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.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My absence and Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive

No post in the last two weeks, that must set some kind of recent record for me.

I've still been reading and staying up on as much Israel, Palestine, and Arab Spring news as I can, I just haven't gotten around to writing much.

I find myself getting into a pattern of posting lots of links, and sentence or paragraph commentary, to facebook and twitter. Check out my twitter feed for more of that, or friend me on facebook. There's so much good reporting, analysis, and commentary out there I often feel I don't have much to contribute, especially when I don't have current first-hand accounts from the West Bank. But alas, I get around to writing every now and then.

My latest is at Waging Nonviolence. Here's the opener.
Saudi women have started a right-to-drive campaign that has quickly garnered the attention of the international media as well as the concern of conservative Saudi Arabian authorities. The organizers of Women2Drive had began encouraging women to take to the streets en masse, behind the wheel, on June 17 in defiance of a religious edict, fatwa, forbidding women to drive automobiles. A figurehead of the movement, Manal al-Sharif, was detained and released on Saturday and then arrested on Sunday by Saudi police shortly after she posted a video of herself driving a vehicle.
Here's lies the link.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This is Gaza

This video shows the beauty and the pain of Gaza, side by side, as they exist in reality. It reminds us that Gazans are human beings with hopes and aspirations, exploding the myth created by Israel, and parroted by the United States, that Gazans are terrorists and militants that have earned an inhumane imprisonment and siege.

Nir Rosen on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qa'eda

Nir Rosen, author and independent journalist, has published a new piece on the killing of Bin Laden that has been published various places under various titles, "Al Qa'eda was always a fringe group with no roots in the Arab world," is my personal favorite. Before I get any further, I have to give props to Nir Rosen on his newest book, "Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World." It's an excellent, thorough read, taken from Rosen's extensive work in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had the privilege of carrying Rosen's book through Israeli security and getting as many dirty looks for his title as I got for carrying Arabic language vocabulary lists. Rosen was previously writing for mainstream publications such as Rolling Stone, but has gone the independent route, apparently in an effort to stay true to reporting what he sees, hears, and believes. Some of Rosen's most recent long-form pieces are at Jadaliyya, here's his author page.

Go read his most recent Bin Laden piece, it's great. But for people who don't have 30 minutes to spare, here are some great excerpts. I had to stop taking excerpts halfway through because I realized I was taking a quarter of the article. The section of the article from which I did not excerpt deals with a favorite topic of mine: terrorism. Rosen deconstructs the definition of terrorism and differentiates it from resistance. Ok, without further ado, The Excerpts:
It turns out Arabs understand democracy better than we do in the stagnant west, they proved that leaders rule only with the consent of the governed and if the people demand their rights they cannot be stopped. On the other hand America, a nation in economic and political decline but perpetual war, was engrossed in right wing conspiracy theories about where President Obama was born only to receive a nationalist fillip by an assassination ten years and trillions of dollars in the making. 
The truth is al Qaeda was a fringe organization without roots in the Arab world, and it has barely had any successes since it got lucky on September 11. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were tragic and criminal. They were painful for the victims and their families and a shock to a powerful, arrogant and proud nation blissfully unaware that it was so resented. But other than the murders the attacks had little real impact on the American economy or way of life. It was the American response, both at home and abroad, that changed everything.  Al Qaeda used it’s “A team” on that day to attack a slumbering nation, and they got lucky. But could a few hundred angry and unsophisticated Muslim extremists really pose such a danger to a superpower, especially one that was now hyper alert to potential threats?
The Bush administration had to transform its response to the 9/11 attacks into crusade because when looked at in purely security terms the United States, the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, went to war against two hundred unsophisticated extremists. Looking at it like that diminishes the enemy and the threat to the absurd, but many were nostalgic for a real enemy, like fascism or communism, and so they made the conflict about culture. The United States adopted al Qaeda’s view of the world and it too treated the entire world stage as a battlefield.
Al Qaeda was not a villainous bad guy out of a Bond film or a comic book, determined to do evil for the sake of evil. It was a movement that arose in response to America’s imperial excesses. Many of its grievances were legitimate, even if killing American civilians is not the proper means of addressing them. If America ceased supporting the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians, and if America ceased coddling Middle Eastern dictators, and if America ceased bombing Muslims, there would be little reason for Muslims to resent America, or retaliate against American civilians. 
There is no al Qaeda. It was not defeated by drones and “the quiet professionals” who can assassinate at will. It was defeated by its own excesses and by the millions of Arabs who have led a leaderless revolution, overthrowing dictators and ignoring al Qaeda’s view that a vanguard was needed.
Americans complain when others celebrate the killing of Americans, but the world watched Americans grotesquely celebrating an execution. While the Americans keep trying to present their violent acts as somehow sanctioned by notions of law and right and the “international community”, Muslim masses will continue to have the opposite view because of how ingrained their enmity to colonialism is. Decades of oppression, the recent occupation of Iraq and most recently with American support for Mubarak until the last minute mean that many Arabs will not trust the American account, they have been lied to before, and they will not sympathize with the American narrative, because Americans showed them only cruelty.
When you drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be some ‘collateral’ civilian damage, but accepting it as worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose sanctions as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you are deliberately killing people for a political goal. When you seek to “shock and awe,” as president Bush did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in terrorism.

Young girl in reference to Israeli soldiers, "They can never shut me up"

A 14 year-old Palestinian girl writes about her experience of Israeli soldiers raiding her home and holding her and her family hostage while they searched for her father. Here's a compelling excerpt:
We started asking them questions, non-stop. “We hope you won’t steal our valuables from the rooms?” “We never take anything that is not ours,” one shouted indignantly. Hanin replied, “Other than stealing our land every day, you have stolen precious items from Palestinian homes during previous invasions!” Their commander appeared again, giving them new orders. I could not resist saying, “You so remind me of sheep. He’s your shepherd, and all of you are just mindless followers.” One of them pointed his M16 at me, and said: “Shut the f*** up!” So I said: “If you hate the truth so much why don’t you refuse to follow his orders? Why do you insist on terrorizing us?” He repeated his favorite insult and moved closer, with his rifle pointed at my face. Suha jumped and shouted at him, “She is only 14, do you have anything human left in you?”

I was boiling with anger, but I refused to give them the pleasure of watching me cry. They were not only humiliating me, they were also trying to make me a silent victim. I didn’t want to shut up. And I didn’t want to be submissive in anyway. I have had enough already. I wanted them out, now. I was very tired and sleepy. But I still wanted to show them what a Palestinian teenager is made of! Images from Tunisia and Egypt filled my head, and I felt proud.
She's 14 years old and is far more courageous than I will ever be. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Documentary: Stolen Children, Stolen Lives

Below is a documentary, split into two clips, created by a former CPT colleague of mine, Gerry O'Sullivan. Stolen Children, Stolen Lives focuses on Israeli arrests of Palestinian children, and the effects of those abuses on Palestinian children and Israeli soldiers.

It's worth watching, really. I swell with pride and heartache at my friend, Layla, who describes the imprisonment of her son. Such a brave, courageous woman faced with such dark, tragic inhumanity.

Israeli soldiers throw tear gas at displaced Palestinian residents sleeping under tarps

From CPTnet: On Friday, May 6, the Israeli military declared the area of Amniyr, a Palestinian village south of Yatta, a closed military zone and chased away the families who own the land, after demolishing structures and trees on the land the day before.

The demolitions occurred at 5 a.m. on Thursday, May 5, when the military destroyed six shacks and uprooted 150 olive trees in Amniyr.

On Friday, the Palestinians of Amniyr had returned to the land and hung six tarps to create makeshift tents. The Israeli army issued a "closed military zone" order on the area at 9:00 a.m. At 2:00 p.m. seven military jeeps arrived, including police and border police. The commanders showed the order and gave the people one minute to leave.

Using sound bombs and tear gas, the soldiers and police forced off the land all the Palestinians present—about thirty adults, many of them elderly, and ten children—as well as accompanying internationals. One woman, Fatmi Mahmoud Jaboor, passed out due to the bombs and required medical attention. The Palestinian Red Cross evacuated her to the hospital, and she was dismissed in the evening. At 7 p.m. four military jeeps returned to Amniyr and destroyed the tarps and what had been left standing in the area.

This is the third time in ten weeks that the military has destroyed trees, tents, dwellings and other structures on the land of Amniyr, effectively demolishing the entire village and affecting six families. Although Amniyr is Palestinian-owned private property, Israel has declared it "state land" and prohibits the people of Amniyr from building any structures or using the land. A local Palestinian leader has told CPT that he believes Israel is trying to confiscate the land of Amniyr because of its proximity to the Israeli settlement of Susiya.

The outraging part of this video is the soldier who speaks very little Arabic, and refuses to listen to reason, questions, and pleas from the local residents. Instead, he keeps repeating the same refrain: Dqiqa, fesh wahad. Given it's gramatical mistakes, it roughly translates, "One minute, there is not one." Sure he says enough to convey the message he wants to get across, he wants people to know that in one minute everyone needs to be gone from this place. Message conveyed, but the dynamics are ugly. You demolished a village and the next day demand the residents get out from under the tarps they threw on their destroyed belongings to provide a semblance of shelter. When they ask questions you don't listen and probably don't speak enough Arabic to understand anyway. So you repeat one of the phrases you know (in addition to IDF favorites, "Show me your ID," "Stop," "Where are you going," "Go to your house," "It's forbidden for you to be here"), in all it's preschool grammar,  to demand that people leave.

So it total, we have Palestinian people living on a piece of land deep into the West Bank. They are farmers and shepherds, and having been to this village many times I can tell you it's mostly elderly people in their 50s and 60s, people who are tired and haggard from a life under the sun and under occupation. Their village has been demolished three times in 10 weeks. Each time their houses get a little shittier, because after each demolition they have less to rebuild with. When their home was demolished most recently they hung some tarps on the rubble of their houses for shelter. The next morning, soldiers arrived to evacuate the area with a 'closed military zone' order. The people wanted to show their displeasure and also ask questions to know the exact borders of the closed zone so they could actually leave the area. Palestinians living in Area C have seen closed military orders dozens of times, and they know it's not a hill worth dying on. The people in the video are clearly asking for further explanation and one person explicitly says, "Ok we will leave, but just clear this up for me..." Seconds later, tear gas and sound bombs.

Photos available here.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The hypocrisy of demanding only Palestinians abandon violence

Palestinians in Gaza City celebrate the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas

My latest is up at Waging Nonviolence. Here's a teaser:
The United States, Israel, and other Western governments issue carbon-copy statements about the need for Hamas to renounce violence; meanwhile, Israel gets a pass as it daily uses violence to suppress nonviolent demonstrations across the West Bank.

Violence used to resist illegal occupation, land annexation, demolitions, and the transfer of Israeli citizens into occupied Palestine territory is illegitimate. Yet, violence used for the purpose of maintaining and expanding empire is legitimate, and continually defended.

No amount of Palestinian nonviolent resistance will be satisfactorily nonviolent to Israel or the United States.
Read the rest.

Video: Introduction to CPT Palestine

This is a new video created to provide a glimpse into the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. Check it, there are clips of interviews with myself and other CPT colleagues.

Monday, May 02, 2011

This is a somber day where we should be remembering all of the victims

Jeremy Scahill, a writer for The Nation, who came to prominence after his in-depth research of Blackwater, spoke on Democracy Now about the killing Osama Bin Laden. He had lots of good things to say in the interview, especially this:
I found it quite disgusting to see people chanting, like it was some sort of sporting event, outside of the White House. I think it was idiotic. Let’s remember here, hundreds of thousands of people have died. Iraq was invaded, a country that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. The United States created an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq by invading it, made Iran a far more influential force in Iraq than it ever would have been. We have given a grand motivation to people around the world that want to do harm to Americans in our killing of civilians, our waging of war against countries that have no connection to al-Qaeda, and by staying in these countries long after the mission was accomplished. Al-Qaeda was destroyed in Afghanistan, forced on the run. The Taliban have no chance of retaking power in Afghanistan. And so, I think that this is a somber day where we should be remembering all of the victims, the 3,000 people that died in the United States and then the hundreds of thousands that died afterwards as a result of a U.S. response to this that should have been a law enforcement response and instead was to declare war on the world.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The coverage of the killing of Osama Bin Laden

Full disclosure: I don't have collected, organized thoughts on the matter. But I do have a bit of pent up emotion. If I waited to write this post, I could compartmentalize my thoughts and put something together that I am proud of. But if I wait, I may never write this post.

The news of Osama Bin Laden's death was pretty cut and dry for me. Ok, the guy who founded an organization that orchestrated and carried out deplorable acts is dead. Is this the end of Al Qaeda? No. Is this the end of anger and hatred for Americans because of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the Muslim world? No.

Terrorist attacks and myopic nonexistent analysis
It's amazing that we never speak about the motivation for terrorist attacks. And I'm not speaking specifically about acts with which Bin Laden was involved, but any terrorist attacks. The furthest we get is, 'well, they hated Americans and everything America stands for.'  But, why? Why do they hate America? Did America do something to deserve their hatred? Well, I'm not sure, but, God Bless America and Support Our Troops.

Leading up to 9/11, and following 9/11, Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda figures clearly stated the reasons for their beef with the US. First, they deplored and called for an end to the US' military presence on the Arabian peninsula. Second, they were enraged by the US' unconditional support of Israel. Did US leaders and politicians listen? Nope.

The celebration outside of the White House -- which streamed for hours on Al Jazeera English, MSNBC, CNN, and every major news network -- was appalling and jingoistic.  Would that many people be gathered in the streets if Obama declared the end of the Afghanistan war? Will thousands of people gather at a local air force base to welcome home US troops at the end of the Afghanistan war? Probably not. When's the next time you will see so many frat boys with American flags chanting U-S-A, U-S-A? Probably in London at the Summer Olympics of 2012.

And what were we celebrating again? The killing of someone? Isn't that disturbing, at least a little bit? Would if General Petraeus was killed and people celebrated in the streets of Afghanistan? Petraeus was responsible for orchestrating the killing of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. What would we think of those people celebrating?

American lives are more valuable
The news anchors were continually referencing 9/11, saying the victims' families will now have a sense of closure, they kept quoting the number of people killed, that today was such a watershed moment. What about the tens of thousands of Afghan civilians killed? Are they still just collateral damage and nothing more? We got our man, alright, we got our man -- but at what cost? One news anchor on MSNBC (he was the one recently reporting from Libya) talked about the fact that people all over the world had begun to doubt whether America was still a nation that could accomplish anything it set its mind to, but tonight we proved that we still can. If we kill tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, carry out increasingly frequent and deadly drone strikes in Pakistan, occupy a country for nearly a decade and drastically accelerate the radicalization of its population resulting in a growing numbers of militant Islamic jihadists -- then yes, we can get our way. Is there any consideration of the cost? I know we'll only give a shit about the cost to 'us', and not to 'them.' But even the cost to the United States...2,000 US troops killed and 10,000 more Bin Laden's created over the last decade. That's a great cost. A great cost.

And no, this isn't the end of Al Qaeda or militants targeting US institutions and civilians. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya and the continued support of the occupation of Palestine will ensure that Wahhabis, Salafis, and Islamic Jihadists will continue to target the US.

And to quote my facebook self, in a stream of consciousness rage, induced by CNN and MSNBC:
Can a US news agency please quote how many Afghan civilians were killed? Or no, only Bin Laden and those killed on 9/11 are the relevant ones? Afghan civilians (we also call you 'collateral damage'), sorry but you lived in the wrong country. We got him, but we don't care about the cost. We're America dammit.

You would do the same if you had to bread at home

Large numbers of Palestinian day laborers cross from the West Bank into Israel each day.

Israel is just one of many places in the world where people are filling unwanted, manual-labor jobs and are criminalized because of their lack of proper documentation.

Since the influx of Russian and East African immigrants into Israel, the need for Palestinian labor has decreased. Nonetheless, every Palestinian man I have ever met, has worked in Israel at one point of another. The poorer and more desperate are likely to continue returning to Israel for work regardless of the cost. Several people I know have served around one year in prison for entering Israel to work without a permit.