Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From a hillside in Brooklyn

I read in the Guardian today ('Israel rushes to withdraw troops', January 19th, 2009) that one house in Gaza, which had been used as an Israeli base during their invasion, had the words 'Arabs need to die' and 'Arabs: 1948-2009' scrawled on the walls. And I read during the invasion that some Israelis would go sit on the hills surrounding Northern Gaza to watch, even some to cheer on. If it was Ariel Sharon that was the Butcher of Beirut, his successor Olmert, with Livni and Barak, have become the Butcher(s) of Gaza.

My girlfriend and I sat in our apartment, like many around the world, and watched in horror as the Israeli campaign unfolded. I wondered, as we checked the news with great fervor, if it must not break her heart to see such things in Palestine in 2009, as her father was of the many Palestinians expelled during the Nakba. 1948-2009, history repeats itself and grows crueler with every day. But there was no expulsion this time, there was nowhere to go. Just more killing. Me, I'm a foreigner there, at least as I liked to tell myself during my time in Palestine and even now. I have my emotions, my morality, my knowledge, what else do I have? I ask myself this question every day, I know in part to protect myself.

Like those Israelis sitting on the hills, I too have watched the slaughter from a distance, albeit for different reasons and with different reactions. But as their government is carrying it out behind Gaza's walls, my government has armed their government to the teeth and stood by with quiet approval. I paid for a piece of those guns, those missiles, those fighter jets, those helicopters, that white phosphorous. Willingly or not, I'm less of a foreigner to the conflict than I like to believe.

I know, I know, people will say it's just privileged guilt. No, it's rage, sorrow and shame.

Ian Maley, American
Brooklyn, NY

Saturday, January 17, 2009

We WON'T be victimized: An attack too close to home

I thought I was dreaming, or still hearing explosions. After all I'd only been asleep for an hour and a half, and it wasn't far fetched that the tanks may be firing from outside our front door. Wednesday night into Thursday morning had seen the most intense bombardment of Gaza city so far, and last I'd heard before drifting off was that the Israeli forces had advanced as far as the end of our streets, into the Tel al Hawa neighborhood. They'd already seized buildings there, so what's to prevent them from making their way a little further in.

I wandered, as reality began to come into focus, who it was banging on my bedroom door, and even before regaining full consciousness, made my way out to the living room. The house was in disarray, my family and my relatives ran back and forth collecting things, putting things on, carrying things. It was about 8:00 am

My cousin, who works as a Cameraman, and whom I haven't seen since the attacks began was standing at the door. "I have an armored press vehicle downstairs" he said, as I glanced at him questioningly. He was wearing a PRESS vest and helmet "You have two minutes, I'm here to take you all away".

I got ready before asking any more questions, and we all left the apartment, not having time to lock the doors. Most of the residents had already left and a few were gathered at the inside entrance of the building. As we approached them we were asked to stay there for a few moments by the doorman, during which I learned why we had to evacuate immediately.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Headquarters, right across the streets, had received notification from the Israeli military that it would be bombed within the hour. This was unprecedented, but our shock had to be put on hold. The buildings surrounding the headquarters, including mine, had also received a warning. They would all be targeted 20 minutes later.

We finally got the ok to cross the street to the car. We ran one at a time and got in, and were off. My cousin drove frantically. We didn't know where we were going but we had to move out of the area. We began hearing the bombs fall behind us, and we kept moving forward. The car shook left and right, maybe it was the explosions, maybe the speeding, I didn’t know, and all I could think about was my home.

We decided to go to the house of distant relatives, we didn't know them very well but at a time like this every home in Gaza is open to relatives and strangers alike. We got to their door and my cousin drove off to take care of other relatives.

Shortly afterwards we heard that the top floors of my building and neighboring buildings had been struck by missiles. We were relieved that they hadn't been big enough to cause damage to the rest of the building, and we guessed that at worst, the damage to our home might be confined to broken windows and debris entering through the openings (the ceiling and some walls had cracked too). Later we heard that the UNRWA complex had been bombed. The entire supply of diesel had caught fire, which lead to the explosion of parts of the building. We were about a mile away and we could see the massive thick black cloud rising into the air.

We spent the night trying to get information on the whereabouts of my brother, whose home was raided by Israeli troops. He had been detained and his wife was left at home with Israeli soldiers pointing their rifles at her head till late in the evening. When she finally called us after the soldiers left she was frantic with worry. It wasn't until the next morning, Friday, at six am that we were relieved of our fear for him. The Israeli soldiers had held him all night, blindfolded and handcuffed in the cold, and interrogated him, along with 5 other men. My brother and 2 of them were finally released. The other two were transferred to a yet unknown location and my brother was able to find his way out of the closed off military zone, his neighborhood.

We returned to our apartment today, Friday morning. We weren't deterred by warnings that our area was still not safe. We weren’t hindered by reports that after retreating, Israeli forces had once more advanced into the area at the end of our streets. It was a unanimous decision by all of us, and we would let nothing drive us out of our home, victimize us, debase and displace us ever again. It was too personal an attack and we had to draw the line even if it was with our own blood. Arriving at the entrance we saw many of our neighbors pulling up in cars and walking in with their children. We all looked at each other, smiling, embracing, knowing, and experiencing emotions of elation, solidarity and pride.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

First Person: Living in Gaza, Under Starlight and Bomb Blasts

As big sister, I accompany two of my five younger siblings to the roof of our 14-story building. We head up there whenever we can, even if people say it makes us easy targets. We climb 13 floors of stairs just to stand and look out on Gaza and breathe in 15 minutes of air before we duck inside again. "Burning City," the children call it. Columns of smoke rise from various locations in the distance changing the color of the sky and the sun. The entire landscape is transformed. We can make out the locations of several of the many public, residential and landmark buildings that have been turned to piles of rubble. Israeli tanks now block the roads where we used to drive along the coast. Dark, ominous warships look out of place so close to our beautiful Gaza shore, which had been one of the only escapes and source of relaxation for the besieged people of the Gaza Strip. Earthen barriers have risen in the Zatoun area, cutting off the densely populated, heavily bombarded neighborhood from the rest of the city.

Our entire lives is now one long chaotic stream of existence: waiting in line each morning to fill up containers with water from the only working tap on the ground floor of our building, baking homemade bread from the depleting supply of flour we managed to obtain a few days into the offensive, turning on the power generator for 30 to 50 minutes in the evening to charge phones and watch the news. Meanwhile, the constant in our lives has become the voice of the reporter on the small transistor radio giving reports every few seconds of the location and resulting losses from the explosion we just heard, or other attacks farther off on the Strip. This is not to mention the relentless sound of one or more of the Israeli Apache helicopters, F-16's or drones flying overhead. (See pictures of Israel's deadly assault on Gaza.)

On Friday, while we gathered around for dinner, we heard an explosion that shook our building more violently than any we have experienced so far. The panic and frenzy caused tempers to flare within seconds as each of my siblings argued about what we should do. Leaving the building might be dangerous, but remaining inside could be equally hazardous if the building was being hit by missiles.

People on the outside shouting and banging on our door (we are on the first floor) confirmed that the building had indeed been hit. Within moments we had thrown on jackets and shoes, grabbed a previously prepared file containing our official documents and left our home. We ran across the street, gathering with the other residents in front of the gate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters. Young wide-eyed children, wailing infants, men and women stood begging the guard to open the gate and allow them to take cover inside. The guard refused. "Go to the UNRWA shelters", he shouted, "there's one 10 minutes away." We all knew that those shelters weren't safe, that 48 people have already been killed in them.

We found out what happened as an ambulance pulled up to the curb. "It was just a small rocket," someone said. "There was just one injury, a small boy on the 12th floor, a block from the wall fell on his back, the rocket came through the window. Small rocket. Everyone can go back to their apartments."

It was a paradoxical sense of relief that came upon us yet everyone, including the injured boy's family, was thankful that the off-target rocket was not a forewarning of another larger strike. Thousands of other families in Gaza have already been subjected to the horrors of destruction and displacement. We have seen the results of the vicious slaughter of scores of children after the Israelis hit the United Nations school where they had sought refuge. A few broken bones are far better than having skulls smashed or chests torn open. That's how we see it. That's our logic. (See pictures of heartbreak in the Middle East.)

We are now unable to distinguish joy from fear. My 11-year old sister laughs as she imagines how people all over the world watch the horrific events taking place in the Gaza Strip. "Its like we are a scary movie. I'm sure people eat popcorn as they watch," she says. My 12- and 14-year old brothers act out scenes from our reality while quoting Metal Gear Solid 4 and Guns of Patriots, their favorite video game, and we laugh hysterically at their performance. Moments later we tense up at the sound of a violent, close by earthquake-like explosion, and resume our laughter when the building stops shaking.

Before returning to our building, I couldn't help but stare at it for a moment and think that our homes might not always be safe places. But, still, they give us a sense of warmth, security and protection that are worth fighting for til the very end. I also couldn't help staring at the sky. The stars were beautiful and seemed to shine brighter than ever. I could make out several constellations and I counted five Israeli warplanes.

Safa Joudeh
Gaza, Palestine

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Fifth Day

This is the fifth day of the Israeli military operation on Gaza called 'Cast Lead'. Horror and destruction is everywhere. There are things that are not well reported in the news, feelings!! I have three children, a daughter Nour who is 14, a son Adam who is 9 and another son Ali who is 3. We live in an area in Gaza city that used to be described 'safe'. Nowhere is safe anymore. My children cannot sleep and I cannot help them. The feelings of helplessness and guilt (which always accompanies your inability to protect or at least comfort your children) are stronger than those of fear and horror. My daughter was telling a journalist on the phone yesterday that she had never got the real support she sought from me whenever there was a shelling. I was shocked!! I felt so guilty because my daughter felt my fears. But is it not normal to be scared after all?! Adam is asthmatic and he uses a ventilator. Due to the stress and the pollution resulting from rubbles, he is getting more frequent asthma attacks and there is no electricity for his ventilator. Each time he has an attack, we have to put the generator on for him and then put it off. There is no enough fuel to keep the generator on and we have no idea till when this is going to continue. Ali has no idea what this is all about. All what he does is scream in fear whenever there is a bombing and when it is over, he uses his imagination to tell stories about 'qasef - bombing'. The kids do not sleep. We spend our days and nights in one single room with my sister in law and her daughter. You feel the stress and fear. You can see it on everyone's face.
Last night I was thinking about all this. I do not want anyone of my family to get hurt and I thought if anything should happen, I pray it happens to me and not my kids. Then I thought I do not want my kids to see me torn into pieces. The scenes on tv of people killed are so terrifying and I know what it means for children to see such thing. What I really want is for all this to end and for me and my kids to live just like anyone else in the world. I want to get rid of the feeling of guilt towards my kids. Was I mistaken to have kids in the first place? Do not I have the right to be a mother? But am I really doing a good mother's 'job' in being the source of comfort for my kids. I know it is not my fault but I knew also that I live in Gaza and Gaza has never been a healthy environment to raise children. Was I that selfish to think about my own feeling to want to be a mother and ignoring my expected failure to protect my kids?
Nirmeen Kharma Elsarraj, Palestinian

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Aerosol Arabic - Free Gaza Graffiti Mural in Birmingham

Please checkout this video!

Aerosol Arabic - Free Gaza Graffiti Mural in Birmingham

Submitted by Muna Shami
Washington, DC

The Narcicyst Feat.Shadia Mansour

The Narcicyst Featuring Shadia Mansour-Hamdulilah _Gaza Remix_.mp3

I Remain

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the wind. I thought what was this beautiful being that was so strongly able to be felt, but never seen. She traveled countries, knew nothing of borders, blockades, visas. She saw all the wonders of the world, carried smiling faces, cries of newborn babies, joy, happiness, childish giggles and jokes. She attended everyone's weddings and tasted every pie on every counter top. She delivered the kisses of loved ones and the dreams of all.

But today she mourns- she carries screams of horror. She yells in my ears and awakens every earthly being dead or alive. She has called upon the sun to dim her rays and the clouds to join her in mourning. She beckons the leaves, the grass and every organism in existence to shout and they reply. The people run inside, shut their windows, they can not understand why the earth is yelling- why she is crying. It is just too loud to handle. Too real to fathom. But even inside, the wind pounds on their doors and shatters their windows.

She Yells, أنا قوية, و مستمرة
انا صامدة , ماكنة مثل الحديد.
أبقى حتى توقظ.


As she continues to voice her fury upon the coma state of the world, a putrid smell of blood and tears rips through your nasal passages. While the world paces indoors in fear and confusion, I join my friend the wind outside, dressed in black and with nothing more than a kaffiya made of honor and anger to keep me warm. Despite the ear piercing screams of the earth, I sit and stay, because today she is the only one who understands.

Hebatullah Issa