Confessions From a Receiver on the Other End of War

Here’s a confession from Sweden: despite working in Syria and Iraq during the civil wars, the collective trauma of the wars has hit me the most when being in Sweden.

I am happy I have friends and colleagues from different countries also in Sweden. I’ve shared my views on my female friendships on this site before, several times. I’m happy I have a job where I get to offer some support to the refugees in Sweden. But the secondary traumas are creeping up on me from time to time, as well as the high cost of trying to be neutral in the midst of relationship chaos that comes from internalised conflicts.

There is one thing, according to me, that people who suffered a war have in common: distrust. And distrust can take many forms. People can become shattered. Or angry. Or hostile. Or traumatised. Or depressed. The good things lies underneath, still there; people can be still be wonderful friends, colleagues, human beings; but the reaction to war rarely leaves a person without a trace.

On the outskirts of these conflicts, here in Sweden, I’m trying to manage the Assad supporters disbelieving in the activists from the opposition. The opposition activists suspecting the Assad supporters for being in liaison with the intelligence. People blaming Iranians for messing up Syria. People blaming Iraqis for Daesh. People blaming each other for not caring about the others. Trying to remain neutral in this is a battlefield on its own.

Taking part of people’s experiences made things to me as well. All the stories I have heard are sometimes blurring in my mind, if I ever am to retell them. Was it the Iraqi boy I knew who was forced, as a teenager, to watch a gang rape of an Iraqi girl? Was it the Syrian woman I knew who couldn’t sleep through the night so she chose the day instead, terrified of the dark? Was it the Palestinian man who had covered his child’s ears from hearing the bombings at night in Gaza, who still was in anguish, because despite being outside of the country, his child still heard the bombs? Or was it someone else?

I just now recalled a morning that I spent some time back with a Syrian friend in the Swedish Migration Board, when she was about to apply for asylum. I had gone with her as she didn’t want to be on her own. She hadn’t slept all night but she was still composed. In the Migration Board, the queue system had broken down and people were fighting in order to get to the desk to have their application handed in before closing time. The scene somehow reminded of the situation at the Syrian border. There were no pens to fill in the applications. There was no one to explain anything. People were pulling at me, a Swede, to explain the system to them (I only could somehow), to ask for water (there was none), to ask if they would be allowed somewhere to sleep during the night (I didn’t know). There were too many people in the room that became unbearably hot. I started to yell at the woman behind the desk when she said she was out of pens. I started to yell when she refused to come out and organise the queue. I became increasingly irritated with the asylum seekers begging me for help.

My friend told me to come out and sit down at one of the benches in the waiting room, and surprisingly enough, a man left his place so that here was room for me. A Syrian family that my friend had befriended in the waiting room came up, and their 8-year-old daughter placed herself in my knee, so that she could watch music videos on my iPhone. But before so, she folded my jacket and placed it behind my head. Why did the girl do that? Her mom gave the girl’s brother a KitKat and a soft drink to give to me, him resolutely pressing the items in my hands, urging me to open the chocolate bar. Then a few minutes later, I heard the children’s father speak to his bench neighbour next to us. The neighbour had asked him something about Sweden, and the man answered:

“I don’t know… there is a Swedish girl over there who speaks a little bit of Arabic, that I could ask. But I don’t want to do it right now. As you can see, she is very tired.”

Alfarra Ft. Sami Bakheet: Refugee, Official Video with Lyrics

From the artist Alfa in Gaza, together with the rapper Sami Bakheet, who usually plays in Darg Team, here is the song “Refugee”.

The lyrics are on how the journey begins in Gaza, and where it ends. The reasons you have for leaving Gaza in the first place, until you meet reality.

Even if you don’t understand Arabic, I still hope you find the song nice to listen to.

Update August 5:

You can now read the subtitles in English if you click “settings” -> “subtitles” on the Youtube clip.

Don’t Hate

images

I wrote the post “Being from Gaza” during the Israeli attack on Gaza this summer when thousands of civilians died. Now news popped up the other day on the shooting during prayer time in a synagogue in Jerusalem and the predictable counterattacks by the Israeli army. I wanted to comment on the violence and then I found this quote on the Facebook page “Palestine Loves Israel“, a peacepromoting page (not a pro-Israel page) managed by a Palestinian. He captured things so well that I’d like to let his quote speak for itself.

I’ve been managing this page for almost 3 years and during this time, I’ve met hundreds of amazing people from both sides and from every corner of the world. We’ve endured two wars together, we’ve celebrated our holidays together (who can forget the chanukka candles from Gaza?) and mourned our dead together. During all this time, I’ve never lost hope that one day, we can live as neighbors and friends in peace and prosperity. I don’t loose hope because I know we’re all in this together.

But in times like this, I see so much hatred on both sides. It’s painful to watch. What I see is always the same: It’s dehumanization. It’s easy to dehumanize the other side, to call them monsters, to hate them. It’s much easier than to try and find a solution. In times like this, it’s a very difficult thing to reach out to the other side, especially when there is so much pain. It’s a difficult thing to show compassion for “the enemy” when you’re supposed to be hating them. Reaching out to the other side despite the traumatic pain, despite the ongoing conflict is a heroic act. Dehumanizing and hating everyone on the other side is certainly easier. But it’s not helpful. It’s fueling the fire. And the vicious cycle of hate and revenge is going on and on…

In this project, I’ve met many heroes. I’ve met Palestinians and Israelis who reached out to each other, no matter what. Who said: “I’m sorry for your pain, I wish you well” in the middle of war. Who said: “I love you so much and say hi to your mom!” despite the ongoing conflict. I’ve met so many heroes… people who changed from extremists into peace workers. People who let go their hate and replaced it with compassion. So many heroes…

No, I don’t loose hope.

Please stay safe everyone and take good care of each other. These are troubled times but we will make it through together.

Photocredit: abc.net.au (the photo is from a previous attack in Jerusalem)

Remembering Old Palestine in Photos

Photographs is a great way for knowing something that was without having been there.

Agricultural memory of Palestine is a Facebook page dedicated to show the world the agricultural heritage of Palestine through photos. Their shared images range from late 1800s up until the 1960s, and show men and women working in the fields and on the markets in the cities. The page were happy for me to write about them as they want to share their photos with the world. This is how they describe themselves:

“Our belief in the need to maintain the Palestinian memory, our goal is to strengthen the identity and belonging to the homeland and the cause. Through the page ‘Agricultural Memory of Palestine’ we highlight the heritage and agricultural history as part of an important and original aspect of our culture and the Palestinian identity.”

So what did Palestine once look like? Have a tour among the shared memories.

Girls of Betlehem 1890

Girls in Betlehem, 1890.

Peasants from Ramallah who fill water tractor-1900 m

Peasants in Ramallah collecting water, 1900.

Betlehem market 1931

Betlehem market, 1931.

Ber Sheva halal market in 1960s

Ber Sheva halal market in the 1960s.

Girls

Girls, place and year unknown.

Photo copyrights: facebook.com/agriculture.memory

Aim Higher – Coexist. The persons behind Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies

jews and arabs front pic

Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies Facebookpage was started after the Israeli attack on Gaza and popped up on Facebook on July 10 – 16 day ago. In these 16 days the page has literally exploded with followers and people posting their own photos and comments, promoting friendship and love in a time of war. The page took many people by surprise, I included. Who were the people behind the page? I just had to find out, and the initiators were happy to share about themselves.

Abraham Gutman from Israel and Dania Darwish from Syria were classmates at Hunter College in New York and took a class in National Model United Nations together. They were both enjoying discussions about Middle Eastern politics even though they not always shared the same views.

“(We) don’t always agree but we never felt that our different opinions changed our friendship or caused any contingency between us”, Abraham says when I get in touch with them by e-mail.

They tell me that the goal of the page is to diffuse some of the hate and tension on social media platforms:

In addition, this initiative aims to create a space for civil discourse between people who identify with divergent political ideas.

I ask about how the page is a response to the current Israeli attacks on Gaza.

We feel that the escalation between Israel and Gaza caused an escalation in the language that people use on social media. In regards to the conflict, political commentary became more hateful and more violent. Unfortunately, it is easy to hide behind a keyboard and say extreme statements. Although on some things we disagree, we both believe that it is important to support a cease fire and non-violent resistance.

And how has the feedback been so far?

We got a lot of criticism from various sides of the political spectrum but we were lucky that all the criticism was civil and respectful. We did get a lot of positive feedback from Israelis, Palestinians, and many types of people that fit into different ethnic and religious groups.”

Well, not everyone likes the page. After my e-mail exchange with Abraham and Dania, there have been a few hateful messages and photos posted by others on the page. Someone has written:

Don’t tell me love between us… Love don’t exist between Arabs and Terroriste fuck you Isra-bitch”.

The same person ha uploaded a drawing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahi butchering Palestinians, receiving an anti-comment from someone saying:

Aww poor Hamas, everyone is against you… stop crying, stop exploding your silly weak bombs, and Israel will stop defending Israel. It will save you some poor civilians.

But among the overwhelming photos, comments and followers on the page – 31.450 at today’s date, – probably more when you read this – those are an absolute minority. The photos consist of people of different religions and ethnicities, most Jews and Muslims, who in one way or another are doing what the states on an international level are failing to do: coexisting. Photos showing couples kissing each other; mixed families with their children; people with one Jewish and one Muslim parent; best friends hugging each other. Most are holding up sheets with hand-written statements: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies”; “Jew, Arab, both Semitic. Most importantly, both human”; “Mother Jewish, Father Palestinian, whatever we suffer hate makes it worse”.

With the announcement of today’s ceasefire of Israel’s attack on Gaza, the Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies page uploaded the following statement:

With nearly 900 devastating deaths, a 12 hour humanitarian cease-fire is now in effect. We hope that our leaders can implement a solution in the Middle East that results in a permanent cease-fire in Israel/Palestine and an end to the siege in Gaza. The lives of all innocent civilians are too precious to be compromised by the reprehensible political nature of this conflict.

After the ceasefire, maybe the world leaders could follow the path given of the success of a simple Facebook page, the path of coexistence?

Photo credit: Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies Facebook page

Being from Gaza

As the death toll rises and media is filled with reports from Gaza, I wanted to talk to someone from there to get a personal view of Israeli attacks. I have never been there myself, and even if I did, in this moment it wouldn’t really matter. How can I portray the grief and sorrow from a war zone when I don’t have family or friends there myself?

On Facebook I have a few friends from Gaza – all of them are outside – and their updates were filed with anger and sorrow. The ones who lost friends published photos of them, the kind of status you should never have to make.

I e-mailed my acquaintances and asked if anyone wanted to tell me their feelings or a comment on the situation. Normally people are happy to give their statements and I sometimes get contacted by people who want me to blog about something they find unjust or important. My last blog post has been shared around 200 times on Facebook already, so I was expecting someone to want to share their view.

But no one wanted to. One friend who usually is very vocal and passionately speaks about the cause of Gaza, replied and told me that he didn’t want to, because he had nothing to say. It was just too terrible to him. I suddenly felt stupid having asked for a comment when the people I asked all were in the middle of a crisis, when they spend all their time worrying about relatives and friends, dreading a call from home saying they had lost a loved one.

Being from Gaza must be a burden in itself. War in other countries usually has a beginning and an end – but for Gaza it’s a never ending story. I wish I hadn’t been that pushy, not thinking about what the persons I asked went through. It’s easy when you’re from the outside, looking in. Not the one being from Gaza himself.