A common adage in the region is that the Palestinians have been forgotten, especially in the post-Arab Spring world with Syria up in arms, and Egypt having a new revolution every couple of days. While there are legitimate tragedies happening all over the world, and they all deserve attention, a Palestinian film maker by the name of Dalia Abuzeid has decided to document the trials of a particular group of people that have suffered from decades of marginalization that still goes on today, in a place close to where I call home. In Jordan, there are 24,000 refugees from Gaza that live in a camp that’s just under a kilometer square big, 40 kilometers away from Amman. Refugees from Gaza. Gaza refugees are only given a fraction of the rights other refugees in Jordan enjoy. The restrictions have a debilitating effect on the quality of life in the camp, the unemployment rate in the camp is 43%, and 64% of the camp refugees live on less than $2 a day.
I’ll leave you to watch the introduction to the film project.
The director Dalia says on the page that she intends for the film project to have a direct impact on life in the camp, for the better. If you want to help, I want to direct you to the film project page on zoomal. The project is missing about $4300 dollars for it to be funded, if you can help that would be great. If almost 200 people contribute 20 dollars, they would meet their goal. Wouldn’t you pay that little to remember a great cause and support a great project?
On the third day of Al Balad Music Festival (f, t), I was lucky to attend two concerts by Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and Maryam Saleh. In it’s third iteration now, Al Balad Music festival started in 2009, as an effort to present independent musical acts from the Arab world to the Jordanian audience. The festival venue is the renovated Odeon in Amman, a ancient Roman theater. What was interesting about the concert venue is the incredible acoustics, where the sound would be blaring inside the theater, but barely audible once you step out the door, which speaks volumes about the architecture skills of the ancient Romans.
The first act for the day was Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, with his unique brand of Arabic Alternative music. As a vocalist, he shows amazing dexterity in shifting through various accents, tones and styles to deliver a remarkable variety of songs that he has composed, but written by a plethora of Arab literary icons, most notably the famous Arab poet Najeeb Al Suroor. Tamer echoes a forgotten voice of Arab music that was buried by decades of extremism and gentrification.
However, the main dynamic in the performance was the constant struggle between Tamer’s oriental instruments, his Oud and Buzzok, and the classical rock instruments, the bass, drums, and keyboards, all manned by accomplished musicians in their own rights. While the rest of the band would play together in harmony, even laughing and giving each other glances on stage, Tamer would stand alone with his chest out, holding his Oud unconventionally like a punk rocker would, vying to carve his own music out of the noise of rock. It’s a refreshing brand of Oriental fusion, unlike the norm where the Oud or Buzzok would bow for a mere complementary role. It’s in this dynamic of dissonance and the rebellious lyrics that the band was able to manifest the complex post-Arab Spring gestalt, making Tamer Abu Ghazaleh a live act that’s not to be missed.
The highlight of the show was the performance of the song “Breaking News”, the one in the music video below.
Follow my blog for the next part, where I review the amazing Maryam Saleh’s concert.
A local video production by ShooFeeTV brought out the ire of many parliamentarians in Jordan. The video heavily criticizes the performance of the Parliament in the recent years in a National-Geographic-esque mockumentary. MP Rula Alhroub, a former actress and media personality, heavily criticized the video, and demanded that the Parliament must contact YouTube to remove the video, because allowing such videos would make the parliament lost it’s prestige and lessen it’s social standing.
On the other hand, MP Dr. Mustafa Alhamarneh gave a rare ferocious defense of freedom of speech, saying that creatives have a right to produce content and express themselves freely. He reminded MP Alhroub that her request would be considered media censorship and that we should help and support creative youth rather than oppress and censor them. To my personal surprise, the parliament ended up taking MP Dr. Alhamarneh’s suggestion and decided against asking YouTube to stop broadcasting the video.
Kudos to Dr. Alhamarneh for being a champion of free speech, I feel much better knowing someone like him is under the dome. Here is a link to the video:
Palestinian 65-year-old Maysarah Abuhamdeih has been held in captivity since 28/2/2002 by Israeli occupation forces, among thousands of other illegally detained Palestinians. While I could write articles over articles discussing the finer points of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I chose not to in this post. I want everyone who reads this post to look past the whole complicated geo-religio-political conflict to see this is a pure black and white basic human right’s issue.
Thousands of Palestinians are held captive by Israel, most of them for merely voicing political opinions critical of Israel. Israel claims that they have to arrest these people due to national security interests, the world continues to look the other way. This appears to have become a regional trend, with Syria also detaining hundreds of peaceful citizens, such as Bassel Safadi and Saudi Arabia arresting Jordanian national Khaled Natour. But these countries don’t have the audacity to tout themselves as the Middle East’s only democracy.
It’s not like Israel isn’t benefiting from the Palestinian detainees, there has been reports of them being used by Israeli security forces for practice, and they’re constantly being used by Israel as leverage in negotiations with the PA, including that time they released 198 prisoners as a good will gift to Mahmoud Abbas. We are talking about 198 human beings here, each with their own human pride and dignity being used as pawns to be traded between politicians.
Which brings me to my last point, let’s forget the rest of the 4,772 security prisoners and talk about just one, Maysarah Abuhamdieh. Israel truly believes that this 65-year-old man is a threat to its security because when Israeli courts gave him an initial 25 year sentence, they appealed and pushed for a life sentence. Most recently, he has been diagnosed with cancer, and Israeli prison authorities so far has denied him any treatment. There is no moral ambiguity here. Israel has denied this man and millions of his compatriots their basic human rights in the name of its security, and killed thousands of others, but to deny him treatment and knowingly leave a human being to slowly and painfully die? I am at a loss of words.
The year 2012 was a horrible year for digital rights and free press in Jordan. The passing of the draconian Press and Publications law and extending its jurisdiction to include online news websites gave the government unprecedented powers to control and censor websites it deems unlawful, made it difficult to start a news website, and practically made it impossible for these websites to allow free comments on its websites. So far the law has not been applied yet, which gave us Internet activists in Jordan a glimmer of hope. News that members of the new Parliament gave a memorandum to the government asking for the Press and Publications law to be appealed gave us more hope.
However, my own hopes were dashed when I read the draft of a new Telecommunications law (link content in Arabic). The Press and Publications law was bad, it was the first attempt by our government to systematically censor the Internet, but at least it targeted censoring individual websites. According to the law draft, article 6 (b) gives the government sweeping powers to dictate guidelines that censor entire categories of websites if they wish. This clause alone can cripple free access to Information and Free Speech, both rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
First of all, the article does not fit in this law. The purpose of the Telecommunications law is to regulate telecoms and protect consumer rights, not to dictate and supervise what content they should be allowed to access. Secondly, the fact that “illegal” content exists on the Internet does not justify this article, Jordanian laws already apply in the cyberspace, and this particular issue is handled in the Cyber Crimes law (2010) and the unfortunate Press and Publications law of 1998, and it’s revisions.
That’s not to mention the biggest issue with this article, we simply do not want censorship over the Internet in Jordan. Jordanians made that clear with the 7oryanet campaign in 2012, and the Online Press Freedom Tent, yet the government insists on increasing it’s censorship powers. It infringes on our constitutional right to the free access to Information, and our right to free speech. It infringes also on our right to secret communication by forcing ISPs to monitor our Internet usage to make such censorship feasible.
Speaking of feasibility such censorship is highly impractical, as we have learned from our neighbors in the region, and it’s counter-intuitive. Jordan has benefited greatly from having a free and open Internet for the past 17 years. Jordan’s web industry are some of the more prolific content creators on the Arabic web. And we are just beginning to realize the full power a free Internet has on innovation and the exchange of ideas and opinions. Jordan will no longer be attractive to foreign investors looking to invest in the many digital start-ups in the country.
This article will deal a blow to all of that. Holding ISPs responsible for content, and giving the government unchecked powers to censor the Internet will ultimately lead to over-censorship. Holding ISPs responsible for content they cannot control, and cannot easily censor will cause more overhead on ISPs, which will ultimately raise the price for Internet access, which will make the Internet less affordable. These are costs that Jordanians do not need in this economic slowdown.
I was looking forward to a more progressive Telecommunications law, one that guarantees digital rights, fosters innovation, and promotes accessibility to the Internet. Article 6 (b) alone is regressive on all of those counts. Centralized censorship, and censorship in general, has no place in our laws.
For me it goes without saying that I want the prisoners of conscience released. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and I fully believe in that. However, I would like to also take a moment and address an issue that’s been weighing me down for the past few weeks. Lots of the discourse has been focused on the fact that those prisoners in particular have a just cause, and it’s not right for them to be imprisoned for their particular demands, and that includes many of the articles written today by so called “Freedom activists”.
I’m not debating the justness of their causes, but I will not stand for lines drawn on freedom of expression. I will fight for the freedom of any prisoner of conscience. It worries me that I fear those people whose freedom I fight for. I do not fight oppression for a lesser or different form of oppression, and I want to warn both the government, and the people, and the prisoners of conscience that if they do not support freedom of expression, then they are all transgressors of human rights, and that they shouldn’t count on me being on their side.