The Afghan Peace Volunteers have a Global Day of Listening call on the 21st Day of every month. People come on the call to network with other activists and people living in troubled areas around the globe. People participate in the call, and others join through a live-stream feed. The idea is to form a global network of people and organizations who support one another’s efforts to bring peace and justice to disparate parts of the globe, through sharing information and insights.
Last week, the call focused on a woman named Asma who called in from Gaza. Asma lives with her husband and three young children in central Gaza. During the call, Asma describes the mind-bending stress of living every day in an area under continual attack by bombs and missiles. Even if you have not lost most of your family or been left homeless, every day you know that could be the day, and you have no peace. Also present on the call (in order of introduction) Judith Bello of The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, George Payne of Gandhi Earth Keepers, Doug Mackey, of Global Days of Listening and Fellowship of Reconciliation, Hakim Young, with the the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and Sherry Maurin of CodePink.
Transcript of the call:
Asma: Hi. My name is Asma
Judith: Hi Asma, Where are you right now?
Asma: First. I want to thank you for having me with you. I’m in the middle area. Not in Gaza City Not in the north. Not in the south; in the middle.
Judith: I see. Are things quiet around you?
Asma: Not really, you know. Just 10 minutes ago, my area has been heavily targeted by Israeli drones. It was on the news, actually.
Judith: Oh. That’s terrible.
———- Introductions ————
Doug: Are you in Gaza City? No I am outside Gaza City. I’m more in the middle. I’m near Nuseirat Camp.
Judith: Asma, are you communicating about what is happening in any sort of public way, like on a blog or through any means like that at the moment?
Asma: No. We only have about two hours of electricity every day or two. I do use Facebook and Twitter at times.
Judith: I’m really glad you are using Facebook and Twitter. I have a friend in Erbil working in the refugee camps. She has only intermittent access to the Internet as well though Erbil is usually pretty good. It’s a very frustrating because we all want to be there with you.
Asma: I know. The media is missing a lot of what is happening here because of the tele (? Couldn’t understand) and because of the electricity going on and off all the day. I was telling my friend that, you know, what you see on the news isn’t the half of it. Not even the half of it. I live in an open area, and usually we have rockets all over the place – coming out and in. So these things are not being broadcast. This is just a little bit of what’s happening. I don’t know where to start.
I asked Asma for her Facebook name so I can friend her and she provided it. She noted that the smiling little girl on her Skype account is her daughter, Maria.
George: She’s very beautiful.
Asma: Thank you. I have three of them.
Judith: I would like to put you in contact with my friend Sarah on Facebook. Sarah is and Iraqi woman from Baghdad who is working in a refugee camp in Erbil. Maybe it’s not helpful at the moment. But it is important to have a network of people who understand what ‘s wrong, and have seen it. I think is a very good thing. We need an international network of people who can all stand up, working together to build a better world.
It is time to call Dr. Hakim in Kabul with Kathy Kelly and Sherry Maurin, and the Afghan Peace Volunteers.
Doug confirms with Asma that this will be a public discussion and that she is willing for her message will be carried outside of Gaza.
Asma: I just want to mention something. If I go off, it’s not my fault. The power keeps coming and going. Sometimes it is out of my hands.
—– break to bring the others on the line ——-
Asma: My daughter’s names are Maria, Mira and Mina
Judith: Is your husband there with you?
Asma: No, unfortunately he went out to pick up some stuff. I’m home alone.
Judith: I was just wondering if he is there in Gaza with you.
Asma: Oh. Yes. He is in Gaza, but he’s not home.
Judith: It just seems like such a difficult way to live.
Asma: It is very difficult, actually. And the thing is, that one week before the bombing started, I was in the United States on a program called an IVLP, the International Visitor Leadership Program. The Peace Partnership Program< involves 5 Palestinians and 5 Israelis working together, and is sponsored by the State Department. And, you know, what’s going on right now doesn’t seem peaceful to me.
Judith: No. It doesn’t.
Asma: I don’t know what kind of peace they are talking about because, trust me, what’s going on right now here in Gaza is not peace.
Doug: it looks like they are close to being ready in Kabul.
Doug goes off to fix the Livestream Feed which isn’t working well today. There is a long break.
——————– Kabul comes on the line ————
Hakim: Asma, would you tell us a little about yourself.
Asma: My name is Asma. I’m from Palestine; Gaza, specifically. I’m an English language trainer and teacher, and I’m also an interpreter. I’ve been working with our [a] ?Mideast office in Gaza for 6, 7 years now and I’m also an interpreter with UNICEF and many other organizations, in the Gaza strip. I’m a mother of 3 daughters, Maria, Mina and Mira, and I’m very happy to be here with this group. My friend has told me so much about it and I’m very interested in joining your conversation. Thank you
Hakim: Asma, can you tell me about the situation in Palestine or Gaza. And they are asking how you are living with 3 children there, and how you are dealing with the activities going on there.
Asma: Well, as you all know, the ceasefire was broken yesterday – well, actually, the day before yesterday. And since then, bombing, shelling attacks have been going crazy here. Everything is going crazy. Every 5 minutes, we hear a strong air strike here or there and we can’t actually know where are they because people are scared and there is no electricity. So the situation is really horrible here. It’s really hard to live with. That’s all I can say about it.
Kathy: Asma, my name is Kathy. I was here (in Kabul), slightly before the attacks began. It’s hard for me to understand what it would be like for you as the mother of three children, knowing you cannot protect your loved ones from these vicious attacks. I was in Gaza in 2009 during Cast Lead so I understand a little of it but, I think it would help us to know more about why you think this is happening.
Asma: Well, let me begin from 2008. And I hope you guys will be patient with me. The attacks in 2008, 2009, I was still single then. I wasn’t married. Sure I was afraid, scared like everyone else. But, you know, after I got married I had my first daughter and then my second daughter. In 2012 we had the other aggression. And because of fear I had a slightly heart attack because my whole area was bombed and my house was severely damaged. And I got to the extent that I had to choose which of my daughters could I carry and run away with, and that was the moment when I collapsed. I was referred to Egypt for medication. Back then the borders were open It’s really hard to try to choose between your own flesh and blood. Whom should you take and save and rescue and whom should you leave.
Hakim: Asma, we are hearing every word that you are saying, so that we are sharing this pain with you. [He translates]
Asma: I mean people at the age of 26, 27 shouldn’t have heart attacks, you know. But that’s what happened back then. Now, I have a third daughter and I feel helpless. I feel so hopeless when I know that I cannot protect them now. It’s so horrible to see this fear in their eyes and try to calm them – especially my older daughter she’s almost 4 right now. She understands that these are rockets – these are bombings – and she tries to squeeze herself into my arms and I just don’t know how to calm her down. She always calls me a liar because every time she asks me to tell those people to stop, and I tell her “OK. I promise they’ll stop”, another air strike comes in and they freak out.
Hakim: [translates] Zarghuna would like to say to you, Asma, that hearing your voice she can tell how courageous you are. –That it must be so difficult for you and your children to be living under the bombings. – Zarghuna feels helpless as well as she hears you. She is wondering what she can do.
Asma: Thank you. Actually, talking to you, or having some people who can listen and understand what we are going through helps a lot. Thank you very much.
Kathy: Asma, in the United States, many people have gone to the streets to protest, but particularly in California – in Oakland, there is a ship that people have blocked from coming into the port. Oakland is Sherry’s city. Sherry is sitting here next to me so I wonder if she could tell you about that.
Sherry: How are you? I live in California, in San Francisco. And I’m visiting here [in Kabul] for a month.
Asma: I’ve been to San Francisco, actually, and I love it.
Sherry: Yes. I do to, but I love it here as well. We have had large groups of protesters that have blocked and stopped the offloading of an Israeli ship that has come into the Oakland port. Oakland has one of the largest ports on the West Coast.
You may have heard that the protest was so successful, that the ship left the port and went back out under the Golden Gate Bridge. The ship then turned around and came back into another dock. So, they went back out (the protesters went out again).
This time they had talked to the unions who were unhappy originally about the loss of work for their workers. They support the issue of the protest against Israel but it is very difficult for them when they lose work. But this latest time the protest was scheduled for when the workers were going to be having their lunch. From 12:30 to 1:00 in the morning. When that happens, the workers are called and told not to come out because it is a hazardous situation, but they are still paid. We are waiting to hear if that happens, but the ship is scheduled to go to Los Angeles next where people are already getting ready to do the same thing.
Personally, I have been getting regular texts from friends in Gaza and my heart is with you.
–——– problems on the line ——-
Raz Mohammad: speaks in Dari
—– Raz comes from a region that has often been bombed by the Americans. A few years ago his brother-in-law was killed by a drone strike while drinking tea with his friends in the garden ——
Hakim: That is Raz Mohammad, Asma, attempting to tell you that we understand the situation that you are going through. And when this started during the fasting month of Ramadan, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, including Raz, decided that they would go out to a bridge called the ‘red bridge’ and there at the break of the fast, we distributed dates to people. And we held signs to say that we wanted the bombing to stop in Gaza. So we said no to the war in Gaza.
We share your sense of desperation in this situation. I will send you a short link to that action. We hope this small gesture from us in Afghanistan Kabul will be of some encouragement to you and your daughters. Maybe you can show that to your daughters as well. Let them know that we are thinking of them.
Asma: Thanks you very much. I have seen protesters all over the world, and I know that people understand what is right and what is wrong, and people understand that what is going on right now is absolutely wrong and unacceptable by all means of human beings and humanity.
Kathy: Asma, I want you to know that Sherry and I, coming from the United States, know that many of the weapons that traumatize your little girls are coming from the United States and we feel deeply ashamed. We will try to stop the United States from being engaged in this activity. Your voice will be so important to keep us honest.
Hakim: Asma, where is your daughter right now?
Asma: She is playing in the other room
Hakim: Can we say hi to her?
Asma: Sure, I will call her
Asma: Can you say’ hi’?
Hakim: Hi Maria – Asalamu Alaikum
Maria: I’m Maria
Hakim: Asma, can you translate for Raz Mohammad. Tell her to stay strong. We are all hoping together that the bombings will stop.
Asma: Yes I will speak to Maria in Arabic.
Hakim: Thank you for speaking to us. And allowing us to speak to your daughter, and wish your other daughters to greet us as well.
Doug: How much electricity have you had.
Asma: It is supposed to go off in 30 minutes. So, I’m fine for the next 30 minutes.
Hakim: Hi Judith and George in New York – Do you have any questions for Asma?
George: I do. Asma, you said before that the world people in America they know half of it. If you could just mention one or two things that we need to know, that I can help report on that I can tell my friends and that I can write on my website. what isn’t being told about what is happening in Gaza?
Asma: You know actually it’s always Gaza’s fault to break the cease fire. It’s All over the media all over the news. But I am from Gaza and I can tell you that it’s not always our fault to break the cease fire I mean yesterday or 2 days ago, the last cease fire, it was not our fault. I know it was broadcast all over the media that Hamas, or whatever, who broke the cease fire. But they didn’t I mean the whole Gaza strip is a mere 360 square kilometers, and I’m sure that if it was our fault that people would know. And that’s what always happens Israel just needs an excuse to keep killing more civilians by telling people that Gaza always breaks the cease fire.
I can tell you from the message – I was actually – I got a phone call from Israeli forces telling me to evacuate my home. Actually Maria picked up the phone and was having a conversation with the soldier. Ten minutes later we had to evacuate because they bombed a house ten meters behind mine. That was never broadcast on the news. I just don’t understand why they do this. I don’t understand. Children are being killed. I mean how can they be terrorists? They are just children. They’re my daughter’s age.
I had to move to my parent’s house in Gaza for almost 10 days. My husband stayed home here by himself because he just couldn’t understand the idea of losing our home and memories. He actually told me that if the house was going to be destroyed he wants to die there. And when I went back home after 10 days, the massive destruction on Salahadine St. this is the main road connecting North and South of Gaza, I can’t tell you how damaged the destroyed houses actually were, four floor buildings, five floor buildings and so on. This was never broadcast either.
Judith: Asma there is no way for anyone to say, certainly not in a news report, what it feels like to be in the midst of all that destruction. And we are incredibly moved by your description.
Asma: I just want to mention one thing. Actually, I wrote about it on Facebook. One night – I am used to reading stories for my four year old daughter and one night she’s wanted a story. I started reading the story and rockets you know bombings were all over the place so I couldn’t concentrate. She couldn’t concentrate. And all of a sudden she started crying hysterically and hugging me and asking me to promise her that these rockets won’t fall on her. I just didn’t know what to do – and she was like “do you promise they won’t fall on me?” So I said “Yes I promise” but deep down I knew that I couldn’t promise such a thing because all of these children were promised, I assume, by their parents, that they would protect them – but they couldn’t. It’s so hard for you when you have children. I couldn’t even begin to describe how hard it is to feel helpless and to feel that you cannot – I’m sorry I’m being very emotional here – I just can’t understand why this has to happen.
Judith: There is no answer to that question. It’s so irrational. So, can you tell us have you lived in your same house since you were married, like about 5 years?
Judith: And is it a big house or a small one?
Asma: It’s a small apartment, actually, but it’s my home. I love it. [Of course] It is badly damaged right now.
Judith: That’s where I was going. You are in a large building and there is a lot of damage around. Is there damage to your own building?
Judith: And, have some people had to evacuate.
Asma: Yes the whole people living in my building Actually, this is my in-law’s building because we have a tradition in Gaza that we have to live in the Family House & etcetera. So all the people had to evacuate – all the people in my area had to evacuate. But guess what – there is no safe place. I had to move in Gaza between two houses. So I had to change between three houses in less than two weeks. With the lack of transportation and power it was very exhausting And then, all of the sudden I decided that I may as well go back home because there is no safe place in Gaza.
Judith: That’s very difficult, with the children. How do you – do you have a way to get rides for them or do you have to take them on foot?
Asma: Sometimes. Yes. We have to take them on foot because we don’t have, you know, much trans– I mean no cabs would like to drive when the rockets are being fired or when there is shelling and bombings
Judith: This is terrible, and I do agree that this is the story that people don’t hear.
Asma: Yes. During one of the cease fires – one of the so called cease fires, I went to get some diapers and milk for one of my – for my 10 months old baby, and they targeted a building and I was hit in the eye. Luckily the piece of metal didn’t get into my eye but it hurt and my whole eye was [black and] blue and it was red and I had to take medication and it hurt for at least a week.
Judith: I can’t imagine. Can you see any end to this? Are you able to keep up hope and see that this will end?
Asma: I mean, this is all that we have left. But day by day I feel like we are losing hope as we see more people being killed in cold blood. I say in cold blood – because I can’t imagine how people can be killing children, and being aware of what he or she is doing. So, every day we hope for a better tomorrow and I hope that this will end soon. I really do.
Judith: Asma, I’m going to bring someone from the local Palestinian community to visit our Congress woman tomorrow. I don’t hold out a lot of hope that she will take immediate action but I think that your story is the most powerful thing that we have to influence her. It must be so hard to tell us but we will carry your story forward. And, I know that the Afghan Peace Volunteers are also there for you.
We want you to know that every day we will be thinking of you and carrying your story forward
Asma: I just want to say something. I know that the weapons being used, not all of them, but some of them, are coming from the United States. And I’ve been to the United States and I know how kind hearted the people are. Trust me when I say that we do not blame the people for this, because sometimes what the politicians do doesn’t have anything to do with the normal people. I’m an educated woman and I know that we have lots of American friends who share with us what we believe in and want this to end as much as we do, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ve seen protests in Chicago and I’ve seen protests in California and I’ve seen protests in many other places and thank you.
- Global Days of Listening are supported by the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and Fellowship of Reconciliation
- Featured Image from Electronic Intifada