Winning Essay “Dear Blockade”

Gaza Essay contest winner Tarneem Hammad
Gaza writer Tarneem Hammad receives award at the Gaza AFSC office.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Tarneem Hammad, 24, was born in Saudi Arabia, but now lives in Gaza and is an English literature graduate from Al-Azhar University. For part-time work, she is an English language trainer. Tarneem loves languages and in addition to English and Arabic, knows a little French. Writing and reading are both hobbies. Tarneem wishes to help develop a public library in Gaza that looks like it came from Harry Potter stories. She also wishes to deliver the voice of voiceless people through her writing. She says, “I write because I can.”

“Dear Blockade”

Dear Blockade,

I was 14 when I first met you. You never asked me to be friends, you just took over my life. You grew as I grew. I’m writing to you because you’re a part of my life. Blockade, you’re wrong and I want you to know that you’re wrong. You make things difficult, more difficult than I can imagine. Some days I can’t get out of bed; other days I can’t stop crying.

You’re wrong because you forced me to adapt my life to the humiliating shrinking electricity schedule that could be cut for three days in a row. You’re wrong because when I made it to high school, I had to study using candlelight while mum was awake, worried at some point this candle would fall down and burn us sleeping.

My brother Ali walks around wearing a half-ironed T-shirt, knowing that people will excuse him because they know the power went off in the middle. I know that some people can afford the cost of a back-up power generator but not all.

You’re wrong because water is an essential right for all living beings, including animals and plants, but you made it polluted for us or even cut off our supply completely. You’re wrong because for some families, running water is just a far off dream.

You’re wrong because when I made it to university, I had to work 10 times harder than students all over the world using charged lanterns. I graduated thinking my hard work will pay off and I’m special enough to get a decent job. This time I was wrong, I turned out to be special just like everyone else, a graduate and jobless. I had to volunteer for two years and be exploited by managers. Then, you rewarded me with a job that wasn’t enough to cover expenses for a week. When I thought that I got a decent job, I shared my happiness with my foreigner friend to find out that she gets paid three times more salary than I, doing the same work just because she’s not living under blockade.

You’re wrong because you taught me it always hurts to be the one who survives. I survived three wars, expecting death every second and hearing familiar names dead on the news.

You caused me nightmares, you made me so removed from my feelings and so cut off from the world. I became so careless and depressed at the same time. I’d like you to apologize for ruining me psychologically.

You’re wrong because you turned seeing disabled youth in the street into a norm. You’re wrong because you made stories of death, injuries, loss and suffering a daily basis in my life.

You’re wrong because you made my passport questionable to every security crossing guard in the world. Oh, sorry, you’re wrong because you don’t allow me to travel. You’re wrong because you deprived thousands of hard-working students from their scholarships. You’re wrong because at some point we, Gazans, have to change our dreams because a very old blockade would crush our dreams as it crushed our people.

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Winning Essay “30 Minutes . . . A Thousand Times Over”

Gaza Essay contest winner Nadya SiyamNadya Siyam receives award at AFSC office in Gaza.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Nadya Siyam lives in Gaza city and studies English Language and Literature at the Islamic University. She is a writer for the “We are Not Numbers” project where she writes in a narrative style about inspiring daily experiences in Gaza. Nadya also participates in community service activities at local institutions in Gaza. She loves to read, and her favorite genres are historical fiction and thrillers. “I’m highly interested in human rights, and I aspire to get a scholarship and pursue my master’s degree in this area,” said Nadya.

“30 Minutes… A Thousand Times Over”

At times of war you become extra alarmed. You become a navigator as you try to predict how far each bombing is from your house and who of your beloved lives near the area you’ve predicted. And when you’re done with your calculations, you pray you were wrong.

My dad works as an orthopedic surgeon at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa Hospital. Whenever there is an attack on Gaza, dad, along with other doctors, stays at Al-Shifa for days to deal with the huge number of injured they must treat. Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 assault on Gaza, was no different.

My four little siblings, mum and I stayed alone without dad throughout the 50-day assault. Dad used to call us once every day and insisted to speak to each of us separately, even if it was for 10 seconds. Yousef, our youngest, was a year-and-a-half old then. He would hold the phone with his two tiny hands and say the very few words he was able to pronounce “Baba, yella ta’al” (come on dad, come home). Being the eldest, I had to wait until they were all done talking to hear dad’s voice at last.

– Be safe. Take care of your mum and siblings. Distract our little ones. Make sure the door is locked and the windows are open.

– Okay, Dad.

Dad…please come home, at least at night. We worry about you.

-They need me here. And I’m safe, sweetie. Come on, you know nobody bombs a hospital.

He stopped me from objecting any further with a short tired laugh. He sounded older, maybe because of the lack of sleep.

One afternoon, my mum and I were preparing Iftar (the meal that Muslims break their fasts with during Ramadan) and listening to the news on the radio. It got to the point when we couldn’t keep up with the number of deaths and injuries. Most of the reported bombings that day were in Rafah and Khan Younis – the southern parts of Gaza Strip. We lived in the northern west part of the strip, so the sound of bombings was far.

The landline phone rang.

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Winning Essay “The Party”

Rahf Hallaq essay winnerRahf Hallaq receives her award at the Gaza AFSC office.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Rahf Hallaq is a 19-year-old sophomore student at the Islamic university of Gaza studying English Literature. She aspires to complete her higher education in Literature and become a professor. Reading is her favourite hobby that started with her love for bedtime stories as a child, and with time developed into an appreciation of literature. Rahf lived and went to school in the U.S. for three years (2005 to 2008) where she began reading and writing in English at a very early stage in her life. Rahf says, “Books changed the way I think immensely; I could feel writers speaking to me through every book I read, trying to form my ideas, make me a better well-informed person. That made me love writing because it made me believe in the power of words. I write because I want to share what I know with the world. I want them to see how people here suffer, feel and think. I want them to see that we are not merely an occupied nation that wants its basic rights but that we have amazing, educated, creative and brilliant people here in Gaza that can achieve great things and make this world a better place if given the opportunity.”

“The Party”

“There’s going to be a party tonight!

It’s 12 a.m. The entire house had gone to sleep and I’m sitting lazily on my desk studying, trying my best to ignore the infuriating buzz of the drones roaming above my head. I read the message my friend sent me, smile and reply with a “yeah!” I have to finish as much as possible before the electricity goes out. So, although I feel extremely tired, I keep working.

There were four killings on the border today and our side threw some rockets at the Israeli soldier camps near the borders as a response. So, as usual, I was expecting a night full of action. But, you see, Israelis never respond to the results of what they started early. They always wait until it’s past midnight so that their mission’s results can be more successfully terrifying.

It is said that waiting for a bad experience to happen is harder than living the experience itself. I can’t say that I’m sitting on pins and needles or that I’m actually scared, however. Situations such as these happen every now and then in Gaza.

I haven’t reached the level of complete indifference as some people here have, but neither do I feel any great fear as some others still do. We always fear the airstrikes might cause casualties near the targeted places. And there’s always the fear of things escalating and possibly developing into a serious war. But, there have been enough similar nights or – as people here in Gaza have come to ironically call them – “parties” to convince us that the possibility is weak. Usually, everything ends with the rising sun of the following day. It’s a strategy they use to scare us and remind us: “we are here.”

So, I sit and wait.

I wait just like everyone here waits for everything. Our life in Gaza, as some of you might already know, is a constant state of fearing and waiting. We are always waiting for electricity so that we can resume our lives like normal people, study, work, do our chores, watch TV, charge our phones and laptops, etc. New graduates are always waiting to find a job, and if, after a long search by some miracle, they do find a good suitable job, they will have the exceptional experience of waiting to be paid half their salary once every three months.

We are constantly waiting for the Rafah border to open, waiting for medical supplies, waiting for a war that we dread yet know is coming, waiting for an airstrike, waiting for the siege to end, waiting for freedom, or waiting for things to simply improve; we feel privileged when we get a full eight hours of electricity!

Some people have started to look upon these things as a distant Godot who never comes. A Godot that keeps you waiting and hoping until he renders you desperate. People like me, though, are still clinging to the hope that things will get better soon. Every nation that has been occupied in the past has had to sacrifice for its freedom. We’ve been resisting dispossession, slaughter, imprisonment, and torture for 70 years. Are we to give up now?

The first missile strikes, and as my heart starts thumping hard in my chest, I automatically jump out of my chair to open the windows. A shiver runs through my body as gusts of cold wind slap my face. But what other choice do we have? We’ll have to bear the cold for a couple of hours. I cover my younger siblings well and go back to studying.

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U.S.-Mexico Border: An Israeli Tech Laboratory


Migrants running from tear gas fired by American border agents near the fence at Tijuana. (Credit: Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

Brittany Dawson, PALESTINE SQUARE, December 6, 2018

When hundreds of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, in late November, planning to claim asylum in the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed the San Ysidro border crossing in anticipation of their arrival. In protest of the closure, asylum seekers rushed the fence separating Mexico and the United States, and border patrol agents fired tear gas at them through the fence. Images of children and their families running through clouds of CS gas went viral on social media. Palestine solidarity activists speculated that the agents used the same U.S.-manufactured tear gas as is used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinians and has been used against activists in the United States from Standing Rock to Ferguson, MO.

Such collaboration between U.S. and Israeli defense establishments is not new. In 2004, Hermes drones manufactured by Israel’s Elbit Systems were the first unmanned aerial vehicles deployed at the U.S. southern border. A decade later, Customs and Border Protection awarded the company’s subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a $145 million contract to construct its integrated fixed towers system in Nogales, Arizona. And in October 2017, when camera crews gathered in San Diego, California, for the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes, the only foreign contractor on display was ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.

In an interview published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, excerpted below, I spoke with journalist and author Gabriel Schivone about the use of Israeli technology at the U.S.-Mexico border and beyond. Schivone has published widely on issues of human rights and homeland security technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as on the Israeli arms trade in Central America, the Mexican drug wars, and other topics. His book Making the New “Illegal”: How Decades of U.S. Involvement in Central America Triggered the Modern Wave of Immigration (forthcoming from Prometheus Books) includes a chapter on Israel’s military role as a proxy for the United States in Guatemala’s “Dirty War.”

Subscribe to the Journal of Palestine Studies to read the complete interview on the Journal’s website.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | The Great March of Return: An Organizer’s Perspective]

One issue on which the United States and Israel have been cooperating for a while is the U.S.- Mexico border. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he promised to build a “great wall” and to make Mexico pay for it, which ignored the fact that the wall already existed, both physically and virtually through all kinds of security technology. How did this come about?

I’m glad you point that out, because nobody else will—the media, both major political parties, and even, detrimentally, some activists, as well as others, all act as if the wall hasn’t existed for most of our lifetimes, yours and mine. […] Yet this wall and all these barriers have been here for twenty-five years. In 2006, they were greatly expanded when the Israeli giant Elbit was brought in as a subcontractor through Boeing’s $1 billion award to provide the “virtual wall” system under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed by [President George W.] Bush. After five years and a billion dollars spent, the Obama administration scrapped the sluggish and expensive project in 2011. But then in early 2014, they gave Elbit’s U.S. subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a new $145 million contract to build the integrated fixed towers project, a similar “virtual wall” concept, to provide fifty-two Israeli surveillance towers all across southern Arizona along the border with Mexico.

Other examples of Israeli technology and expertise on the border include Israel’s NICE Systems, which provided CCTV surveillance technology to notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (who was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos in 2013) for one of his jails in 2000; the Golan Group, a huge Israeli conglomerate, which did a training program for a select group of ICE agents in 2007; and a squad of Israeli Hermes drones, which were the first drones used to patrol the southern border skies, in 2004. These are just a few of the examples.

You and [your research partner] Todd Miller recently returned from a trip to Palestine and Jordan. What took you there, and how was your experience?

The trip was the second phase of an investigation we started here in Tucson in 2014 and 2015. We looked at what is essentially a boundary-building complex—military, security, NAFTA, Homeland Security—based here in Tucson and which is part of the University of Arizona. It’s a futuristic, sci-fi–like campus called Tech Parks Arizona, which its CEO calls a business incubator. They invite and lure small, medium, and large companies to open offices on the campus, which is at the far end of town in the middle of the desert. And the way that they sell their campus and state-of- the-art facilities is as a headquarters for these companies’ research and development activities. They say to them, “You can use the facilities; you can use the grounds as a laboratory, as a testing range for command centers, security systems, your surveillance towers, etc.” After seeing how lucrative it has become, they want to go global and make southern Arizona the nexus of the boundary-building business.

Their big idea is called Global Advantage, which is a business project based on a partnership between Tech Parks Arizona and the Offshore Group, which is a Mexican business-advisory firm that offers “nearshore solutions for manufacturers of any size” in its manufacturing complexes just across the border in Sonora, a state in northern Mexico. Tech Parks Arizona provides the lawyers, accountants, and scholars, as well as the technical know-how, to help any foreign company—starting with Israeli companies as their “proof of concept” clientele—land softly and set up shop at the campus. Tech Parks Arizona offers these companies its research and development resources and facilities, as well as aid with legal issues, such as business regulation, and even finding qualified employees. Tech Parks Arizona identifies their Israeli clientele through the Global Advantage program’s Israel Business Initiative, which lures Israeli companies to come and set up offices in Tucson.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | Special Issue: Queering Palestine]

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