art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Israeli Soldiers Speak Up About Gaza Atrocities & Orders for Indiscriminate Fire.

A new report based on testimonies of Israeli soldiers concludes the massive civilian death toll from last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza resulted from a policy of indiscriminate fire.

1425203171_b3e5b6f6-a380-46b1-833a-3087ef13d8931421845089/photo © Breaking the Silence/

The Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence released testimonies of more than 60 Israeli officers and soldiers which it says illustrate a “broad ethical failure” that “comes from the top of the chain of command.” More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the assault, the vast majority civilians. On Israel’s side, 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. During the 50-day operation, more than 20,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced.

Democracy Now! discussed the report with Avner Gvaryahu, director of public outreach at Breaking the Silence. He is a former IDF solder who served from 2004-2007 as a sergeant in a special operations unit around Nablus and Jenin. During the interview, we can also hear video testimonies from the soldiers.

In one of the testimonies, a first sergeant in the Israeli military, his voice distorted, describes what his commander told him:

The commander announced, “Folks, tomorrow we enter. I want you to be determined, task-oriented and confident. The entire nation is behind you”—the usual speeches. And then he spoke about the rules of engagement. And I quote: “The rules of engagement are: Any person at a distance that could put you at risk, you kill him with no need for clearance.” Meaning, anyone at a distance of 200, 300, 400 meters from us, isn’t an ordinary civilian. According to IDF logic, he must be there for a reason, because an ordinary civilian would flee the area, and so, we must kill him with no need for clearance. For me, it was just spine-tingling.

I said to him, “Let me get this straight. Any person I see in the neighborhood where we’re headed, I spot him and kill him?” He said, “Yes. Any sane person who sees a tank battalion in his neighborhood will run away. If he sticks around, then he’s up to something. And if he’s up to something, it’s against you. So shoot him.” So I tried to dig a little deeper and asked, “What if it’s an innocent civilian?” He said, “There are no innocent civilians. Your presumption should be that anyone within the area of battle, 200, 300, 400 meters from you, is your enemy.”

In one of the other testimonies, a staff sergeant talks about the first entrance to the Gaza strip during the operation Protective Edge:

During the first entrance [to the Gaza Strip] we were near Beit Lahia, in a place called the Bedou’iyya. We were there for a few days. When we got there, there were white flags on all the rooftops. We had been prepared for something very… For some very glorious combat, and in the end it was quiet. We set ourselves up in our spot and slowly, slowly, [the Palestinians] started returning. At one point early on an older woman came near, and one of the officers said she should be shot. They told him to fire [warning shots] in her direction, and after a few shots she backed off. Later on, lots of people with white flags came over and [warning] shots were fired near them, too.

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For more on this story, visit Breaking the Silence.

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art of resistance, Turkey

Centenary of the Armenian Genocide: Denying Genocide Means Continuing Genocide.

On 24th of April 1915, Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested and executed, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The date is held to be the beginning of the Armenian genocide – Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of Armenian people, inside their historic homeland. Starting from today, Middle East Revised marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide until the end of this year – with various reports, books recommendations, articles, testimonials, etc.

This first article is written by Zdravko Budimir, Croatian political scientist who wrote his master thesis on Armenian genocide and knows the subject very well. I am really happy to be able to publish it on Middle East Revised.

• • •

Even though ethnic violence played a large role in history of mankind, there is one distinctive reason why 20th century is considered a dark century. Genocide as a phenomena is a decadency of, not a certain nation, but entire civilization. Violence of the 20th century was prepared. It derived its origins from the imperialistic fashion, where new racist theory justified bloody colonial expansionism and brought in a modern concept of administrative massacres. Genocide is not a single and discrete act but a process. Diagnostically perceived, it is a syndrome developed by simultaneous grouping of various signs and symptoms.

When altogether these symptoms produce abnormal state. Armenian genocide started in April 1915, as an escalation of a prolonged process of ethnic violence towards the Armenian population, started in 19th century. Ethnic violence escalated into a genocide because ethnic violence became a political tool for achieving political goals.

April24Victims/Armenian intellectuals jailed and later executed on April 24th. Image is from the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia, Yerevan: 1981, p. 423./

Twentieth century introduced new political ideas and redefinition of older political concepts. Historically, democracy stands for a rule of the people, and there are two definitions of the people and one of them is responsible for turning a genocide into a political weapon.

Conception of people as demos is not a problematic one, as it assumes the differences between people can be set out by compromise. On the other hand conception of people as ethnos overrides compromise as a political tool, and defines nation in ethnic terms. Armenian genocide is the first modern genocide because ethnic violence had exceptional political purpose – removal of others in an already ethnically defined territory.

At the turn of the century Armenian question was integral part of a broader Eastern question and secondary stage for confrontation between European powers.  As a political system an empire could no longer cope with its minorities and their rising political and national aspirations.

Armenian_genocide_heads/Caption of the photograph reads: The Above Photograph Shows Eight Armenian Professors Massacred by the Turks. Found on Wikipedia/

Hamidian massacres 1894.-1896. were series of mass murders, led by Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Red Sultan. Violence was focused on Armenian society and estimated number of Armenian casualties vary from 80,000 to 300,000. The massacres themselves were, considering reasons and execution, pre-modern (feudal) type of violence and contain pre-genocidal character.

Hamidian massacres opened up for a further process of violence, thus creating a continuity of violence. During and after the massacres a certain type of culture was welcomed. Crimes were forgotten and it’s perpetuers were unpunished. Armenians turned into a safety valve of the system. Safety valve could be opened and tightened at any given time, without making political or moral risks. Hamidian massacres were crucial moment in incubation phase of genocide because vulnerability of Armenian people was detected and recognised (there was no address for Armenians to appeal to), and combined with Turkish invulnerability within the empire it made genocide a possible option.

In 20th century  Ottoman empire faced crisis caused by territory loss. For the first time in history Turks made a majority within their own empire, an empire which was about to collapse.

Armenian_woman_kneeling_beside_dead_child_in_field/Armenian woman kneeling beside dead child in a field “within sight of help and safety at Aleppo“. Sometime between 1915 and 1919. Photo source: Wikipedia/

Armenians as a minority faced a historically progressive hatred on an ethnic, religious, economic and political level. Armenians were used to violence. World War I provided a safe curtain for the most brutal act of violence in human history because it intensified nationalism, geopolitical destabilization, and made combining ethnos and demos far more dangerous. Context of total war redefined civilians as potential targets and enabled the use of terror as a supression of potentially cooperating parts of society. Armenian society was suspected for cooperation with the enemy and percieved as a direct threat to the Ottoman state in the same manner.

Extermination of the Armenians begun as elitocide, focused on Armenian leaders, soldiers, fortifications, strategically valuable cities and villages. Elitocide was justified as war necessity and preemptive strike, as Armenians were flagged as enemies.  Leaderless Armenian population was helpless, stateless and without any political representation. Genocide was executed using top-down principle, with a developed administrative system used for the coordination of murderings.

Armenian_Orphans,_Merzifon,_1918/Armenian orphans in Merzifon, 1918. Photo by Tsolag Dildilian/

Deportation was introduced as a specific method of genocide  (removal of the others from a heartland) and it was enforced as a law. Deportation and pillage were legal acts and covered for extermination which happened in their sake.

Armenian genocide was perpetuated by Young Turks, a force within a society driven by modern and nationalistic ideal of an ethnically defined nation state.  Young Turks’ desired society was bound by same language, education, religion, moral and aesthetic norms. They aspired towards  the Jacobin model, ruled by centralised state, ruthless homogenizer, egalitarian nationalism within national natural limits. Young Turks’ political rule in war era was an usurpation of a system and radicalization of the political sphere.

Armenian genocide is essentially a modern crime. It was initiated because Young Turks were devoted to the organic nationalism ideology which combined dark side of democracy with dark side of multiethnic empire. Later on, the Turkish nation-state was founded on genocide and it was maintained on its denial. Turkish people as a collective are not responsible for the massacre, but they take their part in culpability by constructing a national myth based on a denial of the other nation.

Armenianmothermourning/An Armenian mother and the corpses of her five children. Photo by Maria Jacobsen, Diary 1907-1919, Kharput-Turkey/

Armenian genocide can be described as a successful crime because it fulfilled its given purpose: final goal, the creation of homogeneous state, was accomplished, crime was forgotten and Turkey unpunished. And even one hundred years later, denying the obvious, historically proven and argumented facts is de facto acceptance of their outcome as favorable. Denial of the genocide means prolonging its effects and the Armenian genocidal process now exists for one hundred years.

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art of resistance, United Arab Emirates

Under The Splendor & Sparkle of The Gulf: Modern-day Slavery.

‘My message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,’ said Tariq, a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.”

That is how Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice, Slaves of Hapiness Island,  begins. It was published in August last year. What happened in the meantime with migrant workers of Abu Dhabi and the grand museums they are building? Well, everything is pretty much the same. Poor living and working conditions for the workers is still modus operandi in the Gulf, while spectacular museums grow like mushrooms after rain (Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open in December this year).

slaves-molly-crabapple/image © Molly Crabapple/

Just this month, the United Arab Emirates has barred New York University professor Andrew Ross from entering the country after he published research about migrant workers and labor abuse in the Gulf State. Ross learned of the ban after arriving at the airport in New York, where he was set to board a flight to continue his research in the UAE. It has also emerged that a private investigator was hired to target him and a New York Times reporter, Ariel Kaminer, who wrote the expose on workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus facing harsh conditions. 

A freelance journalist based in the Emirates who collaborated on the article, Sean O’Driscoll, said in an interview that he was also summoned by the authorities several weeks after its publication and offered immunity from prosecution and high pay if he would agree to publish pro-government articles. O’Driscoll said he refused and was later expelled from the country.

Capture/Construction workers can live as many as 15 men to a room. Space is so scarce that a dozen men can share a space of barely 200 square feet. One of New York University’s labor values states that contractors should not house more than four people in a bedroom. © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times/

This was an important article – so important that it was not printed – the New York Times was not printed in the Emirates that day. It was the first time the New York Times was actually banned from circulation.

Gulf Labor, a coalition of of international artists working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, also did (and does) a lot of work to put pressure on the Guggenheim Museum because the Guggenheim is also building in Abu Dhabi.

In their 2014 report, main observations were that the wages on Saadiyat Island remain very low, all workers had paid recruitment fees, but the fees have not been reimbursed to them (many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries in order to get to UAE  but then struggle to pay the debt in order to gain any profits), and there are no organized workers’ groups to speak to.

10439508_812658942078229_3920436120298589230_n

/image – Gulf Labor facebook page/

There is a consistent pattern of fair labor standards violations and human rights abuses among the migrant workers in the UAE and also in Qatar, because it’s the same migrant-labor sponsorship system that brings workers from South Asia to these two countries. More than 80% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal.

All of those people bare the same burden – like Crabapple wrote – “in company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.”

nyc149070/image © Jonas Bendiksen, Far From Home – Guest Workers of the Gulf/

In the meantime, those who try to speak up against this outrageous treatment of workers, end up being banned from the country, or their articles are not being printed. How come this is (still) possible?

• • •

For more on this story, I recommend the following articles/videos:

The Dark Side of Abu Dhabi Cultural Revolution, video by Guardian‘s Glenn Carrick

Slaves of Happiness Island, Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice

Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions, Ariel Kaminer & Sean O’Driscoll for The New York Times

Inside Story – The Plight of Qatar’s Migrant Workers by Al Jazeera English

United Arab Emirates: Trapped, Exploited, Abused, by Human Rights Watch

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The Book To Read: Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep.

I recently read (finally) Siba Shakib’s well-known novel Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep. It is a story about Shirin-Gol, Afghan woman who was just a young girl when her village was levelled by the Russians’ bombs in 1979. We follow her life from her teenage years to her adulthood – going from one refugee camp to antoher, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Pakistan to Iran and back to Afghanistan. And all of that before the US invasion (the book was published in 2002). Who knows what happened to Shirin-Gol later…

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Siba Shakib is an Iranian-German filmmaker and writer, and she spent many years working in Afghanistan. This book (she was just finishing it when the attack on World Trade Center happened) was a result of her ‘story-collecting’ ventures in Afghanistan. Seeing all the suffering, particularly the burden women carry on their shoulders, she decided to write this book. This is a story about Shirin-Gol, but it is, at the same time, a story about millions of Afghan women (and men) and their endless suffering.

The book was fast-paced and simply written, it really felt like listening to Shirin-Gol’s story. You may feel there’s some depth missing from the story, you may look for more explanation, but this book will not provide you with that. I don’t think it lacks quality for that reason. This was meant to be a book written the only way war (often) allows us to write and tell stories – with not much time to reflect on things, with constant changes and adaptation to new circumstances.

That is why, when things settle down, when the defence mechanism is down, when you are finally at peace for a while – you start feeling the pain kicking in. It is like Khaled Juma wrote about his experience in Gaza: “I recall that after the 2012 war, many people said to me: ‘It is strange that we did not feel scared during the war, but after it finished we feel terrified.’ This is precisely the concept of ‘crisis storage.'”

Unlike many foreign authors who write about Afghanistan (and other war-torn countries) Siba Shakib doesn’t make this book about herself, about her journey through the demolished country. The focus is were it should be – on the victims, the Afghan people. Shakib lets them speak through his book.

Although I read a lot about Afghanistan and its people, it’s always incredible how much suffering can fit into one lifetime, one body, one heart. It is incredible how people can endure it, how they go on, how they survive. We must pay respect to their courage and we must be aware of their pain. This book doesn’t exist for us (by us I mean people who don’t live in a war-torn country) to feel better about our lives, this book exists so that we could do something about them (by them I mean people who are suffering, people caught in the horrors of war). Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep is only a tiny part of the big Afghanistan puzzle, but it is worthy of attention – read it.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Late For Tea At The Dear Palace 

A Sky So Close by Betool Kheadiri

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness

and more.

 

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Syria

Thirty-Three Years Later: The Ghost of Hama Massacre Lingers On.

The Hama massacre occurred in February 1982, when an uprising in the city was brutally crushed under the orders of the president Hafez al-Assad. The attack was led by Hafez Assad’s brother Rifaat. The town was besieged for 27 days in order to quell an uprising by Sunni Muslim groups, including Muslim Brotherhood, against al-Assad’s government. Years have gone by, and we still don’t know the exact number of victims, but it is estimated that at least 10,000 Syrian citizens were killed, and there are even some estimates that put the number at 40,000. The number of missing has never been acknowledged by the Syrian leadership.

Robert Fisk was one of the rare journalists who witnessed the massacre. As always – Fisk warns us it wasn’t a black and white story, but of course – we must see it as a horrible event that can’t be justified. He also remembers how the Western governments were happy with the way Hafez al-Assad crushed the Muslim uprising. And then – almost thirty years later – we saw the West rising for justice in Syria, rising against al-Assad (this time Bashar, Hafez’s son). And in the last four years that attitude has been changing with all the unrest around the Middle East, the Western governments are still not very sure about their relationship with Bashar al-Assad. It’s an on and off thing, depending on various interests and changing circumstances. When international community starts talking about Syria, we can be sure the motifs are never justice and human rights, that is the lesson we learned.

Capture

Thanks to the NPR and a former Hama resident, Abu Aljude, there are some images that reveal the horror that took place in Hama thirty-three years ago. In an article written on the 30th anniversary of Hama massacre, Deborah Amos writes:

In the weeks and months that followed, news of the events in Hama dribbled out. But there were virtually no photos or any international reaction. Yet Hama stands as a defining moment in the Middle East. It is regarded as perhaps the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East, a shadow that haunts the Assad regime to this day.

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And now, three decades later, photos from Hama in 1982 are beginning to circulate on the Internet. One of the people compiling photos of Hama is Abu Aljude, who was a 16-year-old living in Hama at the time of the slaughter. ‘It took three weeks. We stayed in school overnight because we couldn’t walk back home. We walked over dead bodies. There were bodies in the streets,’ says Abu Aljude, now a medical technical expert living in California.

‘I wonder if dying then is less painful than surviving it and living the memories,’ he says.

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Within Syria, for decades now, mention of the massacre has been very much suppressed, although the general contours of the events—and various partisan versions, on all sides—are well known throughout the country. When the massacre is publicly referenced, it is only as the ‘event’ or ‘incident’ at Hama. The same thing is with the international community – there is still no general verdict saying the ‘event’ in Hama was indeed a massacre. That is why the ghost of Hama massacre still lingers on.

//all photos via NPR, courtesy of Abu Aljude//

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art of resistance

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful In Bad Times.

In his 2002 autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn wrote:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

howardn/Howard Zinn, photo via Howard Zinn facebook page/

Zinn passed away five years ago, a remarkable historian, a passionate activist. He wrote more than twenty books, including his best-selling and influential A People’s History of the United StatesHe was the first historian to write about American history from a perspective of indigenous people, from a perspective of the working class – people who worked in the steel mills, people who worked in the mines, people who worked on the railroads. He told the stories of immigrants, and presented all the rough hands and tortured faces that built the country we know as America.

When talking about his motivation and inspiration to write A People’s History of the United States, Zinn reflected on his first real teaching job in Atlanta, Georgia. He taught at Spelman College, a college for black women in Atlanta. He did so for seven years, from 1956 to 1963. Those were important years. In an interview on Democracy Now! Zinn described the experience:

“Those were the years of the civil rights movement and of turmoil, and they were very exciting and still perhaps the most intense experience of my life. And I became involved in the movement. I became a kind of participant, what sociologists call a ‘participant observer’ or participant writer. I was involved in the movement, and I began writing about it for The Nation and for Harper’s, and became involved with SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And I began to think about history from the black point of view, because it’s hard to live in the black community and teach in a black college without beginning—at least beginning to think of history from a different point of view.

And everything looks different in history when you look at from the black point of view. If you take just something like the Progressive period in American history, anybody who studies history goes through and there’s always a period called the Progressive Era or the Progressive period in American history, which is the first years of the 20th century, roughly between 1900 and, you know, World War I, the Progressive period. Why is it called the Progressive period? Well, because some reforms were passed, right?

The meat inspection—Meat Inspection Act was passed. You notice how good our meat is? Meat Inspection Act, railroad regulation, 16th Amendment, 17th Amendment, Federal Reserve Act—this is what you learned in school, right? You got multiple-choice questions about—to see if you knew the difference between, you know, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve Commission. And if you read a black historian, which I read while I was teaching in Spelman College, a black historian named Rayford Logan, who wrote exactly about that period—he didn’t call it the Progressive period, he called it ‘the nadir,’ the bottom. The Progressive period was the period in which more black people were lynched than any other period in American history. And still it continued to be called the Progressive period in American history.

So, from a black point of view, all the presidents of the United States look different. Lincoln looked different. Lincoln suddenly was not, you know, the Great Emancipator represented in that statue with the black kneeling before him gratefully, you know, where Lincoln bestows emancipation. From the black point of view, or from any decent point of view, Lincoln was a reluctant emancipator. Lincoln had to be pushed into it, by a movement, by an anti-slavery movement, by black abolitionists and white abolitionists, by a crescendo of criticism of him for not doing anything about slavery, even while a civil war was going on and even after the South had seceded. You know, Lincoln looks different.

Roosevelt looks different. Did any of you see this new series on the Great Depression? There are some—a few of you are nodding your heads, so a lot of you haven’t, I assume, right? I won’t berate you for not seeing that, but it’s very good. Some of you may know the series Eyes on the Prize, and this is a little follow-up by the same producer, Henry Hampton, and it’s about the Great Depression. And the interesting thing about this, about the Great Depression, is that black people and their point of view—and I guess because Henry Hampton is doing it—are much more evident in looking at the Great Depression. And so, he points out to what anybody who has studied FDR fairly closely knows, that Roosevelt, who was, you know, I guess, one of our best presidents, in many, many ways—no question—but Roosevelt would not support the passage of an anti-lynching law in Congress, because he was tied in with the Southern Democrats and dependent on their political support.

Same thing with Kennedy. Kennedy, you know, the liberal president, the young and, you know, we all know the good things about—that everybody believed about Kennedy. But from the point of view of people in the movement, people in the South in the movement in the early 1960s, Kennedy was no civil rights advocate. Kennedy appointed racist segregationist judges in the deep South, in Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi. Kennedy’s Justice Department stood by while people were being beaten, and Kennedy didn’t respond. Same thing with his attorney general, Robert Kennedy. Heroes look different, everything looks different, when you look at it from a different point of view. So all of these things affected my thinking about history.

In the first chapter of People’s History, Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress, we are, maybe for the first time in Western history textbooks, presented with a different view of Columbus and his great ‘discovery’ of America.

“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

‘They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.’

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

‘As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.’

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold?

The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports, ‘they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help.’ He describes their work in the mines:

‘… mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside….’

After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, ‘there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….’

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas-even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)-is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure-there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration.”

I think there are no words to thank Howard Zinn for all his efforts, his work, dedication, strength and optimism. History is something we make every day, and it is not seealed in a vacuum, high above, out of our reach. It is up to us to stand up for change, it is up to us to release the pressure. “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience”, Zinn always warned.

The best way to thank Zinn is to keep on educating ourselves, to keep on thinking from different perspectives, to be active, to participate in our society and help all the ways we can. Zinn will always be remembered, for he was a true freedom fighter and one of the rare ones who used history as a tool to show the stories of the oppressed majority, and not as a celebration of the oppressing elites.

Paul Laverty, the screenwriter of También la lluvia (the film is depicting the struggle of the indigenous people of Bolivia against the privatization of their water supply, and is dedicated to Zinn’s memory), reflected on Zinn’s influence:

On the 27th of January 2010, while we were editing the film, Howard Zinn, after a lifetime of teaching, writing and activism, died while swimming at the age of 87. It was  a blow to lose such a wonderful collaborator, and modest friend, and I wish we could  have sat in that darkened cinema together, along with another 1000 strangers at the Toronto Film Festival, to watch the first public screening, and thereafter to have  participated in what was a wonderful debate. It was not to be, but I was massively  touched by the spontaneous applause from the audience when his name went up on screen.

Howard’s books are a homage to the courage and creativity of ordinary people. He doesn’t romanticise them, but he makes them central to our understanding.

You can read Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States online. You can also visit the website dedicated to Zinn’s work, offering a great archive of his articles and interviews, bibliography and video & audio material. Long live Howard Zinn!

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Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers

Remembering Meena Kamal: Hope is The Thing With Feathers

Remembering May Ziadeh: Ahead of (her) Time

Remembering Edward Said: In The Name of Humanism

and more.

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art of resistance, Guantanamo

Happy Birthday, GTMO: Guantánamo Diary.

This year I still didn’t write anything about GTMO and it’s birthday (January 11th), so this is my version of congratulations card. The book Guantánamo Diary is written by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, still imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. It is the first ever public account written by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. Slahi has been in Guantánamo for twelve years, although United States has never charged him with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in 2010, but he remains in custody.

tumblr_mm2p9g7CcA1qedj2ho1_1280/Guantánamo Diary, photo via The FJP/

Three years into his captivity Slahi began a diary, recounting his life before he disappeared into U.S. custody, “his endless world tour” of imprisonment and interrogation, and his daily life as a Guantánamo prisoner. The following is an excerpt from Slahi’s diary.

Jordan–Afghanistan–GITMO
July 2002– February 2003

The American Team Takes Over … Arrival at Bagram … Bagram to GTMOGTMO, the New Home … One Day in Paradise, the Next in Hell

July __, 2002, 10 p.m.

The music was off. The conversations of the guards faded away. The truck emptied. I felt alone in the hearse truck. The waiting didn’t last: I felt the presence of new people, a silent team. I don’t remember a single word during the whole rendition to follow.

A person was undoing the chains on my wrists. He undid the first hand, and another guy grabbed that hand and bent it while a third person was putting on the new, firmer and heavier shackles. Now my hands were shackled in front of me.

Somebody started to rip my clothes with something like a scissors. I was like, What the heck is going on? I started to worry about the trip I neither wanted nor initiated. Somebody else was deciding everything for me; I had all the worries in the world but making a decision. Many thoughts went quickly through my head. The optimistic thoughts suggested, ‘Maybe you’re in the hands of Americans, but don’t worry, they just want to take you home, and to make sure that everything goes in secrecy.’ The pessimistic ones went, ‘You screwed up! The Americans managed to pin some shit on you, and they’re taking you to U.S. prisons for the rest of your life.’

I was stripped naked. It was humiliating, but the blindfold helped me miss the nasty look of my naked body. During the whole procedure, the only prayer I could remember was the crisis prayer, Ya hayyu! Ya kayyum! and I was mumbling it all the time. Whenever I came to be in a similar situation, I would forget all my prayers except the crisis prayer, which I learned from life of our Prophet, Peace be upon him.

One of the team wrapped a diaper around my private parts. Only then was I dead sure that the plane was heading to the U.S. Now I started to convince myself that “every thing’s gonna be alright.” My only worry was about my family seeing me on TV in such a degrading situation. I was so skinny. I’ve been always, but never that skinny: my street clothes had become so loose that I looked like a small cat in a big bag.

When the U.S. team finished putting me in the clothes they tailored for me, a guy removed my blindfold for a moment. I couldn’t see much because he directed the flashlight into my eyes. He was wrapped from hair to toe in a black uniform. He opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out, gesturing for me to do the same, a kind of AHH test which I took without resistance. I saw part of his very pale, blond-haired arm, which cemented my theory of being in Uncle Sam’s hands.

The blindfold was pushed down. The whole time I was listening to loud plane engines; I very much believe that some planes were landing and others taking off. I felt my “special” plane approaching, or the truck approaching the plane, I don’t recall anymore. But I do recall that when the escort grabbed me from the truck, there was no space between the truck and the airplane stairs. I was so exhausted, sick, and tired that I couldn’t walk, which compelled the escort to pull me up the steps like a dead body.

Inside the plane it was very cold. I was laid on a sofa and the guards shackled me, mostly likely to the floor. I felt a blanket put over me; though very thin, it comforted me.

I relaxed and gave myself to my dreams. I was thinking about different members of my family I would never see again. How sad would they be! I was crying silently and without tears; for some reason, I gave all my tears at the beginning of the expedition, which was like the boundary between death and life. I wished I were better to people. I wished I were better to my family. I regretted every mistake I made in my life, toward God, toward my family, toward anybody!

I was thinking about life in an American prison. I was thinking about documentaries I had seen about their prisons, and the harshness with which they treat their prisoners. I wished I were blind or had some kind of handicap, so they would put me in isolation and give me some kind of humane treatment and protection. I was thinking, What will the first hearing with the judge be like? Do I have a chance to get due process in a country so full of hatred against Muslims? Am I really already convicted, even before I get the chance to defend myself ?

I drowned in these painful dreams in the warmth of the blanket. Every once in a while the pain of the urine urge pinched me. The diaper didn’t work with me: I could not convince my brain to give the signal to my bladder. The harder I tried, the firmer my brain became. The guard beside me kept pouring water bottle caps in my mouth, which worsened my situation. There was no refusing it, either you swallow or you choke. Lying on one side was killing me beyond belief, but every attempt to change my position ended in failure, for a strong hand pushed me back to the same position.

I could tell that the plane was a big jet, which led me to believe that flight was direct to the U.S. But after about five hours, the plane started to lose altitude and smoothly hit the runway. I realized the U.S. is a little bit farther than that. Where are we? In Ramstein, Germany? Yes! Ramstein it is: in Ramstein there’s a U.S. military airport for transiting planes from the Middle East; we’re going to stop here for fuel. But as soon as the plane landed, the guards started to change my metal chains for plastic ones that cut my ankles painfully on the short walk to a helicopter. One of the guards, while pulling me out of the plane, tapped me on the shoulder as if to say, “you’re gonna be alright.” As in agony as I was, that gesture gave me hope that there were still some human beings among the people who were dealing with me.

When the sun hit me, the question popped up again: Where am I? Yes, Germany it is: it was July and the sun rises early. But why Germany? I had done no crimes in Germany! What shit did they pull on me? And yet the German legal system was by far a better choice for me; I know the procedures and speak the language. Moreover, the German system is somewhat transparent, and there are no two and three hundred years sentences. I had little to worry about: a German judge will face me and show me whatever the government has brought against me, and then I’m going to be sent to a temporary jail until my case is decided. I won’t be subject to torture, and I won’t have to see the evil faces of interrogators.

After about ten minutes the helicopter landed and I was taken into a truck, with a guard on either side. The chauffeur and his neighbor were talking in a language I had never heard before. I thought, What the heck are they speaking, maybe Filipino? I thought of the Philippines because I’m aware of the huge U.S. military presence there. Oh, yes, Philippines it is: they conspired with the U.S. and pulled some shit on me. What would the questions of their judge be? By now, though, I just wanted to arrive and take a pee, and after that they can do whatever they please. Please let me arrive! I thought; After that you may kill me!

The guards pulled me out of the truck after a five-minute drive, and it felt as if they put me in a hall. They forced me to kneel and bend my head down: I should remain in that position until they grabbed me. They yelled, “Do not move.” Before worrying about anything else, I took my most remarkable urine since I was born. It was such a relief; I felt I was released and sent back home. All of a sudden my worries faded away, and I smiled inside. Nobody noticed what I did.

Read the book Guantánamo Diary, for it is a rare window into the turture, pain, anxiety, and enormous injustice that shapes the lives of the detainees. Like Slahi, most of them spent numerous years of their lives in prison, with no charges against them. With that reality pressing him, Slahi still remains an optimist, a remarkable spirit caught in dreadful circumstances. Still, he survives, he lives, he writes. It’s upon us to atleast read what he has to say. The book is dedicated to his mother Maryem Mint El Wadia, who died while he was imprisoned.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Khaled Juma: The Unseen Aspects of War.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Kevin Moore

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

 

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Remembering Rachel Corrie: Letters from Palestine.

Rachel Corrie was an American peace activist and a member of the International Solidarity Movement. She was killed in 2003 (at the age of 23), by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) armored bulldozer in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, during the height of the second Palestinian intifada.

After her death, Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner edited and directed the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie, based on Corrie’s diaries and e-mails home. The play was censored (put off stage) several times by some theaters. “Rachel Corrie lived in nobody’s pocket but her own. Whether one is sympathetic with her or not, her voice is like a clarion in the fog and should be heard,” Rickman said then.

In his article for The Independent Robert Fisk wrote:

“An American heroine, Rachel earned no brownie points from the Bush administration which bangs on about courage and freedom from oppression every few minutes. Rachel’s was the wrong sort of courage and she was defending the freedom of the wrong people.”

RCcropRachel Corrie in her childhood days /photo via Rachel Corrie Foundation/

Remembering Corrie, her activism, her acts of kindness and dedication to helping others, I decided to post some of her letters and e-mails from Palestine.

Leaving Olympia

January 2003

„We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone.What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing?

If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.

And I have no right to this metaphor. But I use it to console myself. To give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless.

This realization. This realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges.

I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly.

I can wash dishes.“

Rafah

February 7 2003

Hi friends and family, and others,

I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me – Ali – or point at the posters of him on the walls. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, “Kaif Sharon?” “Kaif Bush?” and they laugh when I say, “Bush Majnoon”, “Sharon Majnoon” back in my limited arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) Of course this isn’t quite what I believe, and some of the adults who have the English correct me: “Bush mish Majnoon” … Bush is a businessman. Today I tried to learn to say, “Bush is a tool,” but I don’t think it translated quite right. But anyway, there are eight-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago.

Nevertheless, no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it – and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean. Ostensibly it is still quite difficult for me to be held for months or years on end without a trial (this because I am a white US citizen, as opposed to so many others). When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I’m done. So, if I feel outrage at arriving and entering briefly and incompletely into the world in which these children exist, I wonder conversely about how it would be for them to arrive in my world.”

Rafah

February 20, 2003

“Mama,

Now the Israeli army has actually dug up the road to Gaza, and both of the major checkpoints are closed. This means that Palestinians who want to go and register for their next quarter at university can’t. People can’t get to their jobs and those who are trapped on the other side can’t get home; and internationals, who have a meeting tomorrow in the West Bank, won’t make it. We could probably make it through if we made serious use of our international white person privilege, but that would also mean some risk of arrest and deportation, even though none of us has done anything illegal.

The Gaza Strip is divided in thirds now. There is some talk about the “reoccupation of Gaza”, but I seriously doubt this will happen, because I think it would be a geopolitically stupid move for Israel right now. I think the more likely thing is an increase in smaller below-the-international-outcry-radar incursions and possibly the oft-hinted “population transfer”.

I am staying put in Rafah for now, no plans to head north. I still feel like I’m relatively safe and think that my most likely risk in case of a larger-scale incursion is arrest. A move to reoccupy Gaza would generate a much larger outcry than Sharon’s assassination-during-peace-negotiations/land grab strategy, which is working very well now to create settlements all over, slowly but surely eliminating any meaningful possibility for Palestinian self-determination. Know that I have a lot of very nice Palestinians looking after me. I have a small flu bug, and got some very nice lemony drinks to cure me. Also, the woman who keeps the key for the well where we still sleep keeps asking me about you. She doesn’t speak a bit of English, but she asks about my mom pretty frequently – wants to make sure I’m calling you.

Love to you and Dad and Sarah and Chris and everybody.

Rachel”

Rafah

February 27

(to her mother)

…I thought a lot about what you said on the phone about Palestinian violence not helping the situation. Sixty thousand workers from Rafah worked in Israel two years ago. Now only 600 can go to Israel for jobs. Of these 600, many have moved, because the three checkpoints between here and Ashkelon (the closest city in Israel) make what used to be a 40-minute drive, now a 12-hour or impassible journey. In addition, what Rafah identified in 1999 as sources of economic growth are all completely destroyed – the Gaza international airport (runways demolished, totally closed); the border for trade with Egypt (now with a giant Israeli sniper tower in the middle of the crossing); access to the ocean (completely cut off in the last two years by a checkpoint and the Gush Katif settlement). The count of homes destroyed in Rafah since the beginning of this intifada is up around 600, by and large people with no connection to the resistance but who happen to live along the border. I think it is maybe official now that Rafah is the poorest place in the world. There used to be a middle class here – recently. We also get reports that in the past, Gazan flower shipments to Europe were delayed for two weeks at the Erez crossing for security inspections. You can imagine the value of two-week-old cut flowers in the European market, so that market dried up. And then the bulldozers come and take out people’s vegetable farms and gardens. What is left for people? Tell me if you can think of anything. I can’t.

If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours – do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained? I think about this especially when I see orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees destroyed – just years of care and cultivation. I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is. I really think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best they could. I think Uncle Craig would. I think probably Grandma would. I think I would.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I looked at Capital Lake and said: “This is the wide world and I’m coming to it.” I did not mean that I was coming into a world where I could live a comfortable life and possibly, with no effort at all, exist in complete unawareness of my participation in genocide. More big explosions somewhere in the distance outside.

When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.

I love you and Dad. Sorry for the diatribe. OK, some strange men next to me just gave me some peas, so I need to eat and thank them.

Rachel

For more on Rachel Corrie and the rest of her e-mails and letters, visit Rachel Corrie Foundation.

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art of resistance, Kuwait

Non-Citizens of Kuwait.

Faisal Al Fouzan is a Kuwaiti photographer. He considers the camera as an extension of himself and spends a lot of time collecting visual stories in and around Kuwait. He is the recipient of the 2014 Arab Documentary Photography Programme (ADPP) Grant by Magnum Foundation.

Non-Citizens of Kuwait is Fouzan’s series of street portraits of the low income laborers working and living in Kuwait.

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There are two groups of non-citizens in Kuwait. The first one is migrant workers. According to Human Rights Watch (2012 report), migrant workers in Kuwait comprise eighty percent of the country’s workforce, but continue to face exploitation and abuse under the sponsorship system.

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The second one is Bidun. At least 106,000 stateless persons, known as Bidun, live in Kuwait. After an initial registration period for citizenship ended in 1960, authorities shifted Bidun citizenship applications to a series of administrative committees that have avoided resolving their claims.

While maintaining that most Bidun are “illegal residents” who deliberately destroyed evidence of other nationality, the government has not provided individualized review of Bidun citizenship claims. Kuwaiti law bans courts from ruling on citizenship claims. Interestingly enough, until 1990, the Bidun accounted for eighty percent of the Kuwaiti Army.

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Concerning the migrant workers, the government passed a new private sector labor law in 2010 that set maximum working hours, required a weekly rest day and annual leave, and set end-of-service bonuses. However, the law excluded migrant domestic workers, who come chiefly from South and Southeast Asia and work and live inside employers’ homes in Kuwait. Many domestic workers complain of confinement in the house; long work hours without rest; months or years of unpaid wages; and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

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A major barrier to redressing labor abuses is the kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties a migrant worker’s legal residence to a “sponsoring” employer. Migrant workers who have worked for their sponsor less than three years can only transfer with their sponsor’s consent (migrant domestic workers always require consent). If a worker leaves their sponsoring employer, including when fleeing abuse, the employer must register the worker as “absconding.” This can lead to detention and deportation.

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Abdulrahman al-Ghanim, the general secretary of the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, talked about kafala as a system of slavery, in an interview for Migrant Rights. He talked about the work of the labor ministry saying it is really bad and: “Even the weak companies who have no connections and friends in the ministry, are punished with only 1 year suspension of their Kafala privileges; meaning they are not allowed to sponsor any workers within that year. The big companies, however, are untouchable. Recently there was a case in which a company admitted committing violations. The company was only asked to sign a paper promising not to repeat violations. They are still recruiting new workers, getting 2000 KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) for every recruitment!”

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For more on Bidun and migrant workers issues, see the Human Rights Watch report, and for the efforts of the Kuwait Trade Union Federation – see the interview on Migrant Rights.

For more on the photography of Faisal Al Fouzan, visit his official website.

/all images © Faisal Al Fouzan/

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