This blog post is dedicated to the “star throwers” who have joined me in making a difference, one individual at a time: Bill, Cary, Diane, Doris, Fran, Gael, Hossein, Joanne, Jean, Kathie, Laura, Lotte, Natalie, Penny, Ralph, Randy and – in particular -- Sean.
Much has been happening on the personal (micro) and Palestinian (macro) fronts of my life and the world in general.
In this post, I’ll focus on the micro:
Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will remember my “star thrower” series. It’s time for an update.
For Mahmoud, I have a “happy ending” to report. (Well, not an ending; rather, a happy transition to a new chapter). When I last blogged about my efforts to help “Mah” find medical treatment and asylum in Portugal, he was stuck in a Saudi Arabian “never never land.” To recap: Mah was born in Saudi Arabia but moved to Gaza when he was 12 – around the same time he realized he was gay. I love Gaza and its people, but it is not a friendly environment for gays. Mah was abused by his father and nine uncles, and later evicted from his home during one of the Israeli invasions (a convenient way to be rid of him once and for all). Injured but not killed, Mah was sent to Egypt, then Syria for medical treatment, but could not get the specialized help he needed. Along the way, he visited an Internet chat room and met my friend Luis Serodio from Portugal – another gay man with a big heart and an even larger capacity for love. Luis saw in Mah what I have come to know myself – a sweetness that has managed to survive despite the adversity of an all-too-short childhood. Luis has worked ever since to bring him to Portugal, to give him the medical care he needs and the home he craves.
I met Luis through strange happenstance and joined his “team” by raising funds first due to our friendship and eventually, my own devotion to Mah. His odyssey had taken him to Saudi Arabia, where he hoped – foolishly, as it turned out – to seek refuge with the UN office there. (Any Muslim can fairly easily get permission to visit Mecca for the haj, or pilgrimage.) That’s when I entered the scene, and joined in trying to win safe passage for Mah to Luis’s home country of Portugal, where he had lined up free medical care. It has been a very rocky road; with every step forward, we seemed to take five backwards. We struggled with government officials who promised to help and then didn’t (even outright lying in the process – Egypt, that means YOU); airlines for which “rigidity” seemed to be a religion (Saudi Arabia Airlines gets top spot here); and even a cousin who turned out to have more in common with a loan shark than a relative (can you imagine?). Luis and I learned some hard lessons about the danger of misplaced trust, which means we ended up spending more money than we had. If it hadn’t been for our “angels” (to which this blog entry is dedicated), it would have been disastrous.
Initially, as you may recall, Portugal insisted that Mah would have to apply for a medical visa from some other country, since he had gone outside of Mecca and had overstayed even that visa – and thus was an illegal guest. However, after giving up on Egypt, Turkey and Iran, however, we finally decided we would somehow have to get Portugal to allow him to get his visa in Saudi Arabia, and then to fly directly there. We were successful, thanks in large part to Saudi Arabia’s agreement to give Mah a passport stamp that – while not an actual extension of his visa – attested that he would not be arrested and thus was at least semi legal. In addition, “Dr. Luis” (everyone seemed to think he is an attorney) is a natural charmer. He made a new “girlfriend” – in border security for Portugal. She promised to shepherd his application through the tortuous process personally – all the way through his application for asylum once he enters Portugal. When Mah’s visa application appeared blocked, even after the ambassador signed off, she alerted us to the problem and then moved speedily to push it all the way through. Another star thrower…even in the ranks of government flackies.
And all of this was occurring as Mah’s health seemed to steadily deteriorate. His teeth – of which several had to be replaced with implants following an explosion during the Israeli invasion of Gaza – were infected and aching. His left eye – blinded during the same explosion – was shooting pains into his temple. And the shrapnel still embedded in his leg and neck were constant sources of worry.
Finally, when I thought nerves were frayed beyond endurance, the last roadblock (harassment at the Riyadh airport) was removed. Mah called me today from the tarmac in Saudi Arabia, then came online moments ago from Istanbul, en route to Lisbon. Luis is on his way now to meet him. I will join them on Saturday (two days behind only because I have misplaced my passport and must get it replaced). Happy endings are possible.
I continue to research options for getting Moh (Mohammed Said El-Nadi) out of Gaza to pursue his master’s degree in journalism. Although some depressing obstacles continue to crop up – such as the recent decision of the Israeli government to refuse to respond to inquiries from Gisha (an Israeli NGO that works to help Palestinians in Gaza leave to get medical treatment, study and re-join families) – I have also found some reasons to be hopeful. One is a legislative staffer in the office of Sen. Jim Moran (D-VA) who is focusing on this issue. Another is the decision of the Gaza Freedom March organizers (of whom I am one!) to make the difficulty faced by students a key demand of policymakers. We had dinner with John Ging, director of UNRWA (the UN agency charged with caring for Palestinian refugees), the other night, and it was he who first suggested that we make this a rallying cry. We were looking for something concrete we could actually accomplish while in Gaza, and taking students out with us who have been denied exit permits will be just the ticket…
Meanwhile, however, life in Gaza just keeps getting harder for Moh, in both big and small ways. (Read more at “All Dedicated to Gaza”: http://www.gazapaladin.blogspot.com.) Chatting online is one of the few forms of entertainment in Gaza, and a literal lifeline to the outside world. Yet power outages are frequent and long, and when electricity is suddenly restored, the resulting surge can be damaging – as it was recently to Moh’s computer. His motherboard is fried, and online access is now hard to come by. My immediate goal now is to purchase a hardy “netbook” for Moh, which I can take with me into Gaza when I enter for the march in December. If you would like to be a star thrower too, it would be easy to do so! All I need is about $300. If you’d like to help, let me know.
Medo is the young gay man in Gaza who has been imprisoned for months now, allegedly for collaborating with Israel. He continues to be held, but no news has been available for weeks. However, this news item appeared online recently, reinforcing our fears for Medo:
Gaza – Ma’an – The Military Court of the de facto government in Gaza issued the decision to hang 27-year-old Salim Muhammad Salim An-Nabahin of the Al-Bureij Refugee Camp for collaboration with Israel.
An-Nabahin was arrested on 28 December 2007 on charges of spying and “dealing with the enemy” under article 131/A/B of the Palestinian Penal Code and article 415 Palestinian Criminal Procedure Code number 3 (2001). He was sentenced Wednesday by Judge Ayman Imad Ad-Din.
And that’s life for the Palestinians of Gaza…boredom, despair and once in a while, a ray of hope. I hope to better do my part to open the eyes of the West by helping the NGOs in Gaza tell their stories. Since I have not been able to find a job here in the States, I am now tentatively planning to stay in Gaza for four months following the Gaza Freedom March. I have found a house to live in, and am in discussions with several NGOs. Stay tuned.