Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tel Aviv strikes me as a alot of things. Beautiful, modern, lively, pedestrian-friendly...but it struck me most as romantic. You can spend an hour walking along the beach past restaurants, gelato shops, volleyball courts, marinas, playgrounds, work-out stations, ropes courses, the inevitable memorial statue, and really amazing sand. So fine. Everyone was out and about, biking, jogging, drum circling, eliptical-ing, eating, canoodling. Yeah, there was a lot of canoodling. I walked for three hours. Every five minutes or so I'd see something new and exclaim how unfair it was that Tel Aviv was so cool. I wonder how my West Bank experience would have been different if I'd done Tel Aviv first. I wonder what my Palestinian friends would think of Tel Aviv-Yafo. It bothers me that they're not allowed to visit the Mediterranean.

Tomorrow's my last day. I'm planning on visiting the Etzel Irgun museum for the Liberation of Yafo tomorrow, then I was hoping to find something akin to a Nakba museum for a counter-narrative, but there doesn't seem to be such a thing. I wonder if someday Nakba denial will be considered abominable, or at least politically incorrect. For now I am perusing the Nakba Archive.

Other things floating around the web:

First Planned Palestinian City Being Built
The PA is using Israeli firms to help construct the city of Rawabi, provided their materials don't originate from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This pissed off the settlers something awful. Haha!

On a more somber note, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy addressed the Alternative Information Center in Beit Sahour (missed that stop, whoops), saying that he sees little hope for peace because settlers remain the strongest voice for Israel.

"When it comes to the unofficial religion of Israel, namely security…the Israeli media has betrayed its mission. Many foreigners who come here are amazed to see how little the Israelis discuss their future, how little they know what’s going on a half an hour away from their homes, how little they want to know, how little they care."
...Read More

Some guy on a bike, born and raised in Tel Aviv, struck up a conversation with me and when I mentioned I'd been in Palestine for two weeks he asked, "What is that, like Gaza?" Hard to say how much of that was cluelessness and how much was collective denial that the West Bank is Palestine. I'm thinking both.

Thirdly...Am I Allowed to be a Palestinian Jew?-a great article on the oversimplified and dangerously dichotomous views promoted in Israel about Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and other words, a much-needed mindf*%k.

Finally, a picture from the Beitin demonstration. More will follow as I get in contact with my friends from France...
My first trip to Palestine has left me discouraged, confused, and at times just seething mad, but somewhere in the last two days I found the thread in my jumble of thoughts, my take-away, my inspiration. It lies in my evolving understanding of resistance in Palestine. When I arrived, I only knew that it was justified.

Al-Aqaba (Dec.20-22)

I arrived in the village of Al-Aqaba with a feeling of utter doom. The mayor, Haj Sami had picked me up from Ramallah and I had spent the last hour looking out the window at settlements, checkpoints and refugee camps. Now, perched on a hilltop in a corner of the West Bank between two Israeli military bases, I didn't know how much inspiration this little town could bring. I really had no idea. Then I learned that the village was the first to win a case against the Israeli high court, to remove a military base from its entrance. Soldiers used to raid the village as practice before their incursions into South Lebanon, and dozens of people had been killed and injured; Haj Sami himself was shot and paralyzed from the waist down. In spite of this history, the village is hopeful for a better future. Organizations and embassies from Japan, Europe and the United States have donated money and resources to improve its infrastructure, which includes a new kindergarten, sewing cooperative, and housing for teachers. Haj Sami has a master plan for Al-Aqaba to expand, even though most of the village, being located in Area C, is slated for demolition. I asked him if he could build in secret, but he said that Israeli soldiers inspect the village periodically to look for new structures to demolish. With the financial and legal support of the international community, I believe Haj Sami and the village will realize their dream, and I myself plan to return next year to teach English.

One evening, I was walking up the hill to Al-Aqaba with Haj Sami, my brother and two boys from the village, and Haj Sami brought us up an alternative road, one that had just been paved by the Palestinian Authority. He showed us where the old military camp was and pointed out his new roads and told us about the new gift of sheep the village had received. The sun was setting on the hills above the Jordan valley, and I stopped to watch the three boys and Haj Sami as he steered his wheelchair up the road and talked about his plan for the village land. This is a beautiful place, I thought, and its resistance is beautiful.

Bethlehem and Beit Sahour (Dec 23-26)

I came to Bethlehem expecting a city of peace, a sacred place. It was a personal trip, to see the "Little Town" I'd sung about every Christmas, and a way to connect Palestine to my New Orleans, a very Christian city. The lights were shining bright in Bethlehem, but the shadow of the Occupation became darker and darker the longer I stayed. I learned that my contact, professor Mazin Qumsiyeh had been arrested nearby in al-Walaja village for showing up in opposition to its demolition. I was able to meet him a few days later and learn about the struggles faced in the Bethlehem district. Because of the settlements, highways and expanding Apartheid walls, Bethlehem has already lost 87% of its land and is in the process of being boxed in and ghettoized. Mazin showed me the village of al-Walaja, which stands in the path of the wall. Unlike two neighboring settlements, the village doesn't appear on Hebrew street signs, and what's left after the wall will be closed in on all sides. After absorbing all of this information, I couldn't enjoy the lights in Manger Square. "Albi thaqil," I told a shopkeeper, "my heart is heavy."

Again I was inspired. The following night, The Shepherd's Night program in neighboring Beit Sahour invited Christmas visitors to support the preservation of Palestinian culture. The night began with a parade of local schoolchildren playing bagpipes and drums and wielding Palestinian flags, then evolved into a candlelit procession for locals and internationals carrying banners that read "Light a Candle for Palestinian Statehood." The walk ended at Shepherd's Field with a performance by a Palestinian dance troupe that combined traditional and modern dance with themes of loss, occupation and return. For return, the dancers moved in unison with hands behind their backs. One dance portrayed a colorful harvest celebration, in days when Bethlehem still possessed its agricultural land. The program succeeded in showing the community and visiting internationals that this culture will never disappear. This culture is not one of fear or hatred. It is proudly Palestinian, and its resistance is the dance of love.

Bil'in and Beitin (Dec 26-27)

For two days I joined the company of 80 or so French activists who had traveled to Palestine to learn and to demonstrate, and I found myself on the road to protest in Bil'in and Beitin. As our bus snaked through the hills, a local guide gave us the run-down on settlement activity, noting that villagers who tend to their olive trees on the outskirts of the settlements risk being shot by soldiers. As our bus pulled in Bil'in, my heart was so heavy that I gathered up my things to leave. I just wanted to check into a hostel in Jerusalem and hide within the alleys of the Old City. I was sick of Palestine and Israel and the whole mess. But I stayed. We were going to eat Maklubeh with a local family, then plant olive trees near the wall. It sounded so nice.

And it was. The procession was beautiful, with the town of Bil'in and dozens of French activist in bright green Free Palestine vests walking down the hill, waving flags and little olive trees. We saw the wire fence that marked the path of the wall, and the Israeli soldiers watching us behind it. I didn't know what to expect, but I didn't expect them to fire tear gas canisters at the mere sight of us. It was a nauseating and exhilarating moment, when our guide gestured for us to walk to the left, up towards the fence. I saw empty canisters on the ground, and somehow had faith that everything would be alright. The next ten minutes saw us all along the fence, planting trees. The village boys were braver. They took two trees past the fence and into the path of the wall and after digging furiously, decorated them with a ring of empty canisters. Then they started. The first sound bomb was deafening. I plugged my ears and started scrambling down the hill, but stopped dead when I heard the pfft pfft of tear gas canisters.

"Look to the sky!" shouted our guide from Bil'in. I looked up. The canisters left a streak of smoke in the sky before spinning rapidly like a firecracker and thudding into the ground. I thought of the girl who lost an eye, and the guy who suffered brain damage, and I didn’t know whether to stand still and watch or continue rock scrambling with my back turned. But at that moment, I was thinking more about those words, look to the sky. The night before I had looked to the night sky in Bethlehem and thought of Robert Frost: "so when the mighty mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far, we may choose something like a star, to stay our minds on and be stayed." It was ironic, with the spinning canister.

And it was a fact of life. I stood halfway up the hill to Bil'in watching tear gas fall in front of retreating protestors. I saw an elderly French woman walk blindly out of the gas cloud coughing, as the village doctor handed her cotton swabs soaked in alcohol to inhale. I fought back naturally-induced tears, then smiled as I noticed the boys of Bil'in socializing on the hill side as if this was what they did every week. I remembered what some say about Palestinian culture…it isn't a culture if it's just a response. Bil'in's is a culture of resistance, it is beautiful, and it is made from love. Resistance is an existence.

I found the same to be true in Beitin, a community protesting the closing of their road to Ramallah. As a few of us slipped between soldiers toward the second checkpoint on the Israeli-only road, a little boy waving a Palestinian flag shouted, "Yalla al-Ramallah!" and my heart melted. What if we were actually able to walk into Ramallah? Then the soldiers went pfft pfft and we all ran back up the hill, stumbling and coughing out of plumes of gas that had landed between us and safety.

Apparently onions are also good to inhale.

So it's been a challenging trip, a heart-wrenching trip, but liberating in the end because I saw beauty in something new. I will continue to stay my mind on the people I've met here in Palestine, and work for a day when they can go to Ramallah on any road they choose.

Monday, December 27, 2010

In memory

Of the 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed in Occupation Cast Lead.

Letter from Gaza Civil Society Institutions to the International community

Mondoweiss: Childrens Pictures of the Devastating Assault on Gaza

Skip Schiel: BDS, ISM, and the Samouni Family

Israeli Activist Sentenced to 3 Months In Prison For Protesting Gaza War

Petition to Obama-U.S.Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation

Petition to Obama-Jewish Fast for Gaza
I'm pretty behind on this thing. It's not that I don't have time or internet access, I'm just reluctant to summarize everything that's happened without taking the time to express them meaningfully. But a compromise must be reached. This is getting lame.

Bethlehem was lovely, and discouraging. Tris and I attended a Lutheran Christmas service in Arabic, English and German, and I got to be part of the Palestinian Christian community, something I knew very little about. Toss aside the American thing, I've always felt that being Christian carried a privilege, so the struggle of Bethlehem's Christians really hit home for me. It doesn't matter if you're Christian, if you're an Arab in Palestine, you're in the process of being ethnically cleansed and ghetto-ized. Many of them are beating Israel to the punch and leaving for greener pastures, if they have the means. So in spite of all the Christmas cheer, it's not a city of joy or peace.

I've spent the last 24 hours with a French delegation that's protesting all around the West Bank. After having lunch with Mazin (yes, he is free!), I decided to proceed northward with them. There have been two demonstrations and I had my first run-in with tear gas. And no, I didn't do anything that warranted it.

I'll go more in depth later, I just got into Nablus again to pick up the passport I left at the hotel. Classic. Time to have some Kanafe and meet up with the French. It's really cool to hear the language of resistance in yet another language. They call the settlements colonies. And I like the way they say fascist. faSHEEST.

One more night in the West Bank then Westward toward Tel Aviv. I think I'll save the detailed stuff for New Orleans but I'll check in one more time. Stoked to see the lemon tree in Ramla.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal
Under Discriminatory Policies, Settlers Flourish, Palestinians Suffer

Human Rights Watch article

"Palestinian children in areas under Israeli control are studying by candlelight while watching the electric lights in settlers' windows," Bogert said. "Pretending that depriving Palestinian kids of access to schools or water or electricity has something to do with security is absurd."

In most cases where Israel has acknowledged differential treatment of Palestinians - such as when it bars them from "settler-only" roads - it has asserted that the measures are necessary to protect Jewish settlers and other Israelis who are subject to periodic attacks by Palestinian armed groups. But no security or other legitimate rationale can explain the vast scale of differential treatment of Palestinians, such as permit denials that effectively prohibit Palestinians from building or repairing homes, schools, roads, and water tanks, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch reiterated its recommendation that the United States, which provides US$2.75 billion in aid to Israel annually, should suspend financing to Israel in an amount equivalent to the costs of Israel's spending in support of settlements, which a 2003 study estimated at $1.4 billion. Similarly, based on numerous reports that US tax-exempt organizations provide substantial contributions to support settlements, the report urges the US to verify that such tax-exemptions are consistent with US obligations to ensure respect for international law, including prohibitions against discrimination.

Mazin released

Friday, December 24, 2010

I won't be able to meet with one of my contacts in Bethlehem. While scrolling through headlines on Mondoweiss I learned that Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh has been arrested by the Israeli military.

Here's the article from Salam News:
Israelis Arrest Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh and Others Again During Peaceful Protest
Mazin was not reachable by phone after that for two hours.

Then I reached him by phone and took down some notes from him during a short conversation.

He said that they are detained outside Bethlehem Checkpoint 300 at the time. An Israeli soldier named Almog Kahalani was very rough with them.

He beat the two young Palestinian men, causing stomach problems for one. The soldiers were very rough with Sheerin, which I could hear in the background while talking with Mazin on the phone.

Three of them had metal handcuffs, he and the rest were tied with plastic handcuffs that was very tight and causing circulation problem. A young men's handcuff was so unbearably tight but Israeli soldiers refused to loosen it.

The soldiers had just untied the plastic ones after about two hours (but kept the metal ones on the other three, Sheerin was one of them) and that's why Mazin was able to use his hand to hold his phone and speak with me.

They were asked to sign on a piece of paper (don't know what's the content but must be in Hebrew that nobody understand). But every one of them refused to sign as advised by a Palestinian lawyer who was present there.

While detained, they tried to speak to the soldiers about international law, but the soldiers were saying that, "they don't give a f--- about international law" and "you people" and they only care about obeying orders.

Mazin reasoned to them that German soldiers were also "obeying orders" during the Nazi regime. The Israeli solders responded by saying that German soldiers would have shot you by now.

Another hour later, I got another update from Mazin that they have been transferred to Atarot (I don't know where is this, but people familiar with this said it is near Ramallah.) They are waiting to appear in front of a judge. They are cold and hungry. The Israeli personnel there sprayed cold water on them, claiming it is an accident.

Mazin said via another call, that three arrested from Jenin joined them, bringing the total number to eleven at Atarot detention.

Mazin asked you all to keep Al-Walaja people and village in your prayers. We should be proud of the villager's nonviolent resistance effort.

Israeli soldiers arresting Shereen Al-Araj, a local activist

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Message 2010
By the Mayor of Bethlehem

Wondrous is this time of year, full of joy and cheer. We prepare ourselves to receive the glorious season in order to renew faith, to celebrate God's biggest gift to mankind and to launch the Christmas message from Bethlehem, the place where it all started.

The never ending honor that God bestowed upon Bethlehem is clearly demonstrated with the birth of our lord Jesus Christ and his message of eternal love, peace and justice.

We hear the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, wild and sweet, the words repeat: "Peace on earth, good will to men." However, these sounds are hindered by the closure of the town of the Nativity and the separation wall that has cut a 2000 year old relation between Bethlehem and its twin Jerusalem. Ironically the city of peace is missing this noble virtue. Countless difficulties and disasters we face along the years. Nonetheless, we strive on hope, hope for a tranquil situation where justice is fulfilled.

Giving this message, I would like to thank all pilgrims who visited our little town over the course of the past years. We call on them to keep Bethlehem in their minds and prayers and we urge all Christians all over the world to come back to where their roots are stretched, breaking those walls of separation, psychologically rather than physically.

I pray that the year 2011 would be a year of prosperity and tranquility, without any political disturbances and that peace will prevail in the Holy Land and the whole world.

Merry Christmas,
Dr. Victor Batarseh
Mayor of Bethlehem
This trip has been all about opening doors, and thus far it's been incredibly successful. Every school, organization, and person I've met has stayed with me and made me want to stay. Which means I'll be coming back next September. It's a relief, because I had some doubts over how comfortable I would be here. Here were a few deciding factors:
-All of my hosts (whether planned or spontaneous) have showed me tremendous hospitality. My comfort scale has actually oscillated on this one because I'm not allowed to lift a finger or pay for anything.
"Can | buy this?"
"Haha. No."
"Oh. Ok."
"It it yours."

-I have also eaten like a queen. A very, very fat queen. There's no praise for belonging to the Clean Plate Club here. You will get a second serving, and a third, and a fourth. I've learned to eat very slowly.

-I've gotten better at Arabic in the last week. More importantly, I've gotten better at Charades. Trying to act out "My brother has contracted a parasite" has been hard to communicate both efficiently and respectfully.

-I've been moved, negatively and positively. Riding the bus from Nablus to Bethlehem was physically painful. It was surreal, riding in a shared taxi-van blasting an Arab pop radio station that jubilantly used the word "Filisteen" between songs, while having to use Israeli highways with Hebrew signs and watch settlement construction slowly eat away at the future of Filisteen. I'm amazed that Palestinians are able to carry that emotional weight everyday.

-But I've been inspired. Everyone I've met, both local and international, has dedicated themselves to peace--through education, infrastructure and activism. The finest example is Haj Sami of al-Aqaba. I'll have to save a post for him.

Tris and I are now in Bethlehem. We'll be here for the next 2.5 days, enjoying the Christmas festivities, visiting some contacts and venturing out to Hebron or Jericho for a day trip. Bethlehem is not what I expected. I naively envisioned a "little town" in the desert, straight out of the New Testament, plus some hotels and restaurants for Christian tourists. On the upside, Bethlehem is the prettiest Palestinian city we've seen, thanks to sister city projects and support from the international community. The birthplace of Jesus is a pretty easy sell. On the downside, Christmas tourism and a potentially blind decorating committee have left Manger Square bedecked with horrendously-placed blinky lights.

These little updates to my nostalgic vision, whether good or not-so-good, have left me inspired. What do Christians in New Orleans know about Bethlehem? What do they assume about its location, people, current issues? If my world has been rocked, maybe I could rock theirs as well. I'm thinking an Epiphany presentation on January 6th....insh'allah. God willing.

Epiphany. There's a double meaning in that....
Love from the Holy Land,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Currently in a little hotel in Nablus. I wrote this entry in a mini-notebook at 2am after getting into al-Aqaba. More on that later.

December 20, 2010
I just finished reading The Lemon Tree's chapter entitled "Expulsion," which attempts to boil down th most complex 12 years of Palestine's history into 25 pages. I re-read it for three reasons:
1) I'd forgotton most of it
2) I'd visited a monument in Be'er Sheva with Israeli friends a few days prior and unsuccessfully tried to spark a discussion on the accuracy of the site's plaque, which hailed the victory of bedraggled Jewish forces against superior Arab forces. I didn't bring up the motives for that narrative (it was awkward enough), but I tried to explain that the Arab side was also fractured. In other words, it wasn't the Goliath it has been made out to be. I tested the water a lot in Be'er Sheva, but I found it's pretty useless to muddy it unless you know how far you're going. But the experience left me determined to know more.
3) I just arrived in al-Aqaba, in the Northeast corner of the West Bank, and the drive from Ramallah, I'll never forget was horrifying. You can say what you want about corruption and terrorism in the Arab world, but I've seen no finer examples than those of the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion. I felt the first twinge of anxiety when we passed from Area A to Area C and the signs reverted back to Hebrew. Wait, aren't we still in Palestine? Then Haj Sami pointed out an Israeli settlement. Ah, ok. There they are. Then a bigger one, and a bigger one, all perched on hilltops. Then he gestured to the left, where we saw a checkpoint with Israeli flags flying, and young soldiers waving cars up a long, winding street that disappeared over a hill. Welcome home, to your hidden suburb. Welcome home to the New Israel.
Further down the road was a sign that read "Samaritan University" and "Ariel," the settlement so big its cultural center has become the subject of a world-wide cultural boycott. Tris turned to me and asked, "nervous?" I'd been chewing on my straw, apparently very audibly. As it got darker we passed a refugee camp, which looked like concrete projects with a major trash problem and a lot of really listless people walking around. At the edge of the camp there was a stone monument written in Arabic topped with the number 194.
Every Palestinian village in Area C looked neglected and forlorn, places I can't imagine anyone wanting to live. And you wouldn't either, if you were forbidden by occupation forces to build on your own land, your commute involved an unpredictable and discriminatory checkpoint wait (while settlers drive by in their own lanes), and your water supply was limited by the sprinklers and swimming pools of a nearby settlement that you can't even see. I can imagine why someone in Area C would leave, maybe for Jordan, or the Gulf, or the States. Then I remember that the settlements are expanding, and many West Bankers who leave are denied re-entry. Then I remember it's not a coincidence, the flag, the signs, the 20-year-old girl with the gun, the lights on the hilltop, the blatant discrimination, the mass humiliation. Then I can imagine why someone would want to live in a forlorn village in Area C.
"This is why I wait the long lines at airport security in Tel Aviv. This is why I put up with all of it," said a Palestinian American student at the General Assemby protest last month. "They're not going to scare me away."
4) The Lemon Tree was the only book I brought.

We've had a wonderful evening in al-Aqaba. Haj Sami, the mayor, has welcomed me and Tristan as guests of honor, and we'll be visiting the new kindergarten and secondary school in the morning. The village is perched on its own hilltop so I should wake up to an amazing view tomorow, though I'm a little apprehensive about what I might see.

The chapter leaves off with a scene from Ramallah in 1948: "Now tens of thousands of refugees milled about, stunned and humiliated, looking for food and determined to return home."

Sixty two and a half years later I traveled an hour northeast of Ramallah and saw settlements, training camps and Israeli checkpoints in Palestine. And a refugee camp that still asks for UN Resolution 194, the right to return.

So, here I am, in the corner of Palestine, on top of a hill. I usually like the feeling of putting a book down and living in another world while I fall asleep. It's just odd knowing that I'm not going to wake up from this one.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Josh Ruebner-House Vote Against Palestinian Statehood Actually Showed That Israel Lobby Is Losing Its Grip

From the Mondoweiss article:
Most Congressional offices did not even see the text of the resolution until a few hours prior to the vote. Many Congressional offices were reportedly infuriated that such an important foreign policy declaration was being treated in such an inconsiderate manner.

The ability of the Israel lobby to pass a resolution before the text of it is even officially made public undoubtedly reflects its still-considerable power. However, the way in which the resolution was debated and voted upon demonstrates that all is not well in the fairy tale world of Israel’s supporters on Capitol Hill.

Berman, who managed the debate on the House floor for the Democrats, appeared flustered and befuddled as he looked repeatedly and anxiously around the chamber for Representatives to appear magically to speak on behalf of the resolution. In the end, Berman mustered only himself and three other Jewish Representatives—Gary Ackerman, Eliot Engel, and Shelley Berkley—to offer full-throated support for the resolution.

The racism and paternalism of these Representatives’ statements make clear why so few of their colleagues wanted to associate themselves with this resolution. Berman patently knows what is best for Palestinians: “The Palestinian people don’t want a bunch of declarations of statehood.”

I suggest....we put it to a vote in a few years time, when "Palestine" is chopped up into 100 pieces by the illegal settlements that your constituents are paying for!

I took some liberties with the last bit. Thanks California, for electing such a huge twat.
I need to start recognizing the words "Log In" in Hebrew. I'm wasting a lot of minutes.

Right now I'm at the Citadel Youth Hostel in Jerusalem. I almost stayed here in March 08 (on the roof no less) but our group decided to crash at Hebrew University instead. This hostel is awesome. It's a cavernous labyrinth of stairs and kitchens and dorm rooms, with two rooftop areas that overlook the whole city. I need to take a video of the journey upstairs, as well as one of the Old City. I'd love to live in the Old City for the same reason I'd love to live in the French Quarter. The houses are embedded within the city, with courtyards and balconies and tiny staircases....and they're in the middle of everything.

I'll update more tomorrow. On to Ramallah.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tris and I were going to sleep at the Center of Light last night, but another couple, Roay and Adra, offered us a room at their place. Everyone has been so generous.

Yesterday we had lunch with Achi (Achechod, I'd spell it, but I had a little trouble with the pronunication) who volunteers at the Center of Light and is really into vegan and raw foods. We made a huge salad and a mixture of buckwheat, sweet potato, honey, cinammon and coconut. Definitely a feel-good meal. Most interesting part was when I used Achi's phone to call my contacts on the West Bank, and the mayor of al-Aqaba called Achi to reach me. Afterwards when I explained why I was a little anxious about using his phone, Achi looked at his call log and exclaimed, "I got a call from a Palestinian prefix! That's the first time!"

That's the third number to add to my list.
194-Resolution for Right of Return after 1948
242-Resolution for withdrawal of territories occupied in 1967
059-Palestinian area code, or "prefix"

Last night was my first Shabbat celebration. This place, the Markaz al-Hour, does an alternative Shabbat, with candles, singing and a LOT of food. Everyone wore white. The songs were beautiful (Tris and I sang with an English cheat sheet), the food was incredible, and everyone was warm and welcoming. I loved watching this little (almost) 3-year-old girl who knew the words to all the songs and gossipped with the adults like she was 20-something. Her language and personality are so well developed! Tris says it's because she's so nurtured by the community at the Center of Light. Her dad calls her the queen of the Markaz. Her dad also looks like Paul Newman.

I can tell Tris has really been touched by the community too. Almost everyone there came up to me and asked, "You're Tristan's sister? Shabbat Shalom!"

After dinner we had a big jam session with guitars and drums and I taught them Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot.

We're headed north to Jerusalem soon. I'm so glad to have spent the first two days in Israel with Tristan's friends, this trip would've been incomplete if I had only met with Palestinians.
Until next time, Shabbat Shalom from Be'er Sheva,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 1

What I've learned of Hebrew thus far:

Ani lo midaber ivrit
I don't speak Hebrew

Ata midaber anglit?
Do you speak English?

I've had a tough time navigating Israel with only English. After getting off the airport train to Tel Aviv, I gave up asking people for directions and just wandered around and got lost before calling a cab to the bus station, which is on the 6th floor of a really interesting shopping mall. The words that came to mind were "post-apocolyptic." This might've had to do with my uninformed image of Tel Aviv as a pristine city, but seriously, it was nighttime and I was between the train and bus station.

Thankfully, my friends from the plane helped me deposit my shekles into a pay phone and call my brother's friends, who talked me over to Be'er Sheva. Three hours, three forms of transportation and many shekles later, I met up with Tristan and now we're at the house of Amir and Yasmine. Amir is a musician; he has a room full of guitars and intruments that are like guitars that have names I can't remember. He played some of his flamenco-inspired tunes for us and damn...he is good. Yasmina is an art history student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and she paints...also very well. We hung out, talked, played guitar, watched Babylon A.D. (haha) and now it's 2:30am or so. Tomorrow is Shabbat so things close early, but there's a big bonfire/music/food celebration that these cats (so Tris calls them) attend, so that will be awesome. Saturday night we make our way to Jerusalem, Ramallah, then to al-Aqaba. Provided I can acquire a cell phone and get in touch with everyone in my little notebook. I have a jillion things jotted down already. Like

Everyone is surprised that I want to go to the West Bank.

Great roads, great trains, great buses. Very Western feel.

From the birds-eye view of lit-up soccer stadiums to the fridge magnets in Amir and Yasmine's house, everything tells me that lives are established here. It's a young country, but it's anchored. The first thought I had coming out of the airport was, what would this place look like now under Arab rule? Would they have put all this together? Is this the ideal? Is there any use wondering, because we'll never know? I wonder because I used my extended layover in Atlanta to finish The Lemon Tree. Dalia started an interfaith school with the house built by Bashir's father, and Bashir remained in Ramallah at 60-something, still unable to return to Ramla. He still wished for the right of return for all Palestinians under UN Resolution 194. So I wonder what he yearns for, among the now-established soccer stadiums and refrigerator magnets scrawled in Hebrew. I note this anchored-ness everywhere, like I'm carrying Bashir's thoughts with me. My thoughts feel intrusive, un-welcome. I'm starting to understand the Palestinian sacrifice. Thoughts and feelings have to be sorted into productive and unproductive, legitimate and illegitimate. I feel that in the end, the only question I have the power to ask is, what knowledge and what skills do I posess that can bring peace?

I feel so defeated, having to throw my questions out like that.

Every sign of anchored-ness is a sign of victory, but there's a lot of fear here, fear that victory didn't bring freedom. Israel will never be free while Palestine suffers, because it will always be afraid.

Dalia says at the end of The Lemon Tree, "Our enemy is the only partner we have."

The highway signs pointing to Jerusalem gave a transliteration of Jerusalem in Arabic under the Hebrew, with "Al-Quds" in parentheses. Erasing Palestinian claims to the city by parenthesising their name for it....I heard this on NPR last year.

And now I'm here. Finally.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I'm about to head to school to teach my last class of the year. Til then, I'm jotting contacts down in my little book. Everyone I've e-mailed has been so welcoming.

Also on the list:

George Rishmawi and the Siraj Center in Beit Sahour

Mazin Qumsiyah

Samar Sahhar from the Lazarus Home for Girls in Bethany

The Palestinian Children's Relief Fund

The Latin school in Taibe

I'll be spending the first two nights in Be'er Sheva with my brother. From there, it's on to Ramallah, Al-Aqaba, Nablus and Jenin. Then Christmas in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Here goes!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm leaving in two days. This is so trippy.

I just taxied my way to Kenner to see George Galloway speak at a gathering for the Muslim Legal Fund of America. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this event, but I was blown away. George couldn't even be there. He was denied entry in the United States, and we don't know if that was a fluke, or if the United States followed Canada in banning him from the country. It seems the Canadian government took issue with his humanitarian work in Gaza, alleging he had given financial and material support to Hamas. That seemed to be the theme of the evening, the tragic implications of that blurry line in Palestine between providing aid and funding terrorism.

I was most impressed by the daughter of Shukri Abu Baker, the President of the Holy Land Foundation. Her father was sentenced to 65 years in prison, after George W. announced that the HLF was at its core a direct supporter of Hamas. Eventually the Foundation was closed on charges of conspiracy to fund Hamas. Hundreds of other organizations, including CAIR and ISNA were labeled as "unindicted co-conspirators," and are still smeared by that label today. Abu Baker's daughter went up and recounted her father's arrest and trial. The FBI stormed their house and rounded up wife and daughters, whom another speaker described as Muslim women in nightgowns with their head scarves not properly on...and handcuffed Abu Baker against a wall. Her account of hearing the prosecution, hearing the verdict, visiting him in a maximum security prison, was just heartbreaking. And moreso now that I've spent some time surfing the internet on the Holy Land Foundation and for some reason, Bush's allegations are still quoted as fact.

If there's one thing we took away from the evening, it's that the MLF is doing incredible work, and injustice only makes the fight for justice stronger. Mr. Galloway was able to join us via Skype and reaffirm his committment to Palestinian equal rights, and everyone in the room was strengthened by the courage of the HLF 5, who are sleeping in prison cells because they raised millions of dollars to feed starving children in Gaza.

Non-Muslims were in the minority, and I was most certainly the blondest person there. I think about that a fair bit. That maybe I was passed the megaphone because I represent a target audience. I use it all the time, I actually get a kick out of it. But tonight I started dwelling on Rachel Corrie, another 23-year-old blonde American from Washington. I always feel like my profile is unique, then I'm reminded of her.

I need to start packing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hands Off Iberville

I got this e-mail today...

Dear Iberville Supporters,

The campaign grows to demand the Obama administration not approve a grant to demolish New Orleans Iberville Public Housing development.

Enclosed is the flier for the Saturday, December 18 press conference, march and rally to defend Iberville and demand a new massive direct government employment public words program to address the jobs, housing, health care and general social crisis confronting New Orleans’ and the US working class.

No Demolition!
Hands Off Iberville!

David Gilmore, the federally-imposed-administrator of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, want to make life even more miserable for working class New Orleanians by demolishing the Iberville Public Housing development. To add insult to injury they have given the contract to greedy developer Pres Kabacoff, who drove hundreds of poor families from St. Thomas and still, a decade later, has not built the 100 off site apartment he promised. But, to carry out their crime, HANO, Landrieu, and Kabacoff need a multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Housing Urban Development. Join us Saturday, December 18 as we demand:
· No to a HUD Choice Neighborhood grant to demolish Iberville
· Yes to a massive public works program to rebuild Public Housing, Schools, Hospitals and Infrastructure

Press Conference, Rally and March
Saturday, December 18
12 Noon
Meet on neutral ground, corner of St Louis and Basin St.

Sponsor: Hands Off Iberville. For more information call 504-520-9521

The trip

My itinerary is starting to take shape!

15th-leave New Orleans
16th-arrive in Tel Aviv, explore the city
17th-meet up with brother, travel to Haifa, climb Mt. Carmel, explore
18th-Jerusalem-visit schools, organizations, shop at the shouk, hopefully get onto the Temple Mount, explore
19th-Cross border to Ramallah, meet my friend's son and learn about his work as a contractor for international building efforts in the West Bank
20th-(tentative) meet with leader of Al-Aqaba, drive to Area C
21st-Al-Aqaba-see the new kindergarten, co-op, teacher housing facility, learn about building projects

22nd-return to Ramallah
24th-Bethlehem, Jerusalem
30th-Tel Aviv, depart 11pm
31st-arrive in New Orleans 9:20am. Take a nap.

In those empty spaces I'll be visiting Nablus, Jenin, Jericho, Hebron, Beit Sahour, Bethany, to learn about schools, NGO's, grassroots movements, protests, settlements, etc. A few stops will be:

Tomorrow's Youth Organization, Nablus
Project Hope, Nablus
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land
Dar al Kalima College, Bethlehem
The Freedom Theatre, Jenin
The Friends School, Ramallah
Birzeit University, Birzeit
All Nations Cafe, Ein Heniya

Monday, December 6, 2010

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe gave a talk in Stuttgart, Germany last week. He asserts that while Israeli pro-peace leaders are doing valuable work in challenging the occupation and recognizing the Nakba and using words like "ethnic cleansing" and "apartheid," they aren't doing enough because they often stop short of challenging Zionism as an ideology. This mindset, says Pappe, which has changed little since 1882, is all about ending up with as much of Palestine as possible, with as few Arabs as possible. In short, Zionism is antithetical to peace because it is inherently racist.

If you agree, if you disagree, if you don't even know where to begin, check out Professor Pappe's lecture. I like his style. He's good at bringing out the absurdity of it all. Like, it would be funny....if it weren't so horrendous...?

"Once you liberate yourself from a ideology that was sacred in your eyes, and made you do things that you regret, once you are on the other side of the mirror, you feel.…you almost feel fortunate to be able to experience such a journey."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brazil Recognizes Palestine

Israel has expressed disappointment at Brazil's decision to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, saying it flew in the face of efforts to negotiate a peace deal.

In a public letter addressed to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Friday, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, recognised Palestine as an independent state within the 1967 borders.

The decision came in response to a personal request made by Abbas on November 24, according to the letter published on the foreign ministry's website on Friday.

"Considering that the demand presented by his excellency [Abbas] is just and consistent with the principles upheld by Brazil with regard to the Palestinian issue, Brazil, through this letter, recognises a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders," it said.

The letter refers to the "legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for a secure, united, democratic and economically viable state coexisting peacefully with Israel."

Israel anger

Israel has expressed disappointment at Brazil's decision to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, saying it flew in the face of efforts to negotiate a peace deal.

In a public letter addressed to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Friday, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, recognised Palestine as an independent state within the 1967 borders.

The decision came in response to a personal request made by Abbas on November 24, according to the letter published on the foreign ministry's website on Friday.

"Considering that the demand presented by his excellency [Abbas] is just and consistent with the principles upheld by Brazil with regard to the Palestinian issue, Brazil, through this letter, recognises a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders," it said.

The letter refers to the "legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for a secure, united, democratic and economically viable state coexisting peacefully with Israel."

Al Jazeera Article

Addition: From JTA article:

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the incoming chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed her objections, as did Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the outgoing chairman of the Latin America subcommittee.

“Brazil’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state is regrettable and will only serve to undermine peace and security in the Middle East," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Engel blamed the decision on the leftward tilt of Brazil's outgoing government.

"Brazil's decision to recognize Palestine is severely misguided and represents a last gasp by a Lula-led foreign policy which was already substantially off track," Engel said in a statement. "One can only hope that the new leadership coming into Brazil will change course and understand that this is not the way to gain favor as an emerging power or to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gaza City, Skip Schiel

When I was in Jordan I bought a lot of pirated DVD's. After dinner I would avoid the awkwardness of trying to converse with my host family by jumping in bed with Across the Universe or No Country For Old Men or whatever had looked appealing at one of the myriad movie stores downtown. This was a pretty lame trend, as my Arabic will reflect, but moving day I saw a movie called Imagining Argentina. It starred Antonio Banderas and my favorite actress, Emma Thompson. So I bought it for a dinar. Emma's Argentine accent wasn't the greatest, but I got it because it was about the dirty war in Argentina. Backtrack: When I was in Buenos Aires I went to see the "Madres de los Desaparecidos," the Mothers of the Disappeared who still march with photographs in La Plaza de Mayo every week. They're still looking for news of their children who were among the roughly 30,000 people who were "disappeared" by the government between 1976 and 1984. I researched the war out of morbid curiosity and found out that to this day the witnesses in these disappearance trials are disappearing themselves. So it was an interesting movie, but the only reason I'm grateful for having purchased it is the song at the end. It was a Portugese song, translated into Spanish by Mercedes Sosa, and covered by Antonio himself. It was gorgeous. I downloaded a fuzzy version off some obscure website and it took a few years of unproductive appreciation to sit down and translate it.

Maria, María
Es un don, es el sueño, el dolor
Y una fuerza que nos alerta
Una mujer que merece
Vivir y amar como otra mujer del planeta

Maria, María
Es el sol, es color, es sudor
Y una lagrima que corre lenta
De una gente que ríe
Cuando debe llorar
Y no vive, apenas aguanta.

Pero hace falta la fuerza
Hace falta la raza
Hacen falta las ganas, siempre
Dentro del cuerpo y las marcas
Maria, María
Confunde dolor y alegría.

Pero hace falta la maña
Hace falta la gracia
Hacen falta los sueños, siempre
Dentro la piel y esas marcas
Posee la extraña manía
De creer en la vida


Maria, Maria,
She's a gift, she's the dream, the pain
A force that speaks to us
A woman who deserves to live and love
Just like any other

Maria, Maria,
She's the sun, she is heat, she is sweat,
And a tear that runs...slowly
Down a people who laugh when they should cry
And they don't live
They barely endure

But we are lacking in strength
Missing our people
Missing our dreams, always
Under the scars of the body,
Maria, Maria
Confuses her joy with her pain.

When our desires have gone,
With all our grace,
With all our ways of giving,
Under the scars of the body,
You carry the notion inside you,
That life is worth living.

This is what I think of when I read journal entries from delegations to Palestine. Everyone seems taken aback by the peacefulness of the people they meet, and how the most horrendous of circumstances can be explained with no trace of anger or hatred. It's a shame this side of Palestine isn't considered news-worthy, but it shows a vitality that I think would resonate with a lot of New Orleanians. As well as news of all the constructive responses taking place, since all we seem to hear about are the destructive ones.

The last bit is literally,
Under the skin and these scars,
You possess the strange notion
To believe in life.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Finally, a travel blog.

The flight is booked. I leave New Orleans for Tel Aviv on the 15th, get back on the 31st.


A message from Americans for Peace Now

Peace is a Jewish Value
by Rabbi Michael Melchior
Former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and 10-year Knesset Member

On one of my visits on Capitol Hill, I was invited to a debate with US legislators regarding the future of the Middle East. After having presented my case, one of the senators expressed his utter surprise that somebody who is an Orthodox rabbi, a staunch Zionist, and one who even looks like I look, could express views which he had always been told were a betrayal of "Judaism."

The truth is I should not have been shocked by his reaction. Over the past 40 years, the Torah, Judaism, Zionism, and at times even God Himself have been hijacked both in Israel and around the world, both by friends and foes, by religious Jews and evangelical Christians. They have been hijacked by an extreme messianic ideology, in order to advance a specific political agenda, which, if successful, I fear will mark the end of the Zionist dream and the Jewish State. My deep disagreement with these people is not about Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), the love of the land and the concern for its future (although I do not always understand why this love only concerns borders and not the environment inside these borders, or the dignity of the human beings living in this environment). Like them, I have a deep affiliation with, and affection for, all parts of the land. And like them, part of me will feel grief and sorrow the day we will have to give up Judea and Samaria.

My fundamental disagreement with them is about their interpretation of "Judaism." Judaism, like all religions, embodies a very delicate balance between the particular and the universal. When being faithful to this balance, we can contribute to a better world. But when distorting this balance, we will contribute to endangering the future and the hopes of humankind.

I believe that those who have created priorities where love of the land supersedes love of man and of peace are distorting the Torah. I believe that those who censor the Torah of such concepts as the natural morality of man, as the belief that God has created every human being in His image, and as the basic human right to respect and dignity which stems from this belief, are desecrating the Holy name of God. I believe in a Judaism which is great, broad, and inclusive. I am committed to the ruling of our great teacher the Rambam (Maimonides) who states, when it comes down to a conflict of priorities where saving human life is at stake, "and you shall observe my laws and my statutes, which when a man performs, he shall live by them (Leviticus 18, 4) - live and not die by them, because the statutes of the Torah are not vengeance in the world but mercy, loving kindness and peace." This is not an abstract principle meant for festive speeches at inter-religious gatherings but a binding legal and moral guideline, which has dominated Jewish thinking since we received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

I have often challenged my rabbinical colleagues to show me one single source from the "Jewish Bookshelf," the Bible, the Talmud, the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch, or the immense traditional rabbinical literature, which rules that you cannot give up land in order to obtain peace. They have never been able to do so.

On the contrary, the Bible tells us that the builder of the first temple, King Solomon himself, gave up 20 cities in northern Israel to King Chiram of Zor. He did this as an act of appreciation for the cedar trees that Chiram contributed to the Temple. During the building of the second temple the immigrants from Babylon in the period of the great leaders Ezra and Nehemiah decided not to include many cities in the new sovereignty of the land. This was done so that the holiness of this sovereignty would not create an obstacle in facilitating charity extended to the needy receiving social gifts of crops in the sabbatical year. We see that the possession of the land was put aside not only to save lives but even for legitimate socioeconomic considerations. And there were no "orange" demonstrations against this "betrayal" of the land.

The prophets of Israel did not rally much support in their day, but still today inspire and enrich humankind, Jew and non-Jew alike. They knew how to stand up and talk truth to power and to kings. And what did they talk about? Did they talk about the borders of the land? Or did they talk about justice and compassion? They were very clear about Jewish priorities.

The right of the Jewish people to self determination in its ancient homeland, to live with recognized, secure borders, is one of the most just and moral causes in our time. However, to occupy and control the lives of millions of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria, and to negate their right to create their own state and future in peace, side by side with the State of Israel, is not just, is not moral, and is not Judaism. There can be a legitimate disagreement about how peace is to be obtained and who is to be blamed for having missed opportunities in the past for reaching this peace. However, these disagreements have nothing to do with "Judaism" or the betrayal of "Judaism." Those on both sides of the debate, who are turning the conflict into an existential conflict of religion and theology, are doing so because they know that in doing this, they can prevent necessary compromise, or any solution at all for that matter. Because who is going to be willing to compromise on the totality of God?

We have reached a tragic situation where the dream of the great messianic peace has become the main threat to pragmatic and necessary agreements, which at least have the potential of providing a measure of peace and a future, which both sides deserve and which can certainly save many precious human lives.

I believe that if religion has a redeeming force for humankind, then religious teachers and leaders must be on the frontlines of the struggle to transform our conflicts and to work together for the greater good of our communities. The good news is that there actually are a growing number of impressive and courageous people, including Jewish, Christian, and Moslem leaders, who believe likewise - although their voices may still not be heard as loudly or as distinctly as the voices of the totalitarian extremists. These are leaders who, like me, will feel a profound measure of grief at having to give up and compromise on land that they believe is theirs. And yet this grief will be overridden by the joy of hope: The hope of building a future together, dominated not by fear and hatred but by optimism and commitment to the peace of Jerusalem.

All Jewish prayers ends with the beautiful prayer to God, that He who makes peace in His heavens, may assist us in making peace on earth. When we express this prayer, we withdraw three steps, symbolically saying to the Almighty that we cannot expect Him to intervene on our behalf if we are not willing to withdraw and leave room for the "other." Yes, this might be a naïve and romantic message but I know no better alternative than an uncompromising commitment to making this prayer our reality.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've gotten a lot of e-mails this week, two of them inspired by the recent WikiLeaks....leaks...

Email from CODEPINK:

Dear Jessica,
The recently released Wikileaks diplomatic cables reveal that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu posited the Goldstone Report and a nuclear Iran as the main existential threats to his country, but that the real existential threat to Israel is its own policies.
On November 8, when I stood up in New Orleans at a large gathering of Jewish leaders to tell Netanyahu that illegal West Bank settlements betray Jewish values, I could not have predicted that these words would not only reverberate through the room, but would also shatter the "Israel barrier," the culture of silencing dissent towards Israel’s flagrant violations of international law that is so pervasive in my community. Supported by our allies at Jewish Voice for Peace, the five of us who disrupted Netanyahu's speech gave a name to the real cause of Israel’s delegitimization: Israeli policies such as the occupation, the siege of Gaza, the Loyalty Oath, and the silencing of dissent. The immediate response in the room was violent—I was actually put in a chokehold and pushed to the ground. But it was too late to silence us, and our message was soon circling the globe. The response to our actions was overwhelmingly positive.
Our young, Jewish, and proud voices join the chorus rising from the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and around the world clamoring for justice.

Tonight Jews begin the ritual lighting of the Chanukah candles. We light eight candles to celebrate the miracle of fuel that lasted beyond all expectations, and a victory in the face of impossible odds. Today, we'd like to invite you to join us in illuminating a path forward towards true equality for all in Israel and Palestine by taking part in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
Season’s greetings to you and yours and onwards for a brighter future in the Middle East,
Rae Abileah

The second e-mail was from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, linking an article from HuffPo:
...Cantor [House Majority Leader] would do well to read some of the 19 cables released so far by WikiLeaks from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, which shed important light on behind-the-scene tensions between Israel's quest for complete military dominance and U.S. attempts to militarize the Middle East, as evidenced by Gilad's admission. These documents display an incomplete, yet consistent, pattern of the United States saturating its allies with weapons while deflecting Israeli pressure not to do so....

As President Jimmy Carter once said, "We cannot be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of the weapons of war."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Middle East Film Fest!!!

Suheir Hammad rapping her poem "Of Refuge and Language," on dislocation from Palestine to New Orleans.

I went to two screenings this week. The first was a "Palestinian Lord of the Flies" (honestly, I was on the fence) called Secret World, where Ramallah children wake up one morning to find all the adults have disappeared. So they run around their school (an Evangelical school in Ramallah) and make their own little societies. The occupation isn't a major topic, but one girl wanders over to Jerusalem and back along the apartheid wall....I wouldn't call it an uplifting film, but it was fun for me to watch because the kids were around the ages of the kids I teach; I really have a soft spot for middle schoolers now. It was fun to imagine how they would all get along, and what they would find in common.

The second screening was footage from a Suheir Hammad poetry reading and interview. Audience member: how do you reach diverse audiences?
Suheir: When you can talk to a grandmother, and talk to a grandchild, and know that they understand your message, you're on the right track...

When she performs for incarcerated youths she encorporates modern hip hop into her routine. I've been thinking the same thought today, after our history teacher asked the class what a "boo purse" was. Everyone erupted, because they knew that Lil Wayne raps about hiding a gun in his "boo purse," his girlfriend's purse. I need to do a little homework and start turning on the radio, if anything to understand why they have trouble with the possessive.

This common ground thing also applies to the Palestine project. New Orleans is so diverse, my own community so diverse, that I can't approach this issue in the same way when I talk to my church, my school, my co-workers, my co-volunteers, my Kappa sisters, my relatives, fellow activists...I'd say the most enjoyable would be strangers on the streetcar or at a's so easy to pretend that the Pro-Palestine movement is mainstream and see how they react. One time the groom at a bachelor party argued with me over Israel's security needs for an hour then confessed to having played the "devil's advocate," he actually thought it was all bullshit. It was exhausting, but I appreciated the practice.

Anyways, I made a great contact at the second screening, a rep from LifeSource, which works for Palestinian water rights in Ramallah. Hoping to pay a visit while I'm over there....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I only started that last post because I heard a call from outside and immediately thought, "Oh yeah, it's the call to prayer," as if I was in Jordan. Turns out it was Mr. Okra.

I have caaaantaloupe....
I have cooollard greens....
I'm working with my 5th graders on Cause and Effect.

Cause: I'm getting sick.

Effect: I've quarantined myself in my room with a glass of water, a glass of juice, a mug of herbal tea, Season Two of the West Wing, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, and an internet full of history on The Temple Mount, The Western Wall, The Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa Mosque. I thought it a reasonable goal to understand the significance of these places when I see them next month, but holy monuments, Batman. There's really no way to understand Jerusalem unless you start at the beginning. I read today that a Palestinian Authority spokesman said that Jews have no historical connection to the Western Wall, and there are websites devoted to proposed re-builds of the Second Temple, one of which would sit on top of the Dome of the Rock. And they say the peace process couldn't be set back any further....

I tutor a 9th grader who goes to Jesuit High School, and we've been studying Exodus and Deuteronomy for his Sacred Scriptures class. We left off where the Lord told Moses to climb Mt. Nebo and look at the land beyond that Jordan River that had been promised to the people of Israel. He would never cross the river because he had disobeyed the Lord, so he died on Mt. Nebo. I think it's mostly laziness that has kept me from studying the Biblical origins of the P/I conflict (I figured the last century was complicated enough) but the Old Testament found me anyway. As I read the chapters of Deuteronomy aloud, I kept thinking, "I'm going to Jericho" or "I'm going to cross the River Jordan." I've never read the the Bible from start to finish, but I do have three weeks and a very long plane ride....

To continue this Biblical investment, I just spent the last hour reading about plans to build a Third Temple on the Temple Mount, which is off-limits to non-Mulim worship. Several Christan and Jewish groups are devoted to this goal. According to the Torah, in order to re-gain the purity required to pray at the Mount, Jews need to bathe in the ashes of a red heifer, and not just any red heifer. A perfectly red, unworked, 3-year-old, Israel-born heifer. Sightings have been few and far between, but there's a minister from Mississippi who recently shipped a red heifer to Israel, and if this heifer breeds a calf that is accepted as pure (the last candidate was disqualified in 2002), then it will set the prophetic wheels in motion for the coming of the Messiah, who is supposed to sacrifice the "Tenth Heifer." First the new Temple would have to be built, and there are problems there, as some believe the Old Temple existed where the Islamic Dome of the Rock now stands.

And I thought reading the Old Testament was going to be boring...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The chicken or the egg debate

What came first, Hamas extremism or the Gaza blockade, and which should be the first to go?

The following is a HuffPo article on women's rights in Gaza, and the inevitable (and far more interesting) raging comment debate. One of the main arguments is whether religious extremism in Gaza is fueled by Israel's siege of the strip...or is it inherent to the people of Gaza like it is to the people of Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan?

My question is, was that commenter traumatized in some fashion or is their racism...inherent?


Check it out:
Gaza's Blockade Silences Voice of Women
For a few classes a week I serve as an inclusion teacher for 7th grade history. Two lessons have really stuck with me, and for lack of the time and energy it would take to buffer this connection, I'll just admit to having a one-track mind.

Lesson One: The American Revolution

"Give me liberty or give me death"-Patrick Henry

Why did this remind me of Palestine? I remember biking over the Jeff Davis bridge after school the day we did that lesson, and suddenly thinking about the Cult of Death, or rather the Paletsinian obsession with dying and killing. It's a popular substitute for meaningful dialogue on terrorism. David Brooks, an NYTimes columnist, wrote an article on it in 2004:

This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood.

But that's the idea. Because the death cult is not really about the cause it purports to serve. It's about the sheer pleasure of killing and dying.

It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's about the joy of sadism and suicide.
Read the rest, it's very uplifting.

Why does our own freedom fight go in the "good box" and Palestine's in the bad? Mr. Brooks waxes sociological without context, the oxymoron.

Give me liberty or give me death. What was the American Revolution but a "shaking off" of the British occupation, an intifada?

Interesting post on this subject-Aaron's Israel Peace Blog

Second Lesson: Presidents and Precedents

The following is a quote from George Washington's Farewell Address, regarding the dangers of foreign attachments:

The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

...a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

Of the countless reasons George might be doing backflips in his grave, one in particular stands out: our relationship with Israel. I'd like to think my senators and representatives can speak their minds on the billions of U.S. tax dollars that fund Israel's illegal occupation. I'd like to think they could voice their concerns, or choose not to support it...and keep their jobs. That's what I would hope for my democratically elected officials.

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, assert that while the nature of a lobby is to exert political pressure, there is something especially disturbing about this "special relationship."

"No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical." They argue that "in its basic operations, it is no different from interest groups like the Farm Lobby, steel and textile workers, and other ethnic lobbies. What sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness." According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the "loose coalition" that makes up the Lobby has "significant leverage over the Executive branch", as well as the ability to make sure that the "Lobby's perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media." They claim that AIPAC in particular has a "stranglehold on the U.S. Congress", due to its "ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it."

Another reason I am inspired by 7th grade history. And depressed by it.

Read more about the Israel Lobby in the London Review of Books, the most circulated literary/political magazine in Europe. It is a fortnightly publication.

(I like to use the word 'fortnight.')

Jerusalem Post on the London Review of Book's "virulently anti-Israel" stance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn...

"How are you this morning?"
"Ahhhh two-day week! Just gettin through it!"

That has been my response today...but it's not very indicative of how I'm feeling. I'm so thankful this week. Not just for three days off, but for everything I've learned on my days on. Yes, cue the cheese. I had my seventh graders start class by writing down what they're thankful for, and I started scrawling on my page and by the end it wasn't very legible, but the blessings kept coming and even though my Juniors were the typical Monday-rowdy and someone used the word "fag" and I ended up a little irked, I'm thankful for every student here. They make history for 9.5 hours a day.

Things I'm thankful for:
The opportunity to teach my own classes
The relationships I'm building at school
My new-found organization skills (still a work in progress)
My house and two wonderful housemates
My neighbors who will pick me up from the store when I've bought too much to fit on my handlebars
A city full of very. different. friends.
My family

Here's the latest post from the NOLAPS blog...

Pictures from the Nov 7 Protest
This weekend we had a boil water advisory. It was inconvinient, it was annoying, but it had everyone joking about this song, which I think deserves a post for New Orleans and Palestine.

Dave Matthews-Don't Drink the Water

Come out, come out, no use in hiding.
Come now, come now, can you not see?
There's no place here, what were you expecting?
No room for both, just room for me.

So you will lay your arms down,
Yes, I will call this home.

Away, away, you have been banished.
Your land is gone, and given to me.

And here I will spread my wings.
Yes, I will call this home.

What's this you say, you feel a right to remain?
Then stay and I will bury you.

What's that you say, your father's spirit still lives in this place?
Well, I will silence you.

Here's the hitch, your horse is leaving.
Don't miss your boat, it's leaving now.

And as you go I will spread my wings.
Yes, I will call this home.
I have no time to justify to you,
Fool, you're blind, move aside for me.

All I can say to you my new neighbor,
You must move on or I will bury you.

Now as I rest my feet by this fire
Those hands once warmed here, but I have retired them.
I can breathe my own air and I can sleep more soundly
Upon these poor souls,
I'll build Heaven and call it home.
Cause you're all dead now.

I live with my justice
And I live with my greedy need
I live with no mercy
And I live with my frenzied feeding
I live with my hatred
And I live with my jealousy
I live with the notion that I don't need anyone but me

Don't Drink the Water
Don't Drink the Water
Blood in the water
Don't Drink the Water

The fifth graders at my school are learning about Native American culture right now. It wasn't until 10th grade that my history class delved into Howard Zinn and I started to understand how brutal colonization was. Now we have the facts, but there are still so many unanswered questions. If we put everyone back on the boat and took a vote, would we do it all over again?

One Pro-Israel argument uses the expulsion of Native Americans to say the historical line is too blurry to condemn Israel for its expulsion of Palestinians. If we could go back, would we really choose to build our culture alongside Native American culture? Would would our country look like today?

I agree that the collective forgetting of Native American rights is something that can legitimately be thrown back at the United States. Was it ok then, because they lived in teepees and didn't understand our language? Are Palestinians more human because many have cars and microwaves and facebook pages? Is it only wrong now because we have "international law?"

What would Israel be like if Jewish immigrants settled alongside, not on top of, Arab culture? If Zionist leaders could turn back the clock, would they undo the expulsion orders and let Palestinians who fled return to their homes?

This year the Knesset passed legislation allowing the finance minister to withdraw funds from organizations that commemorate the expulsion, as doing so would challenge the Jewish nature of the state. Among the activities forbidden by the "Nakba law" are marking Independence Day and the founding of Israel with mourning ceremonies and physical disdain towards the flag and State symbols.

Eitan Bronstein founded Zochrot, an Israeli group that seeks to raise awareness of the Nakba. Here's a snippet from their webpage:

"The Jewish people in Israel, or at least most of them, live in complete ignorance or even denial of the Palestinian disaster that took place in 1948, the Nakba. The Nakba has no place in the language, the landscape, the environment, and the memory of the Jewish collective in Israel.

Traveling in Israel, one may find signposts, landmarks and memorials that create and sustain the Jewish-Israeli narrative. Jewish-Israeli events that took place more than 2,000 years ago are celebrated through these memorials while Palestinian memorials are nowhere to be seen. Moreover, there is an attempt to erase this memory from the collective consciousness and from the landscape. We, the Israelis, study in our schools that the Jews came to Israel to transform the desert into a blooming country, because we were a “people without a land” returning to a “land without a people.”

Zochrot is an NGO whose goal is to introduce the Palestinian Nakba to the Israeli-Jewish public, to express the Nakba in Hebrew, to enable a place for the Nakba in the language and in the environment. This is in order to promote an alternative memory to the hegemonic Zionist memory. The Nakba is the disaster of the Palestinian people: the destruction of the villages and cities, the killing, the expulsion, the erasure of Palestinian culture. But the Nakba, I believe, is also our story, the story of the Jews who live in Israel, who enjoy the privileges of being the ‘winners.’"

Non-government Organization is right, they're not getting any fundingggg. But in spite of the ring-wing nutjobs, discourse is happening. Hopefully it won't take centuries for the Nakba to make it into fifth grade classrooms.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Give it a rest...?

"His brother Atif described, “he was shot by Israeli soldiers stationed at a border control tower in his right leg when he was about 600 metres from the fence. Friends put him on a donkey cart and took him to an ambulance. The bones in the lower part of his leg have been shattered, and the doctors think it was a ‘dum dum’ (explode on impact) bullet. He had been collecting rubble for 5 months with his donkey cart in the Beit Hanoun border area.”
Article from the 17th-Israel Wages War Against Gazan Rubble Collectors

Photos taken by Skip Schiel this week in Gaza

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A message from JStreet

I just landed in Boston, and I need your help.

I was scheduled to speak tonight at a reform synagogue here, but a small group of right-wing activists intimidated the board into cancelling the event.

Outrageous, you say?

Know that this is not an isolated example. All across the country, week in and week out, small numbers of right-wing activists and donors regularly intimidate synagogues, Hillels, and other communal institutions out of presenting views on Israel they don't like.

We've had enough, and I hope you have too. It's time to draw the line and say we simply won't be silenced any more.

We've moved tonight's event to a school down the block, and I hope publicity over the cancellation means we'll get an even larger crowd.

And I'd love to tell that crowd that – in just a matter of hours – thousands of our supporters and friends signed a petition to say we've had it. We won't be silenced any more.

Will you add your name – and get a few friends to sign with you? I'll present it tonight and we'll use it every time someone tries to shut the door on open debate about Israel and American policy in the Middle East.

Click here to sign our petition - we won't be scared into silence on Israel.

There couldn't be a more crucial time for an honest conversation about Israel. Settlement building has resumed, the U.S. government is trying to broker a deal to stop it again temporarily, and peace hangs in the balance. Most important, so too does the future, security and character of Israel.

Please act right now. Our movement is getting big enough that a small minority shouldn't be able to silence our pro-Israel, pro-peace voice any longer.

Let's show our strength with thousands of signatures now in these few hours before tonight's event.

And, together, let's open the doors of our community wide to the vibrant debate on critical issues that we all must hear.

- Jeremy

Something there is....

I picked up my housemate's book of American poetry the other night and flipped to Mending Wall by Robert Frost. I studied it in high school, but it didn't resonate with me until now. Interestingly enough, the next day I got the Interfaith Peace-Builders' Olive Harvest Delegation Final Report, and the first testimony is a poem inspired by the Apartheid Wall and based on

Mending Wall

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
I forgot to mention my brother will be in Israel/Palestine for the next two months. He's taking off tomorrow. Godspeed, brosky....

One month and counting....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two articles in Mondoweiss by two amazing ladies!!!

Shereen Naser-A Perspective on the Jewish Federation General Assembly From Its Only Palestinian Attendee

Emily Ratner-We Would Not Have Had to Interrput Netanyahu If the World Listened to Palestinian Voices

Right to Education Week

The following was e-mailed to me by GUPS-The General Union of Palestinian Students at the University of New Orleans. It was sent out by The Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University in the West Bank of Palestine, as a resource for campuses that are interested in organizing their own awareness campaigns. It also makes for a great intro into the Palestinian side of this project. Check it out...

“The systematic obstruction and destruction of Gaza by the Israeli military occupation not only violates the human rights of individuals, it is an attack on the means and development of Palestinian society.”
(Right to Education Campaign)

Student Prisoners
The Israeli army often launches waves of arrests and harassment against university students. First year students are particularly subjected to interrogations as a way to collect information on the student body. 21 out of 40 cases represented by Birzeit University's lawyer are prisoners of conscience who are serving time solely for their belonging to student societies or political parties, many of whom held positions of leadership in the Student Council at the time of their arrest. These students are not only being denied their freedoms of association, thought, and liberty; they are being denied their education.

Many students are also held under Administrative Detention, which is a system of imprisonment without charge, where secret evidence from Israeli intelligence is shown to the military judge and used to justify incarceration for a period up to six months, on a renewable basis. The grounds raised are not communicated to the detainee or his/her lawyer, and the resulted mental suffering can amount to torture as defined under the UN Convention Against Torture. A Birzeit student has been held in Administrative Detention for three years.

As reported by Ma'an news today, October 26th 2010, students may even be denied the right to study while in prison. Hadareem prison has denied applications for 19 out of 25 prisoners to study during their time in prison due to security reasons.

Closure of Educational Institutions
Since September, several school have been closed by the Israeli Army and turned into military barracks, while hundreds more have been forced to close periodically due to prolonged curfews and obstructed access. Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University were closed down by military order for 8 months in 2003. During the First Intifada (uprising), between 1988-1992, Palestinian education was effectively criminalised by the Israeli occupation as all Palestinian universities, schools and even kindergartens were closed down by military order.

The Apartheid Wall
The construction of a 8-meter high wall through Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank is having a devastating impact on Palestinians' access to services, including education. The wall isolates and divides Palestinian population centres, cutting students off from their schools and universities and bulldozing through educational institutions in its path. For example, the Apartheid Wall cuts Al-Quds University, in East Jerusalem, off from 36% of its students.

As well as the Wall over 500 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks divide the West Bank into 420 different enclaves with no freedom of movement for Palestinians between them.

Staff and students can be subjected to physical abuse at checkpoints that range from beatings, to being made to wait for hours in the sun or rain. Sometimes access is denied, making Palestinian educational life impossible.

Incursions and Attacks
Hundreds of schools, kindergartens and eight Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been shelled, shot at and invaded by Israeli occupation forces since September 2000. Students and teachers are regularly stopped on their way to school and university and harassed by soldiers at gunpoint, and many children have been injured or killed on the way to school. Classrooms and offices, including those of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, have been raided and ransacked, and a teacher training college in the Gaza Strip was completely demolished in March 2004.

Visa and Entry Practices
Another key way that Israeli policy impedes rights to education in the occupied West Bank is through its restrictive and discriminatory visa and entry practices. Since the beginning of 2006, many thousands of foreigners and Palestinians with foreign passports have been denied entry to visit, work, or study in the occupied Palestinian territories. Birzeit University was particularly affected, as this policy of control resulted in a 50% drop in staff holding foreign passports—from 52 in May of 2006 to only 27 in September of 2006—and revenues received from international students were significantly reduced. In the 2006-2007 academic year, there were at least 14 faculty members at risk of deportation prior to the conclusion of the year due to visa insecurity, as well as 383 students who, in waiting for Israel to issue their IDs, also suffered the constant threat of deportation or imprisonment. Numerous stories of international academics and students being denied entry have been reported, including the barring of academic figure Noam Chomsky from the country in May of 2010.

Ongoing Blockade of Gaza
The 2008-09 assault on Gaza left educational life in pieces. University, as well as primary and secondary school infrastructure was either damaged or destroyed. With the ongoing blockade, there has been no hope of rebuilding. Textbooks, paper, and other basic educational supplies have been made unavailable to students by Israel’s siege on the strip.
In Gaza, there are three universities that offered a limited number of programs for Bachelor’s degrees. No programs are available in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, dentistry, and many other fields. Master’s degrees are even more limited, and PhD programs are non-existent. As a result, many Gazans choose to study in the West Bank and abroad. However, since 2004, Israel has totally prohibited Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying in the West Bank.