Posted by Esperanza from 63-93-70-24.lsan.dial.netzero.com (126.96.36.199) on Sunday, March 02, 2003 at 8:52PM :
An interesting tour to those of us that never been in Iraq.
Khan Younis destruction [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 19:20:35
Leave it to the Israelis not to disappoint in excessive force and attacks on innocent families. During my first night in Gaza City, they attacked the town of Khan Younis. The next morining, I arrived to view the results. It was yet another shocking and brutal attack on civilians that likely garnered zero if any press in the US. Indeed, Yahoo News reported that the homes destroyed belonged to militants - a total lie. Over 85 people were left homeless in one night and the world wont lift a finger.
The following is what I wrote about it for a paper:
“I was all set to make peace with Israel. But now.. now I cannot.” Mohammed shakes his head as he gazes down upon fragments of concrete that covers several books. His home has just been destroyed, and his life is now in disarray. It is yet another similar story in the latest of a recent string of Israeli attacks on Palestinian towns in the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday morning the Israeli Defense Forces launched an incursion into Khan Younis, just at the western edge of the town. This area had already seen extensive conflict and Israeli sniper positions remain visible down the road. During the early morning operation in which one Palestinian was killed and six were wounded, Israeli sapper teams, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships dynamited a seven-story building, and demolished several others. Israel claimed that the tall building, owned by a locally well known Palestinian, Fayez Abu Bakr, could be used for its height to fire on the nearby Gush Katif settlement bloc.
The residents of Khan Younis deny that this had ever happened before. “It was demolished for economic reasons,” claims Hasan, a local worker at the United Nations Refugee Works Association. “Abu Bakr is a famous exporter and the Israelis wanted to hurt him.” The large office and storage building was completely flattened in the detonation, leaving piles of pancaked concrete floors with their contents crushed inside.
In addition, however, dozens of neighboring homes were severely damaged and an adjoining mosque had one of its walls shorn off. Noonday prayers proceed on Sunday afternoon, with the mosque’s rugs having been hastily swept of rubble. As men kneel in prayer, children can be seen through gaping holes picking through the remnants of their homes. Locals completely dismiss claims that the houses which had been demolished were used for gun positions, as the IDF had claimed.
Hasam Talal Al-Bakr fums as he sifts through children’s school books. The entire west façade of the apartment building he lives in had been blown in. Not one piece of furniture survived, but thankfully the family escaped alive. “I spent eight years saving for this apartment,” he yells out to no one in particular. “Now I have nothing!” His newly wed wife meanwhile continues to try to salvage belongings. Hasam’s two nephews do their best to help, refusing to smile as they scale wall fragments looking for toys.
The worst hit area however is behind the Abu Bakr building. This neighborhood of Khan Younis is one of the poorest, with breeze-brick homes covered by corrugated tin and other scraps. As the Israelis demolished neighboring buildings, these short and flimsy homes were crushed beneath. The residents estimate that fifteen homes were completely ruined, leaving scores homeless. Entire families spend their day attempting to salvage their possessions. None can understand why this had happened.
“So what is my guilt?” begs Mohammed, a forty-five year old merchant. He walks through his former apartment on the second story of a building some 50 meters from the Abu Bakr building. While the first floor was badly damaged, Mohammed’s home lost its roof and most of its walls. Pulverized concrete covers everything. He grabs a polished piece of wood, once a cabinet door, and throws it on a pool of septic fluid that leaked out so he can walk across. One of his five children pulls out whatever dinner ware survived.
Mohammed’s phone rings. Its his Israeli friend in Tel Aviv. The friend asks how things are, and Mohammed almost immediately pleads for help, revealing that he has lost everything. After the call his face grows stern. “Now do you understand why someone might want to strap a bomb to themselves and go to Tel Aviv?” But he is quick to catch himself. “I have Israeli friends. They are good people. But their government…” he trails off, kicking away a former window frame. “The Israeli government is crazy.”
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in Gaza City [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 18:48:58
Ive made it into Gaza City for now. Just a note incase I have trouble with internet access in the next few days.
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in Deheisha camp [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 06:34:29
We left after being given a brief tour by some helpful youth. We headed over into Bethlehem, and finally accepted a cab ride into town as our bags began to weigh us down. The taxis are desperate, especially in the former tourist haven of Bethlehem. Negotiating down to reasonable prices failed time and time again. Finally, when I agreed on a price on the condition of being able to make a phone call, the driver took us to a souvenir shop. So naturally as I tried to reach Kristen, Tara was bombarded by suggestions for Christian themed gifts. Thankfully, she actually wanted to purchase some items for her father, a Catholic Deacon.
The owner of the store had much of his family in tow to sit and chat with us. Of Italian decent, the grandfather was actually born in Laredo, Texas. But his half-Arab, half-Italian accent diluted much of his English. The conversation of course turned to the possible war on Iraq. “God bless Americans,” the grandfather began. “They come here and they spend money – the Europeans don’t. But George Bush is a crazy man.” His biggest fear was that with a war in Iraq where the country was totally overran, all hell would break loose in the region. But unlike many Palestinians, these well-to-do Christians didn’t seem to fear what Sharon might do to them. Then again, there was little more he could do.
“The Israelis ruin us,” Jonny Canavati, the owner, complained. “They tell people not to come to Bethlehem because it is dangerous. But look, it is probably more secure than anywhere in Israel!” He also noted how the outside world had no clue what was happening to them. “I have a Jewish friend in Gilo (an Israeli settlement outside Jerusalem), and he phones me to tell me there is a customer interested in my shop.” He leaned in continuing with his story as his daughter, Maria brought us coffee. “But at the time, we were under curfew. So I told him that no one could come. And Gilo is just over the hill from here, but he had no idea that we were under curfew!”
We left the store so that I could retrace areas in Bethlehem where much of the fighting occurred the year before. While I sat through the massive invasion of the city trapped in a hotel in April, 2002, I had managed to walk out with some journalists to see some horrific sights. The Israelis had laid waste to dozens of stores and homes in a reckless manner. I had seen ample evidence of water and sanitation lines ripped out, homes machine-gunned, and stores with their doors blown off. At the time, it was one of the most dramatic scenes I had ever witnessed. Following that, in May I had returned to see some of the siege of the Church of Nativity when the Israelis surrounded dozens of Palestinians inside.
But the city seemed indefatigable. It had erased almost all scars of the previous years fighting. Where blown apart cars and Israeli Merkava tanks sat in Manger Square, the area was again brimming with taxis and souvenir peddlers pushing their wares. Along Pope Paul VI street, where I had seen so much destruction, I could barely identify any battle scars.
Tara and I took Kristen’s suggestion to spend the night in Deheisha Refugee Camp. With about 15,000 Palestinians, its one of the larger refugee camps in the West Bank, and has garnered quite a bit of attention by numerous writers. I had never before bothered to visit it for that fact. But it was definitely a more interesting choice than sleeping in an overpriced and empty hotel.
We were given two rooms at the Ibdaa Guest House, a fairly nice building with an internet café and dormitory style rooms (that seem to be sized for children). It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the destitute camp, which for years sat totally isolated and walled off from the rest of the West Bank. Inside we met Khalid, a young Palestinian adult who walked with crutches as he had been paralized since birth. He was mulling over a photograph from the year before depicting all of Deheisha’s young men being taken away by Israeli troops. “Those people being arrested are Israeli terrorists and these soldiers are Palestinian,” he joked.
“You know,” Khalid began, turning to us on his crutches, “I think people come here when they have lost their desire for life. They are inspired to see Palestinians live through anything.”
Two young boys volunteered to give us a tour of the camp. We set out up the narrow alleyways that count as roads. Houses were in various stages of dilapidation, with many crumbling walls surrounding minute courtyards or denoting holes in people’s homes. Some houses were little better than tin shacks placed on breeze brick foundations, while others rose no more than two stories along winding narrow streets. In a couple places we could make out old bullet holes and Isreali graffiti marking searched homes. Along most of the roads, posters of young children killed by Israeli gunfire stood as defiant memorials.
The children were elated however. The recent snowfalls had perhaps brought more entertainment to the camp than many had seen in ages. We walked through dozens of snowball fights, with children chasing eachother around or standing atop buildings and hitting others below. Young boys and girls stopped only long enough to have their photos taken in aggressive poses before running off to pelt their friends.
By around 6 as it began to get dark we settled in to our rooms. Just as I sat down to begin writing, I spied a flashing blue light through the window and threw open the drapes. It was an Israeli patrol cruising by in two armored jeeps. I wasn’t sure exactly the extent of the re-occupation as to weather or not the Israeli soldiers tried to assert their authority anymore. My answer came as the patrol returned past the entrance to the camp and I heard a distinct THUMP THUMP. Tear gas.
Tara and I ran downstairs to the front door with our cameras to find about a dozen young children hurling small rocks (and probably snowballs) at the jeeps that rolled slowly by. The last jeep stopped at an alleyway and with another THUMP, it fired a gas cannister at the children. Soon plumes of white acrid gas filled the air and the boys began covering their mouths and running away. Several stood their ground, but the jeeps just rolled on down the road towards Bethlehem. I moved in to get a photograph of a child covering his face, but then became overwhelmed by the gas. So goes life in the camps. Too bad the snow is melting.
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Refugee camps - good to be back [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 17:46:47
At around 10am Tara and I set off for Bethlehem. We didn't really have a plan and initially meant to go to Gaza. But as Tara only has until the 4th to be here and I would like to spend more time in Gaza, we figured a brief visit to the West Bank would help. My old friend Kristen is presently residing there, so we opted to head there for easy room&board if nothing else.
After winding through Jerusalem's outskirts in a service taxi, we finally hit the road to Beit Jala, just outside Bethlehem. Its rather shocking to see how far Jerusalem's "suburbs" have continued to creep up through was is technically the West Bank. The Israelis call these "neighborhoods" when they are in fact illegal colonies.
We disembarked and walked around a winding path beset by barbed wire on both sides. In the distance large settlements were clearly visable, strattling every height around this moutainous valley. At the actual checkpoint an older Israeli reservist asked to see our passports. When he found that Tara was from Atlanta, he perked up as he had been there often before. This certainly helped as he waved us through - whereas a year ago I had to argue for several minutes to get past the same location.
We walked down the road, a wide but desolate two-lane highway, since dissected by checkpoints. the curbs were all smashed with tank tread tracks and most shops were shuttered. I had last seen that road teeming with Israeli troops and vehicles 10 months before during the major invasion of the city.
We walked up to a new massive checkpoint barrier, only recently erected to enforce Israeli control. Its concrete slab walls still looked fresh and wet. From a few guard towers I could make out gun positions, but the inhopitable complex showed no sign of human life. We skirted around it and headed into Aida Refugee Camp. I had passed by Aida before when leaving Bethlehem in the past, but had never spent any time there. It was a remarkably sad situation with almost all energies on this friday afternoon set to rebuilding. The rugged road into the camp was srewn with concrete barriers and razor wire. Small children picked through piles of rubbish and threw snowballs at eachother. It was Tara's first image of Palestine and startled her quite a bit.
I wasnt sure the last time Aida was invaded but unlik Bethlehem which has almost totally rebuilt since its last invasions, Aida seemed in perpetual repair. Houses along the road had had their walls smashed and even the UN School for Girls was riddled with bullet holes. All along the road the indentations of Israeli tanks had left their mark.
We left after being given a brief tour by some helpful youth. We headed over into Bethlehem, and finally accepted a cab ride into town as our bags began to weigh us down.
dammit. ill have to cut this short for now.
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wet old city [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 16:25:35
After two days of being under seige by a spectacular snowfall, I've finally returned to Palestine.
Yesterday it was determined that the roads were still too clogged from Amman to make it to the Israeli border along the Jordan river. So I bunkered down for yet another day trapped in a hotel. It made a total of 6 nights after I had hoped to only spend two there at most.
Tara arrived on the 23rd, a day late to join me in Palestine. Then her luggage was delayed, and finally on the morning we planned to set out, the snows had fallen. Yesterday we ventured out into a city completely closed down and in shock due to the freak weather. Clearly, even after 48 hours of the blizzard, no one in Jordan owned a shovel, let alone a snowplow. People were using brooms and squeegies to skirt the snow away.
Today though we made it out and reached the Israeli border. I had never entered Israel/Palestine through a land route before, but I expected it to be as bad as the airport. Tara and I settled on stories, especially as we were relying on eachother as cover since Israel has been deporting young lone travellers for fear that they may work to expose Israel's occupation.
I was set for the usual questions: what are you doing here? have you been here before? do you know any arabs? are you Jewish (my Hebrew middle name gives it away)? You've been to Syria, dont you know they don't like our kind there (well, maybe if you didnt show up with guns...)? And so forth.
Thankfully, however, they didn't give me much of a problem and I only had to be subjected to some basic questions at passport control. It was notable though that they were issuing temporary entry visas, instead of the blanket 3 month ones that they used to. I got two weeks.
We shared a taxi with an overly talkative Christian peace activist who kept giving his opinion on Iraq. I didnt mention that I had just come from there, as this was the type of fellow who would glom onto a person and never shut up. In the taxi he posed his solution to the Palestine crisis -- buy a bunch of land in Africa and give it to the Palestinians. Even the Hebrew studies major from America in the front seat turned around and said that people have historical connections to land. Tara then spoke up and noted how the Zionists were originally offered land in Africa 100 years ago and turned it down. "Well, I dont know if any Palestinians would go for my idea," the man went on. "But I just thought it would make things easier." The peace movement really doesn't need such naivity...
Jerusalem looked just as I had last seen it. Although it seemed weakened by the gloom of the rain and snow. It was a depressing drive from the border along the settler-only highway, passing by several new Israeli colonies being built. The arab villages looked incredibly sad, with several dozen communities of shacks and tents for sheep herders. I pointed out to Tara the areas where the Palestinian roads had been dug up and blockaded, preventing their free movement.
We made our way to the Faisal Hostel by the Damascus gate of the Old City. The once quaint but cheap backpackers sanctuary had succumb to the rain and snow, with its entire commons room flooding the day before. Its now cold, damp and miserable. But its still a critical place to find out the latest info on what Palestinian cities are under total lockdown, and how it is possible to get in and see people.
But with Tara having so little time here (she returns to the US on the 4th), I dont have much chance to give a full tour. I think tomorrow we will go to Gaza, where its much hotter - both literally and in terms of the occupation. One day in Rafah, gazing upon the moutains of demolished homes and pulverized futures is enough to give anyone a crash-course on life in Palestine.
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damn weather... [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 15:34:43
As luck would have it, I have been continually stalled in entering the West Bank the past few days.
Since nothing really exciting happens in Jordan, I haven't added much so far. A companion who was to join me in entering Palestine two days ago was first delayed by a flight, then had her luggage held back by a day -- and now we get the most freakish Mideast weather of all: a giant snowstorm.
All of Amman is shut down. The people are going nuts. While snow intermittantly falls here, it is never on a scale of almost a foot deep as it is today. I have seen no snowplows - not even any shovels.
So we have been trapped indoors with nothing to do. A check at the border found that while the Allenby (Hussein) bridge is indeed open, all roads to it are closed - as well as roads in Israel and the West Bank.
So I spend a fifth night in Amman, staring at the walls. Tomorrow we will be in Jerusalem. dammit.
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Pictures [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 23:06:05
A four year old leukemia patient.
A Baghdad University student.
A ballet student.
Father and daughter.
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the Jordan sky [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 12:01:58
I sit in my Amman hotel room, so far removed from Iraq. I already have to readjust to the difference in dialects (“Mabsut” means ‘great’ in Jordan/Palestine, but it means slapping someone in Gulf dialects). The streets are more crowded in Ammans twisting roads that cut through the seven hills the city is built upon. Its drastically more confusing than Baghdad’s well planned and mainly straight, wide roads. Cabs are metered and well marked – people don’t volunteer their cars as taxis for extra income here as in Iraq. There is a lack of notable poverty, which permeates even into Baghdad’s middle-class neighborhoods.
But the greatest contrast is in the sky. Unlike Baghdad’s beautiful weather, every day I have spent in Amman both before and after Iraq has been bleak and dreary. Baghdad’s sun provides ample distraction and can lift ones spirits at least temporarily. Amman feels depressing. Perhaps it’s the lack of need for an air of defiance.
Hakem, an older gentleman at the Meridian "Businessman's Center" (other internet locations were closed on Friday), sat at a desk behind me as I sorted through my unread emails of the last month. He turned on CNN, and I spun in my chair to see smoke billowing from New York Harbor. He asked me if I was an American, and I replied in Arabic that I was. Surprised he asked me where I learned Arabic, and I told him I studied in Gaza.
At that point my arabic skills ran out and I went on to tell him that I had just returned from Iraq with a peace organization. He was quite interested in this. Hakem is a Kuwaiti who fled after 1991, and wound up in Jordan. I wasn't quite sure why he didn't want to return to his nation but he had been there during the Gulf War. He said he certainly didn't want to see any more conflict.
"The people at the top are never hurt. Only the citizens. It isn't right." I was pleased to hear that from a Kuwaiti. He also insisted though that there was no way to stop the conflict. "It is all up to Bush. If he wants it, he will do it. Everyone believes it."
But now I prepare for a new journey. I have to sort out my story for entering Israel/Palestine, mainly because the Israelis are trying to prevent people from entering who don’t tow the Zionist line. People my age have been deported on arrival over and over again at Ben Gurion airport. Even internationally recognized humanitarian officials were being turned back last spring. Obviously Israel has something to hide – a drastic difference on entering Iraq. (Not that Hussein is any better than Sharon. Both are murderous thugs, but Iraq isn’t currently occupying and colonizing foreign soil as Israel is.)
I also have to leave in Amman all of my Iraq “souvenirs”. Among those is a stack of Iraq’s English paper, Iraq Daily. I have collected such riveting headlines as “President Chairs Meeting,” “President Chairs Cabinet Meeting,” and “President Chairs Meeting”. I’ve also collected some small bottles of Iraqi made whiskey and gin to delight my Wisconsinite friends at home who have probably never had something so foul. But its my photos that are most valuable, and my twenty or so rolls of films will need to be in safe hands while I’m in Palestine (the Israelis often confiscate film). Its with those photos of Iraq’s people that I will be able to tell my stories on my return.
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to amman [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 11:36:44
Flying from Iraq to Amman gives a good perspective on the amount of fear. Those wealthy enough, can take their families out of Baghdad. On the plane were several industrialists and other upper class Iraqis taking their children out. But the plane was not nearly as full as had been expected. Many Iraqis seem to be giving their odds more time – especially after the promise of more time from Blix’s last report.
I myself was accosted by some of the corruption that thrives in impoverished nations. Despite all of my travels, I have never run into demands of bribery. I read enough accounts from Robert Kaplan and Robert Young Pelton on travels in third world nations and in conflicts to recognize how bribery works and how to dodge it. But I wasn’t prepared for the Iraqi airport.
The first check was for the AIDS test stamp on my visa. Iraq requires AIDS tests of all visitors who spend more than 14 days in the country. (This paranoia has actually worked, preventing AIDS from reaching the country). As I walked through a guard stuck out his hand and said something about “Bakeesh” (like “Coke” and “OK”, “Bakeesh” is universally understood). I just kept walking, not too sure what was being asked.
I then went through the metal detectors and had to lay out all of my bags for equipment checks. I expected this, since when entering Iraq I had to have all of my electronic equipment registered (I guess it prevents people from buying equipment in Iraq and taking it out. I’m not sure why they car though.) But then a man asked to see the cash I carried and if I had a declaration for it. I never heard of such a thing and just gave him a dumb look. This was his cue to ask for some money – to be discreetly slipped into my passport and handed to him. I complied, thinking that this was the way out of missing some form. I wasn’t sure, and was flustered. Immediately after I complied, a tall official looking man strolled up and demnded that I take my bags and follow him.
I protested some, noting that the other IPT’ers leaving with me were still at the security check and how little time we had to catch our flight. “Come, come. No problem,” he repeated, dismissing my concerns each time. I followed him into an elevator and down into an office. He waved my ratty brown equipment list, and I thought there was something seriously wrong to warrant such a trip. He took a seat behind a desk and urged me to sit next to him. He then turned and asked with an obvious grin, “We’re friends, no?” Crap.
I didn’t want to deal with the issue or the delay, so I slipped him a $20. Instantly, his demeanor and presense changed from a ranking airport official to a bungling man in an oversized suit begging for cash. He signed my equipment list and led me back upstairs, all the time smiling and noting that we were now friends. Once back to the departure floor, I darted over to the check-in desk for Royal Jordanian, anxious to just get onto the plane.
I threw my bags on the scale as a clerk checked my passport. She handed me a boarding pass with nothing more on it than a sticker with my seat assignment. Then her face wrinkled as she looked at the scale reading. “Ah, you are 13 kilos over. You have excess baggage.” I protested that it was everything I brought in and I never had to pay before (even through I came into Iraq by land). She insisted I had too much weight, ignoring my claims. She then returned to her work and muttered, “But I can help you.” What? She looked up, and gave dodgey glances to the left and right. “I can help you. Let me be your friend.” Crap.
The $180 flight from Baghdad to Amman, already grossly inflated because Royal Jordanian is the only international airline servicing Iraq, rose to a total of $240. (Remember that Baghdad to Basra is only $20 round trip on Iraqi Airlines.) I was again hit up for “bakeesh” on the tarmac as the baggage loaders begged money from me. I ignored them, but wondered if they would ditch my bags in exchange. Before people try to attribute this corruption as unique to Iraq, I suggest they give border crossings a try anywhere in Africa. I was badly hit though, as most other IPT’ers seemed sensible enough to just play dumb and not pay up. It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth about the country – but its not the first time I’ve been seen as a wealthy businessman just because I’m an American in a poor nation.
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Report #25 - Nearing the end in Iraq [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 13:41:32
Well, this seems to be about it for my time in Iraq. I was denied an extention
on my visa (they never explain why) and had to struggle to even get extra days
just so I could get ready to leave. Other people get up to 2 1/2 months, but
its all at the whim of the Foreign Ministry. Maybe they've been reading my
I'm quite satisfied with what I've seen so far though. My only complaint is the
lack of trips outside of Baghdad, although the capital city has so much to
explore anyhow. But it seems as if a war is at least a good month off if not
more. People are unsure of Bush's motivations, but its doubtful he could come
up with anything before that. I simply cannot afford such a stay, and Im even
beginning to question the wisdom of being here during a war - I would be totally
cut off and unable to report on anything. I'd only be of use if I survived
months later and could return with my film. Its proabably best just to share
the personal stories I have so far obtained with Americans.
I've also begun to question the value of being here if bombs are to be dropping.
It really wont make much of an actual difference other than reporting on the
aftermath. If I really am set on having my person serve as a deterrant to
conflict and abuses, I should be in Palestine. There, as I well know from
experience, the mere sight of a foreigner will diretly affect how Israeli troops
treat locals. A single American standing in downtown Hebron can do more to stop
foolish conflict than one hundred in a hotel in Baghdad.
So as it is, my scheduled return flight is not until March 4 or so, and so long
as I'm in the region, I intend to return to the Occupied Territories and meet up
with old friends whose fates I worry about.
Baghdad will survive without me. It has to, unless this really is a mad mad
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Report #24 - Three Professors [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 18:12:59
As my time here seems to wane, I feel like I am quite pressed. I am rather much
in a situation where I realize there is so much more to see and do - but also
that perhaps I have served my purpose and it is time to return. Included in this
are the extraneous factors that are out of my control - such as my total lack of
money, my visa and the fact that things are still very limited. Kathy has set
the IPT on needing to focus on preparations for war, so there are less
opportunities to travel around, and I certainly wont be seeing anything outside
of Baghdad before I leave.
I've thought to turn my attention to getting things done as soon as I can, as
the malaise of my impending departure is beginning to set in. Nothing is
definite, of course, but I should probably take off as I am really unable to be
away from any income for much longer. One of my priorities then has been to meet
up with as many academics as I can, for I really relish talking to the
well-educated people here. College professors in Iraq are not only incredibly
intelligent (and usually fluent in English) but are also very passionate people
with a myriad of ideas on a wide variety of topics. They put a great deal of
emotion into their conversations, if for no other reason, much of what they
teach is in some way hampered or directly affected by the situation around
Last night, I went to dinner with a several people and two Iraqi English
literature professors who are married. I sat next to Dr. Saad Fadhill Abass, and
spoke with him most of the night. We were at an Italian restaurant, which
featured live piano music and souvenirs from Italy that lined the walls. It was
the classiest place I had been to in Iraq, and predictably, was mainly filled
Dr. Abass specializes in modern English/American drama, and most prefers to
teach "theater of the absurd". That evening, he was given as a gift, a
large bag full of drama books from the last ten years. He was delighted by it,
as (as I've mentioned so often) new material cannot be imported due to the
sanctions. He invited me to visit the English department's library where
dilapidated books from decades ago are what constitute 'contemporary' literature
Educated in Lancaster, England, he is a well-rounded man who also paints on the
side. "I paint in the Iraqi style," he told me. This was explained to
be several things. First of all, he did many country settings in an
impressionistic style, trying to include black-clad women in chadors in rural
areas. He said that his quirk was to leave the painting unfinished: "it is
up to the viewer to finish the painting; to add his or her own touch." But
he further explained that the "Iraqi style" was straight from the
imagination, because sanctions had stagnated the country. Painters in Iraq, he
asserted, no longer could study or train abroad, and nor could they get out to
see anything new, "so we look inside our heads to imagine things, and we do
a wonderful job of it."
The conversation turned to politics as the evening wore on. Dr. Abass asked us
of our views on why the US seemed hell-bent on moving in on Iraq. I explained my
theory that the US only goes to war with nations that don't open up their
resources to American firms - while it happily does business with brutal regimes
that do open their economies. But I was interested in how Iraqis felt cutoff
from the West that they had grown accustomed to before 1990. He wanted to stress
the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature of Iraq and how it is almost unique
to the Middle East. "Once a foreigner asked me if we Shia naturally hated
all Sunni Muslims. I said, I don't know, why don't you ask my wife who is
Sunni." He went on through how all the different members of his Shi'ite
family had married people of other faiths or ethnic groups. "We have total
love for all types of people here."
On the next day, Monday, I returned to Baghdad University to try to meet with
faculty of the Political Science department. I was having a spate of very bad
luck in catching professors there, primarily due to the fact that I kept
forgetting to call ahead. This time the Dean and two other professors I knew of
were all away at the time. But we were assisted in meeting the director of the
Palestine Studies program, Dr. Huda Al-Naimi and her colleague who translated
for us, Dr. Samir Radi.
Dr. Al-Naimi greeted us warmly with her blue eyes lit up, happy to have the
chance to talk to foreigners. She has spent the past fifteen years on this topic
and I was eager to pry into the Iraqi viewpoint on the Palestinian crisis - and
how it related to another war in the region. She stressed that the Iraqi
approach to the situation was unique because Iraq was the only nation to never
waiver in its stance. "While politics are never constant," she noted,
"Iraq has been towards the Palestinians."
She covered many aspects of the matter that I well understood - such as the
belief among Arabs that there was never an Arab-Jewish problem until Zionism
came about, and that that was a direct result of the problems Europeans and Jews
had. "It has been forced on us," she emphasized. She furthermore
explained the belief that the West uses Israel as a paragon of superiority over
The main issue however was how a war with Iraq would affect the situation in
Palestine. She repeated fears I had heard before that PM Ariel Sharon in Israel
will use a war with Iraq as a cover to cleanse the West Bank of Palestinians.
She noted that even without such a war, the current crisis has already
distracted attention and Israel "is doing now what it couldn't get away
with before," stepping up its abusive policies. But she wasn't hopeful
about the future. "How can I have a dialogue with you," she gave as an
example, "when I don't know what you might do to me? You may come and
destroy my home at any time, so how can I approach you?"
Dr. Radi stepped in and commented that if there is a war in Iraq, "Sharon
will have a festival."
Then we began discussing the US. Dr. Radi seemed quite lucid about the current
situation in America. He insisted that problems began not with 9/11, but in
November 2000, "when Bush stole the election in America." He
continued, "it is the beginning of the collapse of the American dream and
democracy. How did the Nazis begin?" I observed that time and time again,
Iraqi intellectuals seem more aware of the faltering state of true democracy in
the US than most Americans. "This is going to be a different America,"
he added. "It is going to be a monopoly, and monopolies are evil."
Every now and then, he managed to make such nuances.
The conversation turned to the impending war and the two professors became much
more emotional. "We are waiting for a miracle," they repeated. Dr.
Radi added, "We are crossing all of our fingers, not just two." They
were sure that Iraq was only the beginning, but that nothing could change it.
The admitted to being pessimistic. We asked about the massive and unprecedented
worldwide demonstrations on Feb. 15 - the largest in world history. They were
encouraged, but assured us that people in power held the real sway. "I was
called a pessimistic, but now I don't think so," Dr. Radi said.
He observed how as people matured, they began to become more skeptical. Even Dr.
Naimi mentioned that before 1990 she never wore her hejab, and now she
constantly does. "Radical, liberal, conservative, reactionary." Dr.
Radi listed denoting how people age. Instead of showing much hope, they both
reflected on their survival skills. "You must learn the art of
living," Dr. Radi insisted. "Right now, we are in a forest. But even
in a forest, things survive."
The allusion was not lost on me.
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Report #23 - Market to Barber [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 17:08:06
I finally made an attempt to get some photographs at a market I had previously
discovered while walking about the week before. I had been fearing that I would
not be able to secure a visa extention, and that these might prove to be my
final days in Iraq. So I had to get around to doing everything I had meant to in
a short time.
Bernadette, the woman working on the NBC film, opted to follow me as I went with
the driver/escort Muhammed to the radio-parts market. This was an area tucked
behind one of the electronics markets, set in a dingy and dank alleyway just a
few blocks from Tahrir Square - the heart of Baghdad. Piles of garbage swelled
in street corners and sidewalks were hardly distinguishible as they crumbled
into the narrow alley road. Men hawked chassis of radio sets from the 1970s -
things that were built to last. Some had tables full of speakers or gears for
tape decks. I hoped that photographing the area would well illustrate the
resourcefulness Iraqis have turned to in the face of total sanctions.
I began by taking a picture of a large pile of electronics boards, tossed
together in no order. Several were broken and I was rather unsure what use they
still had. Still, I liked the look of the pile (still practicing my technique.)
and made an attempt to capture it with some people in the background. Not thirty
seconds later and just as we were about to move on, a man ran up to me and began
"What are you doing here?!" he demanded. I instantly got nervous, not
knowing who the person was. In his tan button down shirt and disheveled hair, he
didn't seem too menacing, but his eves wore an incredible anger. I told him I
was taking photographs. "Of what??" he continued fuming. Of daily life
in Iraq - markets and things people do, I explained.
"No you are not! You are taking pictures of garbage!" He went on
relentlessly. "Why this? What is this to you? You are photographing
garbage!" I told him it was artistically pleasing. It didn't work.
"No!" he repeated. "You are looking at garbage. Why?" He
then asked me if I was a student. At this point a small crowd had gathered
around us, and Bernadette was filming our exchange. I told him no, and then
realized I didn't have one of the Arabic printed sheets explaining IPT's mission
on me. I told him that I was a journalist trying to capture all facets of life.
He still didn't believe me - or at least my intentions. I couldn't quite fathom
how I could be using photographs of rubbish in the middle of a market against
the people of Iraq. I didn't understand how doing so would actually give cause
to starting a war back home. If anything, I reasoned, photographing such things
brought sympathy by revealing how bad the economy is here. I didn't tell him
this as it then dawned on me that it was probably just an issue of pride. He
didn't want that as the face of Iraq.
So I tried to relate to that. I told him I wanted to show America all sides of
Baghdad - how the rich and poor live, and how difficult things were with the
sanctions. "I don't believe you!" he again exclaimed. I was running
into a dead end. Look, I told him, this looked interesting - I wanted to take a
picture of it because as art, it is interesting. I said that if it was a pile of
electronic boards in an American street, I would just as much want to photograph
it. Indeed, there was certainly an artistic quality to it. I noticed a man
behind him grinning widely- obviously amused by all of this. He smiled at me,
and I had the understanding that he didn't get this guy either. So I then said
that I had been to many galleries as saw all sorts of interpretation of art.
"Are you a student?" he again demanded of me.
I stuck to the artist story, and he finally relented. "Well I'm sorry. If
that is what you like - fine!" As he turned to storm off I said to him in
Arabic, 'thank you' and 'with peace (Arabic for 'good-bye')'. He ignored me and
walked away. The others in the crowd laughed out loud and shook my hand. Perhaps
I was out of line with my photograph, or perhaps Iraq just has difficult people
like anywhere else on Earth. Muhammad though was shaken by the affair, and in
his protective way ushered us out of the market.
Yesterday afternoon some IPT members from New York state held a ceremony for
planting a "peace pole" at the UN Development Project building. The
occasion was rather large in fact, and organized with numerous university
students to urge peace for all nations. I went with Kathy Kelly and others, who
brought along Karima and her family. Mahmud, the young boy of 8 who I hadn't
seen in over a week, immediately recognized me and stuck by my side the whole
time. I've begun to realize that I've spent more time playing with children in
Iraq than I ever had at home.
Lacking any toys, I again gave Mahmud my videocamera and let him runabout. I
didn't catch him in time for the press conference at the UNDP, and out in the
lawn with all the other journalists with cameras on tripods I found him
imitating them. As photographers moved in for shots, Mahmud followed. He even
tilted the videocamera sideways, as photographers were doing.
After that brief affair, I went to go get my hair cut. Lacking clippers, I had
been only moderately tolerating the condition of my hair, so I thought that a
local hair cut might do the trick. The parlor was brightly lit by several
florescent bulbs which reflected off of a sparkling clean floor. The owner only
spoke a tiny amount of English, and the person actually cutting my hair knew
none. So I did my best to explain that I just wanted the side and back trimmed
with clippers and to leave the top alone. With patient care, the barber did a
fine job without much input from me.
Then he went at my neck hair with a straight razor. I had to have my glasses off
and was quite blind, but it didn't take me long to understand what he was doing.
I panicked, realizing that he was close to my ear and my head was not quite
being perfectly still. Joel had earlier seen a straight razor job done at
another shop where a man with some spots on his face wound up bleeding. Just as
I breathed a sigh of relief when he finished, he returned with something far
more frightening. He twisted bits of elastic twine between his fingers and
pulled it taught in his teeth. He then proceeded to snap the elastic across
parts of my upper cheeks, tearing out hair follicles I never knew existed. I
squealed and squirmed in pain as he continued. He only chuckled at my misery. I
exclaimed in English that this was the brutality of Iraq.
[Pictures will be posted soon]
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Report #22 - Marching in Baghdad [Iraq] - Ben Granby - firstname.lastname@example.org @ 14:15:22
Saturday was the day of massive worldwide demonstrations. It happened here in
Baghdad too, but of a rather different nature. Apart from the usual
pro-government rallies here - replete with weapons, IPT along with several other
organizations formed a march of internationals starting from our hotel. Joining
with us was the Italian anti-sanctions group, Bridges to Baghdad, the
self-professed "Human Shields" (who have their own t-shirts), another
British group with a name denoting something about truth and justice (my mind is
foggy right now), and a group from Okinawa, Japan, called Music Not Weapons (the
Japanese translates poorly.). There was a preliminary press conference before
things got under way. IPT's intention was to have a silent march, but that's
never possible when Italians are around. The Japanese, in colorful kung-fu style
outfits (yeah, I'm being sensitive), also had drums and other traditional
instruments to accompany their chanting music.
We set off, with each group proceeding in a row. Unfortunately, we seemed to
have only scattered amounts of press with us, as most US press seemed focused on
the government-backed rallies elsewhere. Guns are always a draw to journalists.
Yet one would think that 150 internationals marching in a foreign nation about
to be bombed might draw some attention.
Nevertheless, many locals came out to show support. Two Imam's even joined in
the march, walking and giving interviews along the way. Shop owners,
construction workers and even soldiers we passed by gave us thumbs' up and
clapped. I began photographing and fell back away from IPTs march to see the
Naturally, the Japanese drew the most attention, especially as they at times
paused to dance in syncopated moves to their music. It certainly delighted many
of the locals, and boys came streaming down streets to watch.
The Italians also became a little boisterous and passed their peace flags around
to onlookers - to whom the press quickly surrounded for photographing. As we
passed one of the military buildings (I'm not sure really what goes on in there)
an old Italian man jumped into the row of soldiers standing with rifles to wave
his flag. Lovely photos, really. >From the windows in the distance,
high-ranking officers leaned out and gave peace signs.
I didn't expect it, but certainly at times I felt awash with a bit of pride to
be part of the whole endeavor. As we walked down towards Al Rasheed St. to climb
Shuhada (Martyr) Bridge, young boys approached clamoring to hold on to
something. Several waved a large peace flag in front of the President's
portrait. I should note that I also took the opportunity to snap some shots of
the portraits all around - mainly because I just cannot find any trading cards.
The march ended on the top of the bridge. I noticed that at this point we were
escorted by leather-jacket clad party officials in sunglasses. They didn't stand
in the way at all - most notably they let people photograph all over the bridge,
which is usually a major no-no. It was a unique event, perhaps in world history
even - but it really did get minimal attention outside of the region. Iraqi TV
loved it though, and all evening hotel workers and the people at the internet
café told me they saw me on TV. Stardom is fleeting though.
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blog adendum [Iraq] - Ben Granby - email@example.com @ 18:25:28
Just some points after browsing the comments.
Hilarious stuff. Really.
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