Bullet holes and grief

Dear friends,

Yesterday marks 10 years since my dear friend 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 Amer’s 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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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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Call to Action: Witness Bahrain and There Is A Field

Dear friends and supporters,

The coming months bring two important anniversaries.

February 14 is the 5-year anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising, when hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets calling for democracy and human rights in Bahrain–and were met by violent repression from the Bahraini regime, repression which continues until today.

March 30 is the 40-year anniversary of Land Day, an annual commemoration of land dispossession and the killings of Palestinian citizens of Israel in 1976.

Donkeysaddle Projects is inviting you to participate in global actions to mark both events!

FEBRUARY: Host a screening of our new award-winning film, WITNESS BAHRAIN!Witness Bahrain Poster LoRes

MARCH: Participate in the Land Day Tour of our new play, THERE IS A FIELD, by organizing a performance, rehearsed reading, or “living room reading” of the play!

More information on WITNESS BAHRAIN can be found here, and information about organizing a screening can be found here.

TIAF one-pageMore information on THERE IS A FIELD can be found here, and information on organizing a performance or reading can be found here.
Or–email Jen Marlowe for more information on both initiatives!

Looking forward to your participation in marking these two significant anniversaries, and in organizing events that support human rights and equality!

And–ways to help support both initiatives, along with all our work at Donkeysaddle Projects, can be found here!

In solidarity,
Jen Marlowe
Director, Witness Bahrain
Playwright/Producer, There Is A Field
Founder, Donkeysaddle Projects

 

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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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If we can help people to SEE us as human beings, it’ll change the way we’re treated

Recently, I’ve begun corresponding with a prisoner on North Carolina’s death row, named George Wilkerson. About a year ago, I sent him a copy of “I Am Troy Davis” (which I co-authored with innocent death row prisoner Troy Davis, who was murdered in 2011 by the state of Georgia.) He wrote back to me, an extremely powerful response to the book… it took me a year to respond to his letter (yes, I feel terrible about that)–but I finally did on Christmas day…and his response to my response came almost immediately, in which he gave me permission to post here anything he wrote in his letters. One of his goals is to reveal the humanity of those society has encaged and invisible-ized. I  hope that by posting bits of his correspondence here, it helps achieve that.

“Ms Marlowe,
Hello. My name is George Wilkerson and I’m a prisoner on Death Row in North Carolina. Recently-as in the last 18 months-I’ve been learning to write, and I realized that writing is nothing without having something to say, something that’ll make a difference, you know?…You, me, and many others on both sides of the wall are engaged in a war–a war of ideas.  If we can help people to SEE us as human beings, it’ll change the way we’re treated. Change the way a person THINKS, you change the way they behave. One moment, one crime, doesn’t define a person. We have feelings, and moms, and kids. We love. We suffer.”

Then, in response to my belated response….some other words from George:

(in response to my remarking on his talent as a writer:)

“I appreciate what you said about my writing, but really, if I have any talent at all, I have to say it’s a God-given gift, although I think maybe it’s my context that fools people into thinking I have any: I’m a prisoner on death row; the expectations are pretty low. :-)”

(in response to having read “I Am Troy Davis,” and the fact that Troy has never been officially exonorated)

“People like us are fighting battles in a larger war, eh? Sometimes, there are decisive battles upon which turn the war, but often there is no clear demarkation. We have to have faith that what we do, in terms of fighting where we are, with the tools/weapons we possess, all plays a role in the larger scheme of things. Let’s say you reached a few preachers and teachers–I’m simplifying to create a formula from which we can extrapolate. Preachers and teachers directly influence the thinking, and therefore behavior, of thousands of people. Right?…To me, activism surrounding the death penalty and the justice system need books like yours. They are our weapons. You gathered the facts, you humanized a problem, you showed how an abstract idea like “injustice” looks and feels and cries. You provided an entry point for those who can’t comprehend abstractions, for those who don’t operate on principle, but need instead concrete connections to their world before they’ll act.

And, you do a great job of contextualizing Troy Davis’s situation, showing how it is symptomatic of a greater problem. That’s the interconnectedness you spoke of. These situations aren’t isolated evenets! But we need people like you to show how they are connected.”

George: I have much to learn from you. We all have much to learn from you.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more of your words, and often. But for now, may those who read these words see you–and all those locked up with you–as a full human being.

 

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A catalyst for change

(For the last 16 months, I have been posting on this blog reviews of I Am Troy Davis from those most qualified to respond to the book–incarcerated men and women, many of them on death row. Here is a response to the book I received from a prisoner on Texas’s infamous death row.)

“I Am Troy Davis” is a rosebush replete with thorns. Reading it will leave your heart aching and tender; your spirit fragrant and fierce.

Against the backdrop of a black boy’s 22-year odyssey from his mother’s home in Savannah to Georgia’s notorious death house, Jen Marlowe peels back the gritty layers of injustice while revealing the fighting power of a praying family.
Like Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign of the 1930s, like the sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement, like the shouts of “I Can’t Breathe” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” ‘I Am Troy Davis’ is a catalyst for change. It shames us, and it propels us to question our level of civility as a country.
Howard Guidry
Innocent man on death row

IATD-cover

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Towards justice, equality, and dignity

Dear friends and supporters,

Thank you so much for all you helped Donkeysaddle Projects accomplish in 2015.

This year, Donkeysaddle Projects celebrated the Ramadan Eid in Gaza with the Awajah family whose 9-year old son was killed and whose home was destroyed twice—once in the 2009 assault, and then again (after finally being rebuilt) in the 2014 assault.

We traveled to the West Bank village of Duma, standing with a family whose house was burned to the ground and whose neighbors (including an 18-month baby) were murdered when Israeli settlers firebombed their two houses.

We exposed the ongoing trauma at the one-year anniversary of the 2014 Gaza war and we filmed the steadfastness of the villagers of Susya, facing demolition of their South Hebron Hills village. We documented the risks taken by human rights defenders in Gaza, and the violations occurring with the arrests of Palestinian children by Israeli military and police.  We investigated the water and sanitation crisis in Gaza, and probed Israel’s practice of linking medical permits for patients from Gaza to intelligence gathering.

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7-year old Ahmad Dawabsheh surveys the remains of his burnt house in the West Bank village of Duma

We brought attention to continuing repression in the small Gulf nation of Bahrain through screenings of our new documentary film Witness Bahrain. We began to connect dots between state violence and inequality in Israel/Palestine and in the U.S. through preparation for our the spring tour of our new play There Is A Field. We enabled children in Gaza to receive urgently needed medical care and Troy Davis’s nephew to continue his college education.

We were on the streets (and spent several hours in a NYC jail) continuing to demand justice and accountability for the police murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Nicholas Heywood Jr., and so many more. We rejoiced with prisoner Reggie Clemons when the state of Missouri vacated his death sentence and his conviction. We continued to correspond with those who have been caged as part of the U.S.’s policy of mass incarceration, inviting their responses to the epidemic of police brutality and to the growing movement for Black lives.

All of this was made possible because of your generous support.

 As 2015 draws to a close, I hope you will choose to include Donkeysaddle Projects in your year-end giving, either through a one-time donation, or a monthly gift. (To contribute via check, please click here.)

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Pre-school children in Gaza build towers out of the rubble of their destroyed kindergarten

With your support, in 2016 Donkeysaddle Projects will continue to expose the human impact of inequality, state violence, occupation and other forms of oppression—and we will continue to highlight those resisting with humanity and dignity.

Towards justice, equality, and dignity for all,

 Jen Marlowe

Donkeysaddle Projects

PS–If you’d like to stay in closer touch, please follow me on Twitter, and/or my blog, View from the donkey’s saddle!

[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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