Adonis Diaries

Archive for August 9th, 2014

 A few of the Most Beautiful Writings from and for Gaza

Mahmoud Darwish once wrote of Gaza,
We are unfair to her when we search for her poems.”
We are certainly unfair when we scrabble anywhere for poems, searching for aesthetic pleasure in others’ suffering. But here, poetry seems to have welled up from the need to speak, to create, to defy silence: Zuabi speaking at an Edinburgh cultural summit.

Most of the Arabic writing about Gaza that came out of the last month was first-person reportage on events.

But some of it mixed together with other elements to create otherworldly or impassioned prose.

The piece that most stunned me in the last month was not by a Gazan, but by Jerusalem-based playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi. His The underground ghetto city of Gaza ran in Haaretz on August 4. 

Zuabi has said elsewhere that he would prefer people to see “dreamlike poetry in his work rather than political drama”; it’s hard to imagine how they would miss it:

“And we start to hope that if we keep on digging, all the way to the core, if we don’t stop, if we perforate the land like a honeycomb, if we make it as flimsy as silk, maybe it will suddenly collapse in on itself.

And then, like a tray piled with cups of coffee and cookies that crashes to the floor in a mess of crumbs and glass, it will all mix together.

The upper part and the lower part will blend. And the rules will change. And we’ll be able to say with a sigh of relief:

Here is a piece of sky mixed with a cracked piece of sea; here is Shujaiyeh mixed with Sderot.

Here is Zeitoun mixed with the Mount of Olives.

Here is compassion mixed with relief; here is one human being mixed with another. And we’ll know that we were saved from the living death in which we are trapped, and now we’ll join the life of above, and with them build a new land. [Read the whole piece.]

Atef Abu Sayf, a novelist and the editor of The Book of Gaza, a short-story collection published this year by Comma Press, wrote a number of pieces. Perhaps the first was “I Do Not Want to Be a Number,” which ran in Slate (translator not named):

“I do not want to be a number, to be a piece in the news, a name mentioned by a beautiful TV anchor waiting impatiently to finish reading news from Gaza.

I do not want to be a small number in a large one, a part of the data.

I do not want to be an image among thousands of images that the activists and sympathizers share on Twitter or post on Facebook, rained down on with likes and comments. [Read the whole piece.]

Abu Sayf also had “Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary” in the New York Times (translator not named):

“My wife, Hanna, is arguing with the kids over what to buy to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. She has forbidden them to go to the grocery store, and she’s adamant that they won’t visit the Internet cafes or the PlayStation shop near my father’s place. They don’t understand the impossibility of shopping at a time of war. [Read the whole piece.]

Photo of coffee in Gaza from http://ingaza.wordpress.com/.

Gaza-based writer Hedaya Shamun shared several pieces of hers with ArabLit. After the 13th day of Operation Protective Edge, she shared “The Taste of Coffee in Gaza,” trans. Shaimaa Debees:

“War changes the taste of coffee. Sweets are no longer as they were before, and no one wants to touch them once the kids have gone.

A bitter taste settles into our eyes and into our hearts. Today is the thirteenth day of the war — of the sudden death.

Every day we greet, leave, and call each other, attempting to support each other, but time gets us! We all feel those terrible shells that are so close to our heads. [Read the whole piece.]

Poet Nathalie Handal, who is from Bethlehem, published two sets of poetry in the last month: Confessions at Midrange: The Voices and Faces of Palestine – Summer, 2014 and Three Poems for Gaza on World Literature Today.

From “Gaza“:

Once in a tiny strip
dark holes swallowed hearts
and one child told another
withdraw your breath
whenever the night wind
is no longer a land of dreams

And “Confessions at Midrange“:

My heart has telescopes

my eyes have invisible streets

my portrait is of a nation

with a hundred square feet of clouds—

maybe god is a country

my eyes can’t see.

gazaGazan author Refaat Al-Areer was editor of the 2013 collection Gaza Writes Backa reaction to the Cast Lead invasion of 2008-2009.

During Protective Edge, Al-Areer lost his brother Mohammed. In The Electronic Intifada, Al-Areer crafted a portrait of his relationship with his younger sibling:

“When I heard they wanted to name my new brother Mohammed, I started crying and shouting, “I don’t want you to name him Mohammed. I want you to name him Hamada! I want Hamada!”

I used to scream my lungs out every time someone called him Mohammed until no one dared do so. He was then known to all as Hamada (which is a pet name for Mohammed). Everyone called him Hamada except, to my disappointment, my dad, who always used his official name, Mohammed.

Ever since, I felt a very strong connection towards Hamada. It was like he was my son, like I owned him, like I had to take care of him and to make sure his name remained Hamada. [Read the whole piece.]

Another Jerusalem-based writer, Amani Rohana, writes “A Story from a Bus in Jerusalem.

Like Al-Areer’s story, Rohana’s is part of Israeli-American poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher‘s list of 39 recommended readings about Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.

From Rohana’s “Bus”:

“Lately, I am just tired of having conversations about anything. Every once in a while, when I find the strength to leave my university dorms in the French Hill, I am advised by my concerned mother not to speak in Arabic in public.

Given the limited resources provided to challenge that fear, I choose not to speak at all. Sometimes, however, you are forced into a conversation, and by that, you are forced to choose between your own conversation and that of others, knowing that either way, you are going to have to bear unbearable consequences, which would include, in the best case, longer, more dreadful conversations. [Read the whole piece.]

Also: 

More writing from the Book of Gaza authors can be found at the Comma Press blog.

From Israeli novelist Etgar Keret: “Israel’s Other War

From Palestinian-Israeli novelist Sayed Kashua: “Why I Have To Leave Israel”

 

How Israel Used Its Own Civilians as Human Shields While Assaulting Gaza

Israel’s military is enmeshed in civilian society

Throughout the ongoing preemptive war on the Gaza Strip, perhaps no phrase has featured as prominently or persistently in the lexicon of Israeli propaganda as “human shields.”

Repeated in stentorian fashion by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a heavily regimented army of 10,000 public relations flacks, the phrase has been ruthlessly deployed to shield Israel from responsibility for the bloodbath it has caused in Gaza.

Israel has killed 1,900 civiliansand injured 10,000  in a matter of weeks, including some 430 children, but it was Hamas that forced them to do it.

Like so many Zionist accusations against Palestinian society (“They only understand force,” “They teach their children to hate,” “They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”) the human shields slander is a projection.

Israel is the most militarized society on earth, with soldiers and military installations honeycombed throughout its civil society.

With full military conscription for all men and women and reserve duty required for all Jews until they reach their 40s, Jewish Israelis alternate constantly between the role of civilian and soldier, blurring the line between the two.

Within one of Tel Aviv’s most densely populated neighborhoods sits Ha’Kirya, the army’s headquarters, a gigantic complex of monolithic buildings that house the offices where attacks on Gaza are planned.

The uniformed officers and soldiers who work inside take lunch in the cafes and shop in the malls surrounding their offices, embedding themselves among the civilian population.

A military base is nestled in the middle of the campus of Haifa University while Hebrew and Tel Aviv Universities offer military officers free tuition, encouraging their enrollment and allowing them to carry weapons on campus.

It is hard to find a henhouse, flophouse, or fieldhouse anywhere in Israel without some kind of military presence.

In an editorial for the Israeli daily, Yedioth Aharonot, veteran Israeli military advisor Giora Eiland argued in favor of collectively punishing Gaza’s civilian population. “In order to guarantee our interests versus the other side’s demands, we must avoid the artificial, wrong and dangerous distinction between the Hamas people, who are ‘the bad guys,’ and Gaza’s residents, which are allegedly ‘the good guys.’”

Naturally, Eiland failed to consider the terrible implications of eliminating the distinction between civilians and the armed factions that move among them: If his logic were inverted to apply to Israeli society, where civilians are soldiers and soldiers are civilians, almost every Jewish Israeli citizen could be considered a legitimate target.

Most vulnerable among the Jewish Israeli public are residents of the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Many of these working class development towns and kibbutzim were planted during the 1950s in place of the Palestinians who had just been forcibly expelled.

In al-Majdal Asqalan, now known as Ashkelon, Jewish immigrants from the Middle East were literally trucked in to replace the Palestinians who had been held within a barbed wire enclosure before being outcasted to Gaza.

Today, these largely neglected communities form a human wall against the demographic threat tucked behind a high-tech cordon sanitaire just to their south.

Not only do Israel’s southern communities exist under the threat of rocket and mortar attacks from those they displaced, they are routinely used as shelters and temporary bases by the Israeli army.

Renan Raz, a 26-year-old waiter and anti-occupation activist now living in Tel Aviv, remembers the anguish he experienced when the army arrived in Dorot, the southern kibbutz where he was born and raised.

It was the height of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli assault on that left over 1400 Palestinian Gazans dead, mostly civilians, between December 2008 and January 2009.

 

 

Foreign press: Hamas didn’t censor us in Gaza.

Hamas fighters and leaders were nowhere to be found

Reporters who covered Operation Protective Edge in Gaza dismiss Israeli accusations of giving Hamas an easy ride.

Anshel Pfeffer Published this 08.08.14

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Aug. 6, 2014, news conference in Jerusalem regarding Hamas firing rockets into Israel. / Photo by AP Photo/Jim Hollander Po…
 
On Wednesday night Benjamin Netanyahu briefed the foreign press, summing up four weeks of warfare in Gaza. “Now that the members of the press are leaving Gaza and are no longer subjected to Hamas restrictions and intimidation,” he said,” I expect we will see even more documentation of Hamas terrorists hiding behind the civilian population, exploiting civilian targets. I think it’s very important for the truth to come out.”The prime minister’s voice betrayed no rancor but his words masked a deep frustration in his office over what one adviser called “a conspiracy of silence” by the foreign correspondents reporting from Gaza for the past month.

They have remained silent over how no one digs too deep into the Hamas side or into how they use civilians as human shields,” the adviser said. “That’s how they get an opportunity to cover Gaza, and it creates an imbalanced picture, which is bad for Israel. We should be trying to expose that.”

Netanyahu’s expectations have yet to be fulfilled.

Of the 710 foreign journalists who crossed into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, only a handful have claimed they were intimidated by Hamas or produced hitherto unpublished footage of rockets being fired from civilian areas, such as the pictures filmed by Indian channel NDTV, which were shown at the Netanyahu briefing.

Maybe such footage will still emerge — all the foreign correspondents interviewed for this piece insisted that it doesn’t exist, and not because they wouldn’t have liked to obtain such pictures.

“It’s a phony controversy,” said one reporter who spent three weeks in Gaza and, like most who were interviewed, asked to remain anonymous. “This is a post-facto attempt to claim the media’s biased and Netanyahu [is] therefore infallibly right.”

Elusive Rockets

But how could Hamas and other Palestinian organizations launch 2,657 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza, Israeli officials ask, and only NDTV reporter Sreenivasan Jain captured a launcher on film?

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says he can’t believe “how veteran war photographers couldn’t capture even one launch team, a single Hamas fighter on a barricade, the kind of exclusive photo they routinely risk their neck for.”

“What nonsense,” says one senior correspondent based in Israel. “The fact that NDTV succeeded proves nothing; it was an almost unbelievable opportunity. There are places which are just too dangerous and a photographer has to first protect himself.”

“I didn’t see a rocket at point of launch,” says one European photographer who left Gaza a few days ago, “but I did see a lot in the air, and those pictures were published. If I had a chance I would have photographed launchers, but they were well hidden. Israel, with all its sensors and drones, didn’t find them all.”

“You couldn’t tell exactly where a rocket was being launched from,” says an American reporter. ”Often they were hundreds of yards away, although you could hear the launch and see the contrails. We didn’t hesitate to mention the general area in our reports, but that didn’t necessarily add much.”

“There are always some gung-ho photojournalists who would go to any front line, no matter how dangerous,” says Anne Barnard, the New York Times Beirut bureau chief, who spent two weeks reporting from Gaza.

But that requires essentially an informal embed with the militants, to even be able to locate them without getting caught in crossfire on the way. Our team in Gaza noted frequently in stories that Hamas operates in urban areas and from farm fields. We mentioned witnessing specific rocket launches in numerous stories, witnessing the rocket going up from some distance away, that is. But in two weeks I never saw a rocket crew; for obvious reasons, to avoid getting a hit by Israeli strikes, they try not to be seen.”

Missing in Action

The elusive rocket launchers are only one detail in the Israeli criticism. Where were the Hamas attackers throughout the operation? Why are pictures of uniformed and armed fighters totally absent from the coverage?

“I described the few Hamas fighters I saw in my pieces,” says one veteran war reporter, “but there were so few of them. It reminded me a lot of Lebanon in 2006, where you didn’t really see Hezbollah fighters even right at the border. Except for one chance encounter with a mortar team who looked embarrassed to be spotted. It was the same in Iraq, too, in the 2003 insurgency. Most of the time the fighters were invisible and dangerous.”

Reporter after reporter returning from Gaza has spoken of how, with the notable exception of spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas fighters melted away during the warfare, even abandoning their regular checkpoint at the entrance to the Strip from Erez, so no one was checking the journalists’ passports.

“Members of the political wing could only very occasionally be found or talked to,“ says Barnard. “This was frustrating because, of course, there are many questions they should be asked, not just to respond to Israeli allegations but to evaluate their performance on their own terms and those of Palestinians in Gaza: Are their strategy and tactics effective? Do they believe they have popular support for their conduct of the conflict and the decisions they made? How do they respond to people who complain that they went into hiding and left ordinary people who had no choice about the fact that their neighbor was in Hamas to be targets?”

The New York Times came in for specific criticism from pro-Israel advocates who focused on the seeming failure of its star photographer, Tyler Hicks, to capture any militants in his camera lens.

“Tyler saw some guys come out of a hole in the side of a building in Shujaiyeh during the brief cease-fire on July 20,” recalls Barnard. “They were without guns but making gestures to say no photos. I put that in the story. Tyler also took pictures of at least one Hamas member being buried, but again funerals were harder to access than usual because they were held quickly and without much fanfare and [with] few mourners because of the danger. You could understand why they stayed out of sight: Israel appeared to be defining Hamas targets very broadly, to include any member of the Hamas administered police, government, etc. They may have felt that they would be targets, and so would the reporters they were talking to. We certainly were concerned about that ourselves.”

“There’s been a lot of talk about Hamas preventing us from seeing them,” says another correspondent with extensive experience in covering Middle East wars. “But the fact is that the areas they were fighting in were just too dangerous. If I had tried to report from Shujaiyeh during the fighting, I would probably have got killed. Hamas isn’t a regular army: When they leave the fighting areas, they don’t wear uniforms or carry guns.”

None of this impresses the Foreign Ministry’s Palmor. “The fact remains [that] we didn’t see anywhere pictures of fighters carrying weapons or launching rockets. There were humanitarian cease-fires when they were free to walk around without being attacked. Why didn’t they try to photo them then? I don’t think anyone was in Hamas’s pay.

That’s why the question mark is so large. We know Hamas were trying very hard to hide, not just for their security but for propaganda purposes. We have heard of reporters who said they weren’t allowed near fighters and were threatened. But this is the A-Team of the war-reporting profession. How did Hamas succeed so completely?”

Press Freedom

This is perhaps the biggest bone of contention that Israeli spokesmen have with the foreign media corps: Why won’t they acknowledge they were being pressured and monitored by Hamas? All but a few journalists deny there was any such pressure.

“I wasn’t intimidated at any point,” says one seasoned war reporter. “I didn’t feel Hamas were a threat to my welfare any more than Israeli bombings. I’m aware some people had problems, but nothing beyond what you would expect covering a conflict. Hamas’s levels of intimidation weren’t any worse than what you occasionally experience at the hands of the IDF, which didn’t allow access to fighting for most of the conflict either. As a rule no armed forces permit you to broadcast militarily sensitive information.”

If anything, most reporters are complaining that Hamas seemed to make little effort to engage with the media. “How could there be Hamas censorship if there was no Hamas to be seen?” says one exasperated reporter.

“The American military, and many others including Israel, imposes limits on embedded reporters under which you cannot reveal troop movements, weapons locations and other info that could compromise ‘operational security,’” says another experienced correspondent. “There was no such official restriction from Hamas because there was no embed and almost no contact. Hamas did not complain about anything to anyone on our team.”

In a few cases, journalists who tweeted on their personal Twitter accounts about seeing rockets launched from specific areas deleted the tweets after other Twitter users complained. Most of these complaints seem to have come, though, from local residents who were worried that they would lead to Israeli strikes. “I heard that Hamas officials made inquiries about a reporter who tweeted about rocket launches,” says one journalist, “but it seemed they were asking to see if she was really a reporter and not a spy.”

In another case, a number of reporters have said off the record that Hamas officials summoned one photographer and warned him that they would confiscate his camera if he didn’t delete a certain picture. There are also reports of fighters brandishing rifles to prevent photographers from taking their picture, but all the reporters insist these were isolated cases.

“Look, no one is claiming for one moment that Hamas is an enlightened organization that believes in freedom of the press,” says one reporter who has been visiting Gaza for years. “I don’t think I have to mention that fact in every report I make. At least over the last month, they (resistance fighters) were simply too busy fighting to bother themselves very much with the media.”

Government officials are convinced that the great majority of foreign journalists are simply too embarrassed to admit that they worked under Hamas monitoring. “It’s clear that they were being intimidated and had to face abnormal pressure,” says one spokesman. “We know of specific cases in which they were harassed and menaced.”

“I can’t really judge them,” says another senior press official. “It is extremely difficult with Hamas in your hotel lobby and in the corridor.”

Asymmetric Journalism

“Israel wants reporters to write about the conflict as it conceived it, as a security problem framed by the IDF,” says one reporter with 30 years experience in hot spots worldwide. “Most journalists chose to report it from the point of view of [the] humanitarian impact of conflict, which is what war reporters actually usually do. They’re not writing like defense correspondents. I personally chose not to speak to Hamas mouthpieces because I hold Hamas propaganda in as much contempt as that of Netanyahu.”

“In all conflicts, reporters are loathe to ‘serve’ either side by revealing information that could lead to a specific strike in real time,” says the New York Times’s Barnard. “Even information that could be seen as having led to a specific strike.

“First of all, that could endanger all reporters by making them be seen as spies. But beyond that, we are observers, not participants. We don’t want to be the reason that, say, a bomb was dropped. What if it killed a bystander? So let’s say I had seen a rocket launch from a specific building in Gaza, which I did not, I would not have reported it in real time, by my own choice. For one thing I wouldn’t want the return strike to come while I was standing there. That said, I also assume the Israeli military has better ways than reporters’ tweets to know where rockets are launched from. But I would, and did, report launches that we saw, in stories a few hours later.”

“Much of the criticism from the government, and groups monitoring the [coverage,] is from people who don’t understand the real role of the media. They just want to see which side ‘wins’ in each report,” says a another journalist in Gaza. “Our job isn’t to give out points, and this isn’t a game. The great majority of our readers simply rely on us to explain what is happening here.”

But Israeli spokesmen find it hard to accept such a view of the reporters’ role in Gaza. “Their entire objective seems to be to supply pictures of dead babies and blood,” says one. “Not context.” Another spokesman echoes him, saying that “when it gets down to pictures of dead children, then Israel can’t win because we don’t have any. That’s the fact of life.”

Many reporters, especially those belonging to large news organizations that had reporters and teams on both sides of the conflict, dispute these claims.

“There’s an asymmetry here, not just in the warfare but also in the coverage,” says one bureau chief. “You can’t cover an organized army and a guerrilla group in the same way, and it’s pointless to try. You have to find the correct proportions in each report and news package, and I believe we did a good job of that.”

Not all the Israeli officials share the criticism. Nitzan Chen, director-general of the Government Press Office, says that “you can’t judge the correspondents without having been in their place. At the end of the day they also have families and want to get home in one piece. Their job isn’t to do [PR] for Israel; they don’t work for us. All in all, I think the coverage was relatively balanced.”

On the other side are some correspondents who accept at least a bit of the Israeli criticism.

“Looking back, I should have at least tried to report a bit more about the Hamas fighters and still plan to,” says one reporter still in Gaza.

“There was just so much work around the civilian casualties and the destruction that it swamped us. Going to home after destroyed home, where multiple family members were killed, was just too shocking, even for those who had covered Syria.

The civilian angle took up nearly all the attention, but the Hamas angle should have got more coverage, especially the fact [that] they were fighting with so much greater tenacity and discipline than in 2009 and, to judge by the Israeli strikes, had hidden weapons in private homes and mosques. That should have been covered better, but there was just so much death all around.”


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