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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seventy

The Last Scene Before Flying With the Dove to Paradise.  ©copyright Malak Mattar 2021

Malak often includes a Dove of Peace in her paintings.

 

 

Ceasefire

 

 

 

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

 

-John Lennon

 

Dedicated to all children growing up in war zones.

 

 

 

Malak Mattar, my young friend in Gaza, put up this FB post today: "I survived. I'm officially a four Israeli attack survivor by the age of 21."  But is this Le Fin, the end of this horror movie? Probably not.  Geopolitics, realpolitik, real lives underneath those falling bombs and rockets. Children in Palestine and in Israel and in Afghanistan growing up in war zones, suffering from PTSD, learning to hate, dreaming of escape or revenge. And what about the soldiers and flyers and bombers, what about their PTSD as they become yet more efficient killing machines?

 

Did the bombing in Gaza wipe out Covid? Of course not. But now that there is a ceasefire, the humanitarian agencies can get back in to do their work: house the homeless, provide medical assistance, vaccinate, even set up temporary schools and play spaces for the children.

 

I spoke to MacKay Wolff, a former relief worker for UNRWA, the UN agency set up in 1948 to serve  the Palestinians –and  Jews—displaced  by the war against the British colonial regime. "I hope they are using the 80 schools UNRWA set up as shelters," MacKay told me before the ceasefire. UN workers are tasked with protection—of everyone—to treat all those in need equally. It is not always easy, but that is what they are trained to do.

 

Gaza is flat, and unlike Israel, has no bomb shelters, my Palestinain friend Ahmad told me.  I had not realized that the terrain was indefensible, and was shocked to hear there are no shelters. In that case, I hope the Israelis are not bombing the schools, I thought. Did I say that thought aloud? I'm not sure. I was feeling distressed that day, and so was Ahmad. I knew that my Israeli cousins were safe, or safe enough, in shelters.

 

MacKay had written a story for my book, "Another Day in Paradise," about his posting in the West Bank during the first intifada. How many years ago was that? Too many. There are now 5.6 million Palestinians—the original refugees and their descendants—registered with the UN agency. How many refugees? Too many.

 

Strange that this very week the citizens of New York State began navigating without masks, enjoying freedom of movement and a renewed sense of safety. Most of us—if we have not lost a loved one, or our jobs, or have long term effects of Covid—are feeling positive, even euphoric, about our survival. I wish the same for Malak, her family, and all her wonderful activist friends. May they live in peace.

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Exiled From Gaza; An Artist Under Siege

My Grandparents © copyright by Malak Mattar 2019. Doves of peace are ever-present in Malak's paintings.

 

 

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be in exile in your homeland, in your own house, in your room.

 

        Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, (1941-2008)

 

 

Malak Mattar, now just nineteen years old, is still what many would call a "naive artist," mostly untrained desipite the mentorship of her uncle, Mohammed Musallum, who teaches art in the only art school in Gaza. So I will begin there, in Gaza, during a 51-day Israeli bombing siege, in a household where a girl of 14 who has never drawn or painted before, is trying to stay sane during the Second Intifada against the brutal Israeli occupation. Watercolor and paper on the kitchen table, Malak starts to paint, mostly portraits of the women in her family and her community. She is gifted.

 

I had the good fortune to hear about Malak through a Palestinian friend who went to see her recent art exhibition in New York. Sponsored by the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, Ct., Malak was granted a two-week visa to show her work in three locations— Connecticut, DC, and New York, before her return to Istanbul to continue her studies on a full scholarship in political science and international relations at the Istanbul Aydin University. She misses her family in Gaza but cannot return during holidays as there is no guarantee she can get out in time to travel back to Turkey before classes begin. Though Gaza has been administered by Hamas since 2007, it is still under "indirect" Israeli occupation; Israel controls its electricity, telecommunications and borders.

 

I try to imagine this pressure, not as an ordinary American student worried about grades and financing, but as a student in exile from her beleaguered homeland, worried about her family and friends. How brave she has been, truly exemplary. She has had to learn both Turkish and English as her classes are in English, and struggles to maintain her bank account and grade point average. She travels wherever she is invited to show her work. "I will never stop painting," she told me with confidence. "Life is not easy in Gaza. This is what I portray in my work. I want the world to understand."

 

 

 

For more of Malak's story:

 

https://wearenotnumbers.org/home/Contributor/Malak_Mattar

 

Malak on Facebook:

 

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004339966663

 

For more about Palestine and Israel:

 

Human Rights Watch Report

 

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/israel/palestine

 

Yousef Bashir, "Words of My Father" 

 

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062917324/the-words-of-my-father/

 

Mahmoud Darwish Poems

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=darwish+poems+on+amazon&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKlffslorkAhUqwlkKHax7CuUQsxgIMA&biw=1024&bih=710#spd=13109659742047301644

 

Palestine Museum, Woodbridge, Ct.

 

https://www.palestinemuseum.us/

 

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