We need to talk about Gaza’s suicide epidemic


This article is also published at The New Arab

Gaza has a problem.

Away from the political clashes and the polemics between Israel and the Palestinians, social problems have inundated the Gaza Strip since the harsh siege imposed by Israel in 2006.

While disagreements continue, the people of Gaza are the ones paying the price for all political changes. Repeatedly, we are warned of a crisis brewing as life in the Strip becomes harder.

A week ago, a father stabbed his three children, nine, twelve and nineteen years respectively, before setting himself on fire.

Talal Abu Dbaa, who died four days later in extensive care at the hospital, suffered from mental disorder according to authorities. He is among the 30% of Gazans who are suffering from some form of trauma due to poverty and siege.

Unfortunately, Abu Dbaa is not the only one.

Three weeks ago, another father had also committed suicide by self-immolation, setting himself alight in front of a charity institution.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that 65% of Palestinians living in the enclave suffer from poverty, and unemployment is at an all-time high at 47%. These driving factors are likely contributing to the increasing suicide phenomena.

The same report states that 80% of Gazans depend on foreign and external aid, including donations and food parcels from international organisations. NGOs attempt to bridge the poverty gap and overcome the high unemployment crisis.

Fearing social stigma, families of victims in the Gaza Strip often refuse to explain the reasons for suicide. Authorities also downplay these events for political reasons, and accurate numbers and details are hard to come by.

Zahiya al-Farrah, a psychologist at the Gaza Institute for Physiological Health, explains how the people in Gaza have lost hope in life, caught up between the Fatah-Hamas divisions, and the siege that has turned the Strip into an open-air prison.

Al-Farrah believes that depression is prevalent among the citizens, as no solutions appear to be upcoming any time soon.

A week ago, a father stabbed his three children, 9, 12 and 19 years respectively, before setting himself on fire

“Unemployment makes people feel they are dependent and useless towards their families and country, so they go to the bad side of life, and begin committing suicide, killing and stealing,” she added.

Like any other physiological institution or centre, the Gaza Institute for Physiological Health helps those who suffer from trauma or physiological problems, nearly ten per cent of the population.

On the other hand, Issa Jaradat, a physiological and social specialist, believes that the suicide cases occurring in the Strip is not a phenomenon, but an exceptional case that occurs when these factors appear. The problem seems inherited from one generation to another, since the occupation in 1948, and is not the result of new pressures or developments.

“While the occupation is responsible, we should not neglect other factors here,” Jarafat explained.

Dr. Ayman Sahabani, speaking at a conference, says that nearly thirty suicide cases reached al-Shifa Hospital, attempting different methods from knives, insecticides, self-immolation, jumping off a high place or hanging.

“Most of those trying to commit suicide are youths, and thankfully, we managed to rescue some,” he added.

Mohammed Arafat



What does establishing a state in the Gaza Strip mean?



We could hear in the past couple of days that many Palestinian politicians promote that they agree on founding a Palestinian state only in the Gaza Strip and Sinai not knowing what that means!

Well, I am neither politician nor analyst or commentator, I am only a Palestinian citizen from this strip, and I have the right to say the truth and ask for my minimum right. Palestine is unnegotiable and undiscusable, and can’t be sold or traded by any government, and as Palestinians we don’t allow that!

With all my respect to those politicians who suggest the ‘solution’, I believe that it’s a very wrong disastrous suggestion to give! Making a Palestine on the Gaza Strip has lots and lots of long-termed results that can destroy the dream of millions of Palestinians inside and outside this country;

A Palestine in Gaza can:
-Remove the histrionic Palestine off the map.
-End the right of return that millions of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Europe and the Americas dream of.
-Destroy the Palestinian name and replace it with Gaza.
-End the dreams of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
-Recognize Israel ‘legally’ as a state on the Palestinian soil not as an occupation.
-Remove the West Bank, which can be included under the Jordanian control or the Israeli.
-Ignite internal clashes between those who refuse this ‘plan’ and those who accept it.
-kill the international diplomatic negotiations, meetings and the UN resolutions that lasted for decades since 1948.
-Take down the Palestinian National Authority that used to facilitate most of the things in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank despite.
-Omit the efforts of the Palestinian great leaders who died for the sake of this country.
-Remove the dream of Jerusalem as a capital for Palestine.
-Have Israel Judaize Jerusalem and occupy the rest of the West Bank.

However, many think this suggestion might finally open up the Gaza Strip to the world, making Gazans live finally like others. Meanwhile, It’s obvious that we need life as others in the world, but this can’t be at the expense of selling Palestine and its name!

Everyone knows that we can live happily in the Gaza Strip ONLY IF Fatah and Hamas reconciliate, and only if both look after their people!

Let’s not wait for others to decide our fates, let us ourselves make our dreams come true! Why would we sell our country easily? Why wouldn’t we just shake each other hands and hug and then sit to talk? Palestine needs us! Palestine has been patient despite the suffering it has been having, so why wouldn’t we be patient and think rationally about how to solve our own problems without trying trading and selling our country? Let’s not be hostages of outsiders’ powers, and let’s be ourselves! We can’t accept Gaza to be Palestine, and we can’t accept Palestine to be without Gaza! We have to love our country as it loves us since decades.

Mohammed Arafat

From one apartheid to another: Israel deports South African



For Israel, a ‘security threat’ is anyone who holds an opposite political view.

Israel not only tightens its grip on the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but also on those who attempt to support the Palestinian cause abroad. Despite the United Nations Human Rights Council calling for an end to Israel’s systematic campaign to prevent international NGO workers and activists from working in Palestinian lands, these procedures continue.

Activists from around the world trying to enter Palestinian lands through Israel face many difficulties, from being made to wait for hours, interrogated by authorities or even deportation.

Along with another friend from South Africa, Altaf Adam was one of those targeted and deported from Ben Gurion International Airport after trying to enter Israel en route to a youth camp in Palestine.

Adam spoke to me and told me his story on being deported from Israel.

“My spirits were high, it has been a life’s dream of mine to visit Palestine, and more importantly, the holy mosque of Masjid al-Aqsa,” Adam explained when asked about his feelings after deciding to visit Palestine.

“And I still want to visit the Holy Lands, even after my experience,” he added.

Adam’s goal from his visit was to join a youth camp and tour Palestine. “The aim of the camp was to build ties between Palestinian youth and youth from around the world.”

Upon arriving, Adam was made to wait fourteen hours at the airport. He was then transferred, along with 40 others, to a cell, without being informed why or told what he was accused with. With him in the cell, was a Jewish Ukrainian man, and they remained detained for nearly ten hours.

Soon enough, soldiers accompanied Adam, handing him a small sized receipt stamped ‘exit permit’ and escorted him towards a plane heading back to South Africa.

“It’s frustrating thinking about it, being deported by an authority I do not recognize as the rightful authority of the land,” Adam explains. “I was helpless in the moment and exhausted all options to attempt to get pass the Israeli authorities.”

When asked about his message to the international community regarding Israeli actions against critical activists, Adam explained that he is not disappointed that he could not get past customs. “My actions are an act of resistance on their own. I would encourage freedom loving people from around the world to continue to challenge the Israeli authorities and their unjust actions.”

Despite not being in Palestine to share his happiness and sympathy with Palestinians, Adam said, “as South Africans, we back the Palestinian struggle for freedom, support them and will assist by any means possible.”

“Remain in high spirit and do not lose sight. Unite your people on common grounds.” Adam encouraged the Palestinians under the occupation.

You can read more on Adam’s short-lived visit on his blog here.

Mohammed Arafat




The one-state resolution is not a solution either!



For the first time and in a major shocking policy shift, the US president, Donald Trump, has ended the dreams of the dreamers who used to have the two-state solution as the best choice to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Tremendous of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including International and Arab politicians have rejected this declaration, believing it is the first step in destroying peace in this area and in the Middle East as a whole, while others believe it is a good step.

Those who oppose the American statement believe that ignoring the two-state resolution is a base for chaos in the area, saying this resolution is the best for both sides so both can live peacefully within their states. Meanwhile, they do realize that the two-state resolution has been the bedrock for the US and the international community since decades, and it’s been the first and last option both sides must believe in. However, this group state that the one-state resolution can never work since both sides are ignited with hatred towards each other, and that would cause another Intifada that can rip up the long-standing roadmap and the peaceful process.

In addition, the opponents believe that there would be a fight in choosing a name of this state, and of course Israel don’t agree to live under another name so don’t Palestinians.

The same group discusses that Netanyahu’s statements after the conference with the US President Trump proved their claims since he said, “There are two prerequisites for peace. First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state, and second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”

Moreover, Palestinians are worried about the US President’s comments regarding relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem and his silence about constructing settlements in private lands in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Trump advised Netanyahu to ‘pull back’ on settlements for ‘a little bit’ though.

Like most of the Palestinian officials, Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization has issued her warnings against abandoning this resolution, saying that rejecting this policy would be destroying the chances for peace.

Palestinians weren’t the only ones being against the While House’s declarations, but while during a visit to Cairo, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has said that there is no alternative to two-state resolution that can establish the peace between both sides.

However, the people, who believe that this is a good step towards peace, say that the one-state resolution can bring peace to the area, and can give the citizens of Palestine and Israel the rights equally. The president can be either Palestinian or Israeli, and the prime minister can be either or Jewish. Also, this group strongly believes that there must be a solution, either worse or better, since the two-state resolution has taken decades and nothing happened.

On the other hand, there is a group thinking inside the books suggest that Gaza can be included to Egypt’s Sinai where there would be a Palestinian state recognized internationally, and the West Bank can go for Israel and under its control, which of course every patriotic Palestinian never agree on since Egypt is for Egyptians and Gaza is a part from Palestine.

The last line? I am not being pessimistic, but I am realistic as always; the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not easy to solve within a conference or a meeting as it is a religious belief for both sides. It has to take generations to find a suitable solution that both sides can accept. It’s a complicated case that no one has been able to solve! It’s not two states wanting to live in peace, but it’s more than that; there is a divided Palestine in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, millions of Palestinian refugees spread across the world, ‘legal’ and illegal settlements, hatred, wars, prisoners in Israeli jails including children and men, brutalities, Executions with cold blood, and much more!

Mohammed Arafat



Playing with fire: Hot trends in Gaza’s barber shops



This is also published at The New Arab

In Gaza, survival is an art.

The book of the Gaza Strip does not only consist of wars, suffering and poverty; there are countless stories of perseverance in this crowded area. Palestinians living in this enclave find themselves mastering crafts and skills, pushing boundaries others cannot.

The siege did not silence them, it merely fueled them to continue to push and develop their lives using whatever means available to them, often in an innovative manner.

Located in Southern Gaza, Ramadan Edwan is a 37 year old barber, who since 1998 has his own modern salon offering new – and eerie – styles to his customers.

Far away from traditional and dull hair styles, Edwan offers a new barbering style: using an open flame.

“I’ve been a barber for nearly two decades, so inventing and applying new methods is not that difficult,” Edwan explains. “Many people in the Strip, especially those that saw my video make the rounds on social media, think this method is new, but it’s already around outside Gaza.”

“I self-developed this method my way to accommodate the Palestinian culture and nature,” Edwan adds.

Barbers not subject to siege can easily access technology and development, and their skills are often aided by machines. This is a luxury not afforded to Edwan.

“On the other hand,” Edwan explains, “in Gaza, we have professionals who make the impossible possible, even if so many think we are incomparable to those who reside outside the area.”

Talking about his customers, Edwan says most of them are the younger demographic. “Gazan youth love to venture and try new things, this method was developed for them.”

The professional barber adds that many youth come to his salon to experience this method, even if their hair does not need it. Treating with fire, Edwan explains, allows the hair to become smooth, soft and much easier to comb.

“This method activates the blood circulation, as well as nourishes the hair and strengthens its roots.”

Ahmed, one of Edwan’s customers, describes how despite feeling apprehensive when first seeing the video clip of Edwan’s new hair styling technique on YouTube, decided to try it.

“At the beginning, I was really scared to try this new method as the barber uses fire, but I decided to go for it anyway, and amazingly, it was a piece of cake – I didn’t feel a thing.”

Mohammed Arafat



This is also published at The New Arab

From the old castles in Japan to the ancient pyramids of Egypt; from St. Peter’s Basilica church in the Vatican to the old city of Jerusalem in Palestine, civilizations emerged and created histories with their traditions, customs and crafts. In every country, there is a rich history developed by its skilled people through their talents and the crafts they master.

Despite being under dozens of different civilizations for centuries, Palestinian customs and traditions remained the same and until this day remain witness to Palestinian history. In its embroidery motif, the cross-stich, Palestinian heritage has a distinctive touch.

This custom emerged in Palestine during the Canaanite period (1500 BCE). Cross-stitched clothes were made at home and worn by Palestinian villagers, or Fellaheen. Embroidery is still learnt at home, taught by older generations, and traditionally passed from mother to daughter and from daughter to sister.

Sewing the embroidery or cross-stitch is not easy, and it could take days to complete a single piece as it requires certain precise skills and patience. Many enjoy doing it together, and gather inside a home to sit and embroider as a group.

I met up with Nadia Sahmoud, a young Palestinian girl from the Gaza Strip, who specializes in clothing embroidery, in particular the Palestinian villagers dresses. While many choose to pursue a talent they love, with Nadia, it is also a form of resistance and a way of preserving Palestinian customs.

Starting her story, Nadia describes how she was watching a fashion show on T.V, and during the show, Palestinian traditional clothing were being showcased. Initially, she felt proud and happy, “but suddenly, I was shocked. They said the designer is Israeli.”

“The clothes designer stated that the designs are Israeli, and they describe the Israeli history.”

From then, Nadia decided to learn and master this craft so she can correct the misconception of Palestinian embroidery and resist the historical appropriation.

Nadia dreams about having her designs and products shared in an international fashion show, to become a talented embroidery maker with her own trademark.

Like other Palestinians, Nadia shares a dream teaching the world about Palestine with the growth of her talents. She has plans to sew her first Palestinian wedding dress, and will then begin selling these dresses globally, hoping that, “the world can know that these heritage cloths are Palestinians not Israeli.”

She continued, “As you know every country has its identity represented by its traditions and customs, and of course embroidery is a very strong symbol that roots the Palestinian identity making it a beauty spot among the Middle Eastern countries and the world as a whole.”

Answering the question whether the embroidery is a craft or a talent, Nadia has said that talent and craft are two sides of the same coin.

“That means, when you have a craft, you need a talent to perfect it,” she explained.

Amid Gaza’s current risky unemployment, this is also Nadia’s major source of income.

Nadia finishes the conversation saying that the Palestinian dress should be as famous as other Arab dresses since embroidery is a sign of history and, “a country without its history is meaningless.”

Mohammed Arafat


An unheard cry from Aleppo


This poem is also published at We Are Not Numbers

Silence was in every corner
Inside the home of Amina,
The little girl of Aleppo.
She was surrounded by bombs and jets,
Sleeping between her mum and dad.
She woke up asking her mum to cover her,
And found her little brother crying instead.

Her mother did not respond.
Silence came and went,
Cut only by her brother’s cries.
Thinking her mum was tired and sleeping,
She shook her dad to cover her;
He did not respond.

The cries of her brother filled the room,
Warm tears dropped down her cheeks.
She thought her dad was dreaming of her future,
Dreaming of how he would live for his daughter,
How he would share beautiful memories,
The memories of her, his wife and his son.
She thought he was dreaming of his country,
And his stricken city of Aleppo.

A destroyed home in Aleppo (photo by Matteo Rovella)

She thought his dream had become a nightmare,
A nightmare of why no one cared,
No one helped,
No one spoke up.
They ignored the cries of children,
The moans of women,
The weeping of men.

She wondered if her dad was imagining
Why the international organizations were silenced,
The government was committing massacres,
Their allies raping women and torturing men.

Amina asked her dad to cover her,
To cover her from the fear in the air,
From the smell of gun powder,
From the darkness in which she lives,
From the fear she shares with her brother.

Aleppo, (photo by Dimitar Dilko/AFP)

She needs to be covered,
To feel accompanied in her loneliness,
To feel happy after her sadness,
To feel healthy after her sickness.

She keeps asking her dad to cover her:
Cover me before it’s too late.
Cover me before the bombs target me.
Before they burn our home with their fires.
Dad, cover me before it’s too late.

He did not cover her.
She did not know her dad was on his way to the heavens,
Where her mother already was praying,
For her,
Her brother,
And Aleppo.

Mohammed Arafat