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a watchful eye of creative complexity
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.
I recall a day when I was showing a friend something on my laptop and he took notice of the image I chose as my wallpaper: 5.15.1948 written in a white, destructed-style font over a black background. He asked me what the date meant and I told him about al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, the day that Palestinians will never forget, when Zionist soldiers destroyed over 400 Palestinian villages and displaced three-quarters of a million Palestinians. It is the day known to some—and celebrated—as Israel’s Independence Day. My friend responded with, “You’re too political.”
I think back to various instances in my life where, in a group environment, I was labeled as the “political” person: the political employee, the political friend, the political [insert noun here].
Of course, some people assume that because one is political, s/he likes politics. Why would one constantly keep up with political events and situations if one did not enjoy doing so? Some people think that just because one is conscious of political affairs and often speaks about them, one chooses to live one’s life in such a manner simply because one’s main interest is in doing so.
Well, I hate politics. I do not enjoy reading about politics and politicians. I hate political affairs and being involved in politics. It’s not that I chose to be political, but it is simply necessary and a duty in response to the past and present and in action towards a better future.
For those who say I am too political, or label me as the political person:
I didn’t ask to be political.
Politics was forced upon me.
I didn’t ask for the Balfour Declaration or for the UN Partition Plan.
I certainly didn’t ask for the war in 1948,
nor for the war in 1967.
I didn’t ask for the displacement of my father,
or for his citizenship/stateless dilemma.
I didn’t ask to be born in a country where my people make up only a small percentage
and nobody can pronounce my name.
I didn’t ask for others to inquire about my relation to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.
I didn’t ask for the Oslo Accords.
I didn’t ask for the twin towers to fall, nor for the harassment that followed.
I didn’t ask for the Patriot Act, nor for the questions of allegiance.
I didn’t ask to invade countries for ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
I didn’t ask for my tax dollars to pay for the oppression of my people.
I didn’t ask for a fake Roadmap to peace.
I didn’t ask for a “Separation Barrier” to be implemented in my homeland.
I didn’t ask for extra airport security and laws that diminish rights.
I didn’t ask for war or for occupation or for racism or for statism.
I didn’t ask to be labeled a terrorist or a global threat.
I didn’t ask to be named non-existent and simply ‘invented.’
I didn’t ask for the false propaganda of mainstream media.
I didn’t ask to live amongst the brainwashed, the sheep.
I didn’t ask for intolerance and willful ignorance.
I didn’t ask.
It was given to me and I couldn’t give it back.
I didn’t ask.
I never asked to be political.
Politics was forced upon me.
I only ask for justice.
I demand it.
Plato: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics end up being governed by those who are dumber.”
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.
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.