art of resistance, India, Iran, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia

Five For Friday: Conversations With History.

Conversations With History was conceived in 1982 by Harry Kreisler, as a “way to capture and preserve through conversation and technology the intellectual ferment of our times.” It’s a great series which includes over 500 interviews. Here are five of my favorites concerning various issues related to the Middle East (although there are more than just five great ones, of course).

1. Conversations With History: Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali talks about the creation of Pakistan, issues with India, and the dysfunctionality of the state today. He also talks about Israel, drawing parallels between states with strong religious and ethnic identities and the way that identity cripples them.

2. Conversations With History: Juan Cole

Juan Cole talks about journalism and academia, the way his life changed after the years he spent in Beirut and how he came to do his academic work on Islam.  He also talks about his great blog Informed Comment and the idea behind it.

3. Conversations With History: Amira Hass

Famous Israeli journalist Amira Hass talks about Israeli occupation, Palestinian terrorism, and the consequences of the conflict for the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.

4. Conversations With History: Andrew Scott Cooper

Andrew Scott Cooper discusses his book The Oil Kings. Focusing on the geopolitics of the Middle East in the 1970’s, the book centers on the complex relationship between Nixon, Kissinger and the Shah of Iran. Revealing the contradiction between the Shah’s dependence on the rise of oil prices and the need to fund his new military role, Cooper explains how this contradiction resulted in the Shah’s downfall and the implosion of Iran.

5. Conversations With History: John L. Esposito

John L. Esposito, the author of Who speaks for Islam?, talks about the diversity of the Muslim world, extremism, and the complex forces shaping Islam and its relationship with(in) the West.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Iraq War Documentaries

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

Lectures and Interviews on Middle East & Islam

 

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Raba’i al-Madhoun: Returning To Khan Yunis.

The following is an excerpt from Raba’i al-Madhoun’s novel The Lady From Tel Aviv, published by Telegram Books.

Lady from Tel Aviv front cover - Copy

I spent my morning wandering around town, trying to get a feel for what it has become. The Khan Yunis I knew no longer exists. I had searched out the khanyunisian essence of the place everywhere, but never found it, for the remnants of the old place were buried beneath the surfaces of the contemporary city. As I walked around the main streets, I often felt like I knew it, even though there was nothing tangible that would lead me to believe this. There was no trace of the streetlamp in whose glow I used to bask all night. The shop where I bought cigarettes is now gone, along with the café where I used to play cards with friends. Even the dirt courtyard where I used to walk barefoot is gone. Beneath the surface of the place, other buried impressions take form here and there. It is like looking at a black and white photograph whose details are blurred by the passing of years.

On trembling legs, I stop and stare at the strange patch of exile where my home once stood. There are no traces left, of it or of my childhood. Not even of the shadow I used to chase and chase and sometimes even catch. My shadow and I were careful never to let each other stray too far, and so our game never ended, and our friendship was never broken. I have left no footprint here to find. The cement beneath my feet chokes whatever memory lies below, just as it does the air I once exhaled here so long ago—breath whose traces still seek to find me once more.

I wander through streets that swallow people who crowd into cars and donkey-drawn carts. The streets swallow the jeeps of the militias and the armoured cars stuffed with men who watch the pedestrians through small holes in black hoods. I feel truly alone here—of no significance to anyone, nor is there anyone here who means anything to me. I come upon the spot where Café Mansour once stood. The biggest of all the city’s coffee shops, and the nicest one on the city’s main square. I find only small commercial shops teeming with shoppers. I can see my father, sitting right there on a bamboo chair next to his table. There is his cup of hot tea, sprigs of mint sticking out. There is the steam rising into the air with its sweet minty smell. I can hear the men nearby as they slap down dominoes on the marble tabletops around me. I love the way that tapping and clacking rings in my ears. Somewhere here, forty-five years ago, my father sat and was suddenly struck down.

Just as the years have changed me, so too am I transformed by the sudden recollection of my father and his death. I decide to visit his grave. I have always hated visiting cemeteries, but now I am struck by the urge to do it. When I lived here, I visited my father’s grave only twice, once to inspect the gravestone, and once again—just before my departure—because my mother told me to.

When I get to the graveyard, I find that there is no longer any gate to speak of. I continue along toward my father’s grave. The only things I find are piles of rocks and the fragments of headstones. I turn them upside down searching for my father’s name, but find nothing. Not even a letter that might belong in his name.

A bitter despair washes over me as I stand there. I think about how my father’s spirit haunts this place—and it feels like I am the one responsible for losing my father’s remains. I turn and spy the desiccated stump of a tree—maybe that was the acacia that stood over my father’s grave for all those years. The tree in whose branches fluttered those rose-embroidered silk handkerchiefs that proclaimed the undying love of someone for someone else. Those have all disappeared into nothing, never divulging who was speaking to whom. The stump rekindles an old question in my mind. Who was it that hung the handkerchiefs in the branches?

I continued walking to the old seed market and found the place exactly how it used to be. The joy I feel at this discovery more than makes up for the grief I experienced at the graveyard. When I wander over to the Ironsmiths’ Market nearby, I am even happier. The Ottoman-era shops still have the same age-old appearance, even if they are all shuttered and covered with rust-eaten locks. Only now do I begin to believe I am truly back in Khan Yunis.

Guided by the old map of my memory, I continue along. Within a few minutes, I find myself in front of the old Hurriyya Summer Movie House. Said Dahman is standing to my right, and Fawzi Ashour to my left. The three of us are staring up, gawking at a huge poster hanging on the façade of the cinema. It is a larger-than-life image of the Egyptian belly dancer, La Petite Nawal. We study the more obvious contours of her body, in hopes we might discover subtleties hidden within. Each of us hoping that a breeze would lift up and play with the patch of chiffon flitting between her thighs. One of the bouncers yells and pushes us away. ‘If you don’t have a ticket, you’re not coming in. Step back if you don’t have a ticket already.’

A bunch of kids crowds round the door, shouting and yelling—and so we join them, pushing and trying to rush through. But the door is blocked by two bouncers with bodies like bulldozers.

Gradually, we give way and retreat—until we end up back down the stairs and out on the public pavement. After about thirty minutes, everyone who has bought a ticket is already inside.

At this point, Said—who is the bravest of us—goes up to one bouncer stationed outside the door. ‘You happy about all this?’ he asks as a joke. ‘These kids are the future of our nation, and they don’t get to watch simply because they have no money?’

The bouncer smiles. ‘ You kids are too young. And you’re twerps to boot. But I’m going to let you in anyway. One by one, so nobody notices. Don’t let the manager see you, he’s standing inside.’ He points to a man whose watermelon body sits near the entrance. ‘Get ready. After the trailers finish, I’ll let you in.’ The man opens the door, and we sneak in one by one just as he told us to. We are lucky—for some reason the manager has left. Maybe the ticket receipts of the paying customers were more than enough to make him happy.

We go over to the side, sticking close to one another, against the wall. Nawal is shaking her arse and twisting this way and bending over that way, like she was teasing all of us—this room full of men who were not only powerless to resist the allure of her body, but had even purchased tickets to feel that sense of powerlessness. And then, as Nawal shimmies around, there is Farid El-Atrache, crooning away.

He said nothing to me

And I said nothing to him

He didn’t come looking for me,

And I didn’t go looking for him.

And as the long-simmering desire of the men in the audience begins to fizzle out, they begin to chirp and call, moan and clap, and finally they are whistling their appreciation. These are men who have never before seen live flesh on stage, and may never see it in their dreams either, even if their wives sleep right next to them in bed each night.

Nawal dances on and on, the chiffon patch between her legs flitting up and away now and then to reveal what it conceals beneath. And the three of us try our best to take it all in with six bulging eyes. Fawzi is swooning over Farid El-Atrache, and keeps yelling: ‘Farid, you’re the best! Abdel Halim can go to hell!’ He goes on and on like this so long that Said finally belts him in the back of the neck, yelling, ‘What’s with you, you idiot? What’s the deal with Abdel Halim anyway? Can’t you just shut up and watch the movie?’

So Fawzi starts up again, only this time without insulting Abdel Halim. Then an older kid, standing right next to Fawzi, starts up, kicking Fawzi hard until finally he shuts up. A tall boy climbs up on stage at one point and begins to dance and shake his body around. When he throws his arms over Nawal’s body, the whole place erupts in loud protest—that is how badly they want to do the very thing he is doing. The three of us go crazy too, it is the first time in our lives we have ever seen bare legs.

That night, I cannot sleep. I am walking through a forest of bare legs. I am pretty sure that Said and Fawzi also spent their night walking through the same fleshy landscape. I suspect that, like me, neither of them slept until their underwear was drenched.

I stand at the corner of the cinema, looking at the building. On the wall, I read a notice put up by the Organization of Women of Virtue.”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Suad Amiry: Ramallah Diaries (excerpt).

I wrote about Suad Amiry’s Sharon and my Mother-in-Law last year, but today I decided to post this excerpt to get you excited about the book – if you haven’t read it already. The book is a result of her Ramallah diaries (from 1981 to 2004), where she described her everyday life under occupation.

Sharon-and-My-Mother-in-Law

” ‘You kick us out of Jaffa, then wonder how come we’re born elsewhere!’

These were the first words to gush out of my mouth when I opened it to answer the first in a long list of questions asked by the Israeli security officer at Lod (Tel Aviv) airport.

I was certainly not in the mood. It was 4.30 in the morning on a hot summer day in 1995. The almost five-hour flight from London had fatigued me and all I wanted to do was rush out of the airport to meet Ibrahim, who had sweetly come all the way from Ramallah to pick me up at this very early hour.

My anxiety and irritation increased as the young woman at passport control slipped a pink tag into my Palestinian passport. I, of course, have no problems either with pink, or with being Palestinian. But at that very moment, all I wanted was a white tag. As I had experienced many times before, pink automatically meant at least an extra hour with security officers at the airport. Oh, how I wanted a white tag this time! I was simply not in the mood.

‘How come you were born in Damascus?’ The officer repeated, obviously neither pleased nor satisfied with my impulsive reply. I was not in the mood to tell the security officer that in 1940 my father, who had come to Beirut from Jaffa, was overwhelmed the minute he saw my Damascene mother. She was eighteen, he was thirty-three. He had graduated from the American University of Beirut some twelve years before, while she was still a student at the British Syrian Training College. The minute he stepped inside the grandiose courtyard of her family mansion in Damascus old town, and realized how rich her merchant father was, his dream of marrying this dashingly beautiful, tall woman with greenish-grey eyes started to fade. In the end, this particular dream was fulfilled, but many others were shattered, and my father and mother lived a tormented life together.

In December 1978 my father died of a heart attack in Prague while attending a writers’ conference. The well-known Palestinian writer Emile Habibi was the last person to see my father alive and spend the evening with him. I was not in the mood to inform the Israeli security officer that every time my mother got pregnant, she went back to Damascus to give birth. In 1943, 1944 and 1949, she travelled between Jerusalem and Damascus to give birth to my sisters, Arwa (now a psychologist living in Amman) and Anan (a sociologist now living in America), and, much later, to my brother, Ayman (a diplomat). She also travelled between Amman and Damascus where I was born two years after that. I did not want to admit to this as it would only complicate matters and would certainly increase the security officer’s fears for Israel’s security, thus prolonging the interrogation.

‘Have you ever lived in Damascus?’ he asked.
‘No,’ came my brief answer.

I was not in the mood to tell the officer that until the age of eighteen, when I left Amman to study architecture at the American University of Beirut, my workaholic mother, who owned a publishing and printing firm, looked forward to getting rid of her four children every summer.

The very first week of our summer vacation, she sent us off to her parents’ house in Damascus or to her relatives in Beirut. My brother Ayman and I were more than happy to spend part of the summer vacation with our unmarried aunts, Nahida and Suad (after whom I was called), who totally spoiled us and my two teenage sisters. 

‘Do you have relatives in Syria?’
‘No.’ End of conversation.

I was not in the mood to tell the security officer at Tel Aviv airport that my mother was the youngest in a family of eleven, and that was just her nuclear family. I did not want to scare him by saying that I had four aunts and four uncles, and over twenty cousins. They and their families all lived in Damascus.

It would have been difficult for me to explain to him that I have always envied my parents, and even my grandparents, for living at a time when residing in, or travelling between, the beautiful cities of the region was not such a big deal and did not call for security checks. I was always intrigued when my father described his trips between Jaffa and Beirut, which included lunch at a seaside restaurant in Sidon. I was even more intrigued when my mother described to me how in 1926, as a child of four, she had visited her mother’s family, the Abdulhadis, in the village of ‘Arrabeh in Palestine. I have always been enchanted by their route between Damascus and ‘Arrabeh, which took them down the Yarmouk valley through the beautiful plains of Marj Ibin ‘Amer and Sahel Jenin. ‘First we went to our relatives in Nablus, and a few days later we went on horses to the village of ‘Arrabeh,’my mother would say. It was the horse ride which fascinated my mother, whereas it was the impossibility of taking such a trip between ‘Arrabeh and Damascus now which bothered me more.

The security man handed me and my passport over to a security woman sitting in a room behind a desk, then disappeared, leaving me alone with her. She flipped through my passport, and asked assertively,

‘And what were you doing in London?’

‘I went dancing,’ I answered, looking her straight in the eye, with an expressionless, tired face, and a voice even more assertive than hers.

‘Do you think you’re being funny?’ she said, her voice louder and more serious.
‘No. And do YOU have any problem with dancing?’ My voice now much lower and more sarcastic.
‘What was the purpose of your visit to London?’
‘Dancing,’ I insisted.

‘You know that failing to cooperate with us on security matters will result in your arrest?’ ‘Fine’, I replied, quickly resigned to this ridiculous verdict, ‘but I need to go out and inform poor Ibrahim, who has been waiting outside the airport for hours to pick me up.’

‘No, you are not permitted to go; and who is Ibrahim? Is he a relative?’

I was not in the mood and I did not want to tell the two security officers that Ibrahim was not exactly a relative, as none of my relatives, and neither my husband nor any of my friends from Ramallah, are allowed to come pick me up from the airport. I wondered if the officers knew that I, like many other Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, needed many types of permits to move about: a permit to enter Jerusalem, another to go out to Jordan, a third to enter Israel, a fourth to work in Israel, an impossible one to enter Gaza, and a four-hour permit to use the airport, which gives you just enough time to get there with no flat tyres or accidents, lasamahallah (God forbid). Ibrahim is one of two or three taxi drivers in Ramallah who happen to have a car with a yellow licence plate, which allows him to pick up passengers from the airport.

I was not exactly in the mood to tell the officer that one of my dreams is simply for my husband to be able to pick me up from the airport or from Allenby Bridge when I come back from a trip. But that is a privilege no Palestinian has.”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

The Book To Read: A Tale of Love & Darkness.

A Tale of Love and Darkness, written by Amos Oz and published ten years ago, finally found its way to the top of my reading list. I am so happy it did.

amosoz

A Tale of Love and Darkness is a memoir by Amos Oz, famous Israeli writer.  The memoir recounts the author’s life in the formative years of the State of Israel as well as the years leading up to 1948, and the lives of his parents and many relatives from various parts of Europe.

There’s great (and not so trivial) trivia about this book – a selection from the Chinese translation of A Tale of Love and Darkness was the first work of modern Hebrew literature to appear in an official Chinese textbook. Also, couple of years ago, Oz sent imprisoned Marwan Barghouti (regarded as a leader of the First and Second Intifadas) a copy of the book in Arabic translation with his personal dedication in Hebrew: “This story is our story, I hope you read it and understand us as we understand you, hoping to see you outside and in peace, yours, Amos Oz.”

Amos Oz has been a prominent advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and he often argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a war of religion or cultures or traditions, but rather a real estate dispute — one that will be resolved “not by greater understanding, but by painful compromise.”

It’s quite clear that I was initially drawn to this book because of my interest in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was in for a surprise. First of all, Amos Oz does magic with words – his writing style and the thoughts it captures are so beautiful. He writes:

When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somehwere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver.

So, there I was, going through the book, taking it all in, and as much as I was interested in the political aspects of the story (which offered some important insights into Israeli society – “In Jerusalem people always walked rather like mourners at a funeral, or latecomers at a concert. First they put down the tip of their shoe and tested the ground. Then once they had lowered their foot they were in no hurry to move it; we had waited two thousand years to gain a foothold in Jerusalem, and were unwilling to give it up” and “we, who had always been an oppressed minority, would treat our Arab minority fairly, justly, generously, we would share our homeland with them, share everything with them… it was a pretty dream”, are just some of Oz’s thoughts ), and as much as Oz is interested in them (they take up a lot of his life – which is normal in Israel and Palestine), this story was all about a boy who lost his mother to suicide – when he was twelve years old. Oz writes:

“There are lots of women who are attracted to tyrannical men. Like moths to a flame. And there are some women who do not need a hero or even a stormy lover but a friend. Just remember that when you grow up. Steer clear of the tryant lovers, and try to locate the ones who are looking for a man as a friend, not because they are feeling empty themselves but because they enjoy making you full too. And remember that friendship between a woman and a man is something much more precious and rare than love: love is actually something quite gross and even clumsy compared to friendship. Friendship includes a measure of sensitivity, attentiveness, generosity, and a finely tuned sense of moderation.”

This story is all about a boy who grew up to be a man, already an old man when writing this story, but still a boy who can’t understand why his mother left him, and still can’t stop wanting her to come back. A boy looking for closure he will never get. I’ve lived through some suicide stories, and there is always this reality of questions unanswered, of uncertainty… It might change with time (from anger to pain, from pain to sadness, from sadness to nostalgia) but it never goes away.

That is what Oz deals with in this family saga, and he does it in the most beautiful of ways. Heartbreaking and wonderful – read this masterpiece!

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness

A Sky So Close by Betool Kheadiri

and more.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Five For Friday: Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine.

My love for graphic novels is like a plant in constant need of watering – I just can’t get enough. There’s a lot of great graphic novels from the Middle East, and about the Middle East, and they are as diverse as the area itself. This Friday, it’s five graphic novels – touching on and diving in – the complex issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

1. Footnotes In Gaza by Joe Sacco

sacco-footnotes-in-gaza

I love everything Joe Sacco does. His comics and his journalism are just a perfect match. In Footnotes in Gaza, he tries to dig up the truth about two bloody incidents that occured during the Suez Crisis. But this book is not just about the events that took place in Khan Younis and Rafah – Sacco does great work portraying the exhaustion of the people, slow killing through the decades of the conflict, disrupted reality, broken lives and blurred future.

2. Jerusalem: A Family Portrait by Boaz Yakin & Nick Bertozz

Jerusalem

Based loosely on Yakin’s family, the work follows a single family—three generations and fifteen very different people—as they are swept up in chaos, war, and nation-making from 1940-1948. Instability and poverty take a heavy toll on Izak’s family, driving its sons to seek empowerment via two major underground movements of the day: international communism and militant Zionism.

3. Waltz With Bashir by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

walz-with-bashi1r

I will never stop praising this graphic novel (and the film). One night in Beirut in September 1982, while Israeli soldiers secured the area, Christian militia members entered the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and began to massacre hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians. Ari Folman was one of those Israeli soldiers, but for more than twenty years he remembered nothing of that night or of the weeks leading up to it. Then came a friend’s disturbing dream, and with it Folman’s need to excavate the truth of the war in Lebanon and answer the crucial question: what was he doing during the hours of slaughter? This epic tale revolves around the issues of memory and rememberance, it’s about the conflict of two forces –  the need to remember and the instinct to repress horrific incidents. In the end – memory takes us where we need to go.

4. Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar and J.T. Waldman

Not-the-Israel-my-parents-Promised-me

This is a final memoir (the book was finished posthumously) by a great American underground comic writer Harvey Pekar. It’s a monologue by a man raised by Zionist parents. Whether Harvey was going to daily Hebrew classes or attending Zionist picnics, he grew up a staunch supporter of the Jewish state. But soon he found himself questioning the very beliefs and ideals of his parents. In this memoir he explores what it means to be Jewish and what Israel means to the Jews.

5. Baddawi by Leila Abdul Razzaq

baddawi-cover

Fresh out of the box – Baddawi is a first graphic novel by Leila Abdul Razzaq, a young Palestinian-American artist. It is composed of stories of her father, about his life in a refugee camp in Lebanon where he grew up. Razzaq says she didn’t draw Baddawi because it is a unique story. She did it because it is a common story that is not frequently told. “As Palestinians, it is our responsibility to hang on to our heritage and our history, because it’s something that is being erased. We have to take control of our narrative because it is something that is being manipulated… At the end of the day, power is all about who controls the narratives and the discourse around a particular subject. I’m just another Palestinian trying to take back that narrative,” Razzaq says.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Lectures and Interviews on Middle East & Islam

 

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art of resistance

Five For Friday: Lectures and Interviews on Middle East and Islam.

Five For Friday is a new category on Middle East Revised. Two times a month, on Friday, there’ll be five things to pay attention to concerning MENA region – films, videos, interviews, testimonials, songs, lectures, debates, etc.

This Friday – it’s interviews and lectures – on Middle East and Islam (hot topics of everyday). These five are a must-see.

1. Eqbal Ahmad – Terrorism Ours vs. Theirs 

Just months before his death, Eqbal Ahmad, great Pakistani political scientist and writer, gave this lecture in Colorado.  He talked about who and what defines terrorism.

2. Edward Said – Last Interview

It’s not only that this is the last interview Edward Said gave, it’s that it lasts for more than three hours in which he discusses almost everything. Wonderful!

3. Robert Fisk – State of Denial: Western journalism and the Middle East 

Robert Fisk has given many great lectures during the last couple of decades, but I chose this one for it focuses on the burning issues of the Western mainstream media.

4. Chris Hedges and Sam Harris: Debating Religion (Islam) & Politics (Middle East)

This one is basically – how Chris Hedges exposes the hollowness in the ‘know-it-all’ rethoric of Sam Harris.

5. Edward Said and Salman Rushdie – Ta(l)king The Box Away.

Rushdie and Said are talking about Said’s book After the last sky and the Palestinian experience (“unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded”, says Said). There’s also a fun story about Israeli broadcasters and Palestinian guerrilla – a cherry on top!

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Emile Habibi: The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist.

The following is an excerpt from Emile Habibi’s satirical novel The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist (first published in 1974). It is a story of a Palestinian who becomes a citizen of Israel (very much like Habibi himself), and in many ways – a prisoner of Israel. It’s a story about a looney man, atypical hero, a luckless fool, a man looking for survival – and maybe, just maybe – even a little bit more from life.

992837792/Emile Habibi, photo via Haaretz/

I found that we were then at a crossroad between Nazareth and Nahlal, passing the plain of Ibn Amir. The big man signalled to the policemen through the glass window separating him from ‘the dogs.’ They led me out and stuffed me in between the big man and the driver. I made myself comfortable and sighed, breathed the fresh air deep, and remarked, ‘Oh, I see we’re in the plain of Ibn Amir.’ Obviously annoyed, he corrected me: ‘No, it’s the Yizrael plain.’

‘What’s in a name?’, as Shakespeare put it, I soothed him. I spoke the line in English, causing him to murmur, ‘Oh, sou you quote Shakespeare, do you?’

As we descended further down into the plain toward its city of Affulah, with the hills of Nazareth to our left, the big man began reciting to me the principles governing my new life in prison, the etiquette of behavior toward the jailers who were my superiors and the other inmates who were my inferiors. He promised, moreover, to get me promoted to a liaison position. While he was going through these lessons, I became ever more certain that what is required of us inside prison is no different from what is required from us on the outside. My delight at this discovery was so great that I exclaimed joyfully, ‘Why, God bless you, sir!’

He went on: ‘If a jailer should call you, your first response must be: Yes, sir! And if he should tell you off, you must reply: At your command, sir! And if you should hear from your fellow inmates engaging in any conversation that threatens the security of the prison, even by implication, you must inform the warden. Now, if he should give you a beating, then say -‘

I interrupted him with a proper response, ‘That’s your right, sir!’

‘How did you know that? Were you ever imprisoned before?’

‘Oh, no. God forbid, sir, that anyone should have beaten you to this favor! I have merely noticed according to your account of prison rules of etiquette and behavior that your prison treats inmates with great humanitarianism and compassion – just as you treat us on the outside. And we behave the same, too. But how do you punish Arabs who are criminals, sir?’

‘This bothers us considerably. That’s why our minister general has said that our occupation has been the most compassionate on Earth ever since Paradise was liberated from its Occupation of Adam and Eve. Among our leadership there are some who believe that we treat Arabs inside prisons even better than we treat them outside, though this latter treatment is, as you know, excellent. These same leaders are convinced that we this encourage them to continue to resist our civilizational mission in the new territories, just like those ungrateful African cannibals who eat their benefactors.’

‘How do you mean, sir?’

‘Well, take for example our policy of punishing people with exile. This we award them without their going to jail. If they once entered jail, they would become as firmly established there as British occupation once was. ‘

‘Yes, God bless you indeed, sir!’

‘And we demolish their homes when they’re outside, but when they’re inside prison we let them occupy themselves building.’

‘That’s really great! God bless you! But what do they build?’

‘New prisons and new cells in old jails: and they plant shade trees around them too.’

‘God bless you again! But why do you demolish their homes outside the prison?’

‘To exterminate the rats that build their nests in them. This way we save them from the plague.’

By now the police car was leaving the city of Affulah on the Bisan road, which led to my new residence. On both sides refreshing water was being sprayed on the green vegetation, fresh in the very heat of summer. Suddenly the big man, cramped there with me and the driver in the front seat of that dogcart, was transformed into a poet. 

While I sat there being my usual Pessoptimistic self, he was estatic: ‘Verdant fields! Green on your right and on your left: green everywhere! We have given life to what was dead. This is why we have named the borders of Israel the Green Belt. For beyond them lie barren mountains and desert reaches, a wilderness calling out to us, ‘Come ye hither, tractors of civilization!’

I looked before me and saw a huge building towering like an ugly demon of the desert ; its walls were yellow, and around it there was a high, white outer wall. There were guards posted on each of the four sides of the roof, and they could be seen standing with their guns at the ready. We were awestruck by the spectacle of this yellow castle, so exposed and naked of any vegetation, protruding like a cancerous lump on the breast of a land itself sick with cancer. The big man was unable to control himself and exclaimed, ‘There! The terrible Shatta prison! How fantastic!’

I stretched my neck forward in alarm and whispered, ‘God bless us all!’

This led him to comment, ‘It is the prison warden who will bless you. Come on down. I’ll ask him to look after you.'”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Zakaria Mohammad: Is This Home?

The following is an excerpt from Zakaria Mohammads Is this Home?, translated from the Arabic by Michael K. Scott. It is a story of Mohammad’s return to Palestine after decades spent in exile.

tumblr_n0m7k6wfob1rouua1o7_r1_1280/The Bearer Of Burdens, Sliman Mansour/

In the days prior to my return I had decided to assume a cool demeanor and contemplate my country as a tourist might, and not as a rapturous and homesick returnee. I wanted to hold the moment in my hands, examine it, and write up the experience. And I wanted to minimize, to the extent possible, any emotional entaglement on my part, so that I could see things clearly. I’ve gotten tired of emotional entanglement… My entire life has been full of that. Now I am an old man who wants to see things clearly with a neutral eye. Yes, I want to be as cold and dry as a stone, if I can.

Then I got to the bridge that connects one bank of the river to the other. I arrived, and ended up on the other side. I came away from the bridge with my blood boiling. Five hours of interrogations and closed rooms with the Israeli secret police seemed to have injected poison into my veins, and obliterated all of the happy scenarios I had constructed for the moment of my return. For the Israelis, these hours were needed so that each and every returnee would understand the truth they wanted understood: you are coming to place yourself under our heel. This is the supreme truth, and everything else follows from it.

I was unable to act like a tourist who sees things with an indifferent eye. I was unable to act like a returnee overcome with yearning and joy. I was unable to tak ein the views or the scenery clearly. I had no ability to contemplate and enjoy, nor to observe or critique my feelings. It took me a few hours in Jericho before I could regain a bit of my composure.

Then we sett of from Jericho. The plam trees on my right provided pleasing company. I found joy in them, until our guide informed us that the Israelis owned all of the plam groves. We walked on, our little flock shimmering ahead like a mirage, stopping only at the Israeli checkpoints.

There was with us a man who had reached, or nearly reached, his old age. He was returning after forty years of absence. All he had lef in the homeland was a married sister in Talouza. He was afraid that this sister might not recognize him, and not acknowledge that he was her brother. She might refuse to receive him. His thinking was beyond me. How could a sister shut the door on her brother, whom she has not seen in decades? The thought seemed ludicrous to me, but the man was afriad it would happen. He wanted us to wait for him until he knew his sister’s reaction, and that of her husband. We didn’t have time to wait. Every one of us wanted to see his mother and family. So we went our way. We left him knocking on his sister’s door, hesitant and in trepidation.

The family home consisted of two concrete rooms whose doors close only at bedtime. There, on my arrival, my sister cried, while my father seemed to be only semiconscious, thinking of the days long gone by, and of the death that hovers around him. As for my mother, she smiled. But her smile seemed to be carrying some illness – some effort to forget – that I could not yet understand. The reunion was no bolt of lightning. I was weightless.

The first days passed in the rush of greetings and hugs. But gradually the war between memory and reality broke out, in my mind.

In exile we lived in memory, and on it. Memory would devour us. It gave us vitality, and it adorned the goal, the purpose of our exile. It would grow and expand, merging with truth and delusion. It had its own routine. It would conjure up a scene from the past for me, whenever and however it wished. We would play together. Memory and I were twins.

So here’s my memory going round and round, like an ant that can’t find its hole after some miscreant hand had messed up the path, the sand and the scent. This is my memory: a lost ant in churned-up sand. Since she can’t stay in this condition – running around in circles – forever, she began on her own to dig a new hole in the ground. And the new hole in the ground? It was my exile. She is working with everything she has to construct and anthill to replace the one that was smashed. She finds her subject, and her self, in exile. Is this home then? Is it ‘home’ for memory to be forced to transform exile into being her ‘thing’, instead of home?”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Leila Abdul Razzaq’s Baddawi: Palestinians As Subjects Of Their Own Narratives.

Leila Abdul Razzaq is a young Palestinian-American artist. She’s a talented graphic artist and a great storyteller through images. Her graphic novel, Baddawi, is composed of stories of her father, about his life in a refugee camp in Lebanon where he grew up. Judy Suh made a lovely introduction of Leila and her work in the following video:

Razzaq says she didn’t draw Baddawi because it is a unique story. She did it because it is a common story that is not frequently told. For her, “Baddawi is not a tribute to my father, it is a tribute to displaced Palestinians worldwide. I write this because too often, I see Palestinian refugees (and for that matter, refugees in general) portrayed as objects of suffering to be pitied, defined by circumstance, rather than subjects of their own individual narratives to be empathized with.”

alnaksa01/image via Baddawi/

On Baddawi website, she writes:

“As Palestinians, it is our responsibility to hang on to our heritage and our history, because it’s something that is being erased. We have to take control of our narrative because it is something that is being manipulated. We must maintain our identities as Palestinians in order to fight Zionism and the ethnic cleansing that it produces. For those of is in the shatat (diaspora), it’s not so much an ethnic cleansing that erases us from Palestine, but one in which Palestine is being erased from us.

At the end of the day, power is all about who controls the narratives and the discourse around a particular subject. I’m just another Palestinian trying to take back that narrative.”

firstgrade_1/image via Baddawi/

Razzaq’s Baddawi images are scheduled for publication by Just World Books this spring. Baddawi also has its facebook page, where you can follow the final stages of writing/drawing the book. I am really looking forward to this one!

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art of resistance

Middle East Revised: Top 5 Interviews of 2014.

I did a lot of work on my blog in 2014, and I am really happy and excited about writing even more and making it better with time. I hope I will find time and manage to do that. So, 2015 has just arrived and to commemorate last year in a small, symbolic way, I decided to post Top 5 Interviews I did last year, published here, on Middle East Revised. Why interviews? Because I really enjoy doing them, and I always try to prepare myself and get to really know the people I am interviewing (and their work, of course), in hope of providing a good and fresh dialogue, something new – food for thought, a spark of enlightenment! So – here is the list, enjoy reading!

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

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

Matthew Hoh is a former State Department official who resigned from his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He did so in protest over US strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Hoh served in Iraq; first in 2004 and 2005 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006 and 2007 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. He often writes about the torments he went through during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and particularly – about the despair he faced upon his return to USA, facing an everyday life as a veteran. I think his voice is truly important in times when, as Ingeborg Bachmann wrote:  “War is no longer declared, only continued. The monstrous has become everyday.” Read more.

DAM (Palestine): When The Levee Breaks.

DAM-slider/photo via DAM/

This is an interview I did  with DAM’s Suhell Nafar, and it was published on Reorient Magazine. Heralded by Le Monde as ‘the spokesmen of a new generation’, the members of DAM – the first [known] Palestinian hip-hop crew and among the first musicians to rap in Arabic – began working together in the late 90s. Struck by the uncanny resemblance of the streets in a Tupac video to those of their own neighbourhood in Lod, brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar, along with Mahmoud Jreri were inspired to tell their stories through song. They’ve come a long way since the 90s, and part of their tale has been documented in the acclaimed film, Slingshot Hip Hop, directed by Jackie Reem Salloum. As well, a year ago, they released the long-awaited album, Dabke on the Moon, to popular acclaim. Read more.

Tamara Abdul Hadi: A Different Middle East.

zamisli-arapskog-muc5a1karca-tamara-abdul-hadi/Picture an Arab Man by Tamara Abdul Hadi/

Tamara Abdul Hadi is an Iraqi – Canadian photojournalist. Her projects are strong and on point,  dealing with social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes. Through her work one can be constantly reminded how nothing is black and white, nothing is sealed in time and space – there’s a  lot of grey areas, but also a lot of colour to our world, and everything around us is fluid, ever changing. It is important to be reminded of that, especially when talking about the Middle East, the area often approached by oversimplification, constantly reduced to one (dark) image. Read more.

Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near The Livings.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Tamara Erde is a French-Israeli filmmaker who creates in various mediums, from documentary and fiction films, to performances and video installations. Erde is a brave artistic soul, often taking from her most personal places and transforming it into her art. In her work, she often deals with political and social issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is what hits home. Read more.

✩ From The Sky: The Story Of Drones & Resistance.

from the sky photo/image via From The Sky facebook page/

From The Sky (2014) is a short film about a humble father (Hakeem) and his son (Abbas) who live in a region frequently targeted by drone strikes.  Drawing inspiration from the films of Werner Herzog and Peter Weir, the film tells a minimalist story in an atmosphere that balances eerie tension with ethereal cues. While the story is minimalistic, the questions it opens are of great dimensions, not just concerning the issues of US drone policy, but of an eternal dillema of resistance and what it can turn (a person) into.  The director of the film is Ian Ebright (the film is also written by Ebright) and I’ve been lucky enough to ask him some questions about the film and the idea behind it. Read more.

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P.S. Happy New Year & All The Best to All of You!

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