During Gaza

This poem was originally published on Counterpunch.

There are periods of time during which there is only one place on earth and places for which one period of time changes history. These are my hearts’ thoughts about July 2014, which I will always think of as being “during Gaza.”

I.
The front line obscured,
their troops had dispersed
to cafes in Haifa
till the flammable stench
of hope decomposing
ignited in Gaza,
wafted through the watan,
and woke up the poetry.
And an unlikely hero
neutralized the fear
that had shackled generations
by risking everything,
in time with the pounding
of the tabla.

II.
Red lines, fault lines, electricity lines, bread lines
crossed and cut and bombed.
Complexity, like raw sewage, washed into the sea, a surprising relief.
Whispers at ftoor were unified by suhoor.
But till now
CNN still does not know
or refuses to report,
that the game has changed.

III.
I am fine bang-bang, Mama.
No, bang-bang. There is no bang danger here.
I am far from bang-bang-bang.
That sound? Helicopters. I don’t know why.
The pope left, Ki-Moon left, Kerry left.
Nothing unusual is happening here now.
I am absolutely sure, Mama.
There is bang-bang-bang-bang absolutely no danger
in the West bang-bang-bang-bang Bank,
yet.

IV.
On Facebook I check
before I even spit the night’s bad taste into the drain
if she is alive
if he is alive
and the ones in the south and the ones near the coast
but most of them don’t answer my “how are you?”
because they are sleeping their half-rest,
or because they have no electricity,
or because they are dead.

V.
They say I have lost perspective
because I can’t taste chocolate anymore,
because I feel walls tremble in my dreams,
because I scream “stop” into the wind.
They say I have lost perspective because I mourn children not mine
brains blown from skulls.
Meanwhile, they seek my professional recommendation through LinkedIn.
And I say,
it is not me
who has lost
perspective.

VI.
There were ten thousand or twenty
and we waved flags,
little girls on shoulders and families in cars,
old men in wheechairs and so many, many women!
Women who had held decades together with their bare hands,
their husbands in prison,
and arrested themselves,
beside their daughters marched.
Those daughters, with international aspirations,
who had seen burning tires only from car windows as they passed,
cursing the traffic,
and who had not seen options, much less discussed them,
not even amongst themselves, over latte, all these years.
But now,
titillated,
they chanted “udrub udrub Tel Abeeb
while skinny boys, faces covered, walked into bullets,
despite knowing
that no one can remember 108 names.

VII.
Still,
there is something
something precious
I pull it towards me
faith renewed
by that clarity
that unity
that surety
that when I say “Can you help me help Gaza?”
without exception
even those I do not like
and even those who do not like me
answer simply:
“Consider it done.”

VIII.
When Gaza is over
When the mess of rubble and body parts is cleared away
When researchers have analyzed the op-eds and filed them
When Americans realize what they paid for and why no money is left for Detroit
When their children ask “how could that happen?” the way I asked about Auschwitz
When they let their minds go blank for ten minutes in lotus position at sunrise
Will they be haunted
by the Bakir boys
playing soccer
on the Gaza beach?

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Donor complicity in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights

“In this policy brief, Al-Shabaka Policy Member Nora Lester Murad examines aid through the lens of “complicity” and exposes shortcomings in current legal frameworks. She argues that regardless of the limitations of applicable law, international aid actors are fundamentally responsible to those they seek to assist and must be held accountable for the harm they cause or enable. She identifies the areas in which questions need to be asked and concludes with some of the steps that Palestinian civil society and the international solidarity movement should take.”

Download the full paper in English and Arabic on the Al-Shabaka site, and please share your comments here.

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Un-friending Guy Hazan

In late August, during the attack on Gaza, an Israeli named Guy Hazan left a comment on this blog, A View From My Window in Palestine, in response to a story called, “When the Gaza Sky Burst into Flames.” The story was a guest post written by Mahmoud Khalaf, a friend of mine from Gaza who poured his heart out about his personal experience living through the Israeli bombardment. In response to Mahmoud’s personal story, Guy left this comment:

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Mahmoud, a 19-year-old student of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza answered so brilliantly, I didn’t even step in. Mahmoud wrote:

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Then Guy Hazan commented a second time, and a third time, always in half-thoughts and unclear English. I wrote him an email suggesting that he consolidate his comments and finish making his points or he wouldn’t have impact. It’s not that I liked what he said or that I wanted him to affect my blog readers negatively. But I had no fear that he could convince anyone that Israel was right to rain bombs on 1.8 million people they’d imprisoned. Moreover, I genuinely believe that questions and comments help deepen discussion–whether I agree with them or not. And as they say, for every question (even ones that are hurtful or ignorant), there are tens of other people wondering the same thing. For this reason, I have always tried to respond to comments respectfully and protect my blog as a space for real exchange.

Also, there was a chance that he might really be an Israeli who wanted to engage and understand other views. They do exist.

Guy Hazan answered my email very politely. He thanked me and promptly complied by consolidating his points. His comments became longer and more meaty, but also more confusing. For example, in response to my reply to another reader’s comment (this time on my “about me” page), Guy Hazan wrote:

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and he continued:

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I apologize for subjecting you to that unintelligible tome, but the gist of it is that Israel is great and Arabs hate Jews. At least that’s what I think he’s saying. I let him off easy for his offensive ideas because he clearly doesn’t express himself well in English.

Soon, Guy Hazan found me on Facebook and I accepted his friend request. Everything I do on Facebook is public anyway, therefore, I tend to accept all friend requests unless they look truly suspicious. Still, I remember feeling a bit discomforted that he’d crossed over from my blog to my Facebook where I am more personal.

For a while, Guy Hazan continued his facade of civility and curiosity as he attacked my knowledge, experience, and credibility, but I was only mildly irritated. He made comments and asked questions, always incorporating misinformation or distortion. At first, I tried to reply with an explanation from my point of view, not for Guy Hazan’s benefit, but for the benefit of others who I knew would be reading the thread. Other Facebook friends of mine also tried to give him another perspective.

But quickly, Guy Hazan was replying to everything I posted, replying to all my comments, even commenting on my friends’ posts (my real friends). He seemed to be on Facebook all day and all night. I felt like he was in the room with me. It occurred to me that he was one of those Israelis paid to attack Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights on social media. I looked him up on LinkedIn and found that he was an investment banker in Haifa. I felt the tiniest amount of relief.

Then Guy Hazan started to initiate contact directly with my friends in Gaza. My reaction surprised me, though I didn’t share it publicly. I felt furious and ashamed that I had exposed my friends in Gaza (who are traumatized and deserving of support) to nothing less than harassment and from whom? An Israeli defender of the war!  It sounds naïve when I read that back. Of course I know that Facebook is public. I know Israelis read my Facebook. But somehow when Guy Hazan started addressing my friends in Gaza (to whom he had access because of me), I felt violated.

My friends in Gaza held their own. They matched each of Guy Hazan’s comments with historical facts and statistics and quotes and examples. And Guy Hazan got bolder and more offensive. The anger in his comments! The racism!

On September 17 he wrote: “What about the murder of babies in their sleep, With knives, cold-blooded, premeditated? Without regret.” And he posted a link to a video. I didn’t watch it. Before that, there was a back-and-forth exchange with Jason Shawa during which Guy Hazan insisted over and over again that Palestinians hate Jews and Jason insisted over and over again that he didn’t hate Jews. It would have been amusing if it had stopped there.

Now, Guy Hazan seems to be following me full time. In response to everything I share, he puts up links to offensive things. I’m sitting calmly at my computer after a long day, and there’s Guy Hazan’s face flashing across my screen. I feel trapped in a corner. I suspect that’s what he wants. But what’s worse, I’m overwhelmed with concern about what the rest of my friends (my real friends) think about this. People who used to ask questions or express opinions, who sincerely wanted to know my experience, don’t contact me anymore. It’s like Guy Hazan is at my house so no one wants to visit me anymore.

It’s gone beyond Facebook now.

The other day was my daughter’s birthday and she wanted to go to the beach. We went to Herziliya, not far from Haifa where Guy Hazan supposedly works, according to LinkedIn and not far from Nahariya, where Guy Hazan supposedly lives, according to Facebook. I found myself glancing around me to see if Guy Hazan was there. (I am assuming his profile photo is a real photo of him.)

 “When you look at these Israelis, do you wonder if they are soldiers and if they’ve done bad things to Palestinians?” I asked the Palestinian who was with me.

“It’s hard not to wonder.”

“And when you look at these little children,” I said, motioning to a particularly adorable toddler girl playing naked in the sand, “do you wonder if they’ll grow up to be soldiers who do bad things to Palestinians?”

“There are all kinds of Israelis. You can’t make assumptions just because they’re Israeli.” (We both knew that was the right answer, but we both knew how hard it is to keep reality from contaminating human relationships.”

I want to be the kind of person who is open. I want to be the kind of person who engages with different points of view. I want to be a person that others can approach with questions that they aren’t comfortable asking elsewhere. And for that reason, I’ve decided to take the bold move to publicly un-friend Guy Hazan and hope that he’ll stop polluting my space. I would have preferred not to have to do that, but I don’t want Guy Hazan in my life anymore. To the extent that Facebook allows, I will try to prevent his offensive commentary from showing up around my friends. I realize that he’ll “spin” this as “not willing to engage in dialogue” and he’ll be partly right. I do not want to engage in dialogue or anything else with Guy Hazan or anyone—Israeli or not—who uses the guise of “dialogue” to attack and harass, insult and hurt.

Bye Guy.

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Rant on Humanitarianism

This piece was first published on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace.

It is 3am and my left index finger taps involuntarily on the laminate desk because I’ve been told by someone I respect that I am wrong or just crazy (but oh so politely) to find it very strange that the distinction between what is “humanitarian” and what is “developmental” in terms of aid is so arbitrary and from my point of view illogical because (stay with me here) there is a “Humanitarian Imperative” that obliges international actors to provide tents for Palestinians in Gaza and food so they don’t starve, at least not quickly, but there is no “imperative” for those same actors to demand – I’m talking about actions not words – that Israel allow building supplies and equipment in through the checkpoint which they control or that they allow yummy, beautiful, quality Gaza products into the world market so that Palestinians in Gaza can support themselves rather than be 80% dependent on aid (that was a pre-war figure) and please don’t start now about Egypt because OF COURSE Egypt has control over the crossing at Rafah and is complicit in obstructing trade and aid—though never say the word “denying” trade and aid, I don’t know why, maybe because then it’s a crime against humanity? (I am not sure if that is true) and anyway, what does that have to do with the sense of betrayal and isolation and hopelessness that is driving thousands of Palestinians to seek to escape illegally by sea and drowning! drowning! Those young people who stayed alive through the hell of bombardment, the shaking of the ground, the thundering of the skies, the collapse of the world around them for the third time in the last six years and now they so urgently want to escape that they push themselves onto rickety boats (flashing images of Haitians flailing in rough waters), my God, the world is going to hell, and yes I started that last verse with an indictment of Egypt, against whom I feel even more powerless than I do against Israel, which is pretty darn powerless, but this is, obviously, a digression from my main point which had to do with how totally bizarre and sick it seems to me that the “Humanitarian Imperative” is not a HUMAN imperative (forget law now, law makes my head hurt and all those people who say that my arguments are weak because they aren’t grounded in law make my head hurt too because my arguments are grounded in JUSTICE PEOPLE, yes JUSTICE which is an imperative, no?) I mean, isn’t it imperative for us as human beings to prevent the injustices that lead to the humanitarian crises that then invoke the Humanitarian Imperative to respond in very limited ways? (stop telling me that humanitarianism cannot and should not be political and that the whole point and value of humanitarianism is that it is not subject to politics when that only makes sense to me between 9am and 5pm and not at 3am when I can see so clearly that nothing is more political than saying “our job ends when people eat” and I know you’re yelling-35825_640frustrated that I’m “twisting” what you mean, that we are not limited to humanitarianism but that it protects a minimal space for required intervention on non-political grounds OKAY OKAY I get that but it is sooooooooooooooooooooo not enough in today’s world where we are the perpetrators of the humanitarian crises to say that we are only obligated to respond to the symptoms—and if I am the only one who sees that then I am truly insane) And anyway, isn’t action imperative for us too – to protect the sanctity of our own humanity, if not the law – and what I mean by that is that every time we use this sterile terminology to justify not doing something that we know to be right in our [she pounds very hard on the squishy place above the belly button that processes everything] then we are less, less, less AND the people, in this case Palestinians, that we let down, because they are now absolutely sure that they can’t rely on anybody in the world to hear and realize and act on the fact that they are suffering terribly (I already said that I know that they are not the only ones in the world!), not due to a tsunami or an earthquake but from the unnecessary and immoral acts of an OECD and UN member state that enjoys all kinds of upgraded trade relations and cultural exchanges and stuff that Gaza is denied, denied, denied, denied, but it is ME I remind you who is naïve and confused when I say that this has got to stop people, the WHOLE mess of inequality and violence—economic, cultural, sexual, physical because it’s so very tiring (if you can’t tell) trying to understand the world we live in today and what my role in it is as someone who is compelled by a Human Imperative and who is angry and disappointed that we’ve found so many legal, professional and administrative ways to not get involved when we’re needed like telling 1.8 million traumatized human beings (who, by the way, would share a piece of bread with you if it was the only thing they had) that “we’re only obligated to provide you with tents and not to use all means necessary to ensure that you live with dignity in homes that are safe and that when you go to the beach you can swim in water that is not polluted by raw sewage and that you feel no compulsion to drown yourself because you feel alone. I want to say to the Palestinians in Gaza, to the Bangladeshi sweat shop workers, to the kids who go to school barefoot in El Salvador, to homeless women on skid row in Los Angeles: you are not alone (and I really wish that someone would tell me that I am not alone at 3am) but then again, I might just be wrong or crazy (but not in the legal sense!).

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Guest post: “I thought I was going to die, but it turned out to be my cousin” by Ahmed AlQattawi

It was not the first time the Israeli Occupation Forces waged an assault on the Gaza Strip. Over here in the middle of the Gaza Strip, it was outrageous. The sky was almost full of Israeli warplanes of various kinds. They flew as fast as they could, and sometimes hovered very low in order to bomb houses and their occupants. There were many kinds of Israeli warplanes used–helicopters, drones and jet fighters. It was hard to take a step outside my house due to the rockets that fell from the sky. All kinds of institutions got badly damaged or destroyed completely and most were at least partly damaged.

Ahmed

Ahmed

Israeli missiles fell randomly upon Al-Shojaiyah neighborhood, and every single person ran to the streets to seek cover, but there was no cover. Shrapnel spread everywhere; dozens of innocent civilians and animals were killed. Body parts were scattered. The Israeli army bombed over and over again as if it was a game. They came with their tanks and warplanes to murder whole families in cold blood not stopping for a second to realize that this family may have an infant who should be living and enjoying his childhood like Israeli infants and other infants in the world.

On July 19th, my family and I were about ready to have our dinner as the Israeli assault went on. My little sister, Shahid, was standing on a small chair by the window looking at how the beautiful horizon was covered with black thick smoke. A poisonous smell escalated with the smoke of bombed buildings and blew with the wind. My little sister and I couldn’t bear the smell of it, and I started to cough uncontrollably through my mouth and nose. I sprayed some perfume to change the smell of the air we were breathing that moment and it gave us some relief. Shahid went back to looking at the sunset when she saw something small flying towards us from far away.

“Come here, Ahmed, and look at that thing flying right toward me,” she pointed.

“Get inside and close the window, Shahid, before something bad happens,” I replied.

“I hope that flying thing is some super hero like Superman because I just know he can save people whenever they are in danger” she said, staying by the window.

“You must be crazy!” I answered.

Suddenly, she realized what she was seeing. She freaked out and started running all over the house screaming: “A rocket is breaking down the sky!”

My siblings ran to the east of the house to take a shelter, because by then we could hear a scary sound from above. I ran as fast as I could to open the window and confirm what she saw. I thought maybe the sound of the rocket was really the sound of warplanes passing over our house or hovering at low altitudes, but in fact it was a rocket dropping from a helicopter on to a specific target near my house. When I saw it, I left the window open and bent my whole body down toward the floor with my hands over my ears to alleviate the pressure a little bit after the explosion. A few seconds later, there was a massive explosion, and then a second one that shook my house fiercely. Everything was shaking and moving under our feet so I thought at first that my house was the one that had been bombed. However, it was our neighbor, a civilian, less than one block away.

Ahmeds neighbors house -- destroyed

Ahmed’s neighbor’s house — destroyed

Ambulances came to get some injured and martyrs. My family went back to dinner and started to eat without hesitation even though the dinner was cold. I went bed, but whenever I tried to fall asleep, a dreadful sound of bombing awakened me. I was up until the sun rose.

 

When the morning came, there was no breakfast and no lunch because we had not been able to get out of the house to go shopping and buy some food. My father decided to take me along with him to risk walking in the street to go to the market. I was hungry, but I couldn’t say so to my father because I knew that he was hungry too, so I kept patient until we reached a supermarket. We relied on canned food for two reasons. First, there was no electricity after the electricity company had been targeted by Israeli artilleries; consequently, it wouldn’t do to keep fresh food inside the fridge. Second, canned food is easier to prepare quickly. I was already used to spending days without electricity meaning that there was no Internet to communicate with the outside world, no news to be heard on TV, no water in the rooftop tanks because the pump needs electricity, and no fresh food to be kept in the fridge. Only my cell phone’s radio kept me up to date with the breaking news, because it was charged on my father’s car battery.

Five days later, someone called my father’s cell phone and his facial expression changed. We were eating lunch so he didn’t say anything about the call.

“What’s wrong, Dad?” “Did something bad happen?” I asked.

He acted as if he didn’t hear me at first, so, I repeated my question with different words to get his attention. “What’s going on, Dad?” “Is there anything I can do to help you?” I asked.

“No my son, there is nothing you can do about it,” he said.

“Would you let me know then so we can find a solution?” I replied.

“I don’t know how to put this,” he started, “but Umm….” My dad was not able to say what happened directly in front of my family and especially not in front of my mom.

Later that day, he let us know in an indirect way that relatives from my mother’s side had been martyred that day by a Zionist air raid. When my mom heard, she fainted as he had feared, and she woke up with pain squeezing her heart. I tried to calm my siblings down and make them feel better by saying that God would grant them entry into paradise, but I couldn’t take control over their hearts because you just can’t control someone’s emotions. They kept crying because they were very close to the family, considering them brothers, friends and very good relatives molded all in one.

I called my uncle to express my condolences on the loss of his sons; he was heartbroken. My family decided to go to my uncle’s house to console him personally on his loss, so they went and stayed there until evening came. The Red Cross organization brought his body out of the rubble and handed him to his family during a ceasefire that lasted for only 12 hours. His family and mine went to the mosque to pray the funeral prayer. At first, I couldn’t get close to his body to say goodbye to him because I was crying.

Ahmed's cousin

Ahmed’s cousin

Finally, I kissed him on his head. We prayed and after that we took his body to bury it in the cemetery. Although I felt that I couldn’t handle it when I saw people holding his body up in the air to put it in that dark hole in the ground, I went with the flow and told myself I should be very proud of him, for he has the status of being a martyr. The day was almost over and what I thought of was despite the fact that Israel burns up and destroys our mosques, homes, schools, hospitals, and universities and murders our relatives, the Palestinian spirit of struggling for what is rightfully ours will always remain; in fact, we grow stronger each day we are treated with disrespect and denied our dignity, humanity and freedom.

The author:

Ahmed AlQattawi (19 years old) was born in Saudi Arabia but lived in Deir el Balah (Gaza) all his life. Ahmed says, “I like my major, English language and literature, because it makes me see the world from all perspectives.” His university, the Islamic University of Gaza, was bombed in the 2014 Israeli aggression as it had been in previous attacks.

The Islamic University of Gaza after the most recent Israeli bombing

The Islamic University of Gaza after the most recent Israeli bombing

Ahmed says, “I have one lovely brother and four lovely sisters. My father teaches science and my mom doesn’t work outside of our house. I spend my spare time reading various kinds of books to acquire as much knowledge as I can. One funny talent I have is that I can make shapes out of paper with one hand tied behind my back. My dream was always to travel outside my town to study and then come back to my country to improve my community, but because of the unjust siege on the Gaza Strip and the shortage of funds, I have no idea when my dream will come true.”

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