Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Some Recent Things Worth Reading

Navigating the world of information coming from Israel and Palestine is daunting. The sheer number of articles, editorials, and blogs can quickly overwhelm. So, here are some links to pieces I have come across recently.

Seth Freedman, of the Guardian UK, blogs about the South Hebron Hills

An Op-Ed, from the NY Times, speaking truthfully about settlements

Saree Makdisi, writing for the LA Times, comments on how the language of Middle East politics absolves Israel

A review of the Prime Minister's, Benjamin Netanyahu, recent speech. What did he actually say? What are the realities on the ground.

I could make a list of these everyday, but I won't, I don't have the energy. If you go back through the archives of my blog, there is a listing of websites and news resources for solid information from Israel/Palestine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Upside-Down Pedagogy

The sheep know when it's time to go home. As the sun begins to stretch towards the horizon, without prodding from the shepherd, the sheep fall into a series of defined lines, all pointing towards home. The shepherd follows the sheep, trusting that they know the way.

As we follow the shepherd into a small remote village in the South Hebron Hills, the atmospohere is calm, yet the pace is quick. The father prepares the feeding troughs so that the sheep may supplement the grass they just ate. One of the children prepares bread, one fetches water from the cistern, and six sit near the entrance the house, smiling. The six children seem to be waiting for me to establish eye contact, and when I do their smiles broaden and their restiveness becomes apparent.

“How are you all?”

“Good, thanks be to God,” they say in chorus.

As their mother emerges from the cave, moving quickly as she works to prepare the house and the meal for unexpected guests, she speaks firmly with her children. As I repeat her words in my head, trying to translate them, two children emerge with a thin mattress and pillows for us to sit on . I then understand the firm tone came from the mother's annoyance with the children for not looking after the guests. We sit for a short time, as the evening work happens all around us. Tea arrives. The father has the children finish tending the sheep as he comes to drink a cup of tea with us.

I become aware that dinner is close to being ready. I stand up to grab the water jug, used for washing and rinsing. One of the younger girls, maybe 7 years old, grabs the jug from my hands and leads me to a water basin used to recycle grey water. She holds the jug in a position which suggests that I am to put my hands under the spout. Water is then poured over my hands in spurts, allowing me to wash my face and hands. Opening my eyes after the water has cleared from my face, I see another child holding a towel in front of me. Cleaned up for dinner, we are invited into the house.

As we enter the family's dwelling , which is a cave, the children are to my left eating in the small kitchen area. The rest of the cave has been vacated for us, the guests. We sit and are immediately served freshly baked bread, tomatoes, green beans, onions, and lamb. This lamb was not store bought, but this sheep was born and raised in these hills by the family. Now this goat will be used to feed guests who have spent no time caring for the sheep. During the meal, every time we momentarily stop eating, we are immediately commanded to keep eating.

After dinner we are served tea again. The evening conversation includes: the events of the day, recent encounters with settlers, Obama, the United States meddling in the Middle East, how well I can cook, and the current village gossip. As the evening turns to night, and the gas lamp begins to dim, we are shown to our beds. The warm summer air is a welcoming environment for a good night's sleep.

The wind is usually strong in this village because it stands higher than the adjacent rolling hills. The consistent wind keeps away the mosquitoes, a welcome absence. As I get under the covers, I look to the east, and can see lights of what I believe to be the western-most hillsides of Jordan. The stars shine brightly in the sky to the south, but are faint to the north. Bright white flood lights pollute the night sky to the north. The flood lights to the north surround the nearby settlement of Ma'on. The lights aren't turned inward to provide illumination for the Israeli settlers living inside, but are instead turned to the adjacent hills to illuminate dangerous Palestinians who may approach the settlement. I am struck by the juxtaposition of the village and Ma'on. I lay in a village without running water, standing structures, or electricity but am covered in light eminating from flood lights built out of fear. I lay under the stars, protected by nothing but the blankets which keep me warm but see to the north the security fence which surrounds the settlement. The fence and the lights are in place to protect the settlers from the very people who showed me such gracious and unconditional hospitality this evening.

These people don't need to learn anything. They don't need to learn about modern economics, simple living, democracy, the West, or the peace process. The opposite is true, we all need to learn from these people. The graciousness, kindness, and love of their hospitality is something that could change the world, if we only listened.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama from Christian Peacemaker Teams: Call on Israel to Stop Its Violence against Palestinians

Dear President Obama,

On Tuesday June 15th, you said of the protests in Iran, “When I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, whenever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people.” For the last 13 years, Christian Peacemaker Teams have witnessed the brutal suppression of peaceful dissent here in Palestine. In the city of Hebron and the village of At-Tuwani, CPT supports vibrant Palestinian nonviolent resistance to Israel’s military occupation. Every day, Palestinians hold nonviolent demonstrations and defy curfews and closed military zones. They rebuild demolished homes and work their land despite the threat of arrest and attack. Though their struggle is largely ignored by the media, we find inspiration in the way Palestinians are working for justice and peace.

We are deeply troubled by the way Israeli authorities respond to this nonviolent resistance. On April 22, 2006, Israeli police beat and arrested the mayor of At-Tuwani village and his brother for doing no more than holding a peaceful demonstration against the illegal Israeli wall. CPT has documented the Israeli army demolishing the homes of nonviolent resistance leaders, harassing them at checkpoints, and targeting them for arrest.

Too often, Israeli forces respond to nonviolent resistance with lethal force. In the past nine months, Israeli soldiers have killed four residents of the village of Ni’lin during demonstrations against the Israeli wall. Ahmed Mousa, age 10, was shot in the forehead with live ammunition on July 29, 2008. Yousef Amira, 17, was shot twice with rubber-coated steel bullets in next day. On December 28th 2008, 22-year-old Arafat Rateb Khawaje was shot in the back with live ammunition. The same day, Mohammed Khawaje, 20, was shot in the head with live ammunition. On March 22nd 2009, American demonstrator Tristan Anderson was shot in the face with a tear gas canister. He still lies in the hospital in critical condition. Each of these incidents raises a simple question: why do Israeli soldiers respond to unarmed protestors
with deadly force?

When Israel arrests, attacks and kills Palestinians who practice nonviolent resistance, it is saying to the Palestinian people, “No matter your methods of struggle, no matter the justice of your cause, we will not share power with you.” In this context, it is a grave mistake to call, as you did in your Cairo speech, for Palestinians to abandon violence without calling on Israel to do the same. To speak as though there is no Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement is worse than na├»ve; it gives Israel permission to continue to ignore their cries for justice and freedom.

In his recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined his conditions for peace with Palestine. He described a future Palestinian state that would not be a state at all. Its borders and airspace would be controlled by others. It would be demilitarized while Israel remained free to continue building a nuclear arsenal. This is not a plan for peace. It is a demand that Palestine submit to Israeli domination.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu makes these demands, his government continues to suppress Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Unarmed demonstrators in N’ilin are still met with tear gas and live bullets. In Hebron and At-Tuwani, children on their way to school are still attacked by Israeli settlers and settlements continue to grow. We ask you, President Obama, to demand that Israel stop its campaign of violence against the Palestinian people. We echo the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement’s calls for justice and human dignity. Only justice will lead to

In Hope,
Christian Peacemaker Teams-Palestine

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Crazy Zionist Graphic Design

As a rode the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I saw interesting posters.

The second poster was worse:


Wow, shocking. Obama, from Cairo on June 4, seemed to call for more dialogue between the West and the Arab world, and seemed to only ask Israel to stop expanding current settlements. This is the same rhetoric that Condoleeza Rice used during the last 8 years, that is, settlement expansion is not helpful to the peace process. There was no challenge made to the currently existing West Bank settlements, illegal under international law, which house half a million Israelis.

Nonetheless, despite Obama's unabashedly supportive tone towards Israel, these posters can be seen around Jerusalem, as well as near settlements in the South Hebron Hills. A new poll also shows that 6% of Israelis feel that Obama's policies are pro-Israel. Although these posters may be the work of extreme Zionists, the general opinion that Obama is anti-Israel is not a minority opinion. I can't imagine what people might call Obama if he actually critiques Israel, or stops giving Israel $15 million a day.

Netanyahu Moving Forward the 'Peace Plan'

I had grand dreams of writing a scathing review of Benjamin Netanyahu's, the Israeli prime minister, speech on peace between Israel and Palestine. (See key points of the speech here from the Washington Post)

But, my preparation for traveling and my travel prohibited me from writing a timely review. Thankfully, Ali Abunimah, from the Electronic Intifada, wrote a great article about Netanyahu's speech. (See article)

Obama praised the speech as an important step forward in the peace process. This is politic-speak. It's bogus. Netanyahu's plan is a road towards eternal conflict Netanyahu's plan for peace is maximum land for Israel, erasing the history of 700,000 Palestinians being ethnically cleansed from the land, removing Palestinians from Jerusalem, and pretending 20% of Israel's population is not Palestinian, among other brilliant points. His plan is to continue apartheid in order to ensure Israeli security.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fixed my blog

I fixed the email subscription option on the right-hand side of the blog. This allows you to receive my blog updates in your inbox, as opposed to having to check to see if there are new posts. Apparently this has been broken for months, but I was unaware.

And for all of you who know what RSS feeds are, there is an icon on the right which I added for RSS.

On another note, I am returning to Palestine in a few days. Posts from Palestine will be forthcoming.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 05, 2009

In Response to Obama's Address from Cairo

The hype was certainly present for Obama's June 4th speech from Cairo. Obama, whose speech was directed towards the Arab-Muslim world, seemed to be reciting many Obama-isms that were present in his campaign, 'Our commonalities are bigger than our differences, let's forge a better future.'

Now that my summary is complete, I have good news and some bad news. Which do you want first? The good news first? Ok.

What was positive in Obama's speech (specifically in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian issue) was his acknowledgment of the suffering of the Palestinian people, Obama even mentioned the occupation.

The Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.

That's more truthful than most U.S. politicians are, so that's a good start. I also appreciated when Obama made the connection between humanitarian crises in Gaza and the West Bank, and a lack of security for Israel.

And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank.

The bad news: contrary to much analysis of the speech I heard, I do not believe that Obama changed the course of U.S. Policy towards the Middle East. The rhetoric Obama expressed towards Israel was the same as under the Bush Administration.

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. It is time for these settlements to stop.

I remember Condoleeza Rice saying this at least 268 times. Important to note is the way that this statement does not question the legitimacy of current settlements. It seems the Obama will only talk to Netanyahu if Israeli settlements continue to expand. The current Israeli settlements, housing half a million people, are seemingly legitimate according to the United States. The fact that all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and 94 Israeli settlement outposts are illegal under international law and Israeli law, apparently doesn't mean anything. The reality is that the 'time' for these settlements to stop was long ago. It's too late to stop settlement expansion.

The point that most angered me was Obama's statements about Palestinian resistance.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights...It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

I agree, resistance through violence is wrong, and it only contributes to the cycles of hatred and violence. Yet, Obama failed to mention Israel's assault on Gaza. I don't find killing nearly 1,000 children, destroying universities, mosques, and UN facilities to be particularly courageous or above reproach. Violent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, assassination, imprisonment, home invasion, collective punishment, bombing of civilians, and restriction of movement is wrong. But similarly, Israeli occupation, assassination, imprisonment, home invasion, collective punishment, bombing of civilians, and restriction of movement of Palestinians is wrong, it's morally reprehensible and unacceptable.

Obama states that, “violence is a dead end,” but he doesn't state this universally. As I have shown, Obama was unwilling to say that violence is a dead end for the Israeli military. Does Obama believe that an assault on civilians in Gaza is an opportunity for progress, instead of a dead end. Even more alarmingly, Obama seems to be stating that violence is not a dead end for Israel nor for the United States. Earlier in his speech, Obama spoke in defense of the United States' continued and increased occupation of Afghanistan. And last time I checked, the occupation of Afghanistan was consistently resulting in violence. But Mr. Obama, you just said, “violence is a dead end.” So it seems that you decide for whom violence will be a 'dead end?' It seems that violence is always a 'dead end' for the 'other' and for the 'enemy.' On the other hand, violence committed by the United States is never a 'dead end.'

Another of Obama's statements earlier in the speech caught me unsettled.

Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice.

Mr. President, war is always a choice. Bombing insurgents and civilian populations is not a necessity. I think what you meant to say is that responding to violence, hatred, and terrorism is not a choice. The choice lies in how we will respond. Will we contribute to the cycle of violence and hatred? Or will we move towards reconciliation, justice, and thus, life.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Know Your Enemy

Speaking in the United States about the injustices I see perpetrated against Palestinians brings a variety of responses. Some are curious, some are supportive, some are informed, some are ignorant, some are opinionated, and some are hostile. Speaking recently at a church in Northern California, the responses were, as expected, varied.

At the conclusion of one of the church services, I was approached by a man in his early 60's. I am becoming increasingly adept at recognizing whether someone wants to 'tell me something' or 'ask me something.' It was obvious this man wanted to 'tell me something.'

“So I've been reading a book I found in my mother's things. It says that the land that is now Israel and Palestine, used to be called Judea, did you know that?”

“Yes, I had heard that. Formerly Judea, in the Bible, and the West Bank was called the Judean and Samarian deserts.”

“Also, I read that the modern day Palestinians are actually descendants of the Philistines. Goliath was a Philistine, and Philistines were always enemies of God.”

My mind begins to race with things I would like to say. “So you are making the connection between Philistines, enemies of God, and Palestinians. Are you saying that Palestinians are enemies of God?”

But instead I respond, “well, it seems pretty hard to make these statements about a large people group. I mean 10% of Palestinians are Christians. So regardless of what position you come from, it's impossible to say that Palestinians, as a people, are enemies of God. (I resist going down a more interfaith path claiming that people of faith abiding by principles of peace and love couldn't possibly be enemies of God, whether they were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc.).

The man pauses, seeming pensive, “you know, I have been a truck driver for 40 years. I have come across a lot of folks who I thought would be enemies. And the majority of the time, they turn out to not be enemies.” And with this statement the man turned to walk away.

I was stuck by the profundity of the man's words. So often our preconceptions and prejudices are unfounded; they may be based on fear, experience, or ethnocentrism. This truck driver reminded me that before we label people as enemies, we must meet those people and hear their stories, attempting to understand who they are.