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, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Yemen | 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview.

kayai so what/Then What, painting by Louay Kayali/

An estimated 18.8 million people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 10.3 million who are in acute need. Escalating conflict since March 2015 has created a vast protection crisis in which millions face risks to their safety and basic rights, and are struggling to survive.

Even before March 25, 2015, when the conflict in Yemen escalated, the country faced enormous levels of humanitarian need, with 15.9 million people requiring some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance in late 2014. These needs stemmed from years of poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law – including widespread violations of human rights.

The conduct of hostilities has been brutal. As of 25 October 2016, health facilities had reported almost 44,000 casualties (including nearly 7,100 deaths) – an average of 75 people killed or injured every day. These figures significantly undercount the true extent of casualties given diminished reporting capacity of health facilities after 19 months of war and many people’s inability to access healthcare at all.

Read the full report on Yemen here.

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art of resistance, Palestine

Playlist: Atab by Cheb Abid.

110424_pages-from-beach_proof_2/Alexandria, 1959. Photo via Al-Mustarib/

I’ve heard this song, Atab, and it made me think of summer, sun, watermelons and evening walks and random dancing after having couple of drinks (too many).

It was really hard to find out something about the artist, Cheb Abid, but internet is a vast space always offering treasures for those willing to search.

And so I found out that Abid is a Palestinian artist, from the town of Hourah in Negev. His friends nicknamed him Il Cheb (The Young) because of his music’s North African flavor.

He’s also a member of the Union for Palestinian Artists in Ramallah. A singer, composer and an entertainer, he’s a part of an artistic group that protests through art, rejecting oppression, raising their voices for justice and human rights.

Even through love songs, I seek a reaction between the lyrics and the music. I respect the listener and try to present to him something worthwhile“, Abid says.

Enjoy his song Atab (with lyrics like “she winks at me and her eyelashes stop my heart”), and check out some of the other songs – if you are willing to search for more, the reward will be a truly pleasant one.

Previous Playlist:

Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud

Khebez Dawle

Checkpoint 303 – The Iqrit Files

Mashrou’ Leila – Straight from Beirut

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art of resistance, Syria

(Interview) All That’s Left Is Women Wearing Black.

_alice_pasquini_syrian_protest-women/image © Alice Pasquini, Syrian Protest Women/

I met Aida Baghdadi* in Beirut, at a conference we were both attending. She was one of the first people I noticed, standing confident, with long beautiful hair and determined look in her eyes. Baghdadi is a feminist, a lawyer working with Syrian political prisoners and abused women in refugee camps and shelters. She is well educated, passionate and strong.

I can see it in her face, the way she talks, how excited she gets when we discuss the situation in Syria and possibilites for a change. It is not easy developing civil society under the regime’s ever-present watch, but she and her fellow activists already got used to it – they meet in private apartments, basements, and sometimes – in other countries, like here, in Lebanon.

I tried to catch her to take away some time from her busy schedule and managed to spend some hours talking to her last couple of days. She tells me she has been a lawyer since 2007, and is working for the Equal Citizenship Center in Damascus.

“We work on many things, like the projects with EFI Initiative, but also different workshops and trainings. We try to educate people in Syria, talk to them about international and human rights, and build a new base, a platform for civil society. I provide legal opinion and also defend people, primarily women, in courts, informing and empowering them, to know about their rights and ask and fight for their rights”, Aida tells me.

Her eyes are fixed on an inivisible point ahead of her, like she’s remembering all the people she works with and trying to bring them to life in our conversation. She tells me how it is particularly hard to work in refugee camps inside Syria, because there’s often wrong information from the regime about the number of camps and people in them.

Women have it really hard, they are not only exposed to violence, but also discrimination in laws and the constitution. For human rights organisations it is hard to do any activity at all, human rights and women’s rights remain unimportant issues under the regime’s control or/and under the control of armed Islamist groups.

“That is what we really want to change – our laws and our constitution, because they are the basis of our society. We are working on new, better laws, for men and for women. I hope we’ll get a chance to implement them one day”, Aida explains to me.

She describes how some places in Syria have left women totally deseperate: “Women are the biggest losers of this war, and all wars, I think. Young men die, or they fight or  leave the country, all that is left in some places now are women wearing black. These are women that lost their children, their husbands, women who try to do anything, work were they can and how they can – to survive and provide for themselves”.

She explains how these issues demand changes on all levels. Her association is focused on the separation of the religion from the state – secularism and democracy, and in relation to that they work hard to introduce the concept of citizenship to Syrian people. I aks her about cooperation with religious leaders, and her answer begins with a deep sigh. “Cooperation with the religious leaders is almost impossible, it doesn’t exist. It is because they don’t want to change the situation, this is good for them, it is an envinronment in which they prosper”, she tells me.

Regime already arrested some of the people from her team, but she was lucky so far. Still, there is a constant fear that haunts her. “I am scared every time I am giving a passport at the border control – I might get arrested and just disappear and nobody will know what happened to me”, she explains.

The situation is the same for a lot of activists in Syria, and many of them are in even worse situations – at risk of arrest and murder cover-ups, not just by the regime but by Islamist groups. Comparing life in Syria now and before, she insists that good life for all people was never a reality, good life was a reality only for people with special connections, religious background, or lots of money.

She asks how it is possible that during the last ten years of Assad’s rule there were outside impressions that the economic situation is good, when there were more than two milion people below the poverty line. Talking about economy, she reflects on the economic sanctions EU imposed on Syria.

“Those sanctions did nothing to hurt the regime, it was left standing strong, because it has found other resources. But sanctions did have an impact on regular people, the poverty spread out, people were suffering, in many hospitals there was no medicines. There was a big pressure on  people in their everyday life, it’s hard to even imagine how some of them managed to survive”, Aida tells me.

She tinks that the control and support of individuals, certain groups and privileged parts of society, is what saved the regime all these years. When mentioning Daesh, she says Assad is to blame because dictators bring problems, they allow the space in which terrorism is born, and that is when the money flows in and weapons flow in.

“Daesh is a complicated web, a lot of foreigners fight for Daesh, they have good financing and, among other things,  they control a substantial amount of oil. But, you know, I don’t think it is the main problem. Keep in mind that many of their supporters are recruited from the outside, so if there is a real intention to get rid of them, it could be done.

But why is that not happening? Let’s start from 2011, when the revolution started. People went out to the streets, and the regime sent the army on the streets. As time moved on, we realized that there are rebels and radicals provided with money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and citizens who really wanted changes found themselves between them and the regime, between two evils, two fires.

And now all of these countries joined in – Iran, Russia, Turkey, US, France – all of them with their particular interests in Syria. US and Russia mainly kill civilians with their strikes, they barely did any harm to Daesh. All of these interests are what frightens me. Even when the war ends, there is a possibility that Daesh will stay, less powerful but present, like a destabilizing factor many are counting on, like a match that can be lit up when necessary.

And all of this war, it’s all profit for the military–industrial complex, and it’s a profit many our counting on and will not be willing to let go of it. It’s also about showing off power and establishing power relations between countries, so – we have to consider so many things and not look at one thing isolated, like Daesh”, Aida explains.

She compares the situation with Iraq, saying both countries have a lot in common and might go through the same process – Syria could also have decades of instability and crippling conflicts, even after the war ends. She thinks political solutions might solve the war, but they will not heal the country, and the big question is – what will remain off the country after the war.

When talking about healing the country, she emphasizes on the issue of political prisoners Syria had  for many decades (and still has), and the massacre in Hama (1982) that is still unresolved. “Hama is important in the collective memory of the Syrian people, taking responsibility for the massacre is an important step in moving forward in our future”, she says.

In her work, she met many political prisoners. It made her realize that many people no longer find meaning in life in Syria, they feel completely helpless, and it pushes them to the edge.  “Some of them may have done some bad things, but you realize that in many cases they actually had no way out, their choice was total blackness, no matter where they turn. When you realize that, it just breaks you”, she tells me, her voice quavering. It’s hard for her to talk about all this without getting emotional.

She tells me about her friend’s husband, Bassel Safadi, a prisoner who was held captive for three years. His wife Noura knew where he was and she could visit him from time to time, but almost three months ago “somebody” came to the prison and took him away – nobody knows where he is now.  His wife was told only that he was deleted from the list of prisoners in the prison in which he was before.

waiting/Waiting by Noura Ghazi Safadi/

She and Bassel’s friends started a petition, wrote to the UN, made hashtag #freeBassel and a facebook page, in order to put pressure on the Syrian government to get an answer about his disappearance, but all efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Bassels’s wife Noura, human rights lawyer, is still relentlessly searching for answers. During the waiting period she has written a wonderful book of poetry Waiting, in which she writes, lifting her voice and recording their love story and the story of Syria.

Aida continues explaining the situation: “People get taken away and you don’t know where they are… People are leaving the country, this is like a big fire that is spreading out, all over the country, with every new country involved and fighting in Syria. You can take a couple of years of war maybe, but more than that, I don’t know.

With every new year, it gets harder and harder. There’s only as much one can take. Civil society is losing people every day, and that is why it is important to work with the young people, but you cannot insist or ask of anyone to stay in the country. People’s lives are at stake, their future is at stake. You have to understand when they say that  they want to leave. That is why it is so important to stop this war”.

Her complaint is that nobody deals with the main issue, with the source of the problem. If Europe really has issues with the refugees, she says,  if they want to stop refugees from coming to Europe, they need to do one thing  and one thing mainly – stop the war. Syrian people will stay in their country, Syrian people will come back to their country – if there is future, Aida is sure about that.

Her special hope are the women – a lot of women, strong women, women that still have some resources and are engaging in civil society efforts, but also women who are unprotected, poor women without anything and anybody – those barely surviving, but still fighting.

She wants to continue studying international law and will go for an exchange programme to Italy to study for five months, and then come back to Syria and continue her work. Finishing our conversation, she takes a deep breath. We both have tears in our eyes.

“Time goes by, with every new hour and day more people die, their lives are destroyed… I don’t want to see anyone die, not ‘regular’ people and not the regime people. I just want to work and live without the constant fear, without thinking of me or my family going to prison or dying, I want to be able to think and talk about Syrian future without sadness”, Aida concludes.

*Name changed due to security issues

• • •

This interview was also published in Croatian, on Libela.

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art of resistance, Tunisia

Albert Memmi: Thoughts On Colonialism.

Albert Memmi is a French writer of Tunisian-Jewish origin. His great work The Colonizer and the Colonized was published in 1957, and is often compared with Frantz Franon’s The Wretched of the Earth. The following are some of Memmi’s thoughts on colonialism from the book.

e6e63a4665bc38d401b2bfed4da8ef7e (Custom)/Albert Memmi, photo by Claude Dityvon/

“Conquest occurred through violence, and over-expolitation and oppression necessitate continued violence, so the army is present. There would be no contradiction in that, if terror reigned everywhere in the world, but the colonizer enjoys, in the mother country, democratic rights that the colonialist system refuses to the colonized native.

In fact, the colonialist system favors population growth to reduce the cost of labor, and it forbids assimilation of the natives, whose numerical superiority, if they had voting rights, would shatter the system. Colonialism denies human rights to human beings whom it has subdued by violence, and keeps them by force in a state of misery and ignorance that Marx would rightly call a subhuman condition.

Racism is ingrained in actions, institutions, and in the nature of the colonialist methods of production and exchange. Political and social regulations reinforce one another. Since the native is subhuman, the Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to him; inversely, since he has no rights, he is abandoned without protection to inhuman forces – brought in with the colonialist praxis, engendered every moment by the colonialist apparatus, and sustained by relations of production that define two sorts of individuals – one for whom privilege and humanity are one, who becomes a human being through exercising his rights; and the other, for whom a denial of rights sanctions misery, chronic hunger, ignorance, or, in general, ‘subhumanity.”

“Madness for destroying the colonized having originated with the needs of the colonizer, it is not surprising that it conforms so well to them, that it seems to confirm and justify the colonizer’s conduct. More surprising, more harmful perhaps, is the echo that it excites in the colonized himself.

Constantly confronted with this image of himself, set forth and imposed on all institutions and in every human contact, how could the colonized help reacting to his portrait? It cannot leave him indifferent and remain a veneer which, like an insult, blows with the wind. He ends up recognizing it as one would a detested nickname which has become a familiar description.

The accusation disturbs him and worries him even more because he admires and fears his powerful accuser. ‘Is he not partially right?’ he mutters. ‘Are we not all a little guilty after all? Lazy, because we have so many idlers? Timid, because we let ourselves be oppressed.’ Willfully created and spread by the colonizer, this mythical and degrading portrait ends up by being accepted and lived with to a certain extent by the colonized. It thus acquires a certain amount of reality and contributes to the true portrait of the colonized.”

“Take terrorism, one example among the methods used in that struggle. We know that leftist tradition condemns terrorism and political assassination. When the colonized uses them, the leftist colonizer becomes unbearably embarrassed. He makes an effort to separate them from the colonized’s voluntary action; to make an epiphenomenon out of his struggle.

They are spontaneous outbursts of masses too long oppressed, or better yet, acts by unstable, untrustworthy elements which the leader of the movement has difficulty in controlling. Even in Europe, very few people admitted that the oppression of the colonized was so great, the disproportion of forces so overwhelming, that they had reached the point, whether morally correct or not, of using violent means voluntarily. The leftist colonizer tried in vain to explain actions which seemed incomprehensible, shocking and politically absurd.

For example, the death of children and persons outside of the struggle, or even of colonized persons who, without being basically opposed, disapproved of some small aspect of the undertaking. At first he was so disconcerted that the best he could do was to deny such actions; for they would fit nowhere in his view of the problem. That it could be the cruelty of oppression which explained the blind fury of the reaction hardly seemed to be an argument to him; he can’t approve acts of the colonized which he condemns in the colonizers because these are exactly why he condemns colonization.

Then, after having suspected the information to be false, he says, as a last resort, that such deeds are errors, that is, they should not belong to the essence of the movement. He bravely asserts that the leaders certainly disapprove of them. A newspaper-man who always supported the cause of the colonized, weary of waiting for censure which was not forthcoming, finally called on certain leaders to take a public stand against the outrages, Of course, received no reply; he did not have the additional naïveté to insist.”

• • •

For more – read The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi.

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art of resistance, Palestine

Ali Ashour: Daily Life in Gaza.

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Ali Ashour is a young Palestinian photographer from Gaza. I recently stumbled upon his beautiful Ramadan photos from Gaza and was tempted to find out more about his work.

When I asked him about his motivation, Ashour said he started taking photos to show the beautiful side of life. He wanted photos that will make people happy and invite the good feelings to come out.

Living in Gaza isn’t easy, but through his photos he wants to challenge the persisting perceptions. “I insist in showing that people live despite the difficult circumstances, that they resist. I want to show the smiles on the faces of children..” Ashour says.

Take a look at some of his work, and for more – follow him on facebook.

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//all photos © Ali Ashour//

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Algeria, art of resistance

Frantz Fanon: Concerning Violence (part two).

The following is an excerpt from Frantz Fanon’s classic The Wretched of the Earth. It is a continuation of an excerpt I posted two months ago.

F.-Fanon/Frantz Fanon, photo via Zimbabwe Daily/

“Monsieur Meyer could state seriously in the French National Assembly that the Republic must not be prostituted by allowing the Algerian people to become part of it. All values, in fact, are irrevocably poisoned and diseased as soon as they are allowed in contact with the colonized race. The customs of the colonized people, their traditions, their myths — above all, their myths–are the very sign of that poverty of spirit and of their constitutional depravity. That is why we must put the DDT which destroys parasites, the bearers of disease, on the same level as the Christian religion which wages war on embryonic heresies and instincts, and on evil as yet unborn. The recession of yellow fever and the advance of evangelization form part of the same balance sheet. But the triumphant communiqués from the missions are in fact a source of information concerning the implantation of foreign influences in the core of the colonized people. I speak of the Christian religion, and no one need be astonished. The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.

At times this Manicheism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow man’s reptilian motions, of the stink of the native quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. When the settler seeks to describe the native fully in exact terms he constantly refers to the bestiary. The European rarely hits on a picturesque style; but the native, who knows what is in the mind of the settler, guesses at once what he is thinking of.

Those hordes of vital statistics, those hysterical masses, those faces bereft of all humanity, those distended bodies which are like nothing on earth, that mob without beginning or end, those children who seem to belong to nobody, that laziness stretched out in the sun, that vegetative rhythm of life–all this forms part of the colonial vocabulary. General de Gaulle speaks of ‘the yellow multitudes’ and François Mauriac of the black, brown, and yellow masses which soon will be unleashed. The native knows all this, and laughs to himself every time he spots an allusion to the animal world in the other’s words. For he knows that he is not an animal; and it is precisely at the moment he realizes his humanity that he begins to sharpen the weapons with which he will secure its victory.

As soon as the native begins to pull on his moorings, and to cause anxiety to the settler, he is handed over to well-meaning souls who in cultural congresses point out to him the specificity and wealth of Western values. But every time Western values are mentioned they produce in the native a sort of stiffening or muscular lockjaw. During the period of decolonization, the natives’s reason is appealed to. He is offered definite values, he is told frequently that decolonization need not mean regression, and that he must put his trust in qualities which are welltried, solid, and highly esteemed.

But it so happens that when the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife–or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him. In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values. In the period of decolonization, the colonized masses mock at these very values, insult them, and vomit them up.

This phenomenon is ordinarily masked because, during the period of decolonization, certain colonized intellectuals have begun a dialogue with the bourgeoisie of the colonialist country. During this phase, the indigenous population is discerned only as an indistinct mass. The few native personalities whom the colonialist bourgeois have come to know here and there have not sufficient influence on that immediate discernment to give rise to nuances. On the other hand, during the period of liberation, the colonialist bourgeoisie looks feverishly for contacts with the elite and it is with these elite that the familiar dialogue concerning values is carried on.

The colonialist bourgeoisie, when it realizes that it is impossible for it to maintain its domination over the colonial countries, decides to carry out a rearguard action with regard to culture, values, techniques, and so on. Now what we must never forget is that the immense majority of colonized peoples is oblivious to these problems. For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with the dignity of the human individual: for that human individual has never heard tell of it. All that the native has seen in his country is that they can freely arrest him, beat him, starve him: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in his place, nor to share their bread with him.

As far as the native is concerned, morality is very concrete; it is to silence the settler’s defiance, to break his flaunting violence–in a word, to put him out of the picture. The wellknown principle that all men are equal will be illustrated in the colonies from the moment that the native claims that he is the equal of the settler. One step more, and he is ready to fight to be more than the settler. In fact, he has already decided to eject him and to take his place; as we see it, it is a whole material and moral universe which is breaking up.

The intellectual who for his part has followed the colonialist with regard to the universal abstract will fight in order that the settler and the native may live together in peace in a new world. But the thing he does not see, precisely because he is permeated by colonialism and all its ways of thinking, is that the settler, from the moment that the colonial context disappears, has no longer any interest in remaining or in co-existing. It is not by chance that, even before any negotiation between the Algerian and French governments has taken place, the European minority which calls itself ‘liberal’ has already made its position clear: it demands nothing more nor less than twofold citizenship. By setting themselves apart in an abstract manner, the liberals try to force the settler into taking a very concrete jump into the unknown. Let us admit it, the settler knows perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality.

Thus the native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin; and it must be said that this discovery shakes the world in a very necessary manner. All the new, revolutionary assurance of the native stems from it. For if, in fact, my life is worth as much as the settler’s, his glance no longer shrivels me up nor freezes me, and his voice no longer turns me into stone. I am no longer on tenterhooks in his presence; in fact, I don’t give a damn for him. Not only does his presence no longer trouble me, but I am already preparing such efficient ambushes for him that soon there will be no way out but that of flight.

We have said that the colonial context is characterized by the dichotomy which it imposes upon the whole people. Decolonization unifies that people by the radical decision to remove from it its heterogeneity, and by unifying it on a national, sometimes a racial, basis. We know the fierce words of the Senegalese patriots, referring to the maneuvers of their president, Senghor: ‘We have demanded that the higher posts should be given to Africans; and now Senghor is Africanizing the Europeans.’ That is to say that the native can see clearly and immediately if decolonization has come to pass or not, for his minimum demands are simply that the last shall be first.

But the native intellectual brings variants to this petition, and, in fact, he seems to have good reasons: higher civil servants, technicians, specialists–all seem to be needed. Now, the ordinary native interprets these unfair promotions as so many acts of sabotage, and he is often heard to declare: ‘It wasn’t worth while, then, our becoming independent…’

In the colonial countries where a real struggle for freedom has taken place, where the blood of the people has flowed and where the length of the period of armed warfare has favored the backward surge of intellectuals toward bases grounded in the people, we can observe a genuine eradication of the superstructure built by these intellectuals from the bourgeois colonialist environment. The colonialist bourgeoisie, in its narcissistic dialogue, expounded by the members of its universities, had in fact deeply implanted in the minds of the colonized intellectual that the essential qualities remain eternal in spite of all the blunders men may make: the essential qualities of the West, of course.

The native intellectual accepted the cogency of these ideas, and deep down in his brain you could always find a vigilant sentinel ready to defend the Greco-Latin pedestal. Now it so happens that during the struggle for liberation, at the moment that the native intellectual comes into touch again with his people, this artificial sentinel is turned into dust. All the Mediterranean values–the triumph of the human individual, of clarity, and of beauty–become lifeless, colorless knickknacks. All those speeches seem like collections of dead words; those values which seemed to uplift the soul are revealed as worthless, simply because they have nothing to do with the concrete conflict in which the people is engaged.

Individualism is the first to disappear. The native intellectual had learnt from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native’s mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought. Now the native who has the opportunity to return to the people during the struggle for freedom will discover the falseness of this theory. The very forms of organization of the struggle will suggest to him a different vocabulary. Brother, sister, friend–these are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie, because for them my brother is my purse, my friend is part of my scheme for getting on.

The native intellectual takes part, in a sort of auto-da-fé, in the destruction of all his idols: egoism, recrimination that springs from pride, and the childish stupidity of those who always want to have the last word. Such a colonized intellectual, dusted over by colonial culture, will in the same way discover the substance of village assemblies, the cohesion of people’s committees, and the extraordinary fruitfulness of local meetings and groupments. Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred–or everyone will be saved. The motto ‘look out for yourself,’ the atheist’s method of salvation, is in this context forbidden.

Self-criticism has been much talked about of late, but few people realize that it is an African institution. Whether in the djemaas of northern Africa or in the meetings of western Africa, tradition demands that the quarrels which occur in a village should be settled in public. It is communal self-criticism, of course, and with a note of humor, because everybody is relaxed, and because in the last resort we all want the same things. But the more the intellectual imbibes the atmosphere of the people, the more completely he abandons the habits of calculation, of unwonted silence, of mental reservations, and shakes off the spirit of concealment. And it is true that already at that level we can say that the community triumphs, and that it spreads its own light and its own reason.

But it so happens sometimes that decolonization occurs in areas which have not been sufficiently shaken by the struggle for liberation, and there may be found those same know-all, smart, wily intellectuals. We find intact in them the manners and forms of thought picked up during their association with the colonialist bourgeoisie. Spoilt children of yesterday’s colonialism and of today’s national governments, they organize the loot of whatever national resources exist. Without pity, they use today’s national distress as a means of getting on through scheming and legal robbery, by import-export combines, limited liability companies, gambling on the stock exchange, or unfair promotion. They are insistent in their demands for the nationalization of commerce, that is to say the reservation of markets and advantageous bargains for nationals only. As far as doctrine is concerned, they proclaim the pressing necessity of nationalizing the robbery of the nation. In this arid phase of national life, the so-called period of austerity, the success of their depredations is swift to call forth the violence and anger of the people. For this same people, poverty-stricken yet independent, comes very quickly to possess a social conscience in the African and international context of today; and this the petty individualists will quickly learn.

In order to assimilate and to experience the oppressor’s culture, the native has had to leave certain of his intellectual possessions in pawn. These pledges include his adoption of the forms of thought of the colonialist bourgeoisie. This is very noticeable in the inaptitude of the native intellectual to carry on a two-sided discussion; for he cannot eliminate himself when confronted with an object or an idea. On the other hand, when once he begins to militate among the people he is struck with wonder and amazement; he is literally disarmed by their good faith and honesty. The danger that will haunt him continually is that of becoming the uncritical mouthpiece of the masses; he becomes a kind of yes-man who nods assent at every word coming from the people, which he interprets as considered judgments. Now, the fellah, the unemployed man, the starving native do not lay a claim to the truth; they do not say that they represent the truth, for they are the truth.

Objectively, the intellectual behaves in this phase like a common opportunist. In fact he has not stopped maneuvering. There is never any question of his being either rejected or welcomed by the people. What they ask is simply that all resources should be pooled. The inclusion of the native intellectual in the upward surge of the masses will in this case be differentiated by a curious cult of detail. That is not to say that the people are hostile to analysis; on the contrary, they like having things explained to them, they are glad to understand a line of argument and they like to see where they are going. But at the beginning of his association with the people the native intellectual over-stresses details and thereby comes to forget that the defeat of colonialism is the real object of the struggle.

Carried away by the multitudinous aspects of the fight, he tends to concentrate on local tasks, performed with enthusiasm but almost always too solemnly. He fails to see the whole of the movement all the time. He introduces the idea of special disciplines, of specialized functions, of departments within the terrible stone crusher, the fierce mixing machine which a popular revolution is. He is occupied in action on a particular front, and it so happens that he loses sight of the unity of the movement. Thus, if a local defeat is inflicted, he may well be drawn into doubt, and from thence to despair. The people, on the other hand, take their stand from the start on the broad and inclusive positions of bread and the land: how can we obtain the land, and bread to eat? And this obstinate point of view of the masses, which may seem shrunken and limited, is in the end the most worthwhile and the most efficient mode of procedure.”

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