Selma Dabbagh


11 June 2024

Blood and Numbers

‘I can start with saying it is an unbearable situation in terms of dignity,’ my friend Marwa says in one of the voice notes she leaves me from her tent in Deir al-Balah. ‘Today you caught me on a good day. Today I want to talk. It is not usually easy for me to express this’ – the sound of a drone cuts in – ‘pain.’

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24 May 2024

Black Outs

When a building under construction collapsed in George, South Africa, last week, dozens of workers were buried beneath the rubble. Delvin Safers, an electrician, was trapped next to a colleague who was ‘already deceased’. His girlfriend sent him photographs of their two-year-old son to keep his spirits up. Without the light from his phone, everything was dark. That was the hardest part of it, Safers said. ‘When you close your eyes, it is dark, then you open them, it is the same thing.’ He was freed after a couple of days, with the use of his legs. ‘That was the main thing,’ his father said, ‘when I saw my son walk.’ His life was saved thanks to the large teams of rescue workers with hard hats, sniffer dogs, cranes, bulldozers and trucks who came to his rescue.

In Gaza more than ten thousand people are trapped under the rubble, according to the United Nations.

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6 May 2024

‘Man Number 4’

Last November, I wrote of waiting for the grey ticks to double up and go blue when sending WhatsApp messages to my friend Ghassan Abu Sittah, who in October had narrowly missed being killed in the bombing of al-Ahli Arab and al-Shifa Hospitals in Gaza, where he had travelled from London to work as a surgeon. He survived and was inaugurated as the rector of Glasgow University, with 80 per cent of the student vote, on 11 April. He has set up a fund for Palestinian children, planning ‘for the day after’, and is speaking tirelessly to the media and audiences across the world. 

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11 April 2024

Flip-Flops

Gaza’s economy has been stifled since the time of the British Mandate, a process exacerbated by first Egypt’s and then Israel’s occupation. The nail in the coffin was the land, sea and air blockade that Israel imposed in 2007, placing Gaza under siege, severing its economic links with Israel and strong ties to the West Bank, turning it into an isolated enclave where the free movement of labour, material or expertise was impossible.

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7 March 2024

At the Karachi Literature Festival

The support for Palestinians among ordinary people in Pakistan is genuine, palpable and widespread. Audience members asked what they could do with the outrage they feel when they watch images of slaughter and starvation. They described their sense of isolation and distress when watching these clips on social media on their phones. M.A. Jinnah Road (formerly Bandar Road), lined with crumbling colonial-era architecture and packed with lawyers’ offices, was festooned with Palestinian flags, especially near the mosques, strung up between the banners of the parties that had run in the recent elections. In Pakistan, two things get stolen, a man joked at the Sind Club: lighters and elections.

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9 February 2024

Eyes on Gaza

At the end of last month I went to an event at the Photographer’s Gallery, where the grandson (and namesake) of the Armenian Gazan photographer Kegham Djeghalian (1915-1981) took us through what is left of the archive of Studio Kegham.

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26 January 2024

The Case against Israel

Finally, something shifts. The ruling by the International Court of Justice is said by public international lawyers to be a game changer. For starters, the vocabulary has been reset. Out with the references to ‘self-defence’, bandied around as an excuse for the inexcusable; in with the cogently argued case that the US and UK’s greatest ally in the Middle East is committing genocide.

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13 December 2023

Don’t Look Away

In the accounts coming out of the Gaza Strip, as well as evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, people tell of the persistence of a sense of community, of kindness and hospitality, of people sharing food, providing assistance and opening their doors to others: a five-seater car fleeing south with 21 people in it, stopping to pick up an old man walking crying in the street.

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18 November 2023

One Tick, Two Ticks

My first action on waking is to look at my phone. Press the green WhatsApp icon and hope for two blue ticks. One grey tick is a precursor of death. Two grey ticks are arguably worse. They mean that communications have been live, but your friend may not be.

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24 September 2015

‘Who do you write for?’

Questions of how the Arab world should be depicted, by whom, in what language, and for what purpose, came up in several discussions I took part in over recent months. The debate is fraught, and prone to curtail writers’ freedoms as much as open up new ground. It is best engaged with in what Ahdaf Soueif has described as the ‘mezzaterra’ between East and West which, thankfully, is less of a no man’s land than it used to be.

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