Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Weekend in the Jordan Valley


This weekend revealed to me the desperate but unyielding struggles of the Palestinian people residing in the Jordan Valley. The basic necessities that every human being should be entitled to are denied here – water, health, education and freedom – and it is not because of poverty, poor infrastructure or an underdeveloped economy, it is because they are intentionally stolen away from the Palestinians. The situation in the Jordan Valley is critical. Harmful Israeli occupation practices are intensifying, settlement expansion is increasing and strategic ethnic cleansing is succeeding as a result of the intense pressure exerted on Palestinians to leave their homeland. When Israel occupied the Jordan Valley in 1967, 320,000 Palestinians lived here. Now there are only 56,000 Palestinians residing in the region on a permanent basis.
On entering Jordan Valley, it is made clear to us that we are entering Israeli land. We must walk through a checkpoint to go any further. We take off our bags and coats, hand over our passports and walk through the metal detector. It is much easier for us to get through than for the Palestinian man who was travelling with us. He is forced to empty his pockets, remove his shoes and walk back and forth through the metal detector until the Israeli soldier is satisfied. On the other side we are greeted by a group of Israeli soldiers. It is impossible not to feel intimidated when you are being stared down and interrogated by your peers who are dressed in military gear and holding assault rifles. Surprisingly, we are provoked by a female soldier in the group. She asks us if we are going to meet an Arab friend and when we walk away, sarcastically wishes us to ‘have a great time, honey.’
Once in Jordan Valley, we make our way to the Bedouin Village of Khirbet Samra. The West Bank is divided into three territories as declared by the 1993 Oslo Accords: A, B and C. Area C covers 60 per cent of the West Bank. Unlike Areas A and B which allow for varying amounts of Palestinian control, Area C is under full Israeli administrative and security control. They control the roads, any land in the vicinity of settlements, and strategic areas considered ‘security zones’. As the most fertile area of the West Bank, many Palestinians are dependent on the land to provide for their livelihoods. We are shown a road that has been closed off by the Israelis. It is an essential road used by Palestinians to travel and access their agricultural land. Palestinians are only permitted to cross the road during a 30 minute window, two times per day, and three days a week. We are told a story of one family living nearby. A couple of months ago, their son was crossing this road on a tractor to reach their farm. The vehicle crashes and the boy falls and hits his head. When his family discover that he doesn’t return they approach the road but it is closed off. They can see their son injured at the side of the road but are denied access by Israeli soldiers. His family are forced to watch him bleed to death. 
Our car drives along a mud path, approaching a cluster of tents located at the head of a valley. We are in Khirbet Samra, a Bedouin village that has existed for centuries. It is currently overlooked by a settlement, and is also bordered by an army base at the entrance to the valley. The community is regularly harassed by settlers and the military, they have been issued several demolition orders, and have had many of their buildings destroyed. We are shown an animal enclosure that was destroyed the day before by Israeli settlers. 
At one point during the day, a settler car stops on top off the hill and tries to steal one of the sheep belonging to the village. It is just one of the strategies deployed to force Bedouin families to leave. One of the neighbouring villages we visit, Mak-hul, has a water pipe passing through it leading to the Israeli military base on the top of the hill surrounding the village. Water is a serious problem in the Jordan Valley. Since the occupation, Israel has monopolised the area’s water resources and controls where wells can be placed and how much water can be pumped from them. As a result, Palestinians suffer from a lack of access due to Israeli restrictions and extreme usage. While settlers are receiving hefty discounts on their water bills, Palestinians have no other choice but to install expensive water pumps and pay unreasonable fines for exceeding their allowed water usage.

We are greeted by the 25 children that live in Khirbet Samra. They offer us flowers and it is the warmest welcome that I have received so far in Palestine.

The aim today is to build a tent school for the children in Khirbet Samra with Jordan Valley Solidarity. Once finished, the organisation will send teachers to the school on a regular basis. The children have not been able to attend school as the nearest one is 20km away and they occasionally receive harassment from soldiers and settlers on their way to the school. In Area C, it is not an easy feat to set up a school. It is illegal to build without an Israeli building permit which is almost impossible to obtain. If you do build, the structure is vulnerable to receive a stop work order for demolition. 

After a few hours, the school is completed and the children are eager to help us with the decorating. They get stuck in with the paint to their parent’s dismay. These children are beautiful. They want to play with us and continue to pick flowers and hand them to us. They are not a security threat and they are not terrorists. They deserve every opportunity in life. 

It is a bittersweet feeling once the school is finished. It represents resistance and resilience, a fight for the right to education, and the love and dedication displayed by the children. It is sad to think that in the near future this school will be demolished. 
At the end of my trip, I speak with a local Palestinian teacher who is volunteering with Jordan Valley Solidarity. He asks me what people in the UK think about the occupation and is clearly upset when I tell him that many people are not actually aware of the atrocities taking place here. He asks why the world does not care about the Palestinian’s suffering in the Jordan Valley and I also wonder why.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Vigil for Gaza at the LSE

Yasmin Ahmed
LSE Palestine Society

27 candles
On Thursday 15th March, the LSE Palestine Society held a candle-lit vigil on campus to mourn the victims of Israel's latest deadly bombardment of Gaza. The attacks, which began on March 9th, continued for five days, leaving 27 dead and dozens injured. Those dead included 12-year-old schoolboy Ayoub Useila, killed by an airstrike which also injured his 7-year-old cousin.

Twenty-seven candles were lit on Houghton Street just before sunset to mark the lives of those killed, and a two-minute silence was observed. A black banner with the words "Silence Is Complicity" was also displayed throughout the day, referring to the media blackout surrounding the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the complete lack of observance paid towards the relentless attacks upon it and its population of 1.5 million.

Second R2E lecture broadcast to Gaza!

Yasmin Ahmed
LSE SU Palestine Society

On Tuesday 13th March, following last month's International Relations lecture broadcasting to students at the Islamic University of Gaza by Dr Marco Pinfari [http://the-london-school-of-emancipation.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/right-2-education-project-gets-underway.html], Dr Menolis Melissaris from the Law Department at the LSE delivered the second in a series of five lectures as part of the LSE Palestine Society's 'Right 2 Education' (R2E) Campaign.

Dr Menolis Melissaris delivering a
lecture via Shype to students to Gaza
His lecture, entitled "An Introduction to Western Legal Thought" was broadcast live at 9am London time (11am Gaza time) to an audience of around 30 students. This was quite an extraordinary turnout given that over the three days prior to this lecture, and indeed during and after, Gaza was being pounded by Israeli air attacks, which eventually left 27 dead and dozens wounded. 

The third lecture in this series will be delivered by renowned Human Rights lawyer and LSE Professor Conor Gearty, who will be discussing the historical, philosophical and legal derivations of Human Rights Theory. 

For more information about this student-led project and to get involved, please email su.soc.palestine@lse.ac.uk

LSE Palestine Society hosts Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset

LSE SU Palestine Society

On Monday 5th March, the Palestine Society at the LSE had the honour of hosting Deputy Speaker of Israeli Knesset Dr Ahmed El Tibi in a talk entitled 'Israel & the Arab Spring: The Way Forward'. 

From left to right: Chair Samer Abdelnour, Ambassador Manuel
Hassassian, and Dr Ahmed El Tibi
Tibi, who was introduced to the audience by the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Manuel Hassassian, began by discussing the discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from, such as the fact that "Arab citizens of Israel make up 20% of the Israeli population yet make up only 7.5% of public sector employees". He went on to describe the Knesset as at its "most racist, radical and extreme", giving the example of the Israeli law against family unification which essentially "forbids an arab citizen of Israel who is willing to marry a Palestinian woman from the West bank from having his life in his town in Israel unless he is willing to leave his country and live with his wife in Israel". Regarding this, he commented that "only Israel deals with romance and love as a conspiracy against the security of Israel".

The speaker then went on to talk about issues of democracy and security, arguing that Israel and indeed the world is selective about these things when it comes to Palestine whilst making a reference to Hamas' election in Gaza in 2008 which was wholly unaccepted by a number of countries. Tibi also alleged that "the word security is only compatible with Israel" given that "in Gaza there is much more need for security than in Tel Aviv".

After a 30-minute speech, a lively Q&A session ensued, with Ambassador Hassassian referring to the 60-year Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as "the most ferocious occupation in modern history". 

Refugee Rhythmz hit the LSE!

On Friday 2nd March, the Palestine and Arabic societies of the LSE and Kings' College joined forces to bring a night of hip hop, spoken word and poetry. 

The lineup included live performances from renowned Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst, up-and-coming British-Iranian MC Mic Righteous and Egyptian Arabic rapper Deeb, as well as a number of new up-and-coming UK-based artists. Speakers included Rafeef Ziadah and Sanasino and stalls were also available on the night, selling merchandise.

We would like to express our thanks to everyone who made this event possible and to the artists and poets who performed on the night, which raised over £500. Proceeds from this fundraising gig will go towards funding a full-time academic scholarship for a Palestinian refugee to attend Birzeit University, one of the best academic institutions in Palestine. 

List of performers: The Narcicyst, Mic Righteous, Deeb, Logic, Ed Greenz, Rafeef Ziadah, Sanasino, Lyricist Jinn, Tabanacle, Caspa.

Glasgow University latest to boycott Eden Springs

Glasgow University Palestine Society
In September 2011 Glasgow University Palestine Society relaunched a campaign which began several years ago to encourage the University to cancel their contract with Eden Springs.  Eden Springs UK are a subsidiary of Mayanot Eden, an Israeli company which extracts water from illegally occupied Golan Heights, bottling the water in nearby settlement Katzrin. Eden Springs has become a major target in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement across the UK and Europe, responding to the call from Palestinian civil society.

The campaign consisted of public meetings, a student petition, an appeal for support to the Student Representatives Council, and a letter from staff at the University which voiced their support for the motion to cancel the contract.  Following a report submitted to the University in January 2012, a meeting was arranged between members of the Society and the Principal of the University, Anton Muscatelli.
The meeting took place on 13th March 2012.  The Principal assured the Palestine Society that the University acknowledged the concerns of the students and staff, and to this end would make a commitment to refraining from any future contract with Eden Springs.
The agreement from the University follows similar commitments from other Scottish Universities including Strathclyde University, Caledonian University, University of Edinburgh, Dundee University and others.  Similar campaigns have been run at Universities and Colleges across the UK.
Glasgow University Palestine Society would like to thank everyone who supported the campaign by signing the student petition and staff letter.  In addition to this, we would like to thank all of the individuals who assisted the campaign through offering advice and resources.  Thanks also to individuals who endorsed the campaign, and organisations such as Boycott From Within for their endorsement.
We consider this success significant not just for Glasgow Palsoc, but for all groups campaigning for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israeli companies internationally.  The Palestine Society at Glasgow University will continue to pursue BDS campaigns against Israeli companies, the existence of which propagates Israel’s ongoing system of occupation, apartheid and oppression of the Palestinian people.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Irreplaceable


By Fidaa Abuassi

I have got into the habit of letting my students guess the meaning of any new word from its context rather than stating the meaning directly. On the board I wrote these three sentences: “Appreciate the beauty of nature. Appreciate your mother and be grateful to her. Appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had.” Then, I asked them to try to guess the meaning of the word “appreciate”. As they guessed right, I asked them whether they are appreciative of what they have before it is irretrievably gone. Given that my mother means more than the world to me, I, assuming the role of my grandmother probably, prolonged the talk on this topic, offering some pieces of advice on how each should take good care of the mother and seek her pleasure obediently. “Appreciate the irreplaceable,” I heartedly throated, then, suddenly –or rather shockingly –stopped upon hearing a girl sobbing uncontrollably. I panicked. “Habibti, what’s wrong?” I knelt down next to her, begging.

Trying to wipe her non-stop shedding tears off her checks, she seemed inconsolable. “Please talk to me,” I begged again as my heart wrinkled out of fear, for it was almost my first time I happened to be the only grown-up around where I had to be wise enough to handle all alone whatever went wrong. It was such a staggering burden for so young a teacher. “I… lo…s..lo..lost my mom,” she was still sobbing. “Oh my God!” I gasped. That was the last thing I needed to hear. Intuitively, I sensed it, yet I feared it. Sometimes I hate when my hunches fail to fail me. Speechless, I patted her shoulder with a failed attempt to calm her down. I wished I had not been destined to be a teacher. I regretted my way of teaching. I hated the contexts on which I placed the word ‘appreciate’. I cursed the topic I prolonged and the role of my grandmother I assumed. I thought I was too young to bear such a responsibility, such a mission, a teaching mission. I took her in my tiny, helpless arms, this time assuming the role of a mother, the mother she lost, most likely. I cried, sharing her the sobs, while beckoning to the other students to have a break or better to leave. I needed a break. A leave.
Till now, I haven’t dared to ask what happened to her mother. I knew some shattered pieces unfolded by one of her classmates. Selfishly, I didn’t want to hear any further details. Thank you! I have lived enough details. Details that have bestowed me with age beyond that of mine. Details that made me sound more like my versatile grandmother who seems to have much knowledge about anything and everything in life. Details that made my mind bulge with bitter-sweet memories. There, lying in my bed, totally drained, I couldn’t stop thinking of my bereaved student whose image seemed unavoidable as though imprinted in my weary memory, forever.

Since the moment I tasted death during the bloody war Israel waged against us, I came to realize that I would lose everything and everyone anytime all at once without notice. The war taught me that everything is temporary and nothing I would ever have I could count on, neither parents nor siblings nor friends and of course not home nor even life. Since that, I tried harder to accept such a poignant fact with much patience and rectitude. Still, I am not yet ready. I failed, and I am still failing, even in faking. Since the day I experienced how others experienced real deaths and losses, I fear experiencing it myself one day. I resist me growing attached to a thing or a person, fearing to experience its loss, not because I lack this sense of appreciation about which I talked earlier with my students, yet because I have this sense of insecurity and uncertainty that the occupation implanted in me by making life so elusively vulnerable to death.

The kind of life I have had made me the person I am today. Such a life makes me see things with exaggerated nostalgia. A life that freaks me out when it whispers to me that the family I am with today while enjoying a Friday meal together, might not be there tomorrow. Why is that when I enjoyed a walk with a friend, a laugh with a brother, a dance with a sister, or the like, I see these moments as mere memories, having the feeling of missing those people while I am actually still with them? Why do I seem to have always craved a sealed promised that I will have my family and my friends for life and never ever to lose them? Why can’t I accept the universally acknowledged fact that nothing lasts forever. Impossible to have it forever? Hasn’t the Israeli occupation taught me this, a zillion times, so practically? Or hasn’t the occupation been a qualified teacher yet? Appreciate or don’t. It wouldn’t make any difference, had someone been destined to have such a life under such a merciless occupation that masters causing suffering to people by making them experience losses, consistently.

Yesterday, I went with a group of internationals to visit the Sammouni family. They wanted to hear the countess-times-told story directly from the mother. Sorrowfully, I happened to be the interpreter of the story. Of grief. Of agony. Of injustice. With tears streaking her face, the mother stopped narrating. I stopped translating. Spontaneously, I gave her a tight hug, thinking, with much naivety, that by hugging her, I could soothe her aching heart (I don’t know what role I assumed that moment, a husband?). As I turned my face to tell my friend Komal, whose eyes were already swollen with tears, that what we heard was enough, I found everyone was apparently agonized by her agony, speechlessly mesmerized. This mother lost her husband and her child. Both were murdered in front of her eyes. All what she hopped for at that very moment was to have a final look at her husband’s gun-shot corpse which was totally drowned in his innocently spilt blood. The solider didn’t let her, despite her heart-rending weeps. “Allah yesamho (God forgives him)! He didn’t allow me to see my husband for the last time,” she recalled, still feeling the same pain she once felt and tore her heart apart till the rest of her death-drenched life. Three years have elapsed, and yet she can’t survive the horrible memories of losing the irreplaceable. Her husband. Her son.

“Fidaa, please ask her how we could help her”, asked one. I wanted to tell him that there was nothing he could offer, had he not been able to bring her husband and son back, had he not been able to erase that painful part off of her memory, had he not been able to make her forget how her husband and son were shot to death in front of her. However, he wanted me to ask her and so I did. “How you could help!” she heaved, “Khalas faGadna el ghali (we lost our beloved)”. I inhaled her pain and exhaled a deep sigh. Between me and myself, I vowed to never come back to that place again, believing that I have been weighed down with enough pain and sorrow. Later, however, I reproached myself for being too susceptible to bear hearing a story of pain, let alone living it with its details. Yet, I felt compelled to never get tired of telling the story. The story of injustice. Of losing a beloved. The irreplaceable.