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Archive for June, 2012

Think of Others: In Gaza’s darkness, Mahmoud Darwish’s words provide inspiration

Its 10 pm, time for the power-cut in our region of Gaza city.  Guess what? This time I didn’t sigh. I laughed thinking of one of my friends who mastered guessing if I have power at home or not, just from hearing my voice’s tune when he calls on the phone. He always teases me by saying, “Is your body connected to an electrical wire? You turn off whenever power cuts off!” Usually, I would just escape from the darkness to sleep.  This night, I’ve decided not to allow my frustration to take over and immediately make use of the charge left in my laptop.

I put my headphones in my ears to listen to Sameeh Shuqair’s song “Think of Others,”trying to cover the horrible noise of generators that already took over the region. Think of Others is originally a poem written by my favorite Palestinian poet and my teacher of life and humanity, Mahmoud Darwish. “You’re such a dreamer.” Many of my friends describe me this way but I am not sure whether it is a good or bad thing. What I know is that Mahmoud Darwish is one of the people who had a deep impact on my life as his words  always took me to my fantasy world that I always dreamed to live in, a pure world that is full of love, peace and people of conscience .

While listening to the beautiful lyrics of Think Of Others, my thoughts were for our political prisoners in the Israeli jails. I translated its lyrics not only for you to share with me the joy of the song, but also to demand you to listen to our detainee’s appeals to think of them.

As you fix your breakfast, think of others. Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.

As you fight in your wars, think of others. Don’t forget those who desperately demand peace.

As you pay your water bill, think of others who drink the clouds’ rain.

As you return home, your home, think of others. Don’t forget those who live in tents.

As  you sleep and count planets, think of others. There are people without any shelter to sleep.

As you express yourself using all metaphorical expressions, think of others who lost their rights to speak.

As you think of others who are distant, think of yourself and say “I wish I was a candle to fade away the darkness.


Me in the sit-in tent when the news of the end of the mass hunger strike was announced in May14 (Ali Jadallah)

The mass hunger strike that was launched by more than two thousand of our political prisoners ended on May 14. Ending the policies of detention without charge or trial, and solitary confinement was on the top list of the strikers’ demands. I was lucky enough to witness that emotional scene of people’s reaction to that victorious news of its end in the sit-in tent in Gaza city. I can recall clearly their happiness that was mixed with tears of pride and joy.

Sweets started being distributed all over, even taxi drivers dropped by to get their share. The songs of victory didn’t stop playing in the background while people were waving Palestine’s flags, chanting, and dancing, celebrating our detainees’ success in forcing the IPS to endorse an agreement that was supposed to be enforced. It was one of the best moments I lived in my life.

Despite that, I learned a very important lesson for life: I shouldn’t get too excited over anything before I see it happening in front my eyes, especially when it comes to promises or agreement that Israel endorses as Israel is the last to stick to any.

Hearing that the isolated detainees will be moved from solitary confinement cells to normal jails fills me with joy. My happiness reached its peak as I heard that Hassan Salameh, who spent 13 years of his detention in a solitary confinement where he ended up having intimate relation with cracks on the walls or the insects, has been moved to Nafha Prison and has eagerly registered at Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip to study history.

But later I got frustrated when I heard of the story of the Gazan engineer Dirar Abu Sisi, the only one left in isolation. After seeking details of Dirar’s case, I became sickened with Israel. Dirar was kidnapped from a train on 18 February 2011 in Ukraine, his wife’s country where he was seeking citizenship. Dirar was handcuffed, blindfolded and placed in a coffin after his kidnapping and once he opened his eyes, he found himself jailed in Israel.

He has been never engaged in resistance or in any political party. Israel has nothing against him but fear of his geniality. Israel has accused him of “conspiring” with Hamas, however even his professors in Ukraine — were he studied — have refutedIsrael’s claims that he studies weapons systems with them.

However, I feel that Israel is trying its best to fabricate any accusation against him. They are very concerned with devastating his mentality. His family has said that Israel fears him because he managed to modify the turbines in Gaza’s sole power plant, so they can run on a cheaper form of diesel that comes from Egypt, rather than on fuel imported from Israel.

He was just “the brain of the power system” who managed to light up Gaza when he repaired the sole power plant in Gaza, which produces 25% of its total electricity needs, after getting destroyed by the Israeli occupation forces during the so called Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.  Due to that, cowardly Israel fears Dirar Abu Sisi despite his detention and continues to practice its inhumane policies of solitary confinement against him, which exemplifies an open violation of the latest agreement reached with Egypt regarding our prisoners.

Amnesty International says that Israel has renewed at least 30 administrative detention orders and has issued at least three new ones since the deal was signed. Due to these continuing violations, the battle of empty stomachs continues, led by Mahmoud Sarsak, a 25-year-old Palestinian national footballer who’s playing now the hardest match of his life, the match of defending his life’s dignity.

Sarsak has been on hunger strike for 84 days. He was captured at Erez checkpoint when Israel stepped in his way toward achieving a dream he was always longing for: participating in a national team contest in the West Bank, in Balata Camp. This was on 22 July 2009. Since that date, he has been held without trial and without charges and was banned from family visis just like all other detainees whose families are in Gaza.

Even after the release of the Israeli prisoner who was held in Gaza, last October, and the deal that Israel signed after the last mass hunger strike, nothing new has happened regarding coordinating family visitation for the families of detainees from Gaza. Mahmoud Sarsak is in grave condition according to an independent doctor from Phyisicians for Human Rights – Israel who examined him. However, the sporting world and the international community in general are barely paying attention.

I appeal to you to deeply, ponder the words of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem and think of others! Whatever insignificant support you can contribute at easing the life of Dirar Abu Sisi and rescuing the life of Mahmoud Sarsak will help. And remember, their victory won’t be only theirs, but a triumph for humanity!

What was supposed to be a wedding ended up a funeral

Samer and his mother

“Samer will get engaged!” My friend Loai said with a big laugh. “Oh my God! Really? When?” I burst out with an endless list of questions and exclamations in my head.

Samer Abu Seir is an ex-detainee who was released in Shalit’s prisoner exchange and deported from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip. Getting married should not be surprising for a single man at the age of 46. However, Samer is one of the few released prisoners who was cautiously considering getting married especially after he spent more time in the Israel jails than he spent outside. I remember when I first met him and asked him how long he had been detained and he answered me sarcastically, “Nothing! It was only a matter of 24 years passed like a blink of an eye.”

He always thought that he needed time to keep up with the updates of the outside world that occurred without him noticing. He always felt that he needed to be accustomed to seeing the blue sky, the green trees, the crowded buildings, walking on Gaza’s beach and feeling its breeze smoothly hitting his cheeks, instead of being under that dark-gray ugly ceiling, in a narrow jail, and between the same four surrounding walls where neither sunshine nor air could sneak in.

“What was the reason behind this sudden decision?” I asked. “His 83-year-old mother is in a grave situation,” Loai replied. “He rushed this just to make her happy, so if she dies, she can rest in peace.”

Samer has grown up fatherless. He lost his father when he was a little child when he was away in Jordan. His widow mother had raised him along with his other two brothers and two sisters by herself. He thinks the whole world of her. She is a symbol of motherhood who had raised her children on the noble values of love, dignity, and sacrifice for Palestine. She believed that there is always a price for everything you fight for, and she has instilled these beliefs in her children. Samer and his family have paid the price in many ways. The simplest example of pain that he has always endured was that his family never gathered for a meal. There was always at least a member missing.

Samer had always suffered the ban of family visits for long periods, especially during his detention in solitary confinement for 3 years and a half. These times were the most difficult that Samer lived inside prison as he constantly kept thinking about his mother and fantasizing how her wrinkles beautifully spread in her beautiful loving and peaceful face. The family visits were his only connection with the outside world. Once a family visit ended, he eagerly waited for the next one.

Moreover, Samer had always led unsettled life in prison as he was moved around to every one of Israel’s prisons. Samer’s constant thinking of his mother made it more painful for him to tolerate such inhumane practices of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). Samer’s mother never let that or any of the humiliating actions she received from strip searches and insults hold her away from having 45-minute meeting with her son through a barrier between them.

Even after Samer was released, she didn’t stop suffering. She handled the pain of Samer’s 24 years of imprisonment without complaining, and then she kept suffering the pain of him being forcibly deported away from her. This is another violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits deporting people within or outside the occupied territories.

While thinking about Samer’s motive to get married, I recalled his cute old mother who arrived to Gaza almost a week after the prisoners’ exchange, challenging her age and deteriorating health condition. Last November, I joined my family to a celebration of freedom where almost no one was taking seats, all people were happily performing Dabka, the folk dancing of Palestine, and waving Palestinian flags as revolutionary songs were playing loudly in the background.

Samer’s mother dancing celebrating her son’s freedom

There, my eyes fixed on an elderly woman wearing the Palestinian traditional dress. She could barely walk or stand but her happiness gathered all the strength inside her to dance slowly and erratically. My eyes were following her with joy and wondering who she was. I asked Dad about her. “She is Samer’s mother. Wherever you see her, she is dancing. When she gets out of the car, she dances. when someone visits her at home to congratulate her with her son’s freedom, she dances. Look how happy she is!” Dad answered smilingly. “She reminds me of your grandmother who was just like that when I was set free. All the Gaza Strip would hear of my freedom because of her. She’d be dancing and singing songs of freedom wherever she went.”

Samer was enthusiastically going to officially get engaged today’s evening and let his mother declare his engagement from Jerusalem through Skype. But destiny stood against his intentions of making his mother happy. Sadly, this morning he woke up on hearing the news of his mother’s death and what was to supposed to be a wedding turned out to be a funeral.

I am thankful that at least she lived long enough to celebrate her son’s freedom. This reminds me of another story I wrote last December of a mother of two former prisoners who have been deported from Hebron to Gaza, and who died a week after she arrived to Gaza and wrapped her two sons between her arms once again. Please say a prayer for Samer and his family.

An Essay on Which Matters More in the Shaping of One’s life: Social Class or Gender?

The influential criteria of occupational stratifications differ from one society to another depending on its culture. If we ask two people, one living in America and the other in Palestine, whether their genders or their social classes have a deeper impact on their lives, their answers will conflict. The social class that an individual belongs to unquestionably affects the shaping of her or his life. Social class is associated with economic status. The higher a person’s social class is, the more potentials and education and work opportunities are available for that person, regardless of gender. However, I think in an eastern society like Palestine, gender has a greater influence on one’s life than social class.

In previous centuries, almost all societies were patriarchal ones in which men were the dominant power and women were seen as “insignificant other”. The stereotype was that men were to work outside, while women were to be housewives and work at home. They played almost no role in the labor force. Women suffered from a degrading view everywhere, so that many of them believed they were inferior to men. They had little or no voice in their political, economic, and social issues of their societies. Women had difficulty even expressing their voices. Female writers had to use masculine pen names to express themselves and to have their voices heard, such as Mary Anne Evans, who wrote as George Eliot.

However, times have changed. In World War I, women filled men’s roles in society. The hardships which forced them to depend on themselves to earn incomes for their families made them realize their inner strengths and abilities. In advanced western societies like America, gender matters less than social class does nowadays. Men and women are almost equal in rights. Thanks to the feminist movement, the woman’s status has been upgraded. She has become an affective member of society, not an inferior to the man as previously depicted. But still, even in modern societies, women are found in the upper occupational stratifications much less than men.

Therefore, I personally think the gap between classes in modern societies is greater. There have been more advances made in terms of gender equality than class equality. A poor man faces the same obstacles that a poor woman faces due to the social class that they were born into. When I was in America, I saw female taxi drivers as well as male taxi ones. I saw policewomen just like I saw policemen. But I also saw women in very high positions in the university and the State Department. The only thing that a woman has not become in America is a president of the United States. But when I think about what made one woman a taxi driver and what made the other a minister, I find one reason: their social classes. The female minister must have been raised in a higher social class that could afford to educate her to the highest levels, which contributed to making her qualified enough to be a minister. But the female taxi driver was not as lucky when she was born into a lower social class that suffered economical problems.

It is important to remember that there is still some discrimination against women, even in “advanced” societies like America. There is a lot of social pressure on women to meet an ideal model, that is impossible to meet, in terms of appearance. When it comes to men, they face none of this social pressure. For example, the woman’s appearance is considered as one of her qualifications. The prettier woman has more potential to be considered for a job opportunity than a woman who is less attractive but has more occupational qualifications. Moreover, a man is paid more than a woman in the same job. Apart from that, women’s bodies are used as a commodity and sex object to sell products, ignoring their intelligence.

In eastern societies, women are becoming more aware of their rights and their abilities to be as effective members of society as men. However, in many ways, women are still seen as extensions of men or inferiors due to cultural reasons, not to religious ones as claimed by many people. The rate of working women is notably less than that of working men. Moreover, men usually occupy the highest occupational stratifications. Few women are ministers, managers, or even doctors.

Many Palestinian men think that they are superior and would feel ashamed if their wives were more educated or had higher positions. For this reason, researchers report many cases of oppression and violence committed by men.

In Palestine, women tend to stay at home regardless of the social class to which they belong. In the rich families in Palestine, educated women tend to be dependent on men and enjoy lavish lives without having to work and earn their own incomes. However, in the poor families, women suffer hard conditions with fewer opportunities for education. And if they want to work, they seek crafts like being either hairdressers or seamstresses.

The types of work that is available for women are more limited as well as the places of occupation. When a young women graduates from her high school and decides to attend university, she usually encounters many obstacles. Her father might not allow her to go to university for financial reasons. Even if her father can afford to pay her university expenses, he will influence her decision of what specialization to undertake. My mother studied nursing. But she always describes how society considers nursing as an inappropriate specialization for women to study for cultural reasons. Female secretaries and doctors suffer the same degrading view of the society. It is not as bad as it was couple of decades ago though.

In our societies, in many families where women can continue their university studies, they tend to become only teachers. When my elder sister graduated from school, she wanted to become a journalist. However, my father recommended that she study mathematics. He did not force her, but he insisted, thinking so much of the social acceptance of women as teachers rather than journalists, that she eventually agreed. But she wanted so badly to study journalism. After studying one year of mathematics, she realized that she could not see herself in that position, where she could never be as creative as she wished. Thus she changed her specialization. Thankfully, we have an open-minded father who has respected her wish. What happened with my sister repeats itself thousands of times in our society but fathers who respect their daughters’ decisions are rare.

Many men still think that women have been created to be merely wives. Their understanding of a wife is someone whose responsibility is to satisfy their husbands’ sexual desire, deliver and bring up children, and do the housework. “Your certificate will eventually hang on your kitchen’s wall” is a sentence that I often hear people address to women. Palestinian fathers tend to be more willing to pay for their sons to further their studies, as their sons can eventually work and contribute to making money for their families. Contrastingly, they believe that it is pointless to pay for their daughters to study, as they will eventually marry and leave the house.

Over recent years in Palestine, the way society looks upon working women has differed from the times of economic difficulty to the times of relief. When Palestinians were allowed to work in Israel, it was socially acceptable for women to join the labor force in Israel during times of economic difficulty. My grandmother worked in an Israeli hospital at that time. However, in better economic conditions, the same behavior was considered as “shameful”. My grandmother said that she retired because of social pressure. However, it’s obvious that the status of women in our societies is getting better. More women are pursuing education, and working women have become more respected.

The role that women and men play in each society depends on the social, cultural, political, economical, and religious factors surrounding them. Those factors differ from one society to another and sometimes from one area to another in the same country. Therefore, it is hard to make a generalization about whether social class or gender matters more in the shaping of one’s life. But hopefully, in today’s world, all societies will move towards increasing equality in both spheres.
P.S: This is an assignment I did for my Literary Criticism class at university. That’s why it is very formal.