Sunday, October 23, 2016

Occupational Health: Bearing Witness to Palestinian Lives

Below is a year-old piece that I hadn’t posted on time. It is copied directly from Palestine Square where it appears with some very relevant photos. [See ] I discovered the piece now while preparing a paper to be presented at this year’s Harvard Arab Weekend. I am participating as a panelist on the subject of Healthcare in Conflict Areas in MENA. Here is the link to the website of the event that is open to the public:

Occupational Health: Bearing Witness to Palestinian Lives
Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the Galilee village of Arrabeh. After receiving his medical degree from Harvard, he became the first Western-trained doctor in his village and as a former public health employee of the Israeli Ministry of Health was responsible for several Palestinian and Jewish communities in the Galilee. His experiences with the Health Ministry exemplified the state’s disregard for the well-being of its Palestinian citizens and the disparity in allocated resources between Arab and Jewish towns. In response, Dr. Kanaaneh left the Ministry and co-founded the public health organization The Galilee Society to serve neglected Palestinian villages and towns. He is the author of the memoir A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel and the recent collection of short stories Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee. Below he provides an engrossing account of the panels on Palestinian public health held during the Harvard Arab Weekend 2015 (November 5-8).

 “As leaders from Washington to Westminster stood aside and watched the slaughter with cynical passivity, Gilbert sounded the alarm, alerting the world to the crisis unfolding before his eyes.” That is how Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013) describes the courageous act of my Norwegian friend and colleague, Dr. Mads Gilbert, in dashing to Gaza in the summer of 2014 to volunteer his medical expertise and acute witnessing talents at al-Shifa Hospital. There, he experienced firsthand “[t]he sounds of bombs and screaming bodies torn to pieces and a society reduced to rubble; but I also saw camaraderie, dignity, human courage and unflinching resolve.” Those are the seeming contradictions at the heart of the massacre of Shujai’ieh, “The Land of the Brave,” and Gaza at large standing today as a testament to the inhumanity of humanity in the 21st century.

I want to sum up my impressions from the Fifth Harvard Arab Weekend (November 6-8, 2015), which I spent in the company of colleagues involved in the health politics of Palestine. But my emotions keep interfering with my thoughts, tender emotions of deep empathy with the likes of Mads, of anger at co-opted influential politicians, of pride of my medical colleagues and fellow Palestinians alike and of hope triggered by what I witnessed during the weekend.

An ensemble of young Arabs, especially Palestinian health professionals, had organized two consecutive evenings of health-focused academic events. They are at various stages of training at Harvard medical institutions, acknowledged to be among the best teaching and research facilities anywhere in the world. The young people put on well-organized and well-attended sessions with excellent content: The larger of the two events, the subject of my report here, had the mocking title of “Occupational Health”: followed by the explanatory phrase “Multifaceted Constraints on Access to Healthcare in the Palestinian Territories.” It had over four hundred attendees by my guesstimate filling the large auditorium to overflow capacity without a single heckler. Ten years ago Americans walked away at the mention of Palestine. And the intermission screen showed a heart-wrenching photo of a child standing alone in the ruins of Shujai’ieh, sad but defiant, one of the slides that feature in Dr. Mads Gilbert’s book “Night in Gaza” (2015) while the audio played Rim Banna’s “Ya Leil ma Atwalak – Too Long the Night.” There could have been no better match of audiovisual effect for the subject matter.

And yet I am deeply disturbed and disappointed: Consider, if you will, the sincere efforts of my fellow physicians Mads Gilbert and Alice Rothchild on behalf of the Palestinian people and in defense of their human rights. Or consider the recent writings of Max Blumenthal and the activist media efforts of Phillip Weiss of Mondoweiss, or of Marc Ellis, … and the list is almost endless. They are most effective communicators and ardent defenders of human rights, first and foremost of Palestinian basic human rights. But then look at retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, at Las Vegas casino mogul and Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson, and at the endless list of anti-justice baddies. When humans are good they are great. But when they are bad, they are so Goddamned terrible. But then again, the whole Israel-Palestine arena is such a glaringly black-and-white dichotomy that it has no middle ground; it is sickening. On the one hand you have a people claiming their right to self-determination and to their inherited homes, property and culture. On the other, a declared and well-planned and executed colonial project targeting the same piece of land, the last ongoing colonial enterprise on the face of earth. This is where justice issues become of the essence, where justice for the weaker party becomes an existential threat to the colonizer by the latter’s calculations. The only way out, they apparently have concluded, is to physically eliminate their vanquished opponents, “to confirm the kill” so to speak.

This is where the likes of Mads Gilbert and Alice Rothchild, come into the picture and where I imagine I have some role to play: Alerting the world to what is at stake and to its own moral responsibility towards the Palestinians, starting with those in Gaza, refugees in their camps, residents of occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank and onward to us, the Palestinian citizens of Israel since the day it was established. Present day Zionist colonizers have the means and full intent to ethnically cleanse and/or physically eliminate those standing in the way of actualizing their racist dream of a pure Jewish state west of the Jordan River. As the lieutenants of the enterprise keep stumbling over the reality of the Palestinian vermin infesting their dream vista of greater Israel, they find themselves compelled to remind those terrorists of what awaits them if they do not give up; four such reminders in Gaza in the past seven years, by Dr. Gilbert’s count. And they are likely to do it once again soon to cleanse their Holy Land of those “parasites.” And parasites they are, believe you and me, for otherwise how could they, the powerful and enlightened party with their superior Western ethics, have so remorselessly rubbed so many of them off? Yes, circuitous logic it is! But that is how the cookie crumbles, folks: every killed Palestinian is a terrorist by definition and sprouts a knife next to his or her body; and they are so damn horrible Netanyahu stopped blaming the Germans for the Holocaust and smeared those Palestinians with it. And if they are so horrible, then it is OK to kill them for Israelis are just and wise  … and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

This again is where our panel of medical experts seem to be needed: to testify as practicing specialists to the actual humanity of the Palestinians: The anesthesiologist will show that his ketamine puts Palestinians out like it does other humans and that his painkillers relieves their pain like they do usual humans; the gynecologist-obstetrician will show that they have regular human reproductive organs and reproduce sexually like the rest of us; and the toxicologist will assure us that the same toxins will kill them as they do other humans forced to forage for their food in garbage dumps, provided Gaza’s garbage has food remnants in it. Add all these testimonies up and, horror of horrors, even Ashkenazi settlers may have to admit that Palestinian babies bear some resemblance to their own.

Mads Gilbert doesn’t mince his words; he is with the Palestinians because he is with justice. And he uses pictures of the dead, the maimed and disemboweled; and of the freshly exploded out of their homes for no real reason other than being who they are, Palestinians. Very likely there is an additional rationale for the unspeakable violence, the testing of Israel’s new and improved weapons so it can advertise them at international weapons fairs as “battle tested in Gaza.” And yes, You, world leaders and decision-makers at top levels, I can hear you tsk-tsk-ing under your breath before inviting the Israeli slaughter experts over for consultation.

No shame! But then, we are not talking about humans. Gazans, and Palestinians at large, are terrorists by definition. That is why the panelists’ testimonies to Israel’s war atrocities in Gaza are needed. And they marshaled their evidence so convincingly that I couldn’t control my tears. I wept for Gaza’s subhuman conditions, calibrated and inflicted by Israel with studied precision to keep “the terrorists” at subhuman levels of existence, not to mention the dead, the maimed and the homeless in their hundreds of thousands. But I also wept no less for all the Israelis who have lost their own humanity by their intentional denial of the humanity of the other. And yet, Dr. Mads Gilbert kept pointing to the resilience and steadfastness, the sumod of those Gazans.

Why should I find that so painful? Perhaps for the simple reason that I realize that they have no choice but to stand fast. After all, where would they run to with all borders hermitically sealed: A pressure cooker full of humanity and no escape valve? Dr. Akihiro Seita, director of UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) health program, explained the diseases and mortality as indirect outcomes of Israel’s wars and its siege of Gaza. And Dr. Steven Gilbert illustrated the variety of walls Israel uses, actual concrete walls and allegorical walls causing no less isolation and harm to the health of Palestinians.

That was when Dr. Rita Giacaman, the only Palestinian on the Panel, issued a warning: She cautioned against pathologizing and individualizing what is a socio-political and community-wide affliction by its nature. No amount of drugs and equipment and no number of healthcare professionals can alleviate the community-wide suffering and deprivation as long as the borders around you remain closed, aquifers under you are polluted and drones continue buzzing over your head. Field surveys show over 40% of Palestinians suffer from clinical depression. And that is in the more lightly hit West Bank, not in Gaza.

Alice Rothchild then mentioned the magic Palestinian mantra: BDS. The slow burning coals of the movement didn’t explode into full flames on this civil occasion. But the day cannot be far. We, who are old enough to remember, can tell you that it was when Harvard finally started divesting from South Africa in a serious way that that country’s apartheid system crumbled. That was no coincidence, but the time relationship bears varying interpretations. But no matter which analysis you chose, what brought apartheid South Africa to its knees will bring Israel to its senses as well. Here is what one expert on the matter, Achille Mbembe, concludes in his preface to the just-published collection of essays by African writers entitled Apartheid Israel: “The occupation of Palestine is the biggest moral scandal of our times. … And since all they are willing to offer is a fight to the finish, since what they are willing to do is to go all the way—carnage, destruction, incremental extermination—the time has come for global isolation.” And BDS shares one commonality with the Harvard Arab Weekend that I attended: the youth, the vitality and the sophistication of the women and men behind both of them. I saw and heard Zahra, Ahmad, Tarec and all the others who helped make this session the super success it was. I could see the light at the end of our figurative tunnel of darkness.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Escape to Tirana

September 8-18, 
Tirana beats Arrabeh; let me count the ways: The olive oil I have savored in restaurants here in Tirana is more flavorful. Granted, it is Italian in origin and the salt I sprinkled on it is very special, red salt from Hawaii—via Italy as well. Also Tirana’s watermelons are tastier, sweeter. Ours, mind you, are still grown in the Battouf Valley without the benefit of irrigation. You see, the canal serving as the national water carrier diverting the Jordan River goes the length of the valley from one end to the other but we cannot use that water. It is for the benefit of Jewish agriculture. We lost part of our farmland in the valley to the project since it serves the ultimate goal of the state, empowering its Jewish majority. In the end it all meant that our watermelons are watered by nature’s nightly dewdrops causing them to be the best in all of Israel. Excuse the diversion, but I feel choked and have to explain: I am not comfortable saying this aloud because it is admitting defeat on a much more serious level than the competition between Arrabeh and Tirana. Once we used to say “the best in Palestine.” Now, on occasion, I catch myself making the faulty switch. So, let us agree that from now on it is Israel/Palestine. Believe me, this is what I am trying to escape from by coming to Tirana in the first place.

Not to worry though. There is a calming sense of peacefulness about the city of Tirana. And people are friendly. They go out of their way to be helpful with directions, etc. But the expressions on the faces of the older generation are quite somber, almost glum, the men more so. And cars are mainly German with a preponderance of old Mercedes. In the section of ‘downtown’ where our B&B is located the street is wide and relatively clean and the building facades are colorful. The neighborhood is not far from The Block, the former ritzy area where the communist bosses had their homes, offices and hangouts such as Hotel Rogner. In addition to the parks and squares, there is much open space fronting the various government office buildings and institutions of the state. You see the mountains in the distance as you stroll at sunset along the Boulevard from the Skanderbeg Square next to the Et’Hem Bey Mosque and the Museum of National History heading south to Mother Teresa Square and the University of Tirana campus. On the way a crowd of teenagers and young adults seems to build up from tens to hundreds to a veritable mass before you reach the part of the boulevard blocked off to traffic. Before that you pass the Pyramid that Anwar Hoxha’s daughter designed and built in memory of her father. One block further on the opposite side of the boulevard is the ‘BunkArt’ display of that lost era’s atrocities. This latter memorial entitled “Checkpoint” includes an actual original bunker for two, now upgraded with a clear glass ring around it. Not far from it there is the bare frame of the mine-shaft style entrance to the Stanci prison for enemies of the state. A graffiti-covered concrete slab borrowed from the Berlin wall completes the ghastly display. The wall is much lower, by the way, than the Apartheid wall that Israel built to keep its ‘barbarian’ enemies out. The trilogy of Soviet era items mocks the communist regime’s dictatorial mentality and the quirky fancy and paranoia that drove Hoxha from his start as the intellectual revolutionary and father of modern Albania into the infamy of murderous dictatorship. One trip to North Korea and he came back ready for the worst: He commenced the insane project of bunker building to guarantee the survival of the top echelon of the state system in case of a nuclear attack. In total he built close to two hundred thousand bunkers. Of late a group of Albanian creative artists have converted the largest of those into a maze of audio-visual parodies of the horror that the whole psychotic mess must have inspired in its worshippers. I admit, I found it enough to drive one deeper in the ground than they could have imagined. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia. But the absence in the underground maze of any sense of the four directions bothered me terribly.

When you stop to think about it, Enver Hoxha’s paranoia was not out of proportion to what was actually happening in the nuclear arena. True, only a lunatic could grant himself the level of centrality and indispensability that the man assigned to himself to justify such an underground metropolis. But think of the other side of the equation: Not one and not two countries had built nuclear weapons. And one country had used them. Twice in fact. So why is basing the act of building nuclear weapons on the logic of expecting to use them sane while building bunkers that could possibly protect one from a nuclear attack nuts? I am not denying the insanity of what we saw in the BunkArt maze that we visited. It is the other half of the equation that I find illogical. When will we see an AtombombArt display? When will Israeli artists treat us to a display of the skill, the effort, the meticulous science and the insanity that went into building a nuclear bomb and readying it for actual use? Until that does happen, I will withhold passing judgment on Enver Hoxha. The insanity of his egomania dims in comparison to the megalomania of whoever holds the trigger to a nuclear weapon. Convoluted as the logic sounds, compelled by a sense of solidarity with the Albanian people for their entrapment between the paranoia of their late leader and the psychosis of nuclear arms’ developers, the next day I combed the bazaar in search of a folding trooper’s shovel like the ones I saw in the BunkArt display. Failing to find one, I settled for a military periscope, which I now keep on my desk next to my laptop. At least I will be able to tell the directions.

Another insane thought crossed my mind as we left the underground maze: True, most of the bunkers in Albania are of the small dome-shaped variety, not the communal size type. Still, why not use them to house Syrian refugees? Just a thought! Both the Levant and the Balkans once were under the same Ottoman rule. And we exchanged unplanned favors. Muhammad Ali Pasha, the founder of the line of Egyptian rulers who introduced cotton to Egypt and lit the spark of modernity in the region was an Albanian. And many exiled Bosnians have settled as part and parcel of Middle Eastern society. Why not continue the exchange of favors under duress?

The Pyramid, though mostly neglected and in disrepair, is put to some inventive use on occasion. The night after our pioneering stroll down the boulevard we returned at sunset again and were treated to the hair-raising experience of the annual gathering of Tirana’s motorcyclists. The same Hell’s Angels style of burly, longhaired and leather-clad cyclists poured in in twos and threes till the spacious parking area assigned to them in front of The Pyramid was full. They alighted and greeted one another with hugs, kisses and slaps on the back. They climbed the few stairs that the crowd of onlookers used as seats and assembled to mill around in rowdy bunches on the large elevated concrete space fronting The Pyramid. A couple of soft drink stands and one tattoo booth were kept busy. (there was also beer and kebabs available) A band with a flashy and loud show was making it impossible for me and my wife to communicate. The wide entrance to The Pyramid provided the perfect space for the huge screen under which the band performed. My wife thought the music was of the Metallica genre. To me it was all horrible noise, enough for me not only to take out both of my hearing aids but also to move out to the sidewalk on the other side of the boulevard till the big parade started. Didi noted that none of the riders were women though many gathered and added to the milling crowd. As the guys climbed on their cycles and started revving their engines many women joined them on the back seats. A young woman declaring “AC-DC” on her T-shirt was one of the first to climb on the back seat of a Harley Davidson. Half a dozen of those took the lead as they emerged noisily to the boulevard that the police had blocked to other traffic. Large Yamahas, Suzukis, etc. followed. A few Vespas brought up the rear while a young man did showy tricks on his bicycle to demonstrate how useless all motors were.

Another plus for Tirana is that it has street names while Arrabeh doesn’t even though such names are seen more on maps of the city than on actual street signs. You ask for directions to the bus to Kruje, the hometown of Albania’s most heroic historical figure who rose against the Turks, and you are told to go to the train station and ask again. The problem is that the train station is a virtual one. Everyone knows where it is but there is no actual station and no train stops or starts there. And when you do locate the presumed spot it turns out to be quite a distance from the bus station, which is a real space with buses in it.

Another virtual reality experience was the Tirana Beer Fest. It coincided with our stay and was held in our neighborhood. It turned out to be a tame affair especially compared to the festival still inscribed in our memory from Darmstadt, Germany some three decades ago. Perhaps the fact that the street that was blocked for the purpose in Tirana was right next to the old mosque, the one Enver Hoxha did not destroy considering it a cultural site and not a religious one.

Exploring the center of the city, you realize how much public space it has and how much people walk, for pleasure in the evenings and to do chores at other times. That is another endearing attribute to their “primitive” lifestyle besides the striking absence of Macdonald’s and Starbucks. But if you look carefully you will discover the first signs of the vicious nibbling of “modernizing” forces at the socio-economic flesh of this traditional people: In many shops you can use the Euro instead of the Lek; the embassy of Kuwait has placed a Sabeel—drinking water outlet—in the shape of huge coffee decanter in the park not far from us; and the ancient clock tower by the mosque has been renovated with American aid while Turkey is footing the $30 million bill for a huge mosque right next to the Parliament. And you see some women dressed in hijab. Older women in traditional ‘respectable’ Islamic costume are encountered frequently. But they don’t don the uniform black attire. The difference is minimal but I find it significant in that it reflects traditionalism among older women and not the dogma of fundamentalism; one shows a consciousness of decency in the mind of its wearer while the other the imposed rules of conduct and the dress code of restrictive religiosity, be it of the Nuns’ order of Mother Teresa or the Wahhabi sect.

Religion seems to play very little role in the daily lives of Albanians. This obviously is part of the legacy of the communist system that banned religion and did away with mosques and churches. There are relatively few such worship houses and interfaith marriages are common, we are told. By and large religion has little to do with the way people dress or interact on the street: Like secular people the world over, teenagers and young adults of both sexes flaunt their youth and its bodily gifts, going around in Bermuda’s, half-open shirts and blouses and stylish threadbare tight jeans. They greet one another with kisses on the cheeks, once, twice and thrice, regardless whether of the same or opposite gender. Older people, long past the stage that must inspire the freaky sexual obsession of intolerant religiosity, act in exactly the same fashion. It is my deep appreciation of Albania’s liberality that makes such a step as the Turkish mosque construction project appear threatening. No less threatening, it seems to the uninvolved like us, is the incursion of uncontrolled capitalism and free market projects like the showy massive commercial center being constructed not far from Skanderbeg Square. What rubs me the wrong way is the seeming lack of a parallel social welfare net to alleviate the plight of so many disabled beggars scattered in public spaces. The country’s economic woes are still such that some hardy ‘entrepreneurs’ sell single cigarettes to park visitors while others repair lighters. The capitalists will tell me that the coming free market economic boom will take care of such irksome trivia. I am ready with the counter argument based on all the homeless in the richest Western capitals. At moments like this I regret not having taken up the assistantship offer one professor of economics made me in my senior year at the University of Hawaii. Think what I could have done for Albania. Or for Palestine.

We had inquired from our host about the possibility of attending a Sufi zikr. Instead, on the occasion of Eid el-Adha, he took us on a ceremonial visit to the world headquarters of the Bektashi Sufi sect. It is a branch of Sufism that prides itself on mysticism and liberality. It was established in Turkey in the thirteenth century. In Albania it is the third largest religious group after mainstream Islam and Christianity. We paid a visit to the head of the sect, Baba Edmond Brahimaj, to wish him a happy Kurban Bayram. Edmond is a member of the group and a personal friend. We were received along with a line of well-wishers including government ministers and foreign dignitaries. The kindly old man offered his hand in greeting for followers to kiss and for us to shake and we were treated to delicious nut cookies. The reception hall is part of an impressive ongoing construction project potentially on the scale of the Baha’i World Center in Haifa. It includes a massive open hall, its high ceiling held atop 12 hefty marble columns with the intervening walls and arches beautifully decorated with Islamic calligraphy. The tekke stands over a large basement serving as a museum housing the faith’s relics and documenting its history. Of special interest to us was a full illustration of the traditional festive communal meal of Ashura, the holiday commemorating the martyrdom of Shia Islam’s saints Hassan and Husain. The actual ingredients and utensils were on display and life-size models and photographic images decorated the walls. Later, we mentioned Ashura to Rita, our hostess, and that night we feasted on the crunchy delicacy, especially prepared for us. The third part of the complex is a mausoleum housing the graves of a dozen late leaders of the faith. Visitors light candles in the special stand on the grounds, touch the raised wooden grave covers decorated with Arabic calligraphy and kiss and some cry openly perhaps for their own dead. A planned fourth component of the compound is a Bektashi religious university. On the way out I purchased a set of red prayer beads from the souvenir shop. Had we planned our Bektashi foray right I would have done that first and had the masbaha—beads—with me to ask the head of the tariqa to bless it for me. I had also missed the chance to have my photo taken with the master. I made up for that by having one taken with the image of his late predecessor at the entrance to the museum.

One thing we in Arrabeh do better is the group dance, our traditional Dabki. As is my custom whenever I set out to discover a new country, I had asked our host if we could attend a local wedding. With his rich circle of contacts the good professor arranged for us to join a wedding party at a palatial banquet hall on the outskirts of Tirana. Rita joined us to mediate the encounter and we were accommodated at a table with four couples nearly our age. Wasting much food at wedding parties must be a worldwide phenomenon. Even though we overate, enough leftovers remained from our table to feed a dozen troopers. And the wine flowed generously as well since frequent toasting was our only means of communication. The deafening level of the live music, mainly of a kazoo-like clarinet, issuing from the loudspeakers forced me to take out my hearing aids to protect my eardrums. With the exception of the occasional ballroom dance, the partying involved nonstop mixed line-dances with the lead dancer twirling a kerchief in his or her free hand. By comparison our traditional Dabki is more energetic and its complicated steps are more arty. No wonder Arrabeh’s dance troop just stole the show, placing first in another international competition. Had it been a Jewish Hura dance group it would have been the first item in all Israeli news media, right up there with Hilary Trump and Donald Clinton. (Yes, I know I am mixing up the two presidential candidates; but from where I stand it is all confused.)  Too bad, with the current wave of Wahhabi-inspired gender sensitivity in Arrabeh, we no longer see the old way of alternating mixed gender line dance known as Habl Mwada’a—pearly string. It is just as confusing for us as it is for the folks in Tirana: Do we follow the glitter of Saudi money and don Burkas or let the frayed jeans and deep V-necks of the Wahhabi’s masters and protectors dazzle our youth? Between the two I vote for the Bektashi.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Through a Glass Darkly: A Poetry Review - I Remember My Name

Reviewed by Hatim Kanaaneh
(I Remember My Name - Poetry by Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso. Vacy Vlazna, ed., 2016, Novum Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
In penning this review, the primacy of Israel in North America's hegemonic cultural circles limits my expectation of a sympathetic Western readership. The recent furor in Israeli government circles over the public broadcasting of Mahmoud Darwish's poem is only a warning signal. Thugs and war criminals take on the mantel of literary critics to attack Palestine's national poet and ascribe to him their own internalized fascist values. Judging from experience the malicious smear is bound to gain traction in Zionist-aligned literary circles at home and abroad. Our lead Palestinian politician in Israel, Ayman Odeh, explains well the Israeli officials' fear: "If we were to know and acknowledge each other's culture we may finally want to live together," [al-Ittihad, July 21, 2016.]
I am an Israeli citizen and know firsthand how Israel's rightist leaders view the world. I know precisely where my place is in their narrow field of vision. I experience daily how they deal with my issues of the heart; such issues always fall outside the purview of the Israeli majority's definition of itself. Their politically inspired national, religious and racial exclusionism debases what I and other outfielders say. I live that reality and it strains my ability to reach out to the world, to humanity as a whole. It threatens my poetic and intellectual freedom. I worry that the pro-Israel hegemonic sway in Western culture will affect a 'security wall' around my intellectual property and that of other Palestinian writers and of kindred marginalized groups. That, in turn, dims my hope to be understood by the world at large and hence my worry.
The dedication of the current thin collection of poetry by the three internationally savvy poets, Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso, to Gaza and Gazans blows their cover: They are diaspora Palestinians, world citizens and enemies of hegemonic cultural Zionism from within its field of operation; they are Trojan horses. Between them they span the globe in poetic exile seeming to be in constant flight from the inescapable curse of who they are, Palestinians by nature and nurture.
The book is by four poets, not three, for I cried just as much peering into the illustrations as I did reading the lines that inspired them. The way David Borrington renders the feelings behind the words of the poets in heartfelt visual images is a form of poetry as well. How else can he show you again and again what it means to be "anxious at the cellular level" for example?
Samah Sabawi admits to using her "140 characters to liberate Palestine." Within Israel lesser thought crimes led to a pre-dawn police raid and landed the poetDareen Tatour first in jail and later in exile from home. The state has deemed her too much a threat to have access to the Internet, or to be free on her own recognizance till the formal court proceedings. But Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso all have escaped the geographic confines of Palestine/Israel to their emotional and physical global exile. Tethered by their heartstrings to their shared homeland and Gazan suffering, all three transcend their Palestinian roots to a universal core that snares readers everywhere. They soar across the globe to share in the pain of others whether in Kashmir, South Africa, Chile, Burma or Mali.
Between the three of them our poets cover a wide span of the literary field and the physical globe: There isn't a continent or a writing art they haven't visited. Whether they cut their sentiments in stone or siphon them from an ocean, the classic similes for the craft of Arabic poetry, all three share the common demeanor coloring the lives of Palestinians everywhere: They harbor a sense of injured pride at the deferred and devalued, even if no longer totally denied, innate justice of their case, the Palestinian Nakba. The hue each of them reflects of this shared, heartfelt and pervasive Palestinian sentiment sets them apart from each other. The editor tells us:
"Although Samah, Ramzy and Jehan have distinctive styles, they possess in common incisive intellects, finely tuned by a sense of justice inherent in the Palestinian experience and in their love for Palestine particularly besieged and suffering Gaza."
All three poets harbor a deep sense of history, of time and place that always translates to Palestine. I have travelled and met many fellow Palestinians in their diaspora. The phenomenon of Nakba-centered existence is near universal among us. Like a hereditary trait it spans generations and transcends time and space, it colors a Palestinian's existence wherever he/she treads and whatever air he/she breathes. Take Samah for example: She smiles at us brightly from the first page of her contribution. There is no mistaking her striking Greek (or is it Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Native American or South-East Asian) looks. Speaking for her fellow Palestinian poets, her words live up to the global sentiment her looks spark:
"I am a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian writer, commentator and playwright. ...  I travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt haunted by the violence and injustice perpetrated against the poor, the marginalized, the colonized and stateless. No matter where I was, or how vast the world appeared around me, I always felt as though I remained trapped in my place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip shaped my understanding of my identity and my humanity."
Ramzy concurs:
"Wherever I am in the world, from Seattle to Chile to South Africa and regardless of which struggle I am involved in, from Mali to the Rohingya, I am always thinking Palestine, even when I am not conscious of it.
"So, don't talk to me about the Pharaoh:
My Father's blood drenched the skin of Jesus
After the Romans caught him at a checkpoint
Hiding a recipe for revolution, and a love poem"
And here is Jehan Bseiso:
"Since 2008 I have been working with Médecins Sans Frontières - Doctors Without Borders. My work has taken me to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Ethiopia and others. In all my travels and encounters, I've experienced how support and understanding of the Palestinian cause can cross borders and traverse barriers of culture and language."
The with-it modernity of the three exiled Palestinian poets is such that it makes it possible to include such scribbles as "@ CNN@ Foxnews" meaningfully in a poem. Yet on the first reading, it is only at the very end that the picture becomes stunningly clear, explained in a single exclamation "Hashtag Gaza." This gives the entire collection its full clarity: Samah floats on an ethereal atmosphere focusing on Gaza willingly or against her will, Ramzy fills every internationally significant calamity with his remembered Gazan content and Jehan experiences everything firsthand as #Gaza.
"How [else] can we remember what we can't forget?"
Aversion to hyperbole limits one's choices for comparison. Still, Gaza's reality is of the same genre as the Holocaust or Hiroshima. Except that Gaza's plight is stretched out over decades with the perpetrators' skilled consistency and aggressive projection of inner violence on its victim so artfully that violence becomes the norm for Gaza if not for the whole of Palestine. The 'international community' is numbed into accepting the buzz of its drones, helicopters and F-16s as part of the standard background noise and its fireworks as another light show to observe and to report on occasionally to fill the bulk requirements of international dailies.
"Counting lashes is unlike receiving them," a Palestinian saying goes. The Palestinian experience, especially in Gaza, not only of suffering but also of being ignored, shunned and ridiculed for incurring such punishment is extremely private. It is so private and foreign it is difficult to communicate to others. The basic elements of their private world are so harshly incomprehensible that even when you scream them at 'normal people' you do it out of despair knowing that such reality is unexplainable, that only living such reality permits one to understand it.
Hence, and logically, some of the language is so unusual as poetry that it rubs against the grain. And yet, there is an amateurish freshness to the raw rub and the sanguinity of it all. It is so painfully touching it sinks and sticks to the depth of the heart:
"Habeebi, I thought you lost my number, turns out you lost your legs."
How else can one perceive such nightmarish reality as:
"In the hospital, they put the pregnant women alone, because they're carrying hope, because they don't want them to see what can happen to children.
... There's more blood than water today in Gaza."