on siege (and hope)

when one is writing about palestine one must speak about multiple sieges. there are layered sieges. they come from all directions. yesterday one of my students was in my office. like most palestinian families i know the political ideologies vary from family member to family member. she is pflp, one of her brothers is in hamas. he doesn’t live here anymore; now he lives in kuwait. he left palestine after being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. he wasn’t actively involved in hamas resistance. holding such beliefs is enough. this was a few years ago, though the wounds of this story were still fresh as she was in tears when she shared the details with me. i did not ask her for this story. our conversation was about something else entirely–it was about coursework. but the memory of it still weighed heavily on her mind. too, the fact that her family is separated, torn apart by distance, continues to be a daily reminder of that past for her.

her story is part of the siege here. the nightly invasions, the kidnappings, the murders committed by the israeli terrorist forces (itf). the 17 checkpoints that surround nablus and its villages. there is an economic siege because of these checkpoints. people once shopped here from surrounding areas. goods produced here used to be sent to other cities. the al-safa milk produced here, for instance, is not allowed to travel to bethlehem because the itf manning the checkpoints think that there is some secret, dangerous weapon in the milk. a reminder of the fact that one of the first places the itf bombed in lebanon during the 2006 invasion was a milk factory. yes, milk is dangerous. it builds strong, healthy bones. it has protein. it is dangerous. in nablus there is a committee to end the siege. there is unity across political lines: they want the checkpoints to go away. they don’t even speak of the settlements and their stranglehold on the city. they say, just the checkpoints. remove the checkpoints.


earlier this year when i stayed up all night desperately searching for information about gaza, calling friends in gaza, trying to get a sense of what was really going on there, i kept thinking: if only i were there, even if only i were in the west bank. i would know. i could do something. but now i’m here and i can do nothing. gaza is 143 km away from nablus. as a foreigner i can get inside 1948 palestine, unlike most of my friends. but i cannot go to gaza. i cannot get inside. even journalists and ngo workers are barred from entering. i used the time in my conversation class to talk to my students about gaza this week. many of them are very upset that palestinians trapped in gaza cannot get out to go on hajj to mecca. i find it disturbing that this is their first thought. even in the context of islam pilgrimage cannot be considered more important than giving people their general freedom of movement, electricity, fuel, medicine. i asked my students what they thought we could do from here. some said we could collect clothes and medicine. but most of them are not allowed outside nablus let alone as far as jerusalem. and none of us would be allowed into gaza even if we could make it that far. some suggested money. but the zionist state has shut down the banks. we are not allowed to transfer money. but what can money buy when there is no bread in the bakery? no medicine in the pharmacy? we all feel helpless. some of us feel hopeless. some of us used our boycott meeting tonight to connect the siege on nablus with the siege on gaza. we are going to hold a hunger strike and candlelight vigil this weekend to coincide with the united nations’ annual international day of solidarity with the palestinian people. perhaps this is just to make us feel better, less guilty when we buy bread knowing that they cannot. perhaps it will give people in gaza hope when they see that we care. when they see that we refuse to be divided along sectarian lines. when they see that we see all palestinians as one undivided nation who are deeply committed to that struggle. beautiful, dedicated, committed razan told me tonight that there are other vigils there are syrians who are organizing candlelight vigils to show their commitment, their solidarity. in ramallah the palestinian medical relief society and physicians for human rights called for a demonstration to protest the closure of gaza. they warn:

The groups said 160 types of medicines have already run out in Gaza due to the blockade. Supplies of another 130 types will run out soon.

At least 90 medical equipments, including 31 dialysis machines, are out of order as they need parts not found in Gaza.

people under siege get creative. in ramallah the el funoun dabka group danced for gaza tonight. it is necessary. creativity, that is. doing something.

hope. rania, my never-ending source of inspiration, wisdom, comradeship, and hope said to me yesterday that what we need is “hope + strategy” to “break indifference.” she believes that “indifference is due to lack of hope.” i keep these words in my pocket. i carry them with me where ever i go. but it is a challenge right now. my students seem to have hope. at least the women do, and most of my students are women. my male students worry about finding work. about being kidnapped by the itf. killed. tortured. i finished teaching samuel beckett’s waiting for godot today. i love this play. my dear friend laila first introduced it to me when i spent the summer with her in morocco 14 years ago. funny that i never read it in any university classes as a literature major. i love the language and the symbolism. but every time i read it or teach it my reaction to it is different. this time i see no hope, only paralysis. i share this with my students. they argue with me: there are a few leaves on the tree in the second act, they tell me. this is a sign of hope. indeed it is. or it should be. i’m happy that they are feeling confident enough that they are openly disagreeing with me, forming their own opinions. and most of all that they are finding hope in such a beautiful, simple sign such as a few green leaves. a sign of change.

is this like the sign of change we are supposed to see now that the zionists have let a trickle of 40 trucks into gaza a couple of hours ago? are these trucks filled with flour and humanitarian items the green leaves on the gaza tree? i’m searching. i’m trying. but i don’t find hope there. instead, i see evil. i see evil in a people who so callously can bring people to the brink of death and then give them a gasp of air, only to let them suffocate again. because they will. this is what they do. read through this blog. read through ma’an news archives. or any news archives. you will see. it is a cycle. it is cyclical, like the plot of waiting for godot.

i had nightmares last night. i was haunted by an image i saw on al jazeera. a story about a baby in an incubator who was barely hanging onto life by a thread. baby hala is dependent upon electricity and medicine that were both running out. perhaps the trickle of supplies that entered gaza tonight will keep her alive for a few more days, weeks. after that who knows? it strikes me that al jazeera needs to show this baby barely hanging on. if they show a teenage boy in a similar medical predicament would people be moved? or is any palestinian life not worth saving when it comes to the silence and complicity of the world who sits by and watches. does nothing. says nothing. did anyone besides the local media here cover fawzi hamad’s death today in gaza?

there are also those who inspire me who try to speak out, but who are silenced. their voices are not welcomed. their words are feared. cynthia mckinney is one such woman who was not allowed to leave the u.s. she was not allowed by the americans to travel to syria to speak about her solidarity with palestinians at a conference about the right of return. here is some of what she would have said in damascus had she been afforded her right to the freedom of movement, the right to speak:

In my case, I dared to raise my voice in support of the World Conference Against Racism and against the sieges of Ramallah, Jenin, and the Church of the Nativity. I raised my voice against the religious profiling in my country that targets innocent Muslims and Arabs for harassment, imprisonment, financial ruin, or worse. Yes, I have felt the sting of the special interests since my entry onto the national stage when, in my very first Congressional campaign, I refused to sign a pledge committing that I would vote to maintain the military superiority of Israel over its neighbors, and that Jerusalem should be its capital city.

Other commitments were on that pledge as well, like continued financial assistance to Israel at agreed upon levels.

As a result of my refusal to make such a commitment, and just like the old slave woman, Sojourner Truth, who bared her back and showed the scars from the lashes meted out to her by her slave master, I too, bear scars from the lashes of public humiliation meted out to me by the special interests in Washington, D.C. because of my refusal to tow the line on Israel policy. This “line” is the policy accepted by both the Democratic and Republican Party leadership and why they could cooperate so well to coordinate my ouster from Congress. But I have survived because I come from the strongest stock of Africans, stolen then enslaved, and yet my people survived. I know how to never give up, give in, or give out. And I also know how to learn a good political lesson. And one lesson I’ve learned is that the treatment accorded to me pales in comparison to what Palestinian victims still living in refugee camps face every day of their lives.

there are sacrifices people make when they speak out or act out in solidarity with palestinians. these sacrifices are never come close to what palestinians suffer every day. but it is important that we know, see, feel, imagine that suffering. every bite of bread that crosses our lips should make us think about the scarcity of bread in gaza. memories of my grandmother telling me to eat all the food on my plate because of the starving children in africa haunt me, too. words that never really left me, but words that are closer to the bone just now. i do not want to waste food. but i also do not want to eat food. i want to feel the hunger, to feel something close to what people in gaza are feeling.

palestinians are under siege. under siege in gaza. under siege here. ghazawis in the west bank are hunted down by the itf. today three such ghazawis–ramzi dahrouj, ahmad al-loh, mansour al-kanshan– were kidnapped near tulkarem and taken away to an israeli prison. it occurs to me that one of the few places where people from here can be with people from there are these spaces of deprivation, violence, torture, isolation. palestinians here are under siege, too. it’s not the same siege, but it’s siege nonetheless. today in a suburb of jerusalem the itf demolished the home of muhamad mahmoud mizia’ro in al-ezariya.

but the zionist state doesn’t want you to know about any of this. they don’t want you to read, see, listen to these stories. they don’t want you to feel sympathy with palestinians. they don’t want you to know the truth about what happens here. this is why they ban the international media from entering gaza. this is why the zionist state does not want to exchange its terrorist soldiers for an international peace-keeping mission in its stead as general james jones, who may just be barack obama’s national security adviser, recommends. perhaps if such a mission were here instead of the itf then the illegal israeli settlers who illegally occupy palestinians homes, like those in khalil, would be forced to leave (perhaps return to the u.s. where they come from). though i am reminded of how impotent unifil is in lebanon. how they do not and cannot challenge the regular sonic booms that terrorize south lebanon regularly with the itf overflights.

if you track it in the media you will find a daily dose of news items about iran being the greatest threat in the middle east. sometimes such stories are even more hyperbolic and suggest that iran is the greatest threat in the world. it is mind boggling how this is possible when it is crystal clear that the zionist state is indeed the greatest threat on so many levels. and the outrage about this is a whisper compared to the shouting about iran. how is it acceptable that former itf chief of staff moshe yaalon is allowed to say publicly that the zionist state should carry out an extra juridical assassination of president mahmoud ahmadinejad and there is not outcry? regardless of what your thoughts are about the iranian president, this is not how nations are supposed to behave. unless they are rogue states like the u.s. and israel. the same man who made this threat, yaalon, said the previous day–as if it just occurred to him–that palestinians view all israelis as settlers. well, duh! what else do you call white, european people who steal land, massacre and forcibly remove the indigenous people and then occupy the land by force for over 60 years? neighbors? comrades? friends? i think not.

some people are starting to understand the racism inherent in the zionist project. some of my former comrades and students at boise state university–on their own accord–decided to educate their peers this year about palestine by enacting a checkpoint at their annual tunnel of oppression. in spite of rabbi fink’s threats and the big brother watching over the cultural center, they managed not only to perform a checkpoint, but also to enact the attempts at silencing them. they refused to be silenced and chose instead to perform what that silence looked like and felt like. the quality of the video isn’t great, but their spirit is. this gives me some hope. not hope for gaza. but hope that some people are waking up to the truth and understanding the consequences of buying into the zionist propaganda machine.


5 thoughts on “on siege (and hope)

  1. I got so engrossed in reading this yesterday on my ipod that I missed my bus stop. I’m sure you know this, but your blogging really does matter.

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