Controversy surrounding SMP

A group of well-intentioned friends staged what can be considered an intervention of sorts, fearing that I might be putting myself in harm’s way by saying things that a middle class, rational, and ambitious advocate for peace and justice shouldn’t be saying. I was being “too controversial” and needed to be “more careful”. Essentially, it was a slap in the face.

The concern came in response to two particular articles I wrote during my stay in Gaza, the first calling for a protest in Gaza City and the other an interview with a Palestinian resistance fighter about his wounds. The articles garnered quite a bit of heat after publication, due primarily to the controversial nature of the article topics, but the biggest criticisms ironically came from the people who knew me best. The content of the articles supposedly raised alarming suspicions that I had ‘radicalized’.

Although I do appreciate the concern, I feel it is absolutely necessary to defend the reputation and high standards of this blog and of my principled opinions by setting things straight for the record.

I condemn all forms of violence, prejudice, hatred, bigotry, immorality, and criminal activity, and I will forever make this clear in the articles I write and the work I do. Of the 167 posts published on this blog, not a single one contains any support of the ‘radicalization’ that some have suspected me of embracing. Yes, this blog is heavily critical of Israeli policy towards Palestinians but I have never called for or supported violence by any means. If anything, I try hard to find peaceful and effective solutions that will afford Palestinians their rights without stripping other people of their own natural rights.

In the article calling for a rally in Gaza City, I was not asking readers to wage war or ‘make a Jihad’. I was urging people to raise their voices and their flags in support of the Freedom Flotilla blockaded in a Greek harbor. This is all the context that is needed for such a reasonable request. But in case people are wondering what prompted me to call for a nonviolent solidarity rally, the type we engage in on a regular basis everywhere else in the world, the story is simple: Palestinians were growing frustrated that the siege on Gaza had extended to the borders of Greece. I figured a mass rally in the streets of Gaza would show the world that we too demanded the arrival of the Flotilla “in full safety and security“. I am revolted that this kind of proactive grassroots approach has been frowned upon by some.

The article about Zuhdee, a former resistance fighter living in Gaza City, struck a deeper nerve. I guessed this would happen, and I even prefaced the article with statements expressing my understanding of the controversy surrounding his background. But keep in mind that I entered Gaza as a Palestinian as well as an objective citizen journalist whose duty was to put even the most unpopular realities into the public spectacle. I did not interview Zuhdee to romanticize armed conflict nor did I praise or criticize him — in person and in the article — for his actions. In the most neutral way possible, I interviewed a man who could not afford burn cream or other medications. He just so happened to be part of an armed faction when a missile landed on him. The point of the article was not to entice readers into following in Zuhdee’s footsteps. Rather, it was meant to show the gruesome reality of war and the broad range of sociopolitical and health issues that everyone in Gaza is forced to deal with.

At the end of the article, I revealed my intention to purchase a tube of ointment for his unhealed burn wounds. I did not realize that people would go out of their way to make the ridiculous assertion that I intended to finance extremism. Here’s the truth: I am studying to become a doctor. When I do become a medical practitioner, God-willing, and take the Hippocratic Oath, I will strive to treat any and everyone, regardless of color, age, religion, or background. When I see a wound or an illness, I feel an urge to treat it. This includes open burn wounds. Is it really that controversial and dangerous to wish to heal? In the end, there was no burn medicine to find anyways. The only thing I could do was write a story about him.

I do my best to calculate what I write. I am still relatively new to blogging and journalism, so naturally, I make many mistakes — mistakes that I eventually learn from and avoid repeating. But these two articles are not mistakes. There is absolutely nothing to be mistaken about the moral values that I live and write by.

As another friend put it, “let human rights and justice for all people be your guiding principles”. They are. End controversy.

Sami Kishawi

There are 9 comments

  1. 48Refugee

    Wow. How ridiculous. Everything about Palestine/Israel is controversial, does that mean we shouldn’t comment on the issue at all? I guess your friends were speaking our of genuine concern, but it seems like they’re encouraging you to ignore what you see and just watch your own back. Arabs in the U.S. are all like this, afraid to talk about touchy subjects because they might get deported or tortured when they go overseas next. Our generation shouldn’t be so afraid.

    Plus, you condemn Hamas in most of your articles and even have some where you spend the majority of your time condemning them, why do they just ignore this factor and jump to the conclusion that you’ve been “radicalized?”

  2. Carol Scheller

    Dear Sami,
    Your articles are personal and based on your experience and convictions.
    Not having been to Gaza for 4 years, I have read them eagerly and taken
    them as bearing witness to realities on the ground. If your friends have not been to Gaza or Palestine, have not read extensively about the situation or listened to you at length, and/or do not speak or read Arabic, they are not in a position to understand. Certainly not to judge. The number of hate-filled, ignorant remarks I have received
    since I started my blog on Gaza have amazed and saddened me. No one has the whole truth, but it is vital to inform wherever possible. You not only do your best, you are contributing greatly to opening people’s eyes by your ethical stand and the manner in which you express yourself.
    I wish you the very best and thank you for your articles. Every one.

  3. Samuel Nichols

    Bummer you had to clarify anything. Your ethics and values, centered around advocating for justice, come across clearly in your posts and I can venture to say that I, like most readers, never questioned your intentions. Keep up the good writing, Sami.

  4. Joe Catron

    I enjoyed those two posts a lot. But this one would would be a little more interesting if we knew exactly what these criticisms were. You’re asking us to use our imaginations, which probably means a lot of us have the wrong idea about what it is to which you’re responding. Would some copying and pasting be completely out of line?

    1. Sami Kishawi

      Nah, don’t look too into it. The encounters were verbal anyways but I tried to make the article less focused on the criticisms and more focused on reaffirming the blog’s purpose and values.

  5. Carole Monica Burnett

    You are right. Your critics are concerned because this is such a dangerously volatile issue. As an activist in the Palestine-Israel controversy, I have found that my family and non-activist friends worry about me. They are afraid that I will become an extremist or that some Zionist hothead will misinterpret my words and harm me physically. I think that this is what has happened in your case — but multiplied many times, since you are much, much more involved than I am. May God bless you and your work!

  6. ADS

    Provided what has happened throughout the past year-especially to activists within the area- your friends are honorable and justified in trying to protect you. If something, God forbid, were to happen to you there would be no defending of Palestine, period. Even the most prominent news stations- ones we venerate for “hard reporting”- exercise extreme caution regarding some issues. Do your thing, keep reporting- just be careful.

  7. Sami Kishawi

    Thanks for the support and comments everyone. To clarify, I wouldn’t consider these people critics; I share deep friendships with many of them and I appreciate their concerns. At the same time, however, for the sake of ensuring that nobody — including those who continue to target activists in my area especially — gets the wrong idea, it is necessary to reaffirm this blog’s purpose and the ethical routes it uses to fulfill this purpose. Being cautious is important, of course, although I wish to never be in a position where my work, family, and friends are ever suspected of being anything less than careful.

    As for copying/pasting (see Joe’s comment), each encounter was verbal. I’ve tried my best to give an idea of what was said without necessarily revealing the identities of those involved.

    Again, thanks for the constructive comments! Hope to see more!

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