Review of TEDxShujaiya screening (in partnership with LSESU Palestine Society), 21/01/2016

By Hanif Osman

On Thursday 21st January TEDxLSE and LSESU Palestine Society came together to watch TEDxShujaiya – the first TEDx conference to take place in the Gaza Strip, showcasing some of the amazing individuality, talent and innovation coming out of Gaza, despite the ongoing siege.

Notwithstanding a significant technical difficulty, involving both TEDxLSE and Palestine Society committee members (as well as an audio and video technician) attempting to get the sound to play out of the room’s speakers, the screening started at approximately 6.40pm thanks to the expert work of Palestine Society’s Vice President (and, as it turns out, chief technician), Dina Safarini. The evening, owing to the eye-opening capability of the TEDxShujaiya talks to inspire and amaze, as well as to the effectiveness of the Arabic to English translations, was a resounding success.

All of TEDxShujaiya’s talks are interesting and moving for their own reasons, but a few in particular from the evening stood out as being particularly compelling and for these I will briefly outline their core messages and ideas and explain why they are so worthy of watching.

Probably the most powerful and widely appreciated talk of the night was by Ahmed Alfaleet, entitled ‘Crack to the moon’. It describes the life of a barely 20-year old man sentenced to life in an Israeli prison. During his 20-year imprisonment, particular experiences such as being able to see the moon, interacting with birds, and an empty can lying around in his cell, he tells us, shaped his entire outlook on life; propositions that may, at first glance, appear bizarre and even absurd. Yet those very same anecdotes, truly did shape his whole frame of mind. That empty can, we learn, enabled him to master Hebrew in a matter of weeks. The bird turned out to give him the hope and strength to carry on. At its core, the talk emphasises the importance of ‘realizing the value of everything in our lives and enjoying it’: one must always smile and be thankful for what he/she has, and try to avoid giving in to despair.

Another particularly striking talk was Ghada Shoman’s ‘The big picture’, which stressed the frequently made but often disregarded point that we should not judge people based upon unimportant aspects such as a person’s looks, haircut, religion or nationality; we should instead seek to understand ‘the big(ger) picture’. This fact is illustrated by the speaker’s personal experience of being judged – a photograph of Ghada and her brother in wrecked Gaza was misconstrued and labelled as ‘The two lovers flirting in the midst of the ruins’. Shoman, a pharmacy student at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, ends her talk with a delicate and emotive song, containing the powerful lines ‘The sky belongs to both you and I/The space as well…These belong to all people/To the weak, the sad and the poor/Who sleep hungry’ and ‘Tomorrow your planes will be worth nothing compared to the wings of a butterfly’. An article on Ghada and her brother’s musical endeavours is available at http://wearenotnumbers.org/home/Story/46.

The second video screened on the evening also deserves a significant mention – it was a talk by Hashem Ghazel named ‘Let the fingers do the talk’. Hashem is deaf and, despite the prejudice and disadvantages he has faced, is highly successful in all areas of his life. Known as the ‘Godfather of the deaf’ in the Gaza Strip due to his role in Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children as well as his extensive travelling to represent the deaf people of the Gaza Strip, Ghazel truly is an inspiration. He raises the issue at the end of the severe difficulty he has in being able to continue to carry out his work outside of Gaza – representing the deaf of Gaza internationally – because of the continued Israeli-imposed siege.

Mazen Elsayed, in ‘Chessing your value’, clarifies the importance of individuals estimating themselves accurately. Elsayed uses the board game of chess to demonstrate his point that whilst being realistic is undoubtedly key, we often forget that everything has a value, which, if utilized correctly, can have maximal impact.  Mazen’s talk was in English and can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q1ghfarR1Q.

Another talk shown was that of Al Jazeera correspondent Tamer Almisshal’s ‘Undefined nationality’, in which he discusses whether journalists need to have a nationality in order to practice and succeed in their career and achieve their goals. The Gaza Strip is home to approximately 1,221,000 UNWRA-registered (stateless) refugees (entitled, under UN Resolution 194, to the ‘right of return’ to the lands in Palestine they were expelled from in 1948), constituting 67% of the total population of Gaza. Almisshal’s talk, therefore, on Gazan identity and nationality, addresses issues of fundamental importance to Gaza and for this reason alone is worthy of watching.

Finally, and noted by a few people as their personal favourite of the six talks shown on the evening, was Refaat Alareer’s talk entitled ‘Stories make us’. Alareer’s major concern is that older people’s stories of the past – mainly recorded orally – are dying out because modern technology means that we have stopped caring. “I am the man I am because of the stories told to me by my mother and grandmother,” he tells the audience. As Palestinians under occupation, storytelling transcends the didactic value to serve the urgent purpose of enabling them to own their own narrative, and, by consequence, their future. Indeed, Alareer establishes that stories people can tell about a land are proofs of their right to that land, demonstrated by his recollection of a story about a native Canadian elder who demanded of a coloniser ‘If this is your land, tell me your stories’, to which there was only silence. Towards the end of his talk, Alareer quotes Chinua Achebe’s remark that ‘’Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’’, aptly adding on, in reference to the ‘hunter’, ‘the occupier, the colonizer’. He uses the international success of the recent ‘Gaza Writes Back’, a book of 23 stories by 15 young Palestinians aged 17-25 (13 of whom are female) that was translated into 6 languages, as evidence of a global desire to hear Palestinians’ stories.  Alareer delivered his talk in English and it can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsbEjldJjOw.

The videos were expertly translated by several members of the LSESU Palestine Society – Maya, Lana, Ameer and Dina – and their accuracy and effectiveness in conveying the precise meanings was widely praised; so much so that the translations were requested and have been sent to the TEDxShujaiya team, for their intended eventual transfer onto the master-videos. A big ‘thank you’, therefore, has to go out to the translators. And, of course, the biggest thanks of all must go to the organisers and speakers of TEDxShujaiya who, as well as giving us permission to add subtitles to the videos and screen them, were responsible for hosting a truly remarkable first Gazan TED conference that we are sure will continue to inform and inspire people across the world for years to come.