Remembering Ayah: Gaza-Palestinian woman leaves powerful legacy of art, bravery, and joy

by Yousef M. Aljamal*

On July 2, 2019, Gaza artist and community activist Ayah Abdelrahman lost her 10-year-long battle with cancer. Ayah was well known in Gaza (and beyond) for helping cancer patients fight their illness, including by empowering them through the arts.

Ayah is buried in Northern Cyprus , where she died. But she is remembered for her strength, positive energy, arts, and community projects by her many friends and supporters on social media, who recall her role in many projects in Gaza.

Ayah at her TEDx talk

Ayah is well known for the TEDx Talk she gave in November 2015 in which she recounted her struggle with cancer, She was also widely admired for her commitment to using art as a mean to express herself and as a way to help others battling cancer in the Gaza Strip, where patients live exceptionally difficult circumstances.

Ayah gave her TEDx talk at “TEDx Shujaiya”, held in Gaza City which was extremely badly hit during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. It was a remarkable, life-affirming performance. In it, she spoke quite candidly about her own battles with cancer and urged her listeners to remember cancer patients as people and stories rather than numbers and to acknowledge cancer patients as survivors, adding, “We should say today a number of patients have lived rather than have died.”

Interior scene, Palestine, by Ayah Abdelrahman

Like many cancer patients in Gaza, Ayah had difficulty in getting medical coverage, which put her life at an imminent risk. After much delay– which prompted some doctors to warn her family that she might die if the surgery she needed was not performed in a few hours– she was finally lucky enough to obtain the medical care she needed. Ayah had prevailed and came back again to life, embracing it even closer to her.

She was remembered for her positive energy everywhere she went to, stealing people’s hearts with her charming smile, despite her long struggle with cancer.

She worked on several renovation projects while in Gaza, explaining that,“People who do not know their past, will not have a present or a future.” During her work on these projects, she was happy to meet people and talk to a wide range of people, who reminded her of the kindness of Palestinians in Gaza.

Thanks to her paintings on Gaza’s walls, her people have always felt at peace passing by her many works there, which have left a positive impact on everyone in Gaza.

Artist at work!

She had been remembered for taking part in many art exhibitions in Gaza, including her sole-artist show, the Domes of Jerusalem Exhibition.

She was also remembered by the children she used to work with and train, using drama to get them involved, both inspiring them and being inspired by them. “The most beautiful thing is to see people smiling, that’s the golden period in my life,” she would say.

Ayah always thought of others, even when her own life was at risk, trying to bring life to others, even if that meant her own death. she told doctors that she wanted to donate her organs in case her tumor surgery failed. She wanted “the stories of other people to succeed,” even if her own failed.

Woman in Palestine, by Ayah Abdelrahman

She made friends with cancer patients from one to 80 years old. “I used to play and draw with children, our life was chemotherapy and colors. These people are my message,” she said in her TEDx talk. She was always concerned with telling the stories of children with cancer, such as her friend Yara, who battled cancer for four years upon her birth. She was so connected with the reality of the lives of the cancer patients she met that she believed that the art that reflected this could help to battle the cancer.

“The real artist is the one who reflects reality,” she recalled. So did she in her life, drawing the hopes and pains of patients around her.

She never stopped drawing and painting, even on her hospital bed, where she her last drawing featured the nurse who was helping her at her Northern Cyprus hospital.

Even in Northern Cyprus, she had an exhibition of her art. It was attended by Meral Akıncı, the wife of the Turkish President of Northern Cyprus. Ms. Akıncı later attended Ayah’s funeral, along with many people who loved her for her devotion and arts. The people of Gaza watched the funeral from the other side of the Mediterranean, across which the Israeli siege forbids them to sail.

Writeup about Ayah and her work, in “Cyprus Today”.

Ayah was so full of energy that often, people could not believe she had cancer. In cancer wards, people thought she was probably accompanying another cancer patient.

She always wanted to be remembered as a successful artist from Gaza rather than a cancer patient. “Don’t stereotype people!” she urged. She was the one taking initiative always, which pushed one of the journalists at one of her exhibitions to ask her “How is the cancer doing?” Unlike Ayah, cancer was not doing well.

“Everyone has his/her own cancer,” she always said. This includes, she noted, “poverty, money and siege.” These cancers, too, limit our dreams and ambitions.

For her, what mattered the most was the impact and feeling one could leave on people that matters the most. “Just give me a shoulder to stand on,” she asked people, “but let me be myself!” And she was herself– but also the selves of the many others whom she represented and celebrated in her art, whether in Gaza or in Cyprus, where she thought of her loved ones from afar, sending them her paintings and her love.

Ayah’s grave, Cyprus

Gaza today remembers Ayah Abdelrahman, who conveyed the message of cancer patients through her arts, using her painting to communicate her love and support for those who she cared for. They remember her as a strong fighter, and a fearless heroine, an accomplished artist, who left her legacy on the walls of Gaza and in the hearts of its people, so that she will now be remembered forever.

Art was always the language that Ayah communicated through, including people who spoke a different language than hers, for art is the language of everyone that Ayah had truly mastered.

Inspire by joy

Today the people of Gaza don’t say “goodbye” to Ayah, but rather “see you later,” maybe in one of her paintings on the walls of Gaza or through her smile that will forever live in their hearts.

Today, Gaza’s patients spell Ayah’s name: A for ambitious, Y for youthful energy, A for able– and H for happy.

—-

Yousef M. Aljamal is a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He is a PhD candidate at the Middle East Institute at Sakarya University in Turkey.

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Discussing Algeria, on a historic day for the country

Just World Educational is pleased to continue its focus on the remarkable events in Algeria by publishing this very recent exchange of letters between William Quandt, a political scientist who wrote his first book (in 1968) on Algeria’s then-recent liberation struggle against France, and Amin Khan an Algerian intellectual, poet, and former diplomat who is actively involved in today’s popular revolution. They have been friends for more than thirty years.

It is particularly timely to focus attention on Algeria today, since today is the country’s Independence Day… and also a day when millions of Algerians are expected to go into the streets once again demanding change—acting peacefully and with a great sense of unity.

Letter to an Algerian friend

Early July,
2019

Dear Amin,

I have been watching from afar the remarkable developments in Algeria since February of this year. It is really impressive to see Algerians recovering their sense of purpose, their national identity, their self-confidence, and their determination to make for themselves a better future—echoes of November 1954, when the National Liberation Front, FLN, first launched its armed struggle against the French, but now with a much different Algeria, and with a lot of recent history to deal with. So, as a long-time friend of Algeria and observer of its politics, I would love to get your reactions to a couple of my observations and to learn your views on the current situation.

** The
next few weeks strike me as likely to be a crucial turning point for this
extraordinary mass movement in Algeria. Next Friday (July 5) will be the
twentieth week of nation-wide protests—and celebrations—all conducted with a
sense of purpose, peacefulness, and surprising good humor. Even the
increasingly harsh measures taken by the police have not provoked a violent
reaction, and that speaks to the political sophistication and self-discipline
of the movement. Also noteworthy: July 5 will be the fifty-seventh anniversary
of Algeria’s hard-won independence. I was there when the fifth anniversary was
celebrated, and so much has happened since! For the first time in a long time,
I think many Algerians must be feeling hopeful about their future.

Presumably
the interim President will give one of his few, and probably last, speeches on
Friday, but it is hard to believe that he will say anything that will change
the movement’s firm call for him and the prime minister to leave. Perhaps we
will also hear another wooden speech from the head of the armed forces, Gaid
Salah, who seems remarkably tone-deaf, especially after all the early emphasis
from the protesters that they want the people’s army to side with the people. Gaid
Salah seems very inflexible, but I also don’t see any way of avoiding trying to
deal with him and his colleagues. They, after all, do hold the keys to power,
as they have been demonstrating all along.

Meanwhile,
it seems that several strands are beginning to converge among the democratic
opposition to the current power holders. 
Drawing on the strong desire for change, one current which seems to have
strong support among intellectuals and the younger generation, is sketching out
a road map for real change: a transitional authority to manage the day-to-day
affairs of the country; a constituent assembly to draft a new, democratic,
rights-respecting constitution; new electoral laws; and then elections within a
year or so. This sounds a bit like Tunisia’s ongoing process of transition, and
it has turned out relatively well there, so that is one plausible option. 

Another
tendency, embraced by some former political figures, seems to be worried about
a long transition, and shares the view of the military that early presidential
elections should be the focus of attention. Can these two tendencies come
together? The statement
issued July 4
by seven leading personalities offers some indication that
they might (English translation here.) But
I guess we will know more before too long.

There also
seems to be some difference of opinion over the preconditions for engaging in a
dialogue with the current power holders. Should there first be a release of
political prisoners, an easing of pressure on the media, and a reduction of
police harassment during the weekly marches? And should the criminalization of
carrying the Amazigh banner be immediately ended?  Or should talks start soon, with these items
clearly at the top of the agenda?

If this
window of opportunity over the next several weeks closes, what comes next?  Can the revolution remain peaceful
indefinitely? 

** A second set of reflections that I would like your views on have to do with the re-engagement with history. I have been fascinated to see the current young generation finally rediscovering inspiration in the early days of the Algerian revolution. I imagine that a version of this history has been taught in the schools for decades but now it seems as if the youth want to embrace the early “Novembrists”, and to emulate their patriotism, their egalitarian ethos, their consultative style, their preference for the political over the military—in short, they rediscovered the early ideals that motivated those who gave everything for the freedom of their country. And with that comes a preference for democracy, pluralism and secularism. Islam is of course a part of the national identity, but it is not a dominant current with its own demands in competition with nationalism, as it had seemed to be during the terrible civil war of the 1990s. Historic freedom fighters like Larbi Ben M’Hidi and Muhammad Boudiaf and Abane Ramdane would be thrilled to see their values being embraced by the younger generation.

I also
sense that, like the early revolutionaries, today’s youth are suspicious of
anyone who wants to wield power. Hence the reluctance to pick leaders to
represent the movement or to try to institutionalize the movement in some form.
And while this is understandable given the abuses of those who have held power
in the past, successful political movements do need to develop institutions and
leaders. The very horizontal nature of power in the current movement will have
to give way at some point to some kind of more vertical structure. That will
not be an easy transition, and especially in an Algeria that has always been
fiercely egalitarian. 

** Finally,
I have a number of questions which may or may not be answerable.

1.
Most commentators seems to assume that a strong presidency is the model that
will work best for Algeria. But past history has shown its shortcomings, and it
might make sense to pay more attention to the advantages of a stronger
parliament, as the Tunisians seem to have concluded. Is that now part of the
current thinking, or is it still the case that most people think that a freely
elected president with extensive powers will be able to push through the needed
reforms more easily than a possibly fractious parliament?

2.  Politics is understandably now at the forefront of discussions, but the economy also needs careful attention. Is there serious planning being done for moving toward a less oil/gas-dependent economy? Rentier economies in the Middle East have led to vast corruption and inefficiencies. How can Algeria escape the oil curse? There are also a huge number of social issues that will need to be addressed. This is vital for the long-term success of the revolution, but is less exciting, and less susceptible to immediate change than the rules of the political game. Is there a model that is gaining attention?

3.  After this period of impressive mass mobilization passes, and the country returns to a more normal rhythm of life, how can you hope to keep the enthusiasm of the youth, in particular, as the challenges that confront them are the more mundane ones of finding a decent job, participating in the slow and frustrating challenges of overhauling a very bureaucratic system, of trying to make the new democratic institutions work reasonably well?  I’m sure there are good answers to this question, but the experiences elsewhere of the “Arab spring” uprisings are not very encouraging, with the partial exception of Tunisia.  As at the time of independence in 1962, popular expectations of rapid change will be very high and the potential for disappointment is correspondingly great.

I look
forward to hearing your thoughts.

Bill

*******************

Letter to an
American friend

July 4, 2019

Dear Bill,

Happy 4th of
July!

I thank you very
much for your letter. A letter that testifies to your constant interest for my
country, and, also, to your fine knowledge of its history. What is happening in
Algeria is indeed quite extraordinary. Here is a people that, as a whole and in
a sense of profound union, finds again the meaning of what it is, of what it
wants to be and of what it can be. I do not think there is a historical
equivalent to these popular demonstrations which, every Friday since February
22, 2019, mobilize the majority of the 43 million Algerians, the equivalent of
almost the entire electorate, across all regions, towns and villages of the
country, men and women of all generations, of all social groups and of all
ideological and political tendencies. For more than four months now, it has
been the overwhelming majority of the Algerian people who want and demand the
departure of the regime.

The people refuse
to continue to put up with an illegitimate, authoritarian, inefficient and
corrupt regime. In 1962, this regime usurped the popular sovereignty at the
moment when the Algerians finally obtained their national independence.
Tomorrow, July 5, we will celebrate the 57th anniversary of our independence.
This celebration will be exceptional, because for the first time since 1962, it
will be a popular celebration, massive, peaceful and joyful. In addition,
Algerians will celebrate the victory of the Algerian revolution against
colonialism while they are in the midst of a second revolution: a peaceful
democratic popular revolution for the sovereignty of the people, for dignity,
justice and freedom.

This beautiful
revolution is an unmistakable demonstration that people can take their destiny
into their own hands when they have the will, when they are ready to fight for
their ideas, for their rights, for their freedom; and this, whatever the
difficulties, the obstacles, and the strength of the opponents may be. The
current revolution is facing great difficulties today, but nothing compared to
the difficulties faced by our predecessors who, for decades, resisted and
fought French colonial rule in Algeria, which lasted 132 years, and almost
erased the historical identity of the Algerian people. It is the will, the
determination, the courage, and the sacrifice of millions of Algerians that has
allowed Algeria to live.

Today, 57 years after a hard-won independence and the founding of the modern Algerian state, the Algerian people are returning to the course of their history, renewing their raison d’être, and rising to abide by their most important values. Today we are fighting for the rule of law, a democratic regime, a lasting Constitution and legitimate institutions. It is for this purpose that the Algerian people are mobilized and are determined to fight until the departure of the current regime and the establishment of a regime of popular sovereignty.

Nevertheless,
obstacles on the way are numerous and important. The people are facing a regime
that is in complete moral, political and intellectual failure, but which,
nevertheless, continues to have armed force, a repressive legal arsenal, and
clienteles created by the system of corruption rooted throughout the
territories, as well as foreign support, including that of some Arab countries
terrorized by the idea that there can emerge in our region a country of soon 50
million inhabitants, endowed with great natural and human resources, a young population,
energetic, backed by a historical heritage of immense value, that of having
liberated itself by itself from colonialism. The emergence of a modern,
democratic, developing, free and sovereign Algeria is intolerable for
potentates, submissive, vile and corrupt, who live in constant fear of the
uprising of peoples they have oppressed for decades in the most abject ways.

For the moment
the regime continues to cling to the fictitious solution of a presidential
election “as soon as possible”, as the acting Head of State repeated
again yesterday (July 3) in a pathetic speech, immediately rejected by the
Algerian people who know that “elections” under this regime are only
intended to perpetuate it. This “proposal” from the regime goes
against the popular will, and only expresses its contempt for the people, the
country and its history.

The army, which
holds the keys, if not the solution, at least to the timing and the complexity
of the solution, is still in an ambiguous position. It says it is on the side
of the people, but at the same time opposes the implementation of the solution
that the people want: a democratic transition and in particular, that the
current government resigns and that it be replaced, for a fixed term, by a
government composed of people of integrity and competence, accepted by the
popular movement, that such a government, in close consultation with all the
political and social forces, creates the most favorable conditions for the
elaboration, discussion and the adoption of the new Constitution, that the
Government prepare the legal, political and administrative conditions for the
holding of presidential, legislative or local democratic elections, including
the establishment of an independent body responsible for the preparation and
maintenance of elections.

Moreover, while today, at the time when it advocates “dialogue”—a strange dialogue from which it excludes the State and the army—the regime seems to be embarking on the path of repression. It should understand that no serious and responsible dialogue can take place without the release of all political prisoners and that repression against citizens and political activists must cease.

There would still
be many things to say but this letter is already too long. I am stopping here
for today.

Warm regards,

Amin

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U.S.antiwar activists launch Vietnamese-language version of memoir… in Hanoi!

Editors and contributors of The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement will formally launch the Vietnamese edition of their book in Hanoi this month.  The Gioi Publishing has recently translated and published the book in Viet Nam. 

Co-editors Karin Aguilar San-Juan and Frank Joyce,  along with authors Judy Gumbo Albert and Alex Hing are participating in the delegation.  They will spend the week of July 5-12 meeting with students,  teachers and media to promote the book and catch up on current developments in U.S-Vietnamese relations. 

The trip is being hosted by the Vietnam-USA Society/Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations. A lunch honoring the publication of the book will be co-hosted by The Gioi Publishers.

The delegation will meet also with Madame Nguyễn Thị Bình, the former Vice-President of Vietnam and former President of the Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation (VPDF), and with other dignitaries and government officials. 

The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement features stories and analysis from antiwar activists who were among those who traveled to North Viet Nam during the war. It is published in the United States by Just World Books. The authors had returned to Vietnam in 2013 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords which formally ended US involvement in the war. 

Doug Hostetter with the Vietnamese edition

Other authors included in the book are Rennie Davis, Nancy Kurshan,  Myra McPherson,  Jay Craven,  Becca Wilson,  Doug Hostetter, and John McAuliff. 

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Algeria: Popular movement reaching turning point?

For 19 weeks now, every Friday has seen massive demonstrations filling the streets of cities across the large North African country of Algeria. These protests have been overwhelmingly nonviolent, with participants abiding by the “18 commandments” for good behavior promulgated very early on. Their main goal has been to achieve serious institutional reform of the country’s long-sclerotic, authoritarian system.

At the beginning, back in late February, the first goal was to prevent the country’s somewhat symbolic, four-term President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, from standing for a fifth five-year term. That goal was achieved fairly speedily. A follow-up goal was to prevent the ruling security clique that is the real power running the country, from organizing insubstantial, “window-dressing” elections on July 4. That goal, too, has been achieved. But in the absence of elections on July 4, the powerful chief of staff, Gen. Gaid Salah, has warned that Algeria will soon run into a constitutional crisis.

For their part, many of the leading figures of the multivalent protest/political movement that has engulfed the whole country have announced that they will participate in a big national conference being convened on July 6 by the respected national figure Abdelaziz Rahabi. This conference will provide an opportunity for these individuals, parties, and civil-society bodies to brainstorm political strategies for realizing their goal of building a much more accountable and inclusive political order.

June 28 saw the 19th of the weekly Friday marches– nationwide. And it saw some developments that may signal that Gen. Gaid Salah is preparing for an intervention that is more heavy-handed than anything seen thus far this year.

In the capital, Algiers, black-garbed security officials acted quickly to take down a number of the multicolored “Amazigh” flags that were hoisted (see photo above.) One week earlier, numerous participants in demonstrations in Algiers and other cities had proudly hoisted both the Amazigh flag and the national flag– making a point of inclusivity and multiculturalism regarding the country’s substantial Amazigh minority, as well as acting to defy an order Gaid Salah had issued earlier that the green-white-red Algerian national flag should be the only one displayed.

June 28 also saw some dozens of arrests of demonstrators, many apparently connected to their carrying the Amazigh flag.

Meantime, in a situation in which Algerians still enjoy wide freedom of expression, numerous Algerian political and intellectual figures have been openly brainstorming and discussing their ideas for how to build a juster, more responsive political order. I have done a quick translation on two accounts of recent such discussions in Algeria’s robust French-language press:

  • The poet/philosopher Amin Khan and the human rights leader Moumene Khelil were last Monday (June 24) the guests of a weekly open debate held on the steps of the Algerian National Theater. This is how it was reported.
Zoubida Assoul
  • The magistrate and party leader Zoubida Assoul (shown at right) gave this interview to El Watan, on June 28.

And here’s a final note, to help those of us English speakers not super-familiar with the “darija” dialect that is widespread across Algeria and Morocco. Three great scholars at Jadaliyya recently produced this helpful resource: A Hirak Glossary: Terms from Algeria and Morocco. Hats off to you, Muriam Haleh Davis, Hiyem Cheurfa, and Thomas Serres!

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Palestinian rights activist Yousef Aljamal touring US in October

Yousef Aljamal speaking at Al-Aqsa School in Chicago, April 2014

Just World Educational is delighted to announce that for the last two weeks of October 2019 we will be hosting Palestinian rights activist Yousef Aljamal on a speaking tour of the “Lower 48” states of the USA. This is Yousef’s second time touring the United States. In 2014, he was part of a team that toured the country under the auspices of Just World Books and the American Friends Service Committee. They were launching the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, to which Yousef contributed a very moving story.

More recently, Yousef was featured in the “Facebook Live” event that JWE ran in January, to wrap up our commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” assault on Gaza. (See screengrab above.) He has also recently contributed several great pieces of writing to our blog, that explore various aspects of Palestinian life. (1, 2, 3.)

The cover of “Dreaming of Freedom” (in an earlier print version)

Yousef’s October 2019 tour will be very timely, because he has a wealth of information about the situation of Palestinian children incarcerated, sometimes for several years, by the military “justice” system that Israel has run in the occupied West Bank since 1967. He translated into English the recent book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak (which is currently available as a Kindle e-book.)

Our board member Richard Falk contributed a Foreword to the book. He wrote, “I commend a close reading of Dreaming of Freedom… With such knowledge, solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity becomes… an even more urgent moral imperative of our world”

Earlier this year, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced into the House of Representatives a path-breaking bill, H.R. 24017, the “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”, that seeks to hold Israel accountable for that portion of the military aid the U.S. government provides to it which is used to maintain the brutal military courts and incarceration systems that are used to violate the rights of Palestinian minors.

One page from “Dreaming of Freedom”

The campaign to win support for H.R. 2407 will continue until early Fall 2020. (You can learn more about it, here.) So we’re delighted that Yousef Aljamal’s speaking tour can help to inform broad sections of the U.S. public about this crucial issue.

If you would like to invite Yousef to come and speak to your community group, classroom, or congregation, please let us know about your interest as soon as possible!

We will be asking organizations that host a Yousef Aljamal speaking event to commit to providing the following:

  • Good-quality hosting services from the time you pick him up at the airport or rail station to the time you deliver him back there for the next leg of his trip.
  • All the arrangements for one or more excellent public events in the time he is with you, along with such other meetings with media or others as you may choose. We can help with publicity.
  • An honorarium for his speaking services that you consider fair (or even generous!) Organizations that find it complex to make a payment to a foreign national can process the payment through JWE, which will deliver the full agreed sum to Yousef.
  • A contribution of $300 to our central tour-organizing expenses, which will cover all the necessary inter-city transport, our publicity efforts, our tour-coordinating, etc.
Yousef with his friend Ahmed Al-Haaj, in Gaza.

Yousef’s family was ethnically cleansed in 1948 from Aqer, in the area that became Israel that year. He grew up in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in southern Gaza, attending schools run by UNRWA. His won his B.A. from the Islamic University of Gaza and his M.A. from a university in Malaysia. For several years he ran the Hashim Yeop Sani Library in Gaza’s Center for Political and Development Studies. He is currently working on a Ph.D. in International Relations at Sekarya University in Turkey.

Here are some resources you can use to learn more about Yousef:

Contact us soon if you want to be part of Yousef’s super-timely tour!

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Algerian popular movement stays strong, united!

This past Friday (June 21) saw the 18th week of massive, peaceful protests filling the streets of cities all across Algeria.

Midweek, the country’s much-criticized strongman Gen. Gaid Salah, had issued an order decreeing that only the green-white-red national Algerian flag should be displayed in public. The June 21 demonstrators had a strong response to that: many carried both the national flag and the yellow-green-blue-red flag of the country’s robust Berber (Amazigh) minority.

See the sea of flags in one part of the capital, Algiers, above. Also, this woman had a distinct way of displaying both flags!

These images are from this page on the website “Algerie 360”, which has numerous other lively and informative photos of yesterday’s demonstrations.

One of the themes of the June 21 demonstrations was “A la une”– a strong assertion of support for the country’s national unity, and rejection of what many Algerians saw as Gaid Salah’s attempts to divide them along ethnic lines.

There were reports that some other demonstrators were defying the general’s orders by hoisting the Palestinian flag alongside the Algerian flag. Algerian sociologist Lahouari Addi was quoted as saying, “We fly it not because the Palestinians are Arab but because their cause is just.”

Berber demonstrator in Kabyle dress

Indeed, many participants in the popular movement that has swept Algeria since late February have expressed great wariness about the role that some Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have played in helping to crush the parallel popular movement in Sudan in the past three weeks.

Many also remember the considerable support Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries gave to the extreme-radical Islamists who kept Algeria locked in a vicious civil war from most of the 1990s.

Algeria’s 42 million people are luckier than the 40 million people of Sudan, since Algeria has enough natural resources (hydrocarbons) that it is not dependent on financial backing from the oil-rich states of the Gulf.

Over the 18 weeks they have been demonstrating, they have maintained strong support for the “18 commandments of the pacifist and civilized demonstrator” published in early March.

Demonstrator on June 21 pledges support for nonviolence

They have made slow but steady political gains, starting with forcing/shaming their incapacitated longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to abandon a plan to run for a fifth 5-year term in office. They also persuaded Gen. Gaid Salah not to proceed with a very hollow-looking presidential election he had earlier planned for July 4.

The country is in now in a deep political limbo. The very good news is that the military has done almost nothing to crack down on or suppress the demonstrations, though on Friday they did arrest eight people in the capital, for flying the Berber flag. In general, though, during the weekly Friday demonstrations the security forces content themselves with guarding the perimeters of certain centers of national power like the Presidential Palace.

Meantime, behind the scenes, there are reportedly a number of different projects underway to channel the huge popular power and hunger for reform that the demonstrations have revealed.

Kabyle woman demonstrating, with both flags visible.

We have published a number of great background resources on this inspiring popular movement in Algeria. You can access them here. And if you want to learn more about the history of the iconic (and hard-fought) independence struggle that Algeria’s people waged against French colonialism, then this memoir, Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter is an amazing resource.

We are now happy to present a few more photos from Algerie 360 (this page and this page.)

Banner in the June 21 demonstration mourning the death of former Egyptian Pres. Morsi (on right) and decrying the policies of the leaders shown on the left.
Placards stressing Arab-Berber unity in Algeria
Banner celebrating historic freedom fighter Djamila Bouhired, who has participated some of this year’s demonstrations.

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What does it mean to grow up as a Palestinian refugee in Gaza?

by Yousef M. Aljamal

(This was written to mark World Refugee Day, observed June 20.)

The year 1948 saw the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their towns and villages at the hands of Zionist militias, as these militias destroyed some 532 Palestinian villages. That critical event in Palestinian history, known as the Nakba (“Catastrophe”), continues to haunt Palestinians who ended up as refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt as well as in Europe and the Americas.

But what does it mean to be a refugee? One can claim that being a refugee is like inheritance, where Palestinians transfer this status of statelessness to their children, generation after another.

Growing up in a refugee camp means that the very minute detail of your life serves as a reminder of being stateless, living as a refugee at the mercy of time and other people’s (frequently hostile) governments. The number 1948 itself causes memories of horror for Palestinian refugees. My friend Ibrahim, who now teaches English to refugees in an UNRWA school in Gaza, got the number “1948” as his ID number at university and felt he was totally jinxed by it. He said it reminded him every day of the events of 1948.

Being a refugee meant that I attended those UNRWA-run schools in Gaza. The teacher would ask us at the beginning of the year about the village we originally came from. “Aqer,” I would declare at the beginning of the year. I would then team up with students who came from the same village in the class such as Hassan Al-Najjar, Sa’ed Al-Balbi, and others, all coming from Aqer.

Being a refugee meant we had to walk nearly two kilometers to get to our school, during cold winters and hot summers. I remember shivering with cold at school as it had no heating system. Rain water would drip from the ceiling, and we had to move the desks around to avoid getting wet or getting sick.

Our classrooms were crammed with students: 45-52 students in each class. As the decades passed, the number of refugees (and of students) would double and a school would have two shifts. We hated the afternoon shift as it would ruin our day, despite the joy of waking up late. Donor countries such as Japan would send refugee students stationery and some small gifts, but students were anyway highly motivated to continue studying.

But conditions have always been very tough at UNRWA schools. I remember my brother Omar would sometimes toss away the few coins we had as pocket money, in rage and frustration at how we had to live. (Though these were small coins, of course in our circumstances we considered them very valuable.)

Omar was killed by Israel in 2004.

After school, we would walk back to the refugee camp. I would do homework even before I took off my school clothes, and before I had any food. The games we would play in the dusty, sandy streets and alleys of the refugee camp were very much influenced by our surroundings and reality. We would divide ourselves into two groups, one is the Palestinian group and the second is the Israeli soldiers’ group, where the Palestinian group would get beaten by the soldiers’ group and the soldiers’ group would have stones thrown at them, if caught.

We would also play football. Sometimes one of the neighbors, angered by our noise and our stolen joy, would come out screaming at us. Sometimes he would take our football away; other times, he would puncture it so we could not play any more. But we would find a way to carry on playing, anyway.

The goalkeeper of our neighborhood– and of our whole UNRWA school– was my friend Ayman Shokor. (He was killed by an Israeli shelling in 2014 at the age of 25.) God knows how many times I and my friends in the refugee camp got injuries because we played barefoot. One time my friend Salah Al-Salhi got a face injury to which he screamed, “My mother, the neighborhood!”

Our families could not afford to buy us trainers, let alone shoes with cleats. But we played anyway. Many times, as we played, someone would run onto a rusty screw that would pierce deep into his foot. We would simply pull it out and use a cigarette butt to cauterize the wound. We basically learnt survival there.

As we grew up, our refugee camp became ever more crowded. The sandy streets got paved and more children could be seen playing on the streets, even when Israel would be bombing Gaza. When I got older, I grew impatient of the younger children playing on the street as they made so much noise! But I realized that these children, just like my generation, had no playgrounds to play. So, they just played on the streets of Gaza. As I watched many of them being killed by Israel, such as the Four Baker Boys, killed by Israel while playing football on the Gaza beach in 2014, I wished if they could come back, and play again. I missed their noise.

As Palestinian poet Khaled Juma said in one of his poems:

O Rascal Children of Gaza
You who constantly disturbed me with your screams
under my window,
You who filled every morning with rush and chaos,
You who broke my vase and stole the lonely flower
on my balcony,
– Come back
And scream as you want,
And break all the vases,
Steal all the flowers,
Come back,
Just come back…

Yousef M. Aljamal is a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He is a PhD candidate at the Middle East Institute at Sakarya University in Turkey.

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The Right to Education: Gaza Students Denied Permit to Attend EU-sponsored Summer School in France

by Yousef Aljamal

A couple of months ago two Gaza students, Mustapha Al-Buhaisi and Mustapha Aljamal– who happens to be my brother—both of whom are studying French and English (language and literature) at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, won a scholarship to attend a summer school in France. This scholarship is part of the Erasmus Exchange Program of the European Union. Yet, the Israeli authorities have until now denied them the permit that they need in order to leave Gaza, cross to the West Bank and then to Jordan, en route to France.

Their dream of traveling out of Gaza for the first time in their life now seems to be fading.

In a letter they sent to Gisha, an Israeli human
rights organization which facilitates the movement of Palestinians in and out
of the Palestinian Territories, Aljamal and Al-Buhaisi noted,

We…are
writing to you, with a heavy heart, regarding not granting us a permit by the
Israeli authorities to cross to the West Bank and Jordan to join
our Erasmus summer school in Paris on June 24, 2019.

Both of us, after months of hard work and preparation, have won scholarships to attend a summer school as part of the Erasmus exchange program… the Israeli authorities didn’t approve our requests to leave the Gaza Strip. For logistic reasons, the Erasmus scholarship is willing to help us get out of the Gaza Strip through Israel then Jordan. The Rafah crossing {via Egypt} is not an option.

Time is now running out for the two young men to exit
Gaza, since that requires an Israeli permit and a lengthy process. Their hope
is fading away every day.

The story of the two Mustaphas is yet another
example of how Palestinians students in the Gaza Strip are collectively
punished merely for being residents of the coastal enclave. It is the
story of thousands of Palestinians who have lost opportunities and scholarships
throughout the years of Israel’s occupation and siege of the Strip, preventing
them from leaving Gaza to seek academic growth and mix with people from other
cultures.

Learning languages is challenging in Gaza. Students
don’t have enough access to academic resources, native speakers, or the modern
means used to learn languages everywhere else around the world. Yet, the people
of Gaza always thrive. For example, there are thousands of people in the Gaza
Strip who can speak English fluently. They use the language as a way to connect
with a world that left them in limbo under the 13 years of the suffocating
siege. They use language to express themselves in different ways, including
arts and graffiti– as my brother Mustapha has been doing on the walls of
our Gaza refugee camp. (In addition to English and French, he
has been teaching himself Turkish!)

It
seems that the world has forgotten Gaza and its two million population. The sky
and the earth themselves seem to be squeezing Gaza these days, not allowing it
to breathe, not allowing it to speak. Yet, despite this grim reality of life– which
is a metaphor for death in Gaza these days– Palestinians always manage to
survive, and life goes on. 

But why do Palestinians have to go through this in the first place? I went through this too in 2013, when I was denied an Israeli permit to attend a translation conference in Jordan. I almost lost a research grant in 2013 after making four failed attempts to cross the Rafah Crossing into Egypt. I was lucky enough to finally leave the Gaza Strip—but I had to change my tickets five times! I have to confess though that I was pretty naïve to have bought my tickets in advance.

What the two Mustaphas are going through today is part of a larger campaign to silence Palestinians and keep us isolated from the rest of the world. Palestinians have to be kept behind the walls so that when they scream or even die, no one hears of them. Palestinian students have to wait at checkpoints and their schools have to be bombed and their classmates have to be killed, because an Israeli sniper or a 19-year-old-soldier, who feels bored of doing his job, decides so. “Everyone has the right to education,” notes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, this does not seem to include Palestinians, who have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, despite all these restrictions.

So what do Palestinians do? They cling to hope, our eternal disease! The hope that “things will get better,” the hope that tomorrow is going to be better than today, the hope that students will be allowed to get in and out of Palestine without restrictions and the hope that the two Mustaphas– and all the young people in Gaza who wish to do so– will be allowed to leave and return as they wish, without having to worry about permits and visas, for “all people are equal”… at least theoretically.

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Algeria: Some early thinking about a possible political solution

We are very happy to publish this paper, which was produced May 5 by a group of 15 professors at the Faculty of Political Science and International Relations, University of Algiers 3. (This paper was sent to us in English, which we have very lightly edited. ~JWE)

Preamble

The current crisis results from the lack of a strategic vision for the future of our national state. Hence, a group of professors present these initial elements of thinking about possible solutions, based on a number of key controlling principles and the need to distinguish between the immediate and the long term.

The controlling principles

First: National unity of people and territory.
Second: The engagement of political will.
Third: Preservation of state institutions.
Fourth: Preservation of confidence among the parties to the solution.
Fifth: Adopting the mechanism of dialogue without exclusion or marginalization.
Sixth: To avoid getting trapped in transitional stages.
Seventh: Working within the horizon of a strategic vision.
Eighth: Taking the geo-strategic and international dimension into consideration.
Ninth: The military support.

Operational mechanisms for a solution

We need to distinguish between the mechanisms of the current government under the pressure of the current crisis and the mechanisms of long-term governance needed to establish the new Algerian regime.

Immediate mechanisms

In accordance with Articles 07, 08, 11 and 12 of the Constitution, we propose the following:

  • Initiate an immediate dialogue among all parties, in all sectors and at all levels, for a period of not more than one month on the formation of an independent sovereign national authority with the task of organizing presidential elections.
  • Media and social media are heavily involved in this dialogue.
  • This dialogue will lead to the formation of a leadership for this body. This body enables all material and organizational means to perform its tasks in organizing and supervising the elections from its inception until the announcement of the final results.
  • Adopting the method of electronic elections as a mechanism of prevention of forgery.
  • The functions of this body shall not interfere with anybody, authority or personality that is rejected by the public.

Long-term mechanisms

  • The beginning of the crystallization of a vision for the future of Algeria within the horizons of 2054 be in the level of aspirations expressed in the popular movement.
  • This vision results from strategic plans in the field of building a modern state based on valuing investment in the human resource and moving away from solutions related to any personality.
  • Workshops are opened within the framework of this vision in all areas, especially the primary ones, without prejudice to the general principles of the constitution, as well as to the various strategic options.
  • To assign this task to the national competencies and youth energies in order to respond to popular aspirations.

Signed on behalf of fifteen Professors by:

  • Professor Mohamed Salim KOLALA
  • Professor Abdelhafid DIB

May 5th, 2019

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Eid in Gaza: Fading happiness over the years

by Yousef Aljamal

Every year, Muslims around the world and Palestinians under occupation and siege in Gaza (as elsewhere) celebrate Eid, the Muslim festival that comes soon after the end of the month-long Ramadan fast.

My memories of Eid in Gaza have always been of us children getting our “Eidiyya” gift-money from the elders of the family and buying toys, often gun-toys; of going out to eat at a restaurant and taking a photo together; of then squeezing all of us into my uncles’ two cars to go visit our extended family. For us, Eid meant eating big amounts of nuts and desserts as numerous mosque loudspeakers would announce the arrival of Eid, with worshipers echoing their calls in chorus as children fought to get closer to the microphones of mosques so their voices could be heard.

My Aunt Ghalia, an UNRWA teacher for 40 years, would ask boys and girls in our area to help her clean the main alleys in the neighborhood of our Gaza refugee camp to get ready for Eid, sometimes decorating the alleys with colorful items and balloons in celebration, and adding her own touch to the neighborhood. She would clean the dust and spill some water on the ground. This meant a lot to us as children and we waited impatiently every year for Eid to come to do this again and again over the years.

Eid in Gaza in happier days

I remember that one Eid, my grandmother passed away on
the first day. My eldest uncle asked us to keep our brand-new Eid clothes and
he gave us money to buy things we liked. Eid was always a sacred thing to
celebrate with family in a place like Gaza, even during Gaza’s many difficult
times. It was so visible! Whenever we left the house, we could see children
everywhere running in happiness while wearing their special Eid clothes, as
toys decorated the fronts of all the shops.

But as Gaza’s suffocation continued, and the different offensives on the coastal enclave intensified and thousands of Palestinians were killed, Eid became an occasion to touch the old wounds of Palestinians. Soon after the Eid prayer, hundreds of Palestinians would flock to the Central Martyrs’ Graveyard in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the Central Gaza Strip, paying tribute to their loved ones and praying at their graves. A famous saying in Gaza went like this: Al-Eid Liman Mata Shaheed: “Eid is for those who were killed as martyrs.”

So I would read a prayer at the grave of my brother who
was killed by Israel in 2004… at the grave of my sister who passed away in 2007
after the Israelis denied her a permit to have essential surgery in Jerusalem…
at the grave of my aunt, who did everything she could to make us happy during
Eid but who passed away just days after the end of Israel’s 51-day-long assault
on Gaza in 2014… and finally, at that of my childhood friend Ayman Shokor, who
was killed by an Israeli shell during that same, lengthy assault.

Ayman was on the roof of his family’s house. It was the
first day of Eid.

As we celebrated the first Eid without Ayman, I wrote:

This is the first Eid without Ayman Shokor. This Eid, I will not pay Ayman a visit, nor will he brag about his mother’s cookies. This Eid, Ayman’s mum is in black, still in black. No more cheering, no more ‘good old days’, no more special childhood memories. This Eid isn’t like any other Eid. Since he has left us, since he has declared a final departure, the world doesn’t look the same, nor do we. These dark brown grains of sand covering his face and hiding his smile are doing no good. As people are busy distributing candies, I will spare time to hold tight to what is left of our shared memories, so that he is not just a face on a poster stuck on the walls of the refugee camp… so that he continues to be Ayman.

Today, as the suffocation of Gaza continues unchallenged,
Eid becomes a stark reminder of economic hardships Palestinian go through. Many
parents– it would be more accurate to say most of them– are no longer able to
give their children Eid candies, buy them Eid clothes, or give them money to
buy what they like. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty
line and Eid seems to a far-away wish for many.

This year, hundreds more bereaved families of
Palestinians killed during the Great March of Return will remember their loved
ones with sorrow. Eid will be another tragic day for Palestinians in Gaza and kids
will not be seen running in the streets full of joy, holding their candies and
toys, nor will they wear Eid clothes. This year, the happiness of children, who
have no responsibility for any of this, will be missing. Gaza will observe a
sad Eid. Palestinians will ‘do their best’ to be happy, though their happiness has
always been incomplete. Gaza’s loved ones, buried under its soil, will solemnly
remind Palestinians that they need to hope that their next Eid will be better
than this one. They want them to remain beautiful and happy as they have always
been. Despite the occupation, despite the siege, despite the bullets and bombs that
are thrown at them every time they try to rise.

They will remain beautiful and resilient as Palestinian novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah spoke of Palestinians: Despite all these years under occupation, we are still beautiful, as if we live above the occupation, and not under it.

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