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, August 23, 2010

After long struggle, village on the grid

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you know I write quite a bit (it feels like it at times), sometimes narrative pieces and sometimes regurgitated news that I think is important. I've been telling myself for sometime that I would like to start cleaning up (and properly editing) pieces that I write so they can be sent to widely read blogs/sites (often emphasizing the Israel/Palestine issue) such as Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, Huffington Post, etc.

So I wrote a piece a week ago, was one click away from posting it on my blog, and I thought, "Hey, this piece is decent, why don't I edit it and send it to the Electronic Intifada (EI)." So I cleaned it up, took out all the repetitions, repeated points of emphasis, that I found were aplenty, and sent it to the EI. The EI is a very widely read site that offers opinion, analysis, news briefs, and diaries presenting the Palestinian narrative regarding recent developments in Israel/Palestine. The site gets 250,000 hits a month and is widely read in circles of human rights activism surrounding Israel/Palestine issues.

Here's the piece, cross-posted from the Electronic Intifada.
The West Bank village of al-Tuwani, after nine years of actively fighting and lobbying, has been connected to the Palestinian electrical grid. The al-Tuwani Village Council originally petitioned the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO), responsible for the coordination of civilian affairs in the occupied territories, for access to electricity in 2001. After facing nearly a decade of non-responses, delays, requests for additional paperwork, confiscations and demolitions, the village of al-Tuwani has successfully obtained electricity.

The State of Israel has categorically denied the Palestinians of the South Hebron Hills where al-Tuwani is located all of the amenities which are automatically granted to Jewish settlements and outposts. The nearby settlement, Maon, and outpost, Havat Maon, have had an array of services since their inception. Havat Maon is home to convicted murderers affiliated with the Kach party, including Yehoshafat Tor, who was involved in a plot to blow up an Arab girls school in Jerusalem in 2002. In an interview with the American Public Broadcasting Service, Tor had this to say about the place of Arabs according to his understanding of the Torah and the Jewish tradition: "We are following our hearts. What we should be doing is all written in the Bible. We just read it in our weekly Torah portion: expel the Arabs. Kick them out!" ("Israel's Next War," Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service, 5 April 2005).

Yehoshafat Tor and his kin have access to these amenities while Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills are forced to truck in water, heat water with donated solar panels, burn their trash, dig cesspools, and rely on rainwater to nourish their crops. Remarkably, Israeli policies in Palestinian communities in Area C, including those communities in the South Hebron Hills, appear to have a similar motivation as the aforementioned Zionist settlers -- that is, to expel the Arabs.

Intense lobbying efforts by al-Tuwani residents, Israeli activists, international human rights organizations Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove and others resulted in al-Tuwani being given the permits by the Israeli DCO to be connected to the electrical grid. However, the bottom line is that group of villagers in al-Tuwani didn't give up their desire to have electricity, nor their desire to have a small piece of their human dignity acknowledged. The al-Tuwani Village Council brought in Israeli and international activists, politicians (Quartet envoy Tony Blair came to hear about the lack of basic services for the South Hebron Hills), Palestinian Authority officials (who eventually provided the supplies to build the electricity infrastructure prior to obtaining the permits from the Israeli DCO), and Palestinian electrical engineers, to help accomplish the mission of bringing electricity to the village.

It's a story that belongs in the late American historian Howard Zinn's book, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress. The fact is that the Israeli government folded to a village of 250 Palestinian farmers, shepherds and schoolchildren. Their dedication to the pursuit of equality, to the recognition of their rights as human beings, has brought one small victory. This victory is not small in the sense that it shouldn't be recognized or celebrated. Rather, it's a small victory because of the sea of obstacles and injustices that remain for the people of al-Tuwani. Lush, green, developed settlements lie directly adjacent to the seemingly arid and desolate village of al-Tuwani. Settlers remain above the law as they attack Palestinian schoolchildren, farmers and shepherds on a regular basis.

But on 12 August 2010, when electricity came to al-Tuwani, it seemed, at least for a day, that the arc of the universe didn't bend toward Zionist ethnic cleansing and the preference of Jews over non-Jews, but instead towards justice. Chris Hedges, speaking at a rally for the US boat to Gaza, recently echoed the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and that arc is descending with a righteous fury that is thundering down upon the Israeli government" ("The Tears of Gaza Must Be Our Tears,", 9 August 2010).

Tonight, and inshallah for many nights to come, the electricity will shine in al-Tuwani.

Samuel Nichols is an activist from the US working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. He lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the South Hebron hills, amongst Palestinians committed to nonviolent resistance to land confiscation and settler violence. He writes on his blog, Do Unto Others, at

Mosque controversy: voices of sanity and insanity

Ed Note: I am coming off a few days of relaxation in Toronto (largely without looking at my computer -- breath big sigh of relief) and am heading out to week-long meetings, so this post is a bit piecemeal, my apologies.

The wave of Islamaphobia continues across the United States. The Park51 project (the Cordoba Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero) continues to bring out the worst in Americans. Yesterday morning an anti-mosque demonstration was staged in Lower Manhattan (the LA Times and Mondoweiss reported).

There was a frightening moment during the rally when an African-American, mistaken for a Muslim -- seemingly because he was wearing a cap, was confrontationally approached by participants of the anti-mosque rally (ok, let's call a spade a spade, it was an anti-muslim rally, and as evidenced by this video, an anti-brown people rally). Here's the frightening video which smacks of racism.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment has continually weighed in about this controversy. He recently penned an incisive piece, comparing the current controversy to the ol' days of the Jim Crow south:
The demonstrators want to get around the Constitution by creating a sacred geography of sentiment that is outside ordinary legal reality. It consists of a space of white American Judeo-Christian victimhood and of another realm, of a brown, foreign, hostile Islam that must be excluded from lower Manhattan (never mind that these characterizations of American Muslims are pure falsehood). It is an attempt to create a space within which one religious tradition is favored over another, and an attempt to deny members of a religion the opportunity to practice it wherever they like. They grant the technical ‘right’ to the Muslims to worship there, but then seek to withdraw that right on the ground of hurt feelings or inappropriate geography. We saw this sort of thinking in the Jim Crow era, when African Americans, though full American citizens, were prevented from living, shopping, working, and inevitably from worshiping, in certain geographical areas, on the grounds that their doing so would offend and hurt the feelings of the White majority.
He continues:
Those who say that not everyone who opposes the Cordoba community center is a racist may be right, but everyone who opposes it is supporting a practice that has in the American past been deeply connected to racism, which is the dictation to minorities of where they may live and worship within American cities. Just as today’s protesters said that they don’t challenge the right of Muslims to build mosques and worship, “just not here,” so the ‘protective councils’ in early twentieth century Los Angeles said exactly the same thing to Jews about their synagogues and Japanese Buddhists about their temples. Moreover, the fact is that the building of mosques is being widely opposed and interfered with throughout the country and not just in lower Manhattan. This generalized bigotry is clearly racist, and looks exactly like the prejudice implemented against other minorities in the age of ‘separate but equal.’
...and concludes:
Muslim Americans are Americans. There can be no government Establishment of Judeo-Christian traditions, and no prohibition on how and where Muslim Americans worship. We are seeing attempts to foment a new Jim Crow, centered on mosques, which involves all the same fear-mongering, segregation, and special pleading for the majority that characterized the old one. It is important that this campaign against a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan not succeed, or it will be only the first in a long series of discriminatory policies throughout the country, as opportunistic politicians jump on the Islamophobic bandwagon.
I'll close with the best piece I have read regarding the Ground Zero Islamic Center controversy, I would highly recommend reading the article in full. Here's excerpts from Haroon Siddiqui's piece in the Toronto Star (a solid newspaper it seems from the 4 days I have spent with it):
The raging controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” is quintessentially American: free of facts and logic and unapologetically exploitative of emotional issues in the tradition of bare-knuckled partisan politics; yet also an occasion for responsible leaders to call on fellow Americans to live up to their highest ideals, despite the lingering trauma of 9/11 and the ravages of an economic crisis.
Ouch, that hurts even more coming from a Canadian.

Siddiqui presented some facts about the project and then started to comment on some of the myths surrounding the project:
• “The mosque” is an affront to the memory of 9/11 victims and should not be anywhere near the site.

This is based on the premise that all Muslims are collectively guilty for Sept. 11. This racist narrative — meant to deflect attention away from American foreign policies — has it that Muslims have not condemned terrorism enough, though they have, repeatedly and forcefully, and been the greatest victims of terrorism. Obama acknowledged both those truths when defending Park51.

• Why can’t “the mosque” be moved elsewhere?

The answer has been that doing so would be to concede to falsehood and discrimination. Besides, how far from Ground Zero would be far enough?

• The West need not be nice to Muslims as long as Muslim countries persecute their minorities, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt, Baha’is in Iran, Chaldeans in Iraq, etc.

In other words, since they are awful, we should be as well. Democracies should behave like dictatorships.

• The project’s $100 million funding is suspect — the money may come from Saudi Arabia (15 of the 19 murderers of 9/11 were Saudis).

This innuendo is being circulated just as the U.S. is secretly negotiating a record $60-billion defence contract with Saudi Arabia. Saudi money is halal for armaments, haram for mosques.
Saudi money is halal (in accordance with Muslim dietary regulations) for armaments, haram (sinful; forbidden) for mosques. Such a great line, well-written Siddiqui.

Ok, I lied, I will close with this 20 May 2010 press conference featuring the soon-to-be (knocking on wood) imam of the Park51 Islamic Center.

Update 12:27pm (ET): This Huffington Post piece is very good. Media Matters found a video from a 2006 ABC Good Morning America piece featuring infamous Glenn Beck and Imam Rauf. Beck seemed to be backing Imam Rauf in 2oo6, but is now on the Islamic-hate bandwagon against Rauf and the Park51 project.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Change of Venue

Due to a combination of visa problems (via the Israeli Ministry of Interior) and some work-related meetings, I am in North America. I am in Toronto until August 30th, and will then be headed to California.

The length of my stay stateside is unforeseen because I don't know how my visa situation will pan out precisely. Sadly, I probably won't be returning to Palestine for the next several months because of a temporary prohibition on my return to Israel via the Ministry of Interior.

When I have more details about my plans, I will provide them. Until then, I will continue posting primarily regarding developments (read ongoing human rights abuses and continued violation of international law) in Israel and Palestine.

Posting will be light until September when I am back to a more regular schedule.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Settlers parade on a former Palestinian thoroughfare

Today I witnessed a parade of Israeli settlers marching down Shuhada Street in Hebron (I have recently posted about Shuhada St. here, here, and here).

Parading settlers are especially annoying and morally egregious when they march on Shuhada St, formerly a Palestinian thoroughfare which has been closed to all Palestinians. Any non-Palestinian (international or Israeli) can use the road, subject to a few checks of ID if you aren't clearly Jewish, while Palestinians whose front doors open onto Shuhada St. are not permitted to use the street.

In the video, Note the settlers and their flags (it's clear, based on their dress, that many of these paraders aren't settlers in Hebron -- but are rather on some kind of twisted field trip), the concrete wall and barbed-wire fences put in place on the perpendicular street in order to prevent Palestinian access to Shuhada St., and the soldier on the roof and the soldiers walking in the Muslim cemetery in the distance.

Pretty sickening to think that these out-of-towners are marching on Shuhada Street while Palestinians, who are prohibited from using their front door, are watching from their windows.
Also, here is a video with a little more info on the closure of Shuhada St, in contravention of legal rulings.

See this site for FAQs and more history about Shuhada St.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shortage of translators shows lack of concern for Palestinian complaints

the military police station in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, which is also responsible for processing complaints from Palestinians in the southern half of the West Bank, has put all testimonies of Palestinians on hold in the past four weeks because it has no translator.
I have made numerous complaints to Israeli police stations in my day, and have also accompanied many Palestinians making complaints against settlers or soldiers. Following the police station, I often consider inflicting pain on myself to overshadow the painful experience of being at the police station. I have often been asked to translate from the policeman's broken english, into (broken) Arabic because the policeman speaks no Arabic and there is no translator available.

Arabic is one of two official languages in Israel.

Israeli soldier mockingly poses in front of blindfolded Palestinians

An Israeli soldier, that has since been discharged from the army, posted pictures to Facebook of her posing in front of detained and blindfolded Palestinians. I can't write extensively about this or cleverly sync all the sources that have covered this today, because frankly, this story makes me sick. It's so Abu Ghraib-esque. Being present myself as Palestinian friends have been detained in a manner similar to this, brings it a little too close to home.

I'd recommend reading Dimi's Notes, one of the first to cover this. He provides good analysis, and gets the photo credit. Also, take a look an Mondoweiss, which has the best one liner about what the photos show, "an army that has forgotten the other's humanity--and has lost its own humanity in the process."

And for your news sources, Haaretz and Ynet have covered it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ramadan, Eid il Fitr, and Islamaphobia in the United States

by Sami Kishawi, cross-posted from Sixteen Minutes to Palestine

I came across a rogue news headline that said “Eid festival expected to fall on 9/11. US protesters demand it be moved to another day out of respect for victims”. This isn’t just ridiculous or absurd. This is blatant prejudice. And this is my testimonial.

For those who might not know, Eid al-Fitr is a celebration or festival that Muslims observe to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Just like other Muslim holidays, it’s a strictly religious and cultural affair. It celebrates the end of the fasting period and the beginning of a purified way of life. There is absolutely no political significance to it whatsoever.

So why should it be moved?

As I’m sure many of you are, I’m disgusted by those who insist on associating Islam with 9/11. Let it be known that Islam condemns the terrorist actions that led to the downing of two towers and the deaths of thousands of innocents: men, women, children, and elderly. Here is a verse from the Qur’an (and please make sure to keep it in context):

” … If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.”
(Al-Qur’an 5:32)

Point is, you just can’t kill. The events that occurred on that dreadful day lie in direct contradiction with the teachings of Islam. I know this, you know this, but why doesn’t the rest of the world know this?

I was in fifth grade when the towers fell. I had no idea what happened but my classmates were buzzing about it. My teacher didn’t show up to class and I remember that striking me as odd. She was one of those old-fashioned teachers who wore one-piece dresses, sat at her desk in the front of the room facing us, and used wooden pencils instead of mechanical ones. Instead, my Spanish teacher subbed for her. Minutes into class, he said, “the Muslims did it.” I didn’t know what was going on so I didn’t say anything.

By lunch time, parents started packing the hallways trying to pick their children up. Chicago is home to a bustling downtown with tall buildings and skyscrapers so employees were told to take the rest of the day off in case a hijacked plane were to hit the Sears Tower or some other structure. Being that my mom worked in a downtown bank, she rushed over to school immediately and took me home. She explained to me what happened and I understood the look of distress on her face. I told her what my Spanish teacher said and she assured me that she’ll talk to the principal tomorrow for a formal apology. I was young and he was one of my favorite teachers, so I made her promise to just let it go. It didn’t bother me at the time.

First thing I did when I got home was turn on the television and watch Peter Jennings report on the current state of the felled buildings. I found my big yellow notepad and decided I’d be a detective for the day. I was naïve but my plan was to “discover” a pattern in the hijackings so that I can tell Mr. Jennings that Muslims weren’t behind the attacks at all. My teacher’s comments were starting to get to me.

The next day at school, I found out why my fifth grade homeroom teacher was absent from class yesterday. Her sister was in New York at the time and my teacher hadn’t been able to connect with her. New York City’s phone lines were jammed. However, her sister eventually managed to contact the school and my teacher returned to class, albeit it looking paler than usual.

Fast forward a few weeks. Mama was driving me home from school. She turned into the alley to park in our garage but a man came out of his backyard and stood in front of her. Being that my mom’s first reaction is to remain calm, she waited until he moved. He didn’t. Mama honked softly and the man finally spoke. “Get your A-rab a– out of here! We don’t want you scum. Go back to where you came from.”

What did my mom do wrong? What did she ever do wrong? She was never in trouble. The only ticket she ever got was when her parking meter expired. But that was my fault because the second quarter managed to slip into my pocket. She’d been a good samaritan her entire life. She donated to charity. She volunteered at local mosques. She worked hard to support the family. She raised my sister and myself all alone after my parents divorced. And during that moment, my mom proved to me how level-headed she was. She stayed there, politely said “excuse me”, waited for the man to move, and drove into the garage. But before the car came to a stop, I made my way out and walked down the alley to the man. I don’t fight (and I really don’t even know how) but I made a point to walk with my hands made into fists. Nobody gets away with disrespecting my mom or my religion. I was hoping to scare him. My little mind thought violence would be the answer.

My mom caught up to me and told me to relax. and unclench my fists. The man started walking towards us, so mama stood in front of me. Protectiveness, a mother’s natural instinct.

He ended up apologizing for what he said. It turns out he didn’t recognize that we were his neighbors from a few houses down. Was it sincere? I don’t know. Who am I to judge. But that’s all we needed to hear. And with that, we walked away. I’m not sure if it “scarred” my mom, but I know that since 9/11, she’s been adamant about how haram (forbidden) the attacks were. She spoke out against terrorism and made sure that I knew exactly how much Islam condemns it. That was how I was raised.

My mom isn’t the only example though. There are 1.5 billion other examples. The entire Muslim population faces harassment through this relatively new Western trend called Islamophobia. Last year, my friend’s sister was verbally abused in a supermarket. The aggressor even pulled off her headscarf after calling her a terrorist.

My mom’s friend’s child was suspended from school after getting into a fight with a classmate who spent the entire day calling him a terrorist. And just for added measure, the kid hurling insults was a policeman’s son. He got away with a warning.

A mosque in Florida was damaged by a bomb a few months ago.

A church in Florida is hosting a “Burn a Qur’an Day” on September 11 to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks. Google it.

My friend’s dad was put in jail because he fit the profile of a “suspect”. He’s lived in the Midwest for years and the most he’s ever done was travel to Chicago to speak to crowds about how Islam is opposed to terrorism.

I can name five people at any given moment who’ve been racially profiled at airports because of their headscarf or because of their Muslim-sounding last name.

My mosque is put under surveillance. I found this out after learning that another mosque I attend is also under FBI surveillance. This I learned after someone commented on the suspicious-looking cameras stationed in really unnecessary places in an almost entirely Muslim neighborhood in the southwest suburbs.

The Muslim Student Union at the University of California – Irvine will be banned for an entire school year. No public gatherings or Friday prayers at the religiously-active college campus.

But these are only a few examples of what Muslims around the world face everyday.

The attacks of September 11 have affected more than just typical “Americans”. I am American too. Yes, I preserve my Arab culture and my Palestinian identity but I was also born and raised in Chicago. I speak English and even some Spanish. Hurricane Katrina hit me too – not physically of course but I became well aware of the oppression, the suffering, and the humility that my American brothers and sisters are forced to live with. My people can relate to your people. The economy affects me too. My family pays taxes. I say the Pledge of Allegiance. So do millions of other Americans. So how am I any different? Why can’t I grieve also? I’ve prayed countless times for the people – Muslims and non-Muslims – who were killed in the attacks. We are all one and the same.

So stop associating Islam with terrorism. Ask yourself: are those “Muslims” who hijacked those planes really Muslims? I can’t judge anyone’s faith, but I’m 100% positive that their actions go against the values of Islam. The Qur’an condemns it, the mosques condemn it, the leaders condemn it, and of course, the Muslim world-community condemns it as well. Those radicals who praise the terrorists are exactly that: radicals. Do radicals always represent the truth? No. Does the Oklahoma City bomber represent American values? No. Does he represent Christian ethics? No. Do serial killers or rogue soldiers represent you, me, or us? No.

Logically, then, those terrorist hijackers do not represent Islam. They do not represent me, my family, my community, my friends, my country, my way of life, or my religion.

Islam is not a threat to the memories of the those killed during 9-11. Muslims were killed too, in case FOX News didn’t tell you that. But Islam recognizes the power of humanity in its entirety. Not only do we grieve for the Muslims that were killed, but we also keep in our thoughts the faces, the names, and the families of all the 9/11 victims regardless of race, color, gender, size, or religion.

Eid al-Fitr will not be moved. As a matter of fact, even if it falls on September 11, I’m going to celebrate it with vigor – just like every other Muslim does. But if it’s within my power, I will invite all my non-Muslim friends to celebrate with me. I’ll invite the families of the victims for dinner at my place. We’ll enjoy the day – and we will culminate by praying for those who were killed, those who continue to be killed, and those who live in constant oppression.

And whether you want to believe it or not, the Muslims of America live in oppression too. I’m an example. Every single day, America’s peaceful Muslim communities are forced to live with the negative stereotypes, assumptions, and prejudice. We’re slandered. We’re made fun of. People swear at us. People yell at us. People burn our houses and then tell us to find a new home in another country. Some of my Muslim friends have parents who are still afraid of going out in public or unfamiliar places. Death threats don’t surprise us anymore. Some people would even prefer to die rather than having to live in constant threat or fear for their lives. This is oppression.

Eid won’t “fall” on 9-11. Nothing else will fall after those twin towers. But if Eid does indeed happen to be on the 11th of September, you’re welcome to join us in festivities where together we’ll remember the victims of crimes committed against humanity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Al-Araqib raised again (video)

Here's the video from the previous post. This village was razed for the third time in two weeks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bedouin village razed for third time in two weeks

The village of Al-Araqib was destroyed on July 27 (links here and here) and destroyed again last week by the Israeli Land Authority. The villagers have rebuilt after each demolition because this is the land that they know and they have nowhere else to go. Europe and the Middle East have been experiencing a heat wave (thank God it's cooled down a bit) which made rebuilding a necessity to provide some shade in the scolding Negev Desert.

Sickeningly, but not surprisingly, the village of Al-Araqib was destroyed again, for a third time, in the early morning on August 10, 2010.

Joseph Dana, an Israeli-American activist and filmmaker, was present in Al-Araqib during the latest round of demolitions. Here is a excerpt from his account:
We, Israeli and international activists, were invited to sit in these tents through the night and sip coffee in the cool desert night with the villagers. They told us about their livelihood now that the village is constantly facing demolition. Some talked about their military service in the Israeli army and their disbelief that the country they served could behave in such a way as to destroy their entire village. Others expressed hope that at least some Israelis understood the grave nature of their government and were standing arm in arm with them.

As the night closed and the light began to change, the first sounds of the demolition crew could be heard far off in the distance. Before we had time to blink, 200 fully clad police officers were on microphones telling us to leave and that any violence would be met with harsher violence. As soon as the voices on the microphones stopped, the bulldozers began to work. The place we had been sitting and having coffee through the night was leveled before our groggy, disbelieving eyes. We barely had time to register the fact that the village was being leveled, as the police began pushing us away from the living structures with extreme force.

Shuhada Street: Keeping the quiet (when there’s no peace to be kept)

By Sarah MacDonald (a CPT colleague)

“Excuse me!” the Israeli soldier called to us. “You can’t walk down that street."

Elizabeth and I turned toward him, questioning. “We can’t? But the German tourists here earlier walked this way,” Elizabeth recalled.

“I walked down the street three days ago,” I added. “No one stopped me then.”

The soldier shrugged. “We can’t let CPTers walk on this street. That’s the order we’ve been given.”

The street in question was Shuhada Street, once a central route and thriving marketplace for the Palestinian community in Hebron. Since 1979, ideologically radical Israeli settlements have grown along the street. Often the settlers have harassed and attacked their Palestinian neighbors.

In November 1999, the Israeli military closed Shuhada Street to Palestinians. They locked or welded shut the doors of Palestinians shops. Even the Palestinian residents who still live on Shuhada Street can no longer use their front entrances. Instead they must take back exits and circuitous routes to stay off the street, sometimes even climbing ladders or ropes and crossing rooftops to get in and out of their homes.

In 2004 U.S. Aid renovated Shuhada Street with the intention of opening the street to all Hebron residents. Yet to date the street remains closed to Palestinians, while Israeli settlers freely walk and drive along it. Palestinians, supported by Israeli and international activists, have launched a campaign to “Open Shuhada Street” and end this example of what they consider “Israeli apartheid.”

Usually internationals are allowed to walk the street. But CPTers, apparently, fall into a different category, with our recognizable bright red caps and our known support of Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the occupation.

“The order is specific to CPT?” Elizabeth questioned the soldier. “So if I take off my CPT hat, I could walk down the street?”

“You could,” he acknowledged, “because then I wouldn’t know you’re with CPT.”
Elizabeth and I didn’t need to walk Shuhada Street that day. We could—as Palestinians habitually must—take a longer route to our destination. But we wanted to challenge even this small cog in the machinery of the Israeli occupation of Hebron.

So we pressed the soldier to explain the rationale for the order. “It’s to keep the peace,” he finally told us. “We don’t want any trouble with the settlers who live here.”

“I wouldn’t call that peace,” I objected. “Your order seems more about keeping things quiet.”

To my surprise, the soldier agreed with my shift in words. “Yes, it’s about keeping the quiet.”

“I know you’re only following the orders you’ve been given,” I continued. “But isn’t there something wrong in this order? If you’re worried that we will make trouble, then it’s appropriate to keep us off the street—”

The soldier shook his head, even grinned: he wasn’t worried about trouble from CPTers.
"But if you’re concerned that settlers might give us trouble, then there's something upside down in us being the ones barred from the street," I concluded.

“Of course it’s upside down,” the soldier admitted. “Everything here in Hebron is upside down. The system is wrong—I know that, you know that—but what can we do? We have to follow orders. There’s nothing we can do, except keep the quiet as much as possible while we work toward a solution.”

Yet keeping quiet rarely moves us toward genuine peace. As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the real obstacles in a liberation struggle are the moderate people “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” those who prefer “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Someday, I believe, Palestinians will again walk down Shuhada Street. In this and many other ways, they will experience the equality and dignity rightfully theirs. But the journey to reach that day of justice will not be quiet.

Hedges: The Insurmountable Power of Love

Chris Hedges spoke at a fundraiser event for the U.S. Boat to Gaza. Hedges offered prophetic words, here is an excerpt:
It is we who stand in the light. It is they who deceive. It is we who openly proclaim our compassion and demand justice for those who suffer in Gaza. We are not afraid to name our names. We are not afraid to name our beliefs. And we know something you perhaps sense with a kind of dread. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and that arc is descending with a righteous fury that is thundering down upon the Israeli government.

You may have the bulldozers, planes and helicopters that smash houses to rubble, the commandos who descend from ropes on ships and kill unarmed civilians on the high seas as well as in Gaza, the vast power of the state behind you. We have only our hands and our hearts and our voices. But note this. Note this well. It is you who are afraid of us. We are not afraid of you. We will keep working and praying, keep protesting and denouncing, keep pushing up against your navy and your army, with nothing but our bodies, until we prove that the force of morality and justice is greater than hate and violence. And then, when there is freedom in Gaza, we will forgive ... you. We will ask you to break bread with us. We will bless your children even if you did not find it in your heart to bless the children of those you occupied. And maybe it is this forgiveness, maybe it is the final, insurmountable power of love, which unsettles you the most.

A Bleak Future

Sitting in a West Jerusalem cafe after a visa appointment at the Ministry of Interior, my friend Mikha, an Israeli anti-occupation activist, and I, were asking one another about life and work. I gave brief updates on the situations in At-Tuwani and Hebron, focusing on the recent festival in At-Tuwani and also the recent settler violence in Al-Bweireh, east of Hebron. I asked Mikha about the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, where Israeli activists hold a weekly demonstration to protest the judaization of Sheikh Jarrah. Mikha said it's becoming a solely Israeli protest, with no Palestinian presence, and it's invigorating a new Israeli left movement. He said there are pros and cons to that.

Then Mikha paused, and said, "But you know what, Sam, things never change here. Nothing is really new. Things are always the same here, except they just slowly, gradually get worse."

As pessimistic as it may sound, I think there's a lot of truth to that. Whenever people come back to Palestine after being away for years, they always speak about the deeper entrenchment of the settlement enterprise, the greater number of closures, the transformation of checkpoints into enormous border crossings, the increasing settler presence in East Jerusalem, and the growing sense of hopelessness and depression. Things just slowly get worse, and the illusion of peace talks or a peace process become closer and closer to fantasy.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Writing, loving, fearing, and enjoying flowers as resistance

Mahmoud Darwish, the voice of the Palestinian people, with this beautiful poem.
Palestinians are supposed to be dedicated to one subject -- liberating Palestine.
This is a prison.
We're human, we love, we fear death, we enjoy the first flowers of spring.
So to express this is resistance
against having out subject dictated to us.
If I write love poems,
I resist the conditions that don't allow me to write love poems.
Thinking in this way broadens the definition of resistance. it's what Palestinian call samoud, a steadfastness, a resistance against all odds.

I stole the poem from a trailer for a movie about Gaza called Where the Birds Should Fly - Mona's Story. See the trailer here:

Hampshire College divestment documentary

A very inspiring and informative video about the Hampshire College campaign for divestment from the occupation of Palestine. Hampshire is often credited with being the first US college to divest for the occupation, and this video attempts to understand the group and the campaign that made it happen. The video is constructed from interviews with over a dozen student activists from Hampshire College's 'Students for Justice in Palestine.'

Film completed 2010 by Will Delphia (a Hampshire Student). Runtime: 30 min.

A Jewish state can only result in a racist state

Gideon Levy writes so well and so poignantly. The more time I spend in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel, the more uncomfortable I become with the idea of a Jewish state. My distaste for a Jewish state makes many people uncomfortable, especially people who aren't involved in Israel/Palestine issues. I think the general thought is, "wait, what, you don't think the Jews have the right to having a state," and then they have visions of FOX news pundits saying the the Arab world wants the Jews to be run into the sea, and then end up becoming really afraid of my anti-semitic soul. But in reality, I have come to see the idea of a Jewish state as incommensurate with democracy, it doesn't have anything to do with a Jewish state, per se, but rather an ethnically exclusive state. Gideon Levy explains the point better than I ever could (and I hear his columns in Hebrew are just totally bad ass, as if the English translation isn't):
Defining Israel as a Jewish state condemns us to living in a racist state. This is the new definition of Zionism that we have subscribed to, and until we realize that we will not be able to uproot all the wild weeds that have seeded themselves here lately. Were we to not expel the migrant workers' children but continue to raze Bedouin villages we would not solve a thing. We will continue to move from one injustice to another until we recognize the racist nature of the state.

Israel is not the only place where racism is on the rise. Europe and the United States are awash in a turbid wave of xenophobia; but in Israel, this racism is embedded in the state's most fundamental values. There is no other state whose immigration laws are blatantly and unequivocally based on the candidates' bloodlines. Jewish blood, whether authentic or dubious, is kosher. Other blood, from those of other creeds or nationalities, is unacceptable. No country throws its doors wide open to everyone, but while other states take social, economic and cultural considerations into account in Israel bloodline is the name of the game. How else are we to understand the fact that someone who was born here, who speaks the language, cherishes its values and even serves in the military, can be unceremoniously expelled while a member of the Bnei Menashe community in India or the grandson of a half-Jew from Kazakhstan are welcomed with open arms.

In contrast to what we have been told there is no significant argument in the wider world, and of course not in Israel, over the Jews' right to a state. The argument is about its character. There is also no argument about the justice of the Law of Return: Israel is the place of the Jews who want to live there. The real argument is over the law's exclusivity, over the fact that it applies only to Jews. That's where it all begins. One could understand the need after the Holocaust, the necessity in the first years of the state, but 62 years after the founding of the state the time has come to reexamine the long-obsolete concepts.

Does anyone actually know the meaning of the term "Jewish state" that we bandy about so much? Does it mean a state for Jews only? Is it not a new kind of "racial purity"? Is the "demographic threat" greater than the danger of the state's becoming a religious enthnocracy or an apartheid state? Wouldn't it be better to live in a just democracy? And how is it even possible to speak about a state being both Jewish and democratic? But anyone who tries to enter the cauldron of this debate, who tries to think outside the box of tired cliche, is automatically fated to delegitimization and slander. Just ask Avraham Burg, who last week announced his intention to set up a political party along those very lines.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Good Thing: At-Tuwani Festival

Good things. Bad things. Good things are better than bad things. But, bad things help you to remember that good things are good, or maybe to help you remember that there are, in fact, good things.

The 3rd Annual At-Tuwani Festival of Nonviolent Resistance took place on Saturday, 8 August, 2010. That's a good thing.

The festival was a celebration. A celebration of the successful completion of the 9th annual summer camp, a celebration of the forthcoming availability to electricity and water for the village (inshallah), and a celebration of the general success of defeating ethnic cleansing as the people of the South Hebron Hills have remained on their land for yet another year.

Representatives from nearly all of the villages in the South Hebron Hills were present and were recognized for their continued presence in the area and their ongoing resistance to occupation forces and policies. Certain individuals were also recognized for their exceptional courage and perseverance in the face of the settler violence. Several hajjis (a respectful name given to older women, literally meaning pilgrim - one who has made a trip to Mecca during the holy month of Ramadan) in their 70s and 80s were recognized for their lifelong support of their families and their sweat and tears which have nourished this arid land for decades. Others were recognized for the physical signs of settler violence and racist hatred that their bodies bear, but all who came forward undoubtedly carried emotional scars and painful memories that are both invisible, yet unmistakably present.

Various NGOs and individuals who have been involved in At-Tuwani and the South Hebron Hills were recognized. The awards and recognition went on for quite some time which showed the level of support that these communities have in Israeli, Palestinian and international networks. The number of people involved in the South Hebron Hills also demonstrates the level of support that is needed for the South Hebron Hills to not be wiped off the map through a slow process of ethnic cleansing which seeks an entirely Judaized Judean desert.

But despite all of these awards, recognitions, and formalities, the children were in the limelight and were the highlight of this festival. Children from the area performed skits, dances, and informally entertained by running around with balloons while being generally cute. The At-Tuwani dance troupe performed a couple of short dabke routines (a traditional form of Arabic dance) and schoolchildren also performed several skits that involved costumes and props and were, adoringly, chaotic and difficult to really understand. A group of clowns from Italy, who had been in At-Tuwani providing entertainment for the summer camp, provided entertainment and also assisted with skits and entertainment. The video shows a short clip of dabke followed by several clips from the same skit. (The skit's premise was that one of the clowns couldn't move and, therefore, couldn't smile. So many of the short clips in the video are attempts to get the sad, motionless clown to smile.)

The 3rd Annual At-Tuwani Festival of Nonviolent Resistance was a good thing. People didn't have to send lookouts up on the hillside to watch for approaching soldiers or settlers, people didn't have to worry about the months they might serve in jail if arrested, people didn't have to call CPT to come videotape their cisterns of fields of wheat that soldiers or settlers demolished. Rather, people attended a festival where their lives, traditions, and courage were celebrated and where their kids smiled. Yep, they smiled...and I won't even add any caveats.

That's what a good thing is. A good thing is something that is good, without caveats needed.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book Review - Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

I wish I wrote about the books I am reading more often. I once saw a friend's website who would always post a picture of the books he was reading - he'd stack them and take a picture of the spines so you could see the titles. I liked it and have always wanted to do it, maybe I should start.

I always have a desire to share the golden nuggets from the books I am reading, or share about why the books I am reading are significant or how they relate to what's going on in the world. Books are a great source of knowledge, no, they are THE great source of knowledge. So in that spirit, I want to share with you the book I most recently finished. Robert Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism was my latest victim. Pape studies the phenomenom of suicide bombing and thoroughly studies every act of suicide terrorism from 1980-2005.

Pape's presents his thesis early on, and his thesis itself is incredibly groundbreaking (but frankly, it's common sense):
The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or anyone of the world's religions...Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attack have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.
Pape then says that three general patterns support this conclusion:
  1. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of organized campaigns, not as isolated or random incidents. Of the 315 separate attacks in the period I studied, 301 could have had their roots traced to large, coherent political of military campaigns.
  2. Second, democractic states are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorism...and have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades.
  3. Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed towards a strategic objective..the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to withdraw from the territories they claim.
And Pape isn't afraid to make some suggestions about U.S. foreign policy based on his study:
Since 9/11, the U.S. has responded to the growing threat of suicide terrorism by embarking on a policy to conquer Muslim countries - not simply rooting out existing havens for terrorists in Afghanistan but going further to remake Muslim societies in the Persian Gulf. To be sure, the U.S. must be ready to use force to protect Americans and their allies and must do so when necessary. However, the close association between foreign military occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements in the occupied regions should make us hesitate over any strategy centering on the transformation of Muslim societies by means of heavy military power. Althought there may still be good reasons for such a strategy, we should recognize that the sustained presence of American combat forces in Muslim countries to likely increase the odds of the next 9/11.
The data, presentation of the data, and analysis was fascinating all throughout. I learned quite a bit about the Sinhalese occupation of Tamil land in Sri Lanka, something which I knew nothing about. A number of the suicide attempts have been committed by Lebanese and Palestinian factions, so I was especially interested in that data because of my current work.

It was also an interesting read because Pape didn't show his cards until the conclusion. The data and the analysis in the bulk of the book led me to believe that Pape was a thinker who was operating a bit out of the establishment and was doing scholarship on the fringe. But the conclusion showed him to very much immersed in the national security establishment, and first and foremost a political scientist and foreign terror specialist committed to protecting American troops and citizens. His conclusion showed he wasn't writing on behalf of the Arab world or even as a 'world citizen' but almost as a national security advisor. And still, from THAT perspective, he suggests the U.S. not occupy countries in the Middle East, specifically Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf states.

Pape also voiced his support for completing the U.S.-Mexico border wall and for generally tighetening and limiting all avenues of immigration (thing I disagree with). So Pape's data and conclusions, that suicide terrorism results from foreign occupations and thus the U.S. should quit their occupations, are all the more compelling because he lies firmly within the establishment (much like Walt and Mearsheimer are - authors of The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy), and seeks to protect Americans and American interests.

I would also like to include some quotations that were especially poignant, for various reasons. I don't necessarily agree or disagree, but rather, I think they are things worth hearing. I will let the quotes speak for themselves:
Sayeed Siyam, a Hamas leader in Gaza, said, "We in Hamas consider suicide bombing attacks inside the 1948 borders" - inside Israel - "to be the card thatPalestinians can play to resist the occupation...We do not own Apache helicopters ourselves, so we use our own methods. Given the methods used by the Israelis, we consider the door to hell is open. their assassination policy and the bombardment - this this theater of war inside Palestinian villages and homes - we respond to that by seeking to make Israelis feel the same, insecure inside their homes."
65% of the Palestinians who supported suicide operations cited as a main reason Israeli military incursions (poll conducted in 2002).
There is no general campaign to attack Jews living outside Palestine. The pattern of the suicide attacks over the past decade suggests that the Palestinian terrorists are concentrating their fire against the state that is actually occupying the territory they view as their homeland.
Foreign occupation can have its own logic of violence. Even when an occupying power is restained in the use of roce, the common spiral of local resistance leading to retaliation leading to more local resistance can dramatically escalate the level of harm to the civilian community. As a result, there could be a threshold of violence above which the local community becomes so desperate that it resorts to suicide terrorism because many believe they will die anyway or because they are seeking revenge for those who have died.
Prior to American's invasion in March 2003, Iraq had never experienced a suicide terrorist attack in its history.
The root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community's way of life. Hence, any policy that seeks to conquer Muslim socities in order, deliberately, to transform their culture is folly. Even if our intentions are good, anti-American terrorism would likely grow, and grow rapidly.