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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

You know how in some gumball machines the gumball gets released into a funnel-like thing and circles slowly around and around and as it nears the center it circles faster and faster until it finally drops into the hole? Well, I've been dancing around the point of this project for years now, and since the blog started I've gotten closer and closer. This week, the gumball dropped.

Three community events helped me zero in on my topic: The impact of over-incarceration and under-education on communnities in New Orleans and Palestine.

Uplifting? Certainly not. Optimistically constructive? I certainly hope so.

The first event:
Education in New Orleans Post-Katrina: A Human Rights Violation

This event was held at my church. The speakers were teachers, students, activists and spoken word artists who shared their experience with education, crime and incarceration. The point of the evening was to reflect on our country's human rights record, which is now being evaluated by the United Nations. One woman went up and gave statistics on out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and drop-out rates for African-American students in New Orleans. A man went up and shared his experience with the OPP-Orleans Parish Prison. An English teacher went up and recited a poem about a student who committed suicide. Another girl went up and shared her poem about being African-American and Muslim. I was reminded of how little the kids at my school know about Muslims, aside from their desire to blow things up.

Question: Why are Americans not guaranteed the Right to a Quality Education?

The second:
Public Meeting with the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition

This event was held at the Dryades YMCA in Central City. There were probably 130-150 people there, including the Working Group panel and several police officers. The Deputy Mayor ran the meeting, and I was only there long enough to hear an hour of questions/suggestions/demands from the audience. There were representatives of various Christan groups, social justice organizations, former in-mates and friends and family of, and of course, the anarchist.
Key issues/questions raised:
-Why is our most viable mental health treatment facility located in Orleans Parish Prison?
-Why are you rushing into this decision when our tax dollars are at stake?
-The NOPD planted drugs on my husband and told my little boy that he would be better off without a father. Why are we pouring money into a prison that will require more incarcerations and perpetuate a racist system that says slavery is okay in prison?
-I damned near starved to death in OPP. Health care? Forget about it. They gave us classes on how to write a resume, but the GED I got? No one will take it. No one will hire me because I've been in prison. Now I live with no water and no electricity. What are you doing to fix this? Because your system doesn't work.
-Why did Safe Streets lose its representative on the panel? We have family members in prison, we have former in-mates, what better experience can you have than that? You ask us to be polite in these meetings, and you don't understand our frustration because we are the ones being affected here and we have no representation.

There were a lot of technical questions about legislation and money that I just don't remember, but I remember the people who came to represent themselves and their loved ones. It was a powerful hour, just standing there in the back...

Question: Why are we expanding a system that doesn't make us safer?

(Side note: I'm in a cafe and one of the lady baristas just said "I told them not to arrest him, I didn't want him to go to jail. I've been to jail, it sucks....")

Third event
Screening of Waiting for Superman followed by Panel of New Orleans Educators

Because of the OPP meeting, I made it to the second half of the screening. Here's what I picked out from the movie...

Schools that put students on different academic tracks based on test scores and other often arbitrary factors are failing a large portion of their students. Charter schools (like KIPP) hold their entire student body to the same academic standards, and have achieved miraculous results. Miraculous in the sense that after decades of attempting to close the achievement gap between students from low-income and high-income backgrounds, it was widely believed that the gap would never close, that disadvantaged students couldn't learn. This new wave of charter schools is turning that assumption around. KIPP Believe is now the highest-performing open enrollment middle school in New Orleans. Two more schools are in the works for next year, and more for the year after that. More kids will have access to a quality education because the chances of being called up on the lottery won't be 10 to 1. I hate sitting in the teachers lounge and hearing the daily phone call: "I'm sorry ma'am, we don't have any more spots available, but we can put you on our waiting list." As much backlash as there's been since the Recovery School District took over five year ago, we need more understanding of and support and funding for these charter schools, because they are WORKING.

After the screening and panel discussion, I knew I was almost done dancing. The gumball was about to drop.

Over-funding incarceration. Under-funding education.

I knew it was a match made in heaven (more appropriately, hell) when the General Union of Palestinian Students at the University of New Orleans e-mailed me the next day. Next week is Right to Education Week at Birzeit University, and it highlights all of the issues that prevent Palestinian students from accessing a quality education. Education is highly valued in Palestine, but the right to education is actively denied by Occupation forces. Israeli officers pose as reporters and interview Palestinian students on campus activism, then they make arrests. At Birzeit, student council members are arrested merely for being on the student council. The last president has been in jail for almost a year.

Over-funding incarceration. Under-funding education.

To be sure, New Orleans and Palestine have this problem in common, and it stems from decades of racism, corruption and mismanagement. But to say these are the only reasons behind the active DENIAL of the right to education is to give Israel entirely too much credit. There are stark differences, but the purpose of this comparison is to tie the two communities together into some semblence of mutual investment. I wish I could say that my audience is the City of New Orleans, or the City of Ramallah, but for now I'm confident in the support of young students and activists of both communities. Now to see how it unfolds...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My friend just got an article posted in the HuffPo, check it out....

Jordan Flaherty: The Incarceration Capital of the US

"Almost 60,000 people passed through OPP in the last twelve months, a staggering figure for a city of this size. The average length of stay was 20 days. The largest portion of pre-trial prisoners in the jail are there for nonviolent, municipal offenses that even under conservative standards should not warrant jail time, including 20,000 arrests this year for traffic violations. "New Orleans is basically the incarceration capital of the world," says Kaplan. "You're hard-pressed to find a resident of New Orleans - especially in poor communities - that hasn't had their lives disrupted in some way by this institution."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My church is awesome.

Post Katrina Education in New Orleans: A Human Rights Violation

For the first time ever this Nov. 9, the UN Human Rights Council will issue a decision on the US Government's human rights record. How would you grade New Orleans' human rights record? Is your child's treatment in the RSD a human rights violation? Did the demolition of public housing violate international law? What does the proposed OPP expansion have to do with education and human rights? Do you have a right to a dignified job that pays a living wage?

Most importantly, how do we work together to demand human rights for all New Orleanians?

Join poets, artists, parents, organizers, musicians and youth from around the city (including Sharon Jasper, A Scribe Called Quess?, Monique Harden, Jonathan Brown, Aesha Rasheed, Robert Goodman, Sam Jackson, Alice Craft Kerney, Brad Ott, Endesha Juakali, Revolutionary Theater from the Daylaborers' Congress, Dimekia Morgan, and folks like you!)

Tuesday, Nov. 9
First Grace United Methodist Church,
3401 Canal St., Corner of Canal and Jefferson Davis
Free Food served up hot at 5:30 pm
Speakers and music start at 6:00 pm

Sponsored by: Campaign to Restore Housing Rights, Center for
Constitutional Rights, Children's Defense Fund, C3/Hands of Iberville,
Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital, Community Justice Section of the
Loyola Law Clinic, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Louisiana
Justice Institute, MayDay New Orleans, Family and Friends of
Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, Greater New Orleans Organizers'
Roundtable, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Safe
Streets/Strong Communities, Southern Poverty Law Center, Survivors
Village, Take Back the Land, U.S. Human Rights Network Land and
Housing Action Group, and Unity of Greater New Orleans.
So, I left Sunday's protest a little unsatisfied. I wish I'd gone out on a limb, stopped some people with GA badges, asked them what the climate was like on Israel....the closest I got was when I stopped on my bike to watch a few WBC protesters, turned around to a badged man and said, "these people are ridiculous." Like my Equal Rights for Palestine shirt would appear refreshingly moderate.

Well, today I learned that after the NOLAPS protest, my friend and a few other young Jewish Americans from around the country stood up in front of the entire General Assembly and directly addressed Prime Minister Netanyahu. You can see in the image below that she was hastily removed. Not only was her face plastered on the Israeli news, but her statement was quoted in at least a dozen news sources, Israeli and American. Reactions were varied. Well, for one, they were booed out of the conference, and the JPost article was followed by scathing comments labeling her a traitor and an Arab sympathizer. But high-profile, pro-peace sites like Mondoweiss and RabbiBrant and their supporters celebrated the protest. Another incident after which I don't know whether to feel encouraged or discouraged. Impressed and inspired will have to suffice.

At the very bottom is a link to a new website sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace. It's beautiful. Check it out.

And check out my friend, Heckler #1.

Protesters Interrupt New Orleans Speech

Young Jews Raise the Roof at the Jewish Federation GA!

Five Young Jews Disrupt Netanyahu Speech With Call for New Jewish Identity

"The loyalty oath de-legitimatizes Israel," a woman holding a placard yelled while standing on her chair, interrupting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech at the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly in New Orleans on Monday."
Jerusalem Post

The first heckler began just moments into Netanyahu's 30-minute speech and was ejected while shouting, "The loyalty oath delegitimizes Israel." The premier responded, "I was going to talk about delegitimizing Israel but they really have the wrong address."
Haaretz: Hecklers disrupt PM's Speech at Conference

"Five hecklers created a brief disruption during the prime minister's speech. Manning [Jewish Federation rep] said this was "indicative of an atmosphere of disruption rather than dialogue that is unfortunately all too common today."
Herald Online

"The young Jews faced a violent backlash from some audience members. Some audience members attempted to hit and gag Rae Abileah, a young Jewish protester who grew up in Half Moon Bay and now lives in San Francisco. Three of the young Jews, Matan Cohen, Matthew Taylor and Emily Ratner, were temporarily detained, but not before they interrupted Netanyahu's speech five times with chants, and forced him to address them directly."
The Berkeley Daily Planet

“The Jewish establishment thinks that all we want are free trips to Israel and feel-good service projects. That is in insult to our intelligence and to the Jewish values we were brought up on. What we want is for the American Jewish community to stand up and say that Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights are wrong and that we will not continue to support it with our dollars, our political strength and our moral abilities. We are the next generation of American Jews, proud of our heritage, strongly committed to Jewish life. We live our Jewish values in opposing Israel’s human rights violations and we invite – no, implore –all Jews to join in this urgent struggle.” Hanna King, Swarthmore College, Philadelphia

YoungJewishProud website-Read this declaration...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Here's the Fox 8 video from Biden's speech at the General Assembly, complete with a little blurb about how "a group of protesters is not happy that the Israeli Prime Minister is here..."

New Orleans Visit

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why Salam Fayyad is a badass....

Thank you Haaretz, for the appropriate use of sarcastic criticism. Right-wing Israel doesn't know how to respond to a moderate Palestinian Prime Minister. Come on, it's funny.

Haaretz: Why Salam Fayyad is Israel's Public Enemy Number One

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad attends the inauguration of a new wing in the Al Oma School in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Dahiat al-Barid, on the Palestinian side of the separation wall in the West Bank, November 2, 2010. Fayyad cancelled a visit to another school in East Jerusalem after Israel issued a warrant banning PA events in the Jerusalem Municipality. Prime Minister Fayyad declared that the Jerusalem suburbs will one day be part of the eternal Palestinian capital. The PA has sponsored the renovation of 15 educational institutions in East Jerusalem.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I got an e-mail from InterFaith Peace-Builders today. Their Olive Harvest Delegation just started and the stories are rolling in....

Thinking Beyond “Solutions”

I was dismayed by Jeff Halper’s stories about demolished houses. After 1967, East Jerusalem was declared a “green zone”. Palestinians can own land, but cannot build on it. According to Jeff, zoning is the official justification for demolishing houses, but they are demolished for all sorts of reasons. Since 1967, 24,000 homes have been demolished. There are 15,000 demolition orders outstanding. Even if a house is not demolished, its residents are fined $15,000-$20,000. The government gives the residents a coupon book and they are forced to pay 100 shekels a month on the “fine”. The government encourages “self demolition.” They will reduce the fine in half if you demolish your home yourself. Jeff reports that up to 10,000 more have been self demolished.

It was a shock to see the extent of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement on the West Bank near Jerusalem. It is a large city of 40,000 — not just residences but industries, shopping malls, etc. There is an Aeronautic and Space College because a new airport is planned to serve Jerusalem. The plan is to expand Ma’ale Adumim to 70,000 residents and connect it to East Jerusalem and to Jericho, thus cutting the West Bank in half and re-routing any traffic from north to south around a huge area.

It was very depressing to drive around this settlement. It is not even considered a “settlement’ by the Israelis. It is just a normal Israeli city. (But housing costs half as much as in West Jerusalem). The streets are paved, there are high-rise new apartments, sidewalks, green grass and trees and flowers. In the center of cross streets there are circles with ancient olive trees. These have been uprooted from Palestinian farms and replanted to decorate the settlement streets.

I felt very sad after the morning with Jeff, and seeing the “facts on the ground” of the extent of the Israeli penetration and deliberately spaced occupation—cities, industries, schools, institutions, roads—all walled off and sealed from the Palestinians.

We talked about the pros and cons of a “two-state solution” versus a “one-state solution”. They both seem impossible. Jeff says Israeli policy is to keep the status-quo and not move toward either one, and the US Congress supports this policy. Jeff concluded the morning by saying that perhaps we can’t really advocate a “solution”. The most important thing we can do is keep demonstrating to the world and to the Israelis that the Occupation is untenable. When it becomes too hard to maintain, a solution will be found.

- Jeannine Heron

The Jeff she's talking about is Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions. A part of me wants to go on one of their delegations, to hear from the experts and get access to places that a lot of foreigners can't see. But...I'm beyond excited to make my own observations and plan my own experience.

The ticket is almost purchased....

A work in progress...

Engineers are regretting the decisions made by their predecessors regarding New Orleans and water. New Orleans is afraid of water, so we built levees that separate us from it. Now, because of the way rivers move and silt deposits and landscapes erode, the banks are growing higher and soon the water will top the levees again. To protect ourselves, we need to build the levees higher and higher. The Dutch don't have this problem. They designed a system of waterways that moves throughout the city and keeps the soil wet and stable, while our soil dries out and sinks. This is why I fall into potholes in Gert Town. And Uptown. Nature just don't care.


I've been biking from Uptown to Mid-City a lot. On Sundays I bike to church, Mondays I bike to Boys Hope to tutor, and Wednesdays I bike back to church for choir rehearsal. Then there's the odd babysitting gig or visit to the bayou to see Ali, who is helping me prepare for my trip to the West Bank. Man thalik-who is that? taqaata-intersection. This is all very useful stuff.

Anyways, I used to bike around Gert Town. People tell me to avoid it, even though I spent every day there for two months painting houses on Colapissa Street. That never gets old. It's an odd thought, in retrospect, that I worked in Gert Town and the Lower Ninth Ward and Hollygrove during the day with the unconscious assumption that after nightfall those places were uncrossable, kind of like in a zombie apocalypse. Like the people would just...change.

After a few meandering trips around the edge of Gert Town (and through harrowing traffic at Earhart and what used to resemble a street), I decided to venture in and try various combinations of Pine, Fig, Colapissa, and Broadway. Good Lord, it's so much easier. A man whose house I painted sits on his porch every evening and I've been stopping to say hi ("yeah, I'm not painting anymore, teaching Uptown now...) and occassionally I see Samuel, the 8-year-old who grew incredibly attached to one of my volunteer groups last spring. He calls me Isabella. Last time I saw him, he told me he was a 4th grader at Lafayette, and even though I jokingly (sort of) told him to apply to my middle school, I was happy that he had the opportunity to attend such a reputable charter school. And I was surprised. It didn't fit my image of Samuel, who runs around his unfinished house, half-dressed, through mud, garbage and rooster poop. I makes me wonder where my kids live when they aren't transitioning in single-file in khakis and collared shirts. Last week Mayor Landrieu asked our assembly how many students lived in the East, and around half raised their hand. I didn't realize so many of them lived that far away...

Every time I bike through Gert Town, I find myself in the middle of a loud, personal conversation between neighbors on porches yelling at each other from across the street. I try to smile and nod hello without falling into a pothole, but I want to step it up, maybe yell "good evening!" or something, make some conversation….after all, it’s the New Orleans thing to do. Sometimes I bike past a barbeque joint that smells absolutely amazing. Folks are eating, partying, dancing, grilling, enjoying the evening New Orleans-style. I know I would get some looks, but I also know I'd be welcomed there.

New Orleans and Palestine are two different worlds, and I expect that my life is going to be drastically different next year, but the way I feel about these two places is jarringly similar. If you fear another culture, you will make choices, however conscious, that separate you from it. At a certain point, you have to realize that the root of the problem is that you don't have any friends from Gert Town, or Palestine.

There's an Apartheid Wall in Palestine. It looks pretty and tiled on the Israeli side, like a highway separator, but it's a stack of concrete blocks on the Palestinian side. Thousands of Palestinians have lived in view of this wall and thought "This is the reason my land was stolen….my olive trees bulldozed….my family cut off from our neighbors. This is why my life is hell."

In Arabic it’s called hafrada, separation. One culture separates itself from another, more “hostile” culture to give its members the freedom to go about their lives unhindered, and between their classes, jobs, and pilates sessions, they read headlines that keep their fear at a low simmer.

This happens within New Orleans, between the United States and the Muslim world, between Israel and Palestine. The dangerous people need to be kept separate, so the money goes to intelligence and security. Intelligence is what they need to catch the scary people. The scary black people. The scary Muslims. The scary Palestinians.

No offense, but if you are afraid of Palestinians, you are a dumbshit.

A few weeks ago my friend and neighbor was robbed and beaten up in front of his house. I'm being told to be careful because there have been incidences of sexual assault around the Tulane area. Oh, you bike through Gert Town at night? I feel more at ease biking through Gert Town than I do in my Uptown neighborhood. Because the scary people are crossing over. They’re coming to my neighborhood and robbing my friends. They’re coming to my country and crashing planes into my buildings. Why aren’t they in school? Why aren’t they at work? I thought separation was a good idea! Give us more money for troops! More guards for our gated communities!

I was biking down Broadway at night for the first time and to my amusement, the first thought that crossed my mind was voiced by a Scottish hobbit from The Two Towers:

"The closer we are to danger, the further we are from harm.”

Now, on a personal level this isn’t really true. It's not for my own safety that I moved to New Orleans, or bike through whatever neighborhood I please, or plan to spend a year in a territory occupied by soldiers who are young, armed, and paranoid. But this is a trend I feel strongly about perpetuating. We need to cross over, for everyone's safety.

This weekend Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni are coming to New Orleans to speak at this year’s General Assembly. I perused the program on-line and found a lot of speakers on topics like the importance of community service in Judaism, and one called “Off the Record: Talking about Israel.” I’d love to go to some of these workshops, but it costs upwards of $600 dollars to register. eeeesh.

Unfortunately, the program includes countless lectures with names like “Deligitimizers of Israel: The Jewish Community Responds.” It should instead be named “The Scary People Behind the Wall and How We Can Separate Them Further."

Don't make war. Don't even make levees. Make Dutch-style waterways.


New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity will be protesting in front of the General Assembly tomorrow. More updates to come.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Suheir Hammad

I got to meet this woman last year, after she performed at a poetry reading for the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival. She's also in a movie called "Salt of the Sea," which has been described as a Palestinian Bonnie and Clyde. It has yet to arrive on Netflix....