Haifa: War

Muhannad Abu GhoshAnticolonialism

Translated by Aaron F. Eldridge

This piece was written on May 13 in Haifa, where mobs of Israeli settlers have violently targeted Palestinians with impunity since May 91 and was published in Arabic on the Cairo-based Mada Masr on May 14. The author included this note to introduce the post: “The last thing I took upon myself before going to the demonstration was to write this post that I sent to a friend, Omar Said. Perhaps it appears unfinished for this very reason: I did not sleep more than 4 hours and for the most part I had assumed that the settlers, with their dreadful numbers, would succeed in invading our neighborhood.” We have asked the author to include some explanatory notes to this English version of the original text.

One in the morning. A dry cough leaves my throat in a dark alley in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood of Haifa.2 A curtain is drawn at the window of one of the Arab homes. I raise my hand in greeting, “I’m an Arab, brother.” The man says to me: “May God give all of you strength. Take care, all of you.” I am alone in the darkness, but his phrase is plural.

I was about to ask him for a cigarette, but he burdened me by his greeting. I can’t bear “May God give all of you strength” any longer. This dry affection, enclosed by a masculinity seeking to protect its domain, a fraternal inflection cutting through the phrase. I have nothing to tell him, so the coughing bout comes back to me. The reputation of al-Hirak3 is now entirely on my shoulders. Al-Hirak does not beg for cigarettes. I go back to coughing; I must have caught this cold at the height of this summer.

I lit the last rolling paper in my pocket, along with the last cigarette, more than an hour ago. My bag, with all its supplies inside it, is drenched from the mobile ‘skunk’ sprayers. Forces of heavily armed police surround the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood from all sides.

The word “heavily armed” is becoming more tangible than before. It has become understandable: colossal black armor suits within which crouch people raging to the point of madness, bearing batons in their hands, rifles on their backs, and bags full of stun grenades. Explosions, the sounds of clashes coming from the German Colony, the Emile Habibi roundabout, sounds farther still from Allenby street.

Three hours of confronting the police and settlers who attacked Haifa’s Arab neighborhoods. Exhausted, I reach Wadi Nisnas, and sit in the darkness to catch my breath. I have with me in my bag packets of sugar that I took from one of the cafes for such times. The packets are drenched. The bag is drenched.

Coughing again.

***

Seven hours earlier I was walking in the German Colony. The tourist street was fully bristling with restaurants and Eid decorations. The street was deserted. Haifa’s municipal workers arrested—literally—the garbage bins so that we don’t use them as barricades. At the intersection we named “Bassel al-Araj Intersection”4 an intelligence officer, Yoni, who had arrested me twice in less than six months, was distributing his orders. He told a police officer in Hebrew: “Here will be the meeting point,” meaning, here we will crush the protesters. Our eyes met and he puffed up his chest as if he was a turkey just out of the oven. He raised three fingers, smiling, I suppose threatening me with a third arrest.

***

In the besieged Wadi Nisnas you can hear the voices of people clashing with the police forces at the access roads. Tear gas is everywhere. Arrests and the sounds of demolition. The youth made an honorable stand resisting the settlers’ assaults on the neighborhood, so the settlers’ police assaulted them.

Wherever you move, you hear the sounds of police communication devices. They have closed off all the access roads. The way to my house in al-Hadar is completely cut off. Shortly, the intensity of the confrontations will decrease, and the smell of smoldering plastic mixed with garbage will spread in the neighbourhood, as will the smell of tear gas. Then those heavily armed ones will come to comb through the neighborhood. I thought of knocking on one of the doors… the lights are totally out.

***

The next morning: Eid.

I did not sleep until four. After four hours I was roused by the sound of the phone. The news is coming in over WhatsApp about the upcoming settlers’ attack. Calls to gather in one of the Jewish quarters. They ask that everyone brings weapons.

I am writing these lines right before the settlers’ attacks are due. They will attack us at 7:30 PM … the time now is 6:35 PM. I returned to catch my breath at home, but I couldn’t find anything to do, so I decided to write about the situation in Haifa, to fulfill a promise I made to a friend, Omar Said, the editor at Mada Masr.

What is it which pushes you to write in the first place, while you are going to war? What odiousness pushes you, in the middle of an outpouring of dozens of phone messages, to attempt to say something to people thousands of kilometers away from you? I suppose I am trying to go out today assured that I have said something.

This drama in words is laughable. Yet we realize today, more than before, that expanding the area of engagement here will hasten the settler army’s return from the borders of Gaza. This is our small portion in the great war. I remember this place in the manifesto:5

“Strike with resolve…or don’t strike”

“Turn back…or don’t flee”

And the thought of Sarajevo does not leave my mind: paramilitary militias besieging an isolated and defenseless civil society, the world (and the police too) watching. No one is spared.

***

A little earlier I was in a meeting in Wadi Nisnas. A public meeting in preparation for “tonight’s party.” I don’t know why I imagined I was in Sarajevo. The people are not frightened. Youth are coming from every quarter of Haifa, the children of the land, in the precise meaning of the word. Tattoos on the arms of some…the scars of knives and switchblades on others’ faces. A meeting crowned by screams. We know that we are going to real carnage. Today we will confront the fascist gangs with our living flesh. We have agreed on the meeting point (it is now 6:40 PM) for twenty minutes from now. Everyone realizes that the fascists are armed. Members of the Communist Party are asking those attempting to protect their families and their houses not to burn the trash cans in the street. The meeting ended…I went home to catch my breath.

I decided to kill time by writing something like an article for people I don’t know. I suppose some of them will say, “such a shame, the Palestinians,” and then they will share the post on their pages.

I am thinking of my children now. Last night from the balcony they saw dozens of settlers destroy cars and Arab homes on the next street. What will this night bring them?

War…once again…war!

I don’t really have anything to say. At least I kept my promise to Omar. I think I will go now.

About the Author

Muhannad Abu Ghosh

Muhannad Abu Ghosh is a Palestinian blogger and political activist, living in Haifa.

  1. The organized attacks on Arab neighborhoods by Israeli fascist groups began in Haifa on the evening of May 9, with a call to confront the Palestinian demonstration protesting the confiscation of homes in Jerusalem’s neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The attacks escalated after Israeli groups organized strikes on Palestinian homes on the outskirts of neighborhoods beginning May 10. []
  2. Wadi Nisnas is a Palestinian working-class neighborhood in Haifa; it is a central neighborhood as it includes a marketplace that operates on the margins of the major Israeli markets. In the absence of another Palestinian space—due to the scattering of Arab neighborhoods, and the fact that many Arabs reside in mixed buildings and neighborhoods—it represents a place of close social contact wherein Palestinian residents of the city meet. []
  3. Al-Hirak is a form of organizational action based on the model of the “Local Coordination Committees of Syria,” which launched the revolution in Syria at its beginnings before the latter’s transformation into armed action. They are organizations that allow for democratic freedom in field-action, which is otherwise not possible under traditional party organizing structures. Typically, al-Hirak does not have an elected leadership, a fixed membership, or an organizational ‘backbone’. This configuration thwarts the ability of the General Security Service, the ‘Shin Bet’, to strike at an organizational backbone. The movements operate in different regions of Palestine, and they disappear or appear based on the on-the-ground need. Likewise, they unite or split spontaneously based on the needs of the specific geographic situation (in Jerusalem, for example), or based on a regional goal (the movement against the Prawer Plan, which was a regional movement in all of Palestine). “Hirak Haifa” works within the framework of other movements in Palestine, and subscribes, in principle, to the motto of striving to achieve a single, secular democratic state for all citizens, guaranteeing the right of return for Palestinian refugees. []
  4. Bassel al-Araj (1984-2017): One of the founders of “The United Youth Movement” and one of the theorists of the movement in Palestine. The Israeli forces “Yamam” assassinated him in an armed clash in Ramallah, after the Israeli and Palestinian security forces had pursued him for a year. []
  5. The Manifesto: a poem in colloquial Egyptian written during the January Revolution (2011) by the revolutionary poet Mustafa Ibrahim. It bears practical field advice for demonstrators: how to confront the gas, the vehicles of Egyptian Central Security, and how to advance and withdraw during field engagements. []

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