Stories from Afar & Up Close

Filtering by Category: War

On 'human shields' and inhumanity in Gaza

It's the third time in six years that Israel launches a war on Gaza. Can you imagine that? If you were a Palestinian child born in Gaza 6 years ago, you would now have lived through three wars (provided you survived all of them). It's also the third time in six years that the Israelis pull out their tried-and-trusted-'Hamas-hides-behind-the-people-and-uses-them-as-human-shields-therefor we are allowed to bomb anyone and anything,'-rhetoric,  and I'm getting really, really tired of it. I previously posted the below text on facebook, but decided to share it here, too.

So let's talk about those so-called 'human shields', shall we?

[First, to get this out of the way: if you lock up people on a small strip of land, it's kind of naive to expect them to separate into different zones - one for fighters and one for civilians. Obviously they are sharing the same, small, physical space, so stop pretending you can hit one without hitting the other or even that it's their own fault if one gets hit while you were supposedly aiming for the other. Thanks.]

Second, and much more importantly: there is no such thing as a Palestinian human shield. Why not? Because the very rhetoric about human shields dehumanizes ALL Palestinians, whether they are fighting with Hamas or not. Here's how that works:

1) Saying Hamas uses 'human shields' (rather than, for example, 'civilian shields') implies that once you are Hamas, you are no longer human. Therefore, any Palestinian who picks up arms to fight the occupation is no longer seen as human.

2) If, as a Palestinian, you resist the occupation in other, possibly non-violent ways (and it seems that 'being physically present in Gaza' already counts as such), the very rhetoric of being used as a human shield strips you of the very thing that makes you human: agency. It means your presence is not the result of your own convictions, no, you are merely a puppet in the hands of the terrorists. And puppets, as we all know, are not human.

Simple, right? Two birds, one stone; they're either violent terrorists or passive weaklings used by terrorists. Neither is human, neither deserve that we care about their life.

Oh, and let's not forget that the first ones are usually men and the second usually women, meaning that as an added bonus this rhetoric reduces the resistance of Palestinian women in its many shapes and forms to zero. Ugh.

Running Orders

[for Gaza, once again]

They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think "Do I know any Davids in Gaza?"
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.


by Lena K Tuffaha

No such luxury

Last night in a bar in Gemmayzeh I was reading John Kerry's speech as it was being live-blogged by a local news source. I'm not a political junkie by any measure, but if bombs are about to be dropped on my head I'd like to be informed. My fellow foreigners, who had earlier asked me what I thought of the situation and what is going to happen (to which my answers were 'shit' and 'we can't know, can we') pleaded with me to have an evening without politics, to 'just forget about all of it for one night'. But you can't come to Lebanon, pretend to be living here, and then not know or not want to know. If you want safety and ignorance, there are many places in the world where you can go, but the Middle East is not one of them.

I wonder if the store management is aware of the political implications of the combination of this color and slogan... 

Of course I am aware that I am a foreigner too. That I have a passport that allows me to leave when things get really rough and dangerous.  That this is only my adopted home, the place where I spent a good part of the past 8 years and was hoping to spent many more, but not a place that I grew up in or that I am condemned be attached to by birth or nationality. But I also know that it hurts to hear my Syrian friend say "I'm dancing now, but tomorrow my country might be bombed." That I feel the direct threat behind Kerry saying "it matters here if nothing is done. It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens. America should feel confident and gratified that we are not alone in our condemnation and we are not alone in our will to do something about it and to act", because this is not about planes flying somewhere dropping something – this is about planes flying over my head and dropping bombs on people I know, people I care about, and the inevitable retaliation destroying even more of what I know and love around me.

Many people have said many things about the political decision of the US to get involved in Syria militarily. I won't add my opinion to that, because my opinion doesn't matter. Nor does the opinion of all the people around me. I learned this during the war in 2006, and today's discussion is a not so gentle reminder of that lesson: it doesn't matter what the people on the ground think, feel or want. It matters what those in power decide, which leader needs to be punished for 'misbehaving' and going against the will and orders of whoever are running the world at the time. The well-being of those directly affected is only a word used when there are no other reasons left to justify their decision.

People here are scared. Scared of what military intervention in Syria, no matter how 'limited' or 'targeted' it may be, will mean for both Syria and the rest of the region. Will Hezbollah react? If so, where? And if that happens, will Israel react? If so, how? (We don't need to ask where.) What will ll this mean internally, with all the tensions between the different sects? Even as seasoned veterans of a long-lasting civil war, Lebanese people are starting to see that what's about to happen (or is already happening) is no longer in the hands of the sectarian leaders they love to hate – and those politicians themselves are coming to the realization that this is out of their control too. That a new war will not be one neighborhood against another, one town for this sect and another town for the other. It will mean Iraq-style bombings that cause death and destruction without a clear goal.

naharnet.com clearly has trouble taking the UN seriously... 

I know what I think of it all doesn't matter. But I still hope that those who do take the decisions that may lead to all of this will at some point remember that while they are playing their geopolitical game for power, I'm driving my Syrian friend's mother across town so she can arrange her will and her daughter's access to her bank account. Not because she's terminally ill, but because 'you never know when the bomb will drop.' All of this to say: these are real people and real lives. Don't forget that.

Nine Years as a Middle-Eastern-American

And there was me — a non-Muslim, who has publicly criticized certain Islamic practices — flaccidly battling for Muslims worldwide. It got to the point that I was telling people I didn’t even know that their opinions were making my life downright “unlivable.”

Moving piece in the New York Times by Porochista Khakpour.


In een van de laatste jaren op de middelbare school hadden we een aantal lessen over de Tweede Wereldoorlog, Hitler, en propaganda. Onze docent geschiedenis / maatschappijleer, meneer Jansen, vroeg ons ter afsluiting: ‘Wie van jullie denkt dat hij of zij in een vergelijkbare situatie in Het Verzet zou gaan?’ Ik geloof dat ik de enige was die geen hand op stak. Gevraagd naar uitleg zei ik dat ik niet zeker wist of ik het wel zou durven, maar vooral, of ik de ernst van de situatie wel in zou zien. Ten tijde van Hitler waren er tenslotte ook miljoenen mensen die ervan overtuigd waren dat die verhalen niet echt waar konden zijn – zoiets ergs kan toch niemand doen? Ik zei ook dat ik hoopte dat ik het zou herkennen, als iemand met zulke ideeën aan de macht probeerde te komen; dat we het niet beetje bij beetje zouden laten gebeuren om opeens na een kleine noodgreep met een voldongen feit gespresenteerd te worden (een voldongen feit met een heel groot aantal aanhangers, welteverstaan).

Eergisteren hadden we een discussie in mijn klas voor docenten maatschappijleer in opleiding. Het liep van ‘wie stemt er eigenlijk op de PVV?’ tot ‘Wilders is net Hitler, die hadden ze toch ook eerder kunnen stoppen!’. We vroegen ons gezamelijk af of het ondemocratisch is om een cordon sanitaire te vormen, of dat het slim zou zijn hem zijn gang te laten gaan zodat hij ‘vanzelf wel op zijn bek zal gaan’. Maar wat nou als dat niet gebeurt? En is dat niet een té groot risico in een economisch wankele tijd als deze? Moeten we deze man koste wat het kost tegengaan of is dat juist in strijd met de democratische principes die wij allen onderschrijven? Moeten we als docenten maatschappijleer werkelijk ieders mening respecteren, ook als leerlingen in navolging van Wilders de meest racistische en anti-democratische taal uitslaan?

Na de uitslag van de Gemeenteraadsverkiezingen gisteravond (PVV de grootste in Almere en de één na grootste in Den Haag) hoop ik dat we tot inkeer komen voordat de Kamerverkiezingen plaatsvinden. Een man/partij die stadscommandos wil invoeren om ‘ongewenste personen’ hardhandig van de straat te vegen, en die wil voorschrijven wat vrouwen wel en niet mogen dragen, die wil ik niet aan de macht hebben in dit land. Als iemand bereid is de ene bevolkingsgroep andere wetten voor te schrijven dan de andere, dan is het voor mij slechts een kwestie van tijd tot ‘mijn’ bevolkingsgroep aan de beurt is. Het doet me ook net iets teveel aan andere donkere periodes in de geschiedenis denken.

Ik weet niet zeker of Wilders zo erg is als Hitler, maar ik weet nu wel zeker wat ik op de middelbare school niet wist: Meneer Jansen, ik ga in Het Verzet. En ik hoop dat alle klasgenoten die toen hun hand opstaken dat ook doen.