Monday, November 26, 2012

Thankful to Be Alive In Gaza: My Family's Story of Survival

To read the article on the Huffington Post click here

My two-year-old nephew Omar had been confined to a small apartment with six other screaming children and their families since Israel began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Shortly after a cease-fire was announced on Wednesday, he and his parents returned to our family home in Bait Lahia. My mother, who I spoke to over the phone, said that the first thing that Omar did was rush up the stairs in search of his most prized possession: his bike.

 To read the article on the Huffington Post click here
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Arab- American, American Football and Pumpkin Pie

I spend my thanksgiving in Raleigh North Carolina, and I loved it. For Thanksgiving, the downtown area was a zombie town--no one as much as walking down the streets. I guess people down there take family values seriously.

But I was invited to a nice home for a retired Palestinian American doctor (they live in Durham) where they were two dozens of people mostly Palestinian Americans. What was interesting  the family had the turkey and had hummus too. They had rice and salad too. But when it came to desert they went all American with Pumpkin pie and cheese cake. What I learned.

Despite embracing American life to the fullest, most Arab immigrants I know, resent pumpkin pie. They we were surprised I loved it so much--I had plenty o it. I mean the boys in the room were watching the Dallas Cowboys vs. The Washington Red Skins, but still no love for this traditional treat.

And students who go to Duke, talk about it as if it was some religion. Which is pretty cool if you go or work in that great institution. We met a Yemeni and Egyptian girls who go there, and boy they were talking up that school more than they were talking about their families.

The malls down there were a lot of fun, people are naturally all about serving, smiling and getting since they were born so customer service feels great. Why people take time to talk to you and go above and beyond to be helpful. I like that.  

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Conversations With My Mom In Gaza

My mom is the Matriarch of our family. She is the family’s central bank and the great mother and a grandmother you would want for your own kids. While Israel was waging its war on the civilians in Gaza, my mother Fatema was busy keeping her 30 grandchildren entertained. They have been losing power often -- more often than they are used to -- due to constant shelling and interference by the Israeli army.

“Tonight, I will wear an extra pair of pants, to be ready. In case anything happens to us at night, I will be decent as I am being transported to a local hospital or morgue. I want to look good even if I have left this earth.” As I felt a chill up my spine, she went on to tell me about our next door neighbour Essam; the 19-year old was bombed on his motorcycle near our Beit Lahia home.

She told me that my cousin Rabah also suffered some injuries from the same attack. Rabah is the kind of Palestinian entrepreneur that Wall Street would love. He came from humble origins and grew up to own one of the largest textile businesses in Gaza. At one point he was even a main business partner with Israel jeans producers. My mom has always liked Rabah because she says he has a good head on his shoulders. She told me that at the crowded hospital he was given a band-aid and told to go home and return once the military assault is over for surgery.

My mother mentioned the other day that the Israeli attacks have brought her closer to her favorite grandson, though she would never admit it. She is very protective of him and every time my family home shakes, she races for Omar and holds him tight. She is not obsessive, but she was the images of recent dead Gaza infants.Little Omar is her new life and she will do everything to keep him safe.     

She just called me a few hours ago to let me know that they no longer live at home and that the entire family has moved to my brother’s small apartment 15 minutes away. When I saw her number on my caller ID, my heart began racing, expecting the worst. Then I started to calm when I reminded myself I have not read any more names that I know. “I worried that you would call us at home, and get no answer, so I did not want you to worry for us. There are many Israeli shellings in our area, so we evacuated and took the kids.” She added that it seem the Israeli military wants to bomb the Abu El Mezza home, right next door to ours. Abu El Mezza is a large family that already lost their 19-year old son Essam on the first day of the attacks.

In most cases, Israelis do attempt to target specific homes, but nobody can predict the damage of those airplane bombs. Take for example, the home of the Abu Alfool family in Beit Lahia. It was first targeted with a warning shot and an hour later the real bombs were dropped. As a result, at least seven homes saw major damage from those bombs. Not only is this collective punishment, but it’s also inhuman. Fifteen bystanders walking the streets were taken the hospitals with mild to serious injuries. The home where my family has taken shelter is three blocks away and as a result of the bombs dropped, the indoor glass shattered all over the property. Luckily none of our family members have been hurt, which is something I am incredibly grateful for. 

Now my family is crammed in a small apartment trying to convince themselves that they will be safer when they know this to be untrue. During the Israel’s Cast Lead Operation in 2008-09 they also moved toward the city center when my cousin Hope was shot in the kitchen as she made mint tea. My mother says that even though it’s very cold outside, they have to keep all the windows open because the constant shelling and rocket noises shatter the glass. “This way the windows won’t be shattered and do us harm.”

While people are scared for their lives because certain death is incredibly close. My little sister-in-law Raghad who is on third grade has taken up poetry as a mechanisms of coping with the madness and fury the Israeli army has unleashed on Gaza. She read us her latest poem about her hopes for her favorite holiday coming back for the sake of the children she said.   

Meanwhile, pro-Israel activists in the U.S. have been mocking Palestinian deaths -- even the cold blooded murder of babies in their cribs. These desensitized feelings are troubling even to observers in Israel. Only people who have never seen a real war can be this naive about true human suffering as a result of these conflicts. Many of these bigoted commentators are confusing popular war games with full blown wars; these are real people, not avatars. For the sake of my family in Gaza and all families in the region, I hope this madness ends soon.        

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Netanyahu’s political pandering leads to more Palestinian bloodshed

Time and again when the actions of a Palestinian group result in as much as scratching an Israeli citizen, the Israeli military retaliates. Using the logic of ‘might makes right,’ which plays itself out in cycles of bloodshed, Palestinians have to die. This is the logic of extremes, devoid of dignity, signaling little respect for human rights and the autonomy of democracies. The logic paves a path to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office and overlays that path with Palestinian blood. The motivation behind Netanyahu’s call to arms is the inexorable political pandering to his right-wing coalition, and the lives of Palestinians should not get in his way.

The horror sewn by Israeli might is tragic. Blood soaked boxes of Palestinian body parts are the evidence of the loss of innocent civilians. These boxes, collected by paramedics after the Israeli assault and visible in film footage, may set into motion a counter logic among the Gaza militia to target Israeli civilians. Like in ancient Greek tragedies, an unstoppable cycle of revenge might escalate.

Where are the voices of reason sickened by random rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and bombings of Palestinians? “Let’s send the people of Gaza to heaven”, said one Israeli politician as his country’s army was shelling people living less than 20 minutes away from their headquarters.   

While people of Gaza have seen a lot of suffering and God knows what the top Israeli war generals have in store for them, I have spotted grown men crying at the scene of the blood and the ambulance. I fear for my family who have been made refugees in Gaza for 64 years now. Sixty Years ago, they fled for safety in Gaza. Now they are being bombarded again by the descendants of those who have made them refugees in the first place.

Cruelty upon cruelty is the only way to describe the plight of the Palestinians who have been under siege since 2007. My family closed their businesses early and went into hiding in different places to increase the odds of their survival. Their  neighborhood in Beit Lahia has already been targeted by the Israeli Airforce. Children in these areas are unsure what to make of the strange times they have yet to understand.

The Israeli government will tell you that they are running surgical operations in Gaza and expect you to cheer them on. But by their actions, this Israeli government has only taken Hamas seriously and has never bothered to talk to the peace-minded Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. President Abbas is waiting for a phone call and all he gets is mockery and insults from various government officials in this Israeli coalition. Netanyahu’s government has marginalized both the Palestinian peace movement and his own. In essence, they have empowered the hawks at home and in Gaza.     

While many militants have been murdered by the Israeli military campaign on Gaza, some civilians have also been killed. Take four year old girl Anan Arafat, who has just been pulled out of the rubbles of her family home in Gaza. How the Israelis find themselves threatened by a four year old is a mystery to me.  If killing Palestinians gives some Israelis short-term peace of mind and comfort, I hate to think what any future peace agreements with such characters would look like.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From Russia Today With Love

They did not tell me it will be on camera, I thought I was on the phone, and the camera looked not on. sorry for not looking to the camera.

Let's pray for Gaza

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The GOP and The OMG Moment

So the Republican party is not having a great time at the moment, they are as toxic as they come. I honestly think much of the blame goes to the vocal firebrand politicians from the Tea Party. I do not think the new Americans are a lock for the DNC, they are not and they can move if they feel like it. It's just they have not been pandered to.

These folks had to call themselves patriots upfront. But what they say or do have little to do with patriotism. At first they scared the black voters and got them rallied up to bring them down. They called Hispanics name and wanted to dance on their graves. They insulted every and each Muslim and Arab and immigrants in this country and expected them to vote for them.

While there is a great majority of the Republican party who really make sense and appeal to the mainstream  those ones have gone into hiding due to the 2010 election results. The crazy ones would now come out of the dark and spread their poison. There's no reason why Senator Bob Bennett is not back in the US Senate, but they buried the poor guy.

And yes one more thing, the crazy wing of the party scared the hell out of each women on this country and made is sound like being raped as something to look forward to. Call this gross does not quite cut it anymore. And worse, the reasonable voices of the party were shy from criticizing those voices. So one insult after another, everyone who had an issue with the Tea Party stood in lines to help bring them down and they did.

Part of the Romney's strategy was the following, some people will not go to vote--not as excited about Obama this time around. He was right, but they were voting against the GOP and its crazy sounding politicians. Those voters, do not want stuff, they wan freedom, they came here for this freedom. While the tea party talks about freedom, the immigrants value it most--they know what it feels like to be denied it.

I do not think white people are a minority, they are not, but the crazy ones are so. While, America is changing, the white voters are still the bread and butter of every politician out there. The challenge for the GOP was not to scare people. On one front the GOP was not attracting new voters, and on the other hey were shedding so many of them so fast--young people and women combined with the minorities helped push the Obama ticket all the way to the top.

Romney had a lot of mistakes on his operation, but it's not that he was a weak candidate, he could have won, but those extremist GOP voices have undermined his chances. I have said this before even before this election, It's not that I do not agree with the Republican party--because I do on many issues, but it's that they do not make me feel welcome. So yes, I am glad to see the ten Tea Party congress members and senators out the door. Maybe they would help empower the voices of reason withing the Grand Old Party.

Myself and a lot of immigrants care about issues the GOP once led on, but giving that they just have lost the foreign policy argument, it's hard to see them owning the next White House. I know the GOP does not have to compromise its values, but if they do not figure out a way--they will soon be unable to win an national election. Many immigrants do not like abortion and they may not approve of gay marriage. But they also remember having to leave such places where others pushed their beliefs on them. To me, America is about both Freedom and Justice. Not one and not the other.  
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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Gaza Crocodile Is In My Hometown

Folks in my town of Beit Lahia--north of the Gaza Strip have finally arrested one wild crocodile that manged to sneak into the local sewer. the local sewer is a huge one and it feeds from the various pipelines in the area. A friend of mine Ashraf Qahaman was one of the people who trapped the crocodile.

I am certain this poor animal was smuggled from Egypt, put in a zoo and then found its way to the Sewer system. But it could also be that its owner got sick of feeding it so, he or she got rid of it.

The local government that Hamas runs made a big deal out of this and trapped the crocodile, and manged to got the local and international press involved. I like how they wore gloves since the crocodile has been swimming in the sewer   

"The crocodile, which was 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) long, was captured alive after intense and difficult attempts following complaints from residents that their lives were in danger," it added.

An official in the area said the crocodile was transferred to the Gaza Zoo.

It's nice to hear one's town in the news, my town usually gets in the news if someone dies or some house gets demolished  A crocodile is happy news for most of us.
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Friday, November 02, 2012

How Do You Sum America In A Hundred Question

I have read that the test for becoming an American citizen has 100 question which each applicants has to study. The questions are in both US history and government, all applicants have to study up--those who are 65 or older can be exempted.

In the interview you are only to be asked 10 questions out of those one hundred. You would need to get at least six correct in order to move to the next round in the citizenship journey. The questions are pretty basic and most people would pass them, but the disturbing thing is when I read some American born do not know the answers to such questions.

But my biggest concern is with the complexity of America and its history. A 100 question barely scratch the surface of anything. And yes some figures and events are a topic of debate and discussion. White Americans and other Americans agree on certain events, but when opinions and perceptions are sometimes mistaken for facts. This is not to say, there is no consensus among Americans, it does exit and there are things are shape the unique American story. Many are proud to be Americans, but they may disagree on what that term means, hence you have two major parties with two different mindsets.

I do not know, but I sure would like to find out this Tuesday what Americans value the most.
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