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Voices from the Middle East: Gaza

Junior Mahroh Jahangiri, a political science major at Wash. U., is currently studying abroad at the American University of Cairo in Egypt. Following the recent violence in the Gaza Strip, Jahangiri decided to join a humanitarian convoy to Gaza, accompanying 100 American, European and Egyptian students across the border into Rafah, Gaza last week. Escorted throughout the Gaza Strip by Hamas military officials for two days, Jahangiri witnessed the wreckage and heard the stories of the victims of violence in the Middle East. She shares her reflections on the experience with Student Life below.

Courtesy of Mahroh Jahangiri

A building in the Gaza Strip is left in shambles by Israeli rockets fired during last week’s violence between Israel and Hamas. Junior Mahroh Jahangiri accompanied a humanitarian convoy to Gaza while studying abroad at the American University of Cairo in Egypt and witnessed the destruction firsthand.

Student Life: Why did you decide to go to the Gaza Strip after the recent Israeli airstrike?

Mahroh Jahangiri: A few reasons. I guess it broke out the weekend before last and within a day or two I think the civilian deaths were like up to around 50 or 60, and around that time I saw a picture at Wash. U. being circulated that said ‘We stand with Israel’ and it [showed] like the DUC filled up with students. And I was really taken aback by the very blatant support of Israel when, in spite of like civilian deaths, I was hoping for a bit more discourse on military policies and how they were creating a humanitarian crisis. So at that point I really wanted to go there and see for myself and document for myself what was going on [in Gaza] because, I mean, I had heard about the deaths and I had heard much more being in Cairo—the news reports here were obviously more favorable towards Palestine—so I definitely wanted to see personally what was going on and if so be able to send that stuff back home, because I was very surprised by the little diversity in the discourse at Wash. U.

SL: What sites did you see while you were in Gaza?

MJ: It actually took us about two days to get there so that was half the process…Once we were in, I did not know anything about the plans. I just knew there was a convoy going with supplies and I tagged along. It turned out that the convoy had been in touch with the local government—which would be Hamas—because they needed Hamas’s permission to allow a convoy of like 100 people to come in. So once we were there we were basically escorted by Hamas officials for like a day and a half. When we first got there we were taken to one of the families. There were two families that live close to each other that lost two people during the strikes. One of the two had been firing rockets and he was hit by an Israeli strike in return and was killed. We met his widow and his 20-day-old daughter, and so the family was still in mourning. I was not expecting to be taken into people’s houses that had just had someone killed like three days ago. So I was definitely very taken aback because we were definitely immersed very quickly without much background.

SL: Did you speak with the family at this site?

MJ: She [the widow] was definitely not in a talking mood. She was sitting there balling. The house itself was still in a post-funeral setup. It was just like an open house for people to come and mourn in. So there was one woman who I guess was in charge of speaking to the foreigners. It was mostly in Arabic, so I understood bits and pieces of it, but it was very, very much directed towards, ‘Notice us. [Be] aware of this. Try to talk about what’s happening.’ And I think that family was definitely more hostile towards the Israeli government.

SL: What other sites did you visit throughout your trip?

MJ: We were just escorted I guess through the Gaza strip. So we went through different towns and…basically it was like a quick recap of everything that had happened in the past three days, like all the destruction…so we didn’t really get a chance to see like regular Palestine or regular life in Palestine. It was very much focused on what had happened under the most recent strikes. So we passed the bank that was hit. One of the ministries was hit so we stopped there. [We] saw the debris, and I mean it was all very recent so nothing had been cleaned up.

The next house we were taken to…I don’t know if you’ve read the story about the one family that lost twelve family members in the strikes, so that was the second house we were taken to. [I] also was not expecting that. For me personally that was terrifying to be there. I was a mess. I like was not expecting to be hit so hard emotionally by it.

SL: Did you speak to any family members at this house?

MJ: The first house was definitely more hostile and acknowledged being part of the resistance. But the second family had no part at all with the resistance. The father was pretty old. He didn’t really have like young twenty-something-year-old sons either, so he wasn’t a part of the resistance at all. He said he had taken his little son out just to the grocery store and when he came back his house was gone, his neighbors’ house was gone and his family was all dead. So, we got a chance to like walk through the structure of the house next door that was remaining and you could still see kids’ sweaters caught up in the debris. You can see the phone hanging, you can see like the dirty dishes that they had been eating off of a few days earlier. So that was really hard, and especially hearing [the father] talk, because he wasn’t angry. The first family’s anger made sense to me, even if shooting off rockets wasn’t like the best idea, it’s like their anger in response kind of made sense to me. This [father], though, was kind of like he had just totally accepted that this is going to happen to his family, and at least after this I guess his family [is] in a better place than they were under the blockade. So that was definitely very difficult to listen to.

SL: What did the Hamas officials who guided your group have to say about the conflict?

MJ: Very angry. Very much angry at the fact that Israel had been getting away with this. Or getting away with strikes or killing civilians. In a sense, [this trip] worked for me because if I had more time I would love to see all of Palestine, but for me, for us, we were going on a humanitarian trip. So to see the disaster part of it was probably like the most important thing we could see in two days. And [the military officials] were also very conscious of that too. They wanted us to see the worst of Gaza and like take that back with us. So it was very much like, ‘We don’t even have to say anything. You can take your pictures, you can see this, and we just hope that you tell the world about it.’

SL: What did the Egyptians you traveled with to Gaza have to say about the conflict?

MJ: I mean, everyone’s unanimously against Israeli policies and Israeli government. I think there was a huge spectrum on what Palestine should be doing. There was a good number that were very supportive or at least understanding of Hamas’ resistance movement. Some of the Palestinian opinions I heard [while in Gaza] were that, in their minds [in order to] justify rocket attacks on Israel, they thought that every Israeli adult is responsible for their Israeli government, and the fact that Israeli adults haven’t been changing their government for the past ten, twenty years, they’re also, I guess, part of war crimes. That is how they justify it in their mind. Every Israeli adult is basically in a state of war with Palestine because they are not fixing their government…I guess the only unanimous consensus is that Palestine has the right to exist and the U.S. government and the Israeli government haven’t done anything to move forward on that.

SL: Now having returned to Egypt, what are your reflections on your trip?

MJ: I don’t even know. I really don’t know. A lot of things. First and foremost I felt so responsible for what’s happening. Like, regardless of the politics of it, people forget so easily the humanitarian issues that come along. Thinking of Palestine, it’s just like somehow Hamas being the official government, I think, is used as a justification for civilian deaths in the area…It was good to be able to see the humanitarian side of it without necessarily [discussing] the politics of it because I wasn’t really talking politics with people. I was just going to destroyed houses and families that had lost civilians. So that part of me makes me want to be more vocal about the issue in the United States.

Also part of me just wants to not talk about it because it seems like both sides are so, so stubborn, and there are no understandings, and it makes sense why they are [so stubborn]. But, like I can process how [Palestinians] got to the point where they are today. Where they are so desperate and so like desensitized to violence where anything is okay as long as they get their land back, but at the same time seeing that was quite disheartening. So I don’t know, I really don’t know where I stand on it. It was a lot and I haven’t even processed it fully yet. But for me, I really wanted to go and be able to just take pictures and see the human side of it…because at Wash. U. we do have students studying abroad in Israel. So, we see [on] our Facebooks, or at least my Facebook, I regularly have pictures of Tel Aviv…I regularly have [updates on] students [in Israel] that might feel unsafe and statuses that they post, but we don’t have a connection to Palestine at all. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a student in Gaza, but we very rarely have a personal connection to Palestine. I feel like the human side of Palestine is very easily forgotten.

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  • Arafat says:

    MF, the following piece might help put my comments in a broader perspective:

    Here is what some ex-Muslims say about Islam. I encourage you, and all Muslims, to free yourself.

    “But the religion of Islam means Peace!

    Or does it?…

    The Good Muslims

    Although there are certainly many good people who call themselves
    Muslims, all of these people are either living in terrible fear of leaving
    their religion, or have been duped by it. Or, they choose to remain eternally
    clueless about it…

    And then of course there are the many evil Muslims. Those Muslims
    who KNOW that Islam is evil.

    Those Muslims who happen to be personally honorable Muslims, are
    ironically, the very worst of Muslims, for they give a very bad religion a good
    name and aid in its continuation. Those Muslims who act as Imams and Islamic
    “academics” and work to further the goals of this fundamentally unjust,
    inherently violent, and highly intolerant religion are also doing great harm to
    humanity.

    If these above mentioned groups of persons continue in their ways
    and succeed in keeping Islam alive and flourishing, the world will be a truly
    dark place no sane person would want their son or daughter to live in. The time
    has come for all Muslims, both laymen and learned, moderate and fundamentalist,
    to objectively re-examine the religion they currently believe to be infallible
    and beyond the need for critical examination. The horrible truth about the
    Islamic religion must become known if humanity is to survive.

    It has become obvious to many Muslims that there is something seriously wrong
    with Islam. But what? What is wrong with Islam? Was Muhammad merely a sick
    human being and a liar? Is Islam the corrupted product of many different hands?
    These questions are well worth asking as there is so much at stake. Those
    people who are good people and adhere to Islam must be asking themselves
    whether Islam is in fact a religion come from God as Muhammad proclaimed. Those
    Muslims who know of Muhammad’s questionable behavior (murder, assassination,
    thievery, pedophilia, etc.) are now wondering whether they want to continue
    blindly following this sick man and his hateful and violent religion.

    Unfortunately, the fear that Muhammad’s Islam has induced in the
    minds of Muslims has rendered them incapable of thinking rationally about the
    religion. This is changing though, as more and more Muslims become exposed to
    the grotesque truth about Muhammad and his Islam. Upon learning the truth about
    Islam, honest people of integrity begin the profoundly liberating process of apostasizing
    from Islam. It can definitively be stated that no decent person of sane mind,
    knowing the real facts about Islam, could remain in the religion with a clear
    conscience. We informed apostates of Islam know for certain that Muhammad’s
    Islam is in reality the exact opposite of what it claims to be.

    Most Muslims genuinely do not know how evil Islamic ideology
    really is. It is an indisputable fact that Islam institutionalizes
    discrimination against women and non-Muslims, effectively puts an end to freedom
    of speech and freedom of conscience, and ensures perpetual warfare amongst
    mankind. Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is not a flawless faith
    received from a god on high. Muhammad was not the perfect man. This “religion”
    is so perverse in fact, that it demands that those who leave it be killed.

    Muhammad was a deranged man. He was so deranged in fact, that he
    himself believed his own lies. He made his living and satisfied his “needs” by
    creating enemies and then raiding and looting their property. Muhammad and his
    gang of criminals butchered thousands of people during their raids. Often the
    women and children were spared death only to be enslaved and sold for profit or
    used as concubines and free labor. Many of the modern day followers of
    Muhammad’s cult of Islam want to re-live that savage age. They want to
    slaughter “infidels” and take their wives. They want to see stonings,
    amputations, and mute women in full length black garb on every street. The
    early Muslims became Muslims by being duped or threatened by that convincing
    mad man. Modern Muslims, even the most educated, are Muslims due to either fear
    or ignorance, period.

    Those folks who consider themselves to be good Muslims must be
    terribly disturbed when witnessing the constant horrors being created around
    the world by their co-religionists who rightly justify their evil deeds in the
    name of Islam. Tragically, according to Islam, Muslims need only treat Muslims
    justly – to hell with the rights of those who will not submit to Islam. The
    misery and loss of life being created by Muslims acting upon Islamic doctrine
    is staggering. The harm that Islam has wrought upon humanity is without
    parallel among the world’s religions. It has now become crystal clear to
    sensible people that Muhammad’s legacy is the most shameful and harmful legacy
    of all of the leaders the world has come to know by name. The name Muhammad now
    denotes disgust, distrust and dishonesty. Though for Muslims, as any “true
    believer” will tell you, Muhammad must still be considered the perfect man,
    whose every word and example is to be obeyed without question…???

    It is quite reasonable that many folks who currently call
    themselves Muslims are considering walking away from this sick man’s
    cult/belief system as billions of good people have done before them. Only an
    imbecile would continue to believe that Muhammad was the messenger of god.
    Truth be told, many Muslims stay in Islam simply out of fear for their lives.
    Though the following statement is harsh to be sure, it is none the less true: Educated
    Muslims, especially those living in non-Muslim majority countries, should be
    ashamed of themselves for not taking the time to learn and consider the
    objective truth about Islam from easily available sources and then wholly
    abandoning Islam and joining the effort to expose this terrible fraud.

    Those Muslims who choose to stubbornly cling to Islam knowing what
    they now surely know about it are stabbing themselves and humanity in the back.
    Fifty years from now, Islam will be seen as a belief system far worse than even
    Hitler’s Nazism, and those human beings who remain “Muslim” will be looked upon
    as mentally ill freaks that no reasonable person would trust or respect.
    Adherence to Islam in the 21st century is fast becoming known as the ultimate
    self-betrayal. Now that the truth about Islam has become known, there is no
    excuse for a free man or women to remain Muslim.

    Islam should rightly be abhorred by all persons of conscience. Muhammad’s Islam is a
    fundamentally unjust ideology with hatred and violence coursing through its
    veins. ‘The good Muslims’ must decide whether they want to live a lie and go
    down the dark path of Islam or make the courageous decision to abandon this
    religion entirely and help in the effort to expose it for what it is. It is time
    for the good Muslims to come to the realization that Muhammad’s Islam, taken in
    totality, amounts to a colossal fraud and a terribly harmful ideology.”

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  • Arafat says:

    ‘The only religion I respect is Islam. The only prophet I admire is the Prophet Muhammad.’ — Adolf Hitler

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  • Arafat says:

    Man’s oldest prejudice, anti-Semitism, is seeing a resurgence unlike anything witnessed since the 1930s and we all know how that ended.

    While Muslims kill 40,000 in Syria, while Muslims turn Egypt into a worse nightmare than existed pre-Muslim Brotherhood, while Muslims commit genocide in Sudan and create 500,000 refugees recently in Mali, while Muslims kill 5,000 Buddhists in Thailand and slowly ethnically cleanse Iraq of its Chaldean people, while Muslims in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia torture anyone who questions the royal families authority, while Muslims in Somalia gang-rape and force children into the military the UN and the world remains silent.

    But when bloodthirsty Islamists lob hundreds of rockets into Israel and Israel responds the world goes ape-shit. Condemning Israel for doing what any nation would do to protect its children from would-be Nazis.

    We’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends. But wait, I almost forgot Jews invented the atomic bomb and Israel has a warehouse full of them. Israelis remember the ancient story of Masada and its lesson.

    Never again mo-f**kers. The Jews can finally defend themselves from you would-be killers.

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  • Arafat says:

    Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan define themselves as Islamic states and will never accept a non apartheid democracy with a non-Muslim citizen. Counting killing of Shi’ites, killing of Bahai, killing of gays and women, killing of Christians their refusal to accpet non-Muslims as equals is a core tenet of these countries. Hatred will now be served by an Islamic controlled UN where Islam’s voting block equals 57 countries. The UN will see to it that Islamists like Hezbollah, Hamas and others are weaponized because the UN is an anti-Semetic insitution and because Muslims number 1.5 billion people and their holy book demands hatred of Jews.

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  • smehgol says:

    Israel defines itself as a Jewish state and will never accept a non apartheid democracy with a Jewish minority. Continuing illegal annexations, settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing have also precluded any negotiated two state solution. Justice may now be served only by UN and NATO imposing resolution just as involuntary, disruptive and humiliating to Israel as Israel has wreaked upon occupied Palestine for generations. The Jewish State must be made to recognize an armed Palestine with externally enforced autonomy, eviction of all settlers, true contiguity encompassing Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem together, neither pinched nor parceled, and pay punitive reparations.

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    • Arafat says:

      “To clarify: Wahhabism is the only officially recognized and allowed religion in Saudi Arabia. Other forms of Islam and other religions are banned and persecuted by the state. Saudi Arabia is the only Islamic state in which there is no church, no synagogue and no other place of worship of any other religion. Shiite Muslims have been systematically discriminated against for decades. Jews are even forbidden to enter the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia practices a form of Sharia law that is one of the most brutal systems in the world. Saudi Arabia has at all times rejected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Women may not drive a car and can be punished by flogging. Corporal punishment, including amputations and executions, are part of everyday life in the country. Just two weeks ago a Sudanese immigrant in Saudi Arabia was publicly beheaded for ‘sorcery.’ Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world in which the death penalty is enforced even on teenagers,” the paper said.

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      • MF says:

        I’m not sure why Saudi Arabia’s real or alleged human rights abuses is relevant to the illegal actions (as defined under US and international law) by the current Israeli government.

        Please try to be relevant.

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        • Arafat says:

          MF,

          My comments attempt to suggest the issue isn’t really about the widely accepted meme that is presented in articles like this one. That, in fact, the issue IS about Islam and its core tenets of subjugation of others, non-acceptance of others in lands they consider theirs, and tenets which confer onto Jews a hatred that dates back to Mohammed.

          I apologize if my comments come across as non-sequiters.

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