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.
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.
Palestinians owe Ban Ki-moon no apologies
After this “disrespectful welcome” of Ban Ki-moon by the angry families of prisoners and martyrs, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) shamefully sent apologies to him.
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.