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Monday, March 31, 2014

Gaza: The Hunger Games

The Art of Surviving

Little did the millions who watched “The Hunger Games” film series know that a similar reality actually exists, its not a fictional realm that the creator came up with. Yes, its called “Gaza”. A beautiful little coastal enclave that the least adjectives you can use to describe it are those like “impoverished”, “suffocating” and “Primal”. A little place on the map that suffers from an Israeli imposed siege and is always tightly sealed by Egypt. We can safely and accurately say that Gaza is the biggest modern open-air prison.

You might go through a dilemma or two in your life, but if you live in Gaza, your mere existence is a dilemma in itself. Your life is like a Marionette except its extra polarized and the strings pull you in different directions.

You are expected to aspire for better and higher education, yet thanks to Israel and Egypt you’ll need 10 miracles to get out of Gaza to seek such education. Palestinians are among the most educated and clever nations, we land scholarships so easily (which is supposed to be the hardest part) but visa and border issues always halts the process. Your dream is murdered, sometimes repeatedly.

You read serious reports made by NGOs like UNRWA who say that Gaza wont be livable by 2020, population will grow and life will decline. Many other reports mention the high rates of poverty, water pollution and scarcity, weak infrastructure, unemployment rates skyrocketing, inflation in the population and diseases widespread (like cancer).

Then comes the regular Israeli attacks on Gaza, plus the daily violation of the air space that usually leads to a major headache after all the buzzing and hovering over on low altitudes. People injured or killed, buildings are destroyed, blood is spilled and life is disturbed.

The whole world expected the “Arab Spring” to “blossom” in Palestine, or more particularly, in Gaza. Palestinians living in Gaza have turned into numb robots who are always judged, attacked and bossed around by every other country\nation.
We are asked to topple Hamas. What then? Settle with the PA? No, topple the PA too. Ok, but don’t forget that our main concern is ending the occupation. Yeah, we are expected to also topple the occupation. Wait, so we should end the internal Palestinian division, then topple both factions, then free Palestine? All that while we are hated, judged and attacked by the Egyptian media on a daily basis, which is starting to affect the Egyptian people who are now hating on those who live in Gaza, only because Hamas rules Gaza. Hmmm, collective punishment comes to my mind here, similar to Israel’s way in dealing with Palestinians. Interesting.

Oh, and let’s not forget how we are always judged by the international community. Every Palestinian living in Gaza is considered to be a Hamas member (terrorist) just because it’s the ruling regime, even those who didn’t vote for Hamas, which is highly and very inaccurate and wrong. Nearly two million people reside in Gaza, how is it fair to assume that all of them are Hamas?

As if Gaza isn’t separated enough from the West Bank, and we already feel the internal division and Israeli siege and separation, you have those who live comfortably and safely in their homes abroad and yet sit behind a screen to tell you that Gaza isn’t occupied. Yeah, Israel withdrew, ok, but Israel has a siege imposed and attacks Gaza whenever they have free time or extra fuel. Whatever you say, those people wont change their minds, they don’t know the kind of life you are living.

The US promises and swears to always be Fidus Achates with Israel. Hence AIPAC and all the Israeli domination and prominence. But who will support Palestinians if they aren’t even capable of supporting themselves or each others?

Lets put all that aside for a minute. Lets analyze the daily life here. Due to the high poverty and unemployment rates, people are occupied by making a living. If I had to pick one thing that stands out as the main common factor between Palestinians here in Gaza, or in Palestine, its going to be "HARD WORK". Yes, they just want to earn a living, no matter what it takes.

Rich, middle class, poor and homeless people are always busy making a living or thinking of ways to secure money and put food on the table even if its through street begging. Yes, even rich people here aren’t safe. Plus, those who actually afford to “live a little” rarely do because they are either afraid of the future or feeling guilty. Guilt springs from the horrible situation that explodes by the minute and its all before your eyes.

We are\were slowly trained to adjust to any living situation, no matter how bad it gets. Guinea pigs? Yes. We are opened to any situation. You might think it’s a positive thing, but if you don’t grasp the seriousness of this issue and how dangerous it is, then you’ll never get it. It’s the main reason behind us settling with being mediocre and thinking its okay. Well, its not okay.

We go through daily power outages, 8-12 hours cut, and that’s during the good days. We went through three weeks of no electricity during Israel’s first full-blown war on Gaza. Our sea is polluted with sewage water, so the water is also polluted. You can put two and two together and imagine how all of this highly affects and complicates every aspect of life.

Those who appreciate the beauty and nature of Gaza, or love the “Arts” and decide to defy their families and society by choosing such an understated field that generates no money, are usually ridiculed or accused of living in denial. You find yourself lost between feeling guilty of being hopeful and seeing the bright side, instead of being obsessed 24\7 with the ugliness of the details of life here. God forbid you say Gaza is beautiful, people will say you have gone mad. Even you, in your own mind, you scold yourself for believing in the obvious yet ignoring the common dark side of this same obviousness.

We are resilient. Life doesn’t stop here. But we don’t realize how much we are paying for this resilience. A very high price, in such a harsh era we live in. We are losing our humanity. We are becoming rude, inconsiderate and cutthroat. I wish this was a desultory fact, but it isn’t. We are detaching and becoming despondent. We are becoming less human and more animal-like who are only bothered by surviving in the forest.

If you yearn for a normal life in Gaza, you are in big trouble. Life can never be normal here, and if you try and live a normal life, you’ll be abnormal. People will judge you and make you feel less patriotic or passionate about your country. If you ever craved traveling for vacation, forget it, both Erez and Rafah are journeys from hell, assuming ofcourse you were lucky enough to have 10 miracles that might secure you a chance of exit.

If you yearn to Jerusalem, then wait till you are 50, or till you are very sick or you are blessed with a good job at one of Gaza’s many useless NGO’s who milk the Palestinian cause and launch huge donation campaigns with no real effect on ground. Or else, Israel won’t let you past Erez.
If you have best friends in the West Bank, then plan a meeting in any country but Palestine, for a chance to see them, only if Egypt has Rafah opened and you are okay with humiliation and being treated like a herd of sheep.

If you live in Gaza and you want to excel, then good luck and may God be on your side. With very few opportunities around, little resources and no major organization to support you, the competition is really high, like really really high and super tough, cutthroat. You have to shine brighter than the sun to be recognized.

If you live in Gaza, you realize that you CAN NOT live in it and you CAN NOT live out of it. When you are in, you will yearn to go out, and when you are out you will die to get back in to your family and your land. You are destined to a polarizing life. You are required to master the art of survival.

If you live in Gaza, you should smile and move on, but hold on very tightly to your humanity and everything that makes you the way you are. Live, love, be happy and be sad. See the obvious, with all its colors\shades\sides. Try to be a bit normal, but be clever enough to recognize that you will never be completely normal. Be humane, be you and be strong. Lets survive, without turning our surroundings into a jungle. Lets keep dreaming of a better world.

With love,
Omar Ghraieb

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Samer Issawi is free, renewed belief in popular & nonviolent resistance

Samer Issawi is free, renewed belief in popular & nonviolent resistance

Gaza, December 25, Samer Tariq Issawi, born December 16, 1979 in Issawiyeh, north east of Jerusalem, is a Palestinian iconic hero of nonviolent resistance. On 15 April 2002, Samer was arrested by the Israeli army in Ramallah as part of “Operation Defensive Shield” during the Second Intifada alleging he was affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Nearly 10 years later, in October 2011, Issawi, then serving the ninth year of a 30-year jail sentence, he was released along with 1027 Palestinian prisoners as a result of an Egypt-brokered deal between Hamas and the Israeli government for the return of Gilad Shalit, Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas on Gaza’s borderline. However, on 7 July 2012, he was arrested again.  His lawyer Andre Rosenthal stated that he had been taking his car to be fixed at a garage in the West Bank.

He was convicted of an 8 months sentence so he went on an open hunger strike since August, 2012.

Palestinian political prisoner and resistance icon Samer Issawi was released on Monday after spending over 17 months in the Israeli occupation detention centre Shatta Prison.
"Samer Issawi's family was ordered by Israeli terror police earlier today not to celebrate and to take down the flags raised at their home," according to The Free Samer Issawi Campaign page on Facebook.

Issawi ended his 265+ day long hunger strike on 23, April 2013 after accepting a deal brokered by Israeli and Palestinian officials to serve eight months on charges of violating bail conditions for an earlier release.

The law, which has been in place since the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948, allows for the arrest of Palestinians if they are deemed a "threat" to Israel's national security.
 Palestinian hunger strikes have posed a new challenge to the Israeli government, which has come under international criticism for its practice of detaining prisoners without trial.

Samer endured hell from his warders happen to be the occupiers of his land. They tried every possible physical and mental torture strategies to stop him from hunger striking but they failed. He stayed strong, he represented steadfastness and preferred death than giving in to injustice.
Samer said it loudly to the Electronic Intifada: “ I would prefer to die on my hospital bed to being deported from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is my soul and my life”, and he meant every word. He defied occupation with nothing but an empty stomach and won, he never compromised. They offered him a deal of being released and exiled to Gaza, he refused, he insisted on returning back home to Jerusalem and he got what he wanted. His defiance gave hope to the Palestinian masses inside and out of Palestine, he reignited the spark of popular resistance and proved that nonviolent resistance actually works. His release inspired festivities and celebrations across Palestine.

Samer’s family got popular too, they showed the same defiance when they talked to the media but the rising star was his sister Shireen Issawi, who represented the strength of Palestinian women. Shireen never gave up, she fought viciously for her brother on social media and stood by him every step of the way. Shireen became a role model and a symbol of strength and endurance, just like her brother.
Medhat Issawi, brother of Samer Issawi, was released only a few days before Samer after spending nearly 20 years off and on in Israeli jails for participating in protests and intifadas.

It was definitely a happy day for Palestine and a historic one nonetheless. Gaza united with the West bank and was anxiously waiting for Samer’s release. It was a national celebration and Gazans made sure they are a part of it and sent their love and support to the Issawi family even though many couldn’t track his release through live coverage due to daily power outages.

Samer Issawi is free, Palestine will be free.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Christmas Eve: Israel attacks Gaza, 1 child dead

On Christmas Eve: Israel attacks Gaza, 1 child dead

Gaza, December 24, As Bethlehem gets ready for Christmas eve, Israel attacks Gaza killing one child and injuring nine others. Israeli tanks, un unison with Israeli drones and F16s, carried out 15 attacks across Gaza targeting Western, Eastern, Southern and Northern areas in two hours.

Homes, camps, training sites and free zones were among the targeted places. Israeli shelling on Maghazi camp, Southern Gaza, caused the death of Hala Abu Sbeikh, 3 and a half year old. Hala’s mother and brother got badly injured too. Nine got injured, four of them are children, during the attacks.

As Christians celebrate Christmas around the world, Gaza’s Christians are terrorized by heavy Israeli attacks on Gaza. Ho Ho Boom, Have a Merry Safe Christmas.

That’s life in occupied Palestine, thanks to the Israeli occupation.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Gaza's 1st lion cubs die after 3 days of birth

A Different Roar in Gaza

Written by: Omar Ghraieb

This week, the Gaza Strip witnessed the unprecedented birth of two African lion cubs at the Beesan Zoo, a facility in the northern part of the densely populated Strip that was built and opened by the Islamist Hamas movement. But just three days later, the cubs died, from unknown causes.

The mother lioness, who was discovered to be pregnant nearly six months ago, received extensive medical care, including vaccines, vitamins and good nutrition, before delivering the cubs naturally.

“Immediately after their birth, both cubs were moved into a warmer room to get the necessary care and they were regularly checked by a professional team of local veterinarians,” Shadi Hamad, general manager of the zoo, told The Media Line. “We called the cubs ‘Fajr’ and ‘Sijeel’ -- ‘Fajr’ after Hamas’s Fajr 5 rocket that was launched into Israel during the second war on Gaza, and ‘Sijeel’ after the name that Hamas decided to call the second war on the Strip that took place in November of 2012.”

Sijeel is also mentioned in the Qur’an as fiery rocks that rain down on unbelievers.
The birth of the cubs had taken Gaza by storm, with their pictures going viral on social media. Palestinians say it’s nice to have some good news out of the area that is better known as the site of heavy clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The lioness got pregnant one year ago but suffered a miscarriage during ‘Pillar of Defense’ in November of 2012,” explained Nahed Al-Majdoob, head of security at Beesan Zoo, referring to an eight-day military incursion in Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces with hundreds of Israeli air strikes on Gaza. Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities. “She suffered psychologically, which affected her physically.”

The parents of the cubs are the only lions in Gaza. They were smuggled in from Egypt four years ago, when they were only three months old, through the Rafah tunnels, which previously existed on the border between the Palestinian territory and Egypt. The Egyptian and Israeli armies have since destroyed most of these smuggling tunnels.

“They suffered at first because they were accustomed to the tropical weather of Africa, their origin, while Gaza has a cold winter,” Hamad said. “But they survived.”

The new cubs, too, had to be warmed due to the current cold temperatures in northern Gaza.

“The zoo isn’t well equipped to raise two cubs,” Al-Majdoob told The Media Line. “Therefore, the Hamas Ministry of Health employed a team of professional local vets to track the health of the cubs and their medical care.”
Gaza’s three small zoos include apes, monkeys, parrots, lions, snakes, ostriches, various kinds of birds and chickens.

Mohammed Jumua owned a small zoo that was completely destroyed by an Israeli rocket in 2008.

“I lost everything,” Jumua told The Media Line. “Most of my animals died. I paid extra to get the animals smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. My collateral damage reached half a million dollars. I was devastated and broke.”

Dr. Saud Shawa, owner and founder of Vetco, Gaza’s first veterinary services center and clinic, said that Gaza doesn’t have the proper capabilities to raise cubs or lions. He predicted that if not done carefully and correctly, the lions could die or become dangerous. His prediction came true three days later.

“Cubs need special care, vaccines, nutrition and vitamins. Not all of them are available in Gaza,” Dr. Shawa told The Media Line. “Raising lions isn’t easy and needs to be done professionally and safely based on a background and knowledge of that tropical world.”

First appeared on: The Media Line

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why I’m happy ‘5 broken cameras’ didn’t win Oscar - Review

Why I’m happy ‘5 broken cameras’ didn’t win Oscar - Review

Gaza, April 29, ‘Five Broken Cameras’ is an award-winning documentary  (94 minutes) that was directed and created  by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. It’s also an Academy Award nominee for “Best Documentary feature”. The plot is a mere adaptation of reality. Its about a portion of a Palestinian farmer’s life, Emad burnat, and his nonviolent resistance against occupation and oppression which leads to the damage of five cameras. Emad never stops filming even after getting shot, being arrested and facing a lethal accident that left him with serious injuries that took a long while to heal. But will his emotional scars ever heal?

Its important that Palestine was represented at the Oscars this year, although our existence doesn’t need any further proof. Most predicted that the documentary wont win, but its participation was enough.

I’m happy that the documentary didn’t win an Academy Award because it deserves more, its beyond Oscar winning. If it won an Oscar it will be known as the Palestinian Documentary that won an Oscar, which in my opinion is very limiting and handicapping, this documentary held the plight of the Palestinian people and their devotion for peace, freedom and resistance. Its better be known as the documentary that told a huge part of the Palestinian story from a native narrative. Its larger than any award it can ever win.

‘Five Broken Cameras’ won the “World Cinema Directing” award on the category of Documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival, and the “Special Jury and Audience” award at IDFA Film Festival. It was described by The New York Times as “A moving and rigorous work of art”.

You would think 94 minutes are too long but not in this case. I sailed through those long minutes very smoothly yet very emotionally provoked by the organic, real and raw material. It’s a very colorful documentary, lets not forget that black is also a color.

Its narrated by Emad Burnat, who is also one of the directors and the one who took most of  the footage since this revolves around his family, his struggle, his village and his friends. Emad is a self-taught cameraman who found in filming a passion and a way of resistance, nonviolent resistance.

It starts with the birth of Gibreel, Emad’s fourth son, in 2005, Emad gets his first Camera. Gibreel comes with the spark of popular nonviolent resistance in the form of peaceful unarmed protests against the separation wall and the gobbling of Palestinian lands by violent and vicious Israeli settlers who are always backed by the Israeli police and army.

Emad takes us through his first-hand accounts of the gathering and organizing of the nonviolent protests that happen each week in the West Bank and gives justice for the Israeli and foreign activists who help Palestinians a great deal in this peaceful resistance. Many of them have died and got seriously injured by the Israeli Army but they are always there to help Palestinians.

The documentary pinpoints many other crucial issues that the mainstream media tends to neglect:
1-      Palestinian women and the importance of their role in the society.
2-      Children arrests that are usually done by the Israeli army at night, dragging little kids out of their beds (not shown in the documentary, only the arrests are shown).
3-      How vicious and violent the Israeli military is, and how they can arrest anyone unrightfully.
4-      How vicious the Israeli settlers can be, and how violent, especially when backed by the Israeli military.
5-      The amount of teargas that Israel uses against civilians protesting nonviolently is like pouring rain, teargas is very dangerous and suffocating, and if the canister hit the body directly it can cause death.
6-      How the Israeli military jeeps are always around in the West Bank.
7-      How united Palestinians are in both Gaza and the West bank despite the political separation.
8-      How selfless Israeli and foreign activists are, they endanger their lives to protest peacefully side by side with the Palestinians and always pay a high price for it by either being killed or injured or deported.

Perhaps one of the most shocking and frightening scenes was when Bassem Abu Rahmah’s brother gets arrested by the Israeli army, they blindfold him and then shoot him in the leg on a very close range. The documentary included many chilling scenes like the weekly protests and how violent they can get, Emad’s lethal accident that leaves him nearly dead and the arrest of little children and how devastated their mothers would be.

But the most chilling, horrifying and most devastating scene is when Bassem Abu Rahmah gets shot directly in the head and chest with a teargas canister by an Israeli soldier and dies nearly instantly. I lost my breath. The ambiance that you feel whenever the scenes included Bassem was happy and smiley and hopeful. Children loved him and he was always smiling, singing and spreading hope. He was never violent or armed, they killed him when he was shouting “You just shot an Israeli girl”, he was trying to save the Israeli activist. His death shocked the whole village and everyone participated in his funeral.

The documentary is filled with a mixture of happy and sad moments, not really ambiguous, just the contradictions of real life that we all pass through, sometimes on a daily basis. I will be contacting both Guy and Emad for a possible screening and appearance in Gaza, hoping that this will shorten the gap between Gaza and the West Bank.

The documentary offers a native narrative and personal accounts not just a perspective. Its very raw, real and revolutionary. Its shows, even if on a small scale, the Palestinian determination and their defiance of oppression and occupation. Nonviolent resistance has been a trending method in Palestine adopted by many people and backed by international activists.

This documentary turns the Palestinian life from a number or a name into a story and an existence. Emad keeps the camera rolling even during his most intimate moments, he shows us his family and home, he shares his friends with us and fights against occupation with a camera, or shall I say Six cameras? Each Camera has its own story and marks a phase in Emad’s life.

The documentary ends with a promise (or a pledge) made by Emad to keep filming no matter what it takes, which resembles and the fight of Palestinians against occupation which also continues no matter what it takes.

The Audio bridge was on point. Le Trio Jubran’s music made the documentary even more chilling and supported the narration and the events very well.

'Five Broken Cameras' generated a huge media buzz, specially in the US. Many interviews conducted with the directors and many articles tackled different sides of it whether its the production or the funding or the experience. The documentary even made it on HBO's "Veep", a television comedy series. It was mentioned in a provocative way, it sparked a controversy that  many stood with and against, watch the segment here:

In conclusion, ‘Five Broken Cameras’ is a must watch, see it for yourself and tell me what you think. You can watch it online here: 

And if you are interested in a more detailed look into the pre and post production info, budget and filming, you can check: 

Peace and love,

Omar from Gaza