Tag Archives: Yousef Aljamal

#GazaChat connects the world to Gaza

Gaza chat

A little known secret must be shared.

I never would have had the opportunity I had living and teaching in Gaza (Sept. 2012 – May 2013) if it hadn’t been for the Palestinian friends I made on Facebook during the heady days of the Arab Spring in 2011.

My nephew was responsible for setting up my Facebook account in 2007 or 2008 over my initial resistance. I just couldn’t imagine how Facebook might improve the online messaging experience I already had with email.

I know some friends in my cohort (50s, 60s and 70s) who refuse to take the leap into Facebook or, if they do, they carefully circumscribe their “friends list” and the online experience. They hope to maintain a semblance of privacy on a very public social media tool.

I did just the opposite. I want everything to be public. In the early days, I searched out interesting people (like authors and leaders in different fields) to request their “friendship” on Facebook. One led to another, and to another, until I had a critical mass of “friends”, many of whom I didn’t know personally but I liked their minds. I appreciated what they wrote or posted on Facebook.

Facebook all Over the World

I knew the downsides of Facebook — the silo effect which might trap me in an echo-chamber of like-minded “friends”; the craziness from the trolls on social media; and the ugliness from obnoxious idiots. Thankfully, I’ve been able to tiptoe around the minefield and avoid most of the traps I’ve been warned about.

During the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo in early 2011, a young Palestinian from Gaza reached out to me on Facebook. I don’t know how he found me, but our only connection seemed to be English and a mutual interest in the Arab Spring revolution. When he told me he was from Gaza, my typing fingers started whizzing along on the keyboard, recalling my first visit to Gaza in 2004. I wanted to hear more about his life in Gaza.

One thing led to another — as so much with life on Facebook does — and I met more Palestinians in Gaza, and a university professor from Gaza, and then secured an invitation to visit Gaza. Al-hamdulillah!

Israel has had a stranglehold on Gaza for the past 10+ years, preventing Palestinians from leaving and, more recently, preventing foreigners from entering the Gaza Strip. Social media provides the critical connection to the outside world from the “largest open air prison in the world.

According to a 2016 report published by the Palestinian company Concepts, approximately 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip use Facebook, while more than one million use WhatsApp and more than 300,000 use each of Twitter and Instagram.

Now I have a Twitter account (although I’ve decided to avoid Twitter since the Tweeter-in-Chief began polluting the airwaves).

I’m stepping into the world of Twitterstorms and Twitterchats because I see a glimmer of what the future holds. The benefit of tweeting in 160 characters still seems a bit elusive to me but I’m willing to learn. What new path might this reveal?

Gaza chat

The Twitterchat tomorrow (August 8, 2017) is organized by Just World Books and Just World Educational which provide the following explanation:

How does a Tweetchat work?

A tweetchat is a semi-structured, Twitter-based conversation that’s held at a designated time and built around participants’ use of a single hashtag– in our case, #GazaChat. Our two planned #GazaChats will run:

  • On Tuesday, August 8, 10-11 am ET (5-6 pm Palestine Time) and
  • On Tuesday, August 22, 10-11 am ET (5-6 pm Palestine Time)

If you are on Twitter, we hope you’ll join them both! Simply log on to Twitter at (or slightly before) the designated start-time, and search for the hashtag

#GazaChat, which we will all be using.

Once you’ve done that search and arrived at the #GazaChat screen, be sure to:

  • from the options near the top, choose the “Latest” view (circled in the screengrab above);
  • refresh the page frequently (the “Refresh” button is also circled); and
  • remember that you can post your own tweets directly from the search page– and when you do so, Twitter automatically adds the hashtag to your tweet!

It is actually easier to refresh the search if you use a mobile device, where you do it simply by swiping down on the screen. Whatever device you use, though, you’ll likely find there’s a time-lag of around 20 seconds between when someone posts a tweet with the hashtag and when it shows up in the search.

For the hour of the tweetchat, our hashtag will function as our (globe-circling) chat room! By the way, for most participants, joining the conversation is a text-only experience, so you’ve no need for any fancy internet connections.

To help structure each chat, we (@JustWorldEd) will throw into it a series of questions, that we’ve previously prepared on static image-slides for your easy visibility. We’ll post a new question every few minutes, and we’ll number them, Q1, Q2, Q3… They will look like the sample one shown here.

We ask chat participants to try to respect the numbering system, which helps to give some structure to what could otherwise be an unruly Twitter free-for-all. When you see a question– or a series of answers to any question– that you want to comment on, discuss, or give an answer to, please preface your answer or other contribution with A1, A2, or whatever the number is of the discussion-portion it’s related to. Twitter will then automatically include the #GazaChat hashtag on your answer, if you’re connected via the hashtag search.

You’ll need to keep your answers short, of course. But you can certainly contribute more than once to each question.

We also ask you to keep your contributions respectful to everyone– and not to hog the discourse completely.

Once the discussion on Q1 seems to have run its course, we’ll tweet out Q2… then Q3, Q4, and so on… Stay tuned to the #GazaChat hashtag so you can see and respond to each of the questions as we send them out!

 

 

 

 

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Living Resistance from the U.S. to Palestine

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Wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the Oak Hill Community Center (a very cool place) in Baltimore. There were only a handful of people, and I feared the worst. It always seems to be a battle to fill a room when “Palestine” is on the agenda, especially in Maryland where the Zionists have the ear of Senator Cardin in DC, and Legislators in Annapolis are pushing an anti-BDS bill again.

I decided to attend to show my support for the organizers, not expecting to learn anything new. Wow!  Was I wrong . . . on both counts.

The space quickly filled up to standing room only, perhaps 50-60 people. And the speakers were extraordinary, both in passion and information.Palestinian children locked up in Israeli jails is a horrible reality. The school-to-prison pipeline in the U.S. (ensnaring predominantly brown and black children) is a reality too. Thanks to Norma Hashim, Yousef Aljamal and others, Palestinians are finally being heard in The Prisoners’ Diaries and Dreaming of Freedom.

Thanks to the sponsors of the multi-city tour for No Child Behind Bars, the connection between the Palestinian injustices and the US juvenile criminal system is also being heard. See list of the cities and the sponsors here.

There are clearly parallels between the two criminal justice systems for juveniles in Israel/Palestine and the U.S. but I learned at this presentation that they are far more insidious than I imagined, and far more interconnected.

Thanks to Ahed Tamimi from Nabi Saleh in the Occupied West Bank, and Amanda Weatherspoon & Nadya Tannous from California, we learned facts that stirred many in the audience to engage in a robust Q & A after the presentation.

Ahed Tamimi (15 yrs old) was not given a Visa to travel to the U.S. (highlighting the travel restrictions that nearly all Palestinians face). The organizers creatively resisted by sending a videographer to record Ahed in her community.

The evening began with a short video of Ahed speaking in January 2017. Here’s another short video clip of Ahed speaking a year ago.

 

Some facts I learned!

Did you know that Israel is the only country in the world that has a juvenile military court?

A Palestinian child and an Israeli settler child who live merely feet from each other in the West Bank will face very different criminal justice systems and laws for the very same offense (throwing rocks for example).

Did you know that the tear gas used in the City of Ferguson was likely field tested in the occupied West Bank and Gaza? People in Ferguson quickly learned that water doesn’t ease the pain of the tear gas, it exacerbates the pain. On social media, they posted a question “What’s this new type of tear gas?” Palestinians knew immediately and advised them to use milk and coca cola as an antidote for the tear gas.

Do you know which cities have the highest number of drone-testing? Gaza is #1.The Lakota Nation in the US is #2.

Amanda, a Unitarian Universalist minister, shared a helpful framework to think about the entrenched violence and imprisonment of our children in Palestine and the U.S.brick-wallConsider 3 bricks in that wall of violence.

Brick #1 – The foundation of the wall is built on structural racism, such as redlining in our communities which established borders to provide opportunities for building for some people and restricted opportunities to build or buy homes to other people. There are many other examples.

Brick #2State violence is obvious and clearly in the public discourse now. Think about the examples of police brutality, and the school to prison pipeline. We all know that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the world. Did you know that 2.3 million Americans were imprisoned in 2009, and the highest % of them were women of color?school-to-prison-pipelineBrick #3Profit is the third brick. Profit provides the motive, and our private prisons need prisoners to make a profit.  See the ABA publication Prisons for Profit: Incarceration for Sale.  Israel and the U.S. are marching in lockstep together creating this wall with these 3 bricks.

Towards the end of the evening, Amanda asked a provocative question. What race are we? she asked. The answer — we’re the human race. This construct about “race” was created specifically for profit. Think about it. She’s right.

I left with my head buzzing, thinking about these 3 bricks and how the injustices perpetrated on Palestinian children and American children are so interconnected. We can’t fight one without acknowledging and fighting against both.

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Busboys and Poets and Palestinian writers

Troy Davis executed by the US government in September 2011

I knew Busboys & Poets in Washington DC must be a special place when I saw the Troy Davis drawing on the wall.  Justice and human rights were in the air and the vibes felt really cool.

Busboys & Poets in DC

Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC

This proved to be an excellent venue for the last DC stop on the Gaza Writes Back USA book tour.  The 30-40 people were a friendly crowd and, based on the questions they asked, they were obviously well-informed about Palestine.

Refaat Alareer, the book’s editor, shared how he tried to distract his young children during the 23 days of Operation Cast Lead (Dec. ’08 – Jan. ’09) when “there was no right place, no right time; anyone, anytime, anywhere could be killed in Gaza.”

He would tell them stories, and then he realized the power of stories for connecting the past, present and future. During the bombing, his 5-year-old daughter asked him, “Who created the Israelis?” He was stunned, and couldn’t find an answer to her profound question.

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After the death and destruction ended, Refaat returned to his university. The Israeli Occupation Forces had destroyed the large laboratory building on campus, in addition to schools, medical facilities, banks and Mosques throughout the Gaza Strip. He saw the pain and horror in the eyes of his students. No one escaped the trauma of Operation Cast Lead. Everyone had lost a family member, a friend, a neighbor or knew someone who had been seriously injured.

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Refaat, the teacher, wanted to help his students find a way to resist. Many of them had been writing on blogs, websites, and Facebook whenever the electricity was working, usually only a few hours each day. He challenged his students to write fiction as a way to release their anger and frustration in a creative way.

Some of their short stories, all written in English, are included in Gaza Writes Back responding to Israel’s attempts to erase Palestinian voices. The book is for his daughter, for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, for the Palestinians in the diaspora, and most importantly, for non-Palestinian audiences.

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Then Refaat diverted from previous presentations and read a poem he wrote in 2012,  “I Am You”.  When he finished reading, the woman sitting next to me whispered “Wow!” under her breath.

Two steps: one, two.
‏Look in the mirror:
‏The horror, the horror!
‏The butt of your M-16 on my cheekbone
‏The yellow patch it left
‏The bullet-shaped scar expanding
‏Like a swastika,
‏Snaking across my face,
‏The heartache flowing
‏Out of my eyes dripping
‏Out of my nostrils piercing
‏My ears flooding
‏The place.
‏Like it did to you
‏70 years ago
‏Or so.

‏I am just you.
‏I am your past haunting
‏Your present and your future.
‏I strive like you did.
‏I fight like you did.
‏I resist like you resisted
‏And for a moment,
‏I’d take your tenacity
‏As a model,
‏Were you not holding
‏The barrel of the gun
‏Between my bleeding
‏Eyes.

One. Two.
‏The very same gun
‏The very same bullet
‏That had killed your Mom
‏ And killed your Dad
‏Is being used,
‏Against me,
‏By you.

‏Mark this bullet and mark in your gun.
‏If you sniff it, it has your and my blood.
‏It has my present and your past.
‏It has my present.
‏It has your future.
‏That’s why we are twins,
‏Same life track
‏Same weapon
‏Same suffering
‏Same facial expressions drawn
‏On the face of the killer,
‏Same everything
‏Except that in your case
‏The victim has evolved, backward,
‏Into a victimizer.
‏I tell you.
‏I am you.
‏Except that I am not the you of now.

‏I do not hate you.
‏I want to help you stop hating
‏And killing me.
‏I tell you:
‏The noise of your machine gun
‏Renders you deaf
‏The smell of the powder
‏Beats that of my blood.
‏The sparks disfigure
‏My facial expressions.
‏Would you stop shooting?
‏For a moment?
‏Would you?

‏All you have to do
‏Is close your eyes
‏(Seeing these days
‏Blinds our hearts.)
‏Close your eyes, tightly
‏So that you can see
‏In your mind’s eye.
‏Then look into the mirror.
‏One. Two.
‏I am you.
‏I am your past.
‏And killing me,
‏You kill you.

Questions from the audience followed — “What is the ideal desired outcome of this conflict?”

Yousef responded — “The solution must include the land between the river and the sea. Equal rights for everyone, and the right of return for the refugees to present day Israel. Any other agreement would be a waste of time.”

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Refaat added — “We’ve given the so-called peace talks enough time. Israel’s working against any possibility of Palestinians having their own state. Israel is pushing Palestinians into a corner — towards violence. Since Israel’s founding, their leaders have used the same strategy of violence, dehumanization and destruction. Palestinians have been responding creatively, using different methods of resistance. Writing, in addition to acting and drama, is another way for Palestinians to express their pain creatively.”

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In response to a question about Palestinian stereotypes, Rawan noted — “Fiction erases boundaries and draws us back to our humanity. Our job is to go global, and show the world that we are normal, just like anyone else. The international community needs to be open and willing to learn and hear the Palestinian narrative.”

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Writing is resistance

The Gaza Writes Back book tour began in Philadelphia but I caught up with them in New York City on Friday night, many miles ago. At each stop, the writers have shared their stories and answered good questions.

Rawan Yaghi and Refaat Alareer in Manhattan

Rawan Yaghi and Refaat Alareer in Manhattan

The book includes 23 short stories from young Palestinian writers responding to the 23 days of Israel’s bombardment on the civilians in the Gaza Strip in Dec.’08-Jan. ’09, called Operation Cast Lead. Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including many women and children. The most shocking and disturbing book I’ve ever read is the Goldstone Report from the U.N. fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict* and Operation Cast Lead.

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Gaza Writes Back should come with a warning message on the cover because it may be difficult for some to read as well.

Refaat Alareer, the Editor of the book, said he decided to ask his university students to try their hand at writing fiction because he knew the therapeutic value of writing. “Writing fiction transcends everything” and “brings us back to our humanity.” He also believes fiction is timeless — connecting the past, present and future.

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Rawan, Yousef, Helena, Refaat, Sarah

Refaat knew that his students could speak for themselves. So often the narratives we hear about Israel & Palestine in the mainstream media come from the colonizer’s perspective. It seems Americans can more easily identify with that perspective. Publishing his students’ stories would be a way for Palestinians to go global with their narrative about the horrific events of Operation Cast Lead.

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Rawan Yaghi, contributor “Gaza Writes Back”

Interestingly, 12 of the 15 contributors to the book are female, which demonstrates the importance of women and their voices in the culture. They wrote their short stories in English, not Arabic, to reach a larger audience and to educate people outside of Gaza.

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Refaat Alareer, Editor “Gaza Writes Back”

Ironically, or perhaps tragically, Gaza Writes Back is available all over the world, but not in Gaza. Refaat has received tweets from people who have read the book in Europe, South Africa, Uganda, Malaysia, Argentina, New Zealand, Jerusalem and the West Bank. Last month, Medea Benjamin (CodePink) was carrying 30 copies of Gaza Writes Back when she tried to reach Gaza, but Egyptian security officials detained her at the Cairo airport, broke her arm, and deported her the following day.

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Yousef Aljamal, contributor “Gaza Writes Back”

Despite what the foreign desk of the New York Times believes, the Gaza Strip is occupied 100% — by land, sea and air. Every Palestinian in Gaza has a family member, friend or colleague who was killed or injured during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.

Refaat notes that the Israelis have been doing the same thing day-after-day, year-after-year, decade-after-decade …. killing, destroying and acts of humiliation targeting Palestinians, the young and old alike.

But Palestinians are very creative in ways of resistance. Writing is resistance. Sharing their narrative with audiences in the USA on this book tour is fighting back.

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Helena and Refaat on the road again

* How anyone can call the Israel-Palestine occupation, massacres and oppression — a “conflict” — is beyond me.  An employer & employee can have a conflict. A shopkeeper & customer can have a conflict. A parent & teenager can have a conflict. An oppressor & the oppressed do NOT have a conflict. They have a life of struggle and injustices.

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Where is Sarah Ali?

In January 2013, I shared a cab ride across the Sinai desert with a Palestinian professor. He taught English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza but was then working on his PhD at a university in Malaysia. We were headed from Cairo to the border crossing at Rafah, about 250 miles. It was a very long trip. He took a manuscript out of his briefcase and handed it to me.

Actually, this story begins in September 2012 when the publisher of Just World Books heard that I was traveling to Gaza. Helena Cobban contacted me and asked if I would carry some books that had been requested by friends into Gaza. I knew there was no FED EX or postal service into the Gaza Strip. Israel has essentially tightened the screws on 1.8 million people there, and the siege makes normal delivery impossible. So I agreed.

The professor’s manuscript turned out to be the first compilation of short stories written by his students at the Islamic University of Gaza. He was hoping to get them published and he was obviously very proud of his students and very excited about the project.

Low and behold, the publisher who brought his manuscript to life a year later was Helena Cobban of Just World Books. The title they chose was perfect — Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories by Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine.

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When I learned there was a book tour planned in the U.S.A. this Spring, I was very excited but also skeptical that the professor/editor or any of the contributors would be able to make it to America. Travel out of Gaza is nearly impossible for most Palestinians, and getting a U.S. Visa is an unfulfilled dream for many.

The publisher and the other sponsor of the book tour — the American Friends Service Committee — succeeded in helping Refaat Alareer (the professor/editor), Yousef Aljamal, Rawan Yaghi, and Sarah Ali (all contributors to the book) to obtain U.S. Visas for their travel. Alhamdulillah!

The logistics seemed to be working out. A month-long tour was planned from the East Coast to the West. Check it out here.

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, NY

Gaza Strip superimposed on Manhattan, New York

Sadly, Israeli authorities screwed up the plans.

Sarah Ali received a permit from Israel to travel from Gaza to Jerusalem to apply and interview for her U.S. Visa. However, after she received her Visa, Israel would not allow her to travel out of Gaza to Jordan to join her colleagues on tour.

Refaat and Yousef were studying in Malaysia and had no trouble traveling. Rawan was studying in London at Oxford University. The Israeli authorities couldn’t stop her from traveling.

Sarah remains in Gaza, with only a cardboard cut out sitting on stage in her place.

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Israel did not allow Sarah Ali (far right) to join her colleagues on the book tour.

 

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#Gazawritesback hangs out

Watched a Google Hangout on Thursday at the Gilroy Library with contributors to Gaza Writes Back — a new book published by Just World Books.

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Helena Cobban, Publisher

There were participants from many different time zones which boggles the mind.  4:00 PM was a very convenient time for me, but that meant Nour was sitting up at 2:00 AM in Gaza to participate, and others in Malaysia were up at 8:00 PM (the next day I think).  There were participants from London and many other time zones as well.  Difficult for me to comprehend how technology can bring us all together.

Gilroy Library

Lora watching in Gilroy Library

For me, the best part of this hour with the contributors and editor of Gaza Writes Back was hearing their voices and watching them as they read passages from the book. I felt connected to them in a way that I never could have without this Google Hangout.

Refaat Alareer, Editor, in Malaysia

Refaat Alareer, Editor, in Malaysia

Refaat teaches at the Islamic University of Gaza. He explained why he invited his English students to write following Israel’s 23-day military operation against Gaza in Dec.’08 – Jan.’09 (Operation Cast Lead).

Nour El Borno, contributor, in Gaza

Nour El Borno, contributor, in Gaza

I think the title of the book is very clever. When I first heard it — Gaza Writes Back — I thought of two things.

Rawan Yaghi, contributor

Rawan Yaghi, contributor

(1) Writes Back sounds like Fights Back – this book represents the young people (contributors are university students in their 20s) taking up pens instead of swords to respond to the horrific onslaught unleashed by Israel which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead.

Yousef Aljamal

Yousef Aljamal, contributor

(2) There are many activists worldwide trying to bring attention in their countries to the injustices of the Israeli occupation, but Palestinians have their own voices, their own stories. This book is their “wake-up call” to the world, much more real and poignant than any international activist could share.

Jehan Alfarra, contributor

Jehan Alfarra, contributor

The book includes 23 short stories, and as one writer notes it is “the latest and most dangerous weapon revealed.

You can order the book here. I sent 3 copies (one each) to my U.S. Senators and Congresswoman. Maybe I should order a copy for President Obama.

If you missed the Google Hangout, you can catch it below.  Just over an hour-long and well worth the time to hear these contributors in their own words.

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