This Will Not Be Political

Standard

This blog post will not be political. Or at least I don’t plan for it to be.  This post is going to be about experiences and events that may have happened as a result of politics, but it goes beyond that. Politics is a complicated and dirty game – what I want to talk about is simple. Very simple.

Okay, so imagine you’re a woman. A mother. You have 13 children. One of those children is a young man who left his hometown to study abroad. Whilst away from home, he sadly passed away. You’re devastated of course but you can’t do anything about it. He’s gone. What next? A funeral, right? Yes, there must be a funeral so you can bury your young one and say goodbye to his soulless body. One problem: that body is in the country neighbouring yours. But that’s okay; you can just arrange to have it transported and have the funeral in his homeland.

Except, you can’t do that. See, that homeland happens to be Palestine, that place you come from happens to be Gaza and you and your dead son happen to be Palestinian. And everyone knows the usual rules don’t apply to Palestinians. I mean, don’t you realise how unreasonable it is to want to bury your son in the place he grew up and actually get to see him before it happens? The thought is just ridiculous.

It would be sad, wouldn’t it though? For you to be that woman or one of the dead man’s siblings. It would be cruel, inhumane.

That woman is my grandmother. The dead man was my uncle and the dead man’s sibling was my father. He’d gone away to study in Libya before 1967 and he passed away in Egyptian Rafah. As you now know, sitti (‘grandmother’) wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral – his corpse wasn’t allowed through the Egypt-Palestine border and she wasn’t allowed to go to him. In the end, she watched the funeral procession from Palestinian Rafah through barbed wire, only metres away from 3amo Jawad (my uncle, may God bless his soul).

Now that is one of many, many stories. Stories that are not political, they’re just…human? They’re about simple, basic things that ordinary people don’t think about because they don’t have to think about them. They are a given. Being able to bury your son is a given. Being able to see your family is something we expect, something we don’t imagine to ever be completely impossible.

I’m from Gaza (Khan Younis) but I originally come from Beyt Daras. Now, geographically, that isn’t very far from where I was born or where my grandmother lives. It wouldn’t take more than a few hours or so getting there by car. Getting there should be simple, but like most things for Palestinians, it never is. For one, the village my grandmother was expelled from decades ago doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s just empty land now. Also, we’d have to drive out of Gaza which, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you would know is something you could only do if you were an Israeli tank or a maniac who wanted to get shot by Israeli soldiers on the border. Fun.

Okay, let’s play another imagining game. Imagine you’re a man this time. You’re young, healthy, a husband and father. Until one day, you’re diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is never good but this cancer is treatable. You just need a simple operation every 2 years. You get the operation done the first time and then 2 years pass and it’s due again. This time, however, things have changed.  Now, the place you live in has been placed under siege. A siege which involves many things but the main one being that people cannot enter or leave. That place is Gaza and it’s a place that does not possess the medical resources necessary for your operation. And you would just leave and go elsewhere to get it done of course but remember, you’re Palestinian. How dare you expect to be given permission to go on a hospital trip that will save you from a painful and awful death? It’s silly that you would even suggest such a thing.

But you try anyway. You ask your neighbour, Egypt, and they say no. So you turn to your oppressors, Israel, and they say…yes. Yes?! Yes. But, on one condition. If you want to leave Gaza for this operation, you must agree to collaborate with them and pass on intelligence. Ah… remember, you are an honourable man. You are not a liar, and not a spy. So you refuse. You would rather die than go against your country, your people, your beliefs.

And you do die. A horrible death. A death your beloved wife and children had to witness because this messed up world decided you were too Palestinian to live. You were too Palestinian to be given any dignity. You were too Palestinian for basic human rights.

That man was my cousin and that man was hundreds of other Gazans who had to die of illnesses during the (on-going) siege that were treatable, curable, manageable. They could have been saved but they were too Palestinian to deserve even that.

This is not about politics. This is not about history. This is not about Hamas or Fatah or rockets or weapons. This is about the clear absence of logic. How is it logical to allow such things to happen? Tell me. How is it logical for sitti to have to go through so much pain? How is it logical for me to lose my cousin like that? How is logical to allow thousands of Palestinians to be subjected to daily humiliation at the hands of Israeli forces?

It is not logical and it cannot be justified, but the world still tries. The world still comes up with arguments so absurd that you wonder how. How are people so ridiculously beyond stupid? Because if you need evidence for how moronic and blind this world and its inhabitants are, just take a look at Israel.

I could say a lot more but I would only be depressing myself further so I’ll stop. It’s just tiring. Having to explain these things to people. Having to hear about my high school friend’s awesome trip to Jerusalem and knowing that I am not allowed to experience the same trip. Because I happened to be born in Gaza and have ‘born in Gaza’ on my British passport and I am…Palestinian. And that, apparently, is reason enough.

What are you complaining about?

Standard

Yesterday, I went to a showing of ‘Displaced in Diaspora’ – a documentary  directed by Jamal Dallali which followed the lives of Iraqi-Palestinian refugees. People whose entire lives have been made up of nakba (catastrophe) after nakba.

First, the Nakba of 1948 in which they were kicked out of Palestine by Zionists. Then again in Iraq after Baghdad fell and they were being targeted by (mostly) Shias because Saddam Hussein was, in his day, a sympathiser to the Palestinian cause. Then from Iraq they were scattered…today, some are in Cyprus, Syria, Brazil, Chile and even India. And of course for those in Syria there was a third nakba, courtesy of Assad’s murderous regime. Except since these refugees don’t even possess travel documents (they’re too Palestinian for that) they aren’t even allowed to flee Syria. Everyone who managed to leave Iraq went from one hopeless life to another. To the world, these people are nothing. They are illegal in some countries and insignificant in others. They can’t work, they can’t go to school, they can’t get healthcare. They simply, with the exception of Chile (whose actions were beyond incredible, so thank you, Chile), cannot do anything.

When the war on Iraq happened and people started kidnapping Palestinians (and others), torturing them, drilling holes into their heads, taking photographs of that and sending them to families, there was an urgent appeal by human rights’ organisations to take some refugees in. They appealed first to the Arab world. Apart from Syria and Sudan, not one Arab country said yes. Not one. Isn’t that disgusting? And Sudan only agreed because this was happening at the time of the Darfur events and they wanted to put the Palestinian refugees in Darfur to show the world that ‘look, Darfur is fine! We’re even putting Palestinians there.’ Some European countries took them in. I personally met a total of ten families who were granted asylum in Bolton a few years ago and to put it briefly, their stories are beyond horrific.  Things I don’t think I should have had to hear at 15 years old but I’m glad I did.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

For I have been lucky. God has blessed me with the opportunity to travel and see the world. I have had the opportunity to meet people with the saddest histories, people who live in the most awful conditions but people who still, despite all that they have to go through, manage to put a smile on their face. They still manage to thank God for the fact that they’re still alive, that they have (cheap) food to eat, a (corrugated metal) roof over their heads and (donated-from-charities) shoes on their feet. They are grateful for the life they have, no matter how bad.

Can we say the same?

I live with my parents in a first world country. We have money, a nice home, a comfortable bed, friends and family who love and care about me, all the food I can eat and an education of some sort. I can read, see, hear and speak. I have more than one wardrobe full of clothes, I own a very good laptop, a smartphone, shelves of books. I have money in the bank, parents with cars who can afford petrol and are willing to take me to the places I need to be. I am in good health. And most of you reading this right now probably have all of that too, give or take a few things. And are you happy? Grateful? I don’t feel most of us are. All we do is complain. Claim to be ‘depressed’ over the pettiest of issues. Whine about how difficult life is.

No. We do not have difficult lives. We don’t. Yes, we have problems. Some have it worse than others and I’m not trying to dismiss those problems or say that they don’t matter because of course, to each individual, they do. But I just wish we could put things into perspective more. Do you really have that much to complain about? Your life probably looks like paradise to those Iraqi-Palestinian refugees or any refugee for that matter. Do you have any idea how many would do anything to have a life like yours?

We all take things for granted. When I feel like it (which is all the time), I can go downstairs to the kitchen and open my fridge and find it full of food I could eat. In comparison, when my father was my age, he was an orphan who lived in a refugee camp with his 10+ siblings and mother and some days his ‘dinner’ consisted entirely of dipping a small piece of bread in some salt. Sometimes, if they were lucky, they could have half a tomato each as well. And here I am, complaining because I don’t always find what I’m craving. It’s shameful. Of me. Of us.

So, I’m sorry. I am truly and deeply sorry. Sorry to all the Palestinian-Iraqi refugees. Sorry to my father and those like him. Sorry for the displaced, tortured, abused. Sorry to those who had their lives ruined by monsters. Sorry to the Syrians and Egyptians and Afghans. Sorry to the raped, beaten, humiliated. Sorry to all those who aren’t lucky enough to have the same luxuries as I do. I’m sorry because I am blessed and do not realise it. Because I have everything and act like I have nothing. Because I don’t recognise how much God has given me. I’m sorry.

On giving advice.

Standard

My mother told me about this hadith yesterday:

كان رسولُ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ إذا كرِهَ من إنسانٍ شيئًا قال ما بالُ أقوام ٌيفعلونَ كذا وكذا

The Prophet (peace be upon him), when someone did something that displeased him, used to say “what is wrong with people who do such and such a thing.”

(That’s not a very good translation, sorry) but the point is this-

Rather than just telling the person that what they were doing was wrong, the Prophet would indirectly hint it to them instead, so the person would not feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. He wouldn’t mention names and he wouldn’t single the person out. Instead, in his wisdom and kindness, the Prophet would drop a subtle hint that what the person was doing was not good and that they should change.

I really think we could help/guide a lot more people if we used this approach instead of the more common way which is usually to publicly announce that so and so is doing this or that in front of other people, whether in ‘real life’ or on the Internet. Not only is it plain cruel, but it usually doesn’t ending up having the effect the person wanted in the first place. It is counterproductive, because now you’ll have someone feeling embarrassed and defensive and who probably won’t want to take your advice or hear what you have to say at all.

So. Learn a little tact. Try to put yourself in the wrong-doers shoes and think of how you would feel. Let us try to be kinder and more understanding of those around us. Take a leaf out of the Prophet’s book and just be nice, okay?

 

(I know this is a short post compared to what I usually write but I just really liked the hadith and wanted to share it with people.)

 

When It Hits Home; Abdelmalek’s story.

Standard

It was a Saturday. The fourth night of Israel’s ‘Operation Pillar of Defence.’ I’d just finished climbing a mountain and had been cut off from the rest of the world for most of the day. I was feeling happy and alive as I switched my phone on. I checked the first text: “I just heard about your cousin…” I didn’t finish reading it. My mind and heart stopped. My cousin? What the hell had happened to my cousin? Which one? Shaking, I dialed my mother’s number. She took ages to pick up and with every ring, I prayed. First “please don’t let anyone be dead,” and then “please don’t let it be anyone I know.”

My mother picked up. “Mama, what happened?” “Walaykum assalam! What are you talking about?” “I got a text. One of the cousins. What’s going on?” “Oh yeah. Your uncle’s son. He was injured.” “Who? How?” “Jawad’s son. Abdelmalek. Just his leg though.” After asking a few more questions and telling her when I would be home, I hung up.

Just his leg… no one was dead. And it wasn’t anyone I ‘knew’. On the dad’s side of family, 92 (at last count) call my dad’s mother ‘grandma’ – it’s a big family and there are a lot of cousins. I racked my brain trying to remember who Abdelmalek was. I realised I had only ever  seen him once, from the roof of my uncle’s house as I watched a wedding zaffeh (exclusively for men). He was sitting on a chair at the back talking to a friend and bouncing a child on his knee. His father died a few decades ago in Egyptian Rafah (a funeral, by the way, my grandmother had to watch through barbed wire because neither she nor his corpse were allowed across the border). Abdelmalek grew up an orphan in a house next door to my grandmother’s in Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza.  He is now 26 years old and unmarried. I didn’t know him and I’d never even spoken to him. He probably didn’t know who I was either but at that moment, he was all I could think of. All of a sudden, the events in Gaza had become even more real than they had before. The statistics were now my family. I felt ill.

The next day, I found my dad and asked him for more information. He didn’t know much either, just that his leg was gone and they were arranging to have him sent to Egypt for medical treatment. That’s all I knew for weeks. I tweeted about him a couple of times but soon decided it was useless.  Of course it was. The tweets got a lot of attention and wishes for a fast recovery but none of it helped. All I could think of was that thousands of miles away, a member of my family’s life had just been changed drastically. And why? Because of Israel? Because the world’s ‘leaders’ were too cowardly and corrupt to speak out? Because our so called ‘Ummah’ was too busy obsessing over a damn cartoon to do anything about it?

 

A few days later, Egypt brokered a ceasefire and we were granted with a victory that filled even me with some happiness and optimism for the future.

A few weeks later, after a lot of effort and time spent on trying to convince my mother to let me go, I travelled to Gaza. This was my third and shortest time to visit. With only 10 days and a schedule filled with convoy activities such as distributing aid and seeing family and friends, it was a busy, exhausting but very satisfying trip.

I saw Abdelmalek 4 times in those 10 days. His bedroom now consisted of a bed he spent most of his time in, pushed into a corner with seats all around the rest of the room for his guests and visitors. My dad sat next to his bed and asked him to tell us what happened. I sat next to baba and asked if I could take notes. In a quiet, shy voice, he told us he’d been out with his friend early in the morning. It was around 7am and he and his friend were on their way home on a motorcycle. The road was empty; people were either still asleep or too afraid to leave their homes. They were driving too fast to hear the drone. They didn’t hear the first missile either. It threw him and his friend of the motorcycle. The explosion was loud. “If you can hear it, it means you’re fine. It means you aren’t dead yet.” His friend seemed to be dead (he later found out he was just unconscious). He got up and started to run. The drone ignored his friend and started to follow him. He needed shelter, somewhere to hide. He ran for about 50 metres until he found a small side street with one house a little further down. Only one young boy was outside and Abdelmalek shouted out to him to open the door to the house. The boy came closer, not hearing what he was trying to say. Then the second and third missiles came. Abdelmalek was under a tree when they hit and it absorbed a lot of the impact and temperature from the burning metal. “Alhamdulillah (thank God) for that tree. I would’ve been blown to pieces if it wasn’t there.”

Abdelmalek was still conscious. He looked down and saw his leg was just hanging off him but said at that moment, there was no pain and no blood. Someone in the house nearby called an ambulance which took 15 minutes to arrive. By that time, the pain had started. I asked him to describe the pain and he looked away. “It was bad. Really bad.”

I stopped writing. My father asked if we could see the leg. He moved the blanket aside and I looked. The first thing I noticed was not the missing leg but his other leg. It was covered in shrapnels and was missing one toe on the foot. Then I looked at the other leg. It was gone from his knee down and wrapped in white bandages. He told me had shrapnels everywhere else in his body and his arm was also in a metal brace.

I looked away and picked up my pen. “How do you feel about everything now?” “Alhamdulillah. I’m doing well. God gave me the leg and God took it away. Alhamdulillah.” He shrugged. I felt sad and ashamed. If I’d lost my leg, I would probably think it was the end of the world. But here was Abdelmalek…strong, positive faithful. It confused me…

We visited him a few times after that and I spoke to his mother who told me about how scared she was when she found out something had happened to him. Abdelmalek answered more of my questions. Did he regret ever leaving his house that morning? No. What happened was meant to happen and he was still grateful; “Some guys have had both legs or both arms blown off. What’s happened to me is nothing.” Plans for the future? “I want to get a prosthetic leg fitted, God willing. And I want to go back to work.”

I thanked him and he gave me a polite smile.

His friend is fine. “Not a scratch. He slept through it all!” he laughed. And the little boy turned out to be 10 years old. He was also injured and had to have his spleen removed. Abdelmalek regrets calling out to him.

 

Abdelmalek is okay now. He still has a lot of pain and experiences what I’ve been told is called ‘Phantom Limb Syndrome’ – the brain still thinks the limb is there so he feels pain in a body part that doesn’t even exist. He’ll be given a mobility scooter soon so he can get around without help. He’s alive and surviving and although I still barely know him, I am in awe of his strength and courage. There aren’t many people I admire or look up to or consider heroes but right now, Abdelmalek, you are definitely one of them.

Visiting home.

Standard

I’ve been meaning to write this from the moment I boarded that plane to Cairo. I planned it in my head during the drive to Rafah, mentally edited it countless times when I was actually in Gaza and by the time I said my goodbyes, all that was left was transferring it from my head onto paper.

It’s been four weeks since I got back and I’ve only started it now. I blamed the delay on being busy, starting university, having a life (that bit isn’t true obviously :( ), but really, I could’ve made the time. Except I didn’t really know what to say. Couldn’t figure out how to explain to strangers what kind of a place Gaza was – for me personally and for permanent citizens.

The one word I always used when people ask me what kind of a place it is, is ‘beautiful’. Gaza is many things, some good, some bad but most of all, it is overwhelmingly, breathtakingly beautiful. Not just in terms of scenery (Mediterranean Sea, olive/fig trees, the beach…) but its atmosphere, what it and its people have been through and what they are now, the fact that for me, it is home…

It isn’t all beautiful though. At one point during the drives along the beach to visit my grandmother, you had to pass over a bridge that goes through what I called the ‘sewage area’. Since Gaza has no proper system in place, all that stuff goes directly into the sea. My mum learnt the exact area where the smell could reach us and would quickly warn us to shut our windows so we wouldn’t have to put up with it. Which would be ok except the place is surrounded with houses – people live there and have to put up with it everyday.

Carry on driving and you’ll pass the refugee camps. ‘Houses’ built from scraps of corrugated metal, some concrete, a tarpaulin thrown over parts of the walls or roof. Children sitting by the edge of the road, peering through every car that passed trying to find something to do with their time until the power came back on.

Ah, electricity. In the UK where I live, if they ever have to cut off the power or water or whatever, they usually send every house in the area a letter letting us know the exact date and time it’ll happen. The times are taken seriously – if they say 6pm it means 6pm, no question about it. Explaining this to Palestinians in Gaza, they laughed. “They’d have to send a LOT of letters to us.” For those who aren’t aware, since Gaza is technically still under siege (as it has been for the past 5 years), very little fuel is allowed into the Strip usually. So the power will come on for one area and switch off for its neighbour, sometimes for 6, sometimes for 8 hours. People have learnt the patterns for their area and most plan their days around when they will or won’t have electricity. For those who can afford it, mini generators are used as a substitute, resulting in a whole other set of problems on its own.

When you tell people here that Gaza is still under siege, some actually don’t believe me. How can it be when I managed to cross the border? How when the people have food, when they’re not starving?

I managed to cross the border because of good timing, the blessing that is dual nationality and because God is nice like that. The average person in Gaza doesn’t always get that lucky. I actually saw people in Rafah being turned away, some losing money spent on flights, others missing the chance to see loved ones. And there isn’t really much people can do about it.

A woman I met told me, frustrated and desperate that she’d been waiting for 4 years for her chance to go on hajj (pilgrimage) and every year she’d be told to try again next time (Egypt allows a limited number of pilgrims to leave every year and getting chosen depends on chance).

As for food, apart from the few trucks of produce that come in from Israel, Gaza manages by growing its own fruit and vegetables and by bringing in produce from Egypt via the smuggling tunnels. Get rid of the tunnels and imagine Gaza wasn’t lucky enough to have a climate that supported the farmers and you would be left with very little. Gaza isn’t starving, it’s suffocating.

It’s also worth remembering that Gaza is on the coast – fishermen should be bringing in enough fish to feed the whole Strip, except any boat that sails past 3km of the shore risks getting shot at by the Israeli navy (if you look out sometimes, you can actually see them. Little black specks on the horizon).

And the politics. It’s everywhere. Graffiti with political slogans and anniversaries on every wall, the (mostly) green, yellow, pink (once red, faded by the sun) flags reminding you of the division between factions, the photos of famous and local martyrs on walls, roundabouts and billboards in the place of advertisements.

Walk through most streets and you’ll definitely find a house or two covered in bullet holes, dents in steel and cement where the shrapnels hit, the remains of a demolished or damaged house. The sound of generators and drones, not sure which is which, thrown between the noise of everyday life, children playing and street sellers shouting offers at you.

And then there are the bombs. You know, I’m just chilling, reading a book, living my wild life when suddenly, BOOM. Bomb after bomb falls, making the building shake. Happened to me three times while I was there (which was for 20 days) and it was strange. I got used to it eventually. After a while they’d fall and I wouldn’t even stop what I was doing. Or I’d just calmly get out of bed and find out which area it hit via radio and then go back to sleep. But at the same time I was kind of like ‘hey, maybe you should start saying your shahada 24/7, just in case you know’ then I’d shrug and be like yeah whatever man, they’re just bombs, what you gonna do.

Yeah. That’s the thing. Gaza’s weird. It has the ability to be the most peaceful place and at the same time keep you on edge at all times. It’s calm and intense, chilled out and chaotic all at once. But still. Always beautiful.

Image

Image

Image

Petty Muslims are petty.

Standard

I am going to try and make this very quick, because I have work to do.

Right. In case you weren’t aware, the world is seriously messed up. What, with people dying in Syria and Palestine a mess as usual and people starving in Yemen, LIFE ISN’T VERY NICE FOR SOME PEOPLE RIGHT NOW.

So, how do you think the martyr and the prisoner and the almost-dead-guy-in-Africa would feel if we were to tell them ‘’Oh hey, I know life is unbearable and you’re dying and stuff but we really don’t have time for you BECAUSE ANOTHER HIJABI DID SOMETHING SCANDALOUS LOL BRB’’

Yes. It has happened again. Someone did something stupid and stupid people have reacted stupidly and are saying the same stupid things AND GENERALLY BEING VERY STUPID.

Can we get over it please? This and every other unimportant, insignificant piece of ‘news’, because SORRY TO BREAK IT TO YOU, but

a)      It isn’t any of your business

b)     Don’t act like you’re a saint – imagine if your own sins were posted on the Internet and became the main discussion topic on social networks. I’m sure you’d be thrilled – I know I would!

c)      As mentioned above, there are more pressing issues to be getting emotional over. Do you know how nice it is to know that Muslims care more for petty gossip than the state of Al-Aqsa? Mashallah, what a GREAT Ummah we are. The Prophet pbuh would be so proud :’)

Keep it up guys :)

 

Petty (adjective): Of little importance; trivial; you.

“Whosoever covers (the sins of) a Muslim, Allah covers (his sins) on the Day of Judgment”. – hadith.