freedom



I started to write this on my way home after a day that started way too early for the weekend, but if truth be told it is like any day that is a day for going to the Palestinian border. It started with the scramble to find the bus that will take us there. We had to reserve days before, yet we were told all the buses were full. We went anyway, and secured the last seats on one of the buses organized by AUB’s Civic Welfare League.  We headed off at 7:15 a.m. to Maroun al Ras, but first a stop in Shatila. We needed to drop off the extras on our bus. Instead we found more people and no bus. “All 2500 Lebanese buses have been commissioned and about 1000 more from Syria,” our bus driver told us. “They are expecting 150,000 thousand people,” he said. We all pitched in to hire another bus, where from I have no idea, but everyone was going to go. We pulled away and started off, and for the next three hours we kept seeing crowds. Some were on the street waiting for their buses, others in bus, after bus, after bus.  Slowly, excitement replaced the morning grumpiness. And with every kilometer we got closer we saw more and more people, and more and more buses.

 driving south

Just before we got to Sour, we were stopped. Not to be asked for our IDs or to be searched. It was not a military checkpoint, but rather the organizers. They were counting and logging. Bus number? From? How many passengers? The enormity of the organization slowly sinking in with every bus on the road, and every florescent vested organizer we saw. Once we passed Sour, and at every possible turn there were organizers with walkie talkies, and they waved us on in the right direction. At every three or four kilometers there were signs saying “To Palestine, X Kilometers.” With every sign we saw we became more jubilant “TO PALESTINE.”  Our bus driver, Zafer, was a darling. He would pick up the mic and point out towns and villages, he spoke of Hezbollah resistance and fighting the Zionist enemy, he gave us snippets of his wisdom, and he told us about the festival we were going to attend, as this was the fourth year it is being held. He made the trip that much more.

 

6 KM to Palestine

6 KM to Palestine

5 KM to Palestine

5 KM to Palestine

At the four kilometer point we were given caps and flags. At the three kilometer point we disembarked, we had to walk the rest of the way. And so we strolled, with hundreds of others down the path, past the two kilometer marker, and then we saw it. We saw occupied Palestine with its settlements, farm lands, and the electronic fence that marks much of the boundaries and walls the Israelis put up. There it was the valley below in all its spring glory. Below we saw people near a dirt road, we weren’t sure we thought they were Palestinians of 48. We later found out that they were people trying to get to the fence, still on Lebanese soil.

The caps

The caps

Walking to the border   
Walking to the border

Walking to the border

We continue to walk, past food vendors and organizers who made sure we didn’t stray off the path. We passed a gateway that read “The Iranian Garden” where people’s bags were being checked. And we walked in to see a massive sign in Hebrew and Arabic saying something along the lines of we shall return.  There was a festival area segregated by gender, and we walked into the Women’s one. There we tried to find a way down to the slope, we wanted to sit on the grass and just gaze at Palestine. Instead, we found no way down and were subjected to the ranting of whoever was speaking on the mic. Soon we heard gun shots, not one, or two, but a whole array of bullets.  We looked at each other and decided to take higher ground. But it felt like slow motion. I was amazed at what I saw. The women who were sitting down in the front rows stood up as if in unison and waved the Palestinian flags they were holding in defiance. Others started to gather their children who were crying in fear, wanting to get them to higher ground. It was sad seeing how quickly the children, traumatized by years of violence, started crying immediately and just wanted to go home. Ironically, home was the one place they couldn’t go, not in that moment.  And so we walked up to what seemed like a safer distance, we stopped to catch our breath and try to understand what just happened. We were told this was Lebanese army fire trying to keep back people who wanted to go to the fence, and we should not be scared. It didn’t make sense. In such an environment, in such a location, with so many people, why would you fire shots? Even if they were in the air?

people at Maroun Al Ras

people at Maroun Al Ras

The festival area and Palestine beyond

The festival area and Palestine beyond

We had made an agreement amongst us, the small group of three, that we would a- stick together, b- respect, and not question anyone’s decision to leave, or move at any time. And so we decided to go find a grassy spot to sit on, and from there watch and see what was happening in the valley below, but from a location farther away. And so we continued to move at a very slow pace back up the path. The atmosphere was slowly going back to that of a festive crowd at a picnic. People milling about, eating, walking, watching, smoking. We stopped for a bite to eat as it was nearly 2:00 p.m. and we hadn’t really had breakfast. But we realized the sound of sirens kept getting louder, and more frequent. We kept trying our phones, but the signal was weak, and kept coming in and out. Finally, someone on the phone told us the news. The shooting was not friendly fire anymore, and there were casualties, and deaths already. The Israelis had opened fire on the unarmed protesters at the fence. We kept trying to get more information from around us, from the internet, from others with access to TVs and radios. It was unclear how many were dead, and how many were injured. Numbers ranged from 3 to 50! We walked out and up, we were trying to get a glimpse of what was happening, and find out more information. We kept being pushed aside by soldiers running ahead, clearing a path on the crowded road, to make way for more ambulances coming out of the site. So many ambulances. They were on both roads the one we were on, and the dirt road below that we saw earlier. We were able to see the crowd from afar and the people running back and forth. We saw the Lebanese army mobilize in the valley below us, but when we saw the army trucks drive past us to mobilize on the top of the hill, that’s when decided it is time to leave. There was nothing we can do, except move.  Slowly, we made our way to the bus. All the while trying to call friends who we knew were there but couldn’t find, the phones were still not fully functioning, and everyone was desperate for a connection.  It took us over an hour to find our bus.Wwe walked through the parking lots, and then down the winding line of buses parked on the side. We were lucky it just three quarter ways  down the hill, others still had a long way to go.  We had thought if we found it, and found out when it would leave, we could walk back and see what was happening. But with an hour or so each way, and no phones, emotionally and physically tired, we stayed, and slowly the stories started to come in. People with pictures, film and experiences started to tell us of the horror that was taking place as we stood. The worst of which was one person from the AUB group, a student, had been shot in the back. It was the worst because that story just didn’t end with a retelling, or hearing the number of deaths and causalities. But because his friend who was with him needed to found and told, we were called and asked if any of us have the blood type (O-), as he was in desperate need. We had to drop of his friend who’s phone had died and was franticly trying to find more information, contact the dean, contact the friends, contact anyone who could contact his mother.  It still doesn’t end, as today I have heard he has been airlifted into AUH, in critical condition. He had been shot with a dum dum bullet that ripped through him. He has already lost a spleen, a kidney and parts of the bullet are lodged in his spine.

There are so many details that I can’t begin to piece together. The landmines that were still down there, the boy who lost a leg being pulled away from the fence as the shooting started, the young man who was walking amongst us his clothes completely soaked in blood. The fear and anxiety in some and the matter-of-factness of others. All of us knew the monster that is the Israeli soldier.

My story is not an exceptional one as you may have read and heard much more from the people who were at the fence. You may have read the news (I haven’t. I want to try and make sense of what I saw and heard already). This violence is nothing new, it just a fact. Israelis continue to use excessive force when they see a stone being lobbied against them. The use excessive force when a child stands in their way. They use excessive force when they see a Palestinian Flag. They try to erase us. They tried at Maroun Al Ras, and they couldn’t. They tried in the Golan and they couldn’t. They tried in Al Karama, Amman, and  Cairo, and they couldn’t. They tried in Qalandia, Gaza, and all our Palestinian cities and towns, and they just can’t. May 15, Nakba day is the day we will all remember. No matter how many people they kill, No matter how many demonstrations they stop, no matter how many homes they destroy. No matter. Palestine is my homeland.

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Yesterday I went to the solidarity demonstration in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Amman. It was a very interesting experience as the crowd was already large at the start and just kept growing. But what was more interesting was the atmosphere, the crowds and the chants. It was something that I don’t think anyone of us would have witnessed a few years back let alone a month ago.

The crowd was mixed in so many ways whether it was age, gender, class, and there was a sprinkling of varied nationalities too. Everyone chanted, mingled and well was in good spirits. The interesting thing for me was the chanting, people were not only saying things in solidarity of the Egyptian uprising but also anti government, anti peace treaty, anti Israeli in the most explicit of ways. They were even taunting the Mukhabart to record in their notebooks that the people are here to make change and are the decision makers.  Maybe I haven’t been to many Jordanian protests before, but I really felt this was different. There was boldness in how and what people were saying. It was as if a muzzle was somewhat removed. This is the second time I see something like this happen to Jordanians (the first being post Gaza Massacres in 2008). Jordanian’s are slowly and in small numbers waking up and finding their voice and it’s a beautiful thing. We need a political awakening and awareness. We need to get out of our comfort zones or fear zones and work towards a more just and equitable society for all. There is a lot of talk of reform and ways to address it from government change to electoral reform and educational reform. This discussion needs to step away from the few and be taken to the streets. This is slowly happening; it will not be the same approach as that of Tunisia or Egypt, not today at least. But these are interesting times and change is coming. We can either be ostriches and ignore what is happening around us or be proactive and actively participate in any which way we can for social and positive change in our society and in the arena where we are most affective.

Back to the demonstration and Egypt, I do want to say that some of the chants were calling for armed resistance and guns and violence. I was very saddened and upset when I heard these chants. The Egyptians out in Tahrir Square are not carrying guns, are not calling for violent resistance and are not building militias. They started and continue to hold up with peaceful resistance. Violence perpetuated in the uprising is initiated and perpetuated by the State and State actors. And if anything  they are perhaps the most conscientious and humorous revolutionaries in history!  We have a lot to learn from the Egyptian protestors, they are not only inspiring, they have started a process of liberation for all of us and to that we must all be grateful.

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Yesterday I was in the elevator about to leave the office, I pressed GF to go down but instead it went up. It opened on the 5th floor and there a man was waiting. He was a construction worker and it was clear he thought that because of our varying class difference he should wait till I was done and call back the elevator. I thought that was silly, we both want to go down to the ground floor, and what a waste of time and energy. We are both human, what is this silliness of class and gender! But it seems the invitation to the ride the elevator meant that it was an invitation to harass. He looked me up and down, his pelvis made the slightest move closer and with a sly look on his face he winked. I shouted at him in the angriest and most assertive of my voices “NO”. His body crumbled and his demeanor became that of shame, he looked away and mumbled “Istagfur allah”, god forgive. We left the elevator.

This is the latest incident of a lifetime of incidents. I have normalized, and for too long, the harassment I endure at the hands of men. Growing up I have been stared at, touched, called out at and, and, and… but I learned to ignore, and become oblivious to it. I lived in a bubble where, in my mind, I was not objectified. Two years ago that changed. A friend of mine came to my house and started a conversation; she asked me “what do you do when you get harassed?” And I immediately said “I don’t get harassed.” What a farce, I get harassed on a regular basis, everyday is an assault of some sort, I just became very good at using defensive tactics that made me invisible, protected me, or just allowed me to disassociate from the stares, the following, the “accidental” brushing, the catcalling…etc.

Throughout the last two years I have worked with my dear friend on an initiative to combat this assault and take a more assertive stand on harassment. We are still working on it. While on this journey I have taken myself out of my bubble and taken notice of every transgression on my body, my being, my soul and I have reacted. I no longer disassociate but instead I engage by being more vocal, more aware and more assertive. Not just with the offenders but with other women too, learning from them and exchanging with them strategies, ideas and tools for dealing with the abuse. For example, last year I was walking down a street in downtown Amman. This man looks at my breasts lustfully and says in the sleaziest of tones “Shu hal ibizaz” (look at those tits). Had I been in my bubble I would have just kept walking without even hearing or acknowledging what he said. That is not what happened. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. I filled my lungs with air and started to tell him off in my loudest of voices, the point was to turn the shame towards him and attract attention to him (shaming the offender and exposing him was one the strategies we talked about and it worked). Being the coward that he was he quickly lowered his head and with a fearful and stricken look on his face he scuttled along quickly like the rat that he is, people were looking at him rather than at me and wondering what did he do, rather than what did I do. I walked away head held high knowing that I stood up for myself and countless other women. I knew that next time, as I am sure there will be a next time, this lowlife will think twice and maybe thrice before calling out at a woman.

These daily acts of violence and aggression, whether physical or not, mean that I have to change how I deal with the world and I hate it. I hate that men like the two I mention leave within me a bad feeling of distrust, anger, and aggression towards mankind. I hate that every time I try to be nice to a man he takes it as invitation to assault my being or body in some way or form. I hate that I have to always be on alert, on guard, suspicious of acts of kindness and withholding acts of kindness. But I have decided to turn that hate, anger and mistrust in to an act of empowerment.

I have experienced firsthand what the power of sharing, talking and exposing these acts of harassment can do, and so I am going to write, talk and expose these acts every time they happen. I will not be silenced, I am not a victim. It is my right to walk down the street with the respect and rights due to me and my body. And when those rights are taken away I will not wait for someone to “rescue” me or fight on my behalf. I can do it myself.

A friend of mine scaled Everst and when he returned he brought me a small package. It was a very colorful roll that when unraveled a string of beautiful colorful flags with prayers surrounding Buddha was on each one. He told me they were pray flags that need to be hung in the wind so that they may send out prayers on your behalf to the world. They ward off evil, bring luck and protect. I hung them immediately and for over two years no one questioned their presence only their purpose!

Knowing I was going to move to Lebanon and into new territories I asked a friend who was visiting Tibet to bring some home for my new life. I thought I needed all the help I can get as well as some reminder of home. And so after I arrived I unraveled my new set and put them out. How quick were my Lebanese friends to make fun and joke away at the colorful flags making remarks that I found not only hurtful but very rude and intolerant as well. The flags stayed.

Earlier this week I moved to a new apartment and only last night did I hang my flags, happy to see them flutter in the wind for me. It is part of what makes my home a home. And so I went to sleep just that bit more content with my symbolic and simple nestling. But after coming home from work today I was confronted by the doorman making these statements “the other tenants want you to remove the flags immediately” “what are they anyway?” And the most upsetting remark of them all “that there is no need for them” said in a very dismissive tone. The reason given for the removal of the flags was the outside of the building is “ours” not “yours” and so it has to remain uniform. And mind you this Urban, concrete jungle is not so pretty so I really don’t understand this obsessive need for concrete uniformity!

The whole issue in the grand scheme of things is trivial, but is significant of much larger things at play to name a few xenophobia, conformism, and that simply it is very difficult for the Lebanese to celebrate what isn’t them or even their idea of them.

I have been here for a bit over four months and I feel Lebanon is a hostile unwelcoming place. It is about circles of exclusivity. I have been trying very hard to turn those ideas around and become positive about this experience. Some days I am successful and other days I fail, sometimes even miserably. There have been people around me who are supportive and welcoming and inclusive and to them I send out a big heartfelt thank you. Slowly I am finding these people, but it is a struggle which I will explain another time. For now I have to try and find a way to make these flags flutter in the wind for me where there is no wind.

This is being circulated around the web and came into my inbox. We need to be vocal we need to be visible we need to use logical rhetoric. I am reposting their email that calls all of us to action. View their work so far and see how you can help!

 

Thanks.

S.

 

Dear friends,


We are a group of Arab women from Jordan who have come together in
response to the vicious attacks by Israel on Gaza. Our aim is to spread awareness across the globe on the atrocities and encourage all responsible citizens to act in the name of humanity. Help us give voice to those who have been silenced by doing the following: 

 1. Visit our YouTube links and rate us positively!

We need your views so we can become the first Arab youtube clip to get onto the most viewed page
The YouTube clips address the following:
On the Humanitarian Situation

On Israel’s Violations of Humanitarian Law
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoiYvNuqw&NR=1

On the Media Spin
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-8GqHL2J-I&feature=related

Our Call to Action
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAonLJHEuak

 

2. Forward this message to all your friends and encourage them to do the same! Make sure everyone you know watches these videos!

 3. Join our Facebook group and share our videos with your friends!

4.  Add our links on your website and/or blogs.

5.  View our Call to Action episode on You Tube on the 30th of January 2009 so that we may reach our goal of becoming the most viewed clip on YouTube so as to give the crisis in Gaza the exposure it desperately needs.

 

We need your support! Please help us! For more information, please
email at
voicesforpalestine@gmail.com

In solidarity,
Voices for Palestine
www.voicesforpalestine.com

 

My body aches for Gaza and in a good way. Last night I was one of the lucky few who went to the ARAMEX warehouse in Qastal to help with the donations campaign for Gaza. There were nearly a hundred volunteers working last night. We prepared packages of food for our brethren in Gaza.

What amazes me is how tirelessly everyone worked pitching in with a smile working as a team. Many of us came as strangers and we left as strangers, but throughout we worked as one family… a team. Helping each other, working together, knowing that at the end of this day we have helped many.

Last night when I spoke to organizers of the group we had unloaded between 12-15 truckloads of donations and packed upwards of 900 boxes of aid, and yet we were a handful of volunteers.

The warehouse is massive to say the least, it is full with donations ranging from medical supplies, food, hygiene products, clothing, blankets and tents and every other random item you can think of. Children, youth and adults, men and women were all there. No one is too young or too old to help. Everyone can make a difference. There is so much work to do that I am calling out again to each and every one I know and don’t know.

If you have to go to the gym, this is defiantly a work out. If you want meet friends, then bring them here for an hour or two. If you have a family engagement then ask them to donate too. That argileh can wait, that meal, that coffee wont miss you as much as the children will miss warmth, and food.

Each one of us makes choices everyday on what to do, where to go, what to eat… we are privileged. Use that privilege; make that choice come help us sort out donations today, tomorrow, and everyday until we are done. Does Palestine, does Gaza not deserve two or three hours of your time? Come and let your body ache too and in a good way!

For more information go to 7iber.com where you can see pictures, videos and get directions of all the good work we are doing.

If media isn’t your thing then you can still donate time and money to the 7iber campaign. Volunteers are needed to sort through donations and money is needed for medical supplies. The details are here:

http://www.7iber.com/blog/2009/01/10/new-7iber-campaigns-how-to-help-gaza/

http://www.black-iris.com/2009/01/10/how-to-help-gaza-now/

Make a difference and help get aid to Gaza!

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