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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On fear and the changing nature of horses

Cycling through the rolling Sierra foothills of California in springtime is wonderful. One of my favorite routes passes by the numerous ranches on Lone Star Rd. The pastures are expansive with texture not dissimilar to the rolling ocean sea.

The grasses and weeds that comprise the fields are brilliant green as their rain-soaked roots haven't yet been subject to the scorching heat of the summer sun.

As I rode along this potholed-road with expansive ranches on either side, I was suddenly struck by the horses that stood in the fields. As I spotted a horse close to the road, I slowly came to a stop. I inched over the fence to get as close as I could to the horse. I didn't want to touch it, I just wanted to see it and have it see me. It was a majestic creature with a strange blend of strength and elegance – enormous muscles in its legs and thighs that rippled with each movement while it's mane simultaneously blew gracefully in the breeze.

I felt alien, like a creature with developed intelligence from another world that was seeing a horse for the first time, taking note of its anatomy and disposition. I just stood and stared at these horses for sometime, trying to reshape my perception of them.

The great majority of my experiences with horses in the last few years have been traumatic and fear-filled. As horses are large, powerful animals, they have been used in many cultures through various points in history as a show of force. Horses are used in battle, in duels, to demonstrate wealth, etc.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank have also used horses as a form of intimidation. Settlers will often ride their horses around the Palestinian West Bank with an M-16 strapped to their back and a handgun holstered. It's the real life Wild West with armed bad guys shooting into the air while peasants and farmers hold their wives and children to the ground to protect them from the marauding bandits.

My encounters with settlers on horseback usually occurred when I was walking to visit Palestinian friends of mine who live in an adjacent village. I would skirt along the edge of the settlement, trying to remain a safe distance from the violent people who live within it, but also trying to reach my friends in a reasonable amount of time. In a paranoid fashion, I would continually look over my shoulder, so as to not be ambushed. My pace was quick, the quicker I got out of there, the less of a chance that I would get a beating.

In my paranoid head-turning, I see a settler on horseback approaching me. He's a teenager, but he looks armed. I can't outrun him. So I'll look tough and hang in here. I don't want to appear weak, or scared.

But as soon as that horse got near me, fear overtook me. The huge animal standing before me in all of it's power, and it's power unfortunately harnessed in the hands of an ignorant, hate-filled teenager. Curses and demands were being hurled at me in Hebrew, a language I don't understand. Lo, lo ivrit. Speak English, please.

You, out of here. This my land.

Yeah ok, I'm leaving. No problems here. But there is a problem here, I thought to myself as my courage and conviction tried to subdue my fear, this isn't your goddamn land. And how dare you use that horse and your M-16 to scare me off this land when I was, in fact, invited to visit the very people who actually own this land, and are being forced of it by your government in a slow-form genocide.


As I stood and looked at the horses on Lone Star Rd, I realized there was nothing inherently dominating, aggressive, or violent about these animals. They seemed incredibly docile and friendly, so much so that if I took care of one, I might even love it.

Among the myriad daily crimes and atrocities against humans, I hate how settlers have made an accomplice out of horses, an innocent creature. How dare they kill donkeys of Palestinians, and then turn their animals into a tool of intimidation and fear.

History, reality, land rights, and the true nature of animals. What won't they twist and distort?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The (lack of) logic of drone attacks in Pakistan

Glenn Greenwald's latest needs to be read widely. Greenwald's analysis is spot on, and frankly, I can't imagine arguing with with the points he makes. Killing civilians with unmanned drones foments anger, hatred, armed resistance and/or terrorism. Period. No question. Look at the numbers. Put yourself in the shoes of a father whose child is killed by a US-operated unmanned drone. Here's Greenwald with the especially poignant section:
A U.S. drone attack in Pakistan killed 23 people this morning, and this is how The New York Times described that event in its headline and first paragraph:
An American drone attack killed 23 people in North Waziristan on Friday, Pakistani military officials said, in a strike against militants that appeared to signify unyielding pressure by the United States on Pakistan’s military amid increasing opposition to such strikes.
When I saw that, I was going to ask how the NYT could possibly know that the people whose lives the U.S. just ended were "militants," but then I read further in the article and it said this:  "A government official in North Waziristan told Pakistani reporters that five children and four women were among the 23 who were killed."  So at least 9 of the 23 people we killed -- at least -- were presumably not "militants" at all, but rather innocent civilians (contrast how the NYT characterizes Libya’s attacks in its headlines: "Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas").

Can someone who defends these drone attacks please identify the purpose?  Is the idea that we're going to keep dropping them until we kill all the "militants" in that area?  We've been killing people in that area at a rapid clip for many, many years now, and we don't seem to be much closer to extinguishing them.  How many more do we have to kill before the eradication is complete?

Beyond that, isn't it painfully obvious that however many “militants” we're killing, we're creating more and more all the time?  How many family members, friends, neighbors and villagers of the "five children and four women" we just killed are now consumed with new levels of anti-American hatred?  How many Pakistani adolescents who hear about these latest killings are now filled with an eagerness to become "militants"?

The NYT article dryly noted: "Friday’s attack could further fuel antidrone sentiment among the Pakistani public"; really, it could?  It's likely to fuel far more than mere "antidrone sentiment"; it's certain to fuel more anti-American hatred: the primary driver of anti-American Terrorism. Isn't that how you would react if a foreign country were sending flying robots over your town and continuously wiping out the lives of innocent women, children and men who are your fellow citizens? What conceivable rational purpose does this endless slaughter serve? Isn't it obvious that the stated goal of all of this – to reduce the threat of Terrorism – is subverted rather than promoted by these actions?

Death toll rises as Syrian forces use lethal force against unarmed protesters

In the largest, most deadly day of protests in Syria, at least 88 people were killed by Syrian forces on Friday.

Here's analysis from Al Jazeera's interview with Robert Fisk, the long-term Middle East correspondent for the UK daily, Independent.

Some articles/media for more understanding:
Anthony Shadid with the NYT.
Videos on War in Context.
Article from Al Jazeera.
Article and videos from the LA Times

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A long walk home, thanks to Passover

From the blog of Maureen Jack, a CPTer from Scotland:
Yusuf is five years old.  He attends the kindergarten just across the landing from our women’s apartment.  He’s a bright little boy, who interprets in sign language for his mother, who is deaf.  He has congenital physical difficulties: he has no left arm and one leg is significantly shorter than another.Yesterday morning a friend and I happened to meet up with Yusuf and his kindergarten teacher as she took him home after class.  They unsuccessfully tried to get through two gates before going through the ladder lady’s house.
Yusuf tried to walk home from school on the first day of Passover, 20 April 2011, when the Israeli military presence in Hebron was heightened. The checkpoints he usually passes through were closed, so he tried a few alternate routes before making him home.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Israeli controlled prison permits killing, shooting, abuse of Palestinian prisoners

Israeli Channel 2 aired a story on a combat exercise inside a prison that went awry. Israeli Prison Services allowed Masada, an Israeli combat unit, to enter Ktziot prison, a large facility housing Palestinian prisoners, to conduct an operation.

The operation was called 'early wake-up call' and one of its explicit written goals was increasing the morale and motivation of the prison guards.

It looks like a calloused, morally-bankrupt swat team descending on sleeping prisoners. (Press the CC button for English subtitles.)

I wonder how many other stories there are like this that have successfully been hidden and have never leaked out?

Our opinion of war starts at the pump

I've started Alia Malek's book, A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives, it's excellent. Malek tells the history of Arabs in America by selecting monumental events and narrating those events through the eyes of a character, or a handful of characters, who lived through those formative moments.

Malek follows an America man, Alan, who is of Lebanese descent, as he lives through the Detroit riots that ran in parallel with Israel's routing of the Arab nations in the War of 1967 and the Six Day War of 1973.

Alan struggles to understand why no one in Detroit, MI cares about the 20,000 Arabs killed in the war nor how the American media could so blatantly tell half-truths about the war and Israel's role therein. But as I have certainly seen in my lifetime, people start to care about America's wars only when it starts to affect their prized pocketbook. In this instance, Arab oil-producing nations had began an oil embargo in hopes of making the West pay attention to Israel's annexation of land through warfare. 
During the twenty days of fighting, which ended with a ceasefire on October 26, it seemed to Alan most Americans had not given the war much thought. The oil embargo, on the other hand, had forced Americans to pay more attention. While in 1967, the war had been 'over there' and out of mind, Americans were now waiting in line for has and not getting any. And a lot of the, from politicians to newspeople to regular folk, were blaming Arabs for it.
It smacks of the current U.S.-led war in Libya. What is the news coverage of the war centered on? Prices at the pump. Does local Sacramento news interview people to ask them what they think about their country getting involved in its third, costly war in the Middle East/North Africa? Do residents get asked about their opinion of military intervention in this particular instance? Do people even talk about it over coffee or lunch?

I have seen countless news segments about the price of gas and how its affecting people. Flipping channels I will inevitably find an image of a gas prices sign displayed with some apocalyptic subtext, such as, "Will prices continue to rise" or "How much worse can it get."

Sure, it's a real life economic impact, and is thus, newsworthy. What I fail to understand is how the wars that the United States military executes, under the direction of elected United States politicians, is completely irrelevant to the citizens of the country.

We are paying for these wars too -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya -- just like we're paying for the gas.

P.S. Libyans, Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians are being killed, maimed, slaughtered in our name. But that's neither here nor there. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This is a really important sentence

Phillip Weiss writes about the recent murders of an Italian journalist/activist and an Israeli-Palestinian actor and director.
Whoever the fanatics are that killed Vittorio Arrigoni and Juliano Mer-Khamis in the last two weeks, it can be safely said that the occupation killed them: that both good men died because the denial of freedom for Palestinians over 44 years of military occupation has produced despair and radicalism and brutalization.
At this point no evidence has come forth that Israeli soldiers or settlers killed either of these men, in fact, there is some evidence that these courageous men were likely killed by radical Palestinian militant factions. Nonetheless, the above sentence stands alone, in truth. It's not a default, "oh, just blame the Israelis, just blame the occupation." No, it's placing responsibility where it's due, on an occupation and a siege that produce desperation and utter hopelessness.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Racist protest in Tel Aviv targets refugees and migrants

From +972 magazine:

Racism in Israel is nothing new. There is racism against Palestinians, against Arabs, against non-Jews. There is racism between Jews from Europe and Jews from Arab countries. In our racism, we are no different from many other Western countries. However, the past year in Israel has seen an a significant increase in the number of racially motivated attacks on foreign workers and Palestinians by gangs of Jewish nationalists who seek to ‘cleanse Israel of non Jewish and dangerous elements.’ The problem is reaching endemic proportions as lawmakers have largely remained silent and the crimes continue unabated.

David Sheen, an Israeli journalist with Haaretz, has been quietly documenting the rise of racism in Tel Aviv. His latest video (below) is a look into the ugly work of nationalism which is the foundation of the current spike in racist attacks. In the video, Sheen attends a rally of Jewish nationalists who seek to expel foreign infiltrators ‘that are taking over the southern part of Tel Aviv.’ The interviews that he conducts on the street show a disturbed society in crisis.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Israel's treatment of unarmed Palestinian protesters

The violence against the protesters starts around the 2:45 mark.

The soldier pointing his gun at the Palestinian protester and sitting on him is screaming, "Shut your mouth!" [uskut]

Joseph Dana's report about the incident in Nabi Saleh is here

Friday, April 08, 2011

Juliano in Wonderland

Another video on Juliano Mer Khamis, the Arab Israeli actor, director, activist who was murdered in Jenin Refugee Camp.

Mer Khamis speaks about resistance about the subversive themes in the last play he directed, Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Calling all Christians who aren't hypocrites

Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who splits his time between Palestine and Washington DC, where he teaches at George Mason University, speaks to Christians of the West in his recent post that appeared at +972 magazine.

Abu Sarah critiques a recent (Islamaphobic, uber-zionistic, and misinformed) Ynet column written by Johnnie Moore -- an evangelical American minister and vice president of Liberty University, a university founded by Jerry Falwell -- to demonstrate the Western Christian establishment's hypocritical and unconditional embrace of the Israeli state and its policies at the expense of any, and all Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. 
I must say that I don’t understand Christians who value the life of one group over another. Even if American Christians consider Muslims as enemies, in the New Testament Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.  The word he used for “love” in Greek (agapao) means to entertain or to welcome in. This concept seems to be in direct opposition to the doctrine of Islamophobia spread by many Christian evangelical groups in the United States. Moreover, Isaiah says “”Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” The scripture does not apply only to Jews, to the “foreigner” and “alien.” Hundreds of millions of Americans profess to be Christians and believe in the divine inspiration of these verses, so where are these “believers” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Moore’s article is a reminder that many American Christians view supporting Israel as a tenant of faith, without thinking critically about the theological and practical implications of this viewpoint. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Like many Christian groups who visit Israel, Moore’s group did not bother to visit any Palestinian towns. My guess is that neither Moore nor any of his church members have ever even met a Palestinian. Perhaps then their demonization of Palestinians is unsurprising.
Go read Aziz Abu Sarah's column in total.

Quote of the day: on anger

From Amira Hass' article on the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis:
Palestinians must conquer the anger, mellow it; they must tame it, repress it, sublimate it. That's the only way to stay both alive and sane (without getting arrested, wounded or killed ) under the conditions of physical and non-physical violence dictated by Israel.
We don't expect that of many people in the world. We want to be able to express our anger when we ourselves have been wronged. We feel it's our right to be angry when it's warranted.

It reminds me how Edward Said responded to the imminent agreement which resulted in the Oslo Accords. Said suggested, "all that's being offered to the Palestinians is for them to negate themselves."

Palestinians are forced to negate themselves and we demand that they negate their anger.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

US activists to launch boat to Gaza

My latest is at Waging Nonviolence.
A US boat named The Audacity of Hope is scheduled to sail to Gaza next month along with a flotilla of 15 ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa, and the Middle East, carrying passengers from more than 22 nations. The US Boat to Gaza is part of a larger campaign to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip and draw attention to Israel’s inhumane blockade of the Palestinian coastal enclave.
The article continues to explain the measures taken by the Israeli government to criminalize all dissent in Israel and to silence all criticism from the international community.
The Israeli Knesset passed the first reading of a “boycott law” that would criminalize any calls for academic, cultural, or economic boycotts against Israel. According to the law, courts could levy fines of up to 30,000NIS (approximately $8,500) against Israelis calling for boycotts whereas foreign nationals who violate the law could be denied entrance to Israel for 10 years or more.
This is just a teaser. Go read the article and then write a letter to send with the US Boat to Gaza. 

Monday, April 04, 2011

Israeli activist, director, actor is assassinated in Jenin Refugee Camp

From the Guardian:
An Israeli actor and peace activist who ran a drama project in a Palestinian refugee camp has been shot dead by masked men, metres from the theatre he founded.

Juliano Mer Khamis, 52, had received threats for his work in Jenin in the northern West Bank but continued to divide his time between Jenin and Haifa in the north of Israel. Witnesses said he was shot five times.
He was born to a Jewish mother and an Arab Christian father. His mother, Arna, was renowned for setting up a theatre group in Jenin during the first Intifada which started in 1987. Mer Khamis directed the film Arna's Children, which celebrated her work, which he continued after her death in 1994. His wife, Jenny, a Finn, is pregnant with twins. She heard of his death from Israeli radio.
Dimi Reider, of +972 magazine, writes about his fondest memory of Juliano Mer Khamis:
There will be so much said. I would just like to share this memory. It’s seven years ago, 2004. The Student Coalition at Tel Aviv University, an organization I co-founded, is staging a massive teach-out on the university square, trying to disrupt the normalcy of dozy lectures as the streets were burning.
At the end of a long, long day with lectures and arguments and songs and chants, as darkness fell on plush northern Tel Aviv, we screened Juliano’s film, “Arna’s children” – still, to my mind, the best documentary ever done about the Occupation. We, some five hundred students, sat in the outdoor auditorium, stunned. Before us, the “Palestinian gunmen” of the newscasts we knew since childhood – these footnotes in the reports, usually afforded no visuals, just “three Palestinian gunmen were shot in the West Bank today, IDF spokesman said. In other news…” – were coming to life as human beings, speaking about their childhood dreams, their slain comrades, their hopes or lack of hope for a future; sometimes as children, sometimes as grown, gun-wielding men, with children just like they used to be clustered around their knees. After the credits rolled and passed, the plaza was completely silent. One girl, a moderate centre-leftist from the campus chapter of Meretz, raised her hand. Juliano called her out. She got up and asked: “What can we do to help?”
Watch this video that gives a glimpse into Mer Khamis' Freedom Theatre, including some of his own thoughts.

Mer Khamis' film, Arna's Children, can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

Update: Arna's Children, has been taken down. Go rent it or purchase it. 

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The IDF crosses every red line in Beit Ummar

From Joseph Dana at +972 magazine:
Yesterday, a group of Ta’ayush activists were returning to Jerusalem after spending the morning with Palestinian farmers in the South Hebron Hills. They made the quick decision to check on the closure of Beit Ummar on the drive home.

“Within five minutes of arriving at a series of concrete barriers in front of the village, we were surrounded by soldiers. We walked to a large gate [which the army had installed two months prior in order to seal the village] at another entrance to the village only to find that it was locked shut” Kurz recalled, “At this point there were a lot of soldiers, many of whom were officers. So we decided to have an impromptu nonviolent protest against the closure of the village.” Speaking to one Israeli activist present at the demonstration, the commander in charge threatened that “every time you do this (demonstrate), I will close the village.”

The commander in charge pronounced the area a ‘closed military zone’, after which one member of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity group asked the commander to see the closed military zone warrant. Being a stout guy, soldiers felt threated by his presence and attacked him. This set off a chain of violent events as soldiers attacked anyone bold enough to look them in the eye. Virtually everyone was arrested. According to activists, the commander never showed them the closed military zone warrant, a legal right afforded by Israeli law.

The violence exerted by the Israeli soldiers against unarmed Israeli activists is hardly surprising, but it is certainly alarming and is clearly a disproportionate amount of force.

It's important to note that Beit Ummar has been on complete lockdown for a number of weeks. The day of this particular incident, all of the entrances/exits were blocked.  The "large gate" that Kurz describes is the main entrance to the village which connects the village to Route 60, which heads south to Hebron and north to Bethlehem. The secondary entrance was also locked.

Beit Ummar, a Palestinian town, was effectively under siege by the Israeli military and Israeli solidarity activists, trying to gain access to the village and/or to visit folks in Beit Ummar, were attacked without cause.

Dana continues with Kurz's explanation of the hatred the soldiers have for the solidarity activists:
“I understand that soldiers get scared and nervous but they crossed every red line,” Kurz told me, “as the soldiers were beating and arresting everyone, one solider said to me: ‘I would rape your mother and sister if I could’ and another said that he would shoot me if he was allowed to.” In the embedded video, one brave activist caught a solider calling one of the activists an ‘Arab son of a bitch.’
Protest in Beit Ommar, 02.04.2011

Kurz, a former Israeli soldier, was appalled at the inexplicable use of force.
 “I can’t recognize this anymore, these soldiers were totally out line. I’ve been a soldier in their position, I know, but this was way worse than I’ve ever seen or experienced. No one will be held accountable for that, they can do whatever they want. They even get away with murder.”

A number of the activists in this video are friends, and are good people. It's hard to see people who are dedicated to bringing an end to the occupation through direct action each Saturday, being physically manhandled, shoved to the ground, and verbally assaulted with horrendous threats.

Here's to an overflow of strength, encouragement, and optimism for Amiel, Yehuda, Micha, and the rest of the activists.  Here's to the opening of the gates and fences which imprison the residents of Beit Ummar.

Friday, April 01, 2011

This is our life in Hebron

This is the checkpoint stationed between the Old City of Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque. This is one of two access points to the mosque and is used by the great majority of residents and visitors. Imagine what's it like to get through here on a religious holiday when there are thousands of people passing through that turnstile.

This is our life in Hebron from anne skaardal on Vimeo.

Update: The following is a Twitter exchange that I had after posting this video. (Note: I tweeted the video and engaged in the exchange using the @CPTPalestine account). 
Me:  Watch this video depicting on of the many restrictions on movement in the city of Hebron.

Margaux52: @cptpalestine as a us citizen and valid resident I have to go thru security check and pat down when I fly from LA to SF.

Me: @margaux52 do you go through metal detectors, pat downs, and show ID to an occupying military when you walk to the grocery store?

Margaux52: @cptpalestine I didn't see a grocery store in the video. Btw why do I have to visit Hebron in an armored bus?

Me: @margaux52 the vegetable market is just beyond that checkpoint. Come to hebron w/o armored bus, you'll be welcomed with open arms.

Margaux52: @cptpalestine would love to. Would live to visit the temple mount too but I cant
A couple quick things. The point wasn't that there is actually a grocery store in the video, obviously there wasn't (cause pretty much the only grocery store in Hebron is inside the Israel settlement, Kiryat Arba). The point was that people get stopped doing normal things in their normal, everyday life, like in your case, Margaux, going to the grocery store.

Secondly, you don't have to visit Hebron in an armored bus. I travel there in a regular old shared 'taxi,' and you can too. Who's forcing you into an armored bus? I swear, Arabs won't kill you if you take an Arab bus, they'll actually smile at you. As far as armored buses, are you talking about the Egged buses (an Israeli bus company) that serve settlers, at rates subsidized by the Israeli government, living in the occupied Palestinian territories? 'Nuff said.

Thirdly, you can't visit the temple mount? Yeah well many Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem aren't even allowed to go to Jerusalem because Israel occupies East Jerusalem and controls who can/can't enter Jerusalem. For example, my friend Tarek was born in Jerusalem and he can't go to Jerusalem, ANYWHERE in Jerusalem. The temple mount is THE ONLY place you can't go in Jerusalem. Some perspective, please. 

Photo of the Day: A human wall in Bil'in

From the April 1, 2011 protest against the separation wall and its illegal annexation of land in the Westr Bank village of Bil'in. A protester uses his body to block the advancing Israeli riot soldiers

Protest against the wall, Bil'in, Palestine, 1/4/2011.