By Ahmad Barqawi
Last Monday, 13th of April 2009, was supposed to be a good day for Ahmad, a nine year old Palestinian boy from Gaza who became widely known for appearing on Aljazeera Channel speaking about the horrors he witnessed during the Israeli war on the strip and how life has become utterly unbearable under the siege
"The World should come and see how our children are sitting on the floor with no blankets or mattresses; is this a life? This is not a life, This is a siege; a large prison; I switch on the TV only to find funerals, war, death, destruction and amputated body parts, I wish to see children programs!” he said in that ingenuous yet defiant tone of voice which made him memorable to millions of viewers across the world; “let the world come and witness how we live, they (the Israelis) destroyed our homes and there is nothing left for us, what shall we do?"
It was indeed supposed to be a good day for Ahmad; he was set to travel to Doha, Qatar with his father to attend the 5th Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival where he was going to be presented with an honorary award for conveying -ever so innocently- what thousands of Palestinian children are going through in the devastated strip.
Needless to say he was filled with excitement; not only he was going to be honored but also he was going to get another chance to speak up again on an international platform and raise awareness for his cause –a cause deemed lost by many- hoping that this time his words would resonate with the public and not fall on deaf ears.
Egyptian authorities, however, refused to let him or his father cross from Gaza into the other side of the now infamous Rafah border, he couldn’t make it to the festival and thus another Palestinian girl ‘Ward’ (meaning ‘flowers’) – a friend of Ahmad’s- accepted the award on his behalf.
In a television interview in front of the Rafah crossing, Ahmad said, "I’ve been preparing myself for this trip for three weeks, I was so happy and hopeful; but all hope is lost now because of the Rafah crossing, everything seems to be in order. We have our visas and our plane tickets ready with us and they are useless now. I don’t understand why we can’t get out!". Neither do I.
Now the reason for which they were banned from crossing is still unknown. I’m sure it will eventually turn out to be a small ‘unavoidable’ bureaucratic glitch; but one can’t help but feel that this was a deliberate cheap stunt to prevent Ahmad from telling his stories (and he has plenty of them to share with the rest of the world). Someone out there wants to silence the Palestinian voice.
Yesterday, I came across an article about 63 year old peace campaigner Rod Cox who started an artistic project utilizing his van as a mobile gallery for Palestinian children’s graffiti and paintings, depicting the harsh reality of a life under war and occupation. With the intention of taking this ‘exhibition’ on tour to Europe and the U.K. – not to mention taking these drawings to the international criminal court and presenting them as evidence of war crimes committed in Gaza. Again, Egyptian authorities had a different say on this matter as well; they did not allow the van through the Rafah border. Although they said they would allow the peace activist through but not the van.
Both of them, Ahmad and Mr. Cox where going for one common destination: from Gaza to the outer world; both of them were leaving for one common goal: chronicling an Israeli-made calamity of a defenseless civilian population.
It appears to be that there are planned, methodical and premeditated efforts to squash what little is remaining from the Palestinian rights; the right to freedom of expression and speech, after being deprived of so many of their most basic rights. Not only do Palestinians have to endure malnutrition, sickness, hunger and generally a life of degradation far beyond my descriptive powers, but also they are being denied their own right to speak their own thoughts and feelings in a phosphorus-free sky where there is a slight chance that these thoughts might catch a little sunshine and flourish.
Furthermore they have to endure an incessant microscopic analysis of their every word and movement, because apparently the world has just ‘had enough’ with hearing heart-wrenching stories from Gaza, especially now that the war has ended and things are now back to its original – and now internationally more acceptable – form which is the blockade. It is time for Palestinians to stand mute and silently wait for a relief that may never come.
One can never disregard the irony of the fact that for each stack of infant food, canned tuna, lentils and other food items denied entrance into the Strip (and left to perish only a few kilometers from its rightful recipients), new shipments of DIME bombs and F-16s make their way comfortably across continents from the USA to Israel; and Gazans are expected to quietly settle down in their enclaves while being spoon-fed a contrived reality of oppression and wait for yet another round of Casting Lead.
World leaders have taken upon themselves to prioritize the cause of one captured Israeli soldier ‘Gilad Shalit’ and support it as a prominent issue discussed on every possible occasion, not only that, they are leading efforts and campaigning to release him from captivity at the same time Palestinians in Gaza stand alone, besieged and criminally accused of disturbing the peace in Sderot, all the while being denied even the right to answer back.
In the same vein, last month, Israel prevented a string of Palestinian Authority-managed events celebrating the city of Jerusalem as 2009’s Capital of Arab culture from taking place for reasons too obvious to mention here, and the oppression still goes on.
Of course these attempts at silencing the Palestinian voice were present long before the Gaza assault and are as old as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself. The new thing is that they are taking more of an insolent and vicious approach, without ever feeling the need to even justify these attempts in the public discourse; they are practically rubbing it in our public face and the sad thing is that we seem perfectly fine with it all.
– Ahmad Barqawi contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.