NASSER AL QIDWA MEETS IM IBRAHIM
PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Al Qidwa walked into a side room before his 11am press conference dressed in a dapper navy suit and smelling of aftershave. His sophisticated comportment refined by many years of service as PLO representative to the UN in New York, integrated well with the setting of the Palestinian press center hosting the event. Newly established to service the small army of international reporters covering Gaza for the coming months, the press center was tastefully decorated with a bouquet of flowers, and draped with a UNDP-funded poster series themed “Gaza: Reclaiming Our Gem”. The posters showed an assortment of images including a smiling Gazan child on a fishing boat, a Byzantine mosaic, and an Ottoman-era archeological site, ripe for a UNESCO rehabilitation project.
Surrounded by a coterie of assistants and advisers, Qidwa waited before making his much anticipated entrance onto the press room floor as cameramen finalized setting up their microphones and adjusted their white balance meters. As one of the Palestinians’ most internationally recognized talking heads, Qidwa no doubt had prepared a succinct list of talking points sufficient to provide the necessary sound bites to represent “the Palestinian perspective” for the evening news stories across the world.
Too bad he never got a chance to say them though.
A group of 15 middle aged women marched into the room just in front of the podium holding large images of young men and chanting slogans — the commotion clearly startling the press center staff and Qidwa’s yes-men. The journalists in the room (both Arab and Western) were somewhat befuddled with the scene: some deciding to film it, while others ignored it, even seeming annoyed at the fact that their press conference was delayed. Some simply sat around with expressions on their faces waiting for it to be over.
After much commotion and indeed persistence by the chanting women, an old fellaha (“peasant woman”) emerged to speak for the women, and was offered the podium by one of the suits in Qidwa’s entourage. The woman took her position at the microphone in an atmosphere of paternalistic ‘tolerance’, as though waiting for her diatribe to be over. Some reporters even laughed, or began walking in front of the podium as she began speaking.
“My name is Im Ibrahim (the mother of Ibrahim Baroud) and my son has been sentenced to 27 years in prison, of which he has served 20 years. I have been prevented from seeing him for ten full years.
“Everyone here is talking about the disengagement and are trying to have celebrations, but we are not happy. People from Fateh tried to get us to board a bus to go to disengagement celebration but we refused to board it. We are the wives and mothers of prisoners - the ones who have sacrificed their lives for this struggle and who have brought honor for our people. But the prisoners and their needs continue to be ignored.
“Everyone treats the issue of the prisoners as though it is a ladder - something to climb up on, but which is soon enough ignored once they’ve achieved their goals. I may be illiterate but I know what’s going on around here.
“Nasser al Qidwa - shame on you. You, who were our ambassador in the US - you enter the building through the back door so you don’t have to see us holding our silent vigil on the steps of this press center? All your kids go to the best schools, and each one of them has a company registered in their name. But our sons who have sacrificed their lives for this land and this people - their concerns are not worth enough for you to listen to them?
“Abu Mazen… I’m sorry I gave you my vote. because you have forgotten the struggle of our sons. When the people demonstrate in the street we burn the American flag but when Clinton came to town, you draped the largest buildings in Gaza with it.
“We’re sick of it. I’ve had my picture taken with Arafat, Abu Mazen, Kofi Annan, and even Clinton himself. But it’s made a dimes worth of difference. I told Kofi last time he came through here that its time he shut down his charitable society (jam’iyeh). The whole world enjoys human rights except the Palestinian people. In America they even fight for the rights of animals. But here we are less than animals.
“And you reporters - when we hold a vigil, or decide to go on hunger strike, you ignore us and only show up when the big shots come by to have their picture taken with us. Even when you do interviews with us you never broadcast what we say.
Wake up Palestinians. We don’t want you to have the same fate as the people in the Arab world. The Palestinian people deserve better than a leadership that is drunk, or high or sleeping. Don’t let them fool you…”
Climbing down from the podium Im Ibrahim fixed her head scarf and open her arms revealing her red embroidered peasant dress: “Did I say anything that wasn’t true people? Really now?”
Qidwa and his entourage had already left the building and were no where to be seen. Half the press had also left while others were heard arguing about ‘why were we brought here and had out time wasted?’ Now that Qidwa had left, something else would have to be found to fill up the air time. Producers would be pissed, and PA ministers are busy these days and difficult to pin down for interviews. A handful of Arab reporters promised the women to write up a story and get it broadcast on the evening news.
Toufic Haddad is a Palestinian American activist and journalist presently residing in Gaza. He is co-editor of a forthcoming book on the Al Aqsa Intifada from South End Press, due out in Spring 2006. He can be reached at email@example.com