Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Palestinians mark Gaza war anniversary

Tue Dec 27, 2011 9:23AM
Gazans look at pictures of Hamas martyrs on the second anniversary of Israel's three-week offensive on the Gaza Strip, December 29, 2010.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are marking the third anniversary of a devastating war imposed by Israel on the besieged coastal strip in December 2008 that claimed many lives.

The Israeli regime waged a 22-day-war on the densely populated coastal sliver on the threshold of 2009, killing more than 1,400 Palestinians including at least 300 children.

The offensive destroyed 4,000 houses in the blockaded territory and devastated a large portion of infrastructures in the blockaded strip. The Israeli military forces also targeted UN-run schools and centers.

More than 50,000 people were displaced as a result of the three-week war.

Tel Aviv also used internationally-banned weapons, including white phosphorus bombs, against the Gazans during the three-week war.


"Educate through action": poet Remi Kanazi on triumphant UK tour

26 December 2011
Remi Kanazi performing on stage
Remi Kanazi performing during his UK tour.
The first night of his UK tour is over. We are standing outside a jammed Kenyan bar, which for some reason doesn’t serve food. Palestinian-American performance poet Remi Kanazi just wants to find somewhere to eat after his opening show. But he’s too nice to break up the group, so we go inside — however, not before I grab my chance to grill him for his opinions on Palestine solidarity activism in the UK.

Let’s get the hard questions out of the way first: is he worried about pro-Israel hecklers? It seems not. In fact he relishes any chance to demolish their arguments. “I’m not the head of an institute,” Kanazi says. “There are a lot of things I can say as a poet … I don’t have to worry about, ‘am I going to get denied tenure?’ I can go on stage and say ‘Zionism is racism: this is why.’”

Kanazi’s politically-charged blend of spoken word poetry performance went on to win huge audiences in a major tour in towns and cities all around England in November. He performed works such as “This poem will not end apartheid,” “Coexistence” and “Revolution.” It was after his opening night in Notting Hill, London that we did this interview.

I asked how the tour, organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, first came about. Kanazi was here last year for the Poetry International festival at the South Bank Center where he was writer-in-residence and teacher-in-residence. That went over well, and he met a lot of students. He says someone in the UK reached out to his tour manager about doing a couple of shows here. After Kanazi agreed, he tweeted to say he’d be touring and it soon “developed into something much larger.”

Bringing spoken word to Britain


Spoken word poetry is not always as popular as hip-hop, or stand-up comedy, he says. The medium is new to many in the UK, whereas it is more established in North America, partly fueled by the Def Poetry Jam TV show. Kanazi has been touring for years in the US now, and so is familiar in pro-Palestine circles there. He wanted to make more links here because there are lots of groups active in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Palestine Solidarity Campaign chapters or Palestine societies in universities organized his shows, aiming to connect him with the grassroots.

He is impressed by the level of activism in Britain and the way his gigs have been promoted. “There’s a complexity here that I think is really brilliant,” he tells The Electronic Intifada. The US is also moving forward: Kanazi points to how there are now 130 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters. He says the US, too, is “starting to get our act together.”

Kanazi is enthusiastic about the empowering nature of the BDS movement, as well as the way it put the solidarity movement back into the leadership of Palestinians themselves. “BDS has been the coalescing factor, taking the lead from Palestinian civil society. Groups have come together around a unifying strategy,” he explains.

The younger sister of an activist who put on one show was reading The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, and told Kanazi about how she got into Palestine activism. He joked that he had been completely inactive at her age: “You’re 16, shouldn’t you be watching [the popular film series] Twilight or reading Harry Potter or something?” Kanazi says it’s amazing to see how much the youth are doing for Palestine activism here.

He thinks there is something disarming about art which makes him more resistant to attacks by the pro-Israel crowd. Academics and other more established figures are more subject to blackmail than poets, he says, citing the treatment Richard Goldstone, the retired South African judge, received after publication of the eponymous report by the UN investigation he led into Israeli massacres in Gaza. Kanazi, on the other hand, says he burnt all his bridges in the beginning. “There are a lot of Arab organizations that I’ve criticized that don’t want to work with me.” But it seems that feeling is mutual.

What next for BDS?


I have another conservation with Kanazi when the tour ends. He is just about to hop on the London Underground to the airport when he picks up the phone. “The tour itself was amazing,” he says. It covered a wide area of England from London and Manchester to little towns like Dorchester and Southampton.
BDS and the cultural boycott of Israel were the main themes for the tour. They had “long Q&As [question and answer sessions] for just about every show … it was nice because it was a great mix of people,” university students, people from Palestine Solidarity Campaign chapters, and different activists. “What I found most exciting is how developed people were in terms of talking about BDS,” he adds.

Kanazi says he appreciated hearing about how activists mobilized for two years against Ahava, an Israeli shop in London’s Covent Garden that stocked almost nothing but cosmetics from illegal West Bank settlements — now shut down thanks to the BDS campaign against it. “People seemed really open about cultural boycott. It was more about strategizing and how to organize — what the next steps were, rather than ‘what is BDS?’”
So the tour was a combination of art and activism, then?

“I define myself as an activist who uses art as a medium to get my message across … There comes a point where we can’t just entertain, we have to act beyond it,” he replies. The billions of dollars allocated by the US as aid to Israel provide a moral imperative to act, and not just talk, he says.

“After 63 years of continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine, it’s time to not only educate, but to educate through action, and that action is boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

I ask how his shows went down with English audiences compared to the US. “British people are much more reserved. The way you can tell that people like your performance is the length of clap. In the US they will be more expressive, there’ll be hollering and hooting.”

Kanazi has been telling activists to bring The Electonic Intifada’s executive director Ali Abunimah and BDS National Committee co-founder Omar Barghouti to speak on more occasions. He advises activist groups to stop organizing around speakers who attack the BDS movement, “give faulty analysis on one state/two state,” and attack the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Challenging the cult of celebrity


Kanazi says this is “ten-years-ago politics … One of the problems we have is this culture of celebrity, we build up a celebrity academic” — fine, they bring in audiences of 900 people, but what do those 900 actually take away? What kind of action are they inspired to take?

While Kanazi enjoyed connecting with people he met over the Internet, “I don’t want people putting their Facebook pictures of me and them together as their profile picture because it takes the onus of responsibility off of the activists” and puts it on “celebrities.” He told the student groups: you’re the movement: your de-shelving actions of Israeli produce in supermarkets, divestment campaigns, like Derail Veolia. “That’s what’s scaring the shit out of the Reut Institute [a Zionist group monitoring human rights activists] and the Netanyahu government,” he says, and that’s what’s fueling the Brand Israel campaign against Palestine solidarity.

He had been really hoping for Zionist hecklers on this tour, but unfortunately they didn’t turn up in the end. “With poetry, I get the mic for a whole hour.” He says that this silences people with bigoted or racist conceptions about Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims.

What’s in the pipeline for Kanazi? He has an expansive North American tour from winter through to spring 2012, and is taking part in Israel Apartheid Week, a campus-based series of activities every March, in the US and Canada. There are potential German and UK dates in the works next year as well. Activism and art can make good partners.

Asa Winstanley is a journalist based in London. His website is

Three years ago: A "normal morning" turns to horror in Gaza

24 December 2011
It was a few minutes past eleven. I woke up “early” to start preparing for my school exams that were due to start in a couple of weeks. It was a lovely morning, warm and sunny. The December sunlight filtered through the curtained windows and so beautifully decorated the carpeted floor.

Everything was completely normal, except that the sky seemed clearer than usual with the absence of the Israeli unmanned drones that would fly and buzz in the sky above. No abnormal signs, no reason to worry, and not a single harbinger of an impending war.

My mom was away for the weekly shopping. My sisters, who had been halfway through their day, were back home from school and were already seated before the television, watching cartoons. I made myself a cup of tea and, as is my habit, started to count the pages I had to finish studying that day. Very soon, I was immersed in my book.

A little while later, and all of a sudden, all hell broke loose. I can’t even remember how it all started. It just happened. There was no beginning, and there was no end.

The bombs rained down from every direction. I felt the floor beneath my feet shake so terribly. The entire building shook back and forth with every falling bomb. It seemed as if all the bombs had been dropped in my neighborhood, just next to where I lived.

The bombing was so horrendously ear-piercing. My heart skipped many a beat. Wide-eyed and petrified, my sisters stood transfixed next to me, tightly clutching my arms. I wanted to calm them down, but not until I calmed down myself first. Not until I could get myself to think clearly, and not until I could understand what was happening in the first place.

This is probably how it began. But this is one simple and detached account of one who was sipping his tea and enjoying the sunlight at his home when this all happened. For many others it was the end.

When I later watched the videos of the first locations to be targeted with the first bombs, I saw numerous bodies lay lifelessly on the ground, many repulsively disfigured — defaced, limbs chopped, torn apart, yet many, thankfully, were in complete shape — but still they were bereft of life.

Horror and agony in the streets

While I was on the rooftop disinterestedly trying to film a few scenes of the aftermath of each of the bombings that would not cease for twenty-two days, mothers, not far from where I stood, were grievously bewailing the deaths of their sons; daughters were sobbing in agony over the loss of their fathers; little children were scared stiff and crying out in horror. Some were running scared for their lives in the streets, and others were lying beneath the rubble, powerless and surrounded by the dead bodies of their siblings.

Typical of all wars, electricity was soon cut off and water was no longer in abundance. Cooking gas and bread became scarce. Basic needs became like priceless luxuries. Dreams, ambitions and hopes were shattered and lost, only to be replaced by survival which becomes everyone’s ultimate goal in war times.

The thought of dying alone

I joined crowds of people queuing up at six in the morning to buy a bag of bread. I saw others in front of oil shops fighting and pushing one another to buy a small amount of kerosene heating oil.

I stayed amongst crowds of people for hours on end in the gas station, hopelessly trying to get our cylinder half-filled with gas — filling a gas cylinder entirely at that time was an unthinkable wish. I developed a daily ritual of testing the amount of water inside our water tank by knocking its sides while leaning my ears against them. I spontaneously joined in the joyous celebrations when the electricity came back on.

I had grown an arcane love for the dark and an unusual appreciation of time. I cherished company and abhorred being alone like never before, for nothing scared me back then as much as the thought of dying alone.

Personal stories behind shocking statistics of death

Nothing yet had made me more dejected than how I became engrossed with following ever-changing statistics. The humanness of the victims was unthinkingly reduced in my mind to mere numbers which were drastically, and always more shockingly, on the rise.

The memory of the first statistics of more than eighty persons killed in the first wave of bombings has been engraved in my mind forever. As I look back on it now, I believe it was an extremely helpful, though selfish, tactic unconsciously devised to help me through the day in my right mind by getting around the insufferable pain of knowing the personal stories behind every one of these numbers.

Nonetheless, every now and then, a few stories would jump out from behind the numbers, and everyone would inevitably listen to them, many against their will, and perhaps soon, they would start to narrate them in a casual manner.

Only this explains the comment by the uncle of a Kashimiri friend in London on the way I spoke of bombings when he asked me about life in Gaza.

He wondered at how casually I talked of bombings as though they were a common thing that didn’t worry me. I told him a common story about little children in Gaza who would be playing in the streets when some bombing hit the nearby area. Their reaction would be to either totally ignore the bombing and carry on playing, or they would stop their game, cheer loudly and clap their hands, as if bombing were reason for one to be happy.

After three years, the 22 days are still engraved

Now it has been three years, and I’m still capable of evoking every minute detail of the twenty-two days which have become an experience I recall with feelings of sadness, anger, pain and a little bit of confusing pride, the reason for which I cannot understand.

The thunderous bombings, the creepy gunfire, the hovering Apache helicopters always sending a chill down the spine. The glass shattering, our neighbor’s wailing, mourners chanting “La Ilaha Illa Allah” (there is no God but God). The smell of kerosene heating oil stuck in my nose, the unnerving hums of our kerosene stove. The large, intricate clouds from the white phosphorus bombs, spreading through the sky like spider webs. My spite toward our neighbors’ generators, the fragile short periods of silence, the gloomy faces filling the green or blue condolence tents. The endless statements of the Ministry of Health’s spokesman.

These and a whole host of other memories form a rare experience. Perhaps it is that we survived that lies behind that odd sense of pride.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman is a 22 year old Palestinian student and blogger from Gaza. Mohammed currently undertakes graduate studies at the London School of Economics. He blogs at Gaza Diaries of Peace and War as well as at The Electronic Intifada, and can be followed on Twitter @imPalestine.

In photos: Bethlehem celebrates Christmas

Published Sunday 25/12/2011 (updated) 26/12/2011 17:59
Palestinians and pilgrims take part in day-long celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem awaiting the arrival of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011.

Palestinian Authority officials say attendance at the annual Christmas eve tradition was the highest in decades. The Israeli army estimated that 100,000 visitors entered the city.