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Monday, October 29, 2012



Pic by MiralKhan on Devian Art

P.S. This post is too long, sorry for that. Keep in mind my observations happened in 3-4 days & I only saw 1% of Egypt so forgive my narrow perspective and enjoy.        

Gaza, October 29, I will start this blog post about Egypt by a tweet I replied with to a question that was directed to me about Egypt. "Egypt was a million explosive things hidden underneath a weaved blanket of so many overwhelming emotions.  It was like leaving the love of your life to go meet a long lost lover."
“(Egypt) is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust.”
― Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour

It was like an out-of-body experience. Leaving Gaza was pretty easy, yes I had to wait for 4-5 hours but I actually crossed the Palestinian and Egyptian border and was ready to jump onto the cab ride to Cairo that usually takes 4-5 hours, unlike many guys whom I witnessed being asked to head back to Gaza for different reasons. The mission-impossible is a mission-accomplished now.

At first we passed through Egyptian Rafah, an identical twin to the Palestinian Rafah. The houses, the shops, the people and the sand. Everything is alike. I felt like we were still in Gaza. Then, we passed through Al Arish, it has the Gaza vibe until you start witnessing the very tall, fancy, schmancy and huge hotels and sports clubs. Then comes Sinai desert. Miles and miles of endless luscious silky sand that you feel like diving in or covering your body with. Then you pass through different areas until you reach "Ismailia". It immediately brought back flashbacks of "Deir El Balah" in Gaza. Tall and arrogant palm trees. Allot of planted lands. A few pedestrians walking by. 

I was captivated and taken aback with everything my eyes are trying to absorb and fathom to the extent that I decided not to take pictures. I wanted to take photographic memories with my eyes instead, and then come here and describe what I saw and felt instead of sharing pictures.
Then, reality starts kicking in. "I am out of Gaza", I murmured to myself. I was overwhelmed with so many feelings. I felt triumph for making it to Egypt after defying all the odds and realities that were telling me how impossible reaching Egypt or NYC will be. But at the same time something weird was happening, I felt like a drug addict, like Gaza was slowly withdrawing from my system. I instantly got sad and felt like air is abandoning my body. Then I felt like a fish, a fish that was taken out of water, it was nice sneak-peaking outside the tank, but I wanted to return to Gaza right there and then.

"Omar, you are on a mission, remember?! Hang in there. You are doing this for yourself and for numerous other Gazan girls and guys who will be in your shoes one day", I tried desperately to inject some sense into myself. I calmed down.

We passed through streets of an area that had only huge factories. Huge companies, huge factories and huge smokestacks gushing thick grey pieces of smoke that looks like a staying-still pieces of fluffy cotton candy. I got sad. I remembered the area in Gaza that is filled with factories, factories that no longer work because of the Israeli bombardment and\or siege. It hit me right there and then, an indubitable fact: Egypt is a country, a huge country, Gaza isn’t a country and its very tiny in comparison to Egypt.

More time was passing and I never wasted a minute. I observed and absorbed everything in the scope of my human abilities. I then reached a point of observing things while my mind is wandering on a black horse.
We started reaching Cairo and I felt a tingle in my throat and a jingle in my heart. It was getting dark. My dear "SUN" was accompanying me all the way until she got tired and decided to go sleep; she was wearing such a recherché orange glowing dress. Sunset in Egypt was beautiful, I know sunsets everywhere are alike, but I have to admit that the sunset in Gaza is much more beautiful, tender, rich, and the colors are more harmonious.

Darkness didn’t stop Cairo from preserving its assiduousness. Big banners, flashy lights everywhere, wide streets and vibrant colorful vibes that penetrates the darkness of the night. The only difference between day and night in Egypt is the sun. The atmosphere doesn’t change much. Oh, and the weather becomes amazing at night. The Nile was very flirtatious, sexy and arrogant. Many loud vessels (of different shapes and sizes) were cruising around in the Nile but the most beautiful scene was how the surrounding lights were reflecting on the Nile's surface creating a 3rd dimensional painting.

A new day has come. Sun started slowly pouring light and pumping it into Cairo. I was in awe. Cairo turns into a beehive in the morning, traffic in a constant rush-hour, people riding cars or walking to work\school\university, you can just feel how energetic the atmosphere around you is.
Cairo has many bridges; it’s a clever way to connect different roads and areas. Bridges is a new experience for me; it just goes to show how big of a city Cairo is.

Have you ever been spoken to by buildings? I am not peddling minutiae here, I am serious. I don’t know if people notice that, but the buildings in Cairo are so corpulent and they ooze a freedom that is crowned by independence. Buildings in Egypt asseverate a very obvious fact: Egypt is an independent, strong and solid country. Governmental buildings are colossal. Museums are huge. Malls are huge. Companies are huge. Shops are huge. Streets are huge. Supermarkets are huge. Everything is just humongous. In a way, I wish we had this confidence in Gaza, but I wouldn’t deny that this made me miss how cozy and warm Gaza is, with its small streets and small buildings.

I passed through "Abdeen", its very Egyptian and vivid. Shops, people walking, cars and busy streets. I stayed at "Zamalek", I have to say that its one of Egypt's most charming and classy neighborhoods, and its so quiet. The streets are beautiful, trees are everywhere. You can easily find shops, bakeries, restaurants, pharmacies, hotels and every other thing you are looking for. Zamalek has a special vibe of its own. My only problem with Zamalek was how similar its streets are.

I also passed through "Al-Ma'adi", a very upscale Egyptian neighborhood that is very classy and charming also. Although its very similar to Zamalek, it still has its own vibe.

Cairo's downtown is unbelievable and impeccable. It’s the perfect marriage of local stores and international brands. You will find everything you are looking for. The famous "Madbooli" bookstore is located in the heart of Cairo's downtown, it’s a great place for people who likes to treasure-hunt Arabic books. Streets and streets of all kinds of shops, boutiques, restaurants, banks, bakeries, pharmacies, shoes stores and much much much more. It reminded me of Beirut's downtown and Gaza's downtown too. People were walking in every direction you can think of. An aspiring artist was displaying his work on the street, they were truly impressive.

You would think that the weather in Cairo would be atrocious, on the contrary, it wasn’t very different from Gaza, very hot in the day and easy breezy in the night. I didn’t notice a difference and I wasn’t bothered at all.

The most interesting street was the street that homed "The Cultural Wheel" or "Sa2yet El Sawi". When we passed next to it my heart jumped out of my chest and I flashed a huge smile. I turned into a 5-year old who was approaching a candy store. It looked so big from the outside, and so sexy. I didn’t have time to get in there but passing next to it alone flew me to cloud nine. I was high on ecstasy. But I wasn’t even prepared to what was about to happen.

Have you heard of "Diwan" bookstore in Egypt? I am sure many of you know it. I knew it too but I forgot all about it until the awesome cab driver blurted, "I heard you were looking for English books and got disappointed when you didn’t find any at Madbooli's. Would you like to check Diwan bookstore?". I was electrocuted with emotions. At first, I was disappointed with myself for forgetting about Diwan bookstore but then I remembered that everything was happening too fast. Then, I was jumping with excitement. I found myself saying to the cab drive: "YES, YES, YES". I proved to the world that just like Herbal Essence Shampoo can give you an orgasmic shower (per to their advertisement), bookstores can make you sound like you were having an orgasm. I would have turned to a red tomato of embarrassment but I was nonchalant, I was too excited for "Diwan" bookstore.

"OMG, I died and was sent to heaven", "No wait, its like a candy store", "hallelujah", " I am in love", I kept murmuring things to myself. My only regret was that I had not much time to look around and boy I wanted to spend half of my life there. I started sifting through the aisles and bookshelves while I overwhelm the poor employee there with a thousand question about a thousand books at the same time. It was an unforgettable hour.

I found so many books, some I read and others were on my wishlist. I discovered many new authors and amazing new books. I tried to process everything I was seeing. I bought a few books and exited leaving my heart there. I will definitely be visiting them the next time I am in Cairo.
If you are planning to visit Cairo soon and you are a reading geek like me, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE check Diwan bookstore, here is their website:

We passed through a cozy restaurant called "Maison Thomas" which basically specializes in Pizza. The name might sound British but the ambiance was definitely Italian. Its like you were strolling through Venice.
I happened to pass through Tahrir Sq. so many times and every time it happens I turn into a superman. I become happy, and confident and free. It looks and feels so familiar and it illustrates hard work. I became friends with Tahrir Sq. but I definitely need to spend some time there next time. "El Midan" and "El Tahrir" people call it there and I found myself talking about it like an Egyptian, I even was bragging about it giving the sense that my father owned it (LOL).

I met two cab drivers during this short trip. Abo yousef, such a gentleman, he was very respectful and very well awared of everything in Egypt. He was the perfect blend of a modern man yet he was very keen on holding onto his roots. He even became more amazing when he knew I was Palestinian. He liked how I spoke the Egyptian dialect so well but he said I don’t look like an Egyptian (the story of my life, people think I am a foreigner when I am in Gaza, even in Egypt I can't fake being an Arab). Abo yousef was very spontaneous and he feared god in a very respectful way, he was very funny and entertaining. But he kinda lost me when he wanted to impress me but putting on some new trendy cheap music that everyone is listening to in the streets, especially youngsters.

Abu Gooda, he was great, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I did with Abo Yousef. But Abu Gooda was also very respectful and kind and helpful and he was the one who suggested Diwan bookstores and immediately became my favorite (I know I am biased).

Egyptians. Ah, I don’t know how to express my love and respect to Egyptians. I didn’t meet a single rude Egyptian (aside from the window 6 girl at the US Embassy in Cairo). Everyone was sweet, kind, respectful, helpful, smiley, considerate and caring. They even took their sweetness up a notch whenever they knew I was Palestinian. They truly love Palestine and Palestinians with all their heart. I admit, Cairo intimidated me with how big it is but I never felt like I was a stranger because people were so warm there.
Egyptians walked with confidence, like a nation that ignited a revolution, a revolution that changed the whole Arab world. I loved watching how confident and free Egyptians are. They speak freely –whether pro or against Mubarak or Morsi or any other political party or politicians-, they walk freely and they express themselves in an amazingly emancipated way that left me in awe.

I love watching graffiti but I have to say that Egyptians took graffiti into a whole new level. I saw endless kinds of graffiti holding so many different and sometimes contrasting messages. Most of the graffiti was against Mubarak's toppled regime and the new Ikhwan regime. Graffiti work was so bold and brave. Some Graffiti work was against the police and was placed on the walls of the military police headquarters. Some Graffiti work was hilarious with the painted characters and funny messages, this left me cachinnating heartily. Also many Graffiti had some heartfelt messages about the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution.

Poverty is an epidemic that is eroding Egypt's lowest class and its very visible even in Egypt's upscale and upper class areas and neighborhoods. But, in contrary to what we hear on TV, I noticed all three classes in Egypt: Upper, middle and lower. Unlike Gaza, which is slowly becoming a two-classed impoverished coastal enclave with only the upper and lower classes being obviously visible recently.

I haven’t had local Egyptian food this time but I did before and I have to say I am addicted to the Egyptian Kushari. It’s a very simple yet delicious meal that leaves you very full, satisfied and pleasured.

I also noticed how modernized and westernized Cairo is becoming but I am not worried because I believe Egyptians are very glued to their roots, or so I would like to believe. I think the revolution played a role in bringing Egyptians closer to Egypt.

After living the Egyptian revolution through TV and Twitter, I considered myself half Egyptian and I felt like I was a part o the revolution. I wasn’t at tahrir sq. but my soul was definitely there. I was glued to the TV, I didn’t sleep, I tweeted like a mad person and I genuinely cared. I mourned the Egyptian martyrs, I rejoiced the victories and I even thought of Egypt as an Egyptian. But in Egypt I became more Palestinian. I envied Egypt and I wished that one day I get to have an independent free country that is strong as Egypt. Egyptians' love for Palestine also kept the flame of Palestine very well lit inside of me. I felt a responsibility because I was representing my people.

Egypt had many things in common with Gaza but perhaps one of them was the huge number of foreigners who are living in or visiting the country. The only difference is that Egypt even had allot of Arab nationalities either vacationing or studying or staying there because of journalism.  I was impressed to see how easy everyone was acting, they were acting like they were at home and I am not surprised because I had the same feeling.

We hear allot about how unsafe Egypt, Cairo, Sinai and El Arish are but I found the contrary. Egypt was so very safe and peaceful that helps you be at peace. The country is very safe and the people are so warm, friendly, kind and helpful that you rarely feel alarmed.

I fell in love with Egypt, and it helped me love Palestine even more.

I saw so many international and Arabic cities in Cairo. It had the dynamicity of New York, the vivid nightlife of Lebanon, the charming and cozy atmosphere of Venice, the shopping splurge of Paris and much more. Cairo has many sides to it, which basically suites everyone no matter what his\her taste is.
I didn’t experience any power outages during my stay in Cairo but what I witnessed is the fuel crisis that was majorly affecting everyone. I saw endless lines of cars waiting anxiously infront of fuel stations dreaming of a chance to fill their tanks, a scene that isn’t strange to me since I see it allot here in Gaza.

Egypt isn’t perfect. I think of it as a paragon of beauty. Yes, there is many downsides but I think the positives over power the negatives of Egypt, or so I would like to believe. Perhaps a few of the observed negatives are:
1-     How expensive Egypt has became. I mean the prices are skyrocketing. Everything is very overly priced to an extent that left me in mere shock.
2-     How cab drivers and some shop owners tend to exaggerate or increase the price of stuff just because you are a foreigner.
3-     The smothering traffic that leaves you tired and angry.
4-     The widely spread beggars across Egypt. They will stay after you till a miracle shows up and rescues you.
5-     Some streets are dirty, which is a shame because most of the streets are clean and awesome.
And one of Cairo's biggest advantage or upside is how they master customer service. If you are paying money then they will make sure you are highly respected and you will get the best service out there no matter what they have to do to achieve that. I was jealous of that. I wished Gaza could learn a bit from them when it comes to customer service. They master public relations also, something that Gaza doesn’t master at all.

Every Palestinian will tell you: "we don’t live in Palestine, Palestine lives in us". Palestine is inherent. But Egypt is inherent too in a way. It leaves things inside you when you leave it, a residue of pure passion and nostalgia. Palestine is my homeland that lives inside me, Egypt too left a print or an impression inside me.

Hate it or love it, hate to love it or love to hate it, you can't deny that Egypt is a country that has a large magnitude. The oldest and biggest civilization and the most interesting history. If you don’t feel a positive eeriness when you are in Egypt, I feel like you would be disrespecting the greatness of Egypt.

I miss Egypt so much. I can't wait to head back to Cairo this week, and I will do everything in my power to return to Zamalek neighborhood because I truly miss it. I hope I get to meet my friends there this time because last time I had no time to do that which left me depressed and left them sad.  

"Egypt is the mother of the world", an expression that is very correct. If you happened to be puzzled about why that might be, here is a few reasons: Egypt is the first country to use alphabets to write. Long texts were written in Egypt since the first intermediate period that is between the old and middle Kingdoms. In Egypt the first building using stones was built, that is the step pyramid in Sakara. The famous Pythagoras theory of a right angled triangle was used by the architect of Cheops at the ceilings of the funerary chamber at the Cheops pyramid more than 2 thousand years before Pythagoras was born.  Astronomy, chemistry, fine architecture, art, religion, jewelry, carpentry, mathematics, perfumes, needles for sewing, carving stones, first folding bed for camping - it belongs to Tut Ankh Amun-, first folding chair for the beach of the same King, first condom of him too, first paper to write that is the papyrus paper, first eye makeup, shaving tools, beds and chairs like modern ones, all these and more are Egyptian inventions.

I was asking myself If I was perplexed by a paradox of falling in love with Egypt while breathing Palestine. The answer was: NO. Palestine is my love and passion but Egypt is a country that I love and respect too. Nothing is wrong with that.

Dear Egypt, I am coming back soon. I hope you missed me as much as I missed you and your piquant taste.

Omar from Gaza

Friday, October 26, 2012

4m Gaza to NYC: 4m Gaza to Cairo & back

4m Gaza to NYC: 4m Gaza to Cairo & back

Pic taken at the hotel, showing Africa on the Globe

Gaza, October 26, hmmm where should I start from? Ok, so after losing any hope of doing my US Visa interview in Jerusalem due to Israeli hindrance I shifted all my efforts to Egypt. US Embassy in Egypt gave me an appointment on November 13th, which is 10 days after my assigned date of being in NYC. After emailing the US Embassy in Cairo expressing the urgency of having an appointment ASAP and attaching the UN invitation, I got an email from the embassy on the afternoon of October 18th saying I have a special appointment on October 21st.

I had only two days to fathom this. I headed to Cairo on October 20th and things were going relatively easy. We reached the Egyptian border very fast. Fewer than 20 persons were leaving Gaza that day so the border was empty until it was crowded by endless flocks of pilgrims heading to Mecca. My sister was the only female. We waited anxiously while I was watching nervously 90% of the guys being asked to head back to Gaza for not having a strong reason to reach Cairo. One of them had medical reports.

I thought my turn will come. I will be rejected and asked to head back home. But after hours and hours of waiting, I was asked to an interview with the Egyptian intelligence office at the Egyptian border. They were very respectful and cooperative. He let me through after he saw my UN invitation.

My journey to Cairo began with a long 5 hours ride from Egyptian Rafah to Cairo. It felt weird, overwhelming and I felt like a fish that is being taken out of water as the distance between us and Gaza grew.
I reached Cairo at night. We checked in at the hotel and I started getting nervous about my appointment at the US Embassy in Cairo the second day. 

I woke up early and head to the embassy 1 hour prior to my special appointment to find lines of people waiting entry to the embassy. I freaked out and nearly danced in the cab. I showed my email from the embassy saying I have a special appointment, the guards checked if my name is on a list they had, then motioned to me to enter after they found my name.

Security procedures were strict.  I had deodorant in my handbag and it kind of set the biggest alarm. I was asked to take it out and spray it on my hand. We then waited for a few minutes to check for any reactions on the skin, when nothing happened, I was granted entry. I went through all the regular routine, I waited for an hour and then my time came. I was asked to go to window 6. I went with a smile, I was being super polite but I was treated so poorly by a girl who had a constant frown on her face. She seemed like she hated her job, when I asked her, "Why are you upset and treating me with hatred?", she replied that she is just doing her job.

I didn’t have an original receipt of the paid Visa fees since Nusair (An amazing Egyptian brother and friend) did it to me and I had no time to go get it from him before I headed to the Embassy. I was asked to immediately leave and never come back before I get it. I asked her if there is someone else I can talk to, she talked to a lady on window 7 who claims to be the manager of the office. They were discussing my issue while laughing. Lady on window 7 said she is the manager and she cant do anything without the original receipt, a copy wont help.

"Look, we do our best to help "you" (people coming from Gaza) but we aren’t obliged to surpass common procedures for you. What goes on everyone, goes on you, you aren’t special. Go get the receipt then we can talk," lady on window 7 said in way that made me feel like she is superior while I am inferior just because I come from Gaza.

I left the embassy and headed to Nusair's house to get the original receipt then headed back to the embassy. It took two hours and I didn’t get to see Nusair after that. They made me go through everything once again and wait for more hours until I finally had my interview with the counselor after waiting, fixing every wrong thing you can ever happen and jumping every obstacle that was placed infront of me.

I decided not to judge the US Embassy in Cairo just because of an angry girl. Lady on window 7 was very sweet and friendly at the end. The consular was new and she was also very friendly and sweet. She chatted and asked questions to confirm the info on my US Visa application. The system went down a few times and many small but frustrating things happened but at the end I was approved. But the down side of being from Gaza is that you have to wait for a week or more to get the final approval. Then you will have to wait for another week or 10 days for the DHL delivery.

I told the consular that I cant afford all that time. I explained how important this is to me, my aim isn’t just to make to NYC for the UN media training, my aim is to give Gazan youth hope and motivation to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles they had to leap over. I wanted to show Gazans that nothing is impossible if you put your mind and heart into it. She sympathized and asked everybody if she could help, but she cant, it’s a common procedure.

I felt defeated. I tasted failure and desperation. I felt like I betrayed Gaza's youth. I headed back to the hotel and informed the UN about everything and told them that I will be heading home. They asked me to sit tight for an additional day so they can intervene.

I headed back to Gaza on October 25th after guarantees from the UN that everything will work out. But in reality, no one can guarantee anything. This is your life if you live in Gaza. You live in mere uncertainty, nothing is guaranteed even when they are guaranteed.
If you live in Gaza, your future is a mystery, tomorrow is a surprise, uncertainty is a lifestyle and guarantees are built on shaky grounds.

Due to Qatari Emir's visit, Rafah border closed on October 23rd so nobody crossed. Gazans piled up and hundreds of Gazans headed back home on the 24th. Myself and my sister were among them. It was so crowded. We were pushed, shoved, hit, smacked, spat on, stepped on, humiliated, tortured and subjected to endless hours of waiting and standing. At first I blamed Gazans for not being organized. Then, I blamed the Egyptian border patrol for not being organized or able to control all of us in a civilized way. Then, I discovered that the problem is in actually both parties. Egyptian patrol didn’t know how to handle us and actually treated us like a 2nd degree species and we didn’t help them or each other instead we made things more complicated by being selfish, inconsiderate and reckless.

I couldn’t feel any happier or exhausted when I entered Gaza. Now, I have to head back to Cairo in a few days and soon head to NYC although till this second I have no guarantees that it will happen in time.
I try to not take the easy road, ever, because taking the hard road always pays off. I am still fighting and I will keep fighting until I make this trip and prove to Gazans that we can break the siege and leave for better education\training no matter how impossible it may sounds.

Will I make it to NYC or not? We would know soon for sure. I have passed a long journey till now after all.

P.S. A looooooong individual blog post will soon be posted about "Egypt". I stayed there for a few days and saw so little but observed allot. My opinions and observations will come from a narrow point of view because I saw less than 1%  of Egypt but I definitely plan on visiting it again and again.
Yes, I miss Egypt but in Gaza I feel like I was home.

Omar from Gaza

Sunday, October 14, 2012

4m Gaza 2 NYC: Mission Impossible

4m Gaza 2 NYC: Mission Impossible

Gaza, October 14, I have been hesitating about writing this post or waiting. But I actually might not make it to NYC so I decided to write everything that happened to me since the 1st "4m Gaza 2 NYC" post, so you better buckle up because it’s a hell of a bumpy ride.

Hmmm I don’t even know from where to start. Ok, so after definite guarantees from a news agency in the West Bank that I wrote for, I decided to go ahead and apply through Jerusalem. I didn’t know what was waiting for me. In fact, many were commenting on how confident and assured I was. They made fun of my optimism but it didn’t affect me at all.

I sent all the required documents to the news agency and I had strong faith that I will DEFINITLEY get a permit to visit Jerusalem. After all, I am not affiliated with any Palestinian faction, I don’t have any security issues and I am a journalist. Many other Palestinians cross Erez, so why wouldn’t I cross to?
September and October were loaded with Jewish holidays so I collected some needed patience (You must know that patience isn’t one of my virtues) and waited with a smile. The number of people who thought I was crazy for applying through Jerusalem increased, but I didn’t care and I never lost confidence.

Ofcourse, during my waiting period, I skipped job interviews and cared less for any job opportunity since I will be leaving to NYC soon, or so I thought. I only went to an UNRWA job interview and I took the whole thing lightly although I did really good.

I let all my friends in Jerusalem know that I am coming soon. I wanted to meet them all and I was very excited that I will be visiting Jerusalem. Honestly, my excitement about Jerusalem topped my excitement for NYC. I would sleep and dream about walking in the streets of the old city and the alleys of Eastern Jerusalem and wake up the next day with a smile on my face.

I googled some amazing hotels in eastern Jerusalem, took addresses of some interesting places I want to visit and made a schedule that contains the names of places and people I wish to meet and see. It was crazy that I will have only two days but I was determined to make it work.

A few days ago I got a call. I was asked for an interview by Israeli authorities on Erez check point so they can determine whether I should be given permission or not (a permission to visit my own land, no comment). I kept an open mind until I learned that the interview was on October 22nd. I will not have any time for my interview in the US consulate in Jerusalem and will def. have no time to get to Cairo on time if I was ever granted the visa. And this interview won't guarantee me a permit.
So I quickly shifted all my plans and efforts to the US embassy in Cairo. I thought it will be just like the one in Jerusalem and boy I was very very very wrong.

Now I have a few days to finish the procedures of a new US visa application, pay again, schedule a meeting in US embassy in Cairo, get there to do it, wait and then make to NYC in time. You might think its possible, but trust me its not.

I decided to take today off to consider whether I wanna go through this anymore or not. I decided that I wont go down without a fight. Cairo sounds like a long shot but I am gonna do it even if I am gonna waste time, energy, nerves and money and even if I know that there is a 90% chance of failure. I am Palestinian, we never give up and we never go down without a fight.
The death of your dream\s is a price you have to pay for living in besieged Gaza. Its not your fault yet you have to pay the price anyway. But what I am trying to tell the world is: Living in Gaza doesn’t mean we are not allowed of having dreams and making those dreams come true. That is why I am not giving up no matter what.

I got an email with an important yet not final\guaranteed book offer but I couldn’t be happy about it because all I can think about now is whether I would be able to make it to NYC or not. I have seen support and I am very thankful but with all due respect to everyone no one feels what you are feeling or goes through what you are going through but you.

This is so major for me on so many levels. I try to explain it sometimes but I feel. This is linked to so many things that I will mention later but the most prominent issue that I see from everything I went thru lately is that: People in Gaza are humans too; they have the right to dream\travel without going through hell and back. Gazans get scholarships\training and many other offers to travel but they cant, they are trapped. Not only Erez is impossible and Rafah is hellish but also the battle of obtaining a visa is a crisis by its own self.
This inspired me to send this email to the US consulate in Jerusalem:

"Dear Sir\Madam,

I write you today hoping to have my voice heard. My permit to Jerusalem has been denied and I have only a week to get to Cairo, schedule an appointment and go through it. This means that there is a 90% chance that I will no longer be able to get a US visa. 

I applied for a US visa because I was invited by the UN for a media training. Only a few elite Palestinians are chosen each year and they chose me this year because they saw in me a prominent journalist, social media pioneer and a public figure from Gaza (per to what they said). New York has been the city of my dreams for a long long while because NYC is a dynamic, passionate yet serene city and we are very much alike. NYC is the city of dreamers and I am a dreamer.

But thanks to the fact that I live in besieged Gaza, this dream has ended before it even started. 

I hereby send you an urgent request to try to find a solution for the people from Gaza who wish to apply for a US visa because they were chosen for a scholarship, training, tour .... etc. Why dont the US consulate consider opening a representative office in Gaza? or maybe interview the people from Gaza through skype (which is a method used internationally and professionally).

Its devastating to struggle for a couple of months to make ur dream come true but its even more devastating to watch your dream die without being given a chance even. My dream and the dreams of many young people here in Gaza have died because of the hardships we go through to try to obtain an interview at a US consulate here or in Cairo and we failed for reasons that have nothing to do with us and that arent in our hands.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE consider my request. Atleast my dream wouldnt have died for no reason. You have the chance to help many people realize their dreams so please just consider discussing my suggestions. 

Just because we live in Gaza it doesnt mean we dont have the right of dreaming and realizing our dreams.

I have confidence in you. 

My best regards of gratitude, respect and hope.


I am waiting for their response. If they don’t respond, then I will start a petition.
We have the right to live, have equal rights, have dreams and be respected like everyone else and its about time we demand this.
I hope this sparks a change. If I got to NYC or not, atleast I would have made a change that will lead to facilitate a person's life in Gaza in his\her pursuit to make dreams come true.

Omar from BESIEGED Gaza.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

God in me VS. God in sky

God in me VS. God in sky

Gaza, September 30, At 5:30 am the sun starts weaving its rays around the velvety blue sky so slowly and carefully here in Gaza, light starts penetrating the world until it illuminate it. Usually, when I cant sleep at night and if I am nervous or going through something I turn to one of my house's windows to have a 101 conversation with god. I'm this kind of person who has long conversations with god and the spirits of dead people, I talk to my mom's and grandma's pictures whenever I miss them. Some think its crazy while others -like me- think that these conversations will be heard by god and\or the dead people we talk to.

My biggest relief comes when I open a window on a very cold wintery night and talk to god while the rain splashes on my face and the chilly wind penetrates my bones while its still dark outside and everybody is asleep but me and god. I become so honest, real and articulate. I bond with god and call me crazy but I feel like god hears me. I do it in summer also but I prefer it in winter.

Today isn’t a wintery day, but with all the craziness I am going through regarding where I stand in my life right now, I felt like I needed a conversation with god. I needed this conversation so bad especially after the endless nervousness regarding the US visa procedures and my trip to NEW YORK. For others, it might be just a trip or just a UN media training or an experience or a break or their own interpretation of such a trip. For me, the case is very very very different.

I have obsessed about New York after watching allot of good, bad and horrendous American shows of all kinds. After reading about New York, I felt like I relate to this city in allot of ways. New York has many sides: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and numerous other shades and faces. I have many sides too. New York is dynamic and artistic and I am dynamic and artistic in my own way. For me, New York is a dream-come-true of a city that dreams come true in. And I want to go there so bad. New York is the city of dreamers and I have big dreams.

After I left MSF, I landed many job interviews. Some I liked and others I disliked and decided to run in the opposite direction before\if things progressed. During September, I felt like time is passing by so slowly, but now that we are one step shy of October I feel like time is flying by so rapidly. It's crazy, I know, but it just shows you how crazy my life is right now. What if I get a good job offer right now? What will a job offer that will make me say no to New York look like? Should I say no to all job offers if I really want New York? Do I want New York more than landing a good job here in Gaza? Are five weeks worth turning job offers down? Should I just boycott all job interviews and offers for NYC's sake? What if don’t make it to NYC? And a thousand other depressing question that I overwhelm myself with during this dramatic period of my life.

While others are taking it easy, I am freaking out. UN sent us the housing options that turned out to be only one housing option which is a box-sized room in YMCA Manhattan. The location is VERY strategic but the place is horrible for me. Unfortunately, I am not this kind of person who doesn’t mind sleeping on somebody's floor and showering in public bathrooms.

I am comfortable with who I am but I wouldn’t deny that I wish I was this kind of person. Staying at a room that fits only for a small bed and sharing a bathroom with 30 other rooms for me is simply UNACCEPTABLE. Call me a brat, call me privileged, call me soft skinned, call me sissy or call me whatever you like I don’t care. I wouldn’t live properly if I didn’t stay at a place that had a good-sized bedroom with your own private bathroom. And in case you don’t know this: Prices of places to stay at in Manhattan ARE RIDICULOUSLY high. So that adds to my dilemma. I wasn’t expecting the UN to place us at the trump tower but I didn’t see that YMCA place coming either. So, I will keep searching till I find something affordable and comfortable at the same time. Wish me luck please.

And an epiphany that I went through this morning was: I am still not over my grandmother's death. Ok, by now you are confused and wondering why the hell are you reading this depressing and confusing blog post!!!! I agree with you LOL I am wondering the same thing. I strayed away from the main issue.

So after feeling all of what you just read above, I needed to resort to god and have a good conversation with him.  I went to every window on every side of my house in Gaza, but all windows were blocked. I can no longer see the sky from any window of my house due to the magnitude of the construction work that has been done around us and infront of us and behind us and on every side and…. .

It just hit me that I can no longer communicate with god from any window of my house. I got sad and angry. I know god is inside of us and we don’t need to look at the sky to talk to him. I know that we can see god in the pedals of a flower, in the stream of flowing water, in birds and animals and basically in everything that he created. But just like sometimes we seek people's recognition of how good we are, although we know we are damn good, I needed to look at the sky when I talk to god today because I needed to feel his presence so I can feel good and bathe in relief. I always talk to the voice of god in me but sometimes I just need to be vulnerable enough to look at the sky above and just vent out to god.

I thought of going downstairs but I decided not to. Because I would not be able to have a loud and verbal conversation with god unless I don’t mind sending the neighbors a message of how crazy I am, and I do. And because its school time and many children will be crowding the whole area walking their way to school.

While I was writing this blog post, I was sitting on my bed and it was nearly 7 am. I thought of taking a break but I was worried about the daily power outage that might happen any second now and till this second I don’t know if I would be able to publish this post or complete it now. I looked out of the opened window, and to my surprise, from my current eye-level there is a small space of sky visible and its all what I need.

I thought I wont be able to talk to god anymore and look up to the sky while doing it. Apparently I still can. Maybe not for long, but for now I still can. And its enough, so I call for celebration.

Ok, I don’t know why I felt like sharing this lame blog post with you all. I just did. Please don’t hate me if I wasted your time and I promise that I am not always that silly or lame SO PLEASE COME BACK AND CHECK MY BLOG FREQUENTLY AND DON’T RUN AWAY.

I wish you all a happy day wherever you are and I decided to send a prayer for every person struggling in this world today, wherever he\she is, and whatever he\she might be going through. We are all connected, we are all one. May we all live in peace, love and harmony. May we all exude, share, live, give, appreciate and seek happiness.


Omar from Gaza

Monday, September 17, 2012

UPDATE: Killers of Vittorio Arrigoni prosecuted

UPDATE: Killers of Vittorio Arrigoni prosecuted 

Gaza, September 17th, Military Court in Gaza sentenced today four Palestinians accused of killing Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni to hard labor and prison. Sentences came after holding more than twenty court sessions in the presence of an Italian lawyer assigned by Vik's family.

The court sentenced two defendants to life in prison, "Mahmoud Salfiti" and "Amer Al hasasna", on charges of kidnapping and murder.
Court also ruled the imprisonment of Khader Jerim sentenced to ten years in prison for participating in the kidnapping and imprisonment of fourth defendant, Amer Abu Ghoula, to one year in prison on charges of harboring the kidnappers.

Arrigoni, 36, Italian peace activist, worked with the Pro-Palestinian ISM (International Solidarity Movement), was murdered in April of 2011, hours after he was abducted by gunmen in Gaza.

For his part, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said that Arrigoni family sent an official letter to the court requesting the non-recourse to the death penalty against the accused as provided by the Palestinian Penal Code.

Khalil Shaheen, a member of the center, said in a press statement that the trial was transparent.

Vittorio wrote a book called "Stay Human" which touched his life and work in Gaza.

To read more about Vittorio's abduction, murder, work and Gaza's reaction towards his murder, Please check previous posts:


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

From Gaza to New York – Phase 1: Survival

 From Gaza to New York – Phase 1: Survival

When you usually ask people about their hobbies many of them will mention traveling. I don’t blame them, who wouldn’t enjoy traveling the world and exploring new cultures? I know I would. But if you live in Gaza, traveling can never be your hobby unless you want to kid yourself.

I was shortlisted, chosen and invited by the UN (United Nation) Headquarters in New York for media training. The Palestine, Decolonization and Human Rights Section,
UN Department of Public Information, usually invites Palestinian media practitioners every year for 5 weeks of media training.

I feel like the timing of this is perfect. 2012 has been an overwhelming year, allot of good and bad, but I did achieve allot. I am among the top 5 rankings of the 100 most influential Palestinians in Social media next to names like: Mourid Al Barghouti, Ali Abu Nimah and many other awesome Palestinian public figures. Its surreal and humbling but most of all it gives you reassurance that you have a voice and you are on the right path in getting it heard.

Ofcourse, I was ecstatic. I have been craving New York for nearly a year now and I cant stop saying how much I want to visit it, then the UN training came and actually offered me the chance of making my New York dream come true.

So if you were NOT Palestinian and NOT living in Gaza: All you have to do is visit the nearest US consulate, fill the visa application then head to the airport on the day of the assigned travelling trip. But gladly, I am Palestinian and I do live in Gaza. 

So my anticipated trip to New York is divided into a number of phases. Phase 1 is all about survival. Taking it one step at a time but having a nervous breakdown every day. UN provides everything but the US visa, obtaining the visa is our responsibility and I am sure you know how hard obtaining the US visa is.

First, you have to choose between applying for the visa through Jerusalem or Cairo. Its like choosing between dying by a lethal injection or dying by an electric chair. If you choose Jerusalem: It will be hard or even impossible to get an Israeli permit, even if you do, you won't guarantee passing Erez checkpoint (linking between Gaza and the West Bank) peacefully. And you cant guarantee that the Israeli authorities will issue the permit before your actual appointment.

If you choose Cairo: You are risking losing so much time and spending so much effort. You would have to go through Rafah border a couple of times to reach Cairo and apply for the visa and wait for your appointment or maybe head back Gaza and visit Cairo again when the appointment time comes if there is too much time in between. You cant guarantee the always-closed Rafah border, you cant guarantee reaching Cairo and you cant guarantee managing to head back in time for your appointment.
The good news is: Even if you went through all that, you cant guarantee actually obtaining the visa. Good news? Who said good news? I think my dark humor is kicking in.

Say you obtained the visa by a miracle, YOU ARE NOT OVER YET. You still have to cross Rafah border, and what do you know about Rafah border? Aside from the endless hours of waiting on the Egyptian side for no legitimate reason, and aside from all the humiliation you will be showered by the Egyptian border soldiers, you might not be able to guarantee your entry to Egypt and catching your plane on time. Or they might simply ask you to turn back and go home without giving any explanations.
While people worry about going shopping before they travel, we worry about making constant traveling arrangements to guarantee that we actually reach New York.

Whenever I get nervous about the border, the airplane trip, reaching New York, the UN training, thinking about possible futuristic inner conflicts about staying there or coming back, I just stop and remind myself: "Omar, you still haven’t finished your visa application and even when you do you might not be able to attend the appointment, and even if you do you might not get the visa". So, I calm down again for a few seconds and promise myself to take things slower but then I go to being nervous a little afterwards.

This is the price you have to pay when you live in Gaza, a besieged impoverished costal enclave that is smothered by Israel and Egypt is there to tighten Israel's grip. Nothing is guaranteed. Instead of daydreaming, shopping and planning, you just sit and wait and contemplate and wish and hope and work and push and try and apply and ask and…… .

You will have only the last minute to worry about shopping, obtaining international health insurance, packing and all these stuff.

Stay tuned for Phase 2: THE VISA SAGA….. If and whenever that happens.

Love, support, peace, humanity, equality and hugs (and kisses don’t hurt),

Omar from Gaza

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sinai attacks affected Gaza more than Egypt

Sinai attacks affected Gaza more than Egypt

Gaza, August 11, I cant help but express my disappointment in the Egyptian new regime for many reasons. Among those reasons is their failure of predicting Sinai attacks that left nearly 20 Egyptian soldiers dead, another reason is their immediate closure orders of Rafah border, Gazans only way out.

Right after Sinai attacks occurred, Egyptian state TV started airing quotes of an "anonymous" top Egyptian security official saying that those masked gunmen belong to an extremist group and they came from Gaza. 
His hasty "allegations" made it to Al Jazeera as you can see here:

I would like to ask this Egyptian top security official –who chose to remain anonymous- about the source of his allegations? How did he know for sure and so early that those extremists are from Gaza? And if he is very smart, why didn’t he predict or see this Sinai attacks coming?

Scenarios about the plot of the Sinai attacks were flying in the air. Some claimed that those gunmen were after abducting an Israeli soldiers while other sources said that they wanted to "infiltrate" Israel and wreck havoc if not practice a few "terror" attacks. Immediately after the attacks, Gaza Ministry of Interior announced shutting down the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, then Egyptian helicopters bombed Rafah borderline and then Israel killed a Palestinian in Rafah after they "eliminated" the attack by blowing up the two vehicles that were commandeered by the attackers, they stole them after killing and injuring Egyptian soldiers who were breaking their fast.

Egyptian and Israeli sources said that the attack was accompanied by mortar shelling from Gaza on Kerem Shalom crossing on the borders between Egypt and Israel. However, no evidence was found of this shelling.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad rushed to condemn Sinai attacks and sending their support to Egypt. They both announced no relation to the attacks and accused Israeli mossad, just like Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who also accused Israeli Mossad.

Israeli officials and ministers said in International media that those attacks should be a "wake-up call for Egypt to secure Sinai and eliminate terrorism" and denied any relation to the attacks. American officials rushed to back the Israeli claims. However, many Israeli officials and ministers and political commentators said on local radios and media outlets that Hamas wont benefit from such attacks and Israel is the only direction who benefits from such attacks.

I was disappointed to see Egyptians blame Gaza for the Sinai attacks and accused Morsi of being too loose specially after opening Rafah borders. They are delusional. Restrictions on Rafah border didn’t take place, Egypt only stopped deporting Palestinians. So how was Morsi loose with Rafah border? And where is the proof of Gaza being behind it? No one knows. Majority of Egyptians were smart enough to know that Gaza isn’t behind it, but some started a social media campaign against Palestinians.

Egyptian government closed Rafah border "indefinitely" and issued orders that prevent Palestinians from traveling through Cairo airport. In other words, Egypt just tightened the Israeli siege on Gaza and took away Gazan's only way out. Now, Gazans are trapped in Gaza with no hope of ever leaving. As if the restrictions that Egypt had before on Rafah border and the humiliation that they showered Palestinians with weren't enough.

Why Gaza isn’t behind Sinai attacks: Hamas will not ruin their relationship with Egypt and MB by executing such a juvenile attack that did nothing but kill innocent Egyptian soldiers while they were breaking their fast. Gaza was experiencing an improvement in the electricity crisis for a few days before Sinai attacks. Hamas will not benefit anything from the closure of Rafah border and Kerem Shalom border. If Hamas or Islamic Jihad did it why would they deny it? And if Gaza did it then where is the proof? Hamas will not benefit anything from closing all smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

Why Israel did it: Israel knew about the attacks three days prior to them happening. They warned their residents in Sinai and Taba. Israel aims on causing tension between Hamas and Egypt so Morsi doesn’t ease the Israeli siege on Gaza. Israel aims on isolating Gaza and tightening its siege with every chance they get. Israel wants to confuse Muslim Brotherhood. Israel wants to pressure Egypt into strengthening the bond between them both on the claims of both countries suffering from "terrorism". Israel always craved Sinai and by this attack Israel will ask for more international forces to come into Sinai and maybe talk Egypt into letting them co-protect Sinai and the borders.  Everyone said that since MB is now controlling Egypt, Gaza and Egypt will have a stronger bond since Hamas controls Gaza, so Israel wanted to force MB out of that. Israel always wanted the smuggling tunnels in Rafah to vanish in any way. And many more reasons.

Israel found the bodies of the gunmen who did the attack and Egypt arrested 9 on the claims of having a relation to Sinai attacks but my question remains standing: Where is the proof of Gaza being behind Sinai attacks? Nada. Nothing. Yet Gaza is blamed.
Gaza held a vigil to show support to Egypt and to mourn the lives of the innocent 20 Egyptian soldiers who fell dead due to Sinai attacks.

Egyptian government claimed that their forces carried attacks against militants in Sinai but local residents of Sinai denied the report and asked them to show evidence. Later on, Egyptian security officials in Sinai were sacked because of the Sinai attacks.

Gaza was affected more than Egypt after Sinai attacks because Rafah border is closed, Palestinians are not allowed into Cairo airport, Gaza electricity crisis is elevating every day, smuggling tunnels are closed so a shortage in goods will surface soon, Gazans are trapped in Gaza with no way out even if they are students or patients, Gaza's image is darkened by false allegations and Israel killed a Palestinian in Rafah the day of the attacks just because he was a Palestinian and riding his bike near Rafah that day.

I was disappointed also to see Egyptian Channels airing quotes of Israeli officials buttering up to Egypt by saying that "Egypt is strong". While the Egyptian media still discuss Sinai attacks to this day, no new news surfaced from any investigation and Gaza remains innocent since no one found any evidence to tie Gaza to Sinai attacks.

Gaza remains the scapegoat. Gaza's biggest role is being the whipping boy who is there to be whipped even if he didn’t do anything. But nobody is cutting Gaza some slack, not even Egyptians. I refuse to generalize, not all Egyptians blamed Gaza.

Palestinians and Egyptians were always brothers and they will remain like that no matter what happens. May all the Egyptian soldiers who died due to this vicious attack rest in peace, our hearts and prayers are with their families. I would never believe that a Palestinian is capable of killing an Egyptian.

More interesting articles about this issue:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eyes Language: Eyes can whisper

Eyes Language: Eyes can whisper

Eyes have capacious importance that surpasses the fact of being an organ and one of the human being's five senses (sight). "Eyes are the window to the soul", I can sense how cliché this sounds when writing it, but hear me out because I am about to tell you more about this cliché.
Let me start by mentioning a very very personal confession here: Those who know me closely know that I rarely make eye contact. Yes, I look at people's mouths when they talk instead of engaging in eye contact. Some noticed while other didn’t, some dared to ask you while others refrained and some thought it was strange while others didn’t care.

The reason behind my previous confession is that I believe in Eyes language, therefore, I understand the parlance of the eyes very clearly, too clear for my own sake. Looks equal mental images in my world, every mental image has or will have a meaning one day so you might want to hold onto it.
See, Chemistry is determined or ignited by a connection that was born after a sparkling eye-contact that takes place between two people. If we look closely or deeply into someone's eye, we tend to explore their soul and not only their outer looks.

Never underestimate a look you give people because people usually get what you mean by it. We are humans and most humans are judgmental, there is a look people give when they judge you that usually comes with\without a frown and maybe some eyebrow action.
Some people are controlling and they like to cast this look of fear in order to intimidate people or bully them. You might be laughing after reading the past line, but trust me it does exist and it usually works (seen it with my own eyes).

Sometimes you won't notice it, but a person might be gazing into your eyes giving you an invitation to know him\her better. If you understand the eyes language then you might be finding a catch –friend\husband\wife\buddy-, but if you don’t then you might be missing an opportunity of a life time. But hey be prudent and wary and don’t over look, you might be mistaken as a stalker. Equilibrium is the answer.  

Certain kind of people doesn't know how to lie, yes, don’t laugh. But it's not because they are angels and others are demons, it's simply because their eyes are scandalous. It will take you two seconds to spot their spuriousness. They can't help it, because eyes never change; only we do.
Some people like to take a deeper look at everything, whether people or surroundings, just to help everything sink in. Yes, it sounds overwhelming but it helps you pay attention more and notice things you don’t usually notice (personally tried). On the other hand, some eyes do shimmer with honesty. 

Those who like to be memorable tend to make long, deep and meaningful eye-contact. Somehow a person will be considered "random" if you just saw him\her walking by or something, but if you made eye-contact then it will turn into a mental image that might\might not be summoned later (or appear spontaneously).
Eye-connections come in so many types. The most infamous one is "flirting". While some people manipulate words to flirt, others choose to flirt with their eyes. You can't imagine how many signals you can send with your eyes and how much you can tell. Again, please be careful, securitizing sometimes might turn you into being condescending and rancorous.

Another type of eye-connection is the "friendly" type where you aren’t flirting –not even innocently flirting- but instead you are just being sweet and friendly (and boring, according to some people). But hey, be true to yourself and your aesthetic. If you like to make eye-contact to be friendly then so be it.

Third type is "love". "Love at first sight", another cliché I bore you with but come on, you know that it's true and it happens\ed (if not with you, then with someone you know). Yes, a love story can be built around looks, and sometimes looks only until you both are ready to take it further.  This type can take so much time or just one glare and Voilà you find yourself in love with someone without knowing why and\or how. Eyes are that powerful and looks are that influential. Sometimes you can fall into someone's eyes so deeply that the world goes empty, you will see only this person while the world stops and it will take you some time to snap out of it.

Eyes can also reflect hatred, danger, envy, resentment, deceit, lust or desire (and numerous other things). You might feel like asking me: "Omar, how can I know what the look means?", and my answer will be: there is a natural filter inside of us that helps us determine the hidden intentions that occur behind the look. Some have stronger filter than others. And sometimes it also relates to trusting your instinct or ignoring it especially when your body is trying to give you signals\warnings about a person you know\meet\see\gaze at. Looks are usually accompanied with facial expressions, these expressions are tools to help you in decoding the looks.

Sometimes a person can look at you because they like you, as simple as it is. Embrace it and don’t always pursue it because it might not always be serious. "Examine the water before you dive in", my third and last cliché (I promise).

The last type that I want to mention is: "Mysterious". Yes, people sometimes give you mysterious looks. Even if you are an expert at the Eyes Language, you just won't be able to figure them out no matter how hard you try. From a personal experience: Don’t exhaust yourself in trying to understand those mysterious looks and don’t over think them, sometimes they are mysterious simply because the person himself\herself doesn’t know what they want\mean so they cast those mysterious looks reflecting their inner state. They might not know what they want from you or they might not even know what they want in life so they spontaneously show their incoherence\disorientation with their eyes. Don’t take it personally, just move on.

Eyes tell secrets that people don’t dare say so make sure you listen and pay attention. Eyes are able to whisper even louder than your lips.