It’s a real achievement by the New York Times to write an editorial about the Middle East peace process without mentioning Hamas or Gaza.
My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:
Freelance journalist and author Antony Loewenstein writes from inside Gaza:
The American International School in Gaza was bombed on 3 January, completely destroying the institution. Today it is a twisted wreck of concrete, metal and burnt vans. Surreally, when I visited a few days ago I found two green, grass ovals being watered by a highly effective sprinkler system. Sheep were grazing on the unused land.
Two students of the school, Mohammed Samhadane and Walid Abuzaid, both 13, are like many pimply faced kids all over the world; addicted to violent video games and smoking cigarettes. They told me that like their friends they wanted peace with Israel but believed the state had no desire to negotiate honestly with the Palestinians, especially after the recent Gaza massacre. Politically aware, sceptical towards the claims of Hamas to represent the Palestinian people (they came from Fatah families) and Western-friendly, they resigned themselves to the idea that things might change soon. Maybe.
This attitude has followed me across the Strip. From farmers to Hamas spokespeople and militants to academics, there is a little hope, but only because the alternative is despair and extremism. In a land such as this, where daily life is consumed with finding petrol, a job and respite from the searing heat, politics seeps into every facet of life. I’m yet to meet anybody who doesn’t want to share opinions on the Hamas/Fatah split or President Barack Obama (usually a positive comment that he’s not George W. Bush then dismissal of his chances to change the equation here.)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may believe that the people of Gaza despise the Hamas leadership and want to overthrow its rule but the picture is not that simple. The growing Islamisation of society concerns many Gazans — today I was given a list Hamas is distributing that urges parents not to allow children to wear t-shirts that contain words such as, “Madonna” and “Hussy” — but security has greatly improved since the group took over in 2007.
During Friday prayers in Khan Younis last week, I witnessed thousands of Hamas supporters cheer Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and embrace his message of a devout Islamic society (though he also talked about a Palestinian state along 1967 borders, the internationally acceptable solution to the conflict.) Young men and boys, some devout and some more liberal, clearly found meaning in a movement that deftly melded faith with politics. I was nearly crushed in a push by the crowd to get close to Haniyeh as he departed the mosque.
Unemployment now defines the Gazan population; tens of thousands of Palestinian Authority staff still pull a regular income from the West Bank but are directed by Fatah not to work in Gaza under Hamas. I’ve lost count of the number of men who tell me their wives are begging them to leave home during the day. “1500 people were killed during the war”, one man, Nafez Aldabba, told me, “but more babies than that have been born since because there is nothing to do except sleep, eat and have s-x.”
People like Nafez and his son Mohammed confounded my expectations about attitudes in the Strip and indicated a deep desire in Gaza for some kind of normalised relations with Israel. Mohammed, a militant who fires rockets into Israel and treats all Israeli civilians as legitimate targets, told me that he still supported a two-state solution, the right of return and enforcement of 1967 borders.
He rejected the “extremism” of Hamas. But like his father, he had no faith that Israel would ever end settlement building “and now is even telling America to get lost.”
I rarely hear any hateful comments towards Jews. A few have asked whether public opinion in Australia was supportive of the Palestinians (I replied that recent polls suggest that they are.)
Even farmers with little education stressed their embrace of “all religions” but opposition to Zionism. Hazem Balousha, a Gazan-based journalist who strings for the London Guardian, told me that he believes Israel doesn’t want to overthrow Hamas but merely strangle the economy.
“Most people are fed-up”, he said. “They don’t really care too much about politics but have to focus on getting electricity, cooking gas and how to feed the family every day. They only care about themselves.”
Gaza’s biggest rap group, Darg Team, were a breath of fresh air (their latest single, 23 Days, details the carnage during January’s war.) Six twenty-somethings, with matching white trainers, riff on religion, culture, honour, occupation and the right of return. I asked manager Fadi Srour whether they would perform in Israel.
“We’d like to”, he responded. “Every society has good and bad and we want to reach people directly. We’d love to perform in the Knesset.”
Under Hamas, the band has been unofficially banned but they say they’ll continue performing anyway, going underground, if necessary.
Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist and the author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.
My following video and article appears on Mondoweiss:
The Western view of Gaza is of a desperate and violent place. Terrorism, extremism, Jew-hatred and poverty merge to create a dangerous brew. The Hamas-controlled territory poses a supposedly existential threat to Israel (and Jews everywhere.) But this is only one side of the besieged Strip. And much of it is blatantly untrue.
This video is an attempt to paint an alternative Gaza. Hatred exists there – I saw and heard it and challenged the conflation of Israel with Judaism – but what I found was something else entirely. Entire neighbourhoods flattened by Israeli missiles. Destroyed buildings with families living inside them. Refugee camps caused by IDF incursions. Beautiful singing and poetry sung by eager men. A will to survive and thrive despite the belief that the world, including the Arab neighbours, have forgotten their plight. Rappers desperate to tell the Palestinian narrative to the world and reflect a Gazan sensibility.
Take my interview with Fatah-aligned militants. I was taken to an unfinished house on the outskirts of Gaza City. The room was nearly bare, with a bed and mattress and web-enabled computer. The militant, an 18-year-old, whose father sat near us proudly and explained why he supported his son’s actions, was circumspect. He said he fired rockets into Israel and monitored Israeli troop positions. I asked whether he regarded IDF and civilian targets in the same way. He did. “Every Israeli serves in the army”, he said. I told him that some Israelis opposed the occupation, the war against Palestinians and actively helped Palestinians protect their lands. Did he care, I wondered, that he might kill these Jews, as well? He paused and reflected and finally said that it would be a shame, but he was fighting occupation.
Desperate times cause desperate actions. I met countless generous individuals who wanted me to share their stories with the outside. I lectured at the Islamic University earlier this week to a group of English and journalism students. I explained my work, the realities and failures of the Western media and my own impressions of Gaza. They all wanted to know why Palestinians were dehumanised and how their image could be improved. Jamil Al Asmar, a professor of English at the university, reminded me that the Israelis bombed the facility during the recent war. “Anybody who bombs institutions are not human”, he said. “Tell the world that we are human, just like they [the Israelis] are human.” His voice quivered when he spoke.
I’ve written recently about the overwhelming issues in the Strip. The growing Islamisation causes concern. It’s both visible and worrying. Hamas is now distributing posters that warn of the dangers of smoking, internet usage, television and drugs. The group is circulating a list that urges parents not to allow children to wear t-shirts that contain words such as, “Madonna” and “Flirt”. Journalist Fares Akram told me that he worried many Gazans were too pre-occupied with their own problems that they wouldn’t complain that Hamas was demanding female mannequins be removed from shop windows. It is a slow but deliberate implementation of sharia.
But this film isn’t a political statement; it documents some of what I saw and experienced in July 2009. I carried a small camera to take pictures of those I interviewed but I was also able to capture some video. These are short vignettes that aim to paint a moment, a feeling of a state under siege. People were angry, resilient and despondent. I didn’t feel threatened during my visit and welcomed the warm embrace that nearly everybody showered in my direction. A friendly Western face that wants to listen is hard to find in Gaza.
Nafez Abu Shaban, head of the burns unit at Al Shifa Hospital, nearly choked on his own words when describing what his people went through in the December/January onslaught. “It was not a war, it was a Holocaust”, he said. Palestinian doctors were faced with burns and injuries they had never seen before, such as the use of white phosphorous, and had to rely on foreigners and the web to discover how to treat them. “We felt alone.”
They are not.
Has anti-Semitism risen in Britain, especially after the Gaza war?
And how accurate are the Jewish organisations reporting on the supposed increase?
Checkpoint 303 is found music, fragments, reflections and beats from the Palestinian occupied territories:
The electronic experiment kicked off in 2004 when tunisian sound cutter SC MoCha teamed up with Bethlehem based palestinian sound catcher SC Yosh to form Checkpoint 303. The idea was to cut, track, fragment and reconstruct the audio soundscape from daily lives in the middle east. new audio reporting on injustice. Paris-based SC MoCha reworks the field recordings made by SC Yosh in the occupied territories into rhythmical transcriptions that range from raw acoustic aggression to synthetic soothing tunes with everything in between.
Ali Abunimah on the illusion of the Messiah, aka Barack Obama:
The Obama administration has used up its first six months negotiating a settlement freeze with Israel (with little to show). At this rate, how long would it take to negotiate the core issues in the century-long conflict resulting from the Zionist effort to transform an almost entirely Arab (Muslim and Christian) country, into a “Jewish state” with a permanent Jewish majority?
The constant focus on process and gimmicks — like trying to get Arab states to normalize ties with Israel — has obscured the reality that Obama’s stated goal — a workable two-state solution — is almost certainly unachievable. The idea of separating Palestinians and Israelis into distinct ethno-national entities has become an article of faith within peace process circles, but rarely are its supporters asked to justify why a “solution” that has eluded them for decades has any merit.
A new video from Israeli group Peace Now on the issue of illegal settlements:
I never referred to myself as an activist as I feel like it is a bit of a dirty, dismissive word. Don’t get me wrong, Ta’ayush is engaged in a form of activism. As an Israeli-American concerned with the conflict and firmly against the occupation I was drawn to Ta’ayush because of the inclusion of voices and viewpoints. I feel that most of the organizations and groups on the ground are deeply mired in rigid ideological viewpoints. Ta’ayush, while clearly against the occupation, does not make solid claims on ideology or long term goals. Instead we focus on direct action week after week. Furthermore, as an Israeli Jew, I think that it is important to work with fellow Israelis that want to break down barriers between Palestinians and Israelis, as opposed to simply fueling anti-Israeli rhetoric like other anti-occupation groups tend to do.
At the Neria outpost celebration, Noam Rein, a father of 10, looked out across the hills at Ramallah and called its presence “temporary.”
He added: “The Torah says the land of Israel is for the Jewish people. This is just the beginning. We will build 1,000 homes here. The Arabs cannot stay here, not because we hate them, but because this is not their place.”