Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mazin Qumsiyeh, Another Day's Stories

Short of being a witness, storytelling (spoken words, video, audio etc) is always the best way to understand a grim reality whether in Jim Crow South, in Apartheid South Africa, or in occupied/colonized Palestine. Below are four stories to share with your friends and colleagues of millions of stories of "life" (the quotes are warranted) in Palestine. But we must also go beyond understanding/telling stories to join and organize with others to liberate/free ourselves (including fellow human beings). Liberating fellow human beings applies to the oppressor AND the oppressed. The Prophet Muhammad said: "Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed." The Prophet was asked: "It is right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?" He replied: "By preventing him from oppressing others" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Hadith 624). And let us remember the Golden rule found in ALL religious, spiritual, and moral traditions: do not do to others what you do not want done to you.
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1) Three blind women at a checkpoint, notes by Rana Qumsiyeh, April 13, 2008
[While reading this remember that a) all here are the lucky 0.1% of the population of Bethlehem who have a "permit" to get to Jerusalem and b) that this is the mild forms, many died at checkpoints while refused to get to medical facilities and many are starving because their lands and jobs are on the other side of the Apartheid wall. Mazin Q]

Yesterday was not the first time I see those three blind women at the checkpoint. They are familiar to many who cross the Bethlehem checkpoint on daily basis to get to Jerusalem. Two middle-aged Palestinian women and one elderly woman who seems to be a foreigner; could be German, as I have heard them talk to each other in German at times. I have always wondered how they manage to make their way through this maze, being blind, when most people with perfect eye sight struggle to find their way through, when crossing this checkpoint for the first time, and have to ask for directions.

So, yesterday, despite that it was a Saturday, there was a long line forming when those three blind women walked in, and it was taking too long for the door to open and let people in one by one. As usual, they were let through ahead of everyone because of their situation. A few minutes later, they got inside and it seems two of them got through the metal-detector door and the third one “beeped”. The female soldier on duty screamed at her in Hebrew to take her shoes off. This female soldier is known to all of us, the crowds who go through everyday, we call her the screamer. We know she is on duty before we even get into the terminal, because her yelling reaches outside the Wall! Of course, standing in line outside, we barely can see anything of what is happening inside, we just hear and try to understand what is going on. Thus, we assumed that the blind woman took off her shoes and passed again and she still “beeped”, the soldier screamed again, now louder, in Hebrew, ordering her to take her jacket off. One more time, we hear beeping, then we hear crying. Apparently, the blind woman started to cry at that point. The soldier screamed louder, and this time, I didn’t understand what she was saying.

Half an hour had passed since I got in line and I was still there, and the line was not moving. People started complaining, calling, so a male soldier’s voice came through the loud speaker saying “You have to wait, we have ‘problems’ inside”. We heard more beeping and then a loud laugh from the “screamer”.

Eventually, they opened the door and I got to the ID and permit inspection point, there were the two other blind women, apparently still waiting for their companion, who had been forced into one of the “further investigation” rooms. I went outside and got on the bus, and soon after the three women followed. The third one was very stressed out and in tears. It turns out; her skirt zipper was the problem. I am not sure if she was forced to take her skirt off in that closed 'cell', no one dared ask. As the bus drove off, I watched her cry all the way from the checkpoint to Jerusalem…
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2) GAZA: No Ambulance, Call the Radio
Mohammed Omer

GAZA CITY, Apr 12 (IPS) - "I am bleeding uncontrollably, I need an ambulance." That was not a call to emergency services, it was an appeal broadcast live on radio in Gaza City.

Who knows whether there will ever be an ambulance or not. But this way the ambulance services still hear the appeal broadcast on Al-Iman FM Radio Station, one of few independent radio stations in Gaza. And if the emergency services cannot help, someone else who hears the appeal might.

The ambulance dispatcher announces he cannot get the ambulance to the man. An Israeli bulldozer is blocking the road, and an Israeli tank on a hilltop has been firing at the ambulance, he says. Nobody can say if anyone else got to help the man. But at least his SOS could have been heard.

Appeals again went on air after the Friday attacks on Bureij refugee camp, where the death toll climbed to 16 by the weekend. The deaths included six children among nine people killed Friday. Again, ambulance crews confirmed they could not reach many of the injured. But the appeals were made on radio for all to hear.

A man called from east of Jabaliya refugee camp asking for an ambulance for his wife about to deliver. The radio host asked his location, and that of Israeli tanks. "I can't look from the window to see," he said. "They will shoot me if I do."

A lady called to ask an ambulance to clear the remains of a body lying on the door. IPS confirmed later that it was the body of Abdelrazek Nofal, who was 19. He was blown to bits by an Israeli tank shell.

Someone else called from Bureij asking for ambulance, and for food and water. "My mother needs to be in hospital urgently," he called the radio station to say. Another difficult mission, with the Israeli troops patrolling the area.

The appeals are heard on radio day after day. No one can say what follows the appeals in each case. But the live broadcasts on the radio can be a lifeline – or at the least, a line of hope. Where emergency services and aid agencies are not listening in, the radio then calls them.

"It brings tears to my eyes," says radio host Khaled al-Sharqawi. "I can sometimes hear shooting, and women and children screaming, asking for ambulances, and the ambulances cannot reach them."

Emergency services keep the radio on, if only to go in when it's safe to bring out bodies. On one recent mission, said Ahmed Abu Sall, who works as a volunteer medical worker, "we were shot at by an Israeli tank. Two bullets hit the wheels."

This mission succeeded, as several do. But it can be a long haul to call and wait. Often, cell phone batteries run out as people call again and again with the appeals for help.

The Palestinian Telecommunications Company has given the radio station a toll-free number. That makes calling easier, but the radio statiion has to be on guard also against mischief. Hosts do what they can to check sources and credibility before putting an appeal live on air.

Not every call is a medical crisis. "In such cases we call human rights organisations," Sharqawi told IPS. "But they usually tell us they cannot help people on the ground."

Most people working at the radio station are young volunteers. And Al-Iman isn't the only one; several other local radio stations have begun now to hear and to broadcast live appeals for help.
(END/2008)
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3) This is a story that is over 8 years old but I was reminded of it when Rana sent her story about the blind women. Young Hiam recently celebrated her 16th birthday and has now half her life with a prosthetic eye thanks to Israeli occupation. Also most receiving this may not have seen it in 2001 and certainly Hiam (then 8 year old) is still in occupied, starved Gaza and we occasionally talk on the phone:
http://www.qumsiyeh.org/hiamsstory/
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4) Video of Palestinian Children speaking for themselves in refugee camps
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_bqHtgG0vE
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SILENCE IS COMPLICITY

Mazin Qumsiyeh
http://qumsiyeh.org
http://peace-action.org
http://justicewheels.org

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