Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘homeless

Hollywood turning into cesspit plagued by junkies and violent criminals

Hollywood’s Apocalypse NOW:

Rich and famous are fleeing in droves

By CAROLINE GRAHAM . 

Gold’s Gym has become synonymous with the Hollywood Dream.

Set just a few hundred yards from the ocean in sun-kissed Venice Beach, Los Angeles, Gold’s was the backdrop for Pumping Iron

This 1977 documentary followed a young, unknown Austrian bodybuilder called Arnold Schwarzenegger as he prepared for the Mr. Universe contest.

The film turned him into an overnight sensation.

He would go on to become a global superstar, marry a member of the Kennedy clan, and become Governor of California

A makeshift tent city made up of flapping tarpaulins and cardboard boxes surrounds the gym on all sides.

Junkies and the homeless, many of whom are clearly mentally ill, walk the palm-lined streets like zombies – all just three blocks from multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the Pacific.

Stolen bicycles are piled high on pavements littered with broken syringes.

TV bulletins are filled with horror stories from across the city.

Of women being attacked during their morning jog or residents returning home to find strangers defecating in their front gardens.

Los Angeles is a city on the brink. ‘For Sale’ signs are seemingly dotted on every suburban street as the middle classes, particularly those with families, flee for the safer suburbs, with many choosing to leave LA altogether.

British-born Danny O’Brien runs Watford Moving & Storage. ‘There is a mass exodus from Hollywood. And a lot of it is to do with politics.’ His business is booming. ‘August has already set records and we are only halfway through the month’

‘People are getting out in droves. from LA. Last week I moved a prominent person in the music industry from a $6.5 million [£5 million] mansion above Sunset Boulevard to Nashville.’

‘The homeless encampments are legal and there’s nothing the police can do. White, affluent middle-class folk are getting out. People don’t feel safe any more.’

O’Brien, 58, who moved to LA from London 34 years ago, is also planning to move to Tennessee.

A homeless man on Hollywood¿s Walk Of Fame. Junkies and the homeless, many of whom are clearly mentally ill, walk the palm-lined streets like zombies ¿ all just three blocks from multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the Pacific

A homeless man on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame. Junkies and the homeless, many of whom are clearly mentally ill, walk the palm-lined streets like zombies – all just three blocks from multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the Pacific

With movie studios still shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic and businesses only just starting to remove the wooden boards put up after city-wide rioting following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by three white officers in Minneapolis, LA is now in the grip of white flight.

Lou Ferrigno became friends with Schwarzenegger when both worked out at Gold’s. While he might not be quite a household name like Arnie, Ferrigno starred in the TV series The Incredible Hulk and became one of the wealthiest bodybuilders in the world, with a fortune of $12 million.

President Donald Trump appointed him to his council on fitness, sports and nutrition in 2018.

But Ferrigno, for all his impeccable connections, has become fed up with what he describes as the ‘dramatic decline’ in LA. He and wife Carla recently sold their £3 million home in Santa Monica and moved into a 7,146 sq ft mansion two hours north of LA.

Carla says: ‘One morning around 7am I opened the curtains in our beautiful Santa Monica home and looking up at me from our driveway were three gang members with tattoos on their faces sitting on our retaining wall. They were cat-calling me and being vulgar. I motioned I was going to call the police and they just laughed, flicking their tongues at me and showing me their guns.’

Her husband added: ‘We put the house up for sale after 40 wonderful years and moved north. We feel lucky to have made it out. Now we are in a wonderful place and very happy.’

Renee Taylor, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and actress who appeared in the hit TV sitcom The Nanny, recently sold her Beverly Hills home after half a century and moved to the East Coast.

‘I feel so sad for my friends left in Beverly Hills who had to suffer through looting and rioting,’ she says. ‘I got out just in time.’

The virus only made matters worse. There are homeless encampments in some of the most instantly recognisable tourist traps.

Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard – embedded with glittering stars representing those who achieved their dream of fame and fortune – resemble a Third World shanty town rather than the heart of America’s second-largest city.

Outside the Chinese Theatre where Marilyn Monroe and other screen icons are immortalised by their handprints in concrete, the Michael Jackson and Superman look alikes who usually pose with tourists have been replaced by vagrants begging for change.Hundreds of LA’s homeless are still without protection

One of the city¿s homeless ¿ there are more than 66,000 people sleeping rough every night. The virus only made matters worse. There are homeless encampments in some of the most instantly recognisable tourist traps

One of the city’s homeless – there are more than 66,000 people sleeping rough every night. 

The virus Covid-19 only made matters worse. There are homeless encampments in some of the most instantly recognisable tourist traps

Meanwhile, the visitors snap photos of a large Black Lives Matter logo painted down the middle of the street.

Car parks beside the beach in Santa Monica – a popular tourist destination for Britons – are filled with bashed-up motorhomes, each housing several people.

The authorities have even put portable toilets on the streets to try to stop the homeless relieving themselves on private property.

The Westwood area of LA, home to some of the most upmarket blocks of flats in the city, has been renamed ‘West Hood’ by locals appalled by rising crime.

Veteran publicist Ed Lozzi says: ‘The city was changing before coronavirus brought us to our knees. The homeless problem has been escalating for years, exacerbated by weak politicians making bad decisions.

‘Hollywood has always been the wokest of the woke, so politicians have done nothing to stop people sleeping on the streets. It’s not illegal and the weather’s nice, so they keep coming.

‘There is insufficient housing, inadequate mental health care. Add in Covid and it’s a perfect storm.

‘When I first arrived in LA 40 years ago, the town smelled of orange blossoms. Now the streets stink of urine. There is a beautiful park in Westwood but you can’t go there because there are people slumped on the ground and you step on a carpet of needles.

‘White flight is real. The elites and middle classes are leaving. People are taking losses on the sales of their homes to get out.’

The divide between rich and poor has never been more glaring.

Just yards away from Gold’s sits the sprawling LA headquarters of internet giant Google.

The car park is housed in a building designed by architect Frank Gehry to look like a giant pair of binoculars.

Private security guards wander round as a handful of employees returning after lockdown drive into the complex in their Teslas, Porsches and Range Rovers.

Charity worker Robert (he declined to give his last name) mans two portable toilets opposite the Google HQ. Recently released from jail, this menial job is the only work he can get. He says two people have overdosed in the toilets in the past two weeks.

‘I have a Narcan pen which brings them back to life after they overdose on opioids. I’ve had to use the pen twice since the beginning of August.

‘The situation is terrible. I don’t blame those who can afford to get out of the city for doing so.’

Some 66,000 people now sleep rough every night in LA – up 12.5 per cent on last year.

‘There’s no hope any more. The rich are getting richer and there’s nothing for those on Skid Row. Trump has done nothing to help the poor. All he cares about are his rich friends making more money. If I had money I’d get out too.’

The pandemic has made many in Hollywood realise they don’t need to live in LA – or anywhere near it – to keep working.

Talent manager Craig Dorfman has moved to upstate New York. ‘A lot of people in the industry are re-evaluating their lives and saying,

‘You know, I never really loved LA. Where would I like to live? Because I can do what I want to do from anywhere,’ ‘ says Dorfman.

Fashion stylist Leah Forester and her film producer husband Bill Johnson have rented out their home and moved to the Mexican beach town of Careyes with their two children.

‘We wanted to be in the most healthy, supportive and serene environment we could be in so that we could have some sense of control over our immediate surroundings and our destiny,’ says Forester.

Comedian Joe Rogan, who makes $30 million a year from his self-titled podcast, has quit LA for Texas and says: ‘When you look at the traffic, when you look at the economic despair, when you look at the homelessness problem that’s accelerated radically… I think there are too many people here.

‘I think it’s not tenable. I don’t think that it’s manageable.’

Ironically, the celebrity enclave of Malibu – home to such leading members of the ‘wokerati’ as Leonardo DiCaprio – has cracked down hard on the homeless, bringing in local laws to prevent people parking their motorhomes along the beach overnight.

‘They’ve kicked the homeless problem into other areas of the city like Westwood and Venice,’ says publicist Ed Lozzi. ‘It’s a classic case of ‘not in my back yard’.’

Meanwhile, some of Tinseltown’s biggest stars are developing back-up plans, should the situation worsen. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson recently took Greek citizenship and have told friends they intend to spend more time in Europe.Skid Row residents force Eyewitness News van to turn around

More tents in Melrose Place, one of the trendiest addresses in Los Angeles. Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard ¿ embedded with glittering stars representing those who achieved their dream of fame and fortune ¿ resemble a Third World shanty town rather than the heart of America's second-largest city

More tents in Melrose Place, one of the trendiest addresses in Los Angeles. Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard – embedded with glittering stars representing those who achieved their dream of fame and fortune – resemble a Third World shanty town rather than the heart of America’s second-largest city

Producer Dana Brunetti, business partner of disgraced actor Kevin Spacey and producer of the Fifty Shades Of Grey films, has acquired Italian citizenship ‘because Italy is part of the EU – it gives me a lot of options if the s*** hits the fan’.

Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban have homes in LA, Nashville and her native Australia.

A source says: ‘They have been spending a lot of time in Nashville. There they can give their kids a more normal upbringing. They have been talking about getting rid of the LA place.’

When the news broke last week that Prince Harry and Meghan have chosen to make their home two hours north of LA in the upmarket hamlet of Montecito, the news shocked no one.

One Oscar-nominated writer told me: ‘They saw enough of LA those times they left Tyler Perry’s house to make them not want to raise Archie in a place like this. LA has always attracted beautiful and talented people from around the world who come here looking for fame or money or both.

‘Now the streets look like Haiti after the earthquake. It’s dirty, dangerous and work has dried up. Even when studios start to open up, people will choose to work from other places.’

The most recent high-profile name to quit Hollywood is Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, a darling of the showbusiness crowd.

Actor Robert Downey Jr has said it was Musk who inspired his portrayal of Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire inventor in the Iron Man movies.

Elon Musk has recently sold his compound of 4 homes in Bel Air for a combined total of $62 million (£47 million) and is said to be considering a move to Texas, where he is building Tesla’s $1 billion new factory.

‘When the real-life Iron Man moves out of Hollywood, you know it’s all over,’ says a source at one of the major studio

Note: San Francisco was in no better shape in 1991-92. Homeless people crowded all the main streets. It was no longer a pleasure to walk the streets toward the many parks. I had visited West Hollywood in 1976 and walked to Beverly Hills and it was clean and nice to walk to.

 

Inmates in Norwegian Prison: Why US homeless should seek asylum into these prisons

The first clue that things are done very differently on Bastoy prison island, which lies a couple of miles off the coast in the Oslo fjord, 46 miles south-east of Norway’s capital, comes shortly after I board the prison ferry.

I’m taken aback slightly when the ferry operative who welcomed me aboard just minutes earlier, and with whom I’m exchanging small talk about the weather, suddenly reveals he is a serving prisoner – doing 14 years for drug smuggling.

He notes my surprise, smiles, and takes off a thick glove before offering me his hand. “I’m Petter,” he says.

The Norwegian prison where inmates are treated like people

On Bastoy prison island in Norway, the prisoners, some of whom are murderers and rapists, live in conditions that critics brand ‘cushy’ and ‘luxurious’. Yet it has by far the lowest reoffending rate in Europe

 posted on February 25, 2013

Before he transferred to Bastoy, Petter was in a high-security prison for nearly eight years. “Here, they give us trust and responsibility,” he says.

“They treat us like grownups.”

I haven’t come here particularly to draw comparisons, but it’s impossible not to consider how politicians and the popular media would react to a similar scenario in Britain.

An inmate sunbathes on the deck of his bungalow on Bastoy.

An inmate sunbathes on the deck of his bungalow on Bastoy. Photograph: Marco Di Lauro

There are big differences between the two countries, of course.

Norway has a population of slightly less than five million, a 12th of the UK’s.

It has fewer than 4,000 prisoners; there are around 84,000 in the UK.

But what really sets us apart is the Norwegian attitude towards prisoners.

Four years ago I was invited into Skien maximum security prison, 20 miles north of Oslo. I had heard stories about Norway’s liberal attitude.

In fact, Skien is a concrete fortress as daunting as any prison I have ever experienced and houses some of the most serious law-breakers in the country. Recently it was the temporary residence of Anders Breivik, the man who massacred 77 people in July 2011.

Despite the seriousness of their crimes, however, I found that the loss of liberty was all the punishment they suffered.

Cells had televisions, computers, integral showers and sanitation.

Some prisoners were segregated for various reasons, but as the majority served their time – anything up to the 21-year maximum sentence (Norway has no death penalty or life sentence) – they were offered education, training and skill-building programmes.

Instead of wings and landings they lived in small “pod” communities within the prison, limiting the spread of the corrosive criminal prison subculture that dominates traditionally designed prisons.

The teacher explained that all prisons in Norway worked on the same principle, which he believed was the reason the country had, at less than 30%, the lowest reoffending figures in Europe and less than half the rate in the UK.

As the ferry powers through the freezing early-morning fog, Petter tells me he is appealing against his conviction.

If it fails he will be on Bastoy until his release date in two years’ time. I ask him what life is like on the island. “You’ll see,” he says. “It’s like living in a village, a community. Everybody has to work. But we have free time so we can do some fishing, or in summer we can swim off the beach. We know we are prisoners but here we feel like people.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect on Bastoy.

A number of wide-eyed commentators before me have variously described conditions under which the island’s 115 prisoners live as “cushy”, “luxurious” and, the old chestnut, “like a holiday camp”. I’m sceptical of such media reports.

As a life prisoner, I spent the first eight years of the 20 I served in a cell with a bed, a chair, a table and a bucket for my toilet.

In that time I was caught up in a major riot, trapped in a siege and witnessed regular acts of serious violence.

Across the prison estate, several hundred prisoners took their own lives, half a dozen of whom I knew personally – and a number were murdered.

Yet the constant refrain from the popular press was that I, too, was living in a “holiday camp”. When in-cell toilets were installed, and a few years later we were given small televisions, the “luxury prison” headlines intensified and for the rest of the time I was in prison, it never really abated.

It always seemed to me while I was in jail that the real prison scandal was the horrendous rate of reoffending among released prisoners.

In 2007, 14 prisons in England and Wales had reconvictions rates of more than 70%.

At an average cost of £40,000 a year for each prisoner, this amounts to a huge investment in failure – and a total lack of consideration for potential future victims of released prisoners. That’s the reason I’m keen to have a look at what has been hailed as the world’s first “human ecological prison“.

Thorbjorn, a 58-year-old guard who has worked on Bastoy for 17 years, gives me a warm welcome as I step on to dry land.

As we walk along the icy, snowbound track that leads to the admin block, he tells me how the prison operates.

There are 70 members of staff on the 2.6 sq km island during the day, 35 of whom are uniformed guards. Their main job is to count the prisoners – first thing in the morning, twice during the day at their workplaces, once en masse at a specific assembly point at 5pm, and finally at 11pm, when they are confined to their respective houses.

Only four guards remain on the island after 4pm. Thorbjorn points out the small, brightly painted wooden bungalows dotted around the wintry landscape.

“These are the houses for the prisoners,” he says. They accommodate up to six people. Every man has his own room and they share kitchen and other facilities. “The idea is they get used to living as they will live when they are released.”

Only one meal a day is provided in the dining hall. The men earn the equivalent of £6 a day and are given a food allowance each month of around £70 with which to buy provisions for their self-prepared breakfasts and evening meals from the island’s well-stocked mini-supermarket.

I can see why some people might think such conditions controversial. The common understanding of prison is that it is a place of deprivation and penance rather than domestic comfort.

Prisoners in Norway can apply for a transfer to Bastoy when they have up to five years left of their sentence to serve. Every type of offender, including men convicted of murder or rape, may be accepted, so long as they fit the criteria, the main one being a determination to live a crime-free life on release.

I ask Thorbjorn what work the prisoners do on the island.

He tells me about the farm where prisoners tend sheep, cows and chickens, or grow fruit and vegetables. “They grow much of their own food,” he says.

Other jobs are available in the laundry; in the stables looking after the horses that pull the island’s cart transport; in the bicycle repair shop, (many of the prisoners have their own bikes, bought with their own money); on ground maintenance or in the timber workshop.

The working day begins at 8.30am and already I can hear the buzz of chainsaws and heavy-duty strimmers. We walk past a group of red phone boxes from where prisoners can call family and friends.

A large building to our left is where weekly visits take place, in private family rooms where conjugal relations are allowed.

After the security officer signs me in and takes my mobile, Thorbjorn delivers me to governor Arne Nilsen’s office. “Let me tell you something,” Thorbjorn says before leaving me. “You know, on this island I feel safer than when I walk on the streets in Oslo.” (And much safer than walking the streets in any US city, particularly the downtowns)

Through Nilsen’s window I can see the church, the school and the library. Life for the prisoners is as normal as it is possible to be in a prison. It feels rather like a religious commune; there is a sense of peace about the place, although the absence of women (apart from some uniformed guards) and children is noticeable. Nilsen has coined a phrase for his prison: “an arena of developing responsibility.” He pours me a cup of tea.

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.” (The freedom of taking on all the tedious tasks for survival?)

A clinical psychologist by profession, Nilsen shrugs off any notion that he is running a holiday camp. I sense his frustration. “You don’t change people by power,” he says. “For the victim, the offender is in prison. That is justice. I’m not stupid. I’m a realist. Here I give prisoners respect; this way we teach them to respect others. But we are watching them all the time. It is important that when they are released they are less likely to commit more crimes. That is justice for society.”

The reoffending rate for those released from Bastoy speaks for itself. At just 16%, it is the lowest in Europe. But who are the prisoners on Bastoy? Are they the goodie-goodies of the system?

Hessle is 23 years old and serving 11 years for murder. “It was a revenge killing,” he says. “I wish I had not done it, but now I must pay for my crime.” Slight and fair-haired, he says he has been in and out of penal institutions since he was 15. Drugs have blighted his life and driven his criminality.

There are three golden rules on Bastoy: no violence, no alcohol and no drugs.

Here, he works in the stables tending the horses and has nearly four years left to serve. How does he see the future? “Now I have no desire for drugs. When I get out I want to live and have a family. Here I am learning to be able to do that.”

Hessle plays the guitar and is rehearsing with other prisoners in the Bastoy Blues Band. Last year they were given permission to attend a music festival as a support act that ZZ Top headlined. Bjorn is the band’s teacher. Once a Bastoy prisoner who served five years for attacking his wife in a “moment of madness”, he now returns once a week to teach guitar. “I know the potential for people here to change,” he says.

Formerly a social researcher, he has formed links with construction companies he previously worked for that have promised to consider employing band members if they can demonstrate reliability and commitment. “This is not just about the music,” he says, “it’s about giving people a chance to prove their worth.”

Sven, another band member, was also convicted of murder, and sentenced to eight years. The 29-year-old was an unemployed labourer before his conviction. He works in the timber yard and is waiting to see if his application to be “house father” in his five-man bungalow is successful. “I like the responsibility,” he says. “Before coming here I never really cared for other people.”

(The dislocation of family binds have isolated and weakened people from finding refuge in time of dire needs: A main factor in the increased rate of suicide)

The female guard who introduces me to the band is called Rutchie. “I’m very proud to be a guard here, and my family are very proud of me,” she says. It takes three years to train to be a prison guard in Norway. She looks at me with disbelief when I tell her that in the UK prison officer training is just six weeks. “There is so much to learn about the people who come to prison,” she says. “We need to try to understand how they became criminals, and then help them to change. I’m still learning.”

Finally, I’m introduced to Vidor, who at 72 is the oldest prisoner on the island. He works in the laundry and is the house father of his four-man bungalow. I haven’t asked any of the prisoners about their crimes. The information has been offered voluntarily. Vidor does the same. He tells me he is serving 15 years for double manslaughter. There is a deep sadness in his eyes, even when he smiles.

Killers like me have nowhere to hide,” he says. He tells me that in the aftermath of his crimes he was “on the floor”. He cried a lot at first. “If there was the death penalty I would have said, yes please, take me.” He says he was helped in prison. “They helped me to understand why I did what I did and helped me to live again.” Now he studies philosophy, in particular Nietzsche. “I’m glad they let me come here. It is a healthy place to be. I’ll be 74 when I get out,” he says. “I’ll be happy if I can get to 84, and then just say: ‘Bye-bye.'”

On the ferry back to the mainland I think about what I have seen and heard. Bastoy is no holiday camp. In some ways I feel as if I’ve seen a vision of the future – a penal institution designed to heal rather than harm and to generate hope instead of despair.

I believe all societies will always need high-security prisons.

But there needs to be a robust filtering procedure along the lines of the Norwegian model, in order that the process is not more damaging than necessary.

As Nilsen asserts, justice for society demands that people we release from prison should be less likely to cause further harm or distress to others, and better equipped to live as law-abiding citizens.

It would take much political courage and social confidence to spread the penal philosophy of Bastoy outside Norway, however. In the meantime, I hope the decision-makers of the world take note of the revolution in rehabilitation that is occurring on that tiny island.

 

 

 

 

“We’re exhausted from being homeless”: Nakba consequences

“We walked and walked and walked for days until we finally settled on the beach of Damour,” said 80-year-old Um Zohair. “On the beach we fetched green banana leaves together and with bamboo sticks we made a hut that sheltered us for three months on the sand.”

Sixty-six years ago, Um Zohair — Nada Mousa — was one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homeland, Palestine.

Moe Ali Nayel posted on The Electronic Intifada from Beirut this May 15, 2014

“We’re exhausted from being homeless”: recalling the Palestinians’ plight on Nakba Day

140515-shatila-camp.jpg

Scene of overcrowded refugee camp with cement buildings and lots of electricity wires

Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. (Yann Renoult / Wostok Press)

That was the first time we were displaced,” Um Zohair said.

Since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, a series of upheavals and struggles has marked Palestinian refugees’nomadic life in exile. A new chapter in this history of dispossession has been added by the violence against Palestinian refugees in Syria.

“Palestinians from Syria are living in sewers. Come and look,” Um Zohair told me.

Recently while I was on a visit to Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, I was told about Um Zohair’s family and the conditions they endure.

Abedlrahman, a young Palestinian refugee from Syria, led the way. At an alley’s dead end, we needed to leap over the reeking water to get into the entrance of a murky dungeon.

Once inside, it seemed like we had crossed into an invisible parallel world — except that the sewer’s stench stang the nostrils as a reminder of the dark reality surrounding us.

A dim, windowless subterranean room, once an underground bomb shelter in the 1980s “War of the Camps” (Against the onslaught of the Amal militias of Nabih Berry?) — and later a storage room — is now home to 8 members of a fragmented family.

Inside sat an old woman surrounded by 4 smiling faces and a fifth whose permanent scowl was hard to break: arms crossed, 14-year-old Mahmoud sat on the edge of a decomposing sofa.

Daily struggle

Um Zohair’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren have fled to Lebanon without their breadwinners, their exact whereabouts in Syria remain unknown.

As Um Zohair watched over her grandchildren, their mother, Um Mahmoud, left her five children (Ahmad, 10; Issa, 8; Haytham, 6; Mahmoud, 14; and Huda, 15) and went around Shatila refugee camp, hunting and gathering, looking for any menial job she could score in exchange for money or food.

The mother’s daily struggle to put food on the table is but one part of the bigger burdens of finding $200 to pay for Lebanese residency permits for each of the four family members who are over the age of ten. As if the Lebanese residency fees weren’t hard enough to find, she also has to come up with rent money for the dungeon that shelters them: $200 per month.

Six-year-old Haitham has stopped going to school because of a new-found intolerance for loud noises and overcrowded places. The eldest boy, Mahmoud, said: “I wish I could find a job; I’ll take any job so my mother won’t have to go out every morning and beg people in humiliation for money and food.”

Mahmoud pressed his lips, his frown tensed to prevent tears from gathering, and hissed, “I cannot find a job in the camp, and I’m afraid to venture outside Shatila. We don’t have residency permits. I do not want the police to catch me. I swear I’ll work at anything.”

The three meter by four meter storage room Um Zohair and her grandchildren rent comes with a faucet and a bucket hanging from it, functioning as a kitchen sink. In the corner opposite the kitchen is the toilet: a caved-in drain in the floor enclosed by a curtain made from a vintage bedsheet. The black hole in the room, a drain/toilet, continuously emits unpleasant smells.

The floor, never having seen tiles, is a clammy, uneven bumpy surface of olive green cement. The beds are but two sponge mattresses no more than five centimeters thick. When there is food to cook, Um Zohair and her daughter-in-law use a little camping stove donated by a sympathetic neighbor.

Failed promise

In 1917, Arthur James Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, proclaimed that nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. Almost one hundred years later, Zionist settlers continue to degrade the identity, history and wellbeing of the original inhabitants of Palestine.

This failed promise that nothing should be done to prejudice Palestinians’ rights has today developed into what can be safely called apartheid.

Um Zohair, like many Palestinians, is more accustomed to displacement than any human being should be. One year ago she and her family fled war-ravaged Syria. Their last home was in a Palestinian refugee camp near the Damascus international airport.

Um Zohair, who seems to suffer from numerous health problems, held her cane in one hand and rummaged through a plastic bag full of medicine in the other.

When asked about Palestine she jerked her head high and her eyes sparked as she reminisced. “I am from Safed, Palestine; my village and place of birth is called al-Qatiyya. Do you know it? It is right next to Naameh. I was 13, a young girl, when we were attacked, our house burned and later forced to leave by the Haganah [a Zionist militia].

“That day is always in my memory. I remember, before the assault, elders in the village kept warning us about the Haganah gang who were coming to attack us. My father said those were rumors and we should not leave our land and house. Rumors kept increasing about the arrival of European Jews to attack our village and take our homes; this prompted some people to leave, but we stayed.”

Um Zohair went silent for a minute and looked again in her medication bag. Then, as if the memory of her hometown came back to her, she resumed talking.

“Long walk to Lebanon”

“That morning they broke into houses and forced everyone out to the streets. The Israeli Haganah soldiers started shouting for us to go out and gather in the village’s square. I remember our neighbors, they were Jews, those were our friends and we coexisted for as long as I remembered.

“It was not they, our neighbors, who attacked us; it was the nationalist Israelis, the Europeans. They pointed their guns at men who were in the village and led them to the village’s outskirts. My father was taken with two of my uncles and we never saw them again afterwards. Our Jewish neighbors came to our defense at first and I remember clearly how they shouted in Hebrew at the Israeli militants.

“However, our neighbors could not stop the Israeli militants as they started to burn down one house after another in the village. I don’t remember what happened after that but I remember my mother, my two sisters and I, together with other families, stayed put in the village’s square for two days until the European militants came again and forced us to leave. They started shouting, asking why we were still in the village, and ordered us to join the others who fled their villages from the Safed region. We fled and started the long walk towards Lebanon.”

Um Zohair can still remember her home where she was born and raised in al-Qatiyya. She recalled the serenity and simple life she took for granted at the age of 13 in her family’s stone house and her father’s wheat field.

She wished for her grandchildren to return to al-Qatiyya and have a chance to live with dignity.

“Palestinians are there for each other. Those around us in Shatila know about our plight; they too are not in a much better situation but they still share with us the food they cook. Palestinians are exhausted from being homeless for so long.

“In Syria, my sons used to work from morning until night at a brick factory. I had four boys and two girls; one of my girls was killed last year by shrapnel.

“My other daughter is still in Syria; they cannot afford to flee. Two of my four boys have been missing since last year; one of them is the father of these kids with me. Each night as the eight of us gather to sleep we hope that this will be the last night on the floor of this room.”

Being ethnically cleansed means that Palestinian refugees are estranged from their homeland. They move from one place to another, never feeling at home.

Palestine, their homeland, is still occupied and their internationally-recognized right of return is continually denied and violated by Israel.

The urgency and determination to return to Palestine was broadcast to the whole world during the attempt to return while commemorating the Nakba three years ago on 15 May 2011.

Then, more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon headed to the border with occupied Palestine. The vast majority of them were young Palestinians determined to fight for their right to return to Palestine.

In response, as the whole world watched, Israeli occupation forces did what they have been doing best for the last 66 years: they hunted down and killed Palestinians with sheer cruelty, killing nearly a dozen.

Um Zohair’s story is a tale of a lifelong struggle. She is one of millions of Palestinians stuck in exile, banned by Israel from returning to their roots, their villages and orange trees.

Moe Ali Nayel is a freelance journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter:@MoeAliN.

After WWII, France witnessed a flood of refugees coming from Germany, eastern Europe, and Africa.  People and babies were dying frozen in the streets of Paris.  Whole families were without shelter or any kind of jobs. It Happened that Abbot Pierre was elected deputy in the Parliament; he had served in the French Resistance whisking Jews to Switzerland.

Abbot Pierre started the Emmaus movement to finding shelter and jobs to immigrant families and enabling the downtrodden regaining dignity and offering reasons to resume living.  Emmaus refers to the two brothers in the New Testament:  They terribly disillusioned after the crucifixion of Jesus and then recaptured enthusiasm after recognizing Jesus.  In Greek, “en-theos” means “to be with the Eternal Love”.

There was a youth hostel and disoriented youth doubted of any meaning to life. Abbot Pierre started this movement to aid disillusioned youth after the war and news of the atomic bombs destroying cities in Japan, entire cities in Germany flattened, and the existence of concentration camps and the horrors that mankind experienced and witnessed.

Then, Abbot Pierre met George, a released prisoner who served 20 years of his sentence in the horrible prisons in French Guyannes (South America). Abbot Pierre was summoned to save George who committed suicide and told him: “You are terribly miserable.  I have too much dept and cannot help you financially.  But you, since you want to die and have no one to turn to, wouldn’t you help me saving the other hungry people waiting to be aided?”  George became the first member of Emmaus and before dying, 15 years later, he confessed to Abbot Pierre: “You could have given me money, work, and a house and still I would have tried again to committing suicide.  What I lacked then were reasons to live.”

People were being evicted; a woman was found frozen to death with the eviction notice in her hands.  Hungry and disillusioned people were found hiding to die in their pain and suffering; like cats and dogs.  Abbot Pierre wrote a letter to the minister of Reconstruction: “Send the troops:  They will be of no use.  Natural law supersedes written laws.  You have got to respect life before any laws.  Either you take on your responsibilities to accommodating the homeless families or I cannot see how you can prevent me from resuming building shelters with or without building permits.”

As homelessness increased during the winter season of 1954, Emmaus built without permit in abandoned lands and fitted out decrepit properties.  Abbot Pierre warned the authorities: “If you ever ask me to show you building permits then, I will march and summon the press under the slogan “Permission to live”.  Is there any laws that allow babies to die of hunger and cold?  If proprietors legally allowed erecting tents and people died frozen in these tents then, is it legal for babies and mothers to die of cold and diseases?  It is intolerable that deaths of babies is not considered a crime while not having a building permit is.  We are ready to violate any such orders till Judgement Day.  Life created laws.  Laws have no business freezing life!”

Abbot Pierre resigned from the Parliament and was forced to go begging from street to street to finding shelters for the homeless. He said: ” I cried of humiliation at first but then I discovered jubilation deep inside me for doing “what was not to be done”.  Emmaus movement started collecting cloth and food from garbage bins and the refuse of hospitals, prisons, hotels, and restaurants.

Once, Abbot Pierre and another companion were summoned to rescue a couple of very old persons trapped in an attic.  They struggled in the freezing weather and hunger to removing the couple to a decent shelter.  After a job well done, the companion asked Abbot Pierre:  “what is God?”  Abbot Pierre replied “Didn’t you just said that you feel extremely happy and that it was a great day?” (To be continued)

Don’t Mind Living

 

I experienced comfort, family or some;

         I’ve been homeless too long.

I experienced a glimpse of exhilarating love;

         I wallow in my swamp of hate.

I experienced a flinting unsurpassed confidence;

         I wizened up in lack of faith.

I experienced moments of immortality;

         I breathe the fear of death.

I experienced the joy of the fight;

         But, I don’t mind living, and living long.

Are you poor? Raise your hand! (Part 2, January 21, 2009)

The year 2009 is going to be far worse than last year economically and financially around the world:  

1. most of the capitalist investments are due to be paid this year:

2. many companies purchased in the diversification strategy have folded up and resources generated somehow not satisfactory;

3.  more creative financial gimmicks have to be invented and demands for bailout funds will be at an increase.

            Germany, Spain and Japan have established part-time job systems to absorb unemployment;.

In Japan 35% of the work force is part-timer; syndicalism is taking a new life in this country that promised life-long employment once hired. 

The part-time job agency Wuppertal (Germany) pays 2.70 Euro an hour and Germany has been reluctant to set a minimum wage level but the current rate fluctuate around 5 euros; in France it is 8.7 euros. 

There is nothing wrong with part-time jobs system as long as there is National health coverage and the work culture does not discriminate part-time workers and work classification as character failure.

60% of US unemployed have not health coverage because coverage is paid the employer; and thus, many members in the family of the fired worker lost their health insurance and lines are forming near health care charity providing institutions.

I experienced this condition in the US in 1997; I was losing weight though I did not feel sick; it was the allusions and the behavior of my acquaintances that scared the hell out of me, but I had no resources for a check up, I finally discovered a benevolent clinic; the physician told me that my nutritional intake was not adequate; instead of receiving money for food “quality” I had to pay ten dollars. for this diagnostic. 

In Spain, retired people receiving 525 euros per month are adopting the roommate accommodation style to cope with rental expenses. 

In Portugal more than 12% of homeless individuals have jobs but cannot afford to rent shelters.

And you start wondering how these homeless workers can resume construction jobs without warm and comfortable beds.

You start assuming that job related injuries would increase dramatically.

The nervous state of job insecurity will increase health deterioration and raise insurance rates. A vicious cycle of miseries that will not spread charity tendencies toward the much less developed States in Africa, Afghanistan, Palestine, Bangladesh, and the over two billion individuals earning less than one dollar a day or having a miserable meal every two days.

A reminder: The casualty toll in Gaza has climbed to over 1,400 dead; more children are dying from the detonation of bombs that did not go off. 

There are more than 5,400 injured, among them 2000 babies disfigured by phosphorous bombs and shells. 

Israel claims that the parachutists had to cover their landing by burning the land and people for their missions. 

More than 500 of the injured babies are dying, which will raise the death toll to over 1000 Palestinian babies “martyred”. 

We still have to wait for the final count: many bodies are to be extracted from the rubbles of demolished buildings.

The UN Secretary General visited Gaza and was appalled; he insisted that investigations for the destruction of the UN facilities will be conducted; what about the genocide?  What about financial retribution for the victims?

Nobody believes that Israel will ever cease fire; Israel was created as a mercenary State… 

What is sure is that many Israelis must be feeling very ashamed: the world community has finally discovered the true spirit of Zionism.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

November 2020
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