Dear Human

I may look like you, but I am not like you. I don’t share your thoughts, and I don’t share your dreams. I certainly don’t share your motivations, your values, or your low self esteem. I don’t share your desires, your needs, or your greed, nor do I share the hate of which you feed.

For years on end, I’ve watched you ruin and destroy, a world where beauty would know no limits had you not existed. You take from this earth, you take from its trees, its minerals, its waters, and everything in between. You take but hardly give, and even when you do it’s not without self gain.  You choose cruelty over kindness, and mistake my kindness for weakness, but you’re blinded and cannot see that strength of oneself is not born out of toughness.

With the strength I possess , I keep you away, and when you attack, I fight back with the simplest of weapons that is my smile. Beautifully cunning, engineered to deceive. It’s the kind of smile that breaks your barriers and builds mine, and just like a chameleon, I’ve camouflaged in your presence.

 You know nothing about me but I reflect everything about you, it’s most cunning if you think about it, but you don’t! Instead, you find yourself drawn to me, wanting my attention, my presence, my warmth, and my everything in me that reflects the very few things you like about yourself. But sometimes your being is too dominate, too destructive, too sharp, and like a needle injected into human flesh, your insecurities  penetrate their way through, so my smile gets tired and weighed down by the lump in my throat that’s desperately trying to scream in search of my soul that’s been long lost between your desires, and your dreams. The soul that no longer knows how to have desires or dreams of her own, as they’re far from compatible with the very same world she resides in.

But isn’t it better to be a tortured soul yet very much alive, than to find out when you die, that the treasures you’ve collected through hatred and greed, have left you dead and decomposed long before your heart stopped beating?
                                          

                                                           
                             

Je Suis Ahmed

I am Ahmed, the Muslim police officer that was brutally murdered by terrorists here in France. My love for my country and my people knows no limits. From the very first moment I wore my badge, and made a promise to protect my citizens, I have vowed to live by my country’s national principle, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”. Not only am I honoured and proud to have served my country and my nation for as long as I have lived, but I am proud to have died fulfilling my promise, and carrying out my duty towards them.

My non beating heart is filled with gratitude with every tribute that’s paid to all of us, who’ve lost our lives on the day the darkness fell over the city of love. I couldn’t have wished for a more honourable death, I know my blood did not go in vain, not only because I died serving my people, and their right to free speech, but because I also died fulfilling my religious values, and for that I am eternally grateful.

This may confuse some of you, and I know what a lot of you are thinking. How can a man take such pride in dying a Muslim, when the men who carried out these heinous attacks were not only Algerian, but Muslims too?  The answer is simple, they were terrorists, not Muslims. After all did anyone blame Christians for the terrorist acts of Anders Breivik?

My love for my people and my country doesn’t just stem from patriotism, but from my religion too. It is the religion that taught me to be respectful and tolerant of others, regardless of what they may say. It is the religion that taught not to enforce my views on others by stating “for you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

I was the first to go and protect the Charlie Hebdo quarters, not only because it was my duty to do so, but because it was Islam that taught me that if my religion or my Prophet, were to be insulted, my response is to “be patient over whatever they may say and avoid them with gracious avoidance.” It was the Prophet himself that told Muslims that “you will absolutely hear from those who were given the scriptures before you, and from those who associate others with God much abuse. But if you are patient… that is indeed the matters of determination”.

It is the religion that its very core values and principles, coincide with “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, and that is why my love for my country and my religion go hand in hand. How could I not love and respect the people I lived side by side with all those years? They are all my people, from the Muslims, to the Jews, to the Christians and Atheists. That is why I vowed to protect each and every single one of them 8 years ago, regardless of their religion, colour, or ethnicity.

And how could I not love France for all that it has given me? It is the country that has taken my Algerian immigrant parents in, and treated them as one of its own. It is the country that raised me, that opened the doors to its education system for me, gave me access to its hospitals, and provided me with all the security and safety in the world. The very same country that showed solidarity with the Arabs when the bombs fell down on Gaza, and voted in favour of recognising Palestine as a state, when many others failed to do so.

It brings me great sadness and grief to see people commit such vile acts and crimes in the name of my religion. I know I speak on behalf of all Muslims when I say, that they do not represent me or Muslims anywhere, nor do they belong to, or represent Islam. And I refuse to call them extremists, or Islamists, because not only do they not live or abide by Islamic values, but any true Muslim knows that Islam is a religion of moderation. Therefore, it is not possible for extremism to even be a part of Islam.

The men that killed me are no martyrs of Islam. They are terrorists, and criminals, who’ve sadly hijacked my religion to carry-out their own barbaric agendas. They are merciless murderers, who knew not of the compassion, love, and unity the Prophet spent all of his life preaching.  I only hope that you would view me as a representative of Islam, the man who spent the last 8 years of his life practicing this verse, “whoever kills a soul, it is as if he had slain all mankind. And whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved all mankind”.

If you think Muslims are the ones that should be responsible for standing against terrorism, think again. It is not only the responsibility of Muslims, but the responsibility of us all regardless of our beliefs, regardless of our heritage, or where we’re from.

What happened in France was truly incomprehensible, deeply hurtful, and heart breaking. My sadness and grief for the others that lost their lives cannot be measured, and there are no words that could describe the pain I feel. This act of terror most certainly deserves reaction.

But know this, if you direct your hurt and anger towards Islam and the millions of law abiding Muslims across the world, if you go on to target and attack mosques, and call upon the removal of Muslims from western society, then know that the terrorists have won and you have lost. Know that the terrorists have succeeded in instilling their agendas by separating us, and destroying our multicultural society that we’re so very proud of. Know that they’ve succeeded in injecting hatred and prejudice deep within our hearts, and know that the hope of ever living in peace is forever lost.

But if you stand together united and defiant in the face of terrorism, be you an Atheist, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or even just a human. If you can put your differences aside, and allow yourselves to feel the pain, anger and hurt together, if you can show tolerance and compassion towards one another in these dark times, then know that you have won, and they have lost. Know that only then, they can’t hurt you, or break you, because you can never defy or conquer the united. Only then will you prove to the world, that the power of love and unity, is capable of destroying all kinds of terrorism. I know deep down in my heart that you will choose the latter, and I will remain forever hopeful because I know that with friendship, tolerance, unity, and love, humanity prevails all.

May peace be upon you all.

#JeSuisAhmed

The Power of The Poppy

A Geordie Arab girl

It’s that time of year again where we proudly wear our poppies on our chests, gather around bonfires in the cold crisp winter air, and watch the spectacular colourful fireworks explode in the skies. Where we stand in silence, young and old, and pay our respects to the fallen soldiers of World War One and after.

As we embark on the 100th anniversary of World War One, the Tower of London lays its beautiful blood red ceramic poppies along its surroundings, which elegantly resemble the fields of Northern France and Flanders that were once ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart, and later covered by poppies on the otherwise barren battlefields.

As the cold November days pass by, we’ll find ourselves surrounded by the elderly wearing their medals and badges, and we’ll hear heart wrenching stories from those who’ve lost their loved ones in conflicts, old…

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The Power of The Poppy

It’s that time of year again where we proudly wear our poppies on our chests, gather around bonfires in the cold crisp winter air, and watch the spectacular colourful fireworks explode in the skies. Where we stand in silence, young and old, and pay our respects to the fallen soldiers of World War One and after.

As we embark on the 100th anniversary of World War One, the Tower of London lays its beautiful blood red ceramic poppies along its surroundings, which elegantly resemble the fields of Northern France and Flanders that were once ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart, and later covered by poppies on the otherwise barren battlefields.

As the cold November days pass by, we’ll find ourselves surrounded by the elderly wearing their medals and badges, and we’ll hear heart wrenching stories from those who’ve lost their loved ones in conflicts, old and new. But despite all the emotions of sadness and grief travelling through the winter winds, there’s something quite heart-warming and hopeful in watching people come together, and unite in the remembrance of those they lost.

I’m not one for wars, or imperialism, and I don’t care much for the conflicts we’ve created over the years. That being said, the symbol of the poppy is quite a powerful one. To me it’s not just a reminder of those who lost their lives in honour of their countries, and in the hope of freedom, but rather it’s a reminder that humanity still exists, that we are all the same, and that we can all feel the pain of one another. It is a reminder that no matter where we come from, we all ultimately want the same thing, to live peacefully amongst each other, and to one day hope that there would be no more fallen soldiers that have to give up their young and fruitful lives so that we can be safe.

As Remembrance Day approaches, I will be sure to pay my respects in a two minute silence for all those lives we lost. The soldiers I’ll be thinking of won’t just be the ones in uniform, because to me every innocent life lost in a conflict is worthy of that title, and worthy of a tribute.

So when you are thinking of our fallen soldiers, do also spare a thought for the innocent women, men, and children who have lost their lives in conflicts across the world, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or colour. Because if there’s one thing that the symbol of the poppy has taught me, is that each life is equal, and so when lost, each one is equally as sad. So as you wear your poppies and fill the room with silence, remember those we lost, and do hope for a day when conflict ends, and peace begins. And remember that if we all stand together against corruption, conflict, and extremism, the power of poppies will only triumph the power of weapons.

The Boy and the Sunbird

A beautiful blue Sunbird flew above the lush fields of Beitunia on May 15th, the sun was beaming down on its valleys, and the air was hot. Beitunia was a lot quieter now in comparison to the earlier hours of the day. The sounds of gun shots and sirens have vanished into thin air, the chaos had faded, and the only thing to be heard was the sound of the olive and almond tree leaves swaying in the breeze.

Beneath an olive tree, the boy sat with his back resting against its aging trunk. The sunlight warmed his handsome face and made his rich brown eyes shine it its presence. His youthful face was burdened by tiredness and exhaustion. He wore a grey cotton T-shirt, and he had a kaffieh around his neck, with his school bag resting beside him.

The Sunbird was intrigued by the young boy; he lowered his wings and landed beside him, whilst feeling the earth beneath his tiny feet. The sun seemed a lot lower in the sky now and its orange and yellow shades were reflecting upon the fields and the valleys making the place seem majestic.

The sunbird’s colours were piercing yet delightful. His feathers were a mixture of royal blue and turquoise, he was beautiful to look at the boy thought, and he now felt more at ease with a little company. He smiled at him and remembered that this was the first time he smiled all day.

‘You know you ought to be getting home boy, it’s getting dark soon and it’s not safe for a guy like you at this hour.’
‘I can’t go home. I’ve been robbed of the opportunity to do so I’m afraid’. His face was full of youth but he spoke in a way that made him seem old.

‘A lot of people get robbed of all sorts in this place. Where are you from? You don’t strike me as a village boy’
‘I’m not, I’m from Ramallah.’

‘Beautiful city, I’m from the North. I live in the mountains of Nablus but I fly to Ramallah a lot, it’s always buzzing and vibrant, and I’m always drawn by its pleasant weather and pretty lights. How old are you?’
His face suddenly hardened. ‘I’m 17.’

‘Ah, to be that young again, with the rest of your life lying beneath your feet. How I miss those youthful years! So full of spirit, yet so reckless and naïve with a lot yet to see!’

‘What’s it like? To grow older’

‘I can’t tell you that I’m afraid, you’re a mere lad of 17, you’ll find out eventually. Besides no two people growing up are the same, everyone’s journey is different. That’s the beauty and misery of life!’

He seemed a little disappointed and saddened by that answer, he turned away from the Sunbird to stare at the valleys that looked so exquisite now. He remained quiet for a little while and the only thing that spoke was the expression of anguish and pain that was written across his olive-skinned face.

Across the fields appeared a group of boys of a similar age, they wore red and white football kits but they weren’t playing. Nor did they have the energy or spirit one would expect of teenage boys. They were walking in a slow pace whilst the breeze was brushing across their faces. They eventually found a spot on the ground, and sat down in silence.

His rich brown eyes were fixated on them now. There was a hint of envy and longing in them, when suddenly silent tears started streaming down his face. ‘You see them over there? They’re my friends, every Thursday we come here after school to play football away from the city, I was supposed to play with them today but I can’t.’

‘Missing football seems like an odd reason to cry my boy.’

‘It isn’t when you know you’ll never get to play again. Look at them, they seem miserable. I can’t even imagine how my parents and brother are feeling. They must have found out by now that I will never be going home to them again.
My mother didn’t want me to go today, but I didn’t listen to her, I hope she forgives me.’

‘Mothers always forgive; they love you unconditionally from the second you’re born. Just one of life’s many miracles.’
And with that he felt a little bit of ease and comfort, he smiled at the Sunbird and wiped his tears with his hands. ‘Thank you, I must leave soon though, they’re waiting for me.’

‘That’s a shame; I was beginning to think I’ve made a new friend’ He suddenly felt sad at the thought of parting from the boy.

‘You are my friend’ He said smiling, it was a sad smile, and the Sunbird could see his face more clearly now, he had a kind face, and a warm presence about him.

He began to stroke the Sunbird’s beautiful feathers and suddenly he was really glad that he wasn’t alone.
The boys across the field have now started to walk back towards the village, and the fields were empty again. The air had gotten cooler, and he boy started to shiver, he looked scared and unsure. Across the Valleys, the sun was beginning to set, it was a beautiful sight and both of them sat gazing at it for a while.

‘I really can’t bear to leave; I’m going to miss this place with all my heart’. More tears started to fall from his eyes.
‘Goodbyes are never easy; I try to avoid them if I can… Tell me friend, what will you miss most about this place?’
He let out a huge sigh in a way that suggested that the weight of the world was resting on his skinny shoulders and hallow chest.

‘My mum, she was there for me from the minute I was prematurely born. There wasn’t a day in my life when she didn’t give me her all. She looked after me in every way a mother could. When I was in a car crash a few years ago she stayed by my side until I was better. I’m going to miss teasing her too, it was so easy to do, and when she’d had enough and grew angry and frustrated by my silliness, I’d give her a hug and say something to make her laugh and so we’d both end up giggling. I’m going to miss hearing her laugh and seeing her smile.

And my dad, I’m going to miss him always giving me life lessons, and helping me with my homework. I’m going to miss all those hours we wasted watching TV, talking about school, and gossiping about relatives, how precious those times were. He was supposed to help me choose which university to apply to this weekend.’

There was a long pause as he was trying to compose himself and regain his strength, but there was nothing he could do to hold back his tears now and his voice grew weaker with grief and heartache, but he needed to get it off his chest, it was his last chance to do so. The Sunbird was now resting on his shoulder and listening intently to what he had to say.

‘And as for my brother, well, to know that I will never get to beat him at FIFA again…’ Tears turned into little sobs now. ‘Had I known that it was our last game yesterday… I would have let him win, even if the little sod did pick Manu’. He let out a tiny laughter at this sweet memory, but the tears quickly returned with the realisation that that’s all it’ll ever be now, a sweet memory.

‘I don’t understand my dear friend, if you love your life here so much, then why do you have to go and leave it all behind? You seem like you have a lot to lose by leaving and a lot to live for if you stay’.

He then unzipped his dusty black school bag and pulled out the bullet, he said nothing, he didn’t have to. He just held the bullet out whilst looking at his friend with a face full of pain.

‘My name is Nadeem Nawara, today I was at the Nakbah demonstration, my mum told me not to go but I didn’t listen.’ His voice grew stronger and clearer now, and was talking in a fast and frustrated manner.

‘I wanted to go because I needed to protest against the illegal occupation, I needed to tell the world that I and everyone here deserved better. I needed to tell the world that I was fed up of my land being stolen, and that I was fed up of living in an outdoor prison. Today I wanted to tell the world that I want to be free, so I went to the demonstration and I marched. I marched for me, for my family, for my friends, for Palestine. But as I was walking back home, they shot me. Look.’

He lifted his T-shirt and the Sunbird could see the hole the bullet pierced through his chest, and raptured his young kind heart. And so the Sunbird too began to shed tears from his small twinkly eyes.

His face was now hot and wet, and his breathing was heavy, he felt betrayed and abandoned by the world that he was born into, and killed in. He felt helpless and sad; he longed for his heart to beat again so that he can carry on living on this earth that he had every right to be in, the earth that he was robbed from, and go back to the family he longed to see again.

‘So tell me dear friend’ His voice full of sorrow. ‘Tell me what’s it like to grow older, because I’ll never get to know, I’ll never know what it’s like to hold a driver’s licence, or graduate, I’ll never know what it’s like to fall in love and get married or have children, I’ll never know what it’s like to be a grown man.’

‘But now you’ll know what it’s like to be free.’
‘Freedom tastes bitter alone’

‘Listen to me carefully’ he spoke softly. ‘I have lived for many years in this holy land and I have witnessed things no bird ever should. This world is cruel, good hearts like yours die young, whilst the evil ones grow stone cold and strong, making sure they destroy all kinds of beauty around them.
But don’t be sad, for you were destined for better things and a purer world, a world in which kind hearts run wild and free forever. And just remember my boy ‘Death is not but the next great adventure’.’

‘Thank you’ his voice softened along with his features. ‘You’ve shown me kindness that this world so clearly lacks. I feel ready now. I must go, my adventure must begin.’

He was ready for them now, and felt grateful that they’d let him stay for as long as he did. He finally stood up tall and strong, ready to face the unknown. He looked around one last time; the setting sun was reflecting its rays upon Beitunia now making it seem golden and divine, and he made sure he captured that moment in all its glory.

‘Dear friend, may I ask one thing of you?’

‘Of course’

‘Before you return to the mountains, fly over Ramallah and stop by my house, you’ll know which one it is. Please stay by my family’s side tonight for they could use a friend like you in these harsh times, especially my mum’.

He felt honoured. ‘I promise you my dear friend, that for as long as I have my wings, and for as long as I shall live, I will visit your house every morning and every night, and I will stay by your mother’s side and sing her a song every day until her tears dry out’

‘I can’t thank you enough, I’m truly grateful’.

‘You’re the bravest young man I have ever known, it has been great pleasure knowing you. Farewell my friend, until we meet again.’

‘Until we meet again’

Those were his final words before he started walking towards the sunset. Suddenly the wind began to sweep him off his feet. Flying free in the sky, he felt happy, and for the first time in his life, he felt peace. The Sunbird watched him disappear into the sun, and all that remained of him on this earth were the memories of his short-lived life.

The fields, the valleys, and the hills that looked so glorious moments ago, suddenly looked hollow and empty. They were no longer filled with the warmth of the sun but with the chill of loneliness. There was nothing left but grief, and a promise to be kept, so he flew.

He flew beneath the crescent moonlight, he flew above the village and its people, and he watched them go on with their lives like nothing had changed. Little did they know that on this day, they had lost one of Palestine’s hidden gems, a gem stolen from them in broad daylight. He flew with the wind brushing against his wings, he could see the city of Ramallah now, he could see the tall buildings resting on its Mediterranean hills, and he could see its lights that were shining like stars in the heavens above.

He didn’t have long to go now as he was flying over the checkpoint that sits on Ramallah’s borders. He could see the separation wall filled with the graffiti that was pleading for humanity. He could see the electric fences, the metal barriers, and he could see the heavily guarded gates of the outdoor prison that is the West Bank.

The moonlight lit up the dark streets and he could see the heavily armed soldiers at the checkpoint. The sight of them filled the Sunbird with grief for his friend and he started to sing. A sad but beautiful song, the kind of song that seeps deep into your soul and pulls on every single one of your heart-strings, except for the heart-strings of those whose hearts have sealed with hatred and greed.

As he was flying above oppression, singing that beautiful song, he heard a terrible sound and before he knew it, a bullet pierced through him changing the colours of his feathers from the exquisite royal blues, to the deep dark shade of red blood. As he was taking his last breath, he thought of how the cruelty of mankind knows no limits or boundaries. He thought of how it cannot spare the life of a young lad, nor can it spare the life of a singing Sunbird in the sky.

His ending was bitter-sweet. The realisation that his promise would remain unfulfilled made him feel bitter inside, but he could taste the sweetness of death for it would reunite him with his friend once more. The beautiful blue Sunbird now understood, that on this day him and the boy were not only destined to meet, but were destined to never be apart.

 

(In the memory of Nadeem Nawara)

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For Better or for Worse

There are different kinds of friendships that form everyday.  Some friends walk into our lives for a short amount of time, and some walk into our lives and never leave. Every friend is unique, some are the fun ones, who never fail to bring out the child within us, they’re the friends we often go out with and can temporarily make us forget our stresses, and replace them with endless amounts of laughter.  

Some are the spiritual and intellectual ones, they often get us thinking about our morals and we’re constantly learning from them about how to better our society ,and our minds and souls. Some are the listeners, who often make it easy to open up due to their ability to not judge.  And then, there are the inspirational friends, the ones who have been through a great deal but still manage to remain strong, they don’t let life beat them and we often find ourselves looking up to them. They motivate us in ways that many can’t, and when we’re around them we learn to appreciate the good and bad.

 

As for me, I’d like to think I’m one the few lucky ones. It’s rare that you have that one friend in your life that combines all of the above, but I do. Her name is Zara and I’ve known her for 15 years. We met when we were kids, when being friends didn’t mean much more than playing out, or watching movies at a sleepover. Little did I know that our friendship would go on to teach us so much more and get us through anything.  

When Zara and me were together, people never quite understood why or how we gelled together the way we did. The minute we saw each other our faces would light up, and we would go into our little bubble where only me and her understood what the other was thinking. I never quite understood the reasoning behind that chemistry myself but I never questioned it.

 

At the age of 15 my best friend was diagnosed with anorexia. That’s when our friendship was truly tested and stopped just being about us having fun or hanging out. I can honestly say that I didn’t understand what it meant to be there for someone at that age, but all I knew was that Zara wasn’t just my friend she was family. So the thought of walking away never crossed my mind, I didn’t care how difficult it was going to be, Zara meant the world to me and not having her in my life was not an option.

As the years went on, things started to take a turn for the worse and when Zara was hospitalised things began to change. She wasn’t herself anymore, the spark she once had started to fade, and she became a shadow of herself. Here’s the thing that people don’t get about anorexia, in order for it to remain, it has to isolate you and shut you out from anything and anyone you know. You can’t be around people and you can’t let them in. And with extreme weight loss, and low energy levels you become irritable, angry and depressed.

That started to happen to Zara, the girl who used to be the life and soul of the party was replaced by a skeleton-like teenager who stayed at home, and managed to shut everyone out, whilst all her friends were out partying and doing everything teenagers do. Anorexia was no longer something she suffered from it became a part of who she was. Zara means rose, and I’ve always thought her name reflected who she was beautifully, until Anorexia took over. She was no longer a bright, beautiful rose that’s full of energy and life. Instead she was a rose that started to fade, and its petals started to dry up and fall off, and with each petal falling, she would become that little bit more lifeless and drained and that was heartbreaking to see.

Zara however, did not give up. It was a constant battle, yes sometimes it was hard and sometimes it was too much for her to carry on, but she always managed to fight her illness. And just when you thought there was no way she could come back from that dark place, she would manage to string on to the bit of hope she had left and pull herself back, and for that I have always admired her.  By the time we were18, I moved to Leeds for university, and Zara started to get a little better and we saw each other frequently. At that point I thought the worst part was over, but it wasn’t long before her health started to deteriorate again.

I would love to tell you all that I was a good friend and that I managed to find a way to stick around but I’d be lying. I got busy with my new student life, and Zara became more distant by the day, and as the years went on we started to drift apart. I knew she was going through a hard time, but I didn’t understand what she going through and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t know how to be her friend anymore. I wanted to desperately be the friend she relied on for everything but I couldn’t find a way back in, and a part of me got lazy and busy with my new life.

More years passed with no signs of a recovery, and our friendship became more and more superficial. We hardly told each other anything and when I did go back to Newcastle occasionally and try to speak to her, she was no longer accepting of me in that way. We had drifted apart in such a way that I couldn’t be there for her the way I used to, which led to constant fighting, rowing and not speaking to each other. She became resentful of my lack of understanding, and my ability to leave and go back to a life that no longer involved her, and I became resentful of her illness and wished it hadn’t taken her away from me. Resenting her illness made me irrational and angry with her and every time we saw each other, we’d put our guards up which made us grow even further apart

At that point, we were living in different cities and it would have been easier to put an end to our friendship and walk away, but that made me sad. It wasn’t the same without her and I missed the way that we always used to be there for each. Whenever something good or bad happened she was always the first person I wanted to tell. No one could cheer me up or make me laugh the way she did. I missed the way I used to go to her for advice as she was the only person who’d be completely honest without being afraid to hurt my feelings, and I missed being there for her in the same way. But most of all, I missed the fact that every time something would happen on the news, we’d be straight on the phone talking passionately about politicians and society and discussing how we were going to get involved. When it came to politics, charities, and religion, she was always my partner in crime and I missed that immensely.

I knew I had to fix it, you don’t get to walk away because things are tough and if I did, then what kind of friend would that make me? After all, she was there for me throughout everything, and I knew that I had to do the same. I no longer resented her for being ill and I no longer saw her and Anorexia as one. I realised that Anorexia was the monster that had kidnapped her mind and she’d been trying to fight it off for years with the help of her family but no one else and that had to change.

Trying to get back into her life was not easy, it was difficult and heartbreaking. It involved swallowing my pride and admitting that I was wrong at times. In order to break the barriers we both built, we had to talk about our feelings which didn’t come naturally to either of us, so that was hard too. It also took a lot of time and patience for her to let me in again but we both realised how much love we had for each other, and that’s what matters at the end of the day. I can honestly say that I am so glad I didn’t walk away, our friendship is the strongest it’s ever been and I can’t imagine her not ever being in my life.

I would love to tell you that she has made a full recovery but this isn’t a fairytale, this is real life. She’s still battling with anorexia on a daily basis but I know she will get there one day because she’s not one to give in, she’s a fighter. And with every progress she’s making, it’s lovely to see a bit of life and spark return to her. I’m not saying that it’s all plane sailing because it isn’t, but I hope that one day soon I can tell the story of how she’s become that beautiful rose she used to resemble so well.

 Being a friend doesn’t mean that we’re going to be there all the time, no one is perfect, we’re all human and we make mistakes. What makes us true friends is realising when a mistake is made, and doing everything in our power to make it right. It is so easy to get caught up in life and to start chasing the things that are less important, like status and wealth that we often forget and take for granted the people that truly matter to us. But it’s important to remember that when life is testing you and your ability to deal with problems, it’s not the big fancy house that will get you through it, it’s the friends that are prepared to drop everything and lend a helping hand. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we shouldn’t take the term friendship lightly, we should always appreciate our loved ones for they may not always be around, and if we’re prepared to be someone’s friend through the good times, then we should be prepared to be their friend through the bad times. If you have someone in your life that keeps you positive, and constantly motivates you and brings out the better version of yourself, then you should never let them go no matter what the circumstances are. It is my friendship with Zara that taught me the meaning of the vow “for better or for worse, and in sickness and in health, till death do us part” and for that I am forever grateful.

A farewell letter to a war criminal

Dear Ariel,

You don’t know my name, and you know nothing about my life, but I know who you are. And although we’ve never met, and you’re not aware of my existence, you have impacted my life in such a way that has influenced how I view the world, and made me become the person I am today.

When I heard of your passing, I was filled with a great amount of sadness, pain and grief. But it wasn’t the kind of sadness you feel when you lose a loved one, and it wasn’t the kind of pain you feel when someone’s absence leaves a void in your heart. It was a different kind of grief, the kind you feel when an event triggers memories you have locked inside of your brain, and spent a lifetime trying to forget. I know over the course of the next few days politicians like Barrack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Tony Blair will come flooding from all over the world to pay their respects, and share heart filled speeches about your heroic actions, your peace making and your great leadership. But Ariel, they didn’t know you the way I did, and you did not affect them the way you did my people and me.

You were a Palestinian born to Russian immigrants, and I am a British born Palestinian that spent a significant amount of years in Palestine, for you and your regime to cause me irreparable damage. But I am not writing you this letter to list all the things you’ve done.  There will be plenty of human rights activists all over the social media, writing about your career, and the massacres you carried out in Sabra and Shatila and Jenin, as well as the murders you’ve committed in the second uprising.

But I will tell you this, before I knew of your name, my childhood was nothing but beautiful. I remember playing around my grandparents’ house and running through fields, climbing trees, and flying kites. I remember sitting under olive and almond trees reading children’s books, and feeling the lush breeze blow in my hair on a hot summers day. I had friends too, friends I used to play football and hide and seek with. Until one day when I heard sirens and saw helicopters and planes in the sky that looked peculiar, and then the screams followed. That’s how I learnt what F16s and Apaches are. I learnt that they’re flying killing machines that were about take the innocent lives of many.  Because of you, I learnt the meaning of words like curfew, ricochet, and massacre the hard way. You’ve taught me what fear is when your IDF soldiers shot into my house. I was there, I was the child that got so freighted when the bullet missed my aunty by an inch, and ran to hide under the bed. I was the child that covered her ears with her hands in an attempt to make the sound of bombing stop, knowing for a fact that with every sound I could lose a relative or a friend.

Ariel, you broke my heart every time I saw a child die, every time a wife was widowed, and every time I saw a young boy get shot in the street and fall to the ground. I saw what you did in Jenin too, I went back as a volunteer when I was 18 and I saw the pain you’ve inflicted on its people. I met the siblings of the children you killed, and I met the widows of the men you butchered and I listened to their stories. I listened to them all, but there wasn’t much I could do to help, because you’ve already taken the people who meant the world to them, and nothing can ever replace that. I could go on and on about how your actions impacted my life, and how that made me feel but I will stop now for two reasons. Firstly, the more I tell you, the more painful memories come flooding back and that’s enough heartache for one day, and secondly, knowing the consequences of what you’ve done, won’t fill you with guilt or regret. Mainly because you’re now dead, but also because expecting you, or your regime to feel any sort of remorse, is like expecting politicians to spend money on ending poverty instead of wars.

I do however want to tell you that you’ve failed. You have failed because your main aim was to shatter my life, and the lives of others like me, but you never managed to do that. In fact Ariel, in some strange unexpected way, you have taught me invaluable lessons about life. You’ve shown me cruelty, which taught me kindness. You’ve shown me fear, which taught me courage. You’ve shown hatred, which taught me love. You’ve shown me oppression, which taught the value of freedom, and you’ve shown me conflict, which made me want peace. But most importantly, you’ve taught me to admire Palestine. So regardless of how long your regime will carry on to oppress me, and take away my rights and freedom, you will find that I will only continue to cross your barriers, and apartheid walls and return to my homeland.

Despite of everything that you’ve done, I will not speak ill of you. I know better than to insult and curse the dead. And I will not go on to celebrate your death because that won’t give me any sort of comfort or relief. There is nothing to celebrate, you may have been in a coma for the last 8 years but your legacy has carried on. The bombs carried on falling down on Gaza, and the illegal settlements carried on expanding, whilst the rest of the world turns a blind eye. So as they put your body to rest, I will not be thinking of you or your family. Instead, I will be thinking of all those lives you took, and I will be thinking of all the people who are still suffering because of what you’ve created. As they put your body to rest, I will not be praying for you, but I will be praying for a free Palestine.

Yours Sincerely

A heart of Palestine