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by Anis Hamadeh, August 16, 2009
The main reason I left the Free Gaza Movement (www.freegaza.org) in May 2009 was lack of organization. In November 08 we had met in London in order to bring structure into the movement. We elected a board. I was happy about that, because my work had already been too much and without structure it would only be more. My main job was to maintain the website, something I was not really the guy for, because I am not good at technical things. But I was always there and thus made the updates (something everybody could have done) and it was OK. In the final months I had some help for times when I was away. Web work had been a daily job since August 2008 and I was the only one to do it for a long time. That meant always being on alert. Most checkings of emails were combined with work, morning and night, Mondays to Sundays.
In order to produce parts of the structure we needed I introduced and maintained the media clipping list and later the newsletter and it was more my kind of work. This was fine with everybody and yet it was when I noticed that the communication in Free Gaza was really bad, because I received no news for the newsletter from the respective people and had to beg them and still got no news. It was painful. Later I realized that not only the newsletter, but most communication work, that needed a team, failed - except for the boats and voyages.
During the voyages about twice as many people wrote us emails than normal and at times there were huge amounts of emails to be answered. I was one of the five or so people who answered Free Gaza mails. I told the active members that we need to coordinate incoming emails and also volunteers to the movement. This was essential if we wanted to grow and function. I received no answer on this request, although I uttered it several times. Nothing happened. It was so odd. I also mentioned that we need press photos for the media and all these things simply did not develop.
I had two nervous breakdowns while working for Free Gaza. When I am convinced of something I am engaged and do no half things. As a creative being, I had ideas. I wrote and recorded the three Free Gaza songs, introduced the Art Festival and painted four pictures. I had ideas for the marketing of the pictures and the songs, but it simply was too much for one man. Yes, I put too much on my plate, but I could not help it. I talked about it. I realized that Free Gaza would let you do what you want, but you would not get much support, because there was no organization and thus no one to manage the movement. We had talked about that over and over, but there was no change. There were other people who also made the experience that their emails simply go unnoticed.
We tried to set up teams, but this did not work out, because we did not start with existing structures. Instead, we superimposed structure. I wrote many emails like the one at hand and talked about these issues without much feedback. Greta gave feedback, she was an exception. It did not lead to change, though. She worked as much as she could and really did a lot. I loved her and she was my new mother and I her son. We met in Berlin and in London and she just moved to France from the US, I was so happy to have her near. I really loved her and everybody knew. Huwaida and Ramzi were the other two people responsible for communications. There were more people on the board, but they hardly appeared in the Free Gaza public (which was another big minus for the movement).
I was permanently overworked, because I did all this beside my bread-job (I got 400 € monthly for the web work). When I insisted on the organizational things we brought up in London the trouble started. How shall we handle incoming emails? I asked again, and: let us coordinate the volunteers! It was not for fun, but to reduce work, and it needed a plan by all of us. But I received no answers from the others. I then went on strike and said: if we cannot get organization into the movement I will go. There was still no discussion. Greta wrote: "Everyone has the right to go on strike, you are always welcome back." Greta did not see that her statement did not address the issue. She later insisted that she did consider my points, but I could see nothing. It was not her I blamed, I knew that she did what she could. It wasn't personal, at all, it was about work. It wasn't Greta, anyway.
Huwaida said that there were no organizational problems more than normal, so she was not alarmed. She called it "growing pain", but this was not growing pain, it was avoidable, futile pain. I am no masochist. And Ramzi did not say anything. Before he was on the board he was different.
In addition, there were these problems with Paul and with the German Free Gaza people. Concerning the Germans: they had stolen our name for the website freegaza.de and at the same time did not want to cooperate with the Movement. Much later I sorted this out with George in Bonn, he explicitly told me they did nick the name to get publicity and said he completely understood why I was angry as I just tried to set up a German chapter of Free Gaza and it did not work, because Germans did not know who is who. Interestingly, Ramzi and Huwaida did not see this as a problem at all. Greta said I was right in this thing, but she did not act. At first I asked Ramzi to take over with the Germans, but the problem did not vanish. Ramzi said these people link to our site and support us, but that was nonsense at the time. When I told Ramzi that it does not work with the Germans he got angry and said: Anis, you said yourself that others shall deal with the Germans, so why do you question this now? Well, I did, because people in Germany were mailing me asking who the German group is that calls itself Free Gaza (without necessity). I did not get solidarity from the group and I sensed that intensely.
Concerning Paul: he was one of the founders of Free Gaza. There had been some problems with him and the rest, but only when he started a website of his own and fundraising of his own it seemed to me that he damaged the movement. Personally, I liked him, but I did not contact him anymore. There was some talk about mediation in the Free Gaza public, but the board did not say what was really going on and in the end Paul and his group were excluded. There was a short press release, but no background for the rest of us. When I told Ramzi and Greta that this is not democratic and that they should have talked about the issue before, Ramzi became furious. He emphasized how much I insulted him by merely mentioning Paul's name (!). Ramzi said things like "Maybe you think I am a Mossad agent, like Paul said" and other things that did not make sense. I understood that Ramzi is prone to escalate problems and that he was instrumental in the escalation with Paul. Greta sided with Ramzi suggesting my mind might be polluted by the exchange with Paul (I told her that there had not been any exchange for months).
I sought exchange with Ramzi, because I saw that he was one of the main players. We used to be like brothers. When I tried to talk to him about the issues mentioned above he started to become most irrational. Within five emails he turned from a close friend to someone I really despise. On the issues above (incoming emails, volunteers, newsletter) he said that he cannot hold my hand. He asserted I need everything to be done exactly the way I say it. His chorus was: how often do we have to tell you how great you are? - He did not answer my questions about work. He was in the Cyprus office, but nobody really knew what he was doing there. When I said that I found it necessary to exchange more mails to build up trust he got real mad.
I complained in the group that my requests and arguments were only taken on the emotional level and not on the information level. And again, my mail was taken on the emotional level and Ramzi said I had a massive ego problem. I did not understand what he was talking about. Derek (from the board) and Mary (Free Gaza co-founder) understood completely what I was talking about and they both told me that they made the same experiences: talking to a wall and not getting over the chaos. Unfortunately, THEY NEVER SHARED THIS WITH THE GROUP, EVEN WHEN I LEFT. Bianca and others also had similar concerns. In his mails, Ramzi insulted me as shown above, and when I showed this to Mom (Greta) she replied: "Why do you pick on Ramzi?" This finished our relationship immediately.
Soon after that, Vangelis, who was on the board, complained publically that his mails were not answered and Ramzi wrote to the Free Gaza public that Vangelis also has a big ego problem and that things would be easier if people did not have these massive ego problems. He was applauded for that in the group. Apparently, Vangelis was also excluded from the Movement, and again there was no discussion in the FG public about that. My calls for transparency were ignored.
Shortly later, Ramzi asked me to give him the list of translators I had maintained (I was able to organize translators for the newsletter and the website, one thing that worked), without telling me what for. I asked him if we start collecting volunteers now, but got no response. ("Anis, I just want this list, and no discussions"). So he started doing what I suggested to do all the time, took my information and excluded me. Then he invited me to help structure the next general meeting in Greece. Carrot and stick.
About three times I warned before I left the movement and the decision was very difficult. It was not that I was looking for excuses to leave the movement, as Ramzi suggested. When I left it was still a big surprise for the Free Gaza Movement. Greta wondered why I left and she and others came to the conclusion that I was overworked and that I would come back. The most painful thing was this ignorance: whatever you say or do, people would just not listen. I told them again that I was not coming back. They simply could not understand it. I do not know how complicated this is, but I know one thing: I lived for the Movement and was one of the ten most devoted members. Now I have hardly any FG contacts left. Why? Because of my ego problems?
Today, when I told Greta not to send me mails anymore (I was still on one of the lists, an unnamed one, apparently), she told me twice that I need medication. ("As I said, you need to be medicated.") She wrote me: "Your loss unfortunately. We are doing just fine without you. No one is indispensable Anis ... no one, including you. I wish you well. You're going to need it." Apparently, people in Free Gaza came to think that I am crazy because I left them. Therefore I write this down. Let me assure that I did not want to leave. I loved these people and it was the first time in my life I felt accepted in a group. I found a new Mom and many friends. This is what I had thought. The loss of Greta leaves a deep wound in my heart and I will probably not try to be part of a group again after this. I also lost my belief in democracy to a great extend. Apart from that I am fine. After Free Gaza I established www.nonkilling.de and painted Liverpool pictures. The new series will be out soon.