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June 2014

Beware the Game of Shadows in Syria

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am a signatory to this letter published by the Guardian.

'Hamza Bakour' by Khalil Younes

As supporters of the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy, we are concerned by the British government’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran in response to the crisis in Iraq(Shortcuts, G2, Iran, 18 June).

There is a grave danger that the Iranian government will see this as a licence to extend its already substantial intervention in Syria in support of its client – the Assad regime – which could not have survived this long without Iranian support.

Thousands of troops from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia are actively fighting in Syria on the regime’s side, as are Iran’s proxies,Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shia militias. To ally with Iran in order to combat Isis is deeply ironic, since there is considerable evidence that the Syrian regime has been colluding with Isis: Assad’s air force bombs civilians, schools, markets and hospitals without mercy but declined to attack Isis’s massive headquarters in Raqqa until the Iraq crisis erupted.

The Syrian regime has been playing a game of shadows in which this covert collusion with the growth of Isis has been used to undermine the democratic opposition and strengthen its own claim to be a bulwark against “terrorism”. To accept Iran – and by implication Bashar al-Assad – as allies in the fight against Isis is to fall for this deception.

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, Haytham Alhmawi, director of Rethink Rebuild Society, Reem Al-Assil, activist, Adam Barnett, journalist,James Bloodworth, editor of Left Foot Forward, Mark Boothroyd, International Socialist Network, Sasha Crow, founder of Collateral Repair Project for Iraqi and Syrian Refugees, Naomi Foyle, writer and coordinator of British Writers in Support of Palestine, Christine Gilmore, Leeds Friends of Syria, Bronwen Griffiths, writer and activist, Juliette Harkin, associate tutor, University of East Anglia,Robin Yassin Kassab, author and co-editor of Critical Muslim, Tehmina Kazi, human rights activist, Maryam Namazie, Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation and Equal Rights Now – organisation against women’s discrimination in Iran, Fariborz Pooya, Worker-communist party of Iran UK, Mary Rizzo, activist, translator and blogger, Christopher Roche, Bath Solidarity, Naame Shaamcampaign group, Brian Slocock, political scientist and blogger on Syria, David St Vincent, contributing writer and editor, National Geographic Books, Luke Staunton, Merseyside Syria Solidarity Movement – UK


No leadership, no borders, no strategy – what future for Israel?


See video of this legal abduction of Palestinian farmer Fadel Jaber, arrested for‘stealing water’ on the hottest day of 2010, in front of his five year old son.

The Making of a Palestinian Uprising

By Alon Ben-Muir, Huffington Post
June 26, 2014

The abduction of three Israeli teenage boys is a criminal act and hopefully the perpetrators will be caught soon, face the full weight of the law and end the heart-wrenching ordeal of the boys’ parents and relatives. Yet regardless of who is responsible, Prime Minister Netanyahu made matters much worse for both Israelis and Palestinians. His sweepingly harsh response has already led to more deaths and may potentially lead to more abductions, if not an outright Palestinian uprising.

It is legitimate for Israeli security forces to go into the West Bank and investigate in an effort to find the missing boys and capture the perpetrators, especially when President Abbas demonstrated in words and deeds his unreserved cooperation. Abbas condemned the kidnapping, not just for Israeli and US ears but also the Arab world, as he “delivered [his comments] at a high-profile gathering of Muslim and Arab officials in Saudi Arabia.”

Instead of working diligently with Palestinian internal security to demonstrate how the two sides can fully cooperate on matters of security now and in the future, Netanyahu sent his security forces on a rampage throughout the West Bank. More than 1,150 locations were searched including charities, media outlets and university campuses.

Around 400 Palestinians were arrested and more than half are Hamas operatives and politicians. Netanyahu, who vehemently rejected the Palestinian unity government, seized upon the agonizing kidnapping to play politics with the lives of three innocent youngsters.

Instead of challenging Hamas to help in the search for the missing teenagers to demonstrate their commitment to the unity government, he immediately accused Hamas as the “usual suspects” behind such a hideous crime without producing any evidence.

The subsequent death of four Palestinians, the youngest being only 15 years old who was killed while throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, provoked massive demonstrations during his funeral. This sad episode has outraged the Palestinians and only deepened their resentment and hatred of the Israelis, further damaging the already deeply frayed bilateral relations between the two sides.

Regardless of how wrong the Palestinians are and how the extremists among them contribute to this sad state of affairs, the vast majority who seek peace still live a life of servitude, intolerable by any civilized standard. Every Israeli of conscience should put himself in the shoes of an ordinary Palestinian, who wakes up in the morning feeling besieged and goes to sleep trampled upon in his own home.

How absurd and cynical it is to maintain an occupation for 47 years and expect the Palestinians to simply obey and feel sanguine about it.

How outrageous it is to build new and expand existing settlements on Palestinian land, robbing them of their dream to build a state of their own, and then blame them for harboring malice toward Israelis.

Why should any Palestinian feel compassion toward the abducted teenagers when Israeli security forces conduct night raids in private homes, often unnecessary and unjustified, terrifying the young who cower in fear? They witness with horror their father or older brother being humiliated and violently dragged away.

How could Netanyahu bolster restrictive and discriminatory laws against the Palestinians, build physical barriers and endless checkpoints, and make their lives ever more miserable but then expect them to take these abuses with equanimity?

Netanyahu, who claims to be the champion behind Israel’s security, is driven by blind ideology and consistently acts in a manner that in fact is dangerously eroding instead of enhancing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

While Netanyahu professes to seek a two-state solution, he spares no effort to undermine the peace process in every which way possible. With typical chutzpah, he insists that there is no partner with whom to negotiate.

He accuses the Palestinians of being divided and unable to uphold any agreement, but then he suspended the peace negotiations because the Palestinians created a unity government with Hamas that represents all Palestinians in an effort to end their division.

In spite of the fact that the unity government committed itself to the three Quartet principles (recognizing Israel, honoring prior agreements, and forsaking violence), Netanyahu argues that he will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas instead of giving it a chance to demonstrate its commitment to peaceful negotiations.

Three years ago Netanyahu released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier. What kind of message has he sent to the Palestinians and to the whole world for that matter? One that says the release of one Israeli captive is worth more than the souls of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

How should the fathers and mothers of more than 5,000 incarcerated Palestinians, among them scores of teenagers the same age as the kidnapped Israelis, feel about their kids who are languishing in jail, many of whom without being put on trial and with no end in sight?

Why should there be any surprise if within a few weeks or months the abductors of the Israeli youths demand the exchange of their three captives in return for the release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners? Netanyahu himself and no other is responsible for the development of this unfortunate state of affairs.

Many Israelis, including members of Netanyahu’s coalition, are outraged by this brazen response to the abduction of the Israeli teenagers. Friends of Israel the world over are puzzled by his extraordinarily brutal exploit with utter disregard for human rights.

Those who cheer Netanyahu’s crackdown are severely undermining Israel’s future security and its place among the nations. They must stop and think about how the collective pain and punishment being inflicted on the Palestinians will play out and why these conditions could lead to a nightmarish explosion.

Netanyahu is simply incapable of grasping the implications of his own actions because neither he nor any of his cohorts know where Israel should be ten or fifteen years down the line.

The question is, how can any leader lead his country without a strategy that will take his people to the intended destination? Netanyahu’s strategy, if he has one, is to torpedo the peace process and hope for some miracle that somehow the Palestinians will just disappear.

If Netanyahu genuinely cares about the well-being of the three teenagers, he must also demonstrate sensitivity and empathy toward Palestinian youth to cultivate trust and constructive neighborly relations. Instead, he is nurturing hatred and hostility between the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians, and is condemning them to a cruel and violent future.

It is time for all Israelis to wake up and ask the simple question — where are we heading — and demand a clear and unequivocal answer from Netanyahu himself. It is only a question of time when the Palestinians will rise again, and though they would be crushed, they have little left to lose and Israel’s “victory” will be its greatest defeat.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir was born an Iraqi Jew and has long been involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. He is a senior fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs where he has taught courses on the Middle East and international negotiations for 18 years, and he is the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute.


The Palestinian teen whose death went unnoticed by Israel

Mohammed Dudin, 15, was shot to death by IDF troops using live fire during Operation Brother’s Keeper. No one took responsibility for the killing and no one called his killers terrorists.

and  | Jun. 28, 2014 | 12:12 PM |  20

Mahmoud holding up the shirt he wore the night his cousin Mohammed was killed.

Mahmoud holding up the shirt he wore the night his cousin Mohammed was killed. Photo by Alex Levac

He was a boy of 15. His mother did not appear this week before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, his sisters did not issue a heartrending public letter, no mass prayers were organized in his honor, nor was a memorial assembly held. No one accused the soldiers who killed him with live fire of perpetrating brutal terrorism, no one took responsibility for his killing. Naturally no one apologized: Israel ignored his death. But Mohammed Dudin, too, was a boy – the word Israelis are using to describe the three abducted Kfar Etzion yeshiva students.

Only his family weeps for him now. The expression on his father’s face bespeaks the agony and grief of one whose world has collapsed, a world that even beforehand was squalid and grueling.

Jihad Dudin is a hardscrabble, 45-year-old construction worker who has worked in Israel for years with a permit, building homes in Modi’in, spending nights amid the skeletons of the new structures, and going home to Dura, south of Hebron, on weekends.

After the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper and the closure imposed on the Hebron area, Jihad was unable to get to work. His son Mohammed, the younger of his two boys, was already on summer vacation, and the two used the time to continue the piecemeal construction of the family’s home on the floor above the apartments of Jihad’s four brothers.

In the meantime, Jihad’s family is living on the ground floor, in the apartment of one of the brothers, who married and moved to Nazareth. The walls are not plastered, there is no ceiling yet. There is still much work to be done, but Jihad’s meager income doesn’t allow him to speed up the process. In any case, it was only on holidays and during periods of forced unemployment that father and teenage son hauled cinder blocks to the heights of the new third-floor dwelling.

Last Thursday, too, they carried up cinder blocks and sacks of sand from morning to night. Before they went to sleep, Jihad asked Mohammed whether he would be able to help him haul up more gray cinder blocks on Friday, too. Mohammed told his father to wake him early and they would go on with the construction. The two went to bed around 11 o’clock, exhausted from the day’s work. Jihad slept until 6 the next morning, when he was abruptly awakened by the shouts of children in the yard.

Mohammed had leaped out of bed in the dark of night, his sleep broken by the din of Israeli forces on the move. Hundreds of soldiers were raiding the town, which in the first intifada was known as one of the most tranquil in the West Bank. Dura was the home of Mustafa Dudin, a relative, who had been the Jordanian agriculture minister and then headed the so-called Village Leagues, the vacuous organization Israel tried to establish in the territories in the late 1970s, as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mustafa Dudin died long ago, and with him the Village Leagues, whose leaders were accused by some of collaborating with Israel. But the members of Jihad Dudin’s household also see themselves as pursuers of peace with Israel.

On the days when Mohammed did not help his father in building their new home, he wandered the town’s streets, a tray perched on his head, selling hilbeh, a local fried sweet that he bought for half a shekel (15¢) each and sold for 1 shekel.

He was a strikingly handsome boy. His family say he was the best food hawker in town: Everyone was captivated by his winning smile and bought sweets from him. But on the night between Thursday and Friday, Mohammed had other things on his mind.

At about 10 P.M., as hundreds of troops invaded the town, Dura snapped to attention. Thousands waited in their homes for the soldiers to arrive, in the course of house-to-house searches and arrests by the Israel Defense Forces. Parents did not sleep all night, to ensure that if soldiers pounded on their door they would open it immediately – before the troops blasted it open.

“Everyone awaits his turn,” said one of Mohammed’s cousins, a psychologist at a local school. “The babies and the children are in a panic. The soldiers are liable to enter at any moment.” The local radio station broadcast nonstop bulletins: The soldiers are already here, the soldiers are advancing there. A West Bank version of traffic reports.

No one knows exactly when Mohammed woke up, but in the predawn hours, he wanted to go outside. Hundreds of children and teens were following the soldiers, hurling volleys of stones at them, and getting tear gas and stun grenades in return. This is life in the villages of the West Bank. As if lured by a magic wand, all the youngsters immediately stream into the streets to head off the soldiers – “as though there is some sort of connection between the children, or they are drawn by a magnet,” says Mohammed’s cousin.

Mohammed also wanted to join them, but his mother, who stayed up all night, wouldn’t let him out.

Mahmoud Dudin, a cousin and neighbor of Mohammed’s, was already in the street. He’s a young electrician, 21, with a keffiyeh draped over his shoulders. A witness to Mohammed’s killing, Mahmoud relates that the troops split into two groups of about 100 soldiers each, with each group raiding houses in a different neighborhood.

The forces had come on foot from the direction of the Adurayim base, situated across the nearby hill. At 12:30 A.M., they were joined by about a dozen army jeeps and another dozen civilian jeeps, apparently from the Shin Bet security service. They drove, lights out, toward the Sanjir neighborhood, where the abandoned burned-out car that apparently was used by the kidnappers of the yeshiva youths had been found several days earlier.

The searches, the stone throwing and the firing of tear-gas and stun grenades went on all night. The soldiers, Mahmoud recalls, smashed windows and overturned furniture in dozens of homes. At 4 A.M., when the jeeps returned from Sanjir, they were pelted by stones. At 4:30, the soldiers started to leave the town, in groups. At 4:45, they crossed the main street on the way to their base. The youngsters continued to throw stones at them unceasingly until they left.

The first group of soldiers made do with firing tear-gas and stun grenades at the large numbers of young people on the streets. A little after 5 A.M., the last group of soldiers started to leave the town. Suddenly, one of the soldiers in the rear of the column aimed his rifle and fired live ammunition at the youngsters, at a range of about 80 meters. Mahmoud rushed to take cover behind a palm tree.

Mahmoud remembers hearing six live-fire shots. It was a miracle that the number of casualties wasn’t greater. Then he heard a shout: “Mahmoud, I’m hit, help me!” He saw a boy lying on the road and bleeding, but didn’t know it was his cousin Mohammed. Drawing closer, he recognized him; until that moment he hadn’t known that Mohammed was on the street. A couple of hours earlier, at 3:30 A.M., when Mahmoud took his younger brother home to safety, he had noticed Mohammed watching events from the window in his room. It was a short time afterward that he stole out of the house, probably through the window. His father was sleeping, and he told his mother that the army had already left.

One bullet had struck his cousin in the chest. Mahmoud quickly carried him on his shoulders to a car, which took him the local Red Crescent clinic. Mahmoud holds up the undershirt and the T-shirt he wore that night. Both are covered with blood, the blood of his dead cousin. Two soldiers tried to approach the wounded boy, but backed off in the face of the agitated crowd.

In response to a request for comment, the IDF Spokesman told Haaretz this week: “The subject is under investigation by the Military Police. Upon its conclusion the findings will be conveyed to the Military Advocate General’s Office for examination.”

Mahmoud says that Mohammed managed to say, “Take care of yourself, take care of my parents, I love them.” He died on the way to the clinic. He was taken to Aliya Hospital in Hebron, where he was officially pronounced dead. At midday Friday, he was buried in his clothes, as is the custom, though they were drenched in blood. Almost the entire town turned out for the funeral.

Together with Mussa Abu Hashhash, a fieldworker for the human rights organization B’Tselem, we visited the site of the incident. A few blackened bloodstains are visible on the street next to a bus stop. Photographs sent to me afterward show Mohammed in death, his handsome face gray. Last Friday, his father, Jihad, was awakened by children shouting outside: “Your boy has gone, gone, gone.” He rushed to the hospital, but it was too late.

Now he’s crying – Jihad, the bereaved father from Dura.


Estas Tonne – The Song of the Golden Dragon –

How Egypt’s New Regime is Silencing Civil Society


Somewhere in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak must be smiling, knowing that three years after his downfall, he has won after all.

After three decades of muzzling civil society, of harassing, detaining and torturing political activists, scholars, journalists, lawyers, doctors and regular citizens of all stripes, Mubarak never was able to accomplish what the new regime has achieved in a matter of months.

Mubarak was never able to silence completely civil society. The judiciary rose up to check his periodic grabs to expand his power, frustrating his regime so much that in his last years, he collaborated with the military to set up an entirely separate system of military courts to try scholars, activists and others who spoke out in defiance.

All of that is gone now. In just one week, we have had a dizzying series of show trials and detentions.

In three cases, civilian judges handed down death sentences against large number of supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top religious figure. In another, three Al Jazeera English journalists were convicted of “falsifying news” and belonging to or assisting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Finally, on Tuesday, 23 Egyptians were detained for a peaceful march to the presidential palace. The protesters were first attacked by groups of men in civilian clothes before they were arrested for violating the new Protest Law. Some may have been simply bystanders. One was a noted women’s rights activist who told friends she was arrested while buying water from a kiosk near the protests.

Egyptian defendants’ relatives mourn after Egypt court refers 638 Morsi supporters are sentenced to death sentence in the coutnry’s latest mass trial (Photo Credit: Ahmed Ismail/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).

All of this is disturbing, but most of all the total failure of the judicial system to maintain any semblance of fair justice.

In the words of the Amnesty International trial observer, these trials were a “farcical spectacle.” Death penalties, we said, are now being issued “at a drop of a hat.” Journalists were “jailed for journalism.”

Some of the details resemble dark comedy. The low point of a bad week of the judiciary came in one of the death penalty cases, involving 683 defendants. As the judge listed the sentences, one of the defendants was first sentenced to death and then to 15 years in prison. Three days later, there’s still public confusion about which sentence he received.

A second man sentenced in a second death penalty case was a blind man who could not have possibly been involved in any political violence.

Egyptian relatives of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi cry sitting outside the courthouse after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings (Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images).

Piously, Egypt’s leaders deny any politicization of the judiciary. Responding to pleas from President Obama to release the journalists, Egypt’s new president Abdul el-Sisi, said on television that he wouldn’t dare interfere with the rulings because that doesn’t happen in Egypt.

It’s despicable that after this week President Sisi would celebrate “the independence” of the Egyptian judiciary. Egypt’s judicial system is broken and is no longer able to deliver justice.Its role now is to silence dissent.

That should be a matter of concern to the Egyptian president, but the judiciary’s failure is far too closely related to the expansion of the regime’s powers, its broad ability to silence all political activity, and the wide immunity its police, security and military forces have for any abuses.

This is a familiar pattern of abuses for Egypt. What’s new is now Egyptians can’t depend on the judiciary for the mildest of protections.

Take action to have Egyptian officials release all prisoners of conscience, squash the death sentences and end the use of the death penalty in all cases.



Reporters Without Borders publishes “Palestinian Journalists Caught Between Three Sides”


Now that the Israeli army has launched “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” the biggest military deployment in the West Bank since the end of the second Intifada in 2005 – with Palestinian media treated as targets – Reporters Without Borders today releases “Palestinian Journalists Caught Between Three Sides.”

The detailed report, based on a mission to the Palestinian Territories in late 2013, reveals the double set of pressures threatening information freedom in the Territories. On the one hand are measures imposed by Israel and its army, which doesn’t hesitate to arrest, or even kill, news professionals.

On the other side are the consequences of the 2007 division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Officially, that split ended with an accord signed by both factions on 23 April and the formation of a national unity government. But the fragile agreement is now being undermined. The recent abduction of three Israeli students in the West Bank, which Israel blames on Hamas, is giving rise to fear of renewed tensions between the two supposedly friendly factions.

Without directly accusing Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself has denounced the aims of those who carried out the kidnapping. “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us,” he said on 18 June.

The accord of 23 April had raised hope that the page could be turned on seven years of divisions that have deeply affected Palestinian society, especially the media. What will the effects of the split be on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians? More than ever before, the process seems to have reached a dead end.

Israeli-Palestinian relations and progress (or lack of same) in the peace process inevitably affect intra-Palestinian relations, with major repercussions on Palestinian civil society, hence for historically highly politicized media. In fact, as a result of their extreme polarization, Palestinian journalists and media organizations are both victims of and participants in a perverse system, helping to perpetuate the “division” (Inqassam) in Palestinian society.

How to emerge from this vicious circle? Speaking with Reporters Without Borders, journalists, human rights advocates, NGO directors, serving diplomats, and political figures all shared an assessment: the Palestinian Territories make up one of the most difficult places in the world to practice journalism.

Without real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and, likewise, without a lasting and effective reconciliation between the Palestinian factions, the quality of information, and information freedom itself, cannot improve.

Read the English version of the report

Read the Arabic version of the report

Maysaloon @ refugees

SUNDAY, JUNE 22, 2014



The Reyhanli Diaries

You spend a week with displaced Syrian children and it gives you an insight into the Syrian crisis that is a million times better than anything Assad’s enthusiasts in the West can come up with. Child after child says the same thing, airplanes bombing their villages. Mothers, fathers, uncles and cousins killed by Assad’s snipers. Hunger, cold, fatigue. Fear and uncertainty as they cross fields and mountains to get to the relative safety of Turkey, and then a quick dash past the Turkish gendarmes and their patrol cars as they crawl down and then up the three metre ditches that have been dug along the border to prevent diesel smuggling from Syria, where it’s cheaper.

This was the second time I had been invited by the Zeitouna program for displaced Syrian refugee kids to run my workshop. Unlike last December, the children in this camp were mostly special cases and they were doing an intensive summer school program. A lot of these children hadn’t been in a proper school for over a year. I noticed that a higher number of the school children didn’t want me to read their diary entries than in December. When they did the stories were heart-wrenching. Their memories were about death, destruction and loss. They were nothing you’d want a ten year old boy or girl to ever have to know. But that is the reality that they and millions of other Syrians have had to face. Beneath the smiling cheerful facade and the noise of the playground everybody in the Salam school carries a terrible burden. That includes the teachers, who have the double burden of trying to help the children live a normal life whilst also carrying their own problems. One teacher told me of how he was held by the security services for over a month with regular beatings and interrogation. He had to hang from the ceiling by his wrists, with his toes barely touching the floor. He was kept like this for three days with no food or water or toilet breaks, and he was beaten by a thick cable. When he’d faint they would chuck a bucket of water on him and he would lick his lips to try and quench his thirst. When they took him down he couldn’t feel his hands for hours and thought he had lost their use forever. 

After that they made him hold his hands out so that they can hit him with the cables. He was told he would be hit forty times, and that each time he flinched and tried to pull his arms back they would add another five. The final count was ninety and his hands were hit so hard that his finger nails came off. When they finally released him he had lost forty kilograms out of ninety. The judge he was presented to ordered him to tell people that he had been on vacation all this time. He escaped to Turkey as soon as he had the chance. 

There is something perverse in hearing about the obscene celebrations in Assad’s areas that have been going non-stop since his sham elections, and the suffering these children told me about. I ask the girls in one class to write about the happiest day in their lives, and most of them don’t want to do that. They want to write about the saddest day in their lives. At first I’m adamant that they not do that, but then I give in. I tell them they can write about the saddest day in their lives if that’s what they want. They say they do. Then they volunteer to read to the class. They were so hungry to tell somebody – anybody – about what happened to them, and the realisation dawned on me that this was how they wanted to unburden themselves of this big weight on their chests. Far from bringing up painful memories, I felt as if we were giving each other the chance to release pent up hurt and anguish. One of the girls started reading her journal entry, and she started talking about how her cousin was killed fighting for the Free Syrian Army, and then how, a few days later, her uncle was also shot by a sniper. I was looking at the other students in the room and was also tired so I then stared out of the window. Then I realised she had stopped talking. I looked at her and she was quietly sobbing. The other students looked down, nobody said a word. Then one girl said, “May he rest in peace”, and I repeated that too. She sobbed, and then carried on reading, sharing her heartache with us in the room. It was a moment of commiseration for us all where we acknowledged our common humanity. We were grieving together. And when I think about it now maybe that is what the girls of that 12th grade really needed, somebody to grieve with and listen to how much they had been hurt. 

I asked another girl in the 9th grade to write about her last day in Syria and what she saw. She didn’t talk about planes bombing them, or about losing loved ones. She was a bubbly cheerful girl with a pink hejab and I liked her. She was one of my favourite students in the class. Then she started reading to us how she and her family were crossing cornfields and ditches to get to the safety of Turkey. I thought she was fine and she was smiling. Halfway through she started to sob and I choked up. She would give that beautiful smile and then start sobbing in between, as if the memory of her displacement was too much to bear and she was doing everything possible to keep up the facade of a happy girl in her early teens. I almost cried in front of everybody but I kept a straight face. My eyes burned. 

The stories came non-stop and it’s only now, a few days after I have come back, that I can write a little about this past week. It was beautiful, human and warm to be with the children and the teachers, and we all said tearful goodbyes on the final day. One boy came back to hug me three times, and I could feel his chest heave as he cried. I patted him on the back and whispered to him to stay strong and be patient. Inside I was dying. Last week, just briefly, we all shared something wonderful. Maybe in times of war that can make all the difference.

Self Reflection

We don’t know how the future will see what we did here. Whether we were right, or whether we will even succeed in building the life that we want. I felt despair, sadness and longing, but I didn’t let myself get swept by events this time – even though a lot of people did. I didn’t lose my head. I didn’t let the craziness get to me. Somebody has to stay sane to remind everybody what it’s like. I hope that somebody was me.


A Split Second

The courtyard is chaotic because the children are on their break. I am sitting on the floor leaning against the wall. The bell rings and they are all climbing up the steps in front of me to get to their classroom. Amidst the chaos just one girl stands out for a split second. She has the most wonderful smile I have ever seen in my life. I didn’t have my phone out to take a picture. It was as if for a split second there was light only on this one little girl and her pigtails. She’s a little older than a toddler. Then she vanished back in the crowd. I closed my eyes to rest them for a few seconds before going to the next of my workshops.


“This won’t take a minute”

They asked me if I have a moment and I said yes. I walked with the dentists to one of the classes and the kids were sitting “jalseh si7iyeh” – a healthy stance – behind their desks. I was asked to put on a fresh pair of rubber gloves for each child and then to apply fluoride coating to their teeth after the dentist had examined them. I remember that their teeth were so small.



I have a mental image of a pretty girl with light brown hair wearing a white and blue dress. She’s skipping with her friend and her ponytail bounces up and down with each step. She was in my journal writing class and I hope that some of the exercises I gave her might have sparked an interest in writing.

Later we are on the bus driving back to the hotel. I’m tired and thirsty, I forgot to take a bottle of water from the caretakers fridge before we leave. It’s hot and dusty. I look out of the window, ignoring the chatter of my colleagues and looking forward to dipping into the cool pool in our mediocre hotel. I see the girl walking past the local Turkish graveyard on her way home. The blue and white of her dress stand out vividly from the dusty drab streets and the hard faces of other pedestrians. She is making her way daintily down from the high pavement and is looking to cross the street. I sit up in my seat and peer out of the window, I tap my hands on it but we’ve already moved on. We drive away and she is still looking to cross the road. A delicate flower in the middle of a drab dusty town in the middle of nowhere.

The next day I see her in the school courtyard. She smiles and recognises me. I say to her that I saw her going home the other day and she nods her head. I ask her name. She says it is Walaa. I think to myself what a coincidence it is that her name is the same as that other girl I met in Atmeh camp last December. They are almost the same age. They are both wonderful, both full of life. I’ve left them there. One is somewhere in a refugee camp in Syria, the other is somewhere in a border town in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a region that is going nowhere, in a maelstrom. They are lost in a sea of desperate humanity.


Rodney Dangerfield


He gave many young comedians a decisive start



Dirty Wars

see this post from DN

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