art of resistance, Syria

Playlist: Hello Pshychaleppo.

screen-shot-2015-07-13-at-19-29-31/From the video Shahba/

Today is Middle East Revised’s third birthday. Here’s a nice tune to go with it. It is not necessarily celebratory, but it suits the last three years of writing and posting here. I am happy to have these years.

Hello Pshychaleppo is a project by Samer Saem Eldahr, and it’s all about fusing Arab heritage music and electronic sounds.

For the video Shahba, Eldahr asked friends to send him any footage that they had of Aleppo. “I wanted to do a mixture of footage and the animation that I create myself. It’s like a composition of our collective memory”, he says in an interview .

Doing this project wasn’t easy. “Whilst working on this project I also had to do a lot of research about Aleppo, particularly the visuals that Aleppians relate to.

For example, there is a yellow man who is very well known in Aleppo simply for the fact that he wears only yellow. He never takes it off. For every Aleppian or for every person who has been to Aleppo they relate to this person, this image. It’s in our visual memory. So things like this bring a lot of memories and it’s bitter-sweet”, Eldahr explains.

Listen & watch the video here.

Previous Playlist:

Grup Bunalim

I Was Born For Poetry (Adonis)

The Partisan

Rojava Women

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art of resistance, Syria

Zaher Omareen: A Bedtime Story For Eid.

I recently wrote about the Hama massacre, marking thirty-three years since it had happened. This month, to pay respect to the victims of that horrible event that took place in February of 1982, I am sharing one more story. It is Zaher Omareen’s tale A Bedtime Story For Eid. Zaher Omareen is a Syrian writer who is currently completing Tales of the Orontes River, a collection of short stories drawn from the collective memories of the 1982 Hama massacre. A Bedtime Story For Eid is one of those stories (translation by Alice Guthrie).

pop/Hama massacre, photo via NPR/

—So he gave you a kiss, and wished you a happy Eid, and said ‘Send my love to your Mom?’ My God, what a good memory that guy’s got! Yeah, those guys used to live over at al-Tawafra, right near al-Kaylaneya. You know where I mean, don’t you? Al-Tawafra was your grandparents’ old neighborhood, actually.

—Yeah, I know—but al-Kaylaneya? Where’s that?

—Hmm, al-Kaylaneya, you kids are too young to remember it, aren’t you? Well, it’s like—where would it be now? It was more or less that whole area from where the Afamia Hotel is now, all the way across to the street on the right of the bridge, yeah—opposite the Saba’ al-Arab family orchard. You know that bit of scrubland where you all play football? That used to be part of the al-Kaylaneya neighborhood.

—What, were there houses there before, then? Was it not always empty?

—Of course there were—there was a waterwheel there, too, and the al-Kaylani family palace, and one of those old zawiyas, you know, a traditional tomb shrine—but all that’s long gone, it’s just bare earth there now . . .. And no one dares build on that land—it was seized by the regime and became state property. Your Granny’s dear friend Um Omara used to live right by there. That poor woman’s got such a story: during The Events they came for her kids, they took all three of them—and those boys were all so lovely, such beautiful lads . . . One was in high school, one was just about to graduate from the Faculty of Business at the Uni, and the eldest was a mechanical engineer—his name was Omar.

—The one we read al-Fatiha for at the cemetery today? Was it his grave we prayed over?

—Yep, that’s him, that’s Omar. That man’s really got a story . . ..  After The Events happened, Um Omara nearly lost her mind, trying to find out whether her sons had survived or been executed; of course in those days absolutely no one dared to ask the authorities what had happened to their children, or where they were. A few years after The Events, news reached Um Omara that her two younger sons had passed away in al-rush—someone had been there when they were martyred, had seen it all happen, and told her about it . . .  so she knew it was definitely true.

But she wasn’t able to find out anything at all about her eldest son, Omar. Now, Um Omara, may she rest in peace, was a God-fearing woman! I still remember—I must’ve been about fourteen then, I would’ve been in the ninth grade or so—she used to come round to your granny’s a lot, and I remember how she always used to say to her, ‘My heart doesn’t lie, Hajja: I can feel it—something tells me Omar’s still alive.’ She had this sense about it and it didn’t let her rest.

Anyway, eventually some kind people put her in touch with this man who supposedly had proper security force connections—he was meant to be getting news of people’s kids for them, apparently, letting them know where they were being held, maybe even how they were doing and all that. So she went to meet him and asked him about her son. He said to her ‘For 200,000 Syrian pounds I can tell you if he’s dead or alive.’  Um Omara was a widow in her fifties: she was hard up, she had always lived off her relatives. But—ya haram—a mother’s heart . . ..

She sold her house in Bashoura, in the Old City, to raise some cash—but she only got peanuts for it, you know, this was some time in the mid-nineties; she bought a tiny flat in the suburbs to live in, and then gave that guy all the money she had, the whole lot, so he’d get news of her son for her. And from then on he started getting more and more money out of Um Omara—she sold off all the furniture from her old house, which was that proper original pearl inlay stuff, real quality, and then she sold her gold jewelry, and then when all that was gone she started borrowing money to pay him, running up debts….

But he just kept on stalling, for ages, until in the end she found out he was nothing but a crook, some security services bullshitter with no inside access to prison records at all—and eventually he disappeared: no one ever saw him again.

Time passed, seasons came and went, as they do; after several years—I don’t know how many—a little group of prisoners were let out. Now, as you know, the custom, whenever someone was released from prison, was that everyone in Hama would go and see them, to greet them and welcome them back and all that—offering their blessings, really, on their return—but also, of course, to ask them about their disappeared children: Had they seen them? Were they incarcerated with them? Where were they being held? Are they OK? Are they alive?

One of the prisoners released in this particular little group told Um Omara that Omar had been held with him for a while in Tadmor prison, but that he’d been taken out of their cell two days before The Tadmor Events. He said they’d taken Omar away naked . . . This guy had managed to keep Omar’s shirt the whole rest of the time he was in prison, and he had it with him. He said to Um Omara ‘I think your son must have passed away . . .  because that was right before they shot hundreds of prisoners right there in the yard, my God, I don’t even know how many . . .’ And sure enough he handed her Omar’s shirt, and she just knew straight away it was her son’s—a mother’s heart, you see, Son? There’s nothing like it.

—Really?

—Absolutely. She didn’t doubt the news for a minute. And so the next day she opened up her house for three days of mourning, with her son’s shirt on display for everyone to see. I’ve never forgotten the sight of that tattered, faded blue shirt hanging from the middle of the sitting room ceiling on an old wooden hanger. The women all poured into the little flat for the wake, praying for Um Omara’s sanity, saying things like ‘God protect Um Omara from what her mind must endure.’ Anyway, after the three days of mourning, Um Omara took the shirt to the Sreheen cemetery and buried it and had a proper stone tomb made, with flower beds and a headstone and everything. She wanted somewhere she could go to remember her son, poor woman, she was heartbroken, destroyed, really . . .. And from then on she went to that grave every single Thursday and read the Quran over it, put flowers on it, and watered the plants growing there . . . until, about a year or so later, the force of her grief and pain overwhelmed her and she passed away.

She’d only been dead a year when another batch of prisoners were released—and guess who was let out with them this time?

—Who?

—Omar!

—What are you talking about?!

—It’s true, honestly—he came out alive! And they let him out after he’d done something like twenty years inside. It turned out that when he was moved out of that cell the other prisoner’d told Um Omara about, just before The Tadmor Events, they actually took him to the Palestine Branch of the Security Services.

—And then what? What happened to him after that?!

—I’m getting to that, hang on! That poor man . . .  when he finally got let out it was the middle of the night—cos they only ever used to release anyone from prison in the small hours, the real dead of night. The state security agents took him back to his old family home and dumped him there outside the door. Poor old thing, he sat there on the doorstep for hours, until the dawn call to prayer sounded—he didn’t dare knock at the door and frighten his family. When the azan sang out, the new owner of the house got out of bed to go to the mosque; when he opened his front door he found a stranger sitting there on the step. He thought he was a beggar, and he gave him five Syrian pounds. But apparently at that Omar just burst into tears and cried like a little child. So the man asked him his name, and he knew straight away who he was.

—How? How come he knew about him?

—Son, everybody knows everybody in Hama—and everybody knows everybody’s stories! You know how the old saying goes. ‘Mother gathers the family together and keeps them close.’ Well, in Hama it’s more like ‘Misery gathers the community together and keeps them close.’ But also, when Um Omara did that full mourning ceremony for the shirt, everyone talked about it, even more than usual—she became an exemplar of suffering, somehow.

So anyway, the owner of the house rang Omar’s relations right away! And the aunts and uncles, whoever was left of his extended family by then, all came to get him and took him to their place and bit by bit they filled him in on what’d happened to his family. Eventually he had to take in that the old house in Tawafra was gone, his Mom was dead, his brothers were dead—and that even he, himself, was supposedly dead!

Well, as usual, the good people of the city really rallied round—someone found him a place to live, someone sorted out a job for him, someone helped him with his medical stuff . . .. My auntie Um Ibrahim used to really love Um Omara, God rest her soul, and she had a young daughter called Samiha—she got pregnant with her when she was already quite old, actually—and anyway she offered Omar her hand in marriage.

And you see, thank goodness, how life moves on, Samiha bore Omar a lovely little daughter who they named Rajaa, after his mother—but everyone in the neighborhood and all the relations always just call her Um Omara!

And poor old Omar, bless him, once things were a bit more sorted out and settled for him, he started doing what his mother used to do: every Thursday, still, he visits his mother’s grave, and puts myrtle on it—and as he’s passing, he waters the plants on his own grave, too.

—And where is he now?

—What do you mean ‘Where is he now?!’ He’s that guy who gave you a kiss today, in the cemetery, and told you to send his love to your Mom. He still remembers me—he used to walk me and my sisters to school when we were in primary.

—Oh, I see! But wait, why do they call his Mom Um Omara, as if she was the mother of a woman called Omara, which isn’t even a real name? Shouldn’t they call her Um Omar?

—Well, according to your granny, when Omar was born, he was such a beautiful little baby that everyone thought he was a girl! So his mother got called Um Omara instead of Um Omar, and it stuck . . ..

Right, come on now love, bedtime, yalla, off you go—tomorrow’s the second day of Eid and we’re going to your Granddad’s for breakfast.

• • •

For more on Zaher Omareen and this story, go to Words Without Borders.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

(Interview) Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near the Livings.

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. I was truly happy to be able to do the following interview and get to know more about Tamara’s work and her personal journey while making it.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Being born and raised in Israel, Israel being a part of your identity, did you have issues when you first started making films about different layers of Israeli – Palestinian conflict? Did you feel your work will be politicized, dissected in a particular way?

Yes, having been born and raised in Israel, and later on deciding to live and work on different, critical aspects of the Israeli society and politics, it has been a rather difficult process, to acknowledge I will face the unsatisfaction and sometimes anger of many of my friends and society in which I grew. I also have my films shown less in Israel then in anywhere else, so this is also a shame for me, as I’d love to show them there too and arouse a discussion about it. But I guess that indeed, once they touch core political problems that are in the basis of the perception and life views there, it is directly politicized and remains only as a political work and not a cinematic, creation as well.

In your documentary film released this year, This is my Land, you focus on how  Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) education systems teach the history of their nations. You also confront your own history (in relation to the land) and the way it was built up, created. You admit you first started asking questions and having doubts about the nature of Israeli occupation during the army service. Could you tell me more about this film and the experience of it, but also the story of your personal journey, which could be marked as – before and after – the army service?

I have decided to do this film when I found myself, about two years ago, asking myself how come I didn’t know and didn’t search to know, what I do now, about the history of my country and my region. Because the information is out there, in Internet, in books, in the mouth of people. And for me the direct answer was – the education I got. So that has brought me to wish and come back to Israel but also to Palestine, and see now, from my new perspective, how kids are taught.

Until my army service, I was very zionist and nationalist. I didn’t know much about the conflict, I didn’t have contact with Palestinian people, nor did I think about it too much. My army service was during the second Intifada, I saw then how the decision are taken, how life are being played with for political little reasons, I saw for the first time (even though it was sadly through the information computer screens) Palestinian people. And this has made me start asking question and doubting what I was doing and believing till then. From that I went to a journey of some time, trying to learn and research the story of “the other side”.

Very few children can see through and doubt the education they receive. I am sure that if I had to go back to school, changing the position – going to a Palestinian school, or to an orthodox religious school, I would have been following this sets of values and beliefs. Very few people also doubt or question their education on their later life, as adults. I had the chance to do it thanks to my profession, to my films that have brought me, and still do, to discover and investigate about my identity, and the society I live in, or from which I come.

But even though the ability to change the way a child perceives his education is so small, the ability to change the education we give him, is much more probable, and possible. For me, this voyage I wish to go on with this film, back to this primal encounter with the teachers, and the school, in the place where I was born, which imposes the charge of the conflict, is a way to make myself, and hopefully my viewers, think about the way we can change the education system, and assure a better future society and life for the generations to come. And I think this is true to Israel-Palestine, but also to many other places around the world.

disney ramallah/Disney Ramallah/

Disney Ramallah is your latest short film. It is a story of a father and son in Ramallah, confronted to the harsh reality during the Second Intifada. The boy has one dream – to go to Euro Disney for his birthday. Of course, that is not possible, and the father ends up making a home-made alternative universe for his son. Something in this story, the creative magic and will maybe, reminded me of Yalla to the moonThere is something mesmerizing about these parallel universes people create among the harshest of conditions, which also remindes me of Guido Orefice in La Vitta è Bella. What inspired you to write and direct this story? 

I have written this story basing on my experiences and what I have seen during the Second Intifada when I was in the army, but also what I have seen later on, in the West Bank, when I have met many children and heard their stories and their families stories. One of the things that inspired me mostly was their energy, their hope, their great force of life, even in the harder and most extreme situations. That has made me imagine that boy that all he wants, like many kids, is to go to EuroDisney, and what happened when this meets his father’s harsh daily struggle, who has put aside his childhood dreams and urges.

When I was a child, I grew up alone with my mother, since my dad died before I was born. At nights, sometimes, I used to be afraid that she will die too, leaving me alone in the world. And so, I used to ask her, simply, what if… And she used to tell me the name of her friend; she will take care of you if I die, I talked to her about it, she will adopt you. For some months, years even, I remember, I kept repeating this question, wishing only for one answer: I won’t die.., but she never said this to me. She told me the truth, at simple as it was.

And years later, I kept asking myself about it… What would I do? Do we always need to tell the truth to our children? What does protecting someone means? Hiding from him sometimes? Or on the contrary remaining loyal to the truth? Or maybe creating a different, imagined truth, for those we love. Those questions, daily dilemmas, of parents, of human relationships, are in the heart of Disney Ramallah. In this story, an additional aspect joins those universal story of father and son, since Rabia and Ahmed live in Ramallah, in a complexed reality.

You create in various mediums, not just film. One of your installations and performances is A Soldier’s Dream.  It was influenced by poems of the great Mahmoud Darwish, and aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writingHomeland, in the context of Israel and Palestine, is a complex term. It involves memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting, and generally – an internal state of chaos and confusion. It is not just Darwish who struggles with the notion of homeland. Kanafani writes in Returning to Haifa: “What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall?” How do you see this issue of  homeland, and why did you approach Darwish and his poetry through your installations and performances?

It was after my last visit to Israel, on the spring of 2010, that I’ve decided to create this project around the poems ad writing of Mahmoud Darwish. On my return to France after that visit, I felt more then ever helpless, seeing the frozen situation, the immobile misery and injustice that have long ago conquered this land. In front of my eyes I still had this image of the sea, near Gaza, divided by the separation wall, thinking – what else can be done when even the water are bound to surround. I’m looking again, now in France, at the few pictures I’ve managed to take there, at the point where the wall meets the sea, before the soldiers came with their weapons towards me.

Staring at this black and white desperate silence of the water, I recalled Darwish’s texts about the water; “Who says that water has no color, flavor or smell?” [Memory of forgetfulness].

I thought about the relation between words and images when confronting those ungraspable impermeability, where is their limit in view of that, where are there points of force, of challenge and of completion. It was from that desperation that I felt a need to return to the words of Darwish, whose words are imprints of footsteps on this sands of misery, of that surrounding water, and yet, of the whole world outside, of the love and the hope deriving from the simple beauty, form the power of the sincere words, phrases, memories.

In Forgotten Oceans, an experimental dance film, you explore the theme of physical memories of spaces. Again, such an important theme concerning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, its millions of people living in exile and millions of memories that were and are wiped out. Like Khaled Juma asks in The Unseen aspects of War: “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?” It is like the “my tree was gone” moment from your film. Why did you find it important to make this fim, to do this exploration, and could you relate it to Israeli – Palestinian conflict, from your own perspective?

Actually, this video dance, that I created in an aim to develop and include in a performance piece later on, is also the continuation of my work inspired by Darwish, aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writing. Being an Israeli I was amazed how many things I have discovered, when reading Darwish’s poems, on my “Homeland”, how close I felt to his words, and how painful it was. His words, have become, to me, a life-time journey, and this performance was part of this journey.

The poetic, the never ending, floating magical words, are living side by side with reality, with the aching sand grains of this land. On the video dance Forgotten Oceans the scene is to describe a “no man’s” land on which all characters are immigrants. Turning around, discovering the new space, the new land that is assumed to be their new “home”, again. A land on which they have no past, no memories or acquaintance, and apparently no future either. They are doomed to eternal wonderings.

forgotten oceans/Forgotten Oceans/

Based on the poetry of Mahmod Darwish; the physical choreographically language of the piece, as well as the visual language, aim to create this sense of “no people” on a “no land”. The characters existence in the space is never substantial, no relation is ever physically created between them. “We live near the livings”, Darwish once wrote about his people, and it s this sense of the term “exile” that I wish to give to the spectators in this piece.

• • •

 /all images via Tamara Erde/

For more on Tamara and her work, visit her website.

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art of resistance, Iraq

What We Carried: Fragments From The Cradle of Civilization.

What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization is a photography project by Jim Lommasson. Through photography, Lommasson asked Iraqi refugees to share an item that accompanied them during their immigration to America, and to express what it means to them. Going through this powerful collection of images, I thought of one Waltz With Bashir moment – “Memory takes us where we need to go.”

144“The picture on the phone is my house in Baghdad. This means home for us. This phone has all the numbers of our friends and relatives in Iraq as well as pictures.”

765“I want to ask my country ‘Iraq’ when we will get some rest. Shall we spend tears on our current circumstance or should we cry for the past. We have been carrying our miseries for long time on our chests. Strangers from around the world occupied our land and they kill our people for a very cheap price. We are tired, we are tired and we want to get some rest.”

980“My best friend Sheema’a. She means a lot to me and was the closest person to me I couldn’t leave her photo behind.”

11Many times simple things seem nothing to others while it means everything to you. A scarf, not a fancy once or so special this one might seem. I take it with me where ever I travel. A scarf is all what I have now of my soulmate whom I lost my smile and happiness since I lost him. (it belongs to my killed brother). Not such along story, again sectarian war took my brother like so many other Iraqis. Whenever I take this scarf in between my hands, I close my eyes and hug it close to my heart. Thinking about it as it used to embrace my beloved brothers neck and chest. Wish I was a scarf (this scarf) so I could be as much as I can close to the one I lost!”

12344“Without ‘Nana’ (means mother in Trukmani language) there would be no Samir. When I was drawing on the walls, cabinet, doors, clothing and other things in my house my mother was spanking me and beat me so hard. That’s motivated me to be an artist. We lived such a difficult life with all aspects and my family struggled a lot financially plus the wars and injustice that we have been through. My mother was so kind and patient with everybody all the time and I learned from her how to be patient and honest with everything. This is my mother’s gift to me and I’m carrying it with me everywhere I go because it’s giving me the strength and patience that I need. In 2006 and just before I left Iraq my mother gave me this gift and asked me to carry it with me all the time because it has the name of Allah ‘God’ and this will protect me and give me patience and strength.”

56“This Holy Qur’an is opened on the page that has Alnaas verse, and this verse means a lot for me because it’s the verse of protection.”

/all images © Jim Lommasson/

For more on Jim Lommasson and What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization, visit Lommasson’s blog.

 

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