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.