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Camp Al Awda, Baghdad - The Struggle Continues - report

Ewa J | 01.10.2003 10:05 | Repression | Social Struggles

Report plus residents' call out for support from the international community as humanitarian crisis worsens.

Al-Awda – The Struggle Continues

Saturday saw Awda Camp, pitched on PLO land in the Haifa Sports Club, Baladiyat, celebrate and commemorate 3 years of the Intifada. Speeches, poetry, song, and a chaotically choreographed children's interpretation of the Palestinian Struggle, had been arranged. Older security shebab stalked the club's rooftops, silhouetted against the white of Baghdad's smog thickened sky. Others sat on plastic chairs, sullen in the grit-blown playground, classic Iraqi polished wood and steel Kalashnikovs on their laps. Mothers and fathers waited placidly in rows, eyes frontwards, reading recycled banner-scribed promises of The Return, of victory, of all power to the heroes of the intifada, surrounded by hyperactive, all-over-the-place tent-fevered kids.

Two Shia clerics from Sadr City (a.k.a Thaowra – Revolution), Baghdad's most populous and poorest district, home to 3 million, and pummeled by the Ba'ath during the 90s, came to show their respects to the Palestinian community. Thaowra was an artificial makeshift city, designed in the 70s by the Ba'ath to intern dissident southern marshland communities. Iranian Shia were making links with their Iraqi brethren, revolt grazed the horizon of the Ba'athist state. Saddam's response was the forced transfer of entire villages, terrorized out from their homes to live in concrete warrens where they could be controlled. Saddam destroyed, arch foe Sharon-style, entire neighborhoods in Thaowra by bulldozer, grand acts of terror and collective punishment against the indefatigable Shia resistance.

Acute embarrassment wrinkled the event as the kids' chant to bring back Abu Amr (Arafat); 'In Soul, In Blood, We Sacrifice Ourselves-for-Abu-Amr!! Slipped into the habitual call hailing Saddam, 'In Soul, In Blood, We-sacrifice Ourselves-for-Saddam!'. The clerics crossed their legs calmly.

The 30-boy strong theatrical interpretation of the Palestinian Struggle opened with hopping and skipping, happy Palestinian farmers, enjoying an age of innocence in olive groves and rolling fields, scampering around to an eerie, springtime, slightly high-pitched nature-documentary soundscape. Then in came the enemy, armed with cardboard M16s, wearing odd random green shirts and trousers and wrap-around shades, coordinated by a be-suited, shades-donned Fat Capitalist, meant to be a British colonialist/Zionist state-maker/Sharon, shouting angrily into a mobile. The IOF 14-year-olds brutally confronted the unarmed Palestinians, beating and shooting repeatedly into the scattered crowd. The next scene showed a sea of kiffaya wearing boys, masked up and organized, all manically luzzing imaginary stones, arms thrashing back and forth, in volley after rapid empty volley. The IOF began to shoot harder, boys fell on the ground, were carried away by friends, and the soldiers rampaged into them, eventually ploughing through to focus their violence on one, who became a shaheed, to be covered in the Palestinian flag and hoisted up onto a makeshift stretcher, all to escalating, pounding war-drum sounds and the clapping of the Iraqi born Palestine-via-TV-and- family phonecall -knowing audience. The next fight showed the Palestinians mobbed up, with their own cardboard rifles aloft, shaken skyward, in triumph, in the very honour and empowerment of fighting back. The IOF soldiers scattered, and fat epoch-interchangeable Sharon started to tear out his hair, yelling even harder into his imaginary mobile phone. And there the story hangs...

Awda is home to over 125 families, all living in canvas tents, crammed into one and half playing fields, once grass now copper coloured dust, and bearing a mounting everything-covering fly population. 350 families originally inhabited the decrepit club, spread out over four fields, sharing inadequate showers and water troughs, and suffering from waterborne intestinal diseases and throat infections. The families which left did so with the help of 6-months worth of rent-aid from private donors from the UAE. Five women have suffered miscarriages in as many months, mostly during the blazing 55-degree plus heat of August. A stray bullet seared through the tent of Abu Mohammad's family and shot him in the abdomen 2 months ago. 9 year-old Bassima was shot in the arm, again by a stray bullet, outside the camp last week. A wedding party shot bullet killed a 12-year-old boy in the neighbouring Emiraht flats just two weeks ago, crashing into his skull on its down-fall impact. When Uday and Qsay were killed and gun salutes rippled throughout the night, camp residents fled into the sportsclub in terror, anticipating casualties from stray tent-penetrating bullets.

The United Nations Humanitarian Commission for Human Rights closed it's registering of Iraq's 35-70,000 strong Palestinian population last week. Awda Camp demands for inclusion under the UNRWA mandate have remained unanswered. Up and down the camp, residents draw parallels to 1948; the war and their mass eviction echoing the Nakba and all the humiliation and displacement that went with it. UN and NGO sanctioned housing for Camp Awda residents, close by in Baladiyat and allegedly ready to move into since last month, remains empty, awaiting the simple signature of palace dwelling 'Ambassador' Bremer. Some regard his procrastination as a form of collective punishment. The US Occupation Administration's demonstrated its open support for Zionism in its appointment of the Pentagon's LT General Jay Garner, a supporter of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and in its’ acceptance of Marc Zell, former law partner of Douglas Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense, now employed as a marketing consultant to the law firm of Salem Chalabi, nephew of the CIA pruned Ahmad. Zell's law firm is the Israeli affiliate of the FANDZ International Law Group and he lives in an Israeli settlement. Those affiliated to Palestinian liberation organisations in Iraq, previously permitted by the regime, now find themselves and their politics criminalised. Three Palestinian embassy staff arrested on May 25 are still in jail, trapped in the tented Bucca camp, Um el Qsr, despite assurances from the US Administration following negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, over 2 months ago that they would be freed. The school year is beginning in just over a week; children in Awda don’t have places at the local school, mothers throw up their hands and ask where will they go? How can they get an education when the only school near by in Baladiyat is full? Winter is also on its way. Respiratory problems and influenza are expected to seize the health of many of the elderly camp residents. Wet tents, mud, unshakeable cold and bone clenching damp, all promise to make for a miserable coming 3 months.

Awda has been attacked before, drive-by shootings, and repeated sworn promises of revenge for past perceived Palestinian privileges and allegiances to the regime threaten the lives of the 125 families who live here. Under Saddam, Palestinians were given subsidized housing, preferred university placements, and food and clothing aid. They were the only Palestinian refugee population to be directly take care of by a host state. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) oversaw the development of Palestinian displaced communities in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians never became Iraqi citizens. They were provided only with refugee travel documents and had legal restrictions that prohibited them from buying homes, cars, or telephone lines in their own names. The fixed-rent housing Palestinians were given, like refugees the world over, was overwhelmingly cramped and squalid, with families of ten jammed into one-room apartments. After the eruption of the second intifada, Palestinians were prostituted by the regime into pedestalled immortality as the chosen warriors against Zionism. They were the martyr race capable of evicting the US's own settlement, in the middle east – Israel; they were indomitable pan-Arab state spearheading heroes capable of reclaiming Qds, they were the almighty oppressed. Saddam ended his Army Day address in 2001, with 'Long live Palestine in whose battle Iraq has represented, with the assistance of Allah, the potency of faith, side by side with the heroic Palestinians and the will of the Arab nation wherever the banners and the true stands endeavor to fortify the nation and those who take those true stands'. Blood and Soil and God. The ideological recipe for popular political Stockholm Syndrome, a deadly loyalty to state domination. Saddam was and still is, regarded by many as a Battall (Hero), who stood up to Israel, America, and every compliant, Arab state reproducing empire in the Middle East through capitulation to US foreign and economic policy. Saddam just ended up reproducing and concentrating empire within the borders of Iraq.

Many wave aside his collaboration with the US in the 80s, and the fact that he built countless monuments to himself and purchased and furnished luxurious palaces when half the country lived in mudhuts. 'Show us one world leader who doesn't live like this', people say, 'he was the head of state, he deserved it'. Many fell for the trick of government and the seductive myth of the Liberator nation; a strong Iraq, economically, socially, militarily, could eventually grow big enough to overcome Israel. Iraq, the nation state, and its rise, became the force for Palestinian liberation in the making, a project in progress, accumulating the power to free Palestinian's locked into refugee camps all over the world. And it was this potential for freedom, represented by a strong Iraq, that was to be defended at all costs, and the regime was there, necessarily, to defend and cultivate that potential, and its hampered growth would hamper the Palestinian struggle, attacks on it were attacks on the potential to win the Palestinian struggle, the struggle a strong Saddam and a mighty Iraq could win. He fired over 40 missiles into Tel Aviv to prove it. He manipulated thousands to burn Kurds with killer gas to believe it. He offered up thousands of dollars to the families of martyr bombers and victims of the April invasion in Jenin Camp. Not everyone accepted his money, aware it was drenched in blood, however Shaheed posters and a three-day grieving ceremony were set up the camp following the killing of the misogynistic, sadistic, Mafioso brothers Uday and Qusay. Saddam arguably became the highest and most powerfully placed voice of Palestinians in the world, and many of the vulnerable minority population living under his gaze, thanked him for it, surrendered to the system for it, and became allied to it.

And now he’s gone, attacks have erupted against Palestinians all over Iraq (Palestinians are centered in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra), gun toted evictions, children shot, homes looted, retaliation, community collective mob punishment, all continue and the Palestinian population in Iraq is more vulnerable than it ever has been. Children are already reporting that they were threatened with guns whilst out swimming in the local pool; that they are told that they’re shit; to leave Iraq because Iraq is for Iraqis; and the reality is that this escalating discrimination is being denied out of fear of further reprisals and further escalations. Palestinians do not want to be seen as victims. The position of Palestinians in Iraq is critical. The international NGO community has cultivated an alliance with the camp, yet individuals have stated privately their reservations about the Palestinian community and their links to the old regime; a Polish official within the Occupation Administration Iraq stated on Polish national television that it was the Palestinians who threw Iraqi people out of their homes in the past, a racism-fuelling misconception, as it was the regime which fixed rents and extorted accommodation from Iraq landlords, not individual Palestinians, and even then not all excepted the housing offered to them. These apprehensions and assumptions, from echelons within the international aid community which should which should know better, serve to reinforce the prejudice already facing the community in Iraq, and point to the beginnings of institutionalised discrimination against them.

However, according to Mohammad Mootaleb, lawyer and head of the newly formed Palestinian Human Rights Organisation in Iraq. ‘Discrimination and racism do not exist between Palestinians and Iraqis we are brothers, we share a similar history (British colonial creation and domination), we are Arabs. Iraqi people have treated us very well, they have been great hosts and we respect all the laws Iraqis are instituting’. Yet when pressed further, he concedes that they are expecting fresh attacks, a backlash of prejuidice, and that the road ahead is paved with uncertainty, vulnerability, but above all humility. The Palestinian Human Rights Organisation in Iraq has a vital role to play in combating the expected social alienation and potential collective punishment of Palestinains in Iraq. The community is virtually powerless to do anything aside from campaign, through the law, for equality under new Iraqi legislation and pick up the pieces; represent the Palestinians arbitrarily arrested or facing victimisation from the new rulers of Iraq or aggrieved, grudge-bearing Iraqis; call for the respect of their basic human rights; and agitate for the all-saving Al Awda. As a vulnerable minority, unprotected and in the eyes of some in the NGO and international relations community a suspect community, Palestinians living in Iraq right now need help.

Please pledge your support to the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation in Iraq.

Contact the organization on 009641 751 4852

Ewa Jasiewicz is working with Occupation Watch Iraq and is living in Baghdad


Al-Awda Camp Call-Out

In The Name of The Most Merciful

Subject: Calling to all organisations, humanitarian departments and to all the good people in the world. Peace be upon you.

We are the people of Palestine in Awda Camp who hold the land of the Palestinian Haifa Club. We are calling you in the name of humanity to solve our humanitarian problem, which has gone on now for almost six months. We are living in tents beaten by the hot sun and surrounded by the heart of Baghdad. And we’re still in our places and nobody moves to solve our problem, untill we get more desperate, untill we came to think that we were trash, forgotten in the corner and there is nobody looking after our problem. Is there no conscience? Is there somebody who still feels their heart and humanity alive? And our children and our men and women had to face tough diseases. Shall it repeat with us now like the misery of 1948? Will the tents be our future? And could this repeat that we are in an Arabic land and we are in the arms of generous people who have hosted us for 55 years? And our children, how can they go to school and how will we be in the tough, cold winter? We trust, we believe that God in his greatness and his majesty wanted us to suffer a plague and he wanted to test anyone from the people who have faith in God. And we believe in him and we believe that he still exisits, in our hearts and in the heart of the believers. For that we are calling out in the name of humanity and its principles to look at us and to seek to solve our problem. And we are assure you that we have the right to return to our homeland, Palestine, and that we are not looking for citizenship in any other country exept for our country. And our demands now are to solve our humanitarian problem and get us out of this camp and into houses, to protect us and help us regain our humanity.

The People of Al Awda Camp
Palestinian Haifa Club, Baghdad

Thuraya 88216 212 36029
Landline 009641 751 9985

Ewa J
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