What Some Indians Learn about the Middle East in their Textbook

One of the main homegrown board exams in India is the CISCE (Council for the India School Certificate Exams). The eleventh and twelfth standard years require students to study both Indian and global history. While the syllabus doesn’t stipulate which textbook teachers should adopt, many high schools in India seem to use Norman Lowe’s Mastering Modern World History. What the syllabus does delineate is the particular periods or events in history that students should cover in these grades. Of course, how any given teacher chooses to approach the textbook or the syllabus will vary.

Over the course of two years, students learn about the following main events:

1. World War One (with some emphasis on colonialism and imperialism)

2. The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal

3. The Development of Communism (USSR and China)

4. Japan’s Parliamentary Democracy

5. Fascism and Nazism

6. The Collapse of International Order

7. World War Two (which covers some theatres of war most students don’t learn about, like battles between the Allies and Axis in Egypt, but much of the war’s relationship to Indians and Indian soldiers, like Churchill’s man-made famine, is covered in Indian history not in the world history section)

8. Post World War Two and the Cold War

9. The Middle East

It is this last section that I will explore here as there are some serious problems with Lowe’s text (at least the third edition, published in 1997, which is the one I’ve read) as it attempts to cover West Asia. Although it should be said that the absence of lessons about Africa and Asia more generally–especially given India’s relationship to these places, for example forced migration and labour under the British that affected relations between East Africans and Indians–are troubling. One would hope that a post-independence syllabus would explore not focus so much on imperial and neocolonial powers and their history to the exclusion of the global south. To know further details, follow links embedded in the lines below.

As for the Middle East the ISC syllabus detains what students should know after studying this unit:

(i) Post War conflict in Palestine after World War I, till the formation of the state of Israel. A brief background of Arab nationalism and Zionism in the late 19th century. Impact of World War I: the conflicting promises made to the Arabs, the Jews (Balfour Declaration) and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. All these need to be understood clearly. A general outline of events from 1919 to the Arab Revolt of the late 1930s (the increased immigration of Jews under the mandate and the resultant conflict). The impact of World War II and the intensification of the conflict against Britain’s decision to withdraw – the UNO’s plan. Creation of Israel and the War of Liberation (a chronological account should suffice here).

(ii) The Arab-Israeli Wars from 1948 to Camp David Accord. The following conflicts should be studied – (1948-1949), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), Sadat and the Camp David Accord (1979). For each of these events, the causes and results should be done in some detail. Events to be done very briefly.

(iii) The war in Lebanon. A general account of the war.

There are some distinct problems with the language in this description, which appears to give a so-called balanced view between the British-Zionist colonial project and the indigenous Arab population of the region. Yet the language betrays this illusion by calling the nakba (the catastrophe that befell Palestinians when they were expelled from their land and massacred by Zionist forces) “the war of Liberation”. Additionally, the 1973 war is identified as “the Yom Kippur War”, even though a neutral party would call it the October War (it is also known as the Ramadan War).

It is also striking to see such language given the aims for the course that the syllabus states:

5. To develop the capacity to read historical views in the light of new evidence or new interpretation of evidence.

7. To encourage diminution of ethnocentric prejudices and to develop a more international approach to world history.

8. To develop the ability to express views and arguments clearly using correct terminology of the subject.

9. To familiarise candidates with various types of historical evidence and to provide some awareness of the problems involved in evaluating different kinds of source materials.

These goals are important to keep in mind as one reads through and evaluates Lowe’s textbook. The chapter in his book on the Middle East is called “Conflict in the Middle East”, already setting up a particular way of viewing the region as if fighting of some kind or the other is intrinsic to the place.  He begins by defining the geographical region and the states it includes before explaining Israel’s placement in the region:

The Middle East also contains the small Jewish state of Israel which was set up by the United Nations in 1948 in Palestine. The creation of Israel in Palestine, an area belonging to the Palestinian Arabs, outraged Arab opinion throughout the world…. (221)

Israel is the only state that gets the adjective “small” to describe it even though states like Lebanon are smaller. This is one of the oldest Zionist tactics–to emphasise the size of Israel in order to suggest its vulnerability.

The introduction continues by continuing to highlight Arab sentiments about the Jewish state:

The Arab states refused to recognize Israel as a legal state and they vowed to destroy it. Although there were four short wars between Israel and the various Arab states (1948-9, 1956, 1967 and 1973), Arab attacks failed, and Israel survived. The Arab desire to destroy Israel tended for much of the time to overshadow all other concerns. (221)

This a-contextual summary of the region spends a great deal of energy characterising Arab people as if there are no distinctions among the various peoples and cultures or the regimes governing them (they are all stubborn: “refused”; violent: “destroy”). The book treats all “wars” the same even though the nakba in 1948 was certainly not one and in 1956 and 1967 Israel instigated those wars.

Lowe feigns neutrality by illustrating that viewing history is subjective, without, of course, revealing his point of view:

Interpretations of the Middle East situation vary depending on whose viewpoint one looks at. For example, many British politicians and journalists regarded Colonel Nasser (Egyptian leader 1954-1970) as some kind of dangerous fanatic who was almost as bad as Hitler. On the other hand, most Arabs thought he was a hero, the symbol of the Arab people’s move towards unity and freedom.

To be sure, nowhere in the book does Lowe make a similar statement about Winston Churchill. Indeed, elsewhere in the book, he never suggests that Churchill is anything other than a statesman valiantly fighting the Axis powers. By omitting anything about his role in creating and exacerbating the Bengal famine, Lowe secures Churchill’s position in a Eurocentric version of history. Meanwhile, the mere suggestion of Nasser’s comparison to Hitler helps readers, if reading chronologically will have just finished learning about World War Two, to equate the two leaders. Moreover, throughout the book Lowe never refers to Nasser as President. He only ever calls him “Colonel”, as if to suggest he was a military dictator. Of course, nowhere in the book does Lowe intimate that one might have a different point of view about Palestine or Israel.

In the next section of the book Lowe begins with a factual error, one that conveniently feeds into a Zionist tactic of making the world seem as if there is a battle between Jews and Muslims:

They all speak the Arabic language, they are all Muslims (followers of the religion known as Islam, except for about half the population of Lebanon who are Christian and most of them wanted to see the destruction of Israel so that the Palestinian Arabs could have back the land which they feel is rightfully theirs. (223)

First of all, Arabs belong to several religious groups although most are Muslim (Sunni and Shi’a) and Christian. But there are also Druze, Baha’i, Alawis, and Jews. By Jews I mean Arab Jews who have always lived in the Arab world (as opposed to the European Zionists who worked with the British to colonise Palestinian land). And while it is probably true that most Arabs wanted to see Palestinians rightfully returned to the land from which they were forcibly expelled, without understanding that there was a planned expulsion (known as Plan Dalet), to remove the Palestinians by destroying their villages and massacring innocent civilians, one would likely form a negative opinion about Arab people. It would be like saying that freedom fighters in India–whether Vinayak Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, or Mohandas Gandhi–wanted to destroy the British without ever explaining what the British had subjected Indian people to through the course of their empire. Finally, the use of the word “feel” in the last sentence above–one that Lowe uses quite a bit to describe goals of Arab people, but not Israelis–suggests that it’s merely an emotional attachment to their land or homes and not a legal right. He fails to mention the fact that many Palestinians retain title deeds (some of which are also in Turkey in various archives) to their land and homes. Ironically, it is the Zionist Jews who “feel” that Palestine belongs to them–not the other way around.

When Lowe describes what he calls “interference in the Middle East by other countries”, he leaves quite a bit out, including the Sykes-Picot agreement:

Britain and France had been involved in the Middle East for many years. Britain ruled Egypt from 1882 (when British troops invaded it) until 1922 when the country was given semi-independence under its own king. However, British troops still remained in Egypt and the Egyptians had to continue doing what Britain wanted. By the Versailles Settlement at the end of the First World War, Britain and France were given large areas of the Middle East taken from the defeated Turks, to look after as mandates…Although Britain gave independence to Iraq (1932) and to Jordan (1946), both remained pro-British. France gave independence to Syria and Lebanon (1945) but hoped to maintain some influence in the Middle East. (223)

Once again, it is through his diction that Lowe misleads readers. He accurately states that Britain “invaded” Egypt, but it’s an aside–as if it is not as important as the fact of them ruling that country. It also doesn’t attribute any responsibility to France or Britain for their unilateral take over of land and makes it seem like it’s benign–they “look after” these countries and “gave” them independence. The fact that some Arab countries maintain strong relations with Britain or France is not contextualised either and thus it merely gives credence to the illusion that Britain and France was just a kind, if paternalistic, overseer, taking care of things until they were capable of independence. In reality, both countries partitioned the region and divvied it up between themselves, with careful attention paid to borders that would likely cause future problems so that they could maintain their control. This is especially ironic given U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s speech about nations having the right to self determination just a short time before carving up West Asia. Moreover, this partition ignored promises the British made to Arabs in the region who fought on behalf of the British during World War One in exchange for help creating their own independent states. Instead, the British installed puppets who could be relied upon to uphold British policy in the region.

A theme perpetuated throughout the chapter is that Arabs lacked unity, but it never says why because that would implicate the British and French colonial powers for using divide and rule tactics to maintain that instability. Similarly, the book continues with its negative characterisation of Arab states by saying:

Most of the Arab states had nationalist governments which bitterly resented Western influence. one by one, governments which were thought to be too pro-West were swept away and replaced by regimes which wanted to be non-aligned; this meant being free to act independently of both East (communist bloc) and West. (224).

The desire to be nationalistic and also not under the thumb of another nation should make sense to most Indians; and of course India occupied a similar position during this same period. To make sure readers don’t think this is a positive trait in a state, the tone here is quite negative. One by one Lowe moves on to illustrate how such regimes fell starting with Egypt:

At the end of the Second World War, British troops stayed on in the canal zone (the area around the Suez Canal). This was to enable Britain to control the canal, in which over half the shares owned by the British and French. (224)

Lowe continues explaining how army officers, led by Gamal Abd el Nasser, nationalised the Suez Canal for the Egyptian people. But his language, Egypt “seized power”, makes it seem as if that power didn’t belong to them. Nowhere is any mention of the British desire to create or maintain this canal because of its colonial holdings around the globe, which were also quickly decolonising–especially across Africa as many people across the continent were inspired by Nasser.

For Jordan, Lowe offers little to no context for King Abdullah’s overthrow:

King Abdullah had been given his throne by the British in 1946. He was assassinated in 1951 by nationalists who felt that he was too much under Britain’s thumb. (225)

This point about King Abdullah being “given” the throne by the British certainly suggests that as a result he would be subjected to British control. Indeed, Abdullah, who was killed in Palestine at the al-Aqsa mosque, was killed because he was a puppet of the British.

With Iran, the only non Arab state discussed in this chapter, much more detail is provided, although not much context and serious key facts are left out:

The Western-educated Shah (ruler) of Iran, Reza Pahlevi, resisted the Russians and signed a defence treaty with the USA (1950); they provided him with economic and military aid, including tanks and jet fighters. The Americans saw the situation as part of the Cold War–Iran was yet another front on which the communists must be prevented from advancing. However, there was a strong nationalist movement in Iran which resented all foreign influence. This soon began to turn against the USA and against Britain too. This was because Britain held a majority of the shares int he Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and its refinery at Abadan. it was widely felt that the British were taking too much of the profits, and in 1951 the Premier of Iran, Dr. Mussadiq, nationalized the company (took it under control of the Iranian government). However, most of the world, encouraged by Britain, boycotted Iran’s oil exports and Mussadiq was forced to resign. (225)

Reza Shah Pahlevi ran a dictatorship that was financially supported by the U.S. Meanwhile Britain controlled the money from Iran’s primary natural resource: oil. What upset Britain, at first, was the fact that the people of Iran democratically elected Mossadegh and then he proceeded to nationalise Iranian oil for the Iranian people. Britain was incensed by this and enlisted the help of the U.S. to overthrow Mossadegh. Kermit Roosevelt, for the CIA, worked tirelessly to make that happen in the first CIA coup. Language like Mossadegh was “forced to resign” leaves out quite a crucial detail, such as the U.S. role in making that happen. Likewise, as with Egypt’s Suez Canal, Lowe paints a picture as if the canal and the oil fields somehow rightly belong to Britain because they invested money in it. The reimposition of the Shah, furthermore, led to more American control over Iran, which ultimately led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Not unsurprisingly, Mossadegh’s actions ultimately inspired Nasser in Egypt and Nasser would also be subjected to a violent reaction from Britain in the form of a war in 1956.

When it comes to narrating the history of Israel, Lowe fails yet again as all he seems to be able to offer is a biblical one:

The origin of the problem went back almost 2000 years to the year AD 71, when most of the Jews were driven out of Palestine, which was then their homeland, by the Romans. (226)

The problem with this assertion is that the Romans never exiled any population. This is a Zionist myth, not a historical fact. Regardless, even if one tends to view the Bible as a history textbook, for a people absent for such a long time to violently uproot the people living in that land is unconscionable. Just imagine how Indians would feel if people who fled during the partition decided to come back and reclaim their homes and land. It hasn’t been even a century, and yet I imagine that people in India would not be willing to give up their homes and land.

Lowe jumps, as most Zionists do in their historical accounts, from AD 71 to 1897 when Theodor Herzl founded the modern Zionist movement. He explains a narrow context for its creation:

Zionists were people who believed that Jews ought to be able to go back to Palestine and have what they called “a national homeland”; in other words, a Jewish state. Jews had recently suffered persecution in Russia, France, and Germany, and a Jewish state would provide a safe refuge for jews from all over the world. The problem was that Palestine was inhabited by Arabs, who were alarmed at the prospect of losing their land to the Jews. (226)

Here a combination of misinformation and obfuscation through language makes this paragraph above sound quite reasonable. But there are problems. First, throughout this chapter, Lowe uses the word Arab to refer to Palestinians, something Zionists do because it makes it seem like, according to their narrative, that they have a number of places to live and the Jews have nowhere, so why not just give up their homeland for the European and Russian Jews. Second, Palestinians didn’t have a problem with their land being taken over because the people doing it were Jews; indeed there were many Palestinian Jews at that time residing in Palestine. They had a problem that anyone would take over their homeland. Lowe also fails to mention the depths to which Herzl’s endeavour was a colonial one. Both his admiration for Cecil Rhodes and his desire to make a Jewish homeland in Uganda or Argentina (because they were both controled by the British), makes this point clear. Finally, the desire for a specifically Jewish state, in a country where there were several religious groups living side-by-side, also reveals the problem of this project. However, Lowe’s reminder of oppression Jews faced at the hands of Europeans and Russians seems to somehow rationalise this (in the same way British Puritans who colonised North America rationalise their theft of indigenous land).

Lowe continues his attempt at explaining the history of Israel by distorting it further:

The British hoped to persuade Jews and Arabs to live together peacefully in the same state; they failed to understand the deep religious gulf between the two. Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany after 1933 caused a flood of refugees, and by 1940 about half the population of Palestine was Jewish. In 1937 the British Peel Commission proposed dividing Palestine into two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, but the Arabs rejected the idea. (226)

Characterising the problem in Palestine as a religious one is a typical Zionist strategy, as I noted above. Further, Lowe continues to juxtapose problems European or Ashkenazi Jews experienced in Europe with Arabs, who had nothing to do with it. It is true that many Jewish people became refugees who sought a new home. But Lowe fails to tell his readers that both the U.S. and Britain closed its doors on them, refusing to allow them to even temporarily settle on their soil. This was a part of empire’s strategy to push them into Palestine so the West could have a foothold in the region. At the time this also was important for Britain so it could secure its hold over the Suez Canal, and thus an easier transportation route to India. Also left out of this is the fact that for four years prior to and following the Peel Commission, Palestinians led one of the longest resistance campaigns in history–which included work stoppage, striking, and a host of innovative activities to stop British and Zionist colonisation of their land. Yes, when a partition plan was presented to Palestinians, they rejected it. Is there a group of people in the world who wouldn’t fight to keep their land if they had the choice? (For maps indicating how much Palestinians were being asked to give up at this stage see here, here, and here.)

To his credit, Lowe does reveal that there was a Zionist terrorist campaign targeting Palestinians and British alike once the British, under pressure from the increasing conflict, limited the Jewish immigration numbers:

The Jews, after all that their race had suffered at the hands of the Nazis, were determined to fight for their “national home”. They began a terrorist campaign against both Arabs and British; one of the most spectacular incidents was the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which the British were using as their headquarters; 91 people were killed and many more injured. (226)

The precursor to this admission of Zionist terrorism–although what is not mentioned is the targeting of Palestinians, which happened exerted a far greater toll–is the mention of Jews as a “race.” Aside from the fact that race is a social construct, there is no ethnically or genealogically unique group of Jews. As with other monotheisms, Jews proselytised, thus creating Jews from various cultural backgrounds. As for Zionist terrorism, it was extensive and far reaching all dictated by a plan to remove Palestinians from Palestine.

The final fib Lowe tells about the creation of Israel is the so-called war that ensued after Israel declared its independence:

In May 1948 Ben Gurion declared the independence of the new state of Israel. It was immediately attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. (227)

The sentences above move beyond mythology and into the realm of fantasy, as many historians have illustrated over the last couple of decades. First of all, the Zionist Plan Dalet, to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population had already been well under way for a few years prior to 1948. Many Zionists were part of the British army and received military training and had greater access to sophisticated weapons. The Palestinians, as well as the Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, and Iraqis barely had an army at all. The ration was about 50,000 Zionist soldiers to 10,000 Palestinians (plus a moderate number of Arab irregulars–not any state army). What the repetition of this myth does, is perpetuate the biblically-rooted fantasy that Israel is a tiny David surrounded by a sea of Goliaths.

In spite of these facts, Lowe amplifies his Zionist sense that it was some kind of extraordinary feat that Israel won the so-called war:

Most people expected the Arabs to win easily, but against seemingly overwhelming odds, the Israelis defeated them and even captured more of Palestine than the UN partition had given them. (227)

He gives only a cursory and vague nod to the Zionist-created Palestinian refugee problem:

After some Jews had slaughtered the entire population of an Arab village in Israel, nearly a million Arabs fled into Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria where they had to live in miserable refugee camps. Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. The USA, Britain and France guaranteed Israel’s frontiers, but the Arab states did not regard the ceasefire as permanent. They would not recognize the legality of Israel, and they regarded this war as only the first round int he struggle to destroy Israel and liberate Palestine. (227-228)

It is likely that Lowe is referring to Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village in Jerusalem, which has become infamous for the Zionist massacre there. However, this massacre was committed on 9 April–a good month before Israel declared its statehood and before its so-called “war of independence” began. Deir Yassin is an important milestone in Palestinian history, mostly because it scared other Palestinians into flight. But it was by no means the only massacre committed by Zionist militias (all of which became folded into the Israeli army after independence).

The most egregious oversight, however, is Lowe’s glossing over the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 villages, which were later forested over by the Jewish National Fund so that Palestinians could not return. He also fails to mention that Palestinians have the right to return to their land as enshrined in UN Resolution 194.

Finally, Lowe reiterates the idea that the Arab states are being difficult, stubborn, and defiant for not recognising Israel like Western states did. Once again, in the absence of context as to why people were so appalled at the take over of Palestinian land is conveniently left out.

After this section rooted in 1948, Lowe skips ahead to 1956 and the Suez War. Here, too, his theme continues of demonising Arabs, especially Nasser:

Colonel Nasser, the new ruler of Egypt, was aggressively in favour of Arab unity and independence, including the liberation of Palestine from the Jews; almost everything he did irritated the British, Americans or French: He organized guerrilla fighters known as fedayeen (self-sacrificers) to carry out sabotage and murder inside Israel, and Egyptian ships blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba leading to the Israeli port of Eliat. (228)

The use of the adverb “aggressively”, something Lowe never does when describing Israelis, posits Nasser once again as an unreasonable and dangerous man. But this paragraph also pieces together bits of history from different historical moments, none of which are related to the war in 1956. He blockaded the port in the Gulf of Aqaba in 1967. Palestinian freedom fighters made a much more powerful dent in their struggle during the 1960s–both after this particular war. Through his tone and cherry-picked events, Lowe also suggests Nasser was a problem for helping Algerians in their anti-colonial war against France and for siding with Russia in order to obtain weapons at the height of the Cold War.

Lowe does accurately portray the origin of the war as a “planned Israeli invasion of Egypt”, which he thinks “was a brilliant success” while British and French forces bombed Egyptian airbases (230). He mentions the U.S. demanding the war be halted, signaling a win for Egypt, and the positive effect the war had on Algerians who were fighting for independence, but he doesn’t mention Nasser’s triumphant influence from Ghana to India and everywhere in between.

The next war Lowe skips ahead to is the June 1967 War, which Israelis call the Six Day War. He claims that leading up to this war, a newly independent and left-leaning Iraq wanted to “wipe Israel off the map” (231). He says:

The Arab states had not signed a peace treaty at the end of the 1948-9 war and were still refusing to give Israel official recognition. In 1967 they joined together again in a determined attempt to destroy Israel. The lead was taken by Iraq, Syria and Egypt. (231)

Lowe also characterises the growing Palestinian armed resistance movement  in Syria, which “supported El Fatah, the Palestinian Liberation Movement, a more effective guerrilla force than the fedayeen” (231). Fatah was very much a part of the fedayeen whether in Syria or Jordan. While he does reveal that “The Israelis decided that the best policy was to attack first rather than wait to be defeated”, because troops amassed “along their frontiers” (232).

Of course, Israel’s success in that war meant it enlarged its colonial territories, including Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and the rest of historic Palestine: the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Lowe mentions that “this time [the Israelis] had ignored a UN order to return the captured territory” (232). But actually, Israel has ignored every single UN resolution related to their territory. This resolution was Security Council Resolution 242, which made clear that in international law no state may hold onto, or move a civilian population into, a territory acquired by war. It also reiterated the necessity of solving the Palestinian refugee problem, a problem that was greatly increased with this new war.

The final war explored between Israel and its neighbours is the one war that Israel didn’t initiate. In this scenario countries like Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, at least in part, to recover territory that Israel had illegally occupied since the previous war in 1967. For Lowe, the war was caused because:

Pressure was brought to bear on the Arab states by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under its leader Yasser Arafat, for some further action. When very little happened, a more extreme group within the PLO, called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, embarked on a series of terrorist attacks to draw world attention to the grave injustice being done to the Arabs of Palestine. (232)

This statement, which opens this section of the chapter, is extremely vague, although when one reads on it is clear that he is referring to Palestinians having to resort to new strategies to call attention to their plight. But in relation to what action or what did or didn’t happen, it remains unclear. Interestingly, like many Zionists, it is after the PFLP’s attacks that the word Palestine began, finally, to appear in the mainstream media. As if to reinforce Lowe’s opinion of painting Palestinians as terrorists here, he includes a photograph of Palestinian children whom he describes as follows:

The child soldiers of the Palestine refugee camps; trained from the age of 7, these boys and girls would be ready for front-line service by the age of 15. (234)

Note: there are no photographs of Israeli soldiers in training nor are there any photographs of Israelis except for Menachem Begin signing a peace treaty with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat. Thus, through images Lowe is able to show Israelis as those who are striving for peace, and Palestinians as desiring to maintain a state of war.

Israel won this war, too, largely because of its increasing arsenal gifted from the American  government. But it sparked an important response from oil producing countries, creating an oil embargo that resulted in a global energy crisis.

The next jump in history moves to the peace accord signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979, a treaty that would cost President Sadat his life for isolating Palestinians and the rest of the region. Lowe tells readers that “Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, bravely announced that he would continue the Camp David agreement” (236).

From this event he shifts to Israel’s peace treaty with the PLO. Oddly, this jump in time skips over the first intifada, a popular movement that ran the gamut from refusal to pay taxes to throwing stones at Israel armoured tanks. It is this development that likely led to pressuring the PLO into signing the Oslo Accords. Lowe fails to highlight the way that this agreement was one sided, as it sent Palestinians down the road which would force them to constantly make concessions for little to nothing in return. Instead, he merely states that in addition to the PLO and Israel recognising one another:

the Palestinians were to be given limited self-rule in Jericho (on the West Bank) and in part of the Gaza Strip, areas occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Israeli troops would be withdrawn from these areas. (237)

Today it is clear that each and every so-called peace treaty Israel pushed Palestinians into signing was another tactic to increase its colonial rule of Palestinians. And just as Israel has never honoured a UN resolution, it has never honoured any promise made in its treaties. As a way to relieve Israel from any blame, because “four bombings carried out by the militant Palestinian group, Hamas claimed 63 lives” (237). Of course, Israel’s divide and conquer colonial practice that helped to bolster Hamas is not mentioned in the textbook.

The last three sections cover other wars: Lebanon’s civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In its section on Lebanon, Lowe brings up the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in ways that is both confused and quite uninformed:

The presence of Palestinian refugees from Israel: This complicated the situation even more. By 1975 there were at least half a million of them living in squalid camps away from the main centres of population. The Palestinians were not popular in Lebanon because they were continually involved in frontier incidents with Israel, provoking the Israelis to hit back at the Palestinians in southern Lebanon. In particular, the Palestinians, being left-wing and Muslim, alarmed conservative and Christian Maronites who looked on the Palestinians as a dangerous destabilising influence. By 1975 the PLO had its headquarters in Lebanon, and this meant that Syria, the chief supporter of the PLO, was constantly interfering in Lebanon’s affairs. (240)

First, Palestinian refugees were forced into Lebanon by Zionists before the state of Israel existed. They are refugees from Palestine, not from Israel. Second, Palestinians do not necessarily live away from main centres of population (Sur, Saida, Beirut, Trablus). Indeed, in Beirut there are several camps within the city itself. Third, Palestinians are not only Muslim and not only leftist–whether fighters or not. Indeed, many Palestinian fighters were Christian and many were not leftists.

But throughout this section, Lowe represents the Lebanese Civil War in highly sectarian ways. While part of the issue is certainly Lebanon’s sectarianism, it is not as simplistic as Lowe makes it out to be. Because he sees Palestinians as mainly Muslim and Lebanese as mainly Christian, here is how he characterises the fighting:

In the south, bordering on Israel, fighting soon broke out between Palestinians and Christians; the Israelis seized this opportunity to send troops in to help the Christians. A small semi-independent Christian state of Free Lebanon was declared under Major Haddad. The Israelis supported this because it acted as a buffer zone to protect them from further Palestinian attacks. (240)

Instead of truthfully explaining that Haddad’s army–known as the South Lebanese Army–was not independent because it was a proxy militia for Israel, Lowe merely tells readers it was a Christian group wanting to protect themselves and the border. Moreover, to further complicate the sectarian nature of Lowe’s book, SLA ran Khiam prison, in cahoots with the Israelis, where freedom fighters such as Soha Bechara, a Lebanese Christian communist woman, were held and tortured for years.

Elsewhere Lowe continues to take plays from Zionists by rationalising attacks on Palestinians by calling it a “reprisal”:

In 1982, in reprisal for a Palestinian attack on Israel, Israeli troops invaded Lebanon and penetrated as far as Beirut. For a time the Gemayels, supported by the Israelis, were in control of Beirut. During this period the Palestinians were expelled from Beirut, and from then on the PLO was divided. (240).

This passage elides several points. True, Israel was aligned with the Phalangists or Kata’eb political party in Lebanon, a right-wing Maronite (Christian) group. Although he makes it clear that Israel “invaded” Lebanon (not its first time to do so either, and certainly not its last), the notion that Israel was aligned with a particular militia makes it seem as though they were somehow welcome. More horrendous is his use of the word “reprisal” to suggest that whatever Israel did–something Lowe elides here–was warranted. What he forgets to tell his readers is that 1982 is precisely the moment when Israel perpetrated on defenceless Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camp Shatila (and the surrounding neighbourhood of Sabra) under the cover of the Phalange militia. Even Israel’s Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon guilty for his part in orchestrating the massacre.

In the final two sections of the chapter, Lowe covers up more key points as he glosses over the conflict between Iran and Iraq and later the U.S. and Iraq. But the conclusion to the chapter seems to be the one place where some truth emerges as well through both his tone and language:

The war and its aftermath were very revealing about the motives of the West and the great powers. Their primary concern was not with international justice and moral questions of right and wrong, but with their own self-interest. They only took action against Saddam in the first place because they felt he was threatening their oil supplies. Often in the past when other small nations had been invaded, no international action had been taken. For example, when East Timor was occupied by neighbouring Indonesia in 1975, the rest of the world ignored it, because their interests were not threatened. (244)

It is quite odd to see Lowe making such a statement at the beginning of the paragraph, and then regress so ignorantly at the conclusion of the paragraph and chapter. It is also strange that he sees self-interest here, but not elsewhere–for example Britain’s desire to control the Suez Canal or Iranian oil fields. But the icing on the cake is this conclusion when he imagines that the world ignored it because their interests weren’t threatened. Indeed, the West, especially the United States, actively participated in the massacre and occupation of East Timor.

While this is just a small response to one chapter in a history book, I could certainly continue examining and pointing out inconsistencies, omissions, and false statements throughout the volume. It should be a reminder that we cannot accept any text at face value and that we should question what we read.

On Rape

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One of the things I miss most about Beirut is the women of Nasawiya.  I miss their spirit and energy. I miss the way they run their organization in a grassroots fashion in the purest sense of the word. Anyone who has a project or an issue they want to work on they do it.  From the Anti-Racism Movement (which has a special focus on migrant domestic workers) to supporting refugees, Palestinian Syrian, and Sudanese, to standing in solidarity with Spinney’s workers on strike. There is such breadth in the way they connect feminism to other causes, something generally lacking in American feminist organizing.

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Yesterday the women of Nasawiya were on my mind as I attended my first protest in India. There has been a lot in the media locally and internationally about rape here and I received an email from Vimochana, a local feminist organization that there would be a demonstration against sexual assault and to demand a change in the way the legal system handles rape cases. The initial impetus for this protest was the outrage many people in India feel about the gang rape of a twenty-three-year old student in Delhi who was gang raped for almost an hour on a bus before being thrown onto the road and left to die. This was last week. This week a fifteen-year-old girl was raped in a grocery store near her home here in Bangalore.

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In the announcement for the protest these statistics about rape in Bangalore were shared:

97 cases were the registered rape cases in 2011 in Bangalore city which means 7 women victims each month. If the hundreds of cases of molestation, abductions of women, child sexual abuse, harassment and abuse on the streets/ auto rickshaws / buses or other public spaces in the city are counted then by any standard, living and working in the city is truly a daily hazard for women and children.  The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2011 said Bangalore ranks fourth among cities of the country in recorded rape cases.

The numbers seem low by American standards, or even global standards. But the situation here seems shocking and most people are talking about it. Of course as is always the case with rape, it is underreported so statistics can only tell so much of the story. Regardless of the numbers, the stories, the fact that it happens at all and afterwards when women usually blamed, exacerbates and enflames the situation even for those not directly involved in the sexual assault.

I arrived at the protest a bit early and it seemed that a different organization, Women’s Voice, already had a protest underway. This consisted of women speaking to an audience of, largely women, sitting down and listening and at times called to chant in response. Since they were all speaking in Kannada I don’t know what they were saying, but a journalist near me, who was waiting for the second protest like me, mentioned that this was a bit orchestrated. She said that the organization bussed in women to put on a show. I’m not sure whether this is the case or not. But their protest was certainly lively, including the burning of a scarecrow-rapist in effigy.

The second protest began under the banner of Women in Black India and it seems that this group had various people involved, including a lot of students. In both cases the demands are similar wanting to change the legal system, sensitize the police force, stop the rape examination (which involves a woman being subjected to a doctor placing two fingers into her vagina to see whether or not she is used to sexual intercourse) among other things.

Here are some more essays/editorials on the Indian rape cases:

From Madness to Civilization

Change Hearts, Not Laws

Fight We Must

India: Hundreds of Men Accused of Sexual Assault Stand for Election

And here is a report on the Delhi protest the other day:

Back in Beirut

The plan was to write another couple of blog entries about Cairo, but the photographs that would have amplified the story are being held hostage on my computer that won’t let me log on any more. So for now I’m just reporting that I arrived back in Beirut, for a brief week, before returning to the U.S. for a visit (see speaking link above for dates of my upcoming speaking engagements in California). The plan was almost interrupted when the airport road into Beirut was shut down the night before I left. Here is a video from Al Jazeera:

I found it all a bit odd, especially because of the U.S. embassy warning that As’ad AbuKhalil posted on his blog just two days earlier:

“The U.S. Embassy has received reports of an increased possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in Lebanon.  Possible threats include kidnapping, the potential for an upsurge in violence, the escalation of family or neighborhood disputes, as well as U.S. citizens being the target of terrorist attacks in Lebanon. U.S. Embassy personnel remain under strict travel restrictions, and all U.S. citizens are urged to take additional security precautions.”  I would love to see the sources for those reports, would you not?  And don’t you like the reference to “escalation of family or neighborhood disputes”??

It is almost as if the Americans were predicting the attacks. Of course, the kidnapping predicted is not at all targeting Americans, although it should given the logic being used (it is targeting Syrians who are against the Asad regime in Syria as well as regional powers assisting them like Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia). It certainly makes me wonder what role the Americans are playing Syria and Lebanon right now.

These kidnappings are not the work of militias or political parties. They are the work of Lebanese families seeking revenge for their family members  who have been kidnapped in Syria. But it got quite out of hand the other night with journalists–even those on the same political side–were beaten up. Fortunately things seem to have calmed down now, but there are still threats about what may happen after Eid in the coming days.

Here is some more writing on the topic

“Al-Moqdad Republic” in al-Akhbar

“Armed Lebanese Kidnap 11 Syrians” in al-Akhbar

“Second Turkish Citizen Kidnapped” in al-Akhbar

“Families of Kidnapped Lebanese in Syria Cut Off Access to Airport in Beirut” in Jadaliyya

And for the humorous take on all this, check out this new Twitter account, Moqdaddy.

Green in the City

It has been eight years since I spent the summer in Cairo and this is my first visit back. There has been a lot that has changed here, uprising not withstanding (see Jadaliyya on Egypt’s recent past, especially herehere, and here). Given that I am merely a visitor here, and a foreigner at that, it is not my place to write about the political scene in Egypt. Others (linked to above) are doing that better than I can.

Instead I have been doing my part to help the Egyptian economy, which has suffered from less tourist traffic since the uprising. The number of craft shops seems to have doubled or tripled since 2004. And the kinds of crafts being sold in the city or in the souq seems to have changed, too. Either that or I am merely noticing different types of objects. I am especially in love with the Berber embroidery and drafts from Siwa, which I would get on the bus and visit (there are some amazing ecolodges there) if it were not so hot outside. And because it is Ramadan there are additional craft fairs around the city at night, such as the one I went to a couple of weeks ago at Darb 1718.

The other thing that has been most striking to me over the past couple of weeks is al-Azhar Park. The park is built in the heart of a poor community in old, Islamic Cairo not far from Khan Khalili market. Although the arial shot above makes it seem like the park is an oasis in a midst of a concrete jungle, much of Cairo is actually pretty Green. If you drive along the Nile, for example, it is incredibly lush. Spending the last couple of years in Beirut, and Amman before that, I had forgotten how much I miss green spaces. There are very few public parks in Beirut for picnicking or for children to swing or play football. Although Ba’albek does have quite a lovely park where you can do those things.

At the entrance of al-Azhar Park you see a beautiful fountain, which children play in. The park does have an entrance fee (the equivalent of about $1), but if you are one of the families who live in the area you get in for about $.25. As a result, it the grass is filled with families having picnic iftar dinners while children run around on the playground. There is also a year-round souq and a Ramadan outdoor souq with beautiful crafts for sale.

 

It is refreshing to see such a wide, open space in the center of an urban metropolis. The weather is cooler there, the people seem happy, and the energy is amazing. I walked around the perimeter of the park last weekend right around iftar began (this hour of the day is not ideal for photography, but the images should give readers a small slice of what it looks like).

The park is also filled with beautiful landscaping, gardens (plant names are identified in Arabic and English on placards). There are restaurants and cafes and an amphitheater hosting terrific music.

My first weekend here I saw Oumeima el Khalil (photograph above) and last weekend I went to Dina el Wadidi’s concert. Wadidi sings in a band that fuses the incredible sounds of the accordion, violin, piano, and tabla (also bass and electric guitar, which unfortunately drown out the other beautiful sounds). One of the many people sitting around me filming the concert on their cell phones posted one of the songs on Youtube:

As I enjoyed the park I wondered about its construction. I thought about the people in Beirut who are working for greening the city. Every time I look at the enormous port I imagine how beautiful it would be as a green park with football fields, playgrounds for children, and areas for families to picnic. But, of course, this is Solidere territory (the best article on the history and context of how Solidere ruined downtown Beirut see Saree Makdisi’s articles here and here). The contrast between the once public space, albeit not green, of downtown Beirut and the public space of al-Azhar Park is striking in many ways (although similar kinds of encroachments on downtown Cairo were part of Mubarak’s re-imagining of the city). Whereas Solidere wants to keep poor people out, al-Azhar at least appears to be working to make all families able to access its space. Poor people may not be able to afford to buy crafts or eat at the restaurants, but for under $1 they can picnic and their children have a place to run around and play.

If only it were that simple.  I did a little research to see how this park was created. A foreign corporation, the Aga Khan Trust, financed the construction of this park. I was told by an Egyptian friend that the fees that one pays when entering go to that corporation for about thirty years before Egyptians may retain control over their own park (reminds me of the Suez Canal and the British). The microfinance division of Aga Khan collaborates with USAID on a number of projects, including one in Aswan, Egypt (they also have a numer of projects in Afghanistan and elsewhere in collaboration with USAID). It is unclear what role USAID has had in the building of al-Azhar Park. But there are some indications that they played a role. One document says, for example, that through the American Research Center, that USAID funded a part of a project in the park, but it doesn’t specify what. Another article suggests that USAID, along with the Ford Foundation, helped to fund part of the municipal underground water beneath the park.

Of course all this transpired under the Mubarak regime. Indeed, Suzanne Mubarak was apparently quite the champion of the park. It’s not yet clear to me how much of the park has been funded with USAID. But even a dime from that entity spells danger. But I am not at all surprised. This is what USAID does best: it appears to be a lovely gift from the Americans to the Egyptians (or the Haitians or the Palestinians), but in reality it is a mechanism of domination and control. This is why ALBA nations recently pledged to kick out USAID from their countries in a bold anti-imperialist move.

Egypt has been controlled by USAID since Sadat’s treacherous signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979, which gave Egyptians back the Sinai Peninsula (though not military control over it) and sold out the Palestinians. In exchange for this agreement, Egyptian people began to receive funds and imports from the United States. But it is not so simple.

Jason Hickel explains how this works in the most important sector, the agricultural sector:

To push along the process of neoliberal reform, USAid has given $200 million each year to the Egyptian government in handouts to encourage “continuing reduction in tariffs” and the privatisation of 314 government-owned companies. Furthermore, USAid devotes some 25 per cent of its budget to a special Commodity Import Programme designed to help Egypt buy American-made goods and reinforce bilateral trade.

Programmes like these have proven to be devastating for many Egyptians: they tend to undercut local manufactures, encourage foreign monopolies, concentrate wealth in the hands of political cronies and ultimately contribute to unemployment, which (depending on the measure used) has risen to 25 per cent in recent years and reaches as high as 30 per cent among the young.

Some of the most extreme neoliberal measures have been directed at Egypt’s agriculture sector. As a condition for development aid, USAid has required Egypt to shift its formidable agricultural capacity away from staple foods and toward export crops such as cotton, grapes and strawberries in order to generate foreign currency to pay off its burgeoning debt to the US.

According to Columbia University professor, Timothy Mitchell, USAid first began to facilitate this process in the 1980s through its Agricultural Mechanisation Project, which was designed to develop the productive capacity of Egyptian export agriculture by financing the purchase of American machinery.

In the end – despite USAid’s projections to the contrary – the programme did very little to help common farmers. Instead, it disproportionately benefitted the few large landholders who could afford to take out the loans, while slashing the demand for agricultural labour and causing rural wages to plummet.

To propel the transformation to export-led agriculture, USAid forced the Egyptian government to heavily tax the production of staples by local farmers and to eliminate subsidies on essential consumer goods like sugar, cooking oil and dairy products in order to make room for competition from American and other foreign companies.

To ameliorate the resulting food gap, USAid’s so-called “Food for Peace” programme provided billions of dollars of loans for Egypt to import subsidised grain from the US, which only further undercut local farmers. The result of all of this “agricultural reform” was an unprecedented spike in food prices which made livelihoods increasingly precarious and forced much of the workforce to accept degrading and dehumanising labour conditions. The widespread social frustrations that resulted from these reforms helped spark the 2011 uprising.

Similar forms of neoliberal shock therapy been applied to the public services sector. USAid has aggressively pushed for so-called “cost-recovery” mechanisms, a euphemism for transforming public healthcare and education into private, fee-based institutions. Indeed, USAid typically spends nearly half of its health and education budgets – more than $100-million per year – on privatisation measures.

This has been fantastic for multinational medical companies, as it translates into greater dependence on imported drugs and equipment. For Egyptians, however, privatisation means having to pay large sums on healthcare and education. Mitchell shows that such expenditures – as a percentage of household income – now rank at the second and third highest in the world, respectively.

To make matters worse, Mitchell also demonstrates that USAid’s cuts to public service budgets have forced the wage rates of workers in hospitals and schools below the rate of inflation, causing deep income deficits among working-class households.

These destructive, pro-corporate policies get obscured by the rhetoric that USAid deploys. According to its website, USAid claims to have helped Egypt become a “success story in economic development”, citing “improvements” in the quality of education and – amazingly – “the administration of justice” (a shocking contradiction, given that the US actively funded Mubarak’s repressive military apparatus and its widespread human rights abuses).

Egypt’s vigorous market liberalisation programme has attracted foreign investment and boosted GDP growth, but these gains have only benefited the very rich, while the country’s bottom quintiles have seen their portion of the economic pie shrink significantly over the same period.

This one aspect of American control over Egyptian society since the 1980s–in other words since Camp David–gives one a sense of why USAID is so dangerous and also provides context over the ongoing uprising in Egypt.  Additionally, and a reason why USAID is associated with the CIA in most of the global south, is because there is often a relationship between NGOs and USAID. This relationship may be predominantly financial, but it is one that can be used to foment unrest, one reason why a few months ago Egyptians also considered removing USAID.

This issue of funding and the way it is used to control people is a huge problem, especially for those who have amazing ideas that they want to make tangible. Creating a park is an amazing thing to do for a community. But whether it is a park or a farm, one has to weigh the funding of such projects with societal control by outside corporations, foundations, or governments that have an agenda. There is no easy answer to this. But there is a reason why Henry Kissinger, who negotiated Camp David for Carter, famously said, “If you control oil, you control nations. If you control food, you control people.”

Free the refugees of Nahr al-Bared

My article online today on the Al Jazeera English website:

 

Tripoli, Lebanon – Last week at a candlelight vigil in Baddawi refugee camp for the camp’s dead and injured, signs posted on the school wall asked why, after five years, was Nahr al-Bared still a closed military zone?

For the past five years, all entrances to Nahr al-Bared have remained encircled by the Lebanese army. It has remained that way since the military’s 2007 campaign – ostensibly against Fatah al-Islam members – devastated the camp, turning it into a closed military zone. In addition to the checkpoints, walls and barbed wire, the army commandeered all the homes surrounding the periphery of the camp, in addition to those homes straddling the border between the old and new sections of the camp.

Those wishing to visit friends in the camp must first obtain permission from the army (and those who are US citizens must wait for the army to clear visits with the US embassy). Palestinians from other camps, including those who lived in Nahr al-Bared prior to the army’s bombardment, are also prevented from visiting the camp. Thus, people in other camps cannot visit their relatives in Nahr al-Bared without prior permission from the military.

This closure also affects the economy of the camp, and the economy of the area, since Nahr al-Bared used to be an economic hub connecting Palestinians in the camp with Lebanese people in the villages surrounding it.

Inside the camp, 600 families continue to live in zinc army barracks containers, which are like ovens in the summer and refrigerators in the winter. Those whose homes have been repaired or rebuilt did so on their own, without relying on outside help. Most of the camp remains in ruins, with promised funds for rebuilding not materialising; the Lebanese government and UNRWA are reportedly complicit in stalling the arrival of those funds by preventing people from returning and by controlling the terms of the camp’s resurrection.

The spark

And, on top of all this, Palestinians’ freedom of movement is restricted through a system of identification cards – both inside and outside the camp.

On June 15, the Lebanese army’s stopping of a motorcyclist to check his identity card inside the camp escalated into an argument. The soldiers proceeded to his home, where they dragged him into the street and beat him. When other youths gathered, the army sprayed the area with gunfire and a bystander, 16-year-old Ahmad Qassim, was shot in the head and killed.

Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared mobilised. Qassim’s death was the spark that ignited people to take to the streets to fight for the end of their imprisonment. This time, Palestinians took over some of the buildings controlled by the army that separate the two sections of the camp. It seemed as if this could have been the beginning of an effort to “take back” the entirety of the camp.

In solidarity with Nahr al-Bared, and to fight their own imprisonment in similar camps, Palestinians in Ein el Helwa and Rashadiyeh camps in southern Lebanon also rose up to fight for their rights. Two Palestinians were killed: Khaled Youssef in Ein el Hewla and Fouad Loubani in Nahr al-Bared.

These protests and clashes with the army are ongoing, with residents of Nahr al-Bared creating their own Tharir Square-style sit-in protest. Unlike Cairo’s famed square, however, this protest is taking place in a closed military zone, away from the lenses of the world’s TV cameras. Indeed, filmmaker Sandra Madi was arrested (and later released) on Monday, while trying to film images of the protest, to share them with the outside world.

It feels like deja vu. It feels like the Lebanese army is the modern-day version of maktab thani (Deuxieme Bureau, France’s former external military intelligence agency), suppressing Palestinians in the camps. But in 1969, during the Palestinian Revolution in Lebanon, Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared, surrounded by the Lebanese army, were the first to liberate their camp from this repressive military regime. This week a similar pattern played itself out. Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared, who have been living in what is a closed military zone, fought to free themselves.

Fighting for freedom

This time, the Palestinians are largely fighting for their freedom on their own. Since June 15, hundreds of youths in Nahr al-Bared have been holding sit-in demonstrations, demanding an end to military rule in the camp, including the requirement to show identity cards to enter and exit their own community. Beyond this, they are demanding a full investigation of Qassim’s death, the removal of the army from public spaces such as the cemetery, and allowing the media to report freely on what happens in the camp. Meanwhile, Palestinian factions are negotiating with the army.

But the camp remains a closed military zone.

One of the reasons Palestinians demand access to journalists is that stories are once again circulating in the Lebanese press that remind one of 2007, when the army’s crusade against Palestinians was rationalised through a “war on Fatah al-Islam”. The general public has little to no access to information or images from the camp itself, and can accept these ideas too readily.

One wonders, for instance, why formerly armed fighters, identified as Fatah al-Islam members, were released from prison at the same time Palestinian prisoners were also released, and while Nahr al-Bared is resisting its besieged conditions. In the absence of journalists present to observe the sit-in – and the events leading up to it – the media is conflating ideas and making a scapegoating of an “Islamic militia” to justify the army’s potential destruction of yet another Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. It foments jingoistic sentiments in the population, and, in Lebanon, it is the Palestinians in the camps who suffer accordingly.

Falling victim to these conspiracy theories about Fatah al-Islam, or any other militia foreign to the camp, misses the root of the problem. Palestinians are fed up with a besieged existence, and want the right to live and move about freely – both within and outside their camp.

What happened this week was no different from an uprising in a prison, with prisoners demanding their rights – except, in this case, the imprisoned are an innocent civilian population that has not been arrested or convicted of any crime. Palestinians are demanding basic human rights, demanding to live their lives with dignity. To spin it any other way is to perpetuate racism against the Palestinian people.

Marcy Newman is a scholar, a teacher and an activist. She is the author of The Politics of Teaching Palestine to Americans.

Follow her on Twitter: @marcynewman

Nahr el Bared Redux

Yet again the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el Bared is under attack. For those of you who don’t know this history, click here for a link to an article I wrote detailing it up until 2008. I have been reposting information from two blogs, Words of Actionand Nahr el Bared – نهر البارد because the former is written by a journalist who is witnessing what is going on and the latter is collected from people who are in the camp. In these repostings there have been videos from the Solidarity Palestine Youtube channel, which are videos posted from the camp, including interviews with the martyr Ahmed Qassim who was murdered by the Lebanese army last week.  After going up to Baddawi camp a couple of times last week and meeting friends across the street from Nahr el Bared camp (because although they army was allowing women in that night, I was with a Palestinian friend from another camp who was not allowed in), I also wrote something, but I am waiting for it to be posted online before sharing it. But the most important and best article I’ve seen yet is an article that was published in al-Akhbar yesterday and I’m posting it in full below in the hope that as many Lebanese people as possible will read it given how many lies and much misinformation circulates whenever Palestinians and the army are the subject. In Lebanon, the army is believed by many people to be above criticism. And in many parts of Lebanon Palestinians are the ultimate scapegoat. For those readers who are willing to have their stereotypes challenged, here is “Letter From a Camp Resident: The Reality of Nahr al-Bared,” which dismantles most of the most egregious stereotypes and misconceptions:

By: Yousef Mohammed Ali

Published Saturday, June 23, 2012

Considering the misinformation and blackout in much of the media, and since the events were presented solely from the perspective of the main perpetrator in the crime of killing the innocent in Palestinian camps recently, I would like to state the following facts for those who are searching for the truth about what happened, and what is still happening, in the Nahr al-Bared Camp:

1. There have not been weapons in the Nahr al-Bared Camp since 2007, and it has been under military siege since then. The siege is so intense that no one can enter the camp – or leave it – except through the Lebanese Army. All the talk of confrontations proving the presence of weapons used by the Palestinians against the Army are lies, defamations designed to plant hatred in the hearts of our Lebanese brothers.

There have not been weapons in the Nahr al-Bared Camp since 2007, and it has been under military siege since then.

2. No Palestinian is allowed to enter the camp, even if he or she lives there, without securing permission from the Army. None of their relatives can visit them at the Camp without permission from the Army. This is because the Camp, since 2007, has been a militarized area, so military rules and regulations are applied there. Any Lebanese person, however, can enter the camp by simply presenting their personal identity card, even if they do not live in the Camp or even in Lebanon. Even the old cemetery [in the camp] is under military control, and entering it is only allowed on religious holidays and, even then, only with permission from the Army.3. The Lebanese Army can only open fire with the permission of a political decision, no matter against whom, as is the case in Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, even when the Army are under attack. We all saw how the Army stood by watching in Tariq al-Jdideh during the recent events. Yet, the Army needs no such political decision to open fire on Palestinians. The reason is quite simple: the Palestinians have no one defending them, even if only with words.

4. Let no one be convinced that merely throwing stones at the Army or shouting insults at the soldiers can justify their opening fire on a group of youths, the majority of whom were under the age of 20. And for those who do not know, the youth that was killed on June 15 in the Camp was only 16 years of age, and he was killed by a direct shot to the head. (He was just standing on a street corner in the Camp.) He also had wounds to the chest and heart. Another youth also died from similar injuries. And the other youth, who died in Ein al-Hilwe Camp, was not killed by a knife, as reported by LBC, but killed by a shot to the neck from an M16.

Excuse me if I have dragged on, but we are fatigued from years of humiliation and searches and oppression and besiegement in the Camps.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Yousef Mohammed Ali is a Palestinian refugee from Tabaraya, living in Ein al-Hilwe Camp.

Below are photographs I took at a candlelight vigil for the martyrs in Nahr el Bared and Ein el Helwa camps (because the other camps subjected to the status of a closed military zone have joined in protests and sit ins since the the onset of this lastest attack on Palestinians by the army. The photographs are a bit blurry, but the signs on the wall demand the end to the status of closed military zone of all camps. Here are there other demands (also reposted below).
Anyone interested in learning more, please come to Nasawiya’s event this week about Nahr el Bared:

Live from Nahr el Bared نهر البارد يروي Public Event · By Nasawiya

In solidarity with the youth-led open sit-in ongoing in Nahr el Bared to end the military siege, we invite all activists, bloggers, and journalists for a night of discussion and learning with Palestinian activists.

Come with all your honest questions, meet residents from the camp, and talk to them personally to understand why it is imperative to end the military siege.

The evening includes a visual exhibition open from 5pm – 10pm, as well as a panel of conversation with the Palestinian activists starting 7:30pm.

تضامنا مع الشباب المعتصمين في مخيم نهر البارد ومطالبهم المشروعة المتمثلة بإنهاء الحكم العسكري في المخيم ووقف اعتماد نظام التصاريح، تدعو المجموعة النسوية جميع النشطاء والصحافيين والمهتمين للمشاركة في اليوم التضامني هذا. يتخلله عرض صور وأفلام قصيرة من الاعتصام وكذلك لقاء مع بعض الناشطين من المخيم القيمين على الاعتصام.

من المهم التعرف على وضع المخيم، وضع أهله، أين أصبح على صعيد إعادة الإعمار؟ هل ما تبثه وسائل الإعلام في نقلها للحدث من هناك صحيح؟ لماذا يجب فك الحصار العسكري؟…

تعالوا مع أسئلتكم من أجل نقاش صريح في شتى المسائل. ليكن يوما نتعرف فيه عن وضع اللاجئين الفلسطينيين في لبنان. ليكن يوما لنعيد التفكير في الكثير مما تشربناه من أفكار مسبقة ونمطية حول المخيمات واللاجئين في لبنان.

Date:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012
5:00pm until 9:00pm

I call it murder

A few days ago I watched a video on LBCI TV of Alem Dechasa being savagely beaten by Ali Mahfouz in front of the Ethiopian embassy.

At the time we did not know their names. Now we do. Mahfouz works for one of the 500 agencies that employs migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. Of these workers, approximately one commits “suicide” every week. As Mahfouz would have it, they are “mentally ill”; this is a description used to rationalize savage brutality against laborers who perform the tasks in society that no one else is willing or wants to do. Reports on al Jazeera and in al Akhbar call Dechasa’s murder “suicide.” I don’t. The exploitative conditions that led to her murder would lead the most sane among us to a similar fate.

Lebanon is a party to the UN Trafficking Protocol and, in theory, is subjected to it as law. In practice that is another story. Lebanese people know that neither the internal security forces nor the courts will enforce international law when it comes to protecting and defending migrant workers in Lebanon. The system that keeps domestic workers, in particular, from being free agents on the labor market and puts them in exploitative positions where they are abused and forced off balconies in one way or another are the conditions that the International Labor Organization (ILO) defines as human trafficking or modern day slavery:

• Deception and false promises concerning conditions of work;
• Lack of freedom to change employers;
• Physical or sexual abuse;
• Debt bondage;
• Confiscation of identity papers;
• Non-payment of wages to worker;
• Physical confinement;
• Threat of denunciation or deportation

Al Jazeera did an amazing series of reports on modern day slavery (the best one was on the United States), but unfortunately they did not air an episode on Lebanon or the Arab world (there is an older report from Human Rights Watch on this subject). Lest one think it is only domestic workers whose lives amount for so little here, an Indian migrant laborer was killed and left beneath a pile of rubble for the past four days.

It is racism and classism that lies at the heart of what allows us to exploit one group of people because we deem ourselves superior to them. Dechasa was murdered because she dared to seek the protection of her embassy. She is a martyr in the struggle for the justice of workers around the world who seek a livelihood to support their families. Her murder should not go unchallenged. It should be a call to arms for everyone who believes in justice and who fights against exploitation, slavery, and injustice.

For Arabic readers here is an excellent piece by Ali Fakhry:

لطالما واجهت صعوبة في شرح الأسباب التي تؤدي بعاملة وافدة إلى لبنان للعمل في الخدمة المنزلية للموت إنتحارا
والصعوبة الأكبر التي كنت أواجهاها هي عندما كانت الفتاة ” تنتحر ” أي تقتل و يلفق لها بعد مماتها أنها إنتحرت لحماية الموظف/ة اللبناني/ة من الملاحقة

دئبنا في حركة مناهضة العنصرية على رصد حالات الإنتحار بين الوافدات إلى لبنان وفي كل مرة يصلنا خبر موت إحداهن يكون معنون : “إنتحرت العاملة الأجنبية من التابعية الفولانية شنقا أو قفزا أو حرقا أو … في محلة الجديدة ”
تتحرك المجموعة في الحركة لتقصي الخبر وتبحث في المنطقة المذكورة عن المبنى التي توفيت فيه العاملة ومن ثم يتم محاولة سؤال الجيران والمحلات المحيطة عن مشاهاداتهم عن ال”منتحرة” من ثم نتوجه لمخفر الشرطة لطلب معلومات التي لا يعطونا إيها ومن ثم نرجع لنقرع باب الموظف لنسأله كيف ولماذا إنتحرت

وفي كل المرات التي كنا نفعل فيها ذلك وحتى عندما كنا نوفق في الحصول على تقرير الشرطة ومقابلة الموظف كان
التقرير كما يقولون بالعامية : ستاندر
يعني٫ يذكر التقرير أنه تم الإبلاغ عن حادثة إنتحار فحضرت القوى الأمنية وكشفت على الجثة بحضور الطبيب الشرعي
الذي أعطى تقرير أنه لم يجد أي علامات عنف أو إغتصاب أو مقاومة مما يعني أنها إنتحرت

والمضحك أن أغلب الجثث لا تفحص لمعرفة إن كانت تحتوي على مخدر إلا إذا طلب من الطبيب ذلك وبكلفة تصل إلى مئتين دولار تدفعها الجهة التي طلبت ذلك لا الدولة اللبنانية

ويغلق الملف بعد التحقيق الستاندر وتطلب من السفارة أو القنصلية منح الأذن لتسفير الجثة

ثلاثة سنين ونحن نطلع على هذه التقارير وفي ثلاثة سنين لم يتغير شيىء إلا إذا ذكرنا أن في واحد من التقارير الشرطة كتب : وقد وجدت جثة العاملة النيبالية من التابعية الأفريقية …

لا الإعلام تغير في طريقته في الإبلاغ عن الموضوع

لا الشرطة حركت ساكنا للتحقيق بشكل مهني

لا سفارات بلادهن أنصفتهن

ولا أحد حرك ساكنا …

اليوم تموت عاملة أخرى

لكن اليوم حزني هو على غير عادة

لأنكم اليوم تعرفون من هي وشاهدتموها تموت

اليوم كلكم بلا إستثناء قتلتموها

..قتلتموها حين سكتم عن قانون لا يحميها.. قتلتموها حين لم تحركوا ساكنا عندما إستقال وزير كان يقاتل لإلغاء نظام إستعبادها القانوني المسمى كفالة

قتلتموها حين هزئتم حين رئيتوها تسحل في الشارع وتضرب… قتلتموها حين إكتفيتم بالشير على الفايسبوك والإستنكار من وراء شاشات حواسيبكم

قتلتموها حين عاملتم أخواتها بعنصرية

حين منعتوهن من السباحة في مسابحكم… من التسوق في محلاتكم… من الأكل على مائدتكم

رفضتم إعطائهن يوم راحة أسبوعي.. رفضتم أن يأكلن طعامهن أن يمارسن حياتهن الطبيعية مع عدم التقصير في واجباتهن تجاهكم

حين صادرتم جواز سفرهن… حين ناديتوهن بإسم جنسيتهن لا إسمهن الحقيقي

حين لم تسمعوا شكواهن في مخافركم.. حين إغتصبن ولم تنصفهن محاكمكم

حين لم تدفعوا لهن راتبهن أو سكتم… حين أركبتموهن المقعد الخلفي لسيارتكم لأنكم تستحون من جلوسهن بجانبكم

قتلتوها حين فضلتم الجلوس في بيتكم ومع روتينكم عوضا عن النزول في تظاهرة مطلبية تطالب بحمايتهن

حين لم تدعموا إقتراح أن ينضمن لقانون العمل

حين قبلتم أن تأتي إليكم عبر خدمات ما يدعى بمكتب الرستقدام الذي هو مكتب بيع وشراء عبيد يتاجر بهن

قتلتوها حين لم تسألو ما الذي دفع بها وبغيرها للإنتحار؟

ما الذي دفع إمرأة تركت عائلتها على بعد ألاف الآميال وتركت أولادها وبيتها وأرضها وأصدقائها وربما حبها الأول وإستدانت آلاف الدولارات وهربت إلى لبنان عبر مطارات دبي وقطر والسعودية ودمشق وعمان إلى بيروت ونامت على الأرض في المطارات وحشرت في غرف صغيرة في قاعات الإنتظار لتصل إلى بيروت وتساق كالغنم وتسلم ليد مكتب الإستقدام ليبيعها للعائلة التي تدفع آلاف الدولارات وتعتبرها ملكيتها

ما الذي دفع بهذه الإمرأة للإنتحار وهي التي عانت من كل هذا لتعمل و تستحق المئتين دولار شهريا و ترسلها لأمها و أبها العجوز

أو إبنها وإبنتها ليحصلو على عيش كريم ويدخلو المدرسة

أو زوجها ليؤسس عملا يدفع عنهم شبح الفقر

أو أخيها لكي لا يتسول في الشوارع

أو لتتابع تعليمها حين تعود لبلدها الأم

هل فكرتم أنه من الممكن أن تكون قد إشتاقت لأهلها ولم يسمح لها بالإتصال بهم؟

هل فكرتم أنها عملت لمدة ١٧ ساعة يوميا بلا هوادة؟

لم تقبض راتبها لمدة سنتين فتشرد ولدها أو مات وذل أهلها وضاعت فرص أمامها؟

إغتصبت ؟

ضربت؟

لم يسمح لها بممارسة معتقداتها وتقاليدها؟

عملت في ثلاثة بيوت؟

لم يسمح لها بالخروج مرة واحدة من البيت؟

لم يسمح لها بزيارة بلدها في فترة ثلاثة سنين؟

لم تأكل إلا مرة يوميا؟

نامت على البلكون و على الأرض؟

أليست كل هذه أسباب كافية للإنتحار؟

ألم يقتلوها عندما مارسوا كل هذا؟

أيحتاج الدركي اللبناني إلى شرلوك هولمز ليحقق في هذا كله وهو من البديهيات؟

ألم يقتلها عدم تدخلكم حين رأيتم واحد من هذه الأشياء تحصل أمام أعينكم وأكملتم حياتكم كأن شيئا لم يحصل؟

وعندما ماتت ألم تقتلوها مرة ثالثة؟

المرة الأولى عندما لم تنصفوا أخواتها

المرة الثانية عندما لم تحركوا ساكنا من أجلها

والمرة الثالة عندما ماتت لم تذكروا حتى إسمها؟

تقول لي جدتي الساكت عن الحق شيطان أخرس

عاليم ديسيسا اليوم هي ضحية شيطانكم الأخرس

متى ستقررون أنكم لن تشاركو في الجريمة بعد الآن؟ جريمة الشيطان الأخرس؟

إن لم تغضبوا الآن فمتى تغضبون؟

علي فخري- حركة مناهضة العنصرية-

رابط الفيديو الأصلي

against anniversaries

mother-palestine-ror

i’ve been reading various articles and blog posts about the anniversary of the massacre of the palestinian refugee camp shatila and the surrounding neighborhood of sabra (no, sabra is not a refugee camp, but many palestinians live there). pulse media and falasteenyia both had nice posts on the subject. ma’an news posted a reflective piece on the zionist-kata’eb massacre of palestinians in 1982:

“That is the old Israeli watchtower and entrance to Sabra,” a man on the street pointed, standing in front of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camps. Below the tower, quarantined like a civil war time capsule, were the camps left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of Beirut.

No more than 20 meters past the former Israeli watchtower, in an empty lot, is the memorial for the victims of the 1982 Lebanon Civil War massacre. Camp residents say the site was once a mass grave for the slain. The memorial was a single-track dirt path linking a series of billboards with images of the dead.

The massacre’s perpetrators were of the predominantly Christian Phalange party: supplied, supported and supervised by onlooking Israeli soldiers.

The Phalangist pogrom was clear. What was not, however, was the extent of the crime. At the time of the massacre, the Director of Israeli Military Intelligence said that between the days of September 16 and 18, 1982, a minimum of 700 “terrorists” had been killed. Yet, reporter for the Independent Robert Fisk wrote in his book, Pity the Nation, “Phalangist officers I knew in east Beirut told me that at least 2,000 ‘terrorists’ — women as well as men — had been killed in Chatila.” The real number, according to Fisk, is thought to be higher.

Leaving the mass grave memorial and moving into the open-air market of the Sabra camp, a bullet-ridden wall stands separating a camp dump from its market. In all likelihood the half-block dumping ground was once on the fringes of the camp, but not anymore. The camp had no urban planner, so it grew until the market fully encircled the awful collection of stench, sewage and a sore reminder that nobody really intended to be living in the Sabra camp some sixty years after the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus of 1948.

At the far end of the bullet-chafed wall stood a child of about ten years, a refugee. With little hesitation he immersed himself into the filthy heap, heaving his woven sack of valued rubbish over the rotting mounds. For all the archetypes of the poverty-ridden Palestinian refugee that exists in a foreigner’s consciousness, this is surely it. There was to be no school for this boy. No passport, no rights and no state.

Beyond the heap hung layers of political propaganda posters: A keffiyehed militant with the bold letters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine plastered next to a green-tinted portrait of Hamas’ founder Sheik Yassin with the party logo “Martyrs of Freedom & Victory;” a weathered PLO poster of Arafat; even one of a masked fighter on a tank, clutching a Kalashnikov with the brand of Islamic Jihad. And the posters were not just of Palestinian parties, but of the Lebanese Amal and Hezbollah as well. As a nearby shopkeeper who sold Hezbollah DVD’s put it, “The camp is mixed now… mixed with Palestinians and [Lebanese] Shias… United by resistance…”

Despite appearances, however, inside the Lebanese Army’s encirclement of the camp a surprisingly calm business-as-usual air prevailed. The streets weren’t crowded, but populated. The buyers, the sellers, and of course the children, were everywhere, looking to relieve the gnawing boredom of a lifetime’s confinement to the camp. “We are not allowed to leave [the camps],” one of the sellers said, “No papers.”

United resistance aside, the camp was in shambles. Everything the Lebanese government might do in Sabra and Shatila—urban planning, paving streets, coordinating an electrical grid, sewage—was left to the Palestinian residents. At the beginning, however, the camp played host to the bigwigs of the Palestinian leadership in the Palestine Liberation Organization, who organized camp life and connected the residents to the Palestinian struggle.

The powerful PLO, back in 1982, provided the motive of the massacre’s perpetrators, the Christian Phalange militia, who sought to take revenge against PLO leaders—which had in fact already fled Lebanon—for the alleged assassination of the Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel. But the only people who remained in the camps that summer of 1982 were unarmed Palestinians.

What happened at Sabra and Shatila is still considered the bloodiest single event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is also among the most egregious and underreported aspects of the Palestinian calamity to date.

On the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, 16 September, the issue of the refugees and the right of return reaches again for the surface of Palestinian politics. With the newly-charged peace process being pushed by the United States, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s recently released strategy to establish Palestinian state in two years, the issue of returnees has been subsumed by talk of settlements in the West Bank.

American efforts, and Fayyad’s plan focus more on securing infrastructure and borders than focusing on the estimated 500,000 refugees without rights in Lebanon, or the hundreds of thousands of others in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and in the Gulf.

Palestinians in the camps have a precarious relationship with the current peace initiatives, particularly the older generation who still recall the villages they fled in 1948 and 1967.

“Sure I would support Obama’s plan,” an old man reflects on the US President’s push for a two-state solution. “But what kind of solution is it? I have nothing in this West Bank… it would make me a foreigner in my own land… I would only go back to my village. And I don’t even know what is there now.”

He picks up an old hatchet from his coffee table and continues, “They [the Zionists] chased us and hit us on the head with these. I left my small village near Acre [Akko] because of it.”

ah yes the selling out of the palestinian refugees like those in shatila who everyone loves to remember on occasions such as this one, but who never fight for their rights (read: fayyed among others). but a different piece in ma’an news was a bit more interesting–about george mitchell’s visit to lebanon which coincided with the anniversary of the massacre:

Palestinian refugees were the top of US Special Envoy George Mitchell’s list during a 20 minute sit down with Lebanon’s President Michel Suliman Wednesday, the day marking the 27th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

Michell told Suleiman that Lebanon, whose Phalangist faction 27-years earlier entered two Palestinian refugee camps and slaughtered thousands of civilians with Israeli support, would not bear the brunt of the refugee issue.

“US efforts toward peace would not come at the expense of Lebanon,” a statement from Suleiman’s office said following the meeting. Mitchell made no comment.

The two discussed the latest developments in Mitchell’s pursuit to halt Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and, according to the Lebanese press, stressed “continuous US support and aid to Lebanon on all levels and in all areas.”

Suleiman reportedly told Mitchell that all Lebanese factions refused the option of naturalizing Palestinian refugees “on the basis of the constitution.” He also stressed his desire that Israel retreat from its occupation of Lebanese lands.

what i find especially disturbing about all of this is how everyone remembers the anniversary of the sabra and shatila massacre but no one seems to remember the destruction of nahr el bared refugee camp. it is rather convenient that mitchell and his lebanese cohorts discussed palestinian refugees, but of course did not reveal any tangible information about their right of return. for palestinian from nahr el bared this right of return is now two-fold: first to their camp and then to palestine. if only that first step could be eliminated and they could return home immediately.

this is why i am feeling like i am against anniversaries. anniversaries, ideally, should be a time when you reflect upon the person/people/event. it should make you act in a way that honors that memory. the only real way to honor the memory of the massacre in 1982 or the destruction of nahr el bared in 2007 is to fight for the right of return for palestinian refugees. but no one is talking about that. nor are they talking about reconstructing narh el bared. except a few people. my friend matthew cassel attended the protest in trablus the other day and took this photography among others:

image by matthew cassel
image by matthew cassel

my dear friend rania never forgets and she linked to an article in al akhbar today on the subject:

بين الحفاظ على الآثار في الجزء القديم من مخيم نهر البارد وطمرها، تُعلّق حياة 35 ألف لاجئ فلسطيني كانوا يظنّون في فترة سابقة، قبل الحرب تحديداً، أنّها حياة مستمرّة.. على بؤسها. ربما، يجدر بهؤلاء المتروكين لحالهم الانتظار بعد، ريثما يتخذ مجلس شورى الدولة قراره النهائي المستند إلى مطالعات الدولة اللبنانية والتيار الوطني الحر ووزارة المال المكلفة بتمويل تكاليف طمر الآثار

راجانا حمية

كان من المفترض أن يُقفل مجلس شورى الدولة، اليوم، أبوابه أمام المطالعات القانونية المتعلقة بالطعن بقرار إيقاف طمر الآثار في البارد القديم. فقد أجّل محامي النائب ميشال عون، وليد داغر، تقديم مطالعة يحدد فيها صفة النائب عون كمستدعٍ إلى الاثنين المقبل. ويعود سبب التأجيل إلى رغبته في ضم رد التيار على مطالعتين تقدمت بهما وزارة المال في 18 آب الماضي والدولة اللبنانية في 21 منه، وتبلّغ بهما داغر في العاشر من الجاري.

وحسب المحامي داغر، تطالب هاتان المطالعتان مجلس شورى الدولة بالرجوع عن قرار إيقاف الطمر، استناداً إلى «المعطيات التي تفيد بأن طمر الآثار تم وفقاً للمعايير الدولية». وأكثر من ذلك، تستند الوزارتان في مطالعتيهما إلى «اعتبار صفة عون ومصلحته لا تتطابقان مع شروط المادة 77 من نظام مجلس الشورى». وهي المادة التي تنص على أنه «يفترض لوقف تنفيذ القرار المطعون فيه أن تكون المراجعة مرتكزة على أسباب جدية ومهمة وأن يكون الضرر المتذرَّع به ضرراً بليغاً».

طعن داغر بالمطالعتين، سلفاً، حتى قبل التقديم إلى مجلس الشورى، لأنه «لو لم يكن لعون صفة مباشرة لما كان مجلس شورى الدولة قد أوقف قرار الحكومة، كما إن الضرر لحق به كمواطن ذلك أن الآثار ليست ملكاً عاماً، بل هي ملك إنساني». لا يكتفي داغر بهذه الحجة، بل يستند إلى الاجتهاد القانوني الصادر عام 2000، والذي «لا يشترط لتوفر المصلحة أن يكون المدعي صاحب حق مباشر».

من تظاهرات طرابلس، الناس باتت لا تصدق موضوع الآثار (عبد الكافي الصمد)من تظاهرات طرابلس، الناس باتت لا تصدق موضوع الآثار (عبد الكافي الصمد)إذاً، من المفترض أن يتقدم داغر صباح الاثنين المقبل بمطالعتين: أولى تتعلق بتحديد صفة عون كمستدعٍ، والتي حددها داغر بصفة مواطن، وثانية يرد بها قانونياً على مطالعتي المال والدولة. بعد ذلك كله، يقوم مجلس الشورى بمطابقة الصفة والمصلحة قبل إصدار القرار المتوقع في 13 تشرين الأول المقبل.. و«ربما قبل هذا التاريخ، إذا لم تتطابق الصفة والمصلحة مع شروط المادة 77، بحيث يصار إلى إبطال القرار فوراً»، حسبما يرجّح رئيس مجلس الشورى القاضي شكري صادر.

لكن، إذا فاز عون بصفته والمصلحة، ينتقل أعضاء مجلس الشورى إلى «الأساس»، الذي يتعلق بدراسة مطالعتي عون المتضمنة مبررات الحفاظ على آثار البارد، والحكومة اللبنانية التي تشرح فيها موجبات الإعمار. ويحصر رئيس لجنة الحوار اللبناني الفلسطيني خليل مكاوي هذه الموجبات بثلاثة «تعهّد الدولة بإعادة المخيم كما كان والتزامات الحكومة تجاه المجتمع الدولي والدول المانحة، إضافة إلى الحفاظ على الأمن القومي».

إما استكمال طمر الآثار بحسب المعايير الدولية وإما إيقاف الإعمار «واستملاك الأراضي

إذاً، يتعلق مصير المخيم القديم بالمطالعتين المذكورتين، فإما استكمال طمر الآثار بحسب المعايير الدولية، كما يرجح مكاوي، وإما إيقاف الإعمار «واستملاك الأراضي القائم عليها المخيم الجديد وبعض ما حواليه»، كما جاء في بيان لجنة الدراسات في التيار الوطني الحر الأسبوع الماضي. غير أن ما تعوّل عليه لجنة الدراسات يواجه بعض الرفض من جهتين: الأولى فلسطينية، إذ يخاف هؤلاء من ضياع حقوقهم، وخصوصاً أن غالبية البيوت مسجّلة باسمهم، وأن ببعض تحايل (قبل صدور قانون التملك اللبناني عام 2001)، والثانية غالبية الأقطاب السياسية التي ترى في استملاك أراضٍ جديدة بداية مشروع التوطين.

ما بين المطالعتين، يضيع سكان المخيم القديم. يتساءل هؤلاء عن سبب إثارة هذه القضية الآن بالذات، تزامناً مع بدء إعادة الإعمار. يخاف الأهالي من أن تتكرر تجربة المخيمات المسحولة هنا في البارد. خوفهم هذا يدفعهم إلى «الهلوسة» في بعض الأحيان، إذ يذهب البعض إلى القول إنه «لا وجود للآثار بدليل أن الأعمدة هي قنوات صرف صحي مركبينا جدودنا اعتبروها رومانية، وبعض الفخارات من إيام أبوي». يستند الرجل في تكهناته إلى أن الحفر التي قام بها المهندسون من مديرية الآثار لم تتعدّ الثمانين سنتمتراً، «فكيف ستكون المدينة على هذا العمق؟».

يستغرب آخرون، ومنهم لطفي محمد الحاج، عضو الهيئة الأهلية لإعادة إعمار البارد، سبب التفات الدولة اللبنانية إلى هذه الآثارات رغم أنها هي التي أتت باللاجئين إلى تلة البارد رغم معرفتها بوجود الآثارات منذ العشرينيات من القرن الماضي. ويستغرب الحاج أيضاً سبب الاهتمام «الذي لا مثيل له»، على الرغم من «أن الآثار المحيطة بنا مهملة»، ويعطي مثالاً على قوله: «مثلاً، قلعة حكمون على جنب المخيم عاملينا مزرعة بقر وتلة عرقة وغيرها». لا يحتاج الرجل إلى أكثر من رؤية منزله مجدداً، ويطالب مجلس الشورى بالعودة عن قرار الإيقاف، مبرراً مطالبته بالقول: «احنا هون مش سوليدير، هون ناس ساكنة ما عادت تحمل تهجير». أكثر من ذلك، يضيف أبو خالد فريجي، أحد سكان القديم: «إحنا رمينا البارود لنساعد الجيش، اليوم ما عدنا قادرين ما نحمل البارودة».

مقابل هذه التعليقات للأهالي، يضع بعض الأطراف القضية في خانة التجاذبات السياسية. هذا ما يقوله المسؤول عن ملف إعادة إعمار البارد مروان عبد العال. ولئن كان لا حول ولا قوة من إدخال الفلسطيني بهذا التجاذب، يسأل عبد العال: «لماذا لم تُرسل فرق للتنقيب عن الآثار منذ تسعين عاماً؟ وليش الرسائل ما بتوصل إلا من صندوق بريدنا؟».

البراكسات التي يعيش فيها السكانالبراكسات التي يعيش فيها السكانيؤمن عبد العال بقداسة الآثار. وهي، من وجهة نظره تضاهي قداسة هوية الفلسطيني. لكن، السؤال الكبير الذي لا بد منه هنا هو «أنه إحنا مش آثار؟ ما بنمثل خصوصية؟ مش ولاد نكبة عمرها 61 عاماً وإلنا هويتنا كما الآثار؟ أكثر من ذلك، يسأل عضو الجبهة الشعبية في البارد سمير اللوباني: «ما هو الثمن السياسي الذي يجب أن يدفعه الفلسطيني من أجل إعادة البارد؟

لكن، كل هذا لن يأتي بنتيجة. فالنتيجة الوحيدة في مجلس شورى الدولة، وبانتظار صدور القرار، يعمل الفلسطينيون على رفع سقف الاحتجاجات الجماهيرية، وخصوصاً أنه لا يحق لهم مثل «أهل الفقيد» تقديم مطالعة قانونية، كونهم جهة غير معترف بها في القانون اللبناني. يضاف إلى ذلك أن الأونروا أيضاً لا تستطيع تقديم مطالعة قانونية لمجلس شورى الدولة، لذلك تعمل على إعداد مطالعة تشرح فيها موجبات الإعمار للحكومة اللبنانية فقط.

بالعودة إلى سير عملية الإعمار في البارد، كانت شركة «الجهاد» المتعهدة من قبل الأونروا قد طمرت في الرزمة الأولى حيث وجدت الآثار موقعين من أصل 5 مواقع قبل أن تثار القضية. وتلفت الناطقة الرسمية باسم الأونروا هدى الترك إلى «أننا انتهينا من تنظيف 95% من الركام، باستثناء جزء من الرزمة 2 وآخر من الرزمة 4». وأكدت أن الأونروا لا يمكنها الإعمار إلا بالتسلسل، أي من الرزمة 1، «والعملية متوقفة الآن بانتظار قرار مجلس شورى الدولة».

there is also a new article about the situation in nahr el bared in as-safir newspaper:

جهاد بزي
يستطيع المخيم أن يكون من شقين،
أو أن نبحث عن قطعة أرض بديلة للمخيم..
لكن لا نستطيع أن نجد ارتوزيا في مكان آخر.
الجنرال ميشال عون
(17 حزيران 2009)

في مخيم نهر البارد مدينتان.

المدينة الأولى بقايا أثرية اكتشفت تحت أنقاض المخيم القديم الذي سُحق بالكامل. هذه البقايا اسمها أرتوزيا. يستميت العونيون في الدفاع عنها، وقد رفعوا طعناً إلى مجلس الشورى جمّد إثره طمر آثار المدينة المكتشفة، ريثما يتخذ قراره. ولجنة الدراسات العونية لا تنفك تصدر بيانات بلغة أكاديمية رصينة تعلّل فيها أسباب دفاعها عن المدينة وتدفع عن نفسها تهمة العنصرية وتشدد على أنها ضد التوطين.

المدينة الثانية هي مدينة «البركسات». هي النقيض التام لكل الآثارات على وجه الأرض. هي صناديق «عصرية» من حديد وبلاستيك وإسفنج، وغيرها من المواد المثيرة لغثيان عالم الآثار إذا سقط مكبره عليها. وعلى العكس من القلاع والاعمدة والمدرجات الخالدة خلود الآلهة، فإن مدينة البركسات بلا أعمدة ولا فخامة ولا تاريخ، وهندستها رتيبة ومقيتة.

وهي عرضة للتلف أسرع بمليون مرة من مدينة أرتوزيا. عناصر الطبيعة الجميلة، الشمس والمياه والهواء، هي أوبئة دائمة تفتك بالمدينة الهشة المقامة على عجل لإيواء النازحين في بلاد لجوئهم.

هناك فارق أساسي بين المدينتين: البركسات مأهولة. ارتوزيا غير مأهولة. وأن نقول إنها مأهولة، فلأننا قررنا، كلبنانيين، مواجهة الإرهاب بطريقة فريدة من نوعها، هللت لها قوى سياسية شرسة في «حبها» للفلسطينيين، وتغاضت عنها قوى أخرى كانت قد نادت يوماً بأن المخيم خط أحمر. تلك الحرب ستبقى، بأي حال، «إنجازاً ناصعاً» في تاريخنا اللبناني، وإن طُمرت خطاياها بكل ما فيها كرمى لعناوين كبيرة وفارغة.

وأن نقول إن البركسات مأهولة منذ نحو سنتين. أن يضطر لاجئون، قصمنا ظهورهم سياسياً واجتماعياً واقتصادياً، إلى حياة منسية كهذه التي يعيشونها في علب الصفيح المكتظة تتساقط الصراصير من أسقفها الاسفنج المبقورة بسبب الحرارة والمياه، أو تنبت الجرذان من أرضها، أو تصير مستنقعات وحول عند كل مطر. أن يضطر لاجئون سحقنا حيواتهم إلى يوميات طويلة في هذه المجمعات الحديدية الأقرب إلى مجمعات عزل المصابين بأمراض معدية قاتلة. أن تضطر عيون اطفالهم إلى العتمة ليل نهار وانفاسهم إلى الرطوبة وآفاقهم إلى ممرات ضــيقة خانقة. وأن يضطر الفلسطينــي إلى هــذه العقوبة المستمرة عليه لذنب ليس ذنبه، فإنه عــيب هائــل يتدلى من عنق لبنان جرســاً فاضحاً يرن كيفــما هزّ هذا البلد عنقه.

أما أن يقال للفلســطيني إن أرتــوزيا أهم من الأرض التي ولد عليها، وإن علــيه أن يبـحث عن مكان آخر يقيم عليه مخيمه، فهذا يفوق خيال الكوابيس التي يراها.

ثمة افتقاد تام لحس إنساني بسيط: المكان، مهما كان مؤقتاً، له قيمة رمزية ترتبط بقيمة المجتمع الذي يقيم فيه منذ ستين سنة. هم لاجئون لكنهم ليسوا بضاعة يمكن وضعها في أي مكان، بانتظار شحنها إلى فلسطين. المثل قاسٍ، لكنه الاقرب إلى المنطق الذي تتعاطى به الغالبية اللبنانية العظمى مع الشأن الفلسطيني. هناك سخرية مرّة في أن يضطر الواحد إلى الشرح بأن المخيم الفلسطيني ليس نزهة كشفية بين أحراج الصنوبر، تقام وتفك ثم تنتقل إلى مكان جديد. المخيمات الفلسطينية هي مثل مدننا وقرانا وأحيائنا. مثل حي السلم والحمرا والاشرفية والرابية. قد نكرهها وقد نحبها، لكن فيها شكّلنا ذكرياتنا وتفاصيلنا وأحزاننا وافراحنا. وإذا كان الفلسطيني يعيش في مؤقت مفتوح، فهذا لا يعني أن حقائبه موضبة طوال الوقت. هذا لا يعني أنه بلا ذاكرة. من السخرية المرّة تذكير لجنة الدراسات وغيرها، بأن الفلسطينيين مثلنا، نحن اللبنانيين أحفاد الأرتوزيين العظام.

وكما لا يحق لأحد أن ينقّلنا كيفما شاء، لا يحق لنا أن ننقلهم كيفما شئنا. معادلة بسيطة.

ثم..
إذا كانت إعادة الإعمار بهذا الحجم من التعقيد، وإذا كان هناك خلاف حتى على اسم المخيم الجديد من البارد حدا بالجيش اللبناني إلى أن «يأمل» من الإعلام تسميته بالبقعة المحيطة بالمخيم، فأين سيجد الفلسطينيون النازحون مخيماً آخر؟ فلتنكب لجنة الدراسات العونية على درس فكرة الجنرال وجعلها حجر أساس لدراسة متكاملة تلحظ موقع المخيم الجديد على أرض لبنان، ومساحته وكيفية استئجاره أو تملكه للبدء بإعادة الإعمار بسرعة كي ينتقل الفلسطينيون إليه. وربما على اللجنة زيارة البركسات والنزول في غرفها لأيام تستفتي خلالها رأي المنكوبين فرداً فرداً بموقع جديد للمخيم. كما ينبغي عليها لاحقاً أخذ موافقة جيرانهم الجدد من اللبنانيين. هذا جهد يمكن للجنة الدراسات أن تقوم به بالطبع، لما يعرف عنها من عمق وقدرة. غير أن الفلسطينيين ليسوا قضية اللجنة. قضيتها أرتوزيا.

المصائب تأتي دفعة واحدة. نزلت على المخيم فدمرته، ثم صعدت من أسفله، فزادت على معوقات إعماره معوّقاً جديداً. الأولوية الآن هي في طمر مدينة البركسات، وهذه لن تطمر إلا إذا طمرت آثار ارتوزيا، بغض النظر عن أي أهمية لها. من أقل حقوق فلسطينيي مخيم نهر البارد على هذا البلد هو ألا يجعلهم ينتظرون أكثر. بقاء الفلسطينيين على حالهم هناك جريمة بحق الانسانية واللبنانيين، وليس طمر ارتوزيا هو «الجريمة بحق الإنسانية والشعب اللبناني» كما قالت لجنة الدراسات.

أما أرتوزيا العونية فيمكن لها أن تنتظر. يكفيها فخراً أنها أثبتت عمق تجذرها في الأرض اللبنانية وعنادها وتحديها للزمن. هي خالدة وشامخة شموخ الجبال والأرز. ولا شك بأنها ستطلع من بين الركام ثانية، يوم يغادر الفلسطينيون هذه البلاد التي لا تفعل منذ عقود إلا معاقبتهم على وجودهم القسري فيها.

جهاد بزي

of course, it is not surprising that al akhbar and as safir would publish articles on nahr el bared. these are the only two newspapers who have consistently covered the story. that can be counted on. not just because it is an anniversary, but because it matters. but who else will cover the refugees from nahr e bared and their rights? their right of return. and i’m thinking not only of the people i care about from nahr el bared and other camps in lebanon who want to return to their original villages, but also dear friends in falasteen who want to return to their villages. this summer when we did the al awda camp with kids from deheishe refugee camp, two of the kids who i adore returned home and produced a new rap song (here is my post on taking them to beit ‘itab, which i did for a second time after the camp). the song includes hisham’s grandfather at the beginning, talking about their village of beit ‘itab. here is a description of their song and a link to the mp3 file you can listen to:

Badluck Rappers – اغنية جديدة بعنوان ” رحلة لبلادي ” تحكي قصة كل لاجئ فلسطيني

Badluck Rappers – اغنية جديدة بعنوان
تم نشر إغنية مؤخراً من فرقة الـ Badluck Rapperz من قلب مخيم دهيشه , بيت لحم
بعنوان رحلة لبلادي تحكي قصة كل لاجئ فلسطيني عايش داخل و خارج فلسطين ,
وتعودنا نسمع اغاني كثيرة عن اللاجئين من الفرقة لانها من قلب المخيمات , اكبر المخيمات
الفلسطينية للاجئين داخل فلسطين , واكتر اشي بميز الاغنية , بدايتها الجميلة المختارة
الي ببداها لاجئ فلسطيني بحكي قصة قريته الهاجر منها

الكل يسمع الاغنية , يقيمها , ويترك تعليق

Read more: http://www.palrap.net/PalRap/263/Badluck_Rappers_Witn_New_Track_Called_Re7la_La_Blady.html#ixzz0RWCnqv9L

i do not need an anniversary to make me think about the people i love in shatila, nahr el bared or deheishe refugee camps. i do not need an anniversary to make me remember their right of return. i think about it every day and hope that the work and writing i do, in some small way, advances that right. but i’m also thinking about the palestinian refugees who were in iraq and who i tried to help when they were displaced yet again in jordan in al ruweished refugee camp. they have all been resettled in third countries, a fact that does not negate their right of return to palestine. at the time friends i worked with tried to get the u.s. to take them in to no avail. now it seems my home state of california is granting refuge to some palestinians from iraq as patrik jonsson writes in the christian science monitor:

The State Department confirmed today that as many as 1,350 Iraqi Palestinians – once the well-treated guests of Saddam Hussein and now at outs with much of Iraqi society – will be resettled in the US, mostly in southern California, starting this fall.

It will be the largest-ever resettlement of Palestinian refugees into the US – and welcome news to the Palestinians who fled to Iraq after 1948 but who have had a tough time since Mr. Hussein was deposed in 2003. Targeted by Iraqi Shiites, the mostly-Sunni Palestinians have spent recent years in one of the region’s roughest refugee camps, Al Waleed, near Iraq’s border with Syria.

“Really for the first time, the United States is recognizing a Palestinian refugee population that could be admitted to the US as part of a resettlement program,” says Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch in Washington.

Given the US’s past reluctance to resettle Palestinians – it accepted just seven Palestinians in 2007 and nine in 2008 – the effort could ruffle some diplomatic feathers.

For many in the State Department and international community, the resettlement is part of a moral imperative the US has to clean up the refugee crisis created by invading Iraq. The US has already stepped up resettlement of Iraqis, some who have struggled to adjust to life in America.

al awda is asking for people to help with their resettlement:

The US government has approved most of the population of Al-Waleed Palestinian refugee camp for resettlement as refugees in the US in the coming year. For more information see http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0708/p02s04-usgn.html and http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/06/2009618161946158577.html

The first Palestinian family of the year from Al-Waleed will be arriving in San Diego on Wednesday September 16, 2009. This family, as with all the refugees who will be relocated to the US from Al-Waleed, will arrive with essentially nothing. Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, is therefore conducting an urgent fund raising campaign to help all the Palestinian refugees arriving in the US soon with their transition to a new life in this country.

BACKGROUND

An estimated 19,000 Palestinians, out of an initial population of 34,000, fled Iraq since the American invasion in 2003. Of these refugees, approximately 2500 have been stranded, under very harsh conditions, some for more than five years, in three camps, Al-Tanaf, Al-Waleed and Al-Hol. These camps are located in the middle of the desert far from any population centers. Al-Tanaf camp is located in no-man’s land on the borders between Iraq and Syria. Al-Waleed is located on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria, and Al-Hol is located in Syria in the Hasaka region. The camp residents had fled largely from Baghdad due to harassment, threats of deportation, abuse by the media, arbitrary detention, torture and murder by organized death squads. They thus became refugees again, originally as a result of the Zionist theft and colonial occupation of Palestine beginning in 1948. Some became refugees also when they were expelled from Kuwait in 1991 by the US-backed Kuwaiti government. Now, after years of waiting, many of the refugees stranded in the camps on the borders of Iraq are being relocated largely to Europe and the US, which continues to occupy Iraq to this day.

The first Palestinian family from Al-Waleed this year will be arriving in San Diego on September 16, 2009, a few days before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with 1350 more Palestinians to follow in the months ahead. According to the Christian Science Monitor most of these will be resettled in Southern California and possibly Pennsylvania and Omaha.

ACTION

Al-Awda is asking all its activists, members and supporters to contribute to help our sisters and brothers in their move to the US.

Please donate today!

Address your tax-deductible donation via check or money order to: Al-Awda, PRRC, PO Box 131352, Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA – Please note on the memo line of the check “Palestinians from Iraq”

Alternatively, please donate online using your credit card. Go to http://www.al-awda.org/donate.html and follow the simple instructions. Please indicate that your donation is for “Palestinians from Iraq” with your submission.

Drop off locations

We will also need furniture, cars, computers, tv’s, clothes, toys for the kids etc. The following are the current drop off locations:

General:
8531 Wellsford pl # f, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
Te: 562-693-1600 Tel: 323-350-0000

For Clothes:
1773 West Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, CA 92801

For Southern California residents, an emergency meeting is being called for Sunday September 13, 2009 starting at 2 PM at the Al-Awda Center, 2734 Loker Avenue West Suite K, in Carlsbad CA 92010.

Our sisters and brothers need all the help they can get after having suffered from the death squads in Baghdad, and more than five years stranded in the camps. We need our people to feel at home as much as possible. We can not disappoint them.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROUS SUPPORT

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352
Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Tel: 760-918-9441
Fax: 760-918-9442
E-mail: info[at]al-awda.org
WWW: http://al-awda.org

on (not) reconstructing nahr el bared refugee camp

reconstruct-bared-tripoli-demonstration-flyer

there will be a demonstration in trablus in a couple of days to protest the fact that michel aoun has halted the reconstruction of the nahr el bared refugee camp. the reconstruction committee of nahr el bared refugee camp has a new blog where they are documenting the situation on the ground. and you can read about it at my new favorite blog, mlokhiya resistance, written by one of the people i love and respect most in this world.

on palestinian rappers

three great new stories on palestinian rappers and how hip hop culture is used as a mode of resistance:

first: from a dear friend in bourj al barajneh refugee camp in lebanon. yassin and mohammed are originally from akka and are rapping until and for their right of return:

then ayman mohyeldin is reporting for al jazeera on breakdancers in gaza:

then eva bartlett has a piece on palestinian rappers in gaza:

In a backstreet open-air café in Gaza late at night, Khaled Harara from the Black Unit Band starts to talk about rap.

A phone call interrupts him. “Oh my god, it’s my dad, he will kill me because I’m not home yet.” Not quite the tough image one conjures of rappers.

After assuring his father he’s giving an interview, he’s ok to stay.

But that interruption brings up something he wants people to understand better: rap doesn’t have to be what the corporate market makes it to be. “We are trying to show people that hip-hop can be good; it doesn’t have to be about sex and drugs. We are returning rap to its old roots, talking about real issues.”

His friend Ayman Mughames from Palestinian Rapperz joins him.

“When we started in 2002, our message was to show the real life in Palestine and especially in Gaza,” Mughames says. “We talk about cases, things that must be talked about: the Israeli occupation, the siege on Gaza, the Israeli wars on Gaza, Palestinian unity.

“Rapping is our way of resisting. We need people to resist not only by weapons, but by words too.”

Palestinian Rapperz (P.R.) joined the ‘new’ generation of rappers like Harara’s Black Unit Band. Under the umbrella Palestinian Unit, the group now comprises P.R., Black Unit, and supporting musicians and break-dancers from the Water Band and Camps Breakerz.

“That’s what we wish for, Palestinian unity,” says Mughames, playing on the group’s name.

The two speak some of the many difficulties they face as rappers in Gaza.

“People don’t understand what rap is, they think it’s some negative Western influence, like we’re forgetting our culture,” Harara says. “But we are mixing Palestinian tradition and patriotism with rap. It’s our way of reaching youths inside and outside of Palestine.”

They admit that a part of the problem lies with other rappers in Gaza who don’t hold the same ideals.

“There are some bad rappers. Their behaviour is bad, so then they reflect badly on rap in general,” says Harara. “But we try to teach youths what rap is really about, and how it can be used for the Palestinian cause.”

Harara goes on to explain their work with Gaza’s youths.

“Recently we established a hip-hop school. Many of the younger generation had come to us saying ‘we want to learn to rap’, so we opened a school.”

Mughames, considered Gaza’s old-school rapper, is emphatic about the benefits.

“It’s good for youths. They have nothing to do in Gaza. We teach them concrete skills: how to make good lyrics, how to set the lyrics to the beat, how to control their voices…how to be a good rapper.”

Harara adds, “Our school is free. And it’s actually very important, because these kids might otherwise end up going to the bad rappers and learning bad ideas.”

Aside from public perception, most of their problems are due to the Israeli- led siege on Gaza, imposed shortly after Hamas was elected in early 2006, but severely tightened in June 2007 after Hamas took control of Gaza.

“Equipment is a serious problem,” says Mughames. “If we want to give a concert, we need speakers, microphones…they aren’t easily available in Gaza.”

“There’s only really one good DJ in Gaza, with his own equipment. He charges between 200 to 500 dollars per show. We can’t afford that,” Harara says.

Producing an album is not easy either.

“Since we don’t have equipment, and the recording studio is too expensive, we try to cut albums in the most simple way, using a laptop mixer programme and recording in our home,” says Harara.

New York based Palestinian-Syrian film-maker Jackie Reem Salloum produced the documentary ‘Slingshot Hip Hop’ last year featuring Palestinian rap artists in Palestine and Israel, among them the Palestinian Rapperz.

“The slingshot movie was released, we got the invitation to attend the opening, we got the visas, but we couldn’t get out of Gaza,” Ayman Mughames recalls.

There are limits at home as well. “We want to go to the camps where people who lost their homes in the Israeli war are living. We want to give concerts for the orphans,” Harara says.

But for now, the rappers concentrate on what is viable. “We can’t make concerts, can’t leave Gaza. We are limited in what we can do. So we focus on the school and making more songs,” says Harara.

Like the one on the Israeli war on Gaza (’23 Days’), patriotic songs (‘My City’), and love songs too (‘Take Me Away’).

Much of the music is in some way a plea for unity among Palestinian parties. The rappers speak again and again of the need for Palestinians to come together and face their common enemy: the Israeli occupation, siege, and denial of basic rights.

One song goes: “Palestine forgive me, I can’t shut up about everybody who steals you, trades you/You’re like a supermarket, people get more rich by you.”

The songs are all in Arabic. “It’s our language and we are proud of it. And we can express subtleties and nuances in Arabic that aren’t possible for us in English,” Mughames says.

Despite the many constraints, the Palestinian Unit has been able to perform now and then.

“We had a concert at Rachad Shawa (the Gaza cultural centre) a few weeks go, sponsored by Mercy Corps,” says Mughames. “The audience were mixed…guys, girls, even conservative types.”

“There were about 6,000 people, and they didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Harara. “And when we started rapping, they were shocked, because we were rapping, and there was the band playing, and the break- dancers…People were amazed.”

In December this year the next Viva Palestina convoy is due to enter Gaza with humanitarian aid. Mughames and Harara expect Palestinian rappers from outside of Gaza to be in the convoy.

“We’re going to give a concert on January 1,” says a hopeful Harara.