Addressing Grievances in Gaza

My op-ed for Al-Jazeera English.

In 2006, the Israeli authorities imposed an overall siege on the Gaza Strip forcing 1.6 million Palestinians to live under miserable conditions. Since then, Gaza, depending on the degree of instability in the area, has been largely covered in the world media, sometimes enjoying the status of a quasi-main theme.

However, many of these subjects dealt with by Western press are quite unimportant to deal with publicly. The only importance they  have seems to be that of their context, being how the Gaza Strip is such a pivotal and curious a place.

One needs to be critical of information so as not to fall victim to any deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, or any other well-handled, yet ill-timed treatment of any of these subjects.

The unfortunate “Gaza Youth Manifesto”

Recently a group of Palestinian youth from Gaza issued a “manifesto” on their Facebook page called Gaza Youth Breaks Out (GYBO). It outstandingly highlights Gaza youths’ immense frustration and anger. Unluckily, however, its writers poured out their fury pell-mell indiscriminately at every possible cause they deemed as conducive to their miserable conditions, instead of carefully underlining the principal source of this unendurable suffering.

Hence, the true cause of this suffering, i.e. Israel and its 2008/09 invasion of the Gaza Strip, the five-year relentless blockade, and its daily heinous crimes against Palestinian civilians, weren’t (unintentionally, I assume) as accentuated as the uncommendable behavior of the Hamas government in Gaza toward its people, which replaced Israel as the originator of Gaza’s youth distress.

The GYBO manifesto has received worldwide attention from Western press and media outlets. But did any of them take the time to listen to the grievances the manifesto mentioned in a considerable portion of Gaza’s youth due to its misguided content? (Note: under a great deal of criticism, the group had to issue a second manifesto, which appears on the group’s Facebook page).

To this effect, to stress similar cases over Israel’s policy toward the Gaza Strip only harms Palestinians and should be seen as an attempt at deflecting the world’s attention from the base injustice the Palestinians are forced to live under. Moreover, they do seem to attract the audience’s interest who has become used to  prosaic coverage of Israel’s continuous and flagrant violations of basic human rights.

This does not mean issues of human rights’ abuses should be disregarded. The suppression exercised by the government and other violations of human rights should always be reported in an objective way and brought to light in order to help fight against it by all means.

The “rising middle class” and addressing minor grievances

Similarly, a newly published Associated Press feature story sheds light on the widening gap between a very tiny middle class and the majority of the people who live under the poverty line.

Well-written, objective, and supported with facts and figures as it might seem, the article should nonetheless be dismissed as misleading and lacking in the analytical interpretation necessary to explain the real origins of the discontent the people of Gaza have.

“A budding middle class in the impoverished Gaza Strip is … fueling perhaps the most acrimonious grass roots resentment yet toward the ruling Hamas movement.”

The introductory statement of the article is inaccurate since it presupposes the presence of this “resentment” toward the Hamas government in Gaza without placing it within its greater context which is that of the Israeli occupation and its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The prime grievances the people of Gaza have are those toward Israel and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. This has fuelled so much anger and despair that, like the GYBO manifesto, they started to resent everything around them, including the Hamas government. So even this sense of dissatisfaction toward the government is a form of grievous indignation toward Israel itself.

Normally, people would hate the government under whose control they have had to endure the most miserable conditions. It is true the government in Gaza isn’t doing enough to at least alleviate the people’s Israeli-inflicted suffering. It is also true that there is too much corruption inside the government itself to be concealed any longer, but trying to deal with these issues as the main source of people’s anger is dubious, since it ignores the fact that what people are enraged about, above all things, is the Israeli siege.

Although, the article makes it clear the majority of the people are discontent, it seems to ridiculously question the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza while there are others – a very small minority – who live in self-indulgence. It also never accounts for the so called “rise of the middle class” in Gaza except by simplistically relating it to the attitudes of the Hamas government and the “corruption” of some of its “loyalists”.

The only thing this article seems to do is deflect the readers’ attention from the real origins of frustration in Gaza that are represented in Israel’s overall inhuman policy toward the Palestinians to a few unimportant issues.

Israel’s crimes are still the issue

By comparison, in other countries internal suppression is exercised by governments on a larger scale and things like women’s rights are often abused at a serious level, and little attention is paid to them. Similarly, the grievances toward an assumed middle class rise in Gaza is a completely preposterous issue to discuss, when recent Israeli airstrikes killed 15 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

At a time when Palestinians in Gaza, both the wealthy and the poor, are awakened by Israeli warplanes bombing their neighbourhoods, it is these kinds of grievances, suffering and anger that the world needs to know about that besiege the Gaza Strip, and not class differences.

Palestinian youth in Gaza skeptical about PA’s UN bid

My recent publication on Electronic Intifada

Young Palestinians are skeptical of any political “solution” that doesn’t address the refugees’ right of return. (Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

Along with several other bloggers and activists in the Gaza Strip, I was recently invited to take part in a short video about young Palestinians’ reaction to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid to have the United Nations admit a Palestinian “state” as a full member of the international body this September.

As each participant was being assigned a role in the video, an argument erupted among the four of us over who should speak in favor of the Palestinian Authority’s move. We discovered, to the producer’s amazement, we were all flatly against it.

This might have just been a coincidence. Only a few days earlier, however, I was awoken up by my new wild ringtone. As I answered my phone, I was asked by a journalist from Germany’s Deutsche Welle television to give an interview on the same issue. As I arrived at the arranged meeting place, another blogger was already giving her answers to the interviewer. She was unequivocally critical of the PA’s “disastrous history” and its “unending series of flops.” She argued that UN recognition of a Palestinian state would be just one more chapter in that sad history.

Of course it is hard to generalize from two incidents but they do offer some insight that a large segment of Palestinians believe they have been entirely and overtly marginalized by the PA’s unconcealed monopoly of Palestinian political decision-making.

Still, this does not mean that the PA’s move does not have any support in Gaza — there are Palestinians who support the PA and they are numerous.

Critics of the PA’s UN bid would say that none of these supporters is truly able to appreciate that their unrealized dreams of living in a long-awaited free and independent Palestinian state are not being advanced by the PA’s little-debated UN move. Some Palestinians may be convinced by the rhetoric of PA officials and believe that potential UN admission is a highly symbolic move and a step forward on the road toward independence. But some younger observers in Gaza are much more skeptical.

Fed up with ignored UN votes

Fidaa Abu Assi, a 22-year-old blogger and English literature graduate in Gaza, believes there is nothing symbolic in going to the UN and securing recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. She is “fed up” with the unimplemented UN resolutions and symbolic moves taken by the PA on her behalf.

“Some Palestinians would rejoice at the thought of finally having a recognized Palestinian state,” she argues in a blog post. “In essence, however, the whole initiative seems pointless, or rather, insidiously dangerous.” Bewildered, she asks, “How could they [the UN] recognize a state that doesn’t even exist? And, wait, hadn’t the PLO already proclaimed a Palestinian state in 1988 on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 181?” (“‘No’ to UN Recognition, ‘Yes’ to US Veto,” 22 July 2011).

Abu Assi’s view reflects the sentiments of a generation that does not seek more UN resolutions and international declarations. Not even a declaration of a state. A state itself is rather what we desire. A state that we can touch, see and live in. We long for the reunification of the more than 11 million Palestinians living in the world. We want to see facts on the ground and tangible results. We crave for the land which has been relentlessly ripped apart in flagrant violation of dozens of resolutions already passed — and then promptly ignored — by the very same UN to which the PA now turns.

“We would forget, wouldn’t we?”

In an open letter to a refugee living in the Palestinian diaspora, Sameeha Elwan, a 23-year-old blogger and English teaching assistant at the Islamic University of Gaza, pours out her scorn on the PA, and any declaration of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders that excludes the right of Palestinian refugees to return (“To My Dear Stateless Palestinian,” 6 August 2011).

“My mother would no longer be a refugee,” Elwan writes. “She would have to give up every dream of going back to Aqer [a large Palestinian village nine kilometers to the south east of Ramla in present-day Israel]. My grandmother would stop telling us of her tales of the lost village near Gaza from which they fled in 1948. She would forget this history. It is no longer hers. She would have to stop telling the story every now and then. She’d eventually die; we would eventually forget, wouldn’t we?”

Some bloggers have displayed a deep understanding of the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and of its implications for the future of the Palestinians not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but also those living inside Israel.

One state: the only real solution

Rana Baker, a 19-year-old blogger and student of business administration also at the Islamic University of Gaza, argues that to be able to comprehend the risk of the UN declaration of a Palestinian state, this issue should be placed in its rightful context: the debate over a two-state solution. “In fact, the Palestinian street is divided into two: those who are for one state and those for the UN September recognition of two states,” Baker writes, adding “I’m for one state” (“I Turn On the Fan and Sit to Write,” 8 August 2011).

Baker too warns that the PA “statehood” bid may be most threatening to Palestinians in the diaspora. “What about more than 5 million Palestinian refugees who dream to return to their lands?” she asks, “The Palestinian Authority does not have the right to take decisions on their behalf. If they were given the right to vote, they would have voted against this bid. This is definite.”

Behind these criticisms lie doubts that many Palestinians have about the upcoming move to declare a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. Some tend to question the functionality of a state in the besieged Gaza Strip and the heavily colonized West Bank, a state totally dependent on foreign aid.

Others reasonably cast doubt on the credibility of the UN to secure the viability of this state, if recognized, and safeguard it against Israel’s expansionist policy. Some call it a blatant concession that terminates the right of return of Palestinian refugees all over the world. And some view it as yet one more act of treason by the PA — a move that would involve turning our backs on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in dire conditions and facing constant discrimination inside the apartheid State of Israel.

As varied as the reasons might be to oppose the PA bid, they all stem from a firm belief that universal rights, real liberation and return, not “statehood” at any price, must be at the heart of our demands and struggle. Any solution must fully restore the rights of all segments of the Palestinian people — those living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, those inside Israel, and the refugees waiting to return.

And its also clear that increasingly, many young Palestinians believe that these rights can only be achieved in a one-state solution that puts an end to Israeli apartheid and guarantees equality and justice for all.

One Night in the Dark

Illustration by: Bissan Rafe Alhussien (Qasrawi)

I always believed to write is to “make less the dept of grief.” But it’s been long since I wrote down anything, and indeed I spent long and hard time attempting to convince myself that this latest recurring experience of mine isn’t any different and, like many other episodes in my life, can be recorded well.

There is no phrase in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that I hate as much as that of “the suffering of both peoples”, “the fear both peoples have to go through”, “the trauma both peoples experience” and the like, usually made in places like the U.N. general assembly’s podiums, the International Court’s or even in the White House. Not that I care whether those neatly-suited, shiny-black-shoed politicians are neutral or one-sided— meaning pro-Israel because there are definitely no such politicians who are on the side of the Palestinians—  or whether they have the sort of genuine interest needed to solve this seemingly insoluble conflict. But considering the fact that I sometimes tend to be a little bit selfish, I hate that my personal suffering, let alone the suffering of 1.6 million Palestinians living in Gaza, be seriously sabotaged by such phrases once analogized, and hence diminished, to the state of fear felt by a few Israelis in the aftermath of firing often-homemade missiles onto Israel, occasionally not mistaking their target and falling into a huge deserted land in Israel and, once fallen, absolutely resulting in no casualties whatsoever except on very rare occasions.

However, the other day I was sitting in the heart of my pitch dark room, immersed in sweat and hemmed in by the wild hems of a few frenzied generators drifting through space and time and forcing their way into my head to crowd themselves into some little unengaged space of my racked brains meant to absorb the words neatly seated before my eyes onto the pages of The Diary of Anne Frank. I wiped sweat off my brows and continued reading. The unnerving hems of the generators swarmed into my brain like the throngs of mostly pale-faced short-tempered passengers with whom I was packed the other day in some little stuffy room, some puffing on their cigarettes, some fanning themselves with their official documents, all of us, however, waiting for our names to be called out to get a stamped ticket. Not that we were crossing into Egypt on that day but rather we were trying to ensure that, at least two months from that date, the time when our travelling has been scheduled, when we  go to travel through the Rafah crossing, we won’t be turned back, having already reserved a place to travel two months in advance. Anyway, my pains paid off, and I got my ticket. That experience is past.

In my room, meanwhile, I was engaged in my life-time struggle against the unforgiving oppression I had always failed to familiarize myself with. I was being normally punished for a misdemeanor I have never committed in the first place.

It seemed then all the suffering in the world combined into one I was bound to endure. I was the center of the world’s unfortunate beings. The Wretched of the Earth. I was a starving child in Somalia, a Syrian demonstrator shot in the neck in the streets of Hama, a pregnant mother dying at a checkpoint in Palestine, a besieged Palestinian schoolboy in Gaza helplessly sinking into the depths of despair. “But I can’t be that selfish,” I would think, “here is a guiltless Anne Frank in a wardrobe hiding from her imminent death at the hands of a Nazi officer. And she wouldn’t complain!”

But while Anna hid in her wardrobe, and Iona confided in his mare, I had neither a wardrobe nor a mare. Darkness is the only place where one can hide from the dark. I had nowhere to hide, and I had no one “to whom I can tell my grief”.

I always told myself, “had it not been for these eight cursed hours when power was cut off, I would have never complained.” But now my wrath had grown so immense to be curbed. My chest is now brimming with pent-up ages-old anger the causes for which, unlike their united implications on me, vary disparagingly. I was stifled. I was half-way through my desperate endeavors to stop myself from cursing the place where I have grown and become a man whose tongue can strikingly respond to the most abominable of curses— having already learned them in the aisles of the camp and furnished myself with a remarkable arsenal of phrases and swear words.

I picked up the candle and looked at the clock as it ticked time away. 10:15 pm. I guessed, “I still have two more hours ahead before the power is turned back on,”

I had to think of some way to while away these two hours. “I can do anything but leave myself to my besetting thoughts,” I murmured trying to break the had-it-not-been-for-the-generators silence. I knew if I did, I would be eventually be left with nothing but a pathetic state of gloom and hopelessness. I couldn’t afford a new strike of despair; it would take me ages to recover from it. Not even the beautifully resuscitating spectacle of our neon bulbs flickering back into life would relieve me this time.

I wanted to escape this gruesomely fiendish place. I was exhausted. My breaths grew fast and short. Sweat started to flood down my body. I didn’t want to think anymore. I desperately attempted to shut the omnipresent scene of the dark out of my mind. One more moment contemplation of the flowing endless succession of the generators’ revs would cast me straight into an abysmal void where all I could do then is but scream at the top of my lungs.

Putting out the candlelight, I groped my way through the dark as fast as my feet could carry me, straight and out of the room, rushing down the stairs until I was out in the street. I leaned against a wall, drew a deep breath, and uttered a vile curse.

In a display of utter disregard to the generators all around me, I walked on and on curiously exploring the street lamps and flashing car lights. My thoughts immediately wandered to the several “foreigners” I had met and their naive remarks  on living in Gaza. I thought wryly, “They don’t know a god damn thing about living in Gaza! Gaza is such an awful place to live in!”

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than I ducked at the sound of a missile being fired from a neighboring area. I instantly cursed. I needed to get back home as quickly as I could, for I had no doubt what would follow. And in no time, possibly before the fired missile had even reached its target, a deafeningly F-16 bomb hit the area and shook the ground from below my feet. My heart skipped a beat; I cursed and longed for home.

Back home, still teetering on the edge of despair, I lied on my bed, and, indifferent to the dark, the generators’ noise, the clock’s ticking and the Apache’s hovering, I kept on cursing knowing that somehow I would eventually fall asleep and that this misery of mine will come to an end. Somehow.

My friend has a story…

"Montasiba al Qama" by Samih al Qasim; Photo by Salman al-Msjen

This isn’t my story. But it could have been, and it can be the story of any young Palestinian living in this small besieged part of the world. Only that it bears much more painful profundity being the story of that particular man who chose to be nicknamed “Awsaj”—the Arabic equivalent for Lycium which is “a thorny shrub bearing red berries, some kinds of which are used for hedging.”

Awsaj is my new friend whom I met only twice, the first meeting lasting for no more than a quarter of an hour at a mutual friend’s, and the second born out  of my initiative to venture out southward to the far eastern areas of Khan Yunis near “the green line.” He is an intelligent human being. Young, enthusiastic, and bright. Awsaj embraces such a variety of contradictions which, though can be seen almost everywhere in Gaza, would make this man’s description but a figment of an eccentric writer’s imagination. To be painstakingly interested in perfumes, to hold a degree in IT, and to voraciously read such a fussy amalgam of Jubran Khalil Jibran, Edward Said, and Karl Marx, these are all signs of a human being with a specially sophisticated interest. However, to work, besides this, as a farmer absolutely adds up to your  unparalleled elegance.

We arrived at Awsaj’s farmland where, in a farmer-like style, he was diligently plowing the land with a shovel, and as we hailed him from a distance, he looked up, waved back to us, and wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, he placed the shovel aside with the other, and walked in our direction to welcome us. “He can’t be a famer, he’s trying to look like one,” I said to myself.

As soon as he was chopping small pieces of wood and adding them to the small fire he had just started to make us some black coffee, I had already had considerable admiration for Awsaj and started feeling jealous of his exhaustive knowledge, his avidity for reading, his ardent passionate talk and angry criticism of almost everything. We shared several subjects of our criticisms together. We were particularly sarcastic of “our” buffoon politicians. He was unorthodoxly harshly critical of parents as fosterers of hypocrisy, mental impotency, personal insecurity. Though at some point,  a fiery debate erupted between us over his undue criticism of how people’s relationships are no more governed by affection, care and  mutual respect for the other, but rather largely dominated by private interests where, in the normal state of affairs, it should be presumed that hate is pre-existing to any human communication, our personalities were explicitly largely drawn to each other, and Awsaj could make such a favorable impression on all of us.

To be equipped with a critical mindset and insatiable desire to learn and read is enough, at least in my and my two mates’ eyes, to make you worth being held in high esteem by your interlocutors. But that’s no that case. To have these things, however—or to pretend that you do—and display in addition some interest in Israel-Palestinian conflict, to always talk of peace as the solution—as though peace were not an impasse in itself—to ending this conflict, to have also the Kuffiyeh worn over your head from time to time, and to stress to your interlocutors the fact that you run a blog, never mind how less frequent you update it or the sort of stuff you have on there, you are then the very guy who is likely to be indentified as a peace (and potential human rights?) champion by roughly everyone working in the field here, particularly by a bunch of foreign journalists with whom you engage in seldom profound, political discussions and who you might win over, but by no means can your knowledge about Palestine, Israel and politics match theirs.

Awsaj is of the first kind. There is still something much more characteristically appealing about him, i.e.,  (what he boastfully dubbed) his wide-ranging experience and “history of struggle”, and out of this history, there is one specific experience which Awsaj found himself narrating to his guests and, upon listening to, we agreed it must be uniquely underlying to this man’s personality, and which I insisted it would not go unrecorded.

Almost every Palestinian must have been in direct contact with Israelis, and by “Israelis” I mean Israel’s atrocities; and every Palestinian, therefore, must have been a direct victim of Israeli crimes—there is no such thing as indirect victim within the context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict being essentially a conflict between a state (i.e. Israel), on the one hand, and individuals (i.e. Palestinians) on the other. So it’s no big deal when I am told this man had spent twenty years in Israeli prisons, or that little boy’s parents were killed during Israel’s last offensive against Gaza and so on…

The weighty significance of Awsaj’s experience, I believe, resides in the fact that, it encloses within its narrative several Israeli actualities. Whereas most of the endless Palestinian encounters with Israel lose an extremely large share of their actual significance once the real encounter is over and is narrated time and again as a past experience, Awsaj’s experience seemed to have acquired validity and renewed reality each time he narrated it since, during his narrative, Israel would borrow such a physical existence that it was no more an abstract but became embodied in the Israeli soldier, the Israeli jeep, and the female officer’s broken Arabic phrases, the Bedouin  collaborator, the scars across my friend’s back…The reason? It definitely lies somewhere around Awsaj’s human passion and dramatic eloquence.

The sun having sunk, we headed toward our friend’s home, having already chatted for what seemed to be ages. Straight backed, we walked and chatted, leaving behind neatly-queued, graceful thyme saplings, four scattered coffee-soiled plastic cups, and several untold stories.

Gaza Proles

Source: indymedia ireland

It is true smuggling tunnels make it easier for Palestinians in Gaza to have their basic needs of food, oil, even electric machines, and electronic devices, and above all of cars somewhat met; without tunnels our life would be inconceivably harder than it already is. But that never means Gaza economy is “flourishing”, or that the tunnels have “boosted” Gaza economy. Gaza is not Ramallah, after all. It is true also that every once in a while, it occurs to the compassionate Israeli authorities that the Gaza population, although they deserve to rot in a hell-like Gaza for electing a terrorist organization such as Hamas to be their government, their humaneness shall always prevail over all other urges for vengeance, hatred and political schemes, and it shall never cease to astound the US and world benefactors; it is true they allow some of these basic needs—not cars, of course –into Gaza. Only that enough is enough, but “some” is not enough. Only that “some” is not equivalent for the “sufficient amounts” promulgated by Israeli telescreens.

“Some” is not sufficient for a Gaza kid to spend his school vocation larking about in the aisles of the camp with his playmates. That Gaza has a sea is such a blessing. There is no sea in Ramallah. On their vocations, Gaza kids go to the sea, rarely with their families and mostly on foot, swimming and frolicking along the seashore, splashing around in the unclean seawater. They almost have fun. Being such a generous vent, Gaza sea is always crowded with its population, largely with kids and women. It is however very unsettling when this sea, being such a typically tempting attraction, turns to be a vent for these kids where they never bask in fighting the unruly waves and the graceful sands but rather where they sell their little commodities to the crowds of people who will have inhabited every little space all about the beach.

The other day, I had an argument with my brother about how authentic a description of the loud banging sounds endlessly produced by the sea such as “harmonious/melodious” is. That was utter noise, I believed. But not until I was struck, indeed reminded, with what “noise” truly means by the small rivalry vendors, fantastically inventing the most poetic phrases, and high pitchedly calling out with the prices of their commodities in attempt to promote a sack of chips or a packet of nuts, or rather to inspire someone here or there coaxing them into buying their stuff. All along the beach, they speed up toward every single group of people offering them to buy anything in return for the cheapest prices ever. Only in Gaza, scores of these little kids become tireless, pale-faced, grownup vendors.

A few days ago, while I was taking a cab late at night, I had to get into the back seat of the car since the front one was already occupied by an old man. For reasons unknown to me, I fixed my eyes on him: he was tall and thin, his back slightly bent, so I assumed the old man was exhausted by work. Suddenly, as if nudged by my bold looks, the old man look back to catch me scrutinizing him and shot me a short look before he turned his head again. I was right to surmise his face was grey with fatigue, but still that look baffled me greatly, though I came to conclude it only blended together fatigue and undue anxiety.

In a moment, the driver slowed down his car as we approached the turn and asked the old man next to him if this was the place he wanted to get to. The old man muttered incomprehensibly, and as though he were recovering from an offense just caused by the driver’s downright inquiry, he looked out of the window and roamed the place with his eyes. To my amazement, he told the driver to drop him somewhere else. “Take me to wherever you are going.”

The old man had neither a destination nor an abode. He turned to be a homeless prole.

We arrived at Jabaliya, where I was heading for. The car was already moving at a moderate speed when a little boy ahead of us vigorously motioned to the driver. Once the car stopped, the boy got closer, and in a low voice, he asked the driver to give him a ride home for free.

Through the driver’s several inquiries to the boy, I came to know that the boy is one of the noisy vendors who work along the beach all day long, and that he had walked all the distance from the Gaza seashore up to Jabaliya, all on foot, and that he could no longer endure the pain tearing through his legs. The boy cheerfully told us that he sold all his commodities. And that he had money we also knew.

No sooner had I got off the car than it dawned on me I just accompanied three sorts of the Gaza proles.

Imprison me to make me free!

Below is my latest article for the Electronic Intifada

Source: Electronic Intifada

Palestinians were in disbelief over the news of a reconciliation deal between the two largest Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, brokered by Egypt which, meanwhile, repeated that ending the siege is a priority. Palestinian youth living in the besieged Gaza Strip were quick to start envisioning a new life in a Gaza free from both from the political divisions and the siege.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, beating Fatah into second place. Fatah has long dominated the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and controlled the Palestinian Authority since it was created after the 1993 Oslo accords. Hamas is not a member of the PLO.

A year later, a short-lived Palestinian national unity government uniting the factions fell apart amid US-supported efforts to undermine it, and Hamas ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip in a distressing fierce ground battle.

Ever since, the population of Gaza has been destined to live under severe hermetic siege imposed by Israel along with the former Egyptian government of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Plenty of reports were written addressing the humanitarian crisis that resulted from this siege, along with Israel’s aggressive policies toward Palestinian civilians. Solidarity convoys have cascaded into Gaza one after another in an attempt to alleviate the suffering inflicted upon the Palestinians as a result of the siege.

For the youth in Gaza, one thing, however, has been bizarrely disregarded, which is the positive side of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.

Despite its many severely negative results, Israel’s siege of Gaza has offered Palestinian youth a service none had offered before. It offered new paths for us in our struggle for freedom, deepened our patriotic sentiment and finally created an environment that fosters a collective sense of selflessness and cooperation. It has created a young generation that truly cares.

Back in 2006, when Israel’s policies to besiege Gaza were still new, the people of Gaza were still unable to estimate the magnitude of the debacle ahead of them. Shortly after, prices started to shoot up, crossing borders became difficult, ubiquitous power cuts mercilessly dominated every aspect of life.

It was unthinkable, even for the Palestinians in Gaza, that they would be able to carry on with their new life for a long time.

Perhaps that was Israel’s logic. They might have thought: “They won’t be able to tolerate the base life we will force them to live under, we will suffocate them from every direction, we will cause them so much pain to bear. Soon they will blow up from within.”

But we didn’t. And unexpectedly, almost four years since the siege has started, and despite pervasive misery, human suffering and collective punishment, life still goes on.

For us, the youth in Gaza, life under siege was profoundly different. Unable to cope with its oppressiveness, life at first was intolerably tormenting. Anger and frustration were the outcome of our dashed hopes each time we came to realize the fact that ending this siege was anything but foreseeable.

Helpless, we were left to the vast amount of darkness surrounding our minds and bodies. Every now and then, we could escape this suffering momentarily as we loosened ourselves of our oppressive surroundings. This meant spending some time by the Gaza seashore dotted with Israeli warships at night, or at some cafe nearby where the musical bubbling of our water pipes were inescapably mingled with the unnerving hums of a few frenzied power generators.

However, no matter how much we tried to separate ourselves from the political context surrounding us, we couldn’t. We were thrown back into it by the huge extent of misery imposed upon us.

Many of us thus were left with a political mindset which ultimately triggered us into fruit-bearing action.

Plenty of Gaza youth have had an interest in politics, following up on news, reading reports and analyses. Reading has become the last and sole resort when we had nothing else to do. Soon we were demanding more and more books to read.

Reading has struck a new light in the dark; it has blown new winds into the stillness, and added flavor to our humdrum lives. It was too beautiful to resist. Besides reading, many Gaza youth remarkably developed an interest in documenting Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians through writing, blogging, making films and networking. Israel was their interest. Everything that has to do with Israel was worth stopping for; it was a sign of sophisticated interest. On the ground, hyper-activism was largely manifest in the immense variety of activities carried out and administered by youth groups, social movements and networks.

One of the remarkable youth groups newly initiated inside Gaza is the Palestine Youth Advocacy Network “PYAN”— which is also a word in Arabic that could mean exposition, representation, rhetoric or radiance, all of which have to do with the nature of work the team undertakes.

The network defines itself as “a fresh movement towards democratic endeavors in Palestine and breaking misconceptions about the occupied territories through global dialogue and reporting from the ground.” It operates regularly, holding workshops in coordination with international and local institutions with the intention of “[playing] an innovative role in assisting the Palestinian youth get the knowledge and acquire the skills needed to be up to the challenge of advocating their cause and sacred rights in the face of the misinformation imposed by the western mainstream media.”

Samah Saleh, a cofounder of PYAN, told me what role the siege has played in setting up the advocacy network and the abundance of other youth groups:

“The siege has everything to do with the emergence of PYAN. Gaza has been under siege for about four years, quite the same years young Gazans my age [have] been busy attempting to understand the interaction of global, regional and internal politics on their lives. In Gaza, the siege was the elephant in the room and Gazans were on their own, living, defying the siege’s intrusion on their every life, no matter how simple. We formed PYAN to be the platform of Gaza’s youth that addresses their urgent need to bring their stories out of besieged Gaza to the world.”

It isn’t quite appealing to speak of the inhumane siege without focusing on Israel’s crimes against Palestinian civilians. But having already blasted away any cliched representation of ourselves as terrorists, we now refuse to be continuously framed as dying of hunger or retreating to a corner and sitting in the dark. Our ability to turn each suffering into a source of inspiration preserves our dignity and fuels our unstoppable determination.

From the place he loved, in memory of Vittorio.

Vittorio's tattoo on his arm: moqawama (resistance)

Vittorio: (Vik, Victor, Victorio. Full name: Vittorio Utopia Arrigoni) a Palestinian martyr, only a bit braver, who was abducted and gruesomely killed at the hands of an Israeli-salafist gang on 14 April 2011. Later it happened that he was not dead: he was still living in the hearts of all Palestinians.

‎”Ween?” (the Arabic for “where”) was the first thing Vittorio ever asked me. He was looking for my phone number and sent me a FB message titled, “ween”. Today I ask him the same question: “ween?”

I can’t think of one reason that would make a “Palestinian” kill someone like Vittorio. A man who dedicated his life to fight injustice. A man who abandoned the luxury of Rome and came to one of the most turbulent regions in the world in order to expose Israeli atrocities committed against Palestinians. A man on whose right arm, the Arabic word for resistance “Moqawama” was brilliantly tattooed in big words. A hero in whose eyes there was a whole lot of unmistakable meanings of profound love, loyalty, hope, sacrifice, truth and courage. Vittorio has done for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank more than those who killed him. He was more Palestinian than many other Palestinians. Vittorio would have competed with Hamas rockets about who’s done more damage to Israel. He was such a nightmare for them that needed to be eliminated. Vittorio is a great disheartening loss to Palestinians, and Friday, 15 April is such an overwhelmingly melancholic day in the history of Palestine.

Vittorio is a man who loved Gaza, he loved Gaza’s land, its sea, and its sky. Two things Vittorio obviously loved to do: to wave the Palestinian flag, and to sing “Onadikum” (I call upon you!). Wholeheartedly, Vittorio sang, “Onadikum” time and again. He poured his heart out as he sang it. It’s probably the only thing he could say so fluently in Arabic.

Today, we took to the streets to tell the world how grieved we are at the loss of Vittorio, to convey a message to Vittorio’s family in Italy that in Gaza we are all Vittorio’s family. That We condemn in the strongest terms the shameful and outrageous act of abducting and murdering Vittorio by a bunch of criminals whom we disavowed the moment they had that vicious thought in their minds. We will not forgive those who betrayed Vittorio in the place he loved, the place where he felt most secure, where he would be angry to be treated like a foreigner. He warmly embraced our cause, so we will never stab him in the back. We’ll give him a warmer hug.

Today, though ridiculous I only wished Vittorio were alive to live this very day with us and see with his own eyes how much we all love him. We are all Vittorios.

Now that you moved to live in our hearts, we’ll become stronger and fiercer in the battle against occupation, humiliation and injustice. Vittorio. Such an inspiration to all of us. You taught us that life isn’t worth living if one isn’t ready to fight against its injustice, and that’s what gives it a meaning, that’s what makes it all beautiful. Now, empowered by your “memory”, we’ll carry on the fight together.

Vittorio wanted to fight injustice, but life was too unjust for him to fight.

‎”The injustice of it [life] is almost perfect! The wrong people going hungry, the wrong people being loved, the wrong people dying!” John Osborne.

Vittorio is one of the wrong people.

In memory of Vittorio Utopia Arrigoni
15 April 2011