Impelled by the murders of women in their hometown of Lyd, the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM has got together with Amal Murkus and Jackie Salloum to release a rap against honour killings. Sung in Arabic, as with most of DAM’s music, it has generated a critique by two academics living in the USA, written in a particularly obscure kind of academickese (the better to give the impression that they’re making a sophisticated point when really they’re not). Stripped of its frills, the main complaint of Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi is this: DAM rapped about the murders of Palestinian women by Palestinian men without also mentioning Israel’s military occupation and systematic discrimination against Palestinians as a whole. And this makes Palestinians look bad.
I am an Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth will come after a summer
Will you be angry?
Roughly 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on hunger strike. Just over a week ago, one of them collapsed during his court hearing after going for sixty-six days without food. He is Bilal Diab, and today marks the seventy-fourth day of his fight.
This wave of resistance from within the prison system itself began with Khader Adnan, a baker from the West Bank village of Arrabeh who started to refuse all food after he was arrested by the military and placed in what is euphemistically known as administrative detention. Prisoners are held without charge or trial, and their detention can be renewed indefinitely. Adnan had already been imprisoned multiple times. In a letter he gave to his lawyers during his hunger strike, he wrote, “The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey.” His case captured international attention, with a close friend and co-activist of Bobby Sands writing from Ireland to offer support and call for Adnan’s immediate release.
The main entrance to the arts centre was bedecked with bands of white plastic tape, with ‘Peace Week’ printed on each strip in blue letters. It reminded me immediately of the tape used to cordon off crime scenes while police gather forensic evidence. The organisers of the week were playing on that image deliberately: Peace Week was established in response to violent street crime in inner city Manchester. Now it is in its tenth year.
The arts centre was hosting a film installation by Liz Crow, Resistance: Which Way the Future?. I don’t know if the centre deliberately arranged to feature this artwork during Peace Week. It may just have been a coincidence – but coincidental or not, the installation has something tough and dark and powerful to say about non-violence.
Entering the room, you sit down before the first of three screens. The film coughs into life with the sound of an engine. The first image: an exhaust trailing smoke, the underbelly of the bus. You watch for a long time. At first you are expectant. Then the wait starts to grate on you. What’s happening? What are you waiting for? With a sudden roar, the bus drives off, revealing a young nurse with a clipboard standing outside a creeper-covered country house. She makes a decisive mark on her clipboard, then walks briskly into the house.
Just after Christmas I started to feel restless. I was dissatisfied with how things were going with the youth group. Late last year we lost our youth house in Bethlehem (one of three premises) because we couldn’t afford the rent and upkeep, and now the youth have to squash themselves into what was originally an office and practically sit on each other’s laps when they want to meet. I decided that they needed something to perk them up a bit. A field trip seemed in order.
I’m back in Britain – for now.
My time in Palestine was remarkable – exhausting, thought-provoking, hope-inspiring, fun and tragic all in one go. My return journey is already planned, and this time I am taking with me a secret weapon against the occupation and injustice: my mother.
And if the socioeconomic protests that have broken out in Israel on such a seismic scale aren’t enough to topple Netanyahu’s government, her arrival will.
When I came back from my first ever visit to Bethlehem, aged nineteen, I spent the next couple of weeks in a kind of numb daze. I don’t remember much. I cried a lot, I know that. Eventually I would take my horror and my anger at what I had just seen and use it as fuel in my quest to do something, but at the time I didn’t think there was anything I could possibly do except cry. Over the past few days I have endured a muted version of that hopelessness. Aspects of life in Palestine keep flashing to mind, sharper than glass, causing me to recoil and think, “That is horrible! How did you ever manage to put up with that level of horrible? More importantly, how did it manage to become normal for you?” The contrast between British and Palestinian life makes my mental snapshots of deadly weapons and destroyed houses stand out even more clearly. For example:
Here you see people travelling into Manchester. I can’t say for certain, but it’s a pretty safe bet that none of them has a gun in there. Not even the moody-looking girl at the back.
And here is a covertly taken photo of a fellow passenger on the bus from Tiberias to Karmi’el. I wonder what goes through his mind when he gets dressed in the morning? “Right, I think I’ll wear the frayed cut-off jeans and my giant shades, and just to complete the look, I’ll accessorize with this edgy submachine gun.”
Culture shock doesn’t even begin to describe it.
A few days ago, when this post was still sitting in my ‘Drafts’ folder, I followed that sentence up with, “I’m glad to have a break from it all, though.” I am now deleting that statement, because fortunately certain elements of the great British public have decided to help me ease gently back into normal life by organising a little light recreational violence. I thank them for the thought, but I think they’ve gone a bit overboard. They can stop setting fire to things now.
you people need to smoke something and relax.
I don’t have a strategy for this. I’ve never done riot dispersal before. It wasn’t part of our nonviolence training.
Do I go out into the city centre and appeal to their better natures? “You are worse than the Magav! Go home!”
you can tell them this:
seriously, Shai is involved in more peaceful demonstrations than this. and everyone in his neighborhood owns a rocket launcher!
Don’t worry. I may have left Bethlehem for a while, but my activism doesn’t stop here, and neither does the blog. As you can see, life in Britain can afford a lot to write about…