no homes for nahr el bared, yet again

the last couple of weeks i was writing a review of rosemary sayigh’s brilliant and important book, the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand palestine, palestinian refugees, palestinian resistance, and, of course, the right of return. i was re-reading the book and i was struck by what one palestinian refugee and fighter from nahr el bared refugee camp had to say about his camp being the first to liberate itself from the lebanese army:

They brought tanks and the army tried to enter the camps. That day, we can remember with pride, we brought out the few guns that we had–they were eleven. We did well at first, but then we ran out of ammunition. A rumour ran round the camp that the ammunition was finished and we tried to calm the people by telling them that rescue would come from the Resistance. But we didn’t really know whether it would come. But what was amazing was that people returned to what they had been in 1948, preferring to die rather than to live in humiliation. Women were hollering because it was the first time a gun had been seen defending the camp. It was the first battle that we didn’t lose. The children were between the fighters, collecting the empty cartridges although the bullets were like rain. It was the first time that people held knives and sticks and stood in front of their homes, ready to fight. (169)

it is so ironic to think about this when i read the latest news about nahr el bared, which still, until now has yet to allow most of the palestinian refugees (31,000 of them) to return to the camp two years after the lebanese army destroyed it (read electronic lebanon for background on this or search my blog for details about the subject).

here is the latest–from the daily star–in the lebanese government’s plan to make palestinians doubly and triply homeless while denying them civil rights and while not fighting for their right of return to their homes in palestine either:

Palestinian factions staged protests in refugee camps all across the country on Friday to condemn the ongoing delay in reconstructing the battered northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Demonstrations were held in Ain al-Hilweh, near the southern coastal city of Sidon, al-Buss, near the port city of Tyre, and Chatila on the outskirts of the capital, to express solidarity with the refugees of Nahr al-Bared, who have yet to return home two years after the end of the battles between the Lebanese Army and the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militant group.

Protestors held banners slamming a recent decision by the Lebanese government to halt the reconstruction process in Nahr al-Bared and voiced their demands in petitions sent to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) officials.

“We ask UNRWA to ease the suffering of Palestinian refugees at Nahr al-Bared and offer them relief,” said the head of Ain al-Hilweh’s Public Committee Abu al-Motassem.

Nahr al-Bared has been in ruins since 2007 when Lebanon witnessed a violent war between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam.

Lebanon’s Sate Shura Council recently issued a decision to halt the reconstruction process in the camp based on the discovery of Roman archeological ruins underneath the campsite.

Motassem called on the Lebanese government, UNRWA, the Arab League and the international community to reconsider the State Shura Council’s decision. “Refugees have been waiting for more than two years for the camp’s reconstruction,” he said.

Also in Ain al- Hilweh, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official in south Lebanon Qassem Sobh asked the Lebanese government to find a solution for the “logistic difficulties” even if it meant “buying or renting nearby sites [to house refugees] in order to solve the humanitarian problem.”

The Union of Palestinian Factions official Abu Ahmad Fadel, demanded on Friday that the Lebanese Army put an end to the strict military measures imposed on the Nahr al-Bared refugees.

“We ask that the army reduce the security measures and guarantee the camp’s residents freedom of movement,” he said.

The delay in reconstruction also seems to have had repercussions on Lebanese- Palestinian political ties.

“The Nahr al-Bared issue concerns all Palestinians,” said spokesman of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) Ali Mahmoud. “Any attempt to halt the camp’s reconstruction directly affects Lebanese-Palestinian relations” he added.

and here is a news item on the subject in arabic from dunia watan:

إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد وحكمه: نموذج “مثالي” للإقصاء
بقلم ساري حنفي وإسماعيل الشيخ حسن

مخيم نهر البارد فضاء للاستثناء
تبدو الاوضاع المحيطة بتدمير مخيم نهر البارد مثيرة للقلق على أكثر من صعيد. فعلى الرغم من تبرؤ اللاجئين العلني من “فتح الاسلام”، ألقت بعض وسائل الاعلام اللوم فيما يتصل بهذه الظاهرة على المخيم وعلى اللاجئين، وذلك من دون إجراء أي تحقيق يتناول مصادر تمويل هذه المجموعة والجهات التي تقف وراءها. وخلال المعركة تم اعتقال لاجئين فلسطينيين في جميع أنحاء لبنان عند الحواجز التي أقامها الجيش أو قوى الأمن الداخلي، وجرى حصار المخيم وإعلانه منطقة حرب، كما منع الجيش دخول مواد للاغاثة، أو دواء، أو الصحافة. وفي حين فضّل اللاجئون في بداية المعركة البقاء في المخيم خشية أن تؤدي مغادرتهم المخيم الى تدميره بالكامل، فإن القصف العشوائي الشديد الذي لم يستثن المنازل والمدارس والمساجد، أجبر السكان في النهاية على إخلائه تماماً. وهذه هي الحادثة الاولى التي يغادر فيها الفلسطينيون مخيماً لهم من دون الدفاع عنه، الامر الذي يؤكد انتفاء الصلة بين اللاجئين الفلسطينيين و”فتح الاسلام”. وخلال الأشهر الاربعة التي دارت فيها المعركة، تم تدمير المخيم القديم بالكامل، وصار ركاماً بعد هدم 1700 منزل كان يضمها، هدماً كاملاً. وبعد محاولة للهرب قام بها الناجون من مقاتلي “فتح الاسلام”، أعلن الجيش إنهاء عملياته، وخروجه من المعركة منتصراً على الارهاب

العالمي.
ومع أننا نعيش حالياً عصر “الحرب الكونية على الارهاب”، وعلى الرغم من الاوضاع الملتبسة المحيطة باستشهاد جنود الجيش اللبناني غدراً، فإن ثمة ما يدعو الى الشك في أن العرض العشوائي للقوة المفرطة، والذي تجاهل حقوق الانسان والملكية، كان يمكن أن يمارس ضد أي مكان “حضري” لبناني آخر. لكن نظراً الى كون مخيم نهر البارد “فضاء للاستثناء”، أي مستثنى من حماية القانون العام، ويؤوي لاجئين ليسوا بمواطنين، ومحرومين من الحقوق المدنية في لبنان، وتمثّلهم فصائل فلسطينية متناحرة، وتخدمهم وكالة تابعة للأمم المتحدة تفتقر الى التفويض بحمايتهم – فإنه كان في الامكان تدميره بالكامل.

واعتباراً من التاريخ الرسمي لانتهاء القتال في بداية أيلول، وحتى العاشر من تشرين الاول 2007، وُضع مخيم نهر البارد تحت الاشراف الكامل للجيش اللبناني، ولم يُسمح لسكان المخيم بالعودة اليه، ثم عاد بعد ذلك، الآلاف الى المنازل التي تعرضت للحريق والنهب والتخريب المتعمد. ويؤكد الاشخاص الذين قابلناهم، والذين قابلتهم بعثة تقصي الحقائق التابعة لمنظمة العفو الدولية، وجود نمط ممنهج لحرق المنازل ونهبها. كما حملت الكتابات الجدارية العنصرية البذيئة على u]] من بيوت المخيم، أسماء الفرق العسكرية اللبنانية المتعددة (Amnesty International 2006). ويبدو ان عناصر “فتح الاسلام” وبعض سكان المخيم هم من قاموا بأعمال النهب في بداية الامر، لكن الذين تابعوا هذه الاعمال لا بد من أن يكونوا ممن يعتبرون المخيم فضاء للاستثناء وخارج نطاق القانون، يمكن أن يُنهب وأن تُخرَّب الممتلكات فيه عمداً. ولغاية الآن، لم يجر أي تحقيق مستقل، على الرغم من أن منظمة العفو الدولية كتبت بهذا الشأن الى رئيس الحكومة اللبنانية، والى وزارة الدفاع اللبنانية، وطالبت بإجراء تحقيق وبمحاسبة المسؤولين (Amnesty International 2006).

واللافت أنه لم يجر أي نقاش عام في هذا الموضوع المهم. وبما أن المخيم يُعتبر فضاء للاستثناء، فقد شكّل منطقة طوارئ مُنع الشهود من دخولها: فحتى اللحظة لا يُسمح للصحافيين، ولا لمنظمات حقوق الانسان، بدخول المخيم من دون تصريح عسكري خاص. وهذا التعليق للقوانين هو الذي سهّل قيام التخريب المتعمد والنهب، فالسكان الفلسطينيون هم “الانسان المستباح والمُضحى به” (homo sacer، بالمعنى الذي يعطيه جورجيو أغامبن): أناس لا تُخرَّب ممتلكاتهم فحسب، بل تُنهب ايضاً، ومن دون السماح بملاحقة المجرمين.

ويشعر سكان مخيم نهر البارد بأن ما حدث في مخيمهم يمثل جزءاً من مؤامرة مخطط لها ضدهم، فقد قالت الغالبية الساحقة من الاشخاص الذين قابلناهم إنه كان هناك خيارات أخرى لحل مشكلة “فتح الاسلام”، كان من شأنها تفادي تدمير المخيم تدميراً كاملاً. فقد كان في الامكان حل المشكلة من خلال تدخل المقاتلين الفلسطينيين الذين يعرفون جغرافيا المخيم، الامر الذي يجعلهم أكثر كفاdة في هذا النوع من الحروب داخل منطقة كثيفة العمران، وأكثر حساسية إزاء ممتلكات اللاجئين ومبانيهم. أما الخيار الآخر فكان قيام وساطة أكثر فاعلية بين “فتح الاسلام” والجيش اللبناني.

التعاطي مع الحيز:
عملية التخطيط العمراني

استمر وضع الاستثناء وأولوية الأمن في الهيمنة على مشهد ما بعد معركة مخيم نهر البارد، وقد بدا ذلك واضحاً في عملية التخطيط العمراني لإعادة إعمار المخيم. فالهيئة الحكومية الرسمية المسؤولة عن التخطيط في لبنان، هي المديرية العامة للتنظيم المدني، لكن، خلال المناقشات المتعلقة بتطوير المخطط العام، والتي استغرقت عاماً كاملاً، كانت هذه المديرية المذكورة غائبة. والواقع أن الجهة اللبنانية المعنية، التي هيمنت على مشهد التخطيط وعلى المفاوضات، كانت الجيش اللبناني. ويمثل ذلك سابقة خطرة للبنان عامة، وللمخيمات خاصة، وذلك مع تنامي تدخل العنصر العسكري في الشؤون الحكومية المدنية بحجة الدواعي الامنية. إن وجود الجيش كان كفيلاً بإيلاء الأمن الأولوية في المفاوضات الجارية على المخطط التوجيهي العام، ثم تتدخل المديرية العامة للتنظيم المدني في نهاية هذه العملية الطويلة للموافقة رسمياً على المخطط العام.

وعلى رغم المأساة التي تنشأ في أوقات الازمات والحالات الطارئة من هذا النوع، والتي تتفاقم بسبب الفراغ السياسي “الظاهري” في المخيمات الفلسطينية، فإن المأساة، الى جانب ذلك، تتيح الفرصة أمام عدد من الشبكات الاجتماعية، وكذلك أمام الناشطين والحركات السياسية، لتوحيد جهودهم من أجل مواجهة المخاطر التي تواجه جماعة ما، أو مكاناً ما. فعلى المستوى المحلي في المخيم، بدأت المبادرات الشعبية المتعددة، والتي نشأت استجابة لمشكلات معينة محدودة ناجمة عن غياب الحكومة، وعن عدم تأمين الخدمات في المخيم، بتوحيد جهودها ومناقشة ما يمكن، أو يجب عمله، في أثناء سير المعركة وتدمير المخيم.

واللافت في حالة مخيم نهر البارد أن ناشطين وأكاديميين آخرين من مخيمات ومدن وبيئات أخرى، قاموا بتوحيد جهودهم مع المبادرة المحلية. والامر المهم بشكل خاص في هذه الشبكة الممتدة والمتنوعة، هو وجود معماريين ومخططي مدن استفادوا من المعارف التي اكتسبوها من عملهم، ومن دراستهم للسياسات العمرانية المختلفة، ولمشاريع إعادة العمران التي تساعد على تمكين المجموعات، وذلك من أجل وضع استراتيجيات فاعلة في مواجهة مشروع الدولة. وقد أطلقت هذه المبادرة على نفسها اسم “هيئة العمل الاهلي والدراسات لإعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد”.

من جهة أخرى، أنشئ “برنامج” جديد لتحسين المخيمات التابعة لوكالة الغوث (الأونروا)، وذلك من أجل القيام بدور فاعل في إطلاق إعادة الاعمار والتخطيط العمراني، وهو جهد متواصل حالياً. وقد دعا هذا البرنامج الى مبادرة من منظار مختلف، الامر الذي ساهم في إيجاد مشاركة تامة بين وكالة الغوث وهيئة العمل الأهلي والدراسات، تجمع البعد الشعبي الى الخبرة المهنية. وانطلقت هذه المبادرة على الرغم مما وصفه علماء الاجتماع باختفاء الحيز العام الذي دمره العوز الاقتصادي، واستعمرته وسائل الاعلام، عدا السياق السلطوي العربي. كما تتحدى المبادرة المذكورة ما كان يُعتبر في العقود الماضية سلبية بعض اللاجئين الذين نشأوا على لعب دور الضحية.

ولعل سبب هذه الحماسة التي تجلت بين السكان هو اعتقادهم بوجود بعد سياسي في عملية تدمير مخيم نهر البارد، وفي مخطط الحكومة لإعادة إعماره. وقد ظهر ذلك واضحاً في إعلان عدة سياسيين، في أثناء سير المعركة، مخططات لتحسين المخيم تقوم على مبادئ ومعايير غير مقبولة لدى السكان المحليين. وبعد انتهاء المعركة، اتضح تماماً أن المفهوم العام للمخططات كان يرتكز الى شبكة منطقية من الشوارع العريضة التي تسمح بتطبيق ضوابط أمنية فاعلة، والى إسكان اللاجئين في شقق متماثلة بغض النظر عن أنماط عيشهم وبناهم الاجتماعية السابقة.

في أثناء الشهر الثاني من سير المعركة، قدمت هيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد المسودة الاولى لمبادئ إعادة إعمار المخيم، وكانت هذه نتاج ورشات عمل متعددة مع الاهالي، نظمها متطوعون في هيئة إعادة الإعمار، ونتاج اجتماعات مفتوحة واستطلاع آراء من خلال تعبئة استمارات. وبدأت المسودة بمطالبة الناس بالمشاركة في عملية تقويم مساحات البيوت، وأكدت الحاجة الى وضع خطة إعادة إعمار المنازل المدمرة كما كانت في السابق، الامر الذي يؤمن المحافظة على الوحدات السكنية الفردية، وعلى الاحياء، وطرق السير، والمعالم. وتمثل المطلب السياسي، في ما يتعلق بإعادة بناء المخيم، في أن يعود المكان “مخيماً” – وليس بلدة – أي كمكان إقامة موقت.

كان المطلب المعماري الاساسي يتمثل في الحفاظ على نمط البناء المرتبط بالعائلة الممتدة باعتباره حجر الزاوية في مباني المخيم، أي النموذج الذي يتمكن فيه الجيل الأصغر من البناء فوق منزل الوالدين وتأسيس أسر جديدة. ولم يكن سبب اختيار الإبقاء على هذا النموذج من البناء مقتصراً على الرغبة في الحفاظ على التماسك الاجتماعي للقرية فحسب، بل شمل سهولة التوسع المستقبلي وانخفاض تكلفته ايضاً (ولاسيما في بيئة تضم مجموعة سكانية مهمشة لا يسمح لها القانون بالتملك في لبنان). وفي النهاية، أعدت وكالة الغوث، بالاشتراك مع هيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد، خرائط وقاعدة بيانات بواسطة منظومة المعلومات الجغرافية (GIS)، إذ تم توثيق التفصيلات المكانية وتفصيلات الملكية في ما يخص جميع العائلات في المخيم – وذلك لاستعمال المعلومات قاعدة يتم على أساسها وضع المشروع النهائي لإعادة الإعمار.

لكن اعتماد مبدأ المشاركة لم يكن بالمهمة السهلة، فقد نجمت صعوبات بسبب موقف بعض مسؤولي الحكومة اللبنانية الذين لا يؤمنون بالمشاركة الشعبية الحقيقية، وإنما بالتعاون مع منظمات دولية ورسمية فقط، مثل وكالة الغوث، وكذلك موقف بعض مسؤولي منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية. وقامت وحدة تحسين المخيمات في وكالة الغوث بدور رئيسي في تمكين مشاركة الاهالي، وذلك من خلال المشاركة التامة لهيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد في عملية التصميم والمفاوضات كلها. ووافق رئيس الحكومة في نهاية الامر على الاقتراح الذي قدمته وكالة الغوث وهيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد، نظراً الى اقتراب
الموعد النهائي لمؤتمر فيينا الذي اصر فيه المشاركون – المانحون على تقديم خطة إعادة إعمار جاهزة في المؤتمر.

وكانت المفارقة رؤية المسؤولين الحكوميين اللبنانيين يتباهون بعد ذلك، وأمام المانحين ووسائل الإعلام المحلية، بأهمية مبدأ المشاركة في مشروع إعادة الاعمار، وذلك لادراكهم فائدة هذا الامر في تعزيز صورتهم. لكن المسؤولين لم يتبنوا الموقف ذاته في ما يتعلق بمسائل اخرى بالغة الاهمية، وتتصل باعادة الاعمار، كالحقوق المدنية او شكل الحكم او الامن او الاقتصاد، بل حتى الغاء الحالة العسكرية الموجودة في المخيم بعد اكثر من عامين على اندلاع المعركة. وظل الأمن يمثل العامل الرئيسي الذي اثر في قرارات حكومية عدة تتعلق بمسائل متعددة.

حكم المخيم: الرؤى المتضاربة للادارة المشهد المحلي

لا ريب في ان موضوع “إدارة” المخيمات، او الحكم المحلي فيه، غالباً ما يساء عرضه وفهمه، والسبب في ذلك يعود جزئياً الى ان ممارسات الحكم المحلي تتصف بأنها غير رسمية ومتضاربة ومتغيرة، وهي تتنوع من مخيم الى آخر، لكن يمكن وصفها عامة بأنها تتخذ شكل صورة متعددة الطبقة يقوم فيها العديد من الفاعلين والمجموعات والافراد والفصائل بالمناورة والتنافس، وبتدبير أمور الحياة في المخيم. ومع ان الممارسات المذكورة تبدو عصية على الفهم للمراقب الخارجي – فإنها في واقع الامر تمثل انعكاساً لتعقيد السياسة الفلسطينية والوضع الفلسطيني ومفارقاتهما ومصاعبهما في مخيم حضري للاجئين “موقت ودائم” عمره ستون عاماً. وهذه المقالة لا تسعى لتقديم نظرة عامة وشاملة الى آليات الادارة في المخيم ضمن المشهد السياسي – الاجتماعي التاريخي، وذلك على رغم أهمية هذا الموضوع، بل ان الفكرة المهمة في هذه المقالة هي إظهار تفسير الحكومة لـ”مشكلة” المخيمات، وكيفية التدخل التي اختارتها هذه الحكومة.

ان الفاعلين التقليديين في مخيم نهر البارد هم: لجنة شعبية (مؤلفة من ممثلين عن جميع الفصائل، لكن تاريخياً هم ممثلون عن التحالف الموالي لسوريا): لجان الاحياء؛ مجموعة من الوجهاء؛ بعض المنظمات الاهلية. كما يوجد في المخيم عدة لجان ومبادرات شعبية تتبنى قضايا مثل اعادة الاعمار والدفاع عن الحقوق ومصالح التجار، وقد بدأت تؤدي دورأً اكبر في مشهد المخيم. واظهرت ازمة مخيم نهر البارد ضعف الفصائل الفلسطينية التقليدية في ادارة الأزمات عندما تتصرف بمفردها، في معزل عن القوى الاخرى.

وبدلاً من الاعتماد على الفاعلين المحليين في المخيم، قررت الحكومة اللبنانية تغيير الوضع القائم، وتقديم نموذج جديد لادارة المخيم يقوم حصراً على مبدأ اضطلاع قوى الامن الداخلي بإدارة المخيم وبالمراقبة، وذلك من دون التعاطي مع المشكلات الحقيقية للمخيمات او للفلسطينيين في لبنان. وقام فريق خاص بإعداد وثيقة كي تقدم الى مؤتمر المانحين في فيينا الخاص بمخيم نهر البارد.

“وثيقة فيينا”

شاركت الحكومة اللبنانية جزئياً في تجميع مواد “وثيقة فيينا” وصوغها، وذلك من خلال التعاون مع لجنة الحوار اللبنانية – الفلسطينية ومستشاريها، ومع ما عُرف لاحقاً باسم المكتب الفني (RCC) التابع لمكتب رئيس الحكومة. وتجمع “وثيقة فيينا” بين دراسات فنية عدة كانت قد أعدتها وكالة الغوث، ولجنة اعادة اعمار مخيم نهر البارد، والبرنامج الانمائي التابع للامم المتحدة، والبنك الدولي، وشركة خطيب وعلمي، وذلك بهدف تقديم رؤية موحدة شاملة لإعادة إعمار المخيم، ولتكلفة المشروع. وفي حين اعدت الحكومة اللبنانية الوثيقة، رعى المؤتمر كل من النمسا ولبنان وجامعة الدول العربية ووكالة الغوث والاتحاد الاوروبي.

وعلى الرغم من موافقة الفلسطينيين رسمياً على الوثيقة، فان الممثلين السياسيين الفلسطينيين قاموا بدور رمزي فقط في عملية إعدادها الفعلية، نظراً الى افتقار منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية الى هيئات فنية تستطيع القيام بدراسة كهذه، والمشاركة في وضعها وإعدادها. وقد ملأت هذا الفراغ جزئياً مبادرات متعددة صادرة عن منظمات أهلية فلسطينية، وعن خبراء قاموا بدور فاعل في مع البيانات والضغط من خلال وسائل مختلفة رسمية وغير مباشرة، هذا بالاضافة الى آليات مشاركة متعددة لجأت اليها الأمم المتحدة والوكالات الدولية. اما المضمون السياسي للجزء المتعلق بالأمن والادارة في هذه الوثيقة، فيمثل حالة مغايرة تماماً، اذ أعدت الحكومة ومستشاروها تلك المقاطع بشكل كامل وحصري، وفي غياب اي جهة او مشاركة فلسطينية.

تقترح “وثيقة فيينا”: “تأسيس بنية ادارة شفافة وفاعلة في مخيم نهر البارد، ويشمل ذلك تحقيق الأمن وسلطة القانون داخل المخيم من خلال الشرطة المجتمعية (Community Policing)”.

وتطالب الوثيقة المانحين بتقديم الامكانات المادية (5 ملايين دولار) من اجل: “التدريب والمساعدة التقنية لقوى الأمن الداخلي (اللبنانية) بهدف إدخال نظم الشرطة المجتمعية الى مخيم نهر البارد”.

وتمضي الوثيقة لتبين ان: “تطبيق مبدأ الشرطة المجتمعية داخل بيئة مخيم نهر البارد تستوجب وجود قوى أمن داخلي (لبناني) داخل المخيم تعمل على تقليل المخاوف والحساسيات الموجودة قبل نزاع مخيم نهر البارد وبعده، فهذا النوع من ضبط الامن يشجع على المشاركة وحل النزاعات. وإن هذه التدابير الامنية الخاصة بمخيم نهر البارد متفق عليها مع منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية […]. وان بناء الثقة بين قوى الامن الداخلي وأهالي مخيم نهر البارد سيشجع اهالي المخيم على ان يكونوا داعمين بشكل افضل ومتشجعين على التبليغ عن مشكلات المخيم والامور الامنية. وسيشارك ضباط الشرطة في نشاطات اجتماعية متعددة (خطط شبابية وبرامج اجتماعية)، لإيجاد علاقات اقوى بأهالي المخيم. فالشراكة الوثيقة بين عناصر قوى الأمن الداخلي وبين المجتمع ستساهم في جعل مخيم نهر البارد بعد إعادة اعماره مكاناً اكثر أماناً، وستشجع على تعميم نموذج ناجح للامن في المخيمات الفلسطينية الاخرى في لبنان. وسيتم تعريف كوادر قوى الأمن الداخلي بالتاريخ السياسي للاجئين الفلسطينيين في لبنان، وسيتم تدريبهم على ان يتفهموا بصورة اعمق الخصوصيات الثقافية والاجتماعية للمجتمع الفلسطيني. كما سيتم تدريب هذه الكوادر على حل النزاعات وعلى مهارات التواصل”.

ومع ان المجتمع المدني الفلسطيني راوده الشعور بأن وثيقة كهذه كان يجري اعدادها، فان الوثيقة المذكورة لم تعلن الا قبل ايام قليلة من بداية مؤتمر فيينا، وذلك عندما طُبعت ووزعت على الدول المانحة. وقد اطلعت منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية على الوثيقة في الوقت الذي اطلع عليها المانحون الآخرون. وعلى الرغم من اعتراض منظمة التحرير على مبدأ الشرطة المجتمعية في اجتماع رسمي عُقد مع السفير خليل مكاوي (رئيس لجنة الحوار)، قبل مؤتمر فيينا ببضعة ايام، لم تجر اي تعديلات على الوثيقة. وفي الواقع/ لم يُعرض اي موقف فلسطيني امام الدول المانحة خلال المؤتمر. اما المبلغ المرصود لتمويل تدريب كوادر قوى الأمن الداخلي، والبالغ خمسة ملايين دولار، فقد جرى تأمينه وتحويله الى الحكومة اللبنانية نتيجة “وثيقة فيينا” ومؤتمرها، وبدأ استشاريون للحكومة العمل على الموضوع من دون معرفة أهالي المخيم.

اختزال الحكم بالموضوع الأمني

على الرغم من ايجاز المقطع الخاص بالادارة في “وثيقة فيينا”، فإنه يعكس بوضوح استمرارية وتطور منهجية التعامل مع المخيمات من زاوية امنية. فعندما يكون موضوع الشرطة هو العنوان الفعلي الوحيد في “وثيقة فيينا” الذي يتطرق الى موضوع “الحكم” في المخيم، فإن هذا استكمال لمنهجية اختزال اللاجئين الفلسطينيين الى مشكلة امنية، واعتبار المخيم “جزيرة امنية”. فقد وضع صانعو السياسة اللبنانيون ومستشاروهم، ومن دون استشارة الأهالي، التصور الموجود في الوثيقة. وفي حين جرى تسويق الوثيقة تحت شعارات الشراكة والشرطة المجتمعية، فإن المجتمع المحلي كان غائباً عند صوغها، وهذا يتناقض مع تعريف الشرطة المجتمعية، أساساً، كاستراتيجيا وفلسفة لضبط الأمن تقومان على مفهوم فحواه ان تفاعل الاهالي ودعمهم هما المساعد في ضبط الجرائم والتعرف الى المشبوهين، ,في احتجاز المخربين، وفي تبليغ رجال الشرطة ما يحدث من مشكلات. ويفشل هذا المنطق ويصعب تطبيقه عندما يفرض على مجتمع يرفضه لاسباب متعددة ستذكر لاحقاً.

وبينما يكمن مبدأ الشرطة المجتمعية في خطاب تحسين، ثم تمكين أنشطة معينة ومبادرات المواطنة، فإن هناك تناقضاً في تطبيق أنظمة وقوانين وممارسات تعتمد على تطوير مفهوم المواطنة، على مجموعة سكانية من اللاجئين الموقتين الذين تضن عليهم الدولة المضيفة بحقوقهم الاجتماعية الاساسية.

كان لفقرة الادارة في “وثيقة فيينا” ردة فعل سلبية قوية بين أهالي المخيم، وقد توصلنا الى هذه النتيجة من خلال عدد من المقابلات التي اجريناها، بالاضافة الى العريضة المقدمة، مباشرة، الى رئيس الحكومة، فؤاد السنيورة، والتي وقّعها المئات من أهالي مخيم نهر البارد، ونشرت في صحيفتي “الاخبار” و”السفير” بتاريخ 24/1/2009، إذ اعرب الموقعون عن معارضتهم سياسة الحكومة في التعامل مع مخيمهم من منظور امني، وكذلك خطتها المستقبلية لادارة المخيم.

ويمكن القول ان المضامين السياسية للاقتراح الوارد في “وثيقة فيينا” ستلقي بظلها على اي شراكة او نقاش مع المجتمع المحلي يمكن ان يجريا مستقبلاً. فعلى الرغم من الادعاء ان الاقتراح المذكور تم اعداده بالتنسيق مع منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية فإنه لا يوجد في تلك المرحلة اي شراكة حقيقية مع فصائل المنظمة في هذا المشروع، ولا أي تفاهم، ولا أي موافقة عليه.

ان الوثيقة لا تأخذ في الاعتبار الا الحاجات الامنية ووجهة النظر والرؤية اللبنانية، فاللجنة الشعبية عامة، لم تذكر في الاقسام المتعلقة بـ”الحكم” في الوثيقة باعتبارها محاوراً مشاركاً في مسألة الشرطة “المجتمعية”، كما ان الاقتراح يتجاهل بسذاجة المشهد العام السابق للمعركة في مخيم نهر البارد، وهو المشهد الذي يُظهر واقعاً معقداً شديد التنوع من الفاعلية يضم اللجنة الشعبية، والكفاح المسلح، واللجنة الامنية، والفصائل السياسية، ولجان الاحياء، والوجهاء، والنقابات المهنية المتعددة، والمنظمات الأهلية المحلية، وغيرها، الذين يتفاعلون ويتنافسون في ما بينهم بشأن مختلف المسائل التي تلحظ المصلحة العامة للمخيم. وهذا الواقع السابق للمعركة يعكس وجود طاقة ومشاركة في المجال العام تقومان على مشاركة شعبية مكثفة في ادارة شؤون الحياة اليومية.

من المؤكد ان هناك مشكلات لا يستهان بها داخل الادارة المحلية في المخليمات، بما في ذلك النزاعات والممارسات الفاسدة لبعض تلك البنى وتأثيرها السلبي المحتوم في ما يتعلق بمصلحة المخيم، لكن هذا لا يبرر تجاهل الاطر والممارسات السياسية والاجتماعية الموجودة في المخيم.

فإيجاد شراكة فلسطينية – لبنانية حقيقية تقوم على الاحترام وتطوير هذه الأطر والممارسات المحلية في موازاة تطوير آليات واضحة وشفافة للتنسيق مع الجهات اللبنانية، لا يتحقق من خلال تعليم ضباط قوى الأمن الداخلي اللبنانيين “التاريخ السياسي للاجئين الفلسطينيين في لبنان… والخصوصيات الثقافية والاجتماعية للمجتمع الفلسطيني”، كما ورد في “وثيقة فيينا”.

إن الأمر الإشكالي هنا هو حصر حاجات “الحكم” (governance) في المخيم ورؤيتها ضمن منظور أمني فقط، وافتراض إمكان تلبية تلك الحاجات بإدخال الشرطة الى المخيم، ذلك بأن هذا الأمر يتجاهل الخطاب المعاصر المتفق عليه عموماً في ما يتعلق بمعنى الحكم الرشيد ومكوناته الأساسية المتعددة من إدارة المكان وتمثيل المجتمع وتنميته وتطويره اقتصادياً. ولا يمكن فصل عملية تطوير الحكم المحلي داخل المخيمات الفلسطينية عن مسألة التعاطي مع الحقوق الفلسطينية ضمن رؤية ومقاربة شاملتين، كما ان الدروس والأدبيات التي تتناول حالة إعادة الاعمار ما بعد الحرب، لا تكف عن ترداد ما تعتقد انه يشكل قواعد اعادة الإعمار الناجحة بعد الحرب، وهذه القواعد هي: (1) اعادة بناء البيئة المكانية، (2) اعادة إقلاع الدورة الاقتصادية، (3) لجان تقصي الحقائق والمصالحة، (4) اقامة حكم رشيد. ولن يتمكن مخيم نهر البارد من التغلب على التحديات الاجتماعية والسياسية والاقتصادية التي يواجهها في مرحلة ما بعد الحرب، إلا من خلال إجراء مراجعة عامة وشاملة، وعندئذ يمكن وضع أسس علاقة لبنانية – فلسطينية راسخة وحقيقية.

أما على ارض الواقع، فان المقاربة السابقة المرتكزة على مفهوم الأمن، استمرت بعد انتهاء المعركة، وذلك من خلال تدابير متعددة: وجود نقاط تفتيش لا لزوم لها، وجود سلك شائك يحيط بالمخيم، منع السكان الفلسطينيين واللبنا نيين الراغبين في دخول المخيم، من دخوله، قبل الحصول على تصريح عسكري، وجود قواعد عسكرية وبحرية. وقد اصبحت هذه الإجراءات المذكورة سمة مميزة لعملية اعادة الاعمار، فعلى سبيل المثال، أقر مجلس الوزراء إنشاء ثكنة عسكرية عند أطراف المخيم القديم بعد انتهاء المعركة مباشرة، كما أنه أصدر في شباط 2009، مرسوماً آخر يقضي بإنشاء قاعدة بحرية على شاطىء نهر البارد، بالاضافة الى استمرار لجنة الحوار وقوى الأمن الداخلي في ممارسة الضغوط لإنشاء مركز للشرطة داخل المخيم القديم. وفي حين تعارض اللجنة الشعبية المحلية هذا الخيار معارضة عنيفة، تلجأ لجنة الحوار الى الضغط على قيادة منظمة التحرير كي تقبل الأمر.

ومن المهم ان نشير هنا الى أن منظمة التحرير تقبل وجود مركز الشرطة من دون استشارة اللجنة المحلية او مناقشتها في الموضوع. وهذا كله يجري من دون ان تؤخذ في الاعتبار الكثافة العمرانية الشديدة في المخيم، إذ ينحصر 1700 مبنn ضمن مساحة لا تتجاوز 190,000م.م.، وتؤوي ما يزيد على 20,000 لاجىء (أي 1100 شخص في الهكتار – وهي إحدى اعلى الكثافات الحضرية في العالم). وفي حين يبدو خيار إنشاء مركز الشرطة عند اطراف المخيم اكثر مراعاة لمشاعر السكان، فإن الحكومة اللبنانية ولجنة الحوار ترفضان مثل هذا الخيار باستمرار. ويبدو ان الحكومة اللبنانية تعتبر مركز الشرطة بحد ذاته بيانا سياسيا يعلن سيطرتها الجديدة التامة على المخيم، وذلك على الرغم من خبرات الدول المضيفة الأخرى في المنطقة التي تفضل إبقاء مراكز الشرطة عند أطراف المخيمات. ففي عمان مثلا، وبعد إنشاء مراكز شرطة وسط المخيمات وإحراقها مرات عدة، أعادت السلطات إنشاء تلك المراكز عند اطراف المخيمات. وفي حين نستطيع الانشغال، وبكل سهولة، في مناقشة ميزات “الشرطة المجتمعية”، أو عدم إمكان تطبيقها، فإن الموضوع الأول الذي يجب مناقشته هو الوضع الأمني الفعلي داخل مخيم نهر البارد. فاذا كان النقاش هو بشأن الجرائم، فإن هذا المخيم لم يكن يشكل مكاناً مغلقاً موبوءاً بها، إذ كانت هذه تطوق عادة، كما كانت تجري ملاحقة من ينتهك حرمة القانون، وهو ما كان يحفظ السلامة العامة في المخيم. أما اذا كان النقاش متعلقاً بوجود “فتح الاسلام”، فيجب التساؤل عن الأسباب الحقيقية التي حالت بين الأطر الفلسطينية وبين التعامل بحزم مع عناصر هذه الظاهرة، وما هي اسباب فشل قوى الأمن الداخلي والجيش اللبناني في اعتقال مجموعة مسلحة كان القسم الاكبر من مكاتبها وقواعدها ومواقع تدريبها ومنازل عناصرها موجوداً خارج الحدود الرسمية لمخيم نهر البارد، أي على ارض تابعة رسمياً للسلطات اللبنانية؟ فمعظم تلك الابنية، في الحقيقة، كان موجوداً في منطقة مجاورة لمخيم نهر البارد، وبعضها في مركز مدينة طرابلس وعلى أطرافها، مثل ابي سمرا. والهدف هنا ليس القاء المسؤولية على الجهات اللبنانية، وانما الاشارة الى ان ظاهرة “فتح الاسلام”، وكثيرا من الظواهر الاخرى التي تهدد أمن اللبنانيين والفلسطينيين معاً، ليسا مجرد نتاج غياب عناصر ضبط الأمن اللبناني.

القضايا الحقيقية هنا تتصل بطبيعة التنسيق وآلياته بين الاطر الفلسطينية واجهزة الدولة اللبنانية (بشقها المدني وليس العسكري وحده)، وذلك يخص المخيم والمنطقة المجاورة له. فمنذ توقف العمل باتفاقية القاهرة (سنة 1969)، ظلت الشروط المرجعية بين الطرفين غامضة وملتبسة في افضل الاحوال، وصار المخيم فضاء معلقا من الوجهة القانونية، اذ اصبحت المخابرات العسكرية تحكمه باعتبار انه “حالة استثناء”.

(جزء متكامل من دراسة أطول
تنشر لاحقا في مجلة
“دراسات فلسطينية”)

(ساري حنفي أستاذ مشارك في الجامعة الاميركية في بيروت، وإسماعيل الشيخ حسن مهندس ومخطط عمراني في جامعة لوفان (بلجيكا)، ويعمل ناشطاً في هيئة العمل الاهلي والدراسات لإعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد.)

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

jeel al oslo

after school on thursday some of my students came with me to what was supposed to be a meeting to discuss plans for nabuls is to support palestinians in aqraba. there is a leftist organization here called tanweer that does various projects, many of them educational–especially educating palestinians about their history since the schools certainly are not doing that. i met these folks because when my student from aqraba went with me to meet with the student council on campus the student we met with took me downtown to meet with the people at tanweer. another friend joined us as well. i really liked this group in terms of their thinking as well as the fact that they are doing organizing work with a leftist ideology that is not affiliated with any political party (though, of course, posters of george habash and others decorate the walls). i was most impressed with the student from the student council, too. he’s a really smart guy from al ‘ain refugee camp who is studying journalism. i was a bit surprised that this is where he took me given that the majority of the student council at my university is fatah. and, actually, i said something about this at the end of that first meeting and he said, that he was, in fact, fatah. but he didn’t sound like fatah. he sounded nationalistic. he sounded leftist. and this is what surprised me. especially someone his age. more on this in a bit.

my students and i arrived at the office downtown an hour late because i had to teach my class. but we were told there would be a movie first and that the meeting would be after. somehow that schedule was inverted and they decided to show a movie second. i didn’t realize this until after the film, however. given the conversations we had the last time i had expected tanweer to show nationalistic palestinian films in arabic about palestinians. instead, they showed two films about rachel corrie that they downloaded. i had not seen them before, though the clips were not new to me. almost all was in english with no arabic subtitles (except for some clips of amy goodman speaking on mbc tv) for an audience that is not fluent in english. i was annoyed to say the least. i had had the same feeling earlier in the day: i needed to print out some papers for class and i was unable to do so in my department so i went to the public relations office. while i was waiting for my document to print i noticed that the only martyr posters on the wall were of tom hurndell and rachel corrie. this is in contradistinction to the hundreds of palestinian martyrs all over nablus–in the old city, in the refugee camps. but here at the university we seem to only recognize the ajaneb martyrs.

after the film an older palestinian man spoke about the importance of rachel corrie as a “humanitarian” and other ajaneb as “humanitarian” people who come here to palestine. this word for me has become like nails on a chalkboard. i recalled reading something by natalie abou shakra a couple of months ago when she too had an adverse reaction to this word, which captures exactly how i feel:

I extremely despise it when someone categorizes me as a journalist, or as a “humanitarian activist”… I am neither. My activism is political and social… radical. Please do not call me humanitarian. We live in the midst of the era of human rights production and matters of the sort. We witness humanitarian international law being broken daily… do you think we want to be labeled as “humanitarian”? No! My role, our role, is greater than that… much greater than that… we are a revolution, we support an armed struggle and an armed resistance for liberation… Fanonians par excellence… Hasta la Victoria Siempre! Free Palestine! Down with totalitarian Arab regimes, down with colonialism, imperialism, occupation and oppression! No negotiations are allowed after massacres, genocides and schemes of ethnic cleansing… the vocabulary and diction used in such times are extremely important…

i am here to support palestinian resistance in various forms. the use of this word “humanitarian,” to me implies that palestinians are some sort of charity case who are not capable of taking care of themselves, of fighting this battle themselves. neither of these are true. then he started talking about people in the audience who needed to go back to their countries and form associations with palestinian associations to help people here. he wanted foreigners to continue to help with their “non-violent” resistance. i turned around and realized that there were foreigners in the audience. not a lot, but they were there. and this film and this man’s speech reflected a reality that was non-existent when i was in the tanweer offices prior to this meeting. i mentioned these things when he was finished speaking. i mentioned that the families in aqraba wanted palestinians to join them. they wanted to feel solidarity with palestinians not only with foreigners, which is what i thought the meeting was about. he responded that in 2002 there was a lot of palestinian solidarity, but because of the checkpoints that has been made more difficult. too, he mentioned the conflict between fatah and hamas as contributing to the problem by dividing the people. one of the foreigners spoke up and said that the focus on rachel corrie is because she took herself out of her comfort zone and fought someone else’s fight. but, you see, this is why i don’t like going to meetings with ajaneb: because the focus becomes something else. it becomes a meeting about foreigners. if we had been talking about something useful–like getting foreigners to rent yellow-plated cars and help get palestinians from nablus to aqraba that would be one thing. but we moved away from what was supposed to be the subject of the meeting: the needs and desires of palestinians in aqraba. we could have been watching a film about palestinian resistance or other anti-colonial resistance struggles and learned from those models or examples. we could have been looking at palestinian history. but we were not. even the library at this tanweer center is named after rachel corrie. not the greatest resistance writer in palestine, ghassan kanafani.

it occurred to me that one of the issues that palestinians are facing here is related to morale. to pride. resistance to the british, to the zionists, to the lebanese army, to the jordanian army: all of this seems to have been forgotten. these are situations when palestinians–even if only for a short while–liberated themselves. yes, often with support from local people, and sometimes with support from internationals, but the sweet taste of freedom when one takes that freedom for themselves is irreplaceable. the discussion went on. one of my friends talked about non-violent resistance as new to palestinians (it’s not, but i’ll get to that in a minute). one of the women i knew in the audience who is one of the leaders in pflp in nablus spoke about the need for armed resistance and the way this sort of emphasis on nonviolence often negates the right to armed struggle. of course, i’m for both types of resistance. boycott, divestment, and sanctions is a kind of nonviolent resistance. so is writing. so is the friday prayer in aqraba that we are organizing. but we need all forms. they work together. this is what so many important anti-colonial writers say in their archive from chinua achebe to ghassan kanafani.

i want to share some excerpts from rosemary sayigh’s brilliant and important book the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries to get at some of these issues that came up in the meeting and that i confront frequently here. one of the main aspects of palestinian history that really seems to be lacking here is about palestinian resistance. sayigh’s work is unparalleled on this and so many other issues because it is based on oral history, because she collected these histories when people still remembered the initial phases of british-zionist colonization of their land, because she published this in 1979 when the palestinian resistance movement was still fresh. for all these reasons and so much more i think what she shares in her book is so necessary for all of us to learn from palestinian history about what has worked, where problems were, and how can this knowledge be used to work in the right direction for the liberation of palestine. too, i think that remembering what the goals of liberation were is essential because it is so very sad to consider how far away from those goals are people now seem to be. in describing various people she interviews in her work she characterizes them as: jeel falasteen, jeel an nakba, jeel al thawra, in other words by generation. had this been published later we would most certainly see jeel al intifada. but what i suspect part of the problem here is now is that we have jeel al oslo as it were. and this generation is one that has, i would argue, suffered the most with respect to internalized colonialism (an entire childhood reared only on israeli terrorist television), a childhood when normalization became acceptable to the leaders who have been blindly followed for some bizarre reason, a generation in which palestinians have become prisoners inside their bantustan jails. i think learning from the previous generations can help this generation a lot, however. for it is not as if this generation is so far removed from the others. and indeed the jeel an nakba experienced similar sorts of impotence due to the extreme trauma suffered through the dispossession and mass murder they experienced from 1947-1949. but out of that came resistance and various levels of liberation. and i hope–and why i teach what i teach–that inspiration from the same sources of the past, and learning the lessons of the past, can turn jeel al oslo into a jeel al thawra jedeed.

first, i begin with jeel falasteen with sayigh’s analysis of land sales early on in zionist colonization of palestine shows an important fellaheen success in their resistance:

Peasant landlessness started before the Mandate with single sales of large areas of land by the Ottoman Administration and by non-Palestinian owners. These sales, many of which included whole villages, confronted the peasants with their first experience of legal eviction, something which had never been part of the fellaheen fate. It is striking that their immediate, spontaneous response was violent resistance–a resistance which found, however, no echo in other segments of Palestinian society. Such large transactions–the most notorious being the sale in the early 1920s of 240,000 dunums in the fertile Vale of Esdraelon by the Beirut merchant family of Sursock–would have been impossible after the first few years of the Mandate owing to the rapid growth of nationalist sentiment. From then on, Zionist land acquisition was faced with obstacles that the founders of the movement had not anticipated.

In spite of the energy and funds deployed by the Jewish Land Purchasing Agency and its sister organizations, the proportion of Jewish-owned land rose far more slowly than their population. By 1926, only 4 percent of all land (including state land) was Jewish-owned, and it took another eight years for this figure to reach 5 per cent. By the end of 1946, the last year for which official figures exist, it had not gone beyond 6 per cent. Peasant resistance to land sales is abundantly clear in these figures. (36)

second, i think it is important to look at how sayigh characterizes the palestinian rebellion of 1936-39 and its context:

The Palestinian Rebellion of 1936-39 was the most sustained phase of militant anti-imperialist struggle in the Arab world before the Algerian War of Independence. At its peak in 1938 it had mobilized an estimated 15,000 militants around a core of from 1,000 to 1,500 full-time fighters, forcing the British to increase their occupying army from one to two divisions (about 20,000 troops). As well as the British forces, the Palestinian guerrillas faced Zionist paramilitary organizations now well beyond the embryonic stage. It has been estimated that 5,000 Palestinians wee killed and 14,000 wounded through British action, excluding victims of Zionist attack. In one year alone, 1938, 5,679 Palestinians were jailed.

Older camp Palestinians well remember the Rebellion of 1936, which they see as the parent of the Armed Struggle Revolution of 1965. Some remember taking part in it; others who were children at the time remember feeling pride if “sons” of their village were among the guerrillas. Methods of suppression included aerial bombardment, the mass dynamiting of villages suspected of helping the “rebels,” beating men with strips of prickly pear bush, and entering homes to ransack food stocks. A man who was a small child in 1939 remembers reprisals against his village:

There’s a picture stamped on my mind of all the people–men, women, and children–gathered together on the threshing floor. Later when I asked about the incident, they told me that the British had collected all the people there and blown up the whole village. I think it was in 1939. They said that some people working with the Revolution had taken shelter in the village; also a bridge leading to it had been blown up. This was enough for the British to destroy all the houses. But the people went down to the city (Acre) to get help to rebuild.

(43-44)

of course when one looks at policies and practices of the british occupation of palestine, one sees that many of the same are now used by the israeli terrorist colonists. most of the important resistance work was done by the fellaheen because they had the most to lose–and after they lost it and became refugees, of course the fellaheen-laja’een are those who became the leaders of resistance in the next generation. what also remains somewhat the same is this constant need to look to leaders rather than to the people. but a closer look at resistance to the british-zionist take over of palestine shows us, through sayigh’s assessment, that it was the palestinian masses who led the struggle:

It was symptomatic of the distance between the political and militant wings of the nationalist movement that when the first guerrilla leader, Sheikh Qassam, was killed soon after his call to armed struggle in 1935, none of the leading national figures attended his funeral. None of the military leaders of the 1936 Rebellion were from the ruling class. Few anecdotes give a clearer picture of the incapacity of the Palestinian traditional leaders for serious struggle than the one told by a “former intelligence officer” to the author of a study on the 1936 Rebellion. A group of bedouin gathered in Beersheba telephoned to the Mufti asking what action they should take in support of the uprising that was beginning to spread through the country in the wake of the killing of the District Commissioner for Galilee. The Mufti’s reply to them was to do whatever they thought fit, and though his reply may have been due to knowledge that his telephone was tapped, all accounts of the Rebellion and the six months’ strike that preceded it make it clear that the people of Palestine led their leadership, not vice versa. Objectively, the role of the notables was to facilitate British domination. In yielding to the pressures of pro-British Arab politicians, like Nuri Said of Iraq and Emir Abdullah of Jordan, for an end to the Rebellion, the Arab Higher Committee threw away all the lessons of political organization that they could have learnt from the uprising, in spite of its ultimate repression. Instead, naively, they accepted the British White Paper of 1939 as a real gain, though every experience they had had of British rule should have taught them that concessions made by the Administration in Palestine would be negated by Zionist pressure on the Home government. (52)

the above description of who was leading the resistance is important because we see the same with the palestinian resistance movement and the intifada. but we also see the signing of papers at the expense of the people in order to serve the israeli colonial masters (read: oslo) with those who rose to leadership positions with in the plo (read: yasir ‘arafat). these mistakes should be studied and analyzed so that they do not keep getting repeated. if people see how masses of palestinians empowered themselves in spite of their leaders then perhaps things might be different. there was a fourth important element i want to highlight with respect to resistance and that is labor organizing. sayigh quotes a peasant man who became a union organizer in haifa:

In the last years we began to think of building a political party based on the workers’ movement and to combine union work with national struggle. As a preparation, we formed a number of co-operatives, outside the workers’ union, including the tobacco farmers, fisherman and others… We intended also to form a secret organization, but there wasn’t time, for in 1947 came the Partition Plan, and what followed it, the Disaster and dispersion.

The reason we did not form a political party was that, after studying the project, we realized that its leaders would not be from the working class, but from their friends, doctors, engineers, lawyers, who would make the party work for their interests, not for the workers. so we decided to postpone until we had enough working class leaders. But the time we had was too short to form the party correctly…

The League was active in so many ways, organizing strikes, co-operatives, demonstrations. The most outstanding even in this period was the Haifa Oil Refinery strike where we hit Zionist workers and engineers who were trying to control the Refinery. Our workers in the British military camps used to write reports; in the ports of Jaffa and Haifa they kept watch on the activities of the Histadrut.

After this, the leadership of the national movement tried to incorporate the workers while suppressing their union membership. We told them that it’s our duty to participate in the national struggle, not as employees, but as representatives of the working class. There was a long struggle between the League adn other political organizations, especially between Hajj Amin and Sami Taha, who began to become a national figure after his confrontation with Aneuran Bevan, Foreign Minister of the Labour government, at a conference in London attended by the Arab regimes and the Palestinian workers’ movement, when Taha said: “Down with imperialist Britain in Palestine!”

This made Hajj Amin afraid. He saw a powerful personality opposing him, enjoying popular support from the workers, government employees and farmers in the co-operative leagues. In September 1947, Sami Taha was assassinated by criminal hands, instigated by the leadership that could not separate itself from the agent Arab regimes, and that was so afraid of struggle. (57-58)

resistance changed for jeel an nakba for a variety of reasons. sayigh quotes the story of a resistance movement leader about what happened in his village and how he resisted the best he could given the circumstances:

I was one of the people who was against evacuation and because I believed this I stayed in my village until the people left. I suggested to them staying in the fields instead of the houses because of the danger of bombardment, and then go back and face our fate, even if it was to be killed. When the Zionists occupied our village, I was one of those arrested.

One of the political errors of our leadership was that they didn’t prevent evacuation. We should have stayed. I had a rifle and a Sten gun. My father told me, “The Zionists are coming, you know what they do to girls, take your two sisters and go to Lebanon.” I said, “I prefer to shoot my sisters, and shoot you all, and keep the last bullet for myself. This would be better than leaving.” Then they took our village and I was arrested, and they left. But our leadership was outside in Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. When the leaders are out they can’t tell the people to stay. (90)

it was not only men who resisted–even if that resistance meant staying on one’s land as long as possible and fighting with whatever means one might have. resistance also meant that when most refugees fled, they did not flee across the border right away; many stayed moving from one village to the next in order to return when the fighting stopped. sayigh quotes a woman from kweikat who shows how she resisted during an nakba:

I was twelve when we left our village. We went to a village called Abu Sinan. We were a family, three girls, three boys, mother, father, and grandfather, and we had nothing to eat. I used to take my younger brother and sister and creep back to get things from our home. My mother used to punish me for it, but I wasn’t afraid of the Jews. I used to go in and get soap, flour, food to eat. One time when I was carrying a heavy sack of flour I trod on an electric wire which rang an alarm bell. That’s when I fell and hurt my back. Another time the soldiers nearly caught us in our house, but we hid in the cupboard. It was our country, but we had become thieves in it!

We used to get watermelon, okra, tomatoes and corn from our village. It was our land, we had sowed it, and we wanted to harvest it. Sometimes my mtoher and my aunt used to go at night–it was about eight or ten kilometres’ walk. Once when they went, the guards saw them and shot my aunt in the head. (92-93)

even after palestinians became refugees in the early years they found ways to resist their conditions in the newly formed refugee camps as a result of the host countries and of unrwa. a palestinian refugee in trablus told sayigh about palestinians resisting towteen early on–when urnwa wanted them to accept permanent status in their host countries rather than fight for their right to return:

We felt that UNRWA had a certain policy that aimed at settling us. They wanted us to forget Palestine, so they started work projects to give us employment. This was part of the recommendation of the Clapp Report. They used to give loans to people to set them up in small businesses such as “shoe-mender or carpenter”; then they’d take away their ration cards. More dangerous was the way they tried to encourage emigration to Australia or America. They’d give a man a ticket, and take away his ration card. We opposed all this, through publications and secret meetings, night visits and diwans–these weren’t prohibited. Politically conscious people used to go to these gatherings and take part in the conversation. We opposed these projects because we felt that, living in poverty, we would stay attached to our land. (112)

not only is resistance consistent across palestinian history, but, as the above speaker makes clear, so is the level of sacrifice palestinians are willing to endure in order to claim their right of return. and in spite of that poverty one can see how palestinians in the camps saw education as an important site of resistance too:

I was among the first group of students from Nahr al-Bared school. There were 70 to 80 of us in the first tent school. There weren’t any seats or school equipment–we’d sit on the sand or bring stones from the shore to sit on. Twelve of us managed to pass the Certificat and were transferred to the House of Education in Tripoli. There we really felt the depth of the Disaster, from our living conditions and the way they treated us. There we were, in torn clothes, sitting next to sons of Tripoli who had different clothes for every season, and pocket money. They put us Palestinians in the section for orphans; that way they got our rations from UNRWA as well as aid given by different charitable organizations that used to help the refugees. In spite of all this, we had faith that there was no road but education. We used to go down into the street at night to study under the street lamps. (124)

another aspect of what was needed to build resistance, which grew under the extreme repression in the first decade and a half palestinian refugees lived in lebanon was the way that palestinians increasingly saw themselves as part of one big watan in a way that transcended family or village bonds as sayigh explains using a recollection from someone in jeel al thawra:

The Resistance Movement, the idea of the Return, have transformed a nostalgia for normality into a conscious assumption of the abnormality of struggle. In this spirit a young teacher told me of a current Israeli attack on Rashidiyyeh camp which might have killed one of his cousins, adding, “But he is no different to me than any other Palestinian.” (139)

the above sentiment seems lost to me, but it is one that needs to be cultivated and returned to. and there is much to return to in jeel al thawra on a number of different levels. for one thing if one goes to its roots and to the emergence of fatah one finds that there is much to be gained if fatah returned to its origins as sayigh describes it:

For Fateh’s leaders, the urgent need created by the 1967 defeat was to prevent the Arab governments from negotiating, from a position of weakness, an end to the Palestinian liberation struggle in return for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the June War. Their long-term hope was that Palestinian guerrilla operations would act as a spark to rekindle the broader Arab struggle against imperialist domination that had lost momentum in the narrow interests of neocolonial regimes. (149)

the need to connect the liberation of palestine to the neocolonial and imperial interests in the rest of the arab world could not be more true today. it has, unfortunately, gotten worse not better and thus these roots of resistance would benefit the entire region if people returned to it. equally important then, as now, is the way that gains by the resistance affects the mood of the entire population in a way that then supports and sustains the resistance fighters, helping them to become steadfast. after the battle of karameh in 1968 in jordan, sayigh quotes someone in the resistance in beirut describing its significance:

We saw our young men eager to go to training camps in the Ghor, and to take part in operations. They’d come back with stories of the war; so, instead of telling the old stories, people began to tell these new stories, about how our young men were fighting. the whole nature of talk changed, as if there had been a deep psychological change among our people. (158)

the above passage shows how important the mood of the people can be for the struggle. this is key. but so too is the bit about telling stories: imagine if accurate stories and histories of palestinian resistance were circulated and told the same way pop music on cell phones of jeel al oslo are circulated how different things might be here. what one also learns from the early part of the resistance struggle is how strong solidarity was among the people beyond palestinians as one important narrative from a lebanese fighter shows:

I come from the South, from a village on the border of occupied Palestine. Like the Palestinians, my family left our village in 1949 because the Zionists carried out a massacre in Hula, a village near ours, where they killed about seventy young men in a mosque. A great number of Lebanese from the border villages were forced to leave in this way, and they lived in Beirut in the same conditions as the refugees.

After the Palestinian Revolution, in 1968, we went back to our village, to live with the people there. There were daily fedayeen operations against the Zionist enemy’s settlements. This created a revolutionary tide. The masses all supported the Revolution because they saw it was the only force able to stand up and say No after the defeat of 1967.

At that time our material resources were few, and we had to rely on donations from the people. For a long time the masses were supplying all our needs, even clothes and food. On night patrol, we would knock on doors as we passed through the villages, and people would give us food and shelter…

Before everything else, there must be an everyday political relationship with the masses, to look at their problems, and help them to solve them, especially through their own consciousness….

In 1969, there were many battles between us and the Lebanese Army and that is when we saw the villagers rise against the army. I remember particularly Majdel Silm, where the army put a force estimated at brigade size around the town to besiege a group of a hundred fedayeen. The population made a demonstration against the army, protecting the fedayeen with their own bodies. This is the incident I consider the most expression of fusion between us and the masses at the that time. (164)

this kind of palestinian-lebanese unity against the state was so important and needs to be cultivated yet again. certainly because hezbollah is strong int he south some of that solidarity still exists, but hezbollah continues to be primarily committed to lebanese national interests not to the liberation of palestine with respect to its action, though not its rhetoric. but that kind of unity in palestine and among palestinians could usefully be cultivated as well. it is this kind of unity that led to palestinians liberating their refugee camps from the control of the lebanese army, one of the first major victories in lebanon and one that also has a lot to teach us on a number of levels as one resistance fighter from nahr el bared narrates:

They brought tanks and the army tried to enter the camps. That day, we can remember with pride, we brought out the few guns that we had–they were eleven. We did well at first, but then we ran out of ammunition. A rumour ran round the camp that the ammunition was finished and we tried to calm the people by telling them that rescue would come from the Resistance. But we didn’t really know whether it would come. But what was amazing was that people returned to what they had been in 1948, preferring to die rather than to live in humiliation. Women were hollering because it was the first time a gun had been seen defending the camp. It was the first battle that we didn’t lose. The children were between the fighters, collecting the empty cartridges although the bullets were like rain. It was the first time that people held knives and sticks and stood in front of their homes, ready to fight. (169)

this sort of collective action, which is sorely lacking today was extensive as a man from rashiddiyyeh refugee camp told sayigh:

It was impossible to find a person who didn’t want to invite the fedayeen and offer his home as an office. It was felt to be shameful not to be the first to give the fighters food, water, shelter. The people were ready to sacrifice everything they had for the Revolution. When we said we needed money, the women would give their gold earrings, bracelets, watches. And whatever they gave, they felt it was nothing. (175)

a fateh militant who sayigh interviewed after managing to get a degree as an engineer made an important statement about the relationship between what people do in their lives and the necessity of connecting that back to the resistance:

I thought of the things I must do to return to my country. I participated in all strikes and demonstrations on Palestinian issues. Finally, I joined one of the Resistance organizations, which represents for me the peak of my political consciousness. As an engineer, i feel there is a link between my specialization and the aims of the Revolution, so I am using my knowledge in a magazine for our fighters. There can be no separation between theory and action. (189)

one of the crucial aspects of sayigh’s work is that she focuses on the people, the masses, not the leaders. part of this is related to the fact that she took these oral histories in the early 1970s. but one of her assessments at that time is significant and must be thought about as i believe that it has a lot to do with problems that later emerged as a result of the hero worship that was nonexistent when she wrote her book:

The absence of hero-worship of the leaders of the Revolution is striking. The photos of shuhuada‘ are much more visible on the street walls of camps than those of the Resistance leaders, and people praise the latter sparingly, saying, “They live the lives of the people.” If one falls, another will take his place. It is the invincibility of the Palestinian people as a whole, not a given party or leadership, that people mean when they say, drinking coffee, ‘Revolution until victory!'” (190)

towards the end of her book, when sayigh is working towards her conclusion she offers an assessment of the resistance movement, which unfortunately does read a bit anachronistic, but is worth pondering given how things have changed in the last 30 years:

The effects of mass Palestinian struggle on the Arab scene will be slower to reveal their shape, because of the complex interplay between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces. As the Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi has argued, a Palestinian state in the West Bank would tend to stabilize the present regimes and status quo. A mini-Palestine hemmed in by Israel on one side and Jordan on the other would have little scope for playing the role of “fire under ashes” which Palestinian militants have seen as their since 1948. This would be a solution that would leave Israel’s nature as a militaristic and racist state unchanged, and all the arguments that Khalidi puts forward to convince Americans of the proposed state’s harmlessness are ones that make it unattractive for the masses. No Palestinian state could afford to become, as Jordan is, an instrument for suppressing the liberation struggle. And even if a West Bank state emerges, it will not be able to accommodate the majority of Palestinians. The dispersion will continue to exist, with all the pressures it generates towards changing the status quo.

In Lebanon, hostility to the idea of a West Bank state has been strong among camp Palestinians from the time of its first launching in 1973. They mostly came from Galilee and the coastal cities, and have no homes to return to in the West Bank. Many do not regard the West Bank as a serious proposal, but rather as a means to divide the Resistance Movement.Their opposition to it comes through pungently in comments like these:

There is not one of our people who has not sacrificed, and is not willing to sacrifice. But we must see our leadership announcing revolutionary programmes instead of flying to meet this king and that president, and working towards concessions that will humiliate our people.

We have a Revolution and the Arab states are offering us a state. A people’s war doesn’t last ten years only, it goes on until it achieves something.

These remarks reflect the attitude of the PFLP towards the PRM leadership’s adoption, since 1973, of a moderate, compromising stance towards a settlement. While there are indications that Fateh’s leaders believed in the genuineness of the West Bank state proposal when it was first put out, it is not likely that they are as ready to sell out the Revolution as the Rejection Front claims. There will have to be clear political gains from negotiation, or, as a camp mother said, “All our sons’ blood will have been shed in vain.” Not only the Rejection Front but the mass of Fateh’s following expect the leadership to reject submissive solutions, even if the alternative is to return once more clandestinely to struggle. (196-197)

and one final paragraph of note that is also a bit anachronistic, but also an important reminder about why palestinians have had to, and could benefit again, by creating a massive armed resistance struggle that is unified:

Israel offers them no choice except between non-existence or struggle. Their lack of militancy between 1948 and 1967 brought them no nearer peaceful repatriation; now their militancy is used by Israel to justify its own continuing aggression. The cycle is a familiar one in settler societies; and only when Israel is correctly analysed as a settler society will Palestinian violence be correctly understood. And only then will progress be made towards breaking the cycle. (200)

there is so much more that i could share from this amazing volume, rich with history and insight. but what i think is significant about some of these excerpts is the way in which it illustrates how important solidarity and unity is. it shows that it has existed before and i think it can happen again. it shows people talking about liberating themselves and their land as their goals, something which has not changed. it shows how the leaders do not always speak for the people and that the people are successful when they unite and that they really do not need these leaders. people need to trust themselves and their righteousness. it also shows how important solidarity and unified resistance is for group morale.

jeel al oslo need not be detached from their history and from their rights to liberate their land. but i think that there is a serious relationship between the two. knowing not just these bits and pieces, but the totality of palestinian history and its struggle for liberating every square inch of palestine can go a long way to helping palestinians unify towards this goal once again. the leaders are really irrelevant. we know from history that leaders rarely put the interests of their people first. but the new generation can make a different choice. it can make the decision to be unified, to reject the american-zionist divide and rule colonial tactic. it can unify and re-imagine resistance in a way that will achieve a goal that fits all palestinians’ needs: liberation of the land.

on ajaneb

of course before i begin such a post i must say up front that what i say about anjaneb here includes me, as i am also a foreigner in palestine. i cannot help but think about what it means to be a foreigner every day i am here. having a consciousness about what it means to be a foreigner here–having white skin as well as carrying an american passport. this consciousness is akin to living with and understanding what it means to have white privilege in the united states. but here it means something different. it means that most of the time i can cross checkpoints with ease. it means that i can go to 1948 palestine. it means i can leave the country (though it does not necessarily mean i can return).

some palestinians are suspicious of foreigners, though not as much as they should be. foreigners are here for all sorts of reasons (i am focusing on americans here but some of this can apply to other internationals). some are here to spy on palestinians for the american and israeli terrorists. some are here to aid american imperialism through usaid, state department, or u.s. embassy “projects” (witness the most recent imperial efforts of the americans in palestine: training palestinian authority security, read: crack down further on palestinian resistance to israeli colonialism and terrorism). some foreigners are here out of curiosity, as tourists. they want to see for themselves what the real story of palestine is. some foreigners are here to do charity work, these foreigners tend to view palestinians as a charity case. they often come here to tell palestinians what they need rather than listening to what palestinians actually want, rather than helping palestinians build their own projects based on their own initiatives and ingenuity. some foreigners are here to do missionary work in churches and schools (thanks tam tam for reminding me). some foreigners come to boost a cv (also from tam tam). some come here to do research, as journalists, or to write books, often profiting off of palestinians’ tragedies (too rare are the cases of journalists like jonathan cook and nora barrows-friedman). some come to work here with palestinians or at palestinian institutions for a variety of reasons, some problematic, some not. some foreigners come because they want to do “peace” work. these foreigners think that the zionist entity has a right to exist.

then there are the foreigners who come as activists, to do solidarity work. some of these people come for reasons listed above and then become activists. most of us come with varying levels of consciousness or language skills when we arrive. even those of us who come with an understanding of the context in palestine, seeing it up close certainly changes many of us forever. many solidarity activists participate in direct action work with organizations like the international solidarity movement (ism), which i worked with when i first lived here in 2005. of course there are all sorts of different people who work with ism and it seems that most of the foreigners i met at that time had good intentions, were working in solidarity with palestinians in a way that wasn’t imposing some sort of western style of activism on palestinians, but rather following the lead of palestinians. and although i have mixed feelings about ism now, for a variety of reasons, some of which i have posted hear on earlier blog posts, i do think it is important for foreigners to work with palestinians who are resisting the continual theft of their land.

rachel corrie, of course, was one of those people. today is the sixth anniversary of her death. people are commemorating it and marking this anniversary in various places around the world and in palestine. as it happens another ism activist was shot, though not murdered, this week. democracy now! has a report both on tristan anderson, the man shot in the face with a tear gas canister a couple of days ago in the village of ni’in and also an interview with rachel corrie’s parents who were recently in gaza with code pink.

let me be clear: i think that it is important that people like tristan or rachel come here to do this work. what i object to is the way that their deaths or injuries become more important than the daily murders, kidnappings, injuries, land and house confiscation that palestinians endure every day. what very few people report on, especially in the western media, but sometimes even in palestinian media, are the names of the palestinians who are murdered by israeli terrorists. this is sort of like everyone knowing and naming the israeli terrorists held in gaza and no one knowing or using the names of the thousands of palestinians murdered by israeli terrorists. i have a problem with the fact that all sorts of people around the world know rachel’s name, and probably now tristan’s, but how many of them know the names of the thousands of palestinians murdered every year? case in point, check out the story on ma’an news, based in beit lahem, on the shooting of tristan:

Israeli soldiers critically wounded an American peace activist after launching a tear-gas canister at his head and shot four Palestinians with rubber-coated bullets in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, on Friday.

“He had a large hole in the front of his head, and his brain was visible,” one protester said of the injuries to the American activist.

Dozens of others choked on tear gas at an otherwise peaceful demonstration against the Israeli separation wall. The protest is a weekly event attended regularly by international peace activists, many affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement.

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Ni’lin toward the Israeli separation wall chanting slogans calling for Palestinian national unity and for resistance to the occupation. Then “the Israeli soldiers attacked the peaceful demonstration using rubber-coated bullets gas and stun grenades.”

The coordinator of the anti-wall Popular Committee in the village, A’hed Al- Khawaja, added, “Four were injured [and] others choked after inhaling gas.”

Later in the day the AP reported that one ISM activist, Tristan Anderson of Oakland, California, was in critical condition at a Tel Aviv hospital. The agency quoted one hospital official as saying “he’s in critical condition, anesthetized and on a ventilator and undergoing imaging tests.”

According to Teah Lunqvist, another protestor, “Tristan was shot by the new tear-gas canisters that can be shot up to 500 meters.”

“I ran over as I saw someone had been shot, while the Israeli forces continued to fire tear-gas at us. When an ambulance came, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the ambulance through the checkpoint just outside the village. After five minutes of arguing with the soldiers, the ambulance passed,” she said.

In 2003 Rachel Corrie, another ISM peace activist, was crushed by a bulldozer as she stood protecting the home of a Palestinian family from Israeli demolition.

of course, here we know tristan’s name and all the details about his case, but nothing of the four palestinians who were shot. this is not always the case. last summer when a 10 year old palestinian boy was murdered in nil’in ism published a report listing the names of the martyrs of the village:

A 10 year old boy called Ahmed Ussam Yusef Mousa was shot dead at approximately 6pm near the Palestinian village of Nil’in. He was shot once in the head at close range with live ammunition. According to eye witnesses a group of youths attempted to remove coils of razor wire from land belonging to the village.Without warning, they were fired upon and Ahmed was killed. Israeli newspaper Maariv reported in March that the Israeli authorities have given a new order to border police operating along the apartheid wall surrounding Jerusalem. They can now open fire directly on Palestinians who try to demonstrate near the barrier. But sniping is forbidden if there are Israeli or foreign citizens amongst demonstrators.

Demonstrations have been held almost every day for the past few weeks as near Nil’in against Israel’s Apartheid Wall, declared illegal by the International Court in the Hague in 2004. The wall will deprive the village of almost 2,500 Dunums of agricultural land, and put the existence of the entirely community in doubt.

The Israeli Army and Border Police have been increasingly ill-disciplined and violent in response to the demonstrations. News came this morning that Israeli Battalion Commander Lt. Col Omri, had been sent on 10 days compulsory leave as a punishment for his conduct at Nil’in. Omri held a 27 year old Palestinian detainee Ashraf Abu Rahma by the shoulder while one of his men shot Abu Rahma with a rubber coated steel bullet at very close range. Abu Rahma was blindfolded and his hands were bound when he was shot in the foot.

At least 11 other Palestinians have died protesting against Israeli’s apartheid wall. Their names are:

Mohammad Fadel Hashem Rayan, age 25.

Zakaria MaHmud Salem, age 28.

Abdal Rahman Abu Eid, age 62.

Mohammad Daud Badwan, age 21.

Diaa Abdel Karim Abu Eid, age 24.

Hussain mahmud Awwad Aliyan, age 17.

Islam Hashem Rizik Zhahran, age 14.

Alaa Mohammad Abdel Rahman Khalil, age 14.

Jamal Jaber Ibrahim Assi, age 15.

Odai Mofeed Mahmud Assi, age 14.

Mahayub Nimer Assi, age 15.

To date, none of the soldiers who killed demonstrators has been prosecuted.

last summer there was a widely publicized case of a palestinian from nil’in who was blindfolded and handcuffed who was shot by israeli terrorists; it was publicized because it was videotaped, and likely because an b’tselem disseminated it:

Today, B’Tselem is publishing a video clip documenting a soldier firing a rubber coated steel bullet, from extremely close range, at a cuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainee. The shooting took place in the presence of a lieutenant colonel, who was holing the Palestinian’s arm when the shot was fired.

The incident took place on 7 July, in Nil’in, a village in the West Bank. A Palestinian demonstrator, Ashraf Abu Rahma, 27, was stopped by soldiers, who cuffed and blindfolded him for about thirty minutes, during which time, according to Abu-Rahma, they beat him. Afterwards, a group of soldiers and border policemen led him to an army jeep. The video clip shows a soldier aim his weapon at the demonstrator’s legs, from about 1.5 meters away, and fire a rubber coated steel bullet at him. Abu-Rahma stated that the bullet hit his left toe, received treatment from an army medic, and released by the soldiers.

shooting at and murdering palestinians who dare to resist israeli colonial terrorism is par for the course, but more often than not they go unnamed. last week the injured 8 palestinians in nil’in, all of who also went unnamed in ma’an’s report.

rachel corrie’s parents, cindy and craig corrie, thankfully, do not fall into this pattern of forgetting that there are far more palestinians who die, who are shot, whose homes are destroyed, whose land is stolen. they wrote a statement today in honor of their daughter’s death, which is notable precisely for this reason and for the overall context they provide, which does not place their daughter at the center, but rather the palestinians whose cause she was fighting for:

We thank all who continue to remember Rachel and who, on this sixth anniversary of her stand in Gaza, renew their own commitments to human rights, justice and peace in the Middle East. The tributes and actions in her memory are a source of inspiration to us and to others.

Friday, 13 March, we learned of the tragic injury to American activist Tristan Anderson. Tristan was shot in the head with a tear gas canister in Nilin village in the West Bank when Israeli forces attacked a demonstration opposing the construction of the annexation wall through the village’s land. On the same day, a Nilin resident was shot in the leg with live ammunition. Four residents of Nilin have been killed in the past eight months as villagers and their supporters have courageously demonstrated against the Apartheid Wall deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice — a wall that will ultimately absorb one-quarter of the village’s remaining land.

Those who have died are 10-year-old child Ahmed Mousa, shot in the forehead with live ammunition on 29 July 2008; Yousef Amira (17), shot with rubber-coated steel bullets on 30 July 2008; Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) and Mohammed Khawaje (20), both shot and killed with live ammunition on 8 December 2008. On this anniversary, Rachel would want us all to hold Tristan Anderson and his family and these Palestinians and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and we ask everyone to do so.

We are writing this message from Cairo where we returned after a visit to Gaza with the Code Pink delegation from the United States. Fifty-eight women and men successfully passed through Rafah crossing on Saturday, 7 March to challenge the border closures and siege and to celebrate International Women’s Day with the strong and courageous women of Gaza.

Rachel would be very happy that our spirited delegation made this journey. North to south throughout the Strip, we witnessed the sweeping destruction of neighborhoods, municipal buildings, police stations, mosques and schools — casualties of the Israeli military assaults in December and January. When we asked about the personal impact of the attacks on those we met, we heard repeatedly of the loss of mothers, fathers, children, cousins and friends. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports 1,434 Palestinian dead and more than 5,000 injured, among them 288 children and 121 women.

We walked through the farming village of Khoza in the south where 50 homes were destroyed during the land invasion. A young boy scrambled through a hole in the rubble to show us the basement he and his family crouched in as a bulldozer crushed their house upon them. We heard of Rafiya, who lead the frightened women and children of this neighborhood away from threatening Israeli military bulldozers, only to be struck down and killed by an Israeli soldier’s sniper fire as she walked in the street carrying her white flag.

Repeatedly, we were told by Palestinians, and by the internationals on the ground supporting them, that there is no ceasefire. Indeed, bomb blasts from the border area punctuated our conversations as we arrived and departed Gaza. On our last night, we sat by a fire in the moonlight in the remains of a friend’s farmyard and listened to him tell of how the Israeli military destroyed his home in 2004, and of how this second home was shattered on 6 February. This time, it was Israeli rockets from Apache helicopters that struck the house. A stand of wheat remained and rustled soothingly in the breeze as we talked, but our attention shifted quickly when F-16s streaked high across the night sky and our friend explained that if the planes tipped to the side, they would strike.

Everywhere, the psychological costs of the recent and ongoing attacks for all Gazans, but especially for the children, were sadly apparent. It is not only those who suffer the greatest losses that carry the scars of all that has happened. It is those, too, who witnessed from their school, bodies flying in the air when police cadets were bombed across the street and those who felt and heard the terrifying blasts of missiles falling near their own homes. It is the children who each day must walk past the unexplainable and inhumane destruction that has occurred.

In Rachel’s case, though a thorough, credible and transparent investigation was promised by the Israeli government, after six years, the position of the US government remains that such an investigation has not taken place. In March 2008, Michele Bernier-Toff, Managing Director of the Office of Overseas Citizen Services at the Department of State, wrote, “We have consistently requested that the Government of Israel conduct a full and transparent investigation into Rachel’s death. Our requests have gone unanswered or ignored.” Now, the attacks on all the people of Gaza and the recent one on Tristan Anderson in Nilin cry out for investigation and accountability. We call on President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and members of Congress to act with fortitude and courage to ensure that the atrocities that have occurred are addressed by the Israeli government and through relevant international and US law. We ask them to act immediately and persistently to stop the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military, not to encourage it.

Despite the pain, we have once again felt privileged to enter briefly into the lives of Rachel’s Palestinian friends in Gaza. We are moved by their resilience and heartened by their song, dance and laughter amidst the tears. Rachel wrote in 2003, “I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity — laughter, generosity, family time — against the incredible horror occurring in their lives … I am also discovering a degree of strength and the basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances … I think the word is dignity.” On this sixth anniversary of Rachel’s killing, we echo her sentiments.

i was thinking about these issues this week in a number of different contexts. part of why we know who rachel corrie is today is because of the work of her parents–the foundation in her memory, the publications of her writings. indeed, i am teaching the play, my name is rachel corrie, in my drama class later this semester. to be sure, i would much rather be teaching a play by palestinian american betty shamieh. unfortunately, there is too much sexual content and if i had problems with a raisin in the sun, i suspect i’d be kicked out of nablus if i taught one of her plays. but i have a problem of the foreigner being one of the only voices writing in such a way for the theatre. but of palestinian martyrs how many of them were playwrights? how many of them left behind writings that were published? (yes, of course, palestinian writers and intellectuals have long been targets for assassination by israeli terrorists, most famously ghassan kanafani, but as far as i know none were playwrights.) however, i am also teaching a palestinian play, ansar: a true story from an israeli military detention center by fateh azzam, ismail dabbagh, ‘abed ju’beh, and nidal khatib. but i wonder how many people know of this play compared to the widely produced play by/about corrie? i find this sad.

too, there are other ways that corrie’s memory lives on in a way that often feels like it supersedes voices of palestinians. in howard zinn’s voices of a people’s history, rachel corrie is one of the voices represented (so is the always brilliant, fabulous rania masri). one of the reasons why i have long been a fan of howard zinn is because of the way he writes history–focusing on the resistance against state powers:

By giving public expression to rebels, dissenters, and visionaries from our past—and present—VOICES seeks to educate and inspire a new generation working for social justice.

now this historical work is preformed as readings of these voices to bring them alive. below is alice walker reading rachel corrie’s words follwed by danny glover reading frederick douglass’ words:

there are others on the voices website where you can watch others read the words of important people who stood up for justice. and clearly rachel was one of those people. but what of the millions of palestinians who have done that for 122 years? why are their voices not included? okay, yes, i know that the emphasis is on americans, but there are so many americans whose work and words have fueled resistance against israeli colonialism of their land. and even some of lebanese american ameen rihani’s writings in the u.s. about the coloniziation of palestine as it was happening would be important and interesting to include in such a project. but their names are largely absent (indeed very few arab americans at all are featured in this project of zinn’s).

i posted a second video above of the words of frederick douglass because i thought about him today as well. the play i am currently teaching, athol fugard’s master harold and the boys, had an allusion to abraham lincoln by sam, a black south african character living under apartheid who imagined lincoln as a “man of magnitude.” my students had lincoln fresh in their mind because, unfortunately, it seems that many went to that propaganda talk by the u.s. consulate on the mythology of lincoln freeing the slaves. i asked them to think about an analogy. earlier this semester the students went on strike–at all palestinian universities–because their student loans were being taken away from them. as a result of this the loans were reinstated. i asked them if this happened as a result of the university presidents or the presidents of banks who signed the papers changing the ruling. they said, no, of course not! so i talked to them about hundreds of years of resistance among the slaves on a variety of levels. i talked about the resistance of nat turner and freerick douglass. we have to think about the abolition of slavery in the same way: that is the oppressed who fought for justice, yes, often alongside allies, but it is the those who liberate themselves who taste freedom. at the same time, i made sure my students understood the relationship between the building of prisons in the u.s. and the end of slavery so they can see the continuum that exists. but slavery in a prison is different: ordinary people cannot see it. they don’t know about it. and the people are so demonized in a way that crosses all sorts of class and race lines so that there is little solidarity around the abolition of prisons.

i think about these issues a lot right now, partially because the chapter i am writing has a lot to do with palestinian history. i spend so much time reading it, but in the tradition of zinn i find that the most meaningful history comes from oral history. i find that it is more powerful. i find the work of oral historians like rosemary sayigh so important. indeed, i see similar threads in her work and in zinn’s: both take the stories of the people who resist, who struggle, who fight for justice, for their rights. they make those voices central in order to tell their story, their history. the more history i read the less meaning i find in other histories, especially those that focus on the leaders, who always, everywhere, are interested in money and power and little else.

divide and rule at work

nablus district map (passia)
nablus district map (passia)

increasingly, i live days in a constant state of frustration here. part of it comes from teaching, like when i ask my students if they know what yom al ard is and not one of my 200 students can tell me the specifics of that date and why it should be commemorated every year. i spend my time reading palestinian history, much of it oral history, for the current chapter i’m writing. and much of what i read i share with my students. none of which they know. but this is not the most frustrating part because i know why the palestinian authority does not include such material in their curriculum. the frustrating part is that the more you read and know about palestinian history, the more you can see it playing out over and over and over again. 122 years of zionist land theft and murder. same methods, same acts. and i feel that not knowing this, not connecting to this, contributed to the zionist entity’s ability to constantly fragment palestinians. divide and rule is their m.o. like all colonists throughout history. i can’t help but think about it right now as so many villages and areas throughout palestine are in the process of becoming ethnically cleansed. yet again. some palestinians will be made refugees for a second or third time. others for the first. either way it is the same story. one of my students is from the village of aqraba, which has about 20 homes, 1 mosque, and 1 school slated for demolition. the two maps here–the first one from passia and the second one an israeli terrorist colonial map–show the areas around nablus and the intense colonization process affecting the families and their livelihood here.

israeli colonial map of its illegal settlements
israeli colonial map of its illegal settlements

but i want to think about this process of divide and rule here for a minute before i share my experience in aqraba today. because there are so many ways that colonists do this. they do it on the level of family, often religion, on the level of village, political affiliation, and through the recruitment of collaborators. some collaborators do their work in secrecy, and others do so in the form of a so-called government. but i want to think about it on the level of family. because it struck me today that these families in aqraba are all alone. no palestinians from other cities or villages have come in solidarity with them. no one is coming for friday prayer to pray in their mosque that is expected to be demolished by israeli terrorists, though this is not true for those palestinians in silwan whose homes are slated for destruction. but al quds is on the international stage. people report on it. people go there. people care about it. but as in 1948 the fellahin are on their own. they have no support from the people in the cities. this was true in 1948 and it is true today. i’ve written before about this disjuncture and divide and rule policy between urban and rural before. i want to talk about division on the micro level, on the family level. rosemary sayigh in her amazing book the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries shares one particular story from an nakba that resonates for me currently:

Survivors from the Deir Yaseen massacre (some of whom were driven in a triumphal procession round Jewish Jerusalem and then shot) gave chilling descriptions of individual atrocities to investigating Red Cross and British Mandate officials. The British investigator, Richard Catling, describes how difficult it was to persuade terrified and humiliated girls and women to describe what had been done to them, and others who did not survive:

I interviewed many of the women folk in order to glean some information on any atrocities committed in Deir Yaseen but the majority of those women are very shy and reluctant to relate their experiences especially in matters concerning sexual assault and they need great coaxing before they will divulge any information. The recording of statements is hampered also by the hysterical state of the women who often break down…whilst the statement is being recorded. There is, however, no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young schoolgirls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested. One story is current concerning a case in which a young girl was literally torn in two. Many infants were also butchered and killed.

An atrocity particularly calculated to horrify Arab peasants was the cutting open of the womb of a nine months’ pregnant woman. This was the clearest of messages warning them that the Arab codes of war, according to which women, children and old people were protected, no longer held good in Palestine. Men now had to choose: their country or their family. It was through such methods that a people with a thirty-year history of resistance to British occupation and Zionist immigration were terrorized into flight.
(77)

the difference between area b and area c roads
the difference between area b and area c roads

what i think about when i read this passage is the structure of society: the family. when people have a family they act in ways to protect that family first. sometimes this is to protect them physically. sometimes economically. but the family comes first. sure families often raise their children to be in the resistance, but unfortunately in the west bank they are few and far between. but this idea that one must protect their family during an nakba in 1948 made palestinians have to make an unimaginable choice: their family or their county. and i feel like i am watching the same thing play again in front of my eyes. after i returned from aqraba today i called a few activist palestinian friends to see if they could help me organize a massive mobilization to aqraba for friday prayer. all of them were pessimistic. they think maybe i can fill a bus, but not more than that. they tell me that people are afraid of getting arrested, getting shot, having hospital bills as a result of getting shot. families in nablus don’t want their daughters to go because they worry about them more than their sons. and so there is no solidarity among palestinians. divide and rule is working. i can’t help but think if these same families will feel differently when it is their village or their house slated for destruction. because israeli terrorists will never stop. they won’t stop until they reach baghdad.

aqraba shepherds
aqraba shepherds

so as i posted over the last week, aqraba is scheduled to have several of its homes, one elementary school, and one mosque demolished by israeli terrorists. media reports have some discrepancies in them according to the families i spoke with today. reports say that there are only 6 houses scheduled to be demolished, but the families told me that 20 homes with 200 people living in them will be destroyed. the reports also say that this will happen on march 26th, but i was told today that this is the date for their day in the colonial court, not for the demolition itself. half of aqraba is in area c and half in area b. area b is administered by the palestinian authority, and area c, which comprises 59% of the west bank, is controlled by israeli terrorists (area c generally covers rural areas).

elementary school in aqraba
elementary school in aqraba

aqraba is about 20 km away from nablus and about 50 km from the apartheid wall, the wall that separates palestinians in 1948 palestine from palestinians in the west bank. the village center is located on a mountain top and its valley in the jordan valley. it is so close to jordan that palestinian cell phones don’t work here unless you want to pay the roaming rates as if you are in jordan. you know that you are coming into the area c part of the village as you drive down the mountain because the paved road stops and the dirt road begins. all of the people who live in aqraba, however, at one point owned and farmed land or grazed their livestock in this valley at one point in time. in fact, the story of the ethnic cleansing in aqraba does not begin in 2009. it begins in 1968. i heard time and time again today the same stories from different families. in 1968, shortly after the 1967 war or an naksa, hundreds of families fled from this village and went to jordan because they heard stories of massacres in neighboring villages. most of the families i met today have relatives living in palestinian refugee camps in jordan.

palestinian home in aqraba
palestinian home in aqraba

starting in 1968 israeli terrorists began confiscating aqraba’s land for military training. a few years later the first settlement on their land was built on a mountaintop overlooking the village. this settlement, gitit, which apparently has a website, makes no mention, of course, that they are on palestinian land. in fact, the word palestine is nowhere to be found on its website whatsoever. not surprising. they don’t mention, for instance, that part of their so-called love for the land and agriculture includes stealing aqraba’s land and removing the indigenous products of the village–fava beans, lentils, and wheat–and planting grapes instead. it is not surprising that they fail to mention the fact that palestinian shepherds die every year in aqraba because these illegal colonist terrorists murder them. there was a well publicized murder of one of these shepherds, but mostly they go unnoticed in the media. but this case, in september 2008 of 18 year old shepherd yahia ateya fahmi bani maneya, elicited some media attention (in contradistinction whenever foreigners come to palestine in solidarity with palestinians and s/he gets shot or murdered everyone knows their name forever, such is the racism of the media). shepherds in aqraba were under attack especially between 1975-1982 when they were routinely arrested and their sheep confiscated. it would cost them 10jds per sheep to get them back.

yousef nasrallah's unfinished home in aqraba
yousef nasrallah's unfinished home in aqraba

so aqraba has been under attack for decades. my student and the taxi driver who took us around have their stories, too. they both live on top of the mountain, but their families historically lived below and own land. my student’s family has land where they plant wheat, but they have not been allowed to access this land since the start of the second intifada. our driver told me that in 1974 his family was attacked by rockets, one of which hit their house. as a result they fled to the mountaintop and lost 30 dunums of land where israeli terrorist colonists now plant grapes. i heard again and again these stories from aqraba from different people of a constant internal and external displacement. of a constant state of refugeedom. from people fleeing in 1967 to a constant process of their land being confiscated and families having to move up to the top part of the village. it is the same story over and over again. ethnic cleansing. land theft. colonialism.

mosque in aqraba
mosque in aqraba

as we drove down into the valley of this village we came upon the school that is slated to be destroyed first. we saw shepherds grazing in the area as aqraba is famous for having some of the best land for animals to graze. the village is 250 years old and all of the homes in the valley document the longevity of the village. originally these families slept in the caves with their sheep next to their homes hundreds of years ago. then as they began building homes they did so next to these caves. as their families grew over the generations they added onto their homes. so you can see the evolution of their homes and of their lives quite easily. part of the issue of building houses for palestinians in area c, like in al quds, 1948 palestine, or anywhere else, is that they cannot obtain building permits. to give you an idea of the difficulty, here is what my passia diary has to say about this (quoted from arij):

Figures from Israeli Civil Admin. show that between 2000 and Sept. 2007, only 5.5% of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C were approved (or 105 out of 1,890 applications). Forced to build without license, Palestinian construction became subject to house demolition: in the same period, 4,820 demolition orders were issued, 1,626 of which were executed. While Palestinians were denied building permits in Area C, Israeli settlements were granted them at an annual rate of 1,000 or a total of 6,945 between 2000-2006 (as compared to 95 permits for Palestinians in the same period!) (355)

fatima & maher anas' home
fatima & maher anas' home

after you drive past the school you see the mosque slightly down the road. this mosque is scheduled to be demolished too. as is the foundation of a house across the street. this house is owned by yousef nasrallah. he started building his house a year ago and the israeli terrorists immediately came and ordered him to stop. like so many in aqraba, he had to sell all his sheep and move to the top of the village. like so many before him since 1968. since then he has found no work. this is one of the primary issues for fellahin refugees for the last 61 years: how do you maintain a livelihood when your livelihood is tied to the land? his sister still lives on this land, though, up the road a bit, as does her husband’s brother and his two wives. their families–the anas family–has lived on this land for generations. and like most of the other families, many relatives fled in terror in 1967 and now live in zarqa refugee camp in jordan.

anas home in aqraba
anas home in aqraba

fatima anas welcomed us into her home and kept us busy consuming tea, coffee, and a special tea i’ve never had before made with this flower called بابونج which was absolutely amazing. i was asking my student if he thought it was better than tea with maramiyya and he said yes: he was right. fatima made us an amazing lunch, too, including the most incredible cheese i’ve ever tasted, which she makes herself. she told me that the reason she thinks that the house demolition orders were issued was really because the israeli terrorists want to build a road through their village to connect the surrounding israeli terrorist colonies: gitit, itamar, hamra, and yitzhar that surround their village. already there is a road running through their agricultural land that the israeli terrorists made, but it is a dirt road. and now they have spray painted some markings on rocks on that road indicating that this may indeed be the case.

homemade cheese from the anas family
homemade cheese from the anas family

their homes and their lives seem so removed from the consciousness of palestinians more generally. even the part of the paved road in area b was only put in two years ago, as well as electricity, by the palestinian authority. but mostly they are ignored. partially it is because the palestinian authority does not control area c. but this is also because the pa is a tool of the israeli terrorist regime and does not resist its colonial masters’ wishes. water remains a difficult issue for them, too. they have a well that they built which collects rain water, but they do not have a generator to pump the water into the tanks on top of their houses. so every day fatima has to go and carry buckets from the well to the house to fill it up by hand.

the rest of the photographs tell the story, i think. this latest chapter in the latest nakba in palestinian history. and the lessons of the past have not yet been learned. palestinian children are not taught it. and those who know it seem to think they cannot make a difference by resisting. that may be true. but it is clear from speaking to the anas family today that seeing some solidarity from their brothers and sisters in the area would certainly go a long way to helping them to remain steadfast. what is especially scary about this latest chapter is not just the families and their displacement, but it is quite clear that if their houses are indeed destroyed and they, too, have to move up to the top of the mountain, the generations of farmers and shepherds from aqraba will be no more. palestinians can sit idly by and think they cannot make a difference. or they can try. they can set up a tent here as in al quds. they can maintain a presence here and visit regularly on solidarity visits. or they can wait until it is their village, their house. this is why the lesson of yom al ard is so important: because palestinians in sakhnin resisted. and this is the message that needs to be both remembered and honored with the same sort of actions again and again. israeli terrorists will never give up. no one fighting for the rights of palestinians should either.

anas family's home
anas family's home
lubna & maram anas
lubna & maram anas
anas family water well
anas family water well
blue tank where water must be carried to from well
blue tank where water must be carried to from well
old anas family home
old anas family home
aqraba cave where families used to live
aqraba cave where families used to live
fava beans/ful in aqraba
fava beans/ful in aqraba

escape from fatahlandia

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shortly after i got to my office this morning students started coming in and asking me if we had class this afternoon. they told me that there was going to be a prisoner solidarity “celebration” and that classes would be canceled. i walked over to the secretary’s office to double check this. she said that the vice president asked faculty to hold classes if the students were there and to cancel classes if they did not show up. so i repeated this all day to students who asked and encouraged them to attend the rally for the prisoners. then, about a few minutes before my last class, i received an sms message from ma’an news stating that the nablus rally was a fatah rally. not only that: it had nothing to do with prisoners. it was all about fatah. just fatah. no one mentioned this little detail to me at any point in the day. here is what ma’an posted on their website:

More than 100,000 supporters of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) staged a demonstration in the West Bank city of Nablus on Wednesday, as Palestinian unity talks began in Cairo.

One elderly Fatah supporter named Abu Abdallah wept with joy at the sight of the three kilometer-long march: Fatah is back, the PLO is back and the revolution is back as well.”

Speaking to the assembled crowds, the Palestinian Authority (PA) governor of Nablus, Jamal Muheisin, warned that if negotiations with Israel fail, Fatah will return to armed struggle.

“He is wrong who thinks that negotiations are the only choice for Fatah. On the contrary, all possibilities are open, including armed struggle as long as we seek peace and others do not.”

the photograph above was ma’an’s image of the rally today. not one of the gaza solidarity protests in nablus had even 1/10 of this sort of support. it seems i am living in a little fatah universe. in my university. in this city. it is endlessly depressing and disappointing. it has not been posted online yet, but there was a piece on al jazeera today documenting the torture of palestinian prisoners by the palestinian authority in its jails. al haq had a representative on who has been working on this and there was a survivor of the torture who spoke as well. if it becomes available i will post it.

to escape from this current world of fatah-land that i seem to be living in, i have been reading rosemary sayigh’s amazing book the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries, which came out in a new edition last year. the book was originally published in 1979 and like much of her amazing work is based on oral history that she does in palestinian refugee camps in lebanon. what makes this particular book so important is that the oral history interviews were conducted in the 1970s at a time when palestinian refugees were still alive and when there were refugees who could remember what life was like before the british-zionist theft of their land. it offers insight into other forms of division that pre-date the current political divisions between fatah and hamas. and it shows how layers of colonialism created the conditions for these divisions. one of the most significant ways in which this happened was with the introduction of capitalist colonialism by the british and the zionists, which differed from previous forms of colonialism in palestine:

From time immemorial the peasants of Palestine had formed the tax and conscript basis of successive occupations: Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman, and now British. With the expulsion of the Turks in World War I, and the occupation by the British, Palestine finally entered the trade circuit of the capitalist world, becoming fully exposed to the changes summed up in the word “modernization.” Palestine’s indigenous precapitalist economy continued to exist side by side with the separate Zionist economy (with its unique mingling of socialist ideology and capitalist funding), and as in all cases of colonialism, the indigenous economy subsidized the invading one, besides providing the tax basis to finance its own occupation. Although the incipient Palestinian bourgeoisie suffered in its development from the more advanced organization and technical skill of Zionist enterprise and labour, it also benefited from increased trade, and from employment in the British administration. It was the interests of the fellaheen that were more directly threatened by Zionist colonialism. This was because, while Zionist land purchase put an ever growing pressure on the supply of land, the Zionist boycott of Arab labour cut off alternative sources of income, whether in agriculture or industry. Thus the oppression of the peasant class changed under the Mandate from the type produced by Arab/Ottoman feudalism to a colonial type somewhat similar to that of Algeria or South Africa. (21)

one of the reasons for sayigh’s comparison with algeria has to do with the ways in which french colonists, like the zionist colonists in palestine, forced peasants off of the most cultivatable land. the villages tended to be self-sufficient, which enabled them to live independently:

Although Palestine had long been an exporter of high quality agricultural products (mainly grains, olive oil, soap, sesame, and citrus fruit), the development of cash crops and market farming was restricted mainly to a few areas near the cities, at least until the World War II boom in the price of agricultural products towards the end of the Mandate. Cash crops were mainly financed and traded by city merchants through long-standing arrangements with particular villages, leaving the mass peasants close to a subsistence economy. Rather than markets, the primary aim of peasant agriculture was subsistence and the payment of taxes and debts. The extent to which the bulk of peasant production stayed out of the markets can be gauged by the fact that, as late as 1930, only 20 per cent of the total wheat crop and 14 per cent of the barley crop were marketed (23).

what this meant for palestinian fellahin who resisted the new foreign invaders colonizing their land is that they could strike for as long as 6 months because the village met all of their needs in terms of what they planted, the animals they kept. sayigh compares this to egyptian villages which were not self-sufficient at that time and depended upon cities to trade grain, fruits, and vegetables. and while the ottomans, like the british, taxed palestinians, the method the british used was far more severe:

Most English histories of Palestine dwell on the evils of tax farming and point to its abolition early in the Mandate as a sign of progress. But from the peasant viewpoint British tax collection, though more honest, was more oppressive. The tithe was a fixed percentage of the wheat crop only, and though the tax farmers squeezed the peasants to the maximum, they had no interest in making them bankrupt, or forcing them off the land. The peasants’ debts carried over from one year to the next, and from one generation to the next, and carried no threat of eviction. Under the British, however, all peasant property, not just their wheat crop, was taken as a basis of tax evaluation, including fruit trees, houses, “even our chickens.” Not only was British assessment more thorough, but taxes were now collected with the help of troops, whereas in Turkish times it was rare that the provincial governor had enough troops at his disposal to terrorize the villages (26).

the problem was exacerbated by other british policies in palestine as one of sayigh’s interviewees, a man from the village of sa’sa near safad explains:

“I remember that in Sa’sa, which was famous for its olives, grapes, and figs, the peasants produced thousands of kilos of figs each year. But there was no market. The British wouldn’t encourage the selling of this good quality fruit, or help to pack it or export it. It was hard for the peasant to market his crop himself because the roads between the villages and cities were bad. And after the peasant had harvested his wheat, the British would bring in cheap wheat by ship from Australia, and sell it in Haifa at 1/2 a piastre a kilo, knowing that the peasants could not sell at this price. It was British policy towards the peasants that they should always stay poor” (26).

this british colonial policy resembles the american imperial policy in much of the world in the way that it imposes its wheat and other agricultural items on countries, like lebanon for example, in ways that prevent farmers there from cultivating its own wheat. this creates a dependency on the united states that is damaging to the livelihood of the farmers, the villages, the people in general.

one way the fellaheen resisted early on to these pressures on their agricultural life was by agitating for schools in their villages. so much of what the interviews sayigh includes reveal about all aspects of life is the sense of solidarity among palestinian villagers, including striking against british-zionist policies, armed resistance, and demanding education to diversify their economies. another man from sa’sa whom she interviews shares his memory about this:

“I entered school when I was seven. We had one teacher, from Nablus, and though the schoolroom could hardly take 30 people, there used to be not less than 150 children. It went to the end of fourth elementary. Later they brought a second and a third teacher, but for secondary classes students had to go to the city. I remember how our families used to go every day to the qaimaqam and his assistant to struggle for education for their children. They wanted to add classes to our school–four were not enough. They wanted English lessons. The villagers gathered as one hand in this struggle for schools, because the peasant nature is co-operative. So after a great while we got the fifth and sixth classes, and the school was enlarged, and the nucleus of a girls’ school was set up” (33).

solidarity and collectivity among villagers extended to resistance to land sales for those fellaheen who did not own the land they farmed and lived on:

Peasant landlessness started before the Mandate with single sales of large areas of land by the Ottoman Administration and by non-Palestinian owners. These sales, many of which included whole villages, confronted the peasants with their first experience of legal eviction, something which had never been a part of the fellaheen fate. It is striking that their immediate, spontaneous response was violent resistance–a resistance which found, however, no echo in other segments of Palestinian society (36).

importantly, it is because of this resistance that jewish colonists owned so little land even by 1946:

By 1926, only 4 per cent of all land (including state land) was Jewish-owned, and it took another eight years for this figure to reach 5 per cent. By the end of 1946, the last year for which official figures exist, it had not gone beyond 6 percent. Peasant resistance to land sales is abundantly clear in these figures. (36-38)

so this is all context–a bit of an idea about how the british-zionist colonial project disrupted the lives of the majority of the palestinians, the fellaheen, most of whom became refugees in 1948 when they were forcibly removed from their land. but other ways palestinians, especially the fellaheen, were affected by british-zionist colonialism in palestine was by the age-old tactic of divide and conquer. sayigh chronicles the way that the british started this process of coopting elite members of palestinian urban society to create this phenomenon, especially to help the british squash the fellaheen resistance:

Over and over again, the Palestinian notables earned the praise of the British authorities for their help in controlling the “mob.” In May 1921, the mayors of Jerusalem, Tulkarem and Jaffa, the muftis of Acre and Safad, and Qadi of Jerusalem, all received British decorations for their “services in Palestine” (51-52).

when sayigh discusses one of the most important resistance leaders in palestine, sheikh qassam, she does so in a way that reveals the reality of resistance to colonialism showing that it was not the elites and notables leading the resistance:

It was symptomatic of the distance between the political and militant wings of the nationalist movement that when the first guerrilla leader, Sheikh Qassam, was killed soon after his call to armed struggle in 1935, none of the leading national figures attended his funeral. none of the military leaders of the 1936 Rebellion were from the ruling class. Few anecdotes give a clearer picture of the incapacity of the Palestinian traditional leaders for serious struggle thant he one told by a “former intelligence officer” to the author of a study on the 1936 Rebellion. A group of bedouin gathered in Beersheba telephoned to the Mufti asking what action they should take in support of the uprising that was beginning to spread through the country in the wake of the killing of the District Commissioner for Galilee. The Mufti’s reply to them was to do whatever they thought fit, and though this reply may have been due to knowledge that his telephone was tapped, all accounts of the Rebellion and the six months’ strike that preceded it make it clear that the people of Palestine led their leadership, not vice versa. (52)

these are just a few insights from sayigh’s first chapter. there is so much more to say, to share, but people should get a copy and read it for themselves. i think the way she tells the historical narrative–from the point of view of the people, the masses–is so much more valuable and meaningful to me than the histories i read about the elites, the leaders–the elites and the leaders who always fail their people. who always get corrupted by power and greed. just like howard zinn’s books detailing the people’s histories of the united states, sayigh gives us insight into the people’s history of palestine. and it gives us insight to earlier divisions, divisions that certainly led to the complete and total colonization of every square inch of palestine. but when i read about the work of the fellaheen and the resistance in pre-1948 palestine, in spite of the differences and struggles between the fellaheen and the people in the cities, for instance, i cannot help but think about the situation today. the divisions may be different, but the effect is the same. palestinians in power then, as now, become corrupted, become coopted. they serve the interests of the colonial masters. the people suffer, the masses suffer. i wish that we could see the same sort of energy like labor strikes and resistance to those in power in the pa and in the u.s. and in the zionist entity all over again, this time with steadfastness and cohesion.

this is what i do when i get frustrated here. i retreat into history. i fantasize about different outcomes. i think about what could have happened if only. what would have happened if only. if only…

Hajj

cemetery entranceI made a pilgrimage yesterday to a place that gets as religious as it can get for a former Jew like me. We were finishing up work in the Shatila center and I noticed that one of your young volunteers in Shatila was sitting on the stage in the back of our center reading a book (I’ve seen a lot of this in Shatila and it makes me so happy–not just that people read, but that people are reading good quality stuff); she was reading a collection of Ghassan Kanafani stories. She was sitting with another of our volunteers and we were sharing aspects of our favorite Kanafani stories and he mentioned that he is buried in Shatila, which makes sense, but I never thought about it before. I said that we should make a pilgrimage there and we decided to take a walk. The graveyard is actually on the outskirts of the camp, though there are a couple of mass graves inside Shatila, too, of other shaheed. The graveyard is lined with trees and there are faded posters of Abu Ammar on some of the trees as you enter the cemetery. Many of the graves have holes inside them in which there are potted plants. But towards the back side of the cemetery is Ghassan Kanafani’s grave.
cemetery
kanafani’s grave

I cannot really describe what I felt visiting his grave, but it was powerful to see him among a sea of other martyrs (as well as those who have died of natural causes). I felt that I wanted to hire a proper gravedigger, rent a truck, and take all of these deceased and bury them in their proper home, in Palestine. It made me want to fight for al awda even more than ever to see these people displaced even in death. And, of course, every day in life.

One of Kanafani’s many gifts to the world is his writing, of course, but also the legacy of his family who created the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation and the kindergartens it supports. The children there are trained to create amazing artwork and Kanafani’s daughter trains the teachers in art education. Normally this time of the year all of the kindergartens in the Palestinian refugee camps around Lebanon, hold an art exhibition of their work. This year only three are able to do so given the situation; two of them are in Beirut, Mar Elias and Bourj al Barajneh refugee camps. I went to see their exhibition this week as part of my research is on the cultural production of the children in these schools. The kindergarten in Nahr el Bared refugee camp, which the Lebanese army destroyed, had sent some of their work to Beirut to be framed and as a result it is now on display in these other camps (pictured here). It is all that remains of this school, though I hope these children and their families are safe and alive. Much of the art work is self portraiture and the children also tell stories of who they are, what village or town they come from in Palestine. Their book, Like Roses to the Wind is one of the most brilliant collection of paintings I’ve ever seen. Incredibly powerful and moving.
kanafani art 1
kanafani art 2
On another note, I’m reading Rosemary Sayigh’s very smart and important book, Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon. There is a passage in it that, if one changed the words, could be written about the situation today (the context is the 1980s):

“On 4 October, [1982] even before the formation of the Wazzan Cabinet, the Lebanese Army entered in force into West Beirut, where it behaved like a foreign army of occupation, confiscating arms, setting up checkpoints, searching homes and feeding interrogation centers in East Beirut with streams of Palestinians, Lebanese radicals and foreign migrant workers. On 5 October alone, according to official reports, arrests reached 453. In the propaganda of the Maronite right, West Beirut was a zone infested with terrorists, subversives, counterfeiters, criminals and illegal residents, and it was the Army’s task to flush them out. Arrests did not touch leaders of national movement parties (several had gone underground or left the country) but concentrated on their followers and on popular quarters. The Army broke into party and militia offices, newspaper and publishing centers. Censorship regulations were reinstated, prohibiting criticism of the Army or news about the government other than that issued by the official news agency. Conditions in the various interrogation centers and prisons used to ‘process’ the detainees were degrading and brutal….at night the General Security office was given over to torture sessions.”

History repeats itself here and everywhere. I was thinking about this passage this afternoon after attending a meeting held by the Danish Refugee Council, World Vision, and Save the Children Sweden commemorating World Refugee Day, which is officially tomorrow. I didn’t intend to stay for the entire meeting, but I did as I found out I could speak about our project to document the harassment of Palestinians in Lebanon right now. So I stayed. There were many people who were on the same page, albeit most of them Palestinian, about rights for Palestinians in Lebanon as well as a renewed demand for al awda. When the Australian ambassador spoke about the primary goal for helping refugees is to help them “return” to their homeland with “dignity and safety” Anni Kanfani, Ghassan’s widow, who was there, took her up on this statement and called for pressuring western governments, Australia, the EU, the U.S., to allow Palestinian refugees to return home. I felt so energized by her and by this statement. I started thinking that now is the time: given the assault on Palestinians here in Lebanon and in Baghdad, as well as the situation in Gaza, all of which have risen out of a context directly related to the U.S. and Israel’s occupation and colonization projects, we should demand that the UN take this up again especially because, as Anni put it, it is the UN that first decided to render Palestinians homeless. While on World Refugee Day (what is that anyway? as if refugees deserve only a day out of the entire calendar year? as if such a day does anything to help them in anyway?) we should consider creating safe conditions for all the refugees on the planet to return home, we should remember that Palestinians have been displaced the longest and unlike all other refugees they are not only refugees, but also stateless. We should also consider what the Australian ambassador said today about the root problem of refugees in general, which she sees as the “failure of a country to address its own human rights problems.”

All of these thoughts left me feeling empowered until I got home and saw the press conference with Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush on Al Jazeera, which more or less is repeated in this piece from the Washington Post:

Bush said it was also “in Israel’s interest” to have a Palestinian state because of “the demographic pressure” from Palestinian population growth that would otherwise “make it very difficult for Israel to maintain its Jewishness as a state.”

This is the root of the problem in Palestine: there cannot be a Jewish state. This is built upon a racist premise and is the ROOT of the problem. This must be dismantled and a new state must be created that allows Palestinian refugees to return home no matter what passport or ID card (if they even have one) they carry.