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

telling the tale of tel al-za’atar

a couple of weeks ago i read about global voices book challenge on bint battuta’s blog. global voices along with unesco asked people to read their way around the world for unesco world book day which is today:

April 23 is UNESCO World Book Day – and just because the Global Voices team loves blogs, doesn’t mean we have forgotten other forms of the written word! In fact, because we think reading literature is such an enjoyable way to learn about another culture, we have a fun challenge for all Global Voices contributors and readers, and bloggers everywhere.

The Global Voices Book Challenge is as follows:

1) Read a book during the next month from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before.

2) Write a blog post about it during the week of April 23.

badr

bint battuta seems to already have her book review up on her blog. she read mohamed makhzangi’s memories of a meltdown. she fudged the rules a bit and i am going to a lot. the rules say you must read a book from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before. but given the paucity of international literature in bookshops or in libraries in palestine i read a novel by palestinian novelist liana badr entitled the eye of the mirror or عين الوراة. i had started reading it a few months ago but got side-tracked with work so this was a great excuse to get back to it. the novel is set in tel al-za’atar refugee camp in lebanon from 1975-76 when it was besieged by lebanese kata’eb militias. liana badr, who is a journalist as well as a novelist, was in lebanon at the time and later spent seven years documenting the massacre in the camp. the novel was first published in arabic in morocco in 1991, although badr told me a few months ago that she wanted to publish it with al adab in lebanon and they told her that the censors would not approve its publication. i have read badr’s other translated novel, Balcony Over the Fakahani or شرفه على الفكهاني which is also quite moving and also set in lebanon during the civil war.

© Benno Karkabé, 1975
© Benno Karkabé, 1975

but this novel is different and really important for literary and historical reasons. while there is much written about the israeli-kata’eb massacre of shatila refugee camp and the surrounding sabra neighborhood, there is little to nothing written about the massacre of over 4,000 palestinians in tel al-za’atar refugee camp. unlike shatila, which still exists today, tel al-za’atar was destroyed and the 12,000 palestinian survivors fled to other refugee camps, many of them to nahr el bared refugee camp in northern lebanon until the lebanese army destroyed that camp in 2007. for those interested in the subject from an historical perspective i highly recommend anything by rosemary sayigh. and those who want to see some rare images from the camp you can check out benno karkabé’s photographs of which the image above is one. but the novel does an amazing job of chronicling the events in a lyrical way. jordanian novelist fadia faqir, one of my favorite writers, authored the introduction to the novel, and samira kawar translated it.

the novel focuses on a variety of characters, but most of the central characters are women. and she grounds the story from the first page in an oral tradition from scheherazade’s tales told to her husband in a thousand and one nights which she used to save her community from his wrath. thus the narrator opens the novel with a direct address to the readers telling us:

You are insistent, calling again. You want me to tell you the story of Scheherazade, who rocks the sad king on her knees as she sings him tales from wonderland. Yet you know that I am not Scheherazade, and that one of the world’s greatest wonders is that I am unable to enter my country or pass through the regions around it. Do not be surprised. Let us count them country by country. (1)

rendering strange the reality of palestinians inability to travel to–let alone return to!–their land gives the opening narration a bit of a fantastical feel, until she grounds the narrative in historical reality:

I begin with the tale of a girl or a woman. I tell perhaps of you and I, or of women and men whom I have never met. I tell of an alley, a street, a neighborhood or a city. Or perhaps of a camp, of a camp, of a Tal! Tal Ezza’tar for example…Now you shake your head reproachfully again, fearful that the story will turn into political rhetoric like the slogans we’ve become weary of. Your eyelids bat mockingly inmy face, hinting it is necessary to reassure you that what you fear will not happen. But I am compelled to begin with Ezza’tar, Tal Ezza’tar in particular, not only because of its poetic name, but for many reasons which I am under no obligation to reveal now. (2)

like scheherazade badr’s narrator makes it clear that she will tease us with the plot as a way to keep us as her interlocutors. she delays our understanding of characters, setting, and events letting them unravel as scheherazade famously did in a thousand and one nights. in the arabic version of the novel badr used palestinian dialect so the spellings of transliterated words in her novel reflect this accent (hence her spelling of the camp’s name). the novel opens with the protagonist, aisha, who is actually my least favorite character in the novel, who at the time is working as a maid at a lebanese christian boarding school outside the camp. she is called home from work by her parents because of the april 1975 massacre of palestinians on a bus in ain al roumaneh, but the we hear about the incident on the bus several times before we learn the context of it. the narrator tells us:

The bus. Perhaps if that massacre hadn’t happened, they would not have taken her out of school. Her mother used to say, “The bus,” wincing as though she were being struck on the forehead by a ray of very strong sunlight. She would lick her oval-shaped lips with her cracked tongue, panting as she moved the fingers of her right hand over her chest as though she were shaking imaginary dust from her wide dress.

“The bus. Woe is me. What a catastrophe! What a shame! What had the young men and the boys done to get killed in this way? Twenty of them, my dear. Twenty. That’s what your father said. They attacked them, bang, bang.” (8).

we don’t learn who was on the bus or what it means for aisha until later in the novel. the novel delays our understanding as readers, but also aisha’s as her character is a rather naive young woman who is relatively sheltered as compared to hana, a character i like much more. badr also delays our knowledge of the family’s flight from yaffa, their village of origin in palestine, through fairy tale narrative techniques such as the repetition of “once upon a time” as well as aisha’s fantasies about her prince charming, george haddad a nom de guerre for ahmed al-ashi, a member of the resistance with the democratic front for the liberation of palestine (dflp). george is originally from tulkarem, but he left to fight with the resistance in jordan and was expelled to lebanon in 1970 after black september with the rest of the freedom fighters. his friendship with aisha’s parents and the conversation he has with her family is often as a kind of teacher about life in palestine in ways that disrupt stereotypes about religious differences or the divide between rural and urban palestinians as a way to assert unity among palestinians as when he tutors aisha’s younger sister ibtisam:

Speaking to him again, she said: “Why d’you pronounce the ‘ka’ as a ‘cha’ when you speak? Aren’t you worried that your fiance’s family will think you’re a peasant?”

“I am a peasant.”

She jumped with joy at the strange news, which aroused her interest: “A real live peasant? does that mean that you plant and harvest the land?”

“I’m a peasant and the son of peasants. But I’ve no longer got any land to plant and harvest.”

“So how d’you make a living?”

“We’re just like everybody else. My brothers and sisters and I, each of us is homeless in a different country.” (58)

conversations such as this one, various characters remembering life in palestine, plot details about aisha’s deisre to marry george, and later her marriage to feda’ee hassan, and depictions of daily life in the camp cover the first half of the novel. the gap between the ain al roumaneh bus massacre and the eruption of a full-scale attack on tel al-za’atar camp, mimicking the lull in the characters’ daily lives as they try to carry on in between clashes. after aisha’s marriage to hassan his mother, um hassan, shares her family’s story one morning with her new daughter-in-law that encapsulates many of the family’s stories in the novel:

With an automatic strength, she held back her words, which had turned into something resembling the stone that one rubs before prayer, hoping to pierce it and squeeze out whatever water might be inside it when none is available for ablutions. But her overwhelming sadness broke through her silence, and she spoke once more: “Eh…We came out of Palestine. We were in the orchards picking olives when Assafsaaf, which was the nearest village to us, fell. The Haganah gangs slaughtered a lot of people, and also raped many women. My neighbor’s niece was slaughtered in front of her father. We had no arms. We thought it would be a good idea to leave for a short time so that what happened to the people of Assafsaaf and Ain Ezzeitoun, which King Abdullah had surrendered, and Deir Yassin would not happen to us. We went north. We didn’t see anything, and never looked back, because we were so sure that we would return a few days later. In Bint Jbeil, we found that the UN were putting people into cars and taking them to Burj Esh-Shemali. People were surviving on almost nothing. When it snowed on us in Burj Esh-Shmeali, they moved us to Nahr El-Barid in Tripoli.” (109)

um hassan’s story here serves both as historical memory–of slaughter and flight–and also as premonition for what will come to tel al-za’atar camp in the coming weeks and months. just as the narration shifts from one character to another so as to give a variety of perspectives from palestinian refugees’ experiences, so too does the narrator shift at times to a voice that inserts the author herself entering the narrative:

That was a sight I shall never forget. The day I managed to enter the camp of Tal Ezza’tar, being one of the few people who managed to reach it between two sieges, I saw the apples scattered around on the streets, their skins shrunken and wrinkled. But they had kept their pretty red colour. I had said to myself: “Ezza’tar? Why don’t they call it Attuffah?” At that moment my grandfather’s home in Wadi Attufah, the valley of apples, in Hebron flashed into my mind’s eye. And I remembered my mother, Hayat, in the mid-fifties. She had lived at my grandfather’s house temporarily before moving into the attic above the school, which was afflicted with measles and frost-bite. How innocent I had been. I went to my grandfather simply to tell him how I had heard my mother complaining to Hajjeh Salimah about the hassle and pain of living with my grandfather’s fourth wife. I had told him. I was three years old. My mother and Hajjeh Salimah had later accused me of blowing the whistle on her and reporting her grievances to the tribe elder, who wore a red tarboush with a silk tassle. But, what I want to say is this. Every place I saw later would always remind me of my birth place in Palestine. And in Tal Ezza’tar, I recalled Wadi Attuffah in the West Bank of Palestine. My amazement increased at the dry fruit littering the place like freckles on a face that has seen too much sun. Everybody was sitting in the sun, both old and young. They had all come out of the shelters, corridors and passages to get a touch of the amber rays. Old women with patterned tattoos on their faces, which had been acquired long before their arrival in this place. They sat with their grandchildren in their laps, while the women were busy airing the sheets and blankets in which the young ones had slept during the confinement. No one looked at the scattered fruits which covered the ground like stones forgotten since the beginning of creation. The car turned and went up into the Tal. At the clinic, I was able to meet Um Jalal and the doctor who worked there. When I told them that I had come to do a newspaper report on the steadfastness of the camp on the anniversary of the emergence of the resistance, people called one another from here and there and they spoke to me. (125-126)

insertions of passages like the one above in which we imagine badr as a character in the novel taking eyewitness accounts of the people of the camp adds historical weight to the narrative. and it is through her presence that we finally learn more about characters like hana who is one of the resistance fighters badr-as-character interviews:

Like a passing arrow, Hana, entered the clinic. They introduced her to me: “Hana, the bravest wireless operator in the entire camp. No one is quite like her. She does the night shift in the wireless room, and goes with the girls to her military positions.”

I looked at her. Her eyes were green, her hair was tied back in a pony tail. She had a feminine air despite the seriousness which her difficult assignments imparted to her. I asked her: “It’s unusual for a girl to be on duty at night all by herself!”

“I’m not afraid of the night. Sometimes I used to be on duty at night, and I was not scared. The young men would be tied up along the combat lines and I would keep operating the wireless. At first, my parents wouldn’t agree to my work because they were worried about me. But I’ve done a three-month militia training course. I did it when the revolution entered the camp, and training began. They offered a course for girls. I was fourteen years old. It was a very strenuous course and I was in the third preparatory class at school.” (131)

once the intensity of the war increases, so too does the pace of the novel and the plot begins to mirror that intensity. the daily life of the women in the novel shifts to fighting to survive under siege, to collectivity:

The basement house! Voices echoing in a deep lair. The wailing of confined children and their running noses. The kerosene cookers emitting soot as they burned, and the smell of kerosene with the orange-blue flame. The arms of women moving the stone mill to crush lentils for use as a flour substitute. Discovering this new camp! It did not occur to anyone outside this besieged patch how thousands of people were living without basic necessities. No rice. No sugar. No wheat or flour. But there were lentils that were crushed and ground, and mixed with water, then fried on kerosene cookers or tin baking plates under which scraps of wood and paper were set alight. When there was no milk, they used lentil water as a substitute to feed their babies, and they used lentil yeast to make bread. Lentils became a mercy from God, quieting cries of hunger. Those who were unable to replace torn sandbags near their fortifications took cover behind lentil sacks. They hid behind them waiting for God to ease their plight. Had it not been for the blessed presence of the lentil packaging factory inside Tal Ezza’tar, hundreds would have starved long ago. (155-156)

we also begin to get more detailed narration about the freedom fighters defending the camp at this point, such as farid, whose presence in the novel is far too minimal. just as the story of the women above making do with their ingenuity and rations can be imagined in the context of so many other situations in which palestinians have been besieged–most recently, of course, in gaza–so too with farid’s story can we understand the plight of palestinians without a homeland, without an identity card, though, coincidentally he hails from gaza. when aisha’s mother, um jalal, complains about the fact that he smokes so much her son-in-law hassan tells her:

His family are all in Gaza. He’s not married and hasn’t got children, and you feel that a couple of cigarettes are wasted on him. Let him smoke as much as he likes. Why not?”

Um Jalal walked away, large masses of fat protruding from her back beneath her shapeless dress. Hassan recalled Farid with special sympathy. The homeless one! Unable to enter any country because he had no passport. Living in airports and traveling in planes. He had once tried to travel to an Arab capital to see his mother, who had come across the bridge, but he was unable to. The old lady had waited as airports took delivery of the young man, then threw him off to airports father away. His Palestinian travel document got him to Scandinavian countries after passing through African and Asian ones. Farid would enter a country and immediately became an inmate in an airport lounge until the authorities rejected him, putting him on the first departing flight. Farid had told them a lot about other Palestinian families living in transit lounges. He would guffaw as he told of how they would hang their underwear in the public bathroom. Sometimes, he would become tearful as he recalled the humiliation he had faced with security men and policemen. In the end, his case had turned into something akin to a play from the theatre of the absurd which no one would take seriously because it was merely entertainment. Finally one of the PLO offices was able to solve his problem through intensive lobbying of important people in the host country, and it was decided that he would be deported to Lebanon. Thereafter, Farid completely turned back on his plans to see his mother, and on his good intentions, which had only brought him harm. He never, ever thought of trying again, and his brothers had informed him of this mother’s death a year ago.

Although Farid had been accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, the name of which struck fear in the hearts of officials in European airports, Hassan believed that he had never even harmed an ant in his life. Duty was duty. And it was duty in any situation. it was enough that Farid had almost become the victim of his own organization when clashes had broken out in the early seventies over the concept of a Palestinian state on part of the homeland. The organization had not accepted the idea, and considered it a transgression of the sacred charter which called for the liberation of all Palestine. We cannot give up our land to the enemy, they had said. The whole of the levant will revolt one day, and we wil liberate Palestine to the last inch. The result was all too clear now. The Arab governments wanted to liberate their countries first, had been the comment of Farid. His incessant smoking provoked the anger and coughing of the middle-aged women dying for a Marlboro cigarette or any real tobacco wrapped in white paper.

The hateful church was nothing more than a wall to the fighters of the camp. They would remove it and excuse the enemy position which was crushing the people with their sniper bullets and shells. Hassan failed to understand why religion had turned into a sword against human beings. Until that moment, he could not understand how they would be able to blow up the church despite the teachings of the Quran chanted by his father, which instructed him to respect other religions. Hassan had never in his life tried to pick up a Quran and read its verses. He had become used to respecting it from afar. He had treated religion as though it were meant for old people and sheikhs who went on pilgrimage to Mecca. It was not for him, or those who were his age. The continued problems of day-to-day living had prompted families to give top priority to the education of their sons. His family had always said that the Palestinians could not win the struggle to survive without education. No home, no country and no friends. How could Palestinians struggle to survive without that weapon? It would gain them the protection they needed, and they would rebuild their shattered lives until they could return to their countries. Religion. He could not remember that anyone in his family had ever prayed, except for his elderly father. His mother had considered that working to solve the problems of being homeless refugees was a form of worship. Preserving the life that God has created is the most noble form of worship, she had always told them. So Hassan asked himself why the enemies were waging their war in the name of religion. was it because they had a lot of money, houses and factories that spared them from being overwhelmed by the problems of daily survival? but they were not all that way. Their poor were at the front, and those waging the war appeared on the social pages of the newspapers at their boisterous parties. (161-162)

i quote this long passage above because it says so much about the continuing struggle of palestinians. it speaks to so much historically and currently. farid is a resistance fighter who comes to rescue people of the camp by trying to bomb the church where most of the heavy shelling besieging the camp originates from. there are other moments like this where the context of the palestinian resistance struggle is contextualized such as hassan’s thoughts about why he fights in the resistance:

When he had grown up and gone to university, he had discovered that therw ere two civilizations living alongside one another in modern times. One was the civilization of repression, which used the most developed tools of technology to repress people and evict them from their homes, as in South Africa and Palestine. The other was the civilization of the oppressed, who could possibly win, but only possible…but if one was in one’s home and country. But here? Among strangers. How could one go on amongst those who only cared about importing cars and arcade games and the latest brands of washing powder appearing on television screens? (172-173)

while hana is the only female resistance fighter in the novel, all of the women resist in various ways. hassan’s sister amneh works in the hospital caring for patients without any medications, power, or water to treat them properly, much like gaza. she was responsible for holding patients down while their wounds were stitched without anesthesia. most of the mothers and elderly found a basement where they hid out together trying to escape the shelling, however, including her family. the narrator describes, in detail, what happens when she discovers the building had been shelled to the ground:

As she walked through a corridor of brown cloudy smoke Amneh saw herself as a sleeper sees her soul. She saw her body passing through fields of stones, crushed rocks, and pieces of debris flying about in the air. Amneh saw herself as if in a dream, as though she were crossing a desert too hot for any human to bear. Sweat flows profusely from her, dripping down her forehead, her shoulders, and beneath her arms. Powdered gypsum, or something like the white plaster used to decorate the walls of houses, stick to her hair. The clouds grew thicker, then lifted to reveal what Amneh finally realized–the shelter. Collapsed. Crumbled. Shelled. It was definitely no longer in its place. no longer remained standing. Something the mind could not grasp. But the crowds of traumatized people. They came in shocked waves. The sound of their wailing mingling with the hoarse moans coming out of the shelter convinced her, forced her to see what was happening. She went over to a man carrying a spade. He tossed it away, and threw himself on the debris to dig wit his hands. All she could get out of him was that the shells which had set the plastics on fire at the Boutajy factory had cracked the walls of the adjacent building, whose basement had housed the shelter. The enemy had shelled the five-story building continually for several days, concentrating their fire ot he exposed columns which supported it, until they had cracked and collapsed. the roof had fallen in on everyone beneath it, blocking the exit. No. everything had collapsed over them, and there was no longer any door or exit. The man was crying, shouting, screaming. His howling was lost amidst the successive waves of wailing voices coming from beneath the battered ground and from above it. People ran around here and there carrying hoes, but the were not of much use in removing the rubble of five floors, which had collapsed over the shelter, whose door had completely disappeared. At that moment, many different emotions surged through Amneh’s bosom.[…] She continued digging with the families of those who had been buried, from two o’clock in the afternoon until three o’clock the next morning. During that interval, and until it became possible to enter the shelter, Amneh did not try to look at the bodies which other rescuers pulled out. She did not want dead people. Simply, she only wanted those able to live, because she had come to hate the kind of life that was saturated with death day and night.[…] A terror that she would never experience in her life paralysed her. A terror that would crush her and would reshape and polish the hardness of her heart, making it even tougher than before. Inside the shelter, Amneh saw about four hundred bodies so disfigured that it was impossible to recognize them. They were all unimaginably mangled. A very small number of people had survived, but they too had sustained severe injuries to their limbs. Most of the mutilation had affected the heads. One woman’s intestines had spilt out, and she had died only a short time before. (191-192)

as the fighting over the course of months dies down slightly, hana learns from her work covering the wireless machine that an evacuation of the camp has been arranged. palestinian survivors of the massacre thus far, who are injured, who have been lacking food, water, and medicine for months begin the trek out of the camp on foot. many are barefoot. many, like aisha’s father assayed, find a trauma repeated as he imagines he is fleeing palestine in 1948 not tel al-za’atar in 1976. like many of the scenes in the second half of the novel, it is detailed and horrifying:

The terror. And the bodies. And Amneh, whom Um Hassan had sent ahead to find out what was happening at the to pof the road. Some of the neighbours had already left. But Um Hassan and Um Mazen were delaying their departure, hoping for a miracle that would avert the horror of falling into the hands of the besiegers. As the decision to surrender had spread through the shelters, crowds ahd surged wither towards the mountains surrounding the camp, or towards Dekwaneh that terrible compulsory route. The amputated hands and feet scattered along the Dekwaneh road, their veins being sucked by blue flies, were the true testament of the fate awaiting those who chose to head in that direction. The fighters prepard to leave by the rough mountain paths up to a small village called Mansourieh, hoping to break through enemy lines there, and then to continue on to the Nationalist-controlled area. Most of the young men and women joined those going up into the mountains, protected by an instinctive certainty that risking the unknown was better than following the voices offering people safe conduct which had suddenly blared out through several megaphones from the direction of Dekwaneh.

Amneh, with the newly-acquired military experience she had gained from her water-gathering trips, noticed that the faces of the bodies lying along the road were turned towards the camp, and she concluded that they had been shot in the back. The sounds of clashes on the road to the mountains made her aware of the new battle around the camp. (219-220)

amneh’s depiction of what she sees on the road out of the camp is a harbinger of what is to come once families choose to flee. the narrator describes the escalated horror that awaits the palestinian refugees, being made refugees yet again, upon their exit:

From then on, Khazneh saw nothing but blood. She passed the towering church which all the battles had not succeeded in destroying. She marvelled at the changed appearance of the building. It was neither destroyed, nor completely intact. Fallen, pile dup stones, and high thick walls and people standing outside them in lines. Was her eyesight playing tricks on her when she saw the building moving towards her, crawling like a giant ship that had suddenly set sail from a mythical port. Medieval flags fly over it, and knights parade on its roof upon pure-blooded saddled horses, wearing cloths flowing down their flanks. They carry quivers filled with poison-tipped arrows, and helmets and shields and pommels and whips and shining iron swords. As for the church, it continues to crawl and stretch forward with a slow deliberate movement, while they take no notice. Khazneh rubbed her eyes so that she could verify the movement towards her of the building-ship that she was seeing. She looked more carefully and saw rows of young men lined up in front of the wall of the church. Now they were hitting them on their backs with hammers, the stone pestles used in stone mortars to grind wheat and mix it with raw meat for kubbeh dough. But the hammers! They were hitting them with those hammers which had been specially made to pound red meat for that traditional dish. They ordered the prisoners to kneel and poured petrol over them. It caught fire in a split second, and some of the prisoners fainted. They sprayed bullets on those who were kneeling, after placing iron bars in the fire and using them to burn crosses onto the bellies of those who remained standing. the smell of charred flesh filled the air. Burning flesh. They began tying up the prisoners with ropes to parade them on thee astern side of the city in trucks specially brought over for that purpose. (231-212)

there are so many other scenes of horror that each one of the characters experiences and/or witnesses. indeed, each character in the novel is an eyewitness to massacre or a victim of it, in which case we, the readers, become the witness to the crime. palestinians get rounded up and put in detention centers and families are separated from each other as various members of families are murdered. aisha, the protagonist through much of the novel, and who we begin the novel with, finds herself pregnant mid-way through the narrative. she discovers this just before her husband, hassan, is murdered by kata’eb militia men. aisha manages to survive, though we do not learn the fate of all the characters by the novel’s conclusion. but her survival, like everyone’s survival in the camp, is one that just barely manages to escape fate. that she managed to live through this siege without proper food and water and under an extreme amount of trauma provides some hope in the novel’s conclusion. that there will be a new generation of palestinian babies and that this battle for palestinians to return is not over is wrapped up in aisha’s “emaciated abdomen” (264).

there is so much more to say, to share, but i hope that people will read badr’s novel on their own. and for those who want some further information on the context of tel al-za’atar refugee camp below are two articles on the larger issue of the origin of the lebanese civil war, the attacks on palestinians in lebanon, and the zionist role in collaborating with the kata’eb against the palestinians.

reilly-israel-in-lebanon-1975-82

farsoun-lebanon-explodes-toward-maronite-zion

on knowledge

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there are so many challenges here on a daily basis. this is, of course, in addition to the challenges of living in a place that is invaded daily by israeli terrorists and increasingly by their collaborating partners in the palestinian authority. some of the challenges are good. for instance, in my postcolonial literature class this week my students had read an excerpt of edward said’s culture and imperialism. i love teaching this class, especially here, but it is always so disheartening to be confronted with my students’ gaps in knowledge. i talked about how european colonialism (and now, of course, american imperialism) uses culture as a way to justify its colonial rule and as a way to prove its superiority. said uses the example of edmund spencer’s the fairie queen, which helped to justify england’s colonial project in ireland. i asked them to think about what said says in relation to this superiority as it always comes with subjugation of indigenous culture. i asked my students to think about this in relation to their studies here. my students, who study literature in english, have been taught that shakespeare is somehow superior to abu nuwas. when i mentioned the numerous artistic achievements in arab and islamic civilization, over the course of centuries, they seemed shocked. i still can’t get over this, but they did. apparently they are not only missing out on palestinian history and culture in their educational system, but also ancient arab and islamic culture. and, of course, no one has told them–until they read said’s chapter–that all of this so-called great literature and culture in europe originated in egypt and came to europe by way of greece, a fact that was conveniently erased by europeans in the 19th century as yet another way for them to rationalize their imperialism across the globe. but my students didn’t learn this in school. and, equally problematic, they do not seek it out on their own. one student told me the other day that she watches lbc television and she asked me if all lebanese people, especially women, are just like what she sees on that channel. i thank god that this is so far from the truth, but again, what disturbs me is that although she has also watched al manar or al jadeed somehow she has not synthesized the information in a way as to get a more complete picture of the complex society that exists in lebanon. moreover, why doesn’t such curiosity lend itself to reading some of the amazing poetry or novels by lebanese authors to give her a more diverse picture? i mean, this is what literature majors should do. or at least what i wish they would do.

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this challenge–to help my students learn about and value the awesomeness of the history and culture in this region–is one that i welcome. i am happy to share such knowledge with my students. and indeed it seems to me that they are eager to learn these things. but other challenges i do not find welcome like when i taught lorraine hansberry’s a raisin in the sun in my drama class this week. when i write a syllabus–especially here–i spend hours, if not weeks, searching for the perfect texts to teach. i have so many things i must balance. first and foremost i want texts that will inspire my students to read. to want to read for class and to want to read beyond the class assignments. second, i have to find texts that will be accessible to non-native speakers (which also means i have to pay attention to length). third, i have to make sure that a text is compatible with/respectful to islam. this means, for instance, that my postcolonial literature class contains no novels by women as i cannot find any that do not deal with sex and sexuality. this is a time consuming process to say the least. but it is usually rewarding. one of the plays i wanted to teach this semester is a raisin in the sun because of the themes of poverty and racism, of family, and of the freedom to live where one wants to live. i choose texts, too, with themes that resonate with my students here, with the context in palestine. so i had wanted them to see such parallels in this play. after class on wednesday, one of my students–who took this class from me last semester and failed–came up to complain that there is sex in the play. i said, of course there is no sex in this play; there are a couple of kisses between a man and a woman who are married. and islam actually celebrates sexuality within marriage–far more so than any other monotheistic religion. he told me that the play is 7aram. that i should not be teaching this play here. after our argument about this several other students stayed after class to tell me how much they loved the play and were happy that i shared it with them. but i couldn’t help but feel disturbed by his reaction. aside from the fact that there is decidedly nothing 7aram in this play, fixating on two kisses which compromise about 1% of the play, if that, means that he missed the larger point of the play. but also: what plays don’t have kissing. shakespeare? his plays are far more bawdy than this play. but also this suggests to me not that this student is a scholar of islam and has some particular problem with the representations in the play. rather, i feel that this has more to do with resisting education. with being open to new ideas. when you couple this with the horrendous gaps in the education system here, i become very disturbed.

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i needed some kind of an antidote to all of this. a dose of reality. so after school yesterday i headed over to balata refugee camp. when i was in lebanon i got a stack of 17 village books and i’ve been photocopying them and giving them to libraries and refugee camp cultural centers here. these village books are amazing. they are created in palestinian refugee camps in lebanon, jordan, and syria. they are done by people from and about their original villages in 1948 palestine. they are incredibly detailed with maps marking water wells, where weddings were celebrated, everything about village life. there are title deeds reproduced, photographs, as well as the history of these villages. one thing i love about them is that the people who do them do not take any money or support from any political faction. these village books are entirely independent. this project has not really been done here–not by people from the villages, although some scholars have attempted to do this work. but it isn’t the same. these are precious oral historical texts that are unlike anything else. and indeed they were received as precious gifts, as gems. knowledge is welcome there. desired, required. though there are limitations there, too, like everywhere else.

one of my students from balata is working on her research paper about palestinian resistance. she gave me a draft to read the other day. it was not at all a research on palestinian resistance. it was a glorification of fatah and its resistance. i told her–as i tell all my students–that research means you have to be willing to interrogate a subject, even one that is dear to your heart. you have to explore various points of view and question all of them. i told her she needs to read yezid sayigh’s armed struggle and the search for state, which is the bible on the subject. yet another barrier to knowledge here: the glorification of particular leaders and the unwillingness to see faults and learn from mistakes.

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when i got home i received a happy call from my dear friend areej who was in ramallah. she called to say she was on her way to nablus with a friend. i was so overjoyed to see her, not because i think she is one of the most amazing women i know. but also because i admire her so much: her desire to always learn, read, understand, know. she is always reading, always wanting to know more about palestine and everything else. this is what most of my close friends are like here, but i have not met enough people in nablus who are like this. i met her downtown and we went out to dinner at my new favorite restaurant, saleem offendi. it’s a bit hard to find as there are no signs, but it is a stunning old nabulsi home that has been renovated. after dinner we went out for knafe, because you cannot come to nablus without eating knafe. but it was late and a lot of the knafe shops were closed. we found one on the verge of closing. their doors were open, but they were out of knafe. these first four photographs explain what happened next. areej’s friend had never had knafe so of course they couldn’t send us home. instead they made us coffee and invited us into the kitchen to show us how they make knafe. i had never seen it made from scratch before so this was a great treat. and to top it off he made us a valentine’s knafe with pistachio heart on top.

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we woke up to amazingly beautiful weather today, which was welcomed after intense thunder storms this week and really cold temperatures. after areej went back to deheishe refugee camp, i went to my new friend and colleague abdel sattar qasim’s house for lunch. we spent a lovely afternoon on his veranda enjoying the warm sunlight and his beautiful garden that is just beginning to show some blossoms on the almond and peach trees. he showed me around the neighborhood and the amazing view as he lives on one of the highest mountains in nablus. i asked him about that 60 minutes episode with bob simon a few weeks ago–specifically about the house that israeli terrorists occupy and take over, holding the family hostage on a regular basis. and that house happens to be directly next door to his house. and indeed you can see over the city from this mountain, though not really the old city. this is why they invade regularly. and the israeli terrorists graced us with their presence while we were out on the veranda (see photos above/below). they invaded for about an hour mostly, it seems, to observe what was going on in the city below. even a beautiful, almost-spring day they must disrupt. but in spite of this i had an amazing time and a delicious meal.

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abdel sattar qasim is, unfortunately, a rare kind of person. he is someone whose politics are pure. he believes in the liberation of palestine. he refuses to belong to any political party. he supports all forms of resistance. and as a result of his outspokenness on the subject he has been in and out of israeli colonist and palestinian jails. in fact, i found out later today that my dear friend ziad was in an israeli colonist prison with him and abdel sattar was his teacher there. he taught ziad to speak english in the jail. ziad–another one of my friends whom i deeply admire–is someone who loves to call his time in prison “the university.” and he is like a few of my friends who are my age and who are now pursuing their education because when they were younger they were in the resistance and/or in jail. but their desire for knowledge was never eclipsed.

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i could listen to abdel sattar speak forever. the way he describes the factionalization of palestine. the way he longs for a palestinianization of education and life here. the way he is completely unwilling to normalize with israeli colonists and the way he is completely unwilling to give up on liberating 100% of palestine. he is one of the rare people who has not sold out. and yet as a consequence he is alternately labeled in the media here as either an israeli collaborator or as hamas. it seems people cannot handle the fact that he is an independent thinker and actor; they want to affix a label to him. before the madrid conference the american ambassador wanted him to attend the conference that led to normalization and that killed the more unified liberation struggle. he refused. even the israeli colonial governor commanded that he go and he said he’d prefer prison. and before that he went to lebanon in the 1970s to join the resistance and even then found that the various factions did not meet his high standards. and he wrote about this–he has written numerous books. he wrote then–i think in 1979–a book about how yassir ‘arafat had been serving the interests of americans and israelis, which is what we saw when they agreed to leave lebanon as a prelude to the massacre of palestinians in the shatila refugee camp and the surrounding neighborhood of sabra; this israeli-kata’eb massacre was made possible by the evacuation of all the freedom fighters. he has so many other specific examples of fatah coordinating with the israeli colonial and american masters, especially the way in which whenever it seems like they are losing favor among the people they attack the pa or fatah or ‘arafat (think the muqat’a in 2002). this, in the end, makes it possible for people to consolidate their support for the pa. he read so much and has experienced so much. and he has written so much. his books are bestsellers here. and yet his critiques of fatah and ‘arafat and of the palestinian authority have not had an effect; i wish they would. his voice is so badly needed, but this educational system in place here, which serves the needs of the pa (think louis althusser’s ideological state apparatus) keeps people in the dark. indeed, it so much easier to rule over a people made ignorant. but it is more than this, too. the salaries fatah gives to people here are like bribes. so many families cannot live without that money and if you speak out against fatah or the pa your salary disappears. it’s like hush money. it maintains the status quo. i could go on and on. i hope that he takes a break from writing his political science books and writes a memoir because his life sheds so much light on all of these themes and i think he is such a role model.

ما في غرفة

farming in al sheyukh
farming in al sheyukh
i think i have been in a food coma all week from all the sugar i’ve been given during eid. it is clouding my thinking. today i was fed an amazing feast of mansaf in the lovely village of al sheuykh near khalil. i was given enough mansaf to feed at least four people, however. plus salad. plus sweets. plus fruit. plus drinks. plus i had already eaten a felafel sandwich in khalil not long before this. as more food was pushed my way–i was invited to eat fish on top of the mansaf meal as well–i could not think of how to say i’m no longer hungry in arabic. so i said “ma fi ghorfa” because i was thinking in english and translating that somehow into arabic; i was trying to say there is no more room in my stomach, but the word i used for room here is literally a room in a house. it is not used in arabic to mean space as we use it in english. of course, everyone, including me as soon as it hit me, burst out laughing.

downtown khalil
downtown khalil
khalil pottery & glass
khalil pottery & glass

i went to sheuykh today for lunch at my friend’s friend’s home because she had a meeting there. during the meeting i went to khalil to buy some of the famous glass made there as a wedding gift for friends in beirut. i did not go into the old city where the recent clashes took place as a result of the illegal israeli settlers who were removed. and where remaining settlers attacked palestinians with stones and guns. but such intentional, premeditated behavior does not get harsh punishment when zionists control the courtroom (think “justice” under jim crow in the u.s.):

The decision Wednesday by Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge, Malka Aviv, to order the release of Ze’ev Braude, the settler suspected of shooting a Palestinian following the evacuation of the House of Contention in Hebron, did not come as a surprise to either the State Prosecutor’s Office or human rights groups.

A brief search on the judiciary’s Web site reveals that Aviv, according to her CV, is herself is a long-term settler. She was one of the first settlers of Gigit, a moshav which was established in the Jordan Valley in 1975.

During 41 years of occupation, many settlers and supporters of Jewish settlements in the West Bank have risen to senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces and hold key offices in the Civil Administration as well.

the economist has a piece this week on the pogroms in khalil in the context of the upcoming israeli elections:

The established settlement leadership purported to condemn, or at least not to condone, the militants’ behaviour. But it is unclear who leads whom among the settlers. Several right-wing members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, visited the building in Hebron before the police moved in. And the heads of the Settlement Council of Judea and Samaria, the settlers’ preferred name for the West Bank, tried to negotiate a compromise with the defence minister, Ehud Barak, that would have left the Jewish squatters in the building.

This vagueness on the far right threatens to embarrass Mr Netanyahu, whose Likud says it generally opposes the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank. In his party’s primaries on December 9th, an ultra-hardliner, Moshe Feiglin, was voted into the 20th spot on the Likud’s list of candidates, despite Mr Netanyahu’s vigorous efforts to block him. Thanks to disciplined block-voting by Mr Feiglin’s supporters among party members, the list was notable for its far-right ideological hue. Moderates whom Mr Netanyahu publicly backed were pushed down or out. Mr Feiglin’s website, in which he denies the right of Palestinians to nationhood and urges Israel to annex the West Bank, was off the air next morning for “upgrading”.

a bit of context on feiglin–here are comments on the ethnic cleansing he advocates in ha’aretz yesterday:

In an interview Wednesday with the Israel’s Knesset TV channel, controversial Likud figure Moshe Feiglin said Israel should formally annex the West Bank and pay each Palestinian family $250,000 to move away.

“They want to emigrate,” he said. “There are certainly countries who want to take them in,” he said.

and there is also testimony on electronic intifada from one of the palestinians living under siege in khalil. here is an excerpt from it:

Suddenly, two settlers came up and tried to assault my brother-in-law Husni. One of them was holding a pistol. My father-in-law, Abd al-Hai al-Matariyeh, told him to leave because we didn’t want any problems. The settler fired a shot that hit Husni in the chest. When my father-in-law tried to overcome the shooter, the same settler shot him in his left arm. Then dozens of settlers attacked our house with stones and tried to burn the houses of our neighbors. There were also settlers who fired into the air. We threw stones at them to protect our house, and some of them fired in our direction.

After about 15 minutes passed, four soldiers arrived and ordered us to go into the house. We went inside and could no longer defend ourselves. The soldiers didn’t try to stop the settlers’ attack.

The settlers continued their attack for about two hours. My children and I stayed in one room. They children were terrified and we were all crying. We heard the sound of the windows breaking and of the water tanks being punctured. Flames spread into the house and we had to put them out with blankets, because the settlers had damaged our water system.

All this time, there were about four soldiers next to the house, but they didn’t help. The settlers tried to burn the house of our neighbors, the al-Razem family. I told the soldiers what they were doing, but they didn’t stop the settlers. After about half an hour passed, one of the soldiers went there and brought the woman and children to our house.

The attack didn’t stop until journalists arrived at our house. An Israeli journalist called the police and then the police arrived, but the settlers had already destroyed most of the property of the houses in our area. They had punctured a dozen or so water tanks, destroyed two electric boilers, a solar water tank and about five satellite dishes. Part of our house was burned, the electricity, telephone and water lines were completely destroyed, and most of our windows were shattered.

We’ve lost our faith that the Israeli police would protect us. Now we don’t have running water or a telephone line, our windows are broken, and the TV doesn’t work. We feel isolated from the outside world.

all of this is a bit of context in relation to my trip to khalil today. after an amazing lunch in al sheuykh my friend and i drove back towards beit lahem, but we took a bit of a detour. the other night her aunt was at her home and told us about a school she taught in in a nearby palestinian village called beit zakariya. she was talking about the poor condition of the school–there is only one school for the entire village–but also the village itself. it exists inside the illegal israeli settlement gush etzyon.

entrance to gush etzyon
entrance to gush etzyon
beit zakariya house with gush etzyon in background
beit zakariya house with gush etzyon in background

we drove down the jewish only settler road into the settlement that was built on the lands of the palestinian village of beit zakariya. when we first entered there was a winery (likely made with grapes from the original villagers when they had access to their lands).

gush etzyon winery
gush etzyon winery
beit zakariya's farm land imprisoned
beit zakariya's farm land imprisoned

we first drove down a street that looked like the village. the first house–seen above against the backdrop of the illegal and fancy looking settlement of gush etzyon–was made entirely out of zinc with a few plastic bags and pieces of cloth in between. it reminded me of some of the houses on the edge of shatila refugee camp in beirut. the people in this village have severely strict building codes. they are not allowed to build up at all and they are supposed to have zinc roofs. the illegal settlers don’t want the families to expand. there are 20 such families living here, although on this particular road there were only two families. we had to get in the car and drive further down the road to see where the remaining villagers live. the rest of the villagers became refugees in 1948 and live in refugee camps in the area.

home in beit zakariya
home in beit zakariya
gush etzyon encroaching on palestinian land
gush etzyon encroaching on palestinian land

the plight of the people from this village was shocking and horrifying. the conditions are worse than many refugee camps here. yes, they are still on their land, but the families are separated amidst gun toting illegal israeli settlers who shoot to kill and who get away with murder. literally. the flimsy nature of many of these homes on a hill top that has extremely turbulent and freezing winds bustling across the land made me wonder about how the families keep warm inside. the wind was particularly brisk today.

i started thinking again about having room. not in my stomach this time, but making room or having room–having space. everywhere you look palestinians are pushed out of their space. the israelis make no room for palestinians. every act, every day israelis act to push out palestinians rhetorically, actually. they do this by jailing, exiling, murdering, ethnically cleansing, bulldozing. and yet there is room. there is room here on this land, this palestinian land for every refugee who wants to return and for every palestinian who wants to return to their lands to farm. of this i am certain. but i was also thinking about room, about living room and not the space in one’s home where people live. i was thinking about this in relation to june jordan’s amazingly beautiful, powerful, awe-inspiring poem “moving towards home” in which she thinks about palestinian refugees who were massacred by israelis in cahoots with kat’aeb in lebanon in 1982 and writes these words:

I need to speak about living room
where the land is not bullied and beaten into
a tombstone
I need to speak about living room
where the talk will take place in my language
I need to speak about living room
where my children will grow without horror
I need to speak about living room where the men
of my family between the ages of six and sixty-five
are not
marched into a roundup that leads to the grave
I need to talk about living room
where I can sit without grief without wailing aloud
for my loved ones
where I must not ask where is Abu Fadi
because he will be there beside me
I need to talk about living room
because I need to talk about home

and i need to talk about return. about the right of return. and we need to do this now. it is getting worse. this week these illegal, violent settlers are expanding their space and scope of operation into 1948 palestine, and into a palestinian village as jonathan cook warns:

Extremist settler groups currently involved in violent confrontations with Palestinians in the center of Hebron have chosen their next battleground, this time outside the West Bank.

A far-right group know as the Jewish National Front, closely associated with the Hebron settlers, is preparing to march through one of the main Arab towns in northern Israel. The march, approved by the Israeli high court back in October, is scheduled to take place on 15 December, the group announced this week.

The police are expecting to deploy thousands of officers to prevent trouble, and have limited the number of Front members participating to 100. The march will not enter the heart of the city, say police, though it is not yet clear whether Front members will be allowed to carry the guns most have been issued as settlers.

The Front says it will wave Israeli flags in what the group has dubbed a demonstration of “Jewish Pride” through Umm al-Fahm, home to nearly 45,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The Front’s main platform is the expulsion of all Palestinians from what it calls “Greater Israel,” which also includes the West Bank and Gaza. It skates close to illegality with veiled suggestions that Palestinian citizens of Israel should also be ethnically cleansed.

“We will march through Umm al-Fahm with flags to send everyone a message that the Land of Israel belongs to us,” Baruch Marzel, the Front’s leader, declared.

scenes of life and of death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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