Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Al-Masara Demonstration 4-30-10

Children's Film Projected on Wall

Mazin, Jessie, and "Other Troublemaker"

Wall Art - Bethlehem

Posted by Harriet Malinowitz
June 15, 2010

Many apologies for the long lapse between my last blog posting and this one. Like many others, I was preoccupied with the aftermath of the flotilla massacre. Now it’s well over a month since the Sumud and the Wall conference—the raison d’etre for my trip to Palestine—and I will at last recount some of the salient moments of my time at it, many of which are still quite vivid in my mind.

First of all, some background: the conference, which took place at Bethlehem University (sorry to be superficial, but what lovely architecture and views that university has!), was organized by a consortium of institutions, of which the Arab Educational Institute (AEI-Open Windows—an NGO that operates in Bethlehem—see http://www.aeicenter.org/ -- and also click on their link for the conference) was the local host. Co-sponsors were Oxford Brookes University (UK) and Paris-Est University (France), in cooperation with Al-Quds Open University, Bethlehem University (Department of Humanities) and Utrecht University (Center for Conflict Studies).

My heart was, of course, warmed by the emphasis—both in promotional materials and in the welcoming remarks at the conference itself—on this being an academic conference, aiming “to promote a free and lively flow of ideas across academic disciplines.” It was not, of course, an occasion for detached discussion of abstruse ideas; rather, it was a chance to engage in collective inquiry, prompted by urgency, and to establish new channels of communication and thought across international and interdisciplinary lines. The majority of participants were Palestinian (primarily faculty and students from Bethlehem University and Al-Quds/Jericho), with a smattering of Europeans/UKers, perhaps a few dual-nationals, Jane Toby and myself among just a tiny handful of Americans (without other nationalities attached to them) that I was aware of, and one (as I discovered in a workshop at the end) Japanese. (There may well have been others whose provenance I was unaware of. My apologies for errors.)

Sumud means “steadfastness” or “resilience”; Toine van Teeffelen, one of the chief organizers, explained that it came into popular use in the 1970s. The conference honored the amazing tenacity of that quality among Palestinians who have endured decades of expulsion, brutal repression, and occupation, while also attempting to create a new field of “Wall Studies.” The “Apartheid Wall” was, of course, the central focus and guiding image; presentations focused on its impact on children’s education, the Bethlehem business community, social relations within families, tourism, etc., as well as forms of resistance to its construction, from demonstrations to graffiti to the arts. Yet the discussion also considered other sorts of walls (part of what you might call a “Wall Continuum”): conceptual walls of public opinion, checkpoints and roadblocks, the walls encountered in mass media and communications that interrupt the Palestinian narrative from being more clearly and directly transmitted to the rest of the world, the walls that featured in the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. (Jane, some of you will be interested to know, read aloud MECR’s mission statement.)

One talk that I found really interesting was by historian Adnan Ayash, and traced the history of “wall” language in Zionist discourse, employing quotations from writers and leaders starting with Herzl and continuing, with innumerable examples, from Vladimir Jabotinsky to Abba Eban, Meir Kahane, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and many more. (I thought this was great because the sheer consistency and continuity of “wall” metaphors in Zionist speech—leading inexorably up to the current Wall which is certainly not just a metaphor—had not occurred to me before. I do hope to see this presentation in print some time so as to be able to think it all through and track some of the references more closely.)

The conference ended with a breakdown of participants (there were 150—meaning that most of the time, we could all be in the same lecture hall, engaging in the same conversation) into four workshop groups. The purpose of the workshops was to brainstorm about “follow-up activities in research and advocacy.” Report-backs upon regrouping revealed numerous great ideas, including cultural and media projects, publications, practical initiatives, educational programs, networking with grassroots and other academic groups locally and internationally, addressing legal and governmental issues, etc. (While I haven’t heard from the organizing committee since then, I hope and trust that these ideas, and the international ties forged, will be duly built upon.)

One of the unexpected effects the conference had on me was making me feel much more motivated than I ever have in the past to experiment with technology. At Long Island University in Brooklyn, where I work, we are constantly encouraged to use all sorts of cutting-edge technologies in our teaching—yet I have learned, through long, bitter experience, that the majority of the time, things don’t work. That is, just when I have made the leap of faith and am totally dependent on the technology for instruction, it turns out that the equipment is not functioning, the software is not functioning, the IT “support” people are not functioning, the logic of the whole IT system there is not functioning—and as a result, neither I nor my class is functioning. But at the Sumud and the Wall conference, it was totally different. All the proceedings were simultaneously translated between English and Arabic; everybody had a wireless headset, so if you didn’t understand the language someone was speaking in at the moment (and this could get pretty complicated during Q & As!), a man in a booth in the back spoke comprehensibly into your ears. It worked! One session featured presenters from Gaza, via videoconference. It worked! We saw and heard them, and they saw and heard us! Afterward, I commented to someone overseeing the use of technical equipment there that at my university in Brooklyn, technology frequently seems to go awry, but here in occupied Palestine, technology seemed to work perfectly. “Yes, because we need it to survive,” she said.

This seemed to be a major realization that emerged in the workshops, too—that technology afforded all sorts of hitherto impossible ways of breaking through “walls.” (Since then, a video card smuggled off the Mavi Marmara and viewed all over the world on the internet has further driven home the point.) I know that to many, this would seem obvious; but to those of us who are middle-aged, born of typewriters and pathetically dependent upon the young and the swift to guide us through the labyrinthine paths of postmodern technology, it comes with the force of sudden inspiration. The next intifada will indeed be a very, very electronic one.

A couple of remarks about people: There were some wonderful ones there! A true highlight for me was finally meeting, and getting to spend some time with, Mazin Qumsiyeh, whose work I have so very much admired for years—his terrific book, Sharing the Land of Canaan, as well as his fabulously copious emailed blogs, his voluminous and uber-linked website, his sheer energy and intelligence, his sumud. He is someone who—along with Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky—always makes the word “indefatigable” spring to my mind. (I must say that though I totally venerate Goodman and Chomsky, Mazin is a lot more fun to hang out with.) In between conference sessions, he runs to demonstrations, prepares molecular biology lectures, writes his blog, and has visitors drop into his little Bethlehem University office.

It has been very frustrating to me that, more than once, I’ve missed him when he’s spoken right here at home in the Hudson Valley—so surmounting that particular wall at last was a great pleasure. He gave a terrific presentation on popular resistance; was an active attendee as well as presenter; and during the lunch break he and his wife, Jessie (who was also great!—I especially loved our conversation about how much we both hate to chant—so renewing for the activist soul!) took me to the weekly Friday demonstration in the nearby village of Al-Masara—where the Wall is, among other things, cutting the people off from their stone quarry and their agricultural lands.

At the demonstration, I saw Mazin not only attempting to engage reasonably with the Israeli soldiers clutching their guns (good luck), but also handing his card out to young people milling about. (When I queried him on this latter activity, he said he was encouraging them to come to the conference. That touched me. By the way, he’s been arrested at non-violent demonstrations more than once since then; his reputation as an anti-Wall activist is growing and this brings increased scrutiny and repression. And while the IDF in Al-Masara stayed calm on that day, Mazin’s blog a few weeks later had this, which I’d encourage all readers of this blog to click on: “The attacks from the Israeli soldiers at the peaceful demonstration in Al-Masara 21 May 2010 (here no Palestinian security are allowed in the area): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJvQM7VRbvk.”)

On the way to Al-Masara and back, Mazin was a great tour guide, though I am quite spatially challenged and kept finding it hard to keep the big picture straight in my head—I mean, literally/geographically, making sense of the relative positioning of Jewish settlements, refugee camps, bypass roads, smaller (slower) roads, abruptly ended (courtesy of the IDF) roads, desecrated olive groves, etc. we drove past and along. It was a lot to process all at once.

One serendipitous thing that happened at the demonstration: there in front of me, yelling at the soldiers in Hebrew, was a young Israeli military refuser, Haggai Matar, who I recognized from the time some years back when I’d heard him speak at a church in Brooklyn. (He’d been 18 at the time—a very impressive, radical, articulate, homeschooled prodigy who went to jail upon his return home.) I tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “I heard you speak in Park Slope in 2002! You were fantastic and I’ve actually quoted you in my writing since then.” He said, “Yes, I was in my prime then. I’ve been in decline ever since.” (It didn’t seem that way to me.) There were a smattering of other young Israelis and internationals there, though I think most of the people at the demo were from the village. (I’m bad at numbers; maybe about 50 in all?)

On Friday evening, after the day’s conference events ended, the organizers took us all on a bus to view various spots along the Wall (lots of amazing artwork as well as a wide spectrum of interesting graffiti; we saw one house that was, astonishingly, engulfed on three sides by the Wall—which turned out to be the house where Jane was living, and where Claire, from whom MECR has purchased some handicrafts, both lives and has her shop on the ground floor). Following that, they had arranged for us to partake of some cultural events at a house near Rachel’s Tomb—including singing by a women’s choir, animated films about children/youth and the Wall (projected against the Wall—made me think there should be a Wall Film Festival, beamed up by satellite to sites around the world), testimonials by local women affected by the Wall, and, of course, food.

At lunch the second day, I talked with a funny guy named Mohammed who had spent several years in an Israeli prison. (His crime was being a member of the Communist Party.) “How was it?” I asked goofily. “Great!” he said. “Swimming every day in the Olympic pool, free internet…..” “Desserts like this?” I asked, pointing to the one perched on his plate. “Oh, much, much bigger!” On a more serious note, he said that being in an Israeli prison isn’t as bad as being in a Palestinian prison, “because at least you’re there because you love your country”—while being imprisoned by the PA is just totally demoralizing.

One last little human interest anecdote: on the first day, a conference attendee from Scotland named Bill plopped down next to me at lunch and began to regale me with some pretty annoying observations—the liberal/”rational” “both sides” and “cycle of violence” sorts of remarks that one generally hears on NPR. He was a grad student in a Peace and Conflict Studies program, and seemed like a sponge for all the worst elements of “academic” thinking—that is, he was full of tenets and mantras about conflict and its resolution, but short on perception of the specific circumstances he was actually in and trying to apply them to at the moment. He sounded a bit like a self-help book for countries: “Here are 200 non-violent methods that work!” When he realized that I was unimpressed with his insights (I’m none too subtle when it comes to these things), he seized on my identity as a post-9/11 New Yorker: “Wasn’t there some human part of you that wanted those people bombed in retribution?” he asked, assuming that the answer would be “Yes” and thus illustrate the essentially “human nature” always at work in conflicts—a starting point for an analogy about Israelis and Palestinians. “No,” I said uncooperatively. It is both shocking and frustrating for people who don’t question their premises when you don’t automatically accept them; he looked at me in amazement, and finally taking a social cue, got up and left. I was glad to reflect that the next day he’d be giving his own presentation, and others would respond as well; I’d feel less alone in my ire.

The next day, he gave his talk on “Effective Non-Violent Action,” full of formulas he’d gleaned in grad school and oblivious of some basic realities of the Wall. (Among other things, he regurgitated some common Israeli propaganda—the sort I’d heard at my cousins’ house in West Jerusalem—such as that the Wall had dramatically reduced suicide bombings, which of course angered those who were better informed and who more logically reasoned that, among other things, a partially completed wall leaves plenty of ways to get through if one wants to.) Just as I’d anticipated, there was a good deal of indignant reaction to his talk; he responded defensively, averring that he “wasn’t biased,” and didn’t seem to take it in. (Mazin, on the same panel, gave up after trying to get through to him, finally resorting to shaking his head helplessly from the dais.)

That night, while I was doing email in my hotel lobby, a couple of other conference attendees came over to chat, and then, suddenly, Bill appeared. “How are you?” we asked him—and not altogether without concern, because there really was something of the nice, if befuddled, guy about him. “Well, it’s been quite a day,” he said. He explained that after his talk, some men in the audience, members of a local resistance organization, had come over and said they wanted to give him his own personal tour of the West Bank. They took him to villages, refugee camps, demolished olive groves, settlements—and in the end, he got “chased by a settler with a gun.” “Did it change your perspective?” we asked him. “Definitely,” he said, and seemed to mean it.

Postscript: the next morning, as a few of us were having breakfast, he again appeared—this time looking wan. He explained that he was sick and patted his stomach: “I guess I ate some bad shrimp last night,” he said, and planned to spend the morning inert in his room. We wished him well, and after he disappeared, one of the conference organizers commented, “Lesson #2 about the Occupation: You may be very near the sea, but seafood sits for hours at checkpoints in the hot sun.”

I do hope to catch some future paper of his.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Posted by Harriet Malinowitz
June 1, 2010

I was planning to spend yesterday—Memorial Day—writing Part III of this blog—about the conference that was the main purpose of my visit to the West Bank—but the Gaza Flotilla Massacre happened and I went down to the city for the demonstration instead.

Then last night, for reasons unrelated to Israel/Palestine/Gaza, I happened to be googling around for definitions of various psychological conditions and syndromes. I was particularly interested in seeing how a “sociopath” might be defined. While no website that I found seemed authoritative (and the “experts” seemed neither more nor less intellectually solid, overall, than the laypeople), there were a number of characteristics that were cited time and again—leading me to think that to the best of anyone’s knowledge, they were roughly descriptive of what contemporary society considers to be a “sociopath” (though the current preferred term is “antisocial personality disorder”; same thing). Here’s a good representative example:


Profile of the Sociopath

This website summarizes some of the common features of descriptions of the behavior of sociopaths.

• Glibness and Superficial Charm

• Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

• Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

• Pathological Lying
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

• Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

• Shallow Emotions
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

• Incapacity for Love

• Need for Stimulation
Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

• Callousness/Lack of Empathy
Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

• Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

• Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

• Irresponsibility/Unreliability
Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

• Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

• Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.

• Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Other Related Qualities:
1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
3. Authoritarian
4. Secretive
5. Paranoid
6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
7. Conventional appearance
8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life
10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

(The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.)

NOTE: In the 1830's this disorder was called "moral insanity." By 1900 it was changed to "psychopathic personality." More recently it has been termed "antisocial personality disorder" in the DSM-III and DSM-IV. Some critics have complained that, in the attempt to rely only on 'objective' criteria, the DSM has broadened the concept to include too many individuals. The APD category includes people who commit illegal, immoral or self-serving acts for a variety of reasons and are not necessarily psychopaths.

Sound familiar? Promiscuity and gambling notwithstanding, there are innumerable ways in which Israel seems to fit the description of a “sociopath.”

What to make of this? There are many things one could possibly make of it. The main association that springs to my mind is Hannah Arendt and her famous study—first in The New Yorker magazine and later in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem—of the sheer ordinariness and “normality” of what may be taken—through a more distanced, or objective, or pathologizing, or perhaps anthropological lens—as “evil.” I’m sure most people reading this have heard of the expression, made famous by that study, “the banality of evil.” Though I think it is a nugget that encapsulates her thesis well, it has itself become banalized from overuse.

I say this because many people who are familiar with the term and the phenomenon it represents seem to see all sorts of things that some—even they themselves, in other circumstances—might consider “evil” to be fairly humdrum. For instance, in recent times, a new term has been coined—“PEPS” (“Progressive Except for Palestine”)—designating those who see not only the holocaust, but the U.S.’s (and others’) actions and policies over the years in Vietnam, Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. etc. as “evil,” yet who routinely abdicate their own fine brains when it comes to Israel. (I have heard some of my own highly educated, putatively lefty relatives explaining why the “disproportionate use of force” may actually be “proportionate”—when you look at it a certain way…..)

As many reading this may recall, ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill was vilified after 9/11 for referring to yuppies in the World Trade Center running the machinery of globalization and world finance—impoverishing and destructive to many—as “little Eichmanns.” The fury, of course, came from the suggestion that these ordinary Americans, just doing their job, were as depraved as Nazis—though the point, I believe, was that Nazis, too, just perceived themselves to be ordinary folks, doing their jobs—and that these are just two different lenses through which one might see and interpret precisely the same thing.

It is one thing to truly be a “little Eichmann”—to be a clueless schmuck caught up in the machinery and obfuscations of your own society, to the point where you are not only willing to do harm to others (not seeing it, after all, as harm—seeing it perhaps, even, as good), but even to become cannon fodder yourself. It is another thing to calculatedly capitalize upon the entrenched blurring of those boundaries—that is, to know how easily brutal and inhumane actions can be cast as understandable human phenomena such as “self-defense,” “claiming a homeland,” etc.—and to employ spin doctors, political connections, channels of influence, media monopolies, emotional blackmail, bankrupt institutions (such as the U.N. Security Council), and the good faith of well-meaning, beguiled people in order to effect a deliberate deception and perform self-serving, remorseless deeds.

We are all familiar with the Zionist argument that it is anti-semitic to single Israel out from others in the world who behave in ways that are not entirely dissimilar. In fact, I think that many of us would agree that Israel is hardly the only sociopathic collective entity in this world. The U.S. would meet the diagnostic criteria; so would big pharma (that lets people die of AIDS if there’s no profit incentive otherwise), the big banks (who have plunged us into global financial crisis), tobacco and oil companies, and the other governments involved in some of the U.S.’s exploits mentioned above. Which is to say that yes, sociopathy is a stunningly ordinary condition in this world, and yes, there are many sociopaths out there.

But for some of us—I am thinking of American Jews in particular—Israel is OUR sociopath. At least, that’s how I think of it. Not, I would like to make clear, because I love Israel and want it to turn out all right; not that I think it needs some “tough love” and discipline from its family to steer it back on course. As it happens, I don’t love Israel at all, and I don’t think it was ever on a rightful course to begin with. But because Israel itself has, throughout my lifetime, maintained so insistently that I am it and it is me—and because so many people who have surrounded me since birth have maintained this—and because so much of the world, and so many U.S. politicians, see it this way—I see an opportunity to affect the course of events that I don’t see myself having with B.P., Exxon-Mobil, or even the Pentagon.

That’s why I’m ending this blog entry right now to head out to another demonstration (this time in Woodstock): because, through an accident of birth and myriad environmental influences, Israel is MY sociopath, and its sickness is unbearable.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Posted by Harriet Malinowitz

May 27, 2010

I arrived at my cousin Yehudit’s house (I’m changing all the family names) late, but not too late for everyone to sit down to one of those Israeli evening meals featuring salad chopped up into tiny little pieces and a staggering array of dairy products. (Will Israel ultimately self-destruct on its own clogged arteries?)

A little background on Yehudit: though we’re technically fairly distant cousins (at least third—we never figured it out, exactly, because there were too many others and too many “removed” in the way), there has been a close connection between our families for over two generations. Her mother, Miriam, came to New York as a refugee from Austria and became integrated into my mother’s family in the Bronx before ultimately moving to Jerusalem. My maternal aunt, Libby, lived in Israel for a number of years in the 1960s, when Yehudit was a child, and stayed frequently with Miriam (then widowed) and Yehudit in their Talbia apartment. (Libby tried to set up a pen-pal relationship between Yehudit—who is just a year older than me—and myself, which I was very excited about, but Yehudit never responded to my enthusiastic missive.) Later, when I was a young and vacuous sojourner in Israel—picking grapefruit on kibbutzim and hitchhiking around the Golan Heights, all in an exuberant, oblivious daze—I, too, stayed frequently at Miriam’s apartment, while Yehudit, living in the U.S. for several years, moved in for a while with my mother (then widowed) in Queens and became very much a part of my whole family. When I returned to the U.S., Yehudit and I became good friends; when I visited Israel again in the summers of 1982 (yes, invasion of Lebanon) and 1984, I stayed at her apartment in Gilo, which I was told was a “new neighborhood” of Jerusalem (they were laying the Jerusalem stone for new buildings even as I visited) and which I had no idea, till someone mentioned it to me my last night there, was on occupied territory. (I was beginning to ask questions and visited a friend at the relatively progressive Keren Shalom kibbutz, located at the Gaza border, where my Gilo bubble was burst.)

Yehudit and I are very different. She’s always wanted a much more conventional life than I have, and she got it. She now has a husband, Yigal, who doesn’t speak much English (“He doesn’t speak much in any language” Yehudit assured me), and two daughters who are fairly fluent in English—Rahel, age 17 (primed to go into the army next year) and Esty, age 15. They live in a fairly new neighborhood (I think this one really is a “neighborhood,” though I wouldn’t swear to anything anymore) of Jerusalem, in an apartment built into a cliff with a huge, flower-filled balcony looking out over gorgeous hills and valleys and the non-defined border between “Israel” and the “West Bank.” (I put these in quotes because the very lack of specified borders renders them both quasi-fictional—at least from the vantage point of that balcony.) It also looks down over the Biblical Zoo—so-called because, apparently, it was created to house only animals that were mentioned in the bible (great fodder for my propaganda studies)—and so, over morning coffee, you can see giraffes and rhinoceroses walking around in the sun.

Yehudit describes herself as “an educated person who reads Haaretz.” This is accurate. She is highly intelligent, has a high-level job in a publishing house, loves art and classical music, and is one of the very few Israelis trained as a China scholar. (Years ago, she translated Chinese revolutionary poetry into Hebrew.) She has always been a Labor Party supporter, has grieved at the rightward electoral trends in the country from Begin in 1977 to Netanyahu now, disapproves of the Occupation, and believes in a “two-state solution.” In other words, she is in that category of Israelis, which I find hard to comprehend, that is “liberal” economically and socially (to a point) yet adheres to unfathomable segregationist positions, recites the old histories of Zionism as if they had never been refuted (or even challenged), and sees plans such as Barak’s “generous offer” at Camp David as a tenable solution to the conflict. (“They could have a state if they wanted it!” she says.)

Spending time with Yehudit interests me for several reasons. First, I care about her—yet this has become an increasingly schizophrenic experience for me as Palestine has loomed larger and larger in my life over the past decade. I have always felt forgiving of genuine ignorance—that state when one believes something because one has truly never been confronted with material that would prompt one to question it. In other words, I don’t think the words “I didn’t know” are necessarily hypocritical (though they can certainly be used that way), and I am happy to give people the benefit of the doubt when they say them—providing that they are clearly trying to know and desirous of knowing. It’s “I don’t want to know” that drives me crazy. And this is what’s so puzzling about “educated people who read Haaretz.” How can you read Amira Hass and Gideon Levy and real reportage of events that wouldn’t have a chance of appearing in The New York Times—how can you admire Tom Segev and have worked on publishing a book by Ilan Pappe—and not question the old narratives? How can you be a “compassionate,” “civilized” person and parrot the ludicrous justifications from Hasbara Central about last year’s massacres in Gaza? How can you stand on a balcony, pointing out various sites—“That’s the Cremisan winery outside Bethlehem—that’s theirs; that’s Gilo—that’s ours” –and not even concede that the latter is up for debate?

I don’t get it. But I believe there are explanations, and that’s one reason I’m so interested in the study of propaganda—which I see as hovering at the border between rhetoric (my field) and social psychology. (In fact, they blend together—like “Israel” and the “West Bank,” I don’t really know where the border is, or if I believe it exists.) And that’s why, though I visit Yehudit and her family because I do care about them—that really is the only reason I do go—I can’t help but capitalize on the opportunity to be a participant-observer in a fascinating anthropological setting. And fascinating it was—though it worked well only as long as I didn’t lose my cool—and I regret to say that there were indeed a few moments when I lost it.

I certainly found that the most useful thing to do was to ask questions and to listen. I’ve mentioned before to some of you reading this that last October, I had lunch with Yehudit and Esty in New York. Esty is a brilliant student who attends what I’ve been told is the top high school in Jerusalem and has already studied three years of Arabic. She is very thoughtful, inquisitive, and sensitive, and if she doesn’t start to see things differently some years down the line when she is exposed to more than her insular environment—I feel, perhaps naively, confident that she will—I think I’ll lose all hope in the human brain. But last October, in a coffee shop in lower Manhattan, when I asked her what they teach in her school about the occupation, she looked puzzled. “What’s the occupation?” she asked. Yehudit laughed, explaining to me that 1967 was so long before Esty’s birth that she couldn’t even comprehend it as reality. But, of course, the occupation very much continues now—a point which Yehudit somehow made irrelevant in the discussion. Nonetheless, when I returned from a visit to the rest room, Esty was questioning her mother intensely. I will definitely give Yehudit credit for this: she never—not last October, not this April—tried to shut me up when I said things to her daughters that seemed to represent otherwise unheard-of perspectives. In other words, she didn’t try to stop the conversation from taking turns that made her uncomfortable, and even helpfully translated words I used in English that her daughters didn’t understand. I really did appreciate that, and know that this is not the case with every “educated person who reads Haaretz.”

But another interesting dimension of “not wanting to know” emerged. When the subject of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel came up, Yehudit spoke derisively of it as a way to “punish people just because they happen to be born Israeli.” Not so, I said; the call for boycott is actually much more thoughtful and complex than that. Have you read it? It’s online. “No,” she admitted. Another time, I explained to Rahel and Esty about the New Historians—accompanied by a little discussion of the difference between primary and secondary documents and the ways history gets told. I told them that when the 30-year rule enshrouding documents from the 1948 era in secrecy had elapsed, and Israeli historians went into numerous official archives, they found documents—“primary sources”—high-ranking Zionists’ memos, letters, minutes of meetings, diaries, etc.—that directly contradicted the “secondary sources” found in Israeli textbooks, media, and myriad other vehicles of cultural narrative. (The “secondary sources” were all derived from the tales told by Israel’s Founding Fathers, the 1948 generation—hardly the perspectives of impartial researchers.) I explained that the “primary documents”—to the shock of the New Historians—validated what had always been dismissed as the “Arab version” of events. “How do you know this?” they asked. I mentioned Benny Morris’s The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem, 1947-49 as a gold mine of direct quotations from these documents. “Oh, Benny Morris!” Yehudit sneered. “Have you read it?” I asked. “No,” she said.

They also asked me about the conference I had come to attend in Bethlehem, called Sumud and the Wall. (Sumud means “resilience” or “steadfastness” in Arabic.) Why did they think the Wall was being built? I asked. “For security” replied Rahel promptly. “We need it to stop terrorist attacks.” Unexpectedly, Yehudit disagreed. “I don’t think so,” she said. Rahel, surprised, asked her what she thought. “I don’t like this Wall,” said Yehudit. First, she found it to be an eyesore—something really ugly. (Apparently, many Israelis think that. My first day there, there was a local demonstration against projected plans to build the Wall near Yehudit’s house by nature preservationists.) Besides that, she said, “There’s something inhuman about it. I don’t like walls.” A Jerusalem cab driver I spoke with—who called himself “Mr. English,” though I think that rather overstated the case—had a similar objection. “It’s rude!” he said vehemently. So, based on my extremely limited sample—which included inquiries of both these sources about how they thought other Israelis saw it—I very provisionally concluded that the Wall is not the most popular Zionist initiative going these days. (Interesting, though, that the Wall is “inhuman” and “rude”—but massacring Gazan civilians is not?) Nonetheless, they persist in crediting it with the dramatic reduction in terrorist attacks—despite all logic, as the Wall is not completely built (among the substantial remaining gaps is all that undefined space spread out beneath Yehudit’s balcony)—anyone who really wanted to could still cross over—and as Palestinian organizations have played a significant part in discouraging such attacks as counter-productive.

“Would you ever want to visit the West Bank?” I asked Rahel. “No. It’s much too dangerous,” she said. “What makes you think so?” I asked. She wasn’t sure—probably because virtually everything in her world made her think so, so that it was hard to isolate anything in particular. (It’s kind of like asking an American, “So, what makes you think America is so free?”—it’s just seamless, free-floating common knowledge.) I told her that I would report back on how dangerous it seemed to me after my four-day visit. “Anyway, Jewish Israelis aren’t allowed to go,” said Yehudit. This was news to me, but it turned out to be technically—though not practically—true. Yes, the Israeli government does ban Israeli Jewish travel to the West Bank—ostensibly for their own protection, but, it seems clear to me, as yet another way of keeping the mystique of the “dangerous” Palestinian alive in the Israeli imagination. At the same time, those Jewish Israelis who want to get through—for a demonstration, a conference, a house-building, an olive harvest, a visit to friends—do so whenever they wish, and can tell you where nobody’s checking. (Besides, remember those bypass roads for settlers and their guests?)
Yehudit had argued against my wish to stay in Bethlehem the night before the conference, which was to begin at 9am the next day. “It’s just fifteen minutes from here! You can go in the morning! I’ll drive you to the border!” she said. I, on the other hand, had heard enough about checkpoints to worry about being late. She admitted that she had never been past the checkpoint and really didn’t know how things would be from that point onwards. So she and Yigal dropped me on the Israeli side of the “Gilo” checkpoint—quite anxiously, I might add, requesting that I call them as soon as I arrived safely at my hotel in Bethlehem. (And yes, signs and soldiers at that checkpoint did explicitly intercept Israeli traffic.)

Now, I had always imagined these checkpoints as backed-up affairs, teeming with people waiting to get through. But clearly, my image was derived from checkpoints during working hours—as well as from the Palestinian experience of passing through. It was now about 10pm, and I was, eerily, the only person passing through this mammoth chamber. On the Israeli side there was a soldier—a woman—preoccupied with talking on the phone in a booth. She asked to see my passport, but barely glanced at it—she didn’t even touch it, once she saw it was American, and waved me through. I made my way through the maze—which reminded me a bit of the dank, echoey, prison-like stairwells of the junior high school I attended, and also of those creepy late-night subway stations where you scuttle through long underground corridors to get to another platform that is really not so far away, as the crow flies. I found the signage to be lacking, as when I finally emerged in a parking lot it turned out I was still on the Israeli side—and needed to go back through a particular pedestrian tunnel. Finally, I came to another booth with another Israeli woman soldier engrossed in talking on the phone (perhaps they were talking to each other?), who didn’t even look at my passport. (I’m sure security cameras watched me throughout, but they weren’t much company.) I went outside, looked up, and found that I was, at last, on the other side of the Wall.
I looked up at the West Bank side of the Wall for the first time, taking in the graffiti that I’d heard so much about and marveling that I was at last meeting it in person. A gaggle of cabdrivers vied for my business. I called Elias, one of the organizers of the conference who’d said he’d pick me up when I came through; as it was late, I told him to just get some sleep, and took a cab to the hotel. Every mundane activity—the cab ride, talking with the driver, looking out at the Bethlehem streets, checking into the hotel—felt, absurdly, like a source of excitement. What can I say? I’d obsessed about Palestine for so long—read so much, written so much, talked and argued so much, listserved so much, injected it into my professional life so much, attended so many meetings and demonstrations, engaged in so many ad hoc projects, froze at so many vigils—that actually being there felt as impossibly amazing as meeting the Beatles.


Monday, May 24, 2010


Posted by Harriet Malinowitz
May 23, 2010
I am writing this way after the fact; my trip to Palestine was April 27-May 6, but I had no time then (nor have I had any time since, flying back into the intensity of end-of-semester work) to sit down and write about it in any way that would feel meaningful to me. Hopefully, the most salient thoughts and memories will remain with me. And to facilitate matters, I’m going to do this in several installments.
First: the main purpose of my trip was to attend the Sumud and the Wall conference at Bethlehem University, April 30-May 2, where I was to give a paper. (More on that in due course, in a future installment.) It was a crazy time for me to be going: the end of the semester is chaotic, and because I’d have to be back for grading, meetings, etc., I couldn’t take more than a week. Even that was stretching it, especially because as of this year I have administrative responsibilities directing the Writing Center as well. But less than a week seemed insane, and I felt a huge need to go. Nobody at work has complained—not even the Provost who generously funded my flight. She’s great. Always has been. And a bunch of six wonderful Writing Center tutors—grad students in English—who I’ve been training all semester to lead student writing groups valiantly led my final classes. Praise be to all of them.
As always, given the far-flung nature of people in my life that I’m emotionally close to despite their utter lack of geographical proximity, I tried to creatively construct this trip to incorporate meetings with some old human relations. First, I flew Turkish Airlines, which promised to give me a seven-hour layover in Istanbul, where I could meet one of my all-time most beloved ex-grad students, Handan, for a brief visit between flights. We planned this carefully, but alas, my flight was delayed three hours. Nonetheless, Handan and her brother, Farooq, stayed informed and were there to whisk me into the Old City for a whirlwind visit to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia before whisking me back for my connecting flight. The best part, of course, was just getting to talk to them in the car. I hadn’t seen Handan in four years, since she’d left LIU to go back to Istanbul, though we’ve emailed lots and lots over those years. (The worst part was looking out the window at the lovely shops we passed with gorgeous Turkish rugs and ceramics, and not being able to browse through them. Heartbreak!)
I have to take a detour from the main purpose of this blog to say something about Handan and one important thing she’s taught me. She is a very spiritual Muslim—albeit in her own special way, which includes having lots of gay friends, a love of American literature (especially Paul Auster), a penchant for attending NYC poetry slams, and a tendency to include some rather profane language in her own fabulous writing. She also has terrific politics and a very complicated, sometimes tormented way of looking at things, so that, even though I am quite blatantly an American Jewish lesbian atheist, it has always seemed quite natural to relate to each other as kindred spirits. (She is now 30, and is totally the daughter I would have wanted if I’d ever wanted to have kids. Unfortunately, you can’t have them fully grown, or it would be delightful.)
But back to that thing I learned from her: as some of the readers of this blog may know, though others may not, Turkey is not only a secular country, but is in many ways one that is rather coercively, repressively so. (This despite the election of the Muslim government that supposedly spelled doom for “Western values” and “freedom” there last year.) Handan—who bursts with far-ranging intellectual curiosity as well as literary acumen and creative passion—after getting her M.F.A. in creative writing at LIU in Brooklyn, hoped to go on for a Ph.D. But back in Turkey, in order to enter a university or get many sorts of jobs—especially interesting ones—one is required to remove one’s headscarf. This she refused to do. This is, sadly, also the state of affairs for many other bright, motivated, ambitious young women there. (Turkey is almost as bad as France at this juncture. The fact that much of this is justified in the name of “feminism” is especially infuriating. Of course, it’s considered perfectly fine to leave non-Western, non-Judeo-Christian feminists unconsulted on the matter—which makes sense, since many consider “Muslim feminist” to be an oxymoron, though it most definitely is not. But as with so many things in this world, ignorance tends to triumph over rationality, rationalizations over genuine explanations, and the pseudo-progressive over the carefully thought-out, reflected-upon progressive.)
Ironically—or perhaps not—Handan experienced her two years in New York as liberating, a hiatus from anti-headscarf and anti-religious discrimination. I do remember her telling me, with some amusement, when she lived here, that she was aware that, for many people, she functioned as a metaphor for conservatism. I’m sure that was true (though, knowing her, I also found it rather hilarious). At the same time, she is one of those people I think of as a true New Yorker—that is, that very intense sort that doesn’t really fit in anywhere else, and that revels in the sheer multiplicity of ways of being that exist, and are accepted in, and often manage to crazily meld together in, New York. She’s written some gorgeous stuff since then about NYC, and the ways that it is so radically different from the rest of the US—“a republic of its own.” (I totally agree. This is why I always feel that New York City is my “homeland.”) Still, there were family pressures to return to Istanbul, as well as an attachment to the familiarity of “home,” however much one may feel alienated from many of its elements. So back she went, back into the contradictions of life there. (There were, of course, contradictions to life here, too: NYC may be wonderful, but it is also very easy to feel lonely and unanchored and invisible in it). I think many of my expat NY people who have moved on to other places experience a visit with me as a fleeting interlude of New Yorkiness—the New Yorkiness that is always inside them, too, but that they have to keep mostly on the back burner as they live their lives in places like northern Michigan, southern California, Bogota—at least, that’s sort of what they convey.
Anyway, we did talk about this as we dashed into town and back. Farooq was also interested in my imminent trip to Palestine, and my views about the realities there. Handan wrote to me afterward that he was very surprised to hear an American espouse such ideas; he too, apparently, has strong feelings about Palestine. I think he was also a little startled at my carrying on—in my loudmouthed, New York Jewish way—about the stupidity of the headscarf laws, and the ways they completely misinterpret and skew the notion of “separation of church (or whatever) and state”—especially considering my rather flagrantly atheistic identity. But Handan seemed to feel it was good for him, since he’s not much of a traveler, and needs more direct contact with people beyond the Bosphorus. And she said he smiled more than he usually does, so that’s good.
Back at the airport, security was nothing special until I got to the gate for the flight to Tel Aviv. It seemed to be a specially outfitted gate, with its own rites of passage. That was where I first got the questions about the purpose of my trip (“To visit relatives in Israel!” I said perkily), how long I’d been in Istanbul (“Two hours!”), whether I’d been in Israel before (“Oh, yes!”), etc. As with all security gates, you had to empty your water bottle before going through, but unlike most security gates, there was no water on the other side to be had during your wait to board. Apparently, keeping the passengers thirsty is a worthwhile trade-off when weighed against the dangers of the anti-Israel potions one might concoct using the Turkish water supply.
Entering Israel, I found that all my well-rehearsed explanations for things were unneeded; I was just waved right through. I had emailed to myself my conference paper and all conference materials—as the conference organizers had advised against taking any of this through immigration and customs at Ben Gurion Airport, and against letting it be known in any way that I’d be visiting the West Bank—though they also acknowledged that “tourism” was a lame explanation for why one would fly there for just a few days—and I’d bought a concise guide to Hebrew to accompany my concise guide to Arabic (I’d slacked off with the latter and wanted to be able to practice on the flight over). However, I did have a bag bulging with children’s clothes that Noura (some of you know Noura, who teaches Arabic and lives in Kingston) had asked me to bring to East Jerusalem or the West Bank (this had been slashed by security back in NY, and arrived taped-up), and a planned story about how my US Jewish relatives had left this stuff for years in my attic at home, and now wanted me to bring it for the littlest relatives in Israel…..I even thought about what the little Israelis might be named, in case anybody asked, and had made inquiries about relatives I hadn’t seen in decades but now had under-five grandchildren. But thankfully, nobody asked me anything, as I’m not good at that sort of thing.
I was greeted quite rudely by the group taxi driver at the airport—I think you’re supposed to find this rudeness part of the Sabra charm—and after the taxi filled up, we drove to West Jerusalem (all the stops were in West Jerusalem) over roads that I found unrecognizable. (I’d last been there in 1984.) Despite all the well-worn truisms about globalization, it’s still always a shock to see how much of the world looks just like the place you’ve left. Once in Jerusalem, it did look more Jerusalemy—the white, chiseled limestone buildings, the hills—and finally, I was dropped at my cousin’s house.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Occupied Thoughts

Occupied Thoughts

Swooping, soaring, darting, diving;  

Swallows in the bright blue Hebron sky,

Celebrating being, celebrating being free.

Swooping above the gates, bars and guard booths,

Soaring above the Israeli soldiers and their checkpoints.

The contrast ever so vivid this morning, as three heavily armed Israeli soldiers surround a young boy on his way to school and rummage through his back-pack.

When will it end?  When will children and their teachers here be able to walk to school without having to pass through the military checkpoints of the occupying army every day?  When will people in the Old City feel secure in their homes, no longer worrying that soldiers will walk uninvited through their homes and across their rooftops?

When will the soldiers turn their eyes toward the morning sky, see the joyful swallows, connect the conscience dots and go back to Tel Aviv?


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Taking History to the Street

I am walking. 24 of us.100. A thousand. Six million.  We are silent. We are lined up like cattle.  We are walking to where they will strip us of who we are.  We are loaded into cars.  We are marched through the city at gunpoint. We are standing against the wall. Our naked bodies are thrown into the ditch.  We are carrying the dead on our backs.  We are waving flags.  We are chanting.  We are drumming. We are Jews, Christians, Muslims.  We are Palestinians, Israelis.  We are walking through history.

The sky is dark.  I cannot tell where one history ends and the other begins. 

She followed the road leading to Givat Shaul until the memories began flooding back. Standing on the ledge overlooking the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in view of the Jewish Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, the tales of her grandmother came to her. "See right there," she pointed.  "That was my father's stone quarry, and there's the grain mill, the apple trees….."    
In 1949, the Jerusalem neighborhood Givat Shaul Bet was built on Deir Yassin's land, now Har Nof, an Orthodox area. Construction of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center began in 1951 using village houses. A Jewish cemetery lies to the north. To the south, a valley and on the other side of the valley, Yad Vashem."
I am walking in a memorial for Deir Yassin.  Young boys are following our steps. They are laying stones on our path, blocking our return.
It is the day before Holocaust Memorial Day.  I visit Yad Vashem.  I copy down the words.  I write them in bold so I will never forget.
As I emerge, the land spreads out before me. 
A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates.

"They beat on the door.  They entered the house.  They asked me about my husband.  I told them my husband is working.  They entered the room and asked 'Who's sleeping here?'  I told them "This is my son" and they pushed the covers away and held the gun to his head. He was one year and a half years old." 
The higher national committee in support of prisoners said that the occupation forces had detained more than 1400..… 225 of the detainees were children less than 18 years old…the soldiers were increasingly detaining children less than 12 years old……
"They are our misfortune."   "The poisoning of the people will not end, as long as they are not removed from our midst."

'Between ourselves, it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with them in this country.'

April 4, 2010.  Plans to evict residents and build a settlement in Sheikh Jarrah advance. Tuesday,  Simon the Righteous Estate Company inc. submitted a request to evict two more families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.  The settlers are demanding in the statement of claim that the Palestinians be removed from the neighborhood because they "bother their Jewish neighbors."

They're assigned segregated living areas.

"Little bit at first, it was hard, a big change.  People used to come and go.  They could move easily.  But now, they don't.  Now, it is like a big prison. You walk – the same circle, the same circle, always.  Always you feel it.  And we are human beings.  We are not like a zoo where you put the animals inside."

'The Wall is a symbol of a philosophy that seeks a state as ethnically pure as possible.'

They're treacherous. They are labeled as foreigners and traitors to the nation.  They conspire to destroy all of western culture. . 

'Racist rhetoric and measures are now part of the mainstream…..'

Everyone here is not allowed to interact with them.  They must carry Identity Cards.

"Most of my relatives live outside in other countries.  They do not have the document to come back here. If they were not here at the time of the census in 1967, they are not allowed to return."

They are humiliated.

"At the checkpoint, they treat us in a bad way.  They look at us. Who are you?  As if you're nothing.  They don't even think of what you are: a human being."

They were turned overnight into refugees.  They left as refugees in terrible distress, trying to reach any possible destination.

"I witnessed the shocking sight of masses of people feeling, a disastrous traffic, walking, fleeing, on foot, with wheelbarrows, fully packed cars."

He could not help but see how the throng of people thickened with every step.  People were pouring from the side streets into the main street….. men, women and children, empty-handed or carrying a few small possessions, crying or being floated along in a paralyzed silence in the midst of the clamor and confusion.

"God, what's going on here!  Panic.  Mass exodus.  The city waits fearfully for the anticipated arrival of the troops… A neighbour is telling us that we have to leave.  To go where?  … To flee… as far as possible from the danger."

History is lost in the shuffle.  I am trying to unknot the thread.

Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned.

Israeli Textbooks to Drop 'Nakba':  The Israeli education ministry is to drop from Arabic language textbooks a term describing the creation of the state as "the catastrophe." "Nakba" has been used with Israeli-Arab pupils since 2007. "Including the term in the official curriculum of the Arab sector was a mistake that will not repeat itself in the new curriculum currently being revised."

March 17, 2010:  The Knesset voted yesterday in favor of Israel Beitenu's "Nakba Bill", which authorizes the finance minister to hold funds from institutions or groups who question the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or who mark the Palestinian Nakba on Israel's Independence Day.  The bill still needs to pass 2 votes in the parliament for it to become a state law.
"Whoever flees from history, history will catch up with him."

History is overtaking me.

Upon their conquest, they terrorized and repressed them.

I watched the soldiers look over the jewelry of the old women and young girls and brutally snatch it from them. I saw the soldier kick an old woman with his foot and how the old woman, her face bleeding, fell on her back.  I saw him thrust the barrel of his rifle at her chest.  One shot rang out…

They fell into the ditch, their hands and faces sunk in the mud, collapsed in a dense, confused and bloody heap.  Blood ran underneath their bodies, combining with the water from the stream flowing towards the south.

They took special measures against them, they intended to isolate them from their surroundings, steal their property…

Mas'ha, the village, was a quiet farming community.  But the fence cut the village from its lands. The farmers were promised the gates would open.  But this promise was abandoned, and the farmers could not get to their lands, nor the shepherds to their sheep.
They ordered them … They imposed terror, humiliation and abuse

They ordered us to raise our hands in the air and cross them. When one of the soldiers saw that my mother wanted to put me in front of her so her shadow would protect me from the sun, he dragged me from her hands and ordered me to stand on one leg with my arms crossed above my head in the middle of the dusty street.

I have never been so humiliated in my life as when I looked through the gate and saw the happy, smiling faces of passersby laughing at our misfortune.

Through it all the sound of their loud laughter reached my ears….

Despoiling them was an integral part of the policy.  Property and possessions of people who had been part of this country's economic and cultural life for 100s of years were plundered.

"What are they going to do now?"
"They're going to blow up the houses."
"Our houses?"  "Our houses."  "Why?"  "Because I…"
"Because of you?"  "Because I'm innocent."

He, at one time, had a restaurant.  The military demolished it.  Then he had chicken coops for several thousand chickens.  The army demolished them. .So he started a flower nursery in his garden. The army demolished it while building the fence and wall on his property.  Now his family stand to lose all their lands.

With their rise to power, they progressively began banishing them from economic life and established confiscation of their property into law.

Butchers raided by police in Jerusalem.  Five Palestinians sustained bruising Sunday morning after Israeli special forces allegedly stormed a butcher shop in the Old City, detaining five employees. A large Israeli police force was reported to have stormed the shop, firing pepper spray, assaulting customers and owners.

They applied these policies of dispossession and theft to the occupied territories.

Israel seizes 16 dunums in Jenin: Israeli occupation authorities issued a decision Saturday to confiscate 16 dunums from Jalma village, north of Jenin, to expand the military checkpoint…

They confiscated all types of property – homes, real estate, factories, businesses, and artistic and cultural treasures …  The local population took control of their homes and property.

"You can choose a blue house, a green house, whichever house you want.  The people have fled.  Which house would you like to live in?" (Asked of a Russian immigrant to Haifa, 1949) 

They incarcerated them in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls.  They cut them off from their surroundings.

"After the Intifada, everything was closed.  There is no connection or communication with Israel and we can't go around the West bank either.  The Wall is all around our house.  Only in the front of the house, we can enter.  We are closed from all directions.  It's closed economically, the society, everything is closed."

Mass Expulsions. 

IDF order will enable mass deportation from the West Bank : A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years.  When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished.
…cut them off from their sources of livelihood, and condemned them to a life of humiliation.  It became forbidden to enter… forbidden, forbidden, forbidden.  You had to report where you are going…

They stripped them of their civil rights.

The Israeli army attacked a sit-in at the entrance to Beit Ummar Saturday, with organizers saying protesters were beat…..Palestine Solidarity Project spokesman said the "sit-in was organized because of Israel's continued imposing of oppressive procedures on the town, including blocking the entrance and preventing farmers from reaching their lands." 

JERUSALEM. Apr. 5 2010. ­ Leaders of some of Israel's most prominent human rights groups say they are working in an increasingly hostile environment and coming under attack for actions their critics say endanger the country. The pressure on these groups has tightened as the country's leaders have battled to defend Israel against accusations of war crimes…...

They were prohibited from entering restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, music halls, swimming pools, bathing beaches, museums, libraries, exhibitions, palaces, historical sites, sports events, races, parks, nature recreation camps

 "My dream is: I hope my children may see the sea one day."

"I have such shame for my country."

All of us, dying here amidst the icy arctic indifference of the nations, are forgotten by the world and by life.
The committee appealed to international organizations to pressure Israel and to apply the fourth Geneva Convention.
I am walking through history, cutting the wire fence that keeps us apart. 
'After the battle, they took elderly men and women and youths, including 4 of my cousins and a nephew. They took them all. Women who had on them gold and money were stripped of their gold. After the men removed their dead and wounded, they took them to the quarry and sprayed them all with bullets. …'

 Where were you when your brother's blood cried out to God?

"The law (under which they are being imprisoned) is immoral… And we are obligated to actively resist it."

'They ordered all our family to line up against the wall….'

At the end of the street

"My mother always taught me that God created all of us in the same image…"
at the beginning of silence.
Passages from: Israel Occupation Archive, Dina Elmuti, Deir Yassin's inextinguishable fire; Zochrot, Deir Yassin Remembered; www.maannews.net;  Neta Golan againstwall@lists.riseup.net;  Haaretz, justjerusalem@gmail;  M. Warschawski, Alternative Information Center;  Reham Alhelsi, A Voice from Palestine, BBC News;  Amira Hass-West Bank, IDF, Israel News; Paltelegraph.com; Isabel Kershner,  New York Times.

Italicized passages from Ghassan Kanafani, Returning to Haifa, Paper from Ramleh,
He Was a Child that Day, Sulliman's Friend Learns Many Things.

Passages in quotes from interviews with Bethlehem women, April 2010

In bold: words from Yad Vashem.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Permits, Passes, Passover

Permits, Passes, Passover

"They kept us locked up for 2 days.  It was like a prison cell. It was closed, with metal windows, bunk beds with just a mattress. No cover. I put my sweater over my son to keep him warm.  He was 8 years old at the time. My son was born in Germany.  My husband and I went to university in Germany and we stayed because in Palestine we couldn't find work. I was carrying our German passports when my son and I were locked up.  They said we couldn't pass because I was Palestinian.  After 2 days, they sent us back to Germany."  (Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv)

"I used to go every Friday with my husband and my son.  Every Friday we went and prayed there at noon.  Now we can't pray there anymore."  (Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem)

"After the construction, we couldn't build, expand or add anything to our home. For anything we wanted to build, we needed a permit and Israel won't grant you a permit as everything you do is a threat to their security."  (Route 60 at "Area C")

"I was granted a permit to enter Jerusalem for the Easter holidays.  So were my children.  But my husband was not. In the morning, my family and I
attended the Greek Orthodox service at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.
In the afternoon, my children and I stood in line at the Checkpoint to enter Jerusalem so we could join the procession from Mt.Olive.  It is very beautiful. But they closed the checkpoint and we were not able to pass." (Palm Sunday, Bethlehem, Checkpoint 300)

"Israel will close off the West Bank from Midnight Sunday until midnight April 6 for the duration of Passover holiday, the Israeli military spokesman announced Sunday morning…..

The closure is in keeping with the Israeli practice of sealing off the West Bank ahead of Jewish festivals, fearing militants might try to launch attacks to disrupt the festivities."        Haaretz

We see them:
Palestinians, Israelis and internationals are making their way through an opening in the car gate.  They're carrying white flags and Palestinian flags and chanting. 

I am standing in line with hundreds of Palestinians waiting to pass through the checkpoint -- people who are granted a permit only once a year, if that.  Suddenly, these people are prohibited from passing through the checkpoint. (Palm Sunday, Bethlehem, Checkpoint 300)

We hear that the protestors are met with the military on the Jerusalem side.  Palestinians are beaten and many people are hauled off to jail…

I receive an e-m invitation sent out to Activists Against the Wall:

"Are there folks on this list (locals or internationals, Jews or from other religious traditions) who would like to be at a Seder this year but don't have a Seder to go to where they'd feel comfortable?
 I'm doing a semi-traditional Seder with my friends focusing on the values of social justice, diversity & inclusion, gender equality, animal rights etc..
Will be happy to have people join. The Seder will take place in North Tel Aviv.  Pick-ups can be arranged. Will make an effort to accommodate special needs (dietary, etc.)   Esther

Dear Esther,  I so much appreciate your invitation to a  semi-traditional Passover Seder.  I'm a Jewish American and am working in Bethlehem.. Knowing the reality here in the West  Bank, it is very difficult for me to allow myself to attend a Passover  Seder in Israel - I am more than reluctant to phone relatives  I have in Israel-- as I am not supposed to say anything about "Palestinians"  to them. However,  I also miss being with family back home  and the family Seders I've been part of since childhood.   I would need to work out details about coming to you from here.....

The next day, we get to Jerusalem by taking Bus 21 from Beit Jala.
That bus has been forbidden for use by internationals; but today, they let us on, probably because Checkpoint 300 is closed. 

There are 5 of us in Esther's small apartment: 2 young German guys with whom I work, a Russian couple, myself and Esther. 

There is an orange and an olive on the Seder plate..... 

The second day of Passover, we walk on the boardwalk by the sea.  Performers, balloons, kids on roller blades, bikes, kites flying, families strolling, so many strollers, many pregnant women, the fresh sea air, people at boardwalk cafes, sipping, licking, tasting, laughing... -- all that freedom.  (Boardwalk, Tel Aviv, March, 2010)

It washes over me -- like a tidal wave... 

"Love and Justice in Times of War Haggadah." 

Thank you, Esther, for this bridge allowing passage between two worlds.