A couple of years ago, an American friend of mine asked me: “Would you want to live in the U.S. ?” I replied in the negative: “Why would I want to live in country where I’m treated as terrorist until proven otherwise?” She said that my expectations were inaccurate; that I would blend in, and go unnoticed in an international city like New York.
Being the skeptic that I am, I had to see for myself before I could make a final judgment.
I arrived in Boston on June 20th, 2009, knowing that I would have to go through “Secondary Screening” at the airport. The waiting room had a weird mix of people: a Lebanese kid (he looked 16); a Russian young man with missing papers that was trying to weasel his way in; a bunch of disgruntled Spaniards, including a plane crew, that were irked by the fact that they would have to go through the humiliation of secondary screening. My experience was not so bad, I waited for a little over three hours before my turn came up and I was asked a couple of trivial questions about my parents before being allowed out. That was anticlimactic. It was an inconvenience, but it was still easier for a Syrian national to be granted entry to the U.S. than to some Arab countries.
Up until last week, my stay in the U.S. had been one smooth ride. I had been pleasantly surprised to have no incidents, no one with nasty prejudices. I had been treated as any other human being. Then came a trip to Washington D.C. where I opted to take the train because flying for a Syrian in the U.S. does not go without hassle. To my surprise the train had no WiFi so I unfortunately chose to watch an episode of Al Jazeera documentary in Arabic called The Story of a Revolution ( حكاية ثورة Hikayat Thawra) on the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression and occupation, and yes, the oppression of the various Arab regimes that were trying to use Palestinian suffering for domestic political gains.
حكاية ثورة - Copyright Al Jazeera
Halfway through the episode I noticed a hawk-eyed middle aged man ogling my screen with a death stare. I did not pay much attention to him and I went back to my documentary. Minutes later I hear him on the phone talking about me to what I assumed to be 911. He was on a rant about a terrorist watching a video in Arabic, at one point he said something about Jihad as well. He was soon yelling profanity making sure I could hear it though he wasn’t saying it directly to my face, things like: “What the fuck is this shit,” “I’m not putting up with this shit.” He soon proceeded to leave the cart, I assumed he was also going to report me to the train’s staff as well. I took advantage of his absence and called 911 myself and told them that there was a guy acting in a threatening manner because he saw me watching a documentary in Arabic on my laptop. They advised me not to confront him and just move to another cart for my own safety. Read the rest of this entry »
I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the brilliant Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer which was properly named Welcome to Hell. He demonstrated the the situation in Gaza, the Israeli war crimes, and his experience as a journalist working under the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the abuses and assault he was subjected to by Israeli soldiers.
Omer shocked an awed the audience with striking photos and videos almost never seen by a “western citizen” and he recounted tales of horror of families killed; homes demolished over the heads of its residents; children risking their lives to go to a bombed house looking for a bicycle, or to see whether their favorite school bag survived; and elderly women cooking grass to survive. Needless to say that’s all a result of the Israeli siege on Gaza that has been going on for years now while the international community stands silently on the sidelines.
What really amazed me was his talk about the fluffy names of Israeli operations in Gaza: Rainbow; Summer Rain; and, if I remember correctly, Plucking Flowers where Israeli soldiers would walk around randomly shooting civilians (children included) point-blank.
Looking at Omer’s Wikipedia page you’ll find out that “in 2008, Omer was awarded the 2007 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In the award citation, Omer was honored as ‘the voice of the voiceless’ and his reports were described as a ‘humane record of the injustice imposed on a community forgotten by much of the world.’”
On his return to Gaza after winning the award, he was assaulted by Israeli Soldier’s at Allenby Bridge and received severe bodily injuries including broken ribs and spine damage. He is still receiving treatment for these injuries till this day. But that’s not the worst of his problems: in 2003 his 17 year-old brother was killed by sniper bullets as he was going to school. Three years later his mother sustained severe injuries as she jumped out of a house window to escape with her life as an Israeli Army bulldozer was tearing down their 2-story house with no prior warning. Almost all of his younger siblings were injured by the Israeli army at one time or another.
After all he went through, he stood at Harvard advocating a nonviolent approach to end the suffering in Gaza. He asked the people to spread the message and pressure their congressmen to cease blind preferential treatment for Israel. He pointed out a small yet significant progress: The Congress condemned the Goldstone report as biased with a vote of 344 to 36. While the aggression were taking place the Congress overwhelmingly voted against condemning Israeli actions with only 2 in opposition. This counted as a success to a slowly, yet steadily, growing BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israeli occupation.
Mohammed Omer will go on with his tour before going to the Netherlands to resume medical treatment for the aforementioned injuries. His work is available on his website: http://www.rafahtoday.org .