Saturday, August 26, 2017

From exile to resistance

What does it mean to be a Palestinian today?

Samah Sabawi:

'So I write: A Palestinian story of finding home, voice and identity'

Theatre provided a valuable outlet for Samah Sabawi, who lived most of her life in various forms of exile after the 1967 war.

1967 is known as the year of al-Naksa, the setback, a year of lost hopes and dreams. It was also the year of my birth. When the war broke out, my parents had been married for almost seven years and had three children, with a fourth on the way - me.

They lived in a modest home with their extended families in the poor district of Toffah in Gaza. They had a vegetable garden where they grew chillies, tomatoes and herbs, and a backyard with a lemon tree, a sycamore tree and a pomegranate tree. Along the back fence separating their property from their neighbours' was a wild cactus hedge that yielded the sweetest prickly pear fruit, and near the front gate, jasmine vines greeted guests with the most beautiful and welcoming scent.

My father was a schoolteacher by day and a writer and poet by night. My mother carried on with her traditional tasks: caring for the children, cooking, sewing and cleaning under the watchful eyes of her in-laws with whom she resided.

Gaza had been under Egyptian administration since the war of 1948, but in 1967, things were simmering like never before. There was great unrest in Gaza's refugee camps, as Palestinians who had fled in terror or were forcibly removed from their towns and villages in 1948 to pave the way for a Jewish state were growing tired of waiting, still denied their right to return.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was delivering fiery speeches promising the end of Israel, the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, Arab unity, and hope. My father and many other young men believed in him and responded by joining the Liberation Army - Jaysh al-Tahrir - that served under the Egyptian military.

Nasser never delivered on his promise of liberation. The war of 1967 was lost and Israel expanded and occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights of Syria. More Palestinians were made refugees.

Leaving Gaza

Two months after the war and one week after I was born, Israeli soldiers searching homes in Gaza looking for men who fought in the Liberation Army came to our house to detain my father. He jumped over the prickly cactus hedge into the neighbour's garden. The soldiers left a clear message for him: stay and be put in jail forever, or leave Gaza immediately.

My father went into hiding. He knew if he was jailed, our family and his extended family would starve as we all depended on his salary. After a few months, he had no choice but to leave and find work elsewhere. A part of him felt like a coward for leaving, but another knew he was fighting for his family's survival.

At the Jordan River crossing, an Israeli soldier ordered him to sign a document declaring once he leaves the border crossing, he would lose his right to reside in Gaza forever. My father still remembers the blood running cold in his veins. The reality of occupation began sinking into his heart like poison.

At that moment, he understood that the Israelis had no intention of complying with the United Nations resolution calling for their withdrawal from territories they occupied in 1967, including Gaza. At that moment, he understood that the occupation would last for a very long time.

The first morning my father woke up to find himself exiled in Jordan, he wrote of his sense of estrangement and regret at leaving his homeland:
If only the stray bullets from the occupier's guns were merciful
And pierced through our legs
If only they tore through our knees
If only we sunk into your fields
If only we became the salt of your earth
The nutrients in your fertile soil
If only we didn't leave
- Samah Sabawi's father

Life in Exile

In my first baby photo I am cradled in my mother's arms, my three siblings stand around us.
That was the first ID photo we took so we could get a travel document to enable us to leave Gaza to be with my father. As soon as our papers were ready, my mother packed all four of us, said her goodbyes to loved ones, and turned her back on the only home she had ever known.

In Jordan, my parents rented a room in a house that belonged to a family of 1948 refugees from Palestine in a small camp called Khnefsah.

Khnefsah was an unregistered refugee camp in the Marka district, not far from Amman. Growing out of necessity to house Palestinian refugees from 1948, the camp was an amalgamation of tents and concrete structures. My mother was the only Gazan woman in the camp; the other women were mainly fellahin (peasants) and wore traditional embroidered dresses, very different from my mother's modern clothes.

My father chose to move us into Khnefsah because the official United Nations camp for refugees from Gaza, in Jerash, was not properly set up yet. It was also further away from the Jordanian capital, and my father feared he wouldn't find any job opportunities there or find a viable way to eventually leave.

A stream ran close to the house in Khnefsah, and the room was often flooded when heavy rains fell. Ironically, the house had no direct water access itself, and we were forced to share communal toilets with 15 other families. I don't remember any of this, but I am told that in that one room, we ate, slept, washed, cooked, laughed and sometimes cried. I took my first steps there. My father worked odd jobs in Amman and was determined to make it out of the camp.

Once there, my family shared a small house in Dammam with my uncle and his five kids. Dammam was a Gulf city rising from the sand like a mythical genie, energised by black oil and the blood and sweat of foreign workers and Palestinian refugees. I remember our living room was divided by a partition. One half was for guests and the other half was our bedroom. We shared two bunk beds against the wall and a mattress on the floor. Our family had grown and now we were five siblings in all.

Childhood in Saudi Arabia was tough. We were overwhelmed by the cultural differences and the difficult-to-understand Saudi dialect of Arabic. And while I had heard so much about Palestine growing up, I had to imagine what jasmine smells like. What does a pomegranate tree look like? How can there be a fruit tree growing in someone's backyard? All we had in Dammam was desert sand and high walls surrounding our home. Outside, the streets were hostile and dangerous, and we always felt like we did not belong.

Discovering the Arab World in the 'Desert Ship'

My father announced we would set sail in his Chevrolet sedan, named the Desert Ship, to explore the geography of the world in which we lived. Our goal was to drive across the desert to the Fertile Crescent, and hopefully, visit our home in Palestine. He stocked his Desert Ship to the brim with water bottles, boiled eggs, dried figs, za'atar (a Middle Eastern herb spice like thyme) sandwiches, pillows and blankets. He sat behind the wheel with the love of his life, my mother, beside him, and all five of us squeezed in the back.

It was on that trip that I came to understand so much more about the Arab World and my place in it.

I was six years old and was starting to develop a need for space and reflection. I refused to be crammed into the back of our sedan, so I stretched my small body across the ledge behind the back seat instead. My face was stuck to the rear window, and my eyes were open wide. I can remember every detail of the two-month journey: the sights, smells, and sounds of the Arab World.
I can still see the sand dunes and camel caravans of Saudi Arabia, feel the warm, salty waters of the Gulf in Kuwait, hear the humming of factories that stretched for miles along the Euphrates river, and envision the manicured trees that lined the impeccable streets of Baghdad, the beautiful, rolling hills of Jordan, the astonishing beauty that is Lebanon, and the simplicity of life in Syria. On that road trip, I learned my geography and embraced my Arab identity. I learned many lessons, too; the first being how generous and hospitable strangers can be.

After driving through the Arabian desert for a full day, we pulled into a small town in northern Saudi Arabia. My father simply rolled down the window, called to a boy standing by the side of the road, and asked him to point us in the direction of the Palestinian teacher's house. My father knew that in every town in Saudi Arabia there would be at least one Palestinian refugee working as a teacher.

Sure enough, the boy took us to a small house shared by two Palestinian brothers, both teachers at the local primary school. My father stood at their door and told them we were a Palestinian family that was travelling and needed a place to stay. The brothers took us in, their wives cooked us dinner, and then they gave us their beds to sleep in. The next morning they made us breakfast and sent us on our way with extra sandwiches and water bottles. Their generosity and kind hearts knew no bounds.

Later on, when we couldn't find a restaurant after driving for hours across Lebanon's mountain ranges, we stopped at someone's house to ask if they knew where we could eat. They insisted that we be their guests, and simply wouldn't take no for an answer. They prepared a feast before sending us on our way with full stomachs and treasured memories.
On that trip, I also learned that the lines between Muslim sects were blurry and insignificant, as we, a Sunni family, casually stopped to pray at a Shia mosque on the outskirts of Baghdad. And I discovered just how moving the theatre could be after seeing Duraid Lahham's play, Dhay'at Tishreen, at the magnificent and storied Hamra Theatre in Beirut.

I got to see an Arab world that, at the time of our trip in 1974, was embracing modernity while also safeguarding its heritage. It was a world where music, museums, mosques, theatres, universities, factories, and gardens combined, and it was thriving.

Visiting Gaza 

But not all the trip's lessons came from positive experiences.

When we arrived at the crossing between Jordan and Israel, border officials separated the men and boys from the women and girls, and a female Israeli soldier asked us to all strip down to our underwear. A sense of shame washed over me, combining with my embarrassment for my mother and older sisters. I couldn't understand what the soldier was hoping to find beneath our dresses. I didn't make eye contact with anyone for a few hours after that, and we drove from the crossing to Gaza in silence.

In Gaza, we were welcomed by family members, too many, in fact, for me to remember every one by name. Gaza was so green and it smelled like perfume at night. Later, I understood that that was the scent of jasmine; at last, I had my own memories to match my parents' stories, and over the few weeks that we stayed in Gaza, I filled my mind with new lessons and experiences.

I learned to climb the almond trees in my great-grandfather's yard and crack the hard almond shells to get to the nut inside. I learned to stay away from the cactus hedges, and had my mother or father peel the fruit for me. I learned to surrender my cheeks to the endless kisses and pinches of my many relatives. I learned how to walk past the lizards on the wall without flinching. I loved that I could understand the words spoken on the street, much unlike Saudi Arabia, where my ears hadn't yet grown accustomed to the local dialect. I learned to feel safe in the embrace of older women, and I learned their names. 

But being in Palestine also showed me a world of gates and borders, and forced me to interact with soldiers who violated our sense of dignity.
Since that trip so much has changed in the Arab World. Today, it is no longer safe to take a road trip across the desert, and the sense of generosity and old-fashioned hospitality that once reigned has fallen victim to the growing mistrust and violence that continues to spread across the region, sparing no one and nothing at all.

But back in 1974, I slept in my father's arms in the desert south of Baghdad, looking up at the stars as he recited poetry. While I could not fully understand his pain at the time, I remember that his poems were about his yearning for Palestine. He was under no illusions, even then, knowing full well that divisions, oppression, and injustice stood in the way of him ever moving back to his homeland.

Theatre provides an escape 

Our summer vacation was over and we returned to our home in Saudi Arabia. I was ready to start my first year of school. My mother bought me a small black abaya (a loose cloak that covers the body from shoulders to feet) and a veil. I was now a school girl and subjected to the cruel realities of sexual harassment in the street and the relentless pursuit of the religious police who threaten to beat those women and girls not properly covered.
Aware of the predatory gaze of some men in a world where no women were visible, I found it soothing to disappear beneath an abaya and veil. Sometimes, I even wished I could become invisible forever. The only bright light I remember from my early childhood years, was the comfort I found in reading novels and books of poetry, and the joy I experienced when playing theatre with my siblings and cousins.

My sister would make up a story, and we would escape to the rooftop of our house to act it out. One summer, an uncle saw us, and he was so impressed that he hung a red curtain for us to use. Just like that, the rooftop became a professional theatre.

But those years quickly passed, and the curtain eventually came down.

Leaving the Middle East

In 1980, we left the region for good and immigrated to Australia, thousands and thousands of kilometres away.

When we stepped off the plane at Tullamarine airport in Melbourne, I felt as though my eyes would pop out of my head as I tried in vain to contain the vibrancy of the green fields that surrounded us. Australia was unlike anything I had ever seen.

By then, our family had grown again, and I was one of seven siblings.

As we drove through the streets of Melbourne, I saw that almost every neighbourhood had a playground with grass fields, swings, slides and picnic tables. That these were shared public spaces that anyone could use for free was an exciting concept.

My father bought a farm in the rolling hills of the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, about 35 kilometres east of Melbourne. Our house was at the top of a hill. By then, my father owned a successful company in Saudi Arabia, and when he wasn't working on the farm or on his business, he wrote poems and novels about Palestine.

My mother's arms, meanwhile, seemed as wide as the universe, holding us all together, as we floated above the ground, navigating our way between identities and homeland.

We worked hard on the farm, chasing runaway cows back into paddocks, mending fences and herding livestock to greener pastures. Our new world was exciting and filled with adventure! We ached to belong to it.

The first few years were dedicated to learning English, making new friends, and understanding our new, hybrid identities. Now we belonged to the hyphenated Palestinian population that is spread out across the globe. We became Australian citizens, but this didn't change how others looked at us. 'Where are you from?' 'What's your Christian name?' and other annoying questions continued to taunt us. Not only could they not pronounce our names, or recognise Palestine, we could never show them our country of origin on a map.

In 1982, the civil war in Lebanon had reached its peak. Our grief-stricken parents watched in horror as news of massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut spread across the airwaves, reminding the world of the many injustices Palestinians continued to endure.

For the first time, I saw Palestinians on the news, but they weren't breathing; they were corpses piled on top of each other, mostly women and children. Melbourne's The Age newspaper ran an opinion piece that expressed outrage, not at the perpetrators of the massacre, but at the coverage it was receiving. The article questioned whether Palestinians would get so much attention if they didn't have oil running through their veins? The insinuation was that Palestinians were Arabs, and therefore, by association, they must have oil and big money. I found myself writing a response to the piece, and to my surprise it was published. I was 14 and had just discovered my voice.

That was when I vowed to use this voice, to the best of my abilities, for as long as I live.

Throughout the years, when I wasn't marching in protests or writing articles or opinion pieces, I found refuge in writing poetry and plays for theatrical productions. I got married and lived in Canada for many years, where I raised my three children, now all adults. I have since returned to Australia.
My life's work reflects the passage of time, the ongoing deterioration of the Arab world, and more specifically, the ongoing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people. Shut out from mainstream news networks, I plugged into the online world of Palestinian activism.

The Palestine Chronicle was instrumental in my journey of honing my skills as a writer. Other websites like Electronic Intifada and more recently the think-tank, Al-Shabaka, created a virtual space for Palestinian intellectuals to connect, write and learn. 

In 2008, the bombs began to fall on Gaza. For three weeks, we watched our families and loved ones suffer the brutality of Israel's ruthless campaign. I wrote poetry, and those poems turned into a play, which in turn became my most significant accomplishment as a writer.

Tales of a City by the Sea explores the lives of Palestinians in Gaza under siege and bombardment. Though its characters are fictional, the play is inspired by the real-life stories I collected during that period. In my play, Rami, an American-born Palestinian doctor who boards the Free Gaza boats, the first to break the siege in 2008, falls in love with Jomana, a Palestinian blogger from the Shati refugee camp.

While Rami promises Jomana he will return, when he comes back to Gaza with his mother to ask for Jomana's hand in marriage, they get stuck at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza. That's when Israel's bombing campaign begins. Rami uses underground tunnels to get into the territory, and he volunteers at Shifa hospital in Gaza City. His love for Jomana is tested by the daily horrors of life in Gaza.

In 2013, during Mohamed Morsi's brief period of rule as president of Egypt, the stifling siege on Gaza was relaxed, and the Rafah crossing was opened. My husband and I took the opportunity to visit our families in Gaza, and I put on a play reading at the Al Qattan Centre for the Child, a local community centre for children. The audience was thrilled to see a love story on stage that reflected their lives, and I vowed to premiere the play in Gaza, the West Bank and Melbourne at the same time the following year. In doing so, I hoped to overcome Israel's walls and efforts to fragment Palestinians by connecting artists in all three places.

Little did I know that months before our production teams were ready to stage the play in 2014, a more brutal and ruthless bombing campaign would begin. Lasting 51 days, the war devastated Gaza once again. The Gaza-based production never took place, but we were able to stage the play at La Mama theatre in Melbourne and the Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Society in Aida Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

After its sold-out 2014 season, Tales of a City by the Sea was added to the Victorian Certificate of Education playlist, to be taught to high school students. For the first time, I felt that I, a Palestinian, was a part of Australia's cultural and social fabric. That the story of my people would be taught in schools gave me a sense of inclusion and pride.
But adding the play to the VCE curriculum triggered a vicious campaign by B'nai Brith, a right-wing Zionist group, to have it removed. The campaign was so frenzied that the Victorian State parliament even interrupted its own budget hearing to discuss removing the Palestinian love story from its VCE playlist.

In the end, the support of teachers, educators, theatregoers, artists, dramatists, writers and so many others in Australia was overwhelming. The play remained on the VCE list, it had a second sellout season at La Mama, a national, three-city tour across Australia, and an international season in Kuala Lumpur. All the performances were met with full houses and standing ovations.

The tide had shifted and popular support for the Palestinian cause is now visible. But Gaza continues to deteriorate, and Palestine has been reduced to fragmented Bantustans.
Recently, at Montreal's Blue Metropolis Writers Festival, I was asked why my main character, Jomana, chooses to stay in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison. I explained that the play captures a snapshot of life in Gaza at a time when there was still hope. But if I were to write a sequel to this play today, Jomana would be desperately trying to leave.

Today, Gaza is polarised, its people forced to choose between two bad leadership options that excel only at blaming one another for everything from an electricity crisis to the siege and inhumane conditions in hospitals. Who will save Palestinians from their corrupt and inept leaders? Neither Hamas nor Fatah offer any long-term liberation strategy. The Palestinian Authority is only concerned with maintaining its power at the expense of its own people's aspirations. The only hope we have is in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, but BDS only offers a strategy for resistance, it does not offer alternatives to the political power structures that have shackled our people in Occupied Palestine.

Change has to begin with us. Our principles must unite us: freedom, justice, equality. I know my contribution is modest compared to the greater sacrifices of those lingering in Israeli prisons, the families of martyrs, or the refugees stuck in refugee camps since 1948, or washing ashore on Europe's beaches. But all I have is my voice. So I write.


in Motion

© 2017 Al Jazeera Media Network.

Written by: Samah Sabawi

Photographer: Mohammed Asad

Developed by: @AJLabs

Courtesy of Al Jazeera. It has, in its wonderful series Palestine in Motion published several engrossing and illuminating stories of loss, love, trauma, hope, and ultimately, of what it means to be Palestinian. To read the deeply personal and revealing stories of ordinary people who survived massacres, displacement and military occupation go to

Sunday, July 9, 2017

India's shift toward Israel a snub to Plestinians

By Gulamhusein A Abba

How things have changed even in my lifetime! Gone are the days when India was an important part of the Non Aligned Movement. For a time it was even perceived as leaning to the left. Now, under Modi, India has swung to the extreme right.

Nehru’s sympathies lay with the Palestinians and those suffering in Gaza.

In 1956 when the UN Emergency force came to guard the Armistice Demarcation Lines drawn in the battle between Israel and Egypt, it included a detachment of Indian troops which remained there till the 1967 Six Day war between Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

Modi next to Netanyahu doing Namaste
Indian military presence is still there. Recently three Indian warships landed in Haifa, no, not to guard aid ships coming from various parts of the world with supplies for Gaza but to take part in joint exercises with the Israeli navy

Add to this fact that when Modi visited Israel in July for a three day visit, he did not schedule a single meeting with Palestinian leadership. It was all about signing a series of economic agreements and expanding defense ties into a broader trade and technology relationship in areas such as water conservation, space and agriculture. The deals included purchase of $2 billion worth of weapons technology from them.

“We expected him to visit both Israel and Palestine,” Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister Tasir Jaradat told Al Jazeera, adding that to “play an important role between the two sides and to be able to spread the message of peace, one should visit both.”

Modi giving a warm hug to Netanyahu
The Palestinians wanted Modi to be more like Gandhi who was strongly against the occupation of Israeli territories by Israel.

Not only Palestinians but some Indians back home were critical. They felt that Prime Minister Modi is developing a closer ideological relationship with his Israeli counterpart.

The far-left Communist Party of India (Marxist) was blunt.

“The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel marks a rupture in the long-held position of India which has viewed Israel as an occupying power of Palestinian territories,” the party said in a statement.

It branded India’s “strategic partnership” with Israel “a virtual abandonment of the Palestinian cause” that was “reinforced by Modi not visiting Ramallah and the Palestinian Authority.

Particularly disturbing were pictures of Modi giving a warm hug to Benjamin Netanyahu and both of them frolicking in the waves on visit to mobile desalination unit

Friday, June 23, 2017

“They speak of pain who have never felt a pinprick”

Those who are rich or comfortably well off have no idea of the difficulties, problems and dangers faced daily by those who struggle to make a living, even though they work two jobs. Those sitting in their comfortable, air-conditioned offices blithely pass bills without being aware of the real, often life-threatening dangers that loom for the less fortunate as a result of these laws.

Lost in their day to day, hour to hour struggles, the toiling masses have no time to articulate their woes. When some do speak out, their voices are not given a forum.

Today I bring to you one such voice, the voice of a brave and selfless soul who has devoted her life to fighting for the just rights of the weak and sidelined. Listen carefully to the voice of Jean Carol.

Jean Carol

Jean Carol:
" ‘Oh, that won't happen’ I was told.

" ‘They won't take away Medicaid’ they said.

" ‘They'll have to have SOMETHING in place for them’ (for Kids like ours. with Insulin Dependent Diabetes).

" ‘You're so Dramatic’.

“Then--they said I hurt their feelings, because I was angry, furious when they wouldn't stand up for our little boy.

“Now here we are. Days away from a vote that could decide whether we survive financially. More than that, if we physically survive. We would both need a second income, just to pay our kids insulin costs.

“And my partner would start having seizures due to lack of sleep from working so many hours, and the stress of worry.

“Me? My premiums will become too expensive to afford. I'll be sick, a lot, especially as I'll be taking another job, and taking care of my family.

“The GOP has been telling us since the ACA first passed what they intended to do if they ever got the power. Now they do. And they are. And those who voted them in, and those who stay silent have only themselves to blame.

“If you have been silent to date, and you don't stand up now, and call your senators, email the GOP, call the WH, how much did you ever really care about us?

“We are in a battle to survive. And right now, it looks like it's a losing battle. Are you an ally to us? And if not, who are you?

“The new health bill specifically targets kids like ours. Insulin is incredibly costly. As are the associated supplies. Medicaid will be capped, at the amount of the average recipient. Diabetics are way above the average recipient. And McConnell says "they can just go to the ER". FFS!!”

Here is the comment I made to her post:

Gulamusein A. Abba: “This is truly heartbreaking. I feel terrible about the situation because I know you, know how much you have given to the community, how you've stood up whenever it was necessary to do so. And just imagine, There will be thousands who will face the same dilemma. This in the richest country in the world!!

“It makes me sick when people say, "what's the problem? They can always go to the ER". They are like those who speak of pain who have never felt a pinprick. “Go to the ER”!!!! They speak who have never had to step in there even once. Listening to your plight, Jean is making me feel guilty about receiving the benefits I do under Medicare. But for Medicare I would be in a worse position than you. My heart goes out to you, my dear, dear Jean. I wish I could help in some way”.

And here is how Jean responded on her timeline: “Oh, Abba, I'll always be happy that you DO have healthcare. Never feel guilty for that”. So selfless. So devoid of hurt feelings. That is Jean.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Scathing attack on Saudi Arabia

By Gulamhusein A. Abba

“Stop pouring petrol on these fires on the other side of the world”
“Violence has a way of coming home”

Senator Scott Ludlam
Scott Ludlam, co deputy leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, opposing the  Australian government sponsored arms deal to Saudi Arabia , in a strong speech exposed the hypocrisy of Western governments who claim to be upholders of the rule of law, of justice and freedom and human rights.

He proposed a unilateral arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and launched a scathing attack on the actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen. He said “there is a word for this kind of horrific violence aginst nonmilitary targets and that word is “terrorism”

Referring to the famine being faced by the Yemenis, he said, “This is an engineered famine. It is an engineered epidemic. There is a word for this too. That word is “genocide”.

Quoting diplomatic cables published by the WikiLeaks organization, he said the cables revealed the following: Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Saudi terrorist groups worldwide. He went on to reveal that these were US Department cables

Citing the “eye for an eye” approach followed by Saudi Arabia government, he revealed that in 2003 and Indian guest worker was punished for his role in a brawl in which a Saudi citizen was wounded. He was punished by having his right eye gouged out.

Blogger  Raif Badwi
Scott said, “this is a barbaric place. Do you know who stood up in Saudi Arabia for human rights and democracy, unlike the United States government or indeed our own? A blogger called Raif Badawi. It is just on five years since he was arrested and sentenced to thousands of lashes and 10 years in prison. He is still in prison – a blogger…”

Lashing of Raif Badawi

Salman Rushdie on why we must read Raif Badawi
A terrific speech. It took a lot of courage to make it and I take my hats off to Scott Ludlam.
Please see the video of the full speech by Mr. Scott at

It may come as a surprise that this condemnation of the Sunni government of Saudi Arabia is being praised by me, a Sunni. In fact, it is no surprise. Firstly because a wrong is a wrong and it must be condemned, no matter who the wrong doer is, and he who has the courage to condemn it deserves to be praised. Secondly, the majority of Sunnis, myself included, do not accept that Saudi Arabia represents correctly the concept of Islam held by Sunni Muslims today

PS. Two of the hypocrites:

Monday, June 5, 2017

Who the aggressor, who the victim?

By Gulamhusein A. Abba

When Hearst Media’s News Times published a piece by me in which I detailed how the U.S., in addition to vetoing UN resolutions critical of Israel, protects Israel in the UN in various other ways, including bullying UN Secretary General into abandoning appointment of a Palestinian to an important position in the UN and withdrawing a UN report on apartheid in Israel, a reader responded.

He did not dispute a word of what I had written. Instead he rolled out what appeared to be talking points that are distributed to a network of Israel supporters to be used whenever anything critical of Israel appears in the press,

He pointed out that every U.S. president since Israel’s founding in 1947 has supported Israel, implying that it proves Israel was deserving of US support. He then went on to claim that Israel has been the victim of Palestinians who want to eliminate Israel and that Israel has made several peace proposals but the Palestinians have rejected them.

President Obama declared Israel to be America's "best friend"
 There are some who continue to honor the Goebbelsian belief that repeating a lie often enough will turn it into a truth.

Far be it from me to accuse the reader of lying. I am sure he honestly believes that what he has stated in his letter is true. It is not.

Such falsification of truth needs to be corrected lest others start accepting it. It is in that spirit that this is being written.

Below are the statements made by the reader. My response to them appears in italics below each statement:

Reader: Mr. Abba in his Where I Stand article of May 24 questions U.S. support of Israel, which has been reaffirmed by every U.S. president since Israel’s founding in 1947.
Response:Every US president has affirmed U.S. support for Israel since its founding in 1947 because U.S. politicians rely on the votes of Christian evangelists and Jewish supporters of Israel in U.S and on huge donations that AIPAC is able to funnel into election funds of those who support Israel. It may be noted that every US president has also referred to land East of 1967 borders to be “occupied land” and has also held Israeli colonies built on this land to be illegal

Also, consider this. It would be so very, very difficult to establish a huge military base in the middle of all the Islamic nations. And so "offensive". It would alienate most if not all the Islamic nations. It would not be in U.S. interests to do that. Much easier to help a group of rabid Arab haters, "people without a land" seeking a homeland in "a land without people". That could be promoted as a noble thing to do and also help atone for the sins of our past. Then, once this "homeland" was established, pump millions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition into this new State to help it keep an eye on, and keep in line, the "pesky" Islamic nations in this region so rich in resources we need.  

Reader: Since then, Israel has had to defend itself against invading Arab armies pledging its extermination in 1948, 1967 and 1993.
Response: In 1948 the Arab armies entered Palestine to protect Palestinians from being massacred by Israel. Jewish militias and paramilitary forces, such as Irgun (The Etzel), Haganah (Irgun Beth), Lehi (The Stern Gang) had started the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from areas they wanted to be part of a Jewish state BEFORE the founding of Israel. These massacres, including the Dir Yassein massacre, occurred before a single plane from any Arab country had made its appearance in the area. The Palestinians were helpless. The British, whose duty it was under the British Mandate to protect them did nothing. Instead, when the Palestinians needed them most, they decided to abandon the Mandate and leave the Palestinians to the tender mercies of the Zionists. This gave the Zionists a free hand to carry out the massacres.  

Dir Yassein massacre
The ethnic cleansing is acknowledged by Jewish historians like Ilan Pappe and Benny Norris. Look it up yourself. See also Rosemarie M. Esber’s meticulously documented history “Under the Cover of War: The Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians”. For now listen to the testimony of a Jewish veteran who took part in this ethnic cleaning:

The 1967  war was initiated by Israel. It was launched to acquire territory needed to accomplish Zionist dream of establishing Ertez Israel in the whole of British Mandate Palestine and beyond.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledged in a speech in 1982 that its war on Egypt was a war of “choice”

Menachem Begin
Reader: It is ironic and perhaps not coincidental that on the date of publication Israel was celebrating Jerusalem Day, the 50th anniversary of the unification of the city
Response:The date of publication is not decided by me. It is an editorial decision. What is more,  East Jerusalem is land occupied by Israel through force. It is recognized by the international community as such. Its retention by Israel is in violation of international law. The unification of West and East Jerusalem by Israel is to be condemned, not celebrated.

Reader: Mr. Abba understandably feels for the disaster that befell the Palestinians in 1948, but the consequences of that war were due to their refusal to accept UN partition and to reject the existence of the State of Israel in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews.
Response:The disaster that befell Palestinians in 1948 was not due to the justified refusal by them to accept the UN partition plan but due to the aggressive war of acquisition that Israel waged.
Palestine may have been the “ancient homeland of the Jews”. That is neither here nor there. Palestine has been part of the Ottoman Empire since living memory and it is the homeland of the Palestinians who have lived on it continuously all this time.

Reader: The hatred of Israel still exists and has prevented the Palestinians from saying yes to the various offers for peace over the years.
Response:Israel has made not a single genuine and viable offer of peace over the years. Palestinians on the other hand have studiously and patiently carried on the unending peace negotiations and have agreed to recognize the State of Israel not only in the area earmarked for it  in the UN partition proposal (about 55% of British Mandate Palestine) but in area within the 1967 borders, ie. in about 88% of the British Mandate Palestine. It is Israel that refuses to accept a Palestinian state in this vastly truncated Palestine and goes on building illegal Israeli colonies in West Bank in direct violation of international law and of the Oslo agreement.
Israel remains committed not to living in peace and friendship with Palestinians but to establishing a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine, including West Bank and East Jerusalem. less areas with predominantly Arab populations, which cluster of Bantustans it will “recognize” as the State of Palestine! 
Reader: Mr. Abba, let’s place a note in that Wall!
Response: Mr. Reader, I will gladly accompany you to post a note in the Wall you have in mind if you will accompany me to break down the “separation wall” that Israel has built, most of it on land earmarked in the UN partition plan for an Arab state.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Should the UN succumb to bullying?

By: Gulamhusein A,Abba

United Nations, which in its early days had only 51 member States, now has 193 members, having welcomed South Sudan as its 193rd member in July 2011.

These 193 nations are scattered all over the world. They have different and even opposing interests of their own as also different viewpoints and ideas on various important matters. Criticism, oppositions, rejections, counter proposals, opposing demands and sometimes even harsh language are to be expected.

However, all States accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, the judgment of the Organization.

In this setting, is it proper for any member State to bully United Nations into doing whatever it wants done? And if any State does so bully, should the UN meekly submit to such bullying and carry out the wishes of the bully?

It is hoped that the answers to both these questions will be a resounding, deafening NO.

And yet one of the member States did not only resort to such bullying but bragged about it!

It happened in the vast hall where AIPAC, an organization committed to strengthening, protecting and promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship, held its annual meeting in March

As usual, the hall was jam packed with vociferous supporters. The speakers included a long list of VIPs.

The lady in virgin white
 At one point a lady stepped onto to the stage. She was dressed immaculately in virgin white and walked confidently and with ease in her fashionable high heels. The house broke into loud applause. It was none other than the US Ambassador to the UN, Indian American Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina who, though she formerly was in support of flying the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds, after the Charleston church shooting led calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State Capitol, and ultimately, in July 2015 signed a Bill to authorize removing the Confederate flag from the flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol.

Her entrance was a sight to see. She put her hand to her heart again and again and made a gesture as though she was throwing it to the crowd, indicating her heart was with them!

Nikki Haley preparing to 'blow' her heart to the AIPAC crowd
Perhaps bearing in mind her Indian origin, she felt it necessary to explain her high heels. She said, “I wear heels. It is not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong we are going to kick them every single time”

A rather strange way of conducting affairs at UN. More expected in Parliament houses of some countries we need not mention here but not in UN. And certainly not from the ambassador of the US.

So we now know that Nikki Haley is all fired up and ready to use her high heels to go on a kicking rampage in the UN. But what about the bullying part?

According to her she made it clear to the UN that the days of “Israel bashing” are over and that the US is not going to put up with it anymore. When they did not fully understand what she was saying and tried to put a Palestinian in one of the highest positions that had ever been given at the U.N., the US said NO and had him booted out. But, according to Nikki, the UN still did not get it and “tested” the US again.

Here, according to Nikki Haley, is what the UN did. “….a ridiculous report, the Falk Report, came out. I don't know who the guy is or what he's about, but he's got serious problems. Goes and compares Israel to an apartheid state. So the first thing we do is we call the secretary general and say, this is absolutely ridiculous. You have to pull it. The secretary general immediately pulled the report. And then the director has now resigned”

The Palestinian who Nikki Haley claimed credit for blocking is the former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The position he was to be appointed was to the UN mission in Libya. He is known for his moderate pragmatism and is highly regarded in American and also Israeli circles. Haley did not dispute his qualifications. Explaining her blocking of him she said, “That doesn't mean he wasn't a nice man. That doesn't mean he wasn't good to America”.

Then why did she block him? “What it means is, until the Palestinian Authority comes to the table, until the U.N. responds the way they're supposed to, there are no freebees for the Palestinian Authority anymore”. Obviously she wants the UN to behave as the US wants it to. And what freebees was she referring to? Palestinians have received none.

Salam Fayyad the man Nikki Haley claims to have blocked
Her blocking of Salam Fayyad met with criticism even from her peers. Former US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro said “Stunningly dumb”. And former UN ambassador Susan Rice wrote “Fayyad is first rate. The UN would be lucky to have him in Libya or anywhere else.”

And the “guy” whom she said she did not know who he was is none other than world renowned Richard Falk. He is the former United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories and knows more about what is happening on the ground in the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and Israel than Nikki Haley will ever come to know. He is also a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global and International Studies, an international relations scholar, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice Emeritus at Princeton University. He is author or editor of some 60 books and hundreds of articles on international human rights law, Middle East politics, environmental justice, and other fields concerning human rights and international relations.

Nikki Haley may have thought she was being cute by referring to him as some “guy” whom she did not know. But she only displayed her abysmal ignorance.

Richard Falk
The report she blocked was commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA). Its purpose was to examine the argument for regarding Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ with respect to the whole of the Palestinian people. Titled ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’, it was coauthored by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley and ran into 74 pages, crammed with well researched facts and views. It was further edited by Mr. Damien Simonis of ESCWA, Conference Services Section.

The pressure put on the UN by Nikki Haley on behalf of the U.S. had three disastrous consequences.

First, most regrettably, it made the Secretary General cave in to the demands made on him by the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and formally request ESCWA to withdraw the Falk-Tilley report.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres 
 Second, it led to the resignation of ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf. The formal request by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that ESCWA withdraw the publication of the scholarly report that found Israel guilty of apartheid put her in a dilemma. She could not possibly withdraw, in good conscience, the said report.

AESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf.
At the same time, she was acutely aware that, working in the UN Secretariat, she was subject to his authority. So she adopted the only solution that was available. She resigned even though her term was to expire in just two weeks more. She wrote in her letter of resignation: “my resignation is therefore not intended for political pressure. It is simply because I feel it my duty towards the people we serve, towards the UN and towards myself, not to withdraw an honest testimony about an ongoing crime that is at the root of so much human suffering. Therefore, I hereby submit to you my resignation from the United Nations”.

Third, it ultimately led to the withdrawal of this important report.

A triple win for Haley. UN members are, according to her, now afraid to talk to her about Resolution 2334, Salaam Fayyad’s appointment has been blocked and the Falk-Tilley report has been taken off the website of the UN.

The speech was a great success for Nikki Haley. The audience brought down the rafters with their applause again and again. Her speech was studiously crafted to elicit just that effect. To win the hearts of the AIPAC crowd, get name recognition with them, get their approval and support, all with an eye for her future career

It was good for the AIPAC crowd. It was good for Nikki Haley. But the question is, is it good for truth and justice and fight against oppression? Is it good for the long suffering Palestinians or for USA or for Israel itself?

In an earlier part of her speech, Nikki Haley said, “….leading isn't saying and doing things when it's comfortable. Leading is saying and doing things when it's not comfortable”

She needs to remind herself again and again of that and act according to it.

I am sure her Sikh parents would be prouder of her if she did that than even if she one day became the President of USA.

God save America.

Related videos:
Powerful resignation letter by UN’s Rima Khalaf about removal of UN apartheid report

Open Letter to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Our Report on Apartheid in Israel

UN Sponsored Report on Israel’s Responsibility for Apartheid in relation to the Palestinian People 03.9.17