this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr

for the main blog of poetry, whimsy and maybe beauty, now

Thursday, 9 April 2009

honey, the cat

Alladin Sisalem and his cat honey

From Chroniques de Palestine
Leila Al Haddad a Palestinian citizen of Gaza, well known blogger and journalist, is currently being held with her two young children in the Cairo airport. Al Haddad arrived in Egypt from the United States intending to go to Gaza via the Raffa, Egypt border crossing.

Al Haddad holds both a Palestinian and an American passport. She is being told by the Egyptian port authorities that they have orders not to allow any Palestinians with residency abroad into Egypt and that her and her children will be sent back to the US.

Al Haddad’s husband is a Palestinian refugee, currently living in the U.S.; Because his right to return to Palestine is denied by Israel the couple have lived together on and off with Leila and the children living In Gaza for the rest of the time.

The Raffa border crossing is the only way Al Haddad can get into Gaza as Israel has blocked all sea and air access to Gaza as well as the land crossings under it’s control.

On Al Haddad’s blog,, she describes “the trials of raising my children between spaces and identities; displacement and occupation; and everything that entails from potty training to border crossings. My husband is a Palestinian refugee denied his right of return to Palestine, and thus OUR right to family life. Together, we endure a lot, and the personal becomes political
I referred to a similar situation in this post. People want to leave, or have to leave, because living in Palestine under occupation is dire, especially in Gaza, which is still under economic siege and has just been destroyed by the Israeli onslaught. They want to leave or have to leave to get work, to educate themselves. They want to leave, they have to leave, because Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights says:
■(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

■(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
However, as mentioned before, if a Palestinian has not been residing in Palestine for six years, they are no longer consider residents of Palestine, by the Israeli forces, that is. If immigration of Egypt and Israel are refusing those who need to get into Palestine to retain and maintain their right to live their, then it directly contravenes both of the two points above. But what's new?

As I wrote before, the Israeli Law of Return,
[which was]...enacted in 1950, [and which]... gives Jews, those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses the right to migrate to and settle in Israel and gain citizenship
Israel was established in 1948. Palestinians were on that land. As seen by cases in Australia's handling of refugees under the Howard government, Palestinians are a people without an official country or state. The woman above has dual passports, what of those who don't? Once they have left Palestine, or Israel has expelled them, where do they go? And if they go somewhere where the government will not accept them, then where are they returned to?(As has happened to asylum seekers in Australia*, even though the asylum seeker is in Australia because non-acceptance has happened in Kuwait, Egypt and many other places). The western world really seems responsible for a lot of this mess, especially for not upholding the rights of humans beings and for not insisting on the application of international law and principles to all people.

*Indefinite detention permitted by Australian law
Mr Al-Kateb was born in Kuwait to parents of Palestinian origin. He arrived in Australia by boat. After two years in immigration detention he decided he wanted to be removed from Australia. The Australian Government tried to send him to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria as well as to the Palestinian Territories, but none of those countries would give him a passport. He was stuck in detention because the Australian Government couldn’t arrange for him to leave. When Mr Al-Kateb applied to the courts for his release, the Australian High Court found that Australian law permits the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. Mr Al-Kateb was eventually given a bridging visa and now lives in the Australian community.
However, this guy, who was denied asylum, and who returned to Gaza was not so lucky: Asylum seeker shot dead in Gaza in 2008.
A Palestinian asylum seeker who told Australian authorities he was frightened to return to the Middle East has been killed in the Gaza Strip, refugee advocates say.

The Federal Court in 2002 ordered Akram Al Masri be released from immigration detention, ruling the federal government did not have the right to detain him ahead of his deportation, despite his having been denied a temporary protection visa.

He left Australia a short time later.

At the time, Mr Al Masri said he feared for his life if forced to return to Israel but said he'd rather be returned home than go back to the detention centre.
"The previous Australian government is responsible for another terrible crime by forcing refugees to be sent back to Gaza when they knew the situation there,"
[Sydney-based Social Justice Network spokesman Jamal Daoud said].

"This guy had problems with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He claimed to have been tortured and the previous government knew all that and still forced him out.

"It is a tragedy because we have lost another young person who could have been a good Australian citizen."
Other Palestinians have been granted asylum, and have stayed within Australia. There is a fascinating story that Arnold Zable, award winning author and president of the Melbourne chapter of PEN, tells of Alladin Sisalem, a poor guy stuck on one of our outpost processing islands, all by himself for ten months, except for the guards of course. We had the Pacific Solution, which was sending our asylum seekers kilometres of the shore, thousands of kilometres: to Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island. Christmas Island is still being used. Initially, under Howard, human rights workers, lawyers and reporters were not allowed to the islands. Additionally, it is incredibly expensive to go. Unbelievable.

Sisalem's story can be found in detail here. It is quite a story, and doesn't begin at Manus, but that is where the Australian government got involved, or tried not to get involved. For ten months he was the only person left in a detention camp that the Australian government had on Manus island, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. He was eighteen months in the camp in total, and he had also spent considerable amounts of time seeking asylum in other countries. In 2003, the Green Left Weekly ran a report including the following quotes:
The way the government has been able to wash its hands of Sisalem exemplifies the role that the offshore detention centres have played for the federal government. Asylum seekers there have been at the mercy of the immigration department, without access to Australia's courts or advice from lawyers.

The points made by Russell Skelton in the July 29 Australian apply as much to Manus Island as to the Nauru detention camp, which he said: "It suits the Howard government's callous purposes perfectly. The government has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Australians putting faces to those locked up in Australian detention centres. It would not do for voters to think they were normal, if desperate, human beings. On Nauru this policy is easy to enforce. Quite apart from the isolation, lawyers, human rights advocates and journalists have been denied visas to Nauru."

Only one journalist was successful in reaching the Manus Island prison. In January 2002, the Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Roberts posed as a tourist to get access to the island, and was able to report a history of suicide attempts, breakouts and hunger strikes by asylum seekers, as well as widespread, potentially fatal diseases, including malaria, typhoid fever and tuberculosis.
Anyway, in May 2004, the government closed the centre (despite saying it already had closed it), issued Sisalem with a humanitarian visa, and the whole saga finally had a happy ending which Mr. Al-Masri's did not.

Apart from being an award winning author and president of the Melbourne chapter of PEN, Arnold Zable is also Jewish. His Polish parents fled Europe before the Nazi invasion. And he has explored these themes in his writing. He has also run workshops for migrants and refugees, and has . . . spent considerable time with refugees held in Australian detention centres. He gave a wonderful 2009 Basia Leinkram Lecture, podcast here on Radio National (podcasts are kept back to 2006). I think the he Basia Leinkram lecture is is sponsored by B'nai B'rith, Anti-Defamation Commission. Zable tells many extraordinary stories, including details of the Tampa scandal. At about the 29 minute mark, Zable tells of having dinner with Sisalem, once Sisalem has been allowed into Australia. Sisalem is cooking dinner for him. On Manus, Sisalem had a cat, his only companion apart from the guards, I guess. The cat's name was Honey. On the day that Zable meets Sisalem, the cat had just come out of quarantine, so Zable got to meet it.

Alladin Sisalem and his cat honey

The name of the lecture is The Humanising Power of Story. Zable tells how an SBS reporter eventually got to talk to Sisalem and promised to return the following day. Sisalem had a nightmare, and it was the worst nightmare he had ever had. He dreamt that the reporter would not return, and nobody would ever hear his story, would ever know who he was. Referring back to the quote above:
"The government has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Australians putting faces to those locked up in Australian detention centres. It would not do for voters to think they were normal, if desperate, human beings,"
Sisalem's fears were not without merit. Hopefully, Australian has shifted into a more humanitarian policy in regards to asylum seekers. There are still faults, but nothing seems to be as draconian as it was under Howard. I could be wrong, of course.

Remember Honey the cat, and Leila Al Haddad, who is being denied permission to enter her homeland. The human face is what is missing in our assessment of what is happening in Palestine, and in fact, in most conflicts around the world, and in our own countries, where it is all too easy to blame problems on 'the other'. Zable explores that concept and others in his lecture, and I hope this post reflects that to a degree.
There is also a report of Sisalem in Australia from this Age article. It contains the photograph I have featured.

11 April Note: 9th April update from a mother from gaza. She was being deported, at the time of her writing, denied entry into her home.

No comments:

this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr