Friday, August 22, 2014

Narrative: To live now as we think human beings should live

by Dr.Mazin Qumsiyeh of Beit Sahour

Also posted at

I have not written much lately and this email maybe personal and emotional.
Our days start early and end very late. Our nights are also occasionally
interrupted by calls from friends in Gaza or others who need some support.
In the past 48 hours, over 100 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli
occupation forces. Many of those are in Rafah. Sometimes I feel guilty that
I am affected more by those I know than those who die that I did not know.
For example, I cried after I hung-up the phone with Islam, a friend in
Rafah who has four children and they can't sleep and their house shook and
windows shattered as missiles rained on homes nearby. I cried because I
know him and his handicapped son and his dilemma at whether to try to carry
his son and run to the street or not. But then I cried some more thinking
of the many innocents who got killed and injured and who I dd not
personally know and did not cry for them earlier. Islam and his family will
be traumatized for life. Hundreds of thousands will be even more
traumatized. I can't even imagine a life of a girl who lost all her family
members and carries emotional and physical scars for life.

Sometimes I think I carry scars too. Perhaps I cope because I am so lucky
to have positive things to do daily to keep me from thinking too much. I am
lucky because I can help others. I am lucky that I am surrounded by dozens
of young volunteers that show us what life could be like in the future.
Volunteers passing out fliers about boycotts, volunteers reclaiming
agricultural lands, volunteers helping us build a natural history museum in
Palestine, volunteers helping other volunteers cope with a difficult life,
volunteers giving time and money to needy children, and volunteers doing
media work (that should have been done by paid professionals). Aida refugee
camp where some of those volunteers live is really unlivable because of
daily dumping of toxic gas and toxic stink water by the Israeli occupation
forces. Its health impact is dramatic and far worse than respiratory

People ask me about politics and claim it is too complex. I say it is
simple and predictable. For thousands of years we had a struggle between
wealthy greedy people who employ others to shoot and injure poor people so
that they wealthy people get richer. It was like that at the time of Jesus
and it is like that today. Some (minority) who get offered a chance will
join forces of repression and go with the flow of power. Others (also a
minority) lead an active life that helps change things for the better for a
lot of people. The majority in the middle remain apathetic. More people
need to see the truth and act on it. It is not too difficult even for those
who were on the side of repression to change. Yonatan Shapira former
Israeli Air Force captain became a refusnik and BDS activist and once
wrote: "Most of my family came from Poland and many of my relatives were
killed in the death camps during the Holocaust. When I walk in what was
left from the Warsaw Ghetto I can’t stop thinking about the people of Gaza
who are not only locked in an open air prison but are also being bombarded
by fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones, flown by people whom I used
to serve with. I am also thinking about the delegations of young Israelis
that are coming to see the history of our people but also are subjected to
militaristic and nationalistic brainwashing on a daily basis. Maybe if they
see what we wrote here today they will remember that oppression is
oppression, occupation is occupation, and crimes against humanity are
crimes against humanity, whether they have been committed here in Warsaw or
in Gaza". I only add resistance is resistance' Warsaw ghetto residents also
dug tunnels and were also called terrorists by their tormentors.

In my 2004 book “Sharing the land of Canaan” I wrote:
“Palestinians were subjected to cruel and unreasonable treatment over so
many years that many begin to doubt that justice is possible and many
certainly believe coexistence impossible. Similarly, since many Israelis
have been feeling embattled and attacked that many also feel that
coexistence is impossible. A defeatist attitude develops and envelops not
only Palestinians and Israelis but also may of their supporters. But either
the societies coexist as peaceful human beings or they will perish as rival
primate societies.…..A sense of hopelessness and desperation leaves many
looking for “crumbs” of both material and psychological “food”. This is
especially stressful when combined with the deep commitment by many to
historical myths of grandeur or glory. I am not going to spend much time on
the history of the Jewish, Arabic and Islamic civilizations (volumes have
been written on these). Suffice it to say that our psychological profile is
one that contrasts our existing condition with the perceived greatness of
our ancestors and our prophets. We thus assume ourselves as a privileged
group but this immediately contrasts with what we observe to be the
destitute present situation as described throughout this book. This is
especially true for the Palestinian people who are dispossessed. We can
address the bigger issues of why 1.3 billion Muslims or 300 million Arabs
(Muslims and Christians) have so little to say in the direction of world
economies and social and cultural developments so dominated now by the US
as a sole remaining power. But perhaps this too can be resolved slowly once
the knot of friction in Israel/Palestine is resolved. Imagine the example
set if this one place in the world, previously an example of violence,
endemic hatred and tribalism, can transcend all this to build a truly
shining example of coexistence and non-violence. Imagine the billions of
dollars spent on armaments going to desalinate seawater, to build high tech
industries, and truly harness the great minds of the inhabitants (Jews,
Christians, and Muslims) for positive developments.…....Perhaps we need to
teach children to value themselves, value teamwork, respect others and
defend the rights of minorities. This is not as simple as it seems. Adults
perhaps need to learn to accept, in a very positive fashion, views that are
foreign to them. In other words, someone who speaks his views regarding
issues should be listened to and respected regardless of how sacred the
holy “cows” may be.”

I end with a quote from Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving
Train: A personal history of our times, p. 208): "To be hopeful in bad
times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human
history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion,
sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex
history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our
capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there
are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the
energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of
a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way,
we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an
infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings
should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a
marvelous victory."

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Mazin Qumsiyeh
A Bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor, Bethlehem University
Director, Palestine Museum of Natural History

Monday, August 11, 2014

Narrative: Dina writes again from Gaza

Today [August 9, 2014]  is day six in Gaza, the day it all starts getting to you. Yesterday we went out to look around and started saw the devastation. Homes destroyed, pharmacies, doctors’ surgeries…all blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions. I was still detached, I went around with my colleague Dr. Haytham, accompanied by old friends from Gaza. Dr. Yehia drove us around; we started in the Shejaieh neighborhood and Hay al Tuffah. The destruction, the putrid smells – I could see his pain as he showed us where was born and where his children were born. They destroyed my memories, he said. I could see him taking in a deep breath as he said this was enough for today…we were both seeing this destruction for the first time.

Today I knew why he was so reluctant to go through this. I realized what was around the corner. We drove by the site of where the Wafa hospital was. Total destruction – unrecognisable. The site included the old hospital building, the new hospital building, the old people’s nursing home and a centre for disabled children. Also near them was a school that was shelled…..WHAT THE HELL! Next to it was a huge home with the family sitting outside, looking, hoping, talking. Yet the smell of rot and flies all around were nagging on everyone’s mind. Could it be someone was still under all this rubble? They were trying to justify it. Perhaps it’s a cat or some crushed animal. Will it work, I wonder – the smell lingers in the air.

Then we reached Shejayieh. It looked like Hiroshima. Like the bomb had struck again. Again, no words could describe the scale of the devastation. I could not focus anymore, which heroic stand this was and which borders? One thing was for sure, it was total annihilation. HOW COULD THE WORLD have sat back silently?! How? As we approached, the people there ran up to our bus thinking we were the ambulance coming to the rescue as they had identified some body parts…

We got out and faced the public. We did not dare take out our cameras. There was a lot of tension and anger. People started telling us their stories, the children, the women, the men. We then came to the destroyed home of a great grandmother who had lost her son and his family and now they were digging up her daughter who herself was a grandmother…and most probably the body of her daughter next to her. It was pieces of a body. Hearing that great grandmother relate her story really moved me and made me realize how much I was part of this reality. In the operating room it was easy to shut out the emotions and let the adrenalin work its way into action.

We waited until the ambulances arrived. We did not want to leave before. The situation was very tense and delicate. What a stench, what a sight. I remembered the man sleeping in the hospital who had told me the first day and the third day, where do I go? Have you seen Shujaieh? We do not know where the house was or where the road was….

The children there were very proud. One did not have shoes on his feet. They related heroic stories of the resistance and of the Israeli army running away and fleeing, leaving their stretchers behind them. In fact, the borders were very close, just there. The camera in the sky was watching us. We were taken later to a hill in the liberated part of Gaza where the colony of Gush Katif stood. We were thanked for our efforts and invited to lunch. We met up with our colleagues from the south who had done a similar tour visiting Khuzaa, where resistance fighters were assassinated on their way to fight.

Inside the bus we were sweating in the heat, outside all we could see was destruction. The Gaza beach did not look as liberating or happy as it usually did. As we drove along, there was the coffee shop that was shelled, killing the youth who were watching the world cup match. A few meters more, another site, another home and so on – how could anyone look at the beach…..

We finally got back to Shifa hospital. I asked my colleague Shabaan to come and meet us as we went out to get something for Haneen to cheer her up. We went to a toy shop and a lady asked if she could buy something for the children in the hospital to cheer them up. After I chose what to get, she bought them and gave them to me, asking me to deliver them to the hospital.

We went to see Haneen, and her aunt was there. Her face looked more swollen and her hands warm, she had a fever. She thanked us for the colourful image poster, and I hung it up so she can look at. We also got her a balloon and a teddy bear. Some toys were already there. Again, she asked me about my daughter and wanted to see a picture. I could not pull up one of Haya, so I promised her to come tomorrow and show her. Her father arrived and she asked him about her mother, hoping she were ok…I later found out that Haneen still has a third sister in the hospital being treated for shell burns and that she was undergoing surgery tomorrow for a muscle transplant. I really hope she does not lose her arm. I asked her father what was happening, he said they will send her to Scotland for surgery. I asked when; he did not know.

On my way going to say goodbye to my colleagues in the operating room, I saw a boy being brought in for a wound debridement. As he was in a lot of pain, I looked at his foot, and it was gangrenous. He was writhing in bed. I got close to him and asked what was happening. I am scared, he told me. Of what? I asked. It is painful. Even without being touched? Yes, he said. When I asked him his name, it was Omar. They were trying to hurry him in I asked them to stop. I am ‘Im Omar,’ my eldest son is also called Omar, I said, so I am allowed a few seconds. I knelt closer to him and assured him that they will give him some medicine in the IV that will put him to sleep so he will not feel the pain of the dressing and we will see what to do when he wakes up. I stepped out of the theatre and called my friend Shaaban, hoping he will bring me a balloon and a toy for Omar. As soon as Shaaban answered the phone I was chocking up with tears. It was too much to bear these children surviving the shelling like this. Omar will lose a limb and Haneen might too – the pain has just started.

When Shaaban came, I went to see Omar. He was fast asleep. He will be coming to Jerusalem tomorrow. They do not know to which hospital yet. I told his parents to insist as each day he will lose more of his limb.
I asked about Scotland. It will take six months for any transfers. I hurried to my computer to find Magda – my colleague, a surgeon from Scotland. I know she will help………but who will take care of the children??????