art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

(Interview) Eyal Sivan: God doesn’t exist, but he promised us the land.

izkor/Photo: Izkor/

Documentary filmmaker and theoretician Eyal Sivan was born in Israel, which he left in 1985 and settled in Paris. Known for his controversial films, Sivan directed more than 10 worldwide awarded political documentaries and produced many others. (Common State, 2012., Jaffa, 2009., Route 181, 2003., The Specialist, 1999., Izkor, 1990…).

He is the founder and was the first Chief Editor of South Cinema Notebooks – a journal of cinema and political critic edited by the Sapir academic college in Israel where he lectures regularly. In the last years Sivan was Reader (associate professor) in media production at the school of Arts and Digital Industries (ADI), at the University of East London (UEL) were he was co-leading the MA program in Film, video and new media.

Three of Sivan’s films were shown during this year’s Human Rights Film Festival in Zagreb and Rijeka, and he also held a masterclass lecture about political and historical documentary filmmaking. We talk with Sivan about the political behind the filmmaking, zionism and the use of memory, and the shift of paradigm in relation to Palestine and Israel, and the conflict that has been shaping the Israeli-Palestinian society for decades.

Doing documentaries the way you do them, engaging in direct political cinema, what are your biggest concerns and responsibilites? What do you need to “get right” when approaching the stories in an openly political manner and dealing with diverse historical narratives and alternative viewpoints?

I don’t think there are fears in doing what I do, but there is question of duty. The question is not to make propaganda, the question is how to provoke thinking, how to provoke debate. The contemporary society, the society we live in, values mediocracy and non-thinking. We have many examples, the most recent one is Trump, a star of a reality show becoming a president. It shows how we value the show before the content.

My biggest political critique is the question of equality. I wan to put together a notion of equality between me and the spectator – I believe that the spectator can think and is inteligent. I am trying to be coherent between my political demands and my ethical views. I am not afraid of discussion, I am not afraid of thinking. On the contrary, I am afraid of all the opposite. I am afraid when people are giving answers before posing the questions. That is why I believe that my films that were done twenty years ago are still alive in the debate. It’s not so much about the fact that the situation didn’t change in the Arab world, it’s because those are films that go beyond the actual momentum.

What’s interesting to me is that a lot of times in cinema, political cinema is discarded as less of an art. There is also an establishement agenda saying that the more openly political you get the less acknowledged you might be as an artist. Even in the documentary filmmaking, there is more and more emphasis on aesthetics, on the experimental in relation to the medium, and less regard for the content.

This is a part of the post-modern relation to art in general. First of all, the history of documentary filmmaking is very political. My work, especially for the last couple of years, as a director and as a teacher, deals greatly with the critique of documentary filmmaking, especially when it comes to colonialism and colonial anthropology. When we go back to the invention of cinema, look at the first films by brothers Lumière – they first sent their cameras to the Orient. In that sense, documentary filmmaking promoted the idea of otherness, it helped establishing “us” in relation to “them”.

Here, we could quote Godard – tell me what’s a non-political film? Animal documentaries are very political, pornography is very political. All the films are political, especially those that are presented as non-political. The question is not about the political cinema vs. the non-political cinema, the question is about making films politically, or not making films politically. The question is about the political conscience behind it. If we think about the history of documentary filmmaking, the masterpieces are the most politically made films. The point is, and this is what I always say to young filmmakers, to ask – why you on this subject?

Just an example – the easiest is me Croatian, me Israeli, me American, going to shoot the peasants, the traditions – that is humanitarian cinema. Political cinema is when I am bourgeois filming the bourgeoisie.

Let’s discuss you, Israeli, on Israeli identity. In Israel there seems to be a big emphasis on Jewish identity in opposition to Israeli identity. We can argue that emphasis on Israeli identity would be a more inclusive one. Why is that so, why wasn’t there a greater effort in creating a citizenship identity?

I’m not sure I would completely agree with that division. I think that the emphasis is not between Jewish and Israeli identity, the emphasis is on Zionist identity, which is very different. It’s important to remember that Zionism, i.e. Jewish national movement, was established against Judaism. If Judaism was characterized as religious and cultural identity, Zionism tried to transform that identity into a national one – what I call the nationalisation of Judaism. Israel is, in that sense, the nationalisation of Judaism.

Let’s rephrase the question – why the emphasis on the Zionist identity instead of the citizenship identity?

It is because Israel was established as a state for the Jews, which makes Israel a racist state. It’s not a state that practices racism, there are many states that practice racism. There is a difference between state racism and a racist state – in Israel we have both. In France we have state racism, but it’s not a racist state because it is based on the idea of citizenship.

Israel is based on the idea of a state for Jews only. What is interesting is that most of the founding fathers of Israel, coming from Eastern Europe, were secular and they called themselves socialist, although I wouldn’t call them that. They wanted to break with the religion and were atheist, and I would summarize their position into a sentence that is – “God doesn’t exist, but he promised us the land”. That is the internal paradox of Zionism.

Now, why aren’t there any efforts to change that – because the idea is all the time to keep the privileged, let’s call them the white society, the dominant ones, in power. It’s like asking the question why our society is a patriarchal society – it’s to keep the privileged privileged. It’s about domination. It brings us to the conclusion that Israel has the structure of the settler colonialist society, just like it was in South Africa, or in the USA until the 70s. It’s about the idea that segregation is a possibility to give the power to the certain parts of the society and at the same time maintain the status quo and pretend you are a democracy.

students/photo: Izkor/

In relation to that, one thing that’s interesting in your film Izkor, is that it touches on the issue of the lack of representation of the Mizrahim Jews in the Israeli society. So, yes, Israel is a Jewish state, but there are also differences in relation to what sort of a Jew you are, how you look like, where you come from.

Every segregated society has nuances to it, it’s never black and white. That was the case in South Africa and that is the case in Israel. It’s interesting to see two things in Israel – one thing is that we have a segregated society, we have a majority, European Jews, that are the dominant ones in power, then you have the so called oriental Jews, Mizrahim Jews, which are in fact Jews originally from the Arab world, then you have the Ethiopian Jews which are even lower in society, and in the end you have the Palestians at the bottom.

Israel, with its western ideology, played into the orientalist notions which are that the Orient is primitive, non-rational, etc. Which means that the for the Western Jews Jews from the Arab countries didn’t look Jewish enough. To be Jew would be to also be white, to deny the fact that you are oriental, to deny the fact that you are an Arab. Unfortunately, Oriental Jews were used against the Arabs in Israel.

In what way were they used against the Arabs?

First of all, they were used in order to deny their identity. If you look at the way the Israel presents itself to the outside world, it is very much western – even here in Croatia, I saw so many books by Amos Oz. Why is Amos Oz popular? Beacuse his wiriting is close to the West, it is familiar, there is a recognition between his writing and the western readers.

Now, with the Oriental Jews the story is different. There are two great catastrophies of Zionism – one is what happened to Palestinians, other is what happened to Mizrahim Jews. In the case of Mizrahim Jews, the tragedy is that they had to choose between two parts of themselves. What happened is that the masses of the Arab Jews, in order to prove that they are not Arab, became the right-wing masses. Obviously, this poses the question of the integration – for the future of Israel and any other state in the Middle East.

The question is how to become a part of the society? In Israeli case, the ones that can be the bridge, the ones that belong to the both worlds – are the Oriental Jews. They have the culture, they have the memory, even if it is a denying memory at the moment. It is stupid that we have to repeat all the time that the genocide of the Jews happened in the West. There was no genocide or persecution of Jews in the East, in the Arab world, in the Muslim world. Suddenly, the former anti-semitic countries are becoming the best friends of Israel and the Arab countries are looked at as the enemies. I always like to say – if there’s any fear in me as a Jew, it’s always from Europe.

What about the Arabic language, and the ways it was suppressed in the case of Oriental Jews?

Most of the Oriental Jews, second and third generation, they don’t speak Arabic at all. It’s not only that they don’t speak Arabic – they were ashamed of their parents, of the music of their parents, of the language of their parents. Why? Because what was valued was western culture. I was never ashamed of the fact that my grandparent talked Yiddish, I couldn’t be ashamed because in school the western writers in Yiddish were very valued. It made me feel acknowledged, I could recognize myself in school, while the Oriental Jews of my age, from Iraqi families – never found themselves in the books.

Another paradox is that the popular culture, even today in Israel, is the oriental, eastern culture. People are listening to that sort of music, for example. But it is important to make it clear that while it is the majority of the population – it is a minority culture. The culture of the state, on the institutional level, is western, and what Israel presents on the outside is western.

What’s really interesting in terms of shaping of the identity in Israel is the obligatory army service. You also deal with that in Izkor, posing the question do we raise people to be good soldiers, is that the aim of education? Maybe we could discuss that a little bit – how important is the obligatory army service in shaping the minds of the young men and women in Israel?

It’s fundamental. The army in israel is not a question of the military, it is the question of the making of a citizen. That is the collective element. I think that had a huge effect on me personally – I think I took such a perspective distance from Israel because I didn’t do my military service. The military service, coming at the age of 18, is castrating the critical ways of the youth.

What is means to be 18 or 19? It’s time to fuck around, to take drugs, to think you can change the world, to rebel… But if at that age, after high school, you end up in a system that allows you to cope only through obedience – it is castration of the critical element of the youth. It’s also the time of building up the illusion of fighting on the good side, of being only the victims – and that becomes a permanent position later on in life.

Imagine it, you’re 17, you’re at home, you’re fighting with your family, you’re challenging the hierarchy and authority – it is all normal, and then you go to the army and obey somebody who is a couple of years older than you. You are not a woman or a man anymore, you are a soldier. I remember the shock of visiting my sister in a military base when she was doing her service. Hundreds of girls, all looking the same, with the same clothes, with the same haircut – exactly the contrary of youth, of how things are supposed to be at that moment in their lives. It transforms you from an individual into a collective.

What are the experiences with your students, after they do their army service?

It happens that I am meeting my students after they did their army service and most of them go to Asia and South America to smoke dope and they are trying to liberate themselves. After that they go back to university and they say the same things, they have the same reactions, they are like robots of the system but they think that they think individually. Why? Because they were put in an uncritical system in the moment when they were supposed to be most critical.

And that is only one aspect of it. We can talk about all the others things – how it gets us into a situation were we have a society of traumatised people and we have a society with extremely high rates of domestic violence. When violence is legal, where will you draw the line? And all of this is not even talking about Palestinians – it’s only about the damage done for the Israeli society.

Izkor revolves around the question why do we (choose to) remember, what it serves, what is the purpose of it – talking about the collective memory. In the film, the protagonists don’t know how to answer that question – they know they need to remember, but can’t explain why.  We could maybe talk about the role of memory in Israeli society and compare it with the role of memory among Palestinians, like the memory of Nakba. Why is it, in the Palestinian case, important to remember and (how) does it differ from Israeli case?

This question is important because it raises a bigger discussion. A film that is only local remains a discussion anegdote, and that is not enough. The film has to be an example which reflects on the bigger issue. Izkor is produced in Israel, done in Israel, about the Israeli society, but at the same time – Israel is my lab. It’s the place to go from to talk about something bigger.

We can discuss the role of memory among Palestinians, or the role of memory in Croatia – how do we compare the memory of oppression in communism against the memory of Ustaša regime. Those are the questions we all face.

The question here is to understand what is memory. The idea of memory is that it prevents oblivion. That is rubbish. I am saying like Goethe said – when I hear the word memory, I wonder what was forgotten? Always when there is memory, there is something that is forgotten. That is the case with collective memory, but also with individual memory. You always forget certain things in order to keep others – that is how memory works. Memory is an interaction between keeping and erasing, just like cinema.

It’s like a frame – it is built of what is there and what is not there. You have to forget in order to keep, you have to hide in order to show. The question is what happens when power, social power, political power, comes into the story and considers that there is good and bad memory, that there are things that should be remembered and things that shouldn’t be remembered.

commonstate_pic2_en_copy97689/Photo: Common State/

That is where we see the difference between collective memory and individual memory.

Exactly. Individual memory doesn’t regard anyone beside itself, while collective memory is imposed, it’s always a tool. Collective memory, always in the history, is between two figures – victim and hero. Where are the collaborators, the cowards, the perpetrators? They don’t exist. In Israel it is obvious. We have the memory of shoa, the memory of us as victims of Second world war, and the memory of Ghetto uprising and the heroes of the wars. It’s like in Hollywood cinema, were you also only have victims and heroes. But real life isn’t like that.

Through Izkor, which is a sort of climax of memory in Israel, it becomes obvious that the problem is when you build your national memory or your collective memory, you end up in a binary division – “you” vs. “me”, “they” vs. “us”. In relation to Palestinian memory in the Israeli society, we have to look at what is being erased. The question is to emphasize not what is remembered, but what is forgotten in the process of memorization. It is also important to understand something that is an illusion that was built up after the Second world war, a total western illusion, that memory is like a vaccine, that people will give memory to young generations and they will be vaccinated against doing what was done in the past.

That is not correct. If we look back in recent history and recent wars, we see that people fought in the name of their memory. Because of the memory they felt they were victims and they allowed themselves to be perpetrators and considered that all that they are doing is self-defense, like the Israelis. If I am building my identity on the fact that I am a victim, even if I am the attacker, it shows that memory can be a tool of violence, and not a tool against violence.

You’ve talked now how the stories we tell have been changed after the Second world war, and your film Jaffa: The orange’s clockwork deals a lot with that. Through this product, a brand that was formed, the whole history of the land and the people was also changed.

With the process of building a national memory there are objects, there are symbols, there are places, etc. In the history of Zionism a build up of the national identity is verly linked to the question of image. There are many reasons for that. Zionism appears almost in the same time as the invention of cinema and photography, so it used a very contemporary thing which was the image in order to build itself.

That is interesting because if you think about the national revolutions that proceeded Zionism, we don’t have a trace in terms of image, and if you think about those that came after – they are completely linked to image. In the case of Israel and Palestine, orange became a symbol, and what is interesting to observe – it’s a round thing, and from every side you look at it, it looks the same. The orange is both an object of rupture, because there are two completely different visions around it, but it’s also the common one. What was interesting to me was to use this element, which carries the memory of the division, but also of commonality – so it can become the key of memory for the future.

Talking about the future – most of the thinkers, activists, artists, that deal with Israeli-Palestinian conflict in depth, have come to terms that one-state solution is the only solution, considering the reality on the ground. You made the film Common state: A possible conversation, and it is very much connected to that idea. Could you talk about, how embraced is the idea of one-state solution?

In order to talk in terms of solutions, we have to ask what’s the problem to solve. One of the things to consider is that the history of the Palestine question since the beginning of 20th century was always looked at through the paradigm of division, of partition. There is a problem and we will solve it by division. The idea of separation between the population or division of the territory is the paradigm that brought the war, each and every time – in 1948, in 1967, etc.

Maybe the mistake is this paradigm of the solution because the problem is not how to divide Palestinians and Israelis, or Arabs and Jews, the problem is how to make people live together peacefully. If the partition paradigm didn’t work it’s maybe because it is the wrong paradigm to solve the problem. If everybody agrees on two-state solution, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, the UN, the Arab League the EU, the whole world – why isn’t it happening?

The problem is that what you are posing as the solution is actually a problem. The paradigm should be how to find a way to make this territory the territory for all, and the question then is the question of citizenship. I am not coming from the utopian solution, I am coming from reality. There is no way to divide the population – in every place that lives an Arab, lives a Jew. There is no way to divide the population physically, there is no way to divide the territory – who will have the water, who will have the desert?

This is why there is more and more people thinking about the shift of the paradigm. I am not necessarily talking about one state, I am talking about a common state. It could be a federal state, it could be a regional state, one state doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody. Is it a secular democratic state, is it a binational state?

For me the documentary is not a genre, it’s an attitude. It’s about looking at reality and constructing with reality. I am looking at the reality of PalestineIsrael, and I am intentionally using that word instead of Palestine and Israel, because I see that the same place for one is Palestine and for the other is Israel. In cinema terms, that is what we call point of view. The question is how can I put two points of view into one frame?

jaffa_10_copy51688/Photo: Jaffa – The Orange’s Clockwork/

You left Israel, but you visit constantly and you are making films there. How are your films received in Israel?

My films are more discussed than seen. That is because I refuse the division between a politcal stand and my films, so the question is often who is Eyal Sivan, and not what he is doing. People are talking about my films like they’ve seen them, but they didn’t. For every person who likes me, there are at least fifty that hate me. There is a consensus that I am not a bad filmmaker, but I am bad person politically.

But still, films like Izkor remain a reference point, twenty-five years later. It’s a films that was forbidden in cinemas at the time, but is now thought in most of the schools, education departments, cinema departments. We could pose the question of the impact of cinema here – young filmmakers today are very occupied with that idea, due to the social media and everything. For me, the question of the impact is like a stone in the lake – you throw it and it makes a kind of waves that you cannot know what and when will happen. If I am looking back at my work and the situation in Israel and Israeli cinema, I see that there is a dialogue between what’s happening. Basically, I think that my cinema posed a line of radicality. Not many young filmmakers were radical enough.

Why weren’t they radical?

Because they went to the army. Because it is more difficult to be in the margins than in the mainstream. Because many people are making political films, but they are not making films politically. There is a gap in the art form, in the cinema world – artists care more about their asses than about what’s going on around them. But mostly because when you are on the privileged side you risk much more than when you are on the oppressed side.

Why is women cinema much more radical with the question of feminism than the male cinema? It’s much more difficult to renounce on privilege when you have them. This comes back to the very beginning of our discussion – what is the big Israeli question? The Israeli question is to renounce some of our privileges. Why am I using the feminist example – because it is the most political one, and the most universal one. At the end of my film Common state, an important feminist, 80-year- old activist says: “The question is the willingness to share power or not” . It’s not about equal rights, we’ve gone beyond that discussion, sharing the power is what is important. It means men have to renounce some of their power.

We can compare that with the current situation with refugees in Europe – it’s also about the unwillingness to share power, to be able to renounce some of our privileges if necessary.

Of course. The problem is not the refugees, the problem is that we don’t want to share. Suddenly, a middle class person acts like a multi-billionare, not wanting the share with refugees, the same way a multi-billionare doesn’t want to share with a middle class person.

If we take Europe today and the gap between salaries of men and women – you often hear there’s not enough money to raise the salaries for women. To that I say – ok, then the solution is that men should get lesser salaries and there would be enough money for equal pay for women. The same thing goes for refugees, and the same thing goes for Israel and Palestinians. All the time we hear this “we will give you rights” talk. What does that mean? Who is the one giving the rights? Who has the power? Can the Palestinians give Israelis rights? Women to men?

And back to the Israeli filmmakers – they are among the most privileged ones.That is why I am for the cultural boycott – I believe that is the only way for the Israeli cultural and academic institutions to understand the lack of privilege and that is the way they will become more critical and radicalised.

Why do you have to radicalise? Let’s mention Amos Oz again. His discourse is a mainstream discourse, and everybody around the world is amazed – Oz talks about peace, Israel is a great democracy because there are people like Amos Oz representing it. But that is not the way to look at things. It’s a twist on reality. If we look at the history of 20th century – evil always came from the mainstream, never from the extreme.

• • •

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

 

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Najwan Darwish | We Never Stop.

301-dia-azzawi-red-sky-with-birds-1981-oil-on-canvas/Red Sky With Birds, by Dia al-Azzawi, 1981./

Najwan Darwish is a celebrated Palestinian poet, born in Jerusalem in 1978. Nothing More to Lose (published in 2014 and translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid), is his first collection of poetry to appear in English. We Never Stop is one of the poems from this (highly recommended) collection.

We Never Stop

I’ve got no country to return to
and no country to be banished from:
a tree whose roots
are a running river:
if it stops it dies
and if it doesn’t stop
it dies

I spent the best of my days
on the cheeks and arms of death
and the land I lost each day
I gained each day anew
The people had but a single land
while mine multiplied in defeat
renewed itself in loss
Its roots, like mine, are water:
if it stops it will wither
if it stops it will die
We’re both running

with a river of sunbeams
a river of gold dust
that rises from ancient wounds
and we never stop
We keep on running
never thinking to pause
so our two paths can meet

I’ve got no country to be banished from
and no country to return to:
stopping
would be the death of me

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

KOOZ | Palestinian Queer Film Festival.

kooz

Kooz is an independent queer film festival which features local, regional and international queer films that deal with issues related to sex, sexuality, gender and gender identity. Kooz, for the second year, remains the only queer film festival to be organised by Palestinians for the Palestinian community.

It offers an alternative to Israel’s pinkwashing policies and practices, and societal taboos regarding sex, sexuality and sexual freedoms. Showcasing contextualized perspectives and positionalities from within Palestine and the region reaffirms and encourages the notion of queer art and productions as tool for resistance in the struggle for sexual freedoms and national liberation.

Kooz further foments regional solidarity and collaboration by shedding the light on the intersectionality of regional and global struggles with the aim of advancing issues of sexual and bodily rights, moving alternative art from the margins to the centers, and standing against all forms of oppression.

The festival is organized by Aswat, Palestinian feminist movement for sexual and gender freedoms. They are currently having a fundraising campaign for the festival – you can find out more and support them here.

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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.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Lebanon

Noam Chomsky: War Is Peace (Excerpt).

shatila 2 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

Summer of 1982 was a long time ago, but mention it to anyone living in Lebanon, anyone Palestinian and/or Israeli, they probably remember it very well. That’s what war does, it shapes your memory, distorts it, occupies it. War’s a little ghost that keeps clinging to your chest.

Summer of 1982 was a long time ago, but it’s important to go back in time, to see what happened, to see how it reflects in what we witness today (war is peace?). Following is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s book The Fateful Triangle.

On June 6, 1982, a massive Israeli expeditionary force began the long expected invasion, Operation “Peace for Galilee,” a phrase “which sounds as if it comes directly out of the pages of 1984,” as one Israeli commentator wrote:

Only in the language of 1984 is war-peace and warfare-humane. One may mention, of course, that only in the Orwellian language of 1984 can occupation be liberal, and there is indeed a connection between the “liberal occupation” [the Labor Party boast] and a war which equals peace.

Excuses and explanations were discarded almost as quickly as they were produced: the Argov assassination attempt, defense of the border settlements, a 25-mile limit. In fact, the army headed straight for Beirut and the Beirut-Damascus highway, in accordance with plans that had long been prepared and that were known in advance to the Labor opposition. Former chief of military intelligence Aharon Yariv of the Labor Party stated: “I know in fact that going to Beirut was included in the original military plan,” despite the pretense to the contrary, dutifully repeated by the U.S. government, which could hardly have been in much doubt about the facts if U.S. intelligence was not on vacation.

Extermination of the Two-Legged Beasts

The first target was the Palestinian camp of Rashidiyeh south of Tyre, much of which, by the second day of the invasion, “had become a field of rubble.” There was ineffectual resistance, but as an officer of the UN peace-keeping force swept aside in the Israeli invasion later remarked:

“It was like shooting sparrdws with cannon.” The 9000 residents of the camp-which had been regularly bombed and shelled for years from land, sea and air-either fled, or were herded to the beach where they could watch the destruction of much of what remained by the Israeli forces. All teen-age and adult males were blindfolded and bound, and taken to camps, where little has been heard about them since.

This is typical of what happened throughout southern Lebanon. The Palestinian camps were demolished, largely bulldozed to the ground if not destroyed by bombardment; and the population was dispersed or (in the case of the male population) imprisoned. Reporters were generally not allowed in the Palestinian camps, where the destruction was worst, to keep them from witnessing what had happened and was being done. There were occasional reports. David Shipler described how after the camps were captured the army proceeded to destroy what was left. An army officer, “when asked why bulldozers were knocking down houses in which women and children were living,” responded by saying: “they are all terrorists.” His statement accurately summarizes Israel’s strategy and the assumptions that underlie it, over many years.

There was little criticism here of Israel’s destruction of the “nests of terrorists,” or of the wholesale transfer of the male population to prison camps in Lebanon and Israel-or to their treatment, discussed below. Again, one imagines that if such treatment had been meted out to Jews after, say, a Syrian conquest of Northern Israel, the reaction would have been different, and few would have hesitated to recall the Nazi monsters. In fact, we need not merely imagine. When a PLO terrorist group took Israeli teen-age members of a paramilitary (Gadna) group hostage at Ma’alot, that was rightly denounced as a vicious criminal act.

Since then, it has become virtually the symbol of the inhuman barbarism of the “two-legged beasts.” But when Israeli troops cart off the Palestinian male population from 15 to 60 (along with many thousands of Lebanese) to concentration camps, treating them in a manner to which we return, that is ignored, and the few timid queries are almost drowned in the applause-to which we also return-for Israel’s display of humanitarian zeal and moral perfection, while aid is increased in honor of this achievement. It is a scene that should give Americans pause, and lead them to raise some questions about themselves.

Israel’s strategy was to drive the Palestinians to largely-Muslim West Beirut (apart from those who were killed, dispersed or imprisoned), then to besiege the city, cutting off water, food, medical supplies and electricity, and to subject it to increasingly heavy bombardment. Naturally, the native Lebanese population was also severely battered. These measures had little impact on the PLO guerrilla fighters in Beirut, but civilians suffered increasingly brutal punishment. The correct calculation was that by this device, the PLO would be compelled to leave West Beirut to save it from total annihilation.

It was assumed, also correctly, that American intellectuals could be found to carry out the task of showing that this too was a remarkable exercise in humanity and a historically unique display of “purity of arms,” even having the audacity to claim that it was the PLO, not the Israeli attackers, who were “holding the city and its population hostage”-a charge duly intoned by New York Times editors and many others.

Green_Line,_Beirut_1982/Green Line, Beirut, 1982/

Dan Connell, a journalist with wartime experience and Lebanon project officer for Oxfam, describes Israel’s strategy as follows:

The Israeli strategy was obvious. They were hitting a broad belt, and they kept moving the belt up toward the populated area and pushing the people in front of it. The Israelis forced an increasing concentration of people into a smaller space, so that the casualties increased geometrically with every single shell or bomb that landed.

The attackers used highly sophisticated U.S. weapons, including “shells and bombs designed to penetrate through the buildings before they explode,” collapsing buildings inwards, and phosphorus bombs to set fires and cause untreatable burns. Hospitals were closed down or destroyed.

Much of the Am el-H ilweh refugee camp near Sidon was “flat as a parking lot” when Connell saw it, though 7-8000 Palestinians had drifted back-mostly women and children, since the men were “either fighting or arrested or dead.” The Israelis bulldozed the mosque at the edge of the camp searching for arms, but “found 90 or 100 bodies under it instead, completely rotted away.” Writing before the Beirut massacres but after the PLO had departed, he notes that “there could be a bloodbath in west Beirut” if no protection is given to the remnants of the population.

The Israeli press also reported the strategy of the invading army. One journalist observing the bombardment of Beirut in the early days describes it as follows:

With deadly accuracy, the big guns laid waste whole rows of houses and apartment blocks believed to be PLO positions. The fields were pitted with craters. . . Israeli strategy at that point was obvious-to clean away a no-man’s land through which Israeli tanks could advance and prevent any PLO breakout.

The military tactics, as widely reported by the Israeli and foreign press, were simple. Since Israel had total command of the air and overwhelming superiority in firepower from land, sea and air, the IDF simply blasted away everything before it, then sent soldiers in to “clean out” what was left. We return to some descriptions of these tactics by Israeli military analysts. The tactics are familiar from Vietnam and other wars where a modern high technology army faces a vastly outmatched enemy. The difference lies in the fact that in other such cases, one rarely hears tales of great heroism and “purity of arms,” though to be accurate, these stories were more prevalent among American “supporters” than Israeli soldiers, many of whom were appalled at what they were ordered to do.

Economist Middle East correspondent G. H. Jansen describes Israel’s tactics in the first days of the war as follows: to surround cities and towns “so swiftly that civilian inhabitants were trapped inside, and then to pound them from land, sea and air. After a couple of days of this there would be a timid probing attack: if there were resistance the pounding would resume.”* “A second striking aspect of Israeli military doctrine exemplified in the Lebanese campaign,” he notes, “is the military exploitation of a cease-fire.

Israel has done this so often, in every one of its wars, that perhaps one must assume that for the Israeli military ‘cease-fire’ only means ‘no shooting’ and is totally unconnected with any freezing of positions on the ground along a ‘cease-fire’ line.” We have, in fact, noted several earlier examples of exploitation of cease-fire: the conquest of Eilat in 1949 and of the Golan Heights in 1967. “The Israelis, in this war, have refined their cease-fire-exploitation doctrine by declaring cease-fires unilaterally, at times most advantageous to them. This has left them free to switch cease-fires on and off with a show either of peaceful intent or of outraged indignation. For the Israelis the cease-fire is not a step towards a truce or an armistice, it is simply a period of rest, reinforcement and peaceful penetration-an attempt to gain the spoils of war without fighting.” Such tactics are possible because of the huge military advantage that Israel enjoyed.

* Israeli troops in fact often warned inhabitants to leave before the land sea and air pounding, but many report, not surprisingly that they were unaware of the warnings see Michael Jansen, The Bathe of Beirut Furthermore the leaflets sometimes were dropped well after the bombardment of civilian targets began as in Sidon. It has repeatedly been claimed that Israel suffered casualties because ofthe policy of warning inhabitants to leave but it remains unexplained how this came about in areas that were sure to be next on the list, warning or not and how casualties could be caused by the use of the tactics just described, which are repeatedly verified in the Israeli press Danny Wolf, formerly a commander in the Paratroopers, asks “If someone dropped leaflets over Herzliya [in Israel] tomorrow, telling the civilians in iliding to evacuate the town within two hours, wouldn’t that be a war crime?‘ (Amir Oren, Koteret Rashit, Jan.19, 1983). It would be interesting to hear the answer from those who cite these alleged IDF warnings with much respect as proof of the noble commitment to “purity of arms.”

Since the western press was regularly accused in the United States of failing to recognize the amazing and historically unique Israeli efforts to spare civilians and of exaggerating the scale of the destruction and terror-we return to some specifics-it is useful to bear in mind that the actual tactics used were entirely familiar and that some of the most terrible accounts were given by Israeli soldiers and journalists.

In Knesset debate, Menachem Begin responded to accusations about civilian casualties by recalling the words of Chief of Staff Mordechai Our of the Labor Party after the 1978 invasion of Lebanon under the Begin government, cited on p.181. When asked “what happens when we meet a civilian population,” Our’s answer was that “It is a civilian population known to have provided active aid to the terrorists… Why has that population of southern Lebanon suddenly become such a great and just one?”

Asked further whether he was saying that the population of southern Lebanon “should be punished,” he responded: ‘And how! I am using Sabra language [colloquial Hebrew]: And how!” The “terrorists” had been “nourished by the population around them.” Our went on to explain the orders he had given: “bring in tanks as quickly as possible and hit them from far off before the boys reached a face-to-face battle.” He continued: “For 30 years, from the war of independence to this day, we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and in towns…” With audacity bordering on obscenity, Begin was able to utter the words: “We did not even once deliberately harm the civilian population. all the fighting has been aimed against military targets…”

Turning to the press, Tom Segev of Ha’aretz toured “Lebanon after the conquest” in mid-June. He saw “refugees wandering amidst swarms of flies, dressed in rags, their faces expressing terror and their eyes, bewilderment…, the women wailing and the children sobbing” (he noticed Henry Kamm of the New York Times nearby; one may usefully compare his account of the same scenes). Tyre was a “destroyed city”; in the market place there was not a store undamaged. Here and there people were walking, “as in a nightmare.” “A terrible smell filled the air”-ofdecomposing bodies, he learned.

Archbishop Georges Haddad told him that many had been killed, though he did not know the numbers, since many were still buried beneath the ruins and he was occupied with caring for the many orphans wandering in the streets, some so young that they did not even know their names. In Sidon, the destruction was still worse: “the center of the town-destroyed.” “This is what the cities of Germany looked like at the end of the Second World War.” “Half the inhabitants remained without shelter, 100,000 people.” He saw “mounds of ruins,” tens of thousands of people at the shore where they remained for days, women driven away by soldiers when they attempted to flee to the beaches, children wandering “among the tanks and the ruins and the shots and the hysteria,” blindfolded young men, hands tied with plastic bonds, “terror and confusion.”

Danny Rubinstein of Davar toured the conquered areas at the war’s end. Virtually no Palestinians were to be found in Christian-controlled areas, the refugee camps having been destroyed long ago. The Red Cross give the figure of 15,000 as a “realistic” estimate ‘of the number of prisoners taken by the Israeli army. In the “ruins of Am el-Hilweh,” a toothless old man was the youngest man left in the camp among thousands of women, children and old men, “a horrible scene.”

Perhaps 350-400,000 Palestinians had been “dispersed in all directions” (“mainly women, children and old men, since all the men have been detained”). The remnants are at the mercy of Phalangist patrols and Haddad forces, who burn houses and “beat the people.” There is no one to care for the tens of thousands of refugee children, “and of course all the civilian networks operated by the PLO have been annihilated, and tens of thousands of families, or parts of families, are dispersed like animals.” “The shocking scene of the destroyed camps proves that the destrudtion was systematic.” Even shelters in which people hid from the Israeli bombardments were destroyed, “and they are still digging out bodies”-this in areas where the fighting had ended over 2 months earlier. An Oxfam appeal in March 1983 states that “No one will ever know how many dead are buried beneath the twisted steel of apartment buildings or the broken stone of the cities and villages of Lebanon.”

By late June, the Lebanese police gave estimates of about 10,000 killed. These early figures appear to have been roughly accurate. A later accounting reported by the independent Lebanese daily An-nahar gave a figure of 17,825 known to have been killed and over 30,000 wounded, including 5500 killed in Beirut and over 1200 civilians killed in the Sidon area. A government investigation estimated that 90% of the casualties were civilians. By late December, the Lebanese police estimated the numbers killed through August at 19,085, with 6775 killed in Beirut, 84% of them civilians.

Israel reported 340 IDF soldiers killed in early September, 446 by late November (if these numbers are accurate, then the number of Israeli soldiers kifled in the ten weeks following the departure of the PLO from Lebanon is exactly the same as the number of Israetis killed in all terrorist actions across the northern border from 1967). According to Chief of Staff Fitan, the number of Israeli soldiers killed “in the entire western sector of Lebanon” – that is, apart from the Syrian front – was 117. Eight Israeli soldiers died “in Beirut proper,” he claimed, three in accidents. If correct (which is unlikely), Eitan’s figures mean that five Israeli soldiers were killed in the process of massacring some 6000 civilians in Beirut, a glorious victory indeed. Israel also offered various figures for casualties within Lebanon. Its final accounting was that 930 people were killed in Beirut including 340 civilians, and that 40 buildings were destroyed in the Beirut, 350 in all of Lebanon. The number of PLO killed was given as 4000.

shatila3 ivana/Shatila © Ivana Peric, MER/

The estimates given by Israel were generally ridiculed by reporters and relief workers, though solemnly repeated by supporters here. Within Israel itself, the Lebanese figures were regularly cited; for example, by Yizhar Smilanski, one of Israel’s best-known novelists, in a bitter denunciation of Begin (the “man of blood” who was willing to sacrifice “some 50,000 human beings” for his political ends) and of the society that is able to tolerate him.

In general, Israeli credibility suffered seriously during the war, as it had in the course of the 1973 war. Military correspondent Hirsh Goodman reported that “the army spokesman [was] less credible than ever before.” Because of repeated government lies (e.g., the claim, finally admitted to be false, that the IDF returns fire only to the point from which it originates), “thousands of Israeli troops who bear eye-witness to events no longer believe the army spokesman” and “have taken to listening to Radio Lebanon in English and Arabic to get what they believe is a credible picture of the war.”

The “overwhelming majority of men-including senior officers”-accused lsraeli military correspondents of “allowing this war to grow out of all proportion to the original goals, by mindlessly repeating official explanations we all knew were false.” The officers and men “of four top fighting units. . accused [military correspondents] of covering up the truth, of lying to the public, of not reporting on the real mood at the front and of being lackeys of the defence minister.”

Soldiers “repeated the latest jokes doing the rounds, like the one about the idiot in the ordnance corps who must have put all Israeli cannon in back to front. ‘Each time we open fire the army spokesman announces we’re being fired at…”’ Goodman is concerned not only over the deterioriation in morale caused by this flagrant lying but also by Israel’s “current world image.” About that, he need not have feared too much. At least in the U.S., Israeli government claims continued to be taken quite seriously, even the figures offered with regard to casualties and war damages.

As relief officials and others regularly commented, accurate numbers cannot be obtained, since many-particularly Palestinians-are simply unaccounted for. Months after the fighting had ended in the Sidon area inhabitants of Am el-Hilweh were still digging out corpses and had no idea how many had been killed, and an education officer of the Israeli army (a Lieutenant Colonel) reported that the army feared epidemics in Sidon itself “because of the many bodies under the wreckage”.

Lebanese and foreign relief officials observed that “Many of the dead never reached hospital,” and that unknown numbers of bodies are believed lost in the rubble in Beirut; hospital figures, the primary basis for the Lebanese calculations cited above, “only hint at the scale of the tragedy.” “Many bodies could not be lodged in overflowing morgues and were not included in the statistics.”

The Lebanese government casualty figures are based on police records, which in turn are based on actual counts in hospitals, clinics and civil defense centers. These figures, according to police spokesmen, do “not include people buried in mass graves in areas where Lebanese authorities were not informed.” The figures, including the figure of 19,000 dead and over 30,000 wounded, must surely be underestimates, assuming that those celebrating their liberation (the story that Israel and its supporters here would like us to believe) were not purposely magnifying the scale of the horrors caused by their liberators. Particularly with regard to the Palestinians, one can only guess what the scale of casualties may have been.

A UN report estimated 13,500 severely damaged houses in West Beirut alone, thousands elsewhere, not counting the Palestinian camps (which are-or were-in fact towns). As for the Palestinians, the head of the UN Agency that has been responsible for them, Olof Rydbeck of Sweden, said that its work of 32 years “has been wiped out”; Israeli bombardment had left “practically all the schools, clinics and installations of the agency in ruins.”

Beirut: Precision Bombardment

Repeatedly, Israel blocked international relief efforts and prevented food and medical supplies from reaching victims.* Israeli military forces also appear to have gone out of their way to destroy medical facilities-at least, if one wants to believe Israeli government claims about “pinpoint accuracy” in bombardment. “International agencies agree that the civilian death toll would have been considerably higher had it not been for the medical facilities that the Palestine Liberation Organization provides for Its own people”’and, in fact, for many poor Lebanese-so it is not surprising that these were a particular target of attack.

In the first bombing in June, a children’s hospital in the Sabra refugee camp was hit, Lebanese television reported, and a cameraman said he saw “many children” lying dead inside the Bourj al Barajneh camp in Beirut, while “fires were burning out of control at dozens of apartment buildings” and the Gaza Hospital near the camps was reported hit.” This, it will be recalled, was in “retaliation” for the attempt by an anti-PLO group with no base in Lebanon to assassinate Ambassador Argov.

On June 12, four bombs fell on a hospital in Aley, severely damaging it. “There is nothing unusual” in the story told by an operating room assistant who had lost two hands in the attack; “That the target of the air strike was a hospital, whether by design or accident, is not unique either,” William Branigan reports, noting that other hospitals were even more badly damaged. Fragments of cluster bombs were found on the grounds of an Armenian sanitarium south of Beirut that was also “heavily damaged during the Israeli drive.”

A neurosurgeon at the Gaza hospital in Beirut “insists that Israeli gunners deliberately shelled his hospital,” it was reported at the same. A few days later, Richard Ben Cramer reported that the Acre Hospital in Beirut was hit by Israeli shells, and that the hospitals in the camps had again been hit. “Israeli guns never seem to stop here,” he reported from the Sabra camp, later to be the scene of a major massacre:

“After two weeks of this random thunder, Sabra is only a place to run through.”

Most of this was before the bombing escalated to new levels of violence in August. By August 4, 8 of the 9 Homes for Orphans in Beirut had been destroyed, attacked by cluster and phosphorus bombs. The last was hit by phosphorus and other rockets, though clearly marked by a red cross on the root after assurances by the International Red Cross that it would be spared.

On August 4, the American University hospital was hit by shrapnel and mortar fire. A doctor “standing in bloodstained rags” said: “We have no more room.” The director reported: “It’s a carnage. There is nothing military anywhere near this hospital.” The hospital was the only one in Beirut to escape direct shelling, and even there, sanitary conditions had deteriorated to the point where half the intensive-care patients were lost and with 99% of the cases being trauma victims, there was no room for ordinary illnesses. “Drive down any street and you will almost always see a man or woman with a missing limb.”

One of the true heroes of the war is Dr. Amal Shamma, an American-trained Lebanese-American pediatrician who remained at work in Beirut’s Berbir hospital through the worst horrors. In November, she spent several weeks touring the U.S., receiving little notice, as expected. She was, however, interviewed in the Village Voice, where she described the extensive medical and social services for Palestinians and poor Lebanese that were destroyed by the Israeli invasion.

For them, nothing is left apart from private hospitals that they cannot afford, some taken over by the Israeli army. No medical teams came from the U.S., although several came to help from Europe; the U.S. was preoccupied with supplying weapons to destroy. She reports that the hospitals were clearly marked with red crosses and that there were no guns nearby, though outside her hospital there was one disabled tank, which was never hit in the shellings that reduced the hospital to a first-aid station. On one day, 17 hospitals were shelled.

Hers “was shelled repeatedly from August 1 to 12 until everything in it was destroyed.” It had been heavily damaged by mid-July, as already noted. Hospital employees stopped at Israeli barricades were told: “We shelled your hospital good enough, didn’t we? You treat terrorists there.” Recall that this is the testimony of a doctor at a Lebanese hospital, one of those liberated by the Israeli forces, according to official doctrine.

One of the most devastating critiques of Israeli military practices was provided inadvertently by an Israeli pilot who took part in the bombing,

An Air Force major, who described the careful selection of targets and the precision bombing that made error almost impossible. Observing the effects, one can draw one’s own conclusions. He also expressed his own personal philosophy, saying “if you want to achieve peace, you should fight.” “Look at the American-Japanese war,” he added. “In order to achieve an end, they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

The Grand Finale

Israel’s attack continued with mounting fury through July and August, the prime target now being the besieged city of West Beirut. By late June, residential areas had been savagely attacked in the defenseless city. Robert Fisk writes that “The Israeli pilots presumably meant to drop their bombs on the scruffy militia office on Corniche Mazraa, but they missed. Instead, their handiwork spread fire and rubble half the length of Abu Chaker Street, and the people of this miserable little thoroughfare-those who survived, that is-cannot grasp what happened to them… Abu Chaker Street was in ruins, its collapsed apartment blocks still smoking and some of the dead still in their pancaked homes, sandwiched beneath hundreds of tons of concrete… The perspiring ambulance crews had so far counted 32 dead, most of them men and women who were hiding in their homes in a nine-storey block of flats, when an Israeli bomb exploded on its roof and tore down half the building.”

One old man “described briefly, almost without emotion, how [his daughter’s] stomach had been torn out by shrapnel.” “This was a civilian area,” he said. “The planes are terrorizing us. This is no way for soldiers to fight.”’ This was before the massive air attacks of late July and August.

On one occasion, on August 4, the IDF attempted a ground attack, but withdrew after 19 Israeli soldiers were killed. The IDF then returned to safer tactics, keeping to bombing and shelling from land and sea, against which there was no defense, in accordance with familiar military doctrine. The population of the beleaguered city was deprived of food, water, medicines, electricity, fuel, as Israel tightened the noose.

Since the city was defenseless, the IDF was able to display its light-hearted abandon, as on July 26, when bombing began precisely at 2:42 and 3:38 PM, “a touch of humor with a slight hint,” the Labor press reported cheerily, noting that the timing, referring to UN Resolutons 242 and 338, “was not accidental.”

The bombings continued, reaching their peak of ferocity well after agreement had been reached on the evacuation of the PLO. Military correspondent Hirsh Goodman wrote that “the irrational, unprovoked and unauthorized bombing of Beirut after an agreement in principle regarding the PLO’s withdrawal had been concluded between all the parties concerned should have caused [Defense Minister Sharon’s] dismissal,” but did not.

The Il-hour bombing on August 12 evoked worldwide condemnation, even from the U.S.. and the direct attack was halted. The consensus of eye witnesses was expressed by Charles Powers:

To many people. in fact, the siege of Beirut seemed gratuitous brutality. . . The arsenal of weapons, unleashed in a way that has not been seen since the Vietnam war, clearly horrified those who saw the results firsthand and through film and news reports at a distance. The use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus shells, a vicious weapon. was widespread.

The Israeli government, which regarded news coverage from Lebanon as unfair, began to treat the war as a public-relations problem. Radio Israel spoke continually of the need to present the war in the “correct” light. particularly in the United States. In the end, however, Israel created in West Beirut a whole set of facts that no amount of packaging could disguise. In the last hours of the last air attack on Beirut, Israeli planes carpet-bombed Borj el Brajne [a Palestinian refugee camp]. There were no fighting men left there. only the damaged homes of Palestinian families, who once again would have to leave and find another place to live. All of West Beirut, finally, was living in wreckage and garbage and loss.

But the PLO was leaving. Somewhere, the taste of victory must be sweet.

Read more on Chomsky.info.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Playlist: Nakba Day.

shatila 5 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Peric, MER/

Today’s playlist is a little different. It’s fifteenth of May, Nakba day, the day of the catastrophe.

It is the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes, when they watched skies falling on their heads, when they died or continued to live – with sadness and longing, always looking back to that all-defining 1948.

To commemorate this day, I am posting a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called The Dice Player. This video features a beautiful animation by Nissmah Roshdy. Darwish writes:

And so the fear strolled within me

And I strolled barefoot in its path

Leaving behind my childhood memories

And the dreams I had for tomorrow

Previous Playlist:

Ghalia Benali

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Kaan Wafi, Pieces From Exile

Yasmine Hamdan

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

(Interview) Hala Alyan: Poetry As Emotion, Memory, Resistance.

hala a vimeo/Hala Alyan, photo via Vimeo/

Hala Alyan is an award winning Palestinian-American poet who has lived in various cities in the Middle East and the United States. Her poems reflect her life – the life of searching, making and remaking, longing and surviving on the food of memories. All of her torn anchors found new waters in her poems.

Alyan was the winner of the 2012 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival Competition and her first book of poetry, Atrium (Three Rooms Press),  a powerful debut, won the  2013 Arab American Book Award. Her third collection, Hijra, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry contest and will be published in the fall this year.

I was thrilled to be able to exchange thoughts with Alyan and dive into her world – the world of captivating poetry, untamed emotions and new ways of seeing, feeling and thinking through words.

How did you start writing, did you feel the great need to express yourself through words, was it a calling in a way?

I’ve written for as long as I can remember; it was a way to feel less lonely as a child and also to escape into other worlds. As I got older, it also became a way to make sense of chaotic environments, messy breakups and the general grit and loveliness of life.

hijra/Hijra by Hala Alyan/

Atrium was the winner of the Arab American Book Award in 2013. Did the success and experience of your first book make it easier to write the second (and the third)? What was it like to go through the process of writing  another collection?

Winning that award was wonderful for me, and I definitely think it helped me get the second book published. It also was such lovely reinforcement for my writing, which enabled me to take more risks in the second and third manuscripts.

The process was a lot easier after the first manuscript, perhaps because I knew what to expect and also knew that it would take time; for Atrium, I was so impatient to see it out in the world!

You are doing your post-doctoral training in the field of clinical psychology. How do you manage writing and working? Does it take away the energy for writing, how do you keep the motivation?

I’m a licensed clinical psychologist now, and it can be a challenge to balance both lives. For the most part, though, I feel very lucky to be able to exist in the two worlds. I’ve said often that I believe each field complements the other. My work as a clinician allows me to be a more effective and compassionate writer.

Also, something I’m learning about myself is that I’m not the kind of writer that can sit and write for several hours at a time. I like the urgency of only having a lunch hour to write; I’m more productive when there’s a time limit.

What do you do when “dry days” come along, how do you feel when you are not able to write anything?

I’ve learned to stop resisting those days, just accepting that sometimes I won’t be able to write but also trusting that it will come back. I used to struggle with that a lot, believing myself to be an imposter just because I couldn’t always sit down and summon the “muse”. But now I recognize that it’s just all part of the process.

Your third collection of poetry, Hijra, will be published in the fall this year. Poems in Hijra explore what it is like to lose home, language, and culture as the result of political conflicts over which you have no control. Could you tell me more about the book?

They are basically poems of exodus and flight, a mediation on how physical space is refashioned, transmitted and remembered. The hope was to write poetry that creates a dialogue between two worlds (land of origin vs. new land), using language as a cultural vehicle. Many of the poems follow women from unnamed, war-torn villages/countries as they migrate to the West.

Your poems deal with exile, with being a refugee. With all the conflicts around the world, climate change and poverty, migrations became inevitable for so many people. Do you feel the responsibility to bear witness to these hard times with your poems?

Yes, I do feel that it’s a universal responsibility to bear witness, using whatever tools one has at their disposal: whether that’s through poetry, journalism, art, song, photography, law, etc. Those of us with the privilege of having a voice that’s heard have the responsiblity to amplify the voices of those that don’t.

How do you keep the connection with Palestine? Do you visit often? Do you feel the pressure, like some of your poems reveal, to at least watch the news and be constantly informed about the situation there?

I hope to visit again soon. I think the connection stays alive through family, stories, reading the wonderful writing that comes from Palestinian writers. I do feel like it’s important for people (not just myself) to remain informed on and invested in the situation in Palestine.

linking the body/photo © Sama Alshaibi, Linking the Body and the Desert/

What are some Arab writers (poetry and prose) you hold dear to your heart, whose writing inspires you?

So many! Etel Adnan, Fady Joudah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Khaled Mattawa, Philip Metres, Mahmoud Darwish, Deema Shehabi and more.

What is the beauty and power of poetry, in your words – why is it important?

It’s important for many reasons, not least of all that it grants the reader access to another world, another mind. Poetry rearranges things, which can help us see things not only in a different way, but sometimes in a clearer way. The best poetry tugs at you, releases something authentic—an emotion, a memory, even resistance.

 ✍

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