Thursday, March 5, 2009
Two weeks ago today i was still anticipating release. i feel i remember considering asking my interrogators if there was any hope for me to be out by my birthday a few days later. i am glad i never did. i never asked them for anything.
At the police station this past week a few uniformed men returned my things to me. They pretended they had caught the “thief” who had stolen my things, he was locked away now, they laughed. The frenzy of my release has finally passed, things are meant to return to normal at this stage. But in Gaza- the reality of which had driven me to the street that Friday- nothing has changed. A friend calls from Rafah, a tone of hopelessness in his voice, replacing the fear that was there during those weeks of terror of Israeli generals, pilots and soldiers, tanks, phosphorous gas and F16s the means to their ends. My friends in Jabalya have long since moved back into their home deemed unlivable by some housing authorities and yet there is no where else to go for this family of eleven; three generations under one asbestos roof and four cracked walls.
During those raids Raed lost his house for the second time. The Israeli soldiers ordered him and his family out of the house, blew it up with dynamite and then bulldozed his and his father’s taxis- their only source of income. Does this sink in. Their only source of income. Their home. They could be yours. Again Raed and his daughters and sons, wife and father are on the street, in a bitter cold in a strip of land demarcated by an occupying power that would not permit even glass into the prison to repair blown out windows much less steel and concrete to repair a home in ruin. And who would afford him such a luxury. His 15-year old daughter- the top of her class- refuses to return to school, and for what.
It is the mundane that reminds me of my abduction. Today on the bus i reset the settings of my ipod as they used to be after some employee of the Egyptian state security forces erased its content. I can’t express enough my gratitude to all those around me- far and near- who reached out, cooked a meal for my family, set up a site calling for my release, held a sign in the cold, brought me my class readings, uttered a prayer, welcomed me home. And these acts and voices somehow pulled me out of that cell and rescued me from beneath my shackles. But the voices for these others cry out into the void. Why are there not more, why can they not draw to freedom the bodies that deserve more than i do. Release them, release the bodies of those now in cells here calling out for their release, and release the ones so longing to breathe beyond the bounds of fear and death.
I realized today that i too had forgotten Gaza. In these past days in the elation of freedom i forgot why i had marched, i forgot why i am- to live for the other. That other is still as is, kept from life while the gatekeeper retains her position at the gate and the world looks on.
This cannot go on. No.
Today is the fourth day of freedom after my four day imprisonment. Every once in a while I am hit by the incomprehensible contrast between absolute freedom and absolute confinement. During those four long days I didn’t do much else but be interrogated, sleep or try to sleep.
Before I go into any other details I want to say shukran, thank you, really. I am overwhelmed by the response of family, friends and strangers all around the world during my imprisonment. As the stories started bombarding me after my release it was hard to take it all in. I have no words to express how grateful I am to so many. At one point one of my interrogators- they called him “Malek”- ended a session by saying, “the next time you will tell me about all these international relationships of yours,” I had no idea what he was referring to. I really believe that the pressure from so many places and people made a big difference in my quick release.
Diaa Gad is an Egyptian blogger who was taken the very same day I was. I had spoken to him for the first time a few days before Egyptian “state” security kidnapped both of us from difference places. Diaa had called to ask about details about our march to Gaza. As we knew our phones would be tapped I told him we could not gave any details over the phone and asked for us to meet the following day in person. He never called again but his name came up during interrogation- again with “Malek”- who asked me what I knew about Diaa and then proceeded to tell me word for word what I had said to him on the phone that day. Diaa does not have many of the luxuries that I have being bi-national and having lived abroad. At this point he is still in custody and his lawyer and family do not know his whereabouts. The campaign that was started for me needs to move to him and others. These sorts of actions are completely illegal and yet a common occurrence in Egypt. Currently there are thousands in Egyptian jails without trial. We need to stand up and reject these actions. This brings us back to the start of those four days…
I was held for four days- blindfolded, handcuffed almost at all times. The psychological pressure was intense though at no point was I physically harmed. At the time of my arrest I was protesting the siege on Gaza. This is a criticism aimed primarily at Israel but also at other countries that support this siege including Egypt which keeps its borders sealed except for rare exceptions. My four days of imprisonment are nothing compared to the months and years of siege on Gaza, which is nothing else than forced imprisonment. The Gaza Strip is a different form of concentration camp. No Palestinian- whether students, the sick, businessmen and women- can travel beyond its borders and Israel permits only a very very few internationals to enter. These- mainly journalists and NGO workers like I used to be- remind me of zoo visitors that take pictures and talk about the terrible conditions of the animals in their cages but then leave, in the meantime Gaza remains the same. According to the UN 85% of Gazans are reliant on food aid, again like animals in a zoo they are fed and kept alive, but barely. Leaked reports from the Red Cross recently reported high percentages of malnutrition of children especially in the refugee camps- 70% of Gazans are refugees from 1948. The purpose of our protest march was and continues to be to raise awareness of the ongoing siege on Gaza building on the momentum of protest during the Israeli military onslaught on Gaza at the start of this year.
Your outrage about my unjustified imprisonment mirrors my outrage about this ongoing injustice done to the Palestinian people. If our governments and representatives the world over will not change the status quo we- the multitude- must mobilize, on the streets, on the web, in government, in schools, anywhere to call for change. Such an outrage changed South Africa not that long ago and it can change the injustice carried out against Palestinians today.
Email us your ideas and actions here: info [at] togaza [dot] net
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My film “This Palestinian Life” about non-violent resistance in Palestinian villages will be screening in various locations around the world. The site will be up in a weeks time at: www.thispalestinianlife.org