art of resistance

(Interview) Matthew Hoh: Veterans, America’s Wars & A Long Way To Go.

Matthew Hoh is a former State Department official who resigned from his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He did so in protest over US strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Hoh served in Iraq; first in 2004 and 2005 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006 and 2007 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander.

He’s the former  Director of the Afghanistan Study Group, a network of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in US strategy in Afghanistan. Hoh’s articles were published in The Huffington Post, Guardian, Washington Post and USA Today (to name a few) and he also runs his website, were he often writes about the torments he went through during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and particularly – about the despair he faced upon his return to USA, facing an everyday life as a veteran. I think his voice is truly important in times when, as Ingeborg Bachmann wrote:  „War is no longer declared, only continued. The monstrous has become everyday.“

In the following interview, Matthew and I talked about war, Middle East, veteran suicides, resistance, and the paradoxes of our (Western) governments.

Jonathan-Landay-Matthew-Hoh-5479cc/Matthew Hoh, photo: Dale Robbins/Moyers & Company/

This month, all over the USA, people are marking Veterans Day. You write a lot about your personal experience and hardships you went through after your second deployment to Iraq, when PTSD and severe depression took over your life. Alcohol was your weapon of choice at the time, but it couldn’t kill the thoughts of suicide. How are you today, how did you manage to go through that period? Did the strength of purpose coming from you activist work help you in that period?

I appreciate you asking me about this. I am doing much better today, thanks to the help of family, friends and many talented and compassionate mental health professionals. I must also say that I have received help from strangers. Fellow veterans who have spoken openly and publically about their difficulties, PTSD, alcohol, suicide, etc, have been of tremendous assistance. Their testimony has given me the courage to confront my problems and the strength to continue an often difficult and turbulent recovery.

My activist work helps me now, because as you describe it gives me a strength of purpose. However, I actually found that I needed to distance myself from the wars for a while and I needed to concentrate on myself. I needed to make my health and recovery my priority. I think this is an issue for many veterans, as veterans, so proud of being leaders and team players, often put others first and diminish their own sufferings and hardships to their own detriment.

Talking about suicide – we don’t have full data from all the US states, and as you said in some of the interviews you did – only a couple years ago the Veterans Administration (VA) started tracking veteran suicides on a national level. The estimates are that more than two veterans who kill themselves every day are Iraq or Afghanistan veterans. It actually means that more veterans have killed themselves after coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan than have been killed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Could you tell me more about that – the numbers and the dreadful presence of these demons of suicide?

Yes, that is the case. It was not until 2013 that the VA published suicide data on veterans that included data from the states rather than data only solely collected by the VA. This data is incomplete of course, as less than 40% of veterans are enrolled in the VA, and for the most recent data collected by the VA from the states, less than 30 states provided information. So we don’t really know how many veterans are killing themselves each day and this understanding, that the VA only recently began to estimate the total number of veterans suicides, belies the notion that the VA and the federal government were doing everything possible to assist veterans. This article from August in the USA Today does a good job explaining the deceit and deception that is ongoing in the VA’s handling of veteran suicides.

With regards to the numbers we do know, yes, based upon those figures, more service members have killed themselves after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq than were killed or died in those countries. We estimate two Iraq or Afghan veterans kill themselves each day, that is 730 a year. Even taking into account latency for the suicides to begin to manifest and occur in the first few years of the wars, we still have a greater number of suicides than we do numbers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan (currently 6,841 Americans killed in Afghanistan and Iraq). Of course, even if we stopped our role in the wars today, and brought all of our troops home, we would still be coping with the suicide problem of veterans for as long as this generation lives. The suicides are not going to stop because the wars stop.

There is one other number that is startling and very foreboding and that is the number of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) among service members. TBIs have essentially tripled since 2000. There is a well known connection between TBI and suicide. This may be most well known in the American public because of the relationship that has been seen between American football players and suicide later in life. With TBIs, onset of symptoms and problems often experience a delay in emerging. Additionally, for many years during the wars, there was a requirement for service members to self report in order for a TBI to be recorded and care to be provided; self reporting is something service members are notorious for not doing, ie admitting they are hurt, weak or sick. So I believe that TBIs are under-reported and that what we know is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of future issues with veterans’ mental health needs and care.

Barack Obama recently talked about the increased troop deployment to Iraq, saying it marks a new phase against Islamic State militants. He said “we” need ground troops and it is time for an offensive strategy, rather than a defensive one. The language of “striking back” and “hitting harder” is ever-present, and it seems that we are stuck in a circle of associating courage with warfare, agreeing on a change achieved through violence. You fought in Iraq and served in Afghanistan, and you’ve seen war firsthand. What do you think about the latest news about increased troops on the ground?

I think this is a massive mistake and will lead to the widening and deepening of the war in Iraq and the war in Syria. It is a foolish decision by the President and I think it has more to do with assuaging his critics in the US than it does with dealing with the wars in Iraq and Syria.

We are seeing that the American bombing campaign has pushed Sunnis into further alignment with the Islamic State and this was to be expected  while not providing any incentive for the governments in Iraq or Syria to make political concessions or pursue any line of negotiation with the insurgents and the populations they represent in order to bring about a ceasefire or political settlement. Further, American involvement plays right into the propaganda and recruiting messages of the Islamic State. We have seen an increase in young men (and some women) heading to Syria and Iraq in order to defend their faith, their lands, and their people from Western attack. The same recruitment messages the United States used to enlist young Muslim men to go fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s is now being used to provide recruits to the Islamic State.

Finally, along with the counter-productive and short-sighted nature of the folly of introducing American troops into Iraq and Syria, there is also a moral component to this that is very, very important. The United States, under President Barack Obama, just as it did under President George W. Bush, is killing thousands of people in Muslim countries throughout the broader Middle East out of a fear and panic still emanating from the attacks of September 11, 2001, attacks conducted by an exceptionally small group of terrorists in retaliation for American policy and presence in the Middle East. Over the course of the last 13 years, American hysteria has led to the death, maiming and displacing of millions of people from North Africa to Afghanistan. This is a stain on the soul of America that has not even begun to be addressed by the US.

Returning to the previous question and the language charging politically-driven violence, being aware of the power of language and media presentations, I feel we (the public) are very often sure we know what Iraq war (and other wars too) is all about, but we are actually fed with very well selected and often distorted fragments of a broad story. Our knowledge, if we stick to mainstream media, is reduced to always repeating phrases uttered by politicians. That is how panic is created, and fear is born. I see that as a great danger for every society.

You talked about the dissonance, the disconnect between the policy that was being promulgated in Washington, D.C., statements that were being made, and the reality of the war on the ground in Iraq. The same narrative was present in Afghanistan in 2009 and that was when you decided you could no longer take part in it. Could you tell me more about that dissonance, which is, I believe, a formative tissue of all the wars we are seeing in the Middle East? And, in relation to that, how do we communicate those discrepancies to the mainstream public?

There is a tremendous dissonance between the narrative of those conducting the wars in the Middle East from the outside, the US and NATO, and those actually experiencing the wars in their homes, villages, cities, etc. To those in the West the wars are about protecting the West from terrorism, however to those in the Middle East these wars are about sectarian violence, whether it be religious or ethnic based, that has created a cycle of violence that builds on itself in a manner uncontrollable by any individual, group or nation. This has culminated in the Islamic State. The Islamic State is a Frankenstein, thought to have been an organization that outside powers could use for their own purposes, the destruction of the Assad regime in Syria, and it is a parasite of war, it gains strength and purpose as the cycle of violence spirals, recruiting outsiders with its propaganda of defending the Muslim community from outside attack, while gaining alliances with Sunnis who find no other alternative than aligning with the Islamic State.

These wars have many causes, but for those of us in the West, we cannot and should not ignore our responsibility and culpability. For decades the West, led by the United States, has pushed sectarian differences to keep dictators in power or to foster revolt and revolution in an attempt to create a power structure and political order amenable to Western interests. This culminated with the American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, which has set forth the cataclysm that the broader Middle East finds itself enduring. Interestingly, the only nations that appear to be without the instability and violence characteristic of the Middle East are those Gulf Kingdoms that are despotic, but in line with US political interests and goals in the region. This understanding and discussion of the causes of Middle East violence is completely absent from US and Western discourse. Rather, the discussion is focused on terrorism or a line of belief that goes “those people have been killing each other for thousands of years”. Both these narratives, about keeping ourselves safe from terror or that the people of the Middle East are just crazy and full of bloodlust, are two narratives that fail to measure up to the actual ongoing wars, tragedies and events.

In one of your articles for Huffington Post, writing about recent events in Iraq, you write how “Certainly atrocities have occurred in northern Iraq and battles have waged there, but what makes this summer and its dead different than the 500,000 dead, millions wounded and the one in eight Iraqis forcibly chased from their homes since 2003? What is causing the U.S. to get involved, again, and at this time? Oil.” Could you tell me more about that, about the issues of U.S. involvement at this moment in time?

The reference I was making in that article was to the decision by the United States in August to begin attacking Islamic State and Sunni forces, with the attendant and inevitable killing of innocents, as a result of Sunni incursion into Kurdish territory, and, importantly, Sunni threatening of Kurdish oil and gas fields.

In June, this year, when the Iraqi Army collapsed in Northern Iraq, Sunni and Kurdish forces filled the void left behind.  Most attention in the West was devoted to the Sunni capture of key cities along the Tigris and a push towards Baghdad, and little acknowledgement was made to the fact that Kurdish forces expanded Kurdish controlled territory in northern Iraq by 40%. This included Kurdish capture of a majority of the oil and gas fields in the north of Iraq, as well as the Kurds gaining complete control of Kirkuk, a traditional Kurdish capital (at least according to the Kurds), and the oil capital of North Iraq.

Control of the oil and gas in the north by the Kurds was not just a gain to the Kurdish Regional Government and their many western benefactors, but was also a serious economic threat to the Sunnis, hence the push by the Sunnis and the Islamic State to capture oil and gas fields.

The threatening of Kurdish oil fields alarmed many in the West, including members of the US government and Congress, who besieged by policy experts supported by the oil and gas industry, as well as a $1.5 million annual Kurdish lobbying effort in Washington, DC, panicked at the threat posed by the Islamic State and the Sunnis. Alongside this push for the oil fields, the Islamic State publically beheaded American hostages and began a murderous campaign against the Yezidi minority. These two later “humanitarian” concerns were the focus of much media attention and public statements for the need for America to go to war again in Iraq. However, I believe it was the threat posed to the Kurdish oil fields that posed the impetus for American involvement. I think this is proven by the location of most of the targets struck by American bombers in August and September and their relation to the oil fields as opposed to the location of humanitarian concerns or atrocities.

Veteran Thomas Young died two weeks ago. He finished his last letter (The Last Letter – A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran) writing: “My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.” Do you think Bush, Cheney or Obama will ever be held responsible for what they did and what they do? Is there a way to redeem ourselves from all the moral outrage that was and is done?

Sadly, no I do not think Bush or Obama will be held responsible in any formal way. I do think history will judge them and that the folly of their actions, along with the moral failing of American policy in the Middle East, will be recognized.  Whether or not that keeps the United States from perpetuating such madness and horror in the future is another matter.

The way we redeem ourselves is to fight for acknowledgement of the truth of these wars and to put ourselves in positions to speak against not just the current wars, but future wars. If for no other purpose we do this than to give a voice to the millions of the voiceless men, women and children who have suffered, horrifically and unjustly, in these wars, than that is purpose enough.

• • •

For more on Matthew Hoh and his activism, visit his website.

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art of resistance, India

Arundhati Roy: Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox.

Here is a great excerpt from Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism: A Ghost Story, published on Verso Books.

“Why do most ‘official’ feminists and women’s organizations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organizations like say the ninety-thousand-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) that is fighting patriarchy in its own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land that they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?
RS6338_DSC_5839-hpr                     /Arundhati Roy, photo via Naomicanton/

The hiving off of the liberal feminist movement from grassroots anti-imperialist and anticapitalist peoples’ movements did not begin with the evil designs of [corporate-endowed] foundations. It began with those movements’ inability to adapt and accommodate the rapid radicalization of women that took place in the 1960s and ’70s. The foundations showed genius in recognizing and moving in to support and fund women’s growing impatience with the violence and patriarchy in their traditional societies as well as among even the supposedly progressive leaders of left movements.

In a country like India, the schism also ran along the rural-urban divide. Most radical, anticapitalist movements were located in the countryside, where patriarchy continued to rule the lives of women. Urban women activists who joined these movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been influenced and inspired by the Western feminist movement, and their own journeys toward liberation were often at odds with what their male leaders considered to be their duty: To fit in with ‘the masses.’ Many women activists were not willing to wait any longer for the ‘revolution’ in order to end the daily oppression and discrimination in their lives, including from their own comrades. They wanted gender equality to be an absolute, urgent, and nonnegotiable part of the revolutionary process and not just a postrevolution promise. Intelligent, angry, and disillusioned women began to move away and look for other means of support and sustenance.

As a result, by the late 1980s, around the time when the Indian markets were opened up, the liberal feminist movement in India had become inordinately NGO-ized. Many of these NGOs have done seminal work on queer rights, domestic violence, AIDS, and the rights of sex workers. But significantly, the liberal feminist movement has not been at the forefront of challenging the New Economic Policies, even though women have been the greatest sufferers. By manipulating the disbursement of the funds, the foundations have largely succeeded in circumscribing the range of what ‘political’ activity should be. The funding briefs of NGOs now prescribe what counts as women’s ‘issues’ and what doesn’t.

The NGO-ization of the women’s movement has also made Western liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burkas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double whammy, Botox and the burka.) When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burka rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. Coercing a woman out of her burka is as bad as coercing her into one. It’s not about the burka. It’s about the coercion. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political, and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It’s what allowed the US government to use Western feminist liberal groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy cutters on them was not going to solve the problem.”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

The Dice Player by Mahmoud Darwish.

Here is a beautiful animation of The Dice Player, a poem written by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. This animation is Nissmah Roshdy’s bachelor project made at the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Arts in the GUC. The Dice Player was the winner of Zebra Film Prize for the best poetry film.

Enjoy watching this lovely animation and listening to these powerful verses.

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art of resistance, Iraq

Marking Veterans Day 2014: Iraq in Fragments.

November is the month of veterans in the USA. In the light of this year’s Veterans Day, I already posted The Last Letter – A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran by Thomas Young, and The Nature of War, short animated story by StoryCorps. Now I want to present some stories from the Iraqi side, the pieces and debris of Iraqi lives since 2003.

Last couple of weeks, Iraq is all I think about, most of the time. I’ve been reading several books dealing with lives of Iraqi civilians since the invasion of 2003, and that is such a hard read. It weighs a ton, and that ton unavoidably falls on my heart and crumbles it into my feet. I feel so drained and ashamed at the same time – ashamed because I feel so exhausted just reading it, and there are people who had to live through those moments, and many of them did, and many of them didn’t complain.

There is this moment in Hala Jaber’s The Flying Carpet to Iraq, where she, a journalist for Sunday Times, rushes into one of Iraqi hospitals, and among the total chaos, enters one of the hospital rooms. In it, there is a small boy, Ali, eleven years old, and she can see only his face. Seeing her on the doorstep, the first thing he asks is:“Have you come to give me my arms back?

I will never forget that moment. And I shouldn’t forget it.

I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry, mostly poems by Saadi Youssef, great Iraqi poet. Twice exiled from Iraq, Youssef has no plans of going back to his homeland. In an interview from 2007, he said:

„There is a saying in Arabic that is often said in reference to falling in love, but I think of it when I think of going back to Iraq: The first is like sugar, the second like torture and the third will take you to the cemetery. Really when I first returned to Iraq in 1959, it was sweet, like sugar, everything was fine, the ‘58 revolution had made everyone optimistic and I had a good job. Then in 1972, I went back and the first months and the first year was very good, but slowly things started changing until it became like torture. Now it will certainly put me in the grave if I go back.“

SADDAM HUSSEIN SPEECH/Iraq 2003, photo © David Guttenfelder/

One of Youssef’s poems I really love is The New Baghdad, written in 1975.

• • •

The New Baghdad

She comes to me with a bowl of soup

when I am besieged by

fumes of cheap arak.

She comes to me in dusty noons.

And with each sunset night snatches

she comes to me with

an evening star.

 

In the cafes she sits to bitter tea.

In the market she sells cheese

and buffalo livers.

She dusts her used-clothing stores,

searching for bones in a bowl of soup,

for milk to the lips of a child

and a glimmer in a pair of eyes

and something a woman does not yet know

and streets where water never greens.

MIDEAST IRAQ US WAR/Iraq 2003, photo © David Guttenfelder/

• • •

At night

she roams among houses abandoned by the poor

and churches where a muffled mass fades

and huts where poor girls faint.

At midnight

she returns to her enchanted shelter

behind muddy streets,

carrying the bread of the dead,

myrtle flowers,

slivers of buffalo liver

and two bones for a bowl of soup.

 

At dawn she stops by all her houses,

waking all her children,

dragging them to the street,

the thousands waiting to march on Baghdad.

/Translated by Khaled Mattawa/

The last couple of weeks also made me think of the documentary Iraq in Fragments (directed by James Longley). The film was made in 2006, and I think it was one of the first mainstream documentaries that provided viewers with an Iraqi point of view. Also, the work put in it is noticeable – three hundred hours of material was filmed in Iraq over a period of more than two years for this production.Here are some of the captions I took while rewatching the film.

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My favourite moment of the film is one of the last ones, where a Kurdish child talks about the idea of Iraq,  and separation and fighting all the adults are talking about (and witnessing it). I’ve made a GIF, just had to.

How do you do it, really?

It made me think of Riverbend and one of her last blog posts, when she and her family escaped from Iraq to Syria. In October of 2007, she writes:

“By the time we had reentered the Syrian border and were headed back to the cab ready to take us into Kameshli, I had resigned myself to the fact that we were refugees. I read about refugees on the Internet daily… in the newspapers… hear about them on TV. I hear about the estimated 1.5 million plus Iraqi refugees in Syria and shake my head, never really considering myself or my family as one of them. After all, refugees are people who sleep in tents and have no potable water or plumbing, right? Refugees carry their belongings in bags instead of suitcases and they don’t have cell phones or Internet access, right? Grasping my passport in my hand like my life depended on it, with two extra months in Syria stamped inside, it hit me how wrong I was. We were all refugees. I was suddenly a number. No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee. A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own… especially their own.

We live in an apartment building where two other Iraqis are renting. The people in the floor above us are a Christian family from northern Iraq who got chased out of their village by Peshmerga and the family on our floor is a Kurdish family who lost their home in Baghdad to militias and were waiting for immigration to Sweden or Switzerland or some such European refugee haven.

The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative – a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, ‘We’re Abu Mohammed’s house- across from you- mama says if you need anything, just ask- this is our number. Abu Dalia’s family live upstairs, this is their number. We’re all Iraqi too… Welcome to the building.’

I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.”

Until 2011, Syria was a new home for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. But, for the last couple of years, many of them (like Riverbend) had to escape from Syria together with hundreds of thousands of Syrians who became refugees and remain the greatest, yet often overlooked, victims of horrendous conflicts rampaging their countries.

In her comic The Waiting Room, Sarah Glidden showed the struggle of Iraqi refugees who were trying to make Syria their new home.

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397E8trfQFOCffZ5tETAMA/images via Cartoon Movement/

Now many of them are refugees all over again. And new refugees are made every day. Yes, they are being made, they are being created. All of them – the children who ask for their arms and legs, mothers weeping for their murdered children and husbands, families who will never see their homes again, worn out people desperately looking to find their memories and dreams in the sea of nothingness… All of it is made by the dreadful machinery of war, machinery cruelly imposed on many and fueled by the background interests of  the (very protected) few, coated into the language of propaganda which associates courage with warfare, and change with violence.

When will it stop? When does it end?

How do we stop it? How do we end it? That is the main question for this Month of Veterans.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The Little Book of Kabul.

The Little Book of Kabul is an intimate portrait  of Kabul through the eyes, accents and activities of a number of creative people who live in the city.  It is a project by Lorenzo Tugnoli, a freelance photographer based in Kabul, and Francesca Recchia, an independent researcher and writer. When they started the project, they weren’t sure what they wanted it to look like. But they were sure what they didn’t want it to portray. In a conversation with TIME LightBox, Recchia said: “One of the things that we didn’t want was an exotic dimension. An ‘Oh my God, you work in Kabul!’ moment.”

11/You can buy the book here/

Having lived in Kabul for three years, Tugnoli and Recchia were familiar with its community of artists, one struggling to preserve a sense of normality on a day-to-day basis. Recchia explains how: “It wasn’t a matter of interviewing someone or taking a picture and then leaving, it’s really quite an intimate perspective on people’s lives.”

ase/A man looks out of the window as he travels in a bus in downtown                                                       Kabul/

On Tugnoli’s website, the book is described as a project that “takes the reader in a personal journey through the strive for artistic expression and the small, ordinary moments of life that escape the media representation of three decades of conflict in Afghanistan.”

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aser/Arifa, a student at the Center for Contemporary Art, poses for one of he colleauges’ art work/

Tugnoli and Recchia also run a blog The Little Book of Kabul, where they post their thoughts, field notes and little stories of daily life in Kabul. Describing the process of creating the book, they write:

“We have tried to reverberate through words and images what Kabul has gifted us through the eyes of her artists. We built a narrative in fifty photographs and twenty short stories made of small close ups and emotions.

It has been a longer journey than what we had initially imagined. The book has slowly taken over, beyond the rationality of schedules and decisions, gaining an autonomous shape, its own ‘personality’. We have chosen to be led, to follow rather than set the pace; we have chosen to allow the unexpected and to be surprised.”

dag/An actress runs through the ruins of Darulaman Palace during the recording of a music video filmed by Jump Cut, a collective of young independent film-makers/

der/Young skaters practice in the garden of the Institut Français d’Afghanistan during the Sound Central Music Festival/

For them, Kabul has been a “journey demonstrating that the desire to imagine the future is an important tool to build the present.”

• • •

For more on the book and Tugnoli’s and Recchia’s work, visit their blog and Tugnoli’s website, and follow Recchia on twitter.

// all images in this post © Lorenzo Tugnoli/The Little Book of Kabul //

And a little music to conclude these Kabul fragments.

 

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Khaled Juma: The Unseen Aspects of War.

Khaled Juma is a Palestinian poet, author of children’s books and plays. He was born in Rafah, lived in Gaza city for a long time, and has recently moved to Haifa. First Juma’s poem I ever read was Oh Rascal Children of Gaza, tribute to the children of the Gaza Strip which he wrote while the missiles were falling on Gaza last summer.

Today, I wish to post his text The Unseen Aspects of War, also written during the latest Israeli attack on Gaza.

“The most dangerous thing that happens in war is what is not said, what is not photographed, and what is not talked about. It is not just stories that are told here and there to stir up peoples’ emotions and make them cry, but it is the real crime against humanity: the crime that does not receive attention because the sound of blood is always louder. However, in the end the tragedy is the tragedy, and it is huge, but should not override our sense of the small tragedy. This is not a comparison between what happens in democratically advanced countries and what happens in Palestine, especially in Gaza, but it is an attempt to convey an image of what it means to live in a state of war, even if your house is not bombed, your son is not killed, and your wife is not injured.

The first thing I will talk about is the sound of the missile and its imaginary weight. What is the effect of the sound of a missile from an F-16, even if it does not kill or injure, a missile that weighs at least 250 kilograms, and often over 1000 kilograms. For its safety the plane cannot descend lower than 2700 metres, and therefore its noise cannot often be heard, nor the sound of the missile it drops. But all of a sudden, you hear the sound that usually comes after the explosion, because the speed of the missile’s explosion is much higher than the speed of sound.

The matter is not just related to the explosion, which gives you an idea about the Day of Judgement, but also the tremors that happen after the explosion. Israel tested the characteristics of missiles in order to destroy tunnels supposedly in the area of the bombardment. Therefore, you hear a sound, which at first sounds like thunder on the open sea, before the sky lights up momentarily. Then come the tremors, and before you recover from the shock of the missile, the next one comes at you. You cannot start counting to know when it will end, because they possess an unlimited number.

For example, they once bombed a ministerial compound next to my house with 13 rockets. It is not important if the missile kills or injures you, as the matter concerns where you are at the time of the explosion. Are you asleep? Drinking tea? Standing next to the window? You might get lucky in how your body reacts. Sometimes you fall to the ground from the rush of hot air caused by the missile. Or the window falls out of the wall, marking the end of its resistance. Or tea and sugar fall to the ground from the shelves. Or you find your neighbour at your door as the tremors forced him out of his house. All of this is only related to the sound of the missiles. As for what they do, no one remains who can tell us about what happens when a missile falls near them.

Second is the issue of terror and waiting, even in situations where there is no shelling. In war the body’s ability to gauge its surroundings, the shape of the eyes, and nerve sensitivity all change. Hearing becomes more acute, sense of smell surpasses that of dogs, and skin acclimatizes. Even the concept of time changes. These changes do not lie in a single factor, but hold sway over children’s fear, your personal fear, the smell of the air, spirits floating in the air, the horrible silence of mothers, and the worry of fathers who try to hid it. In war we become something else, somewhere between human and machine.

Third is a matter related to a of sense of security, for in all wars there are different sides. Anyone who is not a party in a war can feel relatively safe. But in Gaza, there is no such luxury. You are exposed to death if you are involved in a battle, if you are the neighbour of someone involved in a battle, or if you are the neighbour of a friend whose nephew is involved in a battle. Of course, this does not stop you from being bombarded even if none these of factors are present, as was the case with the four Bakr children, killed in plain sight of a large gathering of foreign journalists.

The fourth matter is related to you feeling as if you have transformed from victim to executioner. How would you feel if they bombed your house and you saw it on the Western news being displayed as the house of a poor Israeli, blown up by missiles coming from Gaza? Your tragedy of being bombed and killed is stolen from you, while you are prevented from screaming. In war you feel like you are alone. Nothing is with you. No one is with you. Even the doors, the television, the people and the crowds. It is most noticeable when you hear an expression like: “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Fifth is what happens after the bombardment of houses. If you survive the missile, the house is the place in which we are raised and have memories. In this sense, when Israel bombs houses, it kills the life of the resident even if they are not at home. Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?

Sixth is the issue of the wounded. For example, during the massacre of the al-Batesh family, 50 people were injured in the same raid. These injuries included 32 people who had to have limbs amputated. However, because the death toll was so large, these injuries were nearly ignored. After every war in Gaza, thousands of people with disabilities are not mentioned, other than as statistics.

The seventh matter is a psychological factor. Can you image a situation in which people who are being subjected to all of this pressure cannot scream or cry? Whether it is those who lose consciousness at the sound of a missile, or those who have lost their children, fathers, friends, an acquaintance, or maybe all of the above? I know a friend whose library was destroyed by a fire after being shelled by tanks in 2008. Even though he was educated and well aware of the situation, he has yet to recover from that situation and gets a tear in his eye anytime it is mentioned. So what will be the situation of our children? They do not understand what the word “Israel” means, or the meaning of the word “death.” They only know — as a child once told me — “Why doesn’t God love us?”

Eight is something related to the concept Carl Gustav Jung called “crisis storage.” The nature of this concept is related to a defence mechanism designed by the body for dangerous situations, especially in front of children so as to not terrify them. After the dangerous situation ends, the body recalls all the fear and confusion at once, which leads to misfortunes only known by God, that often produce imperceivable abnormalities. I recall that after the 2012 war, many people said to me: “It is strange that we did not feel scared during the war, but after it finished we feel terrified.” This is precisely the concept of “crisis storage.”

The ninth matter is the issue of geographical memory loss. When there is a place we are connected to that is bombed and destroyed by Israel, years later you are not able to tell your friend “I played here,” or “I studied here,” because “here” no longer exists. There is an erasure of geographical memory, and Israel tries to erase our connections to this land.

Tenth is the loss of safety and confidence in mothers and fathers due to their inability to protect their children. This subsequently leads to the breakdown of relationships between parents and their children.

War is cruel, it distorts the human characteristics within us, no matter our ability to withstand. Before anyone thinks about the restoration and reconstruction of Gaza after the war, they must think seriously about the way to restore the lives of the people of Gaza, and sew up the holes within them, because what Israel ultimately aims to do is kill us, or at least demolish our spirit and ability to live.”

Translated by Kevin Moore

/all the GIFs in this post are from the legendary Waltz With Bashir/

 

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art of resistance, Jordan, Syria

Inside Zaatari: Being a Teenager in a Refugee Camp.

Zaatari refugee camp is the world’s second largest refugee camp, a home to about 150,000 refugees (Fall 2013 estimates). Couple of months ago, I wrote about Rena Effendi’s project The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp, and today I am happy to present a lovely initiative from Zaatari I stumbled upon this week. The tumblr site Inside Zaatari is run by teenagers living in the camp:

“We’re teenagers living in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, seven miles from the border of our home country, Syria. We’re using iPhone photography to document our lives.”

The site was created following a visit to Zaatari refugee camp by Magnum photographer Michael Christopher Brown. Brown spent a week in the camp in August, teaching iPhone photography skills to ten teenagers displaced by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Everything on the site is their photos, and their voices – a new and unique portrait of life as a teenager in a refugee camp.

Here are some of the photos together with their thoughts about this project.

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“In the future, if I become a good photojournalist and if I become famous, I’ll get the chance to leave this place to take pictures.”            ► Khaled ◄

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“When I hold the camera up to take a picture of someone I see things through the lens that can’t be seen with the naked eye.”             ► Samar ◄

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“Being a good photographer does not depend on the kind of camera you have but on the way you take your pictures.” ► Nour ◄

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“Photography gives me a space to express myself. It allows me to follow my dream to become a journalist.”     ► Hiba ◄

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“The iphone project allowed me to move around the camp more than usual and to go to places I did not know.” ► Rahma ◄

tumblr_nel020Ducd1u1loybo1_1280/all images via Inside Zaatari/

For more on this lovely project supported by Save The Children, visit the Inside Zaatari tumblr.

 

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