Saturday, 31 March 2012

Lebanon, I Miss You

I travelled to Lebanon many years ago to see my family - Palestinian refugees living in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp.  The camp, known as mokhayem in Arabic, is located in the north of Lebanon, not too far from Tripoli city. Despite going to Lebanon at a young age (just before I started Kindergarten), I'm still able to recall many stories. Certain moments remain sharp in my mind. I remember the 90s better than I remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

As you might expect, I was mischievous and always up to no good. I purposely stirred those around me, always pushed boundaries, always plotted. I was challenging, rogue, but easily forgiven. 

Our old back yard in Australia seemed to expand like the universe. The front yard was huge too. Our small fibro home sat smack-bang in the middle of a football field, as far as I was concerned. The lawn was always neatly mown, I routinely picked dandelions we had, I twirled and jumped around, delighting in the space we had, and I watched the world unfold behind the front fence.

Not really ideal for a wild child.

Lebanon was different to everything I had ever known. It's a place I adore, a place that took me in with open arms, a place that made sure that I was always happy. Nahr el-Bared, the mokhayem, where I spent most of my time, was extraordinary and fantastical, yet, in hindsight, very raw. Even in the darkest of alleyways and narrowest of streets, there was something so positively beautiful about it. The mokhayem was a labyrinth I was able to navigate my way around. It was a place I slowly pieced together when one of my cousins or my grandmother, may she rest in peace, took me for a walk. I remember it being busy and  cramped with people - the streets and pathways were never empty. It smelt funny, strangers spoke to each other like old friends, my family showered with me with more love than I could handle (and gave me pocket money every day), nobody wore their seatbelts (which scared me at first), and I could watch and look out at the little city from my grandparent's rooftop. 

I ate hot chips almost every single day, even though traditional Palestinian and Arab food was laid out daily by my grandmother (we sat around in a circle on the floor to eat, which I found so much more exciting than being glued to a chair at a dining table). If I wasn't eating hot chips, I was eating my own concoction of rice and Tabasco sauce (I really, really loved chilli). It also seemed as though there was music always floating in the background - even if nothing was playing nearby at all. I miss the mokhayem. And at times, I miss my naivety - not knowing anything about the reality of the situation, the statelessness, the displacement and the hardships that are faced. But I realise now, even if one did know about the struggles, the spirit of the people and the charm of the place would make you forget it all.

Lebanon, I miss you. I miss eating Neapolitan ice cream with my uncle and cousins regularly in Tripoli. I miss taking the Lebanese flag-on-a-toothpick out of my ice cream, throwing it off the ice cream parlour's balcony, then asking my uncle to give me his. I miss singing along to Arabic pop songs on our way to the beach. I miss my grandmother telling me stories that she would make up along the way, about animals and creatures who went on all sorts of adventures. I miss hiding everyone's shoes or throwing them over the rooftop (I clearly enjoyed throwing things) onto other rooftops, never to be seen again. I miss running around the house and flashing a torch in my grandfather's eyes, who warned me to stop but never did much about it. I miss being spun around and being transferred from one uncle's shoulders to another. I miss driving to the mountains and getting out of the car to breathe in the landscape and scenery. I miss pulling open the cupboard curtains in the kitchen, which replaced doors, and moving everything around. I miss walking through the markets, stopping every once in a while to covet something that fancied my eye. I miss visiting friends of our family and twirling around with other little girls at parties and weddings. I miss the tiny one-room home of my grandmother's friend - who once insisted about six or seven of us join her for tea in the tiny space, while a game of football played on a small TV in the background. I miss the courtyard and the vine leaves. I miss swinging on the lemon trees and the olive trees. I miss having 'adult-like' conversations with 'big people', who were fascinated by my young insightfulness and know-it-all attitude. I miss playing tag with the neighbourhood kids and pranking my cousins. I miss when my aunties would play with my hair and style it, using a million bobby pins to hold back my wild curls. I really do miss the mokhayem...

Friday, 30 March 2012

Tunisia for Palestine

Tunisia's first democratically elected Parliament showing solidarity for Palestine on Land Day.

Tunisian deputies display Palestinian flags during the opening of the a debate on the security situation in Tunisia in the Constituent Assembly on March 30, 2012 in Tunis. A few hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Constituent Assembly today against any form of ‘normalisation’ with Israel and to support Palestinians commemorating ‘Land Day’. (Getty Images) (via IsraelFacts).

Related posts:
Al Nahda wins first-ever democratic elections in Tunisia

Vintage Arabic Drink Advertisements

I'm unsure of the dates when most of these ads were issued.

Zouzou Tea, est 1901

Lipton Tea

"Summer drink" - Pepsi Cola

Celebrity endorsement. Ismail Yassin, late Egyptian actor, drinks Paschal. 

Coca Cola

Coca Cola. Drink soda with class - keep your pinky finger up. (That's not actually in the ad).

Joke time! I actually don't know what to make of this joke.
A disappointed salesman of Coca Cola returns from his Middle East assignment.

A friend asked, "Why weren't you successful with the Arabs?" The salesman explained, "When I got posted in the Middle East, I was very confident that I would makes a good sales pitch as Cola is virtually unknown there. But, I had a problem. I didn't know to speak Arabic. So, I planned to convey the message through three posters. In the first poster, a man is crawling through the hot desert sand - exhausted and panting. In the second poster, the man is drinking Cola. And in the third, the man is now totally refreshed. Then these posters were pasted all over the place."

"That should have worked," said the friend.
The salesman replied, "Well, not only can't I speak Arabic, I never realised that Arabs read from right to left."

Which of These Kills? Pick One. Or All.

The notion that America is a post-racial society is a complete myth. Rest in peace Trayvon Martin.

Illustrated by Husam Zakharia [kabobfest]
Related posts:
Institutionalised Racism and Classism

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Keep Calm and 3araby

The Keep Calm and Carry On posters took off a while ago. And by 'while ago' I don't mean when Tumblr - a haven for procrastinating teens to reblog vintage/hip photos with corny quotes attached to them - started.

My mate Wikipedia explains it well:
Keep Calm and Carry On was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the event of invasion.
Arabified (I coined the term, but after Googling it, it turns out I'm not as innovative as I thought) Keep Calm posters from Keep Calm and Tabbouleh are wicked. They're nothing flashy - Keep Calm and *insert something Arab*, but I love the fact that there's an Arab twist on the war propaganda of a colonial power, which has now become a pop culture icon sensation.

Don't judge me, but I had the original Keep Calm and Carry On poster in my room for a while. It was huge. I took it down a few months ago because the bright red, while my favourite colour, wasn't keeping me calm. It made me fidgety. Not a good combo with my active mind and coffee addiction.

The Levant's famous parsley salad.

Keep Calm and Welcome.

The greatest ring dance.

I like mint flavoured tobacco.

Oum Kulthoum - a classic. Considered to be the greatest Arab female singer of all time.

This sitcom that...nobody can explain. 

Black, white, checkered. A strong symbol of Palestinian culture and resistance.

An Arab's heart is really a beating falafel patty.

Al Jazeera English, especially. As a student of journalism, I advise that you Keep Calm and Read News From a Variety of Sources.

This needs no explanation. 

Date biscuits, aw yeah.

Go for a drive.

Ululate. Lelelelelelelelele-ee.

The other salad. I talk about it here.

Bottle Songs

Market Street, Sydney.
This guy made my day last week.

Land Day: We Have On This Earth

My favourite poem by Mahmoud Darwish is We Have On This Earth.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s opinion of men
The works of Aeschylus
The beginning of love
Grass on a stone
Mothers living on a flute’s sigh
The invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September
A woman leaving forty in full blossom
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
The peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile
The tyrants’ fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, the lady of earth,
Mother of all beginnings
Mother of all ends.
She was called...Palestine.
Her name later became...Palestine.

My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life. 

Below is a rendition by Shadia Mansour, Palestinian singer and hip hop artist, who sings the poem. Darwish's recital of the poem is woven into it. Her voice is amazing and give me chills.

Palestine "Land Day" Posters

Today, March 30, is Land Day. The Day of the Land. In Arabic, Land Day is known as Yom al-Ard.

Land Day marks one of the many tragic events that have taken place throughout Palestine's contemporary history, post-invasion. It is an annual day of commemoration for all Palestinians. It is a day that is always remembered and cherished and mourned. In 1976, Palestinians in the Galilee, the north of Palestine (where my father's side is from), demonstrated against Israel's land theft and confiscation of Palestinian land. The Israeli government declared that it would confiscate more of their land in order to build Jewish colonies. 

Palestinians took to the streets and protested. Six young Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli Occupation Force. A hundred were injured and hundreds of others were arrested. 

The six martyrs who were killed on March 30, 1976
Raja Hussein Abu Rayya (30 years old) from Sakhnin
Muhsin Hasan Said Taha (15 years old) from Kufr Kanna
Khader Eid Mahmoud Khalaila (24 years old) from Sakhnin
Khayr Mohammad Salim Yasin (23 years old) from Arraba
Khadija Qasem Shawahneh (23 years old) from Sakhnin
Rafat Ali Az-Zheiri (21 years old) from Nur Shams refugee camp

Mohamed Ballan on writes

I would like to urge all Palestinians—and supporters of human rights around the world—that this March 30th they remember the martyrs that fell on Land Day and every day, because Land Day is not merely a historical commemoration, it is an ongoing process. Since March 30th 1976, more Palestinian land has been confiscated, nearly 300,000 Palestinians incarcerated, tens of thousands of Palestinian lives have been destroyed, countless homes demolished, and Israeli policies have evolved in such a way which can only be termed apartheid. Debating different forms of cruelty to inflict on Palestinians is fashionable topic of debate in the Israeli press and corridors of power. Scenes of unarmed demonstrators being murdered by Israeli troops have become the norm in Palestine. Discriminatory laws have been passed against the Palestinians in Israel. Everyday has become Land Day for the Palestinian people.

Activists worldwide are demonstrating this year to both commemorate Land Day and take part in the Global March to Jerusalem. Palestinian right of return is being especially emphasised across the world during this year's Day of Land.

Below are some examples of Palestinian Land Day posters throughout the years (thanks to a friend who emailed these to me last year). Palestinian poster art is simple, figurative and embodies resistance and the struggle.

Land Day 1981

Advocated by the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Land Day 1986

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Calling It What It Is - Apartheid

“It’s complicated”.

These are words often uttered by those in the pro-Israel camp. Whenever Israeli policies are criticised and the issue of Palestinian rights and freedoms are mentioned, there is always someone who cries delegitimisation, “it’s complicated” or accuses the critic of anti-Semitism.

Israeli Apartheid Week events were officially held across several Sydney universities for the first time over the last several weeks. Israeli Apartheid Week was observed globally in over a hundred cities this year. The week aims to educate people about Israel’s institutionalised racism and segregation, its systematic discrimination against Palestinians, and its military occupation. It also aims to encourage Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

A week before Israeli Apartheid Week’s official March 9 start in Australia, the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff had an opinion piece published in The Australian, Israel: It’s Not Black and White, in which he admonished Israeli Apartheid Week and claimed that Israel is not an apartheid state.

He wrote that it was “obscene that the apartheid descriptor has become the default position for the global delegitimisation campaign against Israel”.

What Mr Alhadeff and supporters of Israel fail to see is that apartheid is not a label baselessly thrown around in an attempt to delegitimise Israel ‘just because’. Apartheid is the crime of systematic segregation and discrimination on grounds of race, and Israel’s actions satisfy the definition of apartheid under international law.

I head Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Technology Sydney and we hosted a series of talks and events that highlighted Israel’s apartheid nature. A mock Israeli checkpoint was set up at UTS, and passersby and uni-goers caught a glimpse of what daily life is like for Palestinians under occupation.

What’s amusing is that Mr Alhadeff and other supporters of Israel are afraid that lectures and events hosted by university students is what is delegitimising Israel.  

Surely Israel is delegitimising itself by enforcing a military occupation, discriminatory laws, policies of segregation, demolishing homes, annexing land, building colonies, imprisoning Palestinians without charge or trial, attacking peaceful protesters, and massacring Palestinian civilians with F16s, white phosphorous and drones?

But Israel is hardly at fault, right? Did you not receive the memo? Israel is a bastion of democracy! Palestinians are equal! Palestinians, the natives, the indigenous people of Palestine, are having a jolly good time rebuilding their homes, knocked over by the IDF. Palestinians enjoy waiting for hours on end at checkpoints. Palestinian refugees and descendants relish being locked out for 64 years. Justice! Freedom!

It is tragic that Mr Alhadeff lists racist laws enforced in apartheid South Africa without seeing how much Israel mirrors those laws and discrimination. Selective amnesia? Wilful ignorance?

Mr Alhadeff recounts black South Africans being indiscriminately stopped in the street by police and being forced to produce identity cards. Is Mr Alhadeff aware that Palestinians, like their black South African brothers and sisters not long ago, are forced to show Palestinian-marked identity cards? Does he know about Israeli military checkpoints? Does he know that there are separate roads and highways for Jewish people? Different registrations for cars? Is he aware that Palestinians are both systematically and indiscriminately checked, raided, and humiliated? Palestinian freedom of movement is severely restricted, and it is reflective of apartheid South Africa’s pass laws.

Mr Alhadeff refers to racist laws in apartheid South Africa, while conveniently forgetting to point out Israel’s Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, which defines Israel as a "Jewish" state rather than a state for all citizens. Israel’s Law of Return also grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while it denies that same right to Palestinians, whose right to return is enshrined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
Mr Alhadeff talks about the incarceration of black South Africans. Is he aware that thousands of Palestinians languish in Israeli prisons? Many Palestinian political prisoners are being held in administrative detention – detained without charge or trial. Is he aware that occupied Palestinians are tried in military courts? That 12-year-old Palestinians are tried as adults? Such treatment is reserved for Palestinians only. Is this just or unjust? It was only in December when Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan began a 66-day hunger strike in protest of administrative detention and the gross injustices Palestinians face. His hunger, along with Hana Shalabi’s, a young Palestinian woman who is currently 40 days into her hunger strike, symbolises a hunger for freedom and justice among all Palestinians.
Mr Aldaheff refers to The Group Areas Act in apartheid South Africa, which “stipulated where people could and could not live, the objective being to keep them separate”. Now, this could be news to Mr Aldaheff: Palestinians are forced to live in segregated enclaves, open-air prisons – the Bantustans that are the West Bank and Gaza, much like the enclaves in apartheid South Africa. There are Jewish settlement colonies all over Palestinian land. The West Bank segregation barrier zigzags its way mostly in and around the West Bank, dividing homes and families. Land is confiscated, agriculture and sites destroyed, and Israel expropriates and enjoys the majority of Palestinian resources.
Many South African anti-apartheid activists have spoken out against Israel’s apartheid system. Israeli Apartheid Week has had its place in South Africa for many years. Desmond Tutu has said apartheid in Israel is worse than what it was in South Africa. Lifelong Australian South African anti-apartheid activist Kolin Thumbadoo also reiterated this at an anti-apartheid event hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine several weeks ago. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa issued a report in 2009 that found that Israel is, indeed, practicing colonialism and apartheid in the occupied territories. Israeli apartheid is alive.

Israeli Apartheid Week calls for an end to inequality. It calls for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. We should be chastising those who whitewash Israel and oppose equality for Palestinians, not those who wish to bring attention to it.

Arab Memes

It seems that Facebook has recently discovered what Internet memes and rage comics are. Condescending Wonka and Success Kid have flooded the white and blue interface and people are all quite giddy about it. There's been an influx of Facebook pages sharing specialised memes - university memes, ethnic memes, faith-based memes and more. While the Facebook world may be exhibiting some characteristics of Slowpoke, the memes coming out of these internet communities are thoroughly entertaining. I've been laughing at a lot of Arab memes because they're pretty accurate and relatable. This is the Arab memes Facebook page, and this is their website, which was unveiled recently.

Here are some that I've liked:

The forever vague "inshalla". It means 'If God wills it' in Arabic. Arab parents use it to leave their children in limbo. It usually means no.

Not-so-fruitful 'family time'

It's not you, it's me. Not a meme per se, but clever!

Abdul Halim Hafez, one of the four greats in contemporary Arab musical/singing history, can catch the wind in his hands. 

There are spices, bits and bones in Arab dishes that cannot be eaten. You've got to take a chance.

I grew up with Laughing Cow cheese. Arab grocers seem to stock it almost everywhere. It was always a challenge trying to open it carefully.

Oregano and olive oil. A heavenly combination.

I've mentioned somewhere that Arabic channels have outsourced their shows. Arab mums are hooked onto Turkish sitcoms that have out-of-synch voiceovers in Arabic.

It's true. Arab parents think 'lemon' sodas (Sprite, Schweppes, 7-up) and olive oil cure everything

Enough said.