Posts Tagged ‘Gaza Strip’

"What you don't know about Malcolm X" (Photo: Joe Catron)

At the end of the United States’ Black History Month, one week after the 47th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination in New York’s Audubon Ballroom, and another week shy of my first year in Gaza, I attended a talk on X at Gaza’s Centre for Political and Development Studies (CPDS) Tuesday.

My friend Yousef Aljamal, a translator at CPDS, coordinated the event. “We are being subjugated to occupation and racism,” he told me when I asked him why. “I see Malcolm X as a role model. He fought against racism, just as Palestinians are doing today.”

CPDS’s lecture hall held a larger crowd than it has during any other event I have attended there. The speaker, Refaat R. Alareer, is a popular teacher of English at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG). Joining CPDS regulars, dozens of his students had turned out for another opportunity to hear him.

“I don’t claim to be a Malcolm X specialist,” Alareer said. “I’m only a fan.” His interest in X, he said, began twelve years ago. “I was teaching a course, and there was an amazing passage about this man, of whom I had never heard before. The passage was so eloquent, so articulate, so amazing that it pulled me into this personality, this area of knowledge that I, again, never knew before.”

Alareer quickly ordered and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. “Malcolm X has had, since then, an amazing influence on my life, to the extent that I now name him as my number one role model,” he said.

Alareer’s talk covered the phases and transitions of X’s varied life, with a focus on two main themes: the influence of his childhood, and misconceptions that often cloud modern understandings of him. “If you ask anyone about Malcolm X, he will quote him about violence, and how violence is the most important means to regain and restore rights, dignity, freedom, equality – so many things.”

“By doing this, we are actually not doing justice to this great, amazing man,” Alareer added. “We are zooming in on only one part of his life.”

Alareer quickly sketched key points of X’s Black nationalist upbringing and the racism he and his family faced: the arson of their house as police and firefighters stood by, the former later questioning his father about his permit for the pistol with which he defended his family; the murder of his father; the liquidation of his family by county social workers; his mother’s nervous breakdown; and discouragement by his teachers. “He turned this curse into a bliss,” Alareer said. “This harsh life did not push him, for example, to suicide – to kill himself – or to become a serial killer.” Instead, X’s painful experiences pushed him to establish himself as one of 20th-century America’s foremost leaders.

Mr. Refaat R. Alareer (Photo: Joe Catron)

Alareer also described an aspect of X’s life as the middle of seven children that, he said, explains “how, he, in part, came to be the Malcolm X we know. How he learned that sometimes, you have to make noise. Sometimes, you have to use violence. Sometimes, instead of being gentle, you have to be tough, like Hamlet’s motto of ‘be[ing] cruel to be kind.’” When his exasperated mother asked why X would “cry out and make a fuss until [he] got what [he] wanted,” unlike his eldest brother Wilfred (who later introduced him to the Nation of Islam), X “would think to [him]self that Wilfred,  for being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry … So early in life, [he] had learned that if you wanted something, you had to make some noise.”

As a young gangster, Alareer  said, “[X] was nicknamed Satan for his profanity, for his atheism. He hated everything and everybody: gods, laws, etc.” And while the Nation of Islam (NOI) offered him a system of personal discipline and a means of organized struggle, its theology, in Alareer’s eyes, left something to be desired. “Unfortunately, Elijah Muhammed had a special version of Islam, which by no means stands for Islam, or what Islam means,” he said. “Elijah Muhammed claimed, at the end of his life, that he was a prophet of Islam. He claimed that all Muslims are Black, that Islam is the religion of Black people, and that God is black; that the white people are devils; and that they were created, not by God, the Black guy, but by some other guy by the name of Jacob.”

“These ideas are absurd, huh?” he asked. His audience, of which I may have been the only non-Muslim member, murmured its agreement. “What – what the hell?”

But X, Alareer  said, “believed in this under the circumstances. It is stupid to think what Elijah Muhammed was preaching, but probably, if you were squeezed into the corner where Malcolm X was, I think you would do the same.”

X’s background in the NOI, Alareer said, prepared him for his 1964 hajj to Mecca and practice of Sunni Islam as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz . “As a criminal, as a prisoner, as a ‘Muslim’ who was not a real Muslim, as a Muslim who was a real Muslim, as a man of peace, as a man of violence, he was a man of all trades, in a sense. As a member of the Nation of Islam, he said that whites are the devil, but as a Sunni Muslim, he embraced all people as brothers.”

X’s famous statements on violence, Alareer said, were also circumstantial. “I think that Malcolm X was complementing the role [of Martin Luther King Jr.] at a time when everybody was calling for nonviolent, peaceful means to find a solution to the Black problem.”

And they were, Alareer emphasized, only a small part of X’s thought. “We always quote Malcolm X talking about violence,” he said. “If you want ideas about prison, Iife in prison, and prison reform, read Malcolm X. If you want ideas about family, about wives, husbands, children, daughters, and sons, read Malcolm X. If you want quotes and ideas about education, this man is amazing in every sense of the word. If you don’t read him, there is a blank area in your mind or heart that needs to be filled.”

(Photo: Yousef M. Aljamal)

“All Palestinians admire him, or should admire him, for many reasons,” Alareer concluded. “He wasn’t ashamed to change when he discovered there was another way he could follow and adopt, another means to improve his status and change his horrible life. As Palestinians, we can use different means and methods to liberate ourselves, to get rid of the occupation and the evils of the occupation, ‘by any means necessary,’ like he said. ” This portion of Alareer’s talk, beginning at 41:25 of the audio file and focusing on X’s implications for Palestinians and their struggle, really deserves to be heard by everyone, even those without the time to listen to the rest.

Afterward, I spoke with Jehan Alfarra, a 21-year old English literature student at IUG. “Malcolm X is a good character to identify with,” she told me. “He was a product of his environment. You can see how his childhood and life influenced his approach to the challenges he faced. In that, he’s like many of the Palestinians here. And I love the transitions in his life. I love his bravery. He was brave enough to admit how he felt, and to admit it when he had met more people, knew more about the world, and changed his mind. Palestinians in Gaza are under a mental siege, as well as a physical siege. Malcolm X shows how to overcome that.”




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As hundreds of Palestinians rallied in Gaza today to demand that Israel release Palestinian administrative detainee Khader Adnan, Yassar Salah, a 17-year veteran of Israel’s prison system, spoke about Adnan’s 60-day hunger strike and his own reasons for joining it.

“We are on hunger strike to show our sympathy and solidarity with Sheikh Khader Adnan, who is battling to overcome Israel’s system of administrative detention,” he told me in the protest tent outside Gaza’s International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound.

“Khader Adnan is fighting a just battle,” he said. “For that reason, he is continuing his struggle without paying attention to his own suffering. Losing his health, or even his life, doesn’t matter as much as ending injustice. Adnan is a hero. Freedom has a price, and he is paying the price of his freedom.”

Salah, who launched his hunger strike with ten other Gaza Strip residents on February 11, has taken similar actions before. “I hunger struck in prison several times, for 15, 18, and 20 days,” he said. “This is nothing new for me. I assure you that in this battle, we fight with our wills, not our bodies. By our hunger, by our pains, we are achieving our goals.”

“The Israelis humiliate their prisoners,” he told me when I asked about his years in detention. “They prevent us from continuing our education, or meeting out attorneys. Many prisoners are prevented from receiving family visits. Some are even isolated from their fellow prisoners. Prisoners are kept in cells alone for months, or even years, without any contact with the outside world. Sometimes guards entered our rooms in the middle of the night, searching for nothing, only to torment us.”

What did he and his fellow hunger strikers hope to accomplish, I asked him? “People here are showing sympathy and solidarity with Khader and his struggle,” he replied. “But the levels of sympathy and solidarity are not enough. We want more, among our people and outside.”

What kind of sympathy and solidarity? “They can organize sit-ins, maybe something athletic, or artistic, or political,” he said. “We want to see a variety of activities to express the message of Khader and the Palestinian people. The most important thing is for people to adopt his case as their own. The world must take action to stop his shameful treatment.”

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An ongoing hunger strike and encampment outside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza continued to demand that Israel release political prisoner Khader Adnan, now on his 55th day without food and believed to be nearing death.

Take Urgent Action: Day 53 of Khader Adnan’s Hunger Strike
Take Action for Hunger Striking Palestinian Prisoner Khader Adnan!
Palestinian hunger striker’s life at risk: Khader Adnan
Demand the Immediate Release of Khader Adnan
Khader Adnan’s life at risk as He enters day 54 of hunger Strike – since 17 December 2011

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Dozens of Palestinians in Gaza continued a hunger strike in support of political prisoner Khader Adnan as he entered his 54th day of refusing food from his Israeli captors.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
International Committee of the Red Cross
Gaza, Palestine

Take Urgent Action: Day 53 of Khader Adnan’s Hunger Strike
Take Action for Hunger Striking Palestinian Prisoner Khader Adnan!
Palestinian hunger striker’s life at risk: Khader Adnan
Demand the Immediate Release of Khader Adnan
Khader Adnan’s life at risk as He enters day 54 of hunger Strike – since 17 December 2011

Joe Catron  The Electronic Intifada  Gaza City  30 January 2012

Obada Saed Bilal and Nili Zahi Safad (Joe Catron)

“This is the life of Palestinian people,” Obada Saed Bilal said one recent morning. “If I hadn’t been detained, I would have been wounded or martyred. I was in detention for over nine years, but I still resist. My marriage and university studies are my ways to keep fighting now.”

Obada and his wife, Nili Zahi Safad, sat in the lobby of the Commodore Gaza Hotel. The Ministry of Detainees in Gaza has temporarily housed them there, along with a number of other former political prisoners who, like Bilal, were freed in the prisoner exchange on 18 October 2011.

Israel forced Bilal, a native of Nablus in the West Bank, to relocate to Gaza following his release, along with 204 other prisoners expelled from their homes in the West Bank.

Safad moved to Gaza shortly after her husband’s arrival. They had been married for only twenty days when his arrest separated them on 16 April 2002.

“I was brutally beaten for two hours,” Bilal said, recalling the 1am military raid in the West Bank village of Aghwar in which he was detained. “Then I was taken to the Petach Tikva detention center in Tel Aviv. They interrogated me for ninety days. This was my most difficult time as a prisoner. I was kept in isolation, handcuffed and blindfolded, and interrogated for about twelve hours every day.”

After his interrogation, the Israeli authorities sent Bilal to Ashkelon, where a military court sentenced him to 26 years.


Safad, also a former political prisoner, told a similar story.

“I was detained at a checkpoint,” she said of her arrest on 11 November 2009. “I was returning from Hebron to Nablus, when they arrested me and sent me to detention. They kept me in isolation for ninety days before transferring me to the HaSharon prison for women. About 17 women were detained at HaSharon then; now there are only seven.

“While being interrogated, women are treated exactly like the men,” she added. “We were deprived of food, sleep and even access to the toilet. They shouted insults at us. I was kept handcuffed and blindfolded. Once they chained my hands to the ceiling for four days.”

Bilal and Safad told The Electronic Intifada that their conditions barely improved after they were transferred to prisons following their ninety-day interrogation periods.

“Our daily life was harsh and difficult,” Bilal said. “Our basic human and medical needs were routinely denied. The jailers treated us poorly, the food was awful and we were routinely denied any contact with our families. I wasn’t able to see mine for three years. We were kept handcuffed for ten hours a day, and only given one hour for recreation. Sometimes they punished us by denying even this.”

The Israeli authorities seemed determined to prevent contact with family members inside the prison. “Once I met my two brothers in prison. But when the jailers learned that we were brothers, they separated us,” Bilal said. “And when my wife was arrested, I asked to be placed with her, but the prison administration refused.” Their reunion seemed less likely after Safad completed her sentence and was released on 10 July 2011.


The authorities also tried to prevent inmates from forming any bonds with each other. “They transferred us among prisons only to confuse us. As soon as we made new friends, they would transfer us again. This was psychological punishment,” Bilal explained.

He had a problem with his eyesight before his arrest, and it became worse in prison. “But they refused to treat it,” he said. “It deteriorated until I couldn’t see at all.”

The International Middle East Media Center reported in late November that there were at least forty persons living with disabilities, such as Bilal’s blindness, among the prisoner population. Many prisoners have died due to systematic medical negligence and torture (“Forty disabled Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel,” 30 November 2011).

Today, Bilal and Safad’s lives go on in a new city, far from their families and community in Nablus.

Bilal, an An-Najah National University public relations student when arrested, has returned to his studies, this time in politics and religion at the Islamic University of Gaza. He and Safad continue supporting Bilal’s brothers, Moad and Othman, both current political prisoners.

The couple also marked the end of their separation by renewing their marriage vows. “We held another wedding party after I was released and my wife came to Gaza, to celebrate our life and resistance,” Bilal said. “This is our message to the world, that we must celebrate our struggle and keep fighting.”

Joe Catron is an international solidarity activist and boycott, divestment, and sanctions organizer in Gaza. He blogs at and tweets at @jncatron.

The International Committee of the Red Cross introduces a photo essay entitled “Gaza: health care is in danger”:

There are restrictions on importing medical supplies into the Gaza Strip, leading to frequent shortages of essential disposables and drugs. This is having a serious impact on thousands of patients, especially those with kidney failure or cancer. (emphasis added)

“There are,” are there? Well, what can you do? Sometimes, unfortunate things just happen. Hurricanes, earthquakes, sieges …

Concerning the hundreds of Gaza patients whose lives these mysterious restrictions have ended, Philip Weiss offers the ICRC’s apparent explanation: “They up and died!”

The ICRC’s Mission Statement claims that the body “endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.” Keep up the good work, guys.