The Vigilant Robot

a watchful eye of creative complexity

Tag Archives: Israel

To Love You, Oh Gaza

Oh Gaza,

I have nothing to say. No words can speak the reality you live; no adjectives can comprehend the bombs that fall on you every day; no nouns are effective enough to label the terror inflicted upon you. Too many destructive verbs are assaulting you, yet you survive. You persevere. You are the epitome of resilience. You are pain and sorrow; yet, you are beauty and joy.

I am addicted to the news. No matter how awful, I must see. I must watch. I must read. I must listen. I cannot peel my eyes or ears away. I even listen to poor news sources telling lies just so that I can hear something about you, to be with you. I am consumed by you. The stories, the images, the videos are never enough. This is how I know you. I read the names of those who have been murdered and I stare at the smiles of the children in photographs during happier times before they were ripped from this earth. I see the video clips of young boys looking for their toys in the rubble of their destroyed homes, a teddy bear to grasp on to in the midst of their worldly chaos.

Gaza. I cry for you; I pray for you; I rally for you. I can never stop thinking of you.

Gaza. You are always on my mind.

I go to sleep hoping for hope. I wake up and see that you have been through so much more than the day before. More dead families, more burned children. Flattened houses and obliterated neighborhoods. I move throughout the day, angry for you, depressed, hoping for hope. I want to see an end to your suffering. I want your siege to be lifted. I want hope for you. Oh Gaza. Inside your small strip of land you hold a population so strong and steadfast. Unafraid children, the bravest mothers you can find, reside within your concrete walls and militarized borders. Oh Gaza. You are hope. To see hope is to see the resistance of Palestinians. No matter what heinous crimes you live through, you stand tall. You live. You are tenacious. Your struggle stops at nothing. Your power against injustice is immense. You teach the world that it is possible to fill a prison with beauty. Oh Gaza. You will never fall.

From thousands of miles away, this is what it is to love you. Even when I close my eyes and my ears, it is as though they are open, seeing images in the dark of the night and hearing my mind unable to stop the pandemonium. This is about you, oh Gaza. You, who did not begin on July 8th. You, who has been besieged since 2006. You, who has been occupied since 1948. This is about you, Oh Gaza. This is about every Palestinian slaughtered since An Nakba. This is about every Palestinian—from your sea-coast, Oh Gaza, to the Galilee and the Negev, to the West Bank. This is about every Palestinian refugee scattered across the globe. This is about those who have never seen their homeland. This is about you, and them, and me.

Oh Gaza, I feel a part of you, yet I am not you. I feel a part of Palestine, yet I am not Palestine. I am a fragmented version, like static billowing over the land, split into different frequencies, half there and half here, in this country that aids your destruction. Like a never-ending hum, perpetual white noise, I carry you with me. I carry them with me. I carry my father’s childhood. My father, who in 1967, walked miles after miles for refuge until his shoes had holes; his shoes, imprinted with loss and longing. That loss and longing never gone. Until return.

Oh Gaza, you did not begin on July 8th, but we are able to witness your struggle immediately. A constant barrage of information has poured through since July 8th and I cannot turn away. I watch as your homes decrease in number, the concrete forming piles in the street; I watch as your children are brutally murdered while playing and living a childhood; I watch as your hospitals fill with death and the injured barely surviving; I watch as your water becomes unfit for consumption and your medical supplies deplete; I watch as families scream for their missing loved ones, for those found buried in the rubble.

Oh Gaza, we are also able to witness your strength and resilience immediately. I watch as you continue to pray, knowing your oppressor’s time will soon come; I watch as the children refuse to be afraid, continuing to play soccer and live the lives of children; I watch as you refuse to be afraid, refuse to give in to a life besieged and unworthy of living; I watch as you insist for your voice to be heard, for the global community to hear you and do something; I watch as you demand justice.

The time will come when every person must answer for your tragedy. When that future arrives, only you will be able to answer for your steadfastness, for your ability to live in the face of all that tries to kill you.

The future arrives every moment and your future is bright, Oh Gaza.

And when the future you deserve arrives, we will celebrate together.




Process of Assimilation, 1967–

Process of Assimilation, 1967–, inkjet printing on newsprint, perfect bound book, 5 x 6.75 inches closed; enlargement of 1960’s photograph, 5 x 7 inches.

The only object my father was able to bring to the United States after his family left Palestine in 1967 was an Arabic-English dictionary. It is not only a remnant of his displacement, but it is representative of a necessity to learn another language, a foreign language, and one that is to become a refugee’s or “displaced person’s” new dialect. My father marked over 1,600 words in this dictionary. These words signify what a person should know when learning English in the late 1960s to early 1970s. These are the words my father found important, the only ones worth knowing in this “pocket” dictionary.

I recreated the dictionary representing my father’s experience during this time of immigration and “assimilation.” I stripped away everything that my father did not mark, everything that was not worth knowing. The dictionary exists in the state after the process of learning English, complete with traces of that process including simple marks, handwritten notes, and the inscription of the Americanized name given to my father by teachers and schoolmates. The photograph is a reference to the unreachable past, his place of origin, the place from which he departed, the reason it was necessary to learn English. A photo of a home to which he cannot return and a book representing the language of his new home, the past and the present recreated to exist simultaneously, as it often does in the reality of a Palestinian.

Installed in the PRO NEO POST exhibition at Autumn Space Gallery, April 2012.

Returning to the land I’ve never seen

As I am writing and editing parts of my thesis, I would rather take a break and post an excerpt here. This is only a very small part of a draft that may change a little bit, a whole lot, or none at all. One of the reasons I feel like posting this now is because of Khader Adnan. As I read the words that I have written about Palestine, they conjure up the image of Khader Adnan, dying as he enters his 62nd day of his hunger strike in protest of his unlawful detainment and terrible treatment in prison. He is chained to a bed, dying as I write this. He has received no trial. Israel has not charged him with any crime. He has committed no crime, except that of being born a Palestinian.



Palestine is the embodiment of struggle, resilience, resistance, and liberation.
It is center of the world, the hole in the earth that is the answer to peace;
it is the stain of injustice and the mark of fortitude;
it is the root of solidarity amongst all uprooted peoples;
it is the educated, but mostly the educator;
it is
it is right; it is moral; it is just.
It is life.
I carry it with me everyday in every inch of my muscle, flesh, bones, blood, and soul.
I often carry it around my neck in white and black.
It’s often on my mind and it’s always in the back.
I carry it as a dream, as a cause, and as a goal.

I want to return to the land I’ve never seen. I pray I make it soon.

Measuring Distance: Films on Palestine

Tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Conversations at the Edge (CATE) hosted “We Began By Measuring Distance,” a series of experimental films by Palestinian women curated by Tirtza Even. Six films were screened, beginning with “Pomegranate” by Jumana Emil Abboud. It was a three minute color film of a hand pressing pomegranate seeds into the inside of an empty pomegranate held in the person’s other hand. The protagonist lodged the seeds into clearly demarcated indentations of where the seeds once belonged. Symbolizing the Palestinian Right of Return to their homeland, s/he would press hard on some of the seeds implanting them back into the pomegranate shell, fixing them back into their original home. When a seed popped out, refusing to embed itself in a particular area, s/he would pick it up and insert it in another area of its home. Unfortunately, in most cases, justice never comes about without violence along the way, without bloodshed. As the protagonist forced the seeds back into their original habitation, some of the seeds would gush their juice,  reddish-purple liquid squirting all over the pomegranate. The pomegranate is commonly cultivated in Palestine and I thought it was interesting to use such a fruit as a map symbolizing the territorial nature of the colonization of Palestine, the violence in the struggle for justice, and the Right of Return, stating that Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948 and 1967 should be allowed to return, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Following “Pomegranate” was a film by Basma Alsharif entitled “We Began By Measuring Distance” (the event took its name from this film). The film begins by speaking of boredom—”the worst of all evils”—the boredom one experiences after a place has been destroyed and one doesn’t really have anything to do. Because of boredom, the characters decided to play a game of measuring. They measured the size of various objects and even measured measurements. Two people stood between two trees holding up a white sheet in some way signifying a measuring tape and a projection screen. They began to measure the distance between places:

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 78km

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 67

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 48

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 17

We measured the distance between Palestine and Israel: Rome was not built in a day.

The numbers are reminders of the prominent years for the plight of the Palestinians. 1917 is the year of the Balfour Declaration, explicitly stating the promise to create a Jewish state within Palestine. 1948 is referred to by Palestinians as al-Nakba, The Catastrophe, otherwise known to Israelis as their Independence day. Over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed and depopulated, leaving so many Palestinians dead and three-quarters of a million Palestinians refugees. 1967 is the year of the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip declaring the whole state of Palestine under Israeli rule. These years are recognizable and are very unforgettable.

The film transitions into a juxtaposition of various images and music. Jelly fish and bombs, fish and women running were among the scenes contrasting one another. Sea life was placed next to video clips of bombs and white phosphorous falling over Gaza during the Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009. Accompanying these scenes was disturbingly positive music. I didn’t know how to feel. I have seen the exact same video clips of Gaza so many times and seeing them with the very music playing was a little bit unsettling, yet playing off the desensitization that we experience when we constantly see footage day after day of a place experiencing war and occupation and embroiled in violence. It ends with a woman in a look of shock and sadness, screaming voices of agony and Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Fortune Teller.”

Another one of Basma Alsharif’s films was screened, entitled “The Story of Milk and Honey.” The film seemed to take on a first person point of view of the filmmaker and her process of working, which is to collect all types of different information and somehow find use for it all later. It was humorous and enjoyable, and it also was telling of the absurdity and length of the Occupation. She juxtaposes love, with random people on the beach, with information about images and places, and finds that the strangeness of all of this actually represents the Land of Milk and Honey: Palestine. It does.

Next was Mona Hatoum’s “Measures of Distance” where she reads letters that her mother has sent to her while showing images of her mother’s naked body in the shower placed under arabic script. The only thing I would like to point out from this film is something Mona’s mother had said, “Being born in exile in a country that does not want you is no fun at all.” The feeling of fragmentation is embedded within such a person’s identity.

Annemarie Jacir’s “Like Twenty Impossibles”was also screened tonight. Annemarie and her friends are trying to make a film, but they must go through a flying checkpoint in order to get to their desired location: Jerusalem. The Israeli soldiers take them out of the car, tell them to stop filming, take their IDs, tells one of them he needs to pay a large fine because he has an Israeli ID and is in the West Bank (even though he is Palestinian), and one of them is about to be arrested because of some “crime” he committed. I enjoyed this film because it was hard to tell whether the characters were acting or if the situation was real simply because the absurdity of this situation actually happens in Palestine. What made me realize that the characters are actors is when one of the Israeli soldiers asks where Annemarie lives and she says “New York,” and he laughs and says that he is from Miami. It was bad acting, and funny, and I think it was meant to be this way to overemphasize the absurd and illogical laws of “return”: Jews can “return” from all of the world to a land they or their family have never seen, and Palestinians can’t actually return to the place that they are from. After the film ends, the rolling credits include an excerpt of Tawfik Zayyad’s poem “We Shall Return”:

It is a thousand times easier for you
To pass an elephant through the needle’s eye.
To catch fried fish in the Milky Way…
A thousand times easier
Than smoldering with your oppression
The spark of an idea
Like twenty impossibles
We shall remain.

After the screening, we had a Q&A/discussion session with Basma and the question was raised about whether the fact that all the films were made by women influenced the reading of the films. Some people felt it did, some didn’t understand the relevance of such a question. For me, gender isn’t something that I think about when I look at work made from Palestine unless the central theme is gender. While many in the West have the view that all Arab countries are the same and that women’s voices are completely silent in all of them, this is not true for Palestine. While yes, some Palestinian women are looked down upon by men for being an individual and pursuing the very things they want such as music or race car driving, this is something that should be dealt with within the community. Why is this relevant to the West? The West has its own inequalities to focus on, but would rather ignore it and shift the public’s focus to another region. In the West, and more specifically the United States, it doesn’t matter if you are a Palestinian man or a Palestinian woman, your voice is silenced. Women have been a large part of the Palestinian struggle since the beginning and both men and women suffer the effects of the occupation and oppression by Israel, albeit in some different ways. The common thread throughout these films is not merely gender, but the baggage of displacement, exile, and the wait to return.