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Searching for answers

Translator: Diana Abbany


What is happening to us? What is happening in this world? How can people witness all this in a single lifetime? 


I am in the first half of my thirties, yet sometimes I consider myself ninety years old. How is it possible for me and for the sons and daughters of my generation, namely born between 1980 and 1994 in the Middle East and Iraq, to take in all this?


We were born between the two Gulf wars, amidst the civil war in Lebanon. When the Soviet Union was dissolving we were either being born or were playing in poor muddy streets. We saw the Balkans wars on the TV news and were forced to sing in demonstrations pro-Hafez Al-Asad while we were still getting to know the streets of our neighborhoods. 


After a short while, the second Intifada against the occupation broke out in Palestine and the children of the stones became a symbol for us. During our early teenage years, the World Trade Center in New York was hit, the US occupied Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. 


War was a daily component of our daily lives. We had not recovered from that last war when the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon, ending its occupation, and a chain of assassination of Lebanese figures, followed by the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The latter occupied the vacuum and Lebanese refugees poured into Syria. The civil war in Iraq was still ongoing and Iraqi people were running away from it wherever they could, and especially to Jordan and Syria. It was not long before Israel attacked Gaza once again, beginning a siege that has not come to an end yet. 


The first decade of the new millennium ended with the breaking out of the revolution in Tunisia, then Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. We got to have a dream, in the beginning of our youth. A revolution calling for freedom, dignity and justice erupted and the soldiers of the dictatorships attacked us and committed massacres, much more than a human being can actually recall. Every day a new massacre, in a new place, hundreds of thousands have been killed, imprisoned, millions fled. There is no single place on earth Syrians have not sought refuge in. Syria has been divided into three states, has been occupied by five armies and dozens of militias, Lebanon collapsed more than before, Iraq crumbled and now Gaza is under the merciless bombing of Israel. 


All this along with natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, fires, drought and environmental pollution. All this not to mention cities destruction due to the air strikes and missiles. Entire streets and districts disappeared from the face of the earth, they no longer exist, as if they never did. 


We lost friends and family, dear ones died after being tortured. We lost friends, family and dear ones to imprisonment. Our families were dispersed in every corner of the planet. We lost our beloved cities. Our memories. Cherished sounds and smells. We got suspended between a burdensome memory and a reality hard to grasp. We are living in the margins of life, without being really part of it, unable to make crucial decisions. We always think about changing the world and can’t change anything in our personal lives. In an endless circle, we search for economic security, safety of the identification papers everywhere in the world, unable to achieve the basics of life. We try to focus on our individual redemption but cannot free ourselves from the massive events taking place in our countries.


With these words I try to understand what is happening today in Gaza, how people outside Gaza can relate to what is taking place there. I try, since past and present events are too much for a single short lifetime.


Let’s start with the extermination

It is not possible to look away from what is happening in Gaza. Relentless Israeli shelling and preparations for a ground invasion [at the time of writing it didn’t start yet]. More than two million people living in a narrow spot, subjected to heavy bombardment which is destroying their homes and streets, after approximately a sixteen years-long (at the time of writing) grueling siege. Thousands of people have been killed, many of them children. Israel targeted hospitals, churches, mosques. It seems that Israel doesn’t exclude anything, it is erasing entire families from existence, as if it wants to erase each Palestinian from existence. According to the news there is a plan to send Palestinians to the desert. A new Nakba


Specialized researchers say that what is happening is a genocide, that the system established from Israel since its creation is an apartheid regime, where Israelis are granted all rights whereas Palestinians are deprived of any of them. Apparently, over the last two weeks, the right to life as well.


It is impossible to determine the number of Palestinians casualties, as many of them remained under the rubble, their remains mixed with the debris of their homes. Indeed, they became part of the land, inseparable from it regardless of the passage of time. Their bodies became the land.


Watering down the facts

How does the world face this extermination? It stands with the powerful Israel. European and American leaders said it clearly, we support Israel no matter what. They are not concerned about the death toll among Palestinians. And anyway, who are these Palestinians? Let them die in sacrifice for the desires of Israel, which is beyond accountability. It kills whatever it wants and commits whatever war crimes it wants.


What happens when something big takes place, for instance when Israel bombs a hospital, killing more than 500 persons at once? Nothing. Whoever dies, whatever the suffering, the matter ends. Israel adopts a strategy that the Syrians know very well, as it has been adopted by Bashar Al-Asad for plenty of years. They carry out a massacre and people say that the Syrian/Israeli regime is responsible for it, so officials affiliated with the regime come up with an alternative narrative. For example, they say that those who bombed the cities of the Ghouta of Damascus with chemical weapons are the opposition forces, the regime has nothing to do with that. Or, again, that Israel did not strike the hospital, but what happened was an explosion caused by the Palestinians, presenting weak evidence, easily refutable. 


However, media outlets affiliated or sympathizing with them, sometimes even opposite to them, transmit this narrative and focus on it so that truth gets lost in the eyes of the unbiased viewer, who becomes torn between different versions, until the responsibility of the real perpetrator of the massacre disappears.


Here and there condemning demonstrations break out, statements are written, facts are documented, still the truth is lost in the immediate moment and world people and their representatives take no real stand. Facts become fluid, unclear and blurry. That is what Israel does, that is what the Syrian regime does, that is what all dictatorships do. Watering down facts is a traditional media strategy followed by authoritarian regimes.


How do we resist that?  

In the book “The Pen and the Sword”- a collection of conversations between David Barsamian and the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said held at the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s of the last century on culture, imperialism, orientalism and Palestine, translated by Tawfiq Al-Asadi – this question is posed from Barsamian to Said: “Let’s say that you are an ordinary person on a beach and are about to be caught up in a tidal wave of information and loss of it. How do you stay dry? How do you find your way through the nets of media deception?”


Said replies: “There are two aptitudes we all possess and must use in such a situation, when there is an overwhelming media attack, and typically there is always an attack like that when a single story is at the core of the whole issue. They are, first, memory. We have to recall what was being said the day before and usually it is exactly the opposite. And the second is doubt. The first comes with experiencing these matters. If you remember as a TV viewer, as an American person, then you already saw Arafat being insulted as a terrorist. Suddenly he appeared as a nice guy only because he pronounced a couple of words, then you knew that something was wrong. This can’t happen so quickly. Second, doubt is part of your intellectual and critical disposition. I believe you should do this with every piece of news.


You should try to ask for more than what is offered in the twenty minutes legally called “News Hour”. I believe everyone can do that. There are always alternative sources: books and libraries. You only have to practice those abilities, refusing to allow yourself to become a silly person who simply absorbs information, pre-programmed, pre-ideologized, because each message on television is not just a message but is an ideological transaction embedded with some sort of processing process.”


Recently I read somewhere this street-writing: “How can we trust history if the present is being counterfeited before our eyes?”  


And what about freedom of expression?

I question myself as I see the scenes of the German and French police attacking the demonstrators sympathetic to the Palestinians: is there a place in the world where anybody can express their opinion about anything without being harmed? 


In European countries which praise human rights, which causes us a headache talking about people rights, governments are pretending not to notice the process of ethnic cleansing which is happening right in front of our eyes, broadcast on satellite TVs and social media. These European governments and organizations disregard the killing of thousands of Palestinians because Israel is above every law, even if it commits war crimes according to their definition in international law. I question myself: would have they done the same thing if the victims had been white European or Americans?


Not only disregard: they ban the demonstrations and the gatherings that stand by the Palestinian side. When the Ahli hospital was bombed and more than 500 hundred people were killed, more than a third of them children, the German police prevented people from gathering in the streets of the German capital and mourning the dead. 


In “the street of the Arabs” of Berlin, Sonnenallee, the police prevented people from demonstrating, gathering and chanting for Palestine. They arrested hundreds of people who showed their sympathy with the Palestinians. The police even went as far as stepping on some candles that some young men and women had lit for the victims of the Ahli hospital. Not even the candles were spared!


In most European countries and specially in Germany, people cannot express their solidarity with the Palestinians, because they are afraid of being fired, of a lawsuit or an investigation, as if we lived in a security State that exists under the rule of a dictatorship. Or perhaps, there is this idea: in Germany there is another authoritarian regime, on the one hand, a capitalist dictatorship that subjugates people, called by some researchers “modern slavery”, on the other, a discursive dictatorship, where people cannot express themselves, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since it is a red line that can’t be crossed, except at the price of being exposed to a fierce war, in mediatic, economic, psychological and social terms, that consumes all the individual energies. 


Focusing on one point 

The media flood that has drowned us since the Hamas attack has led to a personal and general inability to look at different contexts. Turkey has bombed the northern parts of Iraq and Syria, targeting Kurds once again, dozens were killed and wounded during the raid. The Syrian regime and the Russian army bombed the north west of Syria, the heaviest shelling of the region since at least two years. Azerbaijan raised its flag over the Karabakh region, displacing thousands of Armenians among accusations of ethnic cleansing operations against the Azerbaijani forces, the conflicts in Yemen and Sudan…


We no longer pay attention to different situations, other conflicts in different parts of the world. What is happening in Palestine is, needless to say, huge and its international impact very large, still what effect has this has on a person hit in the suburbs of Idlib who, by the way, was demonstrating in support of Gaza? 


These words, as aforementioned, are a personal attempt to understand what is happening in the world and to find answers to questions that have been occupying my mind for weeks. I believe that one of our countries’ problems is that we always thought that we were the center of the world, until we suddenly realized that we were living on the margins, then something takes place in our countries, such as a revolution or a new never-ending war, and we go back to the idea of being the center of the world… and so on, endlessly.


Personal feelings in the world chaos

I challenge myself, affirming that what is taking place is indeed enormous, bigger than my capacity of comprehension. I – like many others, I guess – feel impotent and disarmed whenever a major event unfolds in our countries.


It’s not about comparing yourself to somebody who has lost all their family, home, district or city, or someone under the shelling day and night, yet there is a feeling of impotence that consumes you from within.


If I lived in Gaza, Idlib or Qamishli most likely I wouldn’t be able to change anything, but at least I would be part of the place, I would experience what the place and its people would. I have had this feeling since 2013, when the Syrian regime struck the Ghouta of Damascus, which I had left a few months before. I was struck by this feeling of complete impotence and guilt of surviving. 


When the US and the UK invaded Iraq in 2003, war was part of our family, as my mother is Iraqi and a part of our family history is connected with Iraq. Therefore, it became a component of our daily life. When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, similarly, we were reacting to the events on a daily basis, war was part of us, especially after the Lebanese refugees got to Damascus. 


What I am trying to say is that when we were living in our countries and not in a cold exile, we were part of them, their helplessness, poverty, fear and grief. Even without doing anything, we were much more tied with them than now. 


For many years our main fight in Europe is being able to express our opinion on the Palestinian cause without fearing being accused of antisemitism, being deprived of opportunities or being framed in certain stereotypes. For many years, we who are living in Europe or the US forgot the difficulty of living in our countries, the shelling, the daily battles for life, we don’t experience water or electricity cuts, nor the effort to get a loaf of bread. We experience the European daily battles for life which perhaps, and I say perhaps, don’t resemble us.


For weeks, since the last Israeli attack on Gaza, I was struck by some sort of dumbness. I no longer know what I have to say. I no longer know how I feel. What is happening is way bigger than me. My personal issues, my illness and my daughter catching a cold on the day of the attack, are trivial in comparison. 


I assume I want people, all people, to leave those countries where there is no place for anything semi-human, to search for a life-looking existence elsewhere. Yet, on the other hand, I wish I were in Palestine, Idlib, Damascus, Qamishli, I wish we were all living there, to share what our people and loved ones are experiencing nowadays.


A strong feeling of impotence gripped me, my heart heavy with sadness is broken for our countries, their persons and people. I look at the future and am scared of it.  


The fear of the future

I believe that the cycles of wars never stopped in the Middle East. What will this geographical space located in the east of the Mediterranean look like in 300 years? What will we see? Which states will disappear? Who will stay? Who will rule from then on? What war will break out? Still, what about the next future: in five, ten, twenty years? What will the world look like when I reach old age?


Will the environment take its toll? Will the current wars erase civilizations as previous ones did? Will we have a place in this world? In the future, will my daughter be able to live freely, with dignity, security and justice?


How can a single life coexist with all this?

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