Poets for Gaza

By Hena Ashraf
Freelance Writer- USA

Poets for gaza
Poets Remi Kanazi (left) and Tahani Salah (right).
On Friday, January 16th, NAAP – NY (Network of Arab-American Professionals) and Urban Word NYC hosted a fundraiser for the victims of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. 'Poets for Gaza' took place at the Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park, with over 300 attendees. The poetry night was held to raise money for the United Palestinian Appeal, a humanitarian relief group that was represented at the event.

The event was co-hosted by Palestinian-Americans poets Tahani Salah and Remi Kanazi. Both featured spoken word, a powerful form of poetry that is performance-based.
A short film by Adam Shapiro about the struggle of the Palestinian people was also shown, and singer Eman Hamad sang Palestinian folk songs that depicted the theme of dispossession.

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Tahani Salah, a spoken word artist and youth outreach coordinator at Urban Word NYC, has been performing spoken word for ten years and participated in poetry slam competitions. IslamOnline.net asked Salah about how 'Poets for Gaza' came together:

"It's actually really amazing to see these two different organizations come together in this way, to stand for  something. It's amazing to see this work in action, especially the poetry. The purpose of the evening is not only to raise money but to raise awareness as well,  and we're here for each other, and this is how we show solidarity, by coming together and sharing poetry, sharing our work and our life experiences."

Remi Kanazi is a poet, a writer on Arab politics, and the editor of the poetry collection 'Poets for Palestine'. He and Salah joined forces to organize the poetry fundraiser night: "We thought that it would be a great way to get a diverse crowd out for Palestine. I'm so happy that Urban Word NYC co-sponsored, to show that many people within the conscientious community have really come out in support for Palestine."

From the United Palestinian Appeal, a spokesperson ordered a minute of silence in light of those who had been killed in Gaza.
A Minute of Silence

'Poets for Gaza' introduced several poets, including renowned poets Amiri and Amina Baraka. Amiri founded the Black Arts Movement of 1960s Harlem. Kanazi commented that Baraka is "an amazing voice for the African-American community, in defense of Muslim rights, Arab rights - just an inspiration to anybody seeking social justice."

Amiri and Amina Baraka received the most applause and praise of the night, and many poets felt honored to share the stage with them. Amiri Baraka shared his personal thoughts on Israel and Palestine; as well as a piece called 'The Masquerade is Over'.
 Amina Baraka performed next with a poem called 'For the People of Palestine' that reflects the connections between the Israeli aggression and American weapons.

 NAAP-NY organizer Sarab Al-Jijakli appealed to the crowd to get involved, describing four fronts of organizing around Palestine, including media outreach, politician outreach, fundraising, and protesting, in order to "give voice to the voiceless back home".

From the United Palestinian Appeal, a spokesperson proposed a minute of silence in tribute to those who had been killed in Gaza recently, and then requested the audience to stand up for the living Palestinians. Conditions in Gaza were then described, with details of young children having nothing to eat but popcorn for several days.

Tahani Salah further commented on the Gaza crisis, emphasizing that what happened recently in Gaza were very tragic. "There are so many things going on across the world that we can only focus on so much. I really wish that somehow in the future we'd tend to celebrate Gaza for something else. But for now, we have to try to save the souls and the lives there now, and bring back whatever we can of what's left. For everyday and every second we have to pray that things will be all right in the end." Salah added.

Kanazi gave further insight into what he thought organizers and activists for Palestine should continue to do, and also reflected on the recent activities for Gaza: "We have to realize it can't just be work for today. This has to be one link in a very long chain, where we come together and say enough is enough. We have to start taking a pro-active role in our society, if we want change in America, in Europe, in the Arab world, in Palestine."

More information about Urban Word NYC and NAAP can be found at naaponline.org/ny and urbanwordnyc.org.
 Hena Ashraf is a filmmaker with interests in photography, writing, and new media. She founded the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival in 2008, and is a graduate from the University of Michigan with concentrations in Film & Video Studies, and Political Science. Ashraf is a fierce advocate for the making and use of independent media. You can reach her via artculture AT iolteam DOT com.

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