Three years ago: A “normal morning” turns to horror in Gaza

Mohammed Suliman  24 December 2011

Boy plays with balloon amongst rubble of destroyed building

The memory of Israel’s 22 days of bombing in Gaza evokes sadness, anger, pain and inexplicable pride.

It was a few minutes past eleven. I woke up “early” to start preparing for my school exams that were due to start in a couple of weeks. It was a lovely morning, warm and sunny. The December sunlight filtered through the curtained windows and so beautifully decorated the carpeted floor.

Everything was completely normal, except that the sky seemed clearer than usual with the absence of the Israeli unmanned drones that would fly and buzz in the sky above. No abnormal signs, no reason to worry, and not a single harbinger of an impending war.

My mom was away for the weekly shopping. My sisters, who had been halfway through their day, were back home from school and were already seated before the television, watching cartoons. I made myself a cup of tea and, as is my habit, started to count the pages I had to finish studying that day. Very soon, I was immersed in my book.

A little while later, and all of a sudden, all hell broke loose. I can’t even remember how it all started. It just happened. There was no beginning, and there was no end.

The bombs rained down from every direction. I felt the floor beneath my feet shake so terribly. The entire building shook back and forth with every falling bomb. It seemed as if all the bombs had been dropped in my neighborhood, just next to where I lived.

The bombing was so horrendously ear-piercing. My heart skipped many a beat. Wide-eyed and petrified, my sisters stood transfixed next to me, tightly clutching my arms. I wanted to calm them down, but not until I calmed down myself first. Not until I could get myself to think clearly, and not until I could understand what was happening in the first place.

This is probably how it began. But this is one simple and detached account of one who was sipping his tea and enjoying the sunlight at his home when this all happened. For many others it was the end.

When I later watched the videos of the first locations to be targeted with the first bombs, I saw numerous bodies lay lifelessly on the ground, many repulsively disfigured — defaced, limbs chopped, torn apart, yet many, thankfully, were in complete shape — but still they were bereft of life.

Horror and agony in the streets

While I was on the rooftop disinterestedly trying to film a few scenes of the aftermath of each of the bombings that would not cease for twenty-two days, mothers, not far from where I stood, were grievously bewailing the deaths of their sons; daughters were sobbing in agony over the loss of their fathers; little children were scared stiff and crying out in horror. Some were running scared for their lives in the streets, and others were lying beneath the rubble, powerless and surrounded by the dead bodies of their siblings.

Typical of all wars, electricity was soon cut off and water was no longer in abundance. Cooking gas and bread became scarce. Basic needs became like priceless luxuries. Dreams, ambitions and hopes were shattered and lost, only to be replaced by survival which becomes everyone’s ultimate goal in war times.

The thought of dying alone

I joined crowds of people queuing up at six in the morning to buy a bag of bread. I saw others in front of oil shops fighting and pushing one another to buy a small amount of kerosene heating oil.

I stayed amongst crowds of people for hours on end in the gas station, hopelessly trying to get our cylinder half-filled with gas — filling a gas cylinder entirely at that time was an unthinkable wish. I developed a daily ritual of testing the amount of water inside our water tank by knocking its sides while leaning my ears against them. I spontaneously joined in the joyous celebrations when the electricity came back on.

I had grown an arcane love for the dark and an unusual appreciation of time. I cherished company and abhorred being alone like never before, for nothing scared me back then as much as the thought of dying alone.

Personal stories behind shocking statistics of death

Nothing yet had made me more dejected than how I became engrossed with following ever-changing statistics. The humanness of the victims was unthinkingly reduced in my mind to mere numbers which were drastically, and always more shockingly, on the rise.

The memory of the first statistics of more than eighty persons killed in the first wave of bombings has been engraved in my mind forever. As I look back on it now, I believe it was an extremely helpful, though selfish, tactic unconsciously devised to help me through the day in my right mind by getting around the insufferable pain of knowing the personal stories behind every one of these numbers.

Nonetheless, every now and then, a few stories would jump out from behind the numbers, and everyone would inevitably listen to them, many against their will, and perhaps soon, they would start to narrate them in a casual manner.

Only this explains the comment by the uncle of a Kashimiri friend in London on the way I spoke of bombings when he asked me about life in Gaza.

He wondered at how casually I talked of bombings as though they were a common thing that didn’t worry me. I told him a common story about little children in Gaza who would be playing in the streets when some bombing hit the nearby area. Their reaction would be to either totally ignore the bombing and carry on playing, or they would stop their game, cheer loudly and clap their hands, as if bombing were reason for one to be happy.

After three years, the 22 days are still engraved

Now it has been three years, and I’m still capable of evoking every minute detail of the twenty-two days which have become an experience I recall with feelings of sadness, anger, pain and a little bit of confusing pride, the reason for which I cannot understand.

The thunderous bombings, the creepy gunfire, the hovering Apache helicopters always sending a chill down the spine. The glass shattering, our neighbor’s wailing, mourners chanting “La Ilaha Illa Allah” (there is no God but God). The smell of kerosene heating oil stuck in my nose, the unnerving hums of our kerosene stove. The large, intricate clouds from the white phosphorus bombs, spreading through the sky like spider webs. My spite toward our neighbors’ generators, the fragile short periods of silence, the gloomy faces filling the green or blue condolence tents. The endless statements of the Ministry of Health’s spokesman.

These and a whole host of other memories form a rare experience. Perhaps it is that we survived that lies behind that odd sense of pride.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman is a 22 year old Palestinian student and blogger from Gaza. Mohammed currently undertakes graduate studies at the London School of Economics. He blogs at Gaza Diaries of Peace and War as well as at The Electronic Intifada, and can be followed on Twitter @imPalestine.

( / 24.12.2011)

How 100,000 Britons have chosen to become Muslim… and average convert is 27-year-old white woman

5th January 2011

  • About 5,200 people in UK adopted faith last year alone

The number of Muslim converts in Britain has passed 100,000, fuelled by a surge in young white women adopting the Islamic faith.

The figure has almost doubled in ten years – with the average convert now a 27-year-old white woman fed up with British consumerism and immorality.

The numbers, revealed in a study by multi-faith group Faith Matters, have led to claims that the country is undergoing a process of ‘Islamification’.

Conversion: An estimated 90,000 to 100,000 people have adopted Islam as their faith in the UK. Research suggests many of those becoming Muslims are white women

The survey of converts revealed nearly two thirds were women, more than 70 per cent were white and the average age at conversion was just 27.

But the organisation’s report argued that most converts saw their religion as ‘perfectly compatible’ with living in Britain.

It said: ‘Converts do not represent a devious fifth column determined to undermine the Western way of life – this is a group of normal people united in their adherence to a religion which they, for the most part, see as perfectly compatible with Western life.’

Convert: Lauren Booth the sister-in-law of Prime Minister Tony Blair attracted a lot of publicity when she announced she had adopted the Islamic faith last yearConvert: Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, attracted a lot of publicity when she announced she had adopted the Islamic faith last year

The report estimated around 5,200 men and women have adopted Islam over the past 12 months, including 1,400 in London. Nearly two-thirds were women, more than 70 per cent were white and the average age at conversion was 27.

In 2001, there were an estimated 60,000 Muslim converts in Britain. Since then, the country has seen the spread of violent Islamist extremism and terror plots, including the July 7 bombings.

Converts who have turned to terror include Nicky Reilly, who tried to blow up a restaurant in Bristol with a nail bomb, shoe bomber Richard Reid and July 7 bomber Germaine Lindsay.

But the report said the number of converts sucked into extremism represented a ‘very small minority’.

The survey, conducted by Kevin Brice from Swansea University, asked converts for their views on the negative aspects of British culture.

They identified alcohol and drunkenness, a ‘lack of morality and sexual permissiveness’, and ‘unrestrained consumerism’.

More than one in four accepted there was a ‘natural conflict’ between being a devout Muslim and living in the UK. Nine out of ten women converts said their change of religion had led to them dressing more conservatively. More than half started wearing a head scarf and 5 per cent had worn the burka.

More than half also said they experienced difficulties after converting because of negative attitudes among their family.

Lynee Ali has admittedd that she was a slave to broken society before she converted to Islam

Last year Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former prime minister Tony Blair, attracted widespread publicity when she announced that she had converted to Islam.

Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said: ‘Conversion to Islam has been stigmatised by the media and wrongly associated with extremist ideologies and discriminatory cultural practices.’

( / 24.12.2011)

Broederschap Syrië ontkent claim aanslagen

DAMASCUS – De soennitische Moslim Broederschap van Syrië heeft zaterdag berichten ontkend dat ze verantwoordelijk is voor bloedige zelfmoordaanslagen vrijdag in de hoofdstad Damascus.

Een zegsman van de beweging heeft laten weten dat de verklaring op een website waar de broederschap de verantwoordelijkheid in opeist, een vervalsing was. Het regime van president Bashar al-Assad, zou verantwoordelijk zijn voor deze vervalsing.

Zaterdag toonde een website van ‘de broederschap’ enige tijd een verklaring waarin wordt gesteld dat ”vier kamikazes een succesvolle operatie” hebben uitgevoerd tegen een gebouw van de staatsveiligheidsdienst.

De Moslim Broederschap claimt in de verklaring achter de acties ”tegen de bendes van Assad” te zitten. Door de aanslagen van vrijdag kwamen zeker 44 mensen om. Ongeveer 150 mensen raakten gewond.

De Moslim Broederschap is in Syrië verboden. De toenmalige president Hafez al-Assad, de vader van het huidige staatshoofd, trad begin jaren ’80 keihard op tegen de broederschap. In de opstandige stad Hama richtte het regime van Hafez al-Assad toen een massaslachting aan.

( / 24.12.2011)

News from Yemen 24.12.2011

No to immunity we want Saleh to be put on trial he killing his own people #lifemarch

Ya allah the death toll in #Sanaa is now 10 God help me coming to check twitter every time there a life gone in #Yemen #lifemarch

Those forces must know better why the hell do they listen 2 Saleh to kill their own people they should refuse & stand with them #Lifemarch

#Salehtrial now is #Yemen reliving #Libya is it like #gaddafi did shoot to kill #LifeMarch that how the 7 martyr was shot 🙁 Rip

Subanallah Saleh trial death penalty shot dead 7 innocent freedom fighters #LifeMarch

Intense violence since the #LifeMarch arrived in #Sanaa with the death toll raising quickly

Death toll rises to 7 #Lifemarch marchers are dying for their freedom of their country #yemen

there just been another one added to the death toll of #LifeMarch it 3 people killed and 30 injured as #yemeni forces fire on protestors

Subannallah 2 been killed by #Saleh Forces you a bastard we all the media we on twitter world reads #LifeMarc

Ya allah did I just see tweet #lifemarch has a martyr 🙁 now that sad

Prayers we can only thing we can do the world in running with blood may this bloodshed end #LifeMarch

#lifemarch brought the freedom they got the strength to hold on to that rope an to be Freed and #Saleh has to face trial

There is always light on the end of the tunnel is #Yemen seeing that light I say Yes #LifeMarch just did they brought Freedom

Christmas in Gaza

This Christmas marks the third anniversary of the 2008-2009 Israeli war on the Gaza Strip; a winter in which 19-year-old Ramy El Jelda saw his home bombed just two days after Christmas. He returned to the site a couple of days later to find his Christmas decorations scattered across the road.

“The baubles and bells were on the floor. The tree had been blown out of the house and was in the street. We cried. That is how we celebrated Christmas in 2008.”

Today the small number of Christmas trees that grace Gaza are primarily plastic and limited to Christian households, hotel lobbies and uptown restaurants. The Israeli blockade leaves Christmas tree fairy lights in a ghostly darkness during the daily eight-hour rolling blackouts.

For Ramy and the 3,000-strong Christian community in Gaza, festive Christmas celebrations go hand-in-hand with isolation and travel restrictions to Bethlehem, despite Israeli public claims to the contrary.

But this year holds hope for a happier occasion, despite the obstacles that Palestinian Christians in Gaza continue to face.

“Christmas helps children remember they are young,” explained Ramy, describing the traditions of the Greek Orthodox community, which celebrates Christmas on January 7. “On Christmas Day we go to our grandmother’s house and my whole family has lunch together. It is a small Eid (feast) but we celebrate for three days, visiting each others’ homes.”

Jaber El Jelda, a distant relative of Ramy, is the director of the Orthodox Church, one of Gaza’s few churches, along with the Baptist Church and Holy Family Catholic Church. He explained how the Orthodox Christian community marks the occasion.

“We organize a party on the first of January and offer children gifts, celebrating Christmas with songs and folklore and the traditional Palestinian dabka dance. We, and members of the Baptist and Catholic churches celebrate in each others’ celebrations. We’re like one.”

Although Christmas in Gaza bears a resemblance to its portrayal in other countries, the echoes are overwhelmingly superficial, as Ramy explained, “We put up a tree in the home and decorate it with bells. We put candles and holly around the house and children receive gifts of money, called eideyya.”

Ramy considers Christmas in Gaza to be disconnected to festivities outside of the siege. “Christmas in Gaza is different; it is a local celebration, not connected to Christmas outside. We don’t really ‘do’ Santa and it’s not like I’ve seen Christmas celebrated in the movies.”

Bethlehem off-limits: Israel’s Facade of Tolerance

Christmas for Gaza’s Palestinians entails far more complications than complex wrapping and tree decorations. As a small minority in the coastal enclave, the Gaza Christian community would traditionally visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Ramallah for the festive season, joining their families and communities in a full celebration.

Ramy described how all Christians used to be permitted by the Israeli government to visit the West Bank for Christmas. “Now they only give permission to a few people and you must be over 35 or under 16. Invariably, if parents receive permission, the children don’t and vice versa.”

It is a loophole that many Palestinians believe is being exploited by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli authorities have advertised that 500 Christians are allowed to celebrate Christmas in their holy sites as a ‘goodwill gesture.’ But in practical terms, very few of those eligible are granted the right to make the fifty mile trip from Gaza to Jerusalem, and those who do have to sacrifice a Christmas with their families.

Jaber has given up requesting permission because his sons are at university and therefore will automatically be denied travel rights. “My uncle and cousins live in Ramallah, but I can’t celebrate Christmas with them because my children are over 16 and are therefore too old for permits. How could I go out of Gaza to celebrate Christmas if I can’t take my children? It’s ridiculous.”

Even the process of receiving permission is unreliable, Jaber explained. “My brother is 52 and wanted to go to the West Bank for Christmas, the Israeli authorities just told him that ‘although we know you aren’t a terrorist, we don’t want you in Israel.’ He had worked in Israel for about 25 years.”

For this reason, Ramy considers the Israeli publicity machine to be exploiting the Christian community, “The Israeli government does this to benefit from us, so that they can say that they allow Christians to go to Bethlehem for Christmas, but really we can’t practically go. They exploit us to improve their image.”

Jaber stressed how the Christian community in Gaza suffers at the hands of the Israeli authorities at other times of year too. “Our Greek priest and archbishop face problems getting to Gaza, even though they have diplomatic passports. They have to enter through Israel but sometimes access is denied.”

Muslim-Christian relationship

Ramy studies at the Hamas-run Islamic University, like a number of Christian students in Gaza. He was offered a place at Birzeit University, but he was forced to continue his education in Gaza, as Israel forbade him from studying in the West Bank.

Despite this, he enjoys his time at the Islamic University and says he is exempted from certain classes, like Quran study, to accommodate his beliefs. “All my friends are Muslims. I don’t care if my friends are Christian or not. My Muslim friends here in Gaza also wish me Merry Christmas and come to visit me at Christmas. So what the media says about Arabs and intolerance isn’t true.”

Jaber agrees that the relationship between Muslims and Christians is very good in general, although his church has experienced infrequent targeting. “Fourth months ago the cables for our church bells were cut, but now everything is good. The government told the community to leave us alone and this helped.”

He stressed that such attacks are unpleasant but not representative of Gazan Muslims as a whole, “It’s a minority of people who create problems; most people understand us and believe that we have our religion, and they have theirs.”

Rana Baker is a Palestinian Muslim who studied at the Catholic Holy Family School in Gaza City. “It was a great experience; at school, my Christian classmates fasted Ramadan with us and we celebrated Christmas with them. We had Islamic books and they had Christian books. I never saw any discrimination and, as a student, you were judged solely on your academic merit.”

Rana remarked that, however small the celebrations, the festive season is one that is marked and enjoyed in Gaza, even for Muslims. “I really love Christmas, I like to hang out with my Christian friends at this time of year. I wish them a happy Christmas and they do the same for me on Eid.

“The relationship between Muslims and Christians in Gaza is really good. Palestine is one of the few places left where Muslims and Christians are really close. We are brothers and sisters.”

( / 24.12.2011)

News from Syria 24.12.2011

#BabaAmro in #homs is under heavy and brutal attack from #AlAssad regime forces, they shoot any one they spot. PLEASE SPREAD THE NEWS #syria

RT @LeShaque: Black smoke is rising from several areas in #BabaAmro; thickest smoke around AlJilani Mosque. #Syria

RT @AlexanderPageSY: Rema Al Mehamy killed by shelling in her home only 15 years old #BabaAmro #Homs #Syria

LCC: #Homs: Heavy shelling in Al-Bayada, Al-Khalidiyeh & Karm Al-Zaytoun now / Military aircraft flying over the neighbourhoods. #Syria

RT @kayabendroth: RT @BBCLinaSinjab: Situation in #BabAmro in #Homs is worrying Activists say

People of #BabaAmro have no one but god and you people! You can help spread news of 10,000 troops invasion there! HELP THEM! #Syria

Streets are empty, it’s cold and #BabaAmro #Homs is under heavy attack! People are screaming to god for help! #Syria

Electricity, Cellular, landlines and internet are all out in #BabaAmro10,000 troops have stormed the area in a full force attack #Homs

LCC: #Homs: Heavy shelling in Al-Bayada, Al-Khalidiyeh & Karm Al-Zaytoun now / Military aircraft flying over the neighbourhoods. #Syria

Yemeni forces shoot at protesters


‘March for Life’ demonstrators killed and others wounded as security forces try to stop marchers headed for the palace.
The “March for Life” rally from Taiz to the capital began on Tuesday

Yemeni security forces in Sanaa have shot at protesters marching against President Ali Abdullah Saleh as they headed for the presidential palace, witnesses and a medic said.

Forces reportedly killed three protesters and wounded dozens more when they opened fire to stop the tens of thousands who set off from the southern city of Taiz on Tuesday for the 270km march to the capital.

The demonstrators, part of the “March for Life” rally, arrived in Sanaa in mid-afternoon on Saturday but were blocked in a southern suburb, witnesses said.

A medic, Mohammed el-Qoutbi, said one of the dead was a woman, and more than 30 people were injured by gunshots and tear gas after powerful Republican Guard forces cracked down on protesters demanding the outgoing president be put on trial.

Activist Waddad al-Dhalie said that a number of female protesters were also injured with bullets and tear gas.

Shots rang out as the activists entered the city chanting “No to immunity”, said residents of Sanaa.

The protesters were referring to a deal granting Saleh immunity from prosecution for his part in a violent crackdown on
months of demonstrations against his 33-year rule.

The immunity agreement, crafted by Yemen’s wealthier neighbours in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), was designed to ease Saleh out of power and avert civil war.

Immunity deal

Police and soldiers deployed in force backed by armour, and used tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition to halt the marchers, whose ranks were swelled by residents of the capital.

Protesters, many of them young, chanted “For shame, the blood of the martyrs has been sold for dollars”, referring to
the immunity deal, which was endorsed by a coalition of opposition parties that are part of the interim government.

Witnesses said troops loyal to Saleh spread out across the entrances of streets leading to his compound to block any attempt by protesters to approach it. Later in the day, marchers retreated and headed towards Change Square, a rallying point for the protests which began in January, they added.

Tanks, troops and armoured vehicles were deployed around the presidential compound.

Protesters want to purge the government of members of Saleh’s family, who still hold key posts in the military and
security forces.

Under the GCC deal, Saleh agreed to transfer his powers to his deputy. An interim government will prepare the country for an election to replace him in February, and has promised to separate pro-Saleh troops from militiamen loyal to tribal leaders and rebel army units in Sanaa and elsewhere.

If he goes, Saleh would be the fourth leader to surrender power after mass protests that have redrawn the political map in North African and the Middle East.

( / 24.12.2011)

Gunmen open fire on Fatah leader in Jordan Valley

A Palestinian security officer takes position during a raid against gunmen in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya.
NABLUS (Ma’an) — Unidentified gunmen on Friday opened fire on the home of a local Fatah leader in the Jordan Valley.

Muhammad Abu al-Zour came under fire around midnight on Friday as he stepped out of a car outside his home. He was not injured in the incident although material damage was reported, a Ma’an correspondent said.

Secretary general of the Fatah movement in Nablus Mahmoud Shtayyeh denounced the attack.

“As we look seriously into this act of cowardice, we see it as a suspicious attempt posing question marks on those who were behind it,” he said in a statement.

( / 24.12.2011)

Settlers disrupt Palestinian wedding, 5 injured and 4 arrested


Armed Israeli settlers in Hebron

Silwan, Jerusalem (SILWANIC) — Israeli forces assaulted a group of Palestinian youth in Al-Wad district of Jerusalem’s Old City during a wedding procession on 21 December, injuring 5 and arresting 4.

Jerusalem prisoner support association chairman Naser Qaus stated that a group of Israeli settlers caused a disturbance at the marriage celebrations of local bridegroom Mu’ath al-A’jlooni. Israeli soldiers and police intervened when clashes between the two flared, physically assaulting many young Palestinians, including al-A’jlooni.

Five youth were injured by Israeli forces, including bridegroom Mu’ath al-A’jlooni and Tahseen Tarhooni sustained bruising, and Ala Bader Aghayer (16) whose nose broken. Four others were arrested, including the injured Ala’ Zghayer, and 15-year old Wisam Jawahan.

Qaus added that police shot live ammunition when on-lookers attempted to prevent Israeli forces from arrested the bleeding Ala’ Zghayer. Zghayer was later taken to Ein Karim Hospital for medical treatment. Israeli forces maintained a heavy presence on the streets in Al-Wad district of the Old City throughout the night.

( / 24.12.2011)