Monday, October 25, 2010

New Orleans Middle East Film Festival

"In any writing or screenwriting class you quickly learn that the most important element to any good story is conflict. In the Middle East, conflict is a more abundant natural resource than even oil. Presented by Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center and curated by Rene Broussard, this annual festival of films founded in 2007, explores the extremely rich and complex history, politics and culture of this volatile region.

Why the New Orleans Middle East Film Festival? Founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a city of refugees inside the United States, it soon became quite obvious the many parallels to our situation and the many conflicts of the Middle East. Issues such as class, racism, Human Rights, social justice, land grabs, Right of Return, environmental issues, etc. So with literally no money, partly as a diversion from our own problems and largely out of solidarity, the festival was born as a completely grassroots effort that continues to grow every year.

The 2009 festival featured 72 Acclaimed and Award-winning new films from or about Afghanistan, Anatolia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates shown over eleven nights with food, music, visual art and visiting filmmakers.

This year's festival will coincide with the opening of the second INTERNATIONAL MUSLIM ARTISTS EXHIBITION 2010 in our gallery, being curated by Egyptian artist, Haithem Eid and will for the second year feature collaborative screenings with the Gaza International Documentary Film Festival."


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jordan Journal #1

Today I explored the depths of my virus-infested computer and what do I find but an old journal assignment from Jordan...perfectooo.

February 3, 2008

I can’t remember what was going through my head as our captain told us to fasten our seat belts; we were making our descent into Amman. I was probably too tired to think. I was sitting with twenty or so college students that I’d met at JFK the day before, people who had a lot in common but were at the moment too exhausted for small-talk. Bonding could wait. Right then we were at least together in our uncertainty; no one knew who would pick us up, where we would stay that night, or what to do if something went wrong. I decided to forgo worry, finding that faith and fatigue went hand and hand; my Middle East experience was scheduled to start when I woke up the next morning, and until then I was on auto-pilot.

This plan was interrupted when I woke up a few minutes later to see Jordan’s capital for the first time. At first nothing special registered, but I began to notice that this city was unlike any city I’d seen before. It seemed that we were descending onto a sea of buried treasure. The streets of Amman flowed like golden rivers, their lights like strings of pearls, running every which way and bringing no semblance of order to the accumulation of gemstones that scattered and clumped in greens, reds and blues. I could feel the life radiating below, confident in its disarray, and suddenly I was part of the history books, a modern-day Marco Polo who had taken off from the microchip of New York and found the Orient. It looked exotic and shiny, and I wondered what place (if any) it held for me. As I wiped the fog from my window, I thought about my goal to help “bridge the gap between East and West.” I pledged it on my program application, as had probably most of my other classmates-to-be. But now it seemed so vague, so cliché. What made us think we were equipped for this? Of all the things I saw from my window, I did not see a city waiting with open arms for our Western intellect, our textbook knowledge. But I couldn’t keep that image from my mind.

Since my arrival to Jordan I’ve been thinking about my initial reaction to that bird’s eye view of Amman. My first response was that of a child looking at something pretty and appealing, then of a traveler, about to embark on an adventure. It then shifted into the response of a poet or writer, trying to immortalize what I saw. Then I began to question my place in the world below. On one hand, my studies of Orientalism had prepared me to travel with knowledge of historical context and an open mind. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but see myself as a pirate to the buried treasure I saw, as if my identity as a Westerner gave me an advantage, a reason to feel confident in a new place. In my Race and Ethnic Studies major it was an exhausting topic, wondering if continual dialogue only perpetuates hierarchy, if knowing my place in history has further inoculated me with a subconscious feeling of superiority. Then again, this dialogue has trained me to question my assumptions and find new ways of seeing and measuring the world, and new ways of bridging gaps in human understanding. As we descended into Amman, I was aware of this conflict between appreciation, entitlement, determination and guilt. The feeling was short-lived.

The day after we arrived in Amman, my group mates and I were finishing our first session of orientation (I later found that word really amusing, Orient-ation) and packing up our laptops when I heard the call to prayer for the first time. I left my things, ignored the director calling out names for our taxi stipend, and found myself on the front steps of our school, trying to comprehend the sound. Words like “creepy” and “fundamentalist” and quotes from Team America ran through the back of my conditioned mind, but I just smiled.

It was beautiful. One of my professors told me that it was considered offensive to liken Quranic recitation to singing, but it was music to my ears, skilled and melodic and wonderful. I didn’t know what the words meant, but I knew they were summoning the city to remember their faith, as they had four times already that day. Now it reminds me of something my great-grandfather wrote:

"God is not a dimension of existence for a perfunctory hour of worship in church, but that we live in and from and for Him all the time, also in toil and fun, alone and in the crowd."

My mind wandered back to Sunday school: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And this I forgot by Monday. I watched my first Jordanian sunset and thought, these people have got it down. These people. Them. Us. Us vs. Them. These thoughts dissolved as I stood there feeling cleansed, safe, and wholeheartedly welcomed. I was an ajnabia, a foreigner, and I understood for the first time how Islam meant peace.

That was when I learned to stop questioning my intentions. It’s hard to lay down your worries and recognize that you are, in fact, in the right place, at the right time. It was disorienting. It was humbling. Twenty-four hours in the Holy Land had taught me that as a child, a traveler, a poet, a writer, and an ajnabia I was already what I had set out to be: a builder of bridges, one by one.

In kaanet niyyetak 3umaar, la tadhuruka dhariit al Himaar...

One of the comments on Mondoweiss shared that Omani proverb which apparently means "if your intentions are noble you will not be harmed by the farting of the donkey."

I received more e-mails today. Three of the Anti-Defamataion League's "Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups" have something to say about their new status. Enjoy.

Dear Jessica,

My family survived the pogroms of Eastern Europe and came to the US before the outbreak of WWII only to see many close relatives killed in the Holocaust. My grandparents took their profound grief and channeled it into creating a state they hoped would be safe for Jews and a light unto nations. It is because of their story that I was brought up to remember the past and to create a world that refuses to remain silent in the face of such persecution.

And it is because of their story that I’ve dedicated myself, like so many of you, to doing everything I can to push for a truly just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians that recognizes the full humanity of all peoples.
But to be told by the Anti-Defamation League, as we were last week when they named us one of the top-ten "anti-Israel" groups in the US, that this dream makes me anti-Israel and somehow less Jewish is beyond repugnant.

To the Anti-Defamation League: you do not speak for me, for my family, for our community.

For all of us who support the work of Jewish Voice for Peace, our belief in the universal value of human life is essential, not negotiable. Our work for human rights is based on a vision of possibilities for all of us.
The story about the ADL’s top ten list has made the news across Israel – in Haaretz, and the Jerusalem Post, and Ynet . But it’s also triggering quite a reaction here in the United States, revealing yet one more way the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman has a broken moral compass when it comes to Israel.

Below is JVP’s official response to being named on the ADL’s Top Ten list. I’ve also included links to various media reports and analyses. Finally, if you are as offended as I am by the assertion that the work we do to support universal human rights is in any way anti-Israel, I invite you to join the many others who have made a gift to JVP in honor of Abe Foxman himself by CLICKING HERE NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace

Jewish Voice for Peace statement on making it on the Anti-Defamation League's list of top ten "anti-Israel" groups

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is at it again. They just came up with a list of the top ten most influential anti-Israel Groups in America, and Jewish Voice for Peace makes the list. We appreciate the honor, except that the ADL--as usual--got a few things wrong in describing us.

We do not hold Zionism as a litmus test for membership. Some of our members are Zionists, some are anti-Zionists, and some are non-Zionists. We believe you can define yourself in any of these ways as long as you support an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank -- including East Jerusalem -- and Gaza, and you advocate for human rights, which naturally apply equally to Israelis and Palestinians.
We stand by Israelis that hold these views, such as Israeli conscientious objectors and Israeli actors refusing to play in illegal settlements in the West Bank.
We stand by Palestinians that hold these views, such as Palestinian activists protesting the Israeli confiscation of land in the West Bank town of Bil'in.
We stand by internationals that hold these views, such as students pressing for divestment from occupation and war crimes or activists trying to break the siege of Gaza.
What unites us is our belief in human rights and equality.

We are Jews and allies who strongly oppose anti-Jewish hatred, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism.
We do understand that as Jews we have a special role to play in bringing about a change in American and Israeli policy. Israel claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. Some American Jewish organizations defend Israel right or wrong, claiming to be representing all American Jews. It is up to us to set the record straight.
We strongly reject the misleading accusations of anti-Semitism that the ADL and others have used in other to protect Israel's policies. For example, when the ADL accuses Archbishop Desmond Tutu of anti-Semitism, it is not only wrong, but it also makes all Jews less safe when facing a real case of anti-Jewish hatred.

Would the ADL call those that acknowledge the genocide of Native-Americans in this land anti-American?
We believe that in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Nakba must be addressed. Without acknowledging the events of 1947-9, there will be no truth and reconciliation. JVP adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country." Israelis should acknowledge the Palestinian refugees' right of return and negotiate a mutually agreed just solution based on principles established in international law, including return, compensation, and/or resettlement.
We acknowledge our own legacy of suffering and the horrors of the Holocaust, but we do not allow these to blind us to the suffering of others. Quite the opposite, we have learned from our own history and from our own tradition not to stand silent when others are suffering. The ADL, on the other hand, fights Holocaust-deniers and denies full recognition of the Armenian genocide at the same time.

Jews in America constitute fewer than 2% of the population. We would be rightfully upset if we had to recognize the United States as a "Christian state." And yet, he ADL expects Palestinians -- 20% of Israel's population -- to recognize Israel as a "Jewish state." The ADL apparently has learned little from Hillel: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

Response from Students for Justice in Palestine

Response from CAIR-Council on American Islamic Relations

Rabbi Brant Rosen's On JVP: Zionism and Jewish Community Growing Pains

Bottom line? Jewish Voice for Peace is an example of a new Jewish organization that speaks to a young post-national generation of Jews that simply cannot relate to Zionism the way previous generations did. Indeed, increasing numbers of Jewish young people are interested in breaking down walls between peoples and nations – and in Israel they see a nation that often appears determined to build higher and higher walls between itself and the outside world. (It’s a poignant irony indeed: while Zionism was ostensibly founded to normalize the status of Jewish people in the world, the Jewish state it spawned seems to view itself as all alone, increasingly victimized by the international community.)

Whether the old Jewish establishment likes it or not, there is a steadily growing demographic in the American Jewish community: proud, committed Jews who just don’t adhere to the old narratives any more, who are deeply troubled when Israel acts oppressively, and who are galled at being labeled as traitors when they choose to speak out.

Want to read more?
Salon:Anti-Defamation League beclowns itself, again
Daily Beast on ADL's "desperation."
New York's Jewish Week
Bay Area's Jweekly

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Monday I receieved three e-mails from three very different organizations. One is JStreet, a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" political action committee in D.C. that promotes dialogue on U.S. policy in the Middle East and supports politicians who advocate for a two-state solution. These politicians are constantly attacked as anti-Israel, and are financially disadvantaged without support from the Israel lobby. This political branch of the pro-peace movement isn't about campus activism, boycotting, or public awareness campaigns. It recognizes that the influence of AIPAC on Congress is at the heart of Israel's inability to demilitarize, and that a blank check (rather, an unquestioned third of all foreign aid) is the worst thing one democracy could give to another.

So it operates from within the beast, fighting fire with fire....

Dear Jessica,
As a Tea Party wave threatens to sweep the nation, we here at JStreetPAC are determined to do everything we can on behalf of key progressive allies who are committed to Israel and Middle East peace. With just 13 days left until the critical November election, Senate Candidate Joe Sestak (D, PA-Sen) and our progressive friends need our help more than ever.
In particular, the neoconservative Emergency Committee on Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition have focused on Joe Sestak because of his sensible pro-Israel, pro-peace views - as well as his ties to JStreetPAC. Just this week, the RJC announced they are spending $1 million dollars on attack ads, including ads during tonight's World Series game.

Joe Sestak is not alone in this fight. At JStreetPAC, we are proud to share the progressive values of Reps. Raul Grijalva (D, AZ-03) and Maurice Hinchey (D, NY-22) and challenger Anne Kuster -- and to join them in applying these core values to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If the radical right defeats Joe Sestak and our progressive allies, they would be well on their way to scaring the President and the political establishment away from a meaningful and bold push for a two-state solution. It's that simple.

This is no time to sit on the sidelines and watch some of JStreetPAC's most important progressive endorsees this cycle get beat by Tea Party opponents.
-In upstate New York, another JStreetPAC ally Maurice Hinchey is under furious attack by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and by Rupert Murdoch's New York Post.
They say he's "hostile to Israel." Why? He won't sign hawkish, one-sided Congressional letters on Israel, and he's staked out moderate pro-Israel, pro-peace positions in nine terms in Congress.

-In Arizona, co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus Raul Grijalva was cruising for a solid victory through much of the campaign until large right-wing funders launched ads attacking Grijalva's opposition to Arizona's new immigration law.
Now, with just two weeks left, the race is suddenly tight, and Grijalva needs our help immediately to get more ads on the air and to fight back.

-In New Hampshire, JStreetPAC's newest endorsee Anne Kuster has a strong shot at holding an open seat against a former Republican House member. She is a bold progressive who's made clear that JStreetPAC is where her heart is on Israel and the Middle East. Polls show her race neck and neck.
We need these valuable allies to win as we head into a make or break year for the peace process.

We can't sit on the sidelines -- we have to help right now to keep these vital progressive allies in the Congress.
We'll be in touch,
- Isaac

The second group is Ta'anit Tzedek, led by Rabbis Brian Walt and Brant Rosen....

Dear Ta'anit Tzedek Supporters,

Three short notes:
1) Fast Day and Phone Conference Tomorrow: "Why we sailed to Gaza" with Maireed Maguire and Yonatan Shapira

We are writing to remind you of our fast day tomorrow, October 21, and of the phone conference at 12 noon EST on "Why we Sailed to Gaza" with Mairead Maguire, Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Yonatan Shapira, former elite Israeli pilot.
Yonatan Shapira was a passenger on the Jewish Boat to Gaza and Mairead Maguire, who was denied entry to Israel earlier this month, has traveled to Gaza by boat three times.
2. "What is at stake in Gaza: A Jewish Fast for Gaza perspective" Rabbi Brian Walt's Talk at World Council of Churches meeting
Three weeks ago, I (Brian Walt) participated in the World Conference of Churches United Nations Advocacy Week. I was invited as the co-founder of Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza. I have posted a complete copy of my talk on our website and a long excerpt on my blog. It was an honor to represent you at this meeting and I would love to hear your feedback on my comments and encourage you to share it with others.
3. News from Physicians for Human Rights in Israel
I just received a shocking email from Physicians for Human Rights in Israel about the death of a toddler with leukemia who died while waiting for permission to get medical treatment in Israel. This toddler is only one of many in Gaza who suffer needless pain and suffering and in some cases even death as they are waiting for permission to get medical treatment outside of Gaza. This is only one of the inhuman consequences of the immoral siege. When I read this, I was reminded why we are fasting tomorrow.
Thanks for your continued commitment,
Rabbis Brant Rosen and Brian Walt
Co-Founders Ta'Anit Tzedek-Jewish Fast for Gaza

The third group is Interfaith Peace-Builders, which sends delegations of Americans of all backgrounds to Israel and Palestine. The delegates keep blogs and update constantly to share their stories and experiences. Here's a snippet from one of their trips:

Sheikh Jarrah: Samoud

Effusive welcomes, gifts from people who have little to give, unrefusable offers of cool drinks and strong coffee, incredible spirit and amazing resistance...ahh, here is the Palestine I know and love! It's in Sheikh Jarrah.

For the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, the Nakba is quite literally at their doorstep. Jewish settlers have moved not just into their neighborhood, but right into their homes, evicting them with the help of the police. This is just one of a myriad number of efforts to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of its native Palestinian Arab inhabitants and maintain a Jewish demographic majority.

The evicted families have been stubbornly living in tents in their own backyards, facing harassment, humiliation and often violence from settlers. If Palestinian residents of the neighborhood go to the police to complain about settler violence, they are more likely to find themselves arrested than helped. And, in the final Orwellian absurdity, at least one family has been fined by Israeli authorities who claim the tent they sleep under in their own yard is an "illegal dwelling"--erected without a building permit. The tent has been torn down and confiscated seventeen times. They keep putting it back up.

We meet with several generations of the Hanoun and Rawi families and one of their lawyers, a man diligent enough to represent them in a court system completely stacked against them. At first the women are fairly quiet while the men do most of the talking. But when someone asks one of the women a direct question, the most amazing stories of resistance come pouring out. "Every time we're attacked, I get stronger," says a mother from one of the families. "Before I faced them, I was afraid of the police, but now I have no fear. Now I'm as strong as any man in the neighborhood and maybe more so." Other women echo her sentiments. Since many of the women of the families don't work, they play an important role in Sheikh Jarrah's resistance, maintaining a physical presence near their houses during the day and confronting police and settlers.

These women are awesome. They are exploding the stereotype of the meek, submissive Muslim woman and teaching us all about resistance. If only to meet them, the trip has already been worth it.

P.S. Samoud is an Arabic word generally translated as “steadfastness,” as in being a total badass who won't back down for anything. A generally abundant Palestinian trait.

--Laura Durkay

Monday, October 18, 2010

Growing up in Asia didn't really contribute to my knowledge of anti-Western sentiment. If anything it made me less pro-West, but also the idea of East and West...unimportant. I wasn't any more comfortable in England or the States than I was in Japan or India. I liked how the roads were smoother in Seattle, and I could eat more fast food, and Saved By the Bell was on every afternoon, but even when I read Seventeen magazine and started to want everything a teenaged American girl is supposed to want, I was oblivious to the divide between East and West. I remember in seventh grade I was really bummed out when our track meet in Karachi was cancelled because of a bomb threat. It seemed to happen all the time, but I didn't really wonder why. Just some hateful people up in Pakistan...

In Alternative Voices I learned about Orientalism, and the motives behind the writings that separated a civilized West from an exotic and primitive East. In Orientalism, Edward Said writes,

So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.

Orientalism was the foundation of everything I learned about the Middle East from then on. That's why I loved studying race and ethnicity; we can't even attempt to become global citizens if we don't understand the roots of racial and ethnic division. Hear that Whitman? My major was useful! R.I.P, Race and Ethnic Studies...

My point is....the last year or so has been a tremendous exercise in source-searching. I look back to my senior year, staring at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict section of the library before starting a paper for Middle East History, and finally getting it. I couldn't trust these books. The year before I had written a paper on Japanese internment during WWII, and had encountered a book that said it was completely justified during a time of war and heightened fear. I'm ashamed to say that as a college junior, the mere fact that this book had been published rocked my world. Now I stood in front of 60 years of conflict (or over 100 if you start with the birth of Zionism) full of wars, battles, internments, treaties, resolutions, all on one shelf...and chances were, half of it was a load of hooey. Who spoke for the East? Who spoke for the West? Who made them seem...unimportant?

After facing the IP Conflict section with horrified curiosity, the first name I looked for was Edward Said. As a Palestinian-American he bridged the East-West gap and became the top scholar on the gap itself. The more I learned, the more I learned who to trust. The ones who sacrificed their careers, reputations and safety to put peace and human rights first. Rashid Khalidi, Mahmoud Darwish, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Hanan Ashrawi, Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy, Uri Avnery....

It's been a slow process, but I've come a long way. Up until a few years ago, I assumed that Al-Jazeera was a media outlet for terrorists. Until today, I viewed the website Electronic Intifada with suspicion, even though I know the word intifada refers to the "shaking off" of an illegal Occupation. Turns out they have a pretty stellar team.

Electronic Intifada: German firm helps Israel cement occupation with Light Rail

And a glimmer of light from Haaretz:

Thousands of Arabs and Jews Protest in Tel Aviv against Loyalty Oath Requirement


Mondoweiss is a news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective.

It has four principal aims:
1)To publish important developments touching on Israel/Palestine, the American Jewish community and the shifting debate over US foreign policy in a timely fashion.
2)To publish a diversity of voices to promote dialogue on these important issues.
3)To foster the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy.
4)To offer alternatives to pro-Zionist ideology as a basis for American Jewish identity.

I got this article today from skip schiel:

We Wouldn't Eat Their Sandwiches! An Interview with Lillian Rosengarten

Lillian Rosengarten was the only American on the Jewish boat to Gaza that was intercepted by the Israeli military on September 28th..."I saw the side of the Jewish experience that will do anything to preserve the myth of Israel."

I asked her what it means that she fled Nazi Germany as a young Jew and now she has been kicked out of Israel as an older one.

Rosengarten lowered her head and cried.

“That’s exactly what I’m feeling, behind all these words. Because Israel always did exist in my mind as an ideal. My image of Israel was this place of return, a refuge for all the Jews, a place where Jews are good to one another, a country where they can be free and safe.

“Now I think, what was it all about? That this country, that’s supposed to be a haven to Jews, where Jews are going to be safe, can act like this. Not just to us, but the way it treats the Palestinians, their land, their water. And this issue of deportation, it is absolutely horrendous. I thought that all Jews have a right to be in Israel. To be cared for. To be safe. But as soon as we voice a dissent against the actions of a government that is brutal, that dominates another people, that commits collective punishment, when we cry out, No that’s not right, we’re deported.

“I'm weeping because-- you know, I think about my mentor Hans. He is 91. I can’t ever go to visit him. I can’t go there if he dies. And my Palestinian friends, I can’t see them again either.”

"So you are feeling grief?”

“Oh I’m feeling tremendous grief, but mostly it’s grief about Israel. The road that it’s taken.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I got this e-mail today, and it made me laugh. Kinda reminds me of the professors who called up Campus Watch and asked to be put on their list of "terrorist apologists." While I don't agree that the ADL has abandoned its good work of fighting racism and discrimination, this list is ridiculous.

The ADL List

From: The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Congratulations to Us--We Made ADL's List

Dear Jessica,

We were honored to learn yesterday that we made the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) top ten list of "anti-Israel groups" in the United States.

Help us "thank" the ADL for its recognition of our work by replanting Palestinian olive trees, which Israeli settlers are currently uprooting and stealing fruits from.

For every $25 you donate to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, we'll replant one olive tree in Palestine. Donate $100, and we'll replant five trees.

You can help us replant 1,000 olive trees in Palestine as a "thank you" to the ADL. Then, we'll give the ADL a nicely framed certificate showing how naming our coalition to the list enabled Palestinian farmers to remain steadfast on their land, despite Israel's attempted colonization and ethnic cleansing. To contribute to the replanting, please click here.

The ADL, which long ago abandoned its noble charter to fight racism--in favor of spying on U.S. peace and justice organizations, fanning the flames of Islamophobia, and defaming anyone who supports Palestinian human rights, named the US Campaign the "primary organizer of efforts to persuade the U.S. government to cut off aid to Israel." The ADL said that the US Campaign "function[s] as an umbrella organization [that] boosts cooperation among various anti-Israel groups."

Thanks, ADL, for recognizing our centrality in building a national movement to end U.S. support for Israeli military occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians and to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. We appreciate it!

Of course, we dispute the ADL's facile characterization of our mission as "anti-Israel." It's the same type of wrong thinking that produces the red herring that people who criticize U.S. foreign policies are "anti-American." That Bush-era mentality went out of fashion a long time ago.

Thank you for your generous support!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A few snippets from The Lemon Tree:

Ramallah, 1967
At the edges of town stood the concrete dwellings and narrow, refuse-strewn lanes of the UNRWA refugee camps. Each year, the UN refugee agency was required to submit a budget for renewed funding. Receiving long-term funds or building more permanent-looking houses would imply a UN admission that the refugees were not going home.

November 1966
Israeli planes, tanks and troops attacked the West Bank village of Samu, blowing up dozens of houses and killing twenty-one Jordanian soldiers.

President Johnson assured King Hussein of Jordan of his disapproval:
"Regarding your Majesty's concern that Israel's policy has changed and that Israel now intends to occupy territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River, we have good reason to believe it is highly unlikely that that events you fear will in fact occur. Should Israel adopt the policies you fear it would have the gravest consequences."

June 7, 1967
On the morning of June 7, Bashir and his family woke up to a city under military occupation. Israeli soldiers were shouting through bullhorns, demanding that white flags be hung outside houses, shops and apartment buildings; already balconies and windows fluttered with t-shirts and handkerchiefs.

Bashir was in shock from the surreal and the familiar. Another retreating Jordanian army was replaced by another occupying Israeli force. In 1948, Bashir thought, we lost 78 percent of our land. And now all of Palestine is under occupation....Perhaps most shocking of all, was that East Jerusalem, and the Old City with its holy sites, was now in the hands of the Israelis.
Strangely though, in the midst of occupation and the utter failure of the Arab regime, a sense of freedom was emerging; a notion that Palestinians were suddenly free to think and act for themselves. In the weeks after the occupation, Bashir began to believe that his people would go back to their homeland only through the sweat and blood of armed struggle. He was far from alone in this assessment.

The book was written because the author found two families whose lives were intertwined by their residence in one house--built by Ahmad Khairi for his family, and claimed in 1948 by Moshe and Solia, a Jewish couple from Bulgaria. Nineteen years after they were expelled, Bashir Khairi and his cousins crossed the Green Line to see their house, which they managed to do with the help of Moshe's daughter, Dalia. Upon his return to Ramallah, Bashir faced his family.

In the morning the family was waiting. Bashir took his time, recounting every moment of the journey with his cousins. Everyone pumped Bashir with questions-everyone, that is, except Ahmad, who remained quiet while the others demanded a replay of Bashir's every step, his every touch of stone. Did the light still stream in through the south windows in the afternoon? Were the pillars on the gate still standing straight? Was the front gate still painted olive green? Was the paint chipping? "If it still is," Zakia said, "when you go back you can bring a can of paint to make it new again, Bashir; you can bring shears and cut the grass growing up along the stone path. How is the lemon tree, does it look nice? Did you bring the fruit?...You didn't? Did you rub the leaves and smell them, did your fingers smell like fresh-cut lemons? How were the strones of the house, were they still and tough to the touch?...What else Bashir, what else? Please don't leave anything out."

Throughout the interrogation, Ahmad had been still as a mountain, his eyes watering. Abruptly he stood, pushing back his chair. Tears streaked his face as he left the kitchen and walked down the hallway. All eyes followed Ahmad, but no one dared call him back. He closed the bedroom door.
"God forgive you, my son," Zakia said. "You have opened our wounds again."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I'm reading Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts for a ladies' book club, and this is proving to be more door-opening than I thought. For one, I do feel like a Sister Goddess who deserves to indulge in all the pleasures of the world, but for two, I have the opportunity to help plan next week's Life class (read..Sex Ed) for half of my school's 7th grade girls and I feel this overwhelming urge to get up and tell them how beautiful they are. We always assumed our Health teachers were just making up rules because they liked to tell us "no." I've realized that one of the hardest things about being a teacher is convincing your students that you're there to help them, not torture them. I want to tell my girls that they need to support each other, but more importantly, they need to love themselves before even thinking of giving a part of themselves to someone else.

I tutor one seventh grade boy for much of the day, and today he wanted to write a love poem. In retrospect it was fitting that I thought of this line to write on the board for him to copy:

And in the end the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

I got him to identify that take and make have a long aaa sound and are rhyming words, but the underlying concept was easy. You have to give love to get love.

But you need to save plenty for yourself. I'm wondering if this education-based trip to Palestine and/or the year that follows will include some work with women's empowerment.

That's a much larger fish than I expected to fry. But it's a thought. I'll post more after next Life class.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ana Ayesh!

Senior year I took Arabic from an visiting Egyptian professor named Mona Hashish. One day she played this song five times and sent us home to practice reciting it. I had never really liked Arabic sounded like Bollywood music, which I've also never fully explored and apppreciated. Anyways, I remember walking home at 8:55am and planning on not jumping right back into bed. Something serious had just happened. I had just understood and enjoyed an Arabic pop song, and suddenly the prospect of living in the Middle East wasn't a sacrifice of my modern young adulthood. If a 21-year-old Egyptian or Iraqi or Palestinian woman hears this song like I hear a Backstreet Boys song, then there's no reason for me to feel lonely or isolated when I'm abroad. A broad...abroad. Old joke. Ok....

Amr Diab-Ana Ayesh

La bartah bi lailah wala bansaak wa leik nihaya
Wa laow hata baba'aid babaa maa'ak iw mantash maa'aya.
La bartah bi lailah wala bansaak wa leik nihaya
Wa laow hata baba'aid babaa maa'ak iw mantash maa'aya.

Ana a'ayesh iw mosh a'ayesh iw mosh aader a'ala boa'dak .
Wa la a'aref biyoum ansa iw la a'ayez habeeb baa'dak.
Ana a'ayesh iw mosh a'ayesh iw mosh aader a'ala boa'dak .
Wa la a'aref biyoum ansa iw la a'ayez habeeb baa'dak.

Iw basaal wi aalbi biyihlam youm yirtaah min jiraho
Dah ijdeedna illi kanoo ma bayna zamaan
Raja'een willa rahoo
Iw basaal wi aalbi biyihlam youm yirtaah min jiraho
Dah ijdeedna illi kanoo ma bayna zamaan
Raja'een willa rahoo

Ana a'ayesh iw mosh a'ayesh iw mosh aader a'ala boa'dak .
Wa la a'aref biyoum ansa iw la a'ayez habeeb baa'dak.
Ana a'ayesh iw mosh a'ayesh iw mosh aader a'ala boa'dak .
Wa la a'aref biyoum ansa iw la a'ayez habeeb baa'dak.

Ma habitsh ghayrak
Wa aa'mail eih bishoaqi iw hawaya iw laili wi nahaari bafakar feek
Ma tirjaa' kifaya.

Ana a'ayesh iw mosh a'ayesh iw mosh aader a'ala boa'dak .
Wa la a'aref biyoum ansa iw la a'ayez habeeb baa'dak.
Ana a'ayesh iw mosh a'ayesh iw mosh aader a'ala boa'dak .
Wa la a'aref biyoum ansa iw la a'ayez habeeb baa'dak.


I'm restless every night
And I can never forget you
And I can't find an ending
And even if I'm far away
I'm with you
But you're not with me

I'm alive but not living
And I can't stand you being so far
I can never forget
And I don't want any lover after you

I ask and my heart dreams of the day
it will feel relief from the pain
The nights we spent together
Will they come back or are they gone?

I'm alive but not living
And I can't stand you being so far
I can never forget
And I don't want any lover after you

I loved only you
Now what do I do with my love and longing?
Day and night I think of you.
Enough! Come back!

I'm alive but not living
And I can't stand you being so far
I can never forget
And I don't want any lover after you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Today was a good day. I took advantage of the first day of my school's fall break and slept until noon, then met up with my friend Ali who works in Bayou St. John but hails from, guess where....Ramallah. Well, near Ramallah. I just checked my old Rand McNally map of the British Mandate of Palestine, and after looking and looking for the village of Taiba, which I thought was just too small, I finally found Ali's El-Taiyibeh. Today he showed me with his phone and keys where it was in relation to Ramallah and Jerusalem. I asked him if there were Jewish settlements near his village, and he pointed to five outlying places, explaining that Ramallah and its villages are surrounded, and cut off from Jericho and the Dead Sea. One of the settlements was built on land that his father owned. He said all of this so calmly, so matter-of-factly. Now the village is called Taibe, and wikipedia says it's in Northeastern Israel...?

My plan is to visit الطيبة and meet Ali's family. He said they would tell me their stories, introduce me to their friends, and "yes Morgan, they will make you Maklouba. Yessss. I hope they make too much so the next day I can microwave it and smother it in yoghurt.

I tend to favour British spellings.

Anyways, after our meeting, I headed over to the Moishe House, a community home for young, Jewish professionals that hosts events for the Jewish community (and friends) in New Orleans. That's a rather simplified description, but you can find out more about it here. I went to visit my friend Jeff and discuss the possibility of hosting an inter-faith dialogue/book/study group there next month. I want to broach the idea to my friends, my church, and those who show up to the Free Palestine walk on Saturday, and ultimately get at least a group of Muslims, Jews and Christians together to talk about all of the things we have in common, and share articles and books and films about the Middle East. The Moishe House was very supportive of this event, which will probably happen in mid-November. hooray!

Then I sat in on my friend Cat's talk at Loyola about serving as a long-term Catholic volunteer after graduation. I had plenty to say about the benefits of serving a year or two after college, but looking back I had no idea that I'd be working for a Catholic organization when I got to New Orleans. But even though I wouldn't have chosen the Catholic route for myself, I ended up loving it. I loved meeting the Duschene sisters and getting the opportunity to speak at their volunteer dinners. I loved it when my STV's (short-term volunteers) busted out daily prayers and group reflections at lunchtime. I loved leading appreciation dinners, and selecting the wisest volunteer leader to say Grace. I loved the nation-wide network of schools and churches that continues to do so much for New Orleans. And I loved that at our morning staff meetings we could share a special prayer, or inspirational quote, or sing a song, or appeal to the weather gods, or pray to Breesus Christ...

After the talk I saw the first Loyola play, Almost, Maine. It was cute. Next up is Moliere's The Misanthrope and the Fall Ballet concert. Also, Le Petite Theater is showing Porgy and Bess next weekend. I spent all of last year soaking up New Orleans culture and didn't really go to plays or musicals or classical concerts, so this year I'm definitely going to take advantage of my proximity to Tulane and Loyola and see as many shows as possible. I also read on a flier that Loyola's Arab and Middle East Culture Club is hosting a movie and discussion tomorrow. With snacks!

I'm liking Uptown.

"I'm still in New Orleans. It's so much like Palestine it's eerie."

Below are snippets from a 2007 Electronic Intifada article written by Lora Gordon, a Jewish-American woman who worked with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza.

The geography of dissent: New Orleans and Palestine

The other day I went with about a hundred returning New Orleans residents and about 500 visiting volunteers on a "reoccupation action" at the St. Bernard Projects, one of the places surrounded by brand new barbed wire. There is actually nothing wrong with the buildings in the projects except dampness and some mold that can be cleaned off, and the people who lived in them still have their leases. It's today's American version of the British deeds many Palestinians still have -- I keep expecting people to show me the keys to their houses, like so many Palestinian refugees did when I met them during trips to the Middle East.

The residents got the keys to open the gates -- they still have the legal right to do so as long as they have their lease -- and went in, some for the first time, to begin the process of gutting their homes and moving back in, to prevent them from being demolished. It was heartbreaking to watch people go through the contents of their lives and decide what to keep and what to throw away. Anything porous had to go, couches, stuffed animals, clothes, food, wall hangings. An entire life.

At the end of the day, at the foot of every person's home, was an enormous pile of possessions. On the face of every returning person seemed to be the competing emotions of exhaustion and hope. The devastation of returning to your home after it had been nearly destroyed -- reminding me of Palestinians who return to their villages in the '48 territories -- combined with a determination to rebuild.
A poster on the door of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund shows an image of a woman holding the city in her arms. The poster, created in the first months after the storm, is now weathered. Its edges are curling; its bright colors are fading. But it is still the first thing you see when you walk in, and it still has the power to stop you in your tracks. "Nothing about us without us is for us," it declares through the glass double doors, behind which people are busy transcribing thousands of signatures for a petition against illegal price gouging of rent and utilities for returning residents.

And in smaller font but with the same bold lettering, the poster continues, "The people of New Orleans will not go quietly in the night, becoming the homeless of countless other cities while our own homes are razed to make way for your mansions, condos, and casinos. We will join together to defend our claim, and we will rebuild our home in the image of our own dreams." And the people of Palestine will do the same.

Lora Gordon's website-photos and excerpts of her memoirs from Gaza

Thursday, October 7, 2010

wein bidna aruhu?

...where will we go?

Holy moley. I just watched a documentary that the Campaign against the Israeli Occupation sent me last year. It surfaced in my pile of moving stuff, so instead of starting my 5-day weekend off watching a few episodes of 1970's SNL like was the plan, I popped in Occupation 101.

For any medium that attempts to boil down the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict into an hour and a half, this film is nothing to scoff at. It features prominent scholars and human rights activists, most of whom are Israeli. In fact, the only two Palestinians interviewed were the director of Birzeit University (who I'm going to try to meet in December) and Rashid (freakin) Khalidi. Israeli and Jewish voices included founders of peace and solidarity movements, historians, journalists, and professors Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe.

A snippet from the statistics section:

From 1949-1996, the United States gave as much money to Israel as it did to the Carribean, South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa combined. The same amount of money to a country with 5.5 million people as to dozens of countries with over a billion. That puts our spending per Israeli at over $10,000 and spending per person from the Carribean, South America or Sub-Saharan Africa at $59. With the money earmarked in 2003 (10 billion dollars), millions of American children could receive health care or be put through Head Start early education programs. Can we really afford to be ignorant about this "special relationship" considering the current economic crisis?

I wasn't really planning on summarizing the entire film, but I found an interview that pretty much nails it. Anna Baltzer is a Jewish-American woman who joined the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank and is now a leading human rights activist. She recently shared her views on the Daily Show, then gave this interview:

Palestinians Come Second at Peace Talks

You have been traveling to Israel-Palestine for years now. Based on your experience and observations, what are the biggest myths about the occupation? What are the myths and what have you learned?

Myth 1: “This is an age-old conflict based on religion and mutual hatred.” This is a conflict about land and human rights, not about religion. Prior to the Zionist movement, Jews were better treated in the Arab world than they were in much of the Christian West. There is nothing inherently incompatible about Jews, Muslims, and Christians, but with the introduction of the Zionist movement seeking to–and eventually succeeding to–annex Palestine for European Jews and one segment of the indigenous population while excluding and discriminating against the other segments of the population, you saw the emergence of violence. Israel was created and is maintained at the expense of Muslims and Christians in the area, who are denied their land and their human rights simply because they are not Jewish. This ongoing discriminatory system perpetuates the conflict today and until it is addressed we can expect no just or enduring peace.

Myth 2: “The occupation may be ugly, but it’s for security” (note the switch from the previous narrative that “there is no occupation”).
The majority of the institutions of Israel’s occupation simply cannot be justified by security. Israel pays its citizens to move from Israel to the West Bank to live amidst the so-called “enemy”–does that make them safer? Israel has never declared its own borders, rather it expands them onto more and more of someone else’s land–does that make Israel safer? Israel denies Palestinians sufficient water from their own water sources–Does that make Israelis safer? Although the narrative of “security” as motivation is accepted without question in mainstream media, it simply doesn’t make sense when you look at the situation on the ground. Cutting Palestinians off from their families, schools, hospitals, and livelihoods will never make Israelis safer. If Israel is serious about ending Palestinian violence, it must acknowledge the roots of that violence.

Myth 3: “Israel has no partner for peace.” On the contrary, Palestinians have no partner for peace. No Israeli offer has ever come close to fulfilling Palestinian human rights. Camp David II in 2000, often referred to as former prime minister Ehud Barak’s “Generous Offer,” would have annexed 10% of the West Bank into Israel, including some of most fertile and water rich areas, home to 80,000 Palestinians. The 10% was spread around the West Bank, separating the “future Palestinian state” into a nonviable archipelago of isolated cantons, separating Palestinians from their land and each other. Finally, the proposal maintained Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem (and some control by Palestinians under that sovereignty) and ignored the human rights of the Palestinian refugees, who represent the vast majority of the Palestinian population.

That's a lot to digest. I think I'll put this one to bed for now. I'm getting closer to being able to buy my plane ticket to Tel Aviv, so insh'allah, in the near future, this blog will be about what I see and not just what I read. Bear with me.

And check out Occupation 101.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler Bigot

"Settlement has long been, and remains, the fuel for the fire of de-legitimization, the basis of charges of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. It undermines the foundation of the the idea of a Jewish state. It turns the very word settlements into an obscenity."

Interesting blog post in Haaretz today. It's great to hear Israelis speak out against the settlements and how our money is being spent. I just hope this voice gets strong enough to counteract the damage being done. He makes a great point about Jerusalem. The tourism centers being built on top of Palestinian neighborhoods are indeed sheer "cockamamie." Why would Israelis want to destroy historic parts of the city and replace them with kitschy tourist traps? I think the assumption that all Israelis support that decision is damn insulting.

One of the comments:
"Israel is careening downwards on a path to extremism, and too many Jews are going along with it. I know plenty of them are unhappy with what's happening, and I just hope that like you they find the courage to speak up loudly and save Israel from itself."

Half of the comments were similarly supportive. Yet, the winning argument is still "It's all Israel, and it's all for the Jews." And a few commenters referred to Obama as "Hussein." Seriously? Are we already looking at Huckabee the Palestine-denier for 2012? At times I think that would be a fun battle. In an exhausting, "I can't believe this is even a debate" kind of way.

We shall see.

Peace, peace, and that's my piece
It's still all about the bullet in the belly of the beast
From the East my brother, we came
The lessons might change
But the essence of the message is the same.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood...

I don't know if it's my neighbor Fred, or a friend of his, but every couple of nights I hear the loveliest piano music wafting from his place.

Biking across the garden district takes me about 24 minutes. In 5 degrees it will be the perfect temperature for such a bike ride. I'm kind of hoping the street car regulars will start noticing me as the girl who rides down St. Charles with no handle bars.

He's playing "Summertime" now. Aaaand the livin's easy....

Tomorrow I'm singing in a gospel concert with my church choir and 50 Norwegians. These singers came to New Orleans to learn gosepl music from my choir director, and after three nights of rehearsing, they know most of our songs and for the most part, how to sway and clap in time. Every few songs a guest ensemble would come up and do a number, and hearing them through the ears of 50 elderly Norwegians gave me a new appreciation for gospel. Yes, one song can drag on for an eternity, and even listening takes a bit of endurance, but there is no other type of music that can take hold of you the way gospel does. Before I came to New Orleans, the only impression I had of gospel music was from The Blues Brothers. My pastor doesn't do backflips (as far as I'm aware), but after I explained to him my committment to peace in Palestine, he said a prayer for me and my trip and I practically did backflips out of the church. Which means I biked right over to Parkway and indulged in a Caprese Po Boy.

Now he's playing "When I'm 64."

Tomorrow, I will be in school from 8 to 3, then the 7th graders (who earn it) will be going to the beach to play volleyball for their Team and Family Trip. Then off to gospel night with the Norwegians, then to my friend's show at the Howlin' Wolf.


Then a gardening service project at Langston Hughes Academy in the morning, followed by a hefty nap, followed by dinner with friends, then a pub crawl for our volunteer group. Then church in the morning, followed by a practice SAT, then some advertising for the Free Palestine walk, then getting ready for a 3-day school week before a 5-day weekend! Life is prettty, prettty...pretty good.

Goodnight Freddy boy...

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good...

For the last week I've been feeling pretty disheartened. I've stopped reading the news because reading about the settlers building community centers and kindergartens makes me sick. I don't care what you're pouring the foundation for, stop trying to convince me that your theft is righteous!

There's a Palestinian village called al-Aqaba located in Area C of the West Bank (Area C takes up almost half of the West Bank, wrapping around its eastern side). In 2004, Rebuilding Alliance built a 3-story facility there that includes a kindergarten, which accommodates over 130 children from neighboring villages, a sewing co-op, English classrooms, a library, and soon-to-be teacher housing. Plans are also in the works to build a birthing center, which would be the first of its kind in all of Area C, as well as the area's first ambulance. Funding for these projects have come from Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, UN agencies and NGOs.
al-Aqaba project Website

In 2003, the Alliance received a grant from a family foundation with the instructions: "Build a school for Palestinian children that will not be demolished again.” In 2004, as they were building, demolition orders were issued against the whole village: their mosque, the medical center, nearly all the homes, and the new kindergarten. Six years later, the Alliance is still helping al-Aqaba fight a legal battle against Israel for the right to stay. They are also trying to obtain building permits to build housing for residents whose homes have already been demolished. In Area C, Palestinians are unable to obtain permits to build on their own land.

This is a non-profit organization with international support, and the Israeli government wants it gone. It wants this village, and all 130 villages in Area C to be razed. Those who have been dispossessed by these policies see them for what they really are....not the precautions of a scared nation acting in self-defense, but the actions of a government that is preparing for the rest of Palestine to be Judaized.

So no, I don't see the concrete foundation of that Jewish kindergarten as a beautiful thing. I can't begin to count the ways in which those children will have to pay for the mistakes of their parents.

And this is where my mind goes numb.