Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wajeeh: Forget and Forgive.

I’ve been to refugees’ houses before, never once did they feel empty or lacking as the house of Wajeeh Ramahi.
As I was going to Jalazon Refugee Camp, I don’t know why for some reason the words of an Israeli Zionist I’ve met in New York kept replaying over and over in my head.
“Why don’t you want peace? Can’t you just forget and forgive? Life is just too short to waist on such useless matters.”

On December 24th, I joined two human rights advocates in a visit to the martyr’s house; Wajeeh Ramahi. The two human rights advocates had to gather information about the “incident” for the sake of their protocol procedures. The extent to how they weren’t moved by this astonished me. It wasn’t as if they were talking to a mother that has lost her child, they were talking to a case, another case among thousands of others. I couldn’t blame them; of course they had to distance themselves. This is their daily job; they have to do this on daily basis; since the Israeli Occupation never gives them a break.

When we first arrived to the refugee camp, we couldn’t locate where the house was exactly, but it didn’t take us long to find it. We just had to ask people there, “Where is the latest Martyr’s house?” You can’t say, “Where is the martyr’s house”; because if you do they’ll immediately ask for clarification, “Which one?”

So this old man took us to Wajeeh’s house. We knocked and knocked and nobody replied, then the he took us to Wajeeh’s uncle house and the uncle took us to the mother. The father wasn’t at home, he had to go to Bi’r al-Sabe’ “Beersheba” prison; it was his oldest son’s trial that day. His name is Ameer, he’s 19 years old and has been accused of the horrendous crime of throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers.

We entered the house, and waited till the mother got ready to greet us. While we waited, two of Wajeeh’s younger siblings joined us; a beautiful little girl and the most adorable little kid. After sitting for a while, the mother joined us and the questions from the two people I tagged along with started pouring down on the mother and uncle.

They asked some basic information questions, his full name, what grade he was, his ID number; which he didn’t have because he wasn’t 15 yet, and so on.
From these questions, we learned that he was 14 years old. He was born on the 26th. Jan.1998 ( only 3 days younger than my youngest brother). He dropped out of school, and was into the painting business. He was never wanted for the Israeli authorities, not for throwing rocks, or raising the Palestinian flag or participating in a demonstration or anything.

Then the mother was asked when he was murdered. While she drifted away in her mind in order to remember, his younger sister said calmly, “On the the 7th of December.” I chocked.
The mother continued, “Yes on the 7th, and I’ve only seen the body the next day, and he died almost at 5 pm.” Then we learned from them, that he was in the refugee’s school playground when he was shot. The bullet that killed him; went through his back, right into his spine and exited from the other side, killing him instantly. It wasn’t a rubber bullet, it was a live metal one, you know; the kind that kills.

Then the uncle and mother were asked if they did an autopsy to the body, they said yes. At first the hospital (Israeli hospital, they took him first to a hospital in Ramallah, then to Haddasah in Jerusalem) refused to do so, because the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) denied that they did anything and claimed that the shot was from the refugee camp itself. Then when the media exposed them and said according to eyewitnesses that the shooting was from the soldiers’ part, they changed their story and said that Wajeeh was throwing rocks at them and by doing so he became a threat to their lives and they had to shoot at him in order protect themselves. 

So the hospital did the autopsy, and found out (as we said before) that he was killed with a live bullet that went through his spine from the back, and they estimated the distance of the shooting to be 200 meters. After the autopsy the family filed a lawsuit against the IOF; which is going to take months and months for the soldier to be only detained for a day and get a lower rank like many other cases of the sort.

Then after we were done, we thanked them for their time, and apologized for the disturbance and his death (as if they were on parallel levels) and went on our way.

 As we were waiting for a car to pick us up, I asked one of the humans rights advocates what’s going to happen next. He told me that it’s going to go to court, where the judge is an Israeli, and it’s going to take months and months and months and at the end the soldier might be detained for a short period of time, and that’s about it.

He also said that the fact that there are two stories might cause a problem. One story says he was playing, and other says he was throwing rocks. The problem lays only in the fact that, and this is completely absurd to me, the IOF might have a reason for shooting him. I dropped my jaw in awe, how can that be?
Then he said , “well of course they didn’t have to shoot him with a live bullet. They could’ve just shot him with a rubber bullet that doesn’t kill, or threw a tear gas canister at him, or simply arrest him. No need for a sniper to shoot him from 200 meters away.”

How ridiculous the stage we’ve reached, to a point where it is better to be shot at with a tear gas canister or arrested or being shot at with a rubber bullet for throwing rocks. How we measure things is beyond comprehension.

But I found myself wishing the same thing.
 I really wish if the soldier shot him with a rubber bullet that caused him to stay in bed for months, or to be hit with a gas canister and only get suffocated and then be okay, or even if he got arrested and spent 8 months in Israeli prisons. Any of the above would be better than him being a martyr.

But still, even if he did throw rocks and he hit a soldier; who’s covered and protected from head to toe from injuries caused by materials such as rocks. And even if the soldier got scratched a little and maybe bled; Wajeeh did not deserve to be shot dead.

And the soldier who did this, I mean the monster that did this, has to pay. He\she has to face the consequence of killing a little child. So as people and human beings it’s our duty to NOT let this go, and to fight in order to get this soldier punished, and let the entire world know who this monster is.

So no,  it’s just not fair to forget and forgive. It’s even unfair to ask, it’s disgusting when murderers ask the victim to forget and forgive, because life is too short.
Well of course it’s too short; you’ve ended it in a second with a bullet from 200 meters away.
 You want us to forget and forgive, face the consequences and get the punishment you deserve then come and talk peace to us.

But I'm guessing, neither Wajeeh or his family are willing to forget and forgive until justice prevails.

                                            "This is Wajeeh's poster on his house's front door"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

His name was Wajeeh ...

I don’t know if I've mentioned this here before, but at times, certain dreadful times, I curse the second I was born a Palestinian, and yesterday was one of those days.
His name was Wajeeh. He was 15 years old. And he was shot in the back and dropped dead with an Israeli sniper's bullet on Dec. 7th of 2013.

When a Palestinian kid gets killed  I try to completely block what his family and friends must be feeling right now, I can’t even go there. Instead, I shift to myself. How silly my life is. How trifle it is. How nervous I was about a 15-minute presentation, and how happy I was that the kids I tutor aren't coming today so I’ll have some extra free-of-stress time. And while I was dueling over these stupid silly matters, a 15 year old was shot by a sniper! An Israeli sniper, and he dropped dead.

And I did nothing about it. I didn't go demanding that the Israeli soldier who committed this crime be held responsible. I didn't try to be there for the family. I didn't go to Qalandia checkpoint (hellpoint) and just let all my anger out on an Israeli prick-head soldier .No. All I did was; curse the second I was born a Palestinian. 

Because it's not okay, and it doesn't make sense. He's been dead for almost a day now and life seems to be moving on rather normally. People went to their jobs, kids to their schools, soldiers to their normal hellpoints, Israelis and Palestinians are still negotiating ... Life is moving on, and that's not fair. 

I wish that for once, time would stand still, jobs would stand still, schools would stand still, everything will be frozen, just once; so we can mourn the loss of this child, so we can be there for his family, so we can bring that Israeli monster to justice. Just for once, time should stand still.

Then again when “something” like this happens,we’re supposed to look forward for a better future instead of focusing on this “sad incident”, we're supposed to hang on to hope and not let it die, and with it try to create a better future where 15 year old children who are playing football with their friends won't get shot in the back by a sniper. But I can’t.

I lose every notion of hope or desire to build a better future. I can’t even alter the present, so what of the future? What’s the point of creating a better future when those who suffered and deserved to be in it, are no longer with us?

Still, this brighter future will come eventually. But it will never be bright enough or good enough.
Because Wajeeh won’t be in it.
Because  Nour Muhammad ‘Afana won’t be in it.
Because Mousa Fansha , Mahmoud Khaled al-Najjar and Mohammed Fouad Nayroukh won’t be in it.

The day when kids will play football safely, and girls go to the hospital for medicine without dying on checkpoints, and people walking safely to their houses in Palestine will come. No doubt. It’s the circle of life, at times you’re oppressed, at others you’re free.

But when that time comes, it’ll be too late. Too many have lost their kids, sacrificed, betrayed, hated, lost, mourned, died, and died, and died.

Rest in peace all of you, and all those from days gone by, and all those who are yet to come. 

                                "I apologize for using this picture, but the 
                                                 truth should be demonstrated as it is." 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Omar … Every Palestinian Girl Prince-Charming!

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, but busy busy life in Palestine kept me from it.

But here it is.

A couple of weeks ago, for the second time; I watched Hany Abu-Assad’s film “Omar” at Yabous Cultural Center in Jerusalem. And for the second time I was in awe.

“Omar”, is the first -almost 100%- Palestinian film; from the cast to the director to the funding ...  you name it; all Palestinian. Yet this is only one aspect of its uniqueness, the other is how real it was. If you’ve watched it, then you’ll see how some parts of it were pure fiction and a bit more dramatic, but you won’t be able to deny the intensity of its elements, the story-line, and how realistic it was.

    - Spoiler alert, for whoever haven’t watched it-

The film opens with Omar climbing the famous cement Wall cutting the West Bank into tiny islands and prisons, with the help of a rope; and right there and then you’re hooked. After climbing down the wall, as if it was a very casual thing to do, Omar goes to visit his childhood friend’s house –and his girlfriend’s. Everything is nice and “normal”, we have Omar sitting with his two best friends, Amjad and Tariq. Then the love of his life, Nadia (Tariq's sister), comes in with some delicious Arabic Coffee. They joke around, have fun, all is good, Omar and Nadia secretly exchange love letters then …  the fun is over.

The scene shifts to somewhere in the woods, where the three best friends are seen to be training on how to shoot; using a rifle. They’re training to shoot a soldier. From that second you know these three are doomed to hell if they go on with their plan. They’re all set to go, they’re ready to do it, they just don’t know when exactly. Then again, when you’re living under occupation; you don’t have to wait too long for a catalyst to bring out your “inner terrorist”.

One day after Omar climbed down the Wall again, after his secret date with Nadia, he was stopped by a bunch of soldiers, bored and in desperate need to demonstrate their fake superiority and new guns. So they stop Omar, after they make sure he has no weapons or bombs on him, they tell him to go stand on a rock with his hands on his head. Hours pass by; they play around with their guns, sing, and talk; while Omar is still on his feet with his hands on his head. After he’s fed up with this, he goes to confront them only to get hit in the face with the rifle and end up standing on the rock, but this time standing on one leg instead of two with a bleeding nose and tremendous pain and indignity.

Then it’s decided. The next day Omar informs Tariq and Amjad; it’s time. Tariq asks Omar, “Why the sudden rush to do it now?” Omar replies, “One more day without going through with it, is another day under occupation”. With his brief answer, he summarized our entire existence as Palestinians, and the core of our struggle. You either do something to change your gloomy reality, or you don't get to complain about it. 

So they steal a car, go to an Israeli checkpoint and after some hesitation, Amjad pulls the trigger and we have a dead Israeli soldier on our hands; and from that moment the life they once knew will never be the same again. 

After a few days, undercover Israeli agents catch Omar. So once again the scene shifts and this time we’re in one of the dark gloomy Israeli interrogation rooms. This is the room where they torture you till you wish you’ve never existed, and it doesn’t matter if you break down or hold still, you’ll never leave this room as the same person you used to be.

We used to hear stories about this room, how they torture Palestinians, whether these Palestinians, usually minors, actually did something, or they were suspected or they simply knew the people who were suspected … etc. I had an uncle who went into these rooms twice, and he was sitting amongst the audience with me while watching this scene. I couldn’t look at him, because I knew if I did I’d have to see the agony –I’m only using this for lack of words- he must've gone through when he was 14 years old. He never talks about it, but once I heard him say, “It’s a ghost that haunts you every single day for the rest of your life”.

And this is what happened to Omar.

He’s been tortured, humiliated, and dehumanized to the fullest, but to a Palestinian that’s okay- to some extent. If you truly want a Palestinian to fall apart, ask him\her to collaborate with the Israeli Intelligence Forces. That was a breaking point for Omar and the film itself. The Israeli Intelligence Agent, Rami, who’s fluent in Arabic; addresses Omar in this friendly manner. Saying bullshit like, “If you collaborate with us, we’ll help you get what you want”. For Omar, it was clear what he wanted; Nadia.

So Rami, comes off as this nice Israeli dude who only wants Omar and Nadia to be together, if Omar could bring them who shot the Israeli soldier; because they know it was not him. They wanted Tariq. At first, of course Omar refuses, then after a session with his lawyer he realizes there’s no way out but collaborating. He’s been sentenced for 90 lifetimes in prison, when he asks his lawyer, “Is there a way out?” she responds,” as long as there’s occupation, no”.  

Then his mind was set. He’s going to outsmart them, yes he is. He’s going to leave prison, he won’t turn in his friends, and he’ll get Nadia and run away somewhere. It was clear in his head; little did he know it was ONLY in his head.

They set him free with the promise to keep him safe and secure if he brings in Tariq. This is as far as I’m going in spoiling the film. The rest is much more complicated to put in few words.

The brilliancy behind this film is how, with some fictional elements, it was able to capture the day-to-day Palestinian reality. It was scary, intense, and real. The pain embedded and shown in the film was real.

It had a lot of powerful scenes, but there was this particular one that made me hate the minute I was born as a Palestinian. It was some 2 or 3 years after the friends drifted apart, and then Rami showed up again; asking Omar for another “favor” or they will never leave him alone which shows that THEY NEVER LEAVE YOU ALONE. So once again Omar is standing in front of the cement Wall in order to climb it, but he can’t anymore.

 He broke down.

It wasn’t the torture in Israeli prisons that broke him down, it wasn’t having to become a collaborator, it wasn’t losing the love of his life and his best friends; it was all combined. This is the intensity of the Palestinian life we’ve talked about, and how it came tumbling down when he fell while trying to climb the wall.  

At that moment, I started thinking; in what world would this happen? And what kind of world is this? Most people fall in love, work hard to gather some money to support a decent life, get married, have children, travel the world, get their Masters degree….etc. They don’t climb over walls to get to their loved ones, they don’t plan to kill, and they don’t get tortured at prisons …, and normal girls won’t have guys like Omar to be their prince-charming.

Yes, guys like Omar are our “type”. Not because he’s handsome and tough. No.

It’s because he represents everything Palestinian we desire. He’s not silent about occupation. They built a wall, he climbed it. They created a checkpoint with soldiers, he killed them. They wanted him to become a collaborator and turn  in his friends, he went against them and lost everything to not turn them in. 

I’m not saying I want a guy who climbs walls and shoots soldiers, that’s superficial to assume. But what I’m saying is, if we ever decided to be with someone he has to be someone who completely went through the Palestinian “experience” without being passive; someone who is still not used to checkpoints, Apartheid Wall, house demolitions ... etc. In short, someone who’s not used to life under occupation and will never be.

So if he’s a guy who lived through all of this, and didn’t give up; what more can we ask for? And yet how pathetic is this?
Omar as a character, which is so real, could be looked at as a terrorist, as backward, as a threat, as someone who doesn’t deserve to live. But whoever says so, doesn’t even know half of it.

Maybe it’s awful that young guys like these had to kill a soldier, but what’s even worse is the circumstances that lead them to do so; which most people seem to forget and neglect, focusing on the result instead of what has lead to it.

In the end, “Omar” takes us on a journey of love, resistance, friendship, treason, defeat, and freedom. And it is probably the only Palestinian film, so far, to reflect the situation as it is. If you haven’t watched it yet, MAKE SURE YOU DO!!!!

Much respect to the cast, the director, and everyone who took part in it.

"A critique of the film will be up soon, after all it's not perfect"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gideon Levy ... I'm disappointed!

Mr. Gideon Levy … I’m disappointed.

What happened on Tuesday in a discussion between the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker about the “One-State Solution”; proved to me how naive I am.

On Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. in one of the American Colony Hotel meeting rooms (this hotel really needs to change its name to anything other than the word “colony”!); an event by the Bookshop of the hotel has been held.

Ha'aretz Journalist Gideon Levy joined Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker to discuss the “One-State Solution”; is it possible or impossible? And what other options do we have?
 Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker started off by explaining how this whole “Two-State” or “One-State” solution came about; it all started with the Oslo Accords.  With these agreements, the Two-State Solution (illusion) has been represented and these agreements have been signed in order to reach this solution; but alas, all in vain.

Ever since 1967 till this very day, instead of implementing what the PLO and Israel have agreed upon; which will basically give the Palestinians in the end the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem; Israel has done the complete opposite.

For over 20 years (since the Oslo Accords) Israel never stopped its settlements colonial movement, or the continuous theft of natural recourses and land in the Occupied Territories, or racist procedures against Palestinians in comparison to Israelis, whether it was the Separation\Annexation\Apartheid Wall, checkpoints (hellpoints), house demolitions and so on. So with circumstances like these –according to Dr. al-Aker- it’s impossible to implement the two-state solution, therefore maybe we should work more towards a one-state solution with federal government and a bi-national state.

Then it was Mr. Levy’s turn, he made several important points as well. He pointed out that as long as Israel keeps going with this “Occupation” system it’s been following for years; it’s completely eliminating the two-state solution and causing serious damage to “peace negotiations”. He also kept emphasizing the 1967 occupation and how it’s breaking international law and so on, and that it’s really difficult to go beyond the 1967 borders and that we can’t really go back to what happened in 1948 (Palestinian Nakba\Catastrophe).

These are bits and pieces of what has been discussed, what I got out of everything they’ve said was the following:
1.     Mr. al-Aker is a federal one-state solution advocate, while Mr. Levy is a two-state advocate if Israel stops its occupation of Palestinian land in 1967.
2.     1948 Nakba is not something we should go back to, it’s too late (according to Mr. Levy).
3.     The Oslo Accords are a huge part of why we’re in this situation today; since it was built on false terms. The refugee case was delayed, Jerusalem case was delayed, and boundaries were delayed… etc. “Palestinian State”, self-determination, and compensations weren't even mentioned. So what state are we going to create exactly under terms like these?

Of course listening to every single word they've said, I had tons of questions to ask but had to minimize them since a lot of people wanted to ask questions as well. So when my turn came to ask, I asked the following:

1.     As to the two-state solution, Dr. al-Aker kept repeating several times how impossible it is right now; especially under such circumstances. But my question was, how realistic was it in the first place? And bear with me here, maybe I have no depth in my vision into the future but this is what I’m thinking; when looking at the map you can clearly see that the Gaza Strip is on one side of the country, the West Bank on the other, and East Jerusalem –which is cut in half between the West Bank and what is now called Israel; noting that East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem are ONE CITY! So with this vision in mind, how realistic is this solution? Let’s say it happened, if I wanted to get from East Jerusalem in Palestine to West Jerusalem in Israel am I going to need a travel visa?

2.     My second question was about the One-state solution. I’m one of the people who advocate the one-state solution, of course as a kid the one-state to me was a Palestinian state but now I know this is much more difficult than I dreamed of as a kid. But one of the issues related to the one-state solution is the question of the Jewish identity. We all know that what defines Israel is its Jewish identity; after all it does introduce itself to the world as the Jewish homeland, and as the Jewish-Democratic State. So how will Israel deal with that when it comes to a one state?

3.     My third question was about the word “occupation”. Mr. Levy used the word occupation several times in his speech, my question or request of him was to clarify which occupation exactly, 1948 occupation or 1967? Because as a Palestinian who’s reading history and trying to learn as much as possible about everything that has happened since 1948, the way I see it, both 1948 and 1967 fall under the “occupation” category. Back in 1948 it was ethnic cleansing and genocides and the same thing happened in 1967; which is still happening till this very day; a little bit more sophisticated though. So we shouldn't forget about 1948, if we want to go anywhere hopeful in the future and do change the situation ;we should start from 1948.

So after the questions, time for answers has come, and boy was I disappointed. Mr. Levy started answering the questions:

-         When it came to the Jewish Identity question, he said he didn't quite understand what I meant. What does it really mean for Israel to have a Jewish character? Most Israelis don’t even know what it’s like to even be Jewish. They keep repeating the words “Israel is Jewish and Democratic” but they don’t quite understand it, so what emphasis will that have on Israel? Not much.

-         As to my question about 1948, he said that of course 1948 is not to be forgotten; even though it’s not that simple in Israel. If you call 1948 “Nakba” and not “Independence War” it’s a crime in Israel; so it’s better to stick to 1967.  He added, “1967 is the best bargain Palestinians could ever get or dream of.”

-         His answer to my first question that I've asked about how realistic the two-state solution was, that yes it wasn't really the most convenient solution but it’s the best solution. They can connect the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with a bridge or something, it could happen.

As to Dr. al-Aker – it’s official after this discussion I’m in love with this man- he almost agreed with me on everything; which I highly appreciated. Some of the things he said:
-         were reinforcing the importance of going back to 1948, which was completely missing in the Oslo Accords. He added, that it’s true 1967 is basically the same continuous process that’s been going on since 1948. An on-going Nakba. 

-         As to the two-state solution, he believes that it was a huge mistake to suggest in the first place. Yasser Arafat realized his mistake and when he tried to fix it years later, he was murdered. So yes, the two-state solution is not a solution from the very beginning, but they couldn't see it at the time.

Okay after pointing out what both speakers said, allow me say a couple of things in response since I didn't get any extra time to discuss the answers with them.

As to Mr. Levy, again, I’m utterly disappointed with you.

 When I used to read articles for him in Ha'aretz, sometimes he would appear to me as a Palestinian (yes, I'm being dramatic here). I remember this one article about the possibility of a third Intifada, and he was more excited about having a Palestinian uprising than us ourselves! But with the answers he gave me, he simply reminded me of this Zionist professor that taught me at NYU. This professor was acting all "liberal" and nice, but in the end he was a pure Zionist who couldn't care less about Palestinians or their rights. 

About Mr. Levy’s answer to the Jewish Identity question I’d like to say: Are you freaking serious? The Jewish identity or character does not have big emphasis? Did you forget about the Law of Return of Israel; that allows Jews from anywhere around the world to come to “Israel”; obtain a citizenship and a nationality to come live in “Israel”; while Palestinian refugees can’t get neither because they are not Jewish!

Also, how about the fact that Palestinians in “Israel” or East Jerusalem have to pay for building permits in cash – which are really expensive- while Jews (especially settlers) can get loans for these permits and pay in several payments over the course of 30 years?

If a well-educated man like yourself thinks about Israel’s Jewish identity in this superficial manner, then we have a problem.

As to your genius solution to overcome the obstacles of the two-state solution.
“Build a bridge between the West Bank and Gaza”, seriously? I used to hear a lot of people say that, like my Zionist professor, that we should build a bridge between them; but think about it? Is this a real solution? Whenever I heard this I thought people were making jokes about it, turns out they’re dead serious like Mr. Levy. With all due respect, I’m 21 and you’re 60 years old, don’t you think this is a bit too childish? Or too naive? This solution should come from someone my age, with no experience in life or depth, not a well-educated and experienced man like yourself.

Now hearing all of this was a bit of a shock to me, since I expected more of him but what made me want to jump off of a building was this statement: “1967 is the best bargain Palestinians could ever get.”

Mr. Levy, how dare you? I got to say, it always surprises me how Israelis dare suggest this in the first place. First of all, you’re not the one who have been ethnically cleansed and murdered over the course of 65 years, so if anyone wants to move on past 1948; it’s Palestinians’ decision not Israel’s. Second of all, NO! 1967 is not our best bargain, its Israel’s best bargain to keep Palestinians silenced about what happened in 1948, no less no more. Not a one-state solution or two-state nonsense will ever be achievable if Israel will not recognize the crimes it has committed against Palestinians in order to implement sanctions over these crimes. In addition, to compensations paid by Israel to Palestinians (whether physical compensations or moral).

Jews got their compensations from Germany for the crime of Holocaust, and they’re still getting paid till this very day. Why is it easy for them to ask for their rights and at the same time deny Palestinians the same legitimate requests?

So in the end I went back home disappointed with Mr. Levy, who I've been interested in meeting and talking to. His speech might've had some good points, but his answers to the questions were – as one guy has told me after the discussion- weren't really answers, because he barely answered them in the first place.

Who are Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker and Mr. Gideon Levy?
- Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker: is a Palestinian urologist, studied in Cairo and was a member of the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation at the Washington-Madrid talks. For the past ten years, he has been the general commissioner of the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights.

- Mr. Gideon Levy: is an Israeli journalist who writes opinion pieces and a weekly column for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that often focus on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

From Boston to Bethlehem: Reflections on the "Jewish Homeland"

It's been a while since I last posted anything! But to be honest, I kind of feel guilty every time I want to write something about what's happening here; while in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and many other places surrounding us it's really awful and the conditions are much worse than here! Compared to all of them, Palestine is a much better place to be at the moment; as one of my friends put it; "we know things are bad in the Middle East when Palestine is one of the safest places to be." But yesterday another one of my friends posted something on his facebook page that was really powerful to me. He's come to Palestine just recently from the United States, and he's going to be staying here for a while living and working in Bethlehem. 

I don't want to give any comments or anything on the complexity of what he's written, I'd rather people read it and just think about it by themselves. Here it goes:

"Perhaps one of the most terrifying things for me while traveling around Palestine is realizing how many American Jews come to this land and believe that Israel and what Israel is doing somehow makes them feel closer to their Jewish identity.

The violence that surrounds me sickens me so much, particularly because I recognize as an American how complicit I am, and how many of my fellow Americans spend their lives supporting these horrors…

Down the street from my apartment in Bethlehem, a Palestinian city cut apart by an Israeli wall, there is the holy site of Rachel’s Tomb. The Tomb sits inside the city of Bethlehem but the Israelis built a wall on three sides to make it inaccessible to the Palestinians living beside it but accessible to machine gun-toting Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn. Just beside the Tomb’s Israeli walls are Aida and Azza refugee camps, full of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homes by Israel in 1948, prevented from ever seeing their homeland by Israeli laws which allow Jews from anywhere on Earth to move to Israel subsidized, but prevent Palestinians born there from ever going home. On the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road, some of the refugees’ old homes and mosques are visible along the side of the highway, but most Israelis call them “ancient, Arab-built ruins.”

In the Old City of Hebron, fences have been placed above the streets to prevent 500 Orthodox Jewish settlers who have taken over the second stories of Palestinian houses (with IDF support) from throwing trash down on the residents who have stayed. They still throw trash, which collects on the fence above as a visible reminder, and now they sometimes pee on Palestinians as well, as they know their piss will fall through the fence and hit Palestinians as they walk. At the tomb of Abraham, surrounded by dancing Orthodox Jews with American accents and Israeli soldiers who demand to know your religion before deciding whether you can pass, a visiting Latin American Orthodox tourist beside me laments that part of the tomb is still accessible to Muslims on the other side.

I travel from Bethlehem to Ramallah, taking a road that carefully avoids Jerusalem and Israeli settlements (off-limits to almost all Palestinians) by going South, East, North, and then finally West in order to reach a destination immediately North of us. Along the road sit white Jewish settlers, toting machine guns and waiting for their buses into Jerusalem. Sometimes the Palestinian roads are closed by the IDF inexplicably or for Jewish holidays or at odd hours, stranding Palestinians miles away from home, while the Jewish-only roads that bypass the West Bank remain open for use.

And on Rivlin street in Jerusalem, young American Jews drink the night away, ecstatic at the chance to reconnect with a land they start to call “home,” and to buy “Israeli Defense Forces” shirts for friends back home, apparently happy about (or at least, not giving much of a shit about) the violence that makes life a living hell for the millions of Palestinians all around them…"

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Clarification + Confession Time!

In my very first blog entry, I talked about how easy life was abroad (in the U.S.) and how free life was of the daily humiliation we face here in Palestine due to the Israeli Occupation -well, I wasn't completely honest. I had my share of humiliation and self-loathing half-way across the world as well. 

So, confession time!!!

The reason I was able to go to New York and study at NYU for a whole semester is how my journey to self-loathing and humiliation started in the U.S., but I won't get into that now. This story would need it's own blog to get to the bottom of it. 

BUT, after I was already there walking around New York City streets. Enjoying Mocha's at its Coffee Shops, not missing one bookstore that I came across ... and so on; the self-loathing and feelings of humiliation had to disappear somehow, and they did. 

You see, for any Palestinian (or at least most of us) to be able to enjoy our stay at the U.S. we have to completely disconnect ourselves of the reality we're in at that moment, to live in complete denial. I had to keep telling myself that I have to forget the fact that I'm currently staying at the country that has Israel's back. 
The country who's the main source of weaponry and military equipment to Israel. The country that doesn't even recognize Palestine as a country, merely as a nation! Technically as a Palestinian, I don't even exist to the U.S.!

So let's go again. Life was easy and free of humiliation; only in contrast to life under the Israeli Occupation. Meaning that, it was nice to live for four months without checkpoints. Or having to witness someone's house get demolished because the Israeli government would rather give building permits to Jews who came from all across Europe over Arab Palestinians who were already living there, and hence get their houses demolished. Or have a cultural Palestinian event in Jerusalem get shut down by the Israeli Government because to them it's a threat to "security". Or not to get arrested for raising the Palestinian flag or having a lecture about the current racist policies applied by the Israeli government over Palestinians. Or not being able to see your favorite Hiphop Band because most of the time they're not allowed to perform in Jerusalem. 

I mean, I had the chance to address a huge number of students about the current situation in Palestine under the racist israeli occupation, a chance I would've never had back home. I even got to see DAM (favorite Palestinian Hiphop band) at a concert live, that for sure never happened back home. Hell, for a change I got the chance to talk about the Apartheid\Annexation\Separation Wall and not have to actually feel its physical presence when looking through my bedroom window. 

Therefore, in order to be able to enjoy the luxuries I don't get to have back home I had to completely forget where I truly was. For instance I had to completely deny the fact that part of the money I spent on mocha's at Dunken Donuts went (as part of taxes) to the Jewish National Fund and U.S. military; both of which are destroying lives back home every single day. Back then, I won't lie, I did enjoy most of my time there but now that I'm back home, it's something I have to live with every single day! 

While being there a friend of mine and I would joke around and say, "Before coming here we had " half dignities" (you can guess why by now), but after coming here with this program (which we'll discuss later) we no longer have any dignity left in us". We were joking then, but now it couldn't have been more real.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

The "Settlement" across the street

This is written by a very close friend of mine. She lives extremely close to Beit El , not a pleasant sight for the eye or the heart. This is written by Ruba Bakeer, enjoy. 

"My grandfather’s house’s yard, some plastic chairs, some colorful lights, and the trees around us; this was the most beautiful hall for a family “Henna” party yesterday (kind of like a Palestinian Conservative Bachelorette Party). With all the joy and happiness, a moment of reflection made its way to the depths of my mind, and the thought, to be honest, drew a smile on my face.

Just across the street, and a couple empty pieces of land, there stands one of the biggest Israeli settlements in our country. In the settlement just across the street, I thought, there lays a whole different world.

I don’t really think there is going to be a war in the region. However, the next two days would either confirm my thoughts, or I’d be watching rockets and planes from our veranda. So if you’re not acquainted with the subject, it is just that in the next few days a third world war might pop up; with America, seeking for world peace as it always is, threatening to bomb  Syria; and other countries, divided as allies or enemies are threatening each other as well. Whether there is going to be a war or not, the probability of it has some consequences, at least for some.

In my grandfather’s house, we were having a “Henna” for my cousin. In the settlement just across the street, Israelis were hurrying to get chemo masks and food supplies, as we saw pictures and heard news. Probably, they were learning about shelters and procedures to be made in the case of a war. In the settlement just across the street, they were preparing themselves for a possible death. Us on the other side, were just celebrating life."

 To have a clue, in case you don't, about what Ruba is talking about read this article

Monday, August 26, 2013

From Qalandia Refugee Camp to Palestinian Diaspora: "Stay there!"

It's the 26th of August. The weather has been burning hot for the last couple of weeks, but not this morning. This morning couldn't have been colder. Three murdered in addition to over 15 injured during a raid by the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) at Qalandia Refugee Camp this morning (

I'm not related to any of them  nor do I know them, still when you hear one name after the other being announced through mosques' minarets you can't help but feel as if something has died within you. Our house is a couple of kilometers away from the camp, even through the distance you can still hear their mothers' wailing and crying, it's not a sound easily erased or ignored.

As custom rule it, these 3 young lives are martyrs now. Some might say they died for their country and freedom, others will glorify them and call them heroes, but in reality all that has happened was three young -once full of life, dreams and promises- men have been murdered by a bunch of 18 and 19 year-old (IOF) with guns too heavy to hold or even handle.

So people can turn them into Gods or Angels, glorify them as much as their hearts wish to .. yet that won't change the fact that they're gone for good, leaving widows behind them,  sons and daughters, mothers and fathers ... and the list goes on and on.

Witnessing these frequent events makes one think of other Palestinian refugees living in Diaspora, not the ones in refugee camps. No, but the ones living in the United States  attending Harvard, or the ones raised in London. These Palestinians which most of them are part of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) or activists outside of this organization working for Palestine. Spreading awareness, raising funds, writing books .. etc. These Palestinians were raised on stories told by their grandmothers, grandfathers, and parents about Palestine. About Orange and Lemon trees that surrounded their houses in Yaffa, or the morning's aroma that sneaks up on you while sitting on the house's balcony in Akka and how they've lost all of that because of the 1948 war = Nakba, and the dream of return and how they'd fight till the last day of their lives to make that dream come true.

To them I say, "Don't". Don't come back, yes keep fighting for the dream. Continue to preach about Palestine, the Apartheid Wall, Palestinian Refugee Camps and how awful the living situations there are, hellpoint (aka checkpoints), racist policies by the Israeli government, settlements and outposts, house demolitions .. etc. Continue to do all of that, but don't come back.

Palestine no longer exists. Your grandparents' house you've always heard stories about is now inhabited by Israeli immigrants who are allowed to live there while you -as a non Jewish person and Palestinian- aren't. Even the neighborhood where your family's house used to be, the neighborhood that had an Arabic Palestinian name once, it's probably called now something like Yahood (a neighborhood in Yafa that used to be called Abbasiyah). You won't find people there speaking Arabic, maybe one or two but the rest will speak in Hebrew.

You might think it's hard living away from home, or tolerating this injustice of having your family and country's history be erased like that, but in reality.. you have no idea how blessed you are.

You can write your books, speak at conferences, join the BDS campaign, hold events .., you can even come visit here, visit Palestine (West Bank, Gaza, Palestine 1948) and go abroad to share your experience but that's about it! You won't have to deal with soldiers at hellpoints on daily basis. You won't have to bury a 19-year-old for being shot by an Israeli soldier. You won't have to see your neighbor's house get demolished and do nothing. You won't have your university colleagues getting arrested for raising the Palestine flag and calling for a "Free Free Palestine". You won't get hit by the israeli soldiers or the PA security for participating in demonstrations against the useless negotiations. It won't take you a week of planning just so you can visit a friend on the other side of the Apartheid Wall. You won't deal with settlers attacks ...

Yes you might go through that when you visit, but at the end of that trip you have a safe place to go back to. No Israeli soldiers, helicopters, hellpoints, daily humiliation, house demolitions, get shot and drop dead in a second, get suffocated with a gas canister .. etc. No, only Palestinians living in Palestine get to have these "luxuries". You talk about it, we live it! So it might be easy for you to say yes we will return, yes we'll end the occupation but the truth is far away from that.

So again go ahead, make your promises .. write your poems .. raise the Palestinian flag and chant "Long Live Palestine" .. go across the U.S. and the U.K. and the whole world, spread the word .. but don't come here, because you won't stand it, tolerate it, or last long enough to talk about it. The dream you have will die within a week of staying here. You can fight across the distance for Palestine, but up close you simply die, the three dead men are an example of that.

Therefore, listen to a fellow Palestinian. In order to keep your dream and yourself alive; stay there.