art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Ghassan Zaqtan | A Picture Of The House At Beit Jala.

laila-shawa-where-souls-dwell-v/Where souls dwell III © Laila Shawa/

A Picture Of The House At Beit Jala by Ghassan Zaqtan (translated by Fady Joudah)

He has to return to shut that window,
it isn’t entirely clear
whether this is what he must do,
things are no longer clear
since he lost them,
and it seems a hole somewhere within him
has opened up

Filling in the cracks has exhausted him
mending the fences
wiping the glass
cleaning the edges
and watching the dust that seems, since he lost them,
to lure his memories into hoax and ruse.
From here his childhood appears as if it were a trick!
Inspecting the doors has fully exhausted him
the window latches
the condition of the plants
and wiping the dust
that has not ceased flowing
into the rooms, on the beds, sheets, pots
and on the picture frames on the walls

Since he lost them he stays with friends
who become fewer
sleeps in their beds
that become narrower
while the dust gnaws at his memories “there”
. . . he must return to shut that window
the upper story window which he often forgets
at the end of the stairway that leads to the roof

Since he lost them
he aimlessly walks
and the day’s small
purposes are also no longer clear.

Ghassan Zaqtan is a Palestinian poet, born in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. Zaqtan has lived in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and  Tunisia. His tenth poetry collection Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me was translated to English by Fady Joudah and awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2013.

art of resistance, Morocco

Harry Gruyaert | Morocco.

par43959//all images  © Harry Gruyaert/Magnum Photos//

Just last year, a first English language monograph of Harry Gruyaert’s work was published. Gruyaert is a famous Magnum photographer, and for the last four decades he has managed to surprise the world of photography.

His work is never about stereotypical exoticism, and he treats all of his subjects and all of the countries he wanders around with his camera the same way.


I like all of his work, especially the photos taken in Morocco between 1976 and 1988. Throughout most of those years Gruyaert worked out of a Volkswagen Kombi van, travelling from one place to the next, his cameras and equipment thrown in the back.

MOROCCO. Marrakech. In the medina (old district). 1981.

The way Gruyaert uses light, shapes and colors, transforms ordinary moments into art. The people in his photos get to keep their mystery, and that is a rare magic.

MOROCCO. Rif. Chechaouen. 1987. Street life in the Rif mountains. Walls are often painted in blue and white.

In an interview with the British Journal of Photography, Gruyaert said that he was always “interested in all the elements: the decor and the lighting and all the cars: the details were as important as humans”.

He captures people, but he also captures time, details, surroundings, context… It’s about humans being a part of, and not a whole.

MOROCCO. Essaouira. Ramparts & fortified walls of the city. 1976.

“It’s purely intuition. There’s no concept. Things attract me and it works both ways. I’m fascinated by the miracle where things come together in a way where things make sense to me, so there’s very little thinking”, Gruyaert explains.

To me, Gruyaert’s work is a wonderful way of taking in and capturing life, the way it is. He once said he discovered how to see – that might be the best way to describe what he does.

par44624//all images  © Harry Gruyaert/Magnum Photos//

• • •

For more on Gruyaert and his work, go to his Magnum profile.

art of resistance, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

(Interview) Judith Brown: Yemen Is A Mess & It’s Getting Worse.

24/photo © Josef Hoflehner/

The war in Yemen, with all of its tragedies, keeps on unravelling far from the media flashlights. In a recent horrific attack in Sana’a, when Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral, more than 200 people were killed, and more than 500 were injured.

A day after the attack in Sana’a, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who easily forgets his own mistakes (from 1978 till today), called for an attack on the enemy – Saudi Arabia. On the same day, the White House issued a statement saying it had begun an “immediate review” of its support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. It is hard to believe that there will be such a review, since this is not the first attack by Saudi Arabia, and it will probably not be the last one.

There have been numerous attacks – on schools, hospitals, markets – killing and injuring thousands of civillians. In August, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) withdrew their staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after a coalition airstrike on a hospital in Hajjah killed 19 people. Countless attacks on health facilities and services all over Yemen, happened despite the fact that MSF has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals with the parties involved in the conflict.

In the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented 43 airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, which have killed more than 670 civilians, as well as 15 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions.

The infrastructure in Yemen has been significantly devasted during the last couple of years, and humanitarian organisations have been sending warnings about the lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently need food assistance. That fact, compounded by a shortage of funding, means that famine is a possibility for millions of people.

We’ve discussed Yemen with Judith Brown, activist and aid worker from United Kingdom, who started the page Yemen News Today, which brings daily news from Yemen in English. Brown worked with refugees in Yemen from 1998 until 2001 and has visited the country every year from 2001 until 2014. She is now seventy years old and retired, but has recently started postdoctoral research into the media coverage of the Yemen war.

You’ve started the page Yemen News Today, trying to bring daily news from Yemen to the wider audiences, in English. How did that idea come to you, was it due to the lack of news from Yemen in the mainstream media?

I began Yemen News Today out of desperation because there was no news of Yemen in the media. I also know that I have a big Yemeni following now. My motivation was to tell as many people in the West as I could about the suffering, with the aim of increasing awareness and political pressure.

You’ve also worked as a manager at Refugee Health Project in Yemen, until 2001. What are your experiences like – how did the situation with refugees change over the last couple of years?

I left the refugee health programme in 2001, and this programme was for international refugees. Although I understand that since the Saada wars the UN had taken some responsibility for the displaced people – something they are not doing now simply because of the lack of resources.

For a time after the start of the war all the international employees were moved out of Yemen and many of the local staff were not able to function because they too were displaced, especially in Aden where the biggest refugee programmes are. I think the UN refugee offices are functioning now in Aden and Sana’a, but I am not sure exactly what their responsibilities are.

85154702_yemen_humanitarian_crisis/photo: BBC, 2015/

In a recent interview with Status Hour, journalist Safa al Ahmad argues that there’s no longer a Yemen, that North and South are completely separate from each other. Would you agree with that?

The north and south are functioning as at least two separate parts for complex reasons. Firstly, Saudi Arabia and UAE have a difficult relationship and different aims due to the war and this has meant they have largely divided their sphere of responsibilities, with Saudi controlling the war in the north and UAE taking little responsibility for the south militarily, but it is developing commercial interests there.

There is also animosity in both parts, but especially Hadramaut governors made statements about a year ago that they would not accept anyone from the old North Yemen, and many people there have developed an intolerant Sunni position, but they also want to keep free of the effects of the Yemen war.

In Aden the secessionist movement is strong – though not supported by everyone by any means – and the secessionists have said they will not accept any people from the north or even southerners that have lived for a long time in the north, and it seems to be that Aden Lahj and Bab al Mandab operate as a separate entity. They are not keen on having people from east and central Yemen move to Aden either because of their fears of the militias from there taking control – such as Al-Qaeda but not limited to Al-Qaeda. Taiz is more or less on its own. And the old north (less Taiz) is under the control of the Houthis and the old Yemen army.

What is happening with the government?

What is true is that in effect there are two systems of government, one in Sana’a and one mostly in Riyadh (with a few of the Riyadh ministers in Aden). There are two Yemen armies – most of the original army support the Houthis, and the new army is paid for by Saudi Arabia and trained by UAE  (KSA are mostly in Aden). There now appear to be two banks as president Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi moved the central Yemen bank to Aden, with new staff, and the remaining central bank staff who were sacked by Hadi are still in Sana’a. So it’s a mess. As in all wars.

You’re constantly trying to bring attention to the issues of starvation and famine in Yemen. With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations. How does that look like on the ground, how do the people survive?

The famine is everywhere in the north, but worst in Hodeida and the north west. It is getting more and more difficult for families to cope – even middle class families who used to have money don’t know how they can afford food. People have used up their savings and there are few jobs and little humanitarian aid getting in. Those with homes and businesses destroyed are not able to get any compensation.

Some people have family and friends overseas who are helping them to survive. The rich Inside Yemen have been very generous – for example providing most of the free water in cities. But even their resources are strained now because there is so much need. Some are just very hungry and some are starving to death, especially the very young. There are very few resources for the displaced.

Where do we move from now, what can be done in this situation?

It is difficult to see how the situation will change unless USA and UK stop their unconditional support for Saudi Arabia. I really don’t know what can be done and I feel desperate sometimes. It is a situation even more complex than Syria and it is escalating as USA seems to have joined in the war and Iranian warships are now openly stating that they are in Yemeni waters. But this is still not in the Western media. I just feel I have to keep on trying to get the story out and do what I can. But it’s not enough.

• • •

This interview was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

art of resistance, Yemen

Playlist: The Melody Of Our Alienation (Yemen).


                                                                                     /photo  © Jonathon Collins/

A horrific attack in Sana’a yesterday (Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral, leaving more than 200 people killed, and more than 500 injured) took me back to Yemen and its tragedies, most of which are unravelling far from the media flashlights.

At the same time, there are reports about intensive care wards in Yemen’s hospitals being filled with emaciated children hooked up to monitors and drips – victims of food shortages that could get even worse due to a reorganisation of the central bank that is worrying importers.

With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.

It’s like Safa Al Ahmad describes it in an interview with Status Hour“Fighters are the ones who get salaries these days in Yemen, nobody else does. It just goes to show you how fragile the situation has become. I would argue that there’s no longer a Yemen, North and South are completely separate from each other”.

The playlist today is a small way of reaching out to Sana’a, to Yemen. The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

It’s a way of searching for something soft, something gentle, something that makes sense amidst this chaos:

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

Previous Playlist:

Ruba Shamshoum

Jerusalem in my heart

Maghawir by Mashrou’ Leila

Selda Bağcan

art of resistance, Egypt

Scarlett Coten | Still Alive.


Scarlett Coten is an independent French photographer who dedicates herself essentially to personal, long term projects. The Arab countries are at the heart of her photographic practice, which explores the themes of identity and intimacy.

One of her wonderful projects is Still Alive, a plunge into the little known Egypt of the Bedouins. From spring 2000 to the summer of 2002, Coten shared the day-to-day life of the men and women who live in the Sinai desert, between the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, from Rafah to the shores of the Red Sea.


Coten describes her experience: “I photograph my hosts, those that ask me to, those that pose. These are my guiding line. Gestures and laughter replace the spoken word. Time seems different, the people too.


It’s a hot summer. From one area of shade to another, we reach for each breath of air, each lift of the breeze. I no longer know which day it is; we live in the present.


In an interview with Culturist, Coten says how she fell in love with “the cheerful and curious people, who consent to pose for me, and do so with delight.” She explains how she’s greeted with still alive! at every meeting.


These photographs are the illustration of the humour, enthusiasm, vibrance, diversity and modernity of a people little-known to the world beyond their desert. They are forgotten, destitute but – still alive! And they find so much pleasure in that – in being alive.


To find out more about this lovely project and see more of Coten’s wonderful photography, visit her official website.

//all photos © Scarlett Coten//

art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

The Book To Read: Victims Of A Map.

7-berlin-biennale-khaled-jarrar-briefmarken-2012-651x940/photo © Khaled Jarrar/

Victims of a Map is a beautiful bilingual anthology of Arabic poetry, including works of Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al Qasim and Adonis. The three of them are absolute stars in the world of (Arabic) poetry.

Alongside the original Arabic, this book includes thirteen poems by Darwish and a long work by Adonis written during the Beirut siege in 1982 – never before published. It’s really a labour of love and you can feel it in every page (lovely translation by Abudllah al-Udhari).

In The Desert (Diary of Beirut siege), great Syrian poet Adonis writes:

“My era tells me bluntly

you do not belong

I answer bluntly

I do not belong

I try to understand you

Now I am a shadow

Lost in the forest

Of a skull”

Most of the poetry by Adonis and Darwish and al-Qasim particularly, is written in a simple, everday language, but it speaks of the things greater than life – the hollowness of isolation, inevitability of “destiny”, solidity of “roots”, overwhelming hopelessness and permanent yearning for freedom.


In We are Entitled to Love the End of Autumn Darwish writes:

“We are entitled to love the end of autumn and ask:

Is there room for another autumn in the field to rest our bodies like coal?

An autumn lowering its leaves like gold. I wish we were fig leaves

I wish we were an abandoned plant

To witness the change of seasons. I wish we didn’t say goodbye

To the south of the eye so as to ask what

Our fathers had asked when they flew on the tip of the spear”

As it is written in the introduction of this book, the poems in Victims of a Map express not only the fate of Arabs, Syrians or Palestinians, but also of the humanity itself, trapped in a contemporary tragedy. The resistance poetry by Darwish, al-Qasim and Adonis, raises a local tragedy to a level of a universal one.

Just think about it – how many people are today, and in how many ways – victims of a map? In The Story of a City, al-Qasim writes:

“A blue city

dreamt of tourists

shopping day after day.

A dark city

hates tourists

scanning cafes with rifles.”

Read this beautiful little anthology! Like it is often the case with great poetry books – you’ll never finish reading it and it is worth all of your time.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

War Works Hard

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

art of resistance, Palestine

Playlist: Ruba Shamshoum.

ruba-shamshoum-678x500/from the video Fuqaati/

Ruba Shamshoum is an incredibly talented Palestinan musician, currently living in Dublin. She was born and raised in Nazareth, and went to Ireland to study jazz performance. Shamshoum is influenced by jazz, rock, hip hop and naturally by Middle Eastern music.

She started composing and writing her own material in 2011, including the song Ya Leil La Trouh for Annmarie Jacir’s film When I Saw You (it was included in my list of must-see Palestinian movies two years ago), and the sweet sweet tune Fuqaati (My Bubble).

You can listen to Fuqaati here (and see its lovely animated video) – it’s a true delight!

Previous Playlist:

Jerusalem in my heart

Maghawir by Mashrou’ Leila

Selda Bağcan

Saul Williams