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Ceding the Palestinian narrative to ... Palestinians

Marcello Di Cintio’s book, ‘Pay No Heed to the Rockets,’ ends up revealing something discomforting about us: our notions of Palestinian life may have little to do with how Palestinians experience themselves.

Pay No Heed to the Rockets,” Marcello Di Cintio, Counterpoint, 2018.

Marcello Di Cintio’s Pay No Heed to the Rockets borrows its title from Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s most widely translated poet, who, amid the sounds of destruction accompanying Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, marks one night under siege with a how-to on coffee brewing. The passage, even in translation, brilliantly evokes the banal, methodical persistence of the civilian in wartime:

This idea, that the daily horrors of life under siege could be little more than an afterthought, especially to those who experience them most intimately, should be the least surprising takeaway of Di Cintio’s meandering, yet deeply satisfying survey of the Palestinian literary scene. But by ceding so much of the narrative to the authors he meets, he ends up revealing something discomforting about us, their English-speaking audience: our notions of life in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel may have little to do with how Palestinians experience themselves.

This insight is not new, of course. In his 2012 memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, Ramallah-based author Raja Shehadeh recalls an episode in which he was asked to recount his experiences before a roomful of Palestinian Americans. Di Cintio, who refers to all of his interview subjects by their first names, retells the scene: “Raja knew what they wanted to hear: ‘an inflamed passionate denunciation of the Zionist enemy as the source of all our troubles.’ Raja, though, could not oblige.”

“Only later did I realize that to do so would have been a betrayal of my own existence,” the Palestinian author wrote in Strangers. “To simplify my life and paint it in black-and-white terms was to deny my own reality, which I mainly experienced in tones of gray.” While noting Raja’s impressive accomplishments as a lawyer and founder of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Di Cintio heralds the author’s ability to express such nuance, even when the issues at stake can seem zero-sum (see, for example, Shehadeh’s recent measured response to Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor).

Over and over, Di Cintio’s subjects, most of them younger and lesser known than Shehadeh,...

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Fortress Israel and the quiet dignity of Palestinian resistance

Peter Beinart’s interrogation at Ben Gurion Airport made headlines not because of his clout as a public intellectual, but thanks to the quiet dignity of Palestinian children, women and men who have endured Fortress Israel for years.

I first lost my father in the heat of a Jericho summer, 20 years ago this week. He disappeared, or so it seemed, between the river and the “rest area,” a concrete-columned bus depot known to Arabs as the istiraha. Teeming with travelers, some on their way to Jordan, others inbound for the West Bank, it was an easy place to lose one’s bearings, and foreign tourists were known to bypass it by paying extra for a private cab.

My father, though, was no tourist. Born and raised in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, he had lost his right to return in the 1967 war, when his absence — he was a medical student in Baghdad — cost him his residency.

For years, Baba had balked at the idea of returning. “Samer, in the final analysis,” he would say, employing a favorite phrase, “I simply can’t ask permission to visit my own home.” But five years after the Oslo Accords, he, like others of his generation, the last to be born before 1948, sensed his time was short. He began to ponder the possibility of an imperfect homecoming.

After months of jockeying, I had managed to get him an Israeli-issued permit to enter the West Bank. A cousin, still a resident of Tulkarem, had used his hawiya, or Palestinian identity card, to sponsor Baba, and the timing — late August, with its promise of freshly picked figs — was enough to sway him toward the trip.

Like the town that abuts it, the Jericho “rest area” sits at the lowest point on earth. At the time, travelers from Jordan could get there, from the Israeli-administered crossing point, by bus. There, they would navigate the way station, distilling from the noise of diesel engines and generators the names of various West Bank destinations, shouted in quick succession by drivers anxious to sell their last seat. “Al Quds! Al Quds! Al Quds!” signaled the onward journey to East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. Ramallah, Nablus, or Bethlehem rose from the bustle, too.


For all its motion, the istiraha also served as a designated waiting area for friends...

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Lessons from my Palestinian mother about Jerusalem — and resistance

For 70 years, Israel has tried to erase Palestinian history. And for 70 years, Palestinians have resisted erasure. My mother helped me understand how. 

In her expansive history of Jerusalem, British author Karen Armstrong describes a peculiar pastime of Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general who, in 1967, captured the city’s eastern half. Dayan, it turns out, was “the most famous of Israel’s amateur archaeologists,” an avid practitioner with “a quasi-religious passion” for unearthing fragments of Jerusalem’s Jewish past.

This “patriotic archaeology” was more than hobby, though. Dayan saw in it a way to inspire allegiance, among Jewish Israelis, to the state. “They learn that their forefathers were in this country three thousand years ago,” he told an interviewer. “By this they fight, and by this they live.”

For the Palestinian family in exile, archaeology takes on different meaning. Deprived of the land, we sift instead through the memories of our kin, our living history held in the mesh of imagery and idiom.

I recall how, two decades into the Oslo process, I pried open a box my mother had asked me to hold in safekeeping (“in a cool, dry place,” she said). In it, I found hundreds of faded photographs — my mother’s history, hidden all those years in sepia stills. There she was outside her home in Bethlehem, a scout in neckerchief and beret. There she was, at Jerusalem’s Mamounia school, then just a bus ride away.

It was this living Palestinian history that Jerusalem’s Israeli “liberators,” Dayan at heir helm, sought to erase. In July of 1950, after he had ordered the destruction of an eleventh-century structure, said to be the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Dayan made no attempt to conceal the act: “The detonation was carried out by the Coastal Plain District,” he proclaimed, “at my instruction.”

What followed was equally remorseless. By the time this particular campaign of erasure had ended, Dayan’s army had destroyed three-quarters of the mosques that fell within Israel’s newly established borders. As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has documented, such was the fate of entire Palestinian villages, hundreds of them summarily razed by Israel’s first generation.

If the truth of that early “cleansing” has now been documented by Pappé and others, it would be a mistake to think of it as past. As my colleague Edo Konrad reminded +972 readers earlier this month, Dayan’s eulogy to...

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'UNRWA shouldn't be held hostage to politics'

As the U.S. slashes the Palestinian refugee agency’s budget, Netanyahu is urging it be abolished altogether. Some believe that shuttering UNRWA would somehow make the Palestinian refugee problem extinct. ‘Not true,’ says the agency’s director in Washington.

The Trump administration announced this week that it had cut by more than half its contribution to the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.

The agency provides life-saving assistance to 80 percent of the population in Gaza, food assistance for over a million Palestinians throughout the region, and schools for over half a million children.

Trump’s announcement of the funding cuts first came in a series of tweets in which he lamented getting “no appreciation or respect” from the Palestinian leadership, and its rejection of the his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump tweeted in early January.

To better understand what is at stake and why some are taking advantage of this moment to advocate eradicating the agency altogether, +972 Magazine spoke with Elizabeth Campbell, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in Washington. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Do we know yet when this decision would take effect, and how soon it would impact the agency?  

The decision has already been made. UNRWA received $60 million from the United States and at this time has no information that there will be any additional funding forthcoming. It is more than an 80 percent cut over last year’s funding. It is already impacting the Agency in every possible way, since the United States was the largest donor. We are mobilized and responding by asking every citizen who cares about helping to keep 525,000 kids in school to donate to UNRWA.

Israel has taken the U.S. funding cuts as an opportunity to renew its demand that UNRWA be dismantled and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, ultimately take responsibility for Palestinian refugees. Why does Israel want that, and what would the consequences be?  

UNRWA is mandated by the majority of the UN’s member states to provide assistance and protection to five million refugees. To change this mandate, the members of the UN would need to revise UNRWA’s mandate. UNHCR is unable and unwilling to otherwise take responsibility for Palestine refugees. The two main reasons that people argue for this is because they...

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Our pledge to the next generation of Palestinians and Israelis

What actual change will look like is not for journalists to decide. What we can do, however, is invite those who care about this land and its people to reckon with the inconvenient questions before us.

The night before I traveled to Gaza to cover the 2014 war for +972 Magazine, I received a call from Noam Sheizaf, +972’s executive director at the time. “I want you to know we are all behind you,” he said.

“We” were the collective of mostly Jewish-Israeli bloggers that, six months prior, had invited me to become a regular contributor to the site. By the time I’d had my first conversation with Noam, I had only ever met one of them in person, but I felt a deep and mutual kinship with each and every one of my fellow writers.

To understand why, one need only read Lisa Goldman’s open-hearted reflections about Nabi Saleh published this week, in which she describes her experience as the lone Israeli journalist covering the weekly protests there. As Lisa’s piece demonstrates, +972 is not only challenging Israel’s official narratives about the occupation, it is doing so through the kind of writing that goes beyond platitude to evoke empathy and reflection.

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Anything less would disrespect you, our readers, and—more to the point—do little to generate new ways of thinking. The brutal truth is that bravado is too much with us in this conflict, and so much of what we read or hear leads to further entrenchment, not change.

Of course, what actual change will look like is not for the blogger or social media personality to decide. I, for example, am in no position to barter my Palestinian mother’s right of return for a few bylines, especially in a language that is not her own. Neither can I presume to speak on behalf of the Palestinians I met in Gaza three years ago.

What I and my fellow contributors to +972 can do, however, is invite those who care about this land and its people to reckon with the inconvenient questions before us: how is it that, in Gaza, the killing of more than 500 children in 50 days...

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The limits of the Palestinian struggle in Gaza

Gaza-based journalist Saud Abu Ramadan talks to +972 about the limits that Palestinian protesters face in Gaza and asks, how, under the existing conditions, the residents of Gaza are supposed to resist.

Saud Abu Ramadan is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza. On July 30, 2014, his office on the eighth floor of the Al Basha tower was destroyed by Israeli tank shelling, an experience he spoke to +972 about at the time. On Saturday, he gave his perspective on the latest developments in Gaza, where four people have been killed by Israeli forces since Thursday.  

Thirty years to the day after they gave birth to the first intifada, the Palestinians of Gaza came out en masse Friday, calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and affirming Jerusalem as their nation’s capital. The anniversary made of the protests a kind of rite, recalling the First Intifada’s “children of the stones” and offering a reminder that, three decades and as many wars later, Israel had failed to extinguish that generation’s yearning.

Like those who came before them, Palestine’s new ranks form a body politic that, against all odds, has kept that common cause. This, after all, is the Oslo generation, reared in the purgatory between process and peace, its geographies rent by racial gerrymandering and force. Yet if the protests in Gaza echoed those in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, there was also one painfully obvious difference: in Gaza, the object of the Palestinians’ rage was nowhere to be seen.

Abu Ramadan reminds me that, except for its two “ground wars” in 2009 and 2014, Israel’s occupation has, for more than a decade, been managed from a distance. Snipers are barricaded behind the territory’s buffer zone. Pilots are harnessed in supersonic jets. Drone operators sit at banks of screens, executing death warrants from above.

That anonymity may help explain why Gaza has borne the brunt of Israel’s violence in recent years, registering more Palestinian civilian deaths in the 51 days of Operation Protective Edge than in the six years of the First Intifada. And if Israeli airstrikes and shelling over the last three days are any indication, the Netanyahu government seems intent on exacting a high price for the Palestinians’ present protest.

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Is Jerusalem forcing a new direction for the Palestinian struggle?

‘This is the least expensive occupation in history,’ says one Palestinian resident. What he wants in return are equal rights in a democratic state. Could this be the future of the Palestinian national movement?   

When I first met Osama Essawi in the summer of 2014, Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” had claimed its 500th Palestinian child, displaced a quarter of Gaza’s population, and sparked demonstrations across the globe. I asked Essawi then why he thought Jerusalem had erupted in protest while the West Bank — with one notable exception — remained largely quiet.

“Easy,” he said. “We don’t have a Palestinian Authority to stop us.”

On Thursday, one day after Donald Trump dubbed his city Israel’s capital, Essawi spoke with me from his home in Jerusalem. When I asked him what the mood was, the 33-year-old Palestinian went silent. Minutes later, he sent me a voice message, apologizing. The Israelis had clashed with a group of protesters, he said, and “there was commotion in the village.”

The village is Issawiyeh. Like their name, Osama’s family is rooted here. Their home, where three generations now live, faces Mount Scopus to the south, the Jewish-only settlement of French Hill to the north, and, to the east, the Israeli-defined boundary of Jerusalem, which separates the city from the West Bank.

These days, the scenes on either side of that boundary can look identical. Meter-high stone blocks cut off the entrances to Jerusalem’s Palestinian enclaves. Israeli military checkpoints ration entry and exit to West Bank towns and villages. Villagers are routinely attacked, detained, or doused with so-called “skunk” trucks.

And everywhere, Palestinians have this in common: they are a people besieged.

In a sense, then, the protests marking this week’s announcement, which included a Palestinian general strike in Jerusalem, are nothing unusual. According to Essawi, Trump’s speech was met with a collective shrug in his village, though he acknowledges that American recognition could make an already bleak situation worse.

“This was a green light for Israel to speed up its colonization of Jerusalem,” said Essawi, a longtime activist whose cousin, Samer, was among the first Palestinian political prisoners to participate in a hunger strike. After being released in late 2013, he was detained again six months later.

Essawi recalls how, in the summer of 2014, his village was known as “little Gaza,” with a reputation for fierce clashes with Israeli security forces. The Israelis had closed both entrances...

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Absent in the clamor about Jerusalem are the Palestinians of Jerusalem

In Arab capitals speculation turns to panic about Trump’s expected reversal of policy on Jerusalem. Meanwhile, nobody seems to be talking about — or to — the Palestinians of Jerusalem, whose daily reality of occupation will remain irrespective of what comes next.

Speculation was rife on Tuesday that the U.S. president would soon break with the international consensus on Jerusalem, formally acknowledging it as Israel’s capital. Whether that acknowledgement would come in the form of a speech, a directive to move the U.S. embassy there, or both remained unclear as of this writing, but the prospect of such a dramatic break from longstanding White House policy seemed to evoke unrestrained panic in Arab capitals.

The official Saudi Press Agency ran a statement from the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warning of “grave and negative consequences.” Jordan’s top envoy tweeted that the U.S. move would “trigger anger,” not to mention violate UN Security Council resolutions. And none other than Mahmoud Abbas cited the threat to “regional and global security and stability.”

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Yet absent from the frenzy were Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents themselves, who just four months ago led a week-long nonviolent protest that rallied thousands of Muslims and Christians in what +972 Magazine’s Edo Konrad called an act of “mass civil disobedience.” At issue then was access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, which the Netanyahu government, against the advice of both the Israeli military and internal security service, had restricted by erecting metal detectors.

Writing at the time, another of my colleagues, +972 Magazine’s Amjad Iraqi, saw the protests as evidence of Palestinians “reviving their agency” in Jerusalem: “Christians and secularists were seen standing alongside conservative Muslims in prayer, affirming that the fight for Al-Aqsa is a national cause and not just a religious one,” he wrote shortly after the protests ended.

And yet, despite pressuring the government to remove the metal detectors, what Palestinians hailed as a triumph of peaceful protest was already being claimed by others.

Some press reports had it that Netanyahu had acceded, not to the protestors’ demands, but to a deal put forward by Jordan’s King Abdallah, who had sought some recompense for the murder of two Jordanian nationals by an Israeli embassy guard...

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Palestinian rights make a rare appearance in Congress

A first-of-its-kind bill introduced this week focusing on the rights of Palestinian children could pave the way for greater transparency and accountability in America’s dealings with Israel.   

Members of Congress on Tuesday introduced a bill requiring the U.S. Secretary of State to certify that funds bound for Israel “do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” The proposed legislation, put forward by Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum, had ten co-sponsors when it was announced.

Although that number may seem small, especially when measured against the 268 current co-sponsors of the so-called Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the “Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act” is further evidence that the Palestinian rights movement in the U.S. is gaining unprecedented ground.

“As the first-ever bill on Palestinian human rights introduced in Congress, we see [this] as a direct challenge to the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces,” said Brad Parker, an attorney with Defense for Children International-Palestine, which has been working to support McCollum and other members of Congress through its No Way to Treat a Child campaign.

According to a statement issued yesterday by DCI-Palestine, in the West Bank alone, some 10,000 Palestinian children — defined as those between the ages of 12 and 17 — have been “subject to arrest, detention, interrogation, and/or imprisonment under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts since 2000.” And during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, 535 Palestinian children were killed “as a direct result of Israeli attacks,” according to a report posted on the organization’s website.

That all of this has done little to moderate Congressional exuberance over Israel’s policies is no secret. But behind the scenes, a group of activists has been patiently engaging with members willing to question the status quo on Israel. McCollum is one of those members.

Her bill caps a three-year advocacy campaign, spearheaded by DCI-Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee, to expose Israeli abuses against Palestinian children. Although the proposed legislation stands little chance of passing into law, Jennifer Bing, program director of AFSC’s Palestine Israel Program, says the effort behind it has helped build awareness on Capitol Hill about Palestinian rights.

“Three years ago, when we started this campaign with DCI-Palestine, few people in Congress knew about the systematic detention of Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system,” says Bing. “Today we have ten champions in Congress who are speaking up for the rights of Palestinian children and asking for accountability. We expect more to join them and for the issue...

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ACLU launches first major challenge of anti-BDS legislation

The lawsuit offers the most stark example yet of how anti-BDS legislation threatens Americans’ First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it had filed suit on behalf of a Kansas public school educator who was asked to disavow a boycott of Israel as a condition for payment. The case comes amid growing concerns that recent state-level legislation across the United States is chilling free speech among proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

The Kansas law, which came into effect on July 1 of this year, directs the state to “require written certification from all individuals and companies with which it enters into contracts” that they are “not engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

“The First Amendment prohibits the government from using its financial leverage to impose an ideological litmus test,” said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss. “This law is an unconstitutional attempt by the government to silence one side of a public debate by coercing people not to express their beliefs, including through participation in a political boycott.”

A member of the Mennonite Church, Esther Koontz “decided not to buy consumer products made by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the ACLU said. Her decision is in line with the church’s July 2017 resolution “to avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The resolution, which also called on Mennonites “to examine the legacy of anti-Semitism in their own history and life,” followed earlier successful divestment motions by the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

“You don’t need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights,” Koontz said. “The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support.”

A nine-year veteran of Wichita public schools, Koontz, a math teacher, now develops school curricula and trains teachers. She had been asked to sign the anti-boycott certification as part of her engagement with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program.

The ACLU complaint asks the court to strike down the state law and bar the Kansas Department of Education from requiring the anti-boycott certification. Legal experts cite as precedent a 1982 Supreme Court decision that reversed a hefty financial judgement against the NAACP for its seven-year boycott of white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi. Writing on behalf of the...

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In new film, underground Palestinian musicians compose their own identity

He was denied entry to the U.S. for the premiere of his debut film, a short documentary about Palestine’s underground music scene. But director Sami Alalul seems unfazed.

Sami Alalul sounds out every syllable of his Queen’s English, ending most sentences with an almost timid lilt. It’s a manner of speaking that can seem deferential, but listen more closely, and it becomes clear that Alalul’s measured speech masks a more complicated truth. For like many with his “third-culture” upbringing, this 33-year-old filmmaker, born to a Palestinian father in the English coastal town of Poole, has spent a lifetime scripting his way, cautiously, between two worlds.

Sometimes, like when he moved to Ramallah to help tell the stories of Palestinian farmers, those worlds could seem to enrich each other, playing to Alalul’s linguistic strengths. Other times, what happened in one world was better left unsaid in the other. And on rare occasions, these worlds did something they weren’t supposed to do: they collided.

That’s what happened last Thursday, as Alalul was preparing to attend the Washington, DC premiere of his debut film, From Beneath the Earth. His UK passport at the ready, Alalul was informed by airline agents that U.S. authorities had denied him permission to board his flight. No explanation was given. And according to a post-9/11 protocol that requires citizens of so-called visa waiver countries to seek “travel authorization,” no explanation was required.

Alalul, who had traveled to the U.S. many times without incident, couldn’t explain it either. “I don’t know what to say,” he told me. “But I know this: I don’t want to be defined as the director who got denied entry to the United States.”

To grasp why, one need only watch Alalul’s 21-minute short, in which five Palestinian musicians narrate their own struggles, not just with the day-to-day drudgery of life under occupation, but with their heartfelt attempts to transcend it.

The film begins with a hat-tip to the unmistakable sound of Mahmoud Jrere, one third of the groundbreaking Palestinian trio DAM. In the opening scene, Jrere’s voice overlays images of urban splendor—landscaped roundabouts, glistening high-rises, gated homes—that quickly recede into a shot of graffitied concrete, the infamous Apartheid Wall separating Palestinians from those privileges. This, of course, is visual shorthand for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and we are fully expecting Alalul to introduce us to more of its victims.

But there are no victims in Alalul’s film. We first...

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The 'silent' war on Gaza's hospitals

The director of a hospital destroyed during ‘Protective Edge’ has managed to rebuild part of the facility. Now he has about a month’s worth of fuel left to keep its back-up generators running. Without them, the hospital faces another complete shutdown. 

At the height of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital was the target of fierce attacks from Israeli positions along Gaza’s eastern border, just over a kilometer away. Speaking to +972 at the time, the hospital’s director, Dr. Basman Alashi, described panic among his patients but insisted that he and his staff would continue to care for them — even if it meant paying the ultimate price.

“I am not going to leave my patients,” he said. “We either stay together, or we leave this world together.”

That kind of fight-or-flight urgency helped drive home the danger facing Gaza’s civilians during Protective Edge, moving thousands to protest worldwide. No matter one’s take on the assault or the reasons behind it, the scale of destruction in Gaza was undeniable, broadcast to the world through livestreams and harrowing images.

The guns, for the most part, are silent now, but for those who survived Israel’s 51-day war on Gaza, the images never fade.

When I caught up with Alashi again this week, he recalled in vivid detail how El Wafa staff evacuated their patients — “one by one on sheets and blankets” — before a July 23, 2014 airstrike leveled the 50-bed hospital, destroying “all [its] buildings, medical equipment, and stored medications.” The aftermath of that attack, which +972 documented here, completed a picture of devastation that needed no further exposition.

But if the airstrike and the events that led up to it evoked clear images of Gaza’s plight, Alashi now struggles to convey the impact of another danger—an ongoing electricity crisis that, according to the World Health Organization, could “leave thousands of people without access to life-saving health care.”

Part of the problem is that speaking about electricity outages can be arduous: power deficits are counted in megawatts, and the impact of sustained cuts is measured in things like raw sewage (which flows in millions of liters from shuttered waste treatment plants). Add to that humanitarian agencies’ year-on-year warnings about Gaza’s dire energy shortages, and it’s not surprising that this latest crisis is garnering less attention than, say, the revamped Hamas charter.

The urgency, however, is real. Although it’s true that electricity shortages in Gaza are nothing...

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When heroes fall far from home

Perhaps I expected some measure of defiance, for him to rage, as Dylan Thomas begged of his father, ‘against the dying of the light.’ But in the end, there was no rage left in my father, even as the core injustice of his life — that he could never return home — remained.

When he first learned the word “Palestinian,” my younger brother used it to name all things broken or not quite right. It was an innocent association—learned, as all language is, by mapping sounds to things manifest.

But in our diaspora home, Palestine was not a tactile place. Like the horizon, it was where earth and sky met: we could never quite reach it, never taste its citrus fruit or touch its olive trees, never walk its footpaths or swim in its sea.

Bereft of these things, my brother heard in those five syllables a signifier of grieving. “Palestinian,” to him, meant television broadcasts of tear gas and stones. It meant Rabin’s broken bones. It meant the resonant melancholy of our mother’s weeping.

But to me, the most Palestinian of all was our father. For years, it seemed, he spent every evening staring, wide-eyed, at those scenes from the First Intifada. He seldom wept. He often smoked. And when the news hour wrapped, he would reach for his car keys, turn to me, and ask if I fancied a drive.

It wasn’t really a question. Even as a teen, I think, I was my father’s only friend and confidant.

As he drove around Abu Dhabi, burning cigarettes like votives, I don’t remember saying a word, only listening. I sat silently as he constructed—sometimes over the course of hours—impassioned arguments against the night’s news. These he delivered eloquently, as if prosecuting the world’s injustices before a jury of one.

I could offer no verdict, of course. Instead, I learned to nod in deference at the right times, to acknowledge his pain, to internalize the only thing that seemed real to me then—that there was nothing I could do to undo his suffering.

It wasn’t until years later, as I was recounting that routine to a friend, that I began to realize the toll those drives must have taken. It wasn’t that my father needed to talk, or that I was his captive audience. It was the feeling that, if he hadn’t spoken to me about Palestine, my father couldn’t...

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