Beyond the Walls

Here we are. It’s the middle of February, and we’re still in the midst lockdowns and alarms, missing our normal lives. We could probably all use some sunshine and some cheering up, and surely Other Voices is up to the challenge of providing that?

Absolutely. Sunshine and warmth? You’ll find four items about Gaza and Palestine in this issue. Gaza? Yes, Gaza. Gaza has sunshine, as well as its share of beauty, humour, and giggling children playing amidst the rubble. As Zainab Wael Bahseer writes in “Gaza City, an unusual beauty”, by carrying on with eyes and ears open, “we teach life.” Her article appears on “We are not Numbers,” the featured website in this issue, created for Palestinian youth to tell their stories to the world.

In “Postcard from a Liberated Gaza” Hadeel Assali joins other writers and activists in imagining a post-pandemic, post-occupation Gaza where people drink coffee by the sea and share stories.

Sameer Qumsiyeh, meanwhile, sets out from Palestine, travels to places (not many) which will accept a Palestinian passport, copes with all the additional restrictions of a pandemic, and makes a film, “Walled Citizen.” His goal in making the film, Qumsiyeh says, was to create “a picture of how things can be if you can transcend walls and barriers.”

From Palestine, we continue on to Kashmir, a territory blessed with many apple trees, and oppressed by a military regime which, like its counterpart in occupied Palestine, has been destroying trees by the thousands as part of a strategy of making it impossible for indigenous people to live. Largely cut off from the outside world, Kashmiris nevertheless also continue to live, and to teach life, in the land they are rooted in.

In India itself, people must try to find a way to keep living in the face of poverty and a pandemic made more difficult by a government that is worse than useless. “Online classes, offline class divisions”  tells the stories of students in the Ambujwadi slum in north Mumbai who are trying to manage online learning using borrowed and shared cell phones while continuing to work to help their families survive. Serving customers who come to your vegetable cart while simultaneously continuing to pay attention to what the teacher is saying is part of a normal day for these young people.

John Pilger takes us behind the walls of Belmarsh prison, where Julian Assange continues to be imprisoned even after a court rejected an American extradition request. Watching the trial, Pilger says, was like watching a Stalinist show trial. Although, Pilger points out, at least in a Stalinist show trial, the prisoners were able to stand and face the court directly. Assange was imprisoned behind a thick wall of glass, and could only communicate with his lawyers by crawling on his knees to a slit in the glass to pass out a note, on yellow sticky notepaper, which would then be passed along the length of the courtroom to where his lawyers were sitting. Pilger reminds us that Assange’s “crime” is to have “performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name.”

Leonard Peltier remains locked up in the American prison where he has been held for more than 40 years, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee continues to work for his release. A film about his life: “Warrior: The Life of Leonard Peltier” is the featured film in this issue of Other Voices.

The featured book is Viktor Frankl’s “Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything,” written in 1946 not long after he was released from Auschwitz. “As long as we have breath, as long as we are still conscious,” says Frankel, “we are each responsible for answering life’s questions.”

Life asks us to laugh, love, live, and struggle.

Ulli Diemer

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This Issue

Journeying to freedom in a closed-off world

Bethlehem filmmaker Sameer Qumsiyeh recognizes the irony of releasing a new film about trying to backpack with a Palestinian passport amid a global pandemic. Palestinians like Qumsiyeh know only too well what it’s like to be under lockdown or prevented from traveling, hemmed in by walls, checkpoints and bureaucracy, themes he tackles in Walled Citizen, which chronicles three years of Qumsiyeh’s life in which he travels to Europe, the Canary Islands and Ecuador, as well as parts of the West Bank. Read more

Keywords: Palestinians - Filmmakers

Eyewitness to the Trial and Agony of Julian Assange

John Pilger watched Julian Assange’s extradition trial from the public gallery at London’s Old Bailey. He writes: “The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with 'British justice', at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial.” Read more

Keywords: Show TrialsWhistleblowers

Online classes, offline class divisions

“Sir, a few customers are here. Can I attend to them please? I have my earphones on, I will be listening to you.” Students living in the Ambujwadi slum in north Mumbai are struggling with online classes, using borrowed and shared cellphones, while also working to support their families after their parents' already-precarious incomes were hit by the lockdown and its aftermath. Read more

Keywords: Working PoorChildren

Kashmiris outraged as authorities fell thousands of apple trees

Indian authorities have been cutting down thousands of apple trees, a major source of livelihood for the Gujjar tribal community in Kashmir. Nomadic groups such as Gujjars and Bakarwals have had their houses and orchards targeted as part of the wide-ranging “eviction and anti-encroachment drive” across the disputed region of Kashmir, the Indian-administered side of which was stripped of its special status last year. Since then, the local administration, now directly under New Delhi, has changed land and domicile laws in an effort aimed at bringing about demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region. Read more

Keywords: KashmirTrees

Gaza City, an unusual beauty

Zainab Wael Bahseer writes: “Gaza is different than most other places, so its beauty is different. We have been under siege since 2006, survived three aggressions that destroyed much of our infrastructure and saw blood stain the sand of our beaches. But we rose from the ashes -- and that has a beauty of its own. I see beauty in the kids who play happily on the rubble of destroyed houses, showing the world we will not give up -- that ‘we teach life, sir.’” Read more

Keywords: GazaBookstores

Website of the Week

We are not numbers

When the world talks about Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps, it is usually in terms of politics and numbers – specifically, how many killed, injured, homeless and/or dependent on aid. But numbers are impersonal, and often numbing. What they don’t convey are the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone. This website was set up to enable Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news. Find them here

Keywords: Daily Life - Palestine

Book of the Week

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything

By Viktor Frankl

In 1946, having survived Auschwitz, but having lost his mother, father, wife, and brother in the Nazi death camps, Viktor Frankl sat down to write a series of lectures. These have now been published in English for the first time, under the title Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything.
Frankl writes “Everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.” ... “Life always offers us a possibility for the fulfillment of meaning, therefore there is always the option that it has a meaning. One could also say that our human existence can be made meaningful ‘to the very last breath’; as long as we have breath, as long as we are still conscious, we are each responsible for answering life’s questions.” Read more

Film of the Week

Warrior: The Life of Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier has spent more than 40 years in an American prison for a crime he did not commit. The Canadian government, in its typically craven manner, agreed to extradite Peltier on the basis of fabricated evidence while mouthing platitudes about the ‘rule of law.’ This film, produced and directed by Suzie Baer in 1992, remains a powerful statement and provides a vivid picture of man and his fate.

See it here. For more information about Leonard Peltier and the ongoing efforts to win his release, visit the website of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

Keywords: Miscarriages of Justice - Political Prisoners


When they say jump

Job action, says this Toronto Transit Commission maintenance worker, has to come from the bottom up, not from the top down. Unions as organizations are constrained by laws limiting or prohibiting job action. Only workers acting collectively can organize effective job actions. Read more

Keywords: Workplace Organizing - Direct Action

Postcard from a Liberated Gaza

A piece of fiction published as part of +972’s New Futures project. In this series, writers, thinkers, and activists share how they visualize Israel-Palestine the day after the pandemic, as a way of transforming this dystopian moment into an exercise in radical imagination of rethinking through the past, present, and future of this region, and envisioning a different reality for all those living between the river and the sea. Read more

From the Archives

The Women Who Rode Miles on Horseback to Deliver Library Books

They were known as the “book women.” They would saddle up, usually at dawn, to pick their way along snowy hillsides and through muddy creeks with a simple goal: to deliver reading material to Kentucky’s isolated mountain communities. Atlas Obscura presents a photo essay about these women. Read more

Keywords: BooksLibraries

People’s History

The Memory Code: how oral cultures memorise so much information

Aboriginal peoples’ oral traditions are not only highly detailed and complex, but they can survive – accurately – for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years. Part of the explanation may be that the human brain has evolved to associate memory with place, with a location. Read more

Keywords: Collective Memory - People's History

Seeds of Fire

February 14, 1949

The Asbestos Strike
Miners walk off the job at four asbestos mines in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, near the towns of Asbestos and Thetford Mines. The strike is declared “illegal” by the capitalist courts, and police and strikebreakers are brought in. Workers eventually return to work in June, but many do not get their jobs back. In the longer term, pay and working conditions improve in the mines as employers seek to avoid similar confrontations. The strike becomes a huge issue in Quebec, and leads to increased political awareness and upheaval in Quebec society, helping to open the way for future change.

February 18, 1946

The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny

Royal Indian Navy mutiny, a turning point in the struggle against British rule over India. It starts when Indian sailors based in Bombay harbour go on strike against the British. The strike becomes a full-fledged revolt, encompassing 78 ships, 20 on-shore facilities, and 20,000 sailors in various ports. Though the revolt is eventually suppressed by force by the British, it becomes a decisive factor in the British decision to grant India independence. Realizing that it can no longer rely on colonial troops to enforce their rule over India, Britain concludes that it is better to make a deal with the bourgeois pro-independence organizations than to risk being overthrown by a popular uprising. The revolt also frightens the mainstream independence movements, who are working towards the partition of India, because it succeeded in unifying Hindus and Muslims in a common cause outside their control. Mohandas Gandhi issues a statement condemning the strikers for acting on their own without the “guidance” of their “political leaders” and calling their actions “unholy.”

February 20, 1914

Rosa Luxemburg on Trial

Rosa Luxemburg addresses the German court which is trying her for having given a speech allegedly instigating soldiers to disobedience. She was charged for having said “If they expect us to lift the weapons of murder against our French or other foreign brothers, then let us tell them, ‘No, we won't do it!’”
Speaking to the court in her defense, Luxemburg says “We are of the opinion that wars can be waged only so long as the working class takes part in them with enthusiasm, because it regards them as just and necessary; or at least patiently puts up with them... On the other hand, when the great majority of the working people come to the conclusion... that wars are a barbarous, deeply immoral, and reactionary phenomenon hostile to the interests of the people, then wars will become impossible.”
The court sentences Luxemburg to a year in prison for her criminal utterances.

February 21, 1848

The Communist Manitfesto

An obscure German-language printshop in London prints 1,000 copies of a 23-page political statement issued by a small revolutionary organization called the Communist League. With the whiff of revolution in the air, the manuscript has been hurriedly written by two young members of the League, 29-year-old Karl Marx and 27-year-old Friedrich Engels. In that spring of 1848, revolts start to break out across Europe. The original press run rapidly sells out, and the pamphlet, known as the Communist Manifesto, is quickly reprinted and translated into other languages. It goes on to become one of history’s most influential and widely-read political statements.

The Manifesto combines a vision of the total overthrow of capitalist society, and its replacement by communism, with a willingness to ally with other progressive political groups, and a series of short-term demands, including the confiscation of land held by wealthy landowners, a heavy progressive or graduated income tax, the abolition of the right of inheritance for capitalist property, and free education for all children.

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This issue was edited by Ulli Diemer.

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