Yesterday my friend in Deheishe refugee camp decided that we should call Palestinian refugee camps–or indeed perhaps all refugee camps around the world–the Fifth World. He imagined that if we call the global south the “third world” then perhaps the conditions here should be emphasized in this way. His comment came after I was sharing with my friends here that of the students I have gotten to know this week not one of them has ever been in a refugee camp here. One of my other friends talked about being a student at Bethlehem University where some of her peers not only had never been to a refugee camp–they refused to ever even go to one in the future. It is disturbing to me this largely class-based thinking that helps to further the Zionist state’s colonial project. To me this is no difference than ideological battles between Hamas and Fatah.
I came down to Deheishe yesterday after classes with a friend of mine from the Old City of Nablus. He’s a filmmaker and we met in Deheishe a few years ago when he was working on a film about the children of the camp, their original, largely destroyed villages in 1948 Palestine, and their right to return to those villages. I went with him, and the kids from the camp, and a few other internationals that summer, two years ago, to their villages which was one of the most powerful days of my life. We met downtown in Nablus and as I waited for him I sat and talked with a group of men sitting on a street corner for a while–all three from different political parties (Hamas, PFLP, Fatah), all three fed up and exhausted by the toll Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) has taken on them. For whatever one may say about the divide and conquer tactics that the Zionist and American forces have used here in Palestine, which have been horrifyingly effective, in the end it is always the ITF that is the source of the problem (and, of course, the American tax dollars funding it all). We hopped in a service to Huwwara checkpoint where the men’s line had at least 200 people waiting, packed inside. The women’s line was small, however, and quick. I was expecting my friend Laith to call me for a radio interview on his program “Under the Olive Tree,” on Montreal’s CKUT at any minute so I thought maybe if he waited with the men and I ran through the women’s line by the time he got through I would be finished and we could leave. But he had a better idea: what if he came with me through the women’s line and pretended he was my translator? Maybe we could both get through quickly. So we tried it. And funnily enough Laith happened to call me the exact moment we were at the front of the line with the ITF female soldier checking our huwiyyas. I wasn’t even paying attention to what was going on, but amazingly, it was an historic day for my friend who managed to get through Huwarra in a record 2 minutes time. We got in a service to head to Deheishe and I finished the interview about the Free Gaza movement (you can listen to it here, I think). (And just one final word of critique about the Free Gaza movement and one more reason why I am opposed to normalization: now the international media has shifted its focus to the arrest of the Israeli who was on board the ship; nothing on the people of Gaza.) In the service we were with a student from my university, who is from the village of Halhul, near Khalil, where my friend Reem is from. Funnily enough this man’s brother lived in Columbus, Ohio with her brother for a time before my friend’s brother was married. I love what a small world it is here. This student is also friends with the Palestinians who were kidnapped the night before from my university’s student apartment building.
On the drive down here I started thinking a lot about Palestinian political prisoners. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that whenever the Zionist state releases prisoners, as it did this week on August 25th, there is an outpouring of international media coverage. But when the ITF comes into Palestinian refugee camps, villages, and cities and kidnaps more Palestinians EVERY SINGLE NIGHT we NEVER hear about this in the international media. This bothers me a great deal. And I started wondering: if we do not hear about this in the international media then we do not know, for instance, that I bet you that the ITF has already succeeded in kidnapping more than the 199 political prisoners they released. By the way, I reported last November when I was in Deheishe during the last political prisoner release that there were a few people from Deheishe who were released; now they are all in administrative detention once again. This is the usual revolving door between prison and release here for Palestinians. Especially for refugees. Here are some numbers and names for starters (beginning with the day they were released), but I’m going to contact Addameer and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Association on Sunday and see if I can get official statistics:
1. On the day that the political prisoners were released: “As of writing this report, 130 Palestinians have been taken prisoner In the month of August, alone and 313 in July.”
2. On Monday, August 25th, the day of the political prisoners’ release: “Troops searched and ransacked the house of Tareq Sarahne, 35 and left damages behind, local sources said. The Palestinian Prisoners Society reported that the Israeli military administration kidnapped Sarahne as he was detained he was summoned for an interview at an Israeli military administration headquarters.”
3. On Tuesday, August 26th: “Israeli forces on Tuesday afternoon stormed home of 34-year-old Hazim Qafishah in the West Bank city of Hebron and arrested him, according to a Palestinian security source.”
4. On Wednesday, August 27th in Jenin, Khalil, and Nablus: “Eyewitnesses reported that the Israeli soldiers took Tahseen Abu Ayesh, Sharif Adwan and Ibrahim Saraheen prisoner and led them to undisclosed location. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported Wednesday that the number of civilians imprisoned by Israeli troops during the month of August in Hebron stands at 48. In Nablus troops roamed the main roads of the city, searched and ransacked residents’ homes in nearby Balata and Askar refugee camps. Troops opened their gunfire and concussion grenades, no injuries were reported. In Jenin, Israeli troops accompanied by military vehicles invaded the city shooting in the air and randomly throwing concussion grenades in the streets. Troops also invaded nearby Jenin Refugee camp and other villages and searched residents homes, according to eyewitness reports. The eye witnesses also reported that troops broke into the residence of Abu Ali Aweis on Tuesday night. Soldiers seized the family members in one room and broke doors and windows of the house.”
5. On Thursday, August 28th: “An Israeli military force kidnapped six Palestinian civilians from the West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday at dawn, local sources reported. Troops invaded students’ dorms in the city and kidnapped Walid Sabane, Hikmat Jabar, Abd Allh Bsharat, Ahmad Fares, and Ala Jadan and Wael Bishrat . The soldiers took them to an undisclosed location after ransacking their dorms.”
6. On Thursday, August 28th: “Israeli forces seized a Palestinian man and raided a medical center early on Thursday in the West Bank city of Bethlehem city. Palestinian security sources said that an Israeli forces stormed the city and surrounded house of 35-year-old Ala Mohammad Hassan Breijiyyah, detained him, and damaged his house. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers stormed Al-Ehsan medical center in central Bethlehem city and searched the building. A separate group of Israeli soldiers invaded Ad-Duheisha refugee camp in the south of Bethlehem and raided the house of Ahmad Tawfiq Tayeh, and later withdrew without any arrests.”
7. On Thursday, August 28th: “The Israeli Police and the Internal Security Services announced that they arrested two Arab residents of Israel, residents of Shfa-Amr Arab town, and claimed that the two “conducted security violations”. The two were arrested more than three weeks ago but a gag order on the case barred any leaking of information to the media. The two were identified as Anis Safoury and Husam Khalil. Te police claims that the two joined a cell which belongs to the Islamic Jihad in Ramallah, and that this cell was in an advanced stage of planning attacks against Israeli targets, including attacking a military roadblock.”
8. On Thursday, August 28th in Khalil, Tulkarem, Beit Lahem, Jenin, and Tubas: “Israeli troops invaded the West Bank cities of Tulkarem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and Tubas on Thursday morning and kidnapped ten civilians, local sources reported. Israeli soldiers, backed by military vehicles, invaded Tulkarem, in the northern part of the West Bank, and launched a wide scale search campaign targeting several random houses. Soldiers used police dogs during the search and confiscated computers and other belongings. Troops kidnapped 4 civilians from Saleh family after ransacking their place and confiscating money and personal computers. They were all taken to an unknown destination. In Hebron, in the southern part of the West Bank, soldiers broke into the residence of an-Najar family located near the Annexation Wall on the city’s lands, and kidnapped 5 family members taking them to an undisclosed location. In Bethlehem, troops surrounded the residence of Ala Brijiye 35; ransacked his place leaving damages before kidnapping him. Also in Bethlehem troops invaded “al-Ihsan” medical center, destroyed and confiscated equipment, local sources reported. Soldiers broke into the center earlier in the month and kidnapped some of the workers.”
By my count this takes us up to 152. I suspect that the number is higher and I will find out this week and report back on this matter.
“The release of this group fills us with joy, but we will not be satisfied until all prisoners are released, the 11,000 who are still waiting,” Abbas told the crowd, referring to Palestinians still in Israeli jails.
“There will be no peace without the release of all our prisoners,” he added.
I will show his deceit in a minute, but add to this, yet another disingenuous and horrific statement by Abbas made in Lebanon:
Abbas stated that any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian must include the right o return of all refugees.
“Palestinian refugees must have the right to return to their homeland”, Abbas said, “We are negotiating on this base with Israel”.
The Palestinian president also said that he opposes the permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and added that he rejects the idea of forcing the refugees to remain there.
The Lebanese president, Michael Suleiman, was with Abbas at the press conference.
Abbas also said that he supports the Lebanese government in its decisions on how to deal with armed groups that are outside of the refugee camps.
Now for a bit of reason and reality check on Abbas. Here is what Angry Arab reports Abbas really said and did:
Abu Mazen was on Al-Arabiya TV. He was interviewed by Gizelle Khuri: and you know how I feel about her. He spent 90 minutes with her (60 for the interview and 30 for preparations and such), yet said: that he did not have time to visit the refugee camps because he did not have time. He basically said that he is willing to make concessions on the issue of returnees, Jerusalem, borders, and settlements. I kid you not. He talks about token, symbolic returnees which is what Sa`ib `Urayaqat told a well-known Palestinian advocate for the right of return. She asked him whether he called on Israel to release all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners. He categorically denied it–I kid you not–and said that he asked for 200 or 300 in return for that Israeli occupation soldier in Palestinian custody.
Not only did Abbas not visit any Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. He also publicly stated, if he can be believed (which remains debatable), that he supports the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. This is the same man who was head of the army when it destroyed the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el Bared. So not only is he not interested in making it an unyielding policy to release Palestinian political prisoners and to fight for Palestinians’ right of return, he publicly lies about it and feigns a commitment to this.
In other news here in Palestine, I received an email from a friend in Beirut yesterday asking me if I knew anything about the ITF using raw sewage on non-violent demonstrators here in Palestine. I asked a few friends and it seems that this is indeed a new and evil tactic being used by the Zionist state. Here is a sampling of what is being said about this:
1. Toilet water – the new kind of weapon used against the people from Bil’in: Today, the protesters succeeded to arrive at the location of the wall, and they repeated chants and slogans against the occupation soldiers and their officers that command them to shoot unarmed civilians. Soon after, confrontations started, the soldiers started firing tear gas, and sprayed us with toilet water. We would like to take a sample for analysis. Many people immediately had to be sick after being sprayed with this water. This is not the first time they use water, but this time was the first that they used water from the toilets. In addition to the water, the soldiers use many types of weapons on the Palestinians. For example they use many types of gas, many types of rubber bullets, clean water, water mixed with gas, scream, saltball, sackbeans. All of these are new weapons.
2. Israeli forces used a new weapon against Bil’in protesters on Friday, and opened up streams of contaminated water on Palestinians, Israelis and international activists protesting the construction of the separation wall on village lands. Protesters gathered at the center of the village and moved towards the construction site. Once they arrived at the site and chanted – while raising photos of the murdered children Ahmed Husam Yousif Musa and Yousif Ahmed Amera – slogans against the occupation soldiers and their officers that command them to shoot unarmed civilians. Soldiers soon began firing tear gas and then pulled out hoses and sprayed water at the group. Several protesters were immediately sick after they were sprayed with the water. The Bil’in popular committee against the wall plans to have samples of the water taken in for analysis. According to villagers, this is the first time that contaminated water has been used as a weapon against peaceful protesters. It is thus added to the arsenal of tear gas, many types of rubber bullets, clean water, water mixed with gas, sound bombs, saltballs (small bags of salt designed to explode on impact) , and sackbeans (fabric beanbags about the size of a tea bag filled with lead pellets fired at protesters).
3. In its weekly summary of Israeli attacks for the week of 21 – 27 August 2008, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reports that 9 Palestinian civilians, including 5 children, and an Israeli human rights defender, were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the West Bank. The 9 civilians were all wounded when Israeli forces used force against peaceful demonstrations organized in protest of the construction of the Annexation Wall in Ne’lin village, west of Ramallah. In addition, Israeli forces used a foul smelling liquid against the demonstrators.
4. Sewage and gas will not deter the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. In western Ramallah’s Bil’in Village the weekly Palestinian nonviolent resistance has not given up. Today while protesting the Wall, settlements, and land confiscation, dozens of Palestinians and their supporters were injured. Israeli forces sprayed waste water and gas into a crowd singing songs for freedom from oppression. They also chanted against the killing of children, the abuse of political prisoners and the occupation in general.
As I type this and as I think about all that is going on here I cannot help but be revolted by the repeat of Barack Obama’s speech he gave last night at the Democratic National Convention. I admit that I wasn’t listening closely, but I don’t believe that I heard any sincere or extended commentary on the people who are still homeless, are still refugees as a result of Hurricane Katrina. I find this especially problematic given the fact that there is a new hurricane heading towards New Orleans right now. I find this especially problematic given that we are now on the third anniversary of this hurricane as Jordan Flaherty reports:
August 29, the anniversary of the devastation of the city, falls between the Democratic and Republican conventions. While the Democratic and Republican parties crown their nominees, activists on the ground will be on the streets, still fighting for a just recovery. “It ain’t to rain on Obama’s parade,” says Sess 4-5, a New Orleans-based hip hop star and activist, “but the people down here need the world to understand that its still a tragic situation. The rent has tripled, the health care system is in shambles, we have less access to education for our kids. The working class and poor are being exploited, while everyone at the top is getting fat off our misery.”
“We think August 29 should be holy day, not a day for business as usual,” explains Sess, who is one of the organizers of a Katrina March and Commemoration, starting Friday morning in the Lower Ninth Ward, and marching into the 7th Ward. That march is one of two activist commemorations in the city that day, the other starting uptown, near the BW Cooper development, one of the major housing developments torn down this year. “The Mayor announced to the world that New Orleans was ‘open for business’ but we’re here to tell you that it is closed for families,” declares former public housing resident Barbara Jackson, who will be part of the demonstration at BW Cooper, called Sankofa Day of Commemoration. “Five thousand demolished homes. Eight thousand new jail beds. This is their one for one replacement plan for us.”
And the few news sources, well, mainly Pacifica radio, and mostly just Flashpoints, that I used to trust in the U.S. are choosing to become mainstream and capitulate to the Democratic National Convention in lieu of reporting on the protests and opposition to this charade of a party that likes to pretend it is different than the Republican party. I received this email last night from my dear friend Nora who is a senior producer and co-host at Flashpoints. Here is what she shared with me:
An Open Letter to Pacifica and Its Listeners
August 28, 2008
As a programmer, listener and staff member at KPFA, Pacifica’s flagship
station, I have to publicly denounce the national coverage that was forced
upon our listenership during the DNC.
It is our duty as a so-called “alternative” media network to monitor the
centers of power; instead, what we heard was overt cheerleading for the
Democratic party and its Presidential candidate.
As former VP Al Gore prepared to take the stage this evening, thousands of
people in New Orleans were preparing to take shelter and once again brace
for the worst as a new storm brewed overhead. A KPFA reporter brought us
the voice of Malik Rahim who demanded that the Democratic Party, the
Republican Party and its respective candidates stop what they were doing
and come down and protect the people in New Orleans.
After this passionate report, the kind of segment that KPFA should be
proud of, the DNC anchors barely segued into a breathless excitement of Al
Gore’s moment in the spotlight at the Pepsi Center.
What a shame. Lou Hill did not establish Pacifica so that voices of poor
people would be overshadowed by corporate politicians’ quadrannual beauty
pageants. If we were truly the “alternative network,” providing
“unconventional coverage” of the political conventions, then we would have
heard more from New Orleans, we would have been out in the streets, we
would have stopped the regular programming to go be the voice of those who
are truly voiceless.
We should have been reporting from the trenches, not from within the
fully-secured and sanctioned establishment of the DNC. We should have been
marching with the poor, with the anarchists being beaten by riot squad
paramilitary police forces, with the activists at the Food Not Bombs
table. That’s more the voice of the people than anyone inside the Pepsi
Center, certainly more than the nominated head of the Democratic Party. We
have more in common with the people in the streets than we do with the
corporate politicians who send our people to fight their wars, consume
their chemicals, and swallow their foreign policies as our children remain
uneducated, without healthcare, and bracing for the next shoe to drop.
There is a disturbing trend happening within the network that must be
addressed and challenged. More often than ever before, programmers and
station managers are tending to lean toward NPR-style programming and news
structure; moving away from the original mission of Pacifica in favor of
mainstream “liberal” content. During the DNC, anchors offered challenges
to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates’ positions that were
tepid at best, and sounded tokenized.
Democracy Now! produced some very good, hard-hitting segments (Jeremy
Scahill dissecting Joe Biden’s interests in bombing Afghanistan and the
larger Democratic party’s abysmal foreign policies; Iraq Vets Against the
War speaking out and leading protests; protesters getting pepper-sprayed,
etc.). I had hoped to hear similar analysis and truly alternative
coverage, and was really disappointed at the lack of creativity and
follow-through that the Pacifica National coverage presented to our
At KPFA in particular, we still do not have a show that addresses and
serves the Black community. Managers have decided to keep Youth Radio off
the air. At fundraising meetings, programmers and staff have exalted the
KQED style of fund drives. The KPFA News department still uses Associated
Press and Reuters wire copy verbatim, without reference or context — an
expensive “service” that listeners looking for an alternative pay for, and
do not deserve.
Listening to the Pacifica cheerleading section on-air in Denver, a few
days after the horrific and unprecedented police attack inside the KPFA
building — KPFA management is responsible for calling on Berkeley Police
to come inside our so-called community radio station, which resulted in an
unpaid programmer, a pregnant Black single mom, being beaten, hog-tied and
arrested for “trespassing” — I am ashamed to be an employee of Pacifica
This is not what we come to work, every day, with our without pay, to be a
part of. As not only a programmer, but a lifetime listener (my parents met
at KPFA in the late 1960’s as unpaid programmers themselves), I demand a
full investigation and challenge to the Pacifica programming management.
Take a good look in the mirror, and let’s start the revolution already.
In real, uncorporatized and sustained struggle,
Senior Producer and co-host, Flashpoints
And one final word for this Friday. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the assassination of Naji Al Ali, one of the most beloved and brilliant Palestinian minds. I went to my favorite art gallery in Amman, Jordan, Darat al-Fanun earlier this summer to see its exhibit commemorating the Palestinian nakba. The photographs at the beginning of this post are of his political cartoons featuring Hanzala a figure who would appear in all of his cartoons. This character represents the children of the Palestinian refugee camps. He always faces away from his viewers with the idea being that once there is al awda, once all of historic Palestine is liberated that he would finally turn around and face the audience. Although Naji al Ali is no longer with us I believe that one day we will see Hanzala’s face. Not with the help of Obama or Abbas or any other such tool; but with the steadfastness of Palestinians on the ground, in the camps, working every day through various modes of resistance.