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Palestine’s Night Is Long

Palestinians and comrades protesting at the National Mall. Washington DC, May 15, 2022.

“Iraq’s night is long

Dawn breaks only to the murdered

praying half a prayer and never finishing a greeting to anyone.”

Mahmoud Darwish (Tr. Sinan Antoon)

In a moment impregnated with the weight of a murdered world, Gaza is being martyred in the dark.[i] She ascends as my heart descends in a familiar abyss. Long is the night of treason, orphan the woman’s scream.

Here, in my self-chosen upstate New York exile, the hellish hues of Israel’s hysteria clouding over Gaza displace me to the spring of 2003. Once upon an Iraq, a terrorist war murdered lives, dreams and futures to the delight of the rapacious eye of warmongering analysts in the West.

The latter’s plans for a post-genocide “rebuilding” are already up in the New York Rag. Among six points to compliment Israel’s military “victory”, Thomas S. Warrick, an imperial servant-cum-Atlantic Council pseudo-analyst, suggests changing the curriculum.

The new textbooks should “be true to Palestinian history.” We are not told if the guiding-manual of the unfolding genocide is to be included. How will the thousands of executed children read them? Will the new classrooms be erected over their unmarked graves?

Generous as ever in times of bloodshed, the Beltway dispatched military advisers seasoned in theaters of operations like Fallujah and other criminal episodes of the empire’s shameful history in the region to the aid of Israel.

Twenty years hunted and haunted by the afterlives of the Anglo-American invasion, is anything more violating of the Iraqi self than seeing our former occupiers assist in the torture of Palestinians, of this rewriting of war’s history in the victors’ alphabet?

The United States has a rich record of sponsoring bloodbaths across colonized geographies.

Inter alia, its Cold War anti-communist paranoia included dispatching advisers to assist Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas’s National Police (PN) in purging communists placed on blacklists compiled with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) blessings and support.[ii]

Guatemala was the first Latin American benefactor of the Office of Public Safety, “a worldwide police-training program established by the International Cooperation Administration (the precursor to the Agency for International Development).”

Thousands of Guatemalan agents, writes Kate Doyle, “were schooled by American advisers inside Guatemala in criminal investigations and crime-lab skills, riot control, firearms, fingerprinting, interrogation, surveillance, and counterinsurgency techniques.”

From 1954 to 1974, the US helped restructure the PN into shock troops.[iii] 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared in the country’s 36 years of war. Its ghosts continue to haunt the country today.

Washington’s con men walked a well-trodden path replicating European colonial practices in policing native populations.[iv] In Bahrain, not only did the commandant of Al Khalifa’s police Charles Belgrave personally engage in torturing inmates, but the British adviser’s rejection of the indigenous Baharna (Bahraini Shia) recruits on account of their physique and eyesight also articulates a white man’s racism and explains how police recruitment was rooted in social discrimination.[v]

In 2011, the rulers of Bahrain invited former Miami police chief John Timoney to reform the local force a la “the Miami-model.” The model, writes Marc Owen Jones, “is characterized by the deployment of military-style armoured personnel carriers and the use of helicopters, making many protests seem like war zones.”[vi]

In El Salvador, Washington sponsored another “counterinsurgency” in a war that left tens of thousands killed and a million of refugees. One of its men on the ground was James Steele. After blasting Iraq open to global capitalism, Steele would leave a cross-continental blood trail and join a police commando unit infamous for its detention center in Samarra.

A Guardian investigation quotes a soldier familiar with the commando’s deeds during Iraq’s years of plentiful death as saying: “It was like the Nazis… like the Gestapo basically. They [the commandos] would essentially torture anybody that they had good reason to suspect.”

Millions of Iraqi lives were lost, disrupted and scattered across alien geographies after 2003. Palestinian refugees in Baghdad were not exempt. Some of the feared militiamen who pose as Palestinians’ allies on the streets of Baghdad today have their hands stained in Palestinian blood.

Here, surrounded by Palestinian comrades before an Al Jazeera stream, I now receive a text from my sister in Baghdad: “The mosques are raising prayers for Gaza.” When is morning finally coming, Gaza?

In his memoirs, the late Iraqi poet Muhammed Mahdi al-Jawahiri writes of his first ever plane ride in a painful 1940s visit to Palestine. The loss of cities like Haifa would haunt him and millions of Arabs for a lifetime: “I wish I never saw (Palestine the paradise).”[vii]

In one poem he recited before eyes welled up with tears in Yaffa, al-Jawahiri’s pained voice carried the following words: “Many a wounded land in the East / lamenting the dressing not the wounds!”[viii]

Who heals the wounds of Gaza?

Now Gaza ascends, Gaza bleeds alone in the dark.

I cannot see.

It is not only the shock of the October 7 breakout that necessitates the erasure of the Palestinian from land and speech.

It is the audacity of those locked up in limbo to exist over and beyond a prescribed status quo that propels the passage of the Palestinian form a nuisance leeching off aid to the animality of a de-historicized terrorist (and calls in the airstrikes).[ix]

The anti-colonial movements ushered in by the dawn of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) meant, in Vijay Prashad’s words, that “[n]o longer could it be said that a European power had the manifest destiny to govern other peoples.”[x]

Palestinians, Europe’s perverse anti-Semitism and the Zionist project demands, are an exception.

The Haitian Revolution, writes Michel-Rolph Trouillot, was unthinkable. Saturated with ontological and political assumption of Enlightenment writers, eighteenth-century men and women could not have thought of the black as equal.[xi] How could an inferior, black slave revolt?

The news from Saint-Domingue were met with disbelief in the metropole. Even anti-colonialists like Amis des Noirs founding member Jean-Pierre Brissot delivered an assembly speech saying anyone who knew blacks realizes that slaves could not conceive of rebellion on their own.[xii]

Rebellious slaves prior to the uprising of August 1791 were deemed as individual pathological cases. For to admit mass resistance in the plantations was to acknowledge a flaw in the system.[xiii]

The making of the Palestinian as a lesser being has been perfected over time. She cannot have aspirations akin to a doleful Israeli settler in a kibbutz erected over her grandparents’ stolen land.

If the Palestinian, in her emaciated, fabricated meaning is spectacularly bombed into oblivion in Jabalia, then her uncontestably unchanging nature justifies poking her corpse in photographs that scream of the unheard, then questioning her own mortality.[xiv]

It must have been a terrorists’ tunnel. They must be related. She dies. A mute digit replaces her muted existence in some statistic soon forgotten. Move on.

For covering Islam, writes Edward Said, has long been a one-sided activity about what Arabs by their very flawed nature are.[xv] The (mis)interpretations at work are enabled, Said tells us, by prior circumstances of, inter alia, commercial and colonial expansion, of empire.[xvi]

In a carefully manicured normality, where the Palestinian is policed by word and by the gun, there exists no reason for young men denied access to land, sea and sky to make noise.

That the Palestinian fights for her freedom is unthinkable beyond the frame of terrorism. If she does, then she cannot be. To carry a stone in dismembered West Bank ghettos or a rifle in the slow-death camp of Gaza, the Palestinian is pre-condemned, already consigned for erasure.

Even Iraqis’ resistance to the US-led occupation of Mesopotamia (at least before the likes of al-Qaida hijacked it) is effectively reduced to the upset of disgruntled soldiers and Ba`ath Party members losing their jobs. Why would an Iraqi resist?

In 2004, I stood by the front gate of our western Baghdad house (showered with cluster bomblets in 2003) as civilian convoys laden with aid made their way towards a besieged Fallujah. There, as in Gaza today, kids my age and younger were incinerated in white phosphorus.[xvii]

I grew up; they are forever young.

Many of them rest in what should have been their playground: the Martyr’s Cemetery. Now Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Glynn, a veteran of Fallujah, “will be able to advise the Israelis on how to mitigate civilian casualties in urban warfare.”

The Western support for Israel takes a genocidal dimension, historically imbricating both imperial states and white, bloodthirsty European and North American volunteer jihadstrijders.

Somewhere among the carcasses of assassinated abodes in Gaza flashlights search for a braid, a limb, a kitten, a shriek’s trail in the ruins. When will the children ever play?

Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus, long haunted in life by the specters of friends visiting him from Baghdad to his perpetual exile where he followed the news from Iraq, once wrote of a moment when “every meaning swims in a puddle of its blood.”[xviii]

This is one such moment.

I gather the motionless cadavers of my words. I write Falasteen/فلسطين.

[i] Sargon Boulus, Al Awal Wal Tali, 2nd ed. (Cologne-Baghdad: Al-Kamel Verlog, 2008), 147.

[ii] Kirsten Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala, American Encounters/Global Interactions (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 87.

[iii] Weld, 93.

[iv] Weld, 94.

[v] Marc Jones, Political Repression in Bahrain, 1st ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2020), 170,  150.

[vi] Jones, 167.

[vii] Muhammad Al-Jawahiri, Thikrayati “Al Juz` Al Awal” [My Memories “Part One”], 1st ed. (Damascus: Dar al-Rafidain, 1988), 429.

[viii] Al-Jawahiri, 429.

[ix] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Richard Howard and Annette Lavers, First American paperback edition (New York: Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 254–58.

[x] Vijay Prashad, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (London ; New York: Verso, 2014), 1.

[xi] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015), 82.

[xii] Trouillot, 90–91.

[xiii] Trouillot, 83–84.

[xiv] Barthes, Mythologies, 255.

[xv] Edward W. Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, Rev. ed., 1st Vintage Books ed (New York: Vintage Books, 1997).

[xvi] Said, 139.

[xvii] Ross Caputi, Richard Hill, and Donna Mulhearn, The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History, Culture and Politics in the Cold War and Beyond (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), 107–9.

[xviii] Boulus, Al Awal Wal Tali, 147.

Nabil Salih is a Baghdadi poet, journalist and photographer. His works appear in Jadaliyya, Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye, LeftEast and other publications, and are translated to Italian, Spanish, and French. Nabil lived twenty-nine years in Iraq. He holds an engineering degree from Baghdad and an MA in Arab Studies at Georgetown University. He is currently an MA in Human Rights & the Arts candidate at Bard College. His solo photography exhibition “A Requiem for Baghdad: Postcards from a Crime Scene” is currently on display in the Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library.