Dear Iraq

By Banen Al-Sheemary, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan

Dear Iraq,

You think I have forgotten you, but I carry you everywhere. When I watch the world through my eyes, I see you. I can’t help but think of you with my every move and action. I always tie the struggle of the Iraqi people to my life. At least I try. I really do.

Driving on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq.

You know what God hates the most? Hypocrites. I feel guilty that I can walk into my house and turn the lights on whenever I want to. There is always an abundance of food in the fridge and clean running water available. I can sleep at night, safe and sound. After morning prayer, I watch the sun rise and say alhamdillah. The rays of light are from the same sun rising in the same sky, but you don’t get the feeling that I get from it. To you, it’s another hard day. Your days are tense and rigid because of car bombings and snipers. You have many days of uncertainty. Yet you still say alhamdillah. I get to hear birds chirping and the world beginning to wake. You are accustomed to the sounds of military warplanes hovering above you or tanks strolling down the roads. I never had to worry about military jets buzzing overhead ready to drop death and destruction. In stark contrast to what you suffer through, I see life here. This is why I feel like a hypocrite. If I don’t struggle with you, then I am a stranger to you. Continue reading

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An Apology

By Suha Najjar, Sophomore at the University of Michigan

I finally came home last night from my weeks long trip to Gaza. Descending into Detroit and seeing all the lights, the cars, the vast neighborhoods, I began to think that the people below are probably thinking about what bar they will be spending St. Patrick’s Day at, while in the meantime, people in Gaza are wondering what they are going to do in the next 15 hours without any electricity or gas in their home. That a college student may be mourning the loss of the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA tournament, while a mother in Gaza mourns the death of her 12 year old child trying to understand what her son had done to have his life taken away. While a father is mowing his green lawn here, a father in Gaza struggles to keep rain out of his house as it gets flooded because the roofs aren’t really roofs, but rather scraps of wood and metal tied together (besides why did anyone need to build roofs, they were only supposed to be in this refugee camp for a short while before they could finally go back to their own home). Continue reading

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Dear Women of the World: A Letter on Gender Inequity, Palestine, & Empowerment

By Bayan Founas, LSA Sophomore at the University of Michigan

Dear women of the world,

I write to you today as a plea for help. You see I have a friend that needs our help as fellow sisters. Her name is Palestine. An oppressor has occupied her for 64 years now. His name is Israel. Now let me tell you about the awfully familiar relationship between these two.

Palestine calls me everyday to recount the abuses she is suffering. She’s too scared to live in her own home in fear of the constant domestic violence she faces from Israel everyday. Someone told me she always wears long sleeves to cover the bruises on her arms, but we all know Israel is the perpetrator in tearing out her olive trees. Continue reading

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Back To Baghdad

By Farah Erzouki, Sophomore at the University of Michigan

Between 105,718 and 115,471. With an extra 13,750 on the side; added on from War Logs Wikileaks (via Iraq Body Count). The number of people who have been killed in my Iraq. The only time I have hated numbers more than in Calculus class is now, when it has contributed to the dehumanization of my people. Nothing angers me more than the world seeing my brothers and sisters as numbers. Nothing angers me more than the propaganda machine we call mainstream media, that so cleverly and brilliantly masks the realities behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If the implications were not so devastating, I would commend these television networks for how perfectly they portrayed Operation “Iraqi Freedom” to favor the United States, the benevolent supreme. Continue reading

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Multiple Oppressors, One Struggle

By Zeinab Khalil, Sophomore at the University of Michigan

I never imagined that I would have to write this. I would rather not, but this a problematic trend that needs to be addressed.

Headlines of 50, 60, 100 people killed in a Syrian city make their way to us each day. The gruesome images that no one wants to look at are there. The videos that the Assad regime hopes we will eventually become desensitized to or become too sick to watch anymore are there. The horrifying stories of toddlers murdered at gunpoint are documented and known. The reports of journalists killed by the Syrian army’s shelling for trying to do their job are there. Everything we need to know to make a sound judgment about the “situation” in Syria is here. There is no question about the Assad regime’s ongoing savage and merciless attacks on the Syrian people- protesters, rebels, and civilians, whoever they may be. There are names and faces behind these numbers. They come with families, careers, ambitions and feelings. They are human. Yet some seem to have forgotten this fact, and have turned this into a question of conspiracies, dirty politics and double standards. Continue reading

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Affirm Life

By Mohammed-Ali Abazeed, Senior at the University of Michigan. This piece was also featured in the Michigan Daily, which can be seen here.

Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old Palestinian man, just completed a hunger strike of 66 days. Israeli forces arrested Adnan on Dec. 17, 2011 in the middle of the night at his home in the Palestinian village of Arraba. Following 18 days of torture and humiliation, Adnan was imprisoned without charge or trial. Israel’s practice of administrative detention — allowing authorities to detain individuals indefinitely without any requirement to charge — stands in direct violation of international law, which states that this form of detention is allowed only in certain circumstances. However, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, states, “Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates these restrictions. It is carried out under the thick cover of privilege, which denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense.” Continue reading

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SAFE Supports Human Rights

By Joseph Varilone, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan. This piece was also featured in the Michigan Daily, which can be seen here.

In the Jan. 23 article “Viewpoint: Engage in Productive Discourse,” Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a student organization dedicated to the liberation and self-determination of the Palestinian people, was unfairly slandered by its author Max Heller, who inappropriately insinuated false things about SAFE as an organization and what we stand for. Heller’s accusation of SAFE propagating myths is directly contrary to the first-hand experiences and testimonies of the Palestinians themselves, and his historical analysis is predicated on colonialist assumptions. Continue reading

The 51st Star

By Banen Al-Sheemary, Senior at the University of Michigan

Day 5: Waiting for the darkness to fade away and the light to break in was nerve wrecking. I was anxious to get out of the car and to step onto the sands of Iraq for the first time since my family had fled after the first invasion in 1990. This is the land of the two rivers, the Cradle of Civilization. I just wanted to hold Iraq in my hands. I was cold and exhausted because of the long ride from Damascus. I arrived to Fallujah. The sun began to rise, making the sky different shades of orange, pink, and red, as if a canvas appeared before my eyes. My heart was beating fast. I took a breath and looked up. The sunlight made the horror in front of me a clear picture. A picture that will forever remain with me. With this single glance, I quickly wished that I had never come. The car sped away leaving a cloud of dirt behind it. The air cleared and I was still standing, unable to move. I wanted to get back into the car and drive far away from this unknown place. I wasn’t prepared to see how much the occupation of Iraq had broken the country. Reading articles, statistics, and news reports never prepared me for this.
I walked through a town that had been destroyed and deserted. Seized, conquered, and forgotten. I stood as if I was stuck in place. Stuck like the people of Fallujah, unable to escape the poverty, fear, and despair. I stared in awe and disbelief. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I could not breathe properly even if I tried to. I fought back tears. With clenched fists and my body trembling with weakness, I knew I had to keep moving. I had to get away. Is this the Iraq that I had come back to? I trudged along with my head down, unable to face the repeating images that I would witness for miles ahead. I felt myself wanting to fall and crumble to pieces, just like the buildings around me that had been blown to pieces in 2004 by American forces. Blinking as if I had just awoken from a nightmare of sorrow and uncertainty, my mind collided with reality. Surely, this is how the citizens of Fallujah must feel on a daily basis. With death and wreckage everywhere, the souls of the dead filled the air. I again had to stop and regain myself. The thought of thousands killed on these same sands made my tears flow uncontrollably. Now I understood why articles claimed Fallujah was hit the hardest by American forces. How hard I cried for Iraq. Silenced. Continue reading

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Remember February 1982 & Be Aware in 2012

By Noor Haydar, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan

We’re a forgetful people. In my religion, God tells us this. He also tells us that the successful are those who remember. History is as near to us as what happened last week, and we are unable to understand events because their contexts are so far removed from our own today. The world changes so rapidly with every minute, and we know about these changes in real time. What I want to share with you is relevant to today, yesterday and especially tomorrow.

Hama, 1982

It it is relevant to as far back as 1982. The month of February is almost upon us. In February of 1982, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad ordered his troops into the city of Hama and ordered the squashing of what he believed, was dissent that was threatening to his regime.

The Syrian Human Rights committee estimates that 40,000 people were killed in 3 weeks time. The city was in ruin. Families were shattered, lives shambled.

This past year, I had the privilege of performing Hajj (the required pilgrimage to Mecca). My sister and I usually walked to prayer together, but being the day before our departure, she was buying gifts and had to return them to the hotel room. I went ahead and ended up sitting next to a woman who made a place for me in a crowded space. I sprung up a conversation as I saw a Syrian flag on her bag. She told me she was from Hama. She turned the questioning toward me and so I shared with her my Damascene heritage and that I had lived in America my entire life. Because of the way the uprisings in Syria seems to polarize people, she appeared hesitant to speak to me after hearing both of those facts. We talked about Hajj, the weather etc, and then prayer started. Because of the lack of support Damascus has given the uprising, and because of the apparent lack of support the people of Hama have felt from America, I felt incapable, unable to speak to her. I had so many questions circling in my mind — How’s your family? How has your life changed? Are you well fed? Do you need anything? What can I do to help? I wanted to say I was sorry for making them feel alone- for not being there with them- for not standing up for them.

It will haunt me forever that I didn’t have the courage to speak, to ask her those questions, She opened up a spot for me, extended her prayer mat and shared it with me, and I didn’t ask. I shook her hand, told her have a safe trip home, and left. Have a safe trip home? Really? That’s all I could think of? What about when she got home? The question was, would she be safe after she got home?

Hama, 2011

The people of Hama have suffered a brutal history, one that has come back to life again. While we check our facebook notifications, tweets, and text messages, Hama is reliving its greatest nightmare come to life once again, and the reality has expanded beyond the confines of their city. Dar’a, Homs, Deir Ezzor, Zabadani, and even parts of Damascus…the list is endless. We live in a global village. We live inside the internet with all the information at our finger tips. Ignorance isn’t an excuse for inaction and so I ask, what are we doing? Think about the people of Hama. When you see the names of the cities And the pages and pages of the lists of names of those who have fallen, read them, one by one. Think of them often. Pray for Hama. Pray for justice and peace.

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Combating Zionist Colonization Through the Ages

By Bayan Founas & Suha Najjar, LSA Sophomores at the University of Michigan

“The fading-out of a cruel and shameful period of world history has coincided with the emergence…of a new offshoot of European Imperialism and a new variety of racist Colonialism,” otherwise known as Zionism.1 As defined by founders of the movement, Zionism is a political movement based on the belief of the creation of a Jewish Homeland in present day Israel. It is falsely believed that Zionism surfaced during the Nazi era, but in fact, it has its roots in the late 19th century.  Since then, it has evolved into a movement of conquest, characterized by its racist conduct, expansionist stance, and violent disposition. Due to Zionism’s colonial and imperialistic nature, it is fallacious to conceive that the struggle against Zionism is only a Palestinian struggle; rather it is a struggle that ought to encompass all of humanity.

The first Jewish settlements in Palestine began in the 1870s by early proto-Zionists “Hovevei Zion” (Lovers of Zion).  Anti-Jewish riots in Southwest Imperial Russia in 1881, termed pogroms, lead to a greater influx of Jewish immigration into Palestine. Protesters of the pogroms blamed Jews for Tsar Alexander II’s assassination as well as the economic competition that Jews presented.  The new Tsar Alexander III directed these pogroms to highlight blame on the Jewish community for the riots. Those that immigrated to Palestine to escape these harsh rulings and accusations segregated themselves from the Palestinian natives.  It is believed that this was partly due to a sense of European superiority, where Europeans believed that Europe was the only advanced and truly civilized society.  The segregation was also thought to have been attributable to a belief in Jewish superiority over non-Jews as God’s chosen people.  This superiority was stressed by Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides) to not mix with gentiles (non-Jews), which immigrants took with them to Palestine.

These settlers created the establishment of ethnic segregation between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, but journalist Theodore Herzl, the “father” of political Zionism, did not stress the ideology of having a Jewish Homeland until the 1890’s.  Herzl was assigned to cover the legal case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French Army who in 1894 was falsely charged with treason.  These accusations fueled the theme of anti-Semitism, which led Herzl to write Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896), outlining his vision of a Jewish state to escape anti-Semitism.  The British offered Herzl Argentina or Uganda as possible Jewish Homelands, but Palestine was officially chosen at the first Zionist Congress of 1897 because it had a growing settler population and contained Zion (Jerusalem).  At the congress, the World Zionist Organization was established with Herzl as the President, where it was highly likely the slogan was created, “land without people for a people without land,” in reference to Palestine.  By 1917, Zionists were “officially” granted a Jewish Homeland in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration.  Lord Balfour wrote in 1919: “In Palestine, we do not even propose to consult the inhabitants of the country. (Zionism’s) immediate needs and hopes for the future are much more important than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who presently inhabit Palestine.” 2,3

Israel's construction of the apartheid wall segregates Israelis and Palestinians.

Zionism has gained its reputation as a descendant of European colonialism by virtue of three principal components. The first is its inherent racism. With its racial exclusiveness, supremacy, and self-segregation, Zionism demands political, legal and economic power for Jews over those of the indigenous population.4 Zionist imagination and subsequent internalization that the land of Palestine was uninhabited and desolate justified the demolition of Palestinian life in the same way that the annihilation of Native Americans was vindicated in racism.  The view that more radical forms of Zionism have only recently emerged is also false. Indicating Zionism’s inherent colonialist nature, Herzl once said, “If His Majesty, the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” This view of Zionism as a racist entity is not restricted to any one group. The UN General assembly passed resolution 3379 in 1975 that “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” The resolution was revoked in 1991 because of pressure by the U.S. president, George H.W Bush, due to the undeniable strength of the pro-Zionist lobby within the states.

The second characteristic is Zionism’s expansionist stance. In 1938, David Ben-Gurion, the eventual first prime minister of Israel, made it clear of his support for the establishment of a Jewish state on parts of Palestine only as an intermediary stage. “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state–we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”5 The map below depicts the ongoing territorial expansion of the state of Israel into Palestinian land. Today, Israel is on the forefront of expansionism through its creation of illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

Activists chaining their arms to olive trees, symbolizing their strong ties to the land

The last contributing factor is Israel’s tendency to resort to violence in their efforts to expand and conquer. This was most prevalent in 1948 with Al-Nakba (the Catastrophe), the year that saw the mass deportation of over 700,000 Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages.6 In a continued expansionist effort, Israel creates an overwhelming amount of environmental damage and physical destruction of Palestinian landscape, such as by uprooting trees.  By doing this, Israel hopes Palestinians will succumb to leaving their homes. Also in Gaza, Israel holds access to food, water, electricity, humanitarian aid, and medical supplies as a weapon that targets human life.  Through violence and damage to living entities, Israel’s conquering efforts are seen through such intimidation.

Some may argue that Zionism is worse than other European colonial movements. In regards to isolationism and exclusiveness, Zionism is worse in that it did not wish to just turn the population into a servant one, like the British did in India, or the French in North Africa, but rather they hoped to expel the indigenous population as a whole (Al-Nakba). Also, unlike the South African imperialists who “brazenly proclaim their sin, the Zionist practitioners of apartheid in Palestine beguilingly protest their innocence.”7 Benjamin Pogrund argues, “In any event, what is racism? Under apartheid it was skin colour. Applied to Israel that’s a joke: for proof of that, just look at a crowd of Israeli Jews and their gradations in skin-color from the ‘blackest’ to the ‘whitest’.” But Jews define themselves as not simply a religion but also a race. Therefore, classifying a state as consisting of a single race creates a platform for racism by not considering the indigenous people that are not of that single race. In the case of Zionism, non-Jews, especially the indigenous Arab population, are targeted as an inferior race.

Summary map indicating Palestinian loss of land since 1947

Like every past struggle against colonialism, it is indisputable that it was the duty of every human being with the ability to make a difference to end the injustices. Israel is tyrannizing over a native people and infringing upon their territorial and human rights. The endeavor against Zionism did not simply begin after Herzl or Al-Nakba; rather it is a continued struggle against a larger operation, colonialism. Combating Zionist colonization must be brought to the forefront of the world’s agenda, as Palestinians’ daily struggle against the occupation should be a struggle for all.  Mila Pernice, a journalist and member of the Palestine Forum, said, “If I speak of Zionism as a colonialist ideology supported by imperialist countries, then the struggle against Zionism is not only a Palestinian struggle. It is mine, yours and ours.”

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