gaza man on rubble

Can Palestinian Men be Victims? Gendering Israel’s War on Gaza

by: Maya Mikdashi

from Jadaliyya

Every morning we wake up to an updated butcher’s bill: one hundred, two hundred, four hundred, six hundred Palestinians killed by Israel’s war apparatus. These numbers gloss over many details: the majority of Gazans, one of the most populated and impoverished areas in the world, are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine. It is under a brutal siege, and there is nowhere to hide from Israel’s onslaught.  Before this “war” Gaza was a form of quarantine, a population held captive and colonized by Israel’s ability tobreak international law with impunity. They are population in a relationship of dependency—for food, for water, medicine, even for movement—with their colonizers. In the event of a ceasefire, Gaza will remain colonized, quarantined, and blockaded. It will remain an open-air prison, a mass refugee camp.

One detail about the dead, however, is repeated often in Western-based mass media: the vast majority of murdered Palestinians in Gaza are civilians—and sources say that a “disproportionate” number are women and children. The killing of women and children is horrific—but in the reiteration of these disturbing facts there is something missing: the public mourning of Palestinian men killed by Israel’s war machine. In 1990 Cynthia Enloe[1] coined the term “womenandchildren” in order to think about the operationalization of gendered discourses to justify the first Gulf War. Today, we should be aware of how the trope of “womenandchildren” is circulating in relation to Gaza and to Palestine more broadly. This trope accomplishes many discursive feats, two of which are most prominent: The massifying of women and children into an undistinguishable group brought together by the “sameness” of gender and sex, and the reproduction of the male Palestinian body (and the male Arab body more generally) as always already dangerous. Thus the status of male Palestinians (a designation that includes boys aged fifteen and up, and sometimes boys as young as thirteen) as “civilians” is always circumspect.

This gendering of Israel’s war on Gaza is conversant with discourses of the War on Terror and, as Laleh Khalili has argued persuasively, counter-insurgency strategy and war-making more broadly. In this framework, the killing of women and girls and pre-teen and under boys is to be marked, but boys and men are presumed guilty of what they might do if allowed to live their lives. Furthermore, these boys and men are potentially dangerous not only to the militaries that occupy them, but to those womenandchildren who actually arecivilians. The young boys, after all, may grow up to be violent extremists. Thus, kill the flesh—extinguish the potential.

Only within this logic can criticism of Israel’s war on Gaza be answered, straight faced, with statements about the “fate” of women and homosexuals “under” Hamas. Recently, a spokesman for Israel answered Noura Erakat’s condemnation of Israel’s violation of international human rights by sharing this gem of wisdom: “Hamas, they wouldn’t allow a young, liberal, secular woman to express her views like you do, ma’am. They would not allow my gay friends to express their sexuality freely.” This statement aims to mobilize the gendered discourse of the War on Terror, a discourse that plays on the affective registers of US liberalism through a pandering to feminist and LGBTQ rights. This pandering allows Islamophobia and war to be manifested as a public and international good—after all, it is “we” that are defending the helpless from the ravages of Muslim and Arab men. Laleh Khalili has called this “the use of gendered ‘telling’ to distinguish those who are to be protected from those who are to be feared or destroyed.” This discourse is so powerful that it does not need to rely on facts—it has in fact overridden them.

The Israeli war machine, much like the US war machine in Afghanistan or Iraq, does not protect Palestinian queers and women and children. It kills them, maims them, and dispossesses them alongside their loved ones—for the simple reason that they are Palestinian, and thus able to be killed with impunity while the world watches. Today, the difference between Palestinian womenandchildren and Palestinian men is not in the production of corpses, but rather in the circulation of those corpses within dominant and mainstream discursive frames that determine who can be publicly mourned as true “victims” of Israel’s war machine. Thus the sheer number of womenandchildren dead are enough to mobilize the US president and the UN to make statements “condemning” the violence—but the killing, imprisonment, and maiming of Palestinian men and boys in times of war and ceasefire goes uncited. In Israel men, settlers, and even soldiers are framed as victims of Palestinian terrorism and aggression. All are publicly mourned. In an almost direct reversal, while Palestinian boys and men have been the primary target of Israel, as evidenced by the population of political prisoners and targeted assassinations, are not seen by Western-based mainstream media as victims of Israeli terrorism and aggression. Palestinians are put in the self-defeating position of having to fight to be recognized as human, to be recognized in death and in life as victims of Israeli policies and actions.

Sex is often thought as an accident of birth: after all, we had no say in how our development in utero. We did not get to offer an opinion when others decided that we had been born with a vagina (and were thus female) or born with a penis (and were thus male). Similarly, the original sin of over one million Gazans’—the one that makes them available for killing, maiming, and homelessness from the air, ground, and sea—is having been born Palestinian. The word “Palestinian” produces them as a threat and as a target, while the words “man” and “woman” determines the way their death can circulate. Palestinians had no choice or say in being born Palestinian, under settler colonial conditions or in refugee camps scattered across nation state borders. They did not pick up and move to Gaza on their own volition. To paraphrase Malcolm X: They did not arrive or land in Israel. Israel arrived and landed on them.

The emphasis on the killing of womenandchildren, to the exclusion of Palestinian boys and men, further normalizes and erases the structures and successes of Israeli settler colonialism. “True civilians” and “possible civilians” are chosen. Men are always already suspicious, the possibility for violence encased in human flesh. The individual and personal extinguishing of female lives and the lives of children is massified and spoken of in statistics. Palestinians are framed as having the ability to choose whether they are a threat to Israel, and thus deserving of death, or not, and thus deserving of continued colonization clothed in the rubric of “ceasefire” or, even more elusively, “peace.”

However, you do not have to pick up a gun in Palestine to be a revolutionary or an “enemy” of Israel. You do not have to protest or throw stones or fly flags to be dangerous. You do not have to rely on underground tunnels for food and cancer medication in order to be deemed part of the civilian infrastructure of terrorism. To be a threat to Israel is easy: You just have to be Palestinian. For Israel, Palestinians serve as a reminder that there is an “other” there—an irritant, a stain, a conscious or subconscious understanding that one’s ability to be a “Jewish nation” or “Jewish democracy” is inextricably tied to another’s presence and/or erasure.

As such, every Palestinian man and woman and child is living within a discursive and material infrastructure that identifies and enumerates them, sequesters and quarantines them, occupies and divides them, disenfranchises and under-develops them, places them under siege and wages war on them with impunity. These practices of the everyday have ceased to shock us. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the erasure and normalcy of the slow death, genocide, structural violence and dependency lived daily on Native American reservations or indigenous Australian territories. In fact, it is the normalization of Israeli settler colonialism that produces today’s war on refuges living in an open-air prison in Gaza as a separate and condemnable “event.” It is the success of settler colonialism that “Gaza” is spoken of as somehow apart and different than historic Palestine, that “the West Bank” and “Gaza” are two separate and seperatable entities, rather than one nation divided and exiled into separate territories by practices of colonialism. Today’s war lies on a continuum with the everyday structural and informal violence faced by Palestinians living in Gaza, West Bank, or as Palestinian citizens of Israel: from resource monopolization and water shortages to home demolitions and checkpoints and settler-only roads and talks of population “transfer” to overflowing prisons and second class citizenship. Historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, is an Israeli settler colony at varying stages of success.

Palestine men and women and children are one people—and they are a people living under siege and within settler colonial conditions. They should not be separated in death according to their genitalia, a separation that reproduces a hierarchy of victims and mournable deaths. Jewish Israelis (including soldiers and settlers) occupy the highest rungs of this macabre ladder, Palestinian men the lowest. This hierarchy is both racialized and gendered, a twinning that allows Palestinian womenandchildren to emerge and be publicly and internationally mourned only in spectacles of violence, or “war”—but never in the slow and muted deaths under settler colonial conditions—the temporality of the “ceasefire.” To insist on publicly mourning all of the Palestinian dead, men and women and children—at moments of military invasion and during the everyday space of occupation and colonization— is to insist on their right to have been alive in the first place.

[1] Enloe, Cynthia. “Womenandchildren: making feminist sense of the Persian Gulf Crisis.” The Village Voice 25.9 (1990): 1990.


No ceasefire without justice for Gaza

from the Electronic Intifada 

As academics, public figures and activists witnessing the intended genocide of 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, we call for a ceasefire with Israel only if conditioned on an end to the blockade and the restoration of basic freedoms that have been denied to the people for more than seven years.

Our foremost concerns are not only the health and safety of the people in our communities, but also the quality of their lives – their ability to live free of fear of imprisonment without due process, to support their families through gainful employment, and to travel to visit their relatives and further their education.

These are fundamental human aspirations that have been severely limited for the Palestinian people for more than 47 years, but that have been particularly deprived from residents of Gaza since 2007. We have been pushed beyond the limits of what a normal person can be expected to endure.

A living death

Charges in the media and by politicians of various stripes that accuse Hamas of ordering Gaza residents to resist evacuation orders, and thus use them as human shields, are untrue. With temporary shelters full and the indiscriminate Israeli shelling, there is literally no place that is safe in Gaza.

Likewise, Hamas represented the sentiment of the vast majority of residents when it rejected the unilateral ceasefire proposed by Egypt and Israel without consulting anyone in Gaza. We share the broadly held public sentiment that it is unacceptable to merely return to the status quo – in which Israel strictly limits travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, controls the supplies that come in (including a ban on most construction materials), and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world.

To do so would mean a return to a living death.

Unfortunately, past experience has shown that the Israeli government repeatedly reneges on promises for further negotiations, as well as on its commitments to reform.

Likewise, the international community has demonstrated no political will to enforce these pledges. Therefore, we call for a ceasefire only when negotiated conditions result in the following:

  • Freedom of movement of Palestinians in and out of the Gaza Strip.
  • Unlimited import and export of supplies and goods, including by land, sea and air.
  • Unrestricted use of the Gaza seaport.
  • Monitoring and enforcement of these agreements by a body appointed by the United Nations, with appropriate security measures.

Each of these expectations is taken for granted by most countries, and it is time for the Palestinians of Gaza to be accorded the human rights they deserve.


  • Akram Habeeb, Assistant Professor of American Literature, Islamic University of Gaza (IUG)
  • Mona El-Farra, Vice President and Health Chair of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society
  • Ramy Abdu PhD, Chairman of the Euro-mid Observer
  • Abdullah Alsaafin, Palestinian Writer/journalist
  • Ali Alnazli, Businessman
  • Adel Awadallah, Head of the Scientific Research Council
  • Hanine Hassan, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Sheren Awad, Journalist
  • Yahia Al-Sarraj, Associate Professor of Transportation, IUG
  • Tawfik Abu Shomar, Writer and political analyst
  • Hasan Owda, Businessman
  • Ibrahim AlYazji, Businessman
  • Walid Al Husari, Chair, Gaza Chamber of Commerce
  • Nael Almasri, Dentist
  • Wael El-Mabhouh, Political researcher
  • Rami Jundi, Political researcher
  • Ashraf Mashharawi, Filmmaker
  • Mohammad Alsawaf, Journalist
  • Hasan Abdo, Writer and political analyst
  • Kamal El Shaer, Political researcher
  • Omar Ferwana, Dean of Medicine Faculty, IUG
  • Iyad I. Al-Qarra, Journalist, Palestine newspaper
  • Musheir El-Farra, Palestinian activist and author
  • Khalil Namrouti, Associate Professor in Economics, IUG
  • Moein Rajab, Professor in Economics, Al-Azhar University – Gaza
  • Basil Nasser, Planning advisor
  • Hani Albasoos, Associate Professor in Political Science, IUG
  • Arafat Hilles, Assistant Professor, Al-Quds Open University
  • Imad Falouji, Head of Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations
  • Moin Naim, Writer and political analyst
  • Yousri Alghoul, Author
  • Mohammad Jayyab, Editor of Gaza Journal of Economics
  • Mousa Lubbad, Lecturer in Finance, Al-Aqsa University
  • Iskandar Nashwan, Assistant Professor in Accounting, Al-Aqsa University
  • Shadi AlBarqouni, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Adnan Abu Amer, Head of Political Department, Al-Umma University
  • Wael Al Sarraj, Assistant Professor in Computer Science, IUG
  • Said Namrouti, Lecturer in Human Resource Management, IUG
  • Khaled Al-Hallaq, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, IUG
  • Asad Asad, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs, IUG
  • Hazem Alhusari, Lecturer in Finance, Al-Aqsa University
  • Shadi AlBarqouni, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Deya’a Kahlout, Journalist, Al-Araby newspaper
  • Raed Salha, Assistant Professor in Geography, IUG
  • Sameeh Alhadad, Businessman
  • Tarek M. Eslim, CEO, Altariq Systems and Projects
  • Sami Almalfouh PhD, Senior engineer
  • Fayed Abushammalah, Journalist
  • Fadel Naeim, Chairman of Palestine Physicians Syndicate
  • Zeyad Al-Sahhar, Associate Professor in Physics , Al-Aqsa University
  • Iyad Abu Hjayer, Director, Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution
  • Wael Al-Daya, Associate Professor in Finance, IUG
  • Younis Eljarou, Head of the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip
  • Donia ElAmal Ismail, Head of the Creative Women Association
  • Zeinab Alghonemi, Head of Women for Legal Consulting Association
  • Amjad AlShawa, Palestinian Nongovernmental Organizations Network (PNGO)
  • Mohsen Abo Ramadan, Head of Palestinian Nongovernmental Organziations Network (PNGO)
  • Abed Alhameed Mortaja, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, IUG
  • Talal Abo Shawesh , Head of Afaq Jadeeda Association
  • Zohair Barzaq, Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip
  • Marwan Alsabh, Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip
  • Ghassan Matar, Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip
  • Rania Lozon, Writer
  • Ashraf Saqer, IT Specialist
  • Samir AlMishal, Mishal Cultural Centre
  • Jamila Sarhan, Independant Commission for Human Rights
  • Jalal Arafat, Union of Agricultrual Work Committees
  • Khalil Abu Shammala, Addameer for Human Rights
  • Jamila Dalloul, Association Head of Jothor ElZaiton
  • Maha Abo Zour, Psychologist
  • Psychologist Ferdous Alkatari
  • Yousef Awadallah, Health Work Committee
  • Yousef Alswaiti, Al-Awda Hospital Director
  • Taysir Alsoltan, Head of Health Work Committees
  • Taghreed Jomaa, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees
  • Imad Ifranji, Journalist, Alquds TV
  • Jehal Alaklouk, Activist
  • Adel Alborbar, Boycott Committee
  • Hatem AbuShaban, Board of Trustees of Al-Azhar University – Gaza
  • Saleh Zaqout, Secretary of the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip
  • Mohammed Alsaqqa, Lawyer
  • Nihad Alsheikh Khalil, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, IUG
  • Mohsen Alafranji, Lecturer at Media Department, IUG
  • Nedal Farid, Dean of Business Faculty, Al-Aqsa University
  • Salem Helles, Dean of Commerce Faculty, IUG
  • Ahmad Ali PhD, Economic Analysis
  • Raed M. Zourob PhD, Head of the Department of Preventive Medicine, Ministry of Health
  • Mosheer Amer, Professor of Lingusitics, IUG
  • Moheeb Abu Alqumboz, Lecturer
  • Fatma Mukhalalati, Supreme Court judge
  • Fahmi Alnajjar, Supreme Court judge


Sharif Abdel Kouddous: 72 Die in Shejaiya

The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its bloodiest day so far, bringing the Palestinian death toll to more than 500. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday nights. The dead include 72 residents of one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. In the single worst attack to date, Israeli forces shelled homes and fought militants in Shejaiya, leaving behind a scene of carnage that survivors called a massacre. Frightened civilians fled along streets strewn with dead bodies. Wounded residents bled to death in their homes. An unconfirmed report said more than 20 children and 14 women were killed. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were wounded and taken to the overrun Shifa Hospital, which struggled to find room for the bodies. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack on Shejaiya as an “atrocious action.” The fighting in Shejaiya killed 13 Israeli soldiers, bringing the Israeli military toll to 18 since the ground invasion began last week. Joining us from Gaza City, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous details the assault on Shejaiya and describes a new Israeli strike that killed 24 members of the Abu Jamaa family in Khan Younis. Kouddous documented their bodies collected together inside a local morgue.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its bloodiest day so far, bringing the Palestinian death toll to over 500. Over 100 Palestinians were killed in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday nights. The dead include 72 residents of one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. In the single worst attack so far, Israeli forces shelled homes and fought militants in Shejaiya, leaving behind a scene of carnage that survivors called a massacre. Frightened civilians fled along streets strewn with dead bodies. Wounded residents bled to the death in their homes. An unconfirmed report said more than 20 children and 14 women were killed. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were wounded and taken to the overrun Shifa Hospital, which struggled to find room for the bodies. At the hospital morgue, a survivor said residents were bombed as they slept.

SHEJAIYA RESIDENT 1: [translated] The shells were between the houses. They killed children, women! There is no one left! It is a massacre! There is a massacre in Shejaiya! Go and see!

SHEJAIYA RESIDENT 2: [translated] We are residents sleeping at home. We are at home, civilians. We are not pro-Hamas or pro-Fatah or pro-Israel. We are poor people sleeping at home with children, women and old people. All the shells were randomly fired. At least each house got 10 shells. More than a thousand shells were fired at Shejaiya.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Israel’s attack on Shejaiya as a, quote, “atrocious action.” The mass killings there have helped push the Palestinian death toll to over 500 since the assault on Gaza began two weeks ago. The dead include more than a hundred children. Over 3,100 people have been wounded and more than 81,000 displaced. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has warned it’s running out of food and medicine at the schools housing over 50,000 people. The number seeking refuge has nearly tripled since the Israeli ground invasion began Thursday. At least 130 Palestinians have been killed during that time.

AARON MATÉ: The ground invasion has also caused Israel’s first military casualties. Eighteen soldiers have died in Gaza since Thursday, including 13 fighting militants in Shejaiya. On Sunday, Palestinian militants with the Qassam Brigades announced the capture of an Israeli soldier, but Israel denies the claim. Two Israeli civilians have been killed from rocket fire from Gaza. On Sunday, as Israeli forces carried out their deadliest attacks so far, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the assault on Gaza for as long as necessary.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Israel did not choose to enter this campaign. But from the moment it was forced on us, we will implement it until we achieve its result—restoring quiet for the Israeli people for an extended period while significantly damaging Hamas’s infrastructure and the rest of the terror organizations in Gaza. We are undeterred. We shall continue the operation as long as it is required.

AMY GOODMAN: In his remarks, Netanyahu cited the backing of foreign allies, saying he has, quote, “laid the diplomatic foundation that has given us international credit to operate,” he said. The Obama administration has provided critical support, claiming Israel has acted in self-defense, blaming Hamas for the civilian toll. The White House now says it wants an immediate ceasefire, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been sent to join talks in Cairo.

For more, we go directly to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, you’ve just come from Khan Younis. We’re getting the latest news from there. Can you tell us what you saw?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, I’ve come from the site of yet another massacre. Twenty-four members—at least 24 members of the same [Abu Jamaa] family were killed in their own home in an F-16 strike in Khan Younis. This happened last night at around Iftar, during the sunset call to prayer, the time that Muslims sit to break their fast. And an F-16 missile strike hit this family in their home as they were sitting down to eat. A grandmother, her three sons, their wives and all their children were killed. I went to the site where the house was. The house is completely gone. There’s only a crater left. The family says—the surviving family members said that they used two cranes and a bulldozer, working for 12 hours throughout the night, to retrieve all the bodies out.

At the hospital morgue, it was really a very difficult scene. One of the dead was less than one years old. She was still, you know, in her Pampers, dead. A father of one of the women killed said that the bodies were dispersed between two hospitals in Khan Younis—14 in one and 10 in the other. And the father had to go to two hospitals to pick up one of his daughters’ bodies, because half of her was in one hospital and half of her was in the other.

This is the kind of tragedies that we hear almost on a daily basis here in Gaza. Families are being wiped out in such massive numbers. There’s the al-Batsh family who lost 18 members in an airstrike last week. I went to near Beit Hanoun in the north the other day where a family—eight of them were killed while they were sitting, watching TV when a tank shell, an artillery shell, hit their home, so—while they were watching TV. So this is a very—this is a war on civilians. Civilians are paying the very highest of prices for this. And the killing doesn’t seem to stop.

AARON MATÉ: Sharif, the toll from Sunday, the highest figure I saw was 120, more than a third women and children. Of course, there was this mass killing in Shejaiya that we mentioned. You went to the hospital. You interviewed survivors. You interviewed victims. And you also went to the site of the attack. Can you tell us what you know about what happened in Shejaiya?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, from speaking to residents evacuating, it was very hard to get in. You know, this attack began, everyone says, at around sunset time, around Iftar time. And there was a barrage after barrage of tank shells that rained down on Shejaiya, which is one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. People said that there was no help. They called for ambulances. Paramedic workers said that they couldn’t get in because of the amount of the shelling, and so people waited for hours. They were left alone. And they finally decided to escape on foot. And when we got there in the early morning Sunday morning, there was just families streaming out, many of them carrying nothing, some of them barefoot, many, many families, young women and children, in complete panic trying to hail cars or trucks to get on or take off. Many of them just walked out. And they spoke of bodies strewn in the streets of Shejaiya. It was very hard to get in to confirm, although some reporters did and confirmed those reports, and there was some footage of it.

And in the hospital, it was just very difficult scenes, again, scenes of such indescribable anguish and loss. In the morgue in Shifa, there was two children—one was nine years old and her brother seven years old next to her. And there was what appeared to be relatives arguing about the name of the seven-year-old brother, whether it was Hamza or whether it was Khalil. They couldn’t tell because his head had been completely shorn off in this attack. So, these are the kinds of scenes of horror that have become a daily occurrence in Gaza, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to the bloodshed.


tear gas tastes delicious

Occupy Gezi: The Limits of Turkey’s Neoliberal Success

by Cihan Tugal

from Jadaliyya

There are two telling, though widely neglected, details about what initiated and popularized the groundbreaking protests in Taksim Square, Istanbul: the protests started out as a response to the governing neoliberal party’s project of urban transformation or urban renewal; yet, urban questions quickly took a backseat as the protests became massive. Understanding these two facets of the mobilization sheds much light on what is happening in Turkey and why.

What the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) disingenuously calls “urban transformation” is the demolition of public places, green areas, and historical sites, as well as the displacement of poor populations, in order to rebuild the city in the image of capital. All these unwanted spaces (and people) are being replaced by malls, skyscrapers, office spaces, and glossy remakes of historical buildings. Resistance against this project has been unfolding for quite a while, mostly out of sight for the national and international mainstream media. The lack of media interest or mainstream hostility is only partially to blame for covering up these past resistances. The governing party, with its cleverly crafted hegemonic apparatus, has been quite tactful in dividing and marginalizing protest. For instance, whenever squatter populations were removed, they were selectively paid: homeowners (rather than tenants); the better-connected families; the politics-prone people in the neighborhoods were compensated generously; dispersing the capacity to resist. When money did not do the trick, the new regime planted seeds of sectarian and ethnic division. When all else failed, the squatters faced heavy-handed police repression. Only one neighborhood in the huge Istanbul metropolitan area was able to withstand all of these pressures and consistently resist the project. But the exceptions proved to be the rule: urban transformation, even though it is a project that influences millions of people, was only resisted in pockets, rather than at the level of the entire city (let alone the whole country, where it was implemented with lesser severity, but still comprehensively, destroying rural as well as urban livelihood and health, despite the misleading “urban” title).

The protests in and around Taksim seemed to be adding to the chains of isolated resistances. When intellectuals and artists recently mobilized against the demolition of first a café and then a historical movie theater in Istiklal Caddesi, they appeared to be fighting a rearguard elite battle, focusing on sites that were of little interest to the popular classes. Each protest would remain marginalized either in elite or squatter corners of the city, until police brutally cracked down on several dozen protesters who wanted to protect the last green area (Gezi Parkı) in Istanbul’s main entertainment square, Taksim. The will to save this park from turning into a mall initiated Occupy Gezi.

Popularization and the Expanding Protest Agenda

Initially, thousands flocked to the square in solidarity with those attacked. As a result, police brutality moved to the top of the agenda. Still, during the first day of popularization, talk about urban transformation was prominent. In a couple of days, however, the focus on police violence, the increasing authoritarianism of the AKP, and the persistent lack of democracy in Turkey marginalized the focus on urban issues. Many tweets and other information circulating on the web emphasized that the protests were “not about a couple of trees, but about democracy.” This was a very crude and ultimately counterproductive rhetorical opposition. The significance of that bunch of trees was that they had fallen, temporarily, outside of economic logic in a country where everything came to be bought and sold freely.

Nevertheless, there are still banners that insist on emphasizing the trees, not only as a symbol of nature, but also of the popular democratic uprising. This is much truer to the initial spirit of the protests. Occupy Gezi has started as a revolt of people who reject being focused on money around the clock. This brings them in confrontation with the government and the police force, who wipe out everything in the path of marketization. The trees are the symbols of unity between the targeted squatters, the students with grim job prospects, the striking workers and civil servants, the intellectuals, and nature. But we should understand that there are also strong dynamics that decenter the focus on urban transformation.

The Context for Intensified Repression

Some elements within the government made a very risky calculation during the last few months. The government has been preparing Turkey for a regional war and needs a unified country with no threatening opposition in such crucial times. This is why after a decade of persistent marginalization it reached out to the Kurds. The Turkish rulers (quite reasonably, it would seem) saw the Kurds as the only force that could stop the government in its tracks. With the Kurds on their side, the calculation went, they could divide, marginalize, and repress the rest of the population, which was already much more disorganized when compared to the Kurds. The peace process with the Kurds also gave the government the chance to win back many liberals, who had been disillusioned ever since 2010. With its renewed hegemonic bloc, elements in the new regime felt that they could easily silence everybody else. The governing party thus intensified police brutality and some other conservative measures (such as tightened regulations of alcohol). People outside of this renewed bloc–whether elite, middle-class, or lower class; secular or Alevi; man or woman; right-wing nationalist or socialist–have been feeling under threat. When Occupy Gezi turned into an anti-police protest, hundreds of thousands therefore joined in to voice their frustration with increasing authoritarianism.

This naturally brings into the picture a lot of people who have been benefiting from urban transformation as well. Some of these people have not had any problem with police brutality and authoritarianism either, as long as it was channeled against workers, Kurds, socialists, or Alevis. Some of them are chanting extreme nationalist slogans throughout Istanbul and Turkey. It needs to be emphasized that these groups are overlapping circles: there is no necessary unity among these factions, though almost everybody calls them “ulusalcı” (extreme nationalist) as a shorthand. Despite government propaganda, they constitute the minority around Taksim Square, but are certainly the majority in better-off parts of the city. There are more organized nationalists among them who want to hijack the protests. Yet most of these disjointed masses do not even understand the protests and issues that initiated the protests. They are in it mostly as a way to defend their own interests and lifestyles. These people do not define the Gezi movement, but have already muddied the waters.  Occupy Gezi has become much stronger partially due to their participation, but its national and international message risks being less clear now.

Stumbling Blocks

The people who initiated the protests (and are now in control of Taksim) are well aware of these dangers, as some of them are activists with years of experience. The public declarations they issue squarely focus on urban transformation, police brutality, and authoritarianism, though these declarations get lost in the muddle of huge protests throughout the country. These experienced activists are coming up against two stumbling blocks:

First, there, are the structural issues and successful hegemonic political moves that have so far divided protests against urban transformation. It is still very difficult, due to reasons which I hope to analyze elsewhere, to construct one consistent block against urban transformation with an alternative vision of development, urbanization, and nature. Class, culture, locality, and much else cut off the people who are suffering from urban transformation from each other. Unlike the governing party and its technicians, who have a bird’s-eye view of how the suffering is connected, they know very little of each other. It is not easy to both sustain andpopularize Occupy Gezi if it remains integrating urban questions.

Second, and perhaps as big of an issue, is Turkey’s peace process with the Kurds. The government and its liberal allies spread the propaganda that the current demonstrations are against the peace process. Actually, it is not hard to believe that some of the disjointed Turkish masses pointed out above were partially motivated with an opposition against peace with the Kurds (as well as many other things, including alcohol regulations). However, the groups who are still in control of Taksim have defended peace for decades, when the Turkish state (including the new regime) was fighting its bloody battles against the Kurds. In this context, dishonesty would be a light word for the liberal ideologues of the new regime who accuse the protests of warmongering. Yet, even though there are many Kurdish activists in Taksim today (along with hundreds of others mobilized elsewhere in support of the protests), most Kurds have not joined the protests, out of fear that they will eventually derail the peace process. Nobody can blame them, as Kurds have been paying a high price for a long time. One of Occupy Gezi’s most difficult tasks will be finding a way to draw the Kurds in without alienating a crushing majority of the non-leftists who have given the movement a part of its life force. This is a multi-class and cross-ideological movement against authoritarianism and marketization. The movement has no reason to exclude some upper-middle class and elite factions (who unevenly benefit and suffer from marketization and authoritarianism), but these latter might willingly opt out if the Kurds weigh in (which is a small likelihood to begin with).

Occupy Gezi sits in a privileged position when confronting these issues. On the one hand, unlike Occupy Wall Street and other similar movements throughout the West, many of the activists do not reject traditional forms of political organization and calculation (even though such sentiments are widespread among some of the younger leading protesters in Taksim). Such abstentionism from formal politics cost dearly to Western movements of the last couple of years. Unlike Arab protesters, on the other hand, Turkish and Kurdish activists have been living and breathing under a semi-democracy, so have a lot of everyday political experience under their belts. In short, “the leaderless revolution” has not arrived in Turkey. The disadvantage of Occupy Gezi, though, is that it is facing a much more hegemonic neoliberal regime when compared to the Western and Arab regimes. Turkish conservatives have been much more successful in building a popular base and a militant (but pragmatic) liberal-conservative intelligentsia (when compared to their fanatical and shallow counterparts in the West, not even to speak of their inexperienced counterparts in the Arab world). This consent is multi-dimensional and integrates compromises and articulations at ideological, religious, political and economic levels. The demobilization and counter-mobilization that neoliberal hegemony could generate cannot be taken lightly.

If the Turkish and Kurdish activists find innovative ways of overcoming these hurdles, Turkey will have the potential of adding a new twist to the post-2011 global wave of revolt.

my own guardian

Saudi Women: “I Will Drive Myself Starting June 17”

في العربية

Us women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are the ones who will lead this society towards change. While we failed to deliver through our voices, we will not fail to deliver through our actions. We have been silent and under the mercy of our guardian (muhram) or foreign driver for too long. Some of us barely make ends meet and cannot even afford cab fare. Some of us are the heads of households yet have no source of income except for a few hard-earned [Saudi] Riyals that are used to pay drivers. Then there are those of us who do not have a muhram to look after our affairs and are forced to ask strangers for help. We are even deprived of public transportation, our only salvation from being under the mercy of others. We are your daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers. We are half of society and give birth to [the other] half, yet we have been made invisible and our demands have been marginalized. We have been deliberately excluded from your plans! Therefore, the time has come to take the initiative. We will deliver a letter of complaint to our father the King of Humanity and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques calling on him to support the Women of June 17.

We have searched for laws that prohibit women in Saudi Arabia from exercising their right to drive their own vehicle but have not found anything that points to such [a prohibition] in Saudi traffic laws. Therefore, what we will do cannot be considered a violation of the law. We therefore have decided that beginning on Friday the 15th of Rajab, 1432, which corresponds to the 17th of June, 2011:

  • Every women in possession of an international driver’s license or one from another country will begin driving her car herself whether to reach her place of work, drop her children off at school, or attend to her daily needs.
  • We will take photographs and videotapes of ourselves driving our cars and post them to our Facebook page in order to support our cause: I will drive starting June 17
  • We will adhere to the dress code (hijab) while driving.
  • We will obey the traffic laws and will not challenge the authorities if we are stopped for questioning.
  • If we are pulled over we will firmly demand to be informed of which laws have been violated. Until now there is not one traffic law that prohibits a woman from driving her own vehicle herself.
  • We do not have destructive goals and will not congregate or protest, nor will we raise slogans. We have no leaders or foreign conspirators. We are patriots and we love this country and will not accept that which encroaches on its security and safety. All that is involved [in this matter] is that we will begin to exercise our legitimate right.
  • We will not stop exercising this right until you find us a solution. We have spoken out on too many occasions and no one has listened to us. The time for solutions has come. We want women’s driving schools. We want Saudi drivers’ licenses [for women] like all other countries in the world. We want to live a complete form of citizenship without the humiliation and degradation that we are [currently] subjected to everyday because of our dependence on a driver.
  • We will launch volunteer campaigns to offer free driving lessons for women beginning on the date that this announcement is issued and we wish for everyone to support us.

To review the traffic law in Saudi Arabia:

Section Four: Driving License, page 47
List 1-4 of Driving Violations: pages 117-121

 نحن النساء في المملكة العربية السعودية من سيقود هذا المجتمع نحو التغيير. وحين فشلنا في ايصال صوتنا، لن نفشل في ايصال أفعالنا. كفانا سكوتاً ومذلة لكل رجل من محرم أو أجنبي عنا. منا من لاتملك أجرة تاكسي وتعيش على الكفاف. ومنا من تعول أسرتها وليس لها عائل غير ريالات بسيطة دفعت فيها جهدها وعرقها لتكون لقمة سائغة للسائقين. ومنا من ليس لها من يقوم بأمرها فتلظت بنار السؤال لكل غريب. محرومين حتى من مواصلات عامة تكفينا شرهم. نحن بناتكم ونساؤكم وأخواتكم وأمهاتكم. نحن نصف المجتمع ونلد نصفه. لكن تم تغييبنا وتهميش مطالبنا. سقطنا من خططكم عمداً! لذلك حان وقت أخذ زمام المبادرة. وسنقوم برفع خطاب تظلم لوالدنا ملك الانسانية خادم الحرمين الشريفين لمسانده نساء ١٧ يونيو

تم البحث عن أي قانون يمنع المرأة في السعودية من ممارسة حقها في قيادة مركبتها بنفسها ولم نجد أي شيء يشير لذلك في نظام المرور السعودي*. لذلك لايعتبر ما سنفعله خرقاً للقانون. لذلك قررنا أنه وبدأً من الجمعه 15 رجب 1432 الموافق 17 يونيو 2011 التالي

 كل امرأه تملك رخصة قيادة دولية أو من دولة أخرى ستبدأ بقيادة سيارتها بنفسها لتقضية أي مشوار لها سواء للوصول لمكان عملها، ايصال أطفالها للمدرسة، أو قضاء حوائجها اليومية :سنوثق قيادتنا لسياراتنا بأنفسنا بالصوت والصورة ونشرها على صفحتنا بالفيسبوك لدعم قضيتنا

 سنلتزم بحشمتنا وحجابنا حين قيادة سياراتنا

 سنلتزم بقوانين المرور ولن نتحدى السلطات إذا تم ايقافنا للمساءلة

 إذا تم ايقافنا للمساءلة نتمسك بحق المطالبة أن نعرف أي القوانين تم خرقها. لحد الآن لايوجد اي قانون في نظام المرور يمنع المرأة من قيادة مركبتها بنفسها

 ليس لدينا أهداف تخريبية. ولن نتجمهر أو نتظاهر أو نرفع شعارات وليس لدينا قادة أو جهات أجنبيه نحن وطنيات ونحب هذا الوطن ولن نرض بما يمس أمنه أو سلامته. كل مافي الأمر أننا سنبدأ بممارسة حق مشروع

 لن نتوقف عن ممارسة هذا الحق حتى تجدوا لنا حلاً. تكلمنا كثيراً ولم يسمعنا أحد، جاء وقت الحلول. نريد مدارس نسائيه لتعليم القيادة. نريد رخص قيادة سعودية أسوة بكل دول العالم. نريد أن نعيش مواطنة كاملة بدون الذل والمهانة التي نتعرض لها كل يوم لأننا مربوطين برقبة سائق

 سنبدأ باقامة حملات تطوعية لتعليم النساء القيادة مجاناً بدأ من تاريخ نشر هذا الإعلان ونرجو مساندة الجميع

:لمراجعة نظام المرور في السعودية

الباب الرابع: رخص القيادة صفحة 47

جداول المخالفات 1-4 صفحة 117 -121

Obama Mask Bush

Defeating the Enemy: A Response to Khalid Saghieh

by Rami Elamine

Khalid Saghieh’s “Sleeping with the Enemy: The Global Left and the ‘No to War’ Discourse” in Jadaliyya leaves a lot of questions unanswered, including where exactly he stands on the question of a military strike on Syria. Saghieh, a former editor of the leftist Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, accuses the anti-war movement, particularly in the United States, of siding with the “far right” and making arguments that are Islamophobic, steeped in “cultural imperialism,” and indifferent to the Syrian people. This could not be further from the truth. His critique seems to rely entirely on the distortions, caricatures, and outright lies of the US media and those pushing for intervention.

Saghieh claims that anti-war protesters stood between those holding posters of Bashar al-Asad on one side and those with anti-imperialism slogans that had nothing to do with the Syrian people on the other. The only place you ever saw people holding up Asad’s picture was in the news, and they were always a small number and usually Syrian immigrants. In terms of the anti-imperialist slogans, even the ANSWER Coalition, which is probably who he is referring to, always had something about the Syrian people.

He goes onto say that the anti-war protesters’ “discourse took its vocabulary from the tracts of the far right and, instead of turning its guns on imperialism, turned them on the Syrian people.” Of course, he provides no supporting examples for such an outrageous claim. The fact is that even the far right was not using Islamophobic and racist arguments to make its case. And moderate Republicans were actually making arguments that most on the left would have no trouble getting behind. More importantly, almost every protest, teach-in, petition, article, etcetera against US intervention had support for the Syrian people front and center, mainly through an appeal to help the millions of Syrian refugees. “Money for refugees, not for war” was one of the more popular chants at protests.

Saghieh shows his frustration with Barack Obama’s inability to sell this war to the American people when he chastises Obama for not doing enough to “[design] an ideological banner for his next war.”  He writes, “This time, there would be no ‘battle for democracy’ or war in the name of ‘freedom for Afghan women.’ Not even ‘freedom for the Syrian people.’ This would be a war, rather, about American ‘red lines’ and ‘national security.’” I am not sure how Saghieh missed this, but “humanitarian intervention” is precisely how the Obama Administration justified an attack, just like they did with Libya (which has been such a disaster that they have to now reach way back to Kosovo for an example of a successful intervention). Their mantra has been that this is about a brutal dictator who used chemical weapons on innocent Syrians, including women and children. They know they would not have gotten any support from the American people or Congress’s approval if they did not frame it in these terms. Maybe by denying that humanitarian intervention was in fact the “ideological banner” Obama designed for this war, Saghieh can avoid having to respond to the numerous articlesdebunking its use to justify war.

Saghieh is also frustrated by the connection with the Iraq war that everyone but him was making: “Perhaps most disturbing of all, some have attempted to ‘apply’ the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the Syrian situation….? Why would people not make that comparison given that both the government and the rebels possess chemical weapons and the Obama Administration has yet to present any conclusive evidence that the Syrian government carried out the attack?

But most of all, Saghieh is frustrated with the fact that the American people, of all people, dashed his hopes for a US military intervention. After all, they have not been able to stop any of the other wars the United States has launched over the past ten years. And with Obama at the helm, it should have been easy to coopt a large section of the anti-war movement.

But clearly the American public had had enough. What Saghieh does not account for is that the groundswell against the attack in this country was so massive that it eclipsed the left and the traditional anti-war movement. For a lot of people this was their first time getting involved in politics, and—for them—that meant contacting their congressperson to voice their opposition. They did not take to the streets like hundreds of thousands did during the Iraq war, but ultimately their impact was greater because their numbers were bigger. It was such a broad section of the United States that it of course included many of those on the right as well. However, despite their involvement, the overall tenor of the opposition to intervention was not Islamophobic or anti-Syrian by any means.

So, no, we were not sleeping with the enemy but we were sleeping. Fortunately we have now woken up with a much larger number of people fed up with the death and destruction that the United States and its allies have wrought upon large parts of the world. In addition, for the first time in a long time we succeeded in stopping the real enemy, the US war machine. We feel good because, unlike Saghieh’s apparent stance, we know that the best way to help the Syrian people is to prevent US bombs from falling on their heads and homes.

syria tornado

Welcome to Free Syria

by Anand Gopal

Abu Malek was pacing back and forth in the hospital parking lot, muttering to himself and firing off phone calls. “Don’t say ‘How are you’ to me,” he told one caller, “because I am not fine, I am very, very, very, very bad.” The hospital was in the Turkish town of Antakya, and the staff was treating several rebels who had been wounded in the fighting across the border in Syria, about ten miles away. The Syrian army was in the midst of a major offensive, sweeping through one northern town after another with tanks and heavy artillery, trying to kill as many rebel fighters as possible before April 12, when a ceasefire brokered by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan would go into effect. The revolution had been grinding on for more than a year, and as many as 10,000 people had died already.

From Turkey, Malek had followed events closely and stayed in contact with his family in the northern town of Taftanaz. (Malek’s name and those of some of the people mentioned in this article have been changed.) Soon after he learned that the army had surrounded Taftanaz, phone lines were cut, so he sent a friend to retrieve his family. The friend returned with the news that Malek’s mother was missing, his cousins were missing, and his house had been razed.

The government had lost control of Taftanaz near the start of the revolution, and an intricate system of popularly elected councils called tansiqiyyat had been created over the past year—“like miniparliaments, a government for us,” as Malek put it. He had been chosen to represent Taftanaz in Turkey, where he raised funds and cultivated contacts with the international community. He was proud of the rebel councils—they were proof that Syria did not need President Bashar al-Assad—but he worried that the other council members had been captured or killed.

Malek agreed to help me get to Taftanaz, but he demanded information in return: “I want to know if my family survived—and I want to know if my revolution survived.”

Traveling with me from the Turkish border to Taftanaz was Wassim Omar, an acquaintance of Malek’s whom I would see several times during the week I spent in Syria. He had access to a network of revolutionaries along the way, almost all of them friends he had made during the uprising. Our driver avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads; with the mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.

Omar had been studying Arabic literature at Aleppo University before the revolution began. Now he traveled between Turkey and Syria often, smuggling rebel propaganda and supplies. This was his first trip back over the border since reports of the army’s campaign in Taftanaz had reached Antakya.

The roads were empty, and in the tiny mountain towns the shops stood shuttered and padlocked. The rebels once maintained checkpoints openly in daylight, but now they confined their activity to the nighttime. “If you could have seen this place before the fighting,” Omar told me. “It was alive.”

We had yet to come across any villages touched by violence. But then, as we pulled into the town of Killi, about ten miles south of the border, we saw a multistory granite house with a collapsed roof, yawning holes in its façade, and rubble everywhere. Omar gasped.

According to locals, Syrian aircraft had circled overhead for days, taking reconnaissance photos as almost all civilians and rebels fled the village. Then, on April 6—four days before we arrived—tanks came and fired from close range at this house and more than a dozen others. Soldiers had a list of those who had gone to protests or were involved in the rebel movement, and they went from house to house hunting them. Because most of the townspeople had left, however, there were very few arrests or casualties.

On the outskirts of Killi, I found one of those who had stayed behind. Nizar Abdo lived in a housing complex built around a central courtyard. When the soldiers arrived, Abdo hid in a neighbor’s house. He watched through the shutters as a tank wheeled in front of his property, took aim, and fired. Afterward soldiers bulldozed the remains.

Standing where his house had once been, Abdo admitted that he had attended a few protests during the start of the revolution. He said he had never been political; more basic frustrations drove him: “You have to pay money to get a job, otherwise the government won’t help. . . . You have to pay bribes.”

Now homeless, he was unsure where he would go. But, embittered as he was, he still tried to see an upside. “At least,” he said, “we aren’t Taftanaz.”

The 15,000 residents of Taftanaz are mostly farmers and traders: rows of olive trees stretch outward in every direction, although in recent years drought has browned patches of them. The town is typical of northern Syria; there are dozens like it nearby, an archipelago of villages known for their Babylonian cuneiform tablets and preserved sections of Roman road. Life there is slow, conservative, and pious.

Since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, Syria has been ruled by an alliance between Assad’s mainly Alawite military and wealthy Sunni businessmen from the cities. The government provides food subsidies, jobs programs, and funds for rural development for the people of places like Taftanaz, but in return demands absolute fealty. Businesses favored by the regime win no-bid and below-market contracts, creating what Syria scholar Bassam Haddad called “a crony capitalist state par excellence.”

When Bashar al-Assad became president after his father’s death in 2000, he tried to liberalize the country’s economy. The government eased price controls on basic goods like fertilizer and animal feed. It reduced subsidies to the oil sector, leading to a 42 percent jump in the price of fuel. Meanwhile, a vicious drought dried up the countryside, prompting thousands to flee to provincial towns like Homs and Idlib, or to smaller communities like Taftanaz, which did not have the capacity to absorb the influx.

“There were no jobs, and if you found one, you had to see the mukhabarat,” the secret police, for permission to work, Omar said. “If you wanted to buy a house or travel outside the country, you needed to see them.” Office workers moonlighted as cab drivers. Farmers doubled as scrap dealers. In every corner of society, but especially in the countryside, the social contract holding the Assad regime together was failing.

On March 6, 2011, a group of adolescent boys, inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, painted antigovernment graffiti on walls in the desert town of Daraa. After word spread that the boys had been arrested, Daraa’s streets filled with protesters. In Binnish, a few miles down the highway from Taftanaz, Omar and his friends watched the news in amazement. Later that week, fifteen of them gathered late at night at a mosque to plan a protest, making signs with anti-regime slogans.

The following day, they stepped into the town’s main square for the first protest of their lives. Omar was terrified: he knew the price of his actions would be imprisonment, and that the regime could target his family. But, to his surprise, the people of Binnish joined in. They came from all over town, shouting, “Daraa, we are with you! We in Binnish are with you!”

By April 2011, demonstrations were popping up all across the country. The Syrian army tried to cut them down, firing on and killing scores of civilians, only to inspire further protests. The mukhabarat, meanwhile, targeted the core activists in each town. One afternoon, agents showed up at Omar’s door. “They treated me like a toy, throwing me here and there,” he recalled. He said he was kept in captivity for two months, frequently strapped to a gurney, electrocuted, and beaten. A general finally released Omar after he promised to stay away from politics. When he left prison, he went straight to a demonstration.

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian elite remained glued together in the face of the protests. But the conscript army started to buckle, and some soldiers found they could not fire on their countrymen. I had met one of them in Turkey, a twenty-seven-year-old named Abdullah Awdeh. He was serving in the elite 11th Armored Division, which put down protests around the country, when one day he was directed to confront demonstrators near Homs. Their commander said that the protesters were armed terrorists, but when Awdeh arrived he saw only men and women with their families: boys perched atop their fathers’ shoulders, girls with their faces painted in the colors of the Syrian flag, mothers waving banners. He decided to desert.

By June 2011, there were hundreds like him; nearly every day, another uniformed soldier faced a camera, held up his military identity card, and professed support for the revolution for the entire world to see on YouTube. These deserters joined what came to be known as the Free Syrian Army. (When I met some of them just after I crossed the border, they told me, “Welcome to Free Syria.”) Awdeh, with his aviator sunglasses and Dolce & Gabbana jeans, assumed command of a group of nearly a hundred fighters.

Many activists worried about the militarization of the conflict, which pulled peaceful protesters into a confrontation with a powerful army that they could not defeat. But in small towns like Taftanaz, where government soldiers had repeatedly put down demonstrations with gunfire and thrown activists in prison, desperation trumped long-term strategy. Abu Malek likened the actions of the rebels to those of a mother: “She may seem innocent, but try to take away her children and how will she act? Like a criminal animal. That’s what we are being reduced to, in order to defend our families and our villages.”

In Taftanaz, fighters from the FSA started protecting demonstrations, quietly standing in the back and watching for mukhabarat. For the first time, the balance of power shifted in favor of the revolution, so much so that government forces could no longer operate openly. Party officials and secret agents vanished, leaving the town to govern itself.

This created new problems: courts stopped working, trash piled high on the streets, and the police stayed home. To fill the vacuum, citizens came together to elect councils—farmers formed their own, as did merchants, laborers, teachers, students, health-care workers, judges, engineers, and the unemployed. In some cases, the councils merged with pre-existing activist networks called local coordinating committees. They in turn chose delegates to sit on a citywide council, which in Taftanaz and surrounding towns was the only form of government the citizenry recognized.

Syrian authorities repeatedly sent tanks in to Taftanaz and neighboring villages, targeting the new council members. After every intrusion, the rebels would reassemble. But on April 3, the Syrian forces returned to Taftanaz, this time to end the insurgency there once and for all.

When I reached Taftanaz on April 9, the air in the town stank of manure, hay, and gunpowder. The smell of smoke grew more powerful near houses, and once inside you found your eyes watering and your throat burning. Many of the locals who were left had taken to wearing surgical masks.

Every fourth or fifth house was completely destroyed; many of those still standing had black streaks climbing outward from the window frames. Boys were scrubbing graffiti off the walls: ASSAD, OR THE COUNTRY BURNS, signed by THE ASSAD DEATH BRIGADE 76.

For three days I explored the gutted town, speaking to everyone I could about the battle. I spent my nights in a neighboring village—government soldiers conducted raids in the evening—but each day I returned to learn more.

On the first day, I sought out Abu Malek’s relatives—almost everyone knew him—and found Abdullah Rami, a young man with sunken cheeks and a hard stare. He had been a university student, but “the revolution makes choices for you,” he said, and now he was a rebel sniper. He described for me what had happened on April 3.

It began early in the morning, when helicopters appeared above Taftanaz and fired into the town center. Then, around 7:00 A.M., the mortars started. (A farmer named Muhammad Abdul Haseeb was at home at the time. “I got all the children and women together and ran out,” he told me later. “One of the shells dropped really close by, but I couldn’t see where it hit. Later I learned that it killed my brother.”)

Most of the residents escaped. By around 9:00 A.M., tanks had arrived at the outskirts of town, and they shot at anything that moved. A plump forty-six-year-old man named Massous had loaded dozens of relatives into his truck and was about to turn onto the main highway when he saw a tank about a thousand feet away. It fired and hit his truck, killing his father and mother and injuring his ten-year-old daughter.

Around the same time, nearly a hundred men gathered inside a house near the town’s center to decide whether to retreat, as rebels elsewhere had done, or stay and fight. A few dozen chose the former, but most stayed. “We didn’t want to end up like other cities, crawling back after the army leaves,” Rami said. “Our neighbors needed something to believe in.”

As the army shelled the town, the men spread throughout the warren of low-slung concrete buildings, onto rooftops, into homes, and through alleyways. Rami went to the main road through town and helped bury I.E.D.’s, most of them assembled in Turkey and smuggled into the country, and rebels hid nearby with the detonators.

Around noon, a tank approached the building where Rami was hiding. A second pulled up alongside it and swung its turret slowly around. Then Rami heard a deafening boom and saw the tank pop up in the air—an I.E.D. explosion, which he had captured on video and later showed off proudly. After a few minutes, the second tank was also struck as it tried to retreat.

Across town, another rebel group was in a firefight, and Rami could hear the reports from their Kalashnikovs. The rebels used civilian houses as cover and, at one point, trapped soldiers in an alleyway and shot them all.

By late afternoon, though, the advantage had shifted to the army. Soldiers left their tanks to circumvent the I.E.D.’s and fought their way to the center of town. They surrounded a house full of rebels, a few of whom climbed to the roof to signal surrender. The troops responded with heavy fire, killing almost everyone inside and out.

By sunset, soldiers returned to their tanks or were billeted in homes (both sides, lacking night-vision goggles, avoided fighting after dark). The rebels regrouped in a house on the town’s edge. There Rami learned that his brother had been killed.

A short while later, his mother sent word to him that soldiers had found the shelter where Taftanaz’s women were hiding. They threatened to take revenge on the women if the fight continued. Dejected and cornered, the men voted to retreat. By sunrise, there were no rebels left.

Saleh Ghazal, a member of Taftanaz’s large Ghazal clan, was a stubborn man. After a sniper’s bullet struck his grandson Muhammad, a medical volunteer who had tended to wounded fighters, his family decided to flee. But the old man insisted on staying behind. He would mourn in his own way, he said, in the home he had grown old in, in the town his grandson had died for. And besides, he figured, the army would have no interest in an eighty-two-year-old.

On the morning of April 4, soldiers from the 76th Armored Brigade returned to town. They came with officials from the Military Intelligence Directorate and armed Alawite civilians referred to as shabeeha. When soldiers burst through Saleh Ghazal’s front door, he hid upstairs in his bedroom. They raced from room to room, shouting out the names of his family members, loudly enough for neighbors to hear. When they found Ghazal, they shot him, then lit his corpse on fire. As it burned, they went downstairs and wrote a message on the wall in silver paint: NOBODY CONTROLS SYRIA EXCEPT BASHAR. Then they doused the floors with gasoline and set the place ablaze.

The soldiers visited every house in the neighborhood. As they neared Mustafa Ahmed Ahad’s place, he went into the bathroom and locked the door. Soldiers ransacked the house and set it on fire. A few days later, Mustafa’s eighty-seven-year-old father, Ahmed, returned to find his house a pile of blackened rubble and his son missing. Eventually he found Mustafa’s charred remains buried under slabs of fallen concrete. “He was poor, he was a worker,” the elder Ahad said. “He was a grandfather, he didn’t go to demonstrations.”

A large number of women, the elderly, and aid workers had taken refuge in the basement of Rahim Ghazal’s centrally located home. “They broke into the house and found the door to the basement,” one of the women told me. “The gunmen ordered everyone upstairs and took the men with them for questioning. They ordered us to go back downstairs, and then we heard gunfire.”

Government forces dragged nine men and boys outside, lined them up against a wall, and executed them. The soldiers came back to the basement and selected five additional men, then took them to a nearby shop, where they were lined up and executed. Two volunteers for the Red Crescent were shot in the yard outside Ghazal’s house. By the time Syrian troops left that evening, there was not much left of Taftanaz. In each house, the story was the same: any male who was found was summarily executed, and his house was burned.

At least forty-nine civilians were killed in the massacre, and nearly 500 houses were destroyed. On my second day in town, I saw a crowd of wailing women surrounding a pickup truck. In the back, flies swarmed around a tar-black decomposing body. The missing flesh above the mandibles exposed what looked to be a set of gold teeth. A group of men pushed a teenage girl toward the truck; upon seeing the teeth, she crumpled with a shriek of recognition. It was Jamil Setoot, an office worker who had been heading to his job in Aleppo on the morning of April 3. As he waited by the highway for a taxi, soldiers were moving into Taftanaz. They shot him and tossed him into a field, then killed the cows and sheep in the area for good measure. When the property’s owner returned days later he found Setoot’s body lying among the animal carcasses.

I went to Abu Malek’s home and found that it, too, had been burned to the ground. After relatives cleared the rubble, they found a body too badly disfigured to identify. They added it and about thirty others to a mass grave on the town’s edge. Many of the tombstones there mark the remains of Malek’s relatives. At some point during the killing, locals watched as a Syrian soldier refused to carry out an order and was executed. They retrieved his body later and interred him in the mass grave, marking his tombstone simply as SOLDIER.

A second mass grave sat on the opposite side of town, where more corpses are buried, rebels alongside civilians. Next to it, a large hole had been dug. A little boy was playing nearby, and when he saw me peering into the hole, he pointed to it and said, “For when they come back.”

Ibrahim Matar served in the army unit that put down the early protests in Daraa. He didn’t believe the government’s assertions that the protests were organized by Al Qaeda, but he felt it was too dangerous to desert. When he finished his service, in November 2011, he came home to a transformed Taftanaz: ordinary people were running the town. “It was like a renaissance,” he said, “a new look at life.”

During the massacre, he fought alongside the rebels and then abandoned the town at night. When he returned to his scorched home, he headed straight for his prized library. “I saw the burned paper,” he told me, “and tears came to my eyes.” He had been studying for a master’s degree in English translation and had maintained the library for years, collecting books by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett. “Some say Godot is God,” he said, “but I say he is hope. Our revolution is now waiting for Godot.”

Matar brought me to a mosque that sits next to one of the mass graves. Inside, there were heaps of clothes, boxes of Turkish biscuits, and crates of bottled water. An old bald man with a walrus mustache studied a ledger with intensity while a group of old men around him argued about how much charity they could demand from Taftanaz’s rich to rebuild the town. This was the public-affairs committee, one of the village’s revolutionary councils. The mustached man slammed his hands on the floor and shouted, “This is a revolution of the poor! The rich will have to accept that.” He turned to me and explained, “We’ve gone to every house in town and determined what they need”—he pointed at the ledger—“and compared it with what donations come in. Everything gets recorded and can be seen by the public.”

All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

Most opposition towns elect a delegate to one of the fifty or so district-wide councils across the country. At the next level up is the Syrian Revolution General Command, the closest thing to a nationwide revolutionary institution. It claims to represent 70 percent of the district-wide councils. The SRGC coordinates protests and occasionally gives the movement political direction: activists in Taftanaz told me that they sometimes followed its suggestions concerning their publications.

The SRGC sends representatives to the Syrian National Council, the expatriate body based in Turkey that has been Washington’s main interlocutor, but the relationship between the two organizations is complicated, and many in Taftanaz expressed their disdain for the SNC. “Who are they?” Omar asked me. “What have they done? They are busy talking to foreigners but they don’t know the situation inside Syria.”

I asked Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst who studies the Syrian opposition at the Institute for the Study of War, about the U.S. approach to these two different rebel organizations. She said she doubted the usefulness of “supporting a group like the SNC, which on paper pays tribute to all the Western ideals we hold dear but has absolutely no legitimacy on the ground.”

Washington officials, however, have said they prefer to deal with known quantities like the SNC rather than the grassroots opposition, which operates deep inside the country and whose leaders usually stay anonymous to stay alive. To complicate matters, some towns have competing councils. The various bodies have only recently begun to formalize their vision of a post-Assad society, even if their constituent elements are already carrying this vision out in practice.

The village of al-Fua runs right up against Binnish. The two look almost indistinguishable—the same shabby buildings, the same patches of drying olive groves. But whereas Binnish is a town mobilized from top to bottom in support of the revolution, al-Fua is a Shia village, a rarity in the swath of Sunni countryside around Taftanaz, and its residents support Assad’s government.

Many Sunnis see the Shia and Shia Alawites as inseparable from the regime; the Shia and Alawites, for their part, fear Sunni reprisals. Revolutionaries in Binnish told me that their town had escaped the army’s northern offensive because they promised to massacre al-Fua if they were touched. Even Matar, with his talk of the French Revolution and equality, told me, “I have relations with everyone, with Christians, with Druze, with all kinds of people—but not with Shia.”

Liberal activists from Syria’s cities are dismayed at this divide, but theirs is a revolt so different from that of the conservative countryside that they seem, at times, like two different uprisings stitched together. The revolutionaries have failed to make significant headway in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities, where, despite a few recent bombings, the alliance of the industrialist aristocracy and the Assad security apparatus remains firmly in place, and where the well-heeled see the countryside awash in chaos (a Bloomberg headline from April read: “Syria Elite Dance to Dawn as Risk of Assad Collapse Fades”).

Rebels in rural communities have been pulled deep into asymmetric warfare, which has opened the uprising to more radical influences. Omar told me that Salafis, ultraconservative Islamists who have operated underground for years, have openly joined the revolt in Binnish, although “they keep to themselves.”

On the way back to the border, our driver celebrated the Sunni fighters and sang songs poking fun at the Shia, Iran, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Omar had arranged for his comrades to take me back to Turkey while he stayed on in Binnish to prepare the next issue of Revolutionary Words. Darkness had fallen, the army offensive had given way to a shaky ceasefire, and rebels thought they had the roads to themselves. But when we approached a checkpoint, it wasn’t clear whether it was controlled by rebels, by the army, or by the Alawite shabeeha. The driver swerved abruptly onto the shoulder and sent one of the passengers into a nearby village to fetch another vehicle, which carried me onward via side roads while the first car headed through the checkpoint as a decoy.

We reached the border just after dawn. I ran across a field with a Syrian refugee family at my side, heading toward a barbed-wire fence. We found a gap and crawled through to Turkey.

When I handed Abu Malek my notebook filled with the names of the Taftanaz dead, he fell silent. After a while, he said, “I feel like I am about to burst.” He pointed to the names: “He was just a teacher; he had a small piece of land, that’s all; I had spoken to him just last week.” Nineteen members of Malek’s family had been killed.

Later that day, another relative from Taftanaz made it across the border to report that seven more bodies had been found, some of them apparently executed in a lineup. “Before, I just wanted to kill Bashar al-Assad,” Malek said. “But now I must kill all of his family.”

Had it been wise for the guerrillas to try to defend Taftanaz rather than retreat, as they had in other towns? It was a question that Malek said Riad al-Asaad, leader of the Free Syrian Army, had put to him at their headquarters in a Turkish border camp. “I shouted at him, ‘Who are you to ask me anything?’ ” Malek recalled. “ ‘You sit here and eat and sleep and talk to the media! We’re inside, we aren’t cowards like you.’ ”

Malek called the Free Syrian Army a “fiction” meant to give Western governments an impression of unity. When I asked Ibrahim Matar’s commander in Taftanaz about the FSA leadership, he answered, “If I ever see those dogs here I’ll shoot them myself.” The Turkey-based commanders exert no control over armed rebel groups on the inside; each of the hundreds of insurgent battalions operate autonomously, although they often coordinate their activities.

The ceasefire barely held up for a day, and in June a U.N. official described the conflict as a civil war. In Turkey, Malek continued to raise funds and buy weapons for the Taftanaz rebels. Once, I went with him to a tiny office in a working-class section of Antakya, where he haggled with a man over the price of roadside-bomb detonators, the use of which Malek said he had learned from “a friend in another country.”

Some of the rebel groups had contacts with the United States, which was helping to coordinate the flow of money from the governments of the Gulf states. Others were developing their own patrons, a sort of privatization of the armed movement similar to what took place in Libya. Malek received a steady stream of visitors, mostly wealthy businessmen, from the Gulf. He knew that such pacts were dangerous, but he believed the exigencies of war demanded them.

Still, in Taftanaz the revolt felt intensely local. On my last afternoon there, as the muezzin’s noon call to prayer sounded, I walked through the town’s central square. It was Friday, the traditional day of protest in the Muslim world. You could feel everywhere the heavy atmosphere of defeat: the town had been reduced to heaps of rotting trash and broken concrete, and not much else. And yet after the prayers were over, men and boys left the mosques and headed toward the square. Waving the old pre-Assad Syrian flag, they chanted, “God loves the martyr! God is the greatest!”

The Syrian army’s helicopters buzzed overhead, watching. Protesters climbed atop the ruined buildings surrounding the square and waved their banners. This was the first demonstration since the massacre. Here and there in the melee men burst into tears as they saw friends and relatives for the first time. The protest was a ritual of survival, part of a revolution that seemingly can’t be won yet somehow refuses to be extinguished. On a mound of twisted metal and concrete shards that had once been a house, a group unfurled a banner that read, EVEN FROM THE RUBBLE, WE WILL FIGHT THE REGIME.


Turkist miniature

#resistankara: Notes of a Woman Resisting


by Pinar Melis Yelsali Parmaksiz

The Gezi Park protests can be, and are being, analyzed in multiple ways. Meanwhile, on its nineteenth day as this piece is being written, the protests and the solidarity of the protestors continue to advocate for a life in which resisting and acting with creativity and humor transform human existence.

Women of different generations and walks of life have participated in this resistance and solidarity, which started in Istanbul, but has spread over many cities. First and foremost among these was Ankara. For the women protestors, there are different reasons behind their resistance; a significant number of these reasons overlap with resistance to government interference with the female body. That is precisely why the resistance has moved away from the banality of everyday life, creating new kinds of public relations in urban parks, walking anew through old neighborhoods. Considering that women rarely take to the streets, besides on 8 March [International Women’s Day], what can be said about being a woman engaged in resistance and on the street in this new state?

It is likely that only few of the women on the streets would identify themselves as feminists, but this popular uprising constitutes a process of resistance, whose language, form, and ethics are produced on the streets. As such, it provides opportunities for political engagement and exchange, which are also educational. A new kind of language and solidarity has been developed, not despite religious, ethnic, sexual, political, cultural, and generational differences, but precisely by way of such differences. The passive resistance and community built in Gezi Park has already provided us with various examples of this new language. Here in Ankara, too, people are resisting in solidarity in similar ways, and yet the proximity of the state and the concreteness of its presence make the physical struggle here more continuous. Both Kuğulu Park, which the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality attempted to demolish in the past, and Güvenpark, which went through a series of alterations, have great symbolic value.

The most recent of these alterations was undertaken in 2003 by, once again, the Metropolitan Municipality, in the form of a de-pedestrianization project for the central Kızılay area, where Güvenpark is situated. This project became relevant again in the context of the military barracks proposed for the site of Gezi Park, because the prospect of the Kizilay project was once subject to a plebiscite, similar to that which is being suggested for Gezi Park. Traffic lights were uprooted and pedestrian crossings were blocked in Kızılay. Later on, however, following the reactions of Ankara residents and local NGOs, the Metropolitan Municipality took a step back. The Kızılay plebiscite, which was already viewed as shady, was declared invalid. Having these memories in mind on 31 May, thousands of Ankara residents gathered in Kuğulu Park and walked down to Kızılay. For this reason, the central role played by Güvenpark and Kuğulu Park in the resistance is especially meaningful. Add to that the ghost of Kızılay Park, which used to extend across from Güvenpark in the 1930s; in its place now stands a giant shopping mall.

Of course, for women, being able to go out is an issue. On the one hand, thousands of women did take to the streets, filling the squares and avenues of Ankara. On the other hand, women with kids have had to make arrangements: to go with or without the kids; to plan to first feed the kids and put them to bed and then leave; to share the babysitting responsibilities with the fathers and the grandparents—all in a persistent effort to find a way to get to the street, the park, the square. Spraying anti-teargas solutions in someone’s eyes, volunteering to work at the temporary libraries established in the parks, picking up the trash, advising people not to use swear words, talking about the real addressee’s of swearwords, debating, but still, talking, screaming, not keeping silent, not swallowing, and walking, and walking again.

One action in Istanbul that was of marked importance in terms of female participation was the arrival in Gezi Park of mothers, whose children may or may not have been there on the eve of 13 June. They went out on the streets to turn the tables on the call from the Mayor of Istanbul for mothers to “come and fetch your children,” and, more generally, on the government’s political discourse, whereby women are recognized in and defined through the domestic sphere. In doing so, they made it clear that motherhood cannot be instrumentalized as the sole legitimization of identity politics, and they enabled us to imagine motherhood as a liberating experience and identity.

In addition, Taksim brought the mothers of the so-called marginal and slacker “Children of Gezi” together, if only symbolically, with another group of mothers. They shared Taksim Square with the so-called Saturday Mothers, who gathered last Saturday, as they do every Saturday, for the 429th time in Taksim, to ask—not for their children’s right to life, but for justice for their unresolved cases, most of which involve state violence against political or Kurdish activists. They also shared Taksim Square with the mothers whose children, having been murdered by the state in Roboski, were called terrorists.

The historiography of feminist movements in Turkey maintains that the second wave of the feminist movement post-1980 consists of the daughters of the first generation of Kemalist mothers. The Gezi Park resistance is not a feminist protest, but it might be considered as having important outcomes for women. The fact that the middle class constitutes the main social base of the Gezi resistance increases the number of Kemalist women participating in it. Despite that, many more women, other than just Kemalists, are part of this resistance. What is truly novel is that “even” the Kemalist women are getting beyond their ordinary hang-ups, the demons of Kemalism: the Kurdish people and the covered women.

The silence of the media has had a significant role in this. Another significant role has been that of the Prime Minister and his paternalist jargon. Women are raising their voices against a male power figure, who does not miss any opportunity to rule over the morality of “maidens” and the sexuality of women at large, while at the same time trying to sugar-coat with the idea of freedom his jargon about “my covered girls.” Moreover, it is heartening that women, especially Kemalist women, are rising against the real and symbolic fathers who have constantly told them how to live. I am excited to transform the street into a place of resistance and solidarity alongside the women of my neighborhood. Given that the shopping malls have been the most “secure” areas to take children in these days, it seems all the more vital to me that we should lay claim to our neighborhoods.