Category Archives: Human Rights

Bullet holes and grief

Dear friends,

Today marks 7 years since my dear friend (and Donkeysaddle Projects Project Manager) Amer Shurrab’s brothers were killed by the Israeli military in a military assault in Gaza the army termed “Operation Cast Lead.” Below, is what I wrote for WorldFocus.com after visiting his family in Gaza a few months later:

Bullet holes, grief remain for Gaza family after war (first published in Sept 2009)

 

Abu Absal Shurrab stood in front of his red jeep and waved energetically when he saw me. I walked towards him. “Salaam aleikum!” we greeted each other warmly, and Abu Absal indicated that I should get into the jeep.

My heart stopped momentarily as he stepped out of the way and the vehicle became fully

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Abu Absal stands next to the car that he and his sons were shot in.

visible. The windshield was splattered with bullet holes. This was the car Abu Absal was driving the day he was shot and his sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, were killed.

 

I climbed inside the passenger seat, trying to discreetly count the bullet holes as Abu Absal guided the car onto the road. Twenty that I could see, including the semi-shattered rear-view mirror. Abu Absal noticed my preoccupation.

Kassab was sitting exactly where you are now,” he told me. “Ibrahim was in the back seat, directly behind him. When the shooting started, I shouted for them to crouch down low. But the bullets went through the front of the car. I tried to replace the windshield, but because of the siege, there is no glass available anywhere in Gaza Strip.”

The final days of 2008 and the first weeks of 2009 saw a large-scale Israeli military bombardment and invasion of Gaza Strip. Israel termed the incursion “Operation Cast Lead,” saying it was intended to protect the citizens of the southern community of Sderot, 24 of whom had been killed by Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza over the past eight years.

According to a report released by the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed during the 22- day attack, over half of them civilians, including more than 300 children. Several thousand more innocent people were injured, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed and 20,000 were damaged. United Nations schools, clinics and other humanitarian facilities were bombed.

On January 16, 2009, towards the end of the onslaught, I received an email with the horrifying subject line: “Help me save my dad’s life.”

It was from Amer Shurrab. I’d known Amer for 10 years, since he was 14 years old. Amer is from Khan Yunis, Gaza, but had recently graduated from Middlebury College and had just moved to Washington, D.C.

With dread, I opened the email. Amer wrote:

“My father’s car was bombed today, he was in it with two of my brothers. My older brother 27 was killed while my dad 64 and my little brother 17 have been bleeding for over 14 hours and Israeli troops blocking ambulances access. Please contact any media outlets, your congressmen, senators, any international organizations and try to get them help.”

Several hours later, I got another email from Amer with more details about the incident and an update. The morning of the attack, his father and brothers had gone to check on their farm during the daily three-hour humanitarian “ceasefire.” On their way home, his father’s red jeep was bombarded by a hail of bullets from IDF troops who had commandeered a house approximately fifty meters away. Amer’s older brother, Kassab, was shot in the chest and stomach 18 times and died on the spot. His father was shot in the arm and his younger brother, Ibrahim, was shot below the knee.

 

Abu Absal shouted to the soldiers that he and his sons needed medical attention. They shouted back for him to call an ambulance. He did, via cell phone, but was told by the Red Crescent that the Israeli army would not permit them access. Abu Absal managed to contact media and human rights groups, who launched an immediate campaign to pressure the army to allow medical care to reach the wounded civilians. Nearly 24 hours later, the IDF permitted an ambulance to reach Abu Absal and his sons. By then it was too late for Amer’s younger brother. Ibrahim had already bled to death.

 

Abu Absal parked the jeep outside an apartment building in Khan Yunis. “Here’s where we live,” he told me. “Any time you are in Gaza, you should make this your home!” We climbed the steps and entered. Abu Absal introduced me cheerfully to his wife and his two daughters. Heaviness and grief was palpable in the home, especially in the eyes of Amer’s mother and sisters. Nevertheless, Abu Absal was determined that my visit be an occasion for happiness. He instructed me to sit in an easy chair, next to his.

“We must speak of many things!” Abu Absal said brightly. “Your visit is like a breeze of fresh air to the family. Only…” He leaned towards me and adopted the tone of a fatherly scolding. “You are not staying long enough! So early tomorrow morning we will visit the farm, before you have to return to Gaza City!”

“Do you go to the farm often?” I asked his university-aged daughter, hoping to engage her in the conversation. “Not really,” she replied, barely making eye contact.

“The girls no longer like the farm,” Abu Absal explained. “They blame the farm for the death of their brothers. After all, if we hadn’t gone that morning…” He didn’t complete the sentence.

The sun was just beginning to rise the next morning when Abu Absal and I climbed back into his battered jeep. The sandy roads of Khan Yunis were bathed in golden light and early morning silence. We turned off the main road after passing the European Hospital. Less than a minute later, we approached an intersection. Abu Absal slowed down. “This was where they were killed,” he said. “You see that brown house?” he pointed. “That’s where the soldiers shot from. I didn’t know they were there. If I had known, I could have taken another route…”

Amer had told me how close the hospital was to the scene of the killings, but seeing it for myself felt like a punch in my gut. Kassab could not have been helped, but Abu Absal and Ibrahim, even with their injuries, could have made it there, walking or crawling or both. But the soldiers had threatened to shoot them if they moved.

Ten minutes later, Abu Absal was giving me a tour of the farm, pointing out with love and devotion each fig and citrus tree, every pepper, the collection of bee hives. From the window of the elevated farm house, he asked me if I could see the fence and the military tower in the distance. I could. “That’s the border with Israel,” he told me. “I watched dozens of tanks roll into Gaza from there. I must guard the farm every day to make sure no one uses it to launch rockets. I don’t want the Israelis to have any excuse to destroy my farm.”

The destruction was not always related to rocket fire. The day before, I had filmed the remains of a school bombed by fighter jets, a clinic that had been shelled and a residential neighborhood reduced to rubble. I had also seen a mosque sprayed with bullets from a recent shootout between Hamas and an Islamic militant group. But in the midst of this destruction, I also witnessed resilience and ingenuity. I saw tent-dwellers whose homes were destroyed tap into a main power line, providing their families with electricity. I watched a youth soccer tournament and broke the Ramadan fast with families at sundown. Though people were going about their daily lives, loss and pain in Gaza still run very deep.

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Abu Absal shows off his farm

Abu Absal tenderly showed me his baby eggplants nestled in rich soil. He offered me a ripe pomegranate dangling temptingly off a tree. A warm light glowed in his eyes.

“Your farm is beautiful,” I said, hoping my appreciation would further boost his spirits.

A cloud passed over Abu Absal’s face. He fingered the rubbery leaves of his olive tree silently. Finally he spoke, echoing, it seemed to me, the sentiment of thousands of Gazan civilians. Those who lost loved ones, their homes, their schools. Those who saw crushed in front of their eyes whatever hope they still nurtured, whatever shards of a normal life they had managed to preserve throughout decades of occupation and years of escalating violence.

 

“It is very beautiful here indeed. But the beauty means nothing since my sons are gone.”

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Filed under Gaza, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel, Uncategorized

Waging life in a war zone: art as resistance in Gaza

“[My art] is community resistance and political resistance—resistance by insisting on life.”  Thus says Gazan theatre artist Ali Abu Yassin in my new piece for Yes! Magazine, looking at art as a powerful form of resistance in Gaza. An excerpt of the article is below and the full article can be read here.

Mohammed al-Saedi leads me through the densely populated Gaza City neighborhood of al-Zaitoun. Walls are painted in blues and pinks, with wooden shutters of purple and yellow. Plants are potted in colorful buckets at each corner.

“Color and flowers give the human positive energy, relax him, and provide much-needed comfort to the soul, heart, and mind,” says al-Saedi, a slender man of 57, wearing a paint-splattered shirt.

The initial idea had been small in scope: to beautify his home with flowers and paint. But neighbors took notice and encouraged al-Saedi to spread the beauty. Some donated funds, others labor or ideas. Abu Adnan Nayef was experienced with wood and iron and offered to partner with al-Saedi. “Our idea became bigger: to make all Gaza Strip as beautiful as possible.”

Nayef points to an overhead lattice with colorful bucket planters and lanterns dangling from hooks. “These are broomsticks. Don’t be surprised! We make beautiful things with simple materials.” Tires, wood, iron—all are salvaged and recycled to adorn al-Zaitoun.

“Paintings and flowers are psychological treatments to reduce the severity and pain of poverty. It brings self-reliance,” al-Saedi says. They believe the beautification project helps lessen the pain in Gaza from wars, siege, and destruction, especially for children.

Throughout Gaza Strip, painters, photographers, theater artists, musicians, and filmmakers are using their art not just as a form of therapy, but also as a tool of resistance.  (Read the rest of the article here!)

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Al-Saedi and Nayef beautify their Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Zaitoun

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Safeguarding our children

This summer, the day after baby Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death in the West Bank village of Duma, I met Eman Dawabsheh, her husband and their 5 precious boys. Their home, which neighbored Ali’s home, had also whose been firebombed by Israeli settlers and was burned. Fortunately, Eman and her family were not at home. I returned to Duma several times while in Palestine to visit Eman and her boys, spending the night on one occasion and enjoying the warmth and humor of her children. Warmth and humor and children who might have suffered the same fate as Ali, his parents (who later died from their injuries) and his 3-year old brother Ahmed.

I hope you will take a moment an op-ed that Eman wrote about what she and the other residents of Duma need first and foremost: protection for their children–protection they still do not have, despite the recent indictments of the perpetartors.

After extremist settlers killed my neighbors in a West Bank arson attack, we still can’t get the one thing we want from the Israeli military: Protection

By Eman Dawabsheh

In the early hours of July 31, my husband, Mamoun, received a phone call from his brother: Our home in the West Bank village of Duma was on fire. Mamoun and I jumped in our car and drove from Nablus (where we had been spending the night with our five children) to Duma, where we found the first floor of our two-story house entirely decimated by fire.  Our neighbor’s house (Sa’ad and Reham Dawabsheh, distant relatives and close friends) had also been burned. Hebrew graffiti on our walls reading “The Messiah King lives” and “Revenge” indicated that the fire had been set by extremist Israeli settlers.

My immediate family was lucky: We were not at home when the settlers doused the two houses in flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails inside. Tragically, Sa’ad, Reham and their two children (18-month-old Ali and 4-year-old Ahmed) were home. By the time Mamoun and I reached Duma, Sa’ad, Reham and Ahmed had been pulled from the blaze, but neighbors were still searching for toddler Ali. His tiny, charred corpse was located in the house soon thereafter.

Read the rest HERE.

Bedroom where firebomb was thrown

A man from Duma peeks into the bedroom in which toddler Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death

 

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Filed under Human Rights, Palestine/Israel, Uncategorized

Set the Stage for Justice!

Dear friends and supporters,

You make possible all that we do at Donkeysaddle Projects—and we cannot thank you enough.

In 2015, you supported the premiere of our documentary film Witness Bahrain at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival (where it won the Audience Award, with later screenings on Capitol Hill in DC and at Seattle’s Arab Festival); you helped us report from the ground in Palestine/Israel, producing several short videos and feature pieces in The Nation, AlJazeera America, TomDispatch, +972Mag, Mondoweiss, and Yes! Magazine; and you supported our ongoing efforts to expose the violence of the death penalty and its connection to all forms of state violence, including police killings.

Amer Jen Nada

Witness Bahrain won the Audience Award at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival

The past year has brought into stark relief the interconnection between universal struggles for liberation and equality–in Palestine, in the U.S. and beyond. 

For that reason, we are asking your support to set the stage for justice in 2016, as we produce a college/university tour of our new documentary-style play, There Is A Field

Based on interviews and primary sources collected over fourteen years, There Is A Field is a story of how a Palestinian family journeys through grief after the Israeli police killed their teenage son, Aseel. While offering an intimate view into the racism and violence faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel, the play transcends any particular time or place to reflect on oppressions in Israel/Palestine, the United States, and around the world.

We are working with a growing coalition of organizations to steer the tour of the play; including Adalah, 50 Shades of Black, Students for Justice in Palestine, Dream Defenders, Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and Code Pink.

The play emerges at a critical juncture of not only escalating state violence, but also unprecedented mobilization for the rights of Palestinians, for Black-Palestinian solidarity, and for transnational movement-building.

from ferguson to palestine

The story of Aseel’s life and murder accentuates the stark similarities between entrenched inequality and impunity, both in the State of Israel and in the U.S., and contributes to the vital and growing national conversation around the systematic devaluation of Black life in the United States. Through the performance and post-play discussions, audience members will grapple with unequal systems of justice, and together consider ways to strengthen intersectional movements for social transformation.

Your donation today will allow There Is A Field to travel to 20 universities in the United States this spring (including several Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and will enable us to end the tour with three days of performances and workshops in the St Louis area, culminating in a performance in Ferguson, MO.

Please support donkeysaddle projects with a contribution that feels meaningful to you this year. Just click here to make a tax-deductible one-time (or monthly) donation, or click here for information on sending a check!  

In doing so, you will be supporting a vision of the world in which every person’s humanity and rights is equally respected and equally protected.

Towards justice, freedom and equality,
Jen Marlowe & Amer Shurrab
Donkeysaddle Projects

www.donkeysaddle.org

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Witness Bahrain won the Audience Award at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival

[Donkeysaddle Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Donkeysaddle Projects must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.}

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Filed under Asel Asleh, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel, Uncategorized

Beirut, Baghdad, Paris

Feeling so much horror and grief over what has happened these last days in Paris, in Baghdad, in Beirut.

And also. Disturbed by the fact that it is only the Paris attacks that the Western media is focused on. I hadn’t even realized there was a bombing in Baghdad yesterday, until my friend told me–BBC didn’t even have it on their headlines.

Those killed in Paris, those wounded, their loved ones–they are all very, very important. But no less important are those killed and wounded in Beirut, in Baghdad and their loved ones.

I wrote a short piece called “Joe and the Beirut bombing” a few years ago, after a car bomb in the Achrafiyeh neighborhood of Beirut where I had spent time with my two-year old friend Joe and his family. Many of the sentiments expressed are applicable today–to the recently severed lives and loss in Beirut, in Baghdad, and in Paris.

JOE AND THE BEIRUT BOMBING

October 19, 2012

A few days ago, I walked down Platform #2 at the New Rochelle train station in Westchester, NY towards my two-year old friend, Joe, his parents, grandparents, and baby brother. I watched Joe’s face change from confusion to surprise to delight as he recognized me. Soon, we were singing the Moose Song together, as we regularly did when I visited him this summer in Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, pushing his stroller around the very same streets—some days the very same actual street—where a car bomb exploded today, killing at least eight and wounding dozens of others.
“Hi, Joe!” each shopkeeper would call out to the blond toddler, who smiled and waved in turn, whipping “Ba” (his pacifier) out of his mouth when he neared Abed’s store, knowing that Abed would scold him, a big boy of two, for still sucking a pacifier. All of Beirut, it seemed, was in love with Joe.
It was Joe that I thought of first when I saw facebook postings that hospitals in Achrafiyeh needed blood donations, prompting me to immediately log onto AJE to see the chilling headline Deadly blast strikes Lebanon’s capital, and it was Joe that I continued to think of as I stared at the photos of the grisly aftermath of the attack, though I knew my friends had left Lebanon just over a week ago, and that they are nowhere near the cars and buildings which were transformed into twisted metal and rubble and were not among the blood-soaked, shocked men and women who searched frantically for their loved ones in the streets.
The instinct is familiar, though always troubling: think first of whether those you care for are safe, and feel the tremendous relief when you get confirmation that they are. Only then, while tasting that relief, is there room for the sickening realization of what the tragedy means for those not lucky enough to have averted it. Only then, does the anxious knowledge penetrate that this bombing is likely a harbinger of far worse violence to come.
It goes without saying, yet still should be said: the children who were killed or maimed or lost parents in today’s bombing are no less precious to their loved ones than Joe is to his.
It goes without saying, yet still should be said: the lives of the Lebanese are no less important than the lives of ex-pats who can choose whether to come to Lebanon, how long to stay, and whether it seems prudent to get out before the shit hits the fan.
I am beyond relieved that my beloved toddler friend Joe, his parents and his baby brother are safe, out of Beirut, and preparing to move to Central America where Joe’s father received a new job posting.
But I am grieving for those caught in the horror of today’s attack—and terrified of what it signals for all the Lebanese that Joe and his family so recently left behind.

joejencedars

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What I learned touring the rubble piles of Gaza

My latest piece (article + video) in +972mag on the physical, psychological and political challenges of defending human rights in Gaza during – and in the aftermath of – war. :

I crouched on the floor of the beat-up Mercedes yellow cab, so that I could film Yaser Abed Alkhafor at a better angle.  We were driving slowly through Khuza’a, a town near the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younes.

“We can see that the destruction in Khuza’a didn’t target only one place, but it is mass destruction targeting the whole area,” Alkhafor said, pointing to the destroyed homes lining the road.

Read the rest here!

And, watch the accompanying video below!

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Gaza’s Mental-Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War

Dear friends,

Below, please find an excerpt and link to my recent feature piece in The Nation, about the impact (especially on children) of chronic war in Gaza, published at the one-year anniversary of the 2014 assault.

I hope you will read, share, and look forward to hearing your thoughts, responses.

All the best,

Jen Marlowe

http://www.donkeysaddle.org

Gaza’s Mental-Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War:
“The Jews shot me.” I was eating breakfast with 3-year-old Ibrahim Awajah in February 2015, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, when he made this proclamation. His father, Kamal Awajah, saw the surprise on my face.
“No, no, you’re the second Ibrahim,” Kamal quickly corrected the small, sandy-haired boy. “It was your brother who was shot, not you.”
The first Ibrahim, 9 years old, had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 attack on Gaza, which the Israeli military named Operation Cast Lead. His parents and siblings witnessed the killing, along with the demolition of their home. The second Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named after his martyred brother. He has already lived through two massive military campaigns. He has also lived most of his young life in tent-like structures, first while his family’s house was being rebuilt after Operation Cast Lead, and then after it was destroyed again during the summer 2014 war.
Read the rest here.

Kids playing in the rubble of the destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

Kids playing in the rubble of the destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

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Filed under Gaza, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel