Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Soldiers and Holes in My Heart

I never thought I'd say this, but I almost miss the Israeli checkpoint soldiers. Not, obviously, because they're particularly friendly, but because they gave me stuff to write about in my blog.

What do I write now that I'm back in Sweden? About a rude person in the subway? Rainy summer days?

Or the two holes in my heart, perhaps.

Yes. I have two holes in my heart. When I left Egypt many years ago, it was as if a corner of my heart had attached itself to the great city of Cairo and as the plane lifted, I could feel a small hole rip open as that part of my heart refused to let go.

For years now, I have had that small hole that just won't go away no matter how much I try to fill it with longing, Egyptian music, and dreams of returning one day.

I do sometimes. Return. And every time I leave, it's as if that little hole gets torn open all over again and let out all the longing I put there.

A few weeks ago, I tore a new hole in my heart when I left Palestine. I think I got caught in the sabr, the patient cactus whose thick, thorny body can be cut down, but whose roots refuse to leave the soils of Palestine. No matter how many Jewish hands try to dig up and uproot Palestinian history in the land.

I think my heart got caught in the sabr on the way from my old hometown Ramallah to Areeha, and when I  reached the border control manned by Israeli guards and soldiers, it was bleeding into the sands that hide mines and memories of war and conquest.

And here I sit at the kitchen table at my parents' house in Sweden with two holes in my heart and so much longing that I'm not sure what to do with it all.

So I bake Palestinian bread with zaatar and cook Palestinian rice dishes that I turn upside down and call maqloobeh. And I read. I read a book by Susan Abulhawa called Mornings in Jenin and cry more than I can remember crying over a book for a very long time. In it is all the longing of all the Palestinians made refugees by the Jewish war for independence in 1948 and the Israeli war of conquest in 1967. A longing for a homeland lost, a longing for sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers killed, and I feel it ache in my heart too. Not because I lost anything really, but because I have these two holes in my heart that, when I come to think of it, have always been there. Or the longing for something has, anyway.

And do you know what else I do? I go through old things to make room for new things. And I find old poems that I wrote when I was 13 and 18, and songs and short stories and even books that I wrote and I wonder at my own imagination and wonder where it went. Could I write something like that now?

And then, then I almost mourn the loss of my old dreams that I left along the way. I will never be a singer songwriter now, I won't write fiction again, I think, and I almost never write in my diary anymore. And I think, "Is this what it is to finally grow up?" You apply for jobs you don't really want, move home even though you don't really want to, you do things for people because you don't want to disappoint them, and then you sit with no energy left for the things you think you really want to do. And the thing is that you stop really wanting to do them anyway, because it no longer matters.

But then I think it's just the going-back-to-Sweden blues. And maybe I'll pick up the guitar and do what I always used to do: turn my sadness and longing into songs so as not to waste all the energy that goes into feeling less-than-fantastic.

Maybe there will be a line for the soldier that pointed the gun at me in Al-Khalil, but then maybe there won't. Because why should I honor those who don't even honor the lives of their neighbors with words that pour out from the two holes in my heart?

Bookmark and Share

Monday, May 16, 2011

Israel's Right to Self-Defense

Israel can kill every Arab in the Middle East, blow up each and every country surrounding it, and I fear the world will still say it had a right to defend itself.

But Palestinians? They don't have a right to anything.

Yesterday, for the first time as far as I know, thousands of Palestinian refugees, some Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians, marched towards the borders of Israel to mark the 63rd anniversary of the start of Al Nakba. (Before, they would have been stopped by their own regimes, but this is a New Middle East).

It was a symbolic Freedom March for Palestine and a reiteration of Palestinians' right of return to their homeland.

Beautiful in its simplicity in the middle of all the blood that is currently staining the Arab uprisings. Why shouldn't they just enter their homeland?

On the Syrian border, several did. They climbed over the fence, kissed and hugged their neighbors and brothers in the occupied Golan Heights. Imagine.

But of course, Israel had a right to defend itself against this terrible act of... not sure, but marching, I guess. (Kind of like Qaddafi and Assad are defending themselves, too).

And so Israel reportedly killed four on the Syrian border and ten at the Lebanese border, one in Gaza, and not to forget, one in Jerusalem the day before. Scores injured.

I found this picture on Facebook. It's of a young Palestinian man in Lebanon carrying his grandmother towards the border yesterday.

"I will take my grandmother home," he said.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Al Nakba Never Really Ended

Tomorrow marks the 63rd anniversary of the beginning of the Catastrophe that the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine entailed.

The Catastrophe, or Al Nakba, hit Palestine with its full force in 1948, although the preparations began much earlier. If you would like to learn exactly how meticulously planned each and every stage of the takeover of Palestine was, I recommend that you read Ilan Pappé's book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

They had plans - written-down, carefully thought-out plans - to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its people so that they could create a Jewish majority state in its place. The Zionist terrorist groups Hagannah and the Irgun and Stern Gang carried them out. These plans.

One of the most cynical strategies which the Jewish terrorist gangs, later turned Israel, used, was to destroy the Palestinian villages they had ethnically cleansed to make sure that none of the hundreds of thousands of refugees would have anything to return to.

It wasn't one of the bloodiest strategies, because that was to massacre Palestinian villagers - to line them up, and execute them one by one. To set an example for inhabitants of neighboring villages - flee now, or else.

Nor was it one of the most thieving strategies, because that was to plunder, steal and appropriate land and assets. (Have I told you before that even bank accounts were stolen? Palestinian refugees who wanted to at least withdraw their money from their bank accounts, even if they weren't allowed back to their homes, their farms, their factories and offices, were met with a steel wall. Everything, everything, was confiscated by the new Israeli state. Can you imagine?).

But it was the most destructive strategy. The Jewish terrorist gangs, and later the newly created Israeli state, destroyed at least 531 villages and towns during and after the war in 1948. They bulldozed them to the ground. Mosques, churches, farms, houses, graves - all of it turned to dust.

Why? Because they noticed that once they had moved on to the next village, those expelled started making their way back to their houses, thinking that the danger had passed and that they could go on with their lives. That didn't fit with the Zionist plan for Palestine to be for Jews only.

To make it worse - if anything can be worse than expelling a people from their land - all those hundreds of thousands of refugees who still have their deeds and their keys to houses that don't exist anymore. All of those who aren't allowed to return to where their villages once were. Do you know why they can't return?

If you imagine it is because Jews live there now, I would forgive you for your naivety. It sounds reasonable that the reason why Israel won't allow Palestinians to come home is because Jewish cities have taken the place of those Palestinian villages, so that there is no space for those who fled over 60 years ago.

And in some cases you would be right, imagining this. But in many, many cases it is simply so that grass can grow.

Over countless old houses and farms, marked only by the sabr - the patient cactus that used to separate one farm from another - and some old stones, there now grows grass. Grass and pine trees. The Jews planted European-looking pine trees where Palestinians used to grow oranges and olives to erase the history of the land. Make it look more like the Europe they had fled or emigrated from.

Sabr, Arabic for patience, and a national symbol for Palestine

Yesterday I watched a film about old women and men who are "internally displaced" within that which is now called Israel. They fled, but were still inside the borders of what would become Israel and were therefore allowed to stay, but not return to their old villages.

The film team came with them as they walked across fields to visit the places where they grew up. Tearing off tufts of grass from where their kitchen floor had once been, uncovering the grave of a loved one, they told stories of Al Nakba to the camera. Stories they still struggle to understand.

Because even 63 years later, Palestinians still can't really understand why anybody would want to come and uproot people from their homes, force them  out of their villages, and in many cases out of their country, and then not let them return even though so much of the land still stands untouched since those days.

Why would anybody think grass is more important than a fellow human being?

As the refugee community keeps growing, and as the occupation of the strips of land still officially promised to the Palestinians tightens, it is increasingly clear that Israel has absolutely no intention of ever granting Palestinians their right of return, nor giving up a single square meter of the land they stole 63 years ago.

And the international community? They also gave up on the refugees and their house keys. They've settled for mild diplomatic pressure on Israel to maybe allow Palestinians to create their own Swiss cheese state between the Israeli settlements sometime in the future. Perhaps.

And so Al Nakba deepens with every year that passes.

List on a wall of towns and villages refugees in 
Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem fled from

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Curse of the Mummy

After 70 years of empirical-evidence-gathering (by others than me), all facts point to the same inevitable conclusion: the curse of Tut Ankh Amon is upon us.

Remember the first tumultuous weeks of the Egyptian Uprising, when the baltageya and other hired thugs took to the streets of Egyptian cities to create general chaos and disorder to blacken the name of the protesters?

Not only were somewhere around 800 Egyptians killed during this period, the NDP headquarters burned down (without a single fire fighter showing up at the scene), stores and houses looted, horses and camels unleashed in the middle of peacefully protesting crowds, but a number of ancient artifacts were also stolen from the Egyptian Museum close to Tahrir Square. In spite of the human shield created by young protesters around the pink Museum.

Among the stolen artifacts, was an ancient brass trumpet found by Howard Carter in Tut Ankh Amon's tomb in 1922. And here begins the magic:

In 1939, seventeen years after it was found, the trumpet was played for (as far as I understand) the first time in 3000 years.

Imagine what such an old instrument can conjure up.

It was James Tappern who, I assume rather innocently, sounded the trumpet as 150 million people from all over the world tuned in to listen to the BBC radio broadcast directly from Cairo. Moments before he was to begin his mini concert, the electricity went (like you would expect if you tamper with a pharaoh's belongings).

And? Shortly after, the Second World War broke out.

Years and years later, the trumpet was once again sounded by a, for me, unknown person. Not long after, the Gulf War broke out.

A coincidence?

One week before the Egyptian Revolution started this year, a member of the staff at the Museum reportedly lifted up and tooted the instrument, one would suppose, rather innocently. Days later, the Egyptian Revolution began.

See what I'm saying?

How can one not interpret these three unrelated events as evidence that Tut Ankh Amon's tomb was indeed cursed and that the trumpet possesses a mysterious power to summon wars and revolutions?

According to the BBC, where I learned about this thrilling story to begin with, the brass trumpet has been returned to the Museum. It was found in an anonymous bag in the Cairo Metro a while back. As if by magic.

I never expected a cursed trumpet to allow itself to remain in the hands of the baltageya for very long anyway. But I do wonder what will happen the next time an unsuspecting person picks up and blows the instrument.

Should we beware?

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Man and The Pigeons

Outside the New Mosque at Eminönü tram station in Istanbul, there sits a man at a small red stand who has found a way to make a small profit of the hundreds of pigeons that flock there: he sells birdseeds.

One afternoon a week or two ago, as I was walking towards the tram station, I witnessed a series of events that made me think to myself,

"This needs to go into a blog post when I come back home."

This is what happened:

It was another gray day, with clouds so heavy they threatened to burst into rain any moment.

The birdseed man was sitting at his red stand, having just sold a small plate of seeds to a visiting couple. I watched as the lady fed the birds, guiltily taking some pictures of "the general view" without asking first. I know it's not polite, but the scene was too pretty to just walk past and the birds would fly away if I were to approach her and ask her if it was okay to take pictures first.

The birds gathered around, lined up on the wall of the mosque. Not really cooing, even though that would have added a nice touch to the story.

A well-behaved boy walked past, and the pigeons moved a little. But they didn't fly away. The couple left. The birdseed man waited for other customers.

Then came two other boys who, like boys do when they're together, started chasing away the pigeons for no other reason than to just chase the pigeons away.

The birdseed man didn't notice the boys at first (as can be seen in the picture above) but when he did (I didn't catch this on camera because I was too astonished to remember to press the trigger), he stood up, produced a green plastic stick from behind his chair and, yelling Turkish obscenities (or so I imagined) started after the boys and chased them up the stairs of the mosque.

The boys, who I suspect had gone through this routine once or twice before, were of course much faster than the old man, and were inside the mosque doors before the birdseed man had even reached to the top of the stairs.

I chuckled a little to myself (can girls chuckle?), remembered I had the camera in my hand and took a crooked picture of the mosque before I continued my walk to the tram station.

Bookmark and Share

Life Under Occupation, in Numbers

I'm researching the issue of water access in the Palestinian territories, because the organization I work for is applying for funds from the EU to start up a new project to improve water access in poor Palestinian villages in Area C (Palestinian West Bank areas under total Israeli control, as opposed to areas B and A that are under varying degrees of limited Palestinian Authority control).

Apart from learning some numbers that had ended up in the back of my memory shelves anew--such as: Palestinians who are connected to a (very substandard) central running-water network in the West Bank (that supplies water during a few hours on certain days of the week) use on average 73 liters of water per day; Israelis use 242 liters per day. But then, some 191 238 Palestinians live in 134 villages that are not connected to a running-water network at all and rely on expensive water tanks that deliver water to the hefty price of 7 dollars per cubic meter, and they use much less per day. Simply because they can't afford to use more. (These numbers are from B'Tselem).

At the same time, Israeli settlers have access to unlimited amounts of water through the high-standard running-water network of Mekorot, or the Israeli national water authority, and can irrigate their unnaturally green lawns in the middle of the dry desert, fill their swimming pools, and water their water melon and cucumber fields.

Apart from this, I also learned that Israel routinely demolishes water cisterns built to collect rainwater. Which is very bad news for those who try to collect the little rainwater that is literally heaven-sent at a time when Israel sucks up the water content of the natural underground reservoirs (that the Palestinian farmers aren't allowed to tap into without impossible-to-get Israeli permits) and uses 80 % of it, only to sell back the remaining 20 % to Palestine.

In February alone, six cisterns were destroyed.

It is also bad news for my project planning, because we wanted to build water cisterns to ease the financial burden on households in Area C villages that currently depend on expensive water brought in by water trucks. We need to reconsider.

Anyway, I also came over the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) March report, and thought I would share some other numbers that I am convinced don't exactly make it into your evening news hour, but is a part of our daily reality in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In March 2011, 15 Palestinians were killed at the hands of Israelis. All of them were in Gaza. This is the highest number of Palestinian deaths since "Operation Cast Lead."

Out of these 15 killed Palestinians, 4 were children.

In the same month, 0 Israelis were killed in conflict-related incidents, 0 were children.

A total of 204 Palestinians were physically injured in conflict-related incidents, 196 of whom were civilians, 55 in Gaza, 149 in the West Bank. Out of these, 57 were children. For perspective, 15 Israelis were injured, out of which 5 were civilians, and 0 children.

Two of those children who were injured were Yehia and Mujahed in the village of Qattana. On March 21st and March 22nd they were shot with live ammunition by Israeli Border Police near the Separation Barrier (the Israeli euphemism for the Apartheid Wall, which, by the way, I just learned is twice the height of the Berlin Wall).

These are their testimonies, as given to UN OCHA on the 31st of March:

Yehya, 14 years old:
“On 21 March, I left school with a group of friends at about 1:30pm. The Border Police were parked at the fence, which is very close to the school. We went to throw stones at them. As we got close, before I could throw any stones, I was shot with three bullets—both of my legs were injured (one of them in two different places), as well as my arm and in my side. After I was shot, the Border Police did not try help, but that’s to be expected, after all, they were the ones that shot friends carried me away, and then I was taken to the hospital. One of the bullets remains in my knee; the doctors are worried about possible complications should they try to remove it.”

Mujahed, 17 years old:
“In the afternoon of 22 March, I was playing football with some of my friends just outside of my family’s home when we heard the sound of Israeli Border Police on a loudspeaker coming from the area beyond the fence (the Barrier). We were no more than 150 meters from the fence, and we could hear the sound of tear gas and sound grenades being fired, and smell tear gas. The Border Police were using loudspeakers—taunting us with curses, daring us to go out and meet them. We looked up (the Barrier is on the hill), and although we couldn’t immediately see the Border Police, we knew who it was, and my friends and I climbed up to throw stones at them. They were hidden behind some of the trees in the area, and began shooting at us. I was shot twice with live ammunition, once through the hand, and once in my back. They tried to arrest me, but my four friends carried me away. I’m worried all the time that they will come looking for me, and that I will be arrested...both of my older brothers have been sentenced to three years in prison for throwing stones; one was arrested from our home on his eighteenth birthday.
The Border Police come here very often—maybe every other day, or sometimes even daily. This is the second time I’ve been shot with live ammunition—the first time I was shot was in March 2009. At that time, I had initially left school for a period of one month, but when I tried to go back, I kept having dizzy spells and bouts of nausea. In the end I dropped out of school completely, and haven’t been back since.”
Mujahed was arrested two days after the interview. Because Israel doesn't give a hoot for the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In March, 22 Palestinian died as a direct result of Israeli settler violence, and 55 settler-violence incidents that led to damage of Palestinian property and land were recorded. During the same period, one Israeli settler lost his life as a result of settler-Palestinian clashes, and three incidents led to damage of Israeli settler property/land.

In March, 381 "search campaigns" were conducted by the Israeli army in the West Bank, and 320 Palestinians were detained. 'Awarta, a Palestinian village whose only proven fault is to be located too close to the Israeli settlement of Itamar, the scene of a brutal murder of a settler family of five, including three children, by an unidentified knifeman/woman, was hit especially hard. 'Awarta was placed under two complete curfews, one of which lasted for four consecutive days during which the villagers couldn't leave their homes even to buy food. Homes were searched and damaged during nightly raids, villagers were interrogated (more than 400 of them, to be more exact), arrested and detained (at least 50, including 8 children, are still being held).

In addition to this, Israeli forces also demolished 78 structures around the West Bank, 77 of which were in Area C, and 1 in East Jerusalem. These demolitions led to the displacement of 153 Palestinians; 63 of whom are children. If you think the problem of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons is a thing of the past, I mean.

Ah, and not to forget: the military checkpoints that have provided so much material for my blog posts. In March 2011, there were 62 permanently staffed checkpoints in the West Bank; 26 partially staffed; 428 unstaffed "movement obstacles" and as many as 454 so-called flying checkpoints, or  temporary checkpoints set up at will by Israeli soldiers.

Gaza continues to be completely closed off.

This, my dear readers, is just one month under Israeli occupation. One month of many.

And we can't even build water cisterns for Palestinian farmers in Area C.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Traveling Alone

You know how there are people who prefer to travel alone?

I, as much as I am attracted to the idea of being the independent, lone globetrotter, do not belong to this group of people. I do go places alone; to work, visit friends. But I am not the lone traveler type.

For a long period of time, I tried to play the part, however.

Example one: a few years ago I decided to explore Egypt on my own. I was visiting friends in Cairo, and thought to myself: while I'm here for the 20th time, I should totally take the opportunity to go and see Alexandria and Aswan too.

Because that's what a suave lone traveler would do.

Result: I arrived at the train station in Alexandria, lump in throat, feeling more abandoned and alone than ever before in my entire life, I think. There were no more trains back to Cairo that day, so I went and checked in at the hotel I had booked beforehand, notified the young guy in the reception that I would only be staying one night--not three--turned down his kind invitation to share his meal, and went out and took a walk along the Kornish. Alone in a sea of families that were taking evening strolls, children eating cotton candy, men sitting on plastic chairs placed on the side of the beach walk, drinking tea and eating roasted seeds.

The years add a certain romantic hue to the image in my head, but I know I felt utterly, utterly alone that day. Until two young Egyptian university students took it on themselves to keep me company, which made me feel approximately a hundred times better about the situation even though we hardly understood each other. We smoked shisha (well, they did), drank mango juice and discussed politics and religion with their broken English and my even more broken Arabic.

Alexandria's evening breeze was actually a nice change from Cairo's stifling diesel-scented heat, after all.

Example number two: when I first came to Palestine I spent the entire summer in Jenin. At the end of my stay here, I had managed to see Jerusalem, Bethlehem (barely), a Jericho hotel swimming pool and Ramallah (mostly alone actually) but I said to myself: Self, you can't go home without having visited Israel. I mean: independent woman, independent woman.

So I packed a bag and took a bus up to Haifa. Again, lump in throat, feelings of abandonment rushing through my system. I immediately thought: rebook ticket, go back to Palestine. Now. But Shabbat had started and I was stranded (everything stops working during Shabbat in Israel).

So I walked around on some street whose name I can't recall, and the next day I met a friend's friend who showed me around the city. Israel may have the sea of Palestine, but they never did adopt the local custom of hospitality and the Arab tradition of showing kindness to strangers on the street.

So you can imagine how relieved I was when I finally returned to the West Bank. But at least I had made an effort to see Israel too.

Example number three (all good things come in threes): last week I went to Istanbul with my (very lovely) boyfriend's mom. She has a clothing store and buys her clothes from there. Tarek couldn't come because of university, and his mom would be working most of the time, but once again I imagined I was an experienced, assertive single traveler and decided to go with her.

Going through Jordan was fine (if you don't follow my blog, you might not know that Palestinians can't travel anywhere unless they go through Jordan--Israel doesn't allow them to go through the Tel Aviv airport that is so much closer and would be so much easier to get to, if they only allowed them to). Anyway, Jordan was fine, but the minute we landed in Istanbul the feelings of abandonment set in.

I wasn't technically alone yet, but I hadn't factored in the I-miss-my-boyfriend part. At first I thought that I had become a very unindependent woman all of a sudden, but then I came to my senses and realized that it's only natural to miss somebody that you not only love very much, but also spend almost all your time together with.

It was the first time I was away from him longer than a couple of days, and I was experiencing the classic you-don't-know-what-you've-got-until-it's-(temporarily)-gone.

Then, after having spent a day and a half together with my boyfriend's (very hardworking) mom, I decided to go and explore the city alone.

I had barely left the office in the wholesale market in Osmanbey before I got lost in their very uncomplicated tram system. And with all the clever people who know to travel in pairs around me, tears of loneliness and envy suddenly welled up, one blink away from falling down my cheeks.

I was beginning to realize once and for all that I'm pretty lousy at playing the part of the lone traveler.

I got off at Sultanahmet at last, walked around because I couldn't not walk around, snapped some pictures of random rooftops, and swore to myself never to travel alone again.

Mosque rooftop and minaret reflected in puddle

The next day, however, I had learned the tram system, knew my way around (well, not really, but I had gotten into the Istanbul mood and was feeling more confident of myself), and actually started enjoying my trip.

Sure, I kept wanting to turn to Tarek to share my thoughts with him, and I kept texting him descriptions of random scenes such as:

"Honey, I just saw the Cup from which Prophet Mohammad Drank Water and Prophet Abraham's Saucepan!"

(Which I actually did. They can be seen at the Sultan's Palace Topkapi, together with the Cane of Prophet Moses, a rather impressive collection of small glass containers with gold inlays containing a hair or two from Prophet Mohammad's beard, and an even more impressive collection of golden locks and keys for the Kaaba in Mecca--one for each dynasty who ruled the Islamic world).

The morale of the story? Traveling alone sucks the first day, to be frank. Then you usually somehow find something that makes it all worth while--a friendly smile, mango juice, a way to understand the tram map--and it's not all that bad.

But if you travel together with the right person to begin with, you always have that friendly smile, the mango juice tastes so much better, and not understanding the tram map is just another adventure you share.

And that's why I'm not the lone traveler type.

Memo to self: remember this for next trip.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


There lives a girl in Um el Sharayet who is like no other girl in Palestine.

When she was born her brothers were detained in Israeli jails and her family went through great hardships. So they named her Sabreen, from the Arabic word for patience.

From the stories she tells me, it must have been obvious from early on that she wasn't going to let the world tell her who to be or how to act. When her mother told her to behave, she did exactly the opposite; when her brothers told her not to get involved in conversations they thought she didn't understand, she raised her voice.

She still does, by the way. Every time they discuss politics, religion, or anything else that she is passionate about.

She came to the office where I work last summer because we were looking for women journalists to take part in a project we were just starting up. Like expected (that is, if you knew her, which we didn't at the time), we noticed quickly that she wasn't like any of the other young women who came for interviews. She wasn't satisfied with just being interviewed. No. She offered to volunteer to help us find more participants, and before we knew it we had five new candidates each day, sent to us by Sabreen.

Not before long, she quit her old job at the TV station she worked with and started working with us instead. As my project assistant.

At first I thought,

"How is this ever going to work? She doesn't speak English, I barely speak Arabic. How are we going to work together?"

And I must admit I was a little bit... well, unhappy with my boss who had hired her.

But that's because I didn't realize that he had just hired the best project assistant (and soon-to-be friend) in all of Palestine, and that she would improve my Arabic tenfold in a matter of months by just being patient with me, overlooking most of my mistakes, and respectfully correcting the ones that were way off target.

Other people I work with will forget to do what they should, or postpone it into a distant future, but Sabreen always does exactly what is expected from her, and then helps me with what she can, and if she doesn't know how to, she will ask me to teach her so that next time she can do it.

This way, and because she has way more spunk than I will ever manage to mobilize in me, she soon took over a lot of the everyday coordination between ourselves, our young trainees and our TV partner. She took on the fights, solved the problems that arose and directed everybody's role in our TV show.

I was left with the slightly more boring evaluation, reporting, donor relations, and the never ending making-sure-we-follow-the-regulations-and-the-budget work. (And the even less exciting project planning and fundraising for new projects, of course. The dark side of development work in a small NGO).

Sabreen had her share of boring work too, mind you; she took over most of our administrative assistant's and our accountant's work as well. Not because they quit, but because she is much more organized than both of them put together.

Anyway, our project is finished now, and the two of us sit in our room with more time on our hands than before. We still work, of course, but with my squiggly Arabic we also find the time to share our life stories, some secrets, and our plans for the future.

But if my planned move back to Sweden comes up, her eyes get teary. And so do mine.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Words for the Mediterranean Sea

Friends, I must share this story with you. It was sent to the organization I work with by a young girl named Kholoud Ajarma. My organization was the national jury for a regional writing contest a few months ago, and Kholoud's story was selected (by yours truly) as one of the best 20 in the region.

I was brought to tears by Kholoud's words. She is 25 years old and lives in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. This is her story:

(The story has been temporarily removed upon the request by Kholoud, as she is expecting it to be published in a magazine, on the condition that it hasn't been published electronically beforehand)

That is Kholoud's story, unedited and unabridged. She told me that she would like to know what people think of her story. So please do comment, and I will pass everything on to her. Thanks.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Boy Who Caused a Bomb Scare at Qalandia

On Monday, Qalandia check point between Jerusalem and Ramallah was closed off. Completely closed off. No one was even allowed to walk through.

I thought nothing of it at the time, because such is the Israeli occupation of Palestine: utterly unforeseeable, and completely arbitrary.

So my co-worker and I who had been to a meeting in East Jerusalem shrugged our shoulders and walked through the normally closed off passage-way to Al-Ram instead, a suburb to Jerusalem separated from the city by an eight meter high concrete wall.

We tried to approach the Israeli soldiers first, to ask them what was going on, and whether the check point would open anytime soon. But they - not very surprisingly, perhaps - weren't especially cooperative.

In their check point Arabic they yelled, "Eb'ad, eb'ad!" Get away, get away. Always expecting that everybody is out to harm them.

So we did. Get away from them. We walked through the gate they had opened in the wall facing Qalandia check point on the "Israeli" side, and caught a public taxi on the other side.

Confusing? Yes, the wall snakes in such a way so that you can actually stand with your back to Qalandia checkpoint, which is itself an opening in the wall, and face the gate in the wall that leads to Al-Ram.

The gate to Al-Ram, right opposite Qalandia check point

Such is the Zionist separation policy of Israel: it runs parallel with their strategic, geographic vision of a Greater Israel in which all Palestinians are conveniently pushed out of existence with the calculating use of concrete walls, turnstiles, baggage checks and electrified fences.

In any event. Today, my co-worker Sabreen came up to me and told me:

"Ruby, remember when you and the Doctor couldn't go through Qalandia the other day?"


"You know why? My brother's fiancée was there, waiting to go through. There was a woman in front of her, with a small boy, who had barely put their belongings on the conveyor belt to have them x-rayed, before suddenly the place was stormed by Israeli soldiers wearing masks over their faces, holding their weapons, yelling 'Where is the qonbela, where is the qonbela?'"

I interrupted. "What's a qonbela?"

"A bomb," Sabreen said and motioned with her hand how you pull the safety lever off a hand grenade and throw it.

"Oh, " I said. "I see."

"Yes, and the woman in front of my brother's fiancée held her hands up and screamed 'We don't have anything, we don't have anything!'"

She said that the soldiers had told her to shut up, but she had insisted and screamed again that they had nothing with them.

"But the Israeli soldiers closed off the whole check point and held everybody in there for two or three hours to question them," Sabreen said. "And then it turned out that the bag with the woman and the boy did not in fact contain a qonbela." 

"But what?"

"A belt!"

"A belt?"

The boy had put his belt with the bag so he could pass the the metal detector without setting off the alarm. And the belt buckle was shaped as hand grenade.

"Motkhalfeen." Stupid soldiers.

Yes, indeed. But fear breeds stupidity.

The soldiers then told the woman and the child to throw away the belt and never use it again. Because in the world of Israel, a toy grenade in the hands of a Palestinian boy is so much worse than a real grenade in the hands of a Jew.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Letter to Google Maps

Dear Google Maps,

We appreciate your service greatly, but there are two mistakes in your website that we hope that you will correct shortly.

First of all, when we go to your website and search for Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus,  Salfit, Abu Dis, Bethlehem, or any other village or town in the occupied Palestinian territories, it comes up as "(town we googled), Israel" (with the name in Hebrew letters).

Screen shot of Google Maps placing Jenin in Israel

Perhaps you're not aware of the fact that the occupied Palestinian territories are unlawfully occupied by Israel and not actually Israel?

If this is the case, please consult the UN; they should be able to tell you that virtually the entire world condemns Israel's occupation of Palestine and does not recognize its attempts to annex Palestinian territories, such as East Jerusalem or the areas trapped between Israel's separation wall and the so-called Green Line.

For such a world-known corporation as Google to locate Palestinian towns and villages in Israel and not in the occupied Palestinian territories can be interpreted as an attempt to legitimize Israel's claim over Palestine. Are you sure that this is what you want to do?

Secondly, perhaps you didn't know that it is misleading and in fact insulting to provide a Hebrew translation of Palestinian villages, towns and cities, instead of an Arabic translation?

If so, please note that since Israel is an occupying power that is not only brutally repressing the basic human rights of Palestinians, demolishing their houses, stealing their land, taking their water, and so forth; Israel is also trying to erase all Palestinian historic claim to the land by, for instance, writing the place names in Hebrew first, and Arabic second on traffic signs in the occupied Palestinian territories. In spite of the fact that nobody except the illegal Jewish settlers that occupy and colonize Palestinian land actually speak Hebrew in Palestine.

For Google Maps to provide a translation into Hebrew, but not into Arabic, can therefore be seen as another attempt by your corporation to legitimize Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine.

Is this the face you want to show to a world who is getting increasingly impatient with Israel's defiance of international law and human rights?

Since we don't believe that it is, we are confident that you will correct these mistakes immediately.



PS We're gathering support on Facebook.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Saw the Old Lady Again Today

Remember the lady from Bethlehem, old and bent, who set out to walk all the way from hilly Al-Tireh to Ramallah Tahta to go and see a doctor for her shoulder?

I saw her today. Hobbling down a street in central Ramallah.

She was wearing the same black shoes, black stockings, a black skirt, a dark blue cardigan with a silver clasp in the front, and the colorful silky scarf over her hair, tied under her chin.

She looked so tiny.

I saw her stop at the sight of a blue plastic bag on the ground, study it, lift it up with her cane, and I wondered what her situation is, really. Is she so poor that she has to go through trash? Has she maybe lived through such hard times that she feels she mustn't let anything go to waste?

She inspected the plastic bag, decided it wasn't worth anything after all, let it go, and walked on.

The sun was shining, people hurried past her on their way to work.

She came to the end of the sidewalk and stopped. Reached her cane over the edge and steadied it on the street before she ventured to take a cautious step down.

She made it. But was so exhausted by the feat that she only took a few more steps before she sat herself down to rest on a white plastic chair set up by a parking lot. The parking guard came out of his little booth,

"That will be one shekel," he joked.

He stayed and talked to the old lady.

And I. I thought I couldn't let the moment pass, since I do have a blog to think of, so I pulled out my camera.

Not very clear because the windshield was dirty, and I didn't want to roll down the window and make my paparazzo-ing too obvious. But there she is. The old lady from Bethlehem.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Diplomatic Missions

I learned two things about two diplomatic missions today that upset me.

1. Diplomatic staff are not allowed to visit the occupied Palestinian territories as they wish.

I sort of knew this already, or I knew that there are special rules and that UN staff from abroad, for instance, are always based in Jerusalem and are restricted when it comes to traveling in the Palestinian territories.

I also knew that up until recently Canada's diplomatic staff, who are also always based in Jerusalem even though their office is in Ramallah, weren't allowed to drive in the occupied territories at all.

Today I learned that even though they are allowed to drive here now, they can't drive to other places than Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho.

How I found out? I suggested to a nice Canadian lady from the Canadian Representative Office that she go and watch Alice in Wonderland at the Freedom Theater in the refugee camp in Jenin. Really professional production, great actors.

And she went, "But I'm not allowed to go to Jenin if I don't go in an armored vehicle."

Did I miss something? Are we at war?

A little innocently I replied, "But you can go on a day off, no?"

"No, we're not allowed to."

But it's your DAY OFF. Why aren't you allowed to do whatever you want? Is what I wanted to say, but I didn't.

Oh, and for the record, it's obviously not the Palestinian Authority that forbids diplomats from traveling freely here; it's the diplomatic missions themselves who set up all these completely-disconnected-from-reality type of rules for their staff. Or rather, it's their governments who do.

As if Jenin is somehow more dangerous than Ramallah. And as if Ramallah is dangerous to begin with.

Anyway, then I learned something else from a colleague who recently had a meeting with USAID staff in Jerusalem:

2. Only foreign aid recipients from the West Bank and Gaza are required by the USAID to sign anti-terrorist provisions.

Never heard of the anti-terrorist provisions before?

It's a contract that all NGOs (well, Palestinian NGOs) have to sign every time they enter into a contract with the USAID. 
"The Recipient, to the best of its current knowledge, did not provide, within the previous ten years, and will take all reasonable steps to ensure that it does not and will not knowingly provide, material support or resources to any individual or entity that commits, attempts to commit, advocates, facilitates, or participates in terrorist acts, or has committed, attempted to commit, facilitated, or participated in terrorist acts."*
And a terrorist act is
"an act of premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents"*
"any other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act."*
Which would mean that we aren't allowed to work with basically any Israeli, since they have all served in the Israeli army that frequently does just that. Performs acts that are intended to cause death to civilians not taking active part in hostilities, in order to intimidate a population, I mean.

But of course, we are allowed to work with Israelis if we want to.

We have signed the anti-terrorist provisions twice, and then, according to our contract, made all of the people we buy products or services from sign it too. Such as the printing company that does our roll-ups and banners, the store we once bought a camera from, our taxi drivers (but we actually don't make our taxi drivers sign a contract before we get into the car, because that would be ridiculous, and we told our donors just that), and the grocery stores we buy cookies and tea from (yes, there is a huge risk that the revenue they get from cookies goes directly to evil terrorist camp owners).

All the while, I naively thought everybody who receives foreign aid from the USAID had to sign these contracts.

But apparently, it's only Palestinians. Not Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, or anybody else who normally get labeled "terrorists" in the international media. Only Palestinians.

Does that make me feel good about the world?

Not really.

Does it surprise me?

Sadly enough, not really.

*These quotes are from an application to receive funding from the USAID, which is readily available to the public in Palestine in case anybody thought I'm disclosing top secret information here or something. The application form includes the special provisions that NGOs must be prepared to sign in order to get the funding.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


On Sunday, the rain was pouring down on Palestine. It gushed forth from the clouds as if great buckets were being emptied onto us as a part of an early spring cleaning from the sky.

It took us a little by surprise, the icy bucket loads of water pouring down on us, as we got out of the car to show two Italian girls the old city of Al-Khalil (Hebron). We hadn't expected it, although we always welcome all the rain we can get in the winter so that the olive trees can produce enough olives for us in the fall to make our golden green olive oil that we eat with everything.

Yes. I learned here in Palestine to eat olive oil with everything. Drench my bread in it, drizzle it over hummus, vegetables, cheese. I never knew it tasted so good.

The rain poured down on us, but to my surprise at least 15 shop owners had ventured to fling open their doors open and line up their olives, pickles, raisins, sweets and spices beside beduin carpets, traditional embroidery, scarves and touristy trinkets. In spite of the rain, the Jewish settlers and the Israeli soldiers.

 One of those stores in Al-Khalil I never saw open before

Beautiful hand-embroidered Palestinian clothes for sale in Al-Khalil

I had never seen so many shops open at once in Al-Khalil. Tarek told me and the Italian girls that the Khalilis are making a concerted effort to stand up against the settler violence and harassment and sort of protest by carrying on their lives as if everything were as it should in Al-Khalil.

But it isn't.

The Ibrahimi Mosque is still separated from the predominantly Palestinian part of the old city by a two-turnstile, two-metal-detector checkpoint, manned by armed Israeli soldiers that control and intimidate.

Palestinians passing the Israeli military checkpoint that divides their city

The Mosque is still partitioned into two parts by the Israelis; one side for Muslims, and one side for Jews.

Rooftops are still guarded by green clad soldiers; settlers still drive their cars at top speed through the neighborhoods, splashing freezing cold water on Palestinian children.

We walked down Shuhada Street, where Palestinians aren't allowed to walk except on a narrow stretch on one side of the street, cordoned off by a cement barrier, watched over by Israeli soldiers. Palestinians are only allowed to walk on this narrow stretch of their old street so that they can pass from one side of the city to the other. The rest of the street, and everything that's in front of you and behind you if you should stand in the middle, the settlers have taken over completely.

Shuhada Street is the same street where doors and windows of houses have been welded shut by the Israeli military so that the Palestinian inhabitants have to climb up on the roof, over to their neighbors' houses, and down on a parallel street to be able to go out at all. So that the Jews don't have mix with the locals.

The rain poured down, and collected itself in streams on the ground that washed sand and gravel onto the streets.

A group of Israeli soldiers came walking down from where the Jews-only part of the Ibrahimi Mosque is, over to two armored vehicles that they had parked in an area where Palestinians are still allowed to walk.

Israeli soldiers on their way to their armored cars in Al-Khalil

A young Palestinian girl with dark brown curly hair tied in a little bun struggled with a baby stroller loaded with white sacks, stuck in the gravel and the puddles.

She had been to collect sacks of grains, perhaps rice, and probably flour from ICRC. Around 7 000 Palestinians in the old city of Al-Khalil depend on humanitarian aid in the form of food from ICRC every month. But because Palestinians aren't allowed to drive in the old city, they have to lug the sacks over long distances, down the streets they are still allowed to walk on, past checkpoints.

On Sunday, it was little Shaimaa's turn to get the ICRC sacks. Perhaps her parents were sick. I don't know.

Her younger brother Shadi helped her push the stroller through the gravel, but neither one of them was strong enough to keep it rolling straight. It kept turning the wrong way, getting stuck and refusing to move. Their hair was wet and their fingers purple from the cold.

Tarek walked up to them, took over the steering for a moment to prevent the stroller from getting stuck in a particularly huge puddle.

Then he came over to us again, only to say,

"Honey, do you have my mittens with you?"

"Yes," I said, immediately understanding what he was thinking. Glad that he thinks this way.

I produced his brand new mittens we had bought in Cairo from my purse, and handed them to him.

"Thanks," he said and walked back to Shaimaa and Shadi.

He took the cold little hands of the girl in his and pulled the mittens on, finger by finger.

I wanted to take a picture, but felt it would somehow not be right. Instead I asked the girl what her name was.

"Shaimaa," she said so timidly I almost couldn't hear her.

"And you?" I asked the boy.


"Where do you live?" Tarek wanted to know.

"Just around the corner," Shaimaa answered.

"Okay." Tarek put her hands on the handle and told Shadi to stick his hands in his pockets. "Yalla."

Shaimaa and Shadi pushed the stroller around the corner, and we tried to walk back towards the car. But apparently we took a wrong turn somewhere because we were stopped by soldiers who wouldn't let us take a short cut in spite of the heavy rain. Tarek is a Palestinian, after all. And these are Jews-only streets.

A blocked street in Al-Khalil, with graffiti that reads Forgiveness

Bookmark and Share

People Who Just Do Their Job

I cannot for the world understand that there is anybody in this world still willing to work for Muammar Qaddafi.

If the massacre in Libya of the past few days didn't convince them that working for him is indefensible, then his speech today surely must have.


Who is he?

An arrogant, vain, tragic theater man who can't accept that he's not the center of the world anymore, as he once imagined himself to be.

How can there still be soldiers, civil servants, anybody loyal to him?

How can the man who brought out the mug to him during his speech still work for him?

There comes a time when "just doing your job" is no longer an acceptable justification.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, February 11, 2011

Alf Mabrook, ya Masr!

That is to say: Congratulations to a job well done, Egypt!

The Middle East is changing. And therefore, the world.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wael Ghonim speaks on CNN

My blog recently turned into a Egypt Revolution page, and in keeping with the new tradition I'd like to share an interview with Wael Ghonim on CNN:

That's it.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Khaled Said's Mom

I usually don't put other people's pictures on my blog, but tonight I will make an exception because this picture brought tears to my eyes:

It's Wael Ghonim and Khaled Said's mom Laila in Al-Tahrir Square in Cairo earlier today. It's the first time they ever meet.


(Not sure what I'm talking about? Read this blog post, and watch this video clip).

Thanks Egyptian blogger Zeinobia for sharing this picture; I hope you don't mind that I borrowed it.

Bookmark and Share

A Reluctant Hero - Wael Ghonim

This is an interview everybody who has followed the recent events in Egypt must watch:

I won't say anything else, except that I won't take back calling Wael Ghonim a hero, regardless of what he says. He is a hero. Just like every single Egyptian who has gone out of their houses to reclaim their rights, their freedom and their country is a hero.

Bookmark and Share

The Birth of a Hero - Wael Ghonim

It's nowhere yet, because I think all those journalists who keep updating the live feeds on the Egyptian Revolution went home to sleep, but tomorrow there will be one name on everybody's lips:

Wael Ghonim.

Wael Ghonim was captured--kidnapped, actually--at the very start of the Egyptian Revolution, and has been detained for the past 12 days. Blindfolded. Interrogated. (But not tortured, he says).

Why? Why him? Why 12 days?

Because he tweeted and facebooked about political change in Egypt? Because he made Mohamed ElBaradei's website?

There are thousands of young Egyptians who are the same, and the ones we heard were detained, were detained for a day or two, and then released. The journalists too--a few hours, a day, then they could go, it seemed.

So why Wael Ghonim?

A few minutes ago, Egypt found out.

Wael was released in the afternoon today, Monday the 7th of February. There were some false reports at first, but finally he was released, and the whole Twitter community welcomed him back as if he were everybody's brother. It was mentioned, too, on these live news feeds of the major news agencies I was talking about (I monitor Al-Jazeera's, The Guardian's, and BBC's).

Then, everybody forgot about him a little and concentrated on getting all the other activists released, cracking Mubarak jokes, and talking about the next step for the Revolution not to lose momentum.

That was until Dream TV broadcasted a live interview with Wael Ghonim and the whole Revolution shifted and Egypt finally got a hero (who is alive, unlike the around 300 who lost their lives fighting for the freedom of their people).

Wael Ghonim is the young man behind the Facebook page that essentially started this whole Revolution.

Kolena Khaled Said. We Are All Khaled Said.

Did I tell you about Khaled? He's the young Egyptian blogger who was brutally beaten to death because he posted pictures of corrupt Egyptian police officers on his blog last June. For all of you who think you can handle it (but please be warned), you can see how he used to look, and the way he looked after his killers were done with him here.

Kolena Khaled Said has 501 925 members as I'm writing this. That's half a million. And it is widely accepted that it is this Facebook group that essentially started the 25 January movement in Egypt. The 25 January movement that lead to this full-out revolution we've seen unfold over the past two weeks.

And until an hour ago, nobody knew who was behind it; who had started the group. Everybody was out on the streets because they were inspired by the message the group was spreading, either directly or indirectly, but nobody knew who was behind it.

But then Wael Ghonim comes on live TV and cries. Saying that he was the admin of the Facebook group. And that he only found out yesterday what had happened in his country over the past two weeks. The millions out on the streets. The hundreds killed. The thousands injured. The concessions made by the government, the young Egyptians who won't give up and who won't go home until Mubarak steps down and Egypt is free and democratic.

He cried. And he said he is not a traitor. There are no traitors; all those behind the Facebook groups that call for demonstrations are Egyptians.

And he said he is sorry for those who lost their children, but it is not their fault, it is the fault of the regime.

Then he broke down. As the music was playing and pictures of those who have given their lives in the Revolution were showing, he broke down and walked out of the studio, weeping.

I only saw the last few minutes of the interview, but it was enough to understand that the Egyptian Revolution just got its hero.

Watch for the youtube clip tomorrow morning.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jessy's World

I know you've all been asking yourselves where the updates on Jessy the Mad Dog are.

What's going on in the world of Jessy?

Here's what:

Jessy the Revolutionary Dog

Besides getting caught up in the Egyptian (and the overall Arab) Revolution, she's keeping herself busy sniffing and licking, barking randomly at passers-by, and giving us the puppy-eye look when we eat, guilt-tripping us into sharing with her.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's Not Over

I listened to people yesterday who seemed to have accepted Hosni Mubarak's speech on Tuesday night, and wanted the fight for freedom to end.

Mubarak is old. And he's a war hero. And he's Mubarak. We can't humiliate him any longer. And besides, he said he won't run again in September. And that there will be constitutional changes.

Come on. Enough is enough. We want our lives back.

And then I listened to all those who were still in Al-Tahrir Square, saying that after the immense crackdown on Wednesday on the peaceful protests (that was clearly at least in part performed by Mubarak's state security people), how can they trust him? After 30 years of despotic rule, how can they trust him? After the hundreds that gave their lives for the struggle for a free Egypt in the past week, how can they give up?

And how in the world can we trust a regime who's broadcasting propaganda on state TV so far from the truth that even the journalists presenting it quit because they can't bare to lie anymore?

Then I got a message from somebody asking me to stop writing what I'm writing because Egypt doesn't need this. Egypt needs stability now.

I wavered a little. Was the revolution over? Was I supporting something even Egyptians had given up?

Who could I ask?

My very dear friend Hani in Cairo. He would tell me like it is, regardless of his personal viewpoint.

This is what he said:
"Ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome? (you must have, you're from Sweden!) 
I've seen many do the same today and over the past few days (give up on the revolution and back Mubarak). People are scared and confused. But I have also seen many more with unwavering resolve. This is a defining time for Egypt, and -even more important for the answer to "what's next?" - for my generation in Egypt. When I see some not being able to cope with the overwhelming stress, my mind is tempted to scream "Betrayal!", but I know that people's coping capacities are different.  
Let me speak for my own demographic and age group (late twenties, educated): I have never seen young Egyptians so determined on anything like this before. Whatever happens tomorrow or next week doesn't matter. Mubarak's dirty regime is done. They dug their own grave. 
It is a very difficult time, but we are emerging from this with a revived sense of *ownership* of Egypt. Is this what all "revolutionaries" before us felt before? I don't know, but I know it feels good."
I asked him about his take on the likeliness of the Muslim Brotherhood hijacking the revolution.
"The Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood) are a potential threat and should be taken seriously, but an amended constitution can hedge against that to a pretty good extent. Also, it is erroneous to draw parallels between Egypt and Iran because we're very different religiously. Furthermore, the revolution will ideally set some ground rules and "lessons learned" that will uproot tendencies towards a blind regress into a theocracy. I also think that Egyptian secular intellectuals will have a much bigger influence now, and they are many. 
There were Ikhwan dudes hugging Christians in Tahrir today. There were Christians forming a human cordon around praying Muslims in Tahrir yesterday. It might just be the "heat of the moment", but it says something about the social fabric of Egypt."

I am reassured. By Hani's words, and by the amazing live pictures from Egypt today, when once again hundreds of thousands are flooding the streets. Al-Tahrir Square is absolutely packed with people who have no desire for violence. All they want is a free Egypt.

In the words of @hmikail on Twitter a moment ago:
"Tahrir Square is hosting the biggest freedom festival this planet has ever seen!"
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Egyptian People

I just had a minor nervous breakdown over following the news a little too closely over the past week. Too many terrible youtube clips of people being killed; too many reports of missing persons.

So just to remind everybody for a moment of who the Egyptians really are, I borrowed this picture taken yesterday by Twitter user @NevineZaki in Cairo:

These are Christian Egyptians, forming a protective circle around their Muslim brothers and sisters during their prayer. It's at Al-Tahrir Square yesterday, during the protests.

Beautiful, isn't it?

That's Egypt.

Bookmark and Share

"Rantings of a Sandmonkey: Egypt Right Now!"

Since Sandmonkey was arrested and his blog account suspended, I managed to get his last blog post and will paste it here:

Egypt Right Now!
I don't know how to start writing this. I have been battling fatigue for not sleeping properly for the past 10 days, moving from one's friend house to another friend's house, almost never spending a night in my home, facing a very well funded and well organized ruthless regime that views me as nothing but an annoying bug that its time to squash will come. The situation here is bleak to say the least.
It didn't start out that way. On Tuesday Jan 25 it all started peacefully, and against all odds, we succeeded to gather hundreds of thousands and get them into Tahrir Square, despite being attacked by Anti-Riot Police who are using sticks, tear gas and rubber bullets against us. We managed to break all of their barricades and situated ourselves in Tahrir. The government responded by shutting down all cell communication in Tahrir square, a move which purpose was understood later when after midnight they went in with all of their might and attacked the protesters and evacuated the Square. The next day we were back at it again, and the day after. Then came Friday and we braved their communication blackout, their thugs, their tear gas and their bullets and we retook the square. We have been fighting to keep it ever since.
That night the government announced a military curfew, which kept getting shorter by the day, until it became from 8 am to 3 pm. People couldn't go to work, gas was running out quickly and so were essential goods and money, since the banks were not allowed to operate and people were not able to collect their salary. The internet continued to be blocked, which affected all businesses in Egypt and will cause an economic meltdown the moment they allow the banks to operate again. We were being collectively punished for daring to say that we deserve democracy and rights, and to keep it up, they withdrew the police, and then sent them out dressed as civilians to terrorize our neighborhoods. I was shot at twice that day, one of which with a semi-automatic by a dude in a car that we the people took joy in pummeling. The government announced that all prisons were breached, and that the prisoners somehow managed to get weapons and do nothing but randomly attack people. One day we had organized thugs in uniforms firing at us and the next day they disappeared and were replaced by organized thugs without uniforms firing at us. Somehow the people never made the connection.
Despite it all, we braved it. We believed we are doing what's right and were encouraged by all those around us who couldn't believe what was happening to their country. What he did galvanized the people, and on Tuesday, despite shutting down all major roads leading into Cairo, we managed to get over 2 million protesters in Cairo alone and 3 million all over Egypt to come out and demand Mubarak's departure. Those are people who stood up to the regime's ruthlessness and anger and declared that they were free, and were refusing to live in the Mubarak dictatorship for one more day. That night, he showed up on TV, and gave a very emotional speech about how he intends to step down at the end of his term and how he wants to die in Egypt, the country he loved and served. To me, and to everyone else at the protests this wasn't nearly enough, for we wanted him gone now. Others started asking that we give him a chance, and that change takes time and other such poppycock. Hell, some people and family members cried when they saw his speech. People felt sorry for him for failing to be our dictator for the rest of his life and inheriting us to his Son. It was an amalgam of Stockholm syndrome coupled with slave mentality in a malevolent combination that we never saw before. And the Regime capitalized on it today.
Today, they brought back the internet, and started having people calling on TV and writing on facebook on how they support Mubarak and his call for stability and peacefull change in 8 months. They hung on to the words of the newly appointed government would never harm the protesters, whom they believe to be good patriotic youth who have a few bad apples amongst them. We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because "we got what we wanted" and "we need the country to start working again". People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it's time for Unity under Mubarak's rule right now.
To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn't caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren't the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did. The Protesters weren't the ones who initiated the military curfew that limited your movement and allowed goods to disappear off market shelves and gas to disappear: The government did. The Protesters weren't the ones who ordered the police to withdraw and claimed the prisons were breached and unleashed thugs that terrorized your neighborhoods: The government did. The same government that you wish to give a second chance to, as if 30 years of dictatorship and utter failure in every sector of government wasn't enough for you. The Slaves were ready to forgive their master, and blame his cruelty on those who dared to defy him in order to ensure a better Egypt for all of its citizens and their children. After all, he gave us his word, and it's not like he ever broke his promises for reform before or anything.
Then Mubarak made his move and showed them what useful idiots they all were.
You watched on TV as "Pro-Mubarak Protesters" - thugs who were paid money by NDP members by admission of High NDP officials- started attacking the peaceful unarmed protesters in Tahrir square. They attacked them with sticks, threw stones at them, brought in men riding horses and camels- in what must be the most surreal scene ever shown on TV- and carrying whips to beat up the protesters. And then the Bullets started getting fired and Molotov cocktails started getting thrown at the Anti-Mubarak Protesters as the Army standing idly by, allowing it all to happen and not doing anything about it. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, and there was no help sent by ambulances. The Police never showed up to stop those attacking because the ones who were captured by the Anti-mubarak people had police ID's on them. They were the police and they were there to shoot and kill people and even tried to set the Egyptian Museum on Fire. The Aim was clear: Use the clashes as pretext to ban such demonstrations under pretexts of concern for public safety and order, and to prevent disunity amongst the people of Egypt. But their plans ultimately failed, by those resilient brave souls who wouldn't give up the ground they freed of Egypt, no matter how many live bullets or firebombs were hurled at them. They know, like we all do, that this regime no longer cares to put on a moderate mask. That they have shown their true nature. That Mubarak will never step down, and that he would rather burn Egypt to the ground than even contemplate that possibility.
In the meantime, State-owned and affiliated TV channels were showing coverage of Peaceful Mubarak Protests all over Egypt and showing recorded footage of Tahrir Square protest from the night before and claiming it's the situation there at the moment. Hundreds of calls by public figures and actors started calling the channels saying that they are with Mubarak, and that he is our Father and we should support him on the road to democracy. A veiled girl with a blurred face went on Mehwer TV claiming to have received funding by Americans to go to the US and took courses on how to bring down the Egyptian government through protests which were taught by Jews. She claimed that AlJazeera is lying, and that the only people in Tahrir square now were Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. State TV started issuing statements on how the people arrested Israelis all over Cairo engaged in creating mayhem and causing chaos. For those of you who are counting this is an American-Israeli-Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood-Iranian-Hamas conspiracy. Imagine that. And MANY PEOPLE BOUGHT IT. I recall telling a friend of mine that the only good thing about what happened today was that it made clear to us who were the idiots amongst our friends. Now we know.
Now, just in case this isn't clear: This protest is not one made or sustained by the Muslim Brotherhood, it's one that had people from all social classes and religious background in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood only showed up on Tuesday, and even then they were not the majority of people there by a long shot. We tolerated them there since we won't say no to fellow Egyptians who wanted to stand with us, but neither the Muslims Brotherhood not any of the Opposition leaders have the ability to turn out one tenth of the numbers of Protesters that were in Tahrir on Tuesday. This is a revolution without leaders. Three Million individuals choosing hope instead of fear and braving death on hourly basis to keep their dream of freedom alive. Imagine that.
The End is near. I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay "because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people". This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can't. I am heading to Tahrir right now with supplies for the hundreds injured, knowing that today the attacks will intensify, because they can't allow us to stay there come Friday, which is supposed to be the game changer. We are bringing everybody out, and we will refuse to be anything else than peaceful. If you are in Egypt, I am calling on all of you to head down to Tahrir today and Friday. It is imperative to show them that the battle for the soul of Egypt isn't over and done with. I am calling you to bring your friends, to bring medical supplies, to go and see what Mubarak's gurantees look like in real life. Egypt needs you. Be Heroes.

Bookmark and Share