world map and not finding Palestine in the resources that were given to us for use during the leadership program. However, that only grew two things inside me: Knowledge of how hard I have to work to educate people about my country, and determination to make Palestine recognized by every human being on the planet.
Writing about my journey to USA can never end. Briefly and honestly, the five weeks I spent there made me much more mature and confident in my potential, and my ability to give as much as to take. I’m not such a different Shahd, but I can assure you I am a better Shahd after this interesting, eventful, and educational journey.
“Oh yes! I got the scholarship! I’ll be going to USA for a leadership program,” I said while jumping with happiness after reading the email with news of my approval। I thought I had passed the most difficult step. It wasn’t actually the step that I should have worried about. I realized later that I had rushed my happiness, and that it had been too early to feel like I was in control of everything.
When the time to book my tickets came, the American embassy gave me two options; either to leave through Egypt to the USA, or to go through Erez border to Amman and then to the US. I was confused. I had a flashback of being humiliated in the Erez border when I went to Jerusalem to get my visa for the USA. I thought that was enough of that, and there was no need to go through the same experience again. In the meantime, I had read articles and followed the news that announced the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing. So I quickly decided to go through Egypt, but didn’t know that it was a stupid decision until it was too late.
I was in the middle of a bunch of discordant voices which would eventually end up driving me crazy. Haha, welcome to confusing Gaza! First, I heard that it was not difficult any more to leave through Rafah, and that it was even easier for women. “All you need is your passport and you will leave very easily and quickly.” Most people agreed on that, relying on fake news reported by the media. Later, I realized that this was what should have been implemented, but not what had happened in reality. I had to go the Rafah border and reserve the date of 18th of June to travel. When I went there, I found people fighting because every date before the 22nd of July had already been taken. I was very depressed, thinking that my dream of visiting the USA wouldn’t happen because of a border, but was lucky enough to meet a man who liked me and sacrificed his reservation on the 18th of June for me. Then I thought that there was nothing more to worry about.
The 18th of June came. It was last Saturday. I was at the Rafah border by 7 am. I kept standing for long hours under the burning sun with dad and my friends Joe and Rocky from ISM. I had to beg people to help me. I saw old men and women crying. I realized then that wherever I went, I would get humiliated, and that I shouldn’t have paid attention to what I experienced at Erez, because no matter how hard that was for me, it wasn’t any harder than the humiliation I would face at Rafah. I went back home that day at around 4 pm. I forced myself to sleep to escape from the frustration I felt at having to get up the following day and make a second attempt at crossing. I didn’t only make a second attempt; I had a third, a fourth and a fifth, all for nothing! I used to leave home so early with my suitcase, torturing myself, my family and my friend to return with it after committing around 8 hours there. I’m still stuck in the horrible prison of Gaza.
It is, simply, pure hell at Rafah. Every day I went to the border was harder than the one before it. Every day, I just got more and more frustrated. “There’s only one way you’re going to leave: with a strong connection”- this is the system that the Rafah border follows. Every day I went there, I bled tears for the people who have been struggling to leave for weeks, but couldn’t. There was no mercy for anybody, whoever they were: old or young, sick or healthy, or whatever. It’s not like the movies: it is true drama, so sad and so miserable. For the past five days, I’ve been dying to hear a certain response from anyone working there. Nobody can bother to talk to you or tell you anything, you just have to try and try without stopping.
When people said that I didn’t have to worry anymore about crossing though Rafah, and that I could leave easily and quickly, it seems that they meant that you could leave very quickly, within at least two weeks. Oh, what a joke! But after I went though that hell, don’t think that I am going to surrender. No, I’ll keep going. Persistence is the only way to reach goals, and I’ll reach them eventually.
Why should my dreams be crushed at the Rafah border? Why, after I got a chance that a Gazan can have only once in a lifetime? Why should the media lie about reality? Why should they let us go so far with our dreams, then finally shock us with the reality? Where is the honesty of the media and where is the honesty of leaders, be they Palestinian or Egyptian? Who is responsible for all the suffering that Gazans face at Rafah? We are the victims of a web of lies.
It’s like a commitment for every Palestinian, and especially every Gazan, to make before leaving the borders of the Occupied Territories: a commitment to get insulted and humiliated and never say a word. Four hours of waiting to get permission passed like four years. The excitement I had didn’t make the situation any easier. I was sitting with my friends who have been approved for the leadership program in USA when a Palestinian who worked on the Beit Hanoun border told us to get ready to leave. No words could describe what I felt then. “Oh, thank you, God. Finally, we are passing!” I screamed. I simply went crazy and started to jump out of indescribable happiness, forgetting about everybody around.
My steps were too big and I could hardly breathe. All I could think about was that I wanted to get there as fast as I could. I didn’t know what was waiting for me after the long road that separates Gaza from Erez.
Last night, I went to bed at 11 pm, much earlier than I’m used to. I forced myself to stay under my blanket. The room was very dark and no sound could be heard but the sound of me moving in bed continually. I wanted to sleep so that 7 am today would come quickly, but all my attempts failed. Daydreaming in darkness conquered my mind. I dreamt about my travel to Jerusalem, the smell of its air, the view of its nature, its streets, and its people. My excitement to reach it kept me awake and I only managed to sleep at 4:30 am, then woke up again an hour and a half later.
Amidst this chaos and all the people around me who are chatting as an attempt to make time pass faster, I’m putting my headphones in my ears and listening to Fairoz, trying to live in my own world. I’m writing now from Beit Hanoun border or the so called Erez border. I’m sitting in a hall among lots of people, many of them patients and traders. Everybody has an excuse to go to Jerusalem and waiting to get permission to pass. My eyes are confused; one eye on the people around me and another on the fences that surround me from all destinations, laughing and sarcastically pitying the situation. Isn’t it funny that all of us here are waiting for hours to have a pass to go to our capital, Jerusalem? It’s not fair at all that I need an excuse to go there!
Now I’ve completed two hours of waiting and I don’t know for how much longer I’ll have to wait. While I was writing nonstop, an old woman sat next to me. Her traditional Palestinian dress lined by red embroidery attracted my eyes. The wrinkles of her face looked like she was bearing so many burdens that I thought she was older than only 66 years old. “Are you a refugee?” she asked. I smiled at her, nodding my head to confirm that. Then she said that she is too a refugee. That was the start of a very interesting conversation about our lands, which all Palestinian refugees were cleansed from in 1948. She was only three years old when her family was expelled from her original village, Acre. “I was the youngest of the family,” she said. “My parents and my old brother took turns carrying me,” she said. “They had to put a cover on my face to protect me from the hot weather on that gloomy day.”
Trying to make her laugh, I said, “No wonder why we met here. We are here to return back home!” I laughed. It wasn’t as funny as I thought. Her expressive face showed sorrow. “Oh, I hope so!” she sighed. And then she explained that she was accompanying her son’s twins who suffer from an illness. They sought a permit to cure them at Al-Maqased, a hospital in Jerusalem, and they managed to get it. I tried to change the topic, hoping to stop her from worrying about her grandparents for at least few minutes. I asked her if she knew where my original village, Beit Jerja, was located. While she was looking through the fence, trying to think where to point, her son came rushing her to to tell her get ready, as it was time for them to leave. She hugged me, wished me luck, and then left.
She left to let me return to the situation of depression I am going through, and to continue waiting to follow her to my lovely city that I have always dreamt of reaching: JERUSALEM.
I am sitting so close to my mother, expecting anything to happen any time. I hate to listen to the radio but I have to. The Radio announcer keeps repeating the same sentence again and again “People, try to take as much caution as possible!” What a silly call! Who knows where is or is not a safe place in Gaza during war time? All I want right now is to see my family members around me. I keep moving my eyes over and around them. They are totally silent but features of worry and fear are easy to make out on their faces. “It sounds like another war” mum said. I just looked and listened in silence, and continued pressing the keyboard buttons. I feel cold like never before. I feel so much in need of a blanket or a sweater but two things stops me from that; my legs and my lips. I can’t break my silence as well as my stiffened state. Nothing but my fingers are moving.
I laughed at myself as I remembered how I bolted down in a flash from the second floor to the first floor where my family stays. Fear takes over, pushes you further. Subconscious strength drove my legs to gather with the others—the safest place I can be. Suddenly, I stopped writing. I couldn’t see anything around me, all colors are unclear. A series of flashbacks from the last war on Gaza that were buried somewhere in my absent memory have reemerged. The sound of war planes is getting louder. The sirens of ambulances are still ringing. I wish I can move and bring some cotton to close my ears. This is the only time when I envy the deaf. “7 children are injured!” the announcer said. I felt as if somebody had thrown freezing water over my face so strongly that it sounded like a slap, though I remained unmoved and unconscious to it.
I went into a very deep sleep out of my control. Silence was spread everywhere. It was as if I was choking in my dreams, there was smoke so thick and stifling. I wasn’t sure if it was real or merely a dream. Suddenly I started coughing, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t open my eyes, I still hadn’t realized what had just happened. Then I tried to pull myself together. I checked if I was ok; I was quite ok. I still couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel my body. Suddenly my hand touched something and then I screamed. Oh God, that was Ahmad, my four-year-old son, on my lap bleeding. I screamed with the loudest voice I could, “Please, help, please rescue my son.” He was bleeding a lot but nobody answered. People around were either dead or unconscious.
“Oh my other seven kids, where are they?” I said. I put Ahmad on the floor and went to search for them. I could barely see for the smoke. I found Ansam, my 2-week-old girl, she was crying with a throttled voice struggling to get out of her throat. I held her to my chest and continued searching for the other six who were not so far away. I was almost epileptic, crying, lots of bodies on the floor. Then I saw four of my sons in the corner looking silently and fearfully at one boy and girl lying face down on the floor. I stood for a while shocked in such fear that the sensations going through me were true, but then I thought that I should move quickly. Slowly and carefully I turned their bodies to the back. Yes, my feeling was right, that was my 8-year-old girl, Amal, and my 7-year-old son, Abdallah.
Amal was bleeding from her nose, ear, and head. She had some shrapnel in her head. The boy was bleeding from his thigh. I couldn’t bear it. I impulsively hugged my children and burst into tears. I didn’t know what to do. Then I went to bring my son Ahmad who was bleeding on my lap, I could see many dead bodies were under the rubble. I gathered my children around me; I was delirious but struggling to be strong for my kids. Ahmad was bleeding so much, and he seemed like he was dying. It wasn’t to be long afterwards that he would die in my arms. Amal and after that Abdallah opened their eyes, they were so scared of death. I hugged them and promised them that they wouldn’t die, I kept telling them to be patient. The ambulances will come soon, “Why are there no ambulances until now!” I screamed.
I wasn’t really conscious of what had happened. I asked myself “where is Abu-Mahmood, My husband?” Then I remembered exactly what had happened and a flashback sent the horror back through my head. Israeli soldiers executed my husband in front of us when he went out of the house putting his hands up just as one of the soldiers outside had ordered him to. The soldier had said, “the owner of the house must come out now!” He went out with his ID in one raised hand and his old Israeli driving license in the other. Then they killed him. And after that kids started shouting and crying begging the soldiers not to kill them, but they came inside and shot towards the kids randomly. It was then that Ahmad was injured in his chest, dying two days later despite struggling for life as the ambulances were not allowed to enter the area by the soldiers until the fourth day.
After that around 100 people from the same family including me and my kids gathered in a house which Israeli soldiers had forced us to enter. Once they’d herded us together like farm animals, the Zionist soldiers with no conscience and ice cold to the lives, love and history of our families inside, bombed the house that my kids and I were sheltering in with everyone else. It took only half an hour, but they were 30 minutes of indescribable hell with unending sorrow thereafter. Anyway, now I know why I had begun this deep, uncontrollable sleep.
The unsettled political situation, and the “crisis of borders,” the permission we must seek for every step we take– causes much stress among Palestinians. But despite our daily struggle, we always know how to create our smiles even though the smile in Palestine is hard to get. Therefore, we stick with everything that can help us find this pleasure.
Ask any Palestinian about his or her favorite place in Gaza, and the answer will likely be “the beach”. The sea is very special for Gaza citizens. It symbolizes escape– the only route possible to run away from reality and thus the only place where we can feel truly alive and free.
However, Huda Ghalia’s family discovered in the summer of 2006 that even the beach can be a dangerous place. This family went there to enjoy swimming and to ponder the beauty of nature. They never expected that their lives would end there, but they were the heroes of a disastrous tragedy. While sitting peacefully on a Gaza beach, an Israeli artillery shell exploded nearby.
Only Huda was the survivor of nine of her family members that day. She ran to her murdered father, shaking him and screaming “dad, wake up!” Without reason, they were killed. Huda’s family had no link with any militants nor had they shot rockets at Israel. Their only guilt was a desire of a little happiness. What excuse can explain what happened to them? Is Israel judged for that? The “international community” does nothing and Israeli crimes will never stop!
After that black day, Palestinians started fearing even the sea. They stopped going to their only escape from life for a long time. My own family stayed away from the beach that entire summer just like all other families.
However, we didn’t give up. Today, Gaza citizens continue to go to the sea even more than before. Every time I go to the beach with my family I find it more and more crowded, and it brings joy to my hearts. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing children flying kites and parents swimming with their children and throwing a ball to each other. It is the liveliest place in Gaza, especially in summer, and it will continue to be like this forever, in spite of the ongoing Israeli violence.
It hurts when I see the people I love bleeding tears. The only thing that comforts me is the fact, that we are Palestinians. Being a Palestinian means that we have strength in spite of injustice, hope in spite of the misery, and smiles in spite of pains.
Escaping from final exams pressure, I went to a wedding with my sisters. Everyone around me was smiling, clapping and dancing for the bride and the groom except for me. My smile turned into tears.
I incidentally met an old friend, from whom I had not heard anything since the ninth grade. We had been in the same class until I moved to another school. I was so happy to see her after five years. However, her situation made me feel sad.
As I greeted her, I noticed an innocent, cute child playing in front of us. “This girl is my daughter.” My friend said with a smile. “Are you joking?” I gasped. “You are only 18 years old!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was a mother of a two-year-old girl! I tried to pull myself together in order not to show how surprised I was. “When was your wedding? Are you happy?” I asked.
“Thank God, I am bringing up my daughter alone,” she said. I kept silent but I am sure my face’s features showed my astonishment. Many thoughts filled my brain. I was thinking if she had broken up with her husband, or if had he left her alone and travelled. I waited for her to continue because really I couldn’t speak then expecting bad news. Suddenly, she got out her wallet and showed me her husband’s picture. “Isn’t he handsome? He is not alive anymore; he was martyred,” she said proudly.
It took me quite long time to understand that she is a widow at such a young age. I didn’t say a word. I felt helpless because I was sure that her sorrow was too deep. Yet, she hid that behind the smile of pride. “How was he martyred?” I asked.
“Two years ago,” she answered with shining eyes, I felt the tears were trying to fell from her eyes but not a tear in sight. “He was in Biet_Hanoon, visiting a friend, when suddenly a rocket shelled an empty area close to him and he was one of the victims. Israel justified this with a trivial excuse as usual, seeing that the empty area is the place where resistance groups trained.”
Just looking at her red eyes following her daughter was killing me. I was bewildered. What was his fault to die in the age of twenty-three after a week of his daughter’s birth? And what is her guilt to deserve being a widow leading hers and her life alone with her daughter? I believe that it’s their destiny, but it’s really a hard one to accept. However, she had. She buried her sorrow and for her daughter, played both the role of mother and father.
I realized that the miserable Palestinian life has some good aspects. It creates iron people able to lead their lives no matter how tough the going gets. That’s why now; I am not surprised that I met my friend at a wedding. Israel has to know that we are strong enough to handle anything no matter how hard it is. In Palestine, Life goes on despite the sorrow.
I am a third-generation refugee, born and raised in one of Palestine’s largest refugee camps, Jabalia, originally from Beit-Jerja village, my grandparents’ evergreen home which they had to flee under Israeli fire in 1948.
I was born a survivor- my mother’s labor occurred during a curfew that Israeli military forces imposed on Jabalia Refugee Camp from which first intifada erupted a few years earlier. While fearing for her life and her yet-to-be-born child, she walked through Jabalia refugee camp’s alleys, leaning on my grandmother who held a white piece of cloth in one hand and a lantern in the other, hoping for mercy from the Israeli soldiers who were indoctrinated to shoot ever moving being. Our family home then was one-kilometre away from the UNRWA clinic in Jabalia. There was no ambulances, no phones, and the whole neighbourhood was under blackout. “While pointing their guns at us, unscrupulous Israeli soldiers obstructed our way,” my mum recalled, “They harassed and interrogated us even though I could hardly stand.”
My mum’s memories of the day of my birth cannot easily be forgotten. My father couldn’t be around around her as an ordinary husband. The thirteen years of suffering that my father spent in Israeli jails were not enough for those terrorists. My dad had been sentenced to seven lifetimes plus ten years, but thankfully, he was released in the 1985 prisoner exchange after serving ‘only’ thirteen.
My father was born 4 years after Nakba to dispossessed parents in Jabalia Camp where refugee families survived on nothing but the dream to return. He was 15 when the Gaza Strip alongside the remainder of Palestine fell under the Israeli military occupation in 1967, and when he spent his first 2 months in jail as a child prisoner. At the age of 19, he was sentenced to seven lifetimes plus ten years. Each life sentence for a Palestinian equals 99-year-prison-term. Had he not been released in the 1985 prisoner exchange, he could have spent a total of 703 years in Israeli jails – my mother, my siblings and I would have been a dream buried alongside him in jail – a horrifying thought that haunts hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.
In fact, my dad was never free. He was restricted in his movements and always anticipated his house being vandalised to rearrest him. They deprived him of the basic right of a husband, sharing with his wife some of the most difficult and intimate moments of pregnancy. She brought me into this life, where safety, freedom, and justice are denied. Assisted by my grandmother, she returned home as soon as she recovered so my father could hold me. They defiantly celebrated my advent, but in Palestine no smile could ever last.
”In the middle of the night, a month after your birth, a huge force of armed Israeli soldiers suddenly broke into our home, damaging everything before them,” my Mum recalled. “They attacked your father, bound him with chains, and dragged him to the prison, beating him the whole way.” The happiness of the new baby – me – didn’t continue for the whole family. My mum could breastfeed me until then; her grief ended her lactation.
My dad was held for six months under administrative detention, without any charge or trial, an arbitrary procedure that Israel has used against tens of thousands of Palestinians since 1967. Prior to this time, my father served this term two times during my mum’s pregnancy with my elder two siblings Majed and Majd. Although one can hardly find a positive side to their traumatic experiences, they used to amaze me by the jokes they made around my mum not needing to go on birth control, because my dad’s detention acted as such.
The day my father got his freedom back, six months later, my mum was awaiting him as if she knew he was coming. He couldn’t believe how big I was after seven months: he couldn’t stop hugging and kissing me for even one second. That time was the last time my father was taken away from him family, but my parents never stopped worrying over the future of their children whose safety they couldn’t guarantee under the Israeli colonial occupation.
Writing about my childhood experience brings a lot of tears, especially that this story is common across Palestine. Every Palestinian child is convicted to a life of uncertainty and oppression without having to commit a crime. Being a Palestinian is our only offense.
Two years after my birth, the Intifada of stones ended marked with celebration of victory and illusions of autonomy which the Palestinian National Authorities brought after signing the Oslo peace process with Israel in 1993. But this happiness or illusion, yet again, didn’t last. Another Intifada began in 2000, declaring the death of Oslo which acted as a cover for further Israeli dominance over Palestinian lands and lives. In 2000, I was 9 years old stuck with children of Palestine in a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence.
In Palestine, no smile can last as long as Israel carries on acting with impunity. However, In Palestine, no one seems to give up dreaming of a brighter future for Palestine, in a just peace that will guarantee us with freedom, justice, dignity and return
Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian writer, artist and activist, born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp, Gaza, and now based in the UK. She is one of the co-founders of Hawiyya Dance Company who explore solidarity, identity, cultural resistance through Dabke, the folk dance of Palestine. She is a PhD candidate at Sheffield Hallam University, focusing on documentary films that address the Palestinian refugees in Gaza. She holds an MA in Media and the Middle East from SOAS, University of London, and a BA in English Literature from Al-Azhar University - Gaza.