scenes of life and of death

I’ve driven by it or walked by it many times since moving to Nablus. One of the main cemeteries here is on the main road between downtown and my university. It sort of reminds me of the martyr’s cemetery in Shatila refugee camp; both have the same trees shading the graves. But this one is much more full. It’s also much older. The caretaker thinks it dates back to the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine. It’s not that it is so big, but after some time, families add their bodies to the graves of loved ones. When I walked into the cemetery this afternoon I was a bit early. I was meeting my friend who wanted to visit his mother’s grave before iftar. I walked around and noticed not only the number of martyrs buried there, but also the number of fresh graves built for the new martyrs. Some were still wet with fresh concrete. Others had tombs, but still were not engraved. Still others were fresh with flowers and photographs. The cemetery was full today; there were many people visiting the graves of their loved ones, sitting, reading the Qur’an, cleaning the headstone, watering plants surrounding the grave. I feel torn about cemeteries. I used to want my mom to be buried in one so that I could visit her. That was many years ago before I learned how to keep her memory alive inside me. In some ways I’m okay with her remains not being buried anywhere, though I wish she were for my grandma’s sake. Instead, her ashes lie in an urn beneath a pile of my father’s dirty clothes in his closet. Or at least that was the case the last time I visited his house about nine years ago. In any case I much prefer the respect people pay their loved ones here after they are dead, and of course, while they are alive, too.

After cleaning my friend’s mother’s grave site and after reading some selections from the Qur’an, we walked into the old city to eat iftar with his family at the Yasmine Hotel. It’s a beautiful, old hotel in the old city of Nablus. As you walk in there is a lovely stained glass (above), though like many beautiful things in Nablus it is blemished with gun shots from Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF). There are also some beautiful tiles on the floor leading into the hotel and restaurant (below).

The iftar buffet is quite good, though the tendency to fill oneself till one is stuffed is high. It’s nice to spend a night eating iftar with friends and in a room full of people and with the sounds of the old city around you. After dinner my friends went to the mosque and I walked around downtown a bit to capture some of the Ramadan night scenes here. The scene is so lively with people strolling, sitting, snacking. And the city is lit up with lots of bright lights.

What I really wanted to see, though, was an exhibit at the new mall downtown that a friend tried to take me to the other night, but we were too late. It is supposed to highlight products made in Nablus. I was excited to see this exhibit and to hand out boycott flyers to those displaying their products. The unfortunate thing is that there were only a few products–the expected soap, plastic wrap, tahina, and oil (pictures below). It is important to continue to highlight Palestinian-made products so that a boycott here can be coupled with a buycott so that people begin to support Palestinian work.

While there are these snipets of life that are reminders of various modes of life continuing here in spite of the incessant siege, there are also always already reminders of the various ways in which the Zionist state tries its best to make that impossible. Most recently, here in Nablus, illegal Israeli settlers burned Palestinian olive groves:

Israeli settlers, living illegally on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, burned a number of olive groves belonging to Palestinian families in the villages of Madameh, Burin and Asira al-Kabaliya. In addition, settlers burned a field of crops near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Meanwhile, the Zionist regime has made plans to build a garbage dump in Nablus:

The timing of an Israeli contractor’s approval by the Israeli government to construct a dump for Israeli garbage on Palestinian land in Nablus coincides with a major archaeological discovery in the area.

The Israeli government did not respond to questions about its approval of the 20-year permit on the same day that an announcement was made of an important Roman-era archaeological discovery in the area.

The archaeological discovery consists of a large water cistern, which connects to a tunnel to the Roman city of Neapolis. In the middle of the cistern is a set of spiral stairs. Palestinian archaeologists say that the find dates from the Roman era, at least 2,000 years ago. The cistern and tunnel may be connected to other, unknown ruins from that era under the city of Nablus.

But while Palestinian archaeologists rush to uncover the latest discovery, an Israeli contractor has been approved to begin constructing a massive dump nearby, which will make impossible any more archaeological work in the area.

These are scenes of life in the face of death and destruction, which are daily here in Palestine. But with each passing day one is not only aware of what is happening here and now, but also of the past. It seems as if there are daily anniversaries to recall commemorating the various Zionist massacres. This week is the anniversary of the Kate’eb and ITF massacre of the Palestinian refugees in Shatila refugee camp and the neighboring Sabra neighborhood:

This week marks the 26th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, one of the bloodiest events of the second half of the twentieth century. A Google search for recent news reports on this year’s commemoration of the atrocity, however, brought up very little. Yes, there were some emotional blog posts, as well as a link to the BBC’s “On this Day” page, featuring quick facts and figures about the massacre, alongside an archival, and iconic, photograph of twisted corpses lying in a heap next to a cinderblock wall, the victims of an execution-style killing.

It has been more than a quarter of a century since more than 1,000 unarmed men, women, and children were raped, maimed and slaughtered. The massacre occurred at the dividing point of the 1975-1990 Lebanese war. Some might say that the killings were the marker or the catalyst of the war’s horrible turning point. Before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut in the summer of 1982, the Lebanese civil war had taken many lives and introduced new images and phrases into the Arabic and English languages. The Lebanese war involved many players and funders, not all of them local. But with the entry of the Israeli army and air force, Lebanon witnessed more death and destruction in three months than it had suffered during the previous seven years. Sabra and Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut, marked the site of the Israeli-Palestinian and the internal Lebanese conflicts’ intersection. The front lines of these conflicts slashed through the refugee camps for three dark days and three eerily bright nights illuminated by flares that the surrounding Israeli army fired over the camps to assist their Lebanese client militia, the Phalange, in their gruesome tasks.

And, of course, we are reminded of the massacre in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s testimony before the United Nations. Reports today show Tutu’s language as much sharper and more aptly critical of why the world remains silent at the Zionist, terrorist regime:

South African Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Thursday accused the West of complicity in Palestinian suffering by its silence, suggesting it did not want to criticize Israel because of the Holocaust.

Tutu spoke after delivering a report to the United Nations about Israel’s deadly shelling of the town of Beit Hanun in Gaza in November 2006, which he said may constitute a war crime.

There is another anniversary this week, too. This is not an anniversary of the death of a Palestinian martyr, nor is it the anniversary of a massacre of Palestinians. It is the anniversary of the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte by Jewish terrorist bands:

The assassination of Bernadotte by Jewish militants disguised as regular soldiers on 17 September 1948, was commemorated in a series of Swedish and UN ceremonies in Jerusalem, Stockholm and New York yesterday. But no blue Israeli plaque marks the spot, as it does for so many military and Jewish underground exploits of the period. It is still the same September sunshine as it was that day, and the contours of the land do not change, of course. You can see how the ambush took place, just where the road starts to level out before climbing more steeply to the north west and what is now the Islamic Museum and Rehavia beyond. But the road, now Palmach Street, is wider and what was then a semi-rural suburb is now a busy middle-class West Jerusalem neighbourhood built up with its five-storey apartment blocks, and a row of little shops opposite the junction with Ha’gdud Ha’ivri Street where Bernadotte was shot. Today, only those Israelis with long memories, such as passing local resident Abraham Yinnon, who was a 16-year-old soldier at the time, even know what happened here. “It was madness,” he says now. “A political murder. Madness. Maybe it stopped something happening, but….”

Although it would be 30 years before any of its personnel admitted it, the “madness” was perpetrated by the most extreme of the Jewish nationalist underground groups, Lehi, more commonly known to the British as the Stern Gang, ordered by a three-man leadership which included the future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. What cost the life of the count who ran the Swedish Red Cross during the Second World War and was the nephew of King Gustav V, was not the two Arab-Jewish truces he had managed to negotiate – the second of which was close to collapse when he was killed. It was the longer-term peace plan which sought, however vainly and perhaps naively, to tackle the very issues which still lie at the heart of the world’s most intractable conflict today: borders, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. It was on the last point that Bernadotte had most incensed Israeli opinion, by recommending first that the city should be in Arab territory, and then, in a report heavily influenced by Britain and the US and submitted to the UN Security Council the very day before his death, that it should be under international supervision.

What was Bernadotte’s cardinal sin? It was that he authored United Nations Resolution 194, the resolution that demands Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes. The Jewish terrorists who were in the process of ethnically cleansing Palestine of its indigenous inhabitants at the time had approved Bernadotte’s work with the UN in Palestine because he supported Jewish refugees in Europe during World War II. But what these Jews did not realize is that he was not doing this because he believed Jews to be more important or that Jewish suffering was more significant than other people’s suffering; rather, he believed that refugee rights in general needed to be protected. Thus, he was assassinated.

And so it goes that refugee rights are continuing to be eroded with Mahmoud Abbas (see my friend Abed’s post below). Meanwhile the new head of the United Nations General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann seems to be sending mixed signals to the UN. On the one hand he is calling for reforms, which is fantastic, on the other hand he seems to be thinking that the UN is allowed to partition countries–which goes against its own charter!

Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, president of the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, on Thursday urged the UN to work toward implementing UN Resolution 181, which in 1947 called for the division of Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states.

During a speech at the General Assembly auditorium in honor of his election, Brockmann said the UN should work without delay to fulfill its old obligation of creating an independent Palestinian state.

“The greatest case failure of the United Nations is the lack of a Palestinian state,” he said. “Article 22 of the covenant of the League of Nations pledged as a ‘sacred trust’ to establish a Palestinian state on a Palestinian territory that was part of the Ottoman Empire.”

Brockmann, 75, is a priest from Nicaragua who served as the country’s foreign minister in the 1980s.

The newly elected General Assembly president continued to lament the lack of a Palestinian state, saying, “At this very moment, people continue to die as a result of our incapacity to implement a resolution adopted more than 61 years ago. As the consequence, today the Palestinian situation is at the lowest, most critical point in its tragic history.”

Brockmann also criticized the UN’s five permanent member nations and claimed that their “veto power has gone to their heads.” He also had harsh words for the UN itself, claiming that the organization needs to undergo a process of democratization.

I’ll assume that Brockmann’s statement about UN Resolution 181 was an unfortunate slip and hope that he is able to make changes that will allow for the implementation of legal resolutions like UN Resolution 194 and 242 for starters.

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