art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Remembering Edward Said: In the name of Humanism.

“Humanism is the only – I would go so far as saying the final- resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.

Edward Said

The end of September (25th of September to be precise) marked eleven years without Edward Said, literary theorist and an intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical-theory field of Post-colonialism, and a strong advocate of political and human rights of the Palestinian people. His capital work, Orientalism,  preseneted the Western study of Eastern cultures and, in general, the framework of how The West perceives and represents The East.

It’s hard to label people as heroes in today’s world, but I would say Said was one. Living in exile, he chose not to look the other way and forget the injustice and struggle in his homeland, but to fight, to raise awareness, to dedicate his life, his time, dedicate it to better understanding, to fairness, even if it meant (and it often did) repeating things all the time, hitting the wall all over again. Even in his last years and months, sick and exhausted (over a decade fighting with leukemia), he was writing, giving three hour interviews, and finishing documentaries about Palestine. Now, that’s dedication.

Said’s great intellect and his inexhaustible energy are strongly missed. Many of the things Said wrote about – from  cultural representations of the East to the question of Palestine – remain a hot topic (and a burning issue) today. To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, I’ve decided to gather some of the great thoughts and excerpts from his books and essays, and provide links to some of his great interviews.

edward saidEdward Said /photo via reformancers/

No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding – and more difficult – to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about “us.” But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how “our” culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).” /from the book Culture and Imperialism/

“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.” /from the book Orientalism/

In a great interview for Ha’aretz (Said mentions it in the above posted  interview Reflections on Exile with Brian Lamb), Said provides a detailed insight on the issue of Palestine. Ari Shavit describes the meeting with Said:

His hair has turned gray over the past year. The cancerous growth in his stomach bothers him too. Nevertheless, Edward Said is still a very handsome man, punctilious about his appearance and his dress. A silk handkerchief protrudes from his jacket pocket and the gold watch on his wrist glitters when he stretches out his hand to take a sip from the bottle of Pelegrino on his desk.

He exudes charm. The most widely known Palestinian intellectual in the West, he is warm, learned and cunning. Highly political, emotional, with a sense of humor. He skips lightly and gracefully from poetic quotations from Dante to Zionist-damning quotations from Sternhell – and back again. He takes obvious delight in moving between the various languages and between the cultural levels on which he lives. Between the different identities that skitter within him. As though celebrating his ability to be British and American and Arab all at the same time. Both a refugee and an aristocrat, both a subversive and a conservative, both a literateur and a propagandist, both European and Mediterranean.”

In an answer to the question “Is this a symmetrical conflict between two peoples who have equal rights over the land they share?” Said answers:

“There is no symmetry in this conflict. One would have to say that. I deeply believe that. There is a guilty side and there are victims. The Palestinians are the victims. I don’t want to say that everything that happened to the Palestinians is the direct result of Israel. But the original distortion in the lives of the Palestinians was introduced by Zionist intervention, which to us – in our narrative – begins with the Balfour Declaration and events thereafter that led to the replacement of one people by another. And it is continuing to this day. This is why Israel is not a state like any other. It is not like France, because there is continuing injustice. The laws of the State of Israel perpetuate injustice.

This is a dialectical conflict. But there is no possible synthesis. In this case, I don’t think it’s possible to ride out the dialectical contradictions. There is no way I know to reconcile the messianic-driven and Holocaust-driven impulse of the Zionists with the Palestinian impulse to stay on the land. These are fundamentally different impulses. This is why I think the essence of the conflict is its irreconcilability.

“Not one of our political spokespeople—the same is true of the Arabs since Abdel Nasser’s time—ever speaks with self-respect and dignity of what we are, what we want, what we have done, and where we want to go. In the 1956 Suez War, the French colonial war against Algeria, the Israeli wars of occupation and dispossession, and the campaign against Iraq, a war whose stated purpose was to topple a specific regime but whose real goal was the devastation of the most powerful Arab country. And just as the French, British, Israeli, and American campaign against Gamal Abdel Nasser was designed to bring down a force that openly stated as its ambition the unification of the Arabs into a very powerful independent political force.”  /from the book Power, Politics and Culture/

The Orient is watched, since its almost (but never quite) offensive behavior issues out of a reservoir of infinite peculiarity; the European, whose sensibility tours the Orient, is a watcher, never involved, always detached, always ready for new examples of what the Description de l’Egypte called “bizarre jouissance.” The Orient becomes a living tableau of queerness.” /from the book Orientalism/

In his essay Islam Through Western Eyes for The Nation in 1980, Said writes:

„The media have become obsessed with something called ‘Islam,’ which in their voguish lexicon has acquired only two meanings, both of them unacceptable and impoverishing. On the one hand, ‘Islam’ represents the threat of a resurgent atavism, which suggests not only the menace of a return to the Middle Ages but the destruction of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls the democratic order in the Western world. On the other hand, ‘Islam’ is made to stand for a defensive counterresponse to this first image of Islam as threat, especially when, for geopolitical reasons, ‘good’ Moslems like the Saudi Arabians or the Afghan Moslem ‘freedom fighters’ against the Soviet Union are in question. Anything said in defense of Islam is more or less forced into the apologetic form of a plea for Islam’s humanism, its contributions to civilization, development and perhaps even to democratic niceness.“

He continues to say:

„The Islamic Orient today is important for its resources or for its geopolitical location. Neither of these, however, is interchangeable with the interests, needs or aspirations of the native Orientals. Ever since the end of World War II, the United States has been taking positions of dominance and hegemony once held in the Islamic world by Britain and France. With this replacement of one imperial system by another have gone two things: first, a remarkable burgeoning of academic and expert interest in Islam, and, second, an extraordinary revolution in the techniques available to the largely private-sector press and electronic journalism industries. Together these two phenomena, by which a huge apparatus of university, government and business experts study Islam and the Middle East and by which Islam has become a subject familiar to every consumer of news in the West, have almost entirely domesticated the Islamic world. Not only has that world become the subject of the most profound cultural and economic Western saturation in history–for no non-Western realm has been so dominated by the United States as the Arab-Islamic world is dominated today–by the exchange between Islam and the West, in this case the United States, is profoundly one-sided.“

In this interview with Salman Rusdie, Said talks about the Palestinian experience, saying that unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded. And that is the essence of the Palestinian struggle.  Let us remember that and let us remember Said.

The 2014 Edward Said Memorial Lecture was held yesterday and you can watch the full lecture by Judith Butler „What is the value of Palestinian lives?“ on The Jerusalem Fund

 

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda, Pakistan

Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this Friday to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their struggles against the suppression of children and for young people’s rights, including the right to education. That is great news, and it might almost mean Nobel Peace Prize makes sense again, after being awarded to Barack Obama in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, and to European Union in 2012 “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

Still, there is something that really troubles me. How come we (meaning the West) always recognize the “devils” of the East, the torments children like Malala had to and have to go through (in her case, with the Taliban), but always fail to recognize our own participation in creating those “devils”? How come we never talk about the things our governments are doing to the children of Pakistan, or Syria, or Iraq, or Palestine, or Yemen? Let’s just take drone strikes as an example. Last year’s tweet by George Galloway might illustrate this hypocrisy.

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Galloway is absolutely right. We would never even know her name. But, since Malala’s story fits into the western narrative of the oriental oppression (in which the context underlying the creation of the oppression is left out), we all know Malala’s name. Like Assed Baig writes:

This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalised. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her. The actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations the wars all seem justified now, ‘see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.'”

The problem is, there are thousands of Malalas West helped create with endless wars, occupations, interventions, drone strikes, etc. In Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, one can hear how little we know about the drone strikes – its aims, targets, results. “Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me.” This is how Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, explained the US policy on drone strikes during a congressional hearing last year.

The following photo presents the piece that was installed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, close to Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan, by an art collective that includes Pakistanis, Americans and others associated with the French artist JR. The collective said it produced the work in the hope that U.S. drone operators will see the human face of their victims in a region that has been the target of frequent strikes.

foto/photo via notabugsplat/

That is the reality we are not being presented with. Another reality is the story of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, 14-year-old Iraqi girl, who was gang raped by five U.S. Army soldiers and killed in her house in Yusufiyah (Iraq) in 2006. She was raped and murdered after her parents and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza were killed. Also not irrelevant to mention is that Abeer was going to school before the US invasion but had to stop going because of her father’s concerns for her safety.

article-0-0C89D3B2000005DC-51_634x548Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi

And while the West applauds Malala (as they should), I am afraid it might be for the wrong reasons, or with a wrong perspective.  It feels like the West wants to gain an agenda that suits them or the policies they want. That is also why Malala’s views on Islam are rarely presented. She uses her faith as a framework to argue for the importance of education rather than making Islam a justification for oppression, but that is rarely mentioned. It also “doesn’t fit”.

So, my thoughts were mixed this Friday when I heard the news about the Nobel Peace Prize. On so many levels. They still are. We’ve entered a new war, and peace prize award ceremonies seem ridiculous after looking at this photo.

tumblr_nd1ycaClBV1tgyqboo1_1280“They say that if God loves you, He will let you live a long life, but I wish that He loved me a little less. I wish that I didn’t live long enough to see my country in ruins.”  Ahmad, a 102 year old Syrian refugee /photo by A. McConnell, UNHCR/

Sure, we must acknowledge the efforts of those who are fighting for a better world, but when it is done in a way that feels so calculated, unidimensional, loaded with secret agendas and tons of hypocrisy – I just can’t celebrate it.

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art of resistance, Iraq

Al-Mutanabbi Street and the Healing Power of Poetry.

Manuscripts really do not burn. Seven years after the explosion of al-Mutanabbi street in Baghdad, the famous street of poets and booksellers is slowly recovering. I already wrote about the coalition of artists working on ‘An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street’, a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the bombing.

Today, I decided to gather photos and experiences from al-Mutanabbi street, before and after the bombing, to try to feel the atmosphere of this legendary street. Jason Florio in his photo essay Baghdad Café (Orion Magazine, 2003) observes how:

“Throughout the Al- Mutanabbi district, the restaurants are full, the fruit stands are fully stocked, and the red double-decker buses rolling by seem oddly familiar. There are no armed militiamen at intersections. No tanks grinding up the asphalt on Sharia Raschid…

The Sh’ah Bander and other nearby cafes are a haven from sanctions that have left many intellectuals driving Taxis for Dinar instead of punding keys of Crown typewriters. There is little money in Baghdad at all, even less for the purchase of words, but their passion for writing has not been dissuaded by the lack of financial renumeration. ‘We don’t need a full stomach, but we need to write’, says Wajeeh Abbas, who writes for next to nothing for the weekly magazine al-Itihad.

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/all images above © Jason Florio/

Here is the feature from the Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty about the revival of al-Mutanabbi street in 2010. Poets are gathering again, reciting their poetry, celebrating love and life.

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AFP2/al Mutanabbi street in 2012 and 2013, images © AFP/

lynsey addarioSeated near the entrance of the Shahbandar literary cafe , owner Haji Mohammed al Khashali gazes out to Al Mutanabbi street , a centuries old hub for booksellers and intellectuals. A 2007 car bomb near the cafe killed five of Khashali’s sons, whose portraits hang on the wall. /image © Lynsey Addario, After the Storm – Baghdad series/

It feels right to end this post with Taha Muhammad ALi, great Palestinian poet, reading his beautiful poem Revenge.

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Listen to Taha reading it beautifully in Arabic, and Peter Cole translating it greatly into English. It is a special experience. And do not forget – keep track of Iraq Body Count. Al-Mutanabbi street might be healing, but Iraq is far from being at peace (at last).

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art of resistance, travel

The Chiefs of The Gambia.

Jason Florio is a NYC based photographer and writer from London. He has been working as a freelance photojournalist around the globe for almost two decades.  Along with his wife, photography producer and writer, Helen Jones-Florio, he spent the last three months of 2009 making a 930 km expedition by foot of The Gambia (West Africa) to produce a series of portraits of African chiefs. The Gambia has been a place Florio regularly returns to. For the past fourteen years he has made yearly trips there to work on a long-term project of the people living in and around a sacred forest called Makasutu.

These are some of his portraits of chiefs and elders made while on a 930km circumnavigation by foot of The Gambia.

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/all images © Jason Florio/

For more on Florio and his work, visit his official website.

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art of resistance, Iran

The Book To Read: Sohrab Sepehri and Water’s Footfall.

Last Sunday, I was strolling around one of Zagreb’s lovely flea markets, spending hours looking at used books, old postcards and perfectly hand-painted china teapots. At the end of my stroll (after I found Isabel Allende’s The House of The Spirits, perfectly preserved, for ten HRK, which would be less than two USD), already tired from all the digging and searching, I discovered a little green book – Sohrab Sepehri’s The Water’s Footfall (Selected poems). I must be honest and say that was the first time I encountered Sepehri’s poetry. The book was translated by Ismail Salami and Abbas Zahedi, and each English translation of the poem has a Persian original next to it, which is great if you’d like to practice your Farsi.

After reading most of the poems, it would be and understatement to say this was a nice little discovery. I am so happy I got to stumble upon such a great poet, with such an original gaze at the world around us. I like Sepehri’s  fascination with nature – happiness caused by lilac flowers, clean rivers, old trees. I like the way he plays with the concept of loneliness, often presenting it as an inevitable thing, but also a necessary one – to know yourself truly. Sepehri’s poetry is gentle, his flow of the words and ideas somehwat discreet, making one think Sepehri’s aim with poetry was never to persuade, but simply to observe (if he did have an aim).

sohrab-sepehri28-28Sohrab Sepehri

Sepehri was born in 1928 in Kashan, an ancient city between Tehran and Isfahan in central Iran. His grandmother had published poetry and it is likely that Sohrab grew up in an ethos that upheld a literary culture. His father died when he was young, and Sohrab’s studies and career were supported by his older brother, Manuchehr.  After finishing his education, he started to travel around Europe, but also to Japan and India. He would often travel to exhibit his paintings (Sepehri was also one of Iran’s foremost modernist painters), but also to learn new skills – in Paris he studied lithography, in Tokyo wood-carving. He never stopped writing poetry, and his travels are often the subject of his poems. Sepehri never married and died in Tehran in 1980 (of leukemia).

5DB01739-E1D1-4E9F-8A58-B7E07BFE5C17_w640_r1_sSepehri’s ‘Tree Trunks‘ series /via Sotheby’s/

Water’s Footfall (1964) is his longest and maybe finest single poem. Like Martin Turner notes in Sohrab’s Way:

“Very loosely an autobiography, it contains many of his most quoted passages and is the centrepiece of his poetic oeuvre. It deals with the lose of innocence, dating from his father’s death, and documents impressionistic details from his travels. But the journeying is also symbolic: he reads the lessons of life and divests himself of self-deceptions. A constant theme is the neo-Sufi one of opposition to the mosque and the rigours of Islamic legalism. It is in contact with nature that Sohrab experiences unitive rapture.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from Water’s Footfall.

“I am a native of Kashan.

Life is not so bad.

I have a bit of bread, an iota of intelligence

And a bit of wit.

I’ve a mother, better than a leaf;

And friends, better than running water.

And a God who lives nearby:

Amidst these gillyflowers, near that tall pine tree

Over water’s cognition, over the ontogeny of plant.”

“I’m a native of Kashan:

An artist by profession.

Sometimes, I build a cage of colours and offer it for sale

To ease your lonely heart

With the song of the peony confined therein.

It’s a fancy! Only a fancy! … I know.

My canvas is lifeless.

I well know my painted pond is fishless.”

sohrab2Sepehri’s ‘Tree Trunks’ series

“I’m a native of Kashan,

Descending perhaps

From a plant in India, an earthenware from Sialk

Or perhaps from a prostitute in the streets of Bukhara. 

Father died after twice migrating of swallows,

Twice falling of snow

Twice sleeping on the terrraced-roof;

Father died beyond Time.”

I saw many things on Earth:

A child sniffed the moon.

Light fluttered in a doorless cage.

Love ascended to the Heaven by a ladder.

A woman pounded light in a mortar.

For lunch they had bread, vegetables, a plate of dew

and a warm Bowl of Affection.”

My soul sometimes coughs from longing,

My soul idles:

It counts raindrops, the chinks of brinks.

My soul is sometimes true as a rock on the road.

“I am contented with an apple

And with the smell of camomile.

I am satisfied with a mirror, with a pure relationship.

I won’t laugh at a child if his balloon bursts.

I won’t sneer when a philosophy halves the moon.

I know the fluttering of quail’s wings.

The colour of bastard’s belly, the footprints of chamois. 

I know where rhubarbs grow

When starlings migrate, when partridges sing,

When falcons die.

I know that the moon means in the Sleep of Desert

Death in the Stalks of Desire.”

d5059596xSepehri’s Landscape With Houses /photo via Christies/

“Wherever I am, let me be

The heaven is mine.

WIndow, mind, air, love, and earth are mine.”

….

Life is a perpetual soaking.

Life is bathing in the Pond of Now.

Let’s take off our clothes.

Water is one step off.”

For more on Sohrab Sepehri and his works, see his profile on Goodreads, and see the website dedicated to him.

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art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

Zakaria Tamer, The Master of (Children’s) Stories.

Zakaria Tamer (born in 1931,Damascus, Syria) is an influential master of the Arabic-language short story. Tamer is one of the most important and widely read and translated short story writers in the Arab world, as well as being the foremost author of children’s stories in Arabic. He also works as a freelance journalist, writing satirical columns in newspapers Al-Quds Al-Arabi and Al Tawra.

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Tamer was forced to leave school at the age of thirteen in order to help provide for his family.He was apprenticed to a blacksmith as a locksmith in a factory in the Al-Basha district of Damascus. At the same time, as an autodidact, he spent many hours reading various books, became interested in politics and was encouraged by contact with intellectuals to continue his education at night school. He began his literary career in 1957, when he published some stories in Syrian journals. His first manuscript was noticed by Yusuf al-Khal, the poet, critic and editor of the magazine Shi’r (“Poetry”).

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Tamer’s volumes of short stories are often reminiscent of folktales, and are renowned for their relative simplicity on the one hand and the complexity of their many potential references on the other. They often have a sharp edge and are often a surrealistic protest against political or social oppression and exploitation. Most of his stories deal with people’s inhumanity to each other, the oppression of the poor by the rich and of the weak by the strong. The political and social problems of his own country, Syria, and of the Arab world, are reflected in the stories and sketches in the satirical style typical of his writing.

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Tamer’s first stories were published in 1957. Since then he has published eleven collections of short stories, two collections of satirical articles and numerous children’s books. His works have been translated into many languages, with two collections in English, Tigers on the Tenth Day and Other stories(translated by Denys Johnson-Davies) and Breaking Knees: Modern Arabic Short Stories from Syria, published in 2008.

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Tamer was also the editor of several cultural periodicals, including children’s magazine Usamah. In 1980s he left Syria and moved to London (he did so after being dismissed from editing the periodical al-Marifah, published by the Syrian Ministry of Culture, as a result of the publication of extracts from Abd al-Rahman al-kawakibi’s book, Tabai al istibadad – “The Characteristics of Despotism“, 1900 – in which the author denounced tyranny and called for freedom).

tumblr_l8ofa7LuwL1qd3smho1_1280 /all photos above are from the book The White Pigeon, written by Zakaria Tamer, illustrated by Adli Rizkallah, translated from Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davis, published by Dar al Fata al Arabi./

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/La Casa (“Home”) Italian translation of Tamer’s book. Written by Zakaria Tamer, illustrated by Mohieddin El Labbad, published by Dar al Fata al Arabi, 1979./

The text could be translated as:

The chicken has a home. The home of the chicken is called a chicken coop.

The rabbit has a home. The home of the rabbit is called a burrow.

The horse has a home. The home of the horse is the stall.

Even fish have a home. The home of the fish is the river, the lake and the sea.

The cat roams around day and night. But even he has a home that he can go to.

The bird has a home in the trees.

His home is called a nest. Everyone needs a home.

All humans need a home that is secure and peaceful.

Today, the Palestinians do not have a home.

The house and the place where the Palestinians live is not their home.

Where is the home of the Palestinians? Today, the Palestinians do not live in their homes. In their homes live their enemies. Who are the enemies of the Palestinian? Those who have occupied their homes.

How are the Palestinians going to retake their homes?

The Palestinians will fight an armed struggle to take back their homes. Someday the Palestinians will return to live in their own homes.”

For more on Zakaria Tamer and his works – visit Goodreads, and see Tamer’s facebook page The Spur (Al-Mihmaz).

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Gaza: Parkour, All the Way.

Parkour is on the rise in Gaza for several years now, and I already wrote about the beauty and freedom it brings to Palestinians (another great example is the story of a surf club in Gaza). It is all about breaking from conventional paths in life and finding your own. As Abdullah Enshasy, who co-founded the Gaza parkour team with Mohammed Aljkhbeer, explains it:

“There is a big relationship between parkour and barriers that we’re surrounded by in the Gaza strip. There’s the blockade, walls are everywhere. …parkour gives us a sense of freedom and allows us to endure these conditions without getting deeply depressed.”

And now, after Israel’s nearly two-month assault over the summer, parkour is blooming in Gaza again. These photos show Palestinian kids doing parkour in a heavily battered Shuja’iyya neighbourhood in Gaza.

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//all images © Mohammed Salem / Reuters//

For more on parkour in Gaza, see Gaza Parkour and Free Running facebook page.

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