Sunday, December 9, 2012

FINALLY (without exclamation mark) the State

I awoke with anticipation on the humid May morning of 1996 in the home of my host family in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Election results would have been tallied by then and I was hoping that Shimon Peres, who had taken over as Prime Minister of Israel upon Itzhak Rabin's assasination by a right-wing Jewish settler a few months earlier, had won the election for Prime Minister of Israel. My disappointment at discovering that morning that he had lost - to Benjamin Netanyahu of all people - was overshadowed even by the startling reaction to the election result that Fuad, my host father, expressed. How could he possibly be pleased that Netanyahu had won?? My befuddlement betrayed a premature confidence that I was coming to understand the plight of these people that I had committed to come to know, and with whom I was living.
By all (Western press) accounts, Peres would be the clear favorite of Palestinians, coming as he did from the (seemingly) more progressive Labor party, who - so the outside story went - would surely be more just and open minded about ceding autonomy and self-determination to Palestinians. Netanyahu, in contrast, came from the Likud party and was brazenly open about the constraints he would mount on Palestinians. The choice couldn't be clearer.

"Why, Fuad, would you be pleased that Netanyahu would now lead Israel?" I was excercized and truly confused."With Netanyahu, we know exactly what we will get", said Fuad matter of factly, "Labor is full of words and fancy promises, but then they hit us just as badly."

That was a watershed moment for me, teaching me solidly that what may seem utterly logical to an outsider, may in fact be fully discordant with the perspectives of those on the ground.
That I had learned that lesson well was evidenced recently as I greeted a Palestinian friend the morning after the UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the status of Palestine to include the word "state." Rather than expectant of any jubilation, my question was tinged with cynicism. As she wondered for a half second what I was referring to, she said "Oh, yes, finally." As expected, hers was not an exuberant endorsement, but rather a muted acknowledgement; as if her unquestionable embrace was buried, stifled under layers of weight.
From the outside, many expected that of all things this achievement would have infused Palestinians with excitement. In fact, only some 2,000 people gathered in Ramallah to celebrate - a relatively small number, but large enough to fill the scope of most camera lenses, thus providing the illusion of masses.
In Jerusalem, there was no blip in the daily current of activity that I could notice. No parades, no demonstrations, no flags being foisted. At dinner that night, it was only midway through the lively social conversation that the host said, "Oh, we should celebrate that we are a State now." Cynical chuckles followed, and soon enough the conversation was back to the mundane. After resorting to the parlor for tea and fruit, the host put on the TV and panned over the numerous stations that were discussing the state event. None were captivated by it, but shifted attention now and then from unrelated conversations to the pundits' non-stop barrage of commentary.
Do Palestinians welcome this "pivotal" moment? Certainly yes. But the lived experience is such that the acknowledgment of what in other times would have been welcomed as a grand event competes automatically with a host of other experiences that discount its glamour. One can imagine any one of several sentiments that qualify the exuberance, but the most salient would be: "This will change nothing on the ground."
In short, decades of experience have taught that the vice of the occupation doesn't expand to release its grip, but only contracts, and that won't change "state" or no state. Indeed, it seems worst of all in Jerusalem (and Hebron) where our fresh research results are showing that it is there where Palestinians feel the worst of the demeaning crunch of the occupation.
All that said . . . as I was making my way down from Mt. Scopus through the valley of Sheikh Jarrah the next day, I looked up for some reason at the bent and rusting sign that in a different day had advertised the grand hotel that would be built there (only to have the land rezoned, leaving it as an empty lot between the main Nablus road and the Jewish settlement ensconced just lower in the valley).
At first I thought the yellow placard affixed to the crumbling sign was original, until I read it. Zeal or not, the political machinery was already in the works.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ever the Bibi . . . . No Truce for Me

Some features of the recent Israeli assasination of Hamas official Ahmed Al-Jabiri - which, if not the real spark of the bombardment of Gaza it was certainly the most provocative turn in the cycle of escalting violence - are not all that explosive afterall. That is, political assasinations have been common fare here for decades, espcially of Gazans. Also, the method - a missile fired remotely from a buzzing person-less drone - is now becoming an ubiqitous tactic for obliterating opponent leaders (by Israel and now the United States).

But the timing . . .

Al-Jabiri was a former Fatah loyalist who turned to Hamas during his pre-First Intifada imprisonment by Israel; after his release he rose eventually to chief of staff of Hamas' military wing.

According to persistent reports here from insiders, Al-Jabiri was actually in active negotiation with Israel for a long-term truce when he was terminated.

Sound familiar?

See this excerpt from Paul McGeough's gripping account of the botched Mossad assasination in 1997 in Amman of Khalid Mishal (who thereafter rose to lead Hamas political bureau) (Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assasination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas, 2009, The New Press; It would be better billed as a compelling, detailed history of Middle East politics from the 1980s to 2007).

The Israeli Prime Minister giving the orders? . . . Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first iteration.

". . . just three days before, King Hussein had personally conveyed a message to Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that Hamas was prepared to discuss a halt to the attacks on Israel in the context of a thirty-year truce. Now Israel, the American ally that had urged Washington to lock Hamas out in the cold because of its reliance on terror as a weapon, was admitting it had engaged in its own state-sanctioned terrorism against Hamas - but on the home turf of another loyal U.S. ally, Jordan. It was inconceivable." (p. 146)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sojourn in Jerusalem: An Absent Enemy

Sojourn in Jerusalem: An Absent Enemy: Yesterday, the first day of the ceasefire from 8 days of intensive fighting, I went to the Educational Bookshop (see upcoming post) to sur...

An Absent Enemy

Yesterday, the first day of the ceasefire from 8 days of intensive fighting, I went to the Educational Bookshop (see upcoming post) to survey the news coverage. The International Herald Tribune had already been sold out, "because of the hudna (ceasefire)." So, I bought the Jerusalem Post, which I often do to get a feel for how conservative Israelis view the news.

As expected the front page was packed with stories about the conflict and ceasefire, including 5 articles whose extensions occupied most of page 10 as well. Using the word "terrorist" instead of Palestinian is common in the JP during times of confrontation, and thus it was not surprising to see the repeated use of the T word, and virtually no use of the P word in the articles. What was unexpected, however, was the complete absence of any mention of casualties among the enemy in Gaza - except for noting that the army succeeded in killing 30 of Hamas' leaders.

Plenty of other tallies were given:

- 1,500 targets hit in Gaza
- 1,500 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza; 84% intercepted by Iron Dome
- 5 Israelis killed, 240 injured

Absent from the tallies: any mention - in any article - of the 160+ deaths and hundreds of injuries among Palestinians.


Indeed, the only real reference to "Palestinians" was the front page advertisement of the upcoming election, soliciting votes for candidates for the Likud party. Of two qualifications readers were to consider when voting, one was a documented record of opposing a Palestinian State. To aid in decision making, the ad quantifies the candidates' record of opposing the Palestinian State, evidence of which could be found in "bills passed, settlements authorized, etc.)."

Sunday, November 18, 2012



It was a mixed feeling yesterday to encounter the new graffiti on the sidewalk and wall near my apartment: on the one hand, nice to be able to read it (the training is paying off); on the other, deeply sad to be reminded of the trouble in Gaza. That is a place where I've spent much of my life; where I learned real lessons on life and humanity, and where I have many dear friends.

Long Live Gaza

Long Live Gaza

Now is not the time to go to Gaza. There is no need to take the risk. Fortunately, I've been able to reach many of my friends by phone.

I reached Mohammed on Friday; he, the patriarch of the family I live most with in those years in the late 1990s, between the two intifadas. His voice was strong and resolute as always, but he confirmed that bombs had fallen that day nearby the Maghazi Camp where his home is, in the middle portion of the Strip.

Later I reached Ahmed, his nephew, who I befriended back then when he was a teen and have become like a father to him. His fear is always more apparent, and he kept repeating how bad things were. He clarified that the bombing was much closer than I thought. I learned later from the news that 3 had been targeted and killed in that bombing. Later that night, while messaging on Facebook, more bombs were falling.

Yesterday, Mahmoud's phone was dead all morning. I finally reached him in the afternoon, just as he was approaching his home north of Gaza City to inspect the damage. Mahmoud, a NGO official, dear friend, and key advisor to our research project, proudly toured me through that home two years ago. He had saved the resources to finally move his family of 9 out of the urban cramp of Gaza City to this very nice home on the north side of the Sha'ti refugee camp that abuts Gaza City to the north. Likely in an attempt to destroy any rocket launching pads, the empty field next to his home had been bombed, pulverizing all of the windows and doors of the home. He lives now with the in-laws of his daughter.

I reached Hammam in Khan Yunis, the southern part of the Strip, and was able to talk to most of his family. They were the first family I lived with back in 1998. The call was interrupted by bomb blasts. Hani, his next youngest brother, got on the line as said he witnessed the blast just as he was coming home. None knew how long the assault would last, or if and when the IDF would bring in ground troops.

The variety of predictions of the timing or reach of any escalation reveals just how precarious and unpredictable the situation is. This is made all the more onerous, when, as Mohammed said, "We still haven't recovered from the last war." - referring to the punishing assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

Lastly, yesterday, Khalil returned my call. He'd just finished a meeting with other human rights leaders who met to determine ways to let the outside world know of the utter gravity of their situation.

I've not been able to reach Hussam or Eyad.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chapter 2

Such a pleasure to back in Jerusalem for some weeks to headquarter to manage the two research projects and continue the Arabic training. I'll complete some drafted messages from last year and post some new ones. Grimly, the first will be of the nightmare in Gaza.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Aroma - Rich, Robust, and Enduring

One of the first sensations when entering the Old City is the assault of a delicious and complex mix of aromas - made up of dozens of fragrances. Here are some of the sources: